Monday, February 01, 2016

My Son the Eagle Scout

Obviously, like any parent should be, I'm proud of my son. Last year was a big year for him in scouting; he began planning and working on his Eagle project early in the year and had his Eagle Ceremony in December.  

Samuel planned every moment of the ceremony, with the only exception of what I wanted to say, and my introduction of him.  Here's what I had to say (with some minor edits to make it work for a weblog).

I remember reading Boys’ Life Magazine when I was a Cub Scout.  I would read those articles about older boys that did great things, and about boys that became Eagle Scouts.  I knew, even at a young age, that I could never do those things.  I could barely swim.  I couldn’t remember any knots or what they were for (still can’t).  I’m not sure where my focus was then, but if we could draw a Venn diagram of my interests I’m pretty confident scouting would have been on a separate sheet of paper.

Even still, I often thought of those boys in the magazine.  I didn’t know them, but I knew they were special.  Even now, I think of those boys from time to time and wonder what became of them.  They were real life heroes - not like heroes on television or in a comic book, but honest to goodness real life heroes that did good things and helped other people.

I remember going to a scouting event once where there were other packs and troops.  I saw boys in American Indian regalia, and I remember thinking it was awesome - and maybe just a bit scary.  I was impressed (or perhaps intimidated).  Those boys seemed really special in my young eyes. 

Now here we are - forty some odd years later.  I read Boys’ Life online these days.  I still see stories of boys achieving things which I could barely even dream.  Those boys are still heroes - real heroes doing good things.

I still admire, what I’ve since learned is, the Order of the Arrow - a Brotherhood of Cheerful Service.  These boys are truly the best of the best.  Someone said recently - describing these boys that they were like “Maverick and Goose” from the movie Top Gun.  I’d say that’s a pretty good analogy.  

As his dad, it’s my wish that he’ll always, on his honor, do his best to do his duty to God and his country and to obey the scout law; to help other people at all times; and to keep himself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.

Samuel Pankey is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. 

Never once did we have the conversation about “sticking with it”.  His desire to be in scouting has been obvious since he was a Tiger.  He wanted this.  His mom and I did everything we could to make sure he had this opportunity.  We might have nudged him a bit here and there, but the work he did was his own - it had to be that way.  We wanted him to be able to look back and see what he could accomplish.  We wanted him to be able to say “I earned this.” 

My son, an Eagle Scout - a real life hero doing good things.   


Saturday, January 09, 2016

7 ways to be WEIRD - Review

It's time for another review.  Today's choice? That's simple: 7 ways to be WEIRD by Rushad Eggleston.

I first heard the name Rushad Eggleston when I learned of a group called Crooked Still back in 2004, when I bought their Hop High album.  I was immediately impressed with the cello work on that project and genuinely enjoyed the energy and excitement.  That album also introduced me to Aoife O'Donovan and Greg Liszt - but that's a story for another time. 

Fast forward a dozen years and I thought, "Hey, reckon what happened to Rushad Eggleston?" So I poked his name in Facebook and found his artist page.  There were videos - a lot of videos.  I began to watch.  Captivated is a good word to describe how I felt.  I giggled a lot.  I know I smiled a lot, because my face began to hurt after a bit.  After I felt like I was caught up on videos, I'd make a pass by Rushad's Facebook page daily, just to see if there was anything new - there usually was.

Now, I'm guessing some of you have made your way to his page by this point and are either smiling, completely confused, or both.  That's good.  See, music doesn't have to fit in a nice tidy little box with all of you preconceived notions of what "good music" is supposed to be.  Nope.  There's a bit of chaos, musicianship and creativity that blends in those videos that keeps me glued to screen until it's over and compels me to hit the button to get to the next one.

A couple of days ago Rushad posted a link to his bandcamp page. Wait, he's got recorded music for me to download? Why hadn't I already looked for this? I must be slipping!

I decided to go ahead and make a purchase. Okay, I got everything he had there, but I won't review it all. The newest work was 7 ways to be WEIRD. It's a short "album".  It's seven songs in nine minutes.  You read that right; it's short.  Short isn't a bad thing; sometimes the chaos is better in small doses - especially if you're new to it.  Furthermore, you can set your own price that you feel comfortable paying, and you even get to sample the project in its entirety.  You really can't lose.

I spent the afternoon running errands with 7 ways to be WEIRD playing on my car stereo. I played it loud.  I know it was good, because when other people heard it they would smile, or maybe they were smiling because I was smiling.  Either way, there was a lot of smiling going on. I'm sitting here listening as I write and I'm still smiling at 2:40am.

In his own notes he said he "tried to not care, to be free, to have fun..." I've no way to know for sure if he did those things to his satisfaction, but from my perspective he did - and quite amazingly so. He also says "play it for your kids, i bet they'll understand".  I played it for my fifteen year old kid and he totally got it. I was glad.

If you're ready for "something completely different" this might just be what you're needing. At only nine minutes you won't be overwhelmed. It might just be your ticket to musical fun. Go visit Rushad's bandcamp page and buy something.  Oh, go on; you know you want to.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Three Year Update

The following text is a collection of random thoughts.  It's just a quick update that I've been meaning to do since May, but just couldn't form it up into something clever.  Consider it a rough draft.  Consider it a peek into my brain in it's disorganized state.  I just wanted to share.

tl;dr version: Despite the difficulties, I'd do it all again.

---

In May of 2012 I walked away from my day job.  I had a litany of reasons for doing it, but it was spurred by a desire to do nothing other than to play and teach music.  It wound up saving my marriage, building a relationship with my son and salvaging what was left of my own mental health.  You can read about it here: A Change for the Better

I knew it was going to be tough.  I knew our financial situation would be difficult.  It has.  We've given up a few conveniences and we've had to demonstrate some creativity in paying the bills.  Sometimes we get them paid, other times we get them paid later.  I do sometimes feel guilty about some of the things we've needed to sacrifice.  There's just not much money to go around, but that was the case when I had - what seems like - all the money anyone could ever need.  If I've learned anything, it's that I'm inclined to live just beyond the edge of my means.  I figure a lot of folks do that. 

Since leaving the day job I've learned many things.  I've learned to fix the washer and dryer; I've actually fixed bits that normally get replaced.  I've learned how to do some simple plumbing and home repairs.  I've also learned just how far I can go on a tank of gas.  I've learned to cook some of my favorite meals that I'd have normally eaten out.  I've learned to like the thermostat set to 76 in the summer and 66 in the winter.  I've also learned to ask for help when I need it.  I've learned about the kindness of strangers.  I've learned just how generous my dad is.

Here's a big thing I've learned.  You've heard the old saying, "Time is money."  It's a trap, a trick, and maybe even a lie.  Sure, you can sell your time for money, but you can never use that money to buy back time. 

I'm also learning to value myself.

I finally got to know my son.  He's a real gem.  I never knew.  See, that's a regret.  I regret giving so much of my time to an employer that I missed being involved with him.  Oh, I was home in the evenings, but the stress of the day job made me irritable.  I didn't want to associate with anyone, so I glued myself to the banjo and the internet.  How are things now?  I couldn't ask for a better relationship with my son.  Heck, I've even taken a position with the local Boy Scout District - I never had time for that before.

The relationship I have with my wife is improving, but there's a lot of mending to do.  It's comforting to know she still supports my decision.  We're just always struggling to pay the bills.  She's not been able to find full time work, and my work, such as it is, adds to the difficulty in making regularly scheduled payments.  Fortunately we don't have a lot of debt and the other folks that expect money from us have been understanding - so far.  We're both hopeful that things are bound to improve.  Keep her in your prayers that she'll find a full time job.  We don't have much hope in her current employer ever offering her a full time position.

Would I do it again?  Yes!  I'd do it again, and I'd do it sooner; I've learned that it's important to follow your dreams and do those things you really want to do, even if there's not much money involved. 

Spend more time with the people you love.  It's worth more than any amount of money.  It's important. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

You Can't Kill the Old Red Rooster

You can't kill the old red rooster anymore.  Don't do it.  You can have chicken and dumplings, but there will be no killing of roosters.  That's a lesson I learned this week.

A friend asked me to speak at her elementary school's career day.  I was more than happy to do it.  I may not be the model independent music professional, but I guess I'm pretty enthusiastic about it.  I like showing children (and adults) that you can be whatever you want.  Doing something that makes you happy is worth more than a big salary for something you dread daily.

My day started early - much earlier than most musicians, but duty called.  I arrived in time to carry in a couple of banjos and stands, meet some folks, and get set up.  I had a full slate.  My day would be filled twenty minutes at a time with children from different grades (kindergarten through fifth grade).  I braced myself for the first group.

They were bright-eyed, inquisitive, and seemed to really like the banjo.  I talked some about how I work and earn money.  They asked questions, and I played them a few songs.  Before I knew it I was out of time, and those children marched out and more marched in.  After a few classes I was getting the hang of it.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

By the afternoon things couldn't be running smoother, until I had a class that was more interested in me playing than me talking.  That's fine, and they were younger kids (maybe kindergarten or first grade).  I asked them, "Do you know She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain?"  They screamed, "YES!!!"  I started the song.

She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes... Everyone sings

She'll be driving six white horses when she comes... Everyone sings

We will kill the old red rooster when she comes... Jaws hit the floor, eyes well up, and lips start to pout.

Wait just a minute!  Here I am, singing a song from my childhood where we killed that dad-gummed rooster every time - and with a big CHOP CHOP with hand motions!  These kids though?  They'll have none of it.  You just can't kill that rooster - not in 2015.  I immediately saw the error of my horrible rooster killing lyric.  How could I not, with the cute little pony-tailed blonde with the cute glasses and the big eyes welling up and her bottom lip stuck out?  With the help of the teacher in the room we segued to a happier song - "The ABCs" - as best as I could recall there are no roosters killed in that one.

Lesson learned: don't kill the rooster.  My childhood was horrible and I never knew it.

That's not all I learned.  No, the next lesson came with the next group of kids.  These were fifth graders - smart, with good questions.

"When you first started playing for money, how much did you get paid?" A boy asked.

"The first time I ever earned anything for playing was with the FFA Stringband in high school.  We would play for different civic clubs (like the Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, etc) and in return they would give us a pig for our pig chain." I told them.

"You got paid a pig?!?!" They all laughed.

Once they were convinced I wasn't just being silly, they had another question.

They inquired, "What did you do with the pigs?"

For whatever reason, there's this bone in my head that often just makes me blurt out the truth.  "We raised them and eventually ate them."

No sooner than I had said it the lesson of the rooster popped into my brain.  Not to mention the exclamation from the kids, "You ate them?!?!  You ate your piggies?"

Yes - yes we did.  Being older kids I figured I would just go ahead and let them go on that remark as time was up.  I started my last tune as they exited.  As the kids were leaving one lagged behind to tell me that his dad raised pigs to eat, and even killed them. He didn't seem to mind.  I was relieved.

Time have changed.  I'm not sure it's for the better.  I saw kids eating meat at lunch, but I'm not sure they have any idea where it comes from.  Except maybe for some of the more rural kids, they seemed to get it.  As I reflected on my rooster horror I tried to see the kids faces again and I recalled that almost none of the Hispanic children had a problem with killing the old red rooster.  We have a large Hispanic population here and a lot of these kids' parents immigrated here in the past decade, so maybe they're still pretty close to their cultures - whatever that might be. Maybe it's cultural?  I'm not sure, and I'm not qualified to even guess.

I just know that the old red rooster and pigs can roam free on the farm, and...

We'll all have kale and tofu when she comes...

Hopefully no one will need therapy.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wind 'em up. Watch 'em go!

I've been teaching a long time - longer than I should have, most likely.  I've had all sorts of students; some good, some bad, some horrible, and some exceptional.  The latter ones are pretty rare.  Those exceptional ones are those that take what you show them, and assimilate it.  They don't just memorize an idea for a certain tune; they figure out exactly what that concept is and how to apply it.  They're the ones that modify the techniques to fit their own idea of how it works.  They're the ones that soon figure out how to play within the boundaries of their own limitations.  Sounds simple enough, but in reality that assimilation of knowledge is what separates the casual player from the ones that go on to be successful.  If I knew how to bottle that, I'd sell it.

Trevor is one of those exceptional students.  He's driven - motivated even.  I showed him some very basic clawhammer a few months back.  Last lesson he's already playing some fairly advanced stuff, and he did it on his own!  Also, not too long ago he expressed some interest in a couple of Reno tunes.  Admittedly, my Reno vocabulary is small.  I pointed him in a direction, the rest he did on his own.  I figure I need to get him to show me the Reno stuff he's learned.  ...and the student becomes the teacher.

He's my current favorite windup toy -- wind him up, watch him go!

Anyway... here are a couple of videos of Trevor (one with his brother).


Thursday, July 31, 2014

the eighteen Moloney - A Review

Perhaps it was jet lag, or maybe it was the thrill of the moment, but when I heard David Power play at Dillon’s Bar in Dungarvan, Ireland I found myself holding my breath; I didn’t want to miss a single note. 

I admit it; I’m not an experienced listener of Irish music.  The only Irish bands I can think of are the Chieftains and The Masters of Tradition - oh, and Flogging Molly, but they’re from the USA.  Heck, I’ve never even seen Riverdance.  So, as you can see I haven’t the slightest clue about the music.  Sure, I’m not unfamiliar with music in general, and I have a great appreciation of musicianship.  Never-the-less, you’ve been warned.

A couple of weeks ago David sent me a copy of his newest CD the eighteen Moloney.  I’ve listened to little else since I got it in the mail.  It’s a solo recording with David playing the uilleann pipes - and what an exciting recording it is!

The title of the album comes from the chanter he’s using for the recording.  It was made before the Great Famine in Co. Clare by Andrew and Thomas Moloney.  From what I’ve read it’s been used by some pretty notable players throughout history, and it was referred to as the 18 Moloney.  So, it would be like playing a mandolin that had been used by Bill Monroe, Jethro Burns, and Dave Apollon. 

So, history aside, how was the recording?

There are places of peace in this recording.  There are places where you’ll tap your foot and want to dance.  There are, as well, melodies that energize me; I feel stronger - maybe even braver - just by listening.  It’s hard to explain, and maybe I shouldn’t try, but there are musical lines among these tunes that move me emotionally - not sadness, but it’s as if the music reaches ancient or genetic memories.  So, like I said, it’s hard to explain.  There are truly ancient tones on this recording. 

If you’re a fan of Irish music, then you will - without a doubt - enjoy the eighteen Moloney. If you're a fan of a skilled musician doing what he does best, you'll enjoy this recording. 

Check out the sample below, and then visit David's website to order your copy. 


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't Miss Acoustic Kamp

Look, I know you're busy - me too, but you can't miss this.  It's a big deal, and I know you'll love it.  It is - in my estimation - the music camp that all others aspire to be.  Yes, it's that good.

Now I hope you'll sign up for my Old-Time Banjo Class.  I won't lie to you, I need the students.  I will, over the course of the week, share with you all sorts of ideas that you'll be able to use right away.  I'll share things that you can use later.  It'll be fun!  I promise.

I know you all don't play banjo, but there are flat picking guitar classes, fiddling, hammered dulcimer, finger picking guitar and old time singing - and that's just the week I'm there.  The next week there is even more to choose from.  Heck, go both weeks; a lot of people do that.  Really, I wouldn't pull your leg about it.

So, I'm just going to count on you being there.  Follow this link:  Steve Kaufman's Acoustic Kamp