Sunday, October 20, 2013

Book Review: Last Man on Earth Club


Book Description:

Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.

My initial plan was to do a review of book 2 of the Medair Duology before any others but I tend to get distracted in my reading. I'm in the process of re-reading that series and I wanted to finish that before I did a follow up review. Before I get around to that I decided to do a quick review of one of my new favorite books. The Last Man on Earth Club.

From the description:

Six people are gathered for a therapy group deep in the countryside. Six people who share a unique and terrible trauma: each one is the last survivor of an apocalypse.

Each of them was rescued from a parallel universe where humanity was wiped out. They’ve survived nuclear war, machine uprisings, mass suicide, the reanimated dead, and more. They’ve been given sanctuary on the homeworld of the Interversal Union and placed with Dr. Asha Singh, a therapist who works with survivors of doomed worlds.

To help them, she’ll have to figure out what they’ve been through, what they’ve suffered, and the secrets they’re hiding. She can’t cure them of being the last man or woman on Earth. But she can help them learn to live with the horrors they survived.

The basic premise is that instead of developing faster than light travel and exploring the galaxy humans develop the means to explore multiple dimensions. In each is a variation of Earth and the Human race. From time to time however an Earth is discovered that is in danger of destruction. To this end counselors are kept on hand by a sort of Interdimensional UN to counsel survivors. The characters in this story are in the unique position of being the sole survivors of their "earth".

I have to admit up front that I love this book. I'm on my third read through as we speak. Each character comes from a unique world. Minor spoilers, I've listed each character below and their own apocalypse.

Olivia- survivor of a zombie apocalypse.

Katie- survivor of a human/machine war.

Pew- last of a race that was hunted to extinction.

Iokan- survivor of mass suicide.

Kwame- survivor of a nuclear war and possible instigator.

Liss- survivor of a world filled with superheroes. A world where everyone submultaneously turned to ash.

Fair warning, this book is almost entirely character driven. If you are looking for over the top action and explosions then this isn't the place. I do know several that meet that description however. Don't mistake slower for boring however. I was hooked from the first page.

If you like your science fiction to make you think then this is the book for you. It is available everywhere ebooks are sold or just click the link at the bottom. PTSD will never seem the same to you again.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beer Review: Abita Satsuma

For my birthday my wife surprised me with two juicy sirloins. Since the weather was absolutely perfect we moved out onto the patio and fired up the grill. Now, my wife will tell you that I like to sip on a beer while I grill. Rummaging in the fridge I found this little baby left over from our sample pack. 

 Here is Abita's description. 

Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit is brewed with pilsner, wheat malts and oats. It is made with real Louisiana satsumas and spiced with coriander and orange peel. This unfiltered brew has a slightly cloudy appearance with a subtle citrus flavor and aroma.

Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit is very versatile and can complement a number of dishes. This brew pairs well with salads, fish, shrimp and lobster, as long as the dishes are not too spicy. Thai dishes, which often have citric notes in their flavor profile, also complement the orange flavors in Abita Satsuma Harvest Wit.

Suggested temperature: 44°
Suggested glassware: pintflutesnifter or tulip

Of course I didn't worry about ideal temps or glassware. It was straight from the fridge and I simply popped the top. First thoughts? Different. A little hoppy.

It grew on me quickly though. By the time I finished the bottle, right around the time the steaks reached medium rare, I had really grown to like it. I couldn't see myself making this my go to brew but it was a nice change of pace. 

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. I think fans of Blue Moon would really appreciate it. Forewarning though the taste of citrus is strong. Next time it's in season I say give it a try. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Small Band Tip 4: Starting High School Players

I'm going to write about something a little different today. Instead of writing about performance aspects of a small band I'd like to write about beginning band. Specifically beginning students at the high school level. 

At my school I have an unusual situation. I teach junior high and high school band, which in and of itself is not that unusual. However, what makes my situation different is the fact that the high school is on a 4x4 block schedule while the junior high is on an eight period schedule. To further muddy up the waters there isn't a seperate band class for junior high. Instead they pull them out of PE. 

So, what is the result of this jumble? Well, the result winds up being 7th and 8th grade crammed into one class. Did I mention that there is a new sixth grade only school that I don't get kids from?

Now, I'm not complaining, just painting a picture. It's tricky building a program with a shaky feeder. So, how do we work around this? We start most of our kids in high school. 

This is where the block schedule comes in handy. I was able to convince my guidance counselor to make me a first block beginning band class. Usually the class runs between 5-10 students. That doesn't seem overly large but we'll see that you can build a program very quickly this way. 

On a 4x4 block a student takes the same four classes for an hour and a half each day for a semester. We are on a 9 week schedule. How do I use that to my advantage? A student enters beginning band one semester and the next semester we move them to the performing band class. 

I prefer to use Ed Sueta's Premier Performance for my method book. It's fairly no frills and straight ahead which is what I need with such a time crunch. The first nine weeks I aim to finish book 1, the blue book, which we are easily on track to do this year. 

Now, I don't follow the book straight through, but really who does? As a general rule I cycle through the book three times. I go through it the first time focusing on technique exercises and unison pieces. I skip all duets and full band pieces for the time being. That typically takes 6 or 7 weeks with high schoolers. Next we cycle back through and play all of the duets that we skipped. That takes about a week at the most. Then we usually take a week to play full band stuff to get their feet wet so to speak. 

I said that I focus on technique. I mean religiously. Every day I strive to finish at least one page a day. That's an easy pace to maintain and focus on technique. For our warm up every day, for the first several weeks at least, we play through any and all previously learned technique lines. That gets monotonous fast but it really reinforces solid playing. When we reach our first scale we switch to using a Rhythm of the Day and scales as our warm up. 

After we have worked through the blue book we move on to book 2 or the green book. Book 2 is seventh grade material but it's hard not to be intimidated by it at first. It is night and day to the blue book and it typically does not go as quickly. Particularly since I start introducing sheet music as we go. My goal is to have this class perform at least 3 tunes with the advanced band on whatever end of semester concert is coming up be it Christmas or Spring. To this end we often wind up "cherry picking" our way through the book introducing new concepts and such. 

Every teacher has their method of teaching a class. Mine has evolved to suit my situation. With limited numbers I often lead the class by playing my guitar. Why guitar? It allows me to vocalize instructions such as counting while I demonstrate music. I use a very simple: "I do, You do, We do" structure.

We start every exercise by identifying the Time Signature, Key Signature, Tempo and Dynamic Level. Next I demonstrate the music. After that I give my students a minute or two to practice it on their own. I resisted this for a long time. Even when students are actually working it sounds like complete chaos. But I've given in to practicalities. After a minute or two has passed we play it together. Often times I give them another moment to fix any mistakes made before we try it again. 

Eighteen weeks. That's how long I have to get kids ready to be part of a performing group. At the end of that they're rip roaring ready to go right? Don't bet on it, but they are ready to be part of something bigger and they usually get the hang of it quickly when given the opportunity. Using this system I almost doubled the size of my program in a years time. I anticipate at the current rate of growth having a 45-50 piece ensemble by the end of next year. That does not take into account any junior high students who do actually make it through the program. 

I have actually considered adding an intermediate band at the high school level and attempting to work through book 3, the dreaded red book. Of course this would mean giving up on Jr. High altogether and I'd hate to do that at this point. So, how do others deal with situations like this? What methods do you use?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Beer Review: Sam Adams Belgian Session

I decided that since last week's beer review was so much fun, both the writing and the drinking, that decided to do another. We're still making our way through our recent variety pack. This week the brew of choice was a Sam Adams' Belgian Session. 

This little baby is another seasonal brew which is apparently now out of season. I promise this isn't on purpose it was just luck of the draw. I really like me some Sam Adams. It's not Abita, but it still won't steer you wrong. 

Company Description: 
A crisp, refreshing version of a traditional Belgian beer.  Fruity, slightly spicy flavors from the Belgian yeast are balanced by toffee and caramel notes from our blend of malts while the hops provide a citrus character that rounds out this enjoyable brew.

Pairs well with Boston Lager Steamed Rice, French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad. 

I didn't pair this with any food so I can't tell you how it mixes. The wife and I were so banged up Wednesday that we skipped yoga and caught up on Walking Dead. While we relaxed I grabbed this little baby hoping a little buzz would dull the ache in my arms. Worked like a charm.

Now, I was a little nervous when I saw "citrus character" on the label. I was afraid it would be like an IPA. Stew just doesn't do IPAs. Luckily it was barely an aftertaste as were the fruit notes. Nothing overpowered the main beer taste and it was all complimentary. As my friend Phil would say, it tasted good and I got a little buzz. I'll definitely buy it again when it's available. I give it five Hops.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Beer Review: Abita Fall Fest

In the past I've been accused of being a beer snob. Now, this was from a man who's idea of beer begins and ends with Bud light. Hey, if I wanted to drink water I'd buy some Dasani. Today I've decided to embrace my inner snob and do a beer review. 

Our local grocer allows you to create your own variety 6 pack. My darling wife and I frequently take the opportunity to try new beers. Today we made a random selection of 6 that we had never tried. 

We started with two since we aren't drunks after all. My wife tried the Blue Moon Blackberry Tart Ale. I opted to try the Abita Fall Fest. The Fall Fest is a seasonal beer only brewed from September – November. 

Company Description:

Abita Fall Fest is an Octoberfest-style lager brewed with pale, Munich and caramel malts. iI is hopped with German Perle and Hallertau hops. The result is a full-bodied, malty lager with a bright amber color. Cheese pairings include Gruyère and Swiss-style cheeses.

Suggested temperature: 42°
Suggested glassware: pint, pilsner, goblet, stein or stange. 

Being one of those boys round here I decided to forgo the glass and drink straight from the bottle. I did pair it with my wife's cheesy buffalo chicken dip. The result? More deliciousness than you could imagine. 

I'm a big fan of amber ales. I'm a big fan of Abita. Needless to say I'm a big fan of Abita's regular Amber brew. This Fall Fest had just a little less malt to it but was simply delicious. It also brought out the flavor of the dip like it wasn't no thing. 

If you like ambers, and you should, then. I highly recommend this beer. The window is fairly narrow to get your hands on it so don't wait. Oh, and save me one. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vegan/Paleo Breakfast on the Go

I don't know about you but breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I'm also a big fan of bread products as part of my breakfast. You can see the dilemma for a modern cave man. No bread allowed! Well, sorta. You can have breads. Provided they aren't grain based. No wheat. No oats. No corn. No rice. Among others. 

If you are scratching your head right now then it's ok. I've been there. You can have breads made out of nuts or coconut flour. Usually you have to make this from scratch. Needless to say this takes time. Something most of us don't have in abundance in the morning. That is why the good Lord made microwaves. I maintain that food should either be grilled or made in the microwave. Yes Lord! So, here is a five, ish, minute recipe for a simple breakfast cake that can be made gluten free, paleo or vegan with very little work. In the interest of fairness you should know that I stole this recipe. I'll post the link to the original at the end. Ok, here goes. 5 Minute Coffee Cake in a cup.

Ingredients needed.
1 TBSP of Butter. If making vegan I would sub coconut oil.
2 TBSP of coconut sugar.
1 Egg. Vegan- sub 1 TBSP flax seed and 3 TBSP water.
2 TBSP coconut or almond milk.
1/4 Cup flour of choice.
1/8 TSP Baking Powder
Vanilla Extract. No imitation vanilla! 

1. Melt butter.
2. Mix in coconut sugar until creamy.
3. Mix in egg or flaxseed substitute.
4. Add in milk of choice and optional splash of vanilla.
5. Add in flour. I use half coconut and half brown rice. Not true paleo I know but hey, it's what I like.
6. Add in baking powder.
7. Sprinkle in optional cinnamon as desired.
8. Mix well.
9. Microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes on high. Voila!

You can do this in a coffee mug or a paper bowl. If you opt to use a coffee mug I highly recommend you use Pam spray first. Trust me, I have gotten in trouble over this before. The original recipe has a crumble topping that you can make. I've never tried it. I usually use honey and I have an organic hazelnut spread I want to try. 

Well, there it is folks. Paleo on the go. Can easily be made vegan and is naturally gluten free. Let me know how you enjoy it. Follow the link at the bottom for the original recipe.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review: The Silence of Medair


From the Description

Time stole victory. 

Medair an Rynstar returned too late to drive back the Ibisian invasion. Centuries too late. When friend and enemy have become the same thing, what use are the weapons Medair planned to use to protect her Empire? There is no magic or artifact that can undo the past. No matter how Medair wishes to hide from the consequences of her failure, others will not allow her the luxury of denying the present. Her war is already lost, but she carries weapons which could change the course of new battles. 

With the skirmishes of war beginning, and hunters in near pursuit, it is her conscience Medair cannot escape. Whose side should she be on? What is she really running from?


Quite a few fantasy stories center around the concept that the good guys have to find a magic totem/weapon/item to defeat the evil powers. In fantasy circles they call this a fetch quest. In the case of Medair, a royal courier of sorts, she is sent to find a magic horn to repel the Ibisian invaders.

She finds the horn but unfortunately falls into an enchanted sleep. While she sleeps the Ibisians succeed in kicking the ever living crap out of her people. When she wakes up centuries later the world isn't even close to how she remembers it. The world, however, remembers her and she has become the stuff of legends.


I really enjoyed the character of Medair. I thought that Host did a great job of showing the Survivors Guilt that she suffers. After all, her people were slaughtered and enslaved and its partly her fault.

The Ibisians were another nice touch. Instead of the typical evil powers they're actually tragic figures in their own right. Survivors of a magical conflagration they have fled to Medairs country. They refuse refugee treatment deciding that conquest or failure are their only options. Quite a bit of hubris to the Ibisians.


Host tends to throw a lot of terms, names and places around and expects people to keep up. In a way that shows faith in her readers but even I got a little confused as it went along. It does all become clear as you read but it slows things down a little.

Closing Thoughts

I loved this book! Fair warning it can be a slow read. However I never felt that the pacing drug. It's just a cerebral story. It is also the first in a duology.

If you'd like a fantasy story that turns a few conventions on their ear, characters that are almost immediately engrossing and a dash of tragedy then I highly recommend this book. I give it four and a half swords. For only $4.99 it's definitely worth it. Click the link below to check it out.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Summertime Fitness Redux

So, summer break is almost over. I can hear wailing and Lamentations now from all of my fellow teachers. Since things are winding down I thought I'd share how my fitness goals have progressed. We bought ourselves 160lbs worth of bumper plates which has helped tremendously. 

1. A 2x Bodyweight Back Squat. I actually haven't even tested this yet. The goal is to try for a PR right before school gets back in full swing. I did test my Front Squat and hit a PR of 265. That's 1.5xBW which I'm pretty proud of. That's roughly 80% of my best back squat PR of 335. I think I can add 5lbs to that before this is all done. 

2. A Bodyweight press.
I'm still not there on strict presses. This is by far my weakest lift. I did however hit a push press at 165 which is 95% BW. Getting there, just slowly. 

3. I hit a Bodyweight PR Clean on the 4th. 175lbs. For freedom!! I won't lie about it though. It was ugly as sin, but I did it. I've predominantly worked my snatch this summer so I'm not surprised the technique was a little off. 

4. We got a fairly nice little set of gymnastics rings from academy.
They have expanded their line of BCG products to include fitness. Go check it out. I actually haven't spent a lot of time dipping. Dipping on rings is a completely different animal to stationary dips. I've mostly spent time doing tuck holds working on core strength and stability. 

5. I finally built an adjustable slosh pipe.
Now to paint it black and take it for a walk. This oughta freak the neighbors out. 

6. I'm way behind on my deadlift. I did a set of 5@255 the other day that felt much smoother but the pounds are coming up very slowly. 

7. Speed. The last thing on our list and the one that has received the least attention. Everyday that I've meant to spend devoted to it something has come up. Ah well. Such is life. 

There we have it. The progress I've made this summer. It doesn't seem like much when it's all listed out. Still, my pants are fitting looser every day and I feel like I've made some strides. We celebrated our two year anniversary Crossfit style.
We've even added a little yoga for flexibility.
Hopefully school won't be all consuming this year and I'll be able to continue making gains. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Summertime Fitness

So, summer is here and school is finally out. Even though I’ll be working at the summer job this still means more time to spend with the wife! Thats a huge deal for us. Almost as importantly it means more time to devote to getting closer to my fitness goals. We’ve been cross fitting for almost six months and I’m twenty pounds down but I’ve got a few goals that have kept getting put off for one reason or another the last three years. Three freaking years! So, lets list the goals. 

1. I want to put up a 2x body weight squat. My best PR is 330 at about 190. I’m down to 175 at the moment and would like to drop another 5lbs and put up a 340 squat.

 2. I want to press my body weight. The best so far is about 135. So, 35-40lbs away. 

3. I want to clean my body weight. This one is actually not far away. I hit a PR of 165 last week which is about 95% bodyweight. I feel that I’ve got a much better handle on the technique and with a little more work will hit this goal soon. I think I finally understand what they mean by "pull yourself under the bar". Ive been trying to pull the bar up to shoulder height and then getting under it rather than exploding up and instantly dropping down to catch it in the squat. Ive also at least once or twice made the mistake of power cleaning it and then front squatting  it. Now if I can just put some mental blocks behind me I think I got this. 

4. Get a dip station or some rings and get back to dipping. I prefer weighted dips to benching. Partly because dips are safer to perform alone. Partly because I don't own a bench and have no plans to buy one. Also, no one ever developed the shoulder problems you get from over benching by doing dips. And the just look tough as balls when done right. 

5. Build an adjustable slosh pipe. 
Not necessarily a goal, more of a tool to reach my goals, but I still plan to make one. These bad boys are deceptively tough. They will leave you gasping for breath and muscles you didn't know you had wiped out. 

6. Put up a 400lbs Deadlift. 
Honestly that number is a smidge arbitrary. I at least want a 2x body weight PR but would like a little more. 

7. Get faster! I know that’s kind of open ended. Faster than what? At what distance? I’ll get back to you on that one. At the moment I'm leaning towards short distances such as 10 meters or so. I need to get out and get a baseline time. 

Ok, we’ve established our goals. Now we need to define how we’re going to attain them. Well, my program is very similar to Crossfit Football. It’s a four day split with two days devoted to strength training and two days devoted to Met Cons a la Crossfit. 

Day 1. 

Squat 3x5

Press 3x5

Deadlift 1x5 

At the moment I’m playing around with Time Under Tension for my squats and Isometric/isotonic work for my DLs. What is TOT? I'll give you an example. I set my metronome to 75bpm. I take four beats to reach the bottom of the squat. Its important to take all 4. I come up in two. Slow down, fast up. Isometric/Isotonic is a little different. Honestly, we could spend a whole blog tackling it and i just don'l like doing that tonight. Long story short ISOS involve moving a set weight against pins or a bar for a set count. This insures that you actually put 100% effort into an isometric hold. If you'd like to try these techniques there are several free metronome apps that will make it easier. 

Day 2. Met con. 

Rest Day/optional skill work. 

Day 3.

Front Squat 3x5

Angled Press 3x5 or Weighted Dips
Romanian Deadlifts 3x5

Split Snatch/Power Cleans 5x3 ramping sets. 

Day 4. Met con

Day 5. Rest or optional skill work such as hitting the bag, rolling, sword work, shooting bows. Stuff like that. Maybe if I’m feeling froggy do some sled sprints or agility stuff. Maybe even some slosh pipe carries!

Complete rest on Sundays. 

Well, there it is. My goals and how I intend to get there. As you can see I prefer basic compound lifts. For the most part. I have a few assistant exercises programmed for various reasons. Partly to work around a lack of weights until I can purchase some 45s. Partly because I have always struggled with certain exercises. Particularly upper body work. I have exactly two months to make all of this happen but i feel pretty good about it. I’ll keep you updated as we go.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Small Band Tip 3

When planning this post I asked a friend to identify some of my strengths. He immediately came back asking "you have strengths?" Sigh. Such love. He called me a few minutes later though to tell me what he really thought. One strength I took to be a great complement but it didn't translate well to a whole post. The other I thought I would share. In his words "you do a good job of pushing the boundaries without asking more than your band can do." You might have noticed I'm more of a marching band guy. So today I want to talk about my thought process for putting together a successful halftime show for a small band. By small I mean Lilliputian sized. Tiny. It's not a complicated process and I'm not the originator of these ideas. I learned from many better, more experienced directors. These are my steps and can be taken with a grain of salt. Your mileage may vary. 

Step 1. The theme. I'm a big believer in finding my theme and then working from there to pick music, flags, props, etc. Pick a theme that suits your band. If they play jazz well then maybe do a prohibition show set in a speakeasy. Dress your guard as dancers and some as cops to do a raid. 

Step 2. Shrink the field. Small bands on a full sized football field get lost visually and acoustically. You want to contain the action to the power section. Keep them inside the 35s, or even the 40s, and between the sideline and front hash. If you strategically place props on those yard lines and on the front hash it tends to close off the action and gives you a smaller stage. Instantly your band will look bigger. I've gone so far as to build back drops that ran 40-40 on the front hash. It also helps to hide guard equipment. As an aside, if you only have twenty wind players, I've had less, then at no point should their bells point anywhere but at the audience. We don't have the numbers to face towards the end zone and still maintain a triple forte. 

Step 3. Use a floor cover. I like to make a floor cover out of used billboard signs. Our local ad company gives old ones away if you ask. Go ask. Take two or three and glue them together. Paint them to match your theme. One year my band did a murder mystery. To go along with that we made a giant Clue board. This helps to set the stage, while shrinking it, and gives you several new tools. One, new marchers have easy reference points to learn their drill. Second, it makes practicing inside simple. Provided you have the space. A bit of advice though, if you don't fix them in place they will move around on you. I put brass grommets in the edges and use tent stakes to hold it in place on a sod field. Practice this until your band can do it in less than a minute. On turf double sided tape will work the length of a show. 

Step 4. Don't be afraid of electronics. If you have guitars, keyboards, basses, or whatever get a portable PA system to run them all through. If you have the budget. I've used a Yamaha Stage Pass to good effect. It will make mixing and balance easier on everyone. If possible I'd go ahead and find some one not in the band who can serve as a sound engineer on the field. Sound bytes are also perfectly acceptable to enhance the show. For the murder mystery we used clips from various comical shows like Pink Panther and Get Smart. 

Step 5. Use what you've got. At one school I was at I had exactly one drummer. Obviously a percussion feature was out of the question. Instead we bought a trap set, built a rolling cart to put it on, and parked him on the side line. Essentially we had a rhythm section supporting the marching band complete with electronics. 

Step 6. Don't think of it as marching band. I tend to think of my groups as choreographed rock or jazz bands before being marching bands. The difference is subtle I know. That doesn't mean the drill isn't important. I just keep it simple and fun. I have a friend who usually writes my drill and he knows what I like to use. A good simple box drill. A scatter drill. And a follow the leader. All look sharp but are pretty simple to teach and clean. One year we marched Chicago. Our mat was painted like a city lay out. The final move was a follow the leader down the streets. It looked great! It was stupid simple. Especially since the path was painted right in front of them. The cardinal sin is to overmarch them. However, don't let things sit still too long. There should be some motion somewhere to catch the eye. 

Step 7. Think like a thespian. You have a highly choreographed jazz/rock/classical band performing a single act play. If possible, and if it will advance the story you're telling, go ahead and use actors to play parts. Going back to the murder mystery we found two actors to play the murderer and a detective. They were the highlight of the show. They also drew the audiences eye during halts. Again, some motion, somewhere. Going back to the last step, when you think of it as a play you think of your students hitting their mark on a stage. 

Random thoughts. 
1. Mark times are stupid. If you aren't marching then stand still. Don't mark time 24. I know that you can fix a multitude of sins during a mark time, but if you can't fix it in 8 then you won't fix it with 24. Just stand there tall and proud. It is also out of date unless you have a traditional military style band. But if thats the case this post probably doesn't have much to offer you. Now, there is a few occasions that I like to see a mark time. If everyone in a line is moving but one person, maybe they're an anchor point, I think they should mark time to match everyone else. Sometimes you just want to use it for effect. Maybe you want to use a retro style high mark time. Be warned though, there is a fine art to the high mark time. It is hard to perform well with out jostling the player around quite a bit. 
2. Point your bells at the audience. Always. Unless you are at a carry or trying to get a specific effect. I've seen directors have their kids point their bells whichever direction they were marching with no regard to sound. I feel that really hampers the sound projection. 
3. Despite what people say you can see a straight line from the front. Your kids are standing on a very large grid. If you want to use a company front, I do, then either work it till it's spotless or add a breakdown there to make it harder to gauge their perfection. 
4. If a set isn't working either rewrite it or gussy it up to distract the eye. Don't give the judge a chance to find a mistake. Make him work for it. 
5. Always focus on your bands strengths. Don't try to make kids something they're not. If they play rock well then let them rock. If they're a bunch of clowns then make the funniest show you can put together. Channel the Velvet Knights. 

Anyway, that's my thought process. I'm busy trying to apply those steps to my show for next year. Take it all for what it's worth but I hope something in this can help you plan for next year. 

Monday, May 13, 2013


This year I've kept a running series of posts on Facebook entitled #banddirectorproblems. Yes, I used a hash tag on Facebook but it'll be ok. I've said all along that at the end of the school year I would compile them into a single blog post. At last, the time has arrived! Here is a years worth of posts about the life of a high school band director. Some of them show the frustrations of teaching music. Some are humorous. A few are even heart warning. If you are a band director, or heck any persuasion of teacher, feel free to share your own experiences in the comment section. 

Band director problems

"Mr. Felkel, my instrument is missing." Walk to shelf. Find it slid all the way to the back. "Is this your flute?" "Where did you find it, I promise I looked EVERYWHERE?" Sigh. #banddirectorproblems

Teaching triplets first thing on a Monday morning right before Christmas break. #banddirectorproblems

So #banddirectorproblems has its first fan! I'm almost a trend setter. Whoo!!

"Mr. Felkel, can I have your number?"
"Sure, it's 867-5309."
Wait, no that's what makes the job worth doing.

"Mr. Felkel, my fingers are stuck under my valves." 
Face palm 

9:00 outdoor performance in 32 degree weather? Of course! I'd love to show up just to play the Star Spangled Banner for your shin dig! 

One, two, one, two, three, four. Beeeeep. 
"I need so and so to the office please."
Sigh. #banddirectorproblems

Teaching the fundamentals of tuning. To a student trying to figure out if he is flat or sharp. 
"When in doubt, pull out."
Class erupts into scandalous laughter. Sigh. 

"Mr. F, I can't get the notes on my Sax to sound right."
Have student play notes and then look at their reed just to have spit pour over my hand. 

Me the first day of band. 
"In music we only use 7 letters A-G. That's it. Just those 7."
Kid today five months later. 
"Mr. F, what letters aren't used as notes?"

@SFelkel: Looking up to see that your tenor sax player has jammed a baritone mouthpiece into his instrument. #banddirectorproblems

Student, while holding up his tenor sax, "Mr. F, there mold on it!"

"Mr. Felkel, so and so got his fingers stuck in his valves again!"
Face palm. 

Headed to Denham Springs for our first ever Winterguard competition with a truck full of guard girls. Too early for this much pep and talk of eyelashes. 

"Mr. Felkel, my bass isn't working." 
Go turn volume knob up on said bass. 
"Oh, I forgot about that."
Face palm. 

Just spent a half hour with a metronome cranked to 11 blaring out 120 beats per minute in my ear. 

Six months of teaching band just to look up and see your trumpet player thinks every note is first valve. 

"Ok class, what's our dynamic?"
"Metro Forte!"

"My mom is making me quit band because of my grades. She doesn't want me distracted from studying by band."
Yep. Making your kid quit a subject that every study shows improves math, language arts, and discipline will definitely improve their grades. Sigh. 

No kid, I'm not bipolar, you just piss me off when you claim to know your part and its clear you don't have a clue. 

While listening to a judges comments:
Student "can I track this guy down and give him a 'surprise adoption'?"

I have found the best way to frustrate an entire class of band students. Just stop talking and give them all their instructions by sign. 

"Mr. Felkel my saxophone won't play!"
"Ok, show me."
Student proceeds to try to play saxophone with zero air going through it. After said student turns red we look inside the saxophone to find a cleaner still inside. Sigh.

Student: Mr Felkel, I don't understand why it's Ab in this song but A natural in the other one. 
Me: Well, our key signature tells us whether its flat or natural. See how this song has an Ab and the other one didn't?
Student: Yes sir. But why isn't it flat in both. 
Me: They're in different keys. 
Student: I don't get it. 
Fifteen minute explanation later. Still doesn't get it. 

Me: "Ok percussion, stand up we're going from the beginning to measure 18."
Percussionist: "uhhhhhh! My butt!"
Shakes head. 

Subjecting high school students to The Breathing Gym. One of the few great things about being a band director. Yes, I am cruel. 

Finding out that your sub didn't show up for school is frustrating. Learning that your students took it upon themselves to practice and help new players get started on their instruments makes me proud. Yeah, I've got good kids. Sometimes.

I won't lie, my job is quite often frustrating and I often wonder if I'm reaching my students. But somedays the rewards make up for the stress. Having two of my students tell me that they're considering teaching music because of me is one if those rewards.

Love it when a student asks me a question and while I'm trying to answer them they start playing. 

I love standing on my podium five days before the Spring Concert and no one is paying any attention to me. Said no band director ever.

Last practice before the spring concert and 8 students are missing. That would be 1/3 of my band. Yep. Frustrated. 

Doing the math for next year and have realized that my band room won't hold the entire band. The fire Marshall is gonna have a field day with this. 
#banddirectorproblems #goodproblemstohave

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Small Band Tip 2. Guest blog by Patrick Neff.

Two Tips in one week! This one is a tip from my friend Patrick Neff. Patrick has thirteen years experience working with small bands. I asked him to guest blog and share some tips with us. He came back with advice on picking music for small bands and I think it's the perfect time to post it. I know I'm busy trying to pick just the right music and I'll be putting some of this to use.

Band tip of the week:
Remember when picking music for your fall show you have lots of things to consider and keep in mind:
1-your audience. You don't always pick music for your audience but if you are looking for support in the community it is important that the crowd is invested some way at least some of the time. If your show is unique and doesn't play to the crowd then You certainly need to pick some stand tunes that will appeal to the audience.

2-Consider the band. I always approach the band with multiple ideas that I have thought of for shows for the next year and get their feedback. I dont always use their advice but I at least keep it in the back of my mind because if they like it then they will sell it to people in school and it helps recruit both for the band and the flags.

3-I do think about what judges will say and think about the show selection to a degree. I have been labeled by some as a rock show person which is funny since I have done Latin jazz twice, phantom of the opera, movie themes twice, and rock shows four times that had various themes. But I have never done a "stand tunes" show like I have seen before.

4-and this is the most important one: Can your band play it?!
I can't tell you how many times I have seen people pick shows that have elements in them that their bands just cannot pull off. I hear "well it wasn't hard when we played it in high school!" Those are the kiss of death words that if you find yourself saying you might just be rationalizing your choice and not making a good decision for your group.
Make sure the arrangements aren't too big for the ensemble either. Such as just because you have three trumpets doesn't mean you can play a song that has three trumpet parts! I have had college bands that couldn't play "big" arrangements just because of he size if the group. It's not the children's capabilities sometimes....sometimes you are limited by numbers and must keep that in mind.

5-and as a side "note" yes pun intended....if there are two versions of a song on the market and you are deciding which to get I say go with the easiest of the two and add to it as your group progresses. I have found that it is easier than "watering down" music.

Just some of my philosophies when choosing music for my bands. I hope this Helps in some way!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Small Band Tip of the Day

Today I thought I'd throw out a tip of the day for small band directors. I won't claim to be a phenomenal band director but I've had to get creative everywhere I've been and I thought I'd share the smidgeon that I know. Today's tip concerns guitars.

If you have a guitar in your band, and you should its 2013 after all, then you can easily use them to cover the oboe part. Lets face it, the odds of finding a guitar player are way higher than finding an oboe player in a rural school. And truthfully with the way music programs are shrinking I don't feel that we can turn guitar players away. I have two. Depending on the piece I have them either cover the missing oboe part, missing bell parts, or occasionally double the flutes. It's a very versatile instrument with a wide range. The other advantage is that guitars tune way better than oboes.

If you have an electric bass, and I really think you should as it adds tremendous depth, then you can use them to double the trombones, baritones, or the bassoon. Some pieces will have a part for a stand up bass and quite a few publishers have started publishing stand tunes with bass parts. Tuba parts don't work as well since they're written an octave down from where the guitar plays. If there isn't a bass part I tend to assign them to the bassoon part. If the piece doesn't call for a bassoon I go for either the trombone or baritone depending on whichever closest matches the tuba line.

If you'd like more tips on using guitars in your band then check out my book "Three Chords and Prayer". It's available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Teachers Pay Teachers and Smashwords. Check it out. Help me spread the word. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments section.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Afternoon project

So, you all know that after a lifetime of being a lazy couch potato I've turned into my father. By that I mean I have a hard time sitting still. I don't mean that I've become a hippy. No, seriously the man has long hair, throws up the peace sign everywhere he goes and is still protesting Vietnam. For better or for worse I seem to have inherited the desire to tinker endlessly. Oftentimes my skills don't come close to matching my desire. Tory was a little different. We're almost done with Winterguard for the season and after a ton of help and support from TCA I decided it was time to say thank you. What is Winterguard and TCA? The only way I can describe Winterguard is flag line to the power of awesome. TCA is our local independent group of which my guards teacher is a member. They run an excellent camp every summer for local color guards as well as help everyone in the area at competitions. They're the first ones to show up to help lug equipment, always have a kind word for the performers and are just generally good people. Sadly, they are also lacking in a cart to drag around their gear including a hundred plus pound floor cover. Well, were lacking. I thought that a nice way to thank them for everything they do was to build them one. Now, again, I am not a master carpenter but I do know how to measure and cut. Off to Lowes we go! Sorry Dave. Just not a Home Depot fan.

Saturday felt like a great day to do dude stuff like work out, go shooting or roll with the guys. Alas, none of those were to be. So Johnathon and I headed to Simmons in search of bullets and then onto Lowes to make a shopping list to present to Whitney. The search for rounds was a success. The search for a speed loader still not so much. The shopping list was quickly made however and emailed to Whitney who agreed to meet me at Lowes this morning to buy the stuff. I almost talked myself out of the job since I found a floor dolly on sale for not much more than I could build it for. I think in the end they opted to go with me building them one just to make me feel useful but I'm glad they did. It was actually a good bit of fun and its satisfying getting to handmade something for someone. All totaled the materials cost about $75 and took an hour or so to put together. As you can see from the pictures the dogs even got in on the action. Now it just needs a paint job but I'll leave that for someone more creative than me. Not bad I think for a guy with a cold huh?

Were it not for music, we might in these days say, the Beautiful is dead. ~Benjamin Disraeli

Strange fact: Your ribs move about 5 million times a year, every time you breathe!

“But often some secret thought lurking within us, or even some outward circumstance, turneth us aside. Many are secretly seeking their own ends in what they do, yet know it not. They seem to live in good peace of mind so long as things go well with them, and according to their desires, but if their desires be frustrated and broken, immediately they are shaken and displeased. Diversity of feelings and opinions very often brings about dissensions between friends, between countrymen, between religious and godly men.”

Excerpt From:Thomas a Kempis. “The Imitation of Christ.”

Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Darling Wife

At the moment my darling wife is at the beach for a bachelorette party leaving me here home alone. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm glad she's having a good time and I enjoy a little alone time, but I do miss that woman dearly. If you've met my wife you know that the term "handful" was coined with her in mind. But I've come to realize that she possesses an abundance of positive qualities. Chief of which is her fierce and unwavering loyalty. She is also a very driven woman. As the good books says "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies." I'd say that applies to my wife.

It's not easy being married to a band director. I suspect the only thing worse would be a coach. In the fall there's marching practice, football games, parades, and contests. In the spring there's winter guard, concerts, after school practice, and of course contests. Add church choir director on top of that and what do you get? A wife who spends a lot of time home alone. Now, a lot of ladies would take this opportunity to go their own way and honestly I couldn't blame her if she did. Instead she has spent considerable time helping me with whatever I am involved in. I've lost count of how many hours she has spent slinging nachos in the concession stand. Standing in as DJ at a valentine dance. Chaperoning trips. Or just generally keeping me sane. More than once I have come home ready to throw in the towel. What does she do? Go get a six pack of Abita Strawberry and juicy steaks.

Now, if you know me you know that I have a hard time sitting still. I really like to workout, shoot bows, guns and tinker with numerous projects. My wife has gone to great lengths to try my many hobbies with me. First we went to the gun range. Let me tell you, she's a pretty nice shot. Put a revolver loaded with .38+p in her hand and she can kill anything that threatens her, me, or our loved ones. I will NEVER come home with lip stick on my collar. The logical next step was to get her her own weapon. Be afraid. Be very afraid. From there we moved to my first love. Archery. L&M, sadly closed, supplied us with a nice little PSE recurve that she handles quite well. She is also pretty hot wielding it. I wish I had a video of her trying my longbow though. That was interesting. But if the electricity ever goes out a la Revolution we got this.

Her newest hobby though is Crossfit. Hannah was always very athletic and is highly competitive. Shocking I know. Our lives have stayed so busy lately that getting exercise in has proven problematic to say the least. A few months back she told me that she wanted to try crossfit. I, being an encouraging husband, told her to go try it out. So she did. At 5:00 in the morning! And of course I've been drug into it now. She has kicked butt too! Between that, our garage gym that's coming together, and a quasi paleo diet we've dropped about 13 pounds a piece and our performance levels have gone way up. Words can't describe how proud I am of that chick. And thats why my wife is cooler than yours. Even if she is a La Tech alum.

Fun fact of the day. The sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over a lazy dog." uses every letter of the alphabet!

"Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory." ~Oscar Wilde

"True it is that every man willingly followeth his own bent, and is the more inclined to those who agree with him. But if Christ is amongst us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore trust not too much to thine own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others. Though thine own opinion be good, yet if for the love of God thou foregoest it, and followest that of another, thou shalt the more profit thereby.”

Excerpt From:“The Imitation of Christ.” Thomas a Kempis