The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 6: Keeping spirits high #COVID19

Free Free Cliparts Music, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on ...

When I first started posting to Facebook — probably about twelve years ago, give or take — I remember getting up on a gray, blustery Monday morning, and I innocuously posted a song lyric: “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” A week later, I posted another: “Just another manic Monday.” Mainly, they reflected what was on my mind. I posted them sporadically, until some friends of mine told me, “we enjoy when you post those — keep them going!” That started my tradition every morning of posting a “Lyric Of The Day” (which I now abbreviate as “LOTD”). I post them each morning before work (and I generally only post them on a work day). Nine times out of ten, what I post is simply something stuck in my head, but every once in a while, I’ll post something related to a current event or something that’s on my mind.

Every once in a while, I’ll have a morning where nothing comes to me, in which case I’ll post something inane like the lyrics to “Happy Birthday” or “The Wheels On The Bus.” Sometimes, what’s in my head doesn’t have lyrics, in which case I’ll post a YouTube link to the song that’s in my head.

I only do this on my Facebook account; I don’t do this on my ‘blog or on Twitter. If you want to see my daily LOTD, you’ll just have to Facebook-friend me! ūüôā

I have a couple of other friends who post a lot of puns. I refer to one of them as “the king of puns,” and the other has taken to posting, during the COVID-19 crisis, what he’s been referring to as the “dad joke of the day.”

Other friends post more serious, inspirational quotes or memes. Some are religious, while others quote famous people throughout history.

Whether it’s music, humor, inspirational quotes, or something else, they all serve the same purpose: raising morale and lifting spirits. These days, with all of us shut in at home, we can use as many morale boosts as we can get, however we get it. I am not blind nor ignorant to the things going on around me; rather, I’m doing what I can to make the world a better place, even if I have to do it virtually.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 3: Downloads and resurrecting an old hobby #COVID19

How To Play A MIDI Keyboard? ‚Äď The Complete Guide!

Last November, I bought a new laptop. My old HP had served me well for a number of years, but it was showing its age, and I decided to get a new one.

In the last couple of days, I’ve used it to download some things and make more use of it. The first was SQL Server 2019; yesterday, I wrote about installing it (ed. note: I started writing this ‘blog article on Friday, but didn’t get this out until Monday). I intend to do more with it, and I’ll write about it later as I go along.

The second is resurrecting an old hobby, and it’s directly related to my music.

As many of you are aware, I’m a musician in my spare time. When I’m not trapped at home by COVID-19, I play piano in a Catholic church on Sunday mornings, and I play clarinet with a symphonic concert band on Wednesday nights. I used to do a lot more, but increasing demands on my time forced me to cut back.

One thing about me that a lot of people might not be aware: I’ve written and recorded songs. I have a page on which I have demos. Feel free to click the link and give my songs a listen, if you feel so compelled.

However, I haven’t done anything with my music in a long time. There are multiple reasons for this, first and foremost being that “life happens.” I’ve been busy doing a lot of other stuff, my life has rolled merrily along, and my dream of becoming a rockstar (literally!) had to be put on hold. By now, a number of the songs I’ve written are coming up on about thirty years old. I like to think that my music is still relevant, but I encourage you to check out the link above and listen for yourself.

Another major reason I haven’t done anything with it in a while is frustration. I used to work a lot on MIDI sequencing. Much of that work was done on an old Macintosh computer using Trax sequencing software. Laugh about the ancient setup all you want, but it was easy to use, it worked very well, and it got the job done.

Unfortunately, that changed after I decided to switch out my aging (and slowly-dying) Mac for a PC. After making the switch, I constantly had problems. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that my PC would blue-screen as soon as I tried the MIDI sequencer. And after that, I experienced latency issues that I was unable to correct. I would hit a key on the piano, and I would hear the sound a couple of seconds later — completely unacceptable when you’re trying to do MIDI sequencing work. I wanted to work on sequences, but it frustrated me enough to abandon it — and return to it only sporadically, if at all.

With me being home due to COVID-19, and looking for projects to work on, I figured it was a good time to revisit my music and MIDI sequencing endeavors.

I first downloaded and installed ACID Music Studio on my laptop. I had bought the software a long time ago. It used to be a Sony product, but Magix has since taken it over. I was happy to see that my software license was still valid, so I was able to install it on my laptop with little trouble.

I then took my old recording project files and restored them on my laptop. I’m using ACID to play some of my projects as I write this, and I’m happy to see that they’re still there.

Okay. The next step was to see if my computer would work with my MIDI setup. The piano I use as my controller is a full-sized Kurzweil Ensemble Grande. I have a MIDI Out cable attached to the back so that I can install it to a MIDI interface. I took my laptop to the living room and started setting it up.

Alas, this is where I ran into a problem. My E-Mu XMIDI 1×1 interface did not appear to be compatible with my laptop running Windows 10. When I checked the website, I saw a message saying that the interface had reached end-of-life and was no longer supported. Foiled. I ordered a new MIDI interface from Amazon. My new MIDI setup would have to wait.

So, until I get my new MIDI interface, the rest of this experiment will have to wait. I’ll pick this up again when my new hardware arrives.

Another year down, another year coming

As I write this, it’s fewer than forty-eight hours until the new year, which, I figure, is just a good a time as any to review the past year, and look forward to the next.

Because I focus my ‘blog about professional development and technical communication, let’s start there. How about a run-down of my speaking engagements this year?

It looks like I’ve had a busy speaking year. While compiling this list, it also made me think about other events around my calendar.

So, those are some of what I did in 2019. What do I have coming up in 2020?

As of today, I have two confirmed speaking dates.

Also, as of today, I’ve submitted presentations to the following events.

I also intend to apply to speak at Boston on October 3. As of today, this event page is not yet live. I am also contemplating applying to speak at PASS Summit in Houston and SQL Saturday in Virginia Beach.

2019 was a busy year, and it appears that I will not be slowing down in 2020.

Happy New Year, all! I’ll catch you on the other side!

Life highlights

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

The past few years, I’ve participated in my school’s alumni band as the basketball team played early season tournament games in New York City. I didn’t do so this year, because the games were scheduled around Thanksgiving. The logistics involved with my schedule, which included travel to and from New York City, were just too much, so I decided not to participate this year. I posted as such to Facebook, and one of my friends jokingly responded, “now that you’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, you’re too good for Alumni Band now?” I got a good laugh out of that, but another friend, who performed in both bands with me, also talked about his “tour of highlights where he’s performed.”

It turned into an amusing thread, but it also got me thinking about high points in my life. Now that I’m able to sit down and reflect about it (today, the Friday after Thanksgiving — I’m intentionally avoiding the Black Friday crowds today), I realize that I’ve had my share of life highlights — possibly more than most people have had in their lifetime. Far be it for me to boast about myself — I’m not that kind of person (seriously, I’m not!) — but here are some of the bigger, high profile moments that I’ve had (that I remember).

  • I’ll start with my most recent. Earlier this month, I’ve had two within the span of four days. As I mentioned already, I performed with my community band at Carnegie Hall on Veteran’s Day. The previous Friday — only three days earlier — I’d given a presentation at PASS Summit. The former is a big moment in my extracurricular career, while the latter is a big one in my professional life.
  • From my most recent to one of my first: in 1981, my high school marching band was picked to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (You can see a video of my band’s performance here! I’m playing the marching bells; you can actually see me around 0:25 in the video!) I think any young person would pick that as a highlight of his or her life! We were positioned after the Superman balloon and in front of Dave Winfield on the Big Apple float. I remember rehearsing on dark city streets in midtown Manhattan at 3 or 4 in the morning, and all the bands gathered on 34th Street after the parade to perform Christmas Sing-A-Long.
  • I would have a few more moments with my high school band. We performed at a few NFL games, probably none bigger than the infamous snow game. Yes I was there! We were supposed to perform the halftime show, but they didn’t let us on the field — ostensibly for safety reasons. We performed the national anthem from the stands, and left after halftime. We did not even stay long enough to see the infamous snow plow on the field!
  • We even got to perform pregame at a few Yankee games! This was especially thrilling for me, as a big Yankee fan! The high point was performing a solo with the band my senior year. As a clarinet player, I had to be miked. I remember playing my solo (which I could play in my sleep) while thinking, “I am playing in the outfield at Yankee Stadium!”

I’ll stop there — you probably couldn’t care less about my life tour — but as you can see, I’ve had a number of “highlight reel” moments throughout my life. Now that I sit back and think about where I’ve been, I realize that I’ve done pretty well — and I’m not finished yet. We’ll see where my next adventure — whatever it may be — takes me.

So, what “highlights” have you experienced in your life? Every now and then, take a moment to sit down and contemplate what you’ve accomplished — and you’ll realize that you’ve done pretty well.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

As the old saying goes, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!”

I wrote a while back that the symphonic concert band I play in will be performing at Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and yet another bucket list item for me. The chance to play on the stage at Carnegie Hall is beyond my wildest dreams!

As it turns out, it also takes money! We’re looking to raise funds to offset costs for the trip. We set up a GoFundMe page for the opportunity. If you are able to do so, please consider contributing a few bucks for us to take this trip!

Thanks for your support!

Where do I best fit in?

I play the piano for Sunday morning church services.  One particular day earlier this year, the choir director and his family were out, and the choir was shorthanded that day.  The cantor was also not there that morning.  We desperately needed someone to step up, and no one was willing to do it.

This is not to disparage the choir, which is made up of wonderful people; that is not the point.  Rather, it got me thinking: what is my role?

Most of the time, my primary role in this group is as accompanist.¬† However, I’m also the most musically accomplished person in the group, and as a member of a number of ensembles, I’m also probably the most experienced ensemble musician.¬† Often, when the choir director is not there, leadership duties often falls to me.¬† The director has, in the past, asked me to lead rehearsals when he is not there.¬† So I can probably say that my secondary role is backup choir director.

I regularly think about this when I play in the symphonic band as well.  Where do I fit in?  This is not an existential or philosophical question; rather, it serves a purpose: what is my part supposed to be, and how am I supposed to perform it so that it best serves what is required in the piece?  Band is a team sport, and each member has a role to play so that the group functions as a single unit.

The professional workplace environment is no different.  In any organization, all employees are pieces to a larger puzzle.  Each person serves a purpose (and sometimes, multiple purposes).

During my podcast recording a while back, one of the questions I was asked was, “what’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve gotten?”  My answer was something like, “play to your strengths.”  I’ll admit that, since the recording, I’ve come up with several other answers that I wish I’d given, but it’s that particular answer that I want to discuss in this article.

Let me start with an analogy (as the Yankee fan that I am, I’ll go with another baseball — and more specifically — a Yankees team analogy).¬† Brett Gardner (outfielder) is known for his baserunning, speed, defense, and gritty play.¬† Aaron Judge (another outfielder) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) are known for their power hitting and penchant for driving in runs.¬† DJ LeMahieu (infielder) has a penchant for hitting, getting on base, and playing solid defense.¬† Likewise, each relief pitcher has his strengths that are used for specific situations.¬† Each ballplayer on a team has a role to play.¬† Aaron Boone (manager) utilizes each player as to what they’re capable of doing and when to best make use of their strengths depending on each situation.

Everyone has their strengths and capabilities that add value to an organization.  For me, personally, those strengths include technical communication, writing, and design.  To a smaller extent, I am also capable of database work, object-oriented development, analysis, and design.  But my professional strengths are what enable me to come through in the clutch.  And if they are properly nurtured, they can help improve my other (often, lesser) skills as well.

I remember reading a Wall Street Journal interview with Dilbert creator Scott Adams (it was back in the early 1990s; unfortunately, I have not been able to find a link to the article) in which he said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “the best way to be valuable is to learn as much as you can about as many different things as you can.”

A while back, I did a self-assessment of my own skill set, and I made an effort to be honest with myself. While I’ve worked in technology my entire professional career, I discovered that my true strengths weren’t so much in application development — the career path I had been pursuing the entire time — but rather in technical writing and communication.

When I came to that realization, my focus changed. I started moving away from hardcore technical topics and toward subjects geared toward my strengths — technical writing, layout, design, UX/UI, communication, and so on.

This focus manifested itself in my SQL Saturday presentations and my ‘blog articles. While I have enough of a background to maintain a presence within the technical world, my focus is on soft topics that aren’t necessarily technology-related, but are of interest to technical professionals, anyway. Even now, when I do SQL Saturday presentations, I use this analogy to introduce myself: when it comes to my relationship with PASS and SQL Server, “I’m the professor at MIT who teaches English Lit.” This mindset has carried me all the way to a speaking gig at PASS Summit.

Over the course of time, and without even realizing that I was doing it, I’d established my brand. While my official title is still “developer,” this is more of a misnomer (although it can be argued, what am I developing?). I’ve become the technical writing and communications guy. And I’m okay with that.

As I get older and continue to advance in my career, I’ve come to terms with my role and where I best fit on the team. As long as I still play for and contribute to the team, I’m in a good place.

My band is playing Carnegie Hall on Veterans Day!!!

This morning, I received an exciting piece of news!!!

It seems that November will be an exciting time for me! No sooner after I return from speaking at PASS Summit, I will be heading down to New York City. I found out this morning that the band in which I perform has been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall on Monday, November 11!!!

This is exciting for me! I can’t think of a single musician who wouldn’t want to perform at Carnegie Hall!!!

I’m writing this article to (1) make this exciting announcement, and (2) to also ask for help. We are seeking donations to help defray the costs of our trip. If you would like to donate, here is a letter that discusses our fundraising efforts. Any little bit helps. Help us get to Carnegie Hall!!! Apparently, it takes more than practice to get there — it also takes funds!

Symphonic/concert band performance, 4/27/19

For those of you who are interested in seeing me do something other than a SQL Saturday presentation, the concert band in which I perform will be performing at the Association of Concert Bands (ACB) Convention in northern New Jersey on Saturday, April 27!

We will be performing at 3:00 at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in Woodcliff Lake, NJ.

This is an opportunity to catch me in an environment that involves my biggest extracurricular activity outside of my work. Come on out and catch a good concert!

Hope to see you a week from Saturday!

Every once in a while, say “what the heck”

“Sometimes, you gotta say ‘what the f@%k!'”
— Miles Dalby, Risky Business

“All we are is dust in the wind…”
— Kansas

“While you see a chance, take it…”
— Steve Winwood

Last night, I checked an item off my bucket list.¬† I met and got my picture taken with my favorite band!¬† The pic is above.¬† That’s me in the middle, along with the guys from Kansas: from left to right,¬†Phil Ehart, David Ragsdale, Richard Williams, yours truly, Ronnie Platt, David Manion, Zak Rizvi, and Billy Greer.

I became a fan of Kansas sometime around college.¬† I saw my first Kansas concert a couple of years after college, in Pittsfield, MA (unfortunately, by then, group stalwarts such as Kerry Livgren and Robby Steinhardt had already left the group).¬† Last night’s concert was in my hometown of Kingston, NY (well, my actual hometown is Woodstock — yes, that Woodstock, NY — but most of my hanging out when I was in high school was done in Kingston), so that made it an extra-special experience for me.¬† I don’t know how many Kansas concerts I’ve attended in-between, but some notable ones included Syracuse at the State Fair last year; the “Big E” (New England fair) in Springfield, MA; Pittsburgh, PA for the beginning of their Leftoverture 40th anniversary tour (and the night before I spoke at Pittsburgh SQL Saturday — which was why I was in Pittsburgh in the first place); an Alive At Five concert in downtown Albany; and Latham, NY at the now-defunct Starlight Theater.

That was a great experience, although if I really wanted to complete my experience, I would’ve liked, as a musician, to have played just one song with the band!¬† Alas, I realized that just wasn’t in the cards, if it ever happens (I’m not holding my breath).

I splurged and paid the money for the meet ‘n greet (or as we Kansas fans — a.k.a. “Wheatheads” — refer to them, “Wheat ‘n Greet“) event, along with a seat right in the front row.¬† So why pay a few hundred bucks (or whatever it was) for a twenty-minute meeting with a band and a front row concert seat?

Let me ask you a question.¬† How many times in your life have you ever said, “I wish I’d (fill in the blank)” and didn’t follow through?¬† How many times have you had the opportunity and the resources to fill in that blank, only to not follow through and let that opportunity (which might have been the only such opportunity in your lifetime) slip through your fingers?

In my life, I’ve had a number of significant experiences, more than a lot of people can say they’ve ever done.¬† As a musician, I’ve had a chance to perform in large events such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a major college bowl game, an NCAA tournament, and major league baseball and football games.¬† I’ve met sport celebrities such as Reggie Jackson and Jim Boeheim.¬† I’m friends with some television and media personalities (granted, they’re not prominent big names, but still…).¬† I’ve taken trips that I never thought I’d take.¬† Through my involvement with SQL Saturday, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some big names in the database industry, and I’ve become a fairly respected speaker myself.¬† Last night, I took advantage of an opportunity that came my way, and I took full advantage of it.¬† I have absolutely no regrets about spending those few hundred dollars.¬† As far as I’m concerned, that was money well spent.

A fulfilling life is about taking advantage of opportunities when they come your way.¬† Don’t be one of those people who doesn’t take a chance and end up regretting it later.¬† Grab the opportunity when it comes your way.¬† You’ll be smiling afterward — and you just might end up with a great story to tell.

On memorization

About a week ago, I got a text from a friend saying that she was taking up the accordion again. ¬†(If said friend is reading this, I didn’t know you played the accordion!) ¬†Knowing that I have a background as a classical pianist, she asked me my advice on how to memorize music. ¬†I told her I was going to respond in an email with my thoughts, but thinking that those thoughts would also be helpful to others, it became fodder for yet another ‘blog article.

I used to teach IT and mathematics classes part-time for a small business school in Albany. ¬†For most of those classes, I made my exams open-book, open-note. ¬†I cited a number of reasons for doing so — among them, I didn’t want them to suffer exam anxiety, and I wanted them to develop teamwork skills (I told them they were allowed to help each other figure out answers, but were not allowed to give or receive answers).

I also told them that I believed in the ability to research answers, and I didn’t believe in rote memorization. ¬†For one thing, as I told my students, when you’re out in the real world, how many employers are going to tell you to “put all your notes away; you’re going to work on this project completely from memory”? ¬†For another, I believe that rote memorization is ineffective. ¬†I strongly believe it is a horrible way to learn material. ¬†Memorizing facts and buzzwords isn’t the same as knowing how to use them, and it’s definitely not the same as learning the material. ¬†You can memorize an entire dictionary, but unless you know how to put words together to develop sentences, thoughts, and ideas, it isn’t going to do you a lot of good.

Additionally, even if you do try to memorize something, it will never be perfect. ¬†We are human, after all, and our capacity to remember is limited. ¬†I’ve often thought about memories from years ago, thinking that I remember every detail, only to come across a picture of that memory, and realize that it wasn’t as accurate as I remembered.

“Okay,” you might be asking, “but you have music experience. ¬†What about all those classical pieces you’re required to perform note for note?”

Ah, yes. ¬†Let’s talk about that, shall we?

Let’s talk about memorizing music. ¬†First, I am not Lang Lang, or Yo Yo Ma, or Yefim Bronfman. ¬†Despite my¬†significant music background, I am not a professional musician. ¬†So I won’t pretend to know how professional classical concert musicians learn and memorize new pieces of music. ¬†Instead, I’ll talk about how I approach it.

I play the piano in church on Sunday mornings. ¬†There are a number of pieces that I’ve gotten to know so well that I don’t use sheet music for them. ¬†I remember one parish member talking to me about how I would “memorize” those pieces. ¬†However, “memorize” is not an accurate term. ¬†A better way to put it is that I’ve gotten to know the pieces, and am able to use chord progressions and patterns that fit them — in a way, I can “color” them at will.

Let me put this another way. ¬†Most of us know how the song “Happy Birthday” goes. ¬†But did you memorize it? ¬†Most likely, you didn’t. ¬†You recognize it, you remember it, and you can sing it. ¬†But you didn’t memorize it (at least not in the sense that most of us think). ¬†Think about your favorite music artist, or your favorite songs. ¬†You probably know all the words. ¬†You can probably sing (or at least hum) every song down to the last note. ¬†But would you say that you “memorized” them? ¬†You might be able to say you did. ¬†But I don’t think that is the right term here (to be honest, I don’t know what the right term is). ¬†Them same holds true for when I’m playing music. ¬†The difference is, when I’m playing the piano, my output is through my fingers, rather than my voice.

When I’m practicing a piece, I’ll usually learn it a few measures at a time. ¬†I’ll continually practice those few measures until I get them right (or at least something close to it). ¬†Once I have them down to a level to which I’m satisfied, I’ll move onto the next few measures.

When you practice an instrument, it isn’t so much thinking about memorizing music. ¬†It’s more about muscle memory. ¬†Practicing means developing your muscles so that they’re used to it, and you can do it again.

Ask yourself this: when you’re preparing music for performance, does it have to be exactly like the notes on a page? ¬†Unless you’re performing a classical (or a similar type of) piece that requires a great deal of precision and technique, in many cases, the answer is, probably not.

A friend of mine once asked me to accompany a show for which she was the music director. ¬†I wasn’t the first person she asked; she had another accompanist before me. ¬†However, she had to fire him. ¬†My predecessor absolutely insisted on playing every single note as precisely written, and it was slowing down the process of everyone else learning the show. ¬†When she brought me on board, I made it a point to learn the music as best as I could, and ad lib everything, much as a jazz musician would follow a fake book (which, when I’m not learning a classical piece, is pretty much how I approach most music, anyway). ¬†In my approach, I was able to provide a good accompaniment, I was able to help others with their music, and we pulled off a very successful show.

Personally, I find it a lot of fun trying to put my own spin on music. ¬†I take it as a challenge trying to take a piece of music I like and making it sound as close to the original as I can. ¬†It usually doesn’t, but that’s okay; I’m a big believer in not trying to make a piece of music sound exactly like the original. ¬†I’ve often said that what people should really do is take a piece of music and make it¬†theirs. ¬†Every artist is different, and every artist will put their own spin on a piece of music.

So in all honesty, I believe that memorization isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. ¬†Just work on it as best as you can, reproduce it as best as you can, and enjoy your own interpretation of it. ¬†You might find that what you produce is much more rewarding.