Thursday, May 7, 2009

The flu

Our performance at the Cincinnati Shriner Children's Burns Hospital Open House had been canceled due to H1N1 flu concerns.

If you have ever been through the Burn's Hospital, you realize how seriously they take any infection. So this cancellation is not really a surprise, but it is disappointing. Some of our bandsmen were really looking forward to playing for the kids.

Perhaps we will be able to schedule a performance for them sometime later this year.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The clown

It was the second night of playing the circus. I was on the floor, just inside the end ring and the band was all lined up in front of me.

Suddenly a clown came running up to me. (Remember, its a circus.) Dressed in traditional clown garb, complete with facepaint and the red applique nose. "Mike! Mike! Do you know who this is?"

I knew immediately what I wanted to say (are you some kind of clown?) but I resisted the temptation. His voice was kind of familiar, but I would never have guess just from that. It turned out that the clown was an old acquaintance from high school. I am not sure if I have seen Dave much in the last 40 years, perhaps at a reunion or something. We played in the band together, and he was a clarinet player.

Even before I could ask Dave if he still had his clarinet, he volunteered that he did not know where it was. I did offer to organize a search party to help him find the clarinet and a few of the fingerings. We are woefully short of reed players, and any we can get, even years out of practice, would be welcome.

I now have a lead on where to come and look for him. If the Syrian clowns see a BandMaster lurking around, they will know who I am looking for.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


A friend of mine raised the idea that Cincinnati might have more volunteer, community based orchestras (at least per unit or population), than any place he is aware of. I am not quite sure how to test that.

I play in two such orchestras. The Cincinnati Metropolitan Orchestra, and the Seven Hills Sinfonietta. In many ways, it it hard to imagine two more different orchestras. One limits itself to the traditional warhorses of classical and remantic symphonic literature. The other plays a couple of "classical" concerts, but also plays a number of pops concerts, and occasional Christmas concerts, etc.

The surprise was that in successive weeks, both would be playing Finlandia, by Sibelius. (Ending the first concert, and opening the next.)

Finlandia is one of those pieces that a Tuba player loves. Loud and lusty, it is one of the few pieces where a phrase begins forte, and then says cresendo as much as possible. Usually, a tuba player has to figure out how to play phrases softly to stay under the strings (after counting 217 measures of rest). In Finlandia, I get to envision lifting the roof off of its rafters.

Still, there is a lot of great literature out there. I wonder how many orchestras you would need to be in to play it all?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We can borrow that idea

I was talking to Jack Wagner, our lead clarinet player, after an orchestra rehearsal that was unrelated to the Shrine Band. Jack was telling me about an upcoming Legion Band concert on a Monday night that might affect his being at the next business meeting. I asked him what kind of an audience they get on a Monday evening.

"A captive audience", Jack told me. They were going to play at a nursing home. The Legion Band simply used their normal rehearsal night.

On the way home, I was mentally slapping myself in the forehead. We had talked about having the Shrine Band play at a nursing home. I was wondering how to schedule it. Now I see the answer. We simply replace one of our normal rehearsal nights for a nursing home performance.

I will ask the band members for their thoughts at the next rehearsal, but I suspect they will be in favor. These guys like to play, and playing is usually more fun with an audience.

Yeah, we ought to be able to borrow this idea and make it our own.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The baton

Years ago, when I was a high school band director, I had a bunch of conducting batons. Wooden batons, fiberglass, most painted white, a couple natural wood. I even tried making one of my own from a dowel rod and sanding it down. (Way too much work - I won't try that again.)

Some of the batons were cracked and broken, but I really don't remember throwing them away.

So when I became bandmaster, you would think I would be able to dig a couple of them out of storage, wouldn't you? (Okay, you can stop giggling now.) The only baton I could find was a sales promotion from HP that was so flimsy that I was never sure exactly where the downbeat ended.

I finally went to the music store and bought a new Mollard baton. I mention the name because I went to CCM with Bob Mollard. He was a fraternity brother in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. As so often happens, we lost track of each other, and it was not until a couple of years ago that I discovered that he was the new guru of conducting batons. It is almost getting hard to find a baton made by anyone else. It is a good baton - light and well balanced.

Of course, within hours of arriving home with the new baton, I found a couple of the old ones. So my debate began, do I take this new baton back to the music store?

I am still thinking about it, but I will probably keep it. Bob probably doesn't need the business, but you just have to support your old college friends.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First BandMaster Performance

The concert band gave it's first performance since I became BandMaster on Monday Night, at the Syrian Temple Business Meeting.

Why would this be noteworthy? Because many of us didn't expect the band to continue in 2009. Our band has been shrinking for years. The shrine has not been adding many new members in recent years, so we have very few new bandsmen. As a result, our average age is over 70 years old. (We get a lot of visits from the Black Camel.)

A lot of the bandsmen were not sure that the band was worth the effort. Attendance at rehearsals was spotty, and the former BandMaster was tiring of it. However, when he announced his retirement, the bandsmen realized how much they would miss their band.

I was asked to step in as BandMaster. At first, I was not quite sure I wanted it. I have a day job, and plenty of other places to make music. But as I looked in the eyes of a few old friends, I realized just how much they really wanted to be together. I was hooked. I am kind of a softie that way.

So, the band remains, and we are performing. I hope to talk about some of our bandsmen in subsequent posts. They are great guys, and they should be known.