Strike up the band

I never thought we had a very musical family, but apparently we do.

Last weekend, our oldest son performed in Ripon Middle School’s “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” a musical about musical opening numbers, ranging from “On the Town” to “The Lion King.”

On Monday, Michael played trumpet and sang in the RMS band and chorus as part of the school district’s Music in Our Schools Month concert.

Michael is either sitting in the band toward the back of the floor, or in the upper left bleachers.

He’s just the most recent performer in the family. Earlier this month, Shaena performed in a Barlow Park concert, and Dylan sang in a Murray Park/Quest concert. (Apparently the Ripon Area School District takes Music in Our Schools Month seriously.)

I guess I’m the musician, if you want to call me that, of longest standing in the house. I had five years in the University of Wisconsin Marching Band, and for the past few years I’ve played trumpet for various Masses at our church. (Including Palm Sunday and the Easter Vigil next Saturday. I’m supposed to lead the procession into the church, but it’s possible the rest of the congregation could head in the opposite direction if my play is particularly bad. I also play at what I call the It’s-Midnight-Somewhere Mass, which one year meant that the first thing I heard on Christmas morning was myself on the radio from the night before.)

I play a retired UW Marching Band trumpet, and I still have the trumpet I played in high school, which was originally my father’s, or more accurately my father’s high school band director. Jannan played baritone in high school and at Ripon College, and sang in the San Juan City Choir during her pre-Peace Corps days in Puerto Rico. We do not have a baritone (at least not the musical instrument) in the house. Jannan does sing in church; as far as I was concerned, playing an instrument prevented me from having to sing.

Perhaps it’s genetics. Readers know that my father was the piano player on southern Wisconsin’s first rock and roll band. My mother sang as part of the talent competition for the 1960 Miss Wisconsin USA pageant. They met because Mom was looking for someone to arrange piano for her competition. (The rest of the story of how they met involves a dentist, chicken soup, fish sticks and tires, but I digress …) My parents made me take several years of piano; I can’t play it anymore, but either I got perfect pitch from that, or I just have perfect pitch. I’m also a much better player-by-ear than a music-reader.

Jannan and I had different, but similarly fulfilling, high school band experiences. The Lancaster High School band has marched for years in parade competitions. One of her fondest memories is of winning a parade in Belmont over their usual archrivals, Cuba City. (The irony is that we later lived in Cuba City.) The fact that early ’80s UW Marching Bands had members from Madison La Follette and Lancaster meant that, I believe, she and I once attended the same UW Band Day football game. (Neither of us remembers seeing the other, which happens when you have a couple thousand band members in a stadium with 60,000 or so people in it.)

After three years in middle school band, I had one unremarkable year in freshman band. And then the new band director pushed me up into the top band at La Follette, the Wind Ensemble, instead of the middle-level band I was expecting. That ended my run of being a first-chair player, because the players in front of me were better than me. Wind Ensemble, though, was a revelation,  musically speaking. We played challenging pieces, including Gustav Holst’s suites in E flat …

… and F …

… Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Folk Song Suite” …

… and two pieces from this guy named Leckrone, “Permutations” and “Intrusions” (which he wrote for us):

High school band was a more cool experience than I could describe. We were playing every day, and while practice is important (or so I’m told, not that I’m an example), there’s a difference between practicing by yourself and practicing with the entire group. Being at high school of 2,000 can be an isolating experience, but I had something in common with 150 at the school, particularly the 50 in Wind Ensemble. (Probably not surprisingly, three of my ex-girlfriends were in band.) Our director gave us a sheet about Holst’s Suite in E Flat that showed that the melody at the beginning was mirrored by a later melody that was upside down from the main melody.

Not only did we have concerts to perform, including a cabaret-type evening in our Commons, but we got to go on tour — the Twin Cities one year, including the musical “Annie Get Your Gun” (along with staying in a hotel with dreadful Hawaiian music and a roommate who fancied himself a rapper), and Chicago the next year, including “Fiddler on the Roof.” (Which was part of Michael’s musical. So was the opening of “West Side Story,” a La Follette and UW Marching Band show, and “A Chorus Line,” which I played senior year at La Follette.) “Fiddler” was at the Marriott Lincolnshire Resort, an evening that followed an afternoon in the hotel pool with a guy who turned out to be Tevye.

I could never have been described as an athlete in high school (which hasn’t changed in the nearly 30 years since then), and even when I was on athletic teams the attributes of athletic teams never sunk in sitting on the bench. I learned those in band — the necessity of preparation, practicing over and over and over again until you get it right, teamwork, the team being more important than you, and most importantly, the importance of performing well whether or not you get recognition for it.

That’s why when I hear people talk about how the only important thing in school is the stereotypical academic subjects — math, English, science, etc. — I start looking for the old trumpet (which weighs more than a baseball bat after several layers of lacquer) to swing at their skulls. Extracurricular activities. including athletics and music, take up 1 to 2 percent of a school’s budget. In addition to the academic benefits, music builds self-esteem not by dubious self-psychology, but by accomplishment and public performance.

Music is an exacting academic field. As the Children’s Music Workshop puts it, “In music, a mistake is a mistake; the instrument is in tune or not, the notes are well played or not, the entrance is made or not.” Performing well whether anyone’s watching was a staple of the UW Band in the bad old days of the ’70s, most of the ’80s and the early ’90s,  and I got good preparation for that marching pregames and halftimes of a football team that won nine games in four years. But beyond that, it was good preparation for a professional field that doesn’t include a lot of feedback, a field in which (like any other field of endeavor) it’s important to do good work whether or not anyone recognizes it.

At some point after my UW Band days ended, I came to the realization that I preferred playing in concerts to watching them. I’ve only gone to a few UW Band concerts, and most of them have been outside of Madison, in smaller locations with less grandiose shows. I have not had the Walter Mitty moment of being called out of the crowed at a Chicago concert (I’ve been to three of them, the first with about half of the UW Band) to play.

I had, however, a really neat experience at our church at the end of the All Saints Day Mass Nov. 6. Our priest asked me to play “When the Saints Come Marching In” for the recessional. I asked him how he wanted me to play it, and he only suggested I play as the spirit, or Spirit, moved me. So the first verse was straightforward, and then I swung into New Orleans jazz funeral mode as well as my limited playing and really limited improvisational skills could do. The reaction I got afterward demonstrated I succeeded.


Happy Presteblogiversary to me

I mentioned earlier this month that I started opinion-blogging four years ago.

Saturday is the one-year anniversary of this blog, The Presteblog. Which started as a Blogger blog, then became a WordPress blog, then got the domain.

Which means that today is the one-year anniversary of the end of my employment with Marketplace Magazine and Journal Communications. Which, you’ll recall, prompted the creation of this blog.

(The irony is that today I’m speaking at a Ripon elementary school’s Career Day. That is a better activity than what I was doing one year ago today.)

A year ago tomorrow I wrote:

I’ve been told, and it makes sense, that I should start a blog to maintain the discipline of writing. (Rust is a terrible thing, as anyone who owned a 1970s-era car should know.)

And so, here begins, for an indeterminate amount of time, The Presteblog. The Presteblog is likely (though not certain) to read much like Marketplace of Ideas …  the opinion column and blog of Marketplace in the 10 years I was the editor of Marketplace. …

The late Marketplace of Ideas blog was usually four days of business/political stuff (and in three years of daily blogging I certainly never lacked for material), along with what I called “Frideas,” on subjects that might be found in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Journal — which included everything from cars to pets to parenting to adult beverages to my sons’ Cub Scouting. We’ll see if I can maintain that schedule. …

We’ll all see where this goes.

I have more or less followed that format over the past year. (I violate it when the calendar doesn’t cooperate, such as when the 30th anniversary of your high school’s state boys basketball title occurs on a Tuesday.) Four days a week readers get my views, or others’ views with which I mostly agree, that lurch between conservative and libertarian. (And if you can’t come up with an opinion to express in this state these days, you shouldn’t be opinionating.) Fridays are the date for ruminations on all the aforementioned nonpolitical subjects and others, such as the one coming next hour.

While some readers may conclude that I’m a doctrinaire right-winger and whatever the GOP does is perfect, actual readers know I do not believe that. The Democratic Party’s contribution to our country is overwhelmingly negative, but that doesn’t mean the Republican Party’s contribution has been always positive. (I think there are few members of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy in Wisconsin who criticize Gov. Scott Walker. I do, though probably not in areas of which Democrats would approve.)

I try to be original in what I write, with others’ views to buttress and restate mine. I prefer facts and logical arguments to, calling, for instance, public employee union heads poo-poo heads. (However: Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin is a socialist. That’s not name-calling; that’s a fact, even if she won’t admit it.) There is enough on which to criticize President Obama without delving into conspiracy theories about his citizenship.

If nothing else, the Presteblog has been a good exercise in the discipline of daily writing. When I started the Presty the DJ blogs, I began to combine Saturday and Sunday entries until they got too large. (And on some days the weekday blogs get large enough to make … the … page … very … slow … to … load …) I am often sitting in the living room at 1 a.m. finishing up tomorrow’s blog, and not always because this laptop is as the as slow as a Chevrolet Vega on bad gas.

The irony is that daily journalism takes up the smallest space in the journalism portion of my career. In order of length, it’s 11 years of quadriweekly (?) business magazines, five years of weekly newspapers, and 7½ months of daily newspapers. And yet here I am with nearly a year of blogging every day, not just every weekday.

This blog also got me onto Facebook, where I somehow have managed to accumulate 298 Friends. (I was on Twitter before, where I have 536 followers.) The person who advised me to switch from Blogger to WordPress also pointed out that Facebook has enough users to count as the third largest country on earth. (Irrespective of the double-counting thing, that is.) I got onto Facebook for networking and to promote this blog. The added bonus has been the number of people with whom I’ve gotten to connect, or reconnect, and in a few instances deconnect, as well as annoy with my disagreeable (to them) political views. I’m also on Google+, though I’m not sure why.

I maintain my skepticism of social media as really being all that unique. It strikes me as merely another way to communicate, with its own particular characteristics, and its pluses and minuses, the latter including the inability to take back something you said or wrote that in retrospect could have been expressed better. Blogs, on the other hand, give one the opportunity to communicate — or, put another way, show off yourself — in multimedia, with photo, audio and video options:

Blogs do, however, require you to promote your blog. This blog gets picked up every so often at and I also blog at and at, which give me new audiences to offend. And keeping up my reputation as a media ‘ho I will appear generally wherever someone will have me — “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes,” Wisconsin Public Radio, and even the lion’s den, the People’s Republic of Madison.

For those interested, here are my top 10 blog entries in number of page views (not counting the home page, which always gets the most hits) since March 31, 2011, starting in David Lettermanesque fashion from number 10 (snare drum roll, please):
10. “100 years (and one day) of our Chevrolets,” Nov. 4, 2011.
9. “What’s the matter with Madison?“, Dec. 29, 2011.
8. “Wisconsin – Madison = ?“, Dec. 13, 2011.
7. “While riding in my Cadillac,” Dec. 30, 2011.
6. “Foolish Absolute Liberal Kathleen,” Jan. 19, 2012.
5. “A hairy subject, or face the face,” Nov. 18, 2011.
4. “Unions vs. the facts, part deux,” Nov.  29, 2011.
3. “Unions vs. the facts, or, Hiding in plain sight,” July 19, 2011.
2. “Your Brewers/Badgers/Packers blog,” Oct. 3, 2011.
And the number one Presteblog post of all time (that is, 365 days) (floor tom drum roll, please) …
1. “When rhetoric goes too far,” Nov. 8, 2011.

Obviously the older the blog entry is, the more hits it’ll get. It is interesting, though, that the oldest of the top 10 is eight months old, the second oldest is five  months old, and most are from November and December. And if you look at the list, my favorite subjects for others to read are state politics and the associated Recallarama crap, fall 2011 sports, facial hair, my ongoing verbal war with my hometown, and Cadillacs and Chevrolets. (Apparently all I need do to bump hits is to write about the logical next step from Occupy _______: Assassinations.)

The odd thing about this is that I like doing this. I started the blogs when I returned to Marketplace to reach new audiences. I don’t have to be writing two separate blogs at 12:29 a.m. with a body heat-sucking cat in between me and the laptop, but I am. And I see from my blog software that people are actually reading this. As I’ve written before, negative comments are second in preference only to positive comments; the worst is to hear “You write? Never heard of you.”

So The Presteblog continues for, as previously threatened, an indeterminate amount of time. We’ll all see where this goes.

Presty the DJ for March 30

The number one single today in 1957 was the first number one rock and roll single to be written by its singer:

The number one single today in 1963 …

… which sounds suspiciously similar to a song released seven years later:

The number one single today in 1985:

The number one British album today in 1991 was the Eurythmics’ “Greatest Hits”:

Birthdays begin with Rolf Harris:

Graeme Edge played drums for the Moody Blues:

Eric Clapton (and if you haven’t read his autobiography, you should):

Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas:

Dave Ball of Procol Harum:

Re Styles played guitar for the Tubes:

Who is Stanley Kirk Burrell? You know him better as MC Hammer: