Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Romance, “Changing Faces,” and Valentine’s Day

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Folks, as most of you know, Valentine’s Day rapidly approaches. V-Day is one of those times that men mostly hate, some women (such as myself) mostly hate as well, and most people in relationships can also dread because the social significance of the day is murky, at best.

See, we’re told over and over again to get our loved ones things. Lots and lots of things, whether it’s jewelry, Pajamagrams, teddy bears, or, if you have enough money to do so, a new car…all of those things are going to be hawked to you, or anyone in a relationship, as needed and necessary for V-Day.

The meaning of what love is, much less what Valentine’s Day should be about — the celebration of love, and those who dare to keep loving despite the longest of odds — seems to get more lost by the day.

I’d rather talk about what true love is.

True love is caring. Sacrifice for your partner, if needed (and sometimes, it will be needed, in one form or another). Compassion. Paying attention to what matters to you, and trying to alleviate the worst of what brings you down…that is what love is about.

Love is unselfish, too. It’s all about the other person, caring more for them than you do about your own self, and about making that other person happy.

Yeah, you should get something out of it. You should be happier, wiser, kinder, a better person, and certainly if your lover is not asexual, you should have a happy romantic life ahead of you for as long as you two are together on the face of this Earth…what you get, if you are smart, is a better and more meaningful life, all because you dared to care about someone else more than yourself, and threw out what society assumes is “normal” behavior.

So, how does my new novel, CHANGING FACES, come into this conversation? (Other than the fact that it’s a love story, that is?)

First, read the blurb, as that may help:

Allen and Elaine are graduate students in Nebraska, and love each other very much. Their life should be idyllic, but Elaine’s past includes rape, neglect, and abuse from those who should’ve loved her—but didn’t, because from childhood, Elaine identified as transgender.

When Elaine tells Allen right before Christmas, he doesn’t know what to do. He loves Elaine, loves her soul, has heard about transgender people before, but didn’t think Elaine was one of them—she looks and acts like anyone else. Now, she wants to become a man and is going to leave.

He prays for divine intervention, and says he’ll do anything, just please don’t separate him from Elaine…and gets it.

Now, he’s in Elaine’s body. And she’s in his. They’ll get a second chance at love.

Why? Because once you find your soulmate, the universe will do almost anything to keep you together—even change your faces.

You see, Allen loves Elaine more than he loves himself. He’s confused by her, because she’s trans, because she has gender-fluidity in her makeup, all that…but he loves her. Passionately. And he’ll do anything to stay with her…even become trans himself (albeit through the auspices of two meddling angels), if that is what it takes.

Why does Allen do this? Well, when you’re in love, you care more about the other person than you care about yourself. You want that other person to feel better, and be her best self…you want, in essence, to help that other person become whatever that person needs to be in order to feel good about herself, because doing anything less weakens your love and regard for your partner.

Note that you should never, never, never become less than you are, with someone you love. (I have to point this out, because I know it’s something I wish had been explained to me before I married young. Instead, I had to find out the hard way, and it took years before I found my late husband and realized what true love really was about. But I digress.)

Instead, you should become more yourself. More creative, if that’s what you are. Kinder. More compassionate. More aware of the world and what’s around you. More willing to fight suffering, even if all you can do is give someone a handkerchief when she’s crying and wish you could do more…

You should care, in other words.

No matter how hard it is, no matter how difficult it seems, so long as you and your partner both care, and try, and communicate, and are willing to keep caring and trying and communicating, you have a shot.

(But see what I said before about the limitations of love, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t care about you…that is the type of person who is only about materialism or what you can do for him/her, and should be avoided at all costs.)

Anyway, I think anyone — straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, gender-fluid, or Martian — should enjoy CHANGING FACES if you enjoy romance at all. It has a fantasy element (how not, me being me?), is quirky (again, me being me, you have to expect that), and it has music and musicians and all sorts of good stuff…but the main thing to remember is, it’s about love. Communication. Compassion. Self-sacrifice. Honesty. And hard work.

Because without compassion, self-sacrifice, honesty, communication, and hard work, love isn’t worth very much. But with them? It’s priceless.

Guaranteed.

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 10, 2017 at 5:51 am

My novel, “Changing Faces,” Coming Soon in E-Book…

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Folks, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that my novel, CHANGING FACES, will be available soon in e-book. The estimated time of arrival is March 15, 2017. It’s not yet available for pre-order, and the advance reader copy (ARC) is not out as of yet. But we’re getting there.

CHANGING FACES cover

Cover by Tamian Wood

So, if it’s not ready for pre-order, and the ARC isn’t out, you might be wondering why I’m telling you about it. The answer to that is very simple; there’s a four-chapter excerpt up now at Twilight Times Books that may whet your interest, and my hope is that you’ll share it far and wide.

Note that there still may be a few niggling issues here and there due to file conversion. If any errors remain, I hope they do not impact your enjoyment of the four chapters. (The ARC looks great. No problems there. And yes, I will keep you posted as to when the ARC is available.)

Anyway, I do hope you’ll go look at the excerpt, but to get you started, here’s the entire first two chapters, cut and pasted:

CHANGING FACES

by Barb Caffrey

Chapter 1

It was the middle of July in Nebraska. Sweat started dripping down my back even before I’d stepped foot outside my apartment. My hair was already sticking to my neck, and I didn’t know how I was going to play my clarinet. And I had to do that, because my best friend Jolene Harris was marrying her long-time partner Paula Adelson today.

You see, this was a very special wedding. Paula and Jolene had waited for years to get married, and until recently, they couldn’t. But the Supreme Court of the United States made up their mind a short time ago that same-sex couples are like anyone else—if they want to marry, legally, they should be able to do so. Of course I agreed with this. Anyone who ever saw Jolene with Paula and their son, Adam, for longer than two minutes would agree, if they had any sense at all.

Fortunately for me, my boyfriend, Allen, completely understood. He was coming with me—and playing his clarinet, too. (He was going to play Ave Maria at Jolene’s request.) Allen, unlike me, identified as straight, but he’s no bluenose—he’s even walked with me in Lincoln’s Gay Pride parade.

Yes, I knew I needed to tell him…everything. And soon.

But not today, as that might spoil Jolene and Paula’s wedding.

The sun was shining. The birds were chirping. We’d even seen a rare double rainbow last night, after a brief but intense thundershower. Most people probably would’ve thought that today was absolutely perfect for a wedding, if they didn’t mind having to stand outside in 90-plus degree weather.

Allen and I made it to the car, we stored away our clarinets and music stands, and started driving. Considerate as always, he turned the air conditioning on and let me bask in it a few minutes before he spoke.

“I wish it were our wedding,” he said wistfully.

Oh, no, not that again, I couldn’t help but think. I loved Allen—truly, I did—and I wanted no one but him. But…

“I’d rather get married in the winter than the summer,” I told him, trying to keep it light. “It’s way too warm right now for my liking.”

“Are you sure you’re from Florida?” he half-joked back.

“Hey, it’s humid there, but it rarely hits the triple digits.” At his cocked eyebrow, I added, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

He laughed, as I’d intended, and the subject was defused. For now.

Somehow, I had to tell him what I really was. But I didn’t have the words just yet.

* * *

Allen:

I snuck a peek at Elaine as we set up our music stands. She looked gorgeous, as usual, though by her standards she was a bit dressed-down for such festivities in a burnt orange blouse, dark slacks and low heels, with an orange flower in her hair for the sake of whimsy. Chestnut brown hair cut short for the summer, bright brown eyes with flecks of gold only I could see, when she was particularly happy, high cheekbones…a beautiful woman, inside and out.

Who cared that she, like me, had been known to look at women from time to time before we met? Not I. (And no, I’ve never had that whole threesome fetish thing going on, thank you. I’ve always refused to share.)

Because it was hot, I’d worn dark slacks, a long-sleeved white dress shirt, and a tie with musical notes on it. (Jolene had told Elaine it was to be a less formal wedding, so what I wore would be more than good enough.) My glasses were starting to slide down my nose—occupational hazard, on a day as hot as this—but I knew the music well. Even if my glasses fell off, I’d be able to play and no one but Elaine should notice.

The caterers were still fussing with the food, and neither Jolene nor Paula was anywhere to be seen. It was an hour and a half until the ceremony, so this wasn’t entirely a surprise. Elaine and I liked to be early, to get ourselves acclimated, whenever we played a gig—not that we’d played a ton of weddings, but we’d certainly played at enough other places that this should not be much of a stretch.

We started with the Telemann Canonic Sonatas, easy enough pieces to play as they hadn’t been designed for the clarinet’s three-octave range. They were fun, though, and suited the day well…after a while, I noticed Adam, Jolene’s son and a burgeoning clarinetist, watching us avidly. His two-toned blond head bobbed to the music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. But he wasn’t dressed for a wedding; instead, he wore a t-shirt and ratty old jeans with shoes that looked two sizes two big.

When we took a break, I nodded toward him and asked Elaine, “He seems happy, don’t you think?” Of course, I wanted to say, What on Earth is he wearing? But I was far too polite.

“He’s probably glad I didn’t assign him to play these pieces,” she said with an arched eyebrow.

I stifled a laugh. “He’s still a beginner, so he doesn’t need to worry about that yet.”

“Ah, but does he know that?”

After we put our clarinets down, Adam came over and handed us each an ice-cold bottle of water. “You two sound great!”

“Thanks, kiddo.” I resisted the urge to ruffle his hair, taking a sip of water instead. “Are you wearing that to your mothers’ wedding?”

Adam shrugged. “They’re worried about what they’re wearing. I didn’t think they’d care what I wore.”

“Try again,” I said kindly. “I’m sure they’ll have someone taking pictures, as they’ve waited a long time to get married.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is. They’ve been together since I was a baby. Do they really need a piece of paper after all that?”

Before I could say anything, Elaine jumped in. “Yes, having the relationship matters more than the piece of paper. But they want that piece of paper. They’ve dreamed about having that piece of paper. And you, Adam, are going to go in the house and find yourself something to wear that shows you made an effort, or I’ll give you five extra scales next week.”

“And if you don’t find something better than that,” I added, “I’ll have to come in and help you.”

Adam shuddered dramatically. “Okay, okay already.” He went into the house.

The minister had arrived, a cheerful, fortyish woman. The food had all been brought out. The guests were starting to assemble, so Elaine and I played some more duets. The music flowed out of me, and I became so caught up in that that I didn’t care how hot it was. It was just me, Elaine, and the music.

Life was good.

By the time I looked up again, it was fifteen minutes until the ceremony. Jolene, tall and resplendent in a bright blue satiny long dress, was chatting with the minister, but Paula was nowhere to be seen. Then Jolene came over to us, murmuring, “Paula’s nervous. Says she can’t find anything to wear. And we went over this yesterday—I can’t believe this is happening.” She bit her lip, adding, “Maybe she wants to back out.”

“I’m sure it’s not that,” I put in, trying to settle her down. “She loves you to distraction.” My words were absolutely true. I’d never seen a more devoted couple.

Elaine sighed. “Let me guess. She won’t let you see her, because of that old superstition about brides—even though I’m sure you don’t care—”

“Got it in one,” Jolene said, nodding.

“And I can’t go to her,” I put in.

Both women looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Of course you can’t,” Elaine snapped. Then, her eyes silently apologized…she must’ve realized I’d been joking. “I’ll go.”

“Would you?” The look Jolene gave her would’ve melted an iceberg—that is, if it hadn’t already melted due to the heat.

Elaine touched my hand, and was gone.

I turned back to my clarinet, and started playing the Miklos Rosza Sonatina, ideal for today as it required no accompaniment. Before I immersed myself fully in the music, I prayed that Elaine’s errand would not take too much time.

I didn’t get nearly enough time with Elaine as it was.

* * *

Elaine:

I went down the hall to Paula and Jolene’s bedroom, and knocked.

Paula let me in without saying a word. She wore a bra and a half-slip, but nothing else. The last time I’d been here, the bedroom had been painfully neat but a bit cluttered; now, though, it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Black pants were draped over the wooden headboard along with a shiny silver bolero; a red dress was covered by a bright yellow swath of something in the middle of the carpet—had I ever seen either Jolene or Paula wear yellow? I didn’t think so—while I saw green, brown, white, and checkered blazers, pants and skirts all over the place.

And a lonely light blue dress sat in the middle of the bed, crumpled as if Paula had thrown it.

Before I could say anything, Paula beat me to it. “Feeling femme today, Elaine?”

I blushed. “You two are marrying. It doesn’t matter what I feel like.”

“Then why the flower in your hair?”

Paula was the only person who’d guessed that I wasn’t simply bisexual, though I was certain Jolene knew something was off, too. Paula knew what I was in its entirety—I’m a gender-fluid person, and some days I feel female, others male. But I’ve never felt fully comfortable giving in to my impulses, not the way I was raised.

I realized I was woolgathering. “Who cares why? I’m here to help you. Jolene’s a mess. I think she’s afraid you’re going to call off the wedding.”

“No, never,” Paula said with a faraway smile. “But I have to have something to wear. And the blue dress that I was going to wear must’ve shrunk at the cleaners.”

“Are you sure this isn’t just bridal jitters?”

“Jitter me this,” Paula snarled, and put on the blue dress. Despite Paula’s tiny frame, the dress didn’t fit over her slender hips, much less meet in the middle of her back. “Could anyone wear this?”

“Maybe a dwarf could, but certainly not you.” I shook my head, and sighed. “You didn’t want to try it on yesterday, why again?”

“It’s a tradition in my family that we don’t wear our wedding dresses between the time we try them on and actually are about to get married. My parents are out there, and I figured they’d know—” She looked like she was about ready to cry.

“I understand that you want to be as traditional as possible,” I said gently. “But isn’t it more important that you wear something that you might actually feel good in on a day like today?”

“Point.” Paula smiled ruefully. “I certainly can’t wear this. And everything else, except for one outfit, I’ve already worn…and that isn’t very festive.”

“Show me the outfit,” I told her.

Paula pulled a charcoal grey sleeveless top with a bit of shininess to it out from under the pile of clothes on the floor, and grabbed a grey pair of pants. “I’d intended to wear this to dance with Jolene later. But it’s not good enough to wear now!”

“Put it on, and let’s see.”

After shrugging off her slip, Paula got into the outfit. The top fit well, but wasn’t too snug; considering it was at least ninety-five degrees in the shade, I didn’t see a problem with it. And the grey pair of pants looked comfortable and easy to move around in.

“To my mind,” I said, “this is the right outfit. Wear your best black shoes, and maybe add a black or white scarf? Or do you have a statement necklace, something that will visually draw the eye?”

“Who knew you knew this much about fashion?” Paula teased, as she got out her shoes and a white, fringy scarf. Once the scarf was draped, she added a chunky pearl-and-onyx brooch that went perfectly with the outfit, almost as if it had been designed for the thing.

“Don’t tell anyone,” I advised her. “It might ruin my reputation.”

As we laughed, I took her arm, and escorted her outside to her waiting father.

“Dad, this is Elaine,” Paula told him.

“I saw you playing the clarinet before, didn’t I?” But before I could answer, he added, “Thanks for your help.” He took my place at Paula’s side, and walked her down the flower-strewn path toward Jolene and the minister.

Allen started to play Ave Maria. Before he got four measures in, I saw people dabbing at their eyes.

Of course, Jolene and Paula both looked beautiful, Jolene tall and buxom in blue, Paula petite and dainty in grey and white. So that might’ve been it…but I still think Allen’s playing had a great deal to do with it, too.

I went to Allen, unnoticed in the crowd, and squeezed his shoulder. He put his clarinet down, and grabbed my hand; as I had been about to hold his hand, I had no problem with that at all.

We could barely see Paula’s blonde head back here, due to the crowd, but it didn’t matter. We were ready to play again long before Paula and Jolene shared their first kiss as a married couple, and before the audience had finished applauding, we were playing recessional music—Mendelssohn, I thought—that Allen had arranged for two clarinets.

After a while, everyone had gone toward the refreshment table but us. But before we could go get something, Jolene came up to us and insisted that we get our pictures taken. I hate having my picture taken, as my outer self doesn’t always match my inner self…and even on a day like today, where I felt more feminine than not, I still hated having the flower in my hair memorialized for all time.

Still, Allen’s kiss on the cheek was nice, and my smile at him was genuine. He was truly a good man, the best person I’ve ever known…someday soon, I’d have to tell him the truth about me.

And if he still wanted to marry me then, I’d let him.

* * *

Allen:

Later on, after we’d stored our clarinets away and the food had been cleared out, I took Elaine back out to the yard again. Toward the back, there was a patch of green grass near the fence that I didn’t think anyone had stood on today; an untrammeled bit of grass, if you will. The sky was breathtaking, all bronzy red and pinkish orange, fading into the deep twilight blue I’d only ever seen in a Nebraska summer sky. It was a sky Maxfield Parrish might’ve painted, had he the chance.

“Such beauty,” Elaine breathed.

“What better omen for a wedding,” I added.

For once, Elaine didn’t give me a reproving look. Instead, she looked soft, touchable, feminine in a way I rarely saw…I knew I couldn’t waste this moment.

As Jolene and Paula were saying goodbye to their guests, we were quite alone. Our temporary solitude suited me well.

I went down to one knee on the grass, and said, “Elaine Foster, will you marry me?”

Elaine bit her lip, which wasn’t the response I wanted.

So before she spoke, I tried again. “Look, Elaine. We are meant for one another. I love you to distraction. I want you to become everything you have always wanted—a great writer, a great educator. You’re already a great person, and the only woman I want to be with. Will you please put me out of my misery and say yes?”

At that, Elaine laughed, pulled me up, and kissed me. When I broke away again, I looked down at her shining eyes and said, “So, is that a yes?”

“It’s a yes,” she murmured. “But…”

Before she could say anything more, Adam came barreling out into the yard. “My mothers told me to come and find you.”

As we went inside, I thought, This is the happiest day of my life.

* * *

Elaine:

I loved Allen. So I said yes, when he asked me this time—hoping I’d be able to explain just who and what I really was, after. And it made Allen so happy, for a time, I basked in his reflected happiness, and felt transformed.

If only we could’ve stayed in that moment forever.

Chapter 2

Amorphous Mass/Massimino

The Big Man had told me to call him Michael, because humans had names. He was calling me Massimino for that reason, though I wasn’t truly accustomed to it, because we didn’t want to stand out among the humans. We were proud to be at Jolene and Paula’s wedding, though for a different reason than most. While everyone else had been watching Jolene and Paula take their vows, Michael and I had snuck peeks at Allen and Elaine.

We’d been in human form, of course. Michael told Jolene that Paula had invited us; he told Paula that Jolene had. We were both dressed appropriately, in dark slacks and white shirts; Michael had worn a rainbow tie, while I’d worn my shirt open at the collar so I didn’t feel stifled. He’d called us “the Lights,” as we were both, ultimately, made of light…I’d worn the body of a human teen, androgynous, of course, as Masses have no gender as humans knew it. And Michael delighted in “getting back to his roots,” as he’d called it; he’d worn the adult male body he’d chosen, graying brown hair, bronze skin, and a tall, erect frame, with pride.

Michael had kissed the brides, even, while I’d hung back and listened to the music with Adam, Jolene and Paula’s son. I didn’t have to say much, which was just as well; I didn’t know what to say in order not to stand out, and it was essential that I blended in just now.

No one had guessed that Michael was actually a being of rainbow light, or that I was an Amorphous Mass. Which was as it should be; the humans didn’t need to know about us, or what we did.

When the sky darkened, we’d made a great show of leaving along with everyone else, but we hadn’t. Instead, we became invisible and went back into the yard to watch Allen Bridgeway’s marriage proposal to Elaine Foster. I still wasn’t in my preferred, amorphous form, because that was too hard to control right now. But it was easier for me to be incorporeal than it had been to hold the body of a teen for six straight hours.

After everyone had left, including Paula and Jolene, we drifted outside a few miles to what the humans called a “rest area.” It was a deserted place just off the main roads, something called an “Interstate,” and was a place we could safely talk without bothering anyone.

We materialized in a deserted cornfield just behind the rest area, again in the human forms we’d taken for the wedding earlier, and walked the rest of the way there. This time, we were both in comfortable clothes—blue jeans, short-sleeved t-shirts, and tennis shoes. Michael had added a rainbow bandanna to his outfit, perhaps as a nod to what he really was—or perhaps because he’d just witnessed one of Nebraska’s first-ever same-sex weddings. He looked quite comfortable in his skin, whereas I felt miserable. The dryness stung my eyes, and multiple small insects tried to bite me. But as I wasn’t truly human, I didn’t smell right to them, and they flew away again.

As we ambled along, Michael asked me, “What do you think about what you saw?”

“Paula and Jolene? Or Allen and Elaine?”

Michael snorted. “Allen and Elaine, of course. We’re here for them.”

“They’re in love,” I said, stating the obvious. “They’ll marry in time. Right?”

“Wrong.” Michael’s lips twisted, and his eyes darkened. In them, I could see hints of the rainbow light he held inside him—but the light stood still. It did not dance, as per usual. “If they were able to marry, if Elaine were healthy enough inside to marry, we’d not be here, Mass.”

“Shouldn’t I have a regular name, too?” I asked irreverently.

“I know your designation, so knock it off,” Michael said, unrepentant, before he ruffled my hair. That felt strange.

“Hey!” I couldn’t help it; I chuckled. “Hands off the merchandise.”

“That language update I gave you definitely is coming in handy, I see,” Michael commented.

I wished I could fully show my displeasure, as my normal amorphous form would’ve done. As it was, I only shrugged, shook my head, and frowned, which wasn’t nearly enough.

“What sense did you get of them, as a couple?” Michael asked, persisting.

“Allen didn’t take his eyes off her. And Elaine didn’t take her eyes off him. They look perfect together, and seem deeply in love…I don’t see what the problem is. Unless she truly doesn’t love Allen?”

“She does, or we’d not be here.” Michael frowned, the light behind his eyes darkening to a midnight blue. “But she’s been heavily traumatized in her past. Didn’t you run their life histories?”

“Of course I did. But I thought Allen would get her past all that. She’s been with him for what, seven years?”

“Almost,” Michael corrected. “And yes, Allen loves her very much. He’s stable, knows who he is, and has come to terms with it. But Elaine is more like you. She’s not truly settled in herself, much less with just one gender.”

“So?”

“The humans mostly don’t understand people who have, as they say, gender fluidity in their makeup. They understand someone who wants to be a male who wasn’t born in a male body, for the most part. And they also usually understand someone who wants to be a female who wasn’t born in a female body. It’s not easy for them to become outwardly what they feel inside, but for the most part it’s something civilized people understand. Yet someone who’s more like you isn’t understood…it’s a real problem.”

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

“Elaine needs you,” Michael admitted. “She isn’t healing from her trauma, and won’t let anyone in—not even Allen.”

“I take it I can’t talk with her like this?” I indicated my borrowed human form.

“No, though it’s an idea.” Michael brightened. “There is one place where Allen came to terms with Elaine, but—”

“I sense there’s a problem, even there?”

“Yes, unfortunately.” Michael paused, twisted his lips again, and shook his head. “It’s because of what Allen said there that I decided to intervene here and now.”

“But they haven’t asked for help…have they?”

“Not yet. But they will.”

As there was no one around to notice except a couple of cows and a whole lot of chirping cicadas, we wasted no time fading back into the fabric of the universe.

(Want more free chapters? Go to the excerpt and read chapters 3 and 4 of CHANGING FACES right now!)

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 30, 2017 at 6:31 am

Racine Concert Band Plays Tonight at Park High School

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Folks, it gives me great pleasure to announce that tonight (otherwise known as December 15, 2016) at Racine Park High School, the Racine Concert Band will be performing a Christmas-themed concert. Showtime is at 7 PM, and ticket prices are $4 for adults, $3 for kids, last I checked.

Tonight, we’re going to play four pieces. The first is a transcription of Frescobaldi’s Toccata for band; it’s not a lightweight piece, but it’s not ultra-heavy either, and it suits the mood and ambience of Xmas well. The second is Celtic Hymns and Dances by Erik Ewazen; this is an original piece that is more “inspired” by Celtic themes than anything else. (To my mind, it sounds more like the music for the movie BRAVEHEART, but Celtic and Scottish music have a number of things in common, and perhaps Kwazen was inspired by both for all I know.) The third is Russian Christmas Music by Alfred Reed; this again is an original piece, but it’s based off Russian themes instead. And the final piece the band will play alone is Leroy Anderson’s venerable Sleigh Ride…complete with the “whinny” from Dave Kaprelian’s trumpet at the end.

After that, we’ll play Jingle Bells Fantasy with some of the Park students, we’ll take our bows, and go out into the frigid air, perhaps lightening a few spirits along the way (hey, it could happen).

Hope to see you there!

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 15, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Thoughts on David Bowie

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I woke to the news that musician and composer David Bowie passed away yesterday, on January 10, 2016. He was sixty-nine.

You might be asking, “So, Barb. Why does this concern you? Sure, you listened to Bowie’s recordings…but really, what was David Bowie to you, beyond a popular musician?”

Well, Bowie was a composer, an arranger, an actor, a husband, a father…and that’s only part of what he was.

But I’d rather talk about his music, if you don’t mind, because that’s what I understand the most.

Like most musicians, I was aware of David Bowie’s life and career.  His songs were different, in a way that’s hard to describe but easy to understand.

Somehow, in every song David Bowie ever wrote, he transmitted depth. He had it. And he could express it, in a way that seemed to get to the heart of the matter — a way that few other musicians, no matter how gifted, could do.

Those are rare qualities, even in a creative person. And other creative people tend to celebrate that, whenever we find it, even if the person in question is doing something that’s quite a bit different than themselves.

Much has been said about David Bowie’s image, which was reinvented every few years. Much has been said about Bowie’s gift of self-promotion — though, granted, most of that was said long before he passed away.

(Mind, being able to promote yourself isn’t a bad thing. It actually is a very good thing, especially in today’s day and age where the media has fractured and it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to anything you’re doing. But I digress.)

Little is being said about David Bowie’s true gift, which was depth of feeling. Or of his secondary gift, which was of perspective.

And I wish more was, because that would be much truer to David Bowie’s life and career.

But depth is hard to talk about. Perspective is even harder.

It’s much easier to talk about David Bowie, the artist. Or David Bowie, the self-promoter and showman. Or David Bowie, the philanthropist — though, granted, this last is also getting very short shrift at the moment.

What I want to discuss is elusive, but is at the heart of what art actually is.

The way you see something, the way you express something, is deeply personal. Very few of us can express something in a way nearly everyone can understand at the same time — though in different ways.

David Bowie had that gift of universality, along with depth and perspective. And it’s those three things that are being overlooked in the mountain of tributes that David Bowie’s family is rightfully receiving at the moment.

I mourn that David Bowie has passed from this Earth. But I’m glad he was here, and shared his art with us.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 11, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Some Good News, Some Bad News…

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Folks, I have the proverbial “good news, bad news” update to foist upon you today.

First, the good news. A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE will definitely be out in mid-September of 2015 — meaning a month from now — and a small blurb has been put up at the Twilight Times Books site reflecting what A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE is all about:

http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/News.html#publishing_notes

As the blurb says:

Young Bruno the Elfy and Sarah, his mostly-human teenage girlfriend, are in deep trouble. Bruno’s Elfy mentor Roberto the Wise is about to be sacrificed by Dennis the Dark Elf, with Sarah’s parents’ help. Things look bleak, but Bruno and Sarah have a few allies no one could possibly expect – human, Elfy, and ghosts. Can young love and desperation win out despite it all?

And before you ask — no, I still don’t have cover art.

The bad news? Well, my second quarter story at the Writers of the Future contest, despite being out longer than any other story I’ve ever had, didn’t do anything. It came up with a flat rejection after 137 days.

This particular story is close to my heart in many ways; it is post-apocalyptic military SF with romance.

Now, there is a bit of interesting byplay here, in that I’m reasonably convinced I will be able to sell this elsewhere. (If not as a novella, as a novel.) So my efforts with this story haven’t been wasted…but of course I’m not happy that I’ve come up with yet another rejection at the WotF Contest.

Look. I’ve been trying submissions there for fourteen years now. (Does this mean I don’t know when to quit? I don’t know. It’s just how I am.) I’ve tried just about everything. I’ve tried magical realism. I’ve tried straight SF. I’ve tried fantasy. I’ve tried fantasy/romance. I’ve tried military SF — which is where my two honorable mentions come from — and now I’ve tried this one.

Which got me nowhere.

I do have a submission in already for Quarter 3. I can’t tell you what it is. I can tell you I’d be utterly astonished if this story does anything…not that it’s not a good story, because I think it is, but I don’t think it’s right for the market.

“So, Barb, why did you send it there, then?” you might be asking.

Because I like to submit something to the WotF Contest, just on the off-chance that lightning strikes. I need the boost to my career that the WotF Contest often provides. It seems to provide instant name recognition, which as a small press/indie author I need very badly…and it also gets your name in front of agents and bigger publishers. (Though even so, you still have to be very careful about whatever contracts you might sign. The reputable publishers will tell you that, but in case you’re not sure of the difference between a reputable pub and a disreputable pub, try either Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors. They’ll set you straight.)

Other than that, I wanted to mention that the Racine Concert Band’s free summer concert series at the Racine Zoo is coming to an end later tonight. Show starts at 7 p.m., and soloists this week are Greg and Kathy Berg (vocalists) and Nancy Quist, trumpet.

Hope to see you there!

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 16, 2015 at 2:19 am

Patriotism, Band Music, and July 4th

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Folks, earlier today I took part in one of the most patriotic things any non-United States veteran can do on July 4th: I played in the City of Racine parade with the Racine Concert Band.

Now, why is this patriotic?

Mostly, it’s because we play marches while sitting on the parade float. (Today’s three, for the record, were “Liberty Bell” by John Philip Sousa, “South,” an arrangement of various tunes by Hal Leonard, and an arrangement “God Bless America” by someone whose name I’ve already forgotten.) And in case anyone forgets marches are usually intended to be patriotic, we had flags all over our float, while most of us wore additional bits of red, white and blue on our uniforms (or, in some cases, in temporary tattoos on arms, faces, or hands).

The fun thing about playing in the parade is to see how people respond to this music. People of all ages clap their hands, bob their heads, wave at the band (we usually wave back when we’re not actually playing), some of ’em dance in the street, and a few even pretend to conduct the band (waving an imaginary conductor’s baton in the air).

Some of these folks on the Racine parade route may not see the Racine Concert Band (henceforth shortened to RCB for ease of reference) at any time during the rest of the year, though we play free concerts at the Racine Zoo in July and August and have three winter concerts for minimal prices at the three Racine high schools (Case, Park, and Horlick). So playing the parade does more than a few things…it helps remind Racinians that the RCB exists, and that we can still bring joy to people, just by sharing a bit of music with them.

The RCB’s first free Zoo concert of the year is July 5 (that’s today, as it’s ticked over past midnight since I started writing this). There’s a trombone soloist, a trumpet trio, lots of marches and patriotic arrangements…people will know nearly all of the songs that we play, and the ones the audience don’t know right off, they probably will by the time we’re done playing it for them.

See, there’s something about marches, show tunes, and patriotic arrangements that really hits people, emotionally. Even folks who don’t think they know “Liberty Bell,” once they hear it, ask, “Isn’t that the music from Monty Python’s Flying Circus?” (At which point, I reply, “Why, yes. Yes, it is.”)

And seeing a free concert in the park can be inspirational…which is one reason I’m glad my hands are doing well enough that I have resumed my chair in the RCB.

If you live in Racine, Kenosha, other parts of Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, I urge you to come see the RCB tomorrow at the Racine Zoo for our first free summer concert of the year. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and free parking is available.

Because, really…what’s more patriotic than a John Philip Sousa march or two on Independence Day weekend?

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 5, 2015 at 12:20 am

Thoughts After Watching the Glen Campbell Documentary “I’ll Be Me”

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Folks, I just watched the documentary on Glen Campbell’s life, I’ll Be Me. And I need to talk about this, because what Glen Campbell is going through is important.

You see, Campbell has Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2011 at the age of 75.

But rather than quietly go into a nursing home, he, his family, and his doctors agreed that Campbell’s music was still with him. So they decided on one, final tour…with I’ll Be Me recording every step of that tour, along with the decline in Campbell’s memories and mentation.

Bluntly, to do something like this with what remains of your mind and talent is extraordinary. It shows fearlessness, a bit of humility, and maybe even compassion for the self, while it also showcases glimpses of still-brilliant musicianship and excellent vocal control.

Campbell in some senses was very fortunate, you see. He didn’t lose his vocal quality in his age — at least, he didn’t lose much. (Some smoothness, maybe. But it’s recognizably the same voice and he still has much the same range in I’ll Be Me.) He was always an excellent musician, and knew exactly how to sing his songs…and that’s still there, up until his final song, “I’m Not Going to Miss You.”

As a musician myself, I don’t know if I could do what Campbell did. I don’t think I could’ve walked on stage and not known if I could play my clarinet or my saxophone as well as I wanted. (Much less what the clarinet or saxophone even was until I started playing.) I don’t think I could’ve risked going on stage and not knowing what the songs were, or losing track of the music as I went…I think it would’ve been too difficult to even contemplate.

Yet Campbell could still play his guitar at times with a fire and passion that was astonishing.

The last thing that went for him was his music. It was imprinted on his brain and soul in such a way that while he started to lose language, he could still sing — and sing with feeling.

His youngest three children joined him on that tour, as did his wife. They all did their best to support their father, and helped to create some magical memories for not only themselves and their family, but for the concertgoers as well.

I’ll Be Me is both a heartwarming story of courage and redemption along with extraordinary musicianship, and a heartbreaking story as Campbell starts to fumble and lose control of his final gift.

I was very moved by I’ll Be Me. And I hope that this movie, now that it’s been shown on CNN, will somehow help to spur research into Alzheimer’s disease.

Because not everyone will be as lucky as Glen Campbell, and still be able to make beautiful music into the twilight of his life, nor will they be as fortunate to have an understanding and empathetic family around them.

We need to find a cure for this terrible disease. So our musicians, like Glen Campbell, can keep doing what they love until the day they die — rather than be placed in an extended-care memory facility (as Campbell apparently now is, no doubt because that’s where he needs to be).