Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘Racine Concert Band

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.

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Written by Barb Caffrey

October 17, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Concert Prep for Sax Solo, 7/16/17

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Folks, a while back I wrote a blog about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t seem to do what I used to do, as a musical performer. I’ve mostly played the second part, since I started playing again five or six years ago, and that’s really tough on the ego; furthermore, because they’re lower parts that mostly blend in, only the other musicians and the conductor tend to even know I’m there at all.

I was always a soloist, you see. Trained as an oboist, played in bands and orchestras, had musical scholarships, then picked up the saxophone in high school because I wanted to play in jazz band. I picked up the clarinet as a senior in high school because I wanted to play the doubled parts in jazz band (sometimes, the sax parts also have a small clarinet part, where you “double” during the piece and play both instruments), and in every case, I ended up playing more solo parts than anything else.

So, to go from first chair anything to second parts has been very difficult. And while “we also serve who stand and wait” (only slightly mangling that phrase), I like playing things that actually showcase my abilities now and again.

Fortunately, when I asked my conductor for the Racine Concert Band, Mark Eichner, for a solo, he gave me one. And I’m playing it tomorrow, on July 16, 2017…the first solo where I’ve stood before the band that I’ve played in twenty-one years.

What’s the piece, you ask? It’s Isaac Albeniz’s “Tango,” for alto saxophone soloist and band. (Yes, it’s an arrangement. But it works.)

I’m not the only soloist tomorrow, mind you. Eric Weiss, a very fine trumpeter, will be playing Clifton Williams’s “Dramatic Essay.” And a master illusionist, Pinkerton Xyloma, will be also helping to entertain the crowd during four of our band pieces.

So, since I put “concert prep” in the title, you might be wondering what that entails. (I hope so, ’cause I’m going to tell you anyway.)

Mostly, what preparation means, in this case, is to be prepared to play the piece. This includes physical preparation (repetition, playing it many times), mental preparation, trying to get rest, eating well, and also trying not to stress out over it all.

And I have done all of this.

My hope is that if you live in Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, that you’ll come down to the Racine Zoo tomorrow night and hear the band play. It’s a free concert; the show starts at 7:30 p.m., but the doors open about an hour ahead of time. (Park on August Street, or on Goold. The main doors are not open for the Zoo during RCB performances.)

If you do, be sure to listen hard to my solo, and come up and say “hello.”

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 15, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Singer Chris Cornell Dies at 52

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Folks, yesterday I read the stunning news that singer Chris Cornell, frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave and Temple of the Dog, had died at age 52. Cause of death: suicide by hanging.

I’ve read a great deal about Mr. Cornell’s passing since then. It appears that he was taking Ativan (generic name: Lorazepam), an anti-anxiety medication, and he admitted to his wife by phone shortly before his death that he may have taken a few too many.

I am familiar with Lorazepam. It is a central nervous system depressant. It works to calm an anxiety attack, and is a very good medicine…but taking too many can lead to despair and suicidal thoughts precisely because it depresses the central nervous system. (That is its function.)

I’m also familiar with playing concerts; I’ve been a musician since age 10 or so, and while I never did much singing, I am familiar with some of the things that tend to happen after concerts. So please, bear with me, as I try to discuss some of them.

(Note before I do, I do not know the circumstances beyond Mr. Cornell’s death any more than anyone else does via various published reports. All of this is speculation, and I can’t be certain I’m right. I say this as a disclaimer; everyone here should know I’m not a medical professional.)

First, when you don’t play well, it eats you up inside if you’re conscientious and care about music.

This does seem to apply to Mr. Cornell, because audience members at his last concert said he wasn’t at his best. And his wife said he was slurring his words (this according to a published report at Huffington Post) in their final conversation…all of this tells me, as a musician, that Mr. Cornell was anxious before his concert, so he took some Ativan as prescribed.

And to my mind, this makes sense. I have taken anti-anxiety meds before a big concert where I’ve had solos I’ve worried about. And I’m not a multi-million dollar artist, known for at least twenty-five years as a big-name act.

See, we all want to play or sing well, and do our level best.

In my case, I took the lowest possible dose, and refused to take any more despite still feeling nervous. I had a reason for this; my grandmother used to take this medicine, and I knew how it affected her. So I didn’t take any additional meds; I just waited it out, played my concert, and did my best.

I think taking the medicine at the very low dose prescribed was useful.

But if you don’t have someone in your background who’s taken that medicine, maybe you might think differently than I did. Maybe you might take an extra one. Or two.

And if you don’t realize that it’s a central nervous system depressant, or you don’t realize exactly how much it’s going to affect you after you hit one of these “performance lows” you can sometimes get…well, my best guess is that these two things combined to cause Mr. Cornell’s passing.

From published reports, it sounds like his family wants a toxicology test done to see exactly how much Lorazepam Mr. Cornell had in his system. That makes sense to me; I’d want to know it myself, in their place.

I hope they also are aware of the whole idea of performance highs and lows. Most musicians are, whether they talk about it much or not.

I’ve known about it since at least my mid-teens; sometimes after concerts, where I feel I’ve exceeded expectations (and my own are pretty high), I’ll feel extremely happy, and it takes hours to “come down” from that feeling. But the reverse is also true; if I finish a concert and think I’ve played much worse than expected, I’ll feel extremely awful. And it takes hours to regain my equilibrium.

That leads to a story…

Last year, in the summer concert season with the Racine Concert Band, I felt awful. It was hot, it was humid, my hands were aching and sore, and I felt ten steps behind the rest of the band. I nearly had an asthma attack on stage if I remember right, and I did not play well at all.

Hours later, I was still ruminating over this concert. I was wondering if I just shouldn’t play my saxophone any more. (Was this an overreaction? Sure. But I’m trying to explain how badly I felt in that moment.) I thought, for a brief time, that maybe I was just getting older, and there was nothing I could do to improve my performance.

It took a few hours of a friend talking to me to realize I was overreacting. (I’d usually call it “being silly,” but in this context, I don’t quite want to do that, because I don’t want any fans of Chris Cornell to think I’m saying he was being that way. He wasn’t.)

And I did reach out. I did say to my friend, “Hey, I had a bad concert and I’m feeling terrible.” And my friend patiently talked me through it…staying up until two a.m., even, to make sure I was going to be OK, before he and I stopped talking.

Not everyone can admit to that. Not everyone wants to…they think of it as a personal failing they need to hide. Or maybe they just don’t realize that this feeling of playing or singing badly is going to go away. There will be other, better concerts; there will be other, better days.

But when you are in the downward spiral, it’s really hard to get out of that. You start to think that your whole life has been a waste, that your musical talent and training is a waste, that you don’t have any reason for being, etc.

I am not saying that I know what happened to Mr. Cornell that night, mind you. I can’t say that.

I’m just saying what happened to me that night.

And I’ll tell you what; if I had had some anti-anxiety meds that night, I might’ve been tempted to take too many. I was in a terrible state. I didn’t want anyone to see me like that, or hear me, or realize I was in that rough of shape.

But I was. And for some reason, I was able to reach out.

My friend, whether he knows or not, may have saved my life that night. (Or at least my sanity.)

As for Chris Cornell…all I can tell you is that I wish he were still alive, still singing, and could still tell his family that he loves them.

I will miss Chris Cornell. I never knew him personally, but his songs, his musicianship, and the emotion that came through every time he sang spoke to me.

I hope wherever his soul is now, he is at peace and feels the outpouring of love and sympathy for himself and his family that has occurred since his tragic death.

And I hope his family will also feel that comfort. It isn’t enough — it will never make up for Mr. Cornell’s absence — but it may help them realize that they don’t grieve alone. (Though they will grieve harder, and longer…as a widow, I know that full well.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

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

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

Saxes and Singers and Gnats, Oh My! (AKA the Racine Concert Band 2014 Free Summer Series Comes to an End)

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Those of you who’ve read my blog for quite some time now are aware of two things, I hope:

1) I’m a musician as well as a writer.

2) I sometimes indulge in extra long titles (as above).**

Why am I starting this blog post like this? Because the Racine Concert Band — of which I’m a member — just successfully concluded the 2014 free summer concert series at the Racine Zoo this past Sunday night.

“But Barb,” you say. “Why didn’t you get online and say something on Sunday night, or better yet, yesterday? Why wait a day?”

The reason for that mostly is because of the “gnats” part of the above title. At about the midway point of the Sunday evening concert, the gnats and biting flies and perhaps even some ticks (those are the pea-green critters, aren’t they?) came flying out to bedevil every musician they possibly could.

I, unfortunately, appear to have been the musician that announcer Don Rosen decided to discuss in his comments — he said something to the effect that “one of the saxes” (most likely me) was swatting insects, going back to playing, swatting more insects, going back to playing, and he didn’t know how any of us could do that.

Now, every one of us was swatting insects in the first three rows. (I cannot see the rows behind me, mind, but they probably were swatting them, too.) But as far as I know, I’m the only one who swatted so many insects, so hard, that I actually had the clips to keep my music from flying off at the first wind gust go flying into the nearby clarinet section instead. (Sorry, clarinets.)

I know I was bitten at least ten or fifteen times, too. And as I despise bugs with a passion, this was not easy to bear whatsoever. (I did kill at least twenty of the suckers, though.)

Anyway, the conditions for the concert were fine for the first half, awful for the second. It’s because of this that I hightailed it out of there afterward (at least, as much as any musician hobbled by a cane in one hand and a saxophone in the other can hightail), even though I believe someone I hadn’t seen in quite some time was attempting to get to the stage and perhaps say “hi.” (If that person is reading my blog for some reason, please know that I am sorry I didn’t stop to chat. I just could not deal with the bugs. At all. But do feel free to say “hi” here instead, OK?)

Look. It’s an outdoor concert. I know we’re likely to run into some problems here and there. But between the bugs, the heat and humidity, and the fact that my asthma was bad for several days due to the poor air quality on the one hand and the high heat/humidity on the other, that was possibly the most difficult concert, conditions-wise, I have ever played.

So I needed that extra day to rest, to recover, so I could come back and write a blog about the whole shebang. (Lucky you, huh?)

Now, as for a greater deconstruction of the headline — I am a saxophonist, thus “saxes.” Gnats should be self-explanatory at this point . . . and as for the “singers” part of the above headline, Ami Bouterse guested with us again this year and did a fine job with two art songs (the “classical” portion) and two show tunes. (The audience, as you might expect, liked the show tunes a whole lot better. It’s rare when the audience goes for the classical stuff instead.)

So the 2014 free concert season for the Racine Concert Band has come to an end. And you might be wondering whether or not the RCB will have a free summer 2015 concert series, too . . . but as I said last year around this time, no one knows that right now.

All I can say, as I did last year, is that I would appreciate anyone who appreciates the RCB to please contact Mayor John Dickert or your local alderman and tell him (or her) that you really, really, really want the RCB to continue as these are the people most responsible for city-backed funding for next year.

Please. You want to support the Racine Concert Band, because it helps to provide vitality to this community.

We need that. Badly.

So please, support the band. Contact the Mayor and the aldermen. And if you’re able, donate to the band, too . . . help preserve one of the very best parts of Racine and give us another free concert series to remember in 2015.

———-

**Mind, if I had felt like an even longer headline, I would’ve tried to shove in something about Adam Maegaard’s fine French horn solo, too. (I enjoyed that piece.) But the headline was already quite lengthy as it was, so . . .

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 26, 2014 at 3:34 am