Archive for November, 2008

A Thanksgiving Gift I Didn’t Deserve (But Surely Did Appreciate)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

I’ve always been a bit of the absent-minded professor – the guy who can spontaneously discourse on the Second Punic War, with my zipper all the way down.

So it came as absolutely no surprise to me this week when I lost my wallet – again. I chronically leave my wallet and/or cellphone at the grocery store cashier’s stand, but usually catch my mistake before leaving the parking lot. Or I will be at the gas station or airport, only to discover my wallet is on my dresser at home.

This week, however, I outdid myself. For reasons too stupid to explain, I set my wallet on top of the car – forgot about it – then drove off. I made it to my destination, buy my wallet didn’t.

When I realized my boneheaded error, I flashed on all those radio ads offering protection against identity theft. (It probably doesn’t work after your wallet is gone.) I canceled all my credit cards, and was planning a trip to the driver’s license bureau, when my phone rang.

A construction worker had found my wallet, lying in a busy street. At some peril to himself, he picked it up. Not being fluent in English, he gave it to his supervisor, who then called me. Within the hour, I had it back – safe and sound.

So – the next time somebody tells me how rotten the world is today – I’ll respond that my wallet came back to me, thanks to the honesty of two guys I didn’t even know. Either of them could have helped themselves to a free tank of gas at my expense (or a trip to Australia). Or, they could have simply done nothing. Instead, not one, but two different strangers re-confirmed the brotherhood we all share. Their selflessness made this Thanksgiving extra sweet at our house.

I am one lucky knot-head. And even I can remember that!

Working With A Weird-Shaped Room

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Twice in the past two weeks, my band was hired to play receptions in private clubs perched atop high-rise office buildings. Each had stunning views, which more than offset the idiosyncratic characteristics of the rooms. But boy, they did have idiosyncrasies.

The first venue was shaped like an old fashioned telephone receiver, with two large areas at either end linked by a long, narrow section of the room. This left no place for the band to set up where we could be seen and heard relatively equally. In order for all guests to know about the first dance and cutting of the cake (your Granny gets ticked if she misses those special moments), we simply added one extra speaker in the far end of the room. That speaker was only used to convey announcements, and it worked perfectly. Those who wanted to be near the band could be, while those who preferred the (relative) quiet at the far end of the room could still be aware of all significant happenings.

Our second performing space was in a great spot for all to see and hear (yet not hear more than they wanted). But a bay window set into that part of the penthouse cut our band’s set-up space by half. We solved that problem by adjusting how much equipment (as well as which equipment) we brought to the party. Again, everything worked fine.

But, please note that – in both the examples detailed above – the key to success was that we were able to adapt our normal way way of setting up to the realities of the rooms. And we were only able to accomplish that by having had extensive conversations with our brides in advance. By knowing where we were going to be set up and what their expectations were, we could plan out our solutions – prior to showing up at the site. Also, in both cases, we brought special equipment – something we wouldn’t have known to do without talking things through with our brides.

So – for that perfect music at your reception – be sure to tell your bandleader or deejay everything they need to know about both your needs and about their playing area. A weirdly-shaped room provides special challenges, but – together – you and your music provider can conquer them.

When The Going Gets Tough…

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Current Not-So-Funny Joke:

A wife sees her husband at the computer.
She: What are you doing?
He: Checking up on our 201K.
She: Honey – we have a 401K.
He: Not any more.

If you really want to know how the economy is doing, just ask a musician. We are always reliable early-recession-warning devices. What do I mean?

Well, for starters, I played last New Year’s Eve with a 7-piece band. This year, we’ll be a quartet.

Item 2: Recently, my band was one of 2 finalists for a corporate job early next year. We got the job, mainly because we are also able to teach Country-Western dancing. (Hiring the other group would have required spending extra money on a separate dance instructor.)

Which brings up the central point of this entry – tough economic times result in fewer parties and/or scaled-down parties. But you don’t want your party to be any less fun. So what can you do?

My answer? Hire smaller bands whose members each do more. My friend Vicho Vicencio has gone to the trouble and expense to create special musical arrangements that allow him to cut his big band from 10 (or more) members to 7, yet still sound full. Another friend, Craig Wensel, uses “sequencing” (pre-recorded elements) on his keyboard, resulting in 2 or 3 live musicians who sound like a much larger band. In my own group, all the players also sing. Most play multiple instruments as well.

As mentioned, I teach Country (and Ballroom) dance steps. I can also be an auctioneer, a deejay, a program, and a cocktail hour or wedding ceremony pianist. When budget belts tighten, such free extras as my friends and I offer are Manna From Heaven for party planners. They mean that most audience members aren’t even aware of the financial cutbacks. To them, the parties are as full and fun as ever.

For bands to survive economic downturns, they have to either do more, charge less – or both. You can turn this to your advantage at your next party. At a time when the costs on everything else are going up, careful shoppers can either save money on music, or get more for the same entertainment dollar.

These tough times could be great times for you.

And You Thought “John Smith” Was A Common Name…

Monday, November 17th, 2008

A former classmate of mine wrote recently to commend me for co-authoring a book called Swimming After 50. There was just one eensy-teensy problem: the Dave Tanner who actually wrote it is a Physiology professor – not a piano player.

Today, I heard from someone looking for my Big Band arrangement of “Night And Day.” The trouble is, that Dave Tanner is a Jazz guitarist and arranger in England – not Texas.

Nor am I the upright bass-playing Dave Tanner of the Latin-Country fusion group “Brazilbilly” – although I sure do wish I’d thought of that name and concept before they did.

And – needless to say – I’m neither the UK coach, or the rugby player, nor the California insurance-selling Dave Tanner. To my eternal regret, I’m also not the inventor of “Famous Dave’s Tanner.” (If my Mom and Dad had known there would be this much confusion, they’d have probably named me “Dweezil” or “Moon Unit.”)

However, I’m happy to report that – as nearly as I can tell – all bearers of the name David (it means “beloved” in Hebrew) Tanner (it means… well, you figure it out) have done a good job in their chosen fields, and have not disgraced the name for the rest of us. I mean, somewhere in the world, there’s probably a very nice guy called “Lee Oswald,” or “so-in-so Hitler.” Through no fault of their own, they’ve gone through their entire lives being on the receiving end of suspicious stares every time their names are called out.

The Dave Tanners, on the other hand, are still welcomed by polite society throughout the US and UK. At some of the nice places I play, they don’t even count the silverware when I leave – any more.

Now – if only I can get all those Tanner boys to point the folks who mistakenly contact them, but are looking for me – to throw that business my way, I should be set for life.

After all – we Dave Tanners are like Starbucks – there’s one of us on almost every corner!

Open Mouth – Insert Foot

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Impromptu remarks at a social gathering – be they toasts, words of welcome, or expressions of thanks – should always be brief, G-rated, and sincere. Please notice that I didn’t say they should necessarily be funny.

A very special few folks have a gift for humor, and seem to have that magical ability to spontaneously say something which is amusing (or even downright hilarious). Sadly, most of us don’t have that knack. Thus, the clever bon mot we intended to deliver comes out as a lame, and sometimes even offensive blooper that we wish to God we could take back.

(I know from whence I speak. Just last month, I tried to lighten up what I thought was an altogether too serious discussion at my church. My attempt failed miserably, and I felt like a total jackass.)

No one is ever offended by a short, sweet, sincere statement. It’s only when we try to be stand-up comics that we stuff our feet squarely into our mouths. What was intended to be witty comes out as half-witted instead.

Also, when we are nervous (as we tend to be when speaking publicly), our delivery of even the funniest of material is adversely affected. We sound strained, and the humor of our words is lost.

None of us likes to embarrass ourselves. The sad thing is – nobody makes us do so. These are all self-inflicted wounds.

So my November Resolution is to keep my comments quick, clean, and straight from the heart. I’d rather be remembered as the guy who said the nicest thing than as the class clown. If you do the same, you’ll kick yourself much less often.

Speaking To The Band With One Voice (And One Set Of Directions)

Monday, November 10th, 2008

I’m a married man, so I’m used to following orders.

But twice lately, my band and I have played for parties where multiple – and competing – directions have been issued. This has left us in the unenviable position of ticking somebody off – no matter what we did.

At both events, the persons giving us orders were (a.) the event chairman and (b.) the organization’s president. Thus, with one person nominally in charge of the evening, and the other the top officer of the group, both had a good claim for being allowed to issue instructions to the band.

Unfortunately, at both gatherings, the prez and the party chair had – shall we say – opposing “visions” of how the music should played. In each case, the president was ready for us to play livelier, louder, and more recent songs significantly earlier than the chairperson was.

This is sort of like having one person lower the thermostat, only to have another crank it up again a few minutes later. The party goes from cold to hot, over and over again. For the poor guests, it makes for a weird night.

In both cases, my sense was that the event chairs, who had been working on their particular evenings for months, knew where (and at what pace) they wanted the parties to proceed. I’m guessing that the presidents may have been on the receiving end of comments from guests who were ready to “goose” it a little ahead of the rest of the crowd. Rather than go through channels by passing the suggestions on to the party chairmen for their approval, the chief executives took executive action (which is – I suppose – their executive privilege.)

President Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office saying “The buck stops here.” Parties benefit from a similarly singular authority figure. At weddings, this is easy – whatever pleases the bride usually makes everyone else happy as well. But other social events don’t have the same clear cut big kahunas. And multiple voices giving the band contradictory instructions is a guaranteed way to please no one.

To avoid anarchy at your next event – decide up front who is going to be the band liaison. If Daddy’s paying, it can be him. Or – if the party is in your honor – it can be you. But this is a choice that somebody needs to make in advance. Otherwise, the delicate souffle that is your evening will be ruined by having too many cooks add their individual touches. Your party will be the loser.

Introduce the band’s boss to them at the beginning of the evening, so that everybody knows who is in charge. After that, all other would-be bosses should simply relax and enjoy the party, because the band is no longer their problem.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall. (Cast my vote for United.)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

“It ain’t over ’till the fat lady sings.” Or, as Yogi Berra once said (with his usual illogical-logic), “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” But the trouble is – in American politics today – it ain’t ever really over.

The machinations may not be played out as publicly as they were in the “hanging chad” debacle of the 2000 presidential election, but you can bet that across the fruited plain, would-be congressmen, senators, governors, and yes – even presidents – are poring over yesterday’s exit polls and vote tallies to plot the strategies that they hope will sweep them into office, next time around. The races for 2010 and 2012 begin now.

Which is too bad for joes like me, ’cause I’m sick of the whole thing. I’m tired of spin doctors, attack ads, and endless empty promises (which at least have the virtue of being cheaper than endless fulfilled promises.) I’m fed up with rabid partisans, especially of the pundit class, who see our country only in terms of “us” and “them.” According to these guys, the U.S. map is a collection of red and blue states.

What a bunch of cow wabunga! My particular county of my supposedly red state is decidedly blue. Closer to home, my neighborhood is about evenly split. Even my own personal ballot is usually a mix of so-called “red” and “blue.” So I don’t buy into the divisiveness that compartmentalizes our nation into “us” and “them.” I may disagree with the votes some of my neighbors and family members make, but they remain my neighbors and family. We are all still “us” – at least, as far as I’m concerned (and I hope they feel the same.)

My wife Gina has a friend, a grandmother whose child went through nasty divorce. The grandma continues to maintain cordial relations with the ex-spouse. Why? For the sake of her grandchildren, and to ensure her ability to be involved in their lives, she is willing to assume that the ex ultimately wants what is best for the kiddos. Thus, despite all that separates them, they can both agree on doing right by the grandchildren.

What our nation needs (and has needed for decades) are politicians who are willing – for the sakes of all our grandchildren – to do the same thing as Gina’s friend. They must see the whole country as “US” – spelled “U.S.” Sure, 300 million Americans are never going to agree on everything, but true statesmen always seem to find a way to appeal to our better instincts – to the “us” in all of us. And that kind of leadership transcends “red” and “blue.” Anyone running for office on that platform is guaranteed to get my vote. I just hope they declare themselves soon.

Otherwise, that fat lady is going to be singing for us. And friends, she’s warming up her vocal cords – right now.

“My Fellow Americans…”

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Tomorrow, Supreme Court willing, American voters will elect a new President of the United States. And, based on a thoroughly non-scientific analysis of the yard signs in my neighborhood, about 49.9% of us are going to be ticked.

The U.S. of A has been dis-united throughout the last several election cycles, with so-called “red” and “blue” states (nominally in favor of one candidate or the other), almost as divided as the nation itself. This means that the winning candidates – even as they make their inaugural speeches – know that nearly half the people listening do so through clenched teeth.

The victor’s words have the potential to begin the healing process. Unfortunately, not all the winners take advantage of that opportunity. In his 2nd inaugural address, U.S. Grant said: “I have been the subject of abuse and slander scarcely ever equaled in political history, which today I feel that I can afford to disregard in view of your verdict, which I gratefully accept as my vindication.”

Or in other words, to my critics: “nanny-nanny boo-boo.”

But Thomas Jefferson, though he had been accused of atheism, miscegenation, cowardice in time of war, and of being the offspring of a baboon, took the high road: “Let us then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social harmony and intercourse that harmony and affection without which Liberty and even life itself are but dreary things.”

Beautifully said (although I would caution any politician today to be careful advocating a restoration of “intercourse.” Word meanings change, from time to time.)

The best of all healing inaugural addresses came from Abraham Lincoln, who gave us a glimpse of what Reconstruction might have been, had he lived: “With malice toward none, with charity for all… let us strive on… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and all nations.”

For the sake of our country, I hope our next President’s inaugural address strikes a similarly uplifting theme.

It’s so much better than “nanny-nanny boo-boo.”