Old Habits Die Hard

I suppose the never-ending pandemic has led us all to reevaluate our priorities, causing us to jump back into things we used to do, or try other things we always meant to, but “never had the time.”

A few months ago, I started practicing guitar again with a crew of folks playing at a church here in town. They’re only committing to once-a-month, give or take, so we’ve only actually played at their service twice. Still, returning to a regular practice time each week and getting to play some loud music has been fun! After the flood last Summer, I had to replace a few things, namely my electric guitar amp, so this gave me the excuse to upgrade to something more powerful than what I had before.

Strangely enough, I was approached in early December about joining the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra. The kids started with a new piano teacher last Fall, and her husband directs the Philharmonic, as well as the Marshall Community Band that plays each Wednesday during the Summer. Through a variety of conversations (including with Meg’s orchestra and band directors), they figured out that I used to play percussion instruments in another life, and it turns out folks with that particular skillset aren’t exactly a dime a dozen, so the director of the Philharmonic handed me their practice schedule and said I’d be welcome to join in: they “can always use more percussionists!”

The Philharmonic has 4 shows a season, taking place during the school year, so they already had two performances last semester. The first practice for this next performance was on January 2nd, which featured a lovely ice storm, keeping many of the rather elderly musicians home that day. Still, I joined up with one other percussionist to do what I could.

Bear in mind that I haven’t done this since 2000! Since that time, I’ve played hand drums and drum set, but that involves improvisation almost exclusively. And when I’ve played guitar at various churches in the past 22 years, it’s been using chords on a sheet of paper. So yeah, reading musical notes isn’t something I’ve had to do much recently! It took me a bit to acclimate, remembering to circle tempo and time signature changes, writing notes to put down whatever I’m holding so I can go over and grab a triangle in time to play it for two notes, only to return back to whatever I was doing before.

It’s been fun so far, and I think I’m getting back into things relatively well. We’ve had 3 practices thus far, and I’ve run through my music with a practice pad at home (the same one I had back in high school!) so I’m at least a little prepared when I get there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m most definitely still making mistakes all over the place, but that’s why we practice, right?

One thing that’s taking me a bit to get used to is the difference between “high school band” and “community band.” Back in high school, it was a class one took, so everyone was there almost every day, and everyone had to practice at least a little bit because they were receiving a grade for their troubles. With a community band, it’s all volunteer, so you’re lucky if people open their music at all during the week – and you’re further lucky if all of the musicians are even present at each practice. The director is having to sing out various phrases of music because multiple key instruments aren’t there to carry the tune, for example.

Still, it’s a good opportunity to revisit a part of my life that I miss from time to time. Meg is playing bass in orchestra now, so I don’t have a huge connection to that, but she also started percussion in band this year, so now I can kind of brush up on my own history while hearing about how she’s traveling along the same path I did 30 years ago.

Time flies, right?

“This Is The One Thing That I Know”

Chillin' in the back seat...
Chillin’ in the back seat…

An exchange from last night’s car ride home between Meg and I:

“What do you want to listen to, Meg?”

“I want to hear ‘This is the one thing that I know’!”


“‘This is the one thing that I know’!”

“You mean, this song?”


It took me a few seconds for me to understand what Meg was saying, and then translate those words into a song I knew (“Liquid,” by Jars of Clay).  It frequently takes me awhile to grasp her requests for songs, but I picked up on this one somewhat quickly.  I had to ask Brooke about this later and she said they hadn’t listened to that song recently.  To our knowledge, the last time Meg heard it was when we were playing it just prior to the Good Friday service at church, when we last played it.  And that was March 29th.

It isn’t the first time something like this has happened.  I’m reminded of another song she wanted to sing a month or two ago when we were in Hannibal, “Forever Reign” (though she recited the first few lines as “You are dead, you are dead, you are nothing to me…”  For the record, those aren’t the correct lyrics.).

Meg’s pretty good at remembering random things from a long time ago, especially things you didn’t think she was paying attention to.  Thankfully, she appears to grasp music better than other details, which hopefully means she will be at least as good as I am at just “picking up” a song and playing it.  We’ll just have to make sure she focuses on sight-reading a bit more than I did.

At the same time, if you ask her what she did at school that say, all she’ll tell you is “I don’t know.”  Clearly she knows, but for some reason, doesn’t want to tell you.  We’re working on this, too.

Still, at times like last night, I have to wonder how her little mind is working…

A Nice Weekend

That, my friends, is Jon Foreman's back.

Awhile back, Kristen mentioned that Switchfoot was returning to Springfield, MO and that the venue they were going to play in was pretty sweet, the Gillioz Theater.  Thus, Brooke and I made the arrangements for Meg to hang out with her grandparents this weekend, for Rachel to stay at our house with Edie and Sam (and the chickens), and for Brooke and I alone (gasp!) to go to Springfield for the weekend.

We made it out of St. Louis early enough to stop at Heinrichshaus for a picnic lunch and a bottle of Chardonelle before continuing on to Springfield.  As always, we had a great time tasting Heinrich’s wares (he’s an old German guy who wears American-ized lederhosen, if you can imagine such a thing) and enjoyed the warm, summery afternoon outside.  After a few more hours, we hit Springfield and went directly to the concert.  The Gillioz Theater is definitely cool, as it’s an ornate, old-style theater with good acoustics and comfy seats.  I can’t say I was a huge fan of all the kids I had to sit with, though, as this event was apparently quite popular with the “Christian Youth” crowd (i.e. I think we enjoyed Switchfoot’s show at The Pageant more, if only because there was a cordoned off area for “Over 21” with a full bar…).  I was unimpressed with Switchfoot’s opener, The Rocket Summer, who acted like a pretentious emo wannabe.

Switchfoot, on the other hand, was amazing as always.  Their set was pretty similar to the one we saw two years ago, mostly songs off the last 3-4 albums and only two songs from their first few, but the new stuff is good so I can’t complain all that much.  As with the last time around, their lead-singer, Jon Foreman, ventured out into the crowd to sing with the fans.  This time, however, he ended up climbing around the theater-style seats, holding hands as he made his way to the center of the theater.  He happened to make this trip inward directly in front of us, to the point that Brooke, Kristen and her friend, Maggie, all held Foreman’s hand as he passed by.  I was trying to get pictures of this, of course, as these things usually go.  Regardless, while we got pretty close two years ago, we were close enough to touch the man this time around.

We joke that, at our next concert, the subsequent logical step is for Jon Foreman to sit on Brooke’s lap and sing.  😛

Regardless, we spent the next day hitting up quite a few different things, including a visit to The Home Brewery in Ozark, MO (I picked up a bottle washing attachment for our basement sink…should make life easier!), a trip down to Copper Run Distillery (where we tasted vodka, “moonshine,” whiskey and rum…the latter of which, we grabbed a bottle of…), then later to Mother’s Brewery to taste their beers and have one or two pints before heading to the Springfield Cardinals game ($6 lawn tickets…can’t beat that!).

Nice day for a ball game!

After the game, we went to a bar to hear some of Jake’s co-workers play in their retro 80s cover band (who were pretty good, to be fair).  Overall, it was a busy, yet good day!

In the end, while we obviously missed Meg, it was nice for the two of us to get out of St. Louis for a weekend, not to be tied down by a dog to take out or a toddler to watch…er…”toddle.”  We had a great time and will probably have to do it again, once Jake and Kristen finish filling their pool…  🙂


I guess it started a few years ago when Stu came in to St. Louis to hear a band play at Pop’s, over in East St. Louis, and wanted to crash at our place for the night after the concert.  I ended up going along, mostly because Stu was paying for the ticket, but also because I’d never experienced what can only be described as a “death metal concert.”

The first thing we did was went to Walgreens to get ear plugs.  Bear in mind that I’ve gone to more than a few concerts in my times and I’ve never needed ear plugs.  I always felt it was counter-intuitive, as you’d think you want to listen to the music, not reduced the sound by 30 dB.

I’m glad I had the plugs.  Then, and each subsequent time I’ve joined him at one of these things.

This past Sunday, on his birthday, Stu wanted to go see some bands at Fubar, a concert venue near SLU.   Before that, Stu, his roommate, and I went to La Vallesana, a Mexican place on Cherokee Street, which was pretty spectacular.  The menu was very reasonable (one could even say it was “cheap”) and much more varied than the “traditional Mexican restaurant,” especially in the different meats they offered.  I had a Quesadilla “Al Pastor,” which involved a dry-rubbed pork and pineapple concoction.  Mmmmmm…  They don’t serve beer, though, which I find interesting for a Mexican restaurant (though they did have Mexican Coca-Cola, including real sugar, not that “high fructose corn syrup” shenanigans).

After that, we went to Fubar.  If you dare flip on the YouTube link above, you’ll hear the style of music being played there by the headlining band, Origin.  It was a lengthy music fest, of sorts, with six or seven bands participating, starting at 5:00 (we didn’t get there until after 7:00…thankfully…as we didn’t leave until after 11:00…).

I should note that my favorite band name was “Cattle Decapitation.”  No joke.  That’s their name.  They’ve put out 10 albums since 1996.

Regardless, it’s always an interesting experience to go to these concerts with Stu.  This is a guy that had long hair back when I met him in high school (and has since chopped all that off and is a software developer), so I was first exposed to this style of music back then when we’d go out to lunch during band camp my sophomore year.  While I can’t say I’ve grown to like death metal, as a genre, I have always appreciated the speed at which their drummers play.  What these guys lack in “finesse,” they have orders of magnitude more in brute strength and stamina, where it isn’t unusual (heck, it’s the norm) to see them play constant sixteenth-notes with their feet using the double-bass pedal for a full song, or multiple songs in a row, without much of a break.  It’s nuts.  I’d be curious how many of them run marathons…

At the same time, while I stand there, watching the bass player and the electric guitar player move their hands across their respective fretboards very quickly, all I hear is a low “E” tone.  I pulled out my phone and used a “guitar tuner” app to verify this fact.  Yup.  All I heard was a single, low tone, while I could see their hands moving all over the place.  It was likely an effect of the deafening live sound, leading to dissonance that my poor ears couldn’t handle.  When I say “it all sounded the same,” that’s what I mean: it was one friggin’ note.

It’s also interesting to see the characters that go to these concerts.  This Sunday, I was wearing a striped polo shirt and Stu had a grey-ish t-shirt on…and I’m pretty sure we were the only people there with any colored clothes besides black or white (we mostly stayed in the back, by the bar…).  Most folks had long hair, there were very few women there.  I didn’t see a ton of piercings (though, more than a few of those giant rings in some dudes’ ear lobes).  I noticed only one obviously drunk guy: everyone else either had nothing in their hands, or water, or a soda.  A “mosh pit” opened up a few times, but really, the participants seemed like they were skipping around in a circle, pushing each other.

The thing that really gets me, though, is how very little these guys all probably make on a given night.  The advance tickets were $18; at the door, they were $22.  There were maybe 100 people there when we walked in, though surely some people came and went.  Let’s say they sold 200 tickets to this thing and sold all of them at $22: $4400 would have been the ticket sales.  Divided among 6 bands (though, I’m sure the divisions wouldn’t have been an even split), that’s $733 per band (not per person)…and that assumes that the venue would take no money from the ticket sales, which obviously isn’t the case.  In the end, each band member was probably lucky to walk out of there with $100.

Point is: the bands themselves make practically nothing from tickets, so they must make up the difference in merchandising.  I saw some folks going up, buying things, but I can’t say I saw large crowds around the merch table.  It makes me wonder how bands like these expect to “make it.”  Bear in mind that these are national, touring bands, that people (not me…) have heard of before.  These are the popular groups.

So yeah, it’s always an interesting exercise for me to tag along to these concerts.  I’d kinda like Brooke to come along sometime, so I can get her “sociological perspective” on these people.  Not sure Stu wants to be buying two extra tickets, though… 😛

Pirates on the High Seas (of the Internet)

I read a pretty spectacular article from Forbes.com today about how the MPAA and RIAA are fighting a losing battle against piracy.  The article echoes statements I’ve made in the past, though not on this blog (…that I can find, anyway…).

The author is blunt and to the point: the movie industry is being dragged kicking and screaming to a future that practically all their customers want, and they’re losing revenue in doing so.  They could make their money back on volume by making their movies a). easier to access, and b). cheaper.

The primary problem movie studios have to realize is that everything they charge for is massively overpriced. The fact that movie ticket prices keep going up is astonishing. How can they possibly think charging $10-15 per ticket for a new feature is going to increase the amount of people coming to theaters rather than renting the movie later or downloading it online for free? Rather than lower prices, they double down, saying that gimmicks like 3D and IMAX are worth adding another $5 to your ticket.

They have failed to realize that people want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector.

Here’s the part I’ve been most concerned by: rising ticket prices.  Why go to a movie theater to spend $10-$15 on a ticket, plus an additional $10+ on “food?”  Granted, I have a toddler so my movie viewing in theaters has decreased tremendously in the past few years anyway, but with the advent of Netflix, I have all kinds of things to watch, and now I have the will to wait until a movie comes out on DVD.  Especially when the summer blockbusters are looking more and more like that “Battleship” ad you saw during the Super Bowl.  Now, if I could see a non-IMAX, non-DTS movie in the theater and get a medium-sized non-refillable soda for $10?  I’d do that.  No question.

Finally, the author suggests a solution to this problem: the movie industry needs their equivalent of the gaming industry’s digital distribution platforms (e.g. Steam). Heck, they need Apple’s iTunes.  Make buying the product so stupid simple that it takes less effort to buy it than it does to steal it.  As he points out, it takes 7 steps to download a movie illegally, and depending on your internet connection, you could have an HD-quality movie in a half hour.  If the movie industry would just get behind an Apple or Amazon model of 1). find movie, and 2). click “buy” (for a reasonable price).

Let us recall music piracy of the late-90s/early-2000s for a moment.  Back then, you could go on Napster or Kazaa and search to find music you wanted, but you’d easily find tens or hundreds of the same track, each one with different sound qualities.  You could easily download a track you thought was good, but after downloading, you’d find actually had multiple “hiccups” in the file.  iTunes streamlined the process.  Search to download one song that you knew was of relatively high quality and was consistent with the rest of your iTunes library.  Moreover, you’d see that you could get a song for $1, but the entire album for $10, undercutting what was easily $15 at most brick-and-mortar retailers.  So in many respects, at least with iTunes, there was a chance you’d “up sell” your customer on getting the whole album, rather than just a single song.

iTunes made it easy and people flocked to it.  Does music piracy still happen?  Absolutely, but now, people have a reasonable, viable alternative that I’d argue most people consider before pirating albums.

Steam did the same thing for the gaming industry, making it stupid simple to download a digital copy of a computer game without having to search through seedy sectors of the internet looking for a pirated copy (that could include viruses or other malware).  They can even upgrade your graphics drivers and more for you when you install the game, streamlining the process further to make life for the consumer that much better.  Many PC games are released day and date with their “physical media” counterparts.  In many cases, you can actually have the game downloaded and then get it “unlocked” at midnight on its release day.  For PC games, you can’t get much more convenient.  You don’t even have to get out of your pajamas…

If piracy has taught us anything it’s that the movie industry thinks that an audience watching their movies on a computer or TV screen, while that same movie is still out in theaters, is important.  If this is really the case, the movie industry should do the smart thing and release movies online day and date with their release in theaters.  Charge $10 to rent it, making the cost comparable with a ticket to the theater (though that $10 is then divided up among the number of people watching the movie in your living room).

Obviously, some people don’t care if the movie is in IMAX or has super-duper Dolby Digital Sound or smell-o-vision: they just want to watch the damned movie.  They don’t want to deal with crappy popcorn prices.  They don’t want to deal with screaming kids or people talking through the whole thing.  They don’t want to fight for a decent seat in a packed theater.  They don’t want to drive their car and park in a lot.  They don’t want to pay upwards of $30 to see a movie on a Saturday afternoon.  There are any number of reasons folks don’t want to go to a movie theater, while others still like going.  There’s no reason the movie industry can’t cater to both demographics and make money doing it.

So, take heed, Movie and TV Industry. You’re being surpassed by other content purveyors.  Make it easy to access your content and I assure you, people will return to you and buy more of your stuff.

And stop taking your anger out on Netflix…that isn’t helping anything…

The Value of Content

I watched “Page One: Inside The New York Times” on Netflix Sunday.  It’s a documentary that focuses on the NYT as an institution in news reporting in the United States and the world, but also discusses the changing face of media (e.g. blogs, Twitter, etc.) and the ability of just about anyone to put out “unfiltered” news directly to the general public, as in the case of the WikiLeaks debacle from last year.  The documentary is pretty interesting, though I think they “bounced around” a bit more than I would prefer without any good transitions.

One of the recurring themes in the documentary was the battle currently being waged between “Old Media” and “New Media.”  For example, you can go to practically any news blog now for your news as many people do, but practically all of them just re-word and re-post the same information that was originally presented in the NYT.  Thus, the regular consumer of news gets their information for free without every having to visit the NYT website or pick up a paper, and therefore, the NYT never gets any ad revenue or subscriber fees from the reader.

Which leads to the central question of the documentary: how long will this be sustainable?  Or, re-worded, how long can the New York Times, and institutions like it, survive in a “digital world” using their traditional economic models?

I heard a related story on NPR last week talking about Amazon and Apple (but mostly Amazon) and how the European Union is investigating them for antitrust violations with regards to e-book prices on their respective stores.  These two companies essentially dictate to the publisher how much money they will sell their books (typically around $10), while the publishing companies used to be able to charge quite a bit more than that for a hardcover new release (let alone the fact that they set the price, not the distributor).

Now, in the case of the Times, I’m not really sure what the solution is.  They have already taken steps to increase revenue by charging for their website, and I think that’s helping.  At the very least, they’re making an attempt to survive the transition into digital media.  Likely, as tablets broaden their reach to consumers, they will be able to charge for their app, or access to stories, effectively turning tablets into digital NYT readers.  There is certainly money to be had if you produce a good app, and the NYT has a pretty decent one.  It’s unfortunate that a lot of people out there don’t understand where news comes from and that most of these blogs a). don’t actually investigate their own news (they just re-post it from other sources), and b). frequently have some kind of agenda, so it may not be as objective as it should be to be considered capital-J “Journalism.”  There is a value in actual news and people are willing to pay for it: the NYT just needs to figure out how to sustain the same standard of Journalism while operating under realistic expectations of what the public will pay for it.

In the case of book, movie, and music publishers, though, I think they need to adjust their model quickly.  For example, if one considers a new-release book at Barnes and Noble, it’s likely it would cost you $20 or more.  It simply doesn’t make sense to charge $20 for a digital copy (as publishers would love to do).  The same thing goes for movies: I’m not going to spend the Bluray price of a movie for the digital version.

Now, those full prices don’t typically occur for movies and books because of the digital systems that have grown up to deliver the content for you.  For a new movie like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you’ll spend $22.99 for the Bluray and you’ll spend $14.99 for the digital version, so there’s some premium for the physical copy and some discount for the digital copy.  In video games, this typically isn’t the case, however.  When the newest Call of Duty game came out on PC, it was $60, regardless of whether you got a physical disc in a box or if you downloaded it.  With games, though, there has been something of a “relationship” developed between the publishers of games and the retailers (e.g. Gamestop, Wal-Mart, etc), where the publisher could offer a discount on a digital version, but in order to appease the brick-and-mortar retailer, they keep it the same price so you still may go into their store.

Ultimately, “Old Media” needs to realize that they can’t support the distribution systems that they used for the past few decades.  This is starting to happen with books, where locations like Borders went bankrupt because they couldn’t make the transition to a digital age.  Companies like Gamestop are starting to make the transition, offering a digital streaming service not unlike Netflix Instant.  Companies like Wal-Mart will probably just stop offering games and movies, eventually, but they’ll survive because they sell other things (among other reasons).

But the publishers still have much to worry about.  Their teams of editors, binders, layout people, and so on and so forth.  Teams of people that were needed in order to lay out print for publication or to set up distribution chains for each product.  Or that were needed to design the inside of game manuals.  Or to design the cases that your DVD or Bluray came in.  These are all things that just aren’t (as) necessary in a fully digital world.  You don’t need to worry about distribution when you can just sell it on the internet to everyone.  However, publishers are still trying to charge additional money on the digital side in order to support these folks on the physical side of their product.

Now, my solution to this problem is to increase the cost of the physical media and further decrease the cost of the digital one.  If there’s anything apps on the iPhone or Android have shown developers, it’s that selling your product for $1 means that you’ll sell to additional people, and you’ll make your money back on volume.  I mean, if you could just buy a new release movie for $5, would you do it? Would you even think about the purchase?  Would you care if you only watched it one time?  That’s cheaper than a single ticket to go see the movie in theaters.  If new movies, digitally distributed, without any special features were $5, I think they’d sell more.

But again, publishers should still hang on to their “physical media” production scheme, as there will still be people that want an actual Bluray disc.  And I definitely know that there will be people that want a physical book, rather than an e-reader form.  But wouldn’t more people buy books if they were $5 for a new one, rather than $20?  Sure, pay the premium if you want a nice, hardcover, bound, indestructible copy of a book for your collection, but don’t make people that just want to read the book help finance other people’s need for a physical copy.

There’s a somewhat longstanding psychological “principle” in gaming related to the $100 price point.  Once any gaming console hits $100, then many consumers won’t even think about the price.  It’ll become an impulse buy.  A similar phenomenon happened with the Wii when it released, and it cost $250.  But at that price, it was cheap enough as an impulse buy for many people just to play Wii Sports.

“Old Media” publishers need to find the “impulse buy” price for their products.  In the case of movies and books, I think $10 is a fair price to charge, but $5 is the “impulse buy” price.  Once publishers start selling their wares down there for a digital form, I think they’ll make their money back on volume, and only then will they survive.

Edit: I read this article from Slate today, discussing Amazon and its tactics that end up hurting brick and mortar bookstores.  I particularly liked this line:

But say you don’t care about local cultural experiences. Say you just care about books. Well, then it’s easy: The lower the price, the more books people will buy, and the more books people buy, the more they’ll read.


Who Needs Another Music Player?

Spotify just launched in the United States this week, yet another music player entering the digital ecosystem. This time, however, we get one that has been around for awhile in Europe, and quite popular.  In short, it’s an audio program that lets you stream millions of songs to your device, and has other functional features including Facebook integration to check out your friend’s playlists.  One of the key features is that it functions much like Apple’s iCloud will, scanning your personal MP3 library and “mirroring” it on their servers, allowing you to stream that same library to any computer without needing to carry the physical media around with you.  It will do the same thing with your mobile phone.  Spotify’s library is substantially larger than many of the others (Pandora has maybe 800,000 songs, while Spotify has 13 million available), and most reviewers simply think it provides the better service for the money.  You get about 20 hrs of listening time per month for free, $5/mo gets you no ads, and $10/mo gets you other features, including the ability to use the service on your mobile phone.

Digitaltrends has a good summary of the pros and cons of a few of the popular options.

Spotify is not alone in this venture, though it’s new to the U.S.  Grooveshark is another, alternative, web-based application with a mobile version, though I question its legality.  Like Spotify, it has a massive library, but it works a bit more like YouTube in that other users have uploaded music that you then stream to your computer or to your mobile device.  While Spotify has high-quality, licensed music, your experience is more “hit or miss” with Grooveshark, as some people may have uploaded high bitrate versions of music (i.e. good sounding) while others uploaded lower bitrate versions (i.e. very, very bad sounding).  Of course, Grooveshark is free, so most people don’t complain when the song selection is that good.  They also charge various amounts for their services above and beyond the base service, but it doesn’t sound like many people do.

Pandora is the main competitor that folks in the United States have at least heard of, if not used.  It’s much more of a radio system in that you select a station and then music will come up almost at random that you can then skip or “Thumbs Up” so that more music like it ends up in your station.  You have no real choice in what the next song played is, though, while you can make your own playlists in Spotify and Grooveshark.  Pandora also has a very nice mobile app and has been integrated into a wealth of home devices, including Bluray players.  Their only paid plan is $36/yr, removes all ads, and grants you higher sound quality.

For now, I’ll give Spotify a quick go-round, though I doubt I’ll get much use out of it.  The only computer in the house with good speakers attached is a Linux box, and as there is no native Linux client available, I can’t use it.  I will probably try their “preview release” for Linux – thankfully, Linux is more popular in Europe, so this company actually has an incentive to make a client.  Obviously, this is where its competitors, Grooveshark, Pandora, Google Music and Amazon MP3 shine, as they are almost completely multi-platform.

That said, the Spotify client under Windows is silky smooth, unlike iTunes.  It’s nice to see iTunes finally getting some viable competition (and no, Windows Media Player is not “competition”…).  It navigates similarly to iTunes, so if you’re familiar with its style of getting around your library and making playlists, you should feel right at home.

In the end, I’m glad there are plenty of options out there for your digital music needs.  Gone are the days where you would walk down to the record store and thumb through various discs until you found something interesting, then bought it for $20.  Now you can get your music in the comfort of your own home, or on-the-go, and it’s great that there are countless ways to do it effectively.

And legally.

A Change of Pace

I participated in our church’s cantata this past weekend.  I was asked awhile back to play along in some capacity, whether it was guitar or percussion, and I opted for the latter after finally listening to the recording on the way back from Thanksgiving.  I’m particularly glad for this because the guy that ended up playing guitar had to deal with songs in terrible keys – drums don’t tend to play chords, so I was all good.  The choir held practices on Wednesdays in December, which were difficult for me to attend due to Brooke’s ever changing work schedule and the need to keep Meg on some semblance of a sleep schedule.  Therefore, I went this past Wednesday, practiced with the group this past Saturday, and then performed the cantata on Sunday.  When we actually performed the thing Sunday morning, I still hadn’t actually played the first two songs.  Par for the course.

Regardless, it turned out surprisingly well.  I used my djembe, congas and bongos, which fit pretty well with the piano lead, and guitar and synthesizer accompaniment.  I fit into the background, but still added to the experience in my own way.  I also got quite a few compliments following the two services we performed it in.  Overall, the choir did a great job and the music was very well received.

The whole thing brought up some memories, though.  For the last 10 years or so, my musical experience has centered around praise bands.  This would involve your typical “rock band”-style musical system, with a few vocalists, electric/acoustic guitars, bass guitar, maybe a piano and some drums.  There would be a leader, but that leader would also be playing an instrument, so for the most part, the band would be a, theoretically, cohesive group that didn’t really need a prototypical director to run it.  Many times, it became an “organic” experience and evolved as we performed each song.

This group at the cantata, however, needed a prototypical director.  And it’s been awhile since I’ve needed to follow one.

Generally, I was trying to follow the piano player, as she was the lead instrumentalist, but she was trying to follow the director, who was mostly directing the choir.  The piano, however, wasn’t really oriented toward the director, so while the piano player was keeping time as best she could, she couldn’t easily look over and see what the director was doing.  And the director was doing her best to fight timing between the piano and the choir, with all their individual singing and speaking parts.

It very much reminded me of playing in the pit orchestra back in high school.  And in a good way.

There is something indescribable about that kind of experience.  The feeling of playing a part in a production.  Not necessarily an up-front acting gig or anything, but still participating.  Some of my fondest memories of high school go back to playing in the pit orchestra for the likes of “West Side Story,” “Brigadoon” and “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”  We had weekly practices, eventually leading to daily practices that went relatively late into the night (a school night…so…”late” meaning 9:00…) all culminating in the set of scheduled performances.  People would get all “psyched up” and go through their various traditions and rituals that have been passed down from performers of yesteryear.  We, being in the orchestra, all wore black so we wouldn’t stand out in front of the actors.

In many ways, it was an almost magical experience to go through.  When those songs came together, you could really get shivers down your spine.  Again, we’re talking about a group of 50 people or so taking on different jobs to pull together a singular vision.  In some ways, it’s like a football game.  Each player gets their own part to play, but they all have to work in concert to make a truly awesome play.  The same goes for a musical.  You may have 15 people playing different instruments, then another 20 or so up on stage, some singing, some dancing, and then a whole host of other people backstage pulling the rest of the show together, sight unseen.  When it works, it really works.  And you are astounded every time you do it, as one wrong note, or one wrong line, or one misplaced prop can shatter the whole thing.

To be fair, being in a church cantata, while fun, isn’t the same.  We practiced quite a bit more for musicals, production took months, they had to hold try-outs, and so on.  However I got the same kind of feeling playing along yesterday.  A feeling of playing along with a large group again, not necessarily out front, but in the background playing my part.  It was cool to simply be there and have a good time.  Strangely less stressful than playing with a smaller group on a typical Sunday.

I guess it was just good to play my instrument(s) as part of a larger whole again.  It doesn’t happen often enough anymore.

“You were 2 ft away from Jon Foreman once, kiddo.”


Brooke heard awhile back that loud music and subwoofers are good for helping “coax” your child out of your womb, so in looking into concerts coming to St. Louis, she found that Switchfoot was going to be putting on a show at The Pageant on February 15th. This is now the third time we’ve seen the band live – the first two were in outdoor settings, and we weren’t all that impressed (one concert was free), but this one was far and away the best of theirs we’ve seen, and amongst the best we’ve seen, period.

Interestingly, as the picture (from my cell phone…sorry about the poor quality…) above documents, their lead singer, Jon Foreman, came out into the crowd twice. On both occasions, he walked on the table directly in front of us while singing songs, so I think it’s safe to say this is the closest I’ve ever come to a famous person.

And, consequently, my baby girl already got close to a rock star. I’m not sure if I should be worried or not. 😛