Thursday, December 19, 2013

Spot - A Gentle Giant - A Brother

Meet Spot.  He showed up one day as if to say, "Hey, I'm home."  Just a puppy and mostly just a rambunctious ball of playful fur, he was home.  He found a place to live, grow and just relax; but most of all, he found a home in our hearts.

He grew into a giant of a dog.  At three years old he weighed well over a hundred pounds and his shoulders stood almost as high as my waist. Despite being partially lame in his front left leg due to some nerve damage from a vaccination, he was unbelievably strong and quick.

He loved people, attention, and riding in the car.  He loved the other animals and once even helped a rescue another dog that was trapped in a pen once (In his mind I know he thought it was for the best).  He became instant pals with everyone he met. There wasn't an ounce of meanness in him.

Monday, though, I got a call.  Spot had been shot.  Spot was dying.

What?  Who?  Why?

None of that mattered.  We all knew Spot wasn't long for this world.

Some miserable soulless minion of evil shot Spot through the gut with what could have only been a round from a hunting rifle. Yet, despite being mortally wounded - despite losing so much blood - he made his way back to the only home he had ever known.  I'm convinced he knew his time was over. He kept his eyes on my mom the whole time - as if maybe he was worried about her, or maybe hoping she could somehow fix his horrible wound.  He died there in the arms of those that loved him.

It was truly a senseless act that has affected all of our lives - none more than my son Samuel's.  Samuel was Spot's boy.  They were brothers.  They loved each other with no conditions.  Hours were spent running, wrestling, playing hide and seek and just lying together to rest.  How is a boy that's only thirteen to begin to forgive someone for taking the life of a best friend?  Did the shooter realize, or even care, that a brave child would be the one to cover Spot's eyes when Animal Control administered the injections to release Spot from his agony caused by such a cowardly action?  Only time will tell how this horrific event will change my son.

How am I supposed to guide my son when the very core of my soul is enraged? It's all I can do to channel my emotion to remembering Spot's contribution to our lives.  He was just a big old goofy dog. He wasn't a lick smart, but he was one of us.  I also realize that no amount of retribution will bring him back to us, but I'm still angry enough to admit that I'd immediately return the action to the contemptible miscreant that took Spot's life so ruthlessly if I thought for a second that it would return Spot to us unharmed.

We're heartbroken.  

---A letter to Spot---

Dearest Spot,

I know you're happy.  I can only imagine how strong and fast you are now with your leg all fixed up.  Oh, I'm also sure you've found Kat and Nibbles.  Tell them they're thought of often.

We all miss you.  

Your little buddy Wally-Dog won't know what to do without you taking him on hikes through the woods.  Molly and Callie (those silly cats) are going to miss you being around.  Dad probably won't get much rest for a while, because you won't be there beside him, and Mom will miss your company during the day.  Tina will certainly miss you poking your big head in the car when she was coming or going.  Samuel is missing you quite a bit - I think it will be a long while before his heart heals.

Please try not to worry about us, and most of all, don't feel guilty.  I know you were probably thinking you messed up, but this wasn't something that you had any control over.  We all know how frightened you were of guns, and would have run at the very sight of one.  So it's okay.  You didn't do anything wrong.  You were just playing in the woods.

We still love you.  We won't forget you, and soon our thoughts of you will be of all the good times we had.

Oh, and Spot, next time I see you I promise that we'll take a much needed nap.  Yes, with you on my lap; I wouldn't have it any other way.

Love Always,


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Preparing for a Banjo Contest

Recently I had an opportunity to judge the Smithville Jamboree.  After sitting through nearly two hundred entrants' performances I decided to resurrect an old post I had made on the Banjo Hangout.  I've tweaked it a little and cleaned it up.  Hopefully, you'll find something useful when you're preparing for a contest.

Once upon a time I had written and saved a couple of long diatribes regarding things not to do at contests.  However, because of your apparent good fortune, they seem to be lost in cyberspace.

One day I might try to recreate some of that, but until I get really bored I'm not going to even try. However, I can offer some common sense ideas that may or may not make a difference.

Before I start, I'd like to preface this with the information that I have, indeed, played quite a few contests. I've won a handful, and totally stunk up even more. In the process I learned some things. I've also had several opportunities to judge quite a few contests too, and hopefully I can offer you something from the judges perspective.

Choose some songs from your repertoire (four or five would be ideal). Make sure those tunes are ones you know upside down and backwards.  I know that seems obvious, but I've seen contestants play tunes they just didn't know well enough to play under the scrutiny of judging.

The question regarding what songs to play comes up a lot. There's no right or wrong here, but there are considerations. Have the judges heard this song a blue-zillion times? If so, I'd probably skip that one. Is it something you don't already know? I'd skip that too. The last thing you need is to have a tune that is "new". I look for tunes that are "different" but not strange. I want the judges to be able to identify it. There are plenty of other things to think about here - and as you get more involved you'll think of plenty reasons to ditch tunes, add others, etc.. Again, I'd hope that the songs you select are ones you're already very comfortable with.

Now that you've picked out your tunes you'll need original arrangements. No, not from that tab book... no, not that recording either - put the video away too. You didn't think you could sneak that note for note arrangement of Sammy Shelor's Earnest T Grass by a competent judge did you? The judges will know. They do listen to stuff. Most of them are students of the music - just like you. That means they're still admiring and listening to all the cool players. Uh oh, can't use someone's canned break... now what? Create your own. Sorry. No easy answers here. You just have to do it. It takes time, it takes effort.  It takes getting around players much better than you and listening to their arrangements and figuring out what you can assimilate without being a clone.

Now... do that 3 or 4 more times.

Once you've got the tunes arranged and practiced, keep polishing. Play them a lot - it's more than you think - once a day ain't nearly enough. You need to play them over and over. Record them. Listen to the recordings. Practice with the metronome. Listen. Practice, practice, practice. Play for friends, neighbors, the cat, play them for anyone that will listen. Heck, come play them for me; I'd be glad to make you nervous and critique your playing.

Day of the Contest

Sign up and get a copy of the rules. Read the rules. It's a good idea to follow them - enforced or not. I've seen players win and lose on technicalities. Don't be a technicality. Know when and where you're supposed to be. Relax - whatever it takes here is fine by me for the most part.  Hopefully you'll have practiced and played enough that you won't be worried or nervous about the songs. You will be nervous about the contest though; that's to be expected. Try not to barf.

Some people like to check out the other competitors; I never do. Last thing I need to do is psyche myself out. I generally stay by myself and warm up. If you have someone accompanying you, warm up with them.

Draw your number. Get called. Go pick. Play what you rehearsed, and try not to bore, irritate, or annoy the judges. You're done now. You can exhale. Go hangout with the other folks. Check out the jams, watch the contest, whatever.

Did you win? Did you place? Did you bomb? Who cares? What I hope you did was have fun. That's that main thing. Play the contests because they're fun. Play them because you like to play. Don't worry too much about the outcome. That sort of thing isn't too productive. There's not a contest that goes by that someone doesn't complain about the outcome. It's not always like you expect it, but if you went in expecting exact science from a banjo contest, well, shoot, you get what you deserve.

Oh, don't be a whiner - especially to the judges. I love talking to the competitors after the contest - especially when they're genuinely looking for help or advice. Do remember that judges are people - like you. (I remember an event where a mother of a player gave me serious grief because she was convinced that I didn't have a clue about music, because if I did I'd have certainly given much higher marks to her kid... sigh.)

Just be a good sport.  Make friends with as many people as you can, and practice a bunch for next year!

tl;dr - Play Something You Know!