05-27-2020 9:07:22 AM CST
Retirement from teaching? What is that about?
I really have not known about this phenomenon until the pandemic forced the thought upon me.
Let me provide a bit of background here. Ever since I began my musical journey with the guitar 56 plus years ago, I have been engaged in some sort of knowledge sharing about the guitar. Teaching guitar, institutionally and privately, supported my family for many years.
The first lesson I taught was to Renata Caballero back in junior high. He didn’t learn much though as I was but a student myself. But that set things into motion for later developments in my educational career.
Teaching as a profession was sidetracked by the lure of stardom playing in rock bands during the high school and early college years. It wasn’t until 1975 when I began my formal journey in the world of guitar academia and my whole world shifted from gigging in nightclubs to taking morning theory tests. I was enamored with the prospect of playing guitar like Christopher Parkening and nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t. It was during this time that I began to test the waters of teaching as income on a part time basis through in-home lessons to wealthy clients’ kids.
Come 1978, undergraduate studies ended and I realized that teaching privately at McCarty Music could provide a decent income for a nerdy guitar student like me. I was able to teach at one location and not have to drive to students’ houses. I also had a somewhat reliable income and lots of practice time. It seemed logical to continue this path to adulthood. Thus began my debut as an education professional. But I was not through with my own educational advancement.
Enrolling at NTSU (UNT) in 1980 allowed me to continue my own studies and the opportunity to teach at the college level as a TA.
Graduation in 1983 ended my college years and I was left to fend for myself once again. Another recent NTSU graduate and myself launched an enterprise called Musical Concepts in Lewisville. Basically it was a teaching academy that rented studio space to other Denton musicians. The shop stayed in business a total of 3 years before finally come to a dismal end in 1986.
That is when our first son was born and I began teaching lessons at home. I can still remember some of the students names during my time in Lewisville. I supplemented the household income by cooking for Chili’s at the same time. Life was like walking a tight rope during this time but we all survived.
In 1989, my wife and I decided to return to Wichita Falls as we now had 2 sons and our financial life was
not going so well. I attribute our troubles to many things but there was the S and L crisis that was rolling over the country at the time which didn’t help at all.
Returning to Wichita in 1989, I began my 2nd stint at McCarty Music as a guitar instructor. Joan and Charlie Souther welcomed me with open arms. Is was a bit tough starting over at the store as my first few months brought only 4 or 5 students into my lesson booth weekly. That number grew until at the end of the decade I was seeing 70+ students each week. The lesson booth I used was the size of a closet, 4x6 feet.
During the Musical Concepts era, yearly recitals were the norm so I did the same during my McCarty years. There were recitals 2 times yearly, a fall concert and a spring concert. Some years I would have recitals on 2 separate evenings due to the number of students that participated. So many video tapes of these recitals are in storage. I remember all the students that performed and how proud they were to displaying their talents for their families and other students. Those recitals were special occasions indeed.
I was an adjunct at Vernon Junior College during this era also. Every Tuesday afternoon for 9 years, I traveled to Vernon to give private lessons to an array of students each semester.
This routine was upended when I began my Rider High School job. Starting a guitar program from scratch was a challenge. It was even doubly hard as I was also completing emergency certification at MSU to obtain a Texas Teacher’s Certification. I will never ever do that again.
While the school job was great for improving my bank account, I still lacked the extra cash needed to survive so private teaching was still a necessity. I continued at the music store but the load dropped to around 50 students weekly. That ended around 2007 when the music store business started to collapse and I began giving lessons at home. Most of the years through the 1990s and 2000s, I was teaching 6 days a week and often into the evening until 8 PM on weekdays. That is a lot of time spent with students, but I can’t complain as I was still learning and playing every day.
I might add that I also began my career as an adjunct at MSU around this same time. Juggling all those lessons and classes was overwhelming at times to say the least.
So I have been teaching a long time and seen a ton of students either in group situations or privately over the last 42 years.
Two years ago I retired from WFISD with 20 years under my belt. Veteran teachers always say you know
when it is time to go and this was my time to do just that. No regrets. This year is my last to teach as an adjunct at MSU. That was something that should have ended with Rider but I felt obligated to continue for the students’ sake.
I have fond memories of all my students over the years and blown away by how successful this folks became adults with lives and families of their own. They allowed me into their lives to impart some of my music wisdom and bring the joy of music to their lives. Most never pursued a career in music and that’s okay. They became doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, policemen, a few became teachers and some even entered the music profession. The time they spent playing in my class or lesson booth is special to me in that we made music together. That memory gives me joy.
I see their life accomplishments and I am proud that I played some part, however small, in their educational progress.
Teaching provided me with a way to support me and my family. I thank all my past students for trusting me with your musical education. I apologize for any misinformation I may have given during our time together. My hope is that they gained some kernel of knowledge that may have made a difference in how they approach music.
I realized early in my career that all students are not the same and do not want what they do not want. Tastes in music vary from individual to individual. My goal for every student was to find that one tune or musical idea that would spark the flame of curiosity which leads to greater study to discover more whys and how tos.
I am not sure that I am quite ready to quit teaching cold turkey yet. So I am retiring to a state of semi-retirement, if that really is a thing. I realize at this stage in my life that I need to slow down and enjoy my family more especially with grand kids in our lives now. Priorities have changed. Teaching guitar has been a major factor in directing my life and it’s time to try other things.
So is retirement from teaching really possible? I know that weekly schedules make for frustrating situations and I have had a lifetime time of that. It’s time for something different.
But quitting cold turkey. Is that even possible?
Maybe tomorrow will have an answer.
02-09-2020 11:37:57 AM CST
Most people start out playing guitar because they want to be a rock and roll guitarist and have adoring fans follow their musical journey. I am no exception. That was until I met my first classical guitar teacher, Jamie Inman. He turned me on to a world of music that immediately captivated my soul. By introducing me to polyphonic music through classical guitar, he hooked me like a bass on my dad’s fishing lure.
However, that is not what I will discuss here, maybe at a later date. This is about being a classical player in a country/rock town. More to the point, how I survived such an environment.
This story begins after college and through the years of a growing family. Teaching has always been the main income in our household. Whether seeing 70 students privately per week or 120 students daily in public school, teaching pays the bills.
Performing was what I trained for at UNT but like Victor Wooten’s mom said to him once, “How many guitarist does the world really need?” That doesn’t matter to the performer if they think they have something to say. We enjoy playing for other people and making everyone happy through music.
For me, playing the occasional wedding or societal affair turned out to be the avenue needed to keep my performing chops and make some extra cash to support my guitar habit. Let’s face it, everyone has habits. Some have more expensive habits than playing guitar but they don’t necessarily provide extra funds to support those habits, unless its drugs and we all know that is illegal. Last I heard, playing guitar even badly is not an offensive that the police are interested in.
Thoughts on gigging remind me of a fellow musician, Gail Key, who was instrumental (pun intended) in reviving the youth symphony in our city. Being the go to violinist in town for all things violin related, she taught primarily but also did side gigs to help supplement her cash flow. Once, she said that we should get together and tell war stories about former gigs over a glass of wine. Unfortunately that never happened as she passed before we had that opportunity, so Gail this is for you.
I will not bore you with all the strange gigs as this could quickly become a novel. What I will do is relate a few examples to illustrate some of the more interesting situations I’ve encountered.
First, guitarists are really in demand for outdoor weddings, no matter the season. It’s what brides’ want. From subfreezing temperatures in February to sweltering August evenings, the adventures are as vast as the hairs on a human head with the exception of someone like Telly Salvalas. For those of later generations, you might need to google him.
When sweat pours from the minister coat sleeve like a broken water fountain, you know it is HOT. Or the times you can’t feel your fingertips but can see your breath, your thoughts tend to drift to “Will I be heading to the ER with a case of double pneumonia before the recessional?”
Then of course there are trips to no man’s land where the nearest civilized settlement may be 50 or more miles away. Did I mention the wind and rain? Gale force winds are common in North Texas and the sky may drop whatever it holds within seconds of setting up the gear.
Once, I was scheduled to play a sunrise wedding in a field near the ranch house being built by the bride’s parents. As luck would have it, a deluge appeared an hour before the ceremony that was to start at 6 AM. Because of the field was soaked, the family decided to hold the wedding in the stables. Fortunately the horses hadn’t moved in yet but it was still messy from the rain. After the service, I realized that my car was stuck in the mud and had to be towed out of the muck which looked like a mud wrestling pit. This on the Saturday my wife and I were to leave for vacation. I had to wash the car twice before even thinking of loading the luggage. Fun times.
Another time at an evening wedding outside of Greenville TX, everything went as planned until the end. The evening was perfect for the wedding. Where things got strange was after the ceremony was over and I had completed my duties. Finding the bride’s mom to request payment for my services, she informed me that she left her checkbook back at her house and would I mind following to her home a few miles up the road. Knowing I would never see this woman again, I agreed. When we arrived, she got out of her car and informed me that her goat might jump on top of my car but not to worry as he was really harmless. I feel very fortunate that he decided not to use my car as a trampoline that night.
Playing in such diverse conditions is the norm. From pet pigs roaming the grounds to having to step around for cowpies or rattlesnake dens, gigging in these conditions is just another day at the office for me.
I can’t complain though because I always made the money contracted and on some occasions even a tip is earned to make the experience more palatable. There is even the promise of food from the reception or dinner provided by the bridal party. I can definitely say that Tex-Mex and BBQ are the most common cuisines served at these affairs. A few times, 5 star chefs are involved and that means gourmet meals like prime rib or quail. YUM YUM.
Of course, location and climate are not the only factors that add stress when playing these events. Song selection is another that adds to the drama. Many times, clients request songs that are special in their lives. Not a problem as this is the musician’s sole purpose, to create the proper atmosphere. One that is specifically designed by the bride and all interested parties, typically the bride’s mom.
As a hired gun, it is the duty of the musician to provide as many of the requested tunes no matter how strange the requests. Being open to these requests sometimes create great anxiety over having to learn something that really, I mean really does not translate well to the classical guitar. Somehow I always manage to work out the tunes well enough for the event. The challenge of creating an arrangement that the guests and wedding party can actually recognize is one that just compounds the stress factor. All tunes must meet the proper time allotment for the entrances and exits and do so seamlessly.
I soon realized that unless the wedding path is 500 feet, yes it can happen outdoors often, that I only need to have maybe a verse and chorus prepared. Otherwise, I do what is done in most bands with only a 5 song repertoire; I repeat the hell out of what is prepared. I once played “Jesu Joy of man’s Desiring” for 15 minutes for the mother’s and grandmother’s entrances. They never came out until I quit playing the song. Maybe I stopped to soon?
Commonly, a bride will request certain tunes played while guests arrive. Unless the guests tell her what tunes were played, she never knows what was played as that time is spent preening for her entrance. Still I always try to fulfill each brides’ wishes. That’s what professionals do.
My most favorite gigs happen to be for clients who request music for ambiance. No holds barred there. I get to really have fun and match the music to the guests’ mood and noise level. That might mean something soft and romantic to full out jam on some rock or jazz tune with the help of my looper. Half the time, the place is so noisy that if I quit playing no one even notices the music has stopped. But I still get paid and have a fine meal and maybe fine semi-expensive wine to help wash it down. Oh the life of a traveling musician.
I do have one strange event I wish to share with you. It was not a wedding at all but a summer solstice party as it was actually on that day. The client originally hired me to play Celtic music for his out of town business guests. The location for the event was on the pool deck of a prominent Dallas hotel about 20 floors up.
When we initially talked, the client informed me that I would play about 2 hours and during my breaks, synchronized swimmers would appear in Druid costumes carrying candles then disrobe and do their routine in the pool. I realized that Celtic was really not the music to match this scenario. I substituted modal music played over a drone bass to set the appropriate mood. As it turned out, most of the guests were way too drunk to even know what I was playing. That might have been the end of it but no, more was yet to come.
There was to be an appearance from a minor pop singer whom I had never heard of before. The client asked if I could perform renditions of some of her songs. I tried my best to accommodate his request but either the tunes weren’t a good match for the guitar or my arrangements were just bad. It was definitely not one of my finest products. Instead, it did prove to be a valuable learning experience.
Before adjourning to their hotel rooms for more fun and games, a burlesque stripper appeared and offered her routine as a night cap for the partygoers. That ended the evening on the pool deck and now it was time to collect my pay. I know I played more than the contracted 2 hours that night as there were a total of 5 hours from set up to break down. Hunting down the person who hired me took some time and I still waited 30 minutes while he retrieved his checkbook. Surely money was lost on that gig but I gained one heck of a story for my troubles.
The most stressful thing that happens is usually traffic related. One tries to plan travel to these events with punctuality in mind but things sometime take a turn for the worse. A handful of times, traffic and road conditions hinder the journey therefore delaying my arrival. The client usually is noticeably irate for my tardiness. However, I always manage to set up quickly and start playing close to the agreed upon start time. I chalk this up to stuff happens but it puts a damper on the whole affair.
Yes, playing for events is fun and money can be made but at what costs? Sanity? Self-doubt? Reputation? High blood pressure? Is it worth it? I think so. It’s great to play for others who appreciate the music and I have a ton stories to tell the grand kids when they get old enough to handle all the gory details. It also supports my guitar habit.
As a student at UNT during a lecture/demonstration, I had the pleasure of listening to a husband and wife team (he played guitar while she played the violin) talk about life as a gigging musicians. The bit of wisdom they imparted to the class has stayed with me since that day. It was that no matter how talented or famous you become, you are considered a servant by those that hire you. You are not their guest but were hired to entertain them and their guests with your music. In that role, you enter through the kitchen and leave through the kitchen. If a guest initiates a conversation with you, that’s ok but you should never start the conversation. The goal here is to be heard musically but not seen. Keep it that way and you are sure to get a good review.
Doing that speaks volumes about your professionalism with clients. They will only allow you to enter as much of their world as them deem fit.
With that, I will leave with one example of hospitality shown to me on many occasions.
I was to play an anniversary party for a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage. Their favorite artist was Bob Dylan. Having met in college in the 60’s, they liked Dylan’s music more than the Beatles. Having a ton of Beatle tunes arranged and only one of Dylan’s, I quickly learned 4 Dylan songs. I added one more on the trip after hearing it on the radio and working it out once I arrived. That made 5 Dylan tunes I had in my fingers. That was enough to satisfy the honored couple who asked me during my break to join them at their table to share their meal. It was a little awkward but they made me feel right at home.
That type of hospitality has been offered many times over the years, sometimes it’s accepted and other times it is respectfully declined knowing a long drive home awaits me.
Playing for gigs is pretty stressful at times but the reward comes when you see the guests and clients smiling and enjoying the atmosphere that the music creates. There is the money and food too.
02-01-2020 8:54:53 PM CST
We all have people in our lives that help us on our journey in some way or another. As a young guitarist, influences can come from many sources. My thoughts recently have been on a guitarist that influenced a ton of people in the Wichita Falls area for many years beginning in the ‘60s. Tiger Echols was his name.
Actually his given name was Vaughn Echols, but Tiger is what he was called by most people who knew him.
Tiger was a jazz player in the bebop tradition. If my memory serves me well, he earned that moniker while playing the jazz circuit in California in the late ’50. For some reason or another, he moved back to his hometown (not sure if that is actually correct or not) and began teaching guitar lessons out of a downtown music store, Max Kreutz’s House of Music.
Now in the late 60’s, this shop catered to the sheet music crowd and sold high end pianos to all the rich oil men that inhabited Wichita Falls at that time. It was said that at one time, Wichita Falls had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the US. My facts may be subject to interpretation but that is what I heard.
Most anyone who played guitar in Wichita encountered Tiger somewhere along their journey, either through lessons or jam sessions at Frank’s Place. Without too much debate, everyone who knew him would say he actually lived on a different dimensional plane than everyone else. He could even snap all his fingers in both hands producing a sound that was reminiscent of castanets.
I met Tiger while studying classical guitar at Midwestern. He was definitely one “hep” cat. Having just graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I made my journey to his lesson booth to try and improve my jazz chops.
Being bohemian in nature, he and I struck a deal to trade lessons. He would teach me jazz and I would teach him classical.
Most times when we met, he would be standing in front of a TV (Max Kreutz also sold those too) playing a video game from Atari or Intellivision. That pretty much dates this to the early 80’s. We would talk at great length about the game of which he had mastered before making our way back to the lesson booth.
The room was fairly large and filled with tons of music stuff. I do recall an old Sony or RCA reel to reel sitting in the corner which he never used. He would talk at great length about the Lydian Chromatic Concept that George Russell theorized and wrote a treatise about which made my head really hurt. This was during the time I began collecting music, methods and music theory books but at $35, this book was a bit more than my budget would allow and did I tell you it made my head hurt. So I didn’t buy the book. He did loan it too me for a while though.
What struck me most about the lessons was the total freedom he had to explore new ideas. His improv was pure bebop in the vein of Charlie Parker. Man, could he roar on that guitar. I now knew how he earned his name. That cat could play some serious jazz.
I, on the other hand, had spent my formative years in rock and blues so it was pentatonic all the way, baby.
I was totally mystified by what I was hearing from his guitar. It was gorgeous. Every note had a place to go and nothing sounded wrong. Try as I might, my efforts were pale in comparison to his but he never denigrated my attempts one bit. I came away with a deep reverence for that style even though my brain could not imagine me ever playing on that level.
Trying to teach him classical was difficult as I had only played the style a few years and was not well versed on the intricacies needed to convey proper technique to such an experienced player as he. We still had hours of fun going through the motions of explaining our different approaches to each other.
I fondly remember sight reading duets with him by composers like Bach, Handel and Vivaldi. He had an amazing ability to sight read non-stop as his harmonic awareness was vastly superior to my feeble contributions. Tone for him was more of an afterthought but didn’t matter to him. He made up for it with his musicality.
His favorite thing for us to jam on was riffing over the changes em and A7. Any jazzer knows this as ii-V and he literally tore it up with so many strange substitutions and exotic scales that my head would figuratively elevate off my shoulders and do aerial flips. We would then play tunes such as “All the Things You Are” or some Carlos Jobim tune with changes that seemed to constantly move in ever increasing tempos through bizarre chords. Playing the melody was tough enough without trying to improvise over the changes.
To him though, it was effortless. His sense of timing and note selection were impeccable. I had heard guitarists like that on recordings but never live and 2 feet away. Lightning fast runs flowed seamlessly into chords I never imagined were possible and then returned to even faster riffs, an endless stream of variations. Tiger had it all.
Or so it seemed. My time with Tiger lasted about 2 years. During that time, I began to see him as a true believer of the “hep” world. His philosophy was not hard to pin down as he took everything at face value and was extremely laid back.
Tiger attended a concert I gave at the university and I invited him to my house afterwards for a party. He informed me that while at the concert, his Johnny Smith guitar and Twin Reverb had been stolen from his VW microbus. He had forgotten to lock the van, maybe it couldn’t be locked, I can’t recall. His reaction to that set back was pretty nonchalant. I would have totally freaked about that but he was not the least bit upset. Too cool to let everyone see his emotions maybe, but that was Tiger.
Once, I arrived at Max Kreutz for our weekly tete a tete to find him painting his VW parked on the street in downtown Wichita Falls with latex house paint and a 4 inch brush. Mind you, this was in July which just happens to be when the sidewalks of downtown can fry eggs in about 1 minute. When I arrived, he laid the brush on the open can of paint and we proceeded into the booth for the lesson. Afterward, he went back to the bus, picked up the brush from the open can and started painting again.
That just added to the mystique of this guitar giant. His brain was so full of musical stuff that everyday activities were trivial in his mind.
After our time together I moved to Denton to begin my master’s and we lost touch with each other.
Fast forward about 10 years. I moved back and started teaching private lessons at a local music store, McCarty Music, which had once been a competitor of sorts to Max Kreutz. I would see Tiger from time to time walking alone down some street because he didn’t own either a car or a guitar. Former students took pity on the man and provided shelter for him but if was sad to see such a talented individual with no visible means of financial support.
Last time I heard of him was that he was homeless. Then one day I found out that he had passed away. I’m not sure how many people showed for his funeral or even if he had one at all. Here was a man whose sole purpose in life was to play music that elevated the spirit yet his life was full of hardship due to his disregard of how the rest of the world lived.
He found something that he truly loved and devoted his whole life to that. As a teacher, he touched so many young guitarists’ lives and is still very much alive in them today.
As players, we have to balance many things. Some of us opt to play professionally and do quite well with that. Some others play locally for fun because their lives take a different road. Some even take on teaching as he did, knowing that with each passing year, their own chops do improve and they get to pass that knowledge on to other players. Families play an important role in the choices we make. Tiger had no family that I know of but his family was made up of the countless number of people he influenced with jamming to em-A7.
If you ever get a chance to see a former instructor, I sincerely hope that you let them know the impact that they had on your life. I never had that chance with Tiger and that fact saddens me.If anyone has a story to share about Tiger or some other mentor, I welcome all comments,
01-26-2020 11:47:55 AM CST
This page sat blank a few days while I thought about what to opine about next. My brain was processing a lot that happened and it was hard to focus on one specific thought. Playing kick ball in the backyard with Chewbacca (my longhair dachshund) brought cool, clean winter air into my body and with it came the idea for today’s topic.
Not really a topic but simple life observations.
First let me say that I sold my dad’s truck that I inherited when he passed a few years ago. There were many painful memories associated with that truck. Granted it’s just a truck but one that my dad had hand-picked to drive in his later years. He lived to the ripe old age of 95, God rest his soul.
The truck was used sporadically in the years that I owned it. Needless to say, it sat a good deal of the time behind my house. The layer of dirt on it was pretty thick. You could hardly see through the windows because dirty water spots had created a fine opaque film across the entire truck. It was most neglected in the appearance department.
The times that it had been driven were trips to Lowes or the dump. It helped remodel 2 houses and move a ton of furniture. Yearly maintenance was done whether I drove the recommended miles or not. But that is what dad taught me to do. The truck was always reliable in times crisis. The truck really didn’t meet my needs anymore so my wife and I started thinking about replacing it with one that would.
That opportunity arose when the old truck was in a wreck and had to go in for repairs. I got the new one and then had to figure out what to do with dad’s old truck once it came home. Hello Craig’s List and Facebook.
Now mind you this truck is not very fancy, not even electric windows. But like I said, it was always running and dependable in crisis situations.
After about 2 months of scam calls wanting me to purchase a car report from some website based in the Netherland’s, I was getting pretty discouraged about its sale. I even started to rationalize keeping it to use in our renovation endeavors.
Finally, someone contacted me who seemed like a valid buyer.
Let me add this, prior to posting the truck, my son helped me detail the truck enough to show. Having just been released from bondage at the body shop, the truck really didn’t need much but some finer detailing. With low miles for a 2006, I would have bought this truck if the bed were only full size.
Well now I had to get the truck ready for the new owner. It had sat for about 2 months so things like leaves tended to pile on top of it. Mind you, it was not as bad as before but it did need some sprucing up.
My dad was a car mechanic, a really good car mechanic. I worked for a short time at his filling station and only due to some crime I had committed. I was 16. This was his way of keeping his eye on me. Everyone commits some crime at 16, some just don’t get caught. That could be is another story but not now.
I began the process of washing the truck. Back in the days of full service filling stations, there was always a wash bay and through my brief but spectacular stint as a pump jockey, I got to spend a lot of time washing extremely dirty vehicles of all sizes. That memory forced my eye to guide my hand in making dad’s old truck sparkle.
I ended up spraying and hand rubbing it 4 times not counting hand drying it after the last rinse. Each time my hand passed a spot done before, 3 more flaws revealed themselves.
Feeling the metal beneath my hand, my thoughts of dad were immense as if he were there watching my motions and nodding his approval. Knowing all the heart ache that my dad brought me as a child and young adult meant nothing in that moment. I was really letting go, this last symbol of his life. Memories, both good and bad, came rushing into my mind. In that moment I realized that he was still with me in a way. What I am is due partially to his paternal influence but also partially to my reaction to his influence.
Dad’s eye for detail was in me. I spent more time rubbing until every last spot of road grime was eradicated from the vehicle. Two hours later I was done. I smiled while knowing that dad himself was watching me work, guiding me to make that truck shine and saying, “Good job.” When he was alive he tended to be very critical of my actions and decisions. But that too had vanished into the past. That feeling of release came over me and all was right and calm.
I made my way home to eat, find the title and wait for the folks to come for the truck.
The folks from Bowie showed up right on time, actually a bit early. Finishing my lunch, I opened the door to find them, an elderly man (maybe my age give or take a few years) and a younger woman, approaching my door. Punctuality is one of the traits my dad instilled in me. They were nice enough folks so I didn’t mind them taking the truck for a spin just like dad would have done even though I forgot the ladies name and never really asked the man’s name. I didn’t worry for a minute because I felt they were honest people through our brief exchange.
On their return 30 minutes later, some truths were revealed. For one, I had mis-advertised the truck as being four-wheel drive of which it wasn’t. Secondly, it was a V-6 not a V-8. I admitted my oversight due to auto fill, but in my mind I was screaming “dumbass” to myself. After a brief exchange over the price and a few moments of reflection, we finally agreed on a fair price and the deal was done as the man brought out a wad of 100 dollar bills. Just like dad would have done.
As they were preparing to leave for home, I finally asked the gentleman with the big wad of hundreds his name. He said “Gerald” or so I thought. I asked if that was with a “d” or not. He replied it was not and he spelled it for me, J-E-A-R-L. My brain exploded as I told him that was how my dad spelled his name. He went on the say that his last name was actually French. I replied that my family also had French roots as my last name is also of French ancestry.
What an un-expectedly strange coincidence that was but the day was not over. As a gesture of good faith, I took the woman to the corner gas station to fill the tank. I also told them the easiest route to the highway that takes them home which was about 50 miles away. I then shook the gentleman’s hand one last time to thank him and wish him safe travels. Thinking back now, my dad would have done the same thing. Life is strange that way.
The day was a day I had never experienced before. Going through the motions of preparing the truck for the new owner, bringing old memories to the forefront, reconciliation with the past and now this, meeting a man with the same name as dad and with the same worldly roots made me realize how connected and strange life really is.
We sometimes go through life oblivious to signs in our life that warn and guide us yet sometimes they smack us right up-side the head like a 2x4. This was definitely one of those times.
While dad and I never agreed 100 percent of the time (more like 10 per cent), I recognized that he like me, was just a man with all the failings of men. While he affected me in many ways, I am not a slave to his influence but my own journey is my own.
Throughout that day, it was as if dad was visiting me and telling that he too had come to terms with our differences and was telling me that all was right and calm.
01-19-2020 11:17:15 PM CST
The heading on my website for this blog is Confessions of a Reformed Classical Guitarist. Not sure how that came into being. It’s doubtful that “reformed” is correctly referencing my state of being, but it sounded good so it stays.
As a teacher/performer like most of you who are still reading this and still might have the least bit of interest in reading further, I have experienced great pain and suffering, literally, trying to maintain a livable and artistic lifestyle.
For the past 10 years or so, injury has plagued my left arm in one way or the other. The first bout with injury occurred after a gig in Ft Worth. It affected my left elbow, what some people may call “tennis elbow.” I was playing a lot of Latin music at the time but that’s not to say that is what caused my problem. Reflection about the cause of the injury was simply I was playing WAY TOO MUCH.
Not only was I gigging more frequently (which meant more practice of course}, I was playing with and for my kids at school every day. Then of course there were lessons later in the day. All told, most days I was playing around 8 to 10 hours a day every day. That was I lot of wear and tear on the old body which is aging daily.
Suddenly the brakes on playing were applied. Rest, massage, therapy, pressure wraps and finally doctors which led ultimately to a shot, nothing was working. I must admit that the shot while initially painful, helped but eventually wore off after about a month or so. What to do?
My main revenue stream was still playing guitar so I decided to just continue PT and have less play time. It was easy in class to not play every day. I would limit my demonstration time quite effectively through careful consideration of what was essential to the learning process.
Practicing for gigs was still a challenge especially when the bride requests an Andy McKee song for her entrance. By the way, I only did that once. I was able to maintain learning new tunes without too many practice sessions and once the gig was over I quit playing that tune. I could always play it again if I needed as the tune was always written down somehow.
By limiting play time each day to no more than 1 or 2 hours and taking 1 or 2 days a week without playing at all, I was able to give my poor arm some relief. That was not the only thing that changed though. How I approached the guitar physically was also necessary for continued healing.
Classical guitarists are supposed to sit a certain way and that is just how it is. So now we get to the “reformed” part. Tradition dictates raising the left leg and resting the guitar on the raised leg. That was not going to happen as I gave that up years ago due to back issues. Guitar supports had become my main posture reformer. By becoming more flexible in sitting allowed my elbow to regain most of its mobility and make the pain less noticeable. The process spanned probably the better part of 3 years but there were no more doctor visits which can be quite costly for the average guitarist. Needless to say it was an extremely long time before things stabilized with my elbow.
Fast forward a bit for the next injury of which I am still recuperating. This was another guitar gig related incident. In June of last year, I played a wedding and reception in Dallas. Little did I know that a violent thunderstorm knocked out all the power in the downtown area just 2 hours prior to my arrival. The wedding coordinator was trying to get a generator but had no success. I ended up playing both wedding and reception without amplification. The wedding was fine as everyone was respectful of the situation and I only played 4 tunes for the entrance/exit and a few prelude tunes. Nobody talks during entrances so it was easy to be heard. It happened to be in a venue converted from an old brake and clutch business so there was lots of space to fill with sound. However the reception was a different matter. It was in an area of the venue that was 3 times bigger than the wedding area and a whole lot noisier due to guests beginning to enjoy their dinner and drinks. I played what I could which pretty much amounted to me pounding out chord melodies with enough force to sink a battleship. The DJ from San Antonio had to borrow the cop’s Bluetooth speaker to provide music after my set. At least he didn’t have to beat his speakers to play tunes. The situation was dire to say the least but I made it through the gig in one piece, stopping from time to time to ask the DJ “Can you really hear me?”
I didn’t feel too much but normal fatigue that day while driving home but the next few days, I noticed that gripping with my left hand brought forth excruciating pain in my wrist where the thumb connects. Being retired allowed me to not play every day but I still play at church weekly so practice was still necessary. More reflection was needed.
I knew that rest would be the only solution so I stopped playing entirely for about 3 weeks during July. That seemed to help but not entirely. Googling the symptoms revealed the damage was to the thumb side of the wrist known as De Quervain’s or texter’s thumb. More research revealed that through massage, rest and all the other things you do to promote healing would be the best course of treatment. I have a dreadful fear of sharp instruments near my hands and take every precaution necessary to afford contact with said objects. So I followed those guidelines and began the process of rehabilitation.
That process also meant rethinking posture with the guitar once again. After the sabbatical of no guitar, playing was introduced in very short segments of time beginning with maybe 30 seconds. There still was pain, excruciating pain to the point of tears. More rest was needed. I played with a wrist brace at times and that helped.
I then discovered the limits this affliction has on technique. It reduces your ability to stretch much past 4 frets and bar chords are rendered useless. It does not affect finger nimbleness or movement of the arm though so that is encouraging. Spatially, harmonic possibilities are severely limited. Many tunes that were accessible just prior to the incident brought intense shooting pain through my forearm where I would just have to stop completely. Not the best feeling in the world.
Moving the guitar with the support to my right leg allowed my wrist to relax in a more natural position which never hurt. As long as the wrist maintains that profile, there is no pain. Only when the thumb is extended away from the fingers does it hurt. As time continues, stretching is becoming less painful.
Changing legs worked really well for the left hand. Certain things were more accessible than before allowing my fingers the freedom to do their thing.
My thoughts about repertoire also changed. Most classical music is completely off limits due to complex polyphonic textures that are nearly impossible to navigate physically. I began to just improvise using the limited skills my fingers would allow. Playing became enjoyable and almost pain free once again. It’s a trade-off though, quit playing everything or play to my limits. I choose to do option 2.
So backed to this “Reformed” business, the point I’m trying to convey is pain is an indicator of injury, WELL DUH!!! How we recover from that injury is up to us and what is truly important in our lives. Time does heal wounds but only if you allow enough time to make it so.
Sometimes we must reform our ideas to meet the demands of the situation. It’s not perfect but it’s all we’ve got. I had to reform my thoughts on approaching the guitar due to pain. It’s still a work in progress but I remain hopefully optimistic for a full recovery eventually.
Age and injury definitely put limitations on the abilities we acquire in our youth. Do we succumb to those pressures or do we stave off its affects through vain attempts at quelling the inevitable outcome? Not much solace in either scenario but at least I will continue to try and improve my condition through mindfulness and reform.
01-17-2020 2:32:13 PM CST
Not sure why I am doing this other than to get thoughts out of my head, but here goes.
If seems that everyone is speaking their minds these days and adding their 2 cents to the discussion, whatever that may be, so another aging guitarist just might add more fuel to the fire. This blog will not be about any current political, religious or environmental issue that rages on not matter what the season. This will be pure observational in nature leaning at times to the philosophical. Opinions maybe optional.
So if you know much about me, I play guitar and have for most of my life I might add. Student, teacher, mentor, performer and all around guitar playing crazy person. I suppose this is about a journey of enlightenment or the babbling of a lunatic, who knows.
I have come to an age in my life when we begin to reflect on our past life, the successes and failures of which there are many on either side. So my thoughts today lean towards what retirement from public school is like as opposed to that alternative, "THE CLASSROOM."
A typical school day for me was this:
4:30 AM - Wake up for breakfast, dress and drive to the Y for lap swim
5:30 AM- Arrive at pool and swim morning mile, shower, change then drive home
6:45 AM - Arrive home, change to school uniform (slacks and dress shirt), grab gear and lunch before heading to school
7:00 - 7:15 AM - Arrive at school and prepare for the days zaniness, commiserate with fellow teachers about the state of the latest nutty decisions about how we have to do our jobs while trying to actually do our jobs and remembering to put on that happy face
7:45 AM - LET THE GAMES BEGIN
(From this point, we become everyone to our students, educational guide, disciplinarian, counselor, nurse, arbitrator, fireman, guardian, you name the hat and we fill it.)
Through out the day I had a many as 5 different class to teach, beginning guitar (3 sections), guitar 2 (1 section), guitar ensemble (1 section), AP music theory and piano ( both 1 section each). My plate was full maintaining that each student made progress in the subject while walking a tight rope between all the egos of the students and demands of the system. Needless to say if was most demanding of my time and energy.
3ish PM - The district was always jacking with the schedule so the end time for students tended to be flexible from year to year.
3:30ish PM - Get to finally sneak away while all the core teachers stayed another 2 hours because they cared.
3:45 - Arrive home and change into my home uniform (jeans and a T-shirt) and prepare for the private lessons
4 PM - first lesson arrives and begin their 30 minute lesson
8 PM - last lesson leaves for home and I eat dinner and crash in front of the TV
8:45 PM - Realize before Criminal Minds is over that I have a wedding in Greenville TX Saturday and I haven't learned all the tunes for the ceremony yet so back to the chair to work the tunes.
11 PM - Realize that 4:30 AM is getting closer so I drag my body upstairs to get at least 5 hours sleep
12 AM - Snore city
As a comparison to that horrible situation (actually it wasn't that bad at the time), this is what a typical day is now.
4:30 AM - get up to let the dog outside because he is still on the old schedule, let him back in and go back to bed.
6:45 to 7:15 - Finally get out of bed for breakfast
8:15 to 8:45 - Get dressed for the day or get ready for 1 of 3 weekly swims
9 - 10 - possibly in the pool or working on fixing something on a house or playing guitar
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM - Lunch is no longer 30 minutes nor is only at 11 AM. I eat when I feel like it and can actually brush my teeth after I eat.
1:30ish - back to whatever I was doing in the morning.
4 PM - Some things never change, private lessons begin but this time only 3 days a week, not every day.
8 PM - Last lesson leaves and dinner is eaten before watching Netflex or HULU
10 to 12 PM - This is very flexible, either I play guitar or watch TV than prepare for bed.
If I was 25 years old again and didn't have to worry about how I was to pay for every thing, I would definitely choose the second scenario.
While I am thankful for the opportunity I had teaching guitar in public school, it's nice to have the freedom to actually live like humans were supposed to live, free from self created stress.
There is no need to fixate on some student who is not willing to respond to my guidance or some utter nonsense that the district policy is demanding of me. NO MORE.
All that added pressure made playing the guitar almost impossible to enjoy. The demands of the job detracted from the simple pleasure derived by playing some piece of music that lifts the soul. Those last years in the public school system weighed heavily on my enjoyment for making music. Playing is totally different now. While I enjoy creating music, it is not as important as when I was 25 years old. Life changes your perspective immensely. I believe our journey through life also changes us. We are what we eat, spiritually, physically and intellectually.
Would I change the past if I could, maybe, maybe not. I do know that having less professional influences demanding my attention has been liberating.
So for all you seeking solace from the chains of servitude you find yourself bound to, there is hope at the end of your journey. Just keep your head down, do your job the best way you know how and keep playing guitar no matter what.