Category Archives: music

Faith and Prayer: Part 4

St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls
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After I had completely finished with school, I moved back to my hometown and got my career underway.  Soon afterward, I got a letter from my high school choir director, who was also the choir director at the local Cathedral.  The Bishop was commissioning a new all-male choir, and the members would be assembled by invitation.  I was proud that apparently my skills were enough to warrant my consideration.  unfortunately, I was working a God-awful 1pm to 10pm shift, and would never be able to make it to practice on time.  So the charter members of the Sioux Falls St. Joseph Cathedral Schola did not include me.

It was shortly after this time that I would meet the woman who would eventually become my Lovely Wife.  I guess we’ll call here Lovely Girlfriend for now.  Much to the consternation of my mother, Lovely Girlfriend was not Catholic, but rather Lutheran.  As we dated we both attended each other’s services at one time or another.  We dated for a while until she broke up with me.  I was a little confused, but I think it had a little to do with my living arrangements (yes, I had moved back in with my parents for awhile).  In the mean time, I met and began hanging out with another girl, who in our household is now sometimes facetiously referred to as She Who Shall Not Be Named (Lovely Wife doesn’t like to think about this time period).  SWSNBN was also very straight forward about her faith, which we openly discussed.  I also attended church services with her on occasion, at the Reformed Church of America in her home town.  One night, SWSNBN had agreed to meet with her ex for dinner one night.  Feeling that I didn’t really have a say in this (as we weren’t officially “dating”), I didn’t ask her not to go, but inside I was stressing out considerably.  So confused, that night I threw out the rote prayers of my Catholic background and pleaded with God to let me know what I was supposed to be doing here.  When Jesus met the blind man on the road to Emmaus, and asked “What do you want me to do?” the answer was “Lord, that I may have my sight.”  While he was looking for a return of his physical sight, I just wanted some insight on my future.  Did it involve Lovely Girlfriend?  SWSNBN?  Someone else?  I loved them both, but as it looked, to me it seemed that I would end up with neither.  Lord, that I may have my sight.

As it turns out, I did get back together with Lovely Girlfriend, who would become Lovely Fiance and eventually Lovely Wife.  I don’t forget the lesson that is often put “Let go and let God,” but there are still sometimes that I think over and over Lord, that I may have my sight.

Lovely Wife would go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes to become Catholic, with me as her sponsor.  Although the question wasn’t completely settled, we thought it was best to at least start out on the same page.  In the meantime, I attended Bible studies with her, at first with a group from her Lutheran church, and later with a group from her best friend’s Methodist church.  I learned a great deal about my faith from attending these Bible studies and RCIA classes.

It was also around this time that I ran into my choir director, who assured me that “The invitation is still open,” for me to join the group.  Having a more amenable work schedule at this time, I excitedly accepted the invitation.  The music that we sang was incredible.  It was a mix of contemporary hymns, classical pieces (some of my favorites being 16th century polyphony) but perhaps most distinguishable, the Schola specialized in plainchant from the Pius X hymnal.  The music moved me, and gave me the feeling that I was ministering to others in my own way.

Coming in Part 5: Pain, questioning, and another reveal.

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So Little Guy needed some new shoes

Like any three-year old, Little Guy seems to either outgrow or wear out shoes within a matter of weeks.  It’s getting to Christmastime, one of those times where the kids get a little spiffier, so he needed some “dress” shoes.  When we were at the mall shopping, we stopped at that essential store for parents with toddlers: Payless.  Lovely Wife was looking around and pulled down a pair of shiny black cowboy boots.  “What about these,” she asked, “they would work, wouldn’t they?”  I got a big grin on my face and nodded my affirmation.  She had Little Guy try them on, and of course he fell in love.  They were right up there with his sneakers that have Spiderman on them and light up.  It was here that I informed Lovely Wife that cowboy boots were one of the coolest things for a little boy to own.

I think she already knew this however, because there was already a little boy in the house who owned a pair of cowboy boots.  One that is 35 years old.

tiag1

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But it’s not just the boots.  Somewhere deep inside of me, I yearn to be a cowboy.  I know, it sounds silly, but hear me out.

Apparently this has been going on for a while.  I was at my mom and dad’s house a while back, and mom had packed up a box of stuff from when I was a tot.  Curious, I flipped open the flaps of the cardboard box, and there was a pair of shiny black cowboy boots.  I didn’t remember those, but I did remember the ones that I owned when I was about 7 or 8.  Gray at the feet with black shafts.  Man, did I love those boots.  I would put them on, along with my jeans and a flannel shirt and my black felt hat that had been misshapen and recreased about a thousand times.  I didn’t have a horse (real or otherwise) but I didn’t need one.  I remember owning two cap guns.  One looked like a typical clip style that you might use if you were a G-man on the trail of John Dillinger.  The other looked like a Colt Peacemaker.  You can guess which one got more use from me.  Back in the days of the early 80s, it looked real, too.  It wasn’t cast in crazy colored plastic.  It was metal.  It did have a plastic grip, but it was meant to look like ivory.  It certainly didn’t have a bright red tip at the end.

Wild Bill Hickok

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Maybe it was in my blood (pretty sure now that’s not the case).  Maybe it’s because I grew up in South Dakota.  After all, at one time or another Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and the James brothers all passed through our great state.  Whatever it was, I wanted to be out there.

Of course as an adult reality has sunk in.   Not just the fact that the days of the Wild West were long over even before I was born.  As far as I can remember I’ve only fired two real guns in my life: my father-in-law’s shotgun (at some clay pigeons–which I was pretty good at hitting) and my brother-in-law’s brother’s AR-15 (which I shot several times at an empty bottle of Crown Royal without a successful hit.)  I have a Mustang, but she has wheels rather than hooves.  I couldn’t even be a modern-day cowboy.  Although I have ridden a horse before, just the thought of being in the saddle all day makes my ass sore.  The closest I have gotten to the cowboy experience is repeated watchings of my favorite movie: Tombstone.

Lovely Wife has helped me indulge my little fantasy since we’ve been married, though.  A few years ago for my birthday she bought me a baseball cap embroidered with “National Day of the American Cowboy July 26, 2008”.  Of course July 26 happens to be my birthday.  The real gift was still to come–later that week she escorted me to RCC Western Store where I got to pick out my own adult sized cowboy boots.  I have several belt buckles.  Never mind that some of them have things like the Batman logo on them.  This summer I purchased a cowboy hat from Cabelas.  A real fur felt job.  I’ll never be a cowboy, but I can put these items on, and strum my guitar while I sing Country music tunes.

I am sure not everyone understands.  Toby Keith does, at least according to his song.  I think Little Guy does too.

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My Top 5 Christmas Songs

Merry Christmas (Bing Crosby album)

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OK, I am sure that every one falls into either one (or both) groups when it comes to Christmas songs:  you either hate Christmas songs or (and?) you have already read about a hundred of these posts.  But for some reason I just cannot help myself.  Typical of a blogger, I guess: “You MUST know all the minutiae of my thoughts!

But I digress.  Before I start, I have to point out that I just cannot get into Christmas music that is just about being in love, or with family, or Santa, or you know–anything that doesn’t have to do with the birth of Christ.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a religious prude or a Scrooge.  Many are even pretty good music, or at least very catchy.  I defy you to hear “Sleigh Ride” or “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and not be humming them for the rest of the day.  It’s just that most of them are extremely heavy on the schmaltz with an extra helping of cheese.  But there is one notable exception for me.  A song that I love so much I will make it my

Honorable Mention

“Blue Christmas”  Elvis wasn’t just the King of Rock and Roll, for me he is the King of Non-Christmas Christmas songs.

With that, on to the list:

5) Joseph’s Song

By Tonic Sof-Fa.  Although there are a few written from Joseph’s perspective (including a different one with the same title) there aren’t many.  Why do I love this song?  Parents, consider this: remember holding your child and having the gut feeling that he or she was going to change your life forever?  Consider holding that child and having the gut feeling that he was going to change history forever.   No video, but give it a click.  You won’t be sorry.

Joseph’s Song

4) Hallelujah

Probably the most famous choral movement of all time, there is just so much that I love about this song.  It is so quintessentially Handel.  I love hearing it performed live, and nearly jumping to my feet at the first couple of notes, as per tradition.  I have performed it so many times with various choirs that I can sing the bass part in my sleep.

3) Silent Night

So simple and elegant.  Wunderschöne, Franz Gruber.  Performed here by Bing Crosby, because you can’t have Christmas songs without Bing in there somewhere.

2) O Come, O Come   Veni Veni Emmanuel

Although I was born post Vatican II and never had to sit through a Latin Mass, none-the-less I have sung in enough Catholic choirs to have become aquainted with the Latin version, and I must say there is just something to it that burrows itself a little deeper into my soul.

1) O Holy Night 

Not much else to say here.

Some others’ (some serious, some humorous) takes on Christmas music:

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Guitar Anti-Hero

In my sudden burst of creativity that I have chronicled, I realized today that there is a part of my creative persona that I have been neglecting.  Long before I ever even dreamed of trying my hand at visual arts, I was always involved in music.  I think that I was about 7 or 8 when my parents enrolled me in piano lessons.  I hated it.  Or at least I thought that I did.  It turns out that the years that I spent haplessly plunking away at the piano gave me a solid back ground in music theory.  When it was time to pick out band instruments, I chose the trombone.  Now this I loved.  I can modestly say that I was pretty decent at playing the trombone.  Furthermore, whatever I lacked in talent I was more than willing to make up for in volume.  It was around this time that I realized that my musical tastes were often dictated by the instrument that I was playing.  Piano playing (for me) was limited to classical or similar sounding pieces.  The trombone became an instrument of jazz, baby.  Even if I wasn’t the greatest, I learned to improvise a little with my trombone.  Tell me, is there anything better than a grimy, growling portamento as only a trombone player can play? It was during high school that I realized that my most versatile instrument was my voice.  Singing became, and has remained, such a pleasure. 

After I became an adult, I wanted some kind of instrument that would allow me to accompany myself singing.  I think it was maybe our second Christmas that Lovely Wife bought me my favorite gift that I have ever received:

A thing of beauty, not only in looks but in sound.  I have never taken a lesson, but I have constantly tinkered.  Depending on my mood, or how it is sounding for me on a particular day, I vacillate between using a pick, strumming with my fingers, using my thumb for an alternating bass line, or finger picking.  Mostly I just strum easy chords that allow me to sing along without thinking too much.  It is amazing to me how much a simple accompaniment can add to the overall sound.

I routinely play country and folk songs.  I do like to tinker around with more “electric” sounding songs, usually making them slow to mid tempo and giving them a whole different sound. 

Invariably, however, I will from long stretches of playing to equally long stretches of it hanging there on the wall, looking at me mournfully and silently calling out “play me!”  I am in the midst of one of those latter periods.  I can’t say why.  I have always wanted to write a song, and with my current creative output it would seem like now would be the time to do so.  Then I think (or perhaps depression thinks for me) that while I am pretty good at stringing some interesting chord progressions together, I seem to have a mental block as a lyricist.  I have confidence in my writing, generally, but my ramblings have neither the brevity nor the poetry needed to make a decent song.  Playing can bring out a catharsis of sorts, so maybe I need to strap up and spend some time with my friend, even if it just playing the old favorites. 

FRIDAY FUN: Naming Suggestions

OK, I know I have at least a few readers out there.  I am giving you the opportunity to weigh in–I feel like my guitar should have a name, but as of yet it remains anonymous.  While I don’t think giving it a moniker will ever make me and it as talented as duos such as B.B. King and Lucille, Eric Clapton and Blackie, or Brian May and his Red Special, I almost feel as if I am depriving myself and it of something.  But I just can’t think of anything.  So, leave a comment on what you think a good name would be.  I tend to think that it is a “she”, but don’t feel constrained to that criteria.  If I have enough, I will take a few of my favorites and perhaps have a poll down the road.  Let’s hear some ideas!

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Confession of a Book Lover

I felt a little dirty after doing something the other day.  How could I stoop to this level?  What on earth am I talking about?  Let me explain.

Lovely Wife joined me for a counseling session on Monday.  By all accounts it went well.  LW and I came away feeling like we understood and communicated with each other a little better.  She also now understands why I like “my” guy so much.  He isn’t a miracle worker (if he was, he could just wave a magic wand and rid me of depression), but has certainly been a trusted ear and a thought-provoking advocate for me.  Near the end, she asked him if there were any books that he could recommend for me.  He suggested two titles.  LW had to split to go get the kiddos, but I stayed and chatted a little while longer.  The first suggestion he gave me he assured that I could find at Barnes & Noble.  The second one was trickier.  He advised me to go to a little local place, where the proprietor likes to keep this particular author in stock. 

I went to Barnes & Noble to pick up the first title.  I don’t know about any other of B&N’s stores, but at our location, it seems as if the main aisle as you walk in has been taken over by a giant kiosk selling the nook.  As I tried to scurry past, the nice lady behind the counter made some sort of inquiry of whether I would be interested in hearing about the nook.  “No thanks,” I muttered, without breaking stride.

My love of reading and writing goes beyond words.  I love books.  Newspapers.  Magazines.  I’m not a luddite.  I am a blogger after all.  There is just something romantic about a book.  Something about the tangible document brings the words to life better than words on a screen. Words that can be erased with a click, disappearing into the ether.  Having a book is like a declaration of the knowledge or entertainment that you have transcribed into your brain.  I look forward to the day when my kiddos will ask me for a good book to read and I can hand them the copy of To Kill a Mockingbird that I read for my High School American Lit class.  How much more satisfying will that be than saying, “Here.  Download this file.”

I have already surrendered to progress when it comes to music.  I remember being a little kid, putting the Beach Boys’ Endless Summer  on the turn table, lowering the needle, and being engulfed in the music as I stared at the large, amazing artwork.  Soon, though, I graduated to cassettes that I could listen to in my Walkman.  Then came CDs.  “Side B” means absolutely nothing to today’s generation.  And while I still own and buy CDs, I will admit that I have purchased individual songs on iTunes.  In my mind I imagine a revision to the drawing on Endless Summer–in this one, the Beach Boys all have tears in their eyes.

I bought my book and was on my way to the next book store to purchase the other recommendation.  The woman helped me look for it, reiterating to me how much she liked the author.  No dice, though.  She didn’t have a copy.  In fact it may be out of print, she informed me.  She suggested I check at a second-hand store, and if they didn’t have it to give her a call and she would look into ordering it for me.

I went home and looked for it on Amazon.  They had several copies at decent prices.  I could order one.  I could call the nice lady back and have her order it for me.  But that would probably take at least a week in each case.  Then I saw that I could purchase a Kindle version.  I don’t have a kindle.  No worries.  I could download Kindle for PC.  So I did.  I stopped to consider that I could still order the book for cheaper.   But I wanted it now.  I bowed to my own pressure.

So now I own a book that exists as nothing more that a grouping of 1s and 0s.  Time marches on.  I resolve not to march with it.  I mean it this time.  For now.

THURSDAY FUN: Book Recommendation

Since we are talking about books today, how about a recommendation?  A couple of years ago there was a book fair at work, and I came across On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Sitting there on the stand, it almost seemed as if was placed there for me.  A book about history, literature, music, and sports.  Not to mention that I have always admired Kareem as person and an intellectual in addition to his athletic exploits. 

What I found was even more than I expected.  Kareem traces the history of the Harlem Renaissance through his love for literature, jazz, and basketball, and how these connected to a larger movement.  It opened my eyes to the writers of the era.  For example, I had heard of Langston Hughes, but I didn’t know much about him.  I love jazz, but didn’t connect its history through ragtime, minstrel shows, and the blues.  I had never heard of the all-black Harlem Rens, nor their friendly rivalry with the all-white Original Celtics.  I found the book entertaining, but more importantly I found it informative.  I am still not an expert on African-American culture, but it opened my eyes–and my mind.  I highly recommend you pick it up.  In book form.

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A Spike in Creativity

The last week or so I have experienced a huge surge in creativity, especially a desire to delve into the visual arts.  In the past my outlets have mostly included writing and music, with a recent interest in photography.  Perhaps it is the uptick in the success of my photographs that I am wanting to branch out.  Perhaps it is because I am in the process of redefining myself and therefore not letting me hold my creativity back.  Of course, maybe it’s the medication.  

So I found myself yesterday at the hobby store throwing a bunch of different things into my cart. 

The first project I tackled was the simplest, and perhaps the most rudimentary.  I made a necklace for Lovely Wife.  Although this didn’t amount to much more than picking out the materials and stringing them together, I am rather pleased with the results.   I know that Lovely Wife will appreciated it due to the effort (however small) that was put into it, but I hope the she finds it aesthetically pleasing as well.

The second project is a clock that I will place in the man cave.  I have always been fascinated with clocks and watches (which I plan on discussing in an upcoming post) This I am also not going to build from scratch–I bought a movement, and therefore I just have to do something with the face.  Because I am really unsure how I want the end project to appear, I may put this one off for a while until inspiration truly hits.  Right now I am envisioning somewhat of a minimalist approach, with only a few or no numbers.  It will be interesting and satisfying to see how it turns out.

The last will be the most challenging and exciting for me.  I bought three small canvases, some oil paint, and an assortment of brushes.  It is exciting because my brush will take me to places that my camera cannot go.  It also gives me the opportunity to be less literal.  Objects won’t have to necessarily behave the way that they do in real life, or have the correct proportions.  However clichéd, I think that my first painting will be a boat, perhaps leaving the stormy waters behind and drifting towards the sunrise.  I think that it perhaps sounds a little corny, but it captures my mood (or at least my aspiration), and I have always been fascinated by the water and the sea.  I sometimes think that I should have joined the Navy or the Coast Guard, but then again, if I had I wouldn’t have met Lovely Wife.  In any event, however the boat picture turns out, whether a clipper at full sail or a fisherman in a rowboat, this will be going up in the wall of the man cave as well.  The second painting that I would do will hang in out kitchen/dining area.  My wife has collected various wine and vineyard themed art works since we have lived in the house, and I like the idea that I could contribute to this as well.  So far no concept has jelled for the final canvas.

The idea of painting is challenging because I am a complete neophyte.  I do remember in 8th grade or so painting a small scene with a mountain and a river.  While I didn’t think it was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, I remember getting a C on the project and being a little disappointed.  As long as I did the assignment as per the instructions, isn’t grading art a little subjective?  Maybe this is why I haven’t painted all this time.  In any case, I think that the rawness of my technique may be an asset to my vision rather than a liability.

WEDNESDAY FUN: Photo Favorites

Yesterday evening I was outside playing with the kiddos when I spotted this first sure sign of spring.  Nobody poses for photos better than Mother Nature.

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Visualizing the Blues

I stated earlier that one of the things that I enjoy is listening and playing music.  So it is natural that I would want to incorporate it into my blog.  The picture at the header seemed like a great way to do this.  At first I went with one of the stock photos for my theme–an old record player.  It was a fantastic picture, but I felt that it didn’t quite fit the essence of my subject, nor was it personal enough.

I decided to post a picture that was somehow evocative of the blues.  There are two reasons why I wanted to represent the blues.  The first is pretty obvious.  If you ask the average person which genre of music most personifies depression, I would bet nearly 100% would say the blues.  The other reason is that it seems to me that no other type of music has had such a profound influence on modern popular styles.  The blues can lay a legitimate claim to being one of the progenitors of Jazz, Country, Rock & Roll, R&B, and Rap.

What you now see at the top of the screen is what I was able to come up with.  Unfortunately the space that I was able to work with didn’t quite catch the full essence of the photo.  Here it is:

It looks like that hat and guitar could have belonged to Robert Johnson himself.  Actually, however, this is an example of another hobby of mine: photography.  The fedora and guitar in the picture actually belong to me.  The hat is from Cabelas and the guitar is from Takamine , both of which were founded long after the early history of the blues.  I had an idea of how I wanted to position them in the picture.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find our camera (turns out it was in Lovely Wife’s purse).  So all I had to work with was my cell phone camera.  At first I wasn’t too impressed with what I was able to come up with.  The resolution and lighting just didn’t seem to work, along with the red background from my man cave (basement) wall.  However, after a few simple photo editing tweaks, this is what I came up with.  The gritty quality and the sepia tones actually are quite appropriate for what I was wanting to convey.  I think that I am going to have a framed print made to hang in the man cave.

I hope to share more of my photos in the future.  I actually ordered a new camera this week and am anxiously awaiting its arrival.

What type of hobbies do you have to keep your mind occupied?

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