Friday, December 21, 2007

A Midwest Primer

Random stuff that happened during our trip to Chicago this week:
  • We flew an airline where you have to cart your own checked baggage to the X-ray machine instead of having the gate personnel send it over on a conveyor belt. Usually, TSA people are pretty serious, but this guy asked me two normal questions and one weird one:
    1) Are you carrying any firearms? (No.)
    2) Is your bag locked? (No.)
    3) Are there any dogs or cats inside? (Huh? That one threw me for a second. I smiled and said, "I sure hope not!") I found out that others in my group didn't get the dogs-and-cats question.

  • Needless to say, Chicago was cold. Really, really cold. We're talking 20's and 30's for the duration, with the city's signature wind in abundance most of the time. (Many in our group were amused by the "Caution--Watch for Falling Ice" signs that were all along Michigan Avenue.) But upon my return, being up there made the "cold" down here in Texas feel like nothing.

  • We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, a 135-year-old hotel that's undergoing yet another renovation. The grand lobby is quite ornate (so much so that one of the students in our group said that he felt underdressed just walking in there), and upon our arrival, it was not only festooned with Christmas trees (I told you I love that word!), but a live choir was singing carols as well. It made for quite the holiday atmosphere around there.

  • The Midwest Clinic itself is a big band and orchestra convention on the level of TMEA (but without the elementary or vocal divisions). The exhibits were impressive if confusing (they were spread out over four rooms in the basement of the Chicago Hilton, as opposed to the football-field-sized rooms that we're used to in San Antonio), and we got to play a lot of new horns and mouthpieces.

  • Also in the exhibit hall, we had the pleasure of getting to meet Mike Smith, a fellow UNT alum and Frank Sinatra's former music director. It was cool just listening to him try out mouthpieces and ligatures, and he even let us play one of his own horns.

  • The most unusual trinket received at the convention: A combination key ring/bottle opener/shaker (as in the percussion toy), from Alfred Publishing.

  • We had a short trip, but we did get to walk by Millennium Park several times; it looked really cool and warrants further exploration on another visit.

  • I was impressed with the vibrant downtown area (and we were supposedly in the less-interesting part). Being able to get a full dinner at 11:00 at night on a Wednesday is not something that's too common in downtown Dallas. I really enjoyed the two places we had dinner--the Elephant & Castle, which specialized in English food with funny names like "shepherd's pie" and "Yorkshire pudding," and the Italian Village. I also was introduced to a very good chain that's also around here, Corner Bakery.

  • My only complaint: We once again had a Too Young to Listen? moment, where a live jazz performance that nearly all our group would have enjoyed was put out of reach by city ordinances that evidently keep people under 21 out of venues where alcohol is served (it must have something to do with the ratio of food to drinks served, because this place had an extensive dinner menu as well). I've ranted about this subject at the linked post and this earlier one, but, suffice it to say, I believe that the sale of alcohol should not prohibit college music students from seeing live music.

  • Fortunately, there was one more late-night concert at the clinic, with special guests Wycliffe Gordon and Steve WIlson performing with Steve's alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth. I could have listened to those two guys (and VCU's trumpet prof, Rex Richardson, the other guest) all night.

  • On our way back to DFW, we had a very Southwest Airlines moment on an airline that's usually known for being much stodgier than Southwest: The flight attendant read the entire safety speech as a holiday poem! "The Flight Before Christmas" was an unexpected surprise, even if the jokes were sometimes groaners at 7:30 a.m.
I'll be back tomorrow with a collection of odd stories that have come up since I left for the trip.

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