Category Archives: Music

The Annual Migration of the Timpani

I saw four enormous birds soaring over town in migration a couple of weeks ago . They were whooping cranes, probably on their way to Alberta.  I have only seen migrating whooping cranes one other time in all the years we have been here.  We also have had geese fly over, and the owls, hawks, meadowlarks, and vultures are back.

Yesterday Husband and I assisted in the migration of  two timpani from the college band room to our church in Husband’s pickup. They are needed for a piece  our bell choir is doing on Sunday with a brass quintet. (Our bell choir director failed to see how funny it was when she kept saying a few weeks ago that she was one trombone player short of a brass quintet. She didn’t get it when people replied to her that they had always thought that).

When I grew up in Luverne, we usually had timpani in my church on Easter. They came from the high school. All the high school band directors in my youth were Lutheran, and we always got the timpani for special church services. No one from the community ever complained about it as being unfair or a misuse of public property. Our bell choir director teaches at the college, and I guess that is why we have the timpani for Easter. Our church probably has the most music of all the churches in town, and not all of them have the space for such things even if they had the musicians.

I wondered yesterday just how many timpani in the US are migrating from schools to churches for Easter services.  I like to imagine that there are many in transit, and that it is a brief but yearly migration. I like to see cooperative use of such things. How many timpani does one small town need, after all?

What migratory birds have you seen lately? What percussion instruments would you like to play?  What are some successful public-private cooperative ventures you know about?

Broadway Musicals

Well!  I am curious about yesterday’s dearth of comments on Rogers and Hammerstein.  Ben said they were too “Syrupy”.   I suppose, but they fit their times. I remember finding a book in the local library when I was in Grade 7 that described most of the recent musicals of the early and mid 20th century. I was fascinated and researched all the musicals that I could, and surprised and exasperated my Grade 7 music teacher with all the things I knew about “All About Eve” with Lauren Bacall. It was the first musical sound track I bought.

We are challenged with deciding what we want to do when we visit New York in November.  We want to see a musical.

Any suggestions from Baboons about current Broadway musicals to see? What musicals are your favorites?  What is the first musical you remember? What about movie musicals?


Saying “No”

I have a hard time saying “no, I can’t do that”.  I tell the intake people at my work that my schedule is too full to take on new clients, and then I get a phone call from our county social services that they have five children who need therapy, and I am the only one in the area who sees children as young as the ones they are referring, and guess what? I have five new appointments for next week. People at work just laugh at me when I tell them I am going to put my foot down and not take any new clients. I have no one to blame but myself.

Is it hard for you say “no”?  How do you manage to do it if you are able?  What is hard for you to communicate to others?  What is your favorite scene or song from Rogers and Hammerstein?


How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

When I was six my parents arranged for the kids to meet a piano teacher. My sister was deemed to have talent, so she entered a program of piano lessons. The meeting must not have gone well for me. Afterward my father explained that I was musically impaired. His exact words were, “You couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” I had no reason to doubt him.

We were obliged to sing in my grade school, especially just before the holidays, when we performed a concert of Christmas carols. I dutifully performed, only I decided there was no reason to spoil the good singing of others, so I lip-synced the carols. Like Milli Vanilli, I got caught. That led to an epic showdown with my teacher, Miss Steele, the low point of my educational career.

While I couldn’t sing or play an instrument, I had ears. I thrilled to the popular music of my youth. I amassed a sizable record collection. In college I discovered classical music. Guys in my dorm introduced me to folk music. Occasionally I fantasized about making music, but mostly I accepted my fate as someone for whom that was impossible. Sometimes, to tell the truth, that seemed a blessing. I often woke up early in the morning to the sound of my sister plonking away on the piano when she would rather have been in bed, but piano practice was mandatory for her for years.

In the first week of graduate school I walked to the Scholar coffeehouse on the West Bank. The first act I caught—Koerner, Ray and Glover—amazed me. A day later I went back. The performer was a kid from Saint Cloud State who played 12-string guitar. The torrent of music coming from Leo Kottke’s guitar almost blew me off my stool. I’d never heard music remotely like that before, and it was one of the most thrilling events of my young life. I began hanging out at the Scholar, walking through blizzards if necessary in order to attend every gig Leo played.

It was inevitable: one day I bought a guitar, a classical model with nylon strings. At first I was delighted to be able to make any kind of music; just strumming a C chord made me giddy. I moved on to finger-picking, emulating my coffeehouse heroes. I grabbed every spare moment to practice. I took guitar lessons, starting with Carter family tunes and moving toward John Fahey compositions. Slowly, very slowly, I got better. I bought a steel-stringed folk guitar. Then—you knew this was coming—I got a 12-string. (I’d love to get back all the time I wasted trying to get that danged thing in tune.) And I practiced, practiced, practiced.

Alas, all those years when I did not sing or play an instrument had set limits on what I could accomplish as a musician. My brain and fingers could never coordinate well enough to enable me to master difficult material. I could do cheesy imitations of some Kotte or Fahey pieces, and that felt like a miracle. But I slurred many notes and muffed others. I had to cheat by simplifying the arrangements because my technique was so sloppy. After getting better month by month, I hit a wall I could not get past it. And I remained stuck there for years.

I finally realized the most graceful thing would be to accept my fate and simply enjoy the limited music I could make. While I was never going to play well, I was delighted to play at all. Then arthritis arrived, and I could no longer even play badly.

My performance career with the guitar now feels like some doomed romances from my past, romances that were fabulous in some ways but which failed. Sometimes things don’t work out, even if you passionately hope otherwise. I’m lucky to have those memories now and I’m sure I am a better listener than I could be before playing the guitar.


Do you sing or play an instrument? What has that meant to you?

Quantity Cooking

On Saturday night I finished baking the last of the 10 dozen sweet rolls for our hand bell choir’s Easter breakfast. We plan to serve sweet rolls and egg bakes to our congregation on Easter Sunday as the first fundraiser for our trip to New York in November when we play at Carnegie Hall.  They are quite large, and can be cut in two for an astounding number of rolls.  The other bell choir members are supplying the egg bakes.

The rolls are in our freezers and just need to be thawed and iced on Easter.  I will set them out to thaw in the church kitchen on Saturday when we rehearse with the brass quintet that is accompanying us on one of our pieces. We have two ovens in the church kitchen and we can have four egg bakes cooking and four keeping hot all at the same time.  It will take some coordination as we play at both the 9:00 and 10:30 services and will need to bake and serve and play bells, since people will be eating from 8:30 until 10:30.  I think we will be exiting and entering the sanctuary all throughout the services in between playing.  I just love doing things like this.

In true Lutheran Church Basement Ladies fashion, members of the funeral service committee have volunteered to help out.  It will be an exciting day.

What is the largest meal you ever helped prepare? What would you serve a crowd? 

I’m Melting!

For most of my life I have felt too tall. I reached 5’9″ in Grade 6.  I felt like a giantess, even though I was one of the shorter women in my extended family. My mother was 5’11 and her mother was 6 feet tall.

Husband and I remodeled our kitchen about 15 years ago, and the contractor was concerned when we replaced the soffits with cupboards extending to the ceiling that it might detract from selling the house in the future.  “Not everyone is as tall as you and your husband” he warned. “Some people could have trouble reaching those top shelves”.

Well, “some people” now includes me. I am 1.5 inches shorter than I was 15 years ago and the top shelves are a real stretch.  For the first time I regret losing some of my height.  That inch and a half has made quite a difference in my reach. My doctor isn’t too concerned. I have a good diet rich in calcium.  I get exercise. I often call on husband to get down the things I need. I make good use of tongs and grabbers. I haven’t yet resorted to a kitchen stool.  For some reason, a Joni Mitchell song keeps going through my head whenever I have to get something down from the top shelves in the kitchen:

What didn’t you know you had until it was gone? Ever done a remodel you regretted? What is your favorite Joni Mitchell song?

Her Cheatin’ Heart

This weekend’s post comes to us from Ben.

My car radio displays the name and artist of whatever is playing.

Like most of us here, I have a wide range of musical tastes. Also I’m a channel surfer whether radio or TV and consequently as I’m flipping through radio stations I see a song called “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Son”.

Mind Blown! I don’t know if I should be appalled at the lack of moral character of this woman, or the bad grammar, or the cheatin’ son. And the song started and the man sang “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs”.

Oh. “Songs”. That’s different. I’m still offended by the lousy grammar. More than her possibly loose character evidently. But at least the son isn’t cheating. Ugh, I cannot do country music unless it’s Johnny Cash.

It’s a song by John Anderson. Evidently, it’s humorous. I wouldn’t know; I didn’t listen to any more of it.

Ever cheat? Get away with it?