Monday, April 30, 2012

Travel: Chicago

This weekend I went on an actual adventure. You know, the kind that takes place outside of my apartment. My best friend and I went on a last-hoorah of sorts before graduation and spent a night in Chicago. We had tickets to a Fountains of Wayne concert at a small venue and booked a hotel downtown alongside our plans to make some new friends at the bars after the show.

She and I have both done a decent amount of traveling in our lives previously, but neither of us qualify as a travel diva. You know, the kind with fancy luggage and unreasonably high expectations of accommodations. We're just regular people... people with thoughts such as these:
1. It's hard not to be personally offended when an elderly couple relocates their seats on the train from next to you to 6 aisles away.
2. It is impossible to have a 100% positive experience at a hotel.
3. The American Girl store/dolls/brand is the devil. (a rather city-specific travel observation, I suppose)
4. My mother was right all along: I attract weird people.
5. If you're only going to have one pair of (ill-fitting) jeans, make sure you bring a belt just in case. I had the pleasure of experiencing my very first case of thigh chafing. I'm sure the general saggy-ness was less than attractive, too.
6. Why do people visit different cities and yet refuse to step outside of their comfort zones?... Two obviously-tourist-ish looking young ladies outside Union Station asked us where the closest Chipotle was. Wow... adventurous, guys.
7. The train could have a separate car for families with children, maybe. Just saying.
8. It's fun to tag on to a stranger's bachelor party... especially when you meet the group of dudes eating pizza off of a dumpster in a dark alley.
9. Don't make eye contact with anyone on the subway... Unless you're glaring at that girl who sits her purse in the seat next to her so she doesn't have to share.
10. Bored at the train station? Seat yourself next to the inside of an emergency exit and point and laugh as people try to enter from the outside. Reading is hard.
11. God forbid you should ever have to go pee while walking around downtown Chicago. Apparently big city citizens never have to pee, ever, because it is impossible to find a restroom to use.

In addition to overall travel thoughts, there are a few things that need to be said about attending musical performances. As someone who, from a very young age, has understood the proper etiquette of fancy classical music performances, it still surprises me to see some of the expectations concert attendees have at less formal performances. It's a rock show, not a church service.

Buying general admission concert tickets should mean also signing away your right to be offended by the following:
1. Beer spilled on you.
2. Someone screaming in your ear.
3. Someone stepping on your feet, rubbing up against you, etc.
4. People weaseling their way in front of you. (insert repetitive recording of "I was here! I was standing here!" of the woman whose feet I was stepping on)
5. People who sing all of the words.
6. People who are generally having more fun than you are because you're caught up in standing there with your arms crossed and a scowl on your face with your equally miserable-looking spouse. Sorry your date/life sucks.
7. Strangers who want to be friendly in line for the bathroom, in the bathroom, at the bar, etc.
8. Dirty bathrooms.
9. Empty drink containers around your feet.
10. The volume of the performance. Bring earplugs if you care about your health and well being.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music: Percussionist-isms

This afternoon I performed in my very last concert with the Bradley University Symphonic Winds.  After 12 years (wow, that went fast) performing on countless different occasions with ensembles and solo, there are a few things that have become second nature.  It's like anything: after you've mastered the basics of your career/hobby/whatever, you pick up on some of the "tricks of the trade" and come up with a few quirks of your own.  It's the little things like that that differentiate you from the other artists that surround you.  Sitting backstage at today's performance, a few different things passed through my brain:
1. Being in the back of the crowd isn't the end of the world.  Take advantage of the cards you're dealt: proper shoes and socks at a performance? Not a priority.
2. As a percussionist, at least once in your performing career, you will drop something at the worst possible moment.  Mine? ...a wooden stick on a timpani between pieces at a concert.  There really is nothing more important than learning how to laugh at yourself and forgive yourself for being human.
3. Cool kids share.  There is no faster way to alienate yourself from the rest of the section than being that guy with thousands of dollars worth of various sticks and mallets in your bag but not being willing to share any of them.  And along those lines...
4. The most expensive equipment in the world won't make you a better musician.  I'll always remember this thing my dad used to tell me when I played softball and whined about wanting a cool, new softball bat: "A good batter can hit the ball with a broomstick."  No one understands this better than I do after 8 years in poorly-funded public school music programs followed by 4 years in Bradley's financially-retarded music program.  Knowing how to work with what you've got makes you an infinitely better and more versatile musician.
5. Be aware of your own presence.  I've attended countless performances and walked away not remembering how great or terrible the playing was, but gushing about how RIDICULOUS the performer looked while playing.  Excessive movement and overly-emotional expression just isn't necessary, and my opinion has always been that it detracts from the performance.
6. Shit breaks. Sometimes it's your fault. Life happens.
7. Talking about how great you are impresses no one.  In reality, someone who gushes about how fantastic he or she is is usually enough to convince me of their insecurities and lack of confidence.  I probably take it too far to the other extreme.  People tend to pre-judge me as being a sub-par player because I don't say much.  I just play... and I don't do it to impress anyone.
8. Music people are weird.  Anyone who has spent any time around groups of musicians knows it's true.  When you spend countless hours with the same group of people in varying degrees of stressful situations, people's true colors always shine through.  There's no shame in being weird, though.  I don't consider myself exempt from this point.
9. Triangle beaters need some type of mitten-clip-esque anti-loss system. I think at least 10 have been misplaced during my career at Bradley.
10. Blisters suck.  Blisters are nature's way of punching you in the face for waiting until the last minute to cram and learn your part.  Multiple Band-Aids sliding around on your fingers during a performance because the blisters they're protecting are so slimy and oozy is usually enough to learn from.  Usually.
11. Vocally matching the pitch when the rest of the band is tuning is infinitely entertaining.
12. No matter how gifted and talented you think you are, or your parents tell you you are, or the world tells you you are... you are not too good for manual labor.  Being a percussionist means spending extra hours setting up, tearing down, and moving stuff and moving stuff and moving stuff.  You're not a seasoned percussionist until you've almost fallen down the stage elevator hole or you've mastered the art of tearing down, transporting, and reassembling a 5-octave marimba.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rainy Day Activities: Classic Video Games

I contemplated about a dozen different titles and subtitles for this post, including "why I don't have a boyfriend," "things Android can do that your iPhone can't," and "I need to stop living in 1993."  At some point this entire blog shifted from "I'm going to review movies!" to "things I do on Saturdays when I don't feel like brushing my hair or leaving my apartment," so I apologize if anyone is disappointed about that.

For some reason, my most vivid childhood memories are of myself, my older brother, and my cousin playing old school Nintendo in our then unfinished basement on a 70s-vintage orange, floral couch and eating Tombstone pizzas off of the cement floor. Life was good, and I was pretty good at moving Mario from one side of the screen to the other.

And then, we got older: life got more complicated, and video games became far too in-depth for me to be interested in. When games started requiring me to "talk" to the goofy wizard in the forest and actually READ what he had to say in order to understand was I was supposed to do next, I lost interest.

And so here I sit, 21 years old, in 2012, with that same NES console and giant box of game cartridges next to my TV.  With the proper amount of blowing and wiggling and cursing, I can usually get most of the games to still function for awhile, but I know that this will not be forever and that this precious family heirloom (I think it was a hand-me-down from someone to begin with) will become a non-functioning, decorative item on my shelf at some point.

So now that we're all clear on my emotional motivations for this week's Saturday activity, I can begin.  Fortunately, this activity was made possible by a sub-culture of nerdier nerds who can't let go of their pasts either.  They develop the glorious Android apps that made this possible:
Ok, before you make any judgments from the photo, here's what you should be seeing: Original Nintendo games being played on my phone, using a Wii controller, mirrored on my TV.  Only one of those cables is actually necessary.  Oh, and the laptop isn't really part of it either...just needed music.

Legal importances: some of this is kind of stealing, but not in my case.  From what I understand, I can download the games without doing anything wrong as long as I posses a physical copy of the game cartridge.  Or something.  Feel free to make your own judgements about whether or not you give a shit about stealing.

If you care to do this, here's what you'll need to have/figure out:
Android phone + game console emulator from the app market + individual game ROMS
Wii controller app + Wii remote (or another wireless kind)
TV with HDMI in + HDMI cable + HDMI adapter for your phone
...that's about as much detail as I care to delve into because I suspect no one cares.

Oh, and if you've never heard of this whole emulator/ROM process, you can do it on a computer as well. All of your childhood memories at your fingertips to entertain you in class. For free. Maybe illegal.

PS, for BUSMM kids: see that blue/orange thing on the far right?... one of six sleeves of DVDs from the Friends box set. Be jealous.

K bye, have a date with Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Music: Music Monday Part III

Ok, so it's still technically Sunday for a few more minutes, but I'm not ready for bed so get over it.


1. I feel a really sad sense of nerd pride when parts of my library contents are too cool to be in the iTunes store.

2. I'm excited to see Fountains of Wayne in a few weeks.

3. I'm sad that I only recently found Ani DiFranco.

4. I'm watching Friends.

5. My tummy hurts from too many Peeps. 

6. I need to find more original ways to name my playlists.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rant: Bradley University

In all fairness, I probably can find something negative to say about Bradley University on any day of the week.  But this particular week just happened to be most ridiculous yet.

Since I'm on the way out, it's only right that I take a bit of time to reflect on my experience at Bradley as a whole (in other words, criticize the school).

I'll be fair and start by taking my habits and personality into account: I'm anti-social pretty much all of the time.  That being said, it wouldn't be fair of me to criticize the availability or quality of "extra-curriculars" on campus.  I'm sure they're lovely, I'm just not interested.  The only non-academic activity I've participated in is band.  And, after my 8 semesters of experience in that area at Bradley, I have one major conclusion: the music department deserves more money.  From who or where, I have no idea, but after watching countless other buildings being built on campus, often to benefit Bradley athletics in some way, I am appalled by the sub-par facilities that the music department is stuck with (without much complaining either).  Maybe I'm just a disgruntled percussionist who's tired of being shoved in the back of the stage without enough space to move in, but I wish Bradley University could do better.  The music program itself is great, but the facilities hold it back from being a selling point for prospective students.

Since we've already established that money is a sensitive subject for me, I'll go ahead and point out that Bradley's tuition isn't a hell of a great deal financially (just in case you're lucky enough to be oblivious to that fact).  I'm sure all colleges are expensive, but when I see those numbers roll around each semester and try to justify them with the quality of education I'm receiving, I usually fail.  Don't get me wrong, I've had some totally awesome teachers at Bradley ("some" being a generous term... half a dozen, maybe?) for whom I am eternally grateful, but I've had far more unsatisfactory experiences than not.  I'm not sure I can even recap all of the appalling classroom experiences I've sat through, but just a few off the top of my head:

1. An English teacher who cancelled classes a good 60% of the time. On evaluation day (my favorite!), right after I listed all of my grievances frantically on that piece of paper, she returned to the room to inform us that our evaluations didn't matter because she wouldn't be returning to Bradley. Oh, and that she was sick so often over the course of the semester because it "turns out" she was pregnant. And didn't know. Classy.

2. Another English composition teacher who used class times as nothing more than a soap box for her political opinions (another pet peeve of mine). She often forgot we even had class and one of us would need to go fetch her from her office.

3. A teacher I had the pleasure of experiencing more than one semester. She never knew what was due when and couldn't create a PowerPoint slide without a spelling error to save her soul. After creating a fairly substantial final project, we discussed my grade in her office: I got a B. Everything was great!...except a word I had spelled wrong over 10 times throughout the project. We argued about the spelling of that word for 15 minutes. She was wrong. She didn't adjust my grade accordingly, she just told me I had a bad attitude instead.

4. An art teacher that ran a class without ever even creating a syllabus. There was no grading scale, list of projects, class requirements...nothing. Some nights there was no lecture... because she'd forgotten to bring her laptop from home. There was no evaluation handed out at the end... so there did end up being some substantial tattling on my part to some highly-paid folks on campus.

Fortunately, the teachers at Bradley have not been the most frustrating part.  I'm not sure if everyone has had similar experiences, but I've had some fairly legitimate anxiety attacks caused by the administrative folks at Bradley not having their shit together. The most recent:

1. Fall 2011. I receive an email a few weeks after registration for Spring semester that my spring classes will be dropped due to a hold on my account. Huh? But I already registered?...I'm confused. I was given a phone number to the controllers office and proceeded to converse with three of the RUDEST old women present on this earth. (side note: if you don't like kids/students and don't want to be polite to them, don't work at a SCHOOL.) They informed me that my hold was tuition related. I assured them that my tuition had been paid (in cash, in full, thanks). They referenced unpaid course fees. I checked it out online: TWO of my IM courses had subtracted and then added and then subtracted and then added and then subtracted and then added course fees since tuition had been due/paid. So I owed like $200 that no one had informed me of at any point. Classy.

2. This week's disaster. After somehow becoming my senior project group's frontman at the print shop and jumping through all the hoops to get that done properly, I was excited to relax. My best friend came over Wednesday morning and I started the emptying-of-kitchen-cupboards season by making us pancakes. Halfway through the pancakes I checked my phone and read this email:

I won't detail my emotional and physiological responses. There were quite a few "I need to go somewhere"s and "I need to talk to someone"s blurted out.  Coached by my friend, I printed out my current DARS and somehow managed to tear my apartment in half and find my DARS from fall advising.  I marched in to Martha's office, and then proceeded to cry in this nice stranger's office while she assured me that there had been some type of IT error.

Long story short, I'm glad I pump as much money as I do into Bradley so that I can have teachers who don't show up to class and "errors" that trigger physical and emotional instability. Thanks for everything, Bradley.