Thursday, April 20, 2017

Middle Age Musings

Entering my 40s has had an unexpected influence on my hobbies and general interests. In no way have I made a conscious effort to be any different than I've ever been, and yet I've come to realize recently that I've gone through a lot of changes since turning 40 two years ago, especially in regards to the things I'm interested in. 

It's not that I've abandoned all my old interests: I still love history and music and literature and intellectual pursuits. But the direction of all those things has changed since turning 40. 

In general, I seem to have started taking more of an interest in the past, particularly the past 150 years or so. 

"You say you love history; isn't history ALREADY about the past?" you may ask.

Well of course, but what I mean is that my musical and literary and even film/TV interests have, in recent years, turned towards events of the last 150 years. I've found myself listening to what I call "Old Timey" music (I have a so-named playlist on Amazon music that has nearly 150 songs ranging from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s), watching old TV shows and movies, and reading 19th and early 20th century novels. 

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I've been working on a songbook of "old timey" songs that I am arranging for solo piano. I just finished an H. Rider Haggard novel from 1886 and have since started a Jack London novel from 1908. This is the second Jack London novel I've read in the last 6 months and the eighth book I've read in the last year from the late 19th or early 20th century (and that's not counting a biography of Zachary Taylor - president in the 1840s - that I read a few months back).  



I've also started occasionally watching old movies and, especially, old TV shows. For instance, I've been making my way through the original Twilight Zone series over the last year or two, and I recently watched a movie from the 1970s that was about World War One.  I've been watching The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals on Hulu and hoping for them to get M*A*S*H. 

In addition to my "Old Timey" music on Amazon, I've also, in recent years, really gotten interested in classic country from the 40s through the 70s. I've got three different playlists of that music on Amazon Music (I'm listening to one right now, actually).

I enjoy watching shows on KET and PBS about early Kentucky and early America. I especially like old documentaries from the 70s and 80s on various topics (I watched one recently that was made in the 1970s and was about a Kentucky Derby clock that was being made by a Louisville artist who smoked like a freight train). 

This is the clock in question, still on display in Louisville

I'm not sure why I've had this sudden interest in various aspects of the last 150 years, but I think it might have to do with being more "in touch" with my grandparents and great-grandparents. 

"What the HELL are you talking about now, Schmoo?" I hear you asking. 

It may be another aspect of reaching middle age, but I have started thinking about my grandparents and great-grandparents a lot more in recent years, and even "talking" to them on occasion. 

I was not one of those who was blessed to have my grandparents (or great-grandparents) alive during a significant period of my adulthood. My parents were both the youngest of three children and my grandparents were all already in their 60s when I was born. By the time I was old enough to remember them, my grandparents were already "elderly." Three of my four grandparents lived into my adulthood, and my Dad's mother didn't die until I was 34, but after my childhood, I saw very little of my grandparents because they all lived out of town and I only saw them once or twice a year on average. And by then, between the distance and their increasing ages, it was hard to have any sort of "relationship" with them. 

In any case, since turning 40, I have found myself wanting to "connect" with my grandparents by experiencing the things they would have experienced - like the TV shows they would have watched or the music they would have listened to. Classic country music, for instance, makes me feel close to my grandfathers, knowing that it's the sort of music they liked listening to. Right now, "Sweet Dreams of Kentucky" is playing on my playlist. It's a song by Grandpa Jones of "Hee Haw" fame. I associated my Dad's father very closely with Grandpa Jones. They were born within a couple of years from each other in neighboring Kentucky counties and my Papaw loved a Grandpa Jones song called "8 More Miles to Louisville." I also have many memories of watching Hee Haw with my grandparents. 

As he got older, Grandpa Jones didn't have to wear make-up anymore

Now, a song by Tennessee Ernie Ford is playing - "Shotgun Boogie."  Another Tennessee Ernie song, called "16 Tons," reminds me strongly of my Mom's father, because it's a song about coal miners written by Merle Travis, who was from the same western Kentucky county that my Grandaddy was from. My Grandaddy was also a coal miner. So this song is, to me, basically about Oscar Kirby and the life he lived. 

Oscar with a gigantic cigar
In the same way, listening to, or playing on the piano, Stephen Foster songs, and other songs from the 19th century and early 20th century, reminds me, in general, of the lives my great- and great-great grandparents led, even though I didn't really know any of them. I know their names, thanks to Ancestry.com, and listening to the popular music of their lives makes me feel a connection with them.

Why, in middle age, has feeling a connection with my ancestors become so important to me? I don't know the answer to that. I just know that it's a thing now. I want to feel close to the ancestors I never knew or only knew for a brief time, and delving into the popular culture of their lives helps me to feel connected to them. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Notes from the Cave

I'm continuing to work on my songbook (which I mentioned in the last post), where I'm arranging a collection of "old timey" songs for piano solo. I'm doing "old timey" songs because anything more recent than 75 years ago is likely under copyright and thus can't be freely used.

I've recently finished an arrangement of America the Beautiful, and I'm currently about three-fourths of the way through My Old Kentucky Home. Up next is Massa's in de Cold Ground, my all-time favorite Stephen Foster song.

Here's one I did a few weeks back. It's an arrangement of an old hymn called Just As I Am.



I recently had an idea for a blog post related to Kentucky basketball, but I abandoned it because I discovered that my main thesis was basically false (this is what's called being "intellectually honest"). Like many UK fans, I felt that Kentucky got an insanely unfair road to the Final Four in this year's NCAA tournament - they were the first team in NCAA history to play three 30-win teams before the Final Four. Basically, 3 of the 4 teams they played had 30+ wins by the time they played them. They ended up losing by 2 points to the 3rd of those 3 teams. This is not the first time that an unfair bracket has been complained of by UK fans. So I decided to do a blog post comparing other major programs (Duke, UNC, Kansas, maybe a few others) to UK to demonstrate how Kentucky is more likely to get difficult paths to the Final Four.

In reviewing past tournament brackets, I discovered that it's basically bullshit. Yes, Kentucky got screwed this year, but while they may sometimes have tough roads in the tournament, they don't always have tough roads, and other teams could easily make similar arguments. I won't go into all the data now, but essentially any team that routinely gets a high seed could argue that they "often" get a tough road through the tournament. It's just the UK fans (myself included) tend to only pay attention to UK's seeding and UK's potential path.

I've really been enjoying the new show on NBC called Trial and Error.  It stars John Lithgow and it's a spoof of trial documentaries. It's silly, but I think it's hilarious and well-written. I highly recommend it.

Now that I am not on Facebook, the readership of my new blog posts has declined considerably. I guess I didn't realize how many people on Facebook actually clicked on the links I shared. Oh well, it's not enough to make me get back on Facebook.

Melanie and the girls are on Spring Break this week, but I'm unfortunately working a lot because I have a co-worker out on medical leave, requiring the rest of us on third shift to pick up extra hours. It's really amazing how, when you're used to working three 12-hour shifts, having to work extra days, even when some of those shifts are only 8 hours, really screws with your mojo. It makes you realize how much you value that time off!

After debating and discussing it for the last two years, we finally got a new dog on Sunday. We've wanted a playmate for Sophie for a long time, but hadn't ever pulled the trigger. I had actually sort of gotten over it, but Melanie and Sydney continued to look and follow adoption sites and they finally found one they wanted. We had to apply to adopt, but our application was chosen so we brought Maggie home on Sunday. Sophie is a full-bred Havanese, but Maggie is half Havanese, half Cocker Spaniel. We jokingly call her a Have-a-Cock. She's the runt of her litter and since she's only 9 weeks old anyway, she is tiny. The dogs are getting along well though and I think they're both going to do well. I fancy myself a dog whisperer, so I'm working hard on house breaking and training. She's doing well so far, although she's very timid and has awful separation anxiety - two things Sophie didn't have issues with.



I guess that's enough boring shit about my life for today. Peace.

Monday, April 03, 2017

New Piano Arrangement

I've started doing some arranging for the piano and one of the first pieces I did is a somewhat obscure Stephen Foster song called My Hopes Have Departed Forever. It's a really pretty piece, though, and I think my arrangement is fairly good for a first try. I've since done a few more and have many more on deck. If all goes as planned, I hope to publish them in a songbook by the summer. It'll be a book of piano solos based on old classics.

I also would like to do a songbook of hymns for solo piano as well as one for traditional Christmas songs. (If you're wondering why all my plans are for old songs, it's because if I want to sell them, I can only do songs that are no longer copyrighted.)

We'll see if all that pans out, but for now I'm enjoying the arranging I'm doing. I've been using a great little website I found called NoteFlight.com to write the scores.

If anyone happens to be interested in getting a PDF of the sheet music for this piece, just ask, I'll be glad to send it to you.

Since it's an old piece, I made the video look like old cinema. Nice effect, don't you think?




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