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Asthmatic Thoughts

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Folks, I’d intended to write two more blogs starting with “The Transformative Power of” rather than this, but here’s what I’ve got. Enjoy?

The last few days for me haven’t been that wonderful. I had an asthma attack that was bad enough to force me to go to the emergency room — something that hasn’t happened in years — and interrupted my rehearsal on Thursday night with the Racine Concert Band for the upcoming concert at Case High School on Tuesday, May 21.

At least, for me.

I hope I didn’t interrupt it for anyone else. But I had to leave. I couldn’t breathe well. And about fifteen minutes into rehearsal, I took four hits on my albuterol rescue inhaler — the max dose. But all that did was get me to the break without passing out. It didn’t allow me to regain my energy or breath well enough to continue playing my saxophone, and I only barely had the energy to concentrate on driving to the ER.

I’ve been asthmatic most of my life, but it wasn’t diagnosed until age 27. Most of the time, I’ve been able to do everything I want to do, including five K walk/runs (I used to power walk, when my back still allowed me to do such). With a little prudence, even on very hot and humid days, I can do what I need, providing I rest a great deal and be sure to have my rescue inhaler handy.

But that’s why this was so frustrating. I know what to do. And yet, I was running a bit late, was afraid I’d get into rehearsal late, and I didn’t want that. While I’d taken my rescue inhaler around five p.m. — meaning it should’ve still been able to help for the 7 p.m. rehearsal — I had just done the fastest walk I’m capable of from the parking lot, with my cane, sax, and big, heavy purse in tow. So that, right there, was probably all I had, breathing-wise…and that’s why, fifteen minutes in, I had to take four puffs of albuterol.

What also was difficult for me, then, was not realizing how bad off I was. My stand-partner, Vivian, who’s known me since I was 18, is the one who realized what was going on. She told me I should go seek medical attention, and get a breathing treatment; I told her that I wanted to stay at rehearsal, so I’d try to take the rescue inhaler instead.

And you already know what happened then.

When I got to the ER, they took me right back to a room. (The local hospital, Ascension-All Saints, takes shortness of breath in an asthmatic seriously, which I greatly appreciate.) Within a half an hour or so, I was given a breathing treatment on a nebulizer, and my mind started to clear. (That my oxygen saturation when I got there was approximately 85% did not help, though it did go back up after I sat for a few minutes.) They then gave me three tablets of prednisone, and while that made me very jumpy and jittery, it also allowed me to have enough energy to drive home a few hours later.

I didn’t call my parents, or my sister, until I knew what was going on and could talk without gasping. (My sister works very early in the morning, and I was in the ER until after midnight.) As my brother lives in another state entirely, I didn’t think to even tell him about this, either. But I wasn’t thinking too clearly at the time.

I did text a few friends who were expecting to hear about my rehearsal, and had been worried as they knew I didn’t feel that wonderful when I left on Thursday for rehearsal in the first place. I did that mostly because I knew they were waiting to hear from me. I always try to keep in contact when someone’s expecting to hear…anyway, fortunately for me, one of my best friends I’d texted lives in town.  She came over to the ER, sat with me the last half-hour until they let me go, and drove behind me all the way home to make sure I’d get there all right.

This gave me great comfort.

I was told by the doctor to take it easy over the weekend. No practicing at all. No heavy shopping trips for my mother, if I could avoid it. (Light stuff was OK providing I took my time about doing it.) No editing, if I could avoid it. I could write, to tolerance, and I have — not just this blog either. (1000 words of fiction, yay!) And providing I do take it as easily as possible, he said I could play the dress rehearsal on Monday night, and the concert on Tuesday night — providing I take my rescue inhaler beforehand and after, and continue to take steroids for several days to aid my breathing overall.

I still have hope that I will play this concert. It isn’t going to be easy for me. I am not going into it with much strength, energy, or clarity of mind. But I can do it, and have promised I would…so I will find a way, if at all possible.

I was very scared by this episode. I used all the biofeedback techniques I have learned recently to stay as calm as possible on the road to the ER, and was able to “stay in the moment” to drive safely over there even feeling the way I did. (Why did I do this, you ask? They tow cars if you leave ’em at the practice site overnight. I can’t afford that!)

But I was fortunate. My stand-partner knew I was ill, which prompted me to take my rescue inhaler in the first place. She also urged me to go to the ER when I was still ailing after. And after that, I got good attention in the ER; my friends helped as much as they could from where they were; my family, while being miffed that I didn’t call or text or do anything to let them know in the moment, has been very understanding of how little I’ve been able to do over the last two days since that happened.

I promise you all, I will take my meds on time. I am not going to ever forget to take my rescue inhaler directly before practice again, either, even if I’m already fifteen minutes late…though I hope I won’t be late at all, so I can go in without feeling like I have to “haul ass” and thus have almost nothing to work with from the get-go.

All I can say, else, is that I survived this. And I’m glad, though I wish I hadn’t had to deal with it and had just been able to play as normal.

Anyway, I do hope to write the other blogs about “the transformational power of” later this week, if all goes well. And I would like to know what you think about this, the most personal of blogs I’ve written in a very, very long time…tell me about it in the comments, please. (You are reading, right?)

 

The Transformative Power of Music

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Folks, this is the first in a three-part series. All will start with “The Transformative Power of…”, so you have been warned if this isn’t your thing. (Though why it wouldn’t be, I haven’t any idea whatsoever.)

Music can transform your life, if you let it.

What do I mean by this? (I can practically hear a few of you thinking, “Barb, you have gone off your rocker with this one. What gives?”) It’s simple: music can actually heal you. Or at least improve your mood while giving shape to your feelings, which is nearly as good.

Who hasn’t felt better after singing in the shower? Who hasn’t felt better after singing along to their favorite songs in the car?

For me, playing music takes that feeling and amps it up to eleven. (H/t if you got the Spinal Tap reference, there.) And being able to play music in a group, whether it’s a concert band, a jazz band, a small group, or just by myself, is one of the best feelings there is when it’s going right.

But as this post is titled “the transformative power of music,” I suppose I should get down to brass tacks.

After my husband Michael died in 2004, I didn’t want to do anything. My grief was so profound, it took me at least five years to process, and another few after that to realize I still had a life to live — and what was I going to do about it? All that time, my health worsened, my hands especially, and when I decided I wanted to play my instruments again (sax, clarinet, and oboe), I was barely able to do it due to my hands aching so much.

And it wasn’t just trying to play my instruments that made me frustrated. I was to the point with my hands that driving in the car was painful. I could only use one hand a few minutes at a time, and then switch off to the other. It was just that bad.

Fortunately, I went through a few rounds of occupational therapy, which helped a great deal. The pain lessened, I gained range of motion again, and I learned how to properly stretch the areas. And ever since, when my hands have started approaching that state again, I’ve asked for — and received — another date with the occupational therapist, and gone through more therapy as required.

Mind, I’d have never gone through with any of that if I hadn’t wanted to play my instruments again. But I did. And that allowed me to make a positive decision in the depths of my grief to do something positive, meaningful, and healthy.

Anyway, in September of 2011, I asked to play in the UW-Parkside Community Band again. (I’d been a member before I left the area for graduate school, back in the day.) One of my professors from Parkside, Mark Eichner, was still conducting it, and he told me when rehearsals were for the December concert. So I rejoined it in late October, played the next concert, and voila! I was a performing musician again.

(For the record, my first concert back was on alto sax, and I played a lengthy solo on a piece called “Roma.”)

Soon after, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band in 2012, again on alto sax. (I’d been a member of this in high school and again in college, and only stopped when I moved away to attend graduate school in Nebraska.) Ever since, I’ve played many concerts with them. Most have been on alto, but a few have been on clarinet.

And last week, on Saturday, I played clarinet — first chair, de facto concert master/mistress — with the UW-Parkside 50th anniversary alumni band. That was an exceptionally challenging concert, as we had only one rehearsal beforehand and the parts were very tough. But I was there early, practiced my parts, and was as prepared as I could be.

It paid off. The concert went well. And I had a few folks come up to me afterward, praising what I did (nice, when you can get it), along with asking why I wear a neckstrap to play the clarinet as few clarinetists do. (It helps keep the weight off my hands, and allows me to play for a longer period of time with a whole lot less pain.)

Why am I going into all this detail? Mostly to explain what playing music has done for me. It has given me my confidence back. It has reminded me I can still do something, something positive, something very few other people can do.  It has rewarded my perseverance and search for excellence…it has allowed me to give the gift of music to others in performance, also.

All in all, music has transformed my life.

You don’t have to be a musician to allow music to transform yours, though. Just listen to whatever you want. If you are hurting, let the pain out. If you are healing, allow yourself to feel safe and comforted. And if you just want to hear music for the sake of music, good for you: that’s the best listening experience of all.

What do you think of this blog? Tell me about it in the comments!

Concert Aftermath, Etc.

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Well, as promised, here’s a report on my latest concert with the Racine Concert Band, which was held at Horlick High School in Racine, Wisconsin, on February 26, 2019. I’m going to give you my general impressions of each piece, in the hopes you’ll appreciate the music even without hearing any of it.

The band played four pieces, which started with Richard Rodney Bennett’s Farnham Festival Overture. Overtures, along with marches, are traditional to start a band concert with; they have a known structure and pacing that audiences are accustomed to. The main difference between Bennett’s version and other overtures I’ve played had to do with how well Bennett understood how to write for symphonic band, and exactly what instrument could do which thing the best. A part written for euphonium was meant for exactly that instrument, rather than being a part that could’ve been given to a tenor saxophonist in a pinch; a part written for the tuba was idiomatic for the tuba, and worked perfectly with the rest of the orchestration.

In other words, it was a cute little piece that did exactly what it ought: it started the concert out well.

The second piece was an arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s St. Anthony Divertimento, which is known predominantly for its second movement (a chorale). This piece has four short movements, and is a staple of classical music because of its form and feeling. There is some dispute as to whether Haydn wrote this himself or whether one of his students, Pleyel, wrote it instead; what there isn’t a dispute about is how pretty the music is, how measured, and how much it embodies the feeling of stately grace.

The band seemed to enjoy this one. It’s another sweet piece that audiences enjoy, and it helped the concert move along nicely.

The third piece was an unusual work by Ottorino Resphigi called The Huntingtower Ballad for Band. Written in 1932, it was commissioned by the American Bandmaster’s Association to be played at a memorial concert after the death of John Philip Sousa (composer and bandmaster legend). Respighi is known for big orchestral works like The Pines of Rome, and he brought that sensibility with him into this piece. According to my conductor, Mark Eichner, who looked into the writing of this piece at a deeper level, Respighi had only six weeks to write this piece before the concert, and that made it perhaps shorter than it needed to be.

But what was even more interesting was the story behind why Respighi wrote it in the first place. It was meant to be programmatic, as it was about a historical love story (and nearly everyone can get behind those!), and there were three definite sections: the first being a lead-in to the main section, which is about the two young lovers trying to figure out a solution to their seemingly doomed love affair, and the third, quiet section where it’s obvious the lovers got away and have started a new life free from anyone getting in their way.

I’ll be honest, here; this particular work was challenging to put together. Not because any part was all that difficult, mind; it’s that the harmonies were not what you usually hear and the phrase lengths were either shorter or longer than most. (I know this isn’t very concise of a description, but describing music in words is quite difficult. Please bear with me.) The horns and low brass stood out in the Respighi, and they made this piece shine.

And the fourth and final piece of the band’s solo part of the program was the Malcolm Arnold English Dances. This is another four-movement work, but it’s a difficult one because it’s both lively and technically challenging. This was the one piece I had a solo part on, and I hope I did it justice.

The Arnold, for me, was by far my favorite piece of the night, and not just because I managed to snag a solo part. There were melodies, counter-melodies, and outstanding orchestration (Arnold was known for his orchestrational abilities). They were immediately accessible to the listener.

In short, you don’t have to love classical music to have enjoyed our program on Tuesday night. You just have to keep an open mind and listen, and hear…”those who have ears, let them hear,” as the Bible said. (I may be misquoting this.)

Our coda, concert-wise, was the Moorside March by Gustav Holst. We played that alongside members of the Horlick High School band. It’s a very short, English march (short in Holstian terms, anyway, as Holst is known for pieces like The Planets, First Suite for Band, and Second Suite for Band.) The Horlick members did a fine job on this work, and the audience seemed to enjoy it.

My reminiscences here wouldn’t be complete without saying a few more things.

First, I played this concert through a very bad back strain. Afterwards, I was down for about a day and a half. (Right now, with the physical limitations I struggle with, anything I do, I’m going to pay for in pain. It’s just the way it is.) Because of this, I wasn’t in that great of a mood either on the night of our dress rehearsal or on the concert itself.**

Second, I have to admit that it was difficult, again, to go to a concert, play the concert, and have no one there to listen to me play it. Sometimes, I’m fortunate and my Mom is well enough to go; that wasn’t the case this time. Other times, my sister can go, which also wasn’t the case. Still other times, my good friend who lives in town can come hear me play…but again, that wasn’t possible this time.

It’s at times like these, when my back is out, I must play the concert anyway, and I have no help whatsoever to get in (though I did have help on the night of the dress rehearsal, as one of the horn players helped me in and out of rehearsal when she realized I was in distress — bless her forever for doing this!), that I start feeling extremely frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad to play music. I hope the audience enjoyed what we did. And I was happy to get a solo, and as I said before, I hope I did it justice.

Because of my physical limitations, I am now among the first to get to rehearsal (to make it easier for me to get settled and put my horn together) and the last to leave. This was definitely the case on Tuesday with my back being as painful as it was; my conductor, Mark Eichner, and his wife Esther, were waiting patiently for me to finish getting my winter boots back on (as I brought dress shoes along for the concert, of course), get bundled up, and get out. They couldn’t leave until I did, as the room had to be locked behind me…sigh.

That said, the only way I got through that concert was to pretend my husband, along with my best friend Jeff, were in the audience. They both loved music. They would’ve enjoyed seeing me play. And I can’t imagine, had they lived to see this day, that they wouldn’t have been there. So it made me feel a little better to picture them there, and made me feel far less alone in the bargain.

And yes, in case you’re keeping score, I also pictured them waiting for me as I was the last to leave. And tried to think about what they’d say, while I drove home, in great pain.

I was fortunate when I got back, because my father helped me get inside with my saxophone (he carried it, and my purse, too, as he knew I was in agony). He didn’t ask much about the concert, though, as the Badger basketball game was on, and he really wanted to know how that game would end.

So, that’s my wrap-up. I hope you enjoyed it, even with my additional conversational fillips regarding my bad back and the difficulties I had playing this concert. If I did my job correctly on that stage, the audience never knew thing one about it…and that’s as it should be. Because music, like any form of art, should speak for itself.

————

**And in case the person at Horlick High School who was in charge of moving the chairs, etc., for the band to sit on sees this, I want to apologize to him. I was curt there, when I realized a whole row of chairs was missing. (We needed eight more chairs for the saxes and the French horns.) Normally, I wouldn’t be as short (I hope I wasn’t rude, and I didn’t use any foul language, but still), because I do understand how difficult it can be for one person to try to set up and strike a stage after a concert.

Concerts and Life

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Folks, I’m preparing right now for a concert later this evening with the Racine Concert Band. We’re playing at 7 PM at Park High School in Racine, a joint concert with the Park High School band…and I have a few things to say about concerts and life.

First, sometimes you prepare for something, and it doesn’t happen. But that preparation is still a good thing to do, because it might help you down the line with something else.

In an immediate sense, we had this happen last night in our dress rehearsal with the RCB. Our first-chair clarinetist was unable to play for a very good reason, and her husband brought the folder in so someone else could play her parts.

So, what happened? One of the other clarinetists moved up to play the parts instead. That clarinetist is my former teacher from my college days, Tim Bell…if anyone can play a concert on one rehearsal, it’s Tim.

But Tim had prepared the second parts. He didn’t really want to move. And he would’ve preferred playing the parts he already had, with the first-chair player being healthy enough to play. (I think we all would prefer that, as the first-chair player is a beacon of light whenever she’s around.)

Still, he was called upon, and he answered the call. And he did very well. (Come to the concert tonight and see just how well he did, learning the parts in one rehearsal.)

Second, as is seen by what happened to the first-chair clarinetist, you can do everything in your power to do everything right, and something out of the blue happens so you can’t perform. This is incredibly frustrating, and it’s not easy to deal with whatsoever.

All you can do in such situations is your best. That seems trite to say, but it’s the absolute truth.

Right now, for the first-chair player, rest is what she needs. She’d rather be playing, but she can’t right now. So all she can do is rest, recover fully, and get back to being that positive presence she’s always been down the line.

That’s the winning strategy, now that life dealt her a bad hand. But because she’s a mature and thoughtful soul, she realizes that bad hand is temporary.

Third, while concerts are ephemeral, music itself isn’t. Music can last forever, even though the pieces we play will sound a little different every time we try, as we learn and change and grow and become wiser (and hopefully, just a bit better, too).

This is why music is important. The players may change, sometimes through no fault of their own. The pieces change, too. And the audiences definitely change, something no musician can ever predict…nor would we want to in advance, as that’s half the fun of playing, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Anyway, that’s why I think concerts are interesting. They are a microcosm of life, in their own weird way, and as such, the preparation for the actual event may — or may not — match what ends up happening.

But no matter what, the music will endure. And the Racine Concert Band shall do its best to play it with passion, vigor, and authenticity, later tonight at Park High School.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Concert Over…

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Folks, I’m glad to report that I played my sax solo reasonably well last night, and the preparation that went into that worked out.

I am mostly writing this follow-up blog because of a comment I received from a fellow musician on Facebook. He isn’t aware of all of the various issues that went into me playing this solo, or even wanting to play a solo at all, and that reminded me that not everyone has read my blog for years.

And if you haven’t, you’re maybe not going to know exactly what did go into the persistent effort to play well enough to ask for a solo…much less anything else.

For longtime blog readers, this is going to be old hat to you, so if you want to skip over this post, feel free…but for the rest of you, here we go.

When my husband died in 2004, I was so devastated, I wasn’t able to do much of anything for years. Because I’d already been battling carpal tunnel syndrome (or what I thought was that, at the time), my hands became so stiff and sore, they were almost unusable — at least, when it came to playing a musical instrument. (I could still type, with effort, but I also saw problems even there.)

Then, for several years, I just didn’t play. I looked at my instruments, and grew frustrated; I’d gone through so much to get my two degrees, and now, I couldn’t do anything whatsoever?

In 2011, I finally felt able to talk with my old band director, Mark Eichner. He was still at UW-Parkside, and hadn’t yet retired; he told me when the Parkside Community Band was going to start rehearsing for their winter concert, and so, I rejoined the band. I played a solo there, within the band rather than standing up in front of it (as I did yesterday), which was difficult but worthwhile.

And not long after that, in 2012, I rejoined the Racine Concert Band as a saxophonist. They needed someone to play the second part, you see…and occasionally, I could play tenor sax or clarinet as needed. I knew playing every week in the summer, where I’d battle against my asthma as well as my hand issues, was going to be a challenge, but I appreciated being able to play again.

In a way, it took a few more years for my ego as a musician to reassert itself. (Ego is not necessarily a bad thing, mind.) By this point, I wanted to play a solo. So I asked for one, preferably on clarinet.

My conductor (again Mark Eichner, who also conducts the RCB) gave me a sax solo instead.

Note that my friend Vivian is the saxophone section leader. I’ve known Vivian for years. She’s a great person, she plays well, and she makes going to rehearsal fun. I did ask her if she had any problem whatsoever with me wanting to play a solo, and she basically said, “Of course not. Don’t be silly!”

(And she was the first person to congratulate me, too, last night. Just saying.)

So, I hope that fills in a few blanks.

As for why I said things the way I did before? It’s because I am a human being, fallible and mortal, and I really do struggle sometimes depending on what types of parts are written for the sax. (Many times, Vivian doesn’t have a good part, either. Nor does any other sax player in the section. It really depends on the arranger how well the sax section is used and/or exploited.) I have an easier time playing second clarinet or even third clarinet than I do second alto sax, because the clarinet parts in a band are based off the violin part in an orchestra — meaning that usually those parts are more interesting, or at least can be, than the second alto part. (And oft-times, they’re more interesting in my opinion than the first alto part, too. But that’s probably just me.)

I’m glad I feel well enough to play, and that I was able to do a good job last night. (And that my section leader, Vivian, puts up with me. Because I’m like anyone else — sometimes I can be a major pain in the buttinsky.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 17, 2017 at 8:21 pm

Life, Blogging, and Everything…

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Folks, you probably have noticed that I haven’t blogged all week. There is a reason for that.

Earlier in the week, I was sick. Something akin to the flu, I thought…it passed in about three days, but in the middle of that three days was a rehearsal for the Racine Concert Band as we have a Christmas concert coming up next week at Racine Park High School. I couldn’t miss that, so I exerted myself and went…most people didn’t know I was ill, though my stand-partner Vivian surely did.

Anyway, because of that I wasn’t able to write or edit much until Friday evening. Fortunately, I was able to write and edit some tonight, then I remembered I’d best come over here and let y’all know what’s been happening to keep me away from blogging.

I wish it had been something more fun, mind…something like a Jamaican vacation with a fun tour group, and maybe an interesting man to keep me amused. (Hey, I doubt my husband would mind at this point. It’s been twelve years, and he didn’t ever expect me to be alone all this time. He’d probably ask me what took me so long, if he could, for all I know…but I digress.) That would’ve been great to talk about, and the pictures…oh, Goddess, the pictures!

(No, you’re not about to see me in a bikini. Not now, not ever. I’m talking about sand, surf, fruity drinks, maybe undersea diving…stuff like that.)

I figure that seeing the sun rise in a strange place, with someone I truly cared about by my side, would be fun. Especially at this time of year, when it’s cold, colder, coldest outside, it’s nice to fantasize about warmth, whether it’s the human variety or the weather variety…or better yet, both.

So there you have it…I am again writing a little, editing a little, and am preparing for a concert next week. And I’m fantasizing a little, too, which I guess is…good? (Proves I’m human, in case anyone wondered.)

Hope everyone in Southeastern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois will find ways to stay warm, stay indoors, and read good books. (Fantasizing optional, of course. Though if it helps you, why not?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 10, 2016 at 2:55 am

2014 Racine Concert Band Season Continues Tomorrow . . .

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Folks, I didn’t manage to get up a reminder about the Racine Concert Band summer concerts at the Racine Zoo in July . . . at least, I don’t remember doing so. But we have four more free concerts left out at the Zoo, and I figured I’d get over here and say a few brief words about tomorrow night’s 7:00 P.M. concert to whet your interest.

Tomorrow night’s concert features trumpet soloist Mark Eichner and xylophone soloist Nicholas Stainbrook — and if you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you’re probably going, “Mark Eichner? Isn’t he the conductor of the band? How can he play a solo?”

I could be sarcastic and say, “Very easily, thank you.” (Oops, I just was.) Because we have a guest conductor for two pieces, our regular euphonium player Paul Taylor (who led a high school band for many years in the Kenosha Unified School District — Bradford High, I think) will conduct two pieces — Eichner’s trumpet solo “Beautiful Colorado,” which is a virtuosic waltz for trumpet and concert band, and “The Florentiner” march directly before the solo.

This concert interests me more than most of the others because I’m playing the first clarinet parts instead of the second alto saxophone parts. I even have a solo on Chaminade’s “Scarf Dance,” which is a piece of French band music with the characteristic French harmonies (love that stuff, truly), and have a number of very good and very melodic parts. (We haven’t seen much of that in the saxophone section so far this summer. Depends on the year what we get, of course.)

Other things that may interest you: My usual stand-mate, Vivian Krenzke, will have an extended alto saxophone solo on “Spiritual,” and Vera Olguin will have several solos on both flute and piccolo among the woodwinds. Dave Kapralian and others in the cornet and trumpet section have some interesting parts, and our substitute first horn player (sorry, I don’t know her name; she’s a dark-haired woman with a robust sound and exquisite musicianship) will have a lengthy solo in one of the French pieces also.

Mind, there’s a good amount of music people who usually go to band concerts will recognize — Percy Grainger’s “Country Gardens,” several marches, including John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton,” and a waltz from the ballet “Coppelia.” (This last is something you often hear on television commercials in vastly shortened form.) And did I mention this concert is absolutely free yet?

All you have to do, if you want to come out and see it, is go to one of the two side entrances to the Racine Zoo. (That way, you’re getting in for nothing. Besides, the front entrances should be closed by the time you get there at six-thirty or so to grab a spot on the lawn.) Bring a blanket or a lawn chair, and prepare to be captivated by sound.

See you tomorrow evening at 7:00!

——

P.S. After the concert, please make sure to tell your local alderman and/or Racine Mayor John Dickert how much you enjoy our absolutely free Zoo concerts. Because we still need your support — badly.

Practice Tonight, Concert Tomorrow

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This week, I obviously haven’t blogged very much, and there’s a reason for that.

You see, even though I’m still far more “off” than “on” and have little energy due to being sick for nearly three months in a row, I was asked months ago to play a concert tomorrow evening at the Case High School theatre in Racine, Wisconsin with the Racine Concert Band.  (I regularly play with the RCB, but mostly in the summer months.)

And of course, at the time, I said yes.

When this concert’s first rehearsal came up a few weeks ago, I told them that I was still recovering from bronchitis and that a new therapy had been started.  (True.)  I had hopes the new therapy would help, but I didn’t know how long that it would take to restore my energy level to the point where I could play.  So I said at that point that I’d prefer not to play this concert — not because I didn’t want to play, but because I feared I would be completely and totally unable to play.

An aside: My degrees are in music performance, mostly.  (My Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside had enough credits that I could’ve taken a degree beyond music, had I wished, and I certainly had enough credits for both an English and history minor, if Parkside did minors.  But I didn’t.)  So performing music in front of people, no matter how terribly I feel at the time, is what I’ve trained for my entire life.

This is why, when the RCB wasn’t able to get a substitute clarinet player — they thought they had one, but that person backed out — I decided to play the concert and the subsequent rehearsals, even knowing that the rehearsals would take a good deal of my available energy along with my available concentration, and also would keep me from blogging very much or doing much in the way of editing, either.

Of course, there’s no guarantee even without playing this concert, as lousy as I’ve felt, that I’d have been able to do that much more.  I’ve been told that I’m exhausted for the past five or six months, including before I was diagnosed in mid-April with acute bronchitis.  And while for a time I was able to keep “bulling through” and accomplishing what I needed to accomplish as a writer, editor and musician, after that bronchitis hit me I had nothing left to “bull through” with.

What I’m trying to do now is to manage the exhaustion, get as much rest as I possibly can, and to limit stress.  These are not easy things for me to do at all, but because I was able to do some of them, plus that medical therapy I discussed before (basically I’m taking twice as much of one type of medicine as before in order to limit acid reflux, as reflux plays into both bronchitis and asthma), I’ve been able to play the rehearsals and will play tomorrow’s concert.  (Well, tonights concert, as it’s clicked over past midnight as I’ve been editing this.)

Now, am I playing very well right now?  In my own personal (and professional) estimation, no, I’m not.  I’m at about fifty, maybe sixty percent of what I’m capable of when I’m healthy.  (And that’s not what I’m capable of when I’m at the top of my game, mind you — that’s just when I’m healthy and able to play.)  So I’ve been able to completely learn the parts, which is good, but I’m not able to fully play them, which isn’t.

What I’m doing to compensate for the areas I can’t play is to take longer breathing breaks than normal, so I don’t get too tired out to play.  (I’ve also been smart about taking my asthma inhaler and such, as there’s no need to be any more stupid than I must.)  And if I have to, I take things in two- or four-measure chunks . . . whatever it takes in order to play the music as written, at least as much of it as I’m able to play at this time.

But the band knew this.  The conductor knew this.  And they still wanted me to play.

Which is why I will take the stage and do my best on May 16, 2013, at 7:30 p.m. out at Case High School in Racine.  The RCB has one “combined piece” with the Case High School’s best and/or senior class musicians, plus four other pieces by Robert Ward, Germaine Tailleferre, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Percy Grainger.  The “big piece” is Tailleferre’s “Suite Divertimento,” written in 1977.  It’s a mixture of 20th century French and Renaissance idioms, and if we play it as well as we’re capable of, it should be most impressive.

However, the piece I actually enjoy the most is “Prairie Overture” by Robert Ward.  Ward is an underrated American composer who died in April at the age of 95, and his piece was written in 1957 for concert band and was only later transcribed by Ward for the orchestra.  (Usually a composer writes for orchestra first and band later, if at all, which is why the concert band repertoire consists of so many arrangements.)  This piece sounds both American and Western in flavor and style, but has some unique orchestration throughout that was Ward’s trademark.

I’m uncertain how many people in Racine even know about my blog, much less read it regularly.  But if you live in Racine and you enjoy real, live music played by real, live musicians, you owe it to yourself to get yourself out to Case High School on Thursday night and hear these pieces for yourself.

As for my plans for after the concert, I plan to take it very slowly until I regain some more energy or strength, even though I really hate having to do so.  The medical people I’ve consulted have all told me that since it took months to wreck my health, it’ll take months for me to regain the energy I no longer have.  And the only way to regain that energy is to be smart, stay within myself, and try not to push myself overmuch.

All I can do right now is promise that I’ll do things as I’m able, as my health allows.  This wasn’t a situation I’d expected to get into by any means, so I have no “playbook” in order to help me get back out of it.

That’s why you may, or may not, see regular blogs from me over the summer months as I do my best to slowly regain my health, strength and stamina.  But if I’m able, I’ll continue to comment on whatever strikes my fancy, just as I’ve always done, in the hopes that it’ll intrigue you.  Inflame you.

Or at least keep you amused.  (Whatever works.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 16, 2013 at 12:16 am

About to Play a Concert

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Tonight, I will take another step toward reclaiming my musical abilities by playing my clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Community Band.

“But Barb,” you longtime readers of my blog may be saying.  “You’ve played concerts with them before.  What’s the big deal?”

Well, last year I played my alto saxophone in several concerts with the Community Band — a symphonic band made up of various community members from the Racine, Kenosha, and Northern Illinois areas.  I played several solos, including a memorable, lengthy one on “Roma” (a piece inspired by the Romani, or Gypsies).  But in some ways, playing the saxophone is easier on my bad hands than is the clarinet.

Consider, please, that it took two rounds of occupational therapy in 2011 to bring my hands and wrists back to the point that I could play at all.  (I have carpal tunnel syndrome, though I try not to make a big deal of it.)  That’s why I wanted to play more saxophone than clarinet, as saxophone is easier on the wrists due to the fact the alto saxophone is played by using a neckstrap to take the weight of the instrument off both hands and wrists.

I wasn’t sure what could be done to help my hands with the clarinet, but fortunately Steve Schoene of Racine’s own Schmitt Music had the answer.  Schoene told me about the Clarichord, which is somewhat like a neckstrap but does not require a hole to be drilled in the clarinet and a ring installed . . . instead, it wraps around the thumb rest, and seals with a velcro closure around the neck.

Voila!  I was able to play my clarinet far more easily, and without anywhere near as much pain and strain.

Still, two-plus hour rehearsals seemed beyond me, which is why playing the saxophone in both Community Band and the Racine Concert Band seemed like the best course unless a clarinet player was truly needed.

However, my hands have improved enough that I asked to play clarinet in the Community Band.  I am playing the first part, which is the most wide-ranging and difficult (for the most part), and I have several solos in a piece by Ingolf Dahl called “Sinfonietta for Band.”

These solos are challenging and require all of my thought and energy.  Which is why when we had our dress rehearsal last night, I came home drained — thus was unable to blog about tonight’s concert as I’d hoped.

It’s rather late for most people in the Racine, Kenosha and Northern Illinois area to decide to go out to Parkside for a concert.  (For those of you not from this area, Parkside is somewhat between the cities of Racine and Kenosha, and is located next to a scenic park.  Thus the name.)  Plus, it’s cold, windy, and worst of all, it’s Tuesday — not on a weekend, when we might have a bit more people willing to brave the elements to come see a live concert with real, live adult performers.

Still.  The concert starts at 7:30 p.m.  It’s now 6:20.  If you live within forty-five minutes of Parkside, you can still make it — and if you want to see the Community Band perform, we are second on the program, not first.  (Which means you don’t have to break all speed limits in order to get to the show on time if you want to see us perform.)

For those of you who don’t live in the area, or who cannot attend the concert, please wish me well.  This certainly is the most challenging work I’ve played in at least twenty years — and it would’ve been a beast to play even before my hands started acting up fifteen years ago.

——

By the way . . . I always tag my late husband’s name with regards to something like this.  Michael didn’t get a chance to hear me play live in concert.  He did hear me practice many times, but that’s not necessarily the same thing.

It depends on what you think happens after the body dies as to whether or not you believe my husband has finally been able to hear me play in concert or not.  But I like to think that he does hear it, wherever he is, and that he’s happy I’m making the attempt.  Because if any part of him still exists, he has to know that me continuing onward with my hands and wrists like this is far from easy . . . but this is a big part of who I am.

He’d be happy I’m continuing to try, even though it’s painful and much more difficult than it used to be for me to play either the clarinet or the saxophone.

And I think he’d get a kick out of the fact that I have solos, too.

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Ill Here . . . but Getting Better

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Folks, the last week has been quite interesting — at least in the Chinese curse sense of, “May you live in interesting times” — which is why I haven’t blogged in several days.

To be blunt, I’ve been quite ill with the flu and a sinus infection and a number of other things that got kicked up because of that.  No new writing has gotten done, and my edits are behind (now three edits are in progress, the two longer-term ones plus a short-term job).  And I had to take three days away from my editorial internship, too, which of course doesn’t help anything.

Some days, the minuses definitely seem like more than the pluses, but I have to keep getting up and get whatever done that I possibly can.  And if the best I can do is rest?  Well, then, I guess I’ll rest with the best of ’em.

At least, as much as I can.

There are some positives to report in the past week, though not a whole lot.  I edited a few more chapters of AN ELFY ABROAD (the direct sequel to ELFY).  I was able to do my three-hour shift for my internship tonight.  I attended the most recent Racine Concert Band rehearsal (for our December 13, 2012 concert at Park High School), and while I didn’t play really well, I also didn’t perform horribly.  And I’ve sketched out a few possible scenes for another of my works-in-progress (WIPs for short), while reading at least fifteen books in the past week.  (If I had a Kindle or something akin to it, I’d probably have read even more.)

The other things that I’ve noted in the past week or two that I haven’t blogged about:

The Milwaukee Brewers have parted with pitchers Kameron Loe and José Veras, who weren’t the worst relievers on the roster by a mile.   I’m waiting to see if the Brewers re-sign either of these pitchers at lower salaries.

Politics is in a holding pattern; everyone’s wondering if the United States Congress will ever learn the meaning of the word “compromise” (much less the words “fiscal restraint”), while the term “fiscal cliff” has dominated the headlines along with the stalwart refusal of Congress to do any work whatsoever.

Wisconsin politics is also in a holding pattern.  State Senator Jessica King (D-Oshkosh) has conceded to Republican Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac, and is now an outgoing Senator after losing by only 590 votes.  The Republicans regained control of the state Senate; currently, with one seat vacant, the state Senate stands at 17-15.

And there’s no news regarding the “John Doe” probe of Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his aides, except the fact that the probe is continuing.  (This wouldn’t even be news except that Walker himself believed that the probe was in its final days.)

Anyway, as I start to feel better, I should be able to do more writing, on this blog and for Shiny Book Review and of course for my works-in-progress.  The hope now is to get a book review done for tomorrow night for John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris’s poetry extravaganza THE NEW ARCANA, and another review on Saturday (possibly one of the three-book set by K.E. Kimbriel, as all of them are good, enjoyable novels; if I wait, though, it’s only to do a “two-for-one SBR special”).

So my intentions are to get better, keep writing and editing, and keep posting updates as I have ’em.

Business as usual, no matter how long it takes.  (Right?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm