Tag Archives: Music

Goodbye, RIP, Adam Schlesinger


I did not realize that the Fountains of Wayne singer-songwriter was also involved in one of my favorite Tom Hanks movies, “That Thing You Do,” but he was.

And, at the young age of 51, Adam Schlesinger joins the cost of COVID-19, a death of a singer from a respiratory virus.

Any death is a tragedy, but these are particularly so. Victims of this virus die alone and at a time when we can’t gather to mourn them.

I’m afraid our losses are just starting, and I can only hope this nightmare ends soon. Stay healthy and stay isolated, my friends. It is all we can to protect each other and minimize the cost of this pandemic.

Anyway, Fountains of Wayne is, of course, known for the novelty song “Stacy’s Mom.” But I enjoyed the band and many of their other songs. A few of my favorites as a memorial for Adam:

And finally, I do think this Katy Perry cover is a good version of this song. Farewell, Adam, and thanks for the tunes:

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Random Thoughts at a Middle School Concert


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Students exit middle school concert at Linn-Mar High School as a performer on stage stows his tools.

I’ve written before about how important a student newspaper is to a university and to students’ experience in school. I firmly believe that one reason student media are important at colleges is the beyond-classroom experiences students gain.

That general idea applies to other areas of school at other levels.

On Tuesday night, I attended a granddaughter’s orchestra concert at Linn-Marr High School. She’s a student at Excelsior Middle School; it was a fifth- and sixth-grade concert.

The music was, well, not always all that musical. The fifth graders are in their first year of formal school music, learning how to hold their instruments, how to read music, little hands and little bodies sometimes dwarfed by their tools.

What a difference a year makes. The change from fifth to sixth grade is pretty dramatic. When these kids get to high school, they’ll be making beautiful music.

And if the chords and harmonies didn’t always excite the pleasure centers of my brain, still, good for you, kiddos. Even if you’re just starting on your music journey, I’m glad that your school provides you with this opportunity and that you are learning.

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Teacher conducts middle-school orchestra.

And yet, it also makes me a little sad.

After all, Linn-Mar is mostly a suburban school district with a pretty good property tax base. In school terms, it’s a relatively well-off district, and that is reflected in its facilities and programs. Extra-curricular activities aren’t always so well-funded or robust in smaller, rural districts or poorer urban ones.

Even here, in a fairly well-off district that has opportunities for anyone, a family needs to commit resources to provide an instrument if a child wants to be in orchestra. And there is already a haves vs have-nots stratification even at early levels—in my granddaughter’s orchestra program there is an audition-only group. I don’t know this for a fact, but I suspect that most members of that group have relatively affluent parents who have paid for private lessons that help their children achieve a higher level earlier in life.

I don’t want to seem critical of a mom or dad who is driving junior to evening or weekend lessons at a private music academy. Good for them. I just hope public schools work hard to make sure that the kid from a marginal home where private lessons aren’t an option can get opportunities, too.

Anyway, that’s not really what I want to write about. Mostly, I am thrilled that so many families have introduced their children to music. My granddaughter will probably never be a stat, but she plays the cello and sings in chorus in middle school and seems to enjoy both.

As a parent and grandparent and citizen of a country that needs an educated citizenry, I am a huge fan of school arts programs in all forms. Music, drama, dance, chorus—they all celebrate and encourage creativity, give students a bright peer cohort to pal around with and generally brighten what for almost all of us is a difficult time in life.

Sure, almost nobody will play the cello as a career. The point of the activity isn’t just the literal activity, but the depth of the experience it fosters.

Last week, a student and I attended the Iowa College Media Association Convention. It was a good time, a fun event, and the student paper that I advise got some awards.

Which is nice. Nicer still is the reality I see every day, that the existence of a paper has an importance I appreciate; like a middle school orchestra struggling to get the right notes at the right time, writers at the “Mount Mercy Times” are honing their craft.

Play on, kids. And may every Iowa and every American student go to a school that can offer them many creative arts opportunities—to me, the arts are something that every child should have access to.

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My granddaughter’s arm and hand are in this image, as she plays one of the cellos among her fellow cellos.

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Music & Previews of Coming Attractions


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Bells ring in Chapel of Mercy–two members of MMU Hand Bell Ensemble.

Tonight was a combination event that had all kinds of interesting ingredients, like a fusion restaurant.

This is “Mercy & Mission Week” at Mount Mercy University, and events this week are meant to remind us of and tie us with our heritage as an institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy. And tonight there was a “Poems, Promises, Music & Immigrant Stories” event in the Chapel of Mercy which was both a Mercy Week event and listed as part of our Fall Faculty Series.

It was an interesting show. Music was provided by the MMU Hand Bell Ensemble—which was nice to hear, although it’s too bad I’ve had to give up my participation in that crew. Miss you ringers, you sounded great!

There was also Jonny Lipford, who plays and teaches the music of various wooden native-style flutes. Several of them were two-in-one or three-in-one instruments—meaning flutes with more than one body—which means he harmonized with himself and sounded like a flute group.

The local choir Ingenzi, made up of Africans from various countries performing in their native languages, was pretty amazing—and harmonizing—too. They had some trouble finding the Chapel of Mercy, and thus ended up being the final act, but it was quite a final act.

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Members of Ingenzi, above and below.

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And Father Tony Adawu, our MMU resident priest, spontaneously became part of the music, singing an African song and showing us a dance that goes with it.

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Fr. Tony and audience dance.

I liked the music, but two speakers really stood out to me. Immigrant stories were shared by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, a senior who is in his final semester, and Dr. Ayman Amer, our economics professor.

Dr. Amer told several compelling anecdotes—how his neighbors in Cedar Rapids acted instinctively to ensure his family was safe in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, how a wealthy business person in New York City—which he always had seen as the least friendly place on Earth—helped him the first day he was in the U.S., and also of his seeing snow for the first time that day.

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Dr. Ayman Amer shares a few stories of coming to America from Egypt.

Snow! That story touched me personally. Dr. Amer described it as looking magical that first day in January in New York City. His story took me back to when I was a boy and our family moved from California to Iowa. Snow, if you had only seen it on TV, was indeed a magical and strange thing to actually see falling from the sky for the first time. (We moved in August, so it was a few months before I saw snow—but it still made quite an impression on me.)

Anyway, I think the whole night was most highlighted by Gabriel Hernandez Acosta, who told of his illegal journey to the U.S. as a 6-year-old. His story was well-told. It went well with the art he displayed, and both he and Dr. Amer are scheduled to speak again later as part of our fall series.

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Gabriel Hernandez Acosta–speaker and also events staff for tonight’s presentation.

Hernandez Acosta will be a key speaker at the Oct. 15 “Our Immigrant Stories: Coming to Cedar Rapids and Mount Mercy,” a special community day that will feature multiple presentations. He will be a highlight of one of the highlights of our whole series, and hearing him tonight, he’s fully capable of pulling that off.

image-of-logo-colorDr. Amer will speak Nov. 15 on “The Dollars and Sense of It: What Immigration Does to our Economy.” He will also, as part of that presentation, share part of his personal story. And by the preview tonight, he has quite a few personal anecdotes to share.

About 70 people attended the concert tonight—a good turnout. I hope you were there—but if not, come to hear two of tonight’s speakers on Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. And check out all of the other events in our Fall Faculty Series.

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Making Music in the Dark


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Clarinet player, with the help of a cell phone buddy, gets ready to play.

The Boss sang about dancing in the dark, but he ever said anything about ringing in the dark.

Friday, May 6—the MMU Handbell Ensemble begins it’s “M&M Scholars” concert at Meth Wick retirement home in Cedar Rapids.

I felt lucky to be there—I only go to Meth Wick once a year, which means I don’t have much of a memory of where it is. I printed off a Google map before leaving campus, but sadly, the map only really shows the shape of the route—since I didn’t print it large enough to show street names, that left a lot of guesswork up to me.

Still, I rode my bike across the Five-in-One Bridge (not a place I would usually ride, but fortunately in early afternoon traffic was very light), turned right, and guessed about what street to turn left on.

It was a lucky guess. I ended up at an unfamiliar school, with a hill looming behind it. There were buildings on the hill, and I thought to myself “that looks like to could be Meth Wick.” It was.

And so I thought the big adventure of the concert was over.

We didn’t have a warm-up time, so when 2 p.m. came, we just rang. And I did ring on most songs, although the arrangement we have of “Ode to Joy” gives me fits of panic, and I haven’t made it through that song yet.

Anyway, the first four or so songs went by, and then it was solo time. First our flute player played a nice tune, accompanied by our director on piano—Carolyn accompanied all of our solos, which makes me rethink the meaning of the word “solo,” but there you have it.

Anyway, David stood up and began to ring “It’s a Small World.” It’s a very familiar tune that some consider an earworm, and maybe the universe was sending us a message.

Because right in the middle of the song, the lights suddenly went out.

Though plunged into instant darkness, David proved he knew his part well because he just kept right on playing.

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Remember “That Think You Do?” “Darkness falls ….” Playing like Mr. Downtown.

The darkness was not total-there were no windows in the meeting room we were in, but the doors had panes of glass and opened onto a foyer with many windows.

We waited a bit after David was done, wondering if the show would go on. Then, although the light was dim, the next soloist opined that she could probably see well enough to play.

Cell phones were pulled out for the soloists and Carolyn, and clarinet and piano made pretty music.

By the end of that final solo, nursing home staff were bringing in rather bright camping lanterns. The bell ensemble spent a few minutes arranging, and then we were ready, too.

We were ringing, not exactly in the dark, but closer to it than we usually ring.

And we ended up with a much better story than the “I thought I was lost but I was mistaken” biker story.

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Your Thursday Morning Earworm Courtesty of MMU


It may look like a Barbarian or possibly a Viking warrior in the chapel, but it’s just David, a member of the MMU Handbell Ensemble, providing you, for free, with your morning earworm. You’re welcome:

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I Can Almost Play Just One Song


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Detail of piano in our basement. It dates from about 1973 or so. My kids very briefly took lessons using this piano, and now it’s my practice piano.

Music update: I started piano lessons in March, studying with Mount Mercy’s own Tony Nickle.

How is it going? Well, I know very little about music, so for the first month I was pretty much just learning notes. Can’t say I can read them instantly—I probably need to go online and practice more—but I can figure them out.

Ebony and ivory together.

Ebony and ivory together.

Next came learning where the notes are on the piano keyboard. Tony said that would be easier than learning the notes on the musical staffs, and I guess he’s right.

Finally, I started practicing playing. I’ve played a total of three tunes so far, rather badly and slowly. The first two didn’t really sound like music to me, but Tony assured me I was making progress. Now, on tune number three, while it’s getting to be a bit of an earworm by now (I’ve been on it for about a month), it does at least sound a bit like music to my ears. I’ll post a sample. You’ll be underwhelmed. Trust me, it’s progress.

Frankly, I’m not displeased at all. It took me a long time to learn just G and A in the bass clef for my bell choir, so the slow pace of learning—while not what I would like—is not a surprise. And I don’t have hours to practice. I thought I would practice more when summer came, but so far summer has been passing in a busy haze.

Still, I can read music, a bit. I understand the notes, a little. I can’t read fast enough to play well, I hesitate a lot, but I’m learning something new.

And my mother’s piano, which was purchased in the early 1970s when we lived in the rental house on Kindler Avenue, and which was damaged in a move and also went through the fire in the Third Street house, is making music again. Sort of.

Give me time.

I don’t have any ambitions in taking piano lessons, other than self enrichment. My wife suggested I do it because she thought it would help me in the bell ensemble, and I suppose she’s right.

So far so good. I don’t exactly have the music in me yet, but I’m trying.

On the topic of music, here is a highlights video of the MMU bell choir at the hooding ceremony in May. I had to run up to the camera, start it, and run back to my place, and sadly no one was there to pan, so you don’t even see the full choir. For me, I enjoy the video because I don’t actually hear what we sound like when I’m playing—my own bells are too loud and drown out the tune.

I think we sound nice. Much better than a very novice student piano player, wouldn’t you agree?

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Dim Memories From The ‘Erie Canal’ Era


You know what?

I’ve got an old mule, and as fate would have it, her name is Sal. She’s a good old worker, and a good old pal.

Besides that disjointed snatch of lyrics, I think the 1890s hit “Daisy Bell,” about the bicycle built for two, comes close to being the total of my elementary school musical background.

I didn’t do band or sing in the choir in my youthful academic days, and I only took up my first musical instrument (the G and A handbells in the bass clef) very recently, as in, I was already north of 50. But, I’ve been exchanging some e-mails with the piano teacher at MMU. As I noted in my blog earlier, I plan to start piano lessons this year. Well, it looks like it will happen.

The tentative launch date is early March–I could begin in February, but with a new semester and the ICMA convention, I just though maybe March would work better.

In the latest of his e-mails to me, Tony the piano guy asked, in a sort of off-hand, too casual, “God I hope so” way, whether I could read notes in both the treble and bass clefs.

I like the way he phrased the question, as if it would be a given that, of course, I could read oe_to_fne or the other.

That would be “no.” And “no.” I read four notes in the bass clef only: the high G, high A, G flat, A sharp. And I get easily confused about the flats and sharps (or tears and spiders, as I like to think of them) and want to dope slap the genius who decided flats and sharps aren’t confusing enough for aging musical novices: “Lets give each of thosegbdfe notes two names. Bwa Ha Ha Ha!”

Anyway, I honestly answered back that I only read two notes. He hasn’t responded to that piece of cheery news. But some ancient memory from the Erie Canal era bubbled to the surface, and I came face to face with FACE. And was a good enough boy to recall that Every Good Boy Does Fine. In other words, I recall mnemonic devices learned, for some reason, in elementary school music class. FACEface, read from down to up, are the space notes in the treble clef. EGBDF—Every Good Boy Does Fine—are the notes on the lines, bottom to top.

Recalling that ancient bit of lore, that merry musical mnemonic trick from 4th grade, doesn’t mean that I read music, but at least I have a starting point to jiggle my neurons in the treble region. The irony is that the only musical notes I truly do read now are upper G and A in the bass zone.

There, in the bass, the notes are AECG for spaces and GBDFA for lines.aceg

What do I try as a mnemonic to recall the bass clef notes? “An Egg Creates Gas?” “All Elephants Cry Gaily?” “Asphalt Extracts Concrete Governments?” What about the lines? “Gall Bladders Dogbdfan’t Fart Aromas?” “Good Bouncers Do Fight Anytime?” “Great Buddies Deny Feverish Antiquity?”

Help me out, blog pals. If you, unlike me, went beyond Erie Canal in your musical education, how did you remember what all those quick dots on the bass lines and spaces mean? March will be coming soon, and I have a sneakig_to_ang suspicion that learning the notes might be an early part of this whole piano thingy.

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