Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year in Blogging

It seems a little odd to do the traditional end-of-year blog review when I've admittedly been such a slacker at blogging lately; it really has come in fits and starts throughout the year, and it was almost certainly made worse over Easter weekend when I finally caved and joined Facebook. But this blog is still a great outlet, and it's very different from the day-to-day Facebook stuff (not to mention that it's mostly a different audience), so even though I'm not a big resolution-making type, it's a goal of mine to be more consistent with blogging in 2011.

Once again, this is a month-by-month list of posts that either got the most comments of any post at the time or just stand out in some other way on second glance. So here we go:

JANUARY: Metheny Deserves a Pat on the Back For His Latest Effort
FEBRUARY: Another Great Way to Fix Congress
MARCH: Performing for a Less-Than-Perfect Audience?
Perhaps Keith Should Just Grin and Jarrett

APRIL: For Many of Us, This Program Was a Real Clunker
MAY: Today's Situation in a Nutshell
JUNE: Music Meets Art--In the MIddle of the Sidewalk?
JULY: Straight from the Funny Pages
AUGUST: Advertising As Art (or, The Greatest Song You Can't Download...Yet?)
SEPTEMBER: Extreme Makeover: Concert Hall Edition
OCTOBER: Words to Live By
NOVEMBER: Farewell to Fouts
DECEMBER: Kids Say the Darnedest Things About Geography

As always, thanks for stopping by; I'll try to have a lot more for you to read in the year ahead.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let There Be Even More Lights

I'm back from my trip to Houston (in record time, mind you; I can't believe I made it back from the old neighborhood in three and a half hours while maintaining the speed limit, but I guess that's what stopping only one time will do) and will save a bigger post for later, but I had to make a quick addendum to my annual holiday lights review. Tonight, I checked out the nearby neighborhood Woodbridge, which encompasses parts of Sachse and Wylie. In the Sachse portion, just off Country Club Drive, check out Hillview Lane, where the first- and second-place winners in the lighting contest are right across the street from each other. The first-place house has its lights synced to music, and its neighbor's lights appear to at least partially go in time to the music as well. If you're in that part of town, it's well worth a look.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Greetings

SUGAR LAND--Merry Christmas to all! I'm chilling with the whole family this year, though that means I'm typing this from the quiet comfort of my hotel room. (As I noted on Facebook and Twitter, when my sister and her family are down, I get to spend Christmas as a sort of reverse Nativity scene; there's no room at the house, but there is room at the inn. And the inn is very quiet.)

I hope you get to spend today with family and/or friends in as relaxing a way as possible. And as always, I salute those who aren't able to have the day off today--public safety and emergency personnel, a few in retail and broadcasting, and of course those on active duty in the armed forces. Have a blessed day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Sweet Explosion of Sorts

SUGAR LAND--I'm writing from my traditional perch at Mom and Dad's, where I get to stay for one night before my sister and her family arrive tomorrow. Being in Sugar Land, the former home of a large Imperial Sugar refinery (more on the city's history here, from my first Christmas visit as a blogger), the big news item from the past few weeks was that a couple of the buildings at that former refinery were imploded last weekend to make way for a mixed-use project. (The most iconic of the buildings, the old char house, was left standing and will be incorporated into the project.)

Check out the video at the link (where, as you can see, it took one of the buildings quite a bit of time to fall down on its own, well after the charges were detonated), and there's a good amateur video here as well, made from still photographs in succession and a lot of before-and-after shots at the end. And here's some background info on the redevelopment project itself.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tour de Lights

Now that I've finally had some time off, I've been able to enjoy one of my favorite holiday traditions: Going out to see some of the amazing light displays that are found all over the DFW area. That means it's also time for Kev's Annual Lights Post*, where I run down a list of my favorites:
  • Deerfield in Plano: For my money (which pretty much involves only the gas to get there), this is the best all-around neighborhood in the area for lights. It has a wide variety of streets that are easy to traverse once you've done it a few times, most of the neighborhood participates (there were fewer "Scrooge" houses this year than before), and now it features the Zephries house on Old Pond Drive, which now has 104,000 lights synchronized to music. There's also the Gordon Lights on Quincy at the north end of the subdivision that has a very nicely-synchronized display as well. (Both the aforementioned houses also serve as drop-off points for various charities, so, if the spirit moves you, bring a new unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots or a non-perishable food item for the North Texas Food Bank to the Zephries display, or cash/gift cards for Operation Homefront to the Gordon display.) The carriage and limo rides make this area an even bigger attraction, and I've always thought it would be cool to park nearby and do a walking tour like many of the neighbors do. (When I went Monday night, the weather would have been great for that, but I thought I was short on time. Hats off to the homeowners for keeping everything on well past ten.

  • Frisco Square: Although it's a newcomer in comparison to the other sites mentioned here, Frisco has become one of the top attractions in the area, with even more lights to its amazing display from last year (among the highlights for me are the lights that go across the two main buildings, which totally surrounds the viewer with light). As before, everything is synchronized to music, which can be heard either from a low-powered FM radio broadcast or from speakers near the buildings. (For some pictures of last year's display, go here.)

    And if you make it to Frisco, be sure and drive a few miles east to see the Trykoski house, where the designer of the Frisco Square lights calls home. This year, they have 85,000 lights in their display, which is also synchronized to music. (And I probably don't need to point out that nearly all of the displays with synced music include the song that's become the unofficial theme of such displays: "Wizards in Winter" from this CD by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I think the entire genre started with Carson Williams in Ohio, whose display became the subject of a beer commercial a few years ago.) Incidentally, the Trykoskis are collecting canned goods for Frisco Family Services.

  • SpringPark in Garland/Richardson: The classic neighborhood of mostly cul-de-sacs, each with a different theme. Among my favorites are the displays on Silver Maple and Buckethorn, as well as the continuous train motif along Lake Shore Drive, and Debra Court was full of win this year with its "12 Days of Redneck Christmas" theme (though they should have gone in reverse order like the song does; you'd have to drive on the wrong side of the road to sync with the song. Quite a few of the streets were more sparsely lit this year, which has been a trend for a while now; I wonder if I was just there on a night when a lot of people were on vacation.

  • Interlochen in Arlington: I haven't been here in a few years (though I'll try this year, as it's been extended through Dec. 31), but this neighborhood is unique in that several streets back up to a large canal, so the backyards as well as the fronts are decorated. This area is not too far from Six Flags, and, like the amusement park, there are signs along Randol Mill Road listing estimated times until you get to the lights. I need to make this one again soon. (And check out this heartwarming story about the generosity of UTA professor Allan Saxe, whose generous donation allowed the lights to go on when the city could no longer afford to pay police officers for traffic control.)

  • There are also two houses in Rowlett worth seeing: One on Dogwood Trail that's all done up in neon (evidently, the homeowner also owns a neon sign company) and the Belcher house on Faulkner Drive; there's also a perennial favorite in Carrollton on Timberline at High Sierra that always goes all out, even decorating the garage as a Santa's Workshop.
As always, if I've missed anything, please let me know in the comment section. I'm a big fan of Christmas lights, so I'd always be interested in seeing something new.

*I discovered when searching for some of the old text to copy and paste that I actually forgot to do the 2009 post. D'oh!

UPDATE: A few days after Christmas, I discovered some more cool houses in the Sachse/Wylie area.

Well, It Looks LIke Katz's Does Klose After All

I received some unfortunate news on Facebook from a friend who's a UT-Austin alumnus: Katz's Deli, the iconic Sixth Street restaurant known for being open all night (its slogan, "Katz's Never Kloses," is even reflected in its website), will be shuttered just after New Year's:
Katz's Deli, the longstanding popular restaurant on West Sixth Street, will shut its doors for good after more than three decades of being a 24-hour Austin icon.

The restaurant filed for bankruptcy in July after some difficulties with the property owners. Owner Marc Katz, considered relocating but has since changed his mind.

"I saw Brett Favre on your station this morning getting beat up," said Katz. "I think I'm going to quit while I'm ahead."

The 63-year-old was upbeat about his 31 years on Sixth Street. "It's a great time to leave," he said. "Reminds me of a gambler who leaves while he's winning."
I haven't been to Katz's in quite a few years, but I was turned onto it a long time ago by some UT friends, and it became a regular stop for a while when I was taking sax quartets to State Solo & Ensemble on an annual basis. Not only was it always open, but the food was really good and quite plentiful; I usually enjoyed a Reuben sandwich that was bursting at the seams with meat. It was probably as close to a New York deli as you could find in Texas.

They'll stay open until January 2. I don't know if I'll be out that way before then, but I'll definitely remember some good times.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I'd Better Post This Before My Thoughts Get Eclipsed By Other Things..

A few thoughts on last night's eclipse:
  • My cheap old binoculars work a lot better than I expected them to.

  • I said "boo!" to the wispy clouds that came in and messed everything up right when it was about to hit "maximum eclipse point."

  • I was amazed at how many people (of all ages) stayed up to watch it. Yay for being on vacation!

  • I'm really glad it was in the 50s instead of the 20s or 30s outside last night.

  • I think that was the first time I'd used my patio furniture in the entire time I've lived in this house.
Did you stay up for the eclipse? Post your thoughts (and links to any cool pictures you may have taken) in the comments below.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fall Has Fell

The academic calendar says there's one more day left, but for me, the fall semester came to a close at around 10:30 this morning. Since the college is out this week, I was able to squeeze the bulk of five days' worth of students (save for a few taking exams) into just over three days. I have some teaching-related errands yet to run (most notably, finding an ensemble for a larger-than-usual group) and one more school concert tonight, but otherwise, Fall 2010 is in the books.

It was a busy, busy semester, without a doubt. Even a lot of the weekends weren't particularly "weekend-y" at times. But everything that's been occupying my time falls under the category of Good Stuff, so it's all been time well spent.

The public schools don't resume until January 4, and the college is off until the 18th. Commence relaxation. Oh, and happy Beethoven's Birthday! He would have been 240 today.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Years Later, the Dream Is Still Alive

For the past several months, I've been without the use of my iPod car converter, so I've had to kick it old-school and rely on CDs for my listening while driving around. And although I have a certain "regular rotation" of favorite driving music, I've also taken advantage of the opportunity to bust out some music that I haven't listened to in a long, long time, which includes this great old song from my college days:

The group Münchener Freiheit, known simply as Freiheit over here, came to the attention of U.S. audiences when the above song was featured in the soundtrack to the movie Say Anything. That movie starred John Cusack, who was a favorite actor of my sister's when she was in high school and college. She decided she wanted Freiheit's entire album, Fantasy, which I bought for her for Christmas. And after a single listen, I was also hooked and promptly bought another copy for myself.

This song, "Keeping the Dream Alive," was by far my favorite; with its Beatlesque harmonies and sweeping orchestral accompaniment, it has been described by a YouTube commenter as the "best Paul McCartney song Paul McCartney never wrote," and I've always found it to be very uplifting. A lot of the other songs on the album (which is still available in its German-language version but sadly out-of-print in English) are also quite reminiscent of the Beatles, but even the other songs are perfectly serviceable Europop that has stood the test of time reasonably well.

By the way, Münchener Freiheit is still very much a band, having released 17 albums since they started in 1981, though the (shameful, in my opinion) lack of enthusiasm over here for their English-language version of Fantasy meant that all their subsequent recordings have only been recorded in German. (Listen to their vocals, and you'll marvel at how well they sing in a foreign language; only a few words of one song, "Diana," gives any indication of an accent.)

One other note of interest: Evidently the wintertime release of this song in the U.K. has turned it into a minor Christmas classic over there, where it still gets a lot of airplay at this time of year. (And it reached a few more American ears a few years ago when it was featured on American Idol, a show I've never watched.)

Enjoy this blast from the past, which is a great song deserving of more recognition over here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Phantom Tollbooth (Modern Version)

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was The Phantom Tollbooth, the story of a kid named Milo who had all kinds of unusual adventures when he drove his toy car through a magical tollbooth that he receives mysteriously one afternoon as a gift. But now, the title takes on a new meaning; as of today, there will no longer be such a thing as a "tollbooth" in the North Texas area, as the North Texas Tollway Authority completes its transition to cashless tolling.

It's not exactly a new thing; tolls on the Bush Turnpike has been all-electronic for over a year now, but it took a while for some of the older facilities, like the Dallas North Tollway and the Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, to get retrofitted. The big, clunky buildings that stretched across the highway have either had their cash lanes eliminated or been replaced by the new, smaller "gantries" that adorn the newer roads in the system. And while the NTTA went to great lengths to retrain its toll collectors for other positions in the agency, it still marks the end of an era in local transportation.

There's been pseudo-automation in the toll road industry for decades, of course, ever since the first coin-operated toll baskets were installed in, what--the '50s? As a little kid, I always liked the "throw in the basket" tolls more than the "pay the man" tolls, mostly because Dad would let me toss the coins in the former. But I wonder if anyone imagined even two decades ago that everything would be automated at this point in time. (Yeah, they probably did, and they also likely thought the toll plazas would be elevated to accommodate our flying cars, LOL.)

I guess my only question for the NTTA is if/when the big hulky plazas on the Bush will be replaced by gantries; as it stands now, there's a lot of excess concrete out there where the cash lanes used to be, and it's a little annoying that the onramps start out wide and narrow to a single lane to enter the highway. But I guess that will all happen soon enough.

So if you drive through a toll plaza today--not having to slow down at all to do so--think back for a moment and remember the folks whose jobs have now been assigned to the pages of history.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

KIds Say the Darnedest Things When They Make Mistakes

Another Wednesday, another round of funny-kid stuff in lessons...

ME: Oops--you played that quarter note like a half note again.
KID: Poop!
ME: Not in here, please; I have to teach in this room for several more hours.

(And it's even funnier when you realize that the kid who said it is a sixth-grade girl, and that she did so as daintily as possible.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Dandy Time Was Had By All Who Knew Him

I hadn't really thought about Don Meredith for a while until news of his passing came in yesterday. But after reading this column by the Dallas Morning News' Brad Townsend, I felt more than a little sad. Despite all the fame (both from being the Cowboys' quarterback and his later stint in the Monday Night Football booth), he remained grounded until the end. From a 2009 DMN interview:
"I'm very thankful," he said in a reflective moment that day, retrieving a photo of his parents from a bookcase. "I'm very thankful about where I'm from and who I am."
When his broadcasting career was over, he mostly stayed out of the limelight, and, as noted in the linked article, most of today's young people don't even remember him in the broadcast booth, much less wearing the starred helmet. But some say that "Dandy Don" has a latter-day counterpart in Tony Romo, and there's no doubt his influence on the franchise is still felt today. Rest in peace, #17; you will be missed.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Notes From the Road (East Texas Edition)

I spent over 375 miles on the road this weekend, all of it "local" (as in within an hour or so of home). My trip to Commerce yesterday included a lot of unusual observations along the way:
  • I've seen a drive-thru beer barn many times in the past, but today was the first time I saw a drive-thru feed store. I wonder if you can keep animals in the back of your truck and just toss the feed right in there with them...

  • Favorite store name: A custom bike shop called "Knucklehead and Sons."

  • Favorite store name #2, in the "say this ten times fast" department: Pippin's Propane.

  • I still can't believe they have the Watergate Apartments in Greenville. That name just seems...scandalous.

  • I-30 was simply swarming with state troopers today, for no apparent reason. The most unusual sighting was the car that appeared to be giving someone a reverse escort--as in, the patrol car drove behind this pickup truck with its lights flashing, all the way until the truck exited the freeway. After that, the trooper turned his lights off and continued on. I have no idea what that was about...

  • The construction area in Greenville featured nearly every warning sign possible, all lined up in a row like a little sign army: UNEVEN LANES, TEXTURED PAVEMENT AHEAD, ROUGH ROAD, NO CENTER STRIPE, SHOULDER DROP OFF. (I think we got the idea.)

  • On Hwy. 24 up to commerce, there was an extraordinary amount of roadkill on Hwy. 24, with birds feasting at every turn. But as I drove near them, they naturally dispersed, forcing them to "carrion" about their business a little later. (And most of the roadkill appeared to be skunks...eww.)
I'm still a bit weary from the long weekend of trips, but I won't have to drive that much again until Christmas.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

BBF Is My New BFF Band These Days

Here's one more video from Brandt Brauer Frick, this time with orchestral instruments added to their trio setup:

I've just found out that these guys are playing SXSW in March; a trip to Austin may now be on the schedule for spring break.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fascinating Rhythms

I just got turned onto this group in the past hour, and they're quite intriguing to me:

(If you want to avoid the cheesy--and fake?--German talk show intro, skip to 1:00 for the beginning of the tune.)

Brandt Brauer Frick plays dance music almost completely on acoustical instruments, though sometimes in unusual ways (screws in the strings, etc.). They also come from an interesting background: Daniel Brandt and Jan Brauer met in their high school jazz band, and Paul Frick is a classically-trained composer. The result of their collaboration is like nothing you've heard before.

(Thanks to eMusic for featuring this group on their frontpage today. I guess I'll still be discovering great indie artists on that site even as I gobble up all the ECM they just acquired in the past week.)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

KIds Say the Darnedest Things About Geography

World geography, from the mind of a sixth-grader:

(During a lesson, I have just taken a few seconds to adjust the day/date function on my watch, since there's no November 31. The student notices what I'm doing.)

KID: Your watch shows the date? That's cool. (Looks at watch.)
ME: What's really cool is the place where I bought it.
KID: Where's that?
ME: Switzerland.
KID: Switzerland...that's in Germany, right?

And of course, this reminded me of the summer when I went to Switzerland and procured said watch; many of the students I taught at the time, after being advised of my absence for the trip, asked me if I was going to have to learn to "speak Swedish" to go over there.

(Pardon the rerun if you're my friend on Facebook, but I've been blogging funny kid stuff for years.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

They Did It. They Really Did it!

This happy tweet from @MeanGreenSports made my day:
Mike Canales named Associate Head Coach of the Mean Green!
That's right, despite my concerns from the other day that Coach Canales was getting the shaft, if appears that the Mean Green brain trust has pulled off the unthinkable, getting the "name" coach with college experience that they desired in Dan McCarney, while also keeping the popular and inspiring interim coach of the past five weeks on board. And evidently, Associate Head Coach is not Canales' only title; he also retains his old job as offensive coordinator and will coach the quarterbacks as well.

As I noted on Facebook this afternoon, I was kind of lukewarm regarding the McCarney hire (and more than a little upset that Canales appeared headed elsewhere), but my enthusiasm just went up 500% with today's news, which undoubtedly sent a huge message to the Mean Green fan base.

So, welcome, Coach Mac! Congrats, Coach Canales! And let's hit the recruiting trail and give the new stadium (which is bound to be a sellout next September 10 against Houston, with yours truly in the stands for sure) a team that will be fun to watch and will pile up the wins in fairly quick fashion.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Like Mike. Too Bad the Higher-Ups Don't Agree

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been quite impressed with the job that Mike Canales has done since being named interim head football coach at UNT last month. He added a couple of wins to an otherwise dismal season, and his energy and enthusiasm captured the hearts of the fans and the team itself. At Saturday's game, one of the biggest cheers being led from the student side was "MIKE-CA-NA-LES! (clap! clap! clap clap clap!)," and at game's end, several team members joined in and pointed toward the man as he headed to the sideline. Even if the wins weren't all there, the team played with a new sense of purpose and determination that hadn't been seen in a while. From this fan's standpoint, it sure seemed that Canales had done enough to earn the permanent job.

But the "powers that be" don't seem to see it that way. As I noted last night, some of us at the game had barely sat down to dinner when reports started to surface that former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney had been offered the job...which seemed to leave Canales, who had openly expressed his desire to be a head coach somewhere, out in the cold. I know that neither the fans nor the team can play too active of a role in the choice of the next coach, but it seemed that something was wrong here. And from reading the forums deep into the night last night, I was starting to see a troubling picture, if any of the following scenarios are true:
  • Athletic Director Rick Villarreal wanted to give Canales the head job, but he was vetoed by university President Lane Rawlins and/or the Board of Regents.

  • McCarney is an old crony of Chuck Neinas, the head of the consulting firm hired to assist with the head coaching search.
But that's the hearsay; here is what we know for sure: McCarney may have been the winningest coach in Iowa State's history, but his overall record was 56-85 in 12 seasons at the helm. (And an Iowa State fan on the forum said that McCarney should get the Mean Green to a bowl in 4-5 years, as if that was a good thing.)

Look, I understand that RV and company probably feel burned by what happened (or, more correctly, what didn't happen) in the Todd Dodge era, and I know that they wanted a proven college head coach. But still, I can't get past the 56-85 thing right now. Didn't Canales do enough to prove himself at this level over the past month? Isn't it time to keep the outstanding coach who's in your own backyard, rather than go for a retread who's sort of well-known?

There's only one way this could end happily at this point: If McCarney offers Canales the chance to stay--offensive coordinator again?--and Canales takes it. I don't know a thing about McCarney; is he a confident enough man to retain the most popular coach who's been at UNT in a long time, knowing that there would be calls for Canales to take over if McCarney can't right the ship in time? And would Canales settle for the consolation prize, knowing that he might have been able to get the top job at another school?

I'm still not a very happy alum right now, but I guess I need to suck it up and give "Coach Mac" a chance, if this deal does indeed go down in the next few days. And I wish Coach Canales (clap! clap! clap clap clap!) all the best, no matter what happens.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Farewell to Fouts

It may still be Thanksgiving break at UNT, but the campus was full of people today for a momentous occasion: The final football game ever to be played at Fouts Field.

It was also the site of a ginormous alumni reunion for the UNT marching band, the Green Brigade, of which I was a member for four years during undergrad school, and around 150 alumni showed up to that gathering. Even though we went through a whole season of weather today (from the upper 30s when I woke up to the 60s to--seriously--a sunburn in the stands during the first half of the game), it was a day I won't soon forget.

Was it weird to march again? You bet! Considering that I hadn't been in a marching band of any kind since late in grad school (and even that was a fake band, assembled for a movie that was shot on campus at the time), or marched for real since my first senior year of undergrad--yeah, it was quite an unusual experience. (And the march into the stadium has been greatly expanded, leading me to tell the guy next to me, "I see why they also get P.E. credit for this class.")

A lot of things have improved with regard to the game-day experience since I was in school: the evolution of tailgating has been a welcome change; the Hospitality Deck--to which a friend of mine always has access for himself and guests--is a great hangout for alumni which I will miss at the new place; and the support of alumni has grown immensely in the intervening years (when I was in school, the students would show up really late--they still do--but they used to outnumber the alumni by a large margin, but now, the only reason the alumni side isn't full is that some of the seat-holders are out on the Deck).

If you've read the various posts I've written in the past few years regarding the new stadium, you might be surprised at what I'll say next: There's a part of me that will really miss Fouts Field. Sure, in my enthusiasm for the new stadium, I've often described Fouts in less-than-glowing terms (the words "white elephant" and "eyesore" are frequent choices, and there's no denying that every 4A and 5A high school in Texas plays in a nicer venue), but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a pretty big twinge of sadness when the UNT alma mater, "Glory to the Green," was played within its walls for the last time tonight. It may well be a white elephant, but it's our white elephant, and a lot of memories were made inside a place that I've visited at least once a year since I was 18. The new place will be fun and classy and shiny, but it will take some getting used to, that's for sure.

Now, as for the game itself? Well, we lost. But not by a lot, especially considering the opponent was a Big 12 team with a winning record. Still, I was very impressed with the work of interim head coach Mike Canales, who would seem to have been a favorite to take over the permanent job after two more victories and a very impressive job against 7-5 Kansas State. The team played with more energy than I'd seen all season, and they have definitely bought into what he's doing. Yet it appears that it was decided a few days ago to the job has been offered to someone else (but I'll save that topic for tomorrow).

So long, Fouts; I've spent a lot of time within your walls. Next year's experience will be different (and quite possibly more expensive), and it will be a great thing for the program long-term. But the memories created for UNT fans for the past 59 seasons will not soon be forgotten.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Notes From the Road

I had a quick little trip to Austin to spend Thanksgiving at my sister's; as always, I have thoughts from my time behind the wheel:
  • The designers of the interstate highway system, had they been more forward-thinking, should have designed separate, parallel roadways for cars and trucks; the two don't mix well a lot of the time.

  • I-35 should be six lanes wide all the way from D/FW to San Antonio.

  • The number of people I saw shivering on their shorts and flip-flops when I stopped for a break proved that it's always good to check the weather before you leave on your trip.

  • Wednesday night in Dallas, it was in the 70s. When I left yesterday morning, it was in the 40s. I eventually got ahead of the cold front by the time I hit Round Rock, and it rejoined me in Austin shortly after the big meal. I felt like I'd been through a whole year of seasons in about 18 hours.

  • In the Waco/Temple area, I saw a couple different locations of a used-car dealership called "Aaron's Autos." It's too bad they didn't use the double-A in both words; "Aaron's Aautos" would have been very catchy.

  • Speaking of car dealers, there's a multi-brand dealer on the Round Rock/Georgetown border named Don Hewlett; it's too bad that some of the old nameplates from early last century aren't still on the market, because it would be awesome in this day and age if Hewlett sold Packards.

  • Random occurrence of the trip: Running into one of my colleagues from school at Fazoli's in Waco. Evidently, he misses them being in the DFW area as much as I do.

  • And finally, the Czech Stop still rules.
Tomorrow, I'll do something I've never done as a blogger: Talk about my experience that day in a marching band.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Here are just a few things that I'm thankful for today:
  • My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; I wouldn't be anywhere without Him.

  • Family. My parents just left for a long-awaited trip to Germany, but I get to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family. And it's great that all of us are within a short day's drive of each other and don't have to mess with flying, buses, etc., to see each other.

  • Friends. I have some of the greatest friends that anyone could ever want. Even though we're getting a bit more far-flung now (I'm pretty sure that, for two of them, this is the first Thanksgiving they won't be spending at home with their families), we're always in each other's hearts, and when we get together next, it will be like no time has passed at all. (And a special shout-out to my brothers in Sinfonia, an amazing extended family from coast to coast.)

  • Health. A lot of people I know have had various health challenges this year; I'm grateful not to be one of them, since I spent a bit too much time in doctor's offices in '09.

  • Mobility. A year ago, I was five months out from my knee surgery, having ditched the cane and brace and finished physical therapy. But I was still a little gimpy for a while, and I'm happy to have regained my full stride and to even be able to run if I needed to do so.

  • Music. Few other things have the ability to uplift the spirit the way that music does. And I get to play and teach it for a living!

  • America. With all her faults, she's still the greatest nation that's ever been in existence. Where else would you want to live?
May this be a blessed and joyful day for you and yours.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This May Not "Fit" My LIfestyle, But It's Intriguing

As has been noted in these pages, I'm very happy with Kevmobile 2.0, which is a 2008 Honda Fit. And since I tend to drive cars a long time (I had the original Kevmobile for 11 years and 338,000 miles and its pre-owned successor for five), I won't be in the market for a new one anytime soon. Still, I'm intrigued by the electric version of my car that Honda is developing, the Fit EV Concept, which the company introduced me last week in an email. There's more info about it here and here, including lots of pictures.

But besides the fact that I have miles and miles to go before even thinking about a new car, there's another reason why I'm not sure that one of these could be Kevmobile 3.0, and it's found in this paragraph from the company announcement:
The Fit EV will achieve an estimated 100 miles driving range per charge using the US EPA LA4 City cycle (70 miles when applying EPA's adjustment factor), well more than the average number of miles driven daily by most commuters.
And while I don't usually drive that much in a given workday, there are certainly times where I'd surpass the 100-mile range (especially when visiting one of my far-flung fraternity chapters), and the EPA-adjusted 70-miles wouldn't even get me to Denton and back (so when I visited UNT, I'd have to find a good parking place and a plug for the car? Not likely...). Still, the technology is intriguing to me, and I'll be following this car as it prepares to hit this country in 2012.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Youre Not Even Going To Think About It, UNT? That's WAC!

An open letter to UNT Athletic Director Rick Villarreal:

Dear Rick:

I"m a long-suffering UNT alum who has been attending football games for many, many years. I struggled along with the team during all kinds of losing seasons, and I rejoiced during the New Orleans Bowl years, making my way out to the festivities on two occasions. I've endured the ribbing of my friends who went to school in the old Southwest Conference about our anonymous opponents in the old Southland Conference ("We're playing Tech this week, Kev; who's UNT playing?" "Umm, I think it's Northeast Louisiana. Or maybe Northwestern State. Not sure."), only to have some of those same anonymous schools turn up again in the Sun Belt.

Like most alums, I'm psyched about the new stadium; I drove by it last night when I was in town, and I was pleased to see that the "wing" section of the north end zone has been framed (even if I can't imagine anyone sitting in that one seat up at the very tip). And one of the things I was really hoping for was a chance for UNT to join a more prominent conference--one where us Joe Average Fans have actually heard of the schools. Conferences are in flux right now, and an article a few months ago said that UNT could certainly benefit from this. The WAC, for example, has come calling a few times; that would certainly be an upgrade.

So needless to say, I was really disappointed to read today that the WAC has indeed approached you, but you flat-out turned them down right away. What's up with that? Don't they at least deserve a listen?

Let's look at their lineup for a second. Sure, Boise State is leaving next year (but who needs an annual pummeling anyway?), and they'll be followed a year later by Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii (dang, no awesome away game!). But the conference still has San Jose State, Utah State, Idaho and New Mexico State, among others, and--here's the kicker--they're adding UT-San Antonio and Texas State in 2012. (Yes, never mind the irony of UNT playing Texas State--née Southwest Texas State--since "Texas State" was the name of the school "played" by UNT in the movie Necessary Roughness, and one of their opponents was Southwest Texas. Heh.)

Do you get that, Rick? We could have two in-state opponents instead of the closest one being in Louisiana! Don't you think some of our football recruits would like to play against their old high school friends at some other Texas schools? And some of the other WAC schools are at least places that most fans would recognize (sorry, we could be in the Sun Belt for another 20 years and I'd still get Florida Atlantic and Florida International mixed up.)

The article that I referenced quotes you as follows: “We made a commitment to a conference that we want to try to help continue to grow. We feel that there is a little more stability in the situation we are in today.” But Rick, doesn't stable equal boring sometimes? I don't see this as the same as leaving your stable, faithful spouse for a trophy wife or anything. And you talk about helping the conference grow; maybe it's time for the situation where the conference helps UNT a little more than the other way around. Do you know something we don't know about the WAC's future, or are you just afraid to make a bold move?

Sure, my pipe dream would be to have UNT in a conference with all Texas schools: SMU, Rice, Houston, etc. (TCU may well be out of reach now). But wouldn't a conference with at least some Texas schools be an upgrade?

I'm not sure how the fan base will react to this, Rick. I can only hope you know what you're doing in this regard, because, with the great steps forward being taken with the new stadium, not even giving the WAC the time of day sounds at best like spinning your wheels, and at worst perhaps a step backwards.

One final thing: I realize that it's possible that there is something even better on the horizon that you just can't talk about quite yet. If so, I'll retract the bulk of this letter in due time. But know that I'm not likely to be the only one who's frustrated right now.

Just another concerned alum

Monday, November 22, 2010


On this day, lo these many years ago, I became a brother in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity. During that time, I've had some unforgettable personal and musical experiences, met some amazing people, and gained an extended family that stretches from coast to coast. Tonight, I'll celebrate my fraterniversary with my home-bros at Gamma Theta at my alma mater, the University of North Texas, but my salute goes out to Sinfonians everywhere who have impacted my life. All Hail!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bad Memento = Good Art?

I played on a recording session yesterday afternoon, and, during the lulls in the proceedings, a lot of us were taking pictures with our phone-cams. I guess my camera hand must have been really shaky during the one I took, because this is how it turned out:

It may not have ended up as quite the treasured memento of yesterday afternoon that I had hoped it would be, but I think it scores extra points as a work of slightly avant-garde art.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kids Say the Darnedest Things, Week After Week

More funny kid stuff:

It's starting to be the time of the year where I help the students pick out solos for Solo and Ensemble contest in February. One particular solo--a Baroque transcription--is marked at a tempo at which nobody would ever play it; even if it were physically possible, it wouldn't be in any way musical.

When introducing this solo, I often joke that either the too-fast tempo is a misprint, or the arranger had consumed an entire case of Red Bull before sitting down to do the arrangement. When I said that this morning, the kid for whom I was demo-ing the solo came up with this gem:
"I wonder what Mozart would be like if he sat down at the piano after drinking a Red Bull."
Again, maybe you had to be there. But people on Facebook really liked the quote, so I figured I'd share it here. (And for what it's worth, I bet Mozart on Red Bull would be similar to Beethoven on the mall organ in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure; go here if you've never seen it.)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

At Day's End, The Waters Dance

The Shops at Legacy (North End), this evening. (I've photographed this fountain before...)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kids Say the Darnedest Things, Vol. LVII

More lesson levity this morning:

ME: Ok, this piece is in half-time feel, which means that the value of every note is doubled. So how much is a half note tied to a dotted quarter note usually worth?
KID: Three and a half beats.
ME: And how much is it worth in half-time?
KID: Six and a half.
ME: I'm going to enjoy teaching you during your second senior year.

(To the kid's credit, their school pretty much had yesterday off because of trimester exams, so today qualified as a sort of honorary Monday in terms of how out-of-it everyone was. I'm sure his math is a bit better than that most of the time...)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Throw the Bum('s Son) Out? Yeah, I Guess It Had to Be Done

I was away from the radio for a long time today, but I caught the news through the next-best source--the Facebook posts of my friends--that Jerry Jones had done an about-face and let Wade Phillips go as Cowboys head coach today. Despite that one-word vote of confidence that Jones gave to KRLD-FM ("The Fan") last week, it was clear that something had to be done after last night's 45-7 pasting at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. And though it made sense not to bring in a new coach from outside the program with next year's possible labor troubles looming large, it appeared that Jones may have actually been listening to the one possible idea that would circumvent all that: Promote Garrett and see what he could do with the team; could it possibly be any worse?

It was only a few short years ago that Garrett was the hottest young assistant in the NFL, turning down head-coaching offers from other teams in favor of remaining with the Cowboys as offensive coordinator/heir apparent to the top job. And now he has his wish, though this is certainly not the scenario under which he'd like to take over the position. The chatter of the past few weeks has been that it would no longer make sense to promote Garrett when a lot of the fan base considered him a part of the problem (it's not like the offense was shining before Tony Romo went down), but after the past few games, it was obvious that something--anything--had to be done.

It's too bad the Wade Phillips era had to end as it did. I grew up in Houston as an Oilers fan in the days when Wade was an assistant to his legendary father, Bum Phillips, and I hoped that the son could succeed here. I'm still not sure why the same players who went 11-5 just a year ago are suddenly mired at 1-7 at the season's halfway point, but it was obviously more than Mr. Fix-It could fix.

So Jones made a bold (for him) move, changing coaches in midseason for the first time. But will he make the bolder move--firing himself as GM and hiring a knowledgeable football person? He's been great at things such as building an amazing facility and promoting the team; why can't he stick to the things he does best and leave the football decisions to the experts? Is his ego still too big to allow himself to do that, or has this season finally humbled him?

UPDATE: Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News also promotes the Jones-should-fire-himself angle and states even more great reasons why this should happen.

Feel free to hit the comment button and chime in if you wish.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

As We Are Reunited With Daylight Wasting Time

It's not that I didn't appreciate the extra hour of sleep last night; I did. And it's not that I didn't get the bulk of my afternoon errands (post-judging, post-meeting; there was no rest for the weary this weekend) done before it got dark. And it was a lovely sunset in my rear-view mirror as I drove down the highway.

But that being said, it still bugged me that it was dark by 6 p.m. Not so much for today, mind you; the productive part of my day was done, and all I had left was to eat dinner and watch the Cowboys game (and what a bad idea that was!). But I'm thinking about the rest of the week. Because you know what? I really, really dislike Daylight Wasting Time.

And why?, you may ask. I still can't say it any better than I did in the 2003 post that inaugurated this topic:
I think the really depressing part of DWT is that it almost always gets dark before I'm done teaching now. It seems to me that if you don't finish work until after dark, you've worked too long. In a way, I know my days are too long, but at least I can hide behind a little denial if I get home while the sun is still out. DWT blows that all out of the water, and I'm forced to come to terms with my workaholic self. Bleh.
It's still like this, of course; Mondays go till 6:00, Tuesdays till eight, and Wednesdays go till 6:30. (It's pretty much always dark when I'm done on Thursdays, but I teach a night class that ends at 9:45, so that's par for the course.) That leaves me with only Fridays to still have daylight when the teaching day is done, and even then, I'm within an hour of sunset.

I'm happy that DWT has been made shorter and shorter lately by the gradual expansion of Daylight Saving Time, but it's still too much for me. But what can I do about it? Well, complain--just like now. But it's only once a year; thanks for indulging me here, and I'll counter this with a bit of rejoicing every spring.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Lesson Levity

I'm not sure how I forgot this yesterday, as I always like to post "funny kid" stories. Here's one from this week:

ME: OK, let's move on to the etudes; we're done with scales...OK, we're not really done with scales forever--just for today.
KID: No, no, I like the first idea. I'm done with scales! I'm done with scales forever!
ME: So you're breaking up with scales?
KID: It's not them; it's me.

Again, maybe you had to be there, but I thought it was funny.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Let's Wrap Up This Week With a Golden Tune

It's been a long week for me, and the weekend will be busy as well. So rather than engage in any punditry tonight, I'll offer up the one thing I like to share even more than opinions or stories: Cool music. Just like last night, here's one from the Esbjörn Svensson Trio--a version of the tune "Goldwrap" (originally recorded on the Tuesday Wonderland CD) from the live CD recording done in Hamburg, Germany in '07. No visuals as such, but sit back, listen and enjoy:

I still wish I'd known of this group during Svensson's lifetime, so I could have tried to catch them during one of their rare U.S. appearances.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Still One of the B-E.S.T. Bands I Never Got to See

I often have listening breaks during my evening combo--both to rest people's chops during a three-hour rehearsal and to turn the members of the group--who range from their teens to their 50s--onto cool music that they might not have heard before. Tonight's band of choice was the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T. for short), a group I had heard of over the years but didn't actually hear any of their music until a few weeks after Svensson's untimely passing three summers ago. Thankfully, the group left a large recorded legacy that can be enjoyed again and again.

I hadn't watched some of my favorite E.S.T. videos in a while, and I was disappointed to discover that a couple of them are no longer available on YouTube. But there's still a wealth of stuff out there, so enjoy this one, a live performance of "Dodge the Dodo" (I'm not sure how old it is, but Svensson had hair--lots of it, actually--in this video, as compared to the shaved-head look he favored later in life):

Listen, watch and enjoy. They don't make 'em like this too often.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This Legal Action Doesn't "Wash" with Me

The other day, I mentioned a clever T-shirt that a couple of Rangers fans had come up with a T-shirt that riffed on manager Ron Washington's signature mangled phrase, "That's the way baseball go." But the website that had been flooded with orders was suddenly forced to stop selling the shirts (right before I could order one, of course), and everyone suspected that--despite the fact that the T-shirt had nothing specifically referring to the Rangers or Major League Baseball on it, just the iconic catch phrase on one side and a caricature of Wash on the other--the fledgling company had somehow run afoul of the legal high sheriffs.

Unfortunately, everyone suspected correctly; they were given cease-and-desist orders by both MLB and Rangers attorneys. This threw the guys behind the company for a loop:
"It's bizarre that they would approach us at this point," said Seth Hayhurst, a co-creator of the shirt.

Hayhurst said his attorney plans to respond to the letters this morning and try to find a resolution.

"I hope for some kind of resolution where they aren't trying to squash the little guys who are trying to make the Rangers fans happy," he said.

The Rangers didn't return a call seeking comment, and an MLB spokesman said he was unaware of the situation.
If it were just the Rangers involved, I would hope that owner Chuck Greenberg--a lawyer himself--might include this in the "fan-friendly" moves that he's been making since acquiring the team. But if the league itself is involved, I'm not overly optimistic that an agreement can be reached.

But if they do, I'll be all over that T-shirt.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ode to a Great Season

I won't lie--I'm really bummed at how Game 5 of the World Series ended tonight. I really thought that the lineup the Rangers sent up to the plate in the top of the ninth could come through like they had all season long, but in the end, the unexpected juggernaut that is the Giants' pitching staff proved to be too much. I'd never heard of most of these guys before the Series started, but I sure won't disrespect the National League again any time soon.

It's easy right now to wallow in defeat and think of what might have been, but let's not lose sight of all the great things that happened this season: The first playoff series victory; first trip to an ALCS and winning of same; finally vanquishing the hated Yankees; first World Series, and first Rangers game in November, ever. Who would have imagined even half of that at the start of the season?

Sure, there are some problems that need to be solved. Keeping Cliff Lee for next season is of paramount importance, and finding a way to keep key players healthy for bigger chunks of the year would really help (imagine what things would have been like if Nellie, Josh and Ian hadn't missed so many games due to injury). A top-three pitching rotation of Lee, CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis would put the team in good shape, but the other two are question marks (can Tommy Hunter gain some consistency?). The first baseman of the future has arrived in the person of Mitch Moreland, and I sure hope Bengie Molina wasn't serious the other day about retiring.

And I can't wait to see the team enjoy a full year under the ownership of Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. For the first time in years, the team is on solid financial footing, with one co-owner who has the money to upgrade not only the team but the entire fan experience, and another one who's not only a local icon but has already turned the team around as club president. The future's looking bright, and I don't think it'll be another 41 years before the Rangers are in the World Series again (and if it does take that long, I'll be really freakin' old, so they'd better be selling wheelchair section tickets on StubHub.)

Congrats, Rangers, on a great season. I'm sorry it had to end this way, but I can't wait to see what next year will bring.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Let's Tell a Scary Story Again

It's easy to indulge in reruns on holidays (somewhat like they do on TV), but what could be better on Halloween than to post the one ghost story with which I'm intimately familiar?

So if you haven't seen it yet--or simply want to revisit it, much in the way that people will watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on an annual basis--please direct yourself to The Legend of Smith Hall. And happy 41st birthday to KNTU, the last entity to call the haunted house its home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Now That's the Way Baseball Go...

I wasn't able to watch any of tonight's World Series debut because of a gig, but I was discreetly checking updates on my phone once the playing portion was over, and I got to hear Eric Nadel call the final "HE STRUCK HIM OUT!" when Neftali Feliz got Jose Uribe to seal a 4-2 Rangers victory.

So what contributed most to the victory? The hitter-friendly confines of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington? The rabid home fans? The return of the DH to the game, in the form of Vlad Guerrero? My answer--from the sparse game accounts I was able to see and hear--would be "yes." But more than that, this team knew that it had to win tonight's game, or their collective backs would be so far up against the wall that it wasn't funny. Colby Lewis came through in the clutch again, and the bats started to reawaken.

Tonight's win guarantees yet another "first" in this magic season: A Rangers game in November. Who would have imagined that during spring training?

Let's do it again tomorrow night, guys!

And as for the weird saying that serves as the title of this post, it refers to a now-iconic utterance by Rangers manager Ron Washington that I evidently just missed being able to get on a T-shirt. Wash explains the phrase here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A View from the Top...

...of my price range, if I'd actually been paying:

I was at the American Airlines Center tonight for the Mavericks' home opener. Well, OK, I was at the home opener, but I really wasn't there for that game. Rather, I was there to watch the Rangers' World Series opener on the TV in a luxury suite, from where the above picture was taken. (The basketball game--which the Mavs did win--was purely incidental.)

It all started when a friend and I decided to get together to watch the Rangers, but the locale shifted throughout the preceding days. It may have originally been set for my living room, then it seemed likely to migrate to somewhere with a lot of TVs, like Humperdink's. But said friend had a corporate hookup, so that was how we found ourselves in the lap of luxury this evening.

And how luxurious is it? The bathroom mirrors double as animated billboards, for crying out loud:

I've now been to one Mavs game and one Stars game at AAC, and, seeing as how the latter was also in the expensive seats at a reduced price, I still have yet to visit that place as a "regular Joe." I hope I can keep lucking into deals like this in the near future.

(And of course, it was a horrible night for the Rangers, so it's obviously bad luck for me to watch the game in this manner. I promise not to do it again for the duration of the World Series!)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Idea Would Add Up For a Lot of People

Reading the op-ed page of the newspaper at lunch today, I came across a column that resonated with me. Here's a sample:
How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that – and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as "Quantitative Reasoning" improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work; nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.
The interesting part of all this is that the column was written by, of all people, a retired math professor. G.V. Ramanathan has also taught statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus (and may still be teaching in semi-retirement, as he holds professor emeritus status with the school). He goes on:
Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This "nation at risk" has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?
Ramanathan makes a good point, as far as I'm concerned; there's a big debate going on as to whether high schools need to prepare their entire populations for college, or if some students should be steered towards a more vocational track. But it appears that everyone takes four years of math now, and for those who take Algebra I in eighth grade (which seems to be nearly everyone these days), that means they'll be spending part of their senior years dealing with calculus...and if we're asking if everyone needs this much math, then we really have to ask if everyone needs calculus (a class which I managed to avoid entirely in my pursuit of two-and-a-half college degrees).

Read the whole thing; it's interesting to see someone in academia who understands that his discipline may not be for everyone.

Questions of the day: How much math did you take in high school? And should everyone have to take four years of math? Please "add" your response to the comment page.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Dog Days of October

Even though this was my first weekend off since August, I went to Austin for part of it. One reason was because I hadn't gotten to see my sister and her family in quite some time, and the nephews do grow up quickly, after all. The other reason was to be able to meet this little guy:

Say hello to my new four-legged "nephew," Fletcher. He's the newest in a series of Sheltie dogs in my sister's family, but unlike their previous ones, he's both smart and friendly. In fact, he loves people and is always eager to meet someone new. (And yes, he has a regular-sized tail; I'm just a crappy photographer at times.)

It was great to get away; before this weekend, my last trip of any kind was to a business meeting in Indiana back in July. I did all the usual bits of righteous road food that are characteristic of this trip--Fazoli's in Waco, the Czech Stop in West, and so on. I'm pretty exhausted right now, and this week (like all of them lately) will be quite busy, but it was worthwhile. The grind resumes tomorrow...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tonight, There Is Joy in Mudville

Over an hour after the end of the game, it's still sweet to type this sentence: The Texas Rangers are going to the World Series! But believe me, it rolls sweetly off the fingers...

I've been a Rangers fan for the past 24 years, or at least that's when I attended my first game (against these Yankees; I looked it up). A few years in, I got to enjoy the thrill of the Nolan Ryan era, when people decided which games to attend by which night he was on the mound. Later on, I enjoyed the thrill of a brand-new ballpark and the first playoff years. And other times, I spent many hours watching some mediocre teams, and a few outright bad ones. Also--being one of those who enjoys baseball on TV and radio, not just in person--the team has seen me through many a night off and more than a few long drives. I may have grown up an Astros fan, but the Rangers integrated themselves into the fiber of my being as an adult.

When the final out was imminent, I turned down the TV sound and cranked KRLD on the clock radio from the next room; Eric Nadel deserved to be the one I heard make the final call. I was on my feet for that entire last at-bat, just like everyone in the ballpark, and I did my share of jumping up and down at game's end. (And how sweet was it that A-Rod struck out to end the game! As a friend of mine commented on Facebook, A-Rod finally sent the Rangers to the World Series. Nice.)

Did I tear up a bit when all this went down? You bet. But not right away; I was (literally) jumping for joy at first. What got me was the postgame interview with series MVP Josh Hamilton; of course, he started out by praising God, and right after that, he deflected all the credit to his teammates, and it hit me that Nolan Ryan had done the exact same thing after the game where he got his 5,000th strikeout (a game I had the privilege to attend). And now Nolan is co-owner and team president, and it sure seems that the team-first attitude is being taught from the top of the organization. Not only is it great to see our team win the pennant, but it's great to see this team do it; from all indications, they're a bunch of stand-up guys.

When Rangers Ballpark was being built, I was finishing up my stint at KNTU, for whom I'd occasionally go and report on a game. As I watched the structure take shape, I made a few promises to myself: 1) I would be there on opening night. 2) I would be at the All-Star game whenever it was held there. 3) I would be at the first playoff game hosted there. And in due time, all these things came true. But now, with the World Series coming to Arlington next weekend, I'll probably need a lottery win in order to get tickets (if only I'd had the $75 to spare a week ago when tickets went on sale!). But maybe this will come through as well; I have a week to get things together.

As I went on a late-night grocery run after the game, a couple of kids joyfully ran ahead of me into the store, shouting happily. One of them looked back and me and said, "Woooo, Rangers." My reply: "You got that right; I've been waiting for this since before you were born." No matter what happens next weekend, I'm going to enjoy this moment for a while.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In the End, He Couldn't Dodge This Bullet

The news itself wasn't surprising at this point, but the timing was: The UNT athletic department chose today to fire Todd Dodge as head football coach:
Dodge came to UNT before the 2007 season, fresh off winning his fourth Class 5A title in his last five seasons at Southlake Carroll High School — rolling up a 79-1 record in those five years. He was never able to replicate that success at UNT and finished with a 6-37 record with the Mean Green.

Dodge never won more than two games in a season and was 1-6 just past the halfway point of his fourth campaign.

“While coach Dodge has done some great things with our men between the lines, it rolls out to 6-37,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “The decision is not based on the last seven games. It’s about a body of work over the last 3 1/2 years, and at this point I believe we should have been much further along.”

Offensive coordinator Mike Canales, who is in his first season at UNT after serving for three seasons as coordinator at the University of South Florida, will take over as interim head coach. The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
This is disappointing to me, even if pretty much everyone expected it to happen at the end of the season. As I noted when Dodge was first hired back in December of '06, I think that he's a class act, and he definitely helped bring about some new enthusiasm for the program, which resulted in, among other things, the favorable vote for the new stadium that's under construction across the street from the aging white elephant that is Fouts Field. And while I don't know for sure whether all the losses this season could be attributed to Dodge's coaching, I wonder what anyone else could have done with a team that's been as decimated by injuries as this year's squad has been.

So, two quick questions to ponder:
  • Todd Dodge will certainly land on his feet again, most likely at the high school level where he excelled for so many years. Which area high school do you predict will snap him up?

  • Who would you like to see as the new coach of the Mean Green for next year?
The comments are open; fire away.

Monday, October 18, 2010


The good guys win again; what else can I say? Cliff Lee is still a beast (I think there's a new "Mr. October" in baseball), and the Rangers continue to vanquish old ghosts.

One of these days, my blog posts will be longer than glorified tweets, but it's hard to get a lot of work done with meaningful baseball this late in October. Still, what fun it is!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Behind the Green Red Door

The newest "renovation" of Casa de Kev, done yesterday:

(And most of it took place while I was teaching. Thanks to Mom and Dad for the help.)

My door hadn't been painted since I bought the house over nine years ago, and it just seemed like it was time for a change. And I've watched enough HGTV to know that all the cool kids paint their doors red now, and, after getting a number of color chips and plastering them up there, I found one that I liked. I think it adds a lot to the entryway, even if the door itself is somewhat secluded from the street.

I'm off to UNT Homecoming today. More later.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Association Day

On this day in 1995, a group of brothers in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, meeting at what was then called Friday's Front Row Grill at the Ballpark in Arlington (site of a hopeful Rangers victory tonight!), voted to form what we now know as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Area Alumni Association. We're the oldest of the modern-era alumni groups in the fraternity, and we're still going strong. (The anniversary of our founding, coming nine days after the national Founders Day, often gets lost in the shuffle, so I'm plastering this news in as many places as possible today in an attempt to rectify that situation.)

Thanks to those who have built upon what we started that day, and may our banner truly "float for aye"! (And if you're a Sinfonian in the DFW area who has stumbled across this post, please hit the second link above to contact the organization; we'd love to see you!)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Fifty years of franchise futility came to an end tonight; what more can be said? (And if, as I predict, I end up being too excited to sleep for a while, I might come back and say more later.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Beautiful Day in a Beautiful Hall

I've hyped this for a few weeks now, strictly on the basis of an "artist's rendering" picture from UNT's website. But I'm happy to say that the beautifully-renovated and newly-christened Voertman Hall is absolutely gorgeous:

View from the inside entrance

View from the stage

The concert went extremely well, and we helped break the place in with everything from big band to rock band, and from full chorus to "chanted" chorus. This is a great addition to the College of Music's facilities, it repurposes an aging venue in fine fashion, and it will be the home of great music for decades to come. Kudos to all who were involved in the planning and construction of this wonderful room.


Here we are again--the day when all three numbers of today's date converge in two-digit form everywhere in the world (even the places that would call today 10 October 2010). I've been blogging about this phenomenon for the past five years, and, as noted before, I'll almost certainly keep it up all the way through 12/12/12.

As for today, I'm spending the bulk of the day in Denton for the annual Sinfonia Founders Day Concert, where I get to direct the province-wide big band in its one gig of the year. It starts at 3:30 p.m., admission is free, and it's in the newly-renovated Paul Voertman Concert Hall that I talked about a few weeks ago. Seeing the hall itself would be reason enough to come to the concert, plus you'll get to hear the music of talented Sinfonians from around the North Texas area.

Also, the One O'Clock Lab Band is taking its CD release party to Ft. Worth tonight, celebrating Lab 2010 on 10/10/10 off-campus at McDavid Studio in much the same way it did with its 2009 effort on campus a year ago last month. If you're in the area, it's something not to be missed.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

A Glimpse of the Future at My Alma Mater

(The new stadium that's under construction at UNT, as seen from the parking lot of the current one.)

It's a shame that there will likely be a new coaching staff leading the Mean Green into this place next fall, as the team can't seem to steal a win this season. Tonight's loss was by a mere five points, which has been par for the course this season. With the team's record at 1-5, it would take a miracle to save the Todd Dodge regime; can the guys pull it off over the next month and a half?

Among the good things that happened in the game: Four field goals by Zach Olen, and fourth-string quarterback Chase Baine did pretty well, and--unlike most of his predecessors this season--came back from an injury scare to rejoin the game. He was replaced by Riley Dodge for one series, who was playing with a broken wrist on his non-throwing hand.

Can this season still be salvaged? Next week's homecoming game should tell us a lot.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

All Hail!

On this day in 1898, a group of men at the New England Conservatory decided to form a club for the male musicians at the school, who were massively outnumbered by the women at the time. Since then, the "Sinfonia Club" has grown into Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, which boasts over 200 collegiate chapters and alumni associations nationwide. It's also an organization in which I've had the privilege of spending virtually my entire adult life in some sort of active involvement.

Happy Founders Day, my brothers. And may the Sinfonia's banner "float for aye."

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Today Was a Walk in the Park


I visit Southlake Town Square about once a month, during my break between church and my monthly alumni meeting in the Mid-Cities, and I'm really glad that the weather is nice enough to take long walks through the place again.

Some days are just too nice to spend inside, so the incomplete blog posts will have to wait a little bit.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Words to Live By

I'm enjoying a partial four-day weekend right now (the "partial" part means that I'll be teaching college as usual on Monday and Tuesday, but the public schools are off, and any day that doesn't require waking up at 6 a.m. counts as a "holiday" in my book), so I'll be catching up on many, many incomplete blog posts in the next few days. But in the meantime, I had to post this great quote from James Lileks in his Thursday Bleat. Earlier in the day, he had words with his daughter, who was updating something and nearly missed her school bus. Eventually, the subject came around to work:
You work, you fill up the day, you tote it up when the day is done, and figure you earned your stint on the right side of the dirt. I have the usual panoply of failings as a person and a parent, but I think I’ve instilled in my daughter one lesson: make something every day. Make something that wasn’t there before. Produce. It’s what we’re here to do, after all.
Amen and amen. And those last three sentences should be printed out and plastered on the bathroom mirrors of everyone who works in government, not to mention those who believe that said government should take care of them, rather than relying on their own personal productivity.

End of sermon. Have a great day! Updates linked as they get completed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This Band Will Need a Hand

This was all over Facebook and various forums today, and my heart goes out to these kids and their director: The Powahatan High School Marching Band from Virginia pretty much lost all their stuff--instruments and brand-new uniforms which had only been worn twice--when their storage trailer caught fire soon after a return from an out-of-town competition this past weekend.

As noted in the video, there was a lot of time spent doing fundraising to get the new uniforms and equipment, and I'm sure there will be some sort of fund set up to help these folks; I'll post an update here as soon as I find out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

We're Still Having Fun, and They're Still the "One"*

Everyone has their own early-autumn rituals, and one of mine is making the very short trek to UT-Dallas on the last Friday in September to see the One O'Clock Lab Band perform about as close to my backyard as they get. Director Steve Wiest, a former college classmate of mine, calls this performance their "first real breakout gig" of the new year after a few early appearances on campus in the Syndicate (which I had to miss this year due to an obligation with my Region Jazz students) and the One O'Clock Lounge (which seems appropriate enough, doesn't it?).

It's always impressive how this band can put together a concert at such a high level in such a short time, especially considering the fact that there's often quite a bit of turnaround from the previous semester (this year, it's two new saxophones, two new trumpets, three new trombones and an entirely new rhythm section). Whether playing things from the new CD, Lab 2010 (which they had to learn in its entirety in about three days' worth of rehearsals for the Syndicate gig) or timeless One O'Clock classics from decades past, the band progresses seamlessly from year to year without missing a beat (*insert rim shot if desired*).

This year's concert opened with the Grammy-nominated "Got a Match?" from Lab 89, and the band made its way flawlessly through the intricate lines (which Chick Corea originally wrote to be played just by himself and John Patitucci). Since Lab 2010 was for sale in the lobby at intermission, a generous selection of tunes from the new CD were sprinkled throughout the evening, including "Prime Directive" (a Dave Holland tune arranged by student Josh Dresser), "The Oracle" by student Kevin Swaim, Director Emeritus Neil Slater's "Not Yet," and current director Wiest's "New Cydonia."

Closing the first half was a tribute to Director Emeritus Leon Breeden, who passed away in August. The triumvirate of tunes opened with "Willow Weep for Me" (performed by Breeden himself on clarinet on his final album with the band, Lab '81, and masterfully done tonight by Brian Clancy, who holds the lead tenor chair in the band) and was followed by a mash-up of two Lou Marini compositions from the '60s, "Looking with New Eyes" (which started out with a flowing melody to which one might picture Mary Tyler Moore walking through downtown Minneapolis, before descending into wonderful chaos) and "Hip Pickles" (a screaming blues-rock romp).

Certain things are expected at a One O'Clock Concert: Will they play some Stan Kenton? Of course they will; this time, it was the wonderful Marty Paich arrangement of "Body and Soul," featuring new pianist Colin Campbell. Will they choose the two-minute barn-burner "Machito" as an encore? Well, for a second it appeared that they wouldn't this year, choosing instead the fine Bret Zvacek arrangement of "Harlem Nocture" that opens Lab 85 (which would be my personal choice as the next "old" recording to be re-released on CD). But that generated enough applause at the end to warrant playing an "encore to the encore," so the tune I've dubbed a "two-minute, eighteen-second ball of energy" did indeed end the concert on a good (and very high) note.

Somebody asked me at intermission if I preferred the Wiest version of the One O'Clock to that of Slater; my initial answer was that it would be very hard to choose between my former professor (Slater), whose offering of a spot directing lab bands for two years in grad school set the stage for most of what I do now, and my longtime friend and former schoolmate (Wiest). But I also added this: I think that Wiest has brought some new youthful energy to the band (he may be in his early fifties, but I've considered him a "young soul" for the entire time we've known each other). He's also taken the band in some daring new directions (sure, some things get a little more "out" at times, but as I've noted before, the older I get, the "outer" I like). Besides, no matter how much some tunes seem to leave the planet at times, they're always anchored by that underpinning of swing that's so vital to good jazz.

I'm also quite impressed with some of the little touches that Wiest has added to the band--most notably, the increased attention to dynamics; the One O'Clock has long been known as the "higher, faster, louder" band, but Wiest has expanded the dynamic spectrum to include a lot of softer passages in certain places. It's extremely effective, and it's more than a casual nod to those pioneers of big band, the Count Basie Orchestra, whose dynamic range varied from a whisper to a scream. I also enjoy the things that Wiest does with the rhythm section during certain solos--adding stop-time or allowing the time to get very loose and combo-ish on occasion.

As noted many times before, I received both of my degrees from UNT, and you already know of my ties to the director, so I realize that all of this could just come off as excessively rooting for the home team. But I've never been hesitant to offer constructive criticism when necessary; it's just that, more often than not, all I can do is rave about what the One O'Clock is doing. This is one of those times.

*Did I really just riff on the lyrics of a rock song from a '70s two-hit wonder for the title of my jazz concert review? Why yes, I did.

Well wishes: I should also include a shout-out to my longtime friend Micah Bell, the new second trumpet player in the band, who's been sidelined by illness this week and had to miss tonight's gig. Get well soon, Micah, and I look forward to seeing you play in the band before long.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "That last piece you played? I can't hum it...any of it."--Old-timer at the concert, to Steve Wiest during intermission. (And the guy had just the right Southern accent so that it really came out as "Ah cain't hum it." Priceless...)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Concert Hall Edition

I don't get up to visit my alma mater, UNT, nearly as much as I used to a few years ago, but I've been there enough to be aware that the Concert Hall--the major performance venue of the College of Music until the opening of the Murchison Performing Arts Center in 1999, and a hall that was, until now, virtually unchanged since the opening of the older portion of the Music Building in 1960--was undergoing a massive renovation, and I also knew that it was about to have a "soft" opening in the next few weeks. But until today, I had no idea that it would be this beautiful:

Nor did I know that it was being named after a major Denton figure whose name is known to virtually everyone in town. Here's the skinny:
A redesigned concert hall in the University of North Texas Music Building will be unveiled this fall, after a $6.4 million renovation project to create a more intimate performance space, enhance the acoustics and install state-of-the-art equipment.

Formerly known as the Concert Hall, the performance space has been renamed The Paul Voertman Concert Hall in honor of Denton philanthropist Paul Voertman (pronounced "VERT-mun").

"We are thrilled with this transformation of a tired, worn-out and dated hall into a beautiful and acoustically splendid space that will serve our students and faculty for their many performances of solo and small ensemble music," said UNT College of Music Dean James C. Scott. "There is no doubt that Voertman Hall will house more of our performances than any other College of Music space."
Read the full story here.

The Concert Hall was always something of a white elephant when I was in school; the design was plain, the seats were bulky metal with worn cushions (and they creaked when the seat bottoms went up and down), and it was starting to show its age (I'll never forget when a large fluorescent light bulb just fell out of its socket and crashed onto the back of a [thankfully unoccupied] seat a few rows away from me during a recital). It was too big for most recitals (it seemed cavernous whenever it was less than half full), and it was almost too small for the large ensemble concerts. It was definitely due for a makeover, and it looks like those involved have outdone themselves with this effort.

As Dean Scott noted above, this venue should be the perfect complement to the 250-seat Recital Hall (also in the Music Building) and the 1,025-seat Winspear Performance Hall in the Murchison Center. I'm looking forward to seeing this venue in person very soon, and when I do, I'll pass along my thoughts (and an actual picture or two).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Todd and Co. Can't Dodge a Bullet Right Now

I didn't get to hear all of today's UNT/Army game on the radio, as I had a lunchtime engagement (one at which it would have been rude to constantly check the scores on my phone). But it wasn't looking good when I got out of the car at noon, and when I came back, the game had just ended, and it was bad news once again: The Mean Green lost to Army, 24-0, falling to 0-3 on the year.

And once again, the game wasn't a blowout in the beginning, and that's been the story all season so far. They played Clemson tough for the first half; they very well could have beaten Rice last week. And in the first half of today's game, they held the ball for far longer than Army and kept things close, only trailing 7-0 when I got out of the car. It's been close--oh, so close--but since this isn't horseshoes, hand grenades or atom bombs, close doesn't count. And I'm afraid that if this ship doesn't right itself pretty soon, Todd Dodge won't get to reap the benefits of the new stadium that I'm sure has been a key part of recruiting for the past several years.

The worst thing is this: If the team does have a losing season, it can be blamed on something largely out of Coach Dodge's control: Injuries. This paragraph pretty much tells the whole story:
Injury woes have taken their toll on the Mean Green this year, and hit home again at West Point. After losing center Nick Leppo in the game's second series, quarterback Derek Thompson left the game with a leg injury. Starting receiver Christopher Bynes also left the game with injury, making nine starters lost to injury this year.

Thompson was filling in for Nathan Tune, who left last week's game against Rice with a hip injury, and Riley Dodge was once again called into action.
And remember, Riley Dodge used to be the starting QB himself, until he was switched to receiver because of...wait for it...injuries. And Leppo was filling in at center for J.J. Johnson, who was lost for the season to a foot injury in the opener against Clemson. So that means that, by the second quarter yesterday, the third-string center was snapping to the third-string emergency the third game of the season. It makes one wonder if the team will eventually run out of players at this rate.

Granted, there are still a lot of games left to go, including the entire conference schedule. One could find hope in the fact that the Green have hung in there well against their non-conference foes. But considering what happened earlier tonight, when Texas A&M barely beat Florida International, a Sun Belt team, earlier tonight, it reminds us that the conference won't exactly be a cakewalk either.

I haven't given up hope yet, but these injuries are killing North Texas. I still believe in Coach Dodge, and I'd love to see him still in charge when the new stadium opens next season, but things have to get back on track very soon.