Friday, April 29, 2016

Why You Should Join A Band

    I have recently become a member of a rock and roll band, sort of.  It happened almost by accident. A few years ago, just for kicks I decided to learn to play the old family fiddle that had been languishing in the closet for decades.  I took lessons for several years and learned the basics.  At the age of over-fifty it was a challenge to find the time to practice every day, but I did.
     About 6 months into it, I started taking the fiddle to church and playing along with the pianist - hymns out of the hymnal, mostly, while the congregation sang along.  I wasn't very good but I played the melody quietly and stayed mostly in tune and nobody noticed, or if they did they were polite enough not to say anyting.  It was pretty nerve-wracking at first but after awhile it became easier.
    Somebody decided we needed to be more "contemporary" so a song leader/guitarist was added.  We started playing more modern music, using sheet music downloaded from the internet.  The song-The song leader, who played the acoustic guitar, sometimes asked me to do little solos which I did with varying degrees of success.  We needed someone to keep us together rhythmically so a teenage bongo player was added to the group. The sheet music now had harmonies and we took turns playing different parts.  Sometimes the songs were on YouTube and we could make up different parts for ourselves.  The music became more rich and  layered with the 3 of us on keyboard, fiddle, and guitar playing different parts.   A harmonica sometimes joined in.  We were getting pretty good!
   Then alas, as it sometimes happens, the song leader was offered a better gig and took it.  Luckily, she was replace by a younger song leader/guitarist who liked even louder, more electric, more contemporary music.   She quickly invited an electric guitar to join us, an electric drum set was purchased, and now we had a 5 piece band that sounded more like rock and roll than hymns and gospel.
   It's great to be a member of a band.  I highly recommend it for many reasons.  First of all, playing music is great fun.  Back in the old days before television and internet and video games took up everyone's time, playing music was one of the few methods of entertainment available.  Families spent Saturday nights sitting around making music together. That's how many of the great family bands like the Carters and the Jacksons were formed.  Kids learned to play instruments as soon as they were big enough to hold them.  Everybody was included, there was a place for everyone in the family band.
     Playing music together forms a bond.  Band members rely on each other. Each person has to play their specific part well in order for the music to sound right.  If one member improves, the whole band gets better.  Knowing that your fellow bandsmen will be relying on you spurs you on to practice more than you might otherwise.  You don't want to let your fellow band members down!  Being in a band gives you the motivation to become a better musician.
     Playing in a band is non-competitive.  Everybody plays a little different part, so nobody is competing directly with another. It's a cooperative effort.  Band members learn to listen to each other and anticipate what the others will do.  It becomes almost a sixth sense to know where the others are going with the music.  They learn to listen and react quickly when something unexpected happens or changes are made on the fly in the middle of a performance.
     Band members appreciate each other.  They know the practice and hard work that goes into preparing for a service or a performance.  They know the sweaty palms and jitters that precede doing a solo, and help each other have the confidence to try.  They know how easy it is to make a mistake, and encourage one other to keep trying.  They know it takes audacity to stand up in front of and audience and claim to be a musician, when sometimes you're not so sure about that.
   It's great to be a band member - it doesn't matter what kind.  Country, rock, gospel, blues, symphonic - they're all good.  If you want to connect with people, have fun, set goals and reach them, and overcome self consciousness, learn and instrument and join a band!   You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince Was Too Cool For Me

     The world and especially baby boomers were stunned to learn this week of the untimely death of Price Rogers Nelson, also known simply as "Prince."  He was one of our own generation, having been born in 1958 at the tail end of the baby boom (the same year as me.)  He is being hailed as a musical genius and one of the best soul/rock guitarists of our generation.  Throngs of fans have gathered outside his estate and around the world, paying tribute to his life and his music.  Public buildings and sports arenas have been lighted up in the color purple in honor of one of his biggest hits,  "Purple Rain."
    But to be honest, although I grew up aware of his music, I was never a really huge fan.  His music was always floating around out there at the edge of what was considered popular. Oh sure, everybody knows a few of his tunes.  "Raspberry Beret" is the one that comes most quickly to my mind.  It's catchy, has a chorus you can sing along to, and tells a familiar story - boy meets girl and falls in love (or seduces her.)  "When Doves Cry" is also about a subject most people can relate to - why do we have problems in our relationships that seem like the same problems our parents had?  Is it my fault, because of who I am?  How can we fix it?
    And then of course there's "1999."  While the rest of us were freaking out, worrying about Y2K, and wondering if the power grid would fail on January 1st, 2000, Prince decided to party on through it all.   It turned out the joke was on us and the great collapse of society never happened.
    But to be honest, that's about the extend of my knowledge of the catalogue of his songs.  If you asked me to sing "Purple Rain" or "Little  Red Corvette", I couldn't do it.  I just don't know them.
     Judging by the size of the crowds gathering to memorialize him, Prince was hugely popular with a certain segment of the population.  Many people say that he made them feel that it was okay to be "different" and allowed them to accept themselves for who they were.  Other celebrities and musicians alike, including BeyoncĂ© and Anderson Cooper, have professed to being in awe and a little intimidated by his talent.  His performances were from all accounts hugely entertaining, impressing even President Obama, who apparently grew up a fan and invited him to perform at the White House recently.
     How did such a popular musician remain on the outer edges of my consciousness?  For one thing, Prince's music was a little too overtly sexual for my taste.  I prefer the romantic sound track of my life to be a little more subtle.  Prince came on just a little too strong for me, but maybe that's exactly what so many others liked about him.
     Prince's was always pushing boundaries and experimenting with musical styles.  His music was not at all "mainstream."  One had to have a pretty sophisticated musical ear to appreciate what he was doing musically.           
     And he was flamboyant.  You had to be able to look past the eye makeup, the pompadour hairdo, and the wild outfits to recognize his talent. I remember in particular one of his stage costumes.  If any man ever showed up at my house with both butt cheeks carved out of his pants, I'd be a little put off.   But he wore it and got away with it because it was just part of his flamboyant persona.
     From all accounts the world has lost a pretty talented musician at a relatively young age, and I recognize that.  The cause of his death is still unknown.  Hopefully the toxicology reports will come back clean and he will be found to have died a natural, though untimely, death.  If he died of a drug overdose that would make it all the more untimely and tragic.  Apparently he has left behind thousands of unheard tracks of music that may be released over the next few years.   Unfortunately it's music that I will probably never hear or appreciate because Prince was just too cool for me.   

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Equal Pay for Equal Work - Really?

     In this political season, we hear lots of talk about women's rights and "equal pay for equal work."  What exactly does that mean? It means that a woman with the same education and training as a man doing the same job at the same level as a man should be paid the same.  Figures vary, but the latest numbers I've seen show that on an average women are paid from 75% to 95% what a man makes for performing the same job.  There are a few jobs that women make more than men, such as social worker, but they are for the most part the lower paying jobs overall.
     The reason for the disparity in pay is partly social.  Women are still the main caregivers of children.   During childbearing years some women take time off, or choose roles with lower pay because they offer more schedule flexibility and are less stressful and demanding.  Who wants to preside over a high stakes meeting and make high pressure decisions, when you've been up all night taking temperatures and your kids are home with the flu?
     Society is changing and men are taking on more of the childcare responsibilities.  I myself have known a few "house-husbands" who stayed home and cared for children while their wives worked, but they are the exception rather than the rule.  I applaud employers for providing flexibility to both women and men who must leave work to care for the occasional sick child or attend a doctor appointment.  Employers know that people have lives outside of work, and those lives sometimes intersect with work hours.
     However, I also know of employees who treat their jobs like something to fit in around their family schedules.  It is one thing to enjoy flexibility at work.  It is another thing to take undue advantage of it.  In the United States, many full time employees are expected to work an 8 hour day or at least a 40 hour week.  However some parents use their children's schedules to whittle that down to 35 hours or less by coming in late, leaving early, and being absent a disproportionately large part of the time, all under the guise of "taking care of the kids," and all the while still expecting to maintain full time status and receive full time pay and benefits.  Moms leave work early to shuttle kids to soccer practice and come in late more than seems reasonable.  Time can presumably be made up by "working at home" but how often is it really, and how would anyone know?  Who keeps track?
     In my experience, employers are very tolerant of this kind of activity and there doesn't seem to be penalties for this behavior, but maybe the penalties are there under the surface. These employees may be the ones who are not getting raises and promotions as often as others, and they  may not mind at all. They are still getting a full salary and full benefits and their job is not interfering too much with their family lives.  Should these people be making as much as others?  No they shouldn't!  They are not doing "the same job to the same level."
     This is not to disparage all working parents.  I have known very dedicated moms and dads who have gone over and above what is expected from their employers without neglecting their families.  I hope that their employers recognize this and have rewarded them accordingly.
     But the bottom line is this - before we start screaming "equal pay for equal work" we'd better take a good long look at our attitude toward our jobs and make sure this is what we really want.  In some cases "less pay for less responsibility" is what some of us are really after.