Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What are my passions?

This past week has been an interesting one for me. Last Wednesday I had two interviews, one in the late morning that was supposed to be just a courtesy "come in and we'll talk" type of interview, but lasted nearly 2 hours.  The 2nd interview that afternoon was a 2nd interview with a prospective employer to discuss more details about the job.  On Thursday I had yet another interview with a company, and I don't hold promise for that one.  Also, on Thursday, I received a call from the first interview on Wednesday, and they wanted me to come in to work for a week long trial.  Finally, on Friday I had an interview with a company in Commerce, and they said they felt that I could help them grow and help them manage their production.  In all, it was a fantastic week!  I felt confident and happy as I went into the weekend.

But then, for some odd reason, I fell into what I would best describe as a "funk" on Monday.  I spent the entire day in thought, and sometimes would just walk around the yard, talking to myself, or just listening to the birds or the sound of the waterfall.  I kept thinking about what I really wanted to do.  I had three possibilities for employment, all in the printing industry, where I'd been for 30 years.   Each of them had strengths, and weaknesses.  One promised eventual good income, but was financially risky at first.  The other two offered decent compensation.  Two were close, and one was a long commute.  Two were natural progressions in a print career, and one was more of a lateral or even backwards move.  And the more and more I thought about this, I realized that truthfully, I don't want to be in printing anymore.  I found that these last two months have been many things for me: a chance to be with the kids, which is something they're not tired of yet.  It was a chance for Lorrie and I to spend more time together.  It was a time for me to sit and catch up on some good television.  It has allowed me to write more.  And finally, it has given me a break from 30 straight years of working.  

But more than that, as I walked around the yard and thought, or as I sat at my desk and mindlessly went through Facebook, I realized that not only did I not want to return to printing, but that I really wanted to do something that I would have a passion for.  I wanted to be able to carry on this life I've lived since being let go: a life of music, writing, family time - and I realized that was where my passion is.  I found myself thinking of just taking employment in something I'd enjoy doing, or working somewhere that I feel a pull towards, like the Pacific Chorale or Pacific Symphony.  I feel like even if I could swing a job anywhere in the fine arts, or offer up my services for blogging.  I even went through and looked at what money I have to see how far it would take me before getting a job became crucial.

So, maybe I should start looking to see what is out there that could use my talents and skills and work them into their culture.  Someplace that I could feel good about working for the next 10-15 years.  Maybe it'll be Disneyland.  I don't know.  But I do know that I feel this quite strongly.  I will continue to see what is open in the print industry, but I know that's not where my passion is.  My passion is in the creative....

Monday, January 20, 2014

He had a dream

Today is the day that, on a National scale, we honor Martin Luther King, Jr., for his tireless efforts to secure civil rights.

Now, I was too young to have known about MLK, or the impact he had at that time.  I lived in lily-white Republican Glendale, California at the time, and even though my parents were not bigots, they had prejudices, and people of other races were politely ignored, or talked about, and when they were talked about, they were referred to as "those poor so-and-so" people.

Today, though, we have made progress, but MLK's work is not done.  We still have poverty, and minorities, be they black, or Latino, make up too much of that demographic.  The civil rights legislation to give minorities an equal opportunity at higher education has been whittled away, due to some arguments that it gave those minorities too much of an advantage.  And I'm sure that there are many things - employment, income, legal rights, racial profiling - that MLK would target today.  And I'm sure for a man who grasped the spoken word and the media of the time, Twitter, Facebook and other sources of social media and the internet would be valuable tools.

I honor the man for two reasons.  First, I don't see his words of equality as his sole message.  He truly spoke of the Gospel message of Love, God's love, for ALL mankind.  Yes, he wanted equality for blacks, but his message was broader than that.  He saw the utopia of no racial prejudices or bigotry, or inequality.  In a way, it was a vision that Gene Roddenberry, who created "Star Trek", saw as well.  In fact, when MLK met with Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, he encouraged her to continue her work on that show, because of the position of influence she presented.  Here was not just a black woman as a maid.  Uhura's character was an officer, in charge of ship communications, and given storylines that presented her as strong-willed, intelligent, articulate - a dynamic and real person.  And today, Nichols often speaks of how that meeting changed her.  MLK had a vision of a future where all were equal.

The other thing I honor MLK for is that he was a true man of ethics.  I'm sure that during his time in the public eye, and being watched carefully by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, they tried to find any dirt on him, and they may have made up stories and had them published as a means to tarnish MLK.  But history, as far as I know, has been kind to the man.  There has not been (at least not to my knowledge) stories of young women whom he'd have sex with, or improprieties with church funds, or excessive drinking, or experimentation with the drugs of the time.  I haven't seen anything that would suggest that he wasn't the a man of God, the ethical man, the loving man that he was.  History has not tarnished him, nor has idolized him as it has JFK or FDR.  Perhaps it needs to do more than a day off and a monument.

Perhaps WE need to take his message of Love for ALL men and truly live it.  That would be the best way to honor the memory of MLK.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The upside of unemployment

I have discovered an upside to unemployment.  Granted, I've only been unemployed for about 6 weeks, and I still have severance and unemployment insurance keeping me going.  Plus, with having interviews nearly every week I feel confident.  True, I could find myself mid-May still unemployed and running out of funds, but for now, I see an upside.

For one thing, I'm staying up later than usual and getting up later than usual.  Now, that only means I go to bed around midnight and get up before 7 AM.  But after years of going to bed at 10 to get up at 5, or some variation of that, it's a "luxury".  Plus I've been writing more, I've decided to focus on music study during this time, and I've been active in doing things in and around the house.  Lorrie has me helping on her blog, and I've been catching up on series TV on Netflix, watching "Mad Men" or "Sherlock", or streaming "Downton Abbey".  The house is still decorated for Christmas, but that's only because we finished decorating so late (Christmas Eve), the tree is still fresh, and I don't feel the pressing need to take them down over a couple of weekends so I can get them all back to storage.  In other words, there is no pressure of work to make my life at home feel like I have to task on something because I only have the weekends to do it.  Frankly, after 30 years of work, with only vacations as breaks, this does feel nice - for now.

But the biggest upside is that the kids like having me home.  I make sure they get up, have a good breakfast, and get on their schoolwork.  I make sure they practice (and subsequently their piano lessons have been going better), make their beds, pick up their rooms, and give them hugs and fist bumps, and make fun of their hair or what they're wearing - and they are loving it.  The reward of having time with them, even if Colin does play Roblox or Minecraft all day, and Audrey stays in her room and draws without ceasing, is worth this time off.  And yesterday, as part of this reward, my desk was filled with Audrey's drawings.  I don't have a place to hang them (she used to give me drawings to hang up in my cubicle at work), but I am saving them for my new place - wherever that might be.

I've shared the surreal nature of having been let go in a past blog, and I still sometimes don't think this is all real.  When I interview I talk of where I'd been for 30 years and speak of it with fondness.  But I have never thought of this time and event - being laid off - as terrible.  It has been, in a way, a blessing.  And I think that lack of desperation and a relaxed nature comes through in my interviews.  I feel confident, and happy, and ready for whatever comes along.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Graphic symbolism

I know we're in the season of Epiphany right now, and Lent and Easter are still far off.  But yesterday, during our pastor's sermon, I found myself thinking about the powerful symbolism of the cross.  He was showing an image of someone's wrist with a cross tattooed on it, and it provoked me to think about how this symbol of torture has become the symbol of Christ and those who follow Him.

How is it that Christians take and cherish this symbol, this tool of torturous death, and hold it so dear?  I think of the old hymn that my mom used to sing to me, "The Old Rugged Cross", and the refrain

So I'll Cherish the Old Rugged Cross
'till my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the Old Rugged Cross
And exchange it some day for a crown.

What is it that causes us to view this terrible instrument of death, one that caused Jesus to suffer and die, and hold on to it as a symbol of our faith?  Crucifixion as a means of capital punishment is rare, even though some countries still have it on their books as a means of execution.  And some countries still practice it during Lent as a means of faith, although they don't allow the persons being crucified to die.  That I cannot understand.  But why is it that we place crosses - empty crosses - in our churches in prominent locations.  Why to we display them on our cars, in our homes, on our clothes, with jewelry or even tattoos?  

Is it because, even though the cross caused his death, he did not stay dead? I noticed that in Protestant churches the cross is empty.  It is not a crucifix as our Roman Catholic brethren prefer to display.  We choose not to dwell on his death on that device.  But seeing that representation, be it the Celtic cross, or a contemporary sculpture, reminds us of the great sacrifice that Jesus did to secure our salvation.  That Means of Grace - the crucifixion - was the end of death, and the beginning of Life.  So I'll cherish that old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The evolution of a choral director

I have been sharing in my recent posts about my desire to form my own choir and work on music that I have a passion for, and in one of my recent posts, I said I wanted to do it "my way".  Many of you who follow my blog or read my posts from social media know that I have been in choral music for a while.  But with this post I wanted to share with you how this desire to direct came about: the evolution of a choral director.

I have contacts in the music world that have worked very hard to achieve what they have through years of study and schooling.  They are working on their masters or doctorate, or have their doctorate and are teachers or professors.  They work in the music industry as paid singers, or church choir directors, or in some capacity as professional choral musicians.  I applaud these people, since they are working hard and have achieved their goals, or are constantly working on furthering their goals, strengths and dreams.  

I had spent my high school and college years not focused on choral music, but the organ.  During my 20s I took lessons and classes in music theory and composition, but never thought of pursuing a degree, or setting myself up for directing.  In fact I had no dream of directing when I began my involvement in professional choral music.  Granted, I had done the "air directing" thing, standing in front of my stereo, waving my arms and emoting as if I was directing the choir or orchestra.  But I had no intent of actually DOING that.  I had never focused on choral music in high school or college.  During my time singing with a highly trained and skilled choral director I never even thought of directing.  Even in the few briefs years I sang with professional choirs I did not think of directing.  Frankly, I was too intimidated by one of the directors to think that I could ever achieve even a slight skill as a choral director.  Eventually I married (a choral singer thankfully!) and started a family, so singing fell to the wayside.  Singing became something I did on occasion as a guest at a small church choir.

Then in 2006 my wife and I joined a choir at a small Lutheran church.  The irony is that we joined the church as a family, but singing in the choir, with it's 7:15 AM Sunday morning "call", made it impossible for us to continue in the choir because we could never take the kids with us (anyone trying to get young kids up at 6 AM on a Sunday morning can understand!)  We left the choir, but continued to attend.  It was then that I started to think of directing, but only our church's choir.  I started to think about what I'd do to improve their tonality, their expressiveness, their intonation.  I'd hear them sing something, and wondered what I'd do to improve it.  Then, as I listened more, I began to find that I wouldn't hear how they were singing a piece, but how I'd WANT it to sound.  My ear modified it to what I wanted to hear from them.  I was convinced that, given the chance, I could get the choir to sing as I heard it, not as they presented it.  They were good singers, so I knew that there was that chance, that possibility.  So I made it a goal that if the director left, I'd apply for the Director of Music position.

Then, in the fall of 2009, I received what was arguably the "call" to pursue this dream.  I was feeling the urge to return to singing, and to find a good church choir.  The kids were older, and we weren't as involved as a family in that small Lutheran church.  I was looking online at various churches in the area when I saw one that was having a meeting that very day of their music director search committee.  And it was then that I felt the strong urge, the call, that THIS was something I needed to act upon, to pursue.  I didn't take immediate steps, since that very day was my wife's birthday, and we were leaving the following week for a 10th Anniversary cruise, but I thought about it, and emailed some close friends.  We returned from the cruise and I developed a bad cold, so it was 3 weeks before I could think about doing anything.  I decided to "scout" out the church and talk to the organist and see what the position was about.  I shared that on Facebook and was told by a Pacific Chorale contact that the position had been filled by someone from the Chorale.  I was disappointed, more in myself for not jumping at the chance.  But I made it known publicly that I'd done this, and that I now had a goal to direct.  The other thing that happened with this was my acknowledgement that I would be willing to go outside our own church to direct.  I began to research other churches and open positions.  I found a website that posted open positions for choral directing.  I began to cultivate friendships with other choral musicians on social media, and contemplated joining a choral director's association to further build my contact base, and maybe find someone to study with.

I also stayed active in my church, and in the fall of 2010 I was approached by our choir director, who was aware of my goal, to become his assistant director.  I was pleased that he asked, but after thinking about it for two weeks, and discussing it with my wife, I turned it down.  During our time singing with him I had found that many of his ideas and techniques of choral singing and rehearsing where the opposite of what I knew about choral music, and the training I had received from two very fine choral directors.  I decided that, rather than work under someone who I disagreed with, I'd not take the position.  I do not regret that decision, even though the following winter and spring he took a leave of absence, and I would have taken his place.  Even so, during that time I would have needed to stay within the parameters he'd set, and thus it would not be my choir, my ideas, my thoughts.  I continued to be active in the church, and found myself sitting on Sundays, listening to the choir, and wondering what I'd do with them to improve them.  Then, suddenly at the beginning of 2012, the choir director left.  I made my interest known to our pastor, and was one of three candidates for the position.  During my interview I was asked questions that were mostly about my faith and my background, and it became apparent that my lack of keyboard skills was one drawback to one member of the committee.  I came away convinced that one of the other candidates, a young man who filled in during the director's leave of absence, was the better person for the position.  But I also came away knowing that this was something I really wanted to do.  My wife started to encourage me to start my own choir, made up of singers that were good enough that we wouldn't have to spend time working on notes, and were also trained enough so I wouldn't have to teach them how to sing.  I liked the idea, but really had no sense of what needed to be done to make that happen.  Plus I had no goal of what we'd do with the choir.  I wouldn't really want to "perform" anywhere, but just rehearse the music I loved and wanted to work on.

Later that year my wife and I started to attend a Lutheran church that was closer to us, and in doing so, we joined the choir.  It was a larger group of singers than we'd been in, and made up of some good singers and readers.  My wife knew some of them already, so the transition was easy.  I was determined to use this time to watch the director, learn from her, observe her, and hopefully gain some more knowledge.  During this time I found that my desire to direct was growing more.  I was being asked to become part of a couple of the smaller professional groups here in the area.  I was socializing more with other choral directors, and beginning to understand more about what I wanted to do.  2013 turned out to be the year that I really began to define things, and became more involved in choral music than I had since my days in the Pacific Chorale.  Early in the year my wife and I sang for that young choral director for his masters recital, and I made connections with some fine young musicians through that time of rehearsals.  One of them was a talented harpist, and because of her, I chose to do a work that speaks so much to my heart - the Britten "Ceremony of Carols".  I became alive with music, constantly thinking of this piece and how I'd do it.  Before the choir took its summer recess I approached our director and told her that I'd like to direct, and asked if she'd keep me in mind for future opportunities.  During the summer my wife put together a small choir to sing on one of the summer Sundays, a choir made of up of singers that had worked under a beloved church and high-school director.  I ended up being the director for this, although the singers knew the piece so well that they didn't need to be directed.  But I did work on some things like setting the tempo, entrances and cut offs.  It went well.  Well enough that I asked if there were any other openings during the summer, and there was.  So, I solicited a group of singers and in late August, directed this pick up choir on a Sunday morning.  And this time I prepped them completely, and it went over very well.  I was now firmly feeling that I wanted to direct.  That I wanted to move forward with the Britten.  I began to set that up but found that it wasn't as easy as I thought.  Not in the music, but in the logistics.  The date, the singers, booking that wonderful harpist, the location, and the balance of the program, all put me behind in actually executing the work.  I ended up not doing it, but knew that someday I would.  It was also during this time that my wife suggested that the pick up choir she'd been talking about all along have a goal, and that we'd provide music for a small Lutheran church once a month, doing the type of music that I love and have a passion for.  Suddenly it all gelled together.  This is what I would do!  As Christmas approached I began to think more and more about the coming year and the desire to create this choir and be part of the ministry of this small church.  One day my wife asked me what my motivation was to direct, and it was then, during that discussion that I realized it was because I wanted to direct a choir my way.  I was no longer satisfied to sing.  I wanted to be the one shaping and molding the sound and the music to how I wanted it to sound.

So, here we are, in the first couple of weeks of 2014.  I have yet to begin that process of planning, but I am going to start soon.  I have music to review, singers to recruit, rehearsals to plan, and a place to direct.  But the evolution has moved to a new phase, and I am excited about this phase.  May the Good Lord guide my steps, and make everything I do pleasing in His Sight.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, January 06, 2014

Is today the beginning of the New Year?

Is it just me?  Or is this the beginning of the New Year?  OK, OK.  I know.  January 1st is New Year's Day, and here we are at January 6th.  But to me, this feels like the New Year.

Our decorations are still up.  We had our 12th Night Open House yesterday which went from noon until our last guest left close to midnight!  And today, well, today I'm going to crash.  I plan to occupy the couch in the den and maybe do a "Mad Men" marathon (thanks to Teresa Loy-Barclay for the inspiration!)  There's nothing that has to be "put away".  There's still treats from yesterday on the table in the dining room.  Open bottles of wine are around.  Trash barrells are on the street, and the house is the cleanest it's been in a while!

But there's also the realization that the "Holidays are over", and it's time for me to refocus on getting employed.  Even with the Holidays I found myself having a few job interviews sandwiched around them.  But I think it's time to start in earnest.  I find that this week I also want to spend the time and lay down my ideas for the choir I wish to form - the goals, the mission statement, the music, the singers.  I want to get that written down (since writing is the best way for me to form my thoughts and ideas).  I want to organize the music that I have and see what I'd like to do.  I want to meet with someone this week to discuss my ideas and form a gameplan.  I also want to see if I can start blogging this week for Lorrie's photography business.  And I want to write some more for my other blog that is print-related.  All this makes me feel like it's the start of the New Year.

So, Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

My way....

Lately my mind has been on the song "My Way" by Frank Sinatra, and the Burger King jingle from decades ago, "Have it your way at Burger King".  And it puzzled me.  For the last several days I couldn't put my finger on why these two common ideas were consuming me.  And then it hit me just a day or so ago: these musical tunes were in my conscience because I've decided that in 2014, I want to do things, well, my way.

The first thing is career related.  I have previously shared that I was let go from my employer of 30 years in early December, and I've been going through the process of fine-tuning a resume, and sending out emails, and phone calls and phone interviews, and a few informative and relaxing face to face interviews.  All of which have kept me hopeful that I'll gain employment soon.  A couple of those interviews made me think, though, of not just trying to get a position similar to what I have been doing.  But I have been thinking that now is the time for me to do things "my way".  I've been in printing for 30 years, many of those in production. And I have found that sometimes I have thought "there's a better way to do this" or "we should do it this way", or even "no, we should not do it that way."  I've never expressed those verbally, but lately, as I've met some prospective employers, I sometimes hear "we don't have an SOP for that", or "we don't have someone that's in charge."  And that has gotten me to thinking.  I look at some colleagues of mine from my previous employer that have taken opportunities and are now VP's of production at large printing companies.  They've taken the risks, along with the headaches, and have moved up in the industry.  Maybe it's time for me to take that risk, and put myself in a position of management, and impress my ideas and work ethic on a team of print experts and collaborators.  Maybe I should do it my way for a change.

The other thing is something that I am slowly developing.  I've been in choral music for years, singing in youth choirs, adult choirs, and professional choirs.  I've seen a great deal and learned from two very fine choral directors.  I've listened to countless hours of choral music.  And lately, as I've sung in a couple of church choirs and community choruses, I've become aware that I am no longer satisfied just singing.  I want to direct.  There is no ego involved in this.  It is not a power thing, or the desire for kudos from a congregation or an audience. I want to direct, because for the last few years now when I hear a choir sing, or I sit in rehearsal, I find that I want to do it differently than the director.  I want to do this or that, or bring that line out, or take a little bit more time with the entrance or a specific phrase.  I want the sound to be just so.  I want the cut offs to be here, not there.  I hear in my head what I want it to sound like.  I want to work on the sound of the singers, to get a unified, blended sound.  I want to work on pitch and intonation.  I want to work on music that I have a passion for, not necessarily what the director wants to work on, or what the director has their passion for. As a singer in a choir, I feel bound to interpret as the director wants.  But that is no longer satisfactory.  I want to do it my way.

And so this year, 2014, I want to be none as the year I did things my way.