Thursday, July 31, 2008

When I Was Very Young... parents sent me off to Grandma's for a week or so. It was quite a big deal, me flying to Dayton as an "unaccompanied minor" at the age of seven, getting a little souvenir TWA flight bag and captain's wings, being treated like royalty by the flight attendants, and all that. From there, Grandma drove me down to Kentucky Lake, where my Aunt Bee had a cabin (she was actually a great-aunt [in every sense of the word], and she predated the Aunt Bee on the Andy Griffith show in having that moniker by several years) and I did all the cool little-kid stuff like swimming and fishing and getting to "drive" the boat. Most of my young life was spent doing typical suburban stuff, so it was nice to have some commune-with-nature time like this.

Once we were back at Grandma's, she was in the shower getting ready to go to lunch when the phone rang, and I answered it. It was Dad, posing a most interesting question (and explaining to the reader my reasons for going away for a week): "How would you like to have a brand-new baby sister?" (The longtime family joke--last repeated at the rehearsal dinner for her wedding, if I recall--was "What if I'd said 'no' when dad asked that question?") I was, of course, all excited and got Grandma's attention as quickly as I could. We returned to St. Louis (Florissant, to be precise) as soon as we could, and I got to experience being a big brother for the first time.

Years (we won't say how many) have passed, and now she has kids of her own--three very active boys whose exploits have often been chronicled in this blog. Phone time is rare (we managed seven-and-a-half minutes today) and visits all too infrequent (though if my travels take me anywhere near Austin, I'm almost certain to stop there), but the closeness that started almost immediately, and intensified when I went to college, has never faded.

Happy birthday, Sis. May there be many, many more.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Crazy Capital City Coffee Kerfuffle

Here's another one that happened right before camp, and I haven't been able to finish the post until now...

My headline is somewhat misleading; this didn't exactly happen in Washington, D.C., but it was in their metro area (Arlington, Virginia, to be exact). A guy (visiting the area from Brooklyn) walked into a local independent coffee shop and ordered a latte over ice, only to be told that the shop won't serve it that way:
I just ordered my usual summertime pick-me-up: a triple shot of espresso dumped over ice. And the guy at the counter looked me in the eye with a straight face and said “I’m sorry, we can’t serve iced espresso here. It’s against our policy.”

[...]“Okay,” I said, “I’ll have a triple espresso and a cup of ice, please.”

He rolled his eyes and rang it up, took my money, gave me change. I stood there and waited. Then the barista called me over to the bar. I reached for it, and he leaned over and locked his eyes with mine, saying “Hey man. What you’re about to do … that’s really, really Not Okay.”

I could hear the capital letters in his voice, could see the gravity of the situation in his eyes.

He continued: “This is our store policy, to preserve the integrity of the coffee. It’s about the quality of the drink, and diluting the espresso is really not cool with us. So I mean, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and I can’t stop you, but”

I interrupted. “You’re [expletive deleted] right you can’t stop me,” I said. “I happen to have a personal policy that prohibits me from indulging stupid [b.s.] like this — and another personal policy of doing what I want with the products I pay for.” Then I looked him right in his big wide eyes and poured the espresso onto the ice.
Wow. Just wow. And there were plenty of other interesting things spawned by this event:

  • Later on in the saga, the same customer (who was stuck waiting for his girlfriend to get done with a rehearsal) needed some more coffee, so he went and asked for "the strongest iced beverage your policy will allow." He was given a four-shot iced Americano, which isn't much different from what he wanted in the first place. Why didn't the original barista just suggest that, instead of laying on all the attitude?

  • Also, not only is the protagonist of this story a blogger (whose account is quoted and linked above), but another patron in the store is also a blogger and posted his own account of the episode.

  • The owner of the coffee shop, who was not present at the time but came up with the "rules" that include no espressos over ice, responded to the blogger on his store's site and, well, threatened to punch the guy in a delicate part of his male anatomy if he ever came back. (He would recant the threat in a later post, saying that he was only as serious as the blogger himself, who said--obviously facetiously--that the only way he would return to the coffeeshop was if he was "carrying matches and a can of kerosene." But from where I sit, the punching threat seemed more plausible. Your mileage may vary.)

  • If you have a lot of time to waste, slog through the comments on both blog posts and the coffeehouse's site; it's fascinating, in a watching-a-train-wreck sort of way. There are a lot of references to the famous "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld, and many people who also say that, no matter how much a barista considers him/herself an "artist," it's still not nice to treat customers the way this barista did. Others, of course, are totally in the coffeehouse's corner.

  • It should be noted that the coffeeshop owner had another DC location shut down for being behind in both rent and taxes. Ouch.

  • One of the things that came up in the comments of the various blogs was that the no-iced-espresso policy might have in part been a response to customers making something that's often called a ghetto latte, which involves ordering an Americano with no water and half ice, then going up to the condiment bar and adding enough half-and-half to make it the equivalent of a regular latte at about a third of the price. I'd never heard of this phenomenon before, but it was discussed on a Starbucks-themed blog a few years ago. Later on, the company stated that it doesn't object to the practice. (I've never done this myself, obviously, but, in leaner times, I would add quite a bit of chocolate powder to a drip coffee and refer to it as a "poor man's mocha.")

  • And this may be rare for Internet tiffs like this, but the story eventually made it into the Washington Post. As the protagonists noted, at the end of the day, "it's just coffee."
But the reason I posted this story was not just because it's amusing and a great time-waster. It also made me think about "the customer is always right" in relation to my own profession. While there may be some debate as to whether a coffee barista is an artist, a musician almost certainly is. I'm passionate about the music I play, and I'd hate for someone to come up to me at a gig and ask, say, for a G-weasel song. Would refusing to play one be the same as the aforementioned barista's refusal to serve espresso over ice?

But then I realized that we're comparing apples and kumquats here. I don't know any smooth "jazz" tunes from memory, nor are they in any of the Real Books. I could legitimately decline to play them because the band doesn't know them. The coffee place, on the other hand, had both ice and espresso, but they declined to serve them in tandem. And I know that I wouldn't be snooty about my refusal, either; I might well be thinking "No way would I play that crap!" in my head, but I sure wouldn't express my thoughts to a customer that way.

(The flip side of the above, is, of course, that it could be beneficial to have the occasional cheesy tune in your repertoire. One of my colleagues at camp was talking about how he plays "Yakety Sax"--or at least an approximation thereof--at his restaurant gig every week, because a lady once asked him how much she'd have to pay him to play it, and he facetiously replied, "A hundred dollars." When she showed up later with a C-note, he played it not only that night, but every night the lady was in attendance, which was at least once a week; the tip jar would be filled with a fresh twenty for every subsequent playing. I guess it all depends on the extent to which one is willing to dip into the cheese vat for money, but this one sounds like a good deal, so long as nobody films him and puts it on YouTube, I suppose.)

This is an old story now--two weeks is an eternity in Internet time--but I felt the need to post about it anyway. Feel free to chime in on any of the above stuff in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Guess Bennigan's Lost Its "Slàinte" Today

I was quite surprised to hear on the radio today that corporate parent of Bennigan's and Steak & Ale restaurants filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy today and immediately shuttered its company-owned locations (including all the ones here in the Metroplex).

This was surprising to me, because a lot of companies will go through Chapter 11 (reorganization) first, rather than going straight into Chapter 7 (liquidation). I don't necessarily read the business section religiously, but I usually catch the big headlines, and I didn't recall them being in trouble. Those who were headed there for lunch today were probably in for a shock, as were the restaurants' employees; many of the managers only got word through an early-morning conference call today.

Bennigan's, known for its use of the Irish toast "Slàinte!" (which means "good health"), was probably number four on my list of festive, eclectic casual dining restaurants, behind the mighty triumvirate of Chili's, Cheddar's and Friday's, but I certainly went there on many occasions. The most recent time, I believe, was in April during Jazz Festival at the college, where we went with the guest artists after one of the concerts (and, ironically, first learned of the troubles at IAJE that would lead to its own Chapter 7 filing a few weeks later). I may not have been a "regular," but I was glad Bennigan's was around, and I'll miss it. (The franchise-owned Bennigan's aren't affected, but, seeing as how the parent company was located in Plano, all the local ones were company-owned and are thus closed.)

And while I hadn't visited its corporate sibling, Steak & Ale, in quite some time, it leaves a legacy of innovation in its field. As this morning's radio report noted, it was not only the chain that launched the salad bar, but it also pioneered the practice of having the server introduce him/herself to the customers. (What did they do before that--just go straight into the "What will you have today?" spiel? Weird...)

My personal memories were mostly good (including a long first date in the '90s with a woman who smoked like a factory; I'm normally allergic to cigarette smoke, but we talked for hours and it didn't affect me at all. I guess hormones trump allergies?), and the one on Northwest HIghway was a common post-concert hang in the early days of this blog. I didn't go for their signature Monte Cristo all that often (just because I knew it was bad for me), but I could always find something good to eat, or occasionally drink, on their voluminous menu (which weighed a ton, if I recall).

The only bad time I can remember having there involved one really hideously awful server (whose name really was Gidget, I kid you not), the final debacle with whom would prompt our alumni association to change its monthly meeting place across the freeway to Chili's, where we've been ever since now, for nearly a decade. (Other Dallas Morning News readers share their Bennigan's memories here.)

It's possible that, with today's economy, some other large restaurant chain will go belly-up like this, but today's news still came from out of left field for me. Were you a fan of Bennigan's? Feel free to share your own memories in the comments.

UPDATE: According to a follow-up article in the DMN, there are two non-company-owned Bennigan's in DFW--at the airport and in Las Colinas--that are evidently staying open.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Lileks has the best one-word description of the closing: Bennegone's.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Diversity for Diversity's Sake? And If So, What Kind?

I said well over a year ago that I intend to write a post on this blog about how America as a society needs to move beyond race in order to be the best nation that it can be. This is not that post, but something in the paper this morning has prompted me to weigh in on the subject.

Columnist Trey Garrison of D Magazine, in a Dallas Morning News op-ed, takes the sacred cow (at least to some) of "diversity" and subjects it to a good old-fashioned Texas cow-tipping. Here's a sample:
When I made the hard decision to forgo buying a house in Dallas (and the easy decision to avoid the Potemkin village of DISD), I knew I was gonna get it. The thing is, I really wanted to live in Dallas, but we just couldn't do it. So we chose Plano.

Once we pulled the trigger, the judgments came a-flyin'. Mainly it was from friends who are, well, urban yokels. You know the kind – hipper-than-thou provincialists, for whom where you reside in relation to a municipal taxing boundary defines you. (Fine, guys, you take the trendy bars and the home invasions; I'll take the bland corporate sports grill and the gated community. We'll split the teen heroin problem.) This was fine. Friends tease you like that. But then I started getting comments from readers at one of my other publications about "diversity," whatever that means. Apparently, in choosing a house in one of the top school districts in the country, in a suburb where the poverty rate is low and the median income is high, I was guilty of the high crime of white flight.

My humbled, guilty reaction consisted of two words: "So what?"
Amen, brother. While true diversity (of opinion, nationality, etc.) might well be admirable, those who use the word as a political bludgeoning tool really only have one thing in mind: Diversity of race. I can't for the life of me understand why one single physical trait has been so blown out of proportion in this country, but a lot of opinions will have to be changed (and a lot of people with political agendas will have to be knocked off their high horses) before it's any different.

Garrison likewise rails at the misuse of the word:
I mean, what the heck does diversity mean? Some of my new neighbors in Plano include people from Thailand, Armenia, India, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Colombia and the Ukraine, but apparently that doesn't count. And when a school is 85 percent white, it's not diverse, but when it's 85 percent Hispanic, it is?

[...]It's weird. We've made "diversity" into some kind of totem, an end to itself, and we haven't even defined what it is. Do I learn more about a different perspective chatting with my Ukrainian neighbor (whom the census counts as white), or from a guy brought up five miles from me who happens to be black?
Indeed. It reminds me of the question I asked when I was explaining my recent purchase of yet another Japanese car: Which car is more "domestic"--a Ford Taurus made in Mexico, or a Honda Accord made in Ohio? But, sadly, we know the answer to Garrison's question, which is that diversity is in the eye of he or she who squawks most loudly or has the biggest political axe to grind, and this tends to obscure real problems that would have real solutions if only all this noise didn't get in the way.

Garrison brings up one more point that's worth mentioning:
Look, diversity is great when it comes to nightclubs, workplaces, cultural experiences, restaurants and all that. But I don't want diversity in my neighborhood.

Now, put down the pitchfork. I don't mean the superficial diversity of skin color. I mean diversity of values. That's what I don't want in my neighborhood, or my neighborhood school.

I want uniformly boring neighbors with uniformly boring, middle-class values who spend Saturdays working on their lawns and whose kids know to stay off mine. I want neighbors with Home Depot on speed dial. That's how I choose to live. Your mileage may vary.

And isn't that diversity, too?
Bingo. You nailed it, Trey. I'm pretty sure that at the bulk of my neighbors share those values; it's pretty quiet out here, you don't see people hanging out till all hours (my jazz-musician self often appears to be the last one home on many nights), and people tend to take care of their houses and lawns (even if the "front" half of the neighborhood, where I live, does a slightly better job of this than the "back," where there are a few more rental houses). That's the type of diversity that matters to me, although, if anyone cares, it's pretty "superficially diverse" out here as well.

I'll have another post that's somewhat connected to this subject later in the week as I catch up on the stories that caught my eye while I was teaching camp last week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Decision Seems Even More Fitting Now

It was a busy week at camp, with little time for blogging, but I did manage to make it out to the mailbox every day. Among this week's mail was an article clipped by my parents from their hometown Houston Chronicle about how that most Texan of vehicles--the pickup truck--is, because of high gas prices, slowly being supplanted by things like, well, the Honda Fit:
Since his teen years in Sugar Land, James Robinson has driven a truck or an oversized SUV.

"A lot of it was just the whole Texas mystique," said Robinson, 36. "If you lived in Texas, you had to have one. My parents used to say, 'He'll drive a truck the rest of his life.' "

That was before gasoline started its climb toward $4 a gallon.

He now drives a Mini Cooper and said goodbye to his Chevy Avalanche.

Anyone who spends time on the freeways around Houston is bound to have noticed that Robinson is not alone. The very small car — the Honda Fit, the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris — is making itself known.

And the eye-catching Smart Car, which arrived in the U.S. only in January, is drawing crowds in Houston.
The article also notes that reservations for the Smart Car have already been filled for not only this year, but next year as well.

But the thing that caught my immediate attention was the picture that accompanied the article (and is found at the top of the linked version above): An area family has pretty much put their Suburban in cold storage (using it only for family trips) and has acquired three Fits to use in its stead. The Fit in the picture is the exact same model and color as Kevmobile 2.0, and it's interesting to see both a surfboard sticking out the open hatch (evidently, one of the kids can get the 8'6" board to fit in the Fit) and an acoustic bass sitting next to it.

The article also notes that Fits are flying off the lots down there; I haven't checked with my local dealer, but I'm glad I made the purchase when I did. After a little more than six months, I still loves me the Fit. Getting 34 MPG in a week of mostly short trips with the AC blasting is a big factor, but the roominess (especially for a car its size), the carrying capacity, and the peace of mind of having a new car that's not prone to breakdowns are all in the mix as well.

A very happy camper: I've said many times at the end of Jazz Camp that "this year's camp has run more smoothly than any previous year," but it really is true. I was especially happy with my big band this year; it was a slightly older and more experienced band (even though there is an order to the bands, we don't reveal that, but suffice it to say that I had a "higher" band this time), and they rose to the occasion time after time. They paid attention, they followed directions, and they did their work in a timely fashion; I was especially pleased with how they learned a pretty challenging tune that we played with the vocalists by the second day they had it. As I told the audience last night, it's easy to get a negative impression of young people from the traditional media...but if the folks on stage are the leaders of tomorrow, the future's in good shape.

I'll try to get caught up on other topics in the next few days.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Down Beat Magazine used to have a category in its Readers and Critics Polls called TDWR, or Talent Deserving Wider Recognition. (They've since changed it to "Rising Stars," which sounds too corny and Hollywood for me, but that's another story.) Our guest artist for camp this week, Dick Oatts, is revered within the jazz world, but his is still a talent that deserves recognition among the general public (though that number undoubtedly grew after our concert last night, when a lot of parents and friends were in attendance).

Having Dick here was a great experience. He's an amazing player on three saxophones (and is immediately recognizable as himself on each of them), a fine writer, and a great educator (giving two very informative clinics today; I picked up a load of teaching tips from there, as well as at last night's dinner). He's also an incredible nice guy who's great to be around; it was an honor to share the stage with him last night.

(Evidently, he's better known in Europe than he is here, so America needs to get on the stick and get listening. If our "oldies" stations played less Hall & Oates and more Dial and Oatts--his small group from the '90s--this would be a hipper place over here.)

As I've said, camp pretty much consumes my days this week, but I felt the need to pop on and throw out the name of Dick Oatts in one more place on the Web; if even one more person checks out his music because of this site, then these few minutes have been time well spent.

OK, this is hip too: Watch an animation of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" being transcribed in real time on a YouTube video. (Talk about timing--a friend sent me the link to this over AIM as I was typing up this post.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Not That We Need Any, But Here's Another Downside of Standardized Testing

This didn't really surprise me when I read the story this morning: Texas students are having a hard time with the written portion of the TAKS test:
Kids today are whizzes at text-messaging.

But when they're asked to craft a well-thought-out answer based on a short piece they've read, many are all thumbs.

A small part of the high school language arts TAKS tests has become a sinkhole for even the state's best students.

Then they must support those ideas with evidence from the text in a well-written response.

It's a challenge that's vexing high school students and their teachers.
As I said, I'm not surprised; when teachers have to spend an inordinate amount of time "teaching to the test," things like critical thinking tend to get pushed to the side. Some people quoted in the article blame things like students' short attention spans and even cell phones and video games. But to me, this is just one more downside to the over-reliance on standardized tests. The TAKS test can't go away at the high school level soon enough.

Read the whole thing, as well as the accompanying sample of student writings that show varying levels of acceptability for the test.

Setting up camp: Jazz Camp began this afternoon, so posting may be spotty on some days this week; I'll chime in from time to time with the highlights, but otherwise, the camp "owns" me until Friday night.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Am Tiger Woods Have Tiger Wood

The past few days have been spent on some renovations at Casa de Kev. The biggest one? Having the flooring material that was shown in Wednesday's post installed in the front of the house. Here are the results:

The floor itself

Now let's add furniture...

Kitchen view

The flooring is not wood; it's a laminate, and the design has an unusual name: Indian Tigerwood. (There really is a wood called tigerwood, and it predates the golfer, who got the "Tiger" nickname from an Army buddy of his father's. I also joked that the "Indian Tiger Woods" would probably be Vijay Singh, although he has Fijian as well as Indian ancestry.)

If I hadn't said anything, you might not know that it's something other than real wood, which is much more high-maintenance; with the laminate, I don't have to worry about spills and so on. It's a great asset to the house, having replaced three different materials in the three front areas: Faded and cracking parquet in the entry hall, beat-up carpet (that Tasha was very rough on in her final days), and some really ugly linoleum in the kitchen. Having a continuity of material from place to place now adds a lot to the area, and it makes for a striking entry to the house. I'm very happy with it, and I learned a lot from watching it being done (and assisting in some of the final touches).

When I first bought the house, I used to just look around and marvel at the fact that it was mine. This weekend, I find myself going up front just to marvel some more, at something that just makes the house that much better.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to Colin, the drummer in as many groups of mine as he has time to play. He's spending the summer living a jazz musician's dream come true in New York City, practicing and studying with some of the masters.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Starbucks Publishes Its "List of Doom"

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Starbucks was going to close 600 of its underperforming stores, and now, the company has released the list of all the stores facing closure nationwide. The list, which may be found here, includes quite a few stores in Texas, but only one in my immediate area.

Since my work keeps me on the move, I don't have a "personal Starbucks," like the Florida customers interviewed for this story. Or perhaps it would be even more accurate to say that I have several, depending on what part of town I'm in on that particular day. Sure, there's one that's close to my house that I probably visit more than others to meet with friends, read, etc., but there are plenty of others in the mix as well.

But as I said, only one in my neighborhood (and the only one on my favorites list, for that matter) is closing: the one inside Firewheel Town Center itself. I blogged about its opening day in '05, but I noticed that, except on weekends, its small size (it maybe seats 16 at the most) probably kept it from doing the business it needed to do. With a much bigger Starbucks in Firewheel Market out front (and a pseudo-one in Barnes and Noble), I could see how it would be a challenge. Still, I'll miss the opportunity to get a warm drink and carry it on The Walk™ on cold winter's days; I guess B&N gets that part of my business now, unless I'm parked out front in the first place.

Do you have a favorite Starbucks? If so, is it surviving the purge?

Amazing fact from the list: The corner of Preston and Park in Plano, which has Starbucks on three of the four quadrants formed by the intersection, has no stores appearing on the list.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to Ben, my friend and former bandmate. (The Starbucks near where he grew up isn't closing, either.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One More Reason to Love the Fit

It can do things like this:

(That's 17 cases of laminate flooring, if you're playing along at home.)

I had to pick up the boxes on Monday to be installed later in the week; evidently, the planks need time to acclimate to my house. Originally, I had a friend with a truck who was poised to help me, but said truck broke down last week. I wasn't going to pay the store $65 to ship it less than a mile, so I decided to get it myself, even if it took two trips. Eventually, I was able to sign on my Fit Brother, Coop, as a second driver, but all I ended up needing him for was help in loading/unloading. I really am impressed with what fits in a Fit; I'm satisfied with Kevmobile 2.0 from every angle thus far.

And if I needed one more reason... The '08 Fit landed at #8 in the top ten most fuel-efficient cars, according to the EPA. (That's for combined city and highway driving, by the way.) I've seen several versions of this list, and on most of them, all but one car ranked above the Fit is a hybrid (on one list, the Smart car came in ahead as well). I'm getting over 30 even in city driving (even in our current AC-intensive days), and I topped out at 36 MPG on my Austin trip in March.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's Wrong With This Picture?

For the most part, the sign below announces a sound, sensible message:

If you can't read it, it's a (bilingual) reminder that women who are pregnant shouldn't drink alcohol. This is good advice.

So what's the problem? Nothing except the location of said sign: In the men's room of one of my favorite local restaurants.

This confused me. What was it doing in there? Were guys supposed to notice that while washing their hands and say, "Oh--I should remind my wife to have iced tea instead of a margarita while we're here tonight!" or something like that? I didn't have access to anyone in the Musings Research Department who could check in the women's room to see if they had a similar sign or if they'd simply put it in the wrong one.

Any idea what a female-specific sign is doing in a male-specific room? I'm stumped.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Just Plane Annoying

Once again, I woke up on the morning after a trip, all bleary-eyed from lack of sleep because of--you guessed it--a flight delay.

This was a long enough time to begin with--less than three hours of flying time spread out over five hours--but, just like my previous return trip of a month ago, someone else's weather ended up messing with my trip.

The Evansville-Memphis leg was just fine; six other people from the conference I attended were on the same flight, and five of us had a long enough layover to eat dinner together in the Memphis airport. But even as we arrived, I had noticed that my own flight's status showed it departing an hour late. Having plenty of time after dinner, I walked up to my gate area and inquired as to the reason for the delay; I was told that weather in Baltimore, where our plane originated, was the issue.

As time went by, the little sign kept changing, just like it did in Chicago in June. (But unlike in Chicago, we were never moved from gate to gate; I think this kept the mood of the crowd a bit more placid.) 8:50 became 10:00, which became 10:10, which became 10:35. I was starting to wonder if we'd be allowed to fly out if the time got pushed back much later (others were wondering this as well, as we were assured over the P.A. that a "fresh" crew would be brought in to avoid the other one going over its maximum hours). This was good, because if we didn't get to finish the trip last night, I'd have to get someone over here to borrow my computer and send out an urgent email to this morning's students.

Eventually, the clock started to turn in our favor; 10:35 rolled back to 10:26 and eventually to 10:19. We were further placated with sodas and (somewhat stale) pretzels, and I kept myself occupied with magazines (I'd brought plenty) and a few phone calls in the meantime. Once the flight got going, everything went pretty smoothly and quickly. But still, we didn't even take off until over thirty minutes past the time we should have landed in Dallas, and at midnight, when I should have been trying to get ready for bed, I found myself sitting outside waiting for a shuttle to the cheap parking.

It's very weird to have this kind of thing happen two times in a row. But still, I won't complain too loudly; one of my colleagues was diverted to another airport (because his delayed flight got in past that airport's closing time!), and, as of 1:00 a.m. California time (which is 3:00 Indiana time), he was still waiting for a bus to take him to his actual airport. Another guy was still in the Atlanta airport (trying to get back to Albany) as of almost 10:00 this morning.

(This is, of course, an invitation to post your plane-trip-from-hell stories in the comments below.)

One more rantlet, in the form of a question: Why do the Memphis airport restaurants close at 7 or 7:30 p.m.? I could see this if it were Sunday only, but the signs were permanent, leading me to believe that this was an everyday thing.

Funny sign of the week: "For a speech from a local politician, push here."--A sticker on a men's room hand dryer at the Memphis airport; the "here" pointed, of course, to the dryer's "on" button, a.k.a. its source of quite a bit of hot air.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Travel Advisory

This is one of the times where I'll be getting on a plane very, very early to go to Indiana for a fraternity conference. (If nothing else, it looks like I'll miss the 100-degree day we're scheduled to have here in the DFW area tomorrow.) I'll be back on Sunday night, when blogging will likely resume.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In the Spirit of the Tour de France...

Enjoy part of the Nutcracker Suite played entirely on bicycle parts. I really like how each part is identified by its sound at the end of the video.

(Yes, this is old, but I found it yesterday on a search for something else, and I thought it was cool. I'm preparing for an out-of-town trip in a few hours--literally--so blogging time is scant at the moment. And hey, what's wrong with a Christmas song in July? I'll probably embed this in a post in December as well.)

And as for the Tour, I've had to miss the TV coverage during the week, but I've kept up via the Versus website. After today's stage, Garmin/Chipotle has two riders in the top five. Let's hear it for burrito power...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Willie and Waylon Wynton and the Boys

I might not have believed this if someone had just told me, but it was profiled in the paper the other day, and now I've seen it with my own eyes. Willie Nelson's latest recording features a most unusual duet partner: Wynton Marsalis. Seriously:
For those of us familiar with Mr. Nelson's oeuvre, his full-blown jazz turn with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis will come as no surprise. The country icon's trademark singing behind the beat is classic jazz style, as is his fluid guitar picking. Original songs such as "Night Life" and his interpretations of "Stardust" and "Georgia on My Mind," all three of which are included here, owe more than a nod to jazz. His concerts, whether with his band or a stunning orchestra, always have jazzy moments.
That's a good point. Willie did an album of old standards, Stardust, quite some time ago. I heard most of it on the jukebox in a lodge near where we were camping on a trip in college, and I have to say that I kind of liked it; there was a certain charm to that particular hybrid. So I guess the Willie/Wynton collaboration isn't that big of a surprise, in the grand scheme of things.

The new CD, Two Men with the Blues, was recorded early last year at Wynton's home stomping grounds, Jazz at Lincoln Center. I got a chance to sample it tonight, and, while the 30-second demo cuts in the store don't tell the whole story, the guys basically pull it off. As diametrically opposite as jazz and country might seem at times, they both share a common ancestor in the blues. Wynton sounds great, running the gamut from playing blues in "guitar keys" like A major on the opening "Bright Lights Big City" to revisiting his hometown of New Orleans on "Basin Street Blues," and he and Willie mesh together well more often than not. Staunch purists in either genre might not like it, but it seems from these samples (in the store and on Amazon, which were different from each other) that this recording has merit above and beyond the novelty factor. (And if more than a few country fans--of which there are many--get turned onto Wynton, or jazz in general, from listening to this CD, that's icing on the cake.)

Pork pie meets ten-gallon (historical edition): This is not by any means the first melding of jazz and country; Richie Cole and Boots Randolph collaborated in the '80s on a recording called Yakety Madness, and Randy Travis did a guest duet with Kevin Mahogany on his late '90s album Another Time, Another Place. And Texas-born guitarist Clint Strong, who played on the great Marchel Ivery recording with Joey DeFrancesco, spent quite a bit of time with Merle Haggard (and Willie himself, for that matter).

Missed it by that much: This recording was made in New York City on January 12 and 13, 2007, which means I was in town (for IAJE) when it took place. I had no clue it was going on, of course, and I was rather busy while I was up there, but it's interesting to think that, of the five days I've spent any considerable time in NYC, this recording was made on two of them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Of Bicycles and Burritos

I've posted many times about the Tour de France, especially a few years ago when Lance Armstrong reigned supreme. The Tour riders have been a little more anonymous to the average American since that time, and it hasn't gotten as much press here since the "Tour de Lance" days, either. I knew that his old Discovery Channel team had gone under in the past year, but I had no clue what, if anything, would be replacing it. So I was quite happy to discover the other day that Chipotle is a named co-sponsor of one of the teams that's new to the Tour this year.

And they're actually doing pretty well thus far. Their marquee rider, David Millar, is third overall after today's Stage 4, and another member, Christian Vandevelde, is in sixth. Perhaps even cooler is that the team itself is ranked first overall at the moment! (And I have no idea how Garmin/Chipotle ends up being abbreviated "TSL" on the standings; I'll get back to you on that.)

They've also come up with a special burrito that the team eats on occasion (probably not every day, but then they do ride enough to keep the weight off). It's pretty close to what I eat anyway (chicken, black beans, minus the cheese and lettuce, replacing the corn salsa with pico de gallo--I guess the tomato scare is over?--and adding guacamole), so I tried it. It's quite a good combination (if a little pricey from adding the guac), and I'm sure I'll have one again during the Tour promotion.

At least he didn't say "Chip-uh-top-uh-lay" like the old Jack in the Box commercial: It has been funny to hear the legendary cycling commentator Phil Liggett, in his mellifluous British accent, pronounce the name of the burrito-sponsored team; he calls it something like "Garmin/Chuh-PUTT-luh." (You may recall that my dad had some interesting pronunciations of the word when the restaurants were first around.)

TV or not TV; that's not the question anymore: In the early years of this blog, I ranted repeatedly about the Tour being relegated to a tiny little cable network called OLN that my cable system didn't carry. Thankfully, that situation changed three years ago; not long afterwards, OLN grew up and became Versus (even snagging the NHL along the way), and their Tour website is outstanding, comparing favorably to the Tour's official site. Cycling took a hit from the doping scandals of a few years ago, but there are plenty of us fans still out there.

Monday, July 07, 2008

With This Bill, The Wrong People Were In the Driver's Seat

An editorial in today's Dallas Morning News points out how the law of unintended consequences has reared its ugly head again--this time with a bill that was sponsored by my own state representative, Joe Driver. (And if that name sounds more befitting of a cartoon character, get this: Not only did Joe Driver author a bill that put added restrictions on teen drivers, he also sells State Farm auto insurance as his day job. I couldn't make this kind of stuff up if I tried.)

Anyway, Rep. Driver's bill meant to deal with the licensing of private investigators. But the unintended consequence is that it also requires all computer repair professionals to obtain a private investigator's license!
With apparently minimal knowledge of how computers work, Mr. Driver won unanimous approval of a require licensing for any professional who obtains or furnishes information "through the review and analysis of, and investigation into the content of, computer-based data not available to the public."
Somehow, this little technicality managed to slip by not only Rep. Driver, but the rest of the Legislature, as well as Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the bill into law.

Could they really all be this clueless? Apparently so...
Mr. Driver said he never expected that such vague language would apply to computer repairers. "We don't want them to be prosecuted," he said. "That's not the intent." Yet he expressed confusion when told that computer repair, at a minimum, involves turning on a computer and reviewing its contents – data – to find the source of most common problems, like viruses.
OK; that's just goofy. But will the law be enforced? You bet it will:
The Department of Public Safety's Private Security Bureau has made clear it will go after computer repairers – especially if they are hired to determine why all this Internet porn is popping up on Grandma's hard drive or why an office worker is visiting prohibited Web sites.

"Computer repair or support services should be aware that if they offer to perform investigative services ... they must be licensed as investigators," the Private Security Bureau said last month. If you hire an unlicensed computer repairer, you could be fined up to $10,000.
But none of that is the most troubling aspect of the story. This is:
"This is language we got specifically from the industry," he said of the private investigators' lobby that wrote his bill, HB 2833.
Got that? The lobbyists wrote the bill. Heaven help us all...

I've never really been a fan of lobbying, period; part of me would like to see it outlawed. There are plenty of ways for legislators to do research on a subject without being solicited by the very people who would potentially be regulated by new legislation. At a minimum, I think it should be illegal for lobbyists to provide anything of value to a legislator, be it a meal or even a single cocktail. Even if it's innocent, it just looks dirty from the outside.

Read the whole thing; it'll take quite a while to fix this mess, I'm sure. And to Rep. Driver: Do your homework next time, please. Your job is too important to let others do the heavy lifting for you.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A Fitting Fermata for a Brilliant Career

Surely anyone with any connection to my alma mater knows that two of the mainstays of UNT's famed Jazz Studies program, Neil Slater and Jim Riggs, are retiring at the end of the summer. The DMN ran a nice feature today on Slater, who's taking the One O'Clock Lab Band to pretty much all the major European jazz festivals as we speak; that's quite a farewell tour, if you ask me.

Granted, the school was already in Field of Dreams territory by the time he arrived; it was built, and people came:
Neil Slater has faced many challenges in his 27 years as chairman of the University of North Texas' Jazz Studies Division.

But convincing young musicians that they can learn America's most urban art form in the middle of the Texas prairie has not been one of them."I've never had any problem recruiting," he said. "The reputation of the school is out there."
But that doesn't mean that he didn't do a lot to build on what was already there:
It will bring to an end a tenure in which he not only ran the Jazz Studies Division but directed the One O'Clock Lab Band (named after its rehearsal time), was instrumental in founding a jazz master's program and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship grant.

He did so with enough time left over to compose more than 60 pieces, one of which, the multisectional "Values," was nominated for a Grammy in 1993.
LIke many of the UNT faculty, Neil could be bluntly honest with students, but he was respected for that:
Evan Weiss, who graduated this year, said, "If something sounds bad, he'll tell you it sounds bad."

But he said Mr. Slater's background as a musician gives credibility to his judgments.

"I guess the fact that Neil is a writer, he has an honest perception of what he wants the band to sound like. When he gives you a suggestion, it's not done as a pedagogue," Mr. Weiss said.

Still, he said, Mr. Slater could be intimidating to a young musician.

"When I was a freshman just joining the band, he handed me the book [of pieces the group would perform], and said, 'Don't mess this up.' "
Heh. Sounds like very little has changed since I was in school.

But today, Slater's complaint is with those who don't support our truly American art form in its home country:
"While jazz was invented in America, it seems like Europeans appreciate it more," he said.

[...]"Pop music so often has been reduced to a rhythm. Boom, boom, boom, and that's all there is," he said. "You don't have to know anything about it, you don't have to do anything; you just listen.

"You have to listen to jazz; it's not something you just hear in the background," he said. "In jazz, there's a story – and you have to follow that story."
Read the whole thing, and be sure to watch the video of Slater and some of the bandmembers preparing for the European tour. And check out the itinerary:
Today – Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland

Monday – Vienne Festival, France

Tuesday – Concert in Lyon, France

Thursday – Concert in Rudesheim, Germany

Friday, July 13 – North Sea Jazz Festival, Netherlands

July 16 – Tuscany Jazz Festival, Italy

July 17-19 – Umbria Jazz Festival, Italy

July 20-22 – Performances in Antibes and Nice, France
As someone who got to perform at Montreux--nine years ago this week, as a matter of fact--I really wish I could be there to see today's show; with the seven-hour time difference, they're probably playing right about now. (And yes, I started this post at a specific time for a reason.)

Personal memorab-Neil-ia: As for me, I'll always be grateful to Neil for giving me an opportunity that had a direct bearing on what I do now. When we first met, I was an undergrad music-ed major who played in the "lower" lab bands, but I was also on staff at KNTU, which was always involved with the promotion of the One O'Clock's concerts and recordings. Still, I'll never forget when he introduced me to someone as a "fine saxophonist and broadcaster," and I'm pretty sure it was in that order. (Years later, he would let me teach the introductory class to the Jazz Lecture Series--giving a profile and musical examples of each artist who would be visiting--because he said I "had my KNTU chops together" and would likely do a good job.)

In grad school, I moved to a jazz emphasis (realizing that being a high school band director was not for me), and I moved up slowly but surely through the system. One spring, my fraternity put together a big band that, as fate would have it, ended up under my direction (probably because I was the one being the most vocal about the unorganized nature of our leaderless rehearsals up to that point). We managed to snag a spot in the event that's now called the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, opening up for the One O'Clock and the Zebras (UNT's multi-keyboard ensemble). I thought it went pretty well, as did the audience...which included one Neil Slater. This led to a fateful conversation:

NEIL: Are you signed up for my class for the fall? (His class, "Conducting College Jazz Ensembles," was in fact something I was pondering for that semester.)
ME: Well...I could be, if you'd like me to be.
NEIL: You should take it, because I'd like to see you direct a lab band in a few semesters.

Need I say that I practically floated home? For someone who barely knew a lick (pun intended) of jazz before arriving at UNT, the prospect of actually directing a lab band was like a dream come true.

So I did take the class, during which (since I was the only person in their to raise his hand when the class was asked if anyone had any previous big-band directing experience) Neil threw his share of curveballs at me; I'm pretty sure the first chart he assigned me was an arrangement of "My Favorite Things" in 5/4 time. (He also assigned me one of his own tunes--one which had yet to be recorded. This dovetailed nicely with his preference for actual score study vs. practicing "conducting the recording." But talk about nervewracking..)

The result was that I did get to direct lab bands for two years: First the Nine O'Clock, and then the Six O'Clock the year afterwards. Many of the things I've done since then--being the interim director at my college while my colleague was on sabbatical, directing an All-Region jazz band, doing clinics at various schools, and co-founding a youth jazz band (which will rise again, mark my words)--have all been the result of Neil's being willing to take a chance on someone who never played in the One O'Clock (except for subbing on a dance gig) and had learned jazz from the ground up upon arriving in Denton. I'll be forever grateful for that opportunity.

It's going to be cool to see my old classmate Steve Wiest take over the One O'Clock on an interim basis next year; in fact, next year will be especially fun for me, since the majority of the jazz faculty will be people with whom I attended school. (I imagine that my Wednesday night Syndicate runs will increase in the fall because of this.) But still, it will be hard to imagine UNT jazz without Neil Slater at the helm. It sounds like he's getting a great send-off party this month, and I'm sure I'll have more to write when his official retirement ceremony happens sometime in the fall; I'll share my thoughts on Jim Riggs when he has his day in the sun as well.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Should the NL Adopt the DH? I Say "Batter Up!"

Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News notes that, a week after interleague play ended in the major leagues this year, the American League thoroughly trounced the National League in those games. In the All-Star Game (this year's edition of which takes place in ten days), the AL has won eleven straight. And since Commissioner Bud Selig added the rule that whichever league wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series, the midseason contest is no mere exhibition anymore.

Cowlishaw's solution? Get the NL to adopt the designated hitter:
There is no good reason for the NL to be clinging to the past, and other than Arizona's Micah Owings, there's just nothing pretty about watching pitchers try to hit.

When you add the DH to the game, you increase run production. That in itself increases attendance. That increases revenues and provides the funds to go out and better your team, whether it's through spending on free agents, foreign scouting or player development.

The DH rule allows teams to save their players. Rangers manager Ron Washington has gotten maximum value out of Milton Bradley this season. Bradley suffered a knee injury in the final week of 2007 while playing for the San Diego Padres.

Had he remained a Padre, he probably wouldn't have been a regular in the lineup until mid-May because of the wear and tear of playing the outfield every day. With the Rangers, Bradley has served as the DH 51 times and is bound to be an All-Star for the first time with his league-leading on-base production.

[...]Not having the DH limits the players National League teams can even pursue in free agency. Let's face it; Jim Thome still was a productive hitter for the Phillies in 2004 before injuries limited him in 2005.

Serving primarily as DH for the White Sox, he prolonged his career to the point that his 523 career home runs put him in the Hall of Fame discussion. He probably could not have done that by finishing his career in the National League.
Makes sense to me. Actually, I've been arguing that since my earliest days of Ranger fandom: "Who in the world would want to drive all the way out to Arlington just to see Nolan Ryan or Charlie Hough bat?" Yeah, yeah, I know all the talk of strategy and the like, but, let's face it--you're basically throwing away one at-bat out of every nine. And how good of a "strategy" is it to sub out for your pitcher--who may be doing perfectly well, enough so to keep your bullpen fresh for several more innings--just to get a particular offensive matchup?

Read the whole thing; Cowlishaw also talks about the pointlessness of "small ball" as it's currently used in the NL in this day of smaller, baseball-only parks.

For those baseball fans among the Musings readers: Agree or disagree? (If nothing else, maybe this post will draw longtime commenter Gary P. out of the woodwork again.)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth!

So here we are on our nice little built-in three-day weekend; I hope you're getting to have one as well, and my heart goes out to people in retail, health care, broadcasting, law enforcement, and so on. I'll only do this short post today; anything else will involve relaxing or catching up on other things.

I'll be out to see the Firewheel fireworks tonight; if you can't see any in your neck of the woods because of bad weather or whatever, you can always make your own display right there on your computer screen. And if you're one of the enterprising souls who decides to do it yourself (I've done this once in recent years), James Lileks reminds you to use common sense when doing so.

And no matter what, don't forget the reason we celebrate this day; it's not just about the fireworks.

This counts as several thousand more words in this post: Althouse has a collection of her favorite flag photographs.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Almost Fooled by a Spammer

I've noted before that, like every normal Internet user, I receive a lot of spam emails, many of which have unusual titles. But one that I received yesterday was about as close to authentic as it could be, at least on the surface.

As you may know, I do a lot of private saxophone instruction in addition to my college teaching, and I sign up a lot of new students over the summer. Anything in my inbox with the word "lessons" in the subject will catch my attention rather quickly. Sure, the subject line was oddly-phrased: "Enquiry in Your Lesson." But I've taught kids whose parents had limited English proficiency before, so that was no big deal. Only when I got to the text of the email did I realize it was a cleverly-worded spam of some sort:

My name is Mr [name withheld] am 50Yrs Oldman. I Resident, Work and settle down with my wife in LONDON. I lost her not quite long and my only daugther is not her self any more , She cried alot and due to my work , i have got no time to pampered her .

Now she will be coming to STATE with her Old School Mother which her age is 55Years Old, and i would not want a situation were by she will got her self into a mess . So i will want her to be coming to you for Tutorial , In which you are to take her has a special student of yours, All because of her condition .

She is 16 year by age, Name [withheld] and she is so Inquisitive, She always wanna know, She love to ask question alot , I hope she we be please meeting you. let me know the time that will be favour your to teacher her and i want the lesson to heard for an Hour.

Please all what i care most for is my Daugther welfare , And i belief you can do that for me. Please let me know how much you charge for 1hour , She will be coming 3 Days in a week for 1 month. And i can only paid you with Cashier Check. I have Also arrange for the Driver that will be driving her down to your place.

Therefore , I will be glad if you can do mail me back the Follwing Details include your Next mail.

Full Name That will be On The Check:

Full Contact Address That the Check will be Sent To: (NOT P.O BOX):

Phone Number Both Land and Cell Phone Just to discuse more with you:

Please endeavour to send your original Name and Contact Address in full , inorder not to send to a wrong Address.

Thanking you for your co-opperation,

I look foward to hearing from you soon,

Best Regards

[name and phone number withheld]
Obviously, this wasn't a request for lessons at all, but some sort of odd spam. But it's weird that this one was so close to a request for my actual business. I wonder if I was targeted in some way, or if it was completely random. (Granted, if it were real, having a three-day a week student for an hour each time would add up to some pretty righteous bucks during the slower summer season.)

Ever had a spam hit this close to home before? Share your stories in the comments.

Spam, egg, sausage and spam...and more spam: As part of an experiment by the McAfee Corporation, 50 volunteers from around the world were instructed to click on and respond to every spam email received for a month. (Each volunteer received an average of 70 unwanted messages a day. That's an awful lot of V!@gRa that people are trying to hawk...)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Star(bucks) Is Losing a LIttle of Its Shine

I guess this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise during somewhat of an economic downturn, but it was still weird to read this story: Starbucks plans to close 600 of its U.S. locations in the near future. Despite concerns about oversaturation in some markets, the company is not blaming that for the closures; rather, it's attributing it to the sluggish economy (which makes sense; people who have to buy more $4 gas may have less room in their wallets for as many $4 lattes as usual).

No specific locations have been announced yet, but most of the stores to be closed are 1) underperforming (duhh), 2) opened within the past two years, and 3) located close to another company-owned store. I have no clue if this will affect any of the ones in my neighborhood (which is now nicely Starbucked just a few short years after not having any at all within two miles), but they all seem to be doing well (and one of them is actually a Barnes and Noble Cafe and thus isn't company-owned). I wonder if Preston and Park in Plano, which has Starbucks on three of the four corners, will be affected.

Whatever happens, it's weird to think about a Starbucks closing; the only time I've ever seen that happen was when an entire shopping center got redeveloped. Even though some people consider them to be an evil empire along the lines of Wal-Mart, I've been a fan ever since they came to Texas in the mid-'90s. It's a great place to meet up with friends, grade papers, or even do some solitary reading, and it's one of the best "safe" places that the under-21 crowd can go to at night. (And for small, independent businesspeople--not to mention recruiters, Realtors, etc.--it serves as a nice temporary office with "rent' as low as the cost of a tall drip.)

Sure, it's hard to get a gig at a Starbucks most of the time (though the second post on this blog dealt with a time when I came very close to having one, and I would succeed in that about a week later), and maybe, if there is a location to be closed in this area, it can be reborn as an independent coffeehouse that has live music; one can only hope.

And don't forget--it's been shown that the presence of Starbucks in a market actually helps independent coffeehouses by getting the locals excited about upscale coffee drinking. They may take a piece of the mom-and-pop store's pie, but not before making the pie bigger overall.

It's not like the company is headed down the tubes or anything; they're still planning on opening new stores, but they'll be a bit more selective about it now. Still, it was surprising to see that the mighty giant isn't totally invincible.

But here's a dining idea that I hope won't take off: The Krispy Kreme bacon cheesburger. (As the lolcats might say, "You can has. DO NOT WANT.")

These monkeys must have tried the above already: Some Rhesus monkeys in a Japanese park are being put on a crash diet because they're too fat (probably from being fed by park visitors as well as their own handlers).

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Strike Out the Band? At Reno, This May Be the Case

This isn't the first time I've blogged on the subject; last summer, I reported on the impending loss of the marching band at Duquesne University (it was scheduled to be "downsized" to a small, seated pep band instead). But this story--courtesy of my fraternity's listserv, just like the Duquesne one--is even worse: The University of Nevada is considering doing away with its marching band altogether:
The University of Nevada, Reno marching band, a mainstay of the school's music department for more than 25 years, could be disbanded next June if state government budget cuts for the 2009-11 budget cycle are as severe as expected, university President Milton Glick said Sunday.

The university, which has announced that 40 mid-level administrators will not be rehired after June 30, 2009, is preparing for 14 percent budget cuts for the next biennium. If state officials demand cuts that deep, the band will be eliminated, Glick said.

"The intention, as we do our planning, is that the marching band will go," Glick said. "But we have not yet seen real numbers. Our priorities are to protect the core teaching and research programs. If I have to compare the teaching programs to the marching band, I have to give priority to the teaching programs."

Hopefully, the budget cuts won't be that harsh," Glick said. "If we don't see 14 percent, we will have a chance to rethink some of the programs."

The marching band leader, Associate Director of Bands, R. Alan Sullivan, was among the 40 administrators notified last week that they will lose their jobs, Director of Bands A.G. "Mack" McGrannahan said Sunday.
Ouch. Surely there can be something else they can cut, right? Sure, someone could ask, "What's a football team without a marching band?" But my question goes even deeper: What's a music education program without a marching band? Head band director McGrannahan agrees:
Losing the band would have a negative impact on the number of students who attend UNR to study music, McGrannahan said, adding the band costs about $200,000 a year.

"I think that we would see a significant reduction in our numbers," McGrannahan said. "They should ask themselves the question, if the want to study music and teach music, why would they want to come here because our offerings will be significantly reduced."

The loss of the band will have a trickle down effect on Nevada's public education system since many of the music teachers and band directors at Nevada high schools are former UNR students, McGrannahan said.

"This will have a devastating effect on the whole state of Nevada," McGrannahan said.

[...]No plans have been finalized on halftime entertainment at Nevada football games without the marching band, McGrannahan and Glick said.

"I guess they could play recorded music on the big Jumbotron up there but don't get me started on that," McGrannahan said. "I can't imagine what it would be like without a band at the games."
(FULL DISCLOSURE: McGrannahan is a fraternity brother and fellow UNT grad--from an earlier era than myself--and we serve on a large fraternity council together. But I'd be writing this post even if I didn't know any of the principal figures from Adam.)

President Glick seems to feel that bringing in local high school bands to perform would somehow take the place of an organization that serves so many purposes on campus: Music education laboratory, spirit organization, social club, and probably other things that are slipping my mind at the moment. Sure, the high school kids would probably be thrilled to perform on a bigger stage, but does anyone think that they'd be as emotionally invested in the game as the school's own band would be? (The football coach is reserving comment for now, but I bet he's not happy.)

Here's the quote from Glick that bothers me the most:
"Would we like to have a marching band? Yes. Will we have a marching band in a year? Maybe," he said. "But we have to take steps now in preparation not to have it. And I will still defend that. If I have to protect the English department or the math department or the business school or the music department, I will protect all of those things before the marching band."
Umm, President Glick: The marching band is part of the music department, and you're not doing a very good job of protecting it at the moment. Just because something is entertaining doesn't mean that it doesn't have academic value. (Ironically, Glick's son is a marching band alumnus from the University of Michigan. I'll bet he could explain the group's value to Dear Old Dad.)

As I said last year, in the Duquesne post, "As a music educator, it distresses me to see any arts organization be eliminated, especially by the axe of budget cuts." Not only are music-ed majors put at a severe disadvantage, but a lot of non-music majors will never have the chance to participate in a musical activity in college. To me, that's wrong, wrong, wrong.

I hope that Glick can find some fat to trim elsewhere; another mid-level administrator or two might be a good place to start (though it strikes me as bizarre that the marching band director is called an "administrator" in the Reno Gazette-Journal story quoted above). But with any luck, the Nevada legislature will trim its own fat in such a way that education doesn't suffer nearly so much. Again, there's bound to be some other places that can be pared down first.

UPDATE: According to a comment on the RGJ story, this is another situation (like Duquesne) where the marching band is evidently under the auspices of the athletic department and not the music department, which renders part of my above statement inaccurate in this case. If I were a music chair or dean somewhere, and my school were in that situation, I'd work to put the band in the music department where it belongs; maybe that would help the higher-ups see the academic importance of the group.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Bonnie Guari emails: "I'm moved to comment on your latest blog posting about eliminating marching bands. What an awful idea!

Several years ago, our school district (Edina, MN) wanted to eliminate 5th grade band and orchestra. In Edina, 5th grade marks the beginning of the instrumental music program. Students take group lessons with the band or orchestra instructors as well as have a group band/orchestra lesson during the week. All of this happens during the school day. Many elementary teachers complain about the disruptions in their classes as students come and go for lessons and band or orchestra.

Looking to save money (and aren't all school districts), the school administrators and school board finance committee suggested eliminating the 5th grade instrumental music program. (Edina schools have vocal music throughout the elementary years--K-6).

Naturally, there was an uproar. The elementary instrumental music is the foundation for the entire music program in the schools. The Edina schools music programs are always highly ranked. The school board held an open meeting to hear parent and student comments. The got an earful!

What made the most impact, though, was when the high school band directors, along with all of the other music teachers in the district, announced that they would rather eliminate the marching band program for Edina than eliminate the 5th grade instrumental music programs.

Well, football is also near and dear to the hearts of Edinans (although not nearly what football is to Texans!) and the idea of football games and the homecoming parade without the marching band was simply unthinkable. The administration quickly decided to keep the music program intact and look elsewhere for places to cut funding or increase revenues.

If alum groups at the colleges and universities would lobby the school administrators and pester the state legislators, maybe the schools would reconsider the value of the marching bands. Like you, I only see good reasons to maintain college level marching bands.

On a secondary note: The superintendent of schools in Edina makes himself available as a substitute teacher throughout the district. Naturally, he isn't an "on-call" sub; he has to schedule his days ahead of time. He wants to sub so that he remains close to what is actually happening in the various school buildings in the system. Bravo to him! I know he's already subbed in a variety of situations so far."

Agreed. If the "paying customers" (students, parents, alums) would make enough noise here, something might well get done.

And I love the part at the end of her email about the subbing superintendent; that's a subject that's close to my heart. What a great example he's setting for the rest of his district.

Redux-quesne: So what happened to the Pride of Duquesne marching band? According to its website, there is still such a band, but it's student-run and plays at "band festivals and local parades," though evidently not at school football games anymore. It's too bad that the university didn't have enough "pride" in itself to prevent this from happening (though I'm happy to see that they at least let the successor group keep the name).