Friday, August 18, 2023

Dealing With Lifechanging Events

 And now for something completely different:
As of August 11, 2023, exactly one week ago today, I retired.

    "Retired" is a tricky word.  A year ago, I went from full-time at my job, to part-time.  Voluntarily, in an attempt to reduce stress, and focus more on my time with Monique.  We tried calling it 'retirement', but that didn't sit well.  Settled on calling it 'semi-retirement'.  Seemed more accurate.

    Now I've given up the job, retirement still isn't exactly the right word.  I'm in my 60's, so retiring is age-appropriate.  But what really happened is I stopped working at the paper, and started working full-time with Monique.  We can't afford to actually retire.  I'm calling it retirement, but what it means is "working full-time on eBay to make ends meet."  One week in, and we're starting to figure out the shape of our future.  It's great to spend a whole day focused on eBay, but as it turns out, other needs continue, as they always have, to interrupt our plans.  Some things will need to become part of the permanent routine.  Others are one and done. The cost of... everything... will keep going up.  The unplanned-for continues to surprise us.  :^)

    So a week into our new normal, I have to say I'm liking it a lot.  Working at the paper was a good job.  And the people I worked with... really great.  As in, I've only been gone a week and really miss getting to see everybody while we did our daily work.  I miss the job itself, but not nearly as much as I miss the people.  Over the years, the job changed to deal with all the changes in the industry.  Newspapers went from being powerful, to struggling to hang on.  Many couldn't, and closed.  The paper I worked for was a labor of love, and our leadership worked extremely hard, and very creatively, to keep the doors open.  We continue to succeed, where so many haven't.  And of course, the aftermath of Covid had an indelible impact, personally and professionally.  For a long time, I adapted.  Not always willingly, but always got there in the end.

    It helped when I went part time last year, but change kept happening.  People I care about move on, the job itself continued to change.  I found myself struggling, and failing, to adjust.  The merry go round wasn't fun anymore and I was ready to leave the circus behind.  My willingness to change, and keep changing, was gone.  A good friend put it bluntly, telling me I was burnt out.  Sounds about right. 

    Monique and I talked it over a lot.  I tried to hang in as long as possible, but more and more, the thought of dropping out and spending all my time with Monique sounded better and better.  We planned and prepared as much as possible.  Decided we needed a trial run.  A week off of work, to see how it would go.  Gave my manager (another very good friend) a rather indeterminate heads up that Monique and I were considering making the leap.  Found out later she thought I was literally turning in my resignation on the spot.  We cleared that up, I promised her at least a month's notice.

    Spending that week with Monique was awesome.  It convinced us I could make the switch, treat eBay as seriously as any other job. It also convinced us both that it was time, so when the vacation was over, I gave just over a month's notice.  The timing was serendipitous.  That month and a few days made my final day at work a Friday, and Saturday would be Monique's birthday.  It seemed appropriate to celebrate both events together.

    The anticipation was keen.  It was hard to delay that month, but I also didn't want to leave my friends behind.  There were discussions about ways of keeping me on in some capacity, but the upshot was, I'm more than happy to give advice, share expertise, and will always pick up the phone when my friends call, but not for pay.  My paid job is eBay, and I need to treat it like a job.  But I'm always glad to hear from friends, and to feel needed.

    They threw an amazing farewell party.  I've worked with people (yes, more friends) for 15 years that I never met face to face - some of them made the trip to the office just to say goodbye, and share a hug.  I tried to search out everybody and tell them how great they've been.  Then it was over.  Did a few last jobs, because they were there and I didn't want to leave Joy with any of my unfinished work.

    Now, a week later, I had an epiphany:
I left the job while I was still good at it, and would be remembered fondly.  

    If I'd stayed, my ability to do the job would have diminished, my anger and stress would have grown, and nobody would have liked me any more, not even me.  Carol Burnett had a very successful entertainment show for years, and it was still going great when she decided to stop.  As she said, "I thought it was much classier for me to say bye-bye first.”  I agree.  

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Meeting In The Air Southern Gospel on Piano


Meeting In The Air MIDI File

     This marks the 2nd new Southern Gospel song posted since re-starting this blog.  Meeting In The Air is an old old favorite.  I loved to sing this in church when I was a kid.  It's one of the songs I can clearly remember from church, from Uncle Freil playing, and from playing it myself.

    The song's original copyright was in 1925, and is currently under the Public Domain.  It was written by Mae Taylor Roberts.  According to Hymnary, the copyright notice originally contained this offer:  "This song may be had in sheet music at 25 cents a copy. Order from Mrs. Mae T. Roberts, 1554, East Washington, Pasadena, California."  Since that was nearly a century ago, I sincerely doubt she's still honoring her offer.
    I've looked for more information or songs from Mae Taylor Roberts, but couldn't find anything beyond the small amount Hymnary has.  If you'd like the lyrics, Hymnary offers 3 verses plus chorus.  I've seen it in the past with 4 verses, but usually consider Hymnary to be the most reliable source of hymn information.

    Speaking of verses, I took the road less traveled this time.  Most of the time, I'll do two or three verses with a chorus between each. This time around, I had an example to follow.  I recently found several decades-old videos of my uncle Freil playing.  This was one of the songs, so I had the rare opportunity to compare my version to his.  For his version of the song, he simply played the verses three times.  Didn't play the chorus at all.  It never occurred to me that could be an option; plus, I liked that a lot, so I'm following his lead and just playing three verses.  

    Also, not surprising at all... his way of playing Meeting in the Air is much better than mine.  I tend to play a very direct melody line.  Freil had a subtler approach.  He wound in and around the melody line, in ways that would never have occurred to me, lending his variations a much more sophisticated feel.

    With some effort (okay, a lot of effort), I listened to his version of Meeting in the Air over and over, working on learning how he did it.  Unless you're very familiar with Friel's style, you probably won't hear the difference.  But for those of us who knew him, it's there.  The first and last verses are my style.  The middle verse is as close to how he played the song as I can get.  The difference blurs a bit, because over time, fiddling with the arrangement, some of  his style blended with mine.  That's fabulous, because I'd love to be able to play more like Freil.

    Regardless, I'm happy with the arrangement.  I can tell what's mine and what's Freil's, and love the fact that even after all these years, I'm still learning from him.  

    The video itself is a whole other story.  I have a new (outdated, but new to me) cell phone, and struggled with the settings.  It has problems with the audio.  It sounds like it's playing underwater, with strangely distorted sounds, and halfway through the video the audio stops entirely.  My final attempt was with the lower resolution setting turned on.  It was the best version I'd played, out of several hours of trying to fix the video.  By that point my hands ached, and I was getting tired to the point of starting to play worse, rather than better.  So I took that final effort as 'best effort' and called it done.  The playing is fair enough, but the lower resolution makes the video itself disappointing.
    I'd like to fix the audio issue, or at least figure out what's going on.  But... the video plays with perfect timing, and I never use the original audio anyway.  I always use Ableton to record while playing, export it as a Wav file, and overlay the Wav on top of the original video's audio track.  It's cleaner than the original audio, with none of the ambient noise, barking dogs, etc.  So, the odd audio isn't an issue in this particular situation.  At least, not for making these piano videos.

        I've been working on this for a couple of months (or longer).  It would have been easy enough to do a simple arrangement in the key of C.  That's always been my wheelhouse.  But for these videos, I try to change up the keys a little, and offer greater variation in each verse.  With age and covid affecting my memory, it takes longer to get comfortable with an arrangement I like, and my ability to play it perfectly is based more on good luck, no matter how much I practice.  So, please pardon any errors.  The style is there, clearly enough that other pianists can take inspiration from the style and arrangement.  Aside from the actual video of me playing the piano... there's also a "how-to" video using Midiano (see sidebar link to Midiano) to play the song at normal speed, and half speed.  

    In addition to the how-to, the Midi file for Meeting In The Air is available on this page for download.  You can download the file, go to Midiano and play it, which comes with a variety of options that will help in learning to play the song.  You don't have to use Midiano, any Midi player is fine, but I don't know of any free player that can do everything that Midiano does.  Actually, I don't know of any better midi player at all, paid or free. 

     If you read sheet music, a pdf file is also available for download.  All the downloads are available for free, on this page.  (At some point I'll consider adding appropriate affiliate ads, maybe a "buy me a coffee" link, but as of this moment, haven't looked into them yet.)    But even then, there's no obligation, no charge to download.   Get the files, enjoy them, but if you share them, please credit me for the arrangement.  :^)


Friday, July 14, 2023

Childhood Memories With My First Piano

    When I was about 6, in 1966, my parents bought a Baldwin piano for me.  Piano lessons were MANDATORY... Dad was military.  They asked my opinion before buying the piano.  In my 6-year-old innocence, I agreed that "sure, I'd like to learn how to play the piano."  That answer resulted in me repeating 3 years worth of first-year lessons...  not many people can say they were sent back to start over 3 times in three years.
    At 6, I had no concept of the actual amount of work, practice, and commitment that na├»ve reply was going to cost me.  And nobody, not myself nor my parents, realized how much wasted time and repetition the next three years would entail.  My first piano teacher started me off.  She was an officer's wife who lived on base housing within walking range of our home.  After nearly a year, she moved away.

    Mom and Dad found me another teacher, who insisted I start from scratch to learn her way of doing things.  Less than a year into it, she bailed, and the search began again.
    The next teacher taught group classes.  She also insisted I start from scratch to learn her way.  My only real memory of this class was how easy I made her classes look next to all the other kids.  And why wouldn't I?  I'd already had nearly two years of the same first-year piano lessons!

    The next teacher was where I started progressing again.  Mrs. Bernice Little was a little old lady living in a brownstone in an old neighborhood somewhere in Meridian, Mississippi.  She had a tiny white Chihuahua that was always trembling.  She said in dog years, he was over 100.  She took the time to get to know me, and figure out what I actually knew, and started working with me from that.  It might have been about a year that she taught me.  I recall the total count was three full years of 1st-year lessons, but Mrs. Little took me past that point.  

    She actually entered me in recitals, playing in front of huge crowds (to an 8-year-old, the crowds looked like thousands and thousands of people.)  I learned to play music the likes of Elouise, Nola, and the 1812 Overture.  All beginner-appropriate difficulty level, but it was far beyond what the other teachers gave me.  

    Just as I started enjoying the piano... Dad got orders.  She arranged with Mom to let me spend summers visiting her, but I never got to see her again.  She was advanced in age, and I'm guessing maybe she passed away, but nobody ever told me for sure.  What I DO know for sure, is that I loved her like a grandmother.  Anything I still carry from those early years on the piano, are treasured memories of lessons with Mrs. Little.  When we settled into our new home at Dad's new duty station in Jacksonville, my folks asked me if I'd like to continue lessons.

I said no, for two reasons.  Firstly, I had visions of yet one more teacher making me start over yet again with first-year lessons.  No way.  Not interested, no thanks.  Secondly, and much more importantly, no teacher would ever be able to live up to Mrs. Little's legacy.  The thought depressed me, and I refused to play the piano again.  Ever.
    After a couple of years, during our family visits to Nanny's home (my Mom's mom) I started listening to Uncle Freil playing piano.  He played by ear.  He sounded amazing, and was well known in South Georgia and North Florida churches and communities for his playing.  Most importantly, he made it look fun.  Somewhere along the line, I found out he never learned to read sheet music (years later, he learned some, I'm not sure how much.)  I started playing again, watching and listening to Freil play, trying to learn how he did it.
    Some 50 years later, after a lifetime trying to play like Freil, I love playing the piano.  Haven't read sheet music since childhood, and would be hard pressed to read it now.  I mostly play Southern Gospel and Folk/Country music.  Not as good as Freil, still trying to improve but doing well enough.

    Through this blog and elsewhere, I've spoken time and time again about Freil being my inspiration and how much he influenced my childhood, and that's completely true.  But this post started because in my "adult life" I sell vintage advertising on eBay, and ran across this vintage ad (see side picture).  Because of my childhood with a Baldwin Piano, this ad really spoke to me, and I featured it in my eBaying blog.
    This entire post was going to be on that blog (eBay Ephemera - A Page Out of Time), but it became so long, and so much more suited to being on "Grace Notes", I moved the majority of it to this post.  Click this link if you're curious how this post started out.  :^)

    Back to Mrs. Little; I'm not sure if she had family to remember her, or other students she inspired, but she lives on in my heart.  I'd like to think she'd be pleased to know she set me on a life-long path.  Maybe it's not the one she envisioned for me, but she's the one who first made me love the piano.  Mrs. Little, I love and miss you, and wish I could tell you what a wonderful gift you gave me.

Recent Posts