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Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

Culture-related pages:


Travel photos



Religious blogs & sites


Local drama & music


Other Web links


 

My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

December 28, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Holiday spirit: Amped & ready to go

It was another big month for me music-wise, but ironically there were only three "open mic" nights at Queen City Brewing. (The scheduled December 7 event was cancelled due to a furnace breakdown.) The really big event for me, however, was on December 12.

You might say that Santa Claus came early this year for me. In preparation for performing at the Augusta Bird Club 50th anniversary dinner (see below), I made a long-deferred purchase of a public address amplifier system. Ironically, I had bought a microphone and stand in the late 1980s when I was getting semi-serious about music, but never had an amp. Not satisfied with the choices available locally, I went up to Hometown Music in Harrisonburg [see website], and bought a Fender Passport Conference P.A. system. ("Conference" is the low end of that product line; there are two more expensive models.) It has two speakers that conveniently fit with the central amplifier unit, and looks like a suitcase. It's heavy but definitely portable. With 175 watts of output power, it seems ideal for my purposes, enabling me to play in a small venue either solo or with another musician.

Fender Passport amplifier, speakers

Fender Passport Conference amplifier and speakers.

ABC 50th year dinner

On December 12, 2016 I provided musical entertainment at the Augusta Bird Club's 50th anniversary dinner, at which about 50 people attended, including the mayor of Staunton, Carolyn Dull. I played five songs (or parts thereof), four of which are marked with asterisks in the open mic list for December 14, when I played them again (in full). On the first song, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," I changed "West Virginia" to "Augusta County," and "Shenandoah River" to "Shenandoah Valley." (I introduced that song by saying it was by a guy named Henry Deutschendorf, asking if anyone knew what his common name was. I was very impressed that Mayor Carolyn Dull was the first to give the correct answer: John Denver!) The next four songs were all abbreviated, comprising what I called a "Bird Song Medley," in which each song title was changed to that of a bird species, along with a few altered lyrics where appropriate. It was an attempt at "insider" humor on my part, and most people seemed to get the joke.

ABC 50th anniversary dinner - Andrew Clem, Stark & Jean Smith, Emily & Tom Britt

Yours truly, performing at the Augusta Bird Club's 50th anniversary dinner on December 12. (Photo taken by Jacqueline.) Click on the smiley face below to see the four birds (Kentucky Warbler, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, and Mississippi Kite) about which I sang.

smile / bird song medley montage

Open mic events

I played four of those five songs on [the Staunton Music Guild's] open mic night two days later, the exception being "Mississippi Queen" by the group Mountain. (It's hard rock, not well suited for acoustic guitar.) Not many people were there that evening, so I figured I could take a bit more risk than usual, and played The Beatles' "And I Love Her." It involves some quick chord changes, and I pulled it off pretty well. Then on the next song, I totally blew the intro bass lines of "One of These Nights," and even had to start over, but the rest of the song went OK. The final two songs were tributes to rock musicians who died this year: Glenn Frey in January and both Keith Emerson (March) and Greg Lake (December 7). I was very pleased by how ELP's "From the Beginning" sounded.

On December 21, there was a pretty good turnout (about 15-20 people) but only two musicians besides Fritz Horisk (the open mic host): Diane Bryer and me. As a result, each of us got to do several extra songs, eight altogether. Since Fritz had been playing Christmas songs since the week before, I figured I ought to get into the spirit of the season, so I learned the Eagles' Yuletide classic song "Please Come Home For Christmas." Despite being a new song for me, it went pretty well. I thought I did very well on "Sweet Caroline," but didn't seem to get much audience reaction. As in the week before, some of the songs were tributes to rock musicians who passed away this year. I used the harmonica in place of the lead guitar on "Peaceful Easy Feeling," and that went very well. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" also sounded good.

Tonight, December 28, the crowd was rather thin, no more than ten or so. Besides me (and the host, Fritz), there were two other musicians, one of whom (Perry) has played there quite a few times and has a repertoire that is somewhat similar to mine. I started with a country music classic ("I Walk the Line"), but unfortunately muffed some of the lyrics. The guitar part sounded good at least; that song is a rare example of having several "modulations," when the key changes in the middle of the song. I used the harmonica on the next two songs, including one by Jim Croce, who died when I was in high school. As I told the folks, I clearly remember what a shock that was. Most people there seemed to agree that the biggest shock of their lifetimes (in terms of rock musicians dying suddenly) was when John Lennon was murdered. I really nailed "Certain Kind of Fool," which has a neat-sounding intro and a soaring lead guitar part, and did pretty well on the difficult song "Spirit" (which I mistakenly called "Journey") as well.

End-of-year wrap-up

With the year 2016 all but over, I decided to calculate how many songs I have done at the open mic events this year. The result: 83! That doesn't count the songs I did at the Augusta Bird Club dinner, since I played them again a few days later at the open mic night. It is worth pointing out that I have not played any song at those open mic events more than once. (That's probably why it's getting hard for me to memorize all the lyrics to those songs: my repertoire is getting too big!) Next year I will start playing songs that I have done previously. My total was boosted considerably by the three evenings in December when fewer performers showed up, giving those of us who did show up more time to play. I did 23 songs in December alone! The Music page has been updated accordingly. Whew!


November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

FIVE more Open Mic appearances!

Earlier this evening, I had yet another Open Mic appearance with the Staunton Music Guild at Queen City Brewing. That makes six weeks in a row (including five this month), a personal best! I have been trying to improve my stage presence and vocal delivery technique by playing in public on a regular basis, since I am slated to provide musical entertainment at an upcoming Augusta Bird Club dinner. There's no substitute for practice and discipline. Unlike my last "monthly report" (October 27), I am presenting my song lists in normal (not reversed) chronological order.

On November 2, which happened to coincide with the start of Game 7 of the World Series, I did my part to boost the Chicago Cubs' cosmic karma by playing what has become the team's semi-official victory song. Since I only recently learned it was written by Steve Goodman, who died in 1984, I played the song for which he is most widely known. I then concluded with a song paying tribute to this country's democratic heritage [as Election Day approached] with an irreverent song by the early "shock rocker," Alice Cooper.

On November 9, I tried to leave behind the oddball songs of the week before and "return to my roots." I played the lead part well enough on "Take It Easy," but it just didn't meet my high level of expectations. [I chose that song in part to calm folks' nerves in the wake of the big upset election.] The next two songs came across pretty well, however. [Parts of "Tuesday Afternoon" are hard to sing, but I pulled it off.]

On November 16, I paid tribute to Canada based on two important dates. November 10 was the 41st anniversary of the sinking of the cargo ship "Edmund Fitzgerald" on Lake Superior, so I played the song about that tragedy by Gordon Lightfoot, who is Canadian. The other two artists I covered are also Canadian, and I did OK on those songs. (Neil Young's birthday was November 12.) [For the "encore," I played an old tune that I saw in a Laurel and Hardy movie from the 1930s, and a rousing Beatles tune making use of the harmonica.]

On November 23, I played two songs that I learned way back in the 1970s, one that's sad and one that's irreverent. Then I did a very nice song (in 3/4 time, which is unusual) by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils (the first song of theirs I've done in several weeks) that I really only mastered a year or two ago.

Tonight (November 30) it was raining, and hardly anybody was there when I arrived. But fortunately, people started coming in the door right about the time when I started playing. Fritz Horisk reminded everyone that it was the one-year anniversary of the first Open Mic night at Queen City Brewing. Each musician got to do two extra songs later on, since there were empty slots in the signup sheet. I played a beautiful song with "Melissa" in the title, and then a foot-stompin' rocker that was written by a Melissa (Etheridge). Not perfect, but both songs felt pretty good to me.

And so, I have updated my Music page with the latest set lists.


November 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Some scenic shots of Staunton, etc.

The Arctic blast of frigid winds that arrived yesterday afternoon is a sign that the beautiful season of autumn is at or near an end. And so, I have assembled some of the more scenic photos I have taken over the past month or so. Of that batch, the following two are fairly representative. Some show the rich historical and archectectural heritage of Staunton, and others show the beauty of nature in Augusta County. They remind me just how lucky folks are to live in this part of the Shenandoah Valley.

Mary Baldwin University, churches

Mary Baldwin University, churches in Staunton, as seen from the top of Reservoir Hill. (Nov. 4)

Chimney Hollow trees, sky

Tall trees and blue sky above the Chimney Hollow trail, during my Augusta Bird Club field trip yesterday. (Nov. 19)

Other recently-added photos (including a panorama of downtown Staunton from the top of Reservoir Hill) can be seen on the Chronological (2016) photo gallery.





Major world languages

Language 2002
(mn)
2010
(mn)
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.


Major world religions

Religion 2002
(mn)
2010
(mn)
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."


Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Niebuhr's
Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From wikipedia.org:

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

.