Friday, April 28, 2006

Sight Reading at the Piano


I had a long running battle with some hard nose teachers on an Internet newsgroup several years ago. They made it quite clear that there was absolutely no room in their book for anyone who cannot sight read well. Guess that leaves me out because although I am a concert trained pianist and a commercial performer by trade for over forty years, my sight reading skills have never been very good. I do it better than the average pianist but that's because I've been at it a lot longer. And if I've been working a job where it's required that I sight read a good bit, after a couple of weeks I get in the groove and am much better than usual at it. So my contention is this:

Living in the United States, we are both going to go to Chicago from Los Angeles. You're going to take the direct route via Denver, Colorado and I'm going to go by way of Phoenix, Arizona. It's going to take me a couple of days more to get there than you but who cares? It's not important for me to get there quickly, it's just important that I GET there.

I would think that you can see the analogy right away. We're both going to learn the same piece of music and memorize it for performance purposes. (NOTE: We memorize for performance simply because it is easier to play without the music) Because of your better sight reading skills, you are going to learn it faster than I do. So what? Eventually we're both going to perform the same piece of music in public from memory. What difference does it make whether you learn it and memorize it in ten days or ten weeks? The proof of the effort comes from the PERFORMANCE, not the learning procedure.

The howls of rage from several members of the newsgroup were deafening. They contended that there was absolutely no room in the business for someone that didn't learn to sight read well. In their mind, sight reading well was imperative to being a good musician. I guess the same principle should apply to anyone playing basketball - you're no good unless you can play as well as Michael Jordan. That is patently absurd! I dropped out of the newsgroup and have not been back.

Let me tell you about someone who was a good sight reader. I was a freshman at the University of Notre Dame and either volunteered or was elected to turn pages for the accompanist of a hot shot baritone who was giving a concert on campus, probably because I was one of the few in the music department that had the white tie and tails outfit. She came in about ten minutes before show time and talked to the star of the show about a few notes she had made in the margins of the music on the plane.

When we started, I was standing next to her thinking that when she got to the end of the next to last stave on the second page, I would put my hand up to the music, get ready to turn the page and do so a measure or two before the end of the line. There were three staves (lines) of music to go when she said "Turn the page". I was dumbfounded. I said "Ma'am?" "TURN THE PAGE!" So I turned the page and watched in amazement as this woman continued to play the three lines that had been on the previous page FROM MEMORY! When there were three lines left on the next page, I put my hand up, looked at her, and she nodded her head. So I turned the page. This went on through the whole two hour concert.

When it was over, I told her I had never seen anything like that before. She said that it was a special talent that she had worked very hard to develop. Because of her ability and talent and hard work, she had earned a reputation as being someone who could play it right the first time and every time. It also had made her a very highly paid accompanist. Anytime someone got sick and couldn't make a concert, they knew she was dependable and could get it right. If she was available, no one hesitated to hire her. She was also in very high demand for concerts where people knew about her talent. I asked her if she had ever played the music that she played for this concert. She said "I think I played a couple of them about ten years ago." Mind Boggling!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is true sight reading. I don't have that talent so why worry about it? When I go on a job to perform for some event, I play approximately 2,000 tunes from memeory. At that point in time, does it really matter how long it took me to learn any of them? I don't think so.

Here's a little side note. The sight reading talent is not very common. Those who can do it usually end up in the major recording studios in Nashville, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York etc. The reason is very simple. The last I heard, recording studio rates for musicians were about $750.00 for a three hour session. If they go into the fourth hour, it's automatically another $750.00. If you have an orchestra of thirty musicians, the basic rate is $22,500. 00 for the first three hours. If the musicians can't cut it and get it right in the first three hours, add another $22,500.00 to the basic rate. This is truly a good example of how time is money! The better sight readers the musicians are, the better shot the producers have at keeping the cost down.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Gouging Oil Companies

Let's teach them a lesson!

This was originally sent by a retired Coca Cola executive. It came from one of his engineer buddies who retired from Halliburton. It 's worth your consideration. I got it from one of my students last year but never followed up on sending it to other people. However, I have NOT purchased any gas or other products from the two big oil companies since then.

Join the resistance!!!! I hear we are going to hit close to $4.00 a gallon by next summer and it might go higher!! Want gasoline prices to come down? We need to take some intelligent, united action. Phillip Hollsworth offered this good idea. This makes MUCH MORE SENSE than the "don't buy gas on a certain day" campaign that was going around a couple of years ago! The oil companies just laughed at that because they knew we wouldn't continue to "hurt" ourselves by refusing to buy gas. It was more of an inconvenience to us than it was a problem for them. BUT, whoever thought of this idea, has come up with a plan that can really work. Please read on and join with us!

By now you're probably thinking gasoline priced at about $1.50 is super cheap. Me too! It is currently $3.09 for premium unleaded in my town, $2.99 for regular. Now that the oil companies and the OPEC nations have conditioned us to think that the cost of a gallon of gas is CHEAP at $1.50 - $1.75, we need to take aggressive action to teach them that BUYERS control the marketplace..... not sellers. With the price of gasoline going up more each day, we consumers need to take action. The only way we are going to see the price of gas come down is if we hit someone in the pocketbook by not purchasing their gas! And, we can do that WITHOUT hurting ourselves. How? Since we all rely on our cars, we can't just stop buying gas. But we CAN have an impact on gas prices if we all act together to force a price war.

Here's the idea: For the rest of this year, DON'T purchase ANY gasoline from the two biggest companies (which now are one), EXXON and MOBIL. If they are not selling any gas, they will be inclined to reduce their prices. If they reduce their prices, the other companies will have to follow suit. But to have an impact, we need to reach literally millions of Exxon and Mobil gas buyers. It's really simple to do! Now, don't wimp out at this point.... keep reading and I'll explain how simple it is to reach millions of people.

I am sending this note to 30+ people. If each of us sends it to at least ten more (30 x 10 =300) ... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000)...and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth group of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers. If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all. (If you don't understand how we can reach 300 million and all you have to do is send this to 10 people.... Well, let's face it, you just aren't a mathematician. But I am, so trust me on this one.) How long would all that take? If each of us sends this e-mail out to ten more people within one day of receipt, all 300 MILLION people could conceivably be contacted within the next 8 days!!!

I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you? Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on. I suggest that we not buy from EXXON/MOBIL UNTIL THEY LOWER THEIR PRICES TO THE $1.30 RANGE AND KEEP THEM DOWN.

THIS CAN REALLY WORK. It's a reasonable boycott and will do the trick. We should see much lower prices by Christmas.

Take a tip from Nike, the only company with a really good slogan: "JUST DO IT!"

The Death Merchants

The Doom and Gloom sayers.

Someone sent me an article from a blog entitled "Gates of Vienna" which is all about how the Muslims are supposedly going to take over the world. I responded with the following e-mail:

I'm sorry but I don't find the doom and gloom journalists very interesting. I try to avoid them as much as possible because it's news designed to make everyone worried and wondering and seeking more information from the very same death merchants. I think they are all vultures feeding on the hopes of dead bodies so that they can sell more ads. If there were some tragedy in my family that caused news people to flock to my home, I would carefully advise them immediately that if they put one foot on my property I would protect it with every legal means available including shooting them if I felt threatend by their actions. They would soon go away.

In my personal knowledge bank is information that most people don't believe but I have verified it many times over. The scenario goes like this: the missing girl is dead. Little Mary's body has been found mutilated and sexually abused. One news group has the exclusive story. They all have groups of telemarketers. The telemarketers are notified that the exclusive story will be running on the five o'clock news. The telemarketers get on the phone and call all the big money clients to tell them that WXXX has the exclusive story on little Mary's demise with all of the gory details and it will run at five p.m. - Do you want to advertise?" Guess how many say "of course!"? Runs about 80%. Out of the other 20% about two thirds of those say "I wish I could but the budget for the month has already been exceeded." Check it out if you can. It's a pretty closely guarded secret but it does go on.

Since I don't watch the news I'm not exposed to this type of garbage but how many people do you know that refuse to watch this crap? My kids used to ask me "Daddy, why are there so many commericals right in the middle of my favorite program?" I told all of my girls - the tv exists for one reason and one reason only - and that's to sell you stuff. The only exception is PBS. I know one family that threw away the TV about 25 years ago and they seem like the most well adjusted and comfortable members of society that you could possibly find. Is there a message there? I get questions all the time from friends and family inquiring about some news story and I say to all of them "I have no idea. I don't watch that garbage."

If the Muslims do take over Europe, so what? The end of the world is far, far away. These machinations of one religious group are the actions of a small bug on a gnat's ass on the rim of the world in geological terms. The chances of it affecting you or me or our children is remote so why lose any sleep over it? This is just another attempt to stir up a lot of controversy to sell more ads. That's all these big shot TV personalities do is stir up controversy so that more people will watch their show. The ratings go up and they sell more ads. They don't exist to inform you - just to make money. No controversy, no money, no job. End of story!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hippy Dippy Bebop Progressive Jazz Junk

Being a professional musician for more years than I like to count, this definition came rolling out of my mouth about 40 years ago. The reason? Very simple. I had hired a goofball musician to play alto sax and clarinet in my quartet. So many people had said what a great musician he was and their opinion was wrong, wrong, wrong. I can remember spending the better part of four hours one night after the gig trying to explain to this hard head that a commercial job did not consist of playing anything you god damn well please. It did no good. He argued up one side and down the other about why what he was doing was the way to do it. If you could play eighty thousand notes instead of just eight, that was better in his book.

He was worse than a drummer I worked with years later. That dude is a really talented musician. He owns a drum shop and gives drum lessons. He knows every phrase, every "lick" as musicians call it, every trick of every drummer and he plays them ALL for every tune. It's a constant drum solo going on regardless of what is being played. By the time I got involved with him, I knew better. Towards the end of the Mardi Gras Ball season, I went to the orchestra leader and told him I was quitting because of the drummer. When the leader told me it wouldn't be necessary as the drummer had already told him that he wouldn't be returning for the next season, I told the leader I would stay on. The fact that I quit the band after the last ball is immaterial. I quit because the idiot leader refused to pay us on time and I was tired of that kind of treatment. He had more money than he knew what to do with and used this tactic to hold control over his musicians. The excuse was that the people who hired him hadn't paid him yet, as if that was our problem. What a bum! Live and learn.

Back to the sax player: I didn't have the experience to realize I should have fired the deadbeat immediately because he did not want to do what you have to do as a commercially performing musician. You have to play what the guy who is paying your salary wants to hear. And I'm not talking about the guy who owns the club. I'm talking about the guy who comes into the club with his date and planks down his hard earned cash to buy a drink or dinner or pay for a cover charge or whatever. If he wants to hear "Come back to Jesus Cha-Cha" you'd better play it if you know it or tell the customer that the next time he comes in you'll play it for him.
They WILL come back to see if you've done what you've said you were going to do. If you really want to impress them, you start playing it when they walk in the door and you have a fan for life.

Anyone who thinks the life of a performing musician is all sweetness and light doesn't have a clue as to what goes on behind the curtain on the bandstand. You really have to love it beyond words to stick to it. That's why when these youngsters come up to me and gush all over me about how great I play and how that's what they want to do, without exception I tell them "Don't even consider it. Stay out of show business. It's too damn hard!" My philosophy being that if that is enough to keep them out, then they don't have what it takes.
My Dad tried to convince me for years to quit playing every night and go to teaching full time. I kept telling him that I probably would when I had had enough. Unfortunately, in 1985, I made the mistake in getting really angry thinking I'd had enough of not getting paid what I though I was worth.

So I went to teaching full time. I'd always had students but very seldom more than a dozen and I didn't mind it. I didn't think twice about going to do it full time. My Dad did nothing else for 40 years and it literally killed him when he had to stop. I did it full time for twenty years and it almost killed me with a heart attack last July. I had no idea what was going on until the cardiologist came to see me the day before I was being released from the hospital. He is a very well educated man and a very good cardiologist and he took very good care of me in New Orleans. He told me that he wanted me to do this, that and the other to which I said ok. Then he asked me what I thought was a very stupid question: "What are you going to do after you get home?" I told him that when I got to feeling better I was going back to work. He replied: "Oh? Doing what?" and I said :Doctor, you know that I teach piano. I'll be going back to teaching." His response was: "Are you out of your mind? How the hell do you think you got here?" I was dumfounded and had no reply. He next said "Mr. Owens, teaching is one of the most stressful occupations you can have!" It took me about thirty seconds to respond: "Well, guess what Doctor. You're talking to the ex-piano teacher!" I quit at that moment on the basis of his expertise. Over the next couple of days, I gradually came to the realization of just how much I despised the damn job! Out of almost 50 students I had about five that were doing well. The others were driving me nuts - enough to put me in the hospital! I resolved to go back to performing, my very first and only love as soon as I was well enough. Then came Hurricane Katrina. More on this later.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006

The last straw came last night. A survey by Countrywide Mortgage Company to see if we are satisfied with the way they are handling our account. What an insult!

You be the judge. Over the years, we have paid thousands of dollars in interest on our home in New Orleans to Countrywide Mortgage Company. Last July 1, 2005, I had a heart attack. At that time, our second oldest daughter negotiated a deal with Countrywide whereby the loan was put on hold until January of 2006 with no payments due.

On August 27th, I went to a local car wash in New Orleans to get our antique Cadillac ready to travel because of the impending hurricane. I had inherited the car from my Dad and Mom in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1994 and had it shipped to New Orleans. Somehow or other, the car wash place shorted out the main motor for the windows and when I got home the windows on the driver side would not go down and the windows on the passenger side would not go up.

My wife has always fought me tooth and nail about leaving town when a hurricane threatens and this time I just didn't have the stamina to argue about it. I told her that if she wanted to stay we would stay. On Saturday night, she got frightened out of her wits by the man at the hurricane center in Miami. She came to me and said she wanted to get out of town. I told her we would have to go in the antique truck that I use for hunting and fishing because the Cadillac was unusable. She despised the truck at that time and didn't like it but had no other choice if she wanted to leave.

I was all in favor of leaving so we started getting some things together to get to our oldest daughter's home in Baton Rouge. In the meantime, one of our cats went out the pet door before I could close it and we were stuck until he came back. Dundee had lived with us for ten years and we were not about to abandon him. The other cat, Buster, a black persian and Hobo the dog were inside so we waited...and waited...and waited. Finally, at 4:00 a.m. Dundee showed up at the back door. Once he was inside, both of us were exhausted and laid down to get some sleep.

We got away from the house at 8:15 a.m. without boarding up the windows because it was so late. It took us five and a half hours to go 80 miles to Baton Rouge. It was really funny later on as my wife talked about all the late model cars we passed that had broken down and we were chuggin along in our old, 1969 Ford truck with no problems at all other than it was hot. Since that happened, she has nothing bad to say about the truck which got us out of harms way.

Two days later the levees broke and thanks to the political hacks responsible for this disaster, who were all on the take as far as I could see, that was the end of our life in New Orleans (see the pictures following).

By the end of the week, our youngest daughter had persuaded us to move to Western North Carolina to be close to her, her husband, a seven year old boy and a baby on the way in March.
So we went. The saga of the trip and subsequent two trips back to New Orleans to try and salvage a few things is another story I may write some day.

Needless to say, heart attacks wipe out your stamina and make it almost impossible to live a normal life until you get through cardio rehab and start exercising regularly. I'm getting there but the mild infarction left me with one completely blocked artery and one with a stint in it. Not a good thing.

In late October and early November, because of the stress factor and my complete lack of stamina, our second oldest daughter again negotiated with Countrywide Mortgage Company to have them accept the payout for a total loss from American National Insurance Company as final payment on the loan. It took some doing but they agreed - VERBALLY. Unfortunately, she is very gullible and didn't take the time to get the agreement in writing. Can you see what's coming?? We were woefully underinsured thanks to the negligence of the insurance agent and because we had no wind and rain damage, the flood only paid us $24,500 for personal property loss which actually comes to over $300,000.00

The daughter has gone on to other things and now, Countrywide is hounding us unmercifully. They never heard of the agreement, they don't do business like that. We owe them $15,000.00 over and above the $209,000.00 the evil insurance empire finally deigned to send us. Of course, the check is made out to me AND the mortgage company. I have made it quite clear that I will tear up the check and they can have the property to do what they want with it. I have been told that they don't want the property because they know that the best offer we have had is $105,000 for a home and land that was worth $250,000.00 before Katrina but they still want us to agree to pay them an additional $15,000 in interest. What a bunch of blood suckers!

These vultures are going after an elderly couple (I'm 71, my wife is 70) who lost EVERYTHING in the flood produced by Katrina except for a few things above the five foot line that hadn't been destroyed by the black mold. We have no income because I cannot go back to work yet because I lost all the tools of my trade and my health is still poor. The only thing coming in is Social Security and a small pension from the American Federation of Musicians. FEMA is helping us out by paying half of the $1,000 rent and utilities we are spending every month. That will probably end soon. Other expenses have knocked the hell out of the little bit we got for the personal property loss and it's getting less and less by the month. Now the mortgage company is trying to gouge another $15,000 out of us? There's something wrong with this picture, don't you think?

And to top it all off, some woman called last night to find out if we were satisfied with the treatment we were getting from Countrywide. I'm surprised my wife didn't have a stroke!

That's the way the ball game has gone so far. We'll see what happens but it doesn't look too good right now.



$75,000.00 Recording, Sound,
Performance and Computer
Equipment in new studio.


Four and 1/2 feet of salt water
destroy it all.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Religious slaves

All you (substitute your religion of choice: Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, Hindus etc.) are trying to do is create a whole culture of religious slaves. It's built on fear. Fear of retribution from God. As Robert Heinlein wrote in the notebooks of Lazarus Long, "most men dream up gods that have the manners and morals of a spoiled child". The thought that God sits on his throne on high (or low) just waiting for you to step out of line so that He can crush you is absolutely ludicrous. It flys in the face of the very definition of God which is all loving.

It seems pretty obvious that the rule of thumb of just about every religion is "get them early, brainwash them, and they'll be yours for the rest of their lives." Teaching children to hate as the fanatical Muslims do is one of the biggest violations of human rights. Children should have the right to grow up free of fear of retribution from anyone if they think differently than others. It is not in keeping with human nature to be a carbon copy of everyone else. What else can you be if you let them know you are different and you are punished severely for it?

The hazing, haranguing and harassment of young children is abominable. It is my sincere wish that they who do it all burn for all eternity! Of course, the very definition of God precludes the existence of a hell, doesn't it? Is it possible that the devil (whom apparently no one has ever spoken to with reliable witnesses present) and hell and all of the accoutrements of various religions is just a ploy to keep the slaves in line? Again to quote Robert Heinlein: "the largest, most useless, non-productive business in the world is religion." More wars have been fought and more lives lost in the name of religion than for any other reason.

Is there a message there?