Music Rocks!

I went to the dentist last Friday for a cleaning and a small repair.  After the cleaning was over, I was moved to a different room.  I was waiting in the chair; a young, cute Black girl came in to set up the room.  I took off my Ultreya Rocks! hat to put aside with my glasses, so they would be out of the dentist’s way.  The young lady said, “Ooh, nice hair!”  (My hair is shoulder length and a little curly on the ends.)  “Were you ever in a band?”

“I’m in one now.”

“What do you play?”

“Bass.”

“Oh, I love bass!” she said.  “I sing.  I love music!  I have to sing every week.”  I didn’t have the chance to ask where she sang because she walked away to tend to other tasks.  But the exchange left me smiling and feeling a little warm inside.  I agree with her:  I love music.  Music is one thing I couldn’t do without.

I grew out of childhood listening to the music on my parents’ and grandparents’ radios.  I’m actually old enough to remember when The Little White Cloud that Cried and Sh-Boom! were on the radio.  The radio and I sort of grew up together:  Venus, The Happy Organ, Mack the Knife–until the night when I was supposed to be sleeping I was DXing radio stations and ran across one playing classical music.  That night my music world changed.

After more experience with classical music I began to understand the background music and songs on the Children’s Record Guild stories our grandparents gave us as kids.  And there awoke in me the desire to make my own music.  I had a few weeks of piano lessons from my mother as a teen.  (She was the church organist for most of her life.)  And I was doing pretty well.  But I chickened out when suddenly there appeared in the lessons two notes played at the same time.

But by the time I finished high school I was making serious attempts at writing original music.  Most of the pieces were hymn tunes and, in retrospect, were terrible.  I did manage to salvage some of it and made something of it.  Anyway, my high school class assigned me the task of writing and directing the senior class song.  The tune was borrowed in part from a very old song, but it suited and we did all right.

College, for me, was an emotional disaster.  Being away from home with nobody I knew took its toll, even on my work.  I even wrote, in my freshman year, a short story about a guy in much the same situation as I, who discovered by accident that he could teleport himself home.  With regard to music, I tended to haunt the conservatory, making acquaintances of kids in the music department, and especially of a guy who consented to play my writings so I could hear them a tempo.  As time went on, I figured out how to grope my way through my writings myself.  To correct the problem of not having the vaguest idea what I was doing with harmony and notation, I took two semesters of harmony from a kindly teacher in the conservatory.  By that time I had picked up guitar from my acquaintances and was becoming competent in folkstyle playing.  But with harmony under my hat, and a good understanding of chord progressions, I came to find out that voice leading, the construction of vocal parts so they could be sung and have an organized, logical progression, was one of my gifts.

In retrospect, there was musical talent on both sides of my family.  My mother played piano and organ.  My father, however, did not have any music education because his family would not have allowed it.  But I remember something that happened once when I was home, that is, at my folks’ house, when I was a young adult living a couple hundred miles away.  I had built a musical “instrument” using a relaxation oscillator that produced a sawtooth waveform and had a buzzy sound.  It was started by pressing a button and the pitch was controlled by a handle attached to a rotary control.  I took it home with me that time.  My dad picked it up and played a tune on it that was accurate, well-timed, and in tune with itself.  He handed the thing back and said, “I bet you didn’t know I could do that, did you?”  And I didn’t.  Wow!

So where is this going?  Well, after a rather stormy marriage in which not much music got done, I moved to Miami.  There I picked up music again.  I wrote some folk songs and some church music.  I did some arrangements for voice and an assortment of instruments that people at church could play.  I wrote some songs for a few of the Via de Cristo (formerly Cursillo) weekends I served on.  I reworked some of the older stuff that I still had.  Not too long ago I unearthed some of those old things that had been put away.  I looked through them.  And some of those old writings weren’t that bad.  But again, my choice of music to listen to was almost exclusively classical.  My composition style was classical.

But then the classical music station was sold and started playing stuff I had no desire to hear.  I started to listen to a Christian contemporary music station to keep me awake while I drove to work, as I told myself.  The station played some music similar to those VDC songs we sang on weekends.  I switched back and forth from the radio to CDs of classical music, until the CD player in the car died.  Eventually my preference for listening in the car became the Christian station.  This continues even today.

I also dream about music.  Some dreams involve guitars and other instruments: broken guitars that I’m trying to fix; big organs I’m trying to play, or explore; new things that are impossible to make or impossible to play; singing in choirs, especially music I’ve written; and last of all, new music.  I often wake up with music running through my head that came from a dream.  Sometimes it’s new.  If I can quickly write it down, I remember it.  Some of the music I’ve written is from my dreams.

So.  Where am I now?  Back a few years ago, I was the lay leader, or rector, of a Via de Cristo weekend.  Among the candidates were two musicians, one of whom I knew and who has since moved away.  The other, without my knowing about him, I had seated right next to the first guy.  That second musician has, over the years, become my best buddy.  Brion is an expert who has been in the music industry, played guitar in Nashville with big names, writes, and plays two and a half orders of magnitude better than anyone else I’ve ever known.  By the time I had come to know him better, I had begun to play electric bass due to the urgings of my church choir director.  Brion and I performed together on a VDC weekend.  I remember saying, jokingly, “We ought to form a band.”  This eventually became the Christian rock praise-and-worship band called Ultreya.  Several other musicians have come and gone, including two lead singers, two rhythm guitarists, and three drummers.  What’s left is Brion on guitar, Michael on drums, and myself on bass.  Sonshine Via de Cristo has come to consider us the go-to band to play for Celebrations (also known as Ultreyas) and other functions.  Two of my favorite expressions are, “I learned to read music in church choir; so can you,” and, “If music isn’t fun, something’s wrong.”

If, ten years ago, someone should have predicted that I would be playing bass in a rock band, I would have laughed HA-HA.

You never know what God will do with you.

*   *   *

When I first started writing this essay, I wondered if it might be too self-serving.  But it was meant to be a sharing: who I am and something that is important to me.  I hope you, gentle reader, will forgive me this once.

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The Amazing, Mystical, Magical, Disappearing Toilet Paper

When Sandy and I shop at the grocery store, I tend to pay attention to price and package size.  Buy one, get one free doesn’t get my attention unless it’s for something we normally use a lot, like breakfast cereal, for example.  I notice that BOGOs don’t usually show up in departments like meat, dairy, eggs, and produce.  Cereal, cookies, and sometimes coffee, can save us cash if they are BOGO.  But I don’t see taking home two of something when I only wanted one.

Of course, prices on everything are constantly changing.  I look at the price on a can of vegetables and say, “Geez, wasn’t that a dollar cheaper last time we were here?”  But the most aggravating thing companies do is to shrink the size of their products.

I remember, several years ago, I picked up a can of spinach, that was normally fifteen ounces and change, and thought, “This feels small.  What did they do to the can?”  I looked and discovered that the can now contained thirteen and a half ounces.  But the price didn’t fall to match the shrinkage in the contents.  It’s just their way of getting more money for their product without our realizing it.  It was that way all across the board, as far as canned vegetables were concerned.

It hasn’t stopped in these days, either.  Sandy and I go through a lot of orange juice.  We normally buy a premium brand because it tastes better than the grocery store generic.  But a year or so ago they started putting the juice into bottles that looked like pitchers, and–surprise! surprise!–they don’t hold a gallon of OJ.  They only hold three and a fraction quarts.  And they keep getting smaller.  To get around the shrinking gallon bottle, we buy cardboard cartons that used to be half a gallon.  But the last time I looked, they were 1.8 quarts, or 1.75 liters.  And of course they still cost as much as, or more than, before.  So the companies are trying to make more money from us while hoping we won’t notice.

Ha!

But the thing that has irked me the most about package size is that of toilet paper.  The brand we use that started out as White Cloud many years ago advertises that it is the softest there is.  It used to come on single rolls of around 140 double-ply sheets.  Then the company, like other TP companies, introduced the double-size roll.  Adustments in roll length came and went; the company introduced other sizes, and finally things stabilized thus:

  • Single rolls at 100 sheets
  • Double rolls at 200 sheets
  • Giant rolls at 250 sheets
  • Mega rolls at 400 sheets.

Even so, you can see what is happening.  The mega-sized rolls required an adaptor, because they were so big they wouldn’t fit a standard toilet paper dispenser.  This state of affairs continued for a number of years, until. . .

The package for the mega size rolls trumpeted, “Roll-Fit Guarantee!  Mega rolls are guaranteed to fit standard dispensers!”  We bought a package sometime after that to try out, and–son of a gun!–they did fit.  Now, there are only three ways the manufacturer could have used to make the oversized mega roll fit a standard dispenser.  First, they could have made the paper thinner.  But then it would no longer be “ultra soft.”  Second, they could have used a smaller core; but obviously the cores were the same size as before, and I doubt that it would have made enough difference.  And third, they could have made the roll shorter.  In fact, that is just what they did.  The new mega roll size was 328 sheets, 18% shorter than before.  The new double size roll was 164 sheets, again 18% shorter than before.  This made the double size roll not very much bigger than the original single size.  Now, of course, the single sizes were not available, 84 sheets being obviously small, and the giant size had also vanished from store shelves, although I have seen a “family size” that had a strange sheet count.  And the price keeps going up.  In fact, it’s gone up a lot since then.  With the cost of energy down a lot since last year, I wonder why?  What excuse, other than trying to make as much money as possible from their customers, would this company, and others in like situations, give?  Our incomes haven’t gone up nearly as much as the cost of toilet paper.  I, for one, am tired of being picked up and shaken to see what will fall out of my pockets.  People will decide they can’t afford to buy such expensive stuff and will stop buying it

Then what?

A Matter of Faith

I’m a Christian.  I’m not ashamed of that and never will be.  As far as matters of faith are concerned, you will find me solidly in Christ’s camp.  I’m also a well-educated guy with two degrees and a lot of life experience.  I studied geology in college as well as the subjects, like Biblical Greek, that were intended to prepare me for seminary.  Because of that experience, there is, for me, a disconnect between what I learned in Sunday School and what I learned in college.  On one hand, the stories about Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Whale, the Tower of Babel, Cain and Abel, and Adam and Eve and the Creation Story.  On the other hand, the Cambrian Discontinuity, Vishnu Schist, the Jurassic Era, peneplains, fossils of trilobites and Tyrannosaurus Rex, how we got coal, oil, and natural gas, and how many billions of years old the Sun is and when it will go phut.  How do we connect them and cause them to make sense?

But, they say, the Bible isn’t meant to be a science textbook; it’s the record of God’s salvation of the human race.  Okay, I agree.  But what if it were?  How would, say, the first chapter of Genesis  read if those who recorded the story knew what we know about the origin of Earth?  Now, some of you gentle readers will be upset with me; you’ll call me a heretic and a blasphemer for what I’ve just proposed, because you have been taught and believe that the Bible was written by God and the humans just held the pen.  I won’t quarrel with that.  I’m just supposing.  So here is my take on Genesis 1.

*    *    *

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  There was nothing; then God said, “Let there be space!”  Suddenly gas and matter was spreading violently in all directions, filling the emptiness that had been.  God said, “Let there be stars!” and the gas started to clump together, forming balls of matter that started to glow.  The stars grew, burning; and died, exploding or getting bigger, then collapsing.  Other stars formed.  Some stars, with their disks of gas and dust swirling around them, got other little blobs of stuff that contracted and formed planets that circled the stars themselves.  God saw that it was good.  And it was evening and morning, the first day.

Then God chose one star out of the multitude of stars that He had created.  He named it “the Sun.”  He looked and saw that a lot of planets had formed around the Sun and were circling it.  He saw that the closest two were too hot, and the fourth one was too cold.  He saw that the rest were big gas giants with no place to walk.  But the third planet was just right.  God called this planet “Earth.”

God said, “Let the Earth grow cool.”  And it was so.  The Earth became a barren rocky ball with a poisonous atmosphere.  Then God saw that the Earth was light when the Sun was in the sky, but dark at night when only the stars were shining.  So He caused a huge space rock to strike the Earth and knock a big chunk of it into space.  He caught the chunk, formed it into a ball, and sent it going around the Earth.  God called it “the Moon.”  He saw that when the Moon was in the night sky, it reflected sunlight and so now there would be light at night on the Earth.  And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and morning, the second day.

God remembered that the Earth, though it was now cool, was also barren.  And He caused comets to come from far away in space beyond the outer planets and strike the Earth.  The comets had large quantities of ice in their nuclei; the ice melted and the water ran down into the low regions of the Earth.  God called the water “the Ocean.”

Then God said, “Let there be living creatures in the Ocean.”  And suddenly there was a multitude of tiny creatures swimming in the water.  They multiplied, growing and changing.  God realized that the Earth’s atmosphere wasn’t right for the life He wanted the Earth to have, so He caused the hydrogen and methane in the air to be replaced by nitrogen and oxygen from inside the Earth.

Now, water from the ocean was evaporating in the Sun’s heat, forming clouds and raining on the Earth.  Plants started to grow in the soil of the Earth, coming from out of the oceans.  God saw that it was good.  There was evening and morning, the third day.

Then God saw that life was becoming more complex.  He said, “Let some of the living creatures that swim in the ocean also come out onto the land.”  And it was so.  Animals came out of the water and started to live on the land, breathing the air and eating the plants.  The creatures in the ocean made shells for themselves out of substances in the water that came from rivers on the land.  Some others became fish.  On the land, some animals became things that crawled: snakes, lizards, bugs; others flew through the air: insects.  Some of the animals became gigantic.  Animal forms grew, flourished, and died off.  God saw that this was all part of His plan for the Earth, and that it was good.  And it was evening and morning, the fourth day.

Then God guided His animals:  Creatures with feathers appeared, having wings, that flew through the air.  They nested in the trees, or on the ground in the tall grass.  Other animals with hair appeared, covered in fur, that walked on four feet on the ground.  The animal types  grew, developed, and died off, as the giant lizards had done.  More and more kinds of animals appeared and more and more kinds of plants and ocean creatures.  The Earth became a place of diverse kinds of life, from creatures so small that only God could see them, to large and heavy brutes on land, and the giants of the ocean.  And God saw that all this was good.  It was evening and morning, the fifth day.

Now God was ready for the creatures He would call His own.  He took two of the middle-sized, upright-walking animals, breathed His Breath into them, and named them.  The male He called “Adam;” that is, “Man.”  The female He called “Eve,” and He named them His “People.”  He could talk to them and they could talk to Him; they could all walk together and be with each other.  He told them to be fruitful, and to take care of His creation; they would be His people and He would be their God.  And God said, “It is very good!”  It was evening and morning, the sixth day.

On the seventh day God rested, because He was finished with His work.

*     *     *

Now, just a final word:  I did not go into the account of mankind’s fall from grace, or of the things that followed it.  That is out of the scope of this little exercise.  For those of you who are still not happy with me, you will find in the Bible, in the first two chapters of Genesis, two distinct, different accounts of the Creation; the second one continues into the account of the fall of mankind.  Later in Chapter 5 there is a mini-comment on the Creation, that begins the account of the lineage of Noah.  Other places in the Bible comment on the Creation account.  Especially in the first chapter of the Gospel of John there is a short comment upon the Creation identifying the Word (Jesus) as the Creator.  Each of these accounts are to some extent different from the others.  I believe that God is not so much concerned with the scientific data of the creation of His universe as He is that we know Him in the person of His Son and come to love Him as He loves us.

I am not a cosmogonist or a paleobiologist, so my rendering of the Creation story may not agree with the present state of knowledge in those disciplines.  I was just…

Supposing.