May 12th, 2013
Dr. Kennedy Shultz once shared some amazing advice with me. If you wonder if there's a power in the universe that is there to help you grow and prosper, just stop to look at your fingernails. Watch your fingernails grow.
We don't know how to do this, how to make our body rejuvenate, grow, get stronger. We do not know how to make our fingernails grow! We know things that we CAN do to help the process, but none of us knows how our fingernails grow. There is just an intelligence in us, in the universe, from God….however YOU want to phrase it…that DOES know this and is doing it for us.
So our job is to not get in the way. We know that we need to fuel our body with good foods, give it exercise, get rest, keep stress low, all things that will help our body to be healthy. And thus we do our part in fingernail growing. But we are not the intelligence that makes it happen. We can just be thankful for it, honor it, and act with some good sense to show that we appreciate it and want to do our part.
So if you ever wonder if there is a power helping your life and making your life work, just take look at your fingers and ponder your fingernails.
May 4th, 2013
Nothing makes me cringe more than hearing this phrase: "I won't want to get too big." I realize that the dear folks who say this have good intentions (for the most part,) but as a bodybuilder this drives me up a tree. If this confuses you at all, please continue reading so that you don't fall victim to this misunderstanding and look bad in the eyes of a serious lifter.
First thing, the fact. It's very hard to get really big. I'm talking about muscular big. These huge bodybuilders and even fitness guys have spent untold HOURS working harder than you can possibly imagine. Sure there are a few genetic freaks who have an advantage, but even they have busted their butt.
So unless you are one of the genetic freaks, say one in 10,000, then you don't need to worry. Just doing a little lifting in the gym will not turn you into a muscle monster. And this is true for men and women.
When someone says "I don't want to get big" they are either making an excuse for their laziness and lack of motivation, or they simply do not understand what it really takes to achieve these goals. I dare say they would not expect to put on some ice skates, spend a few lazy hours on the ice and then suddenly be ready to compete in the Olympics. I think everyone senses the hours of hard work involved….though likely not really understanding the TRUE number of hours, or the TRUE sacrifice these athletes go through.
A famous story involves a lady who saw a world famous violinist in concert, and afterwards she said to him " I would give my whole life to be able to play like you do." And he retorts, "Well, I have." Yes, he has dedicated his entire life to learning this skill and reaching this level. People just don't realize how hard those at the top of their game…in whatever field….have actually worked and sacrifices. Other than a few who have cheated their way to the top, most really have worked hard. And these cheats are almost always exposed anyway.
SO here's the bottom line. If you go in the gym and really dedicate yourself to lifting and doing cardio and eating correctly, you can make great changes to your body and your life. You can improve the way you look and feel in dramatic ways. But you're not going to turn into a muscle monster. It's just not in the cards for most people.
Even with the modest amount of size I have acquired in the gym, I will quickly tell people that I have been working out for 35+ years, hired trainers, and sacrificed a lot to get where I have. And I am admittedly MILES away from a professional bodybuilder's accomplishments. But it's a good accomplishment for me, in my life, with my genetics, and my abilities.
So please never use the excuse that you're not working hard because you are afraid you're suddenly going to blow up into a pro athlete. It's just not going to happen, and you run the risk of really unwittingly insulting someone who HAS spent countless hard hours working out to achieve whatever gains they have.
March 2nd, 2013
Recently, the world's best dog, Gus, had a small procedure on his eyelid and was forced to wear the "cone of shame" for a week. I'm not sure if anything is as sad as a dog with a new cone on their head! Gus tended to just sit without moving, trying to figure out how to see and wondering what this giant annoyance was. Of course, the first day or two he was also running into walls and furniture, and being quite tentative at all times.
Sophia, skittish as a rule, was terrified of the horrible cone and was anticipating its attack at any moment!
But, as we all know, after a couple of days Gus figured out how to maneuver with the cone and Sophia relaxed a little and was able to be in the same room with Gus without fear. Gus even managed to decipher a way to cuddle with the cone on, which was a great relief to the entire household.
Change is difficult, and any new addition or disruption can seem catastrophic at first. But, over time, we all adapt to the newness until the day comes that we completely stop noticing it altogether.
I recently added a Harry Potter "Deathly Hallows" key chain to my rear view mirror. The first couple of days the noise of it swinging and banging around drove me crazy. But now after a week or two, I forget it's there.
I also recently was given one of those old 10 dollar bills with the president's face in the center of the bill, rather than larger on the side. I remarked this old bill looked really odd to me now, although i remember well how shocked I was when they changed the design….at first!
So when changes come, wade through the disruption or uncomfortable feelings, knowing that you'll adapt and get used to the change. One word of warning, however: This same phenomenon can allow us to get used to BAD changes in our lives, new lazy habits and the like, so at least be paying attention. But when the change is not hurtful, relax and know that the feeling of newness and strangeness will pass.
February 25th, 2013
The 2013 Academy Awards telecast was a real winner this year, with Seth MacFarlane keeping things moving and interesting. The highlight of the night came during a James Bond tribute, a sequence that I found very interesting.
First was a montage of scenes from James Bond movies. It was well done, but I thought it was very "Over-Produced." Over the clips they had added all kinds of graphics, Bond iconic shapes and images, and it was incredibly busy. Honestly, with the wild capers and crazy visuals of James Bond moments, did this need more to keep our interest? I thought that the added graphics just made it hard to watch. It was too busy!
Interestingly, they followed this montage with a performance of "Goldfinger" by Dame Shirley Bassey. In contrast to what proceeded, the producers had the great foresight to simply bring Ms. Bassey to the stage in a stunning gown and let her sing! It was just her gorgeous voice, expressive qualities, and a great song. There were no flashing graphics in the background, no crowd of dancers, no Cirque du Soleil acrobats swinging from the ceiling. And it was, in my opinion, clearly the highlight of the entire telecast.
The simplicity of the moment made it work, made it special, and made it powerful. They trusted her voice and her presence to carry the day. It was a "wow!"
So as we work on productions and shows, let's remember that the bottom line is the music and the performance, and let's not get in the way of letting THAT shine. Trust your performers and support them as needed, then get out of the way. Thanks to the brilliant production team of the Oscars this year for knowing this and letting it happen. We're all grateful.
February 1st, 2013
Every now and then I hear from a director who has an unusual request. Sometimes this request is a real head-scratcher. It often turns out that a very unusual idea or request ultimately turns out to have originated from a very young staff member.
I remember what it was like, being in college, or just graduated, and quite sure that I knew everything there was to know about music and marching. I think back and shutter at some of the things I believed..and actually said out loud!
So we all need these young, enthusiastic instructors and team members. BUT, we must also make sure and give them the appropriate amount of input and control.
The absolute worst experience I ever had with a client was a situation where a 20 year old young woman was put in charge of the entire show concept. The band director and her staff had hired me to arrange the music, and things started out well enough. The show concept was very interesting and had a lot of potential. Things started to fall apart, however, when the "20 yr. old in charge" started making some questionable decisions. An idea would be discussed, and I would share my experience and explain why I felt it was not going to work, but then the 20 yr. old would decide that it HAD to be done her way…and the director (always) agreed.
By the end of this situation my suggestions had all been ignored, my original draft of music was discarded, and so many changes were demanded of the music I had created that by the end of the process I proclaimed, for the first time ever, that I would only give them the music if the director agreed to never announce my name as the arranger OR ever tell anyone I had written it (!). The response to this was "Oh, it seems you are upset about something." So I suppose there was a general breakdown of communication for which I must bear some responsibility.
However, if you're going to hire an experienced designer as part of your team, and you hire them because they have been successful and you want to use their expertise, then make sure that you listen to their voice more clearly than you hear the voice of the enthusiastic but less experienced young staff member. Figure out how to channel their energy and drive, but also put limits and parameters on their input. Surely any young instructor can understand that their input is important but can't be weighed more heavily than the professional you've hired who has been writing since well before this staff member was born.
The director must have extra meetings OUTSIDE of the main staff meeting with the hired professional, allowing the younger staff members to have their say and give their input. But when you get to the main meeting, just the main staff should attend and should arrive with ideas from their younger staff already vetted, dissected, and fully "weeded." Then things can progress quickly and a great show can be planned and executed!
Art by Lee Vandergrift. See more art at www.leevandergrift.com
January 31st, 2013
In the last 6 weeks we've had three surgeries and 2 funerals. Understandably, we're exhausted. Of course, life moves on and we have plenty we have to do. Someone has to clean the house, shop for groceries, and of course go to work. This kind of upheaval tends to make one stop and think about what's important, access what really needs to be done, and also take time to figure out how to make it through!
We all need to rejuvenate ourselves. This can be simple, like taking a few minutes to read, watch a TV show, or enjoy a nice slow meal with a friend. Get a massage, exercise, pamper yourself with a spa afternoon, go shopping! And… There have been evenings when just sitting with Gus for a few minutes would do more good for my soul than anything else.
Here's hoping the challenges of 2013 slow down and we can get back to normal. Until then, I'll be conscious of taking time to take care, including plenty of Gus time!
January 29th, 2013
Yesterday on Facebook I ran across this picture. Of course, this struck close to home, for I am always struggling with the muscle man in the mirror.
It is not uncommon for us NOT to see ourselves as we truly are. We all look at the world through our own filter, and amazingly, this is also true–even when looking into a mirror. Logic says that we would be seeing a true reflection of what we look like, but our own filter and context can make looking in the mirror a very different experience.
I know that some days I look in the mirror and feel like Antoine Valliant, pro bodybuilder! Other days I look in the mirror and see that little skinny kid from 7th grade that hated being such a weak little shrimp. And I suppose some days I actually see myself.
Either way, this variance in my perception can be exhausting and get in the way of living my life happily. I have to often stop and remind myself that I am working hard. have accomplished much, and am NOT still that little scared child from my past. I know he's in there, part of who I am, but that is not my reality any more, nor is that my reality in the mirror. So always remember to keep some perspective, and be patient on those days when reality is not right in front of you.
January 28th, 2013
DCI is working through a bit of a crisis, where many corps are trying to find a working model for longevity. I don't know all the details, but it seems that the present model of touring, travel, and performances is not seen as sustainable into the future. Many are saying that something has to change or no drum corps will be able to survive. Touch choices face everyone in the activity.
Similarly, all band programs have to be responsible with their budgets and fund-raising, and must operate in a sane way. There are programs that have literally ceased to exist because one aspect of the program would not be denied. Remarkably, a nationally ranked winter guard program can kill an entire band program if not managed sanely.
Working with budgets is never fun, and many directors and creative people find this part of their job particularly onerous. But all is not lost. Most every band program has a parent or volunteer who IS good with these things, and who hopefully can be called upon for advice and assistance. Then smart and reasonable choices must be made for what a program can do.
I'm always impressed when I see a program that makes critical choices for the good of the program's health. Many bands travel to national marching competitions only every other year, or every few years. Some make a big Spring Trip every other year, or every 4 years. Choices of expenses for a marching show can be difficult, because the money spent really can make a difference in the effect of the show. However, I would also hold that the best way to improve scores is to teach your kids to play their instruments better…to be better musicians. And then to hire the right people to create your shows so that they have the best chance for success.
As a show designer, I know that I can create a show on any budget. Sure, the more funds we have to work with for costumes, flags, and props, the more elaborate the show can be. But it IS entirely possible to create a great, very effective show, with a smaller budget. This requires more creavitivy and ingenuity perhaps, but it's doable. This is similar to any arranging project I work on where a section of the band is weak. Creating a marching show with only a few weak trumpets requires me to bring my A game and really be creative. But don't tell me it can't be done!
So make smart choices, take the time to sit down and realistically make plans, and then use your hard work and creativity to make the difference!
January 25th, 2013
I know I'm coming late to this conversation, having just now seen "The Hobbit" in theaters. A fan of the book, I was cautiously optimistic. Alas, I should have stayed home in my own hobbit hole and read the book again instead.
The book, "The Hobbit" is fun to read because a lot of things happen very fast. It's a rollicking adventure story where Tolkein does not linger or ponder too much, but tells us just enough to enjoy the moment and then….on we go! Imagine if the movie, "The Hobbit," had been ONE film that lasted about two hours. It could have rivaled "Indiana Jones" for fast paced thrilling adventure! Bam: trolls, then spiders, a giant bear, saved by eagles, attacked by orcs, found a ring, ride in barrels, saved the day…. You get the idea.
Instead, the Hollywood greed machine pads the story with boring tangents—no doubt thrilling to the big fan, but not so interesting to the rest of us. Long artistic shots of worried faces, pondering what it all might mean. It seemed to take Cate Blanchett several minutes just to turn poetically to face us, no doubt struggling to pull herself away from the lovely view from the clif she was lingering over. I just kept thinking, "Bring on the adventure already!"
The movie is gorgeously filmed and executed, and has made almost a billion at the global box office, so it's not all bad. I just feel a sense of disppointment of "what might have been" if someone had decided to stay true to the tone and spirit of Tolkein's original masterpiece. Ah…that's an adventure I could have loved!
January 14th, 2013
Today in the news was a tragic story of a deaf man who was stabbed because someone mistook his sign language for "making gang signs." As ridiculous as this is, we can only assume that the man who did the stabbing "rushed to judgement." No one who paused for even a moment to stop and consider would have made this mistake.
But in this day and age we live in, many people think that everything must happen RIGHT NOW. We are so spoiled by the crushing rush of technology that we now get frustrated if a website or YouTube video takes more than 2 seconds to load. We must know everything at this very instant…no waiting!
But this is not how life works, and many times we absolutely need to Stop…… and think.
Stop, and think. Consider something for a moment. Slow down ever so slightly to look at something and weigh our options. Hmmmmm, what does this sentence really mean? What did this person really intend to convey when they made that statement? Could I see this another way?
You can't really stop and think if you're multi-tasking. Doing many things at once means you're doing nothing really well. And doing things in a rush just tends to make a mess. Sometimes you have to take the time to scrub, or hunt, or polish, or massage an idea.
So take a moment today to STOP, and think. Don't just blurt out the first thing that crosses your mind, and don't tweet your every thought as soon as you think it. You'll be glad you took time to consider, think, and then….maybe…act.