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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

20 June 2006

Pipe Dreams

Saturday, 17 June 2006
Once again, the story starts earlier in the week. A long running dream of mine has been to win the lottery and spend the rest of my life just making music. I would build a small castle in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of that castle would be a great music hall with perfect acoustics. At the back of the stage would stand a magnificant pipe organ. Ahh...to sleep, perchance to dream...

Having an organ in my home would be shear ecstasy for me (& a harpsichord as well, while I'm at it). The church in Granite City I attended in my youth (yes, I've actually been to church other than for weddings and funerals) has a rather nice organ, so I was bitten by that bug at an early age. This past week, I took a giant leap toward that goal...and very nearly attained it.

My job with Wicks Organ Company has allowed me opportunities I could not have fathomed just a few short years ago. A recent visitor to our website inquired about the logistics and cost of removing a small organ from the balcony of his church in Russelton, PA -- just north of Pittsburgh. The Shop Superintendent redirected the inquiry to me for the pricing aspect, but mentioned that I might want to first inquire about it personally, as he knew I was casually looking about for a home organ. So, I exchanged a few emails with the gentleman, asked some questions about it, and told him I might be willing to drive to Pennsylvania and remove the instrument myself if the price was right. It was a Wicks "Fuga" model from 1935, with three ranks (219) of pipes, a 2-manual console built into the casework, and stood only 8'5" tall -- my living room ceiling is 8'9". When he told me to make him a fair offer, I asked him for some pictures and some more details. People all around me at work started offering me advice on how best to remove it, and even their services to help with everything from moving it to tonal regulating it once in my home.

Thursday morning around 08:30, an email arrived from this guy. He explained that apparently the organ didn't want to be sold, for as he was preparing to go take pictures of it that morning, he received a phone call informing him that the church was on fire. He said he drove over there and stood in the street watching it burn, and could even see the organ burning through a window that use to be a stained glass representation of the Transfiguration...which was the name of the church.

I was literally within hours of owning my own pipe organ.

I surfed a few news websites Monday from the Pittsburgh area and found several stories and photos of the fire, which took 75 firefighters to extinguish. One even had several minutes of video from their news helicopter flying over the scene. The 91-year-old church was a total loss, as was the organ in the balcony.

I was literally within hours of owning my own pipe organ!

Oh, well...c'est la vie.

At a completely different point in the musical spectrum, BenWahBob was booked for a return engagement at The Crazy Horse Saloon in Wentzville, MO on Saturday. They had played a freebie the previous Saturday afternoon at a biker benefit in Moscow Mills while I was in Michigan...which reminds me...thanks to Mike Hirsch for sitting in for me again. That was the maiden voyage of Bobby's new PA rig. But this was the first indoor gig, for which it was intended. It seems he's pieced himself together a rather nice little system. I arrived at the bar just as Bobby and Carlos were about to unload the system from Bobby's trailer -- also a nice new addition. We got it in and set up in almost no time at all. They had spent several hours configuring it to be quick and painless, and they succeeded. All of the electronics are in an SKB GigRig, the Carvin subs have large casters on back, and the mains and monitors are all manageable by one person. With everything pre-wired, we just plug in the speakers, plug in the mic cables, power it up, and go. K-I-S-S.

I popped out front for the first couple of songs to check levels, and everything sounded great. I boosted the vocal levels a bit to get them more out-front, flattened out the bass channel EQ (Hirschie plays one of those damned Steinberger basses -- a bowling ball with strings), and left it alone for the rest of the night. Carlos said he preferred to have the PA rack on my side of the stage to avoid the temptation he would surely have to tweak it all night. Good call.

We rolled into the first set with virtually no one in the place. Oh, well...paid practice. Too bad I had to drive 65 miles for this. As the night wore on, though, things started to pick up and more people made there way to the bar. The first set was fairly vanilla, and went without any real glaring hitches. as we turned the page to browse the second set, though, a great opportunity presented itself. Bobby noticed immediately that Dale had written the Romantics song What I Like About You twice back-to-back. He asked me which one we should play, to which I responded, "The first one...it's longer!" -- and so it did extend farther across the page. Bobby suggested we play it twice, just as written. When we presented the idea to Carlos, he whole-heartedly agreed. It was a done-deal. Dale was going to think we were nuts or something.

Unfortunately, he ruined it for us by noticing his error and correcting it just a few songs before the debut of our Romantics medley. Curses! Foiled again! ...and we would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you meddling kids! We did have more fun with him later in the evening, trying our level best to throw him off during songs we know he struggles with rhythmically. He was unflappable, though, on this night. Carlos and I even tried to throw off Bobby while he was singing the beginning of that acursed Georgia Sattelites song, only to be denied once again.

We had one of those "I used to be somebody" moments in the middle of the evening, too. Some biker-looking chick wearing a leather vest, do-rag, and pig-tails approached Dale during one break and asked him if she could come up and sing the Guns-n-Roses song Sweet Child of Mine. He hemmed and hawed, and siezed the opportunity to drag Bobby and me into it. When she asked us, we both shrugged our shoulders and said that we knew it. This wasn't the support that Dale was seeking. She launched into that old, tired, far-to-familiar sob story about how she used to be a singer, and sang on many people's CDs, but then got throat cancer and had to quit singing professionally. Uhh-huh...yah...sssure you did. I'll bet you played a Rickenbacker, too, right? If I had a dollar for every time I've heard some lame-ass version of that story as a pretense to get up on stage and suck the life right out of the place... She tried for about another 15 or 20 minutes, then got mad and gave up after we convinced her that Carlos really didn't know the song. Where's Deron when you need him?

We managed our way through the rest of the night, occassionally messing things up on purpose toward the end of trying to trying to throw off Dale. Still no luck. At the end of the festivities, tear-down of the new system went pretty quick. We could do better, though. We did stop and chat a bit here and there. I had a nice conversation with Dale's lovely wife Chris about long drives after gigs and playing at the Lake of the Ozarks. I couldn't remember the name of that bar on the lake to save my life (it was The Filling Station & Backwater Jack's, Chris). It's hell getting old.

During load-out, we were stuffing equipment back into Bobby's trailer when I burned the dickens out of my left hand. Bobby and I were lifting the PA rack into the trailer from the sides as Carlos was pushing from behind. As I got the front edge onto the trailer and reached back to steady the top corner, Carlos called out just as I grabbed the cigarette in his hand and mashed it into the rack with the palm of my hand. Ouch! I now have a nice little spot between my first and second fingers that's about the size of a cigarette (Did I STUTTER?). Oh, well...it'll be a nice reminder of my time in Wentzville at The Crazy Horse Saloon.

Yee Haaa!

For the long drive home, I popped in the Enchant CD Tug of War. I had listened to their Juggling 9 or Dropping 10 CD during the drive there, and was thoroughly progified by the time I got home just after 03:30. That kind of made for a mostly-wasted Sunday, but, hey, such is the life of a working musician, eh?

12 June 2006

Pipe Organs & Sweet Wine

Friday, 09 June 2006
One of the nice benefits about playing with BenWahBob is the fact that we don't play every waking moment. Generally, we only book about two gigs a month, with some exceptions during the summer. This past weekend was one of those off weeks. In a stroke of rare opportunity, Dawna didn't have her kids either. As part of the 100th anniversary celebrations at Wicks Organ Company, we had planned a chartered bus to take those interested to Kalamazoo, MI for an organ recital on what has become our premiere instrument at First Congregational Church.

Dawna had taken the day off, and showed up early to get the nickle tour of the pipe organ shop. We boarded the bus in the parking lot at 10:00 and were on our way. We stopped in Effingham, IL for lunch at Ryan's, gorged ourselves at the buffet, then headed up I-57 toward Chicago. We looped around outside of Chicago through some small towns in northern Illinois and Indiana, then back on Interstate Highway to Kalamazoo. An unfortunate occurance left us sitting on the road for about an hour-and-a-half -- a truck had crossed over the median and struck three cars, killing a 7-year-old girl. We called ahead to the church, and they were already aware of the accident and the subsequent traffic nightmare. When we finally started moving again, we were way behind schedule. We had planned on stopping at the hotel in Stevensville, MI to change clothes before going to the church. We were now going straight to the church, as the recital was scheduled to start at 19:30. We arrived about 19:50, and the concert began immediately. It was nice of them to wait for us.

The organist, Colin Howland, did a knock-down job playing a wide variety of music -- some writen for the pipe organ, some transcribed from orchestral music. He played everything from Bach to Mozart to Vierne (the Bach was outstanding), and even tickled us with an encore of a J. P. Sousa march that would have made any Monty Python fan proud. We even joked with him afterwards at the Meet-and-Greet about finding a suitable stop on the instrument for the big fart sound at the end. Everyone was also given the opportunity to crawl around inside the pipe chamber to see what an organ looks like from the inside. Dawna seemed to really enjoy that, as it was her first time inside a large instrument. It is an impressive three-stories tall, and full to the top of pipes and wind lines...including a rather chest-rattling 32' Double Trombone of 12 pipes. It's a nice instrument, to say the least. Wicks' pride in it is aptly justified.

After the concert, we adjourned to The Blue Dolphin, a Greek restaurant just a coupler of blocks from the church, and had dinner...at 22:00. They, too, kept the place open late for us. Very nice. None of us really ate too terribly much, as it was so late, but we did have a great time sitting around picking on each other and sharing "war stories" about Wicks and other places we had worked. We then took the hour-long bus ride back to the hotel in Stevensville. It was nearly 01:00 when we checked in at the front desk.

Saturday, 10 June 2006
Saturday morning rolled around way too soon. I had set the alarm for 07:00. I remember looking over at the clock around 07:04 and wondering why hotel alarm clocks never seem to work. Not that it matters...I can't sleep late even if I want to any more. We got up and showered, and headed down to the lobby for the free continental (as opposed to oceanic, I suppose) breakfast. We indulged in hot waffles and comparisons to other hotels with some of the other friendly travelers. We also found plastered across the front of the morning paper pictures of the gruesome accident from the night before. In a bout of hardcore journalistic sensationalism, I found the writer had not only named the company who owned the trailer (being hauled by another carrier), but had the audacity to even list their website in the story. Trial by media the very next day.

We all borded the bus around 11:00 for the journey home. It was nice to just ride for a change, and be a sightseer. I almost always have to drive when I travel anywhere, which doesn't afford me the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. This time I got to do just that. Dawna and I curled up in our seats and watched the countryside go by as the rest of the crew sat in the back of the bus drinking and laughing. We did occassionaly chortle at some of the stories they were sharing.

Lunch was to be had at a giant red barn known as Amishland, somewhere in the middle of northeastern Illinois. It is an Amish mall, of sorts, with a really good buffet. After we ate, we all went out and browsed the shops that littered the inside of this hug "barn." Once back on the road, we made the final push for home. It was a long ride that I only really remember as a series of naps interupted every so often by the odd outburst of laughter. The bus pulled into the Wicks parking lot sometime late Saturday evening. We all congratulated each other on a fine weekend, said our goodbyes, and headed for our respective homes. Even Dawna and I parted ways, as she said she wanted to sieze the opportunity to practice with her piano and violin. I went home and practiced my cello for awhile, then fell asleep on the couch while watching the lightning from a passing storm.

Sunday, 11 June 2006
Dawna and I rarely get the chance to spend copious amounts of time alone together, so we took full advantage of this weekend. We had decided to spend Sunday taking her convertable out for a spin, and settled on a trip to Mount Pleasant, a winery in Augusta, MO. This is one of those things we have talked about doing in the past, but never found the time to actually do. Of course, it was raining Sunday morning, but we went regardless.

She picked me up around 10:30 and off we went. We stopped for breakfast at the IHOP in North St. Louis County, then continued on to Augusta. During the drive along MO-94 near Defiance, we started to notice a fair amount of storm damage, some of the debris spread across the road at various places. We drove through Augusta admiring the old Missouri town's charm.

The winery was mostly empty when we arrived. There was a wedding reception in one of the far buildings, but little else going on there. I guess the threatening skies had held people back. We bought a bottle of Harvest White and a tray of cheese and sausage, and sat in the back patio area of the "grocery" building looking out over the river valley. There was a group of youngsters at the other end of the patio who kept us readily amused. More people started to filter in as the day wore on, including a group of women having a bachelorette party. They were a hoot, too. There's always good people-watching at these places.

We didn't stay too long for fear of drinking too much wine and having to wind our way back on the two-lane road (neither of us drink much anymore). In fact, we didn't even finish the bottle we bought. I'm enjoying a glass of it even as I write this on Monday night. Dawna stopped at the store in the front on the way out to buy a couple of bottles to take home, and we headed back to the city. She wanted to stop at an antique store we passed on the way there, but it was closed on Sunday. we did end up at an antique mall in Creve Coeur until they closed and threw us out. I resisted the temptation to rescue a couple of instruments I found there -- an old trombone and a nice silver bugle. As it was after 17:00 and dinner was now in order, we stopped at the Olive Garden for some pasta.

To complete our care-free, by-the-seat-of-our-pants Sunday, we decided to go see a movie. We ended up in O'Fallon, IL at their massive theater and went in to watch The daVinci Code. We had both read the book when it came out, and were eager to see the movie version. I must say, for as much as it has been maligned by critics, I thought it was a pretty good movie. It stayed pretty true to the book, and the acting was better than average.

OK...so its not a particularly musical blog. It does, however, point out that even those of us who have devoted our lives to the pursuit of music do occassionally do "normal" things, too. I guess riding a bus to Michigan to listen to a pipe organ is rather peculiar to being a musician, though, so it kind of all comes together around that.


Normal blog coming again next week.