December 2019 Fiddletter
Contributed by Tom Bailey
First off, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, spending time with family and friends. As we enter December, let us all remember that the focus this time of year should be sharing time with our loved ones and friends. If you have time, remember those who might not have all that we enjoy. A kind word or even giving of a small portion of your time helping others can mean more to them than you can imagine. We all have a special gift — the ability to play music, uplifting music. Find time to share it with others during this Season.
By now, most of you are aware we have a year-end business meeting coming up this Friday, December 6 starting at 7:00 pm. This is the time to vote on your Board of Directors for 2020. We will discuss some ideas the Board has for next year as well. We would like to get your input on things like slow jams, COPs gigs, possible workshops. Please try to join in at the VFW. Then on the 13th, we have a Holiday Jam set up by Jane and Kathy. Elsewhere in this newsletter there is a flyer that Jane has put together. It should have all the info you are looking for on the Jam. This event will be at the American Legion in Penfield. Again, we will start around 7 pm.
One project the Board wants to try again is something we talked about a year ago, which is adding a section on the FOG website listing stringed instrument teachers within our area. Several members are taking up new instruments and it would be great if FOG could help them find the right teachers. Teachers do not have to be FOG members. We have the names of some FOG members who offer lessons, but we need your help by your recommending teachers for the listing. If you would rather not have FOG contact the teachers, please ask them contact Mike Deniz or myself. We would need their name, contact info, instruments taught and what levels they teach. If you have contacts at one of the local schools, please pass this on to be included in the list. We would like to include teachers for every stringed instrument played by FOG members at the jam sessions. The goal is to have this information on the website by February 1, so please submit teacher info during January.
I know I keep repeating this in almost every newsletter, but I have to say it again one last time. The members who have come out and played at gigs this year have out-played themselves. You have been so entertaining and you all have been willing to share time after the gigs to talk to the audiences. It might seem minor to you but it means so much to the audiences. Because of you, we keep getting asked to come back to entertain again. One place we thought we really blew it — the Macedon Public Library — has already booked FOG for next June! So, even when we think we play poorly, just remember that the audience is still enjoying being entertained by live musicians. Sounds crazy, but I have been told that simply watching players who look like they are having a good time is very uplifting to the audience.
And thank you to the new members who joined up this year; that means so much to keeping this fiddle club moving forward. Please feel free to contact a Board member and pass on any suggestions you may have to help the organization.
I really look forward to seeing you soon at the jam sessions.
Until then … Play Nice!
by John Piper
Just after Thanksgiving, as I started my music lesson, my teacher commented that the winter recital was coming up soon.
Exactly! That’s what I was thinking too. Wasn’t she there at the last recital when my Amazing Grace performance went off the tracks, over the embankment, down the chasm and into the raging river before catching fire and exploding to the point where even Hollywood special effects people were going, “Woah, that’s a little too much”?
Was this a reflex thing such as, “The recital is coming, and I must tell all my students”? Like whacking your knee with a hammer and your foot jerks or say when you throw a music critic, who negatively commented on your Amazing Grace performance, off a chasm overlooking an exploding train wreck, and they instinctually scream?
Then again, it could be that amnesia thing coaches have where they yell at us to forget the last play and to just concentrate on the next one, even though they’re pacing up and down the sidelines muttering to themselves that they hope we won’t mess up like last time.
As it turns out, I think it was a reflex phenomenon. When she said we have a winter recital coming and I responded that I would be interested in performing another solo piece, she developed this massive facial tic. Even more confirmation that it was a reflex thing, as the recital date drew near, and it became apparent that I wouldn’t be ready (what a surprise there) she miraculously healed.
Since I was only doing the group play now and to change things up (not that I’m superstitious, but the previous preperformance routine was not working), I purposely didn’t practice after work before heading over to the nursing home. Better to be surprised at how I would do during the performance. I got there just in time as my teacher was tuning all the violins. That’s right, ALL THE VIOLINS, not just for those of us who are special. Hard to believe, but you tune the violin to the piano, which happened to be slightly out of tune. Who knew? I did know that in an orchestra the entire violin section tunes to the guy who sits closest to the conductor. We know who that guy is. He stayed after school and kissed up to the teacher and now he’s doing the same thing with the orchestra conductor. He has no friends. As it turns out I was standing behind the adorable little dark haired girl and thinking I am so glad I don’t play right after her when I noticed her teeny tiny violin only had three strings. As it turns out one of her strings broke, but her song only uses the remaining three strings. It was an A-HA moment. A-HA as in what a revelation, not A-HA the Norwegian singing trio who had the hit Take on Me. And whatever happened to them? Great song. Kind of a strange music video. But they had such potential and then like most one-hit wonders just disappeared. Kind of like people having a cringeworthy Amazing Grace meltdown. Or rather hoped they would disappear, but instead have become a historical reference as, for example, survivors of Chernobyl are still saying, well it could have been worse we could have had an Amazing Grace meltdown.
But getting back to the A-HA moment. Why didn’t I know about this for the last recital? Amazing Grace is played on only two strings. While I may be the idiot part of idiot savant when it comes to music, I’m a savant when it comes to math. I played on the wrong strings in the previous fiasco but I had four strings. That means I had only a one out of sixteen chances of having my fingers, the bow and the music all on the correct string at the same time. Okay, okay, technically you should be there anyway but stay with the math here. If I only had two strings, imagine just two strings, then the odds would have been one out of four to get the planets aligned, as five of the planets did back in 2005 causing the end of the world as we know it. So, the Disaster at the Mass-er in the church wasn’t my fault. I had too many strings.
Once the violins were all tuned, we gathered to rehearse for the group play. The first song was My Country ‘Tis of Thee. I’m way in the back next to David, the only other adult playing in the recital. I use David as my metronome since I can’t count music, but he can. David is an anesthesiologist and he took college classes in counting. “Now count backwards from one hundred. One hundred, ninety-nine, ninety-eight, lights out.” It’s not that impressive and who’s smarter, the guy that spent all that money going to medical school to learn how to count or the engineer that is copying off him? Following David’s lead, I nailed this song. We followed this with Twinkle, Twinkle. I was a little flat in a couple of places but I still mark it as an A minus. This was followed by some song that sounded like Patty Cake. All I had to do was play the same string as a drumbeat. No moving fingers, just the bow. I am so all over this. I am rocking. The kids went to sit with their families up close as I moved to the back of the room near the exit. Technically I still wasn’t committed to performing and I wanted to keep my options open. The nurses were bringing in the residents and by seven pm there were eighty-three and a half people if you count the one nurse coming in and out, all breathing my air.
We, of course, start with the adorable little dark haired girl who only gets more adorable, if that’s possible. The little cheat with only three strings. Cheat in the fact she thought of it before I did.
This is followed by a little boy in a white shirt and what had to have been his dad’s tie going down past his waist. I could have shown him how to tie a Windsor knot, which looks terrific and uses up more tie, but then he wouldn’t have had room for the violin under his chin. And WHY didn’t anyone tell me about the violin when I was his age? The students are 90% pretty girls. And they have ponytails! In junior high it doesn’t get any better than that. These are the good girls who hold their books across their chests and have permission to read books in the restricted area of the library. And playing the violin gives you a strong chin. Girls like guys with strong chins unlike Mitch McConnell, who obviously never played the violin, hence has no chin and went into politics instead.
A guy who plays the violin shows he’s sensitive. Years later put a plant on your desk. Plants shows you are the nurturing type. I read that in a magazine at the barber shop years ago. Get a cactus, it’s a plant and no one can kill a cactus. Okay you killed the cactus. Get another one, they all look the same. You want to appear to be the nurturing type; no one said you had to be the nurturing type. Now when the office cutie walks by, she’ll comment on the plant and that’s when you lean back and say, I also play the violin. She will fall in love with you right there. And on the way home she’ll pick up wedding announcements. But that’s not the best part. The best part is your first weekend together; she’s going to open the door wearing a ponytail because she’s always felt it doesn’t look professional for work and it’s all for you because you take violin lessons. Don’t worry that you play poorly because the first three years of marriage anything you do is cute, and they even believe you when that awful smell arises and you say it’s the dog and you don’t even own a dog.
Even if you’ve been married awhile it’s still not too late to learn how to play the violin. When I told my wife a few years ago that I wanted to play the violin, she developed this terrible facial tic. Fortunately, it immediately went away when she said I could practice in the basement. The cold, dark, unfinished, unheated, one swinging sixty-watt light bulb basement. But I am allowed to move upstairs as soon as I can play a song, any song, perfectly, twice in a row. #@%$^&ing Amazing Grace.
As each additional child got up to perform, all I could do was think of the W.C. Fields comment about never wanting to perform after children or animal acts. I should thank my lucky stars that none of the children brought their dogs.
Soon it was my teacher’s younger daughter’s turn to play. When I perform, I like to have my violin tucked under my chin and my bow on the strings thirty minutes before the piano accompanist shows up to the building. Here the pianist is playing the intro and she’s casually flipping her hair back. Now she’s looking around the room. Straightening her dress. Pulling out her phone to check emails. The music is building and she’s staring off into space. Finally the music hits a crescendo (one of those musical terms that, hard to believe, I am actually learning) when I just noticed the pianist has started playing the theme music to the movie Jaws and as I start to leap up to scream, “THE PIANO IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU,” she casually picks up her violin and starts playing.
Not my fault. Not my fault. The nurse came back into the room making eighty-four people breathing my air and I was momentarily hallucinating. Even the piano stopped looking like a shark. Recitals. Thank goodness they’re only twice a year.
David gets up next and plays a piece from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I will be playing Twinkle-Twinkle. What was I thinking when I agreed to perform again? The only thing keeping me here is knowing that bad decisions make good stories and I am waiting to see how this one turns out.
We now have reached the last soloist, my teacher’s older daughter. She’s playing something that has six movements and each movement requires a completely different bowing technique. Personally, I have done six different bowing techniques on a single bowing mainly because I can’t keep one bowing for a complete note. So yes, this is a very challenging task and of course it was exceptionally performed. She’ll be going to college soon, so technically I can say I’m not directly following a children’s performance and she left her dog at home.
Finally, it is time for the group play. I didn’t stride to the front as per my last recital, but I did make it there without any major incidences. First goal achieved. We started off with My Country ‘Tis of Thee and I immediately went off the reservation as they say. I was on the wrong strings … again. But the difference this time is I have been here before, repeatedly it seems. I actually smiled and corrected within two measures while nodding my head to the right giving the subliminal message that it was David who messed up. We followed this with Twinkle-Twinkle and I crushed it. Okay, it’s a kid’s song and easy to play but we take our victories when we get them. If I could play it twice, correctly, I could get out of the basement. We finished up with Pat-a-Pan and while not knowing what it was supposed to sound like, I assumed I did it correctly. Not bad, two out of three.
With the recital over, I strode to the back of the room and started putting my violin away when I felt something grip my elbow. I turned my head and there was a woman who at one time must have been four feet tall before she started shrinking with age. She looked up at me — she was going to look up at everyone — and said, “You were wonderful.” I’m thinking that this far back she didn’t even see me, but politely responded that it was a group play and everyone played well. She kept looking at me and said, no, you played wonderfully. This is exactly what is wrong with the world. We need to fix this immediately, as all our bless-his-heart-grandmothers are in nursing homes and not at churches where they belong.
“You played wonderfully”! For a moment I felt the wind billowing my cape as I stared into the dying sunset, one foot on the chasm overlooking the smoldering train wreck below me before being rudely jerked back to reality by the sound of a music critic hitting the ground like a bag of wet cement. I’ve got your Amazing Grace. Bring on the next recital.
!!! REMINDER !!!
Annual Business Meeting, Slate of Candidates for 2020
The annual business meeting will be held this coming Friday, December 6. The meeting will begin at 7 pm, or as soon as we have a quorum. Members are encouraged to attend and to bring up any issues they have. After addressing all of the agenda items, we will hold this year’s elections for the open posts on the FOG Board of Directors. A regular fiddle music jam session will begin immediately following the meeting.
Various members of the Fiddlers of the Genesee BOD of 2019 have identified the following people who have stepped forward to serve on the 2020 BOD. We appreciate all who considered accepting positions as well as those who offered to serve in other, non-BOD capacities. The slate of candidates is presented below:
President: Tom Bailey
Vice President: Kathy Schwar
Secretary: Jane Reetz
Treasurer: Bill Kraft
Director-at-Large #1: Elaine Chandler
Director-at-Large #2: Greg Roat
Director-at-Large #3: ????? (This will be for the remaining one-year term to replace Bill Kraft, who will run for the Treasurer position.)
Each of the five Director-at-Large (DAL) serves two-year terms. The two other DAL positions are currently filled by incumbents who will be serving their second years in 2020. They are B.J. Cunningham and Pat Fink.
If any FOG member would like to still be considered, please contact any BOD member. A Board vacancy may occur during the year and knowing which members have an interest in serving on the board will make it easier to fill such a vacancy quickly. Further, if a member cannot make a one year or two year commitment required of those who sit on the FOG Board of Directors and would like to help out in some other way, they should contact any of the current board members or consider one of the Critical Function Leader positions.
The Show for Joe
All Friday evening jam sessions for December will be held at the Penfield American Legion. Won’t you come join us?