Friends and Family

Music, Stories, Pictures, and Stuff!

April 13, 2014
by NcStevenB

Silent Night

This song has been recorded and is the title track on our Christmas CD, Silent Night released December 2015.

You won’t hear this arrangement anywhere but here. Generally, I regard some songs as sacred; don’t change them. This was in that category until I found myself trying it in C Minor. I changed the key to A minor to better suit Cata’s voice. And at the last moment we decided to switch it to the 12-String for accompaniment.

A few months later, Brandon came down and went into the recording studio with us.  She created some new harmonies.  The song went from being exceptional to spectacular.  I’m proud of this one!

Instrumentation and Vocals:

  • Lead Vocals – Catalina, Steven
  • Harmonies – Steven, Brandon
  • 12-String Guitar – Steven
  • Bass – Catalina

March 11, 2014
by NcStevenB

Strings and Recordings

New strings on my guitars.  They are like new tires on a car.  When you put new tires on a car the ride is so smooth.  Everything is so quiet.  And the car glides to exactly where you want it.  When you put new strings on a guitar your fingers just slide into place.  The sounds are exquisite.  You can do anything on it so easily.  They are wonderful.  Fortunately, it is not as expensive to replace the strings on a guitar as it is to replace the tires on a car.

How often do I change my strings?  Well my hands sweat more than most people’s.  In the summer I can go through a set in two weeks.  What happens when I’ve gone through them?  Oh, well, they start sounding thunky, particularly in the bass.  You can actually see that they have lost their brightness.  Also, they won’t stay in tune.  Sometimes, I’m really bad.  I let my strings get a few months old.  Then when I change the strings I have to beat up on myself.  I hear how much better my guitar sounds.  How could I have let it get so bad?

Which brings me to routines.  Cata and I are recording three CDs this year.  I made the good choice of changing the strings on both of my guitars one week before the recording session.  They were perfect for the recording.  The strings had stretched just right so they didn’t change tuning just from playing them.  The sound was still brilliant and flexible.  A week before the second recording session I changed the strings on both again.  And yes, I am changing to another set of exactly the same strings; phosphorus  bronze mediums from WebStrings.  Again, the same results.  Now it is a hair under a week before our third recording session.  Today I changed the strings again.  I’m sure the results will be the same.  I plan to follow this routine as part of good recording procedures until we are done with these CDs.

Why two guitars?  Did someone feed you a couple of question pills today?  Look, each guitar has it’s own sound.  My sunburst Taylor with the maple top has a really big bright sound.  It is totally unforgiving; you play it, or it will play you.  On the flip side, it is totally wonderful and responsive.  It is so even.  It will show every shading that I’m capable of putting in.  So it is perfect for bringing out lines, playing harmonies, creating rhythmic riffs.  But it isn’t so great for strumming, energy songs.  For those it is just too loud.  My second guitar is my song writing guitar.  It is very forgiving.  I can get away with a lot on it.  While it is good for playing individual bass lines and rhythmic motifs, it isn’t as good as the other guitar.  But boy can you get energy with it.  So I use it on the more up-tempo songs that are more strumming oriented.  And I use the first guitars wherever I want subtlety and shading.  You’ll hear the difference when you listen to our CDs.

More later.


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!