To Script or Not To Script?

That isn’t really even a question. I’ve been told I should be speaking from notes. I previously noted that I did not manage that trick during my last concert MC job. Then, I realized I had done an entire half-hour radio broadcast of my love songs, since my come-to-Jesus moment with my friends, sans script. Not even the opening, and I have been scripting the openings of my live broadcasts since I was 14. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. As we used to say in the old days, Honk Honk, Waddles The Goose.

Mom Said: Jesus in India

I ended up talking a lot about my late mother at a dinner recently, and one of the people at the table suggested that I write her biography. I don’t think I can do it; I’m too close. But I have decided to share some of her wisdom with you under the rubric Mom Said.

Mom believed, because her father believed, that Jesus’ lost years between 13 and 21 (the New Testament says nothing about this period) were spent in India, learning about Hinduism.

 During a recent discussion a friend suggested that Jesus spent those years in the desert getting in touch with the collective unconscious. Occam’s razor says the simpler explanation is much more likely; given the difficulty in getting from the Holy Land to India, maybe what we view as a Hindu influence on Jesus was just expression of fundamental human nature.

In a discussion of this topic, a Jungian surprised me with an influence going the other way: Gandhi disciplined himself to read daily from the Sermon on the Mount, and live according to those teachings.


The Meaning of Life

[a reprint from June 2002, when my mother was still alive]

[Turns out you don’t need a manual; just live every day showing loving kindness to other beings. It works for me. This is the best moment of my life. Now this is. Now this is.]

No, not the Monty Python film (one of their best, by the way), but thoughts on the subject. First, from a novel my mother is reading:

We are born not knowing where we came from, we have no idea what we are going to do, and we have no idea how long we have to do it before we go to the next unknown. “That's not an exact quote, and not so terribly original, but it sure sums it up well!”

Well, yes it does! Reminds me of Douglas Adams, who used to say that humanity clearly had lost its owners manual, and that if only we hadn't thrown it in a drawer and forgotten where it was, things would have been so much clearer, simpler and more obvious. Yes, I know, some people think the Bible/Torah/Koran is the owner's manual, but if it is, it's been transliterated from another language, and has entirely too much "tab a in slot b" and not enough practical advice.

Management Lessons from Music

(I learned this a half century ago at the Sloan School, and there are diluted forms of it from consultants all over the Internet, none as concise as I would like)

Management can learn lessons from bands and orchestras. These lessons should be obvious to the casual observer. If not, their proof is left as an exercise to the reader. (Yes, I know I am not Fermat)

I play tenor sax in the Danville Band. We have one conductor (Bob Calonico) with a span of control of 80. Modern management theory says a manager should have no more than six reports, and yet our band does not have 3 subconductors and 15 sub-subconductors. Why is that?

We are all playing from the same music and we are all (theoretically) competent at our jobs.

This One’s For You Mark and Bruce

(The headline is designed to attract the attention of two occasional readers)

I ran into two good friends from high school at the 100th anniversary celebration of KBPS, Bruce Murdock and Mark Budwill. They are both professional radio talent. I told them how much I enjoyed announcing for the Danville Band for 22 years. I mentioned I read from a script. One of them, I forget who, told me that scripts are “so 20th century.” They suggested bullet points instead of a script, for a more natural delivery. I didn’t manage to get that far, as the Danville community band just played its first concert of the new season, my first announcing job since our chat.

I have always tried to “read the house” and ad lib when I felt the audience would be receptive. At this concert, I was unusually fortunate in terms of inspiration and audience response. You wouldn’t get the comparison, because, as far as I can recall, I’ve never mentioned my announcing job in this column.

The goal of announcing for a brass band is the same as the BBC: entertain and educate. My scripts consist largely of education about the music; my ad-libs consist largely of entertainment. See next item.

My Best Announcing Moments This Week


*A Stephen Sondheim anecdote which I believe I have previously mentioned in this column: “Which comes first, the lyrics, or the music?” To which he responded “the check.”

* The theme of the concert was Fall Potpourri. One of the selections we played was the Belgian Paratroopers March. I could not for the life of me figure out how it fit into the theme, but as I was announcing it, I simply said “nothing says fall to me like Belgians jumping from airplanes.”

I admit that
a) this next line is not original,
b) I have said it before,
but nevertheless, it landed well with the audience: “Thank you for being here. Without you, this would just be another rehearsal.”

There were problems with the publicity for the concert: one flyer said it was at 7:30 PM, but it was actually at 4 PM. We were worried about no one showing up, but we ended up with a 3/4 house. I remembered an old line I had heard from other musicians, and said “thank you for outnumbering us.” With an 80-piece band, it would be easy to outnumber them.

My last anecdote from the concert is not so much a line I’m proud of as a touching moment. We played a brass band transcription of a choral work, based on a 16th-century love poem.

You are the love of my soul;
I was born to love only you.
My soul has formed you to its measure;
I want you as a garment to my soul.

It wasn’t my finest professional moment, as I choked up while reading it. After the concert, a woman came up to me and said, “the man who arranged the transcription you played is a friend of mine. I recorded it on my iPhone and am sending him both your announcement and the band performance of his work.”

As my conductor told me when I sang one of my love songs to Vicki at a concert, accompanied by our band, “no one will ever chide you for an honest display of emotion.” Somehow I made it through that performance without crying.

Imagine My Surprise: My Muse Came Back

I’m not a Swiftie, but my daughters are minor-league Swifties, so Vicki and I went with them to see Eras in a large-screen theater with Dolby Atmos sound. Our seats shook for three hours, even during the ballads. My daughter provided closed captioning (this song is about this famous guy, this is the lyric you missed―actually, if I just leaned over, I could her better as she sang along than I could Taylor). The theme of the concert was Swift singing about the different eras of her life.

My songs, to date, have been love songs. I wasn’t sure I’d write any more, so I commissioned No More To Say. Then it happened.

Somewhere during hour two, I felt that familiar tap on the shoulder. I rushed to the lobby to scribble down lyrics and titles. This effort isn’t going to be like my others; these will be intensely personal, not headed for Itunes or Spotify (yes, Paul, you’ll have to listen to them as a podcast), and I think I’ll sing them myself, once my tunesmith is done setting them to music.

I wanted to use the line “You look like my next mistake,” but all three of my women vetoed it on the grounds that it is trademarked by Taylor Swift.

A tiny handful of you would be interested in hearing these new songs; drop me a note if you are in that number and you’ll get a link when the job is done.

I don’t know how long this round will last. My muse has moved into the spare bedroom, but she only brought a toothbrush and a change of clothes. She left her steed at home. She only comes downstairs when I am writing―and, thank heavens, only when I’m awake.