music


We have had a pleasant family day at mi casa.  The crew will descend on us tomorrow.  We are anticipating 8 here.  That said, the gifts are still under the tree.  Now that I’m an adult, it’s no longer torture to wait a bit longer to open the gifts.  I’m not worried about the arrival of Santa and am no longer trying to set up trip wire cameras or other means to catch parents in the act.  Granted, that was fun, and I was rewarded not by a picture, but by a yell of dad who hit the trip wire and verbalized the experience.  Anyways, that’s a small snippet of the day here.

I have also been working on a new project: Jesus and Mary.  This will be another musical comprising the interactions between Jesus and three different Marys.  The first is his mother, the second is the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the third is Mary Magdalen who was present at the cross and later at the tomb.  In doing this project, I have been looking carefully at the scriptures and also comparing maps and culture.  That said, there are quite a few traditions around the birth of Christ which I have had to question.  1.) the presence of Joseph.  Is there any mention of Joseph at the manger?  Culturally speaking, the man was not to touch his wife from a certain time during labor until a week later.  The women would gather and talk the mother through her birth.  The other women would provide support, back rubs, etc until the birth occurred.  After everything was done, the man would be allowed to see, but not touch his wife.  2.) the stable.  Again, the scripture says how there was no room in the inn/house (depending upon translation) and they went to the stable.  Considering the laws about child birth, it is reasonable to see that there was no private location for Mary to have birth except a place like the stable away from everyone there for the census.  By the way, the census was for counting the population, verifying their lineage and taxing them.  The persons would swear to their names, their parents’ names, note any particular bodily characteristic and get charged a tax.  3.) the house was mentioned later during the time with the wise men.

Let’s take a moment with the wise men.  They saw a star and followed the sign to Jerusalem.  I read some commentary that noted a prophecy in Judges where Baalam was asked to curse Israel and blessed instead.  In Numbers 24:17 it says that a star will rise in Jacob.  Some of the reading I found surmised that the wise men looked at the old prophecies and discovered the reference to the star and went to Israel to see the leader prophesied.  What’s really interesting about that is that it is a really reasonable observation as to the ability of the wise men to recognize Israel, but where it departs from tradition is that Balak who was hiring Balaam to curse was a leader in Moab.  That is a country just to the east of the Jordan river, or about 4 -5 days journey from Bethlehem.  In other words, it’s possible these were distant relatives of the Israelites, not travelers from Iran or China.

Now that I have researched this, I had to make a decision how much to place in the musical.  I chose to have Mary and Joseph directed towards the stable and then cut to the shepherds.  I’ll leave alone the details of the birth, how much pain was experienced and who was present.  Another by the way, I was dispelling any notion of a pain-free birth until a Catholic pointed at Isaiah 66:8.  I will leave it there for you to ponder.

What I have put together for the shepherds is a combination of song and scripture with two parts in mind as there are only going to be spouseinbox and myself doing the presentation.  Here it goes:

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Spouseinbox and I took Snapshots of Samson to Abilene on Sunday.   It was an interesting experience as the church was African.  I am not referring to the skin color, but the nationality.  We understood about 25% of the service – which was translated.  Some of the translation was worded in a fashion that an idea was grasped at best.  Snapshots of Samson is in English.  I was asked about pauses to translate, and of course being music on video, there was no way to pause.  The pastor attempted something between the first and second songs and then a long talk post the presentation.  He told me that for those who didn’t speak English, they watched the drama and used what they knew of the story.

The show takes about 3 hours to set up and close to 2 hours to tear down.  A small part of the issue is the light stands and bars which were loose in the trailer.  We would just pack them on top of some other boxed items and pray that they would stay there.  This week, I got the whim to fix that problem and spent three days (evenings actually) sizing, cutting and sewing a bag to carry the light poles and bars.  The usual bag from a music store would not work as the poles were too long.  We already have one for the speaker stands.  We went to Hobby Lobby and obtained some canvas in white and black to make the bag.  Anyways, a yard of each color and a yard and a half of webbing for a handle were about right with about 5 inches remaining for Jake to use as a toy.  Pearl had very limited interest.  I’m pretty happy with the result.  There is a 4 foot zipper across the top to allow access and a pocket with velcro on the end to hold the nuts.  There is enough space to also hold the pipe used on the wig stand.  Our equipment has taken another small step forward.

These past two weeks have been rather intense.  We started with the funeral of a relative, then went to another city for medical exam followed by information that another relative was facing major surgery, and at the same time setting up a guardianship for another relative and taking on Verizon in that case.  Considering we are in the middle of this fight, I won’t speak details, just note I have hired a lawyer, and we’ll see.  I’m mad enough right now, that I’m willing to pay the lawyer more than Verizon was demanding, just to see that they get nothing.  We are approaching a weekend were we don’t have to be anywhere but home and I’m happy with that idea.  There are projects here that need my attention and will help divert my thoughts from the other issues boiling on the front burners.

During the trip across Texas, spouseinbox and I discussed a song idea related to the funeral we had just attended.  I have placed the idea in a story and still need to get it into a meter and rhyme.  Here is the idea:

The attic room was hot and dusty single bulb shown dim

Trinket I had sought was hard to find.

Over in a corner was a big old cardboard box

It was thin and long with height up to my waist.

I looked the cardboard over and there was a faded picture

of a bike I had for many years which seemed so long ago.

I sat right there and thought of all the times we had

that bike and I on miles and miles of road.

There was the time we went to fishing, caught in blackberry bush

got all scratched up and didn’t tell my mom.

Then there was that nasty hill, loose gravel did its deed.

I had some stitches and a memory

There was a summer when we rode one thousand miles back and forth

Trips up hills in middle Fall, watching colored leaves fill the air.

Then walking home with flat tire and more inner-tubes than I can remember.

Oiling chain, adjusting tension, I think that chain popped off once.

Now I sit here with the box, full of memories.

One time it held my precious bike, could almost be called a friend.

Now it’s empty except the hint of the cargo once there.

And I’m so glad I had the chance to make those memories.

Well, there it is.  My concern discussed with spouseinbox is that most bikes now don’t come in boxes, so the reference may be lost on some.  On the other hand, I think the concept is easy enough to picture so decided to go with it.

Well, we made it.  All the anticipation and planning and practice finally came to a date.  It was Saturday evening, and spouseinbox and I performed Snapshots of Samson for a small group at church.  This was the entire presentation with all the props, costumes, backgrounds, etc.  The equipment behaved and all the music and lighting operated without problem.  There were distractions, however.  We spent 2 hours loading the car and truck with all the stuff from the house and driving to church.  Towards the end of the trip, I noted a peculiar smell that led me to open the hood and stem my curiosity.  The air conditioner clutch was smoking.  Not a little puff.  This fellow had picked up a bad habit.  So while trying to get the other items forgotten on the first trip, we stopped at a car parts place to see if they would have a belt I could use to go under the compressor and still use the truck.  They did not.  They did have a dummy pulley which could be used in place of the compressor with the current belt.  I said, “OK,” and picked up the pulley.  There was no more time left prior to the performance to get the truck fixed, so I chucked the stuff on the seat and concentrated on the items in the church.  One of the projectors had decided to show dark images.  This was one in which I had placed a new bulb.  Stink.  There was a power point made which was to show like the advertisements in front of a movie.  We had pictures from the making of Samson as well as questions concerning the story to provide a little education prior to the show.  We finally took down the projector and left the laptop running on the table at the entrance door.  I don’t know if anyone paid it any attention at all.  Oh well, just another idea attempted.

Our sound guy apparently forgot about the date and Casper manned the controls.  That being the case, I told the crew there that we would do the first number and ask for their evaluation of the sound.  That is actually what is done.  The first number is utilized to allow stragglers to get into the performance, singers to warm their voices, and the sound guy a chance to get the settings where they need to be.  I had tweaked the settings earlier, and with discussion of the group, they decided that it was fine post the first number, so – on with the show.  The story of Samson was made into 14 songs with lighting and backgrounds to provide more details.  For example, if you look at Judges 13, Samson’s mother and father meet with an angel and are told that a boy is coming.  This angel goes back up to heaven in the smoke off the alter.  I had to figure out how to make this happen on stage.  To start with, there were only two of us.  Next, how would we get someone to fly up into the air?  That problem was solved with a back projection screen and video we shot at a town about 90 miles from here.  We had to go there as there were burn bans at all the closer counties at the time.  We set up a 14 foot 2×4 and had the costume from the pantomime character placed on a blow-up doll connected to fishing chord and pulled up the blow-up doll.  On video, with a chop edit from the pantomime to the doll, it actually looked fairly decent.

We did a similar video with the water coming from the donkey’s jawbone.  This was another I had to figure out how to do, as the church would not be happy to have a stream coming down their platform.  With the video there, I timed the video and turned on water to the hose buried under the model jawbone.  All that had to be done from that point was match the emergence of the water to that point in the song.  The appearance worked well, and the stage stayed dry.  Win. Win.

All liked the show and one mentioned receiving a message from the story, so it was received well.  We are on tap to perform to an open show in a couple of months and have at least three areas that need some attention.  One was the abrupt change between the interim song and start of the next number, and there were a couple of spots where the memory burped, so a bit more practice is needed.  All in all, I would give a praise the Lord for the evening.

As for the truck, I went to another parts place and found a belt which would fit the engine bypassing the air-conditioner compressor, so can use the truck until that compressor is fixed.

Well, last night was it.  The time for which we had practiced and planned for 7 sessions.  The bell choir performed.  We did our worst piece first and progressed to the best one.  The kids were nervous.  Their faces showed.  Our clown actually was serious.  The first piece was atrocious – musically speaking.  Everyone got lost and I picked a starting point on “line 3, first measure”  and restarted again.  The last chord was a group of randomly played bells in unison.  But at least they were together on the last note.  We reset the music, traded appropriate bells to ready for the next piece, and waited for the next group to do their number.  (There were several groups performing various numbers)  The next piece was almost recognizable.  The dotted quarter note timing was a bit closer to correct.  A couple rushed their notes and threw off the timing so that I was trying to quietly sing the notes to get them to follow.  This piece was written as a more single note melody with chords on beat 1.  It was a bit more recognizable, but again, being lost was a problem – I could tell.  I was even lost at a time as it was apparent a couple of different measures were being attempted.  We took our seats.  A couple more presentations were done then we were called up for the final number.  This one was their best, and recognizable.  They stuck with it most of the way, though there was an occasional rush.  I could see one or two freeze at their notes, so I tried to urge on the group.  Well, we made it.

One parent asked for a picture with us and a child.  Another director mentioned next year and we were even told one of the kids stated they wanted to do bells next year.   Wow!  I guess this shows performance isn’t everything.  Considering what our starting point was, though, they did all right.  This was a group of kids who had only seen “do, ra, me” in class.  They had never seen a note and we were teaching whole, half, quarter, eighth, and dotted quarter notes.  They had never seen a staff.  We instructed on the note names for the lines and spaces, though it was not much utilized as our time was limited.  We ended up assigning bells and highlighting the notes on the page, so that the kids would only have to pay attention to the timing and play when that highlight showed.  Lastly, we only had 7 practices to take a group of kids who had never touched a bell, or read a note to perform 3 pieces.  The director stated we did well with what we had – that we were starting with nothing.  I understand what she meant.  When I was in elementary school, we were reading music at the second grade.  I started piano in second, viola in third, and trumpet in fourth grade.  I this area of the country, they don’t get actual music until sixth.  Pity.  At least this group now knows 5 timings and has seen the staff and measure, so learning has occurred.  It was worth the effort.

Starting next week, we are teaching a children’s bell choir.  We are starting with the assumption that the kids have no idea how to read music and plan to do the lessons accordingly.  I started looking for an example of a choir to show the kids.  While doing that, discovered this group:

There is incredible timing in humor, and they have it perfected.  I’m amazed they pull it off with such a piece as well.

I finished another prop the other night. I put on “Blake’s 7” and stitched strips of cloth to a sock. This is for the last two songs where Samson is in the grinding room. I can see him wrapping his feet with strips of cloth while there – at least that is my idea. Using the socks was just the fastest way I could see getting the feet wrapped in between songs.

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