Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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That Irreplaceable Someone…

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As it’s Sunday, I wanted to talk about something vaguely inspirational. Enjoy!

We are told, as we grow up, that we need to be that irreplaceable person. Be the best. Be the brightest. Be the only one who can do everything that’s required.

What we aren’t told is that not everyone can be the best. Or the brightest. Or be the only one that can do everything, either.

However, what we’re told isn’t wrong, exactly. Because we can only be ourselves. And if we are our best self — well, then, that is something no one else on the face of this Earth can be.

And that is, indeed, attainable.

I write this as I’m about to play a concert this evening with the Racine Concert Band. Tonight, I’m playing alto saxophone. Next week, I’ll be playing clarinet. (And, possibly also, alto saxophone.) And when I play a part on one instrument, someone else has to cover the part I’d usually play. And while they can and will cover the part, they can’t and won’t do it the same way I can.

(This sounds obvious, but hear me out, OK?)

The other person will get things right I won’t. The other person will miss things I would’ve gotten right. Or, maybe, we’d both play it note-perfect all night long, but have different nuances to add — or not — to the equation.

But what’s important is, that other person is playing the part the best way he can. Doing his best, making his best effort, trying his hardest, all that.

While of course I’m doing the same wherever I am, as nothing less will do.

Tonight in the band concert, we’re playing a piece called “Jubilation Overture” by Robert Ward. This is one of our conductor Mark Eichner’s favorite pieces (it should be, too; it’s really a fun piece), and so that means I’ve played it before. The last time I played it, in fact, I played the solo clarinet part — which means tonight on alto, I have to remember other people are playing that, and I have to concentrate on my own part instead, thank you. (Otherwise, my fingering and embouchure will be off, to say the least.)

And, this week, my section leader and stand-partner, Vivian, is off on vacation. While I’m covering her parts for her, I can’t do anything the same way she would — just as she can’t do anything the same way I would.

But do I miss her playing? You bet I do. And do I miss her being there, steady as a rock, on nights I quite frankly don’t feel well? Absolutely.

She is irreplaceable, you see. (And yes, so am I. But that’s not the point.)

We as human beings need to concentrate on what we can. Not worry so much about what other people can do. Just what we can do. And do it to the level best of our abilities, and keep doing it, as long as we possibly can.

That’s what our parents and teachers and others meant, when they told us to be our best selves. And it’s something we can continue to work on, all the days of our lives.

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!

Change and Pointlessness

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I’ve been thinking, for the last week or two, about change. Specifically, change for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Or, to put it another way, change to be more “technologically current.”

(I wish you could see the eye roll I just gave to that.)

Look, I get it. Technology, in the main, is a good thing. The internet has revolutionized life and communication, and has for the most part made it better. But that was a change to make something better. Not a change for the sake of change alone.

“So, if you’re not talking about the internet, Barb, what are you talking about?” you ask me in exasperation.

Mostly, I’m talking about the “upgrades” at Pogo.com. I have been a member for quite a number of years now. (Well over ten.) And because of the phase-out of some staples of gaming technology, including the impending retirement of Java and lessening of Flash, many games I’ve enjoyed playing over the years are being retired right along with them. These games include Crazy Cakes, Dice City Roller, Pogo Addiction Solitaire, Pinochle (yes, they aren’t “upgrading” it to HTML5 anytime soon, it appears)…and to say I’m not happy is the understatement of the year.

Now, the fun of most of these games was never in the graphics. They were instead in the strategy. How were you going to be able to serve the most customers and make the most money with the ingredients you had on hand (Crazy Cakes)? How were you going to be able to make the most points with the rolls you received, and did you want to do the Auction rooms (which would slow you down, but perhaps give you more time to get more points to win extra dice) in Dice City Roller? (And if you haven’t played Pinochle, it’s much like most card games; you need to learn your basic strategy, but once you get that, it’s a lot of fun.)

Still, Pogo.com has apparently figured out that graphics and high-tech things are the way of the future. Even games like Tri-Peaks Solitaire, which did get an upgrade to HTML5, got better graphics even though the game-play didn’t change. (Unfortunately, they also changed the music behind it. They did better with Aces Up!, where they kept the music after the conversion to HTML5.) And since none of these games needed those things, they’re on their way out.

I like better graphics as much as the next person. But I like strategy games far more than I like the best of graphics. And these games had that (still have it, until June of 2019, anyway) in spades…but that’s not good enough, not in a world where change for the sake of change is needed.

Or when the original Final Fantasy game couldn’t stand on its own, and we’re up to what, now, in the numbering? (How many more so-called final fantasies are out there to be mined, huh?)

I know life is like this. Nothing lasts forever. The original Star Trek lasted three years on TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation lasted seven. (I can list all the other Star Treks, but you get the point.) The recent reboot, One Day at a Time starring mostly Latino/Latina characters and featuring Rita Moreno, lasted three. (If you haven’t seen that show lately, find it on Netflix now. Even though it’s been cancelled, it’s still available and it is hilarious.)

And yes, you have to take your enjoyment where you find it, because you know it won’t last. It never does.

That said, I find the current “upgrades” at Pogo.com to be unnecessary. I am definitely going to be playing my favorite games until the bitter end, and do my best to enjoy them even as I know that “all good things” inevitably find their conclusion.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. (And I obviously don’t.)

What say you to change for the sake of change? Did this blog make any sense? What would you like to add? Comments? Brickbats? Sobriquets? The floor is open…

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 12, 2019 at 4:00 am

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It’s All Grist for the Mill…

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As a storyteller, no matter how halting I find the process to be sometimes, I’ve learned one thing and one thing only in this life:

It’s all grist for the mill.

What do I mean by this? Well, everything that happens, good and bad — but most especially the bad — can be used in a positive way toward illuminating your stories.

Why?

Well, think about it. When someone tells you off, how do you feel in that moment? What would you do differently, if you could? What would you do better? Or what, if the devil on your shoulder was in charge for a moment — for story purposes only, of course! — would you do worse, to get a bit of your own back?

See, we’ve all been there.

We’ve all had someone tell us off. We’ve all had someone treat us terribly, for no reason, without warning.

And we’ve all been unable to do what we wanted in those moments, for good or ill…and the virtue of storytelling is, you get to figure out what you might’ve done, and how it might’ve been, without hurting yourself or anyone else. (While making it fun to read, too, if you do it right. Otherwise, why bother?)

Mind, the good things are also grist for the mill.

We’ve all had wonderful, amazing, spine-tingling things happen. Maybe they’re split-second things, like seeing a double-rainbow (or better yet, the Northern Lights — I hope to see that someday). Or they’re the most astonishing things ever known to man, like climbing Mount Everest…or, closer to home, finding someone who loves you, warts and all, and cares only about you and nothing but you — not your bank account, not your health or lack thereof, not your putative beauty or lack thereof either, but YOU.

These things all illuminate your stories. They make them deeper. Richer. More intense. More believable. More relatable. And more interesting by far.

So, the next time you have a bad day, try to remember this: it’s all grist for the mill. It may help. And even if it doesn’t, you can tell yourself in your best Evil Writer (TM) voice, “Hey, I’m going to remember this person, and– (insert worst possible thing you’d do to him/her here)” and that may get you to laugh.

What’s grist for your mill? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 27, 2019 at 12:55 am

When Winter Finally Leaves…

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…will it please turn out the lights?

Seriously. This has been one of the worst winters I have ever encountered. It’s probably because of how cold it’s been that I’ve been sick on and off since mid-October. (I know that was still fall, but we had kind of an odd fall, too.) We haven’t had as much snow as some years, but it all tended to fall in bunches…and with the extreme cold we’ve endured (several days below negative thirty F wind chills, for example, including one week in February where basically no one in Southeastern Wisconsin went out if they could help it), it just hasn’t been a fun experience.

Perhaps because of that, I’m thinking in terms of the apocalypse today. Reading about a paper called “Deep Adaptation,” where writer and professor Jem Bendell discusses how we’re in for a world of hurt due to the severity of ongoing climate change, has only added to my overall feelings of pointlessness.

That said, life is what you make it. Civilization changes all the time. We’ve had several extinction-level events on Earth already. And if humanity is smart enough, perhaps we’ll outlive this one even if it’s as bad as Bendell says it’s going to be.

In other words, you can only decide to do what you can do. Control whatever you, yourself, can control. And refuse to give up despite doom and gloom prophecies, scientific or otherwise…because while life is short, it doesn’t have to be meaningless.

Unless you let it.

So, I’m still here, still fighting, and I’m going to do the best I can. (Not that this is any surprise to you whatsoever, if you’re a regular reader of my blog.)

…and I am definitely looking forward to spring! (Brewers baseball, anyone?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 7, 2019 at 5:27 am

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Want to Read Some of My Books, Free? (Here’s How…)

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Schooled in Magic; Read an eBook Week 2019Folks, we’re almost into Read an E-Book Week, which is held from March 3 to March 9, 2019. Two of my books will be given away by Twilight Times Books if you go to their site here, one on the third (tomorrow!), one on the fifth.  So, if you have ever wanted to read something by me but have not had the money to do it, now is the chance to check out what I’m doing.

For nothing.

(Nada. Zero. Zilch. You get the point.)

At the Twilight Times Books freebie site (again, the link is here), AnElfyontheLoose_medyou can download my first novel, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, on March 3. (Again, that’s tomorrow, though you may be able to get it now if you’re reading late on Saturday night as the links appear to be open and active.) You will have your choice of a PDF file, a .mobi file (that’s for Kindle), or an e-pub file (that’s for just about everything that’s not Kindle). I’ve talked a good deal about AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE here at my blog, so I’ll only say this about it: It’s funny fantasy with two young kids who aren’t what they seem, and there are layers and layers to it. You may meet a few ghosts, too…

Anyway. There are other folks also giving things away that you should know about.

For example, you also can download my friend Loren K. Jones’ first book in his story about Stavin DragonBlessed, ALL THAT GLITTERS, on March 3. I edited Loren’s book, and it is a lot of fun. If you give it a chance, you’ll enjoy it, especially if you like military realism with your fantasy.

And that’s not all. Loren is giving away his book STORIES OF THE CONFEDERATED STAR SYSTEMS as well, and not just on March 3…but all week long.

And as if that weren’t enough, you also can download my friend Chris Nuttall’s first novel in his Schooled in Magic series, also titled SCHOOLED IN MAGIC, all week long. I also edited this book, and am happy to point people to it as I believe it’s one of Chris’s best books to date. (Though I am also partial to several others, this is the one that started it all.)

“But Barb,” you say. “What about your second book? The one you’re giving away on March 5…what book is that?”

That book is CHANGING FACES. It is a contemporary fantasy/CHANGING FACES coverromance between a straight male clarinetist in graduate school, his bisexual (and, secretly, gender-fluid) girlfriend, also a clarinetist and in graduate school, and two meddling, but mostly good-hearted angels. They mix in because the female half of the pair (and yes, despite being gender-fluid, she uses female pronouns to describe herself all the time) is afraid to tell her boyfriend that she is gender-fluid and wants to explore a more masculine self-image. This isn’t what he signed up for, and while he loves her desperately, he doesn’t know if he can handle her presenting as male, or possibly even going as far as having surgery later to confirm her believe in her masculine side. (She is more than a little confused, herself, about all this, at least how to describe it. She knows how it feels to be who she is, but living her truth is not easy.) So, she’s going to leave her boyfriend, even though she loves him, and he prays that he will do anything, absolutely anything, so long as he gets another chance with her.

That “anything” ends up with him in her body, now a straight man in a woman’s body (definitely transgender), and her in his body in a coma is also not what he expected. And he can’t tell anyone what happened…while she’s forced to deal with herself and her demons, as only that way can she wake again and try with her boyfriend, this time with the outward masculine identity she felt she needed (even though she’s always going to be who she is).

The angels are funny. The music is inspired. And the two main characters, Allen and Elaine, are deeply in love, but aren’t too good at communicating with each other…and yet, they both want to try. So the angels give ’em this chance…can they realize that even though their faces have changed, their love remains?

I hope you will remember to go to the TTB Freebies site often this week, and download as many books as you want. Every day, new books will be given away, to let people know we’re here, we have good books to offer, and we hope folks will give us a chance.

There’s also a general site (not run by TTB) for Read an E-Book Week on Facebook here. More publishers will be giving things away there…lots of stuff to choose from, so maybe you can mix and match?

Enjoy!

Written by Barb Caffrey

March 3, 2019 at 12:01 am

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.