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Monday, November 19, 2012

My Back Pages* and non-profit organizations

I'm going to use this title when I'm in "cranky old man" (Dana Carvey, SNL, 1990's) mode.  Here's part one:

I participated in a canned food collection drive this weekend called "Scouting for Food".  I'm not here to besmirch Scouting nor am I here to denigrate collecting food for those who don't have enough to eat. They're both fine, worthwhile activities, and have been so for years. What I'm going to say is no doubt going to anger some people, but it needs to be said.  If you're involved with a non-profit of any kind, you may recognize these behaviors because they happen at your events, too.

1) Donated food vs. trash collection:  Last year at the same event, our oldest can was from 2003.  This year, the oldest can was from 1999! Thirteen years old! People, please:  if you wouldn't serve expired food to a family member, don't palm it off on the food banks (who have to pay to dispose of it instead of you). I personally have handled leaking cans, broken boxes, and Jell-o packages that were rock hard (which means that moisture has seeped through).  I don't care what the manufacturers said, or what you heard from your friend's mother's third cousin's stepsister about "how good the stuff is"--if it's expired, toss it out yourself.

2) Baby food is great--but the same rules apply.  No expired stuff.  The stores can't sell it and they'll get in BIG trouble if they try.  No leaks, no partial packages, please.

3) Give the pet food to the SPCA or some other pet-friendly charity--and while we're on the subject of pets:

4) Safety and liability:  Recent reports notwithstanding, Scouting is all about child safety.  These days, adult leaders have ample opportunity to be well trained and are probably vetted as well as we can be in a national non-profit.  That being said, it doesn't necessarily keep us from doing questionable things. One of the leaders of the Cub Pack assisting with the food drive brought his boxer along, and it proved to be quite a distraction for the Cubs (mostly 2nd and 3rd graders), and frankly it was a nuisance when it was being walked among the people filling boxes.  The  young boy who was walking it (I'm presuming it was the dog's owner's son) also brought it over to the snack table, where the dog was clearly straining at the leash to investigate the hot dogs.

The dog may have been the sweetest, nicest dog on God's green earth, but one bite, or one run into the street getting hit,  and the owner has more to deal with than an injured person and/or a injured/dead dog.  Who's liable?  The dog owner? The Scouts? The Scout's chartering organization (in this case a local congregation of the United Church of Christ)? The Scouts' council or national organization? Think before you put so many people at risk just because you want some convenience or companionship.

5) Keep all workers on task, even when it's your job to do so.  With few exceptions, the laissez-faire approach to Scout leadership doesn't work. The boys need to be led by the leaders showing them how, not by a few random adults standing around bellowing orders.

6) Have clear procedures and rules for the day; modify only if necessary.  Nothing worse for an organization's event than asking a question and getting three very different  responses.  If a 30-second meeting is necessary, get the responsible parties together, hash it out, and move on.  If it takes longer than that, make a decision but be sure to discuss it at the next meeting.  If there's more than one group involved, the leaders of both groups need to sit down and determine the plan.

I have more to say on this topic (and I will) but my Management final awaits.  Onward and upward.

*--Bob Dylan, Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I'm Sorry...*

Nothing profound here.  I've been writing this blog for going on two months and wondering why NO ONE has responded to ANYTHING I've written.  Now I know why, and it's been taken care of.  Fire Away!

*--Brenda Lee, 1960.

Visions of Light*

If you’re a regular leader of this blog you know I’m in the habit of providing titles in the form of a song lyric or title.  Today will be no different, other than that part of today’s entry will be a remembrance of my late high school band director, Carl Dephouse, so not just any title will do. I know you’ll understand why after you read this.

I first met Mr. Dephouse as a 7th grade general music student.  Our class met next door to the band room, and Mrs. Gamble sent me next door to get a couple music stands.  I opened the door and heard the band playing a familiar tune (Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet), complete with the trombone glissandi.  I stood there, mesmerized by the 9th grade band that was playing that piece.  He stopped and looked at me; the band turned to look at me.  Silence. I just muttered something about the music stands, picked them up, and went back to my class, the music still ringing in my ears.

Fast forward to ninth grade band and time for MSBOA Band Festival.  We played San Mihiel  by Karl King, Festivo by Vaclav Nelhybel, and Chorale and Capriccio by Giovannini.  We earned our First Division rating, and felt good about ourselves--until we got home and Mr. D reminded us that we didn’t do our best.  Nonetheless, we went to states, playing the King, the Giovannini, and a new piece (to us)--the Hebrides Suite of Clare Grundman. We played our best, but received a “two” (I don’t care WHAT you say about Texas band directors, Michigan band directors live and die by their MSBOA ratings).

Why am I telling you about music I performed almost 40 years ago?  I’d be willing to bet you don’t remember what you played in high school concert band, but here’s a sampling of what we performed:

Holst--First and Second Suites
Howe--Pentland Hills
Sousa--Stars and Stripes Forever, Daughters of Texas
Alfred Reed--Russian Christmas Music
Haydn Wood--Mannin Veen
Zdechlik--Chorale and Shaker Dance
Holsinger--Prelude and Rondo
Vaughan Williams--Sea Songs
Alexander--Colossus of Columbia
Rodgers/arr. R.R.Bennett--Victory at Sea

The man chose music for us like a preacher chooses Bible texts for a sermon. To Mr. D, the quality of the music he presented to us and with us was the most important aspect of his job--and anything less than the best simply wasn’t good enough.  His choices made our band better and more importantly made us better people.

But even more important to him than his music, especially the  1961 Russia Tour with the U-M Symphony Band (which he loved to talk about--his stories about playing for William Revelli and his days playing sousaphone in the Marching Band with Gene Thrailkill were classic) was his deep abiding Christian faith.  He didn’t preach to us per se--although we did play a nice arrangement of Onward Christian Soldiers from time to time--but it spoke so plainly in his actions that words weren’t really necessary.   We never had evening rehearsals or concerts on Wednesday--“That’s church night” (for him as well as many of us).  Family was important to him, and grew to be more so as his family grew.  I even had the privilege of playing a few church gigs with him senior year, up in Holland Heights at a Reformed Church where my former (almost said old) 4th grade teacher Dorothy Bauman was choir director and soloist (we did something called “Night of Miracles” around Christmastime).

I knew him as a teacher, a fellow Wolverine, even as a colleague.  During my first few years out of high school, whenever I attended a music function and the conversation turned to our homes, I’d mention Holland, and people would knowingly smile and say, “did you play for Henry Vander Linde?”.  When I said no (which wasn’t precisely true--I did play a couple seasons in American Legion Band), I went to Holland High School and played for Carl Dephouse, they’d almost act disappointed.  They shouldn’t have.  I had the privilege of playing in a great high school band led by someone who cared deeply about the music and who inspires me to keep playing even today.

I learned of Carl’s passing at 3:00 pm on Thursday afternoon after a day of library conferences.  The time is significant because at 6:00 pm, I was scheduled to audition for the principal trombone chair in the orchestra I’ve played second trombone in for seven years.  Up to that point I hadn’t felt up to the task.  My solo sounded sloppy, and my excerpts ragged.  No matter.  After I recovered from the initial shock, it was clear what I had to do.  I packed up my horn and my music, went to my audition, and knocked everyone’s socks off on my solo (Visions of Light by Eric Ewazen) and the excerpts (Mozart Tuba Mirum, Mahler 3, Ride of the Valkyries,  and Bolero). 

Yes, the music matters.  Deeply.

Thank you, Mr. Dephouse. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

Daniel J. De Kok Sr.
HHS class of 1978
Bachelor of Music, 1982, The University of Michigan
Master of Music, 1987, Western Michigan University
Acting Principal Trombone, Southeast Pennsylvania Symphony
Principal Trombone, Warminster (PA) Symphony
Principal Trombone, Doylestown (PA) Symphonic Winds

*--Eric Ewazen, Visions of Light: Concerto for Trombone and Wind Ensemble inspired by the  photographs of Ansel Adams (2000).

Friday, November 9, 2012

From Hanover Square North, at the End of a Tragic Day, the Voice of the People Again Arose*

I was setting up in the library this morning, collecting books to go out and listening to a lecture on ethics given by the daughter of someone who worked for the first Daley administration in Chicago in the 1970's (that's going to be the subject of another entry, trust me), when an extraordinary book caught my eye.  I'm a huge fan of Charles Ives, not only of his music but of his written contributions to the American conversation on the arts and politics--plus, I'm playing in a performance of the Ives Third Symphony next week (  So when I saw "The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives" by Joanne Stanbridge (Houghton Mifflin, 2012), I literally stopped dead in my tracks.  It's not often that a book does that to me.

In age-appropriate terminology, Stanbridge describes what inspired Charles Ives to write down his extraordinary music--steamship whistles, baseball games, even the click-clack of manual typewriters in the office.  One day, Ives is downtown and hears news of the sinking of the Lusitania.  Spontaneously, people start singing a gospel hymn, In the Sweet By and By, a performance that haunts him.  People knowledgeable about Ives' music will remember that he was quite fond of quoting familiar songs in unconventional ways, and Stanbridge does a good job explaining this to young children. She even introduces the reader to works by other American composers, including Elliott Carter (Pocahontas), Aaron Copland (The Tender Land), and John Adams (On the Transmigration of Souls), whose works were influenced by Charles Ives.

It should be noted that she began writing this book in the months before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.  The jacket notes state that after 9/11, "the mood and setting of my book felt too raw, so I had to put it away". We can be grateful that she chose to complete this wonderful book  The only issue I have with "The Extraordinary Music of Mr. Ives" is the omission of a CD containing a recording of the musical work discussed in the book.  Future editions of this work would do well to include such a feature.

*--Charles Ives, third movement of Orchestral Set No. 2 (1919), c. 1915.  First performance given by the Chicago Symphony, Morton Gould conducting, 11 February 1967. Available commercially on Sony Music Distribution #37823 with Michael Tilson-Thomas leading the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

State of the Union*

I went to vote today, more out a sense of duty than any political leanings (I'm Republican, thanks for asking) or thinking that my one vote will sway things nationally or even locally.  Besides the state and national offices, we only had one ballot question, about amending the home rule charter in Norristown so that bid procedures align with those of the Commonwealth (I voted yes), so I was quite surprised when I saw the line snaking down the school hallway and around the corner.  Most elections we're in and out in five minutes.  Not until I get about halfway up the line do I discover why it's taking so long.  Apparently the board of elections in its infinite wisdom hired "a worker that didn't know how to alphabetize"--the words of the woman in charge, not me. 


In 2012?


Never mind.  I kept a civil tongue in my head, wondering if the words I'd heard were real. I made it up to the table and realized I hadn't seen any of these people before.  All new workers for a presidential election.  Hmm.

As I was leaving, I saw a colleague from Warminster Symphony and chatted it up with him about the day and about things musical.  He was there to supervise his students with their bake sale.  Two men approached the bake sale table and asked the kids if they could put their signs up. The kids, not knowing any better, said sure.  When I told the men that they should check with the elections officials about where they should put their signs, I was met with vitriol and disdain. Mr. Vietnam Vet told me that following the rules is "old school" (which would explain why he dodged the draft NOT).  He started yelling at me, asking me where I went to school and a lot of unrelated questions.  Walking away seemed the better part of valor, so I did.

This country has a lot more problems than who's living in the White House, but I did my part to take care of that one.  Nonetheless, I don't think things are going to change.  To quote the late David Brinkley in speaking of the re-nomination of then-President Clinton, we're going to have "four more years of goddamned nonsense".

*--Robert Lamm, Chicago V, 1972.