Friends and Family

Music, Stories, Pictures, and Stuff!

January 7, 2014
by NcStevenB

Listen to Your Ear

I’ve had lots of students over the years.  And I always want to teach them music theory.  What?  No, no… music isn’t a theory.  Then what is music theory?  Well it is how scales and notes relate to each other.  Weight?  No, music doesn’t have weight.  What?!  What do I need scales for then?  God Lord!

Look, scales are all the notes in a pattern that a song might follow.  And then if you skip every other note, you make chords.  Tie some one up?  What?  No, CHORDS, not cords!  Geesh.

Here is the problem with music theory, and don’t interrupt me again!  You want to learn it so that it can help you play.  But if you pay to much attention to it, then what you will play will be not worth listening.  Yeah, like the practicing to perfection that I talked about yesterday.  Sure I can give you an example.  Hey, didn’t I tell you not to interrupt me.

So Cata is playing bass and she turns to me and says she doesn’t like that G.  I ask her what G.  The G on the first line.  There isn’t one there.  I took it out.  Ahhhh yes, I must have forgot to tell you dear.  What should you play there.  Well play the A; it is A minor for the first line.  And that is just what music theory would tell you to do.

She doesn’t play.  She just looks puzzled.  After a while she plays a little.  Then she beams.  I’m going to play a C there.  And she does, with a little walk up from the A to the C.  No, this isn’t a little cottage by the sea.  What she plays sounds a lot better than what just playing by theory would have.  And that C is part of the A minor chord, so it is still within the rules of theory.  But she didn’t pay attention to theory, she paid attention to her ear.

So you see, listen to your ear.  What?  I don’t care which ear; whichever one you want to.

January 6, 2014
by NcStevenB

2014 – The Year of Recording

Yes, this is the year of recording.  It’s not the Chinese year of recording, nor the Norwegian year.  Nope, this is just our year of recording.  Who is our?  Oh I thought you knew.  Catalina will play bass and sing.  I’ll play guitar, sing leads, sing harmonies, maybe play a bit of mandolin.  We might get Brandon, my daughter to come in and sing some.  And we might even get Shelly to play some hand drums.

What?  No, this will be different than the recording we did with my band, Six Lives Colliding.  Well for the most part that is.  With the band we only kinda multitracked it.  Now this we will all multi-track.  What is multi-track?  We’ll save that discussion for another entry.

So we are practicing.  What?  Why are we practicing?  Look, recording is really different.  You get really nervous.  You want it to be perfect.  But that’s a conundrum in itself; if it’s perfect, it’s probably not very good.  Music isn’t about being perfect.  It’s about performing.

So why are we practicing if we shouldn’t try to be perfect?  Hmmm.  Why did you as that question?  It’s a good one.  Let me think about it.  Ouch that hurt.  I really shouldn’t think so much.  Well we are practicing to get as close to perfect as possible and yet still allow for the music to be performed.

For instance, we are practicing with a metronome.  Yeah, the thing that goes click, click, click.  So now we know how many Beats Per Minute each of the songs will be going at.  Beats per minute is sort of like the speed limit, except in this case you don’t want to go any faster or any slower.  It’s really hard at first.  Try driving your car at exactly the same speed.  What?  Hills change your speed.  Well there are hills and valleys in music too.  You only find them when you play with a metronome.  And they DO try to change the speed of the music.

Tonight was our first rehearsal in about two weeks.  First I was fighting a cold.  Then I got tired of fighting it.  So I gave it to Cata and she has been fighting it.  For some reason she didn’t like this gift.  She is finally winning the battle.  We practiced the four songs that we will have ready to record next Saturday.  It was miserable.  Our tempos were off.  We each knew where the other was having trouble….. so all in all, it was a pretty good rehearsal.  We’ll be ready in a few days.  This type of woodshedding was exactly what we needed.

I’ll keep a blog about all this recording as it progresses.  Maybe I’ll even put up some of the interim results as we go.  It won’t all be done at once.  Catch you later.


October 13, 2013
by NcStevenB

Kindness and Perspectives


All of this happened in one day.

Catalina and I are on vacation at Myrtle Beach, attending a weekend of concerts.  It’s Saturday morning.   We are at the buffet breakfast which is included as part of the hotel room; Yes!  I love food, particularly if I can perceive it as a freebie.  This food isn’t very good though.  And it isn’t really a buffet, just once through a short line.

Other hotel guests are there at various tables.  Two tables over from me is a man with a walker and his wife.  His wife isn’t the walker…  All the tables between him and the exit are occupied.  He gets up to leave.  His wife precedes him.  First he goes to his right.  And tries to fit between the man sitting there and the next table.  That’s a no go.  Then he turns and starts my way.  I see the recognition in his eyes.  This isn’t going to work either.  There is a solid wall of tables and people.  I get up.  “Can I help you with this?”  I take his walker, lift it over my head, and carry it through the gap next to the first man where he had tried to leave.  Without his walker, the man slides through the gap and thanks me again.  He’s off.

I go back to my own table wondering why the first man didn’t offer to move and let him through.  Why didn’t his wife who was sitting with him suggest that he move?  Troubling, don’t you think?

The tickets to the concerts were assigned, not just arrange yourself any old where.  We’d been sitting with the same people all weekend.  A guy with a good tenor voice sat next to Catalina.  He’d was disabled, had difficulty walking.  In fact he had come on a narrow, manual scooter that he had parked at the end of the row all weekend.

It was the evening, the final concert.  It is about to start.  Suddenly there is an usher.  She calls over to the guy.  “I need to move your scooter.”  He is aghast; it is his mobility, his independence.  He asks her how he will get it back.  She tells him to just let her know and she will get it for him.  Now how does that work?  She isn’t sitting with us.  I ask her, “Is there a problem with leaving it there?  He’s had it all weekend and this is the first that it’s been an issue.”  She looks flustered, desperate.  Muttering incoherently, she grabs the scooter and takes off, parks it a good 50 yards away.

The man is distraught.  This is foolishness.  I calm him.  “Look as soon as the concert starts, I’ll go get your scooter and put it back for you”.  The concert starts.  I go get it.  I slide it into the same place as it was.  The lady in the row behind glares at me.  The disabled tenor is very relieved, very thankful.  The scooter stays there for the rest of the concert.

As we are leaving from the concert, sliding from the end of the row, the lady who had glared at me demanded that I move the scooter out of her way.  I hadn’t perceived it as being in her way.  I gave a momentary glare back and left, without touching the scooter.

But maybe she had difficulty moving, still the scooter was not in her way.  Yes, but it intruded a little into the end of the row, which was her personal space.  My kindness to the man was an intrusion to her.  From her perspective, I was the one who was rude and disrespectful.

Is this really an example of not just communicating?  Have we become accustomed only to non-interpersonal communications say through emails, IMs, or blogs (Watch it buddy, this is a blog!)?  Wouldn’t it have helped if she had let the fellow who was disabled know that his scooter bothered her?  Maybe he could have moved it to the row ahead of us, asked the teenager there if it would be alright?

And what about the morning?  Was that communication.  I don’t think that the disabled man with the walker should have had to ask, but still, wouldn’t the whole problem have gone away if he had communicated the need for a space to slip through to the guy who behaved as statuary?

We seem to have grown accustomed to not extending kindness, even being unkind.  But we also seem to have grown uncomfortable with any communication that could even be marginally confrontational.

August 27, 2013
by NcStevenB
1 Comment

The Family Paradigm

_DSC0045Family, what an interesting paradigm!

For this blog, the definition of family is different from the one that I normally employ. Here it is in-laws and relatives. Normally I extend that to include those friends with whom I choose to have real contact.

There are many facets that make the family paradigm interesting. But let’s just focus on expectations, respect, and courtesy. Much of this I am learning as I go from my wife Catalina, who often does better with family than I do.

A few weeks ago my wife gets a call from our niece Ilinca. The conversation conducted in Romanian. It loosely translates, “Hi Cata. Are you going to church today?” “No, I’m not planning to.” “Could you please go for me? I don’t want to sing alone in the choir and no one else will be there.” “Okay. I’ll go.” Cata changes her morning plans, subsequently my plans. Off to church. When she gets back, she’s angry. She calls Ilinca. “Where were you? I went to church and you weren’t there.” “Oh, some friends called and I ended up going to church with them.” “Why didn’t you call me?” “I forgot.” Now I get angry.

A month or so ago, I have guitar lessons that I’m giving for free to my nephew Stefi. Of course it’s for free. I’m going to charge family? Not very likely! But understand that I am a very good musician and give very good lessons that aren’t just about the guitar, but about the structures of music. We’ve arranged that Stefi will come at 5:30 on that Thursday. I have an hour meeting at 4:00. So I work from home so that I will be there in time for Stefi’s lesson. 5:30 comes and goes. No Stefi, no phone call, no nothing. Now I’m angry.
This happens a few more times. Subsequently, I’ve stopped giving him lessons, which is a bit sad as he always asking when he can have lessons again.

So here is the first part of the paradigm. We expect more of family, consider that our right. We expect more courtesy and respect. And we expect to give more courtesy and respect.

You can see that when it doesn’t happen, I get angry. Hmmmmm.

Last Sunday there is no call to let Catalina know if there is going to be Romanian church at 5:00. Not knowing is a common problem. It pretty much dominates our Sunday’s meaning that we can’t go off and do things because we don’t know the requirements for the 4:00 timeframe. 3:30 comes with no call. I head off to the movies assuming that Catalina has Romanian church. Catalina calls her brother-in-law Petrica. No answer. She calls her sister, no answer. She calls her niece Ilinca, no response. She texts her other niece Catri. Catri texts her back. “I am at friends. I don’t know if we have church. I’ll get ahold of them and have them call you.” Ilinca calls her back. “No, we aren’t having church.”

I get home around seven and hear the whole story. I get angry. How can they treat Cata this way. They are family. I tell Cata that I get more upset at these things than she does. She agrees.  And then she speaks wisdom, provides the second half of the paradigm.

You have to cut family slack and not expect so much of them!

I have to laugh at myself. I am so black and white. The two halves of the paradigm are so contradictory unless you connect them with the word “yet”. So….

We expect more of family, consider that our right. We expect more courtesy and respect. And we expect to give more courtesy and respect.  Yet, when that doesn’t happen, we have to cut family slack, not expect so much of them!

Wow! I can be such an idiot. If I follow the full paradigm, I don’t get angry. That is much better.

August 5, 2013
by NcStevenB

First Song Videos

While not quite we had hoped, still these are fun.  The framing on the video is a little off; it looks like I’m trying to hide my baldness by occassionally cutting it off.  Nope, that’s what I get for not having someone behind the camera.  They guitar and the bass were too low.  they had to be goosed just a little.  Some instinct told me to leave the crazy stuff going into the songs in.  Someday that might be more interesting than the songs themselves.  Let me know if you like them.

  • Bartender Blues – James Taylor did a great job with this song.  We do an interesting version; Mandolin, Voice, and Bass.  That’s it.  We did it the earliest in the day, when my voice is the lowest.
  • Down in the River to Pray – Some duet work on a standard
  • Shall We Gather at the River – Arranged this many years ago.  Notice that Cata is laughing at me in the beginning.  Hmmmm
  • They’ll Know We Are Christians (English Version) – A song that Cata’s girls choir really liked when they were touring Romania.  Includes a blurb about how I write songs.
  • They’ll Know We Are Christians (Romanian Version) – I finally got the guitar down.  Catalina was nervous knowing that her Romanian friends would know this version well.
  • Winds of Change – A song I wrote about the grass being greener on the other side.  Or is it?  I like the verbals before the song

July 30, 2013
by NcStevenB

Classes in the US


Well there are English classes, history classes, science classes…  What?  Not those kind of classes?  What are you talking about?  We are a classless society here in the US, pretty much all middle class.  We’re not?  Wait a second, mister man, I was taught in US history that we are predominantly middle class and all upwardly mobile; the land of opportunity.  What!  Don’t tell me I’m full of BS!

Yes, that is truly my reaction, or at least I thought it was.  I’m reading Lies my Teacher Told Me.  It has been really good, though the author has his own biases.  So I’ve started the chapter on class history in the US.  I’m just startled, really balk at it.  He sites facts like most people live and die in the same class; so much for upward mobility.  Then he talks about  people limiting themselves to their own class, not thinking they can get anywhere higher.  And he goes on.

My reaction is that this guy is just full of it on this subject.  Once a week I go to TTA, Trailer Trash Anonymous.  “Hi everyone, I’m Steven.  Hi Steven!  I am former Trailer Trash….”  Kidding aside, I grew up in a trailer.  I grew up with my parents having a hard time to put food on our table. We were poor, but not trailer trash.  But today, I am a computer guy, pulling in pretty decent bucks.  I no longer live in a trailer.

So this guy is obviously wrong.  Just look at me.  So, I do that, I look at me.

I’m 6.  I’d like to be pilot.  That would be just so incredible.  Yeah, but I could never do that.

I’m 8.  Mrs. Peas, who has been my first, second, and third grade teacher has just told us we could grow up to be president of the US, anyone could.  Wow.  But inside something says that just isn’t so.  I’m not good enough.

I’m 14.  I love science.  I really want to be an engineer.  I have trouble with one science class.  You know maybe I’m just not smart enough to be an engineer.

Yes, those are all feelings that I had.  They are exactly what the author says people from the lower class feel.  So how did I get out of it?  How did I end up being middle class?

I think there are three answers.  The first is that my grandparents and parents ALWAYS told me that education was the way out of poverty.  My grandparents owned a farm.  So they were clearly lower middle class, certainly not trailer trash.  I listened to them.

I grew up in the tiny town of Plainfield.  That had two huge impacts to the positive.  Plainfield is a college town.  At that time the population of the very liberal Goddard College was about twice the population of the town.  We were inundated with liberal views.  The second impact was that several of my friends, most notably David Webster, were college professor brats.  My class was one of the sharpest to ever go though Twinfield.  We expected a lot of ourselves, drove ourselves.

Finally, I discovered that I was really good with music.  It gave me an identity.  And that identity had nothing to do with my class.  That had a far larger impact than you might think.

When you put those three things together, it gave me a really big push past those feelings of not being good enough.  I truly believe that the US is the land of opportunity.  But that book makes a pretty good case for it really not being quite so easy as we are taught to believe.  And I do indeed know that we are NOT a classless society.

July 27, 2013
by NcStevenB
1 Comment

A Few Videos We Recorded

So Cata wanted to record a few things for her mom and dad to listen to.  They live in Romania, so this is important.  These are our first recording attempts.   Using just the mandolin and the bass leaves lots of space.  It is very clear.  So you can appreciate the beauty of each instrument.  You can also perceive every mistake.  Ahgggg!   Cata was surprised at how nervous she was.  Me?  I was nervous, but I wasn’t surprised by it.

Boda Waltz

Bonnie at Morn

Captain Henry O’Kain

Far Away

King of the Fairies

Second of May

July 21, 2013
by NcStevenB

Thunder and Lightening, Very, Very, Frightening….

LighteningIt’s raining like crazy out there.  There is lightening followed by a roar of thunder just three seconds later.  I love it.  I could listen and watch this magic for hours.  That’s always been true.

I didn’t realize until I was an adult that my mother is terrified of thunderstorm.  When we lived in Stewartstown Hollow, known as the Holler, in NH, we were three miles from the center of town, which was hardly more than a huddle of buildings.  However we did have neighbors that in sight, the Flanders across the road and the Goulds just the other side of our gardens.  My mother claims that on bad thunderstorms she could see the lightening dance along the exposed lead pipes in our house.  But I knew none of this as a child.

I’m seven.  It’s summer.  My four year old brother Paul, and I are sitting on the porch.  Yep, we are together.  We are huddle in the blanket.  It’s grown cold.  The thunderstorm is approaching.  We are entranced.

From inside my mother’s voice, “You boys come in here!  It’s going to rain and you’ll get soaked”  “Okay Mom, we’ll be right in,” I yell back.  I have no intention of going in, of missing this.  We watch the edge of the storm approach across the field, cross the cemetery on the other side of the road and then….. we are engulfed!

We have a tin roof.  Rain on a hot tin roof will beat a cat on a hot tin roof any day, no disrespect, Mr. Williams.  I love the pounding, the thunder made even louder.  What a show, what sound effects!  “I told you boys to get in here.  Don’t make me come out there!”  “Yeah, we’ll be right in.”  We huddle deeper into the blanket, misted sprinkles dampening our faces.

On the hillside, across the field, no more than two hundred yards away lightening and thunder arrive together.  There is a smoking hole where it struck!  Whew-ooo!

Suddenly there she is at the door.  Oh Lord, we’re in for it now.  “Run, Paul!”  We are over the railing in a single hop, into the lightening storm.  And Mom, fueled by her fear is in a rage, right on her heels.  We take off running around the house.  I’m in the lead, Paul is doing his valiant best but can’t keep up, and Mom is after him.

In my head the voice of reason speaks, “She WILL catch us.  But, think…  She is in such a rush.  The person she catches first will get just a few whacks with her hand.  The one she catches last is really in for it.”  I slow down.  Triumphantly Paul zooms by me.  And then Mom is on me.  “No Mom, I’m sorry.  I won’t do it again!”  Whack, whack, whack.  Her hands are drenched in the rain and pretty much glance off my butt.  Then she’s off after Paul.

I run in the opposite direction.  Here comes Paul towards me.  “Run Paul!  You can do it but she’s almost caught you.”  He’s tearing it up, vanishes around the corner.  My mother zooms by me gaining on my brother.   Half a minute.  I’m walking back.  Here he comes again, breathing hard, fading fast.  I shout encouragement to his dying effort, “Faster!  She’s”  I shut up.  She’s round the corner.  Half way down the back stretch she’s on him.  Whack, whack, whack.  I hear a medley, “Don’t you ever.  Mom, no! If you ever… whack, whack, whack.  More thunder and lightening.”  Ah life is good when you are just a boy.  I love the rain!

July 20, 2013
by NcStevenB

Filters, Prisms, and Racism

PrismThese are thoughts of a sleep addled mind, one that refuses to return to sleep.  So instead I write.

Prisms Filters
Heavy, weighty, handheld glass triangular cylindersAcrid science room airLight distortions. No clarity

Hard, unbending.

Broken light, parts separated

Cold, but interesting

Cerebral, anti-tactile.


Flimsy, filmsy plasticHappy colors cast on faces and bodiesLaughter

Heat of gel lights

Combinations for effects


Hardwoods under feet


Dark audience.

Light cast on the cast

Flexible altered images

Darkroom filters

Digital filters are flexible but not tactile

The heat is worth it.

Those are middle of the night thoughts about prisms and filters, pretty much in the order that they came to me.  Both sets are from memories long ago, high school and college back in the 70’s, the prisms high school only.  I did a lot of theatre both on the stage and then backstage with my friend Don Mersereau at Twinfield, and later as a Techie to help pay for going to the Boston Conservatory. Mountain dew, mountain dew to stay awake through the night.

The Trayvon Martin case is all over the sensationalist news.  They keep talking about seeing the events through the prism of race.  I can’t recall if they mention filters.  So I’m looking at my list.  What can be applied?

I’m struck by distortions and lack of clarity when looking through prisms.  The prisms themselves are hard and inflexible.  So whoever looks at the events with Trayvon Martin through prisms won’t see it clearly, will be incapable of bending the prism to the flexibility that is required in real life.

There is nothing fun about looking through a prism, though the results can be interesting.  But that interests is cold, intellectual.  The environment is acrid, cutting.

Filters aren’t being applied.  And yet they are…

Everything filters light, changes it, bends it.  In theatre the filters were gels, plastic, bendable.  Light cast through them superimposed over the reality of the actor.  They enhance the imaginary, the fantasy.  Real life filters are stereotypes: race, class, economics, activities, jobs, relationships.   And stereotypes will not be eradicated, as they are endemic to being human.

How do filters apply.  You can’t have stage theatre without filters.  You can’t live life without stereotypes.  You use filters to highlight and augment the play.  We use stereotypes to augment life.

Sooo…We could enjoy the filters of race.  Enjoy the tang of difference.  The differences in our smells, our foods, the interest of white skin against black.  We could celebrate diversity, which is touted in all business now-a-days but never given more than lip-service in implementation. It is where the stereotype meets reality that the interesting happens.

That’s even true in music.  If I write a song that is strictly done through music theory, then it is very boring, banal at best.  But if I cross the barriers, mix the stereotypes something wonderful happens; Chopin’s endings on his nocturnes and preludes are transformative, blues bends the third, the seventh, and sometimes the sixths and fifths to create something way beyond the stereotype of the conventional major scale.  And the subdivision of a beat into thirds instead of the stereotype of halves creates amazing rhythms and flexibility.

We need to accept stereotypes, celebrate them, joyously use them.

But stereotypes taken too far harden our filters into prisms.  Flexibility and joy are stolen.  Light is separated.

Trayvon is black, George is white.  In the 911 call George says there is a suspicious person wandering his neighborhood, looking in all the windows.  He only says that the youth is black when asked the race by the 911 operator.  Through the black prism this becomes racial profiling.  George is a white supremacist going after an innocent black youth.

George is white, Trayvon is black.  In conversations with his girlfriend he says he is being followed by a crazy cracker.  Through a white prism that is about as racist a statement as you can get.  But his girlfriend would have us believe that Cracker is no longer racist.  She would also have us believe that Nigga is no longer racist.  I don’t think that I could get away with walking into a bar and shouting “Hey, what’s up Niggas and Crackers?”

Here is something very interesting.  I have trouble knowing when I am looking through the white prism or its effects.  But I know that I am looking.  How do I know this?  Well let’s apply the ending of Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” to this.  Look, there is the suspicious youth.  Look there is the neighborhood watch volunteer.  Look he get’s out of the car despite being told by 911 police to not pursue.  Listen there are screams for help, but whose.  Listen there are gunshots.  Now open your eyes.  They youth who lies dead is a white, blonde teenage girl, the neighborhood watch volunteer a black male.

My reaction to what happened changed.  I’m looking through a prism.

What I am struck by is that by applying and encouraging prisms, the media is stirring up racial discord.  It is doing the opposite of what it tells us.  It is NOT trying to promote racial harmony.  The tragedy here is that a boy’s life is loss and a man’s life ruined.  And yes, both are tragedies.

I am not blind.  I know that there are racial inequalities in the system.  I know that race colors everything.  I know that there is the dishonesty of political correctness everywhere.  We have work to do.  Somehow, we must offer true equality for all.  Somehow we must

July 14, 2013
by NcStevenB

Music and Big Fish

tenorSaxThough I look innocent, I do have a mischievous streak.   I’ve managed to capitalize on that even some as an adult.

I’m 16.  I go to a tiny high school, made up of students from two townships.  My class is one of the biggest classes ever to come through: 35 students.  Musically, I am a very big fish in a very small pond: band, chorus, guitar, ukulele, bassoon, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, sing, and write music.  But here’s the thing, I only sing, write music, and play guitar well.  The others I do really, really badly, I mean just awful.

Mrs Springstead is our music teacher.  She used to be really good.  Now I’m not even sure she can hear.  David Webster, Richard Hudson, and I are the saxophone section.  They play altos.  I play tenor.  We are the best section in the band even though I am really bad.  We consider ourselves untouchable, music jocks.

David and I decide to taunt Mrs Springstead.  On every held note let’s put this huge vibrato into it, wide and slow.  Richard won’t do it, goody two shoes!  WaWaWaaaaWa….. not a word.  She doesn’t say a word!  Did she even notice?  Well she didn’t, but Richard did.  After a few weeks, Richard quit band.  I think we inadvertently forced him out.  I still regret that all these years later.  But still, those WaWaWaWaaaas were lots of fun.

Okay, so that didn’t work.  What else could we try?  We switch music.  I am playing music written for the alto on my tenor and David is playing my tenor music on his alto.  For those of you that have never been in band, all these instruments play in different keys.  The music is written in special keys to make it sound pleasing to the audience, actually be in one key.  With this switch, most of the band is playing in C, but I’m playing in G; not too bad.  David is playing in B; argggg God awful!  You are listening.  You hear three jarring keys being played at the same time.  They don’t belong together. Its as if we have three basketball games being played on the same court at the same time.  It is so jarring I can hardly stand it. Mrs. Springstead doesn’t say a word. Not even a glance? Impossible!  Where are her ears!?

We think about trying to play the music upside down.  We aren’t good enough for that.  We are just big fish in a small pond.

I’m 17.  David comes up to spend the night at my house in the country.  We can’t sleep.  We head out to his folks VW camper that he came up in.  We play various songs in the camper with the doors closed.  We hear some vague shouting and roll down the windows.  Ted and Cozette Allen are yelling at us from the bedroom window in their house about a hundred yards away.  “Will you two cut that out!  Have some respect!  We’re trying to sleep over here!”

Sometimes, we were noticed.