Monday, March 30, 2009

Music of Music City -- v. 7 "Voices of Spring"

Sunday afternoon I attended my second event at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in downtown Nashville. The first one (see 20 Feb. posting) the Orchestra performed with Riders in the Sky. This time they were with the Nashville Symphony Chorus. And George Mabry conducted the two groups.

The program presented five composers, ranging from the Baroque of J.S. Bach to spirituals by Michael Tippett (from "A Child of Our Time"). All the selected songs had a Spring theme of some sort in them. It was a very pleasant indoor experience contrating with the blustery winter weather outdoors. Mother Nature may not be goading ol' man winter into abandoning Nashville. But we Nashvillians are certainly more than ready to say "goody-bye" to the cold weather!

Hopefully the singing and playing of the Spring-theme selections in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center will hasten the exit of ol' man winter!

Stormy weather, stormy society

Last Sunday Pastor Jay Hartley was absent (on vacation) from Worship at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples), and so Associate Pastor Michael Lehman preached. This Sunday the tables were turned; Michael was absent (at a youth retreat) and we heard Pastor Jay preach. His message was titled "A Bridge to God" and focused on Psalm 51:1-12, one of the lectionary readings for this particular Sunday.

This wasn't a good weekend to be out at a campground. Middle Tennessee experienced some severe weather. See my immediately-previous post,a bout how the storm affected the Bluegrass Conclave meeting of my fraternity.

Sunday was a great improvement weather-wise. But alas! we live in a stormy society, too. A storm of crime, violence, envy, lust, etc.

One of the members of the choir at ECC, who lives with his family within walking distance of the church, reported to the rest of us choir members that his son, who's in his early teens, had been at Five Points, a business corner in the heart of East Nashville, had used his cell phone to talk to Dad (the choir member) as he appriached a bus stop bench to sit and await an MTA bus -- and got mugged by two thugs, who left with the cell phone! The young teen wasn't physically hurt, but still the crime was shocking in its brazenness. Done in broad daylight in a somewhat busy neighborhood! A supposedly "safe" neighborhood!

Let me tell you, dear reader, I seldom feel safe here in Nashville, no matter where I may be. Certainly not where I live, within a mile of two housing projects, nor downtown. This really contrasts with San Antonio, a much larger city, where i generally felt safe anywhere in the daytime, and many parts of town even at night.

Bluegrass Conclave, LCA Centennial '09

In this Year of Our Lord 2009 my collegiate social fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, is celebrating its Centennial. There will be major Centennial celebrations at our international headquarters in Indianapolis this summer. But I doubt very seriously that I shall have the finances and time to attend those.

But also as part of the Centennial observance of LCA, headquarters is reviving a concept dormant for a generation, that of regional Conclaves. This region, covering all of Tennessee and Kentucky and adjacent portions of Indiana and Ohio, is called the Bluegrass Conclave. Each annual Conclave this year is also celebrating the Centennial of our Brotherhood. And Vanderbilt's Gamma-Delta Zeta (Zeta = local chapter of LCA) is honored to be the host Zeta for this Conclave!

The meeting occurred this past Friday evening and all day Saturday. Late Friday afternoon I went to the announced registration site, Holiday Inn Select on West End Ave. next to Vandy's Dudley Stadium. The hotel isn't far from the Gamma-Delta chapter house on Vandy's Greek Row, nor very far from the fairly new Student Life Center building where all Conclave activities were to be held.

I felt odd as I walked into the hotel. You see, dear reader, the last time I'd been in this place was when it was the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt, and it was my wedding night of 19-20 August 1978! Well, just inside the door I met a few Brothers wearing LCA shirts, from Louisville. They informed me that registration had been moved to the SLC building where all other events would be. We all rode a shuttle over there, and got registered. Plenty of Actives -- undergraduate Brothers and Associate members (LCA abolished "pledgeship" just before I began my university experience and associated with the Brotherhood) -- were showing up as time progressed. I also met a few older men (i.e., closer to my age than your typical undergrad), including a couple of High Pi men. The High Pi is the Alumni Advisor/Director of a local chapter (Zeta).

All together, between Actives, a handful of Associate Members and another handful of Alumni, about a hundred men attended this Bluegrass Centennial Conclave of '09.

A dinner in a ballroom-like hall on the ground floor of the Student Life Center started activities. It was fried chicken and sides (no dessert). There were a couple of brief talks afterward, by such folks as the local co-chairmen, Brothers Jeremy Sandler and Cole Carlson. From Indianapolis our Director of Communication Bro. Tad Lichetnauer and our Dir. of Education Bro. Tim Reuter gave us encouraging words. Each attending chapter had opportunity to present a slide show about the state of their Zeta. These were fascinating; almost all chapters are doing very well and comparing favorably and positively with other fraternities at the same campuses.

Saturday morning we had three time slots, each with two workshops to choose from to attend. The first I went to covered the history of our Ritual. I'd served as High Phi, or Ritualist, of Epsilon-Gamma Zeta of LCA at Idaho my senior year (1975-76), and our Ritual shaped my comprehension and application of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus our Lord. I thus found the workshop, run by Bro. Lichtenauer, to be very stimulating and enlightening. Particularly in that it showed me a side of Bro. John E. "Jack" Mason of which I'd not known previously. Bro. Mason was the chief designer of our Ritual -- and he was a master craftsman!

The other two workshops I chose covered fraternity education (another natural for this teacher-type, who before being High Phi was High Kappa or Fraternity Educator for E-G at Idaho) and "exoteric mysteries". This latter concerned pre-initiation events, generally informal, that prepare the Associate Member for the big step of undergoing initiation thru our Ritual.

Following the third workshop session we adjourned to the Gamma-Delta Zeta house for lunch. I've never been in the chapter house and eaten (which I don't do every time I visit!), that the food wasn't simply delicious. Today's meal, roast beef sandwich fixings and potato salad, was catered rather than prepared by the chapter cook. Still it was delicious, and the talk with brothers sitting near me was as refreshing to my spirit as the food was to my body.

The couple of afternoon activities were oriented primarily to the Actives, so I chose to go home for a couple of hours, and change clothes. This was because the Saturday evening closing dinner had a dress code of coat and tie. I actually donned the same garb I had bought for and worn to the historic Tri-Zeta White Rose Gala in San Antonio back in April of '07. It was a brown suit, dark green shirt and golden-yellow necktie. (See my other blog, "Glen Alan's San Antonio", for my report about this historic Brotherhood event.)

When I stepped out of my room to return to the Vandy campus the sky was sunny, with few clouds. By the time I got to campus it was pretty much overcast, and shortly after entering the Student Life Center building I heard a tornado warning siren go off. Just minutes after it started and right when food for the banquet had arrived, the building staff came and herded all of us downstairs into the basement. Six o'clock (start time for the dinner) came and went but the siren didn't cease for a few more minutes. A batch more Brothers showed up, and they'd gotten caught, not in a whirlwind but in what back in San Antonio would be called a "gully-washer". These Brothers were suffering varying degrees of wetness. A couple just had a few spots on the shoulders of their coats while others had their suits, exposed parts of their shirts and their neckties soaked!

Nevertheless, the dinner went on. We feasted on barbecue pork in buns, with cole slaw and baked beans (no dessert again). After the meal, our Grand High Kappa, Bro. Fletcher McElreath, gave us sort of a Centennial State-of-the-Brotherhood speech. Let me tell you,dear reader, if I was already feeling very proud of our Brotherhood due to the slide show presentations of the previous evening, THIS speech REALLY got me "pumped up"! I was particularly elated with news that I actually already knew, that my home Zeta, Epsilon-Gamma at Idaho, is being re-colonized after being closed for some years. It's one of three such re-colonizations and at least one new start that Lambda Chi Alpha is making at university campuses all over the nation.

You know, since the beginning of '09 three months ago I've been praying daily that our Lord bless our fraternity, a Brotherhood firmly based on Christian teachings and the ideals to take good young men and make them better, during our Centennial Year. And surely from what I experienced in this Bluegrass Conclave -- on top of what I've witnessed at the Gamma-Delta Zeta at Vandy -- He whose Light we follow is indeed blessing our Brotherhood!

May Christ's blessings be multiplied on LCA, and may we all good Brothers shine out with the goodness of His Light! Our society surely needs such light as we can share!

Oh, and speaking of "light", the Lord did what He so often has done since I left Idaho in 1976. I'll be at a fraternity event or an event which I'll associate in some significant way with LCA or the Ritual -- and that evening I get to see a waxing Crescent Moon! So it was Saturday evening. Leaving the just concluded Conclave I walked to West End Ave. to catch the bus home. Looking across Centennial Park I saw low in the sky above the western horizon a very brand new, sliver-thin waxing crescent! The Cross and Crescent is an integral symbol in our Ritual and of our Fraternity; it's also the name of our magazine. Over the years some have asked me if this juxtaposing means that Lambda Chi Alpha is a combo Christian-Moslem frat. I gladly explain that no, the symbolism of the waxing crescent for us goes way back well before Mohammed. We give it the meaning it had in ancient Classical (Greco-Roman) times: purity and growth in knowledge. The Cross has its standard meaning of self-sacrifice for the good of others, such as Jesus of Nazareth endured on His cross. So the two symbols together signify for us growth in the life of self-sacrifice.

And whenever I've seen a waxing Crescent Moon in the post-sunset western sky, either a sliver-thin brand new one or one a bit wider such as in the LCA symbol, it has always encouraged me to persevere should I be enduring a trial of life or to be thankful to our Heavenly Father for all His goodness. And this past Saturday it was especially a Heavenly affirmation of all that the Bluegrass Conclave had been for yours truly!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dan Seals -- "the music died"

My new job as a deliver driver for Bradley Healthcare has been a real happy experience. As I drive around the greater Nashville area -- including Franklin and Brentwood to the south -- I listen to WSM-AM 650 and the "Coffee, Country and Cody" morning show, with Bill Cody and Charlie Mattos. Some days, delivering meds to the Franklin area, I find myself on IH 65 passing the unique transmission tower of the radio station. This white and red-painted structure resembles a very, very elongated pyramid with its base atop another very-very elongated pyramid turned upside down.

I wasn't out that way yesterday (Thursday), but rather was passing thru downtown Nashville on my way to drop off meds in my part of town. WSM was broadcasting a song that's one of my favorite Top Ten country hits. "Everything that Glitters Is Not Gold" was recorded about two decades ago by Dan Seals. He's a good singer; first he was half of the pop-rock duo England Dan and John Ford Coley. Then Dan switched to a more country style as a mostly solo artist, and among his other hits is "Bop" and a duet with Marie Osmond, "Meet Me in Montana." I think the last named is my favorite of all his songs, but "Everything that Glitters" is right behind it. I hadn't heard it in a long time (several years), and so the listening pleasure was intensified. This despite the theme, similar to "Kay" (see 2 Feb. posting) of a man who gets dumped by a woman on her way to stardom -- only in this instance a little daughter of the two is involved. There's a line "her birthday came and you never even called" that infuriates me. I want to go find the fictional subject of the song and tear out her blonde hair!

Well, when the song was over, Bill announced that Dan Seals had lost a battle with cancer and had died during the night. Alas! One more great singing voice is now stilled, to be heard only in recordings made before his passing.

Later I learned that there would be a memorial service at a local Baha'i place of worship. This didn't surprise me. Dan was the brother of Jimmy Seals, who along with Dan Crofts was another good-sounding duo of the pop rock scene of the seventies. Seals & Crofts had a great hit back then, the mellow "Summer Breeze". One line of the chorus goes "blowin' thru the jasmine in my mind." On Casey Casem's "American Top Forty" I'd heard Casey one weekend play the song and then explain that the jasmine is in the song in preference to any other sweet-smelling flower because jasmine was the favorite flower of Baha'i founder Baha-ullah. And that Seals was a Baha'i. Baha'is believe that humanity is one race and that the one God, who sent many messengers including Moses, Jesus and Mohammed prior to the latest (Baha'u'llah), wills that humanity unite by breaking down dividing barriers.

Therefore the memorial service site made sense, if Jimmy had converted Dan to that faith. Interesting, that Dan was a Baha'i while his partner on "Meet Me in Montana" is a Mormon. Goes to show that folk of diverse spiritual beliefs can still collaborate in creating something beautiful!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A dandy Vandy Monday evening

Dear reader, it's probably evident already to you that yours truly has a deep affection for the University here in Nashville that is my wife's undergrad alma mater and my graduate alma mater. Yes, Vanderbilt is held and cherished deep in my heart. And truly I relish any visit to the woodsy campus, or any event associated with Vandy, including any athletic contest the VU Commodores win.

Well, Monday evening I went to Gamma-Delta Zeta, the chapter of my fraternity, Lambda Chi Alpha, on the Vandy campus. Due to the weather being so pleasant, when I walked into the house there weren't any tables and chairs set up and Brothers eating supper. They were all out back on their deck, munching French-bread pizza and garden salad. Having not yet had supper I served myself a plate and joined them.

A major item of the chapter meeting that followed was the Bluegrass Conclave that Gamma-Delta Zeta will be hosting this upcoming weekend. Indeed, the Conclave is the main reason I attended. Lambda Chi Alpha nationally is divided into regions called conclaves. My alma mater's LCA chapter, Epsilon-Gamma Zeta at Idaho, was in the Pacific Northwest Conclave. While I lived in the house on 720 Deakin Ave. in Moscow, I went to two Pac NW conclaves, one at Oregon State and the other at Montana State.

The Bluegrass Conclave includes all zetas in Kentucky and Tennessee plus a few surrounding states. I probably would not have been very interested in attending this one, since my memory is that conclave meetings are primarily for undergrads, or "Actives" as we Lambda Chis call them. But this Year of Our Lord 2009 is the Centennial of the founding of our Brotherhood! I knew from our on-line magazine, the Cross & Crescent, that there will be celebratory events up in Indianapolis, where our international headquarters are located (as are the headquarters of my denomination, the Disciples of Christ). But chances of my being able to go to those are slim and none. And the C & C indicated that regional conclaves would also acknowledge the 100 years of Brotherhood with various activities.

So I was pumped up to be in this 2009 meeting of the Bluegrass Conclave! Then Brother Jeremy, who's the active in charge of the Conclave meeting, got up to speak about it. At one point he spoke about some Brothers (of Gamma-Delta) being "ambivalent" about the upcoming event. Later he told me personally that what he meant was along the lines of "stressed-out" by the pressures of hosting the event and setting it up. But yours truly took it in a more literal sense.

When there was opportunity, I asked to speak as a LCA alumnus. I asked the assembled Brothers, about 80-85 in number, how many of them were history majors or minors. A few raised their hand. I shared with them that I was a history minor at U of I, and that history was one of my dearest loves. I encouraged them all to be interested in and excited about the Conclave. I concluded that "This won't be any ordinary Conclave; it's our CENTENNIAL Conclave! One hundred years of Brotherhood! So brothers, let's get excited about it, and let's show that Gamma-Delta Zeta is the BEST Zeta in the state, if not the nation!"

I don't know if I got these undergrad fraternity brothers of mine jacked up, but my brief exhortation sure got me jacked up!

After the meeting I went out to West End Avenue to catch the bus home. And I put on my headphones and tuned in to Charlie Mattos on AM-560 and the Lady Commodores NCAA Women's Tournament game against Kansas State, in Albuquerque. This pitted the #4 team (VU) against the #5 (KSU), so it promised to be an exciting contest.

And so it was, so it was!

The first half was very, very close, with KSU seeming to have a slight edge. But at halftime the Lady 'Dores only trailed by a point. I had to get a laundry load done,so I left the broadcast for awhile. By the time I returned to Charlie's broadcast, the Black & Gold women were in a comfortable lead. Indeed, for a long time the two teams simply traded baskets, and Vandy would lead by ten, then by eight, then by ten, then by eight. . . .

In all the excitement of the women's game, Vandy had two Seniors who were stellar. Jennifer Risper scored a career-high 27 points. And Kristina Wirth, whose name has been prominent all this season, added 25. With their leadership by example these two got the entire team working together to put away K-State, win the game and advance to the Women's Sweet Sixteen!

Go, Vanderbilt! I love y'all! Brothers in the Bond, women hoopsters and all the rest!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sweet first weekend of Spring A.D. 2009

All last week dark clouds were hovering, at least in the background, and sometimes directly overhead. And I don't mean atmospheric rainmakers either. The discovery of my dear ex-boss Paxton Briley's death in Tallahassee of a few years back. Keith Bilbrey's firing from WSM-AM 650. My inability to pay rent for March. My on-going and seemingly fruitless search for a job to replace the one I lost at Signius. Dark clouds (see the previous post, 20 March, for the grim details)!

All this while most public schools in the metropolitan area were out for Spring Break. And most of this while, meteorological reality was an early, sunny Spring!

But Friday, the metaphorical clouds broke -- and the official first day of the Spring of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Nine commenced with an eruption of sunshine -- meteorological as well as metaphorical!

Okay, I hear you, dear reader: "En'uf already with the big words!"

First, on Friday morning I GOT a JOB! Second, on Friday afternoon my mail included my income tax REFUND -- which means I can finally pay March's rent on #268 at Mercury Courts! And I'm now "legal" to drive in Tennessee -- I got my in-state driver license!

My new job will be driving a company vehicle for Bradley Health Services and delivering medical prescriptions and supplies in the Nashville area -- in a sixty-mile radius. A Bradley driver named Will often rides the Route 15 MTA bus with me, and just after I lost my job at Signius, of which Bradley is a client for phone-answering, I passed time at Music City Central (the new MTA depot downtown) by introducing myself to him and commenting on my knowledge of Bradley's work thru Signius, and my new unemployed status. Will recommended that I apply to become a driver for Bradley, like him; Thursday, his boss Toney called me to "set up an interview". When I arrived Friday morning it was less a job interview than an orientation; i.e., I already had the job. The only glitch was my having a valid Texas license, and not a valid Tennessee. Toney informed me that I must possess an in-state license to do the job. So I borrowed funds to pay for one and spent most of the afternoon going to and waiting at a driver license center in the Inglewood neighborhood of Nashville.

Get this: once the paperwork was done and the license paid for, I was instructed where to go to get my picture taken and receive the new license. When my name was called and I stepped to the photo-shoot spot I ran my hand across the top and back of my head to straighten the hair. I sometimes have trouble with hair in that area being messy. But what I missed was the bangs. When I saw my photo on the new license, the bangs which were messy -- almost ragged! Oh, well! I was too happy about having a Tennessee license "hot off the press" in my hot little hand! I joyfully phoned Toney and let him know, and that I could report for work on Monday!

Then I went home and found in my mailbox a check from Uncle Sam for my income tax refund. I supped with thankfulness and happiness, and listened to a better than usual Friday Nite Opry on WSM.

Nothing particularly notable occurred on Saturday, but it was a very pretty Spring day.

Sunday continued the prettiness of the newly-commenced Spring weather. As with last Sunday, the attendance at Pastor Jay's class was comparatively small (probably due to several schools and universities being out for Spring Break the past week). However, as with last Sunday the discussion was lively and enlightening! So many fascinating observations were shared about the lectionary readings for the day. I tell you, I love my brothers and sisters in the faith with whom I share the Lord's Day at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples)!

Then in the Worship service Michael Lehman preached. His sermon, titled "Rich in Mercy", centered on Ephesians 2:1-10 (especially v. 4b), had some very well-considered points in it. He commenced with a roll call of several situations of scarcity that this present society is suffering. He contrasted these with "but God who is RICH in mercy. . . ." Among the negatives he then covered in more detail, is "sin". He defined sin as "turning away from God." I'm not certain that I've heard that definition used before, but it works. I definitely fits with the whole theme of Lent, and with Jesus" great parable of the forgiving father. This is usually called the "parable of the prodigal son", but like some English names for various Biblical parables and incidents it misses the focus or point of the story. (if you haven't figured it out, this parable is one of three in Luke 17 that illustrate the joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents and comes back to God, and the richness of God's forgiveness and mercy on repentant sinners. (Michael didn't refer to the parable, but he just a well could have!)

And let me tell you, this young man preaches with passion! Each sermon I've heard from him, I've been most impressed with how passionately Michael preaches.

Now, I had planned, since I'd received the refund, to go to Picadilly Cafeteria in Madison for Sunday dinner. But as I sought a church member who would be going in that direction, I ended up being invited to join the Agee family for dinner at Jack's Barbecue. The family and I had eaten at the one on "Lower Broad" -- the few blocks of Broadway that go up from the river front to the area of the Convention Center and Sommet Center. However, the Jack's we went to was in the northern part of the city, on Trinity Lane. The layout was different from the other Jack's but the food was the same. And de-e-e-elicious! Topping it off, I got the rare treat of conversing over the food with beloved brothers and sisters in the faith.

This being the Fourth Sunday of the month, in the evening I went to nearby Hart Street Church of Christ. Every Fourth Sunday this little congregation of African-Americans has a singing school prior to the evening worship. During the winter months I had attended this song practice may once, if that. But now that daylight time is in effect and the days are NATURALLY longer anyway, I was glad to be present and singing along. This was a sweet ending for a sweet First Sunday of Spring in A.D. 2009!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bitter ending to a hard winter

Today is the first official day of Spring in A.D. 2009. Here in Nashville we've actually already had Spring-like weather for a week or so. So in speaking of a bitter end to a hard winter I'm not being meteorological.

In the past week two very tragic news items have assailed me. On Wednesday I was on-line searching for information about firms at which I had worked in the past. I needed such info as telephone numbers and addresses, in order to fill out an application for jobs with the state of Tennessee. One of my former employers was Municipal Code Corporation in Tallahassee. My boss there, Paxton Briley, was one of the two or three best bosses of the many bosses in the many jobs I've held. Paxton, a Navy pilot during the Vietnam War, later flew for Eastern Airlines. When that airline went defunct, Paxton ended up being director of the Minutes Indexing Department of MCC. I greatly enjoyed him as my supervisor, as a fellow veteran and as one who like me greatly enjoyed going off into the "wild blue yonder".

Well, I got curious as to whether Paxton was on the Internet, so I googled his full name. Great was my distress when my Web search resulted in learning that he had passed away several years ago! He even preceded his dad in death. But -- and this was SO Paxton Briley -- he left his collection of books by the author of the Uncle Remus stories to his alma mater, Florida State University.

This distressing news followed hard on other gut-churning tidings. It wasn't about the death of a beloved friend or ex-boss; still it was tragic. For several years I've listened to deejay Keith Bilbrey on WSM-AM 650. Back in the 1980s when I taught at Father Ryan High School here, I took to watching the "Ralph Emery Show" early weekday mornings on WSMV-TV. Keith was the show's weatherman, so he was the go-to man for school snow-day closings. Keith sometimes wore a necktie on TV that resembled one I had. One day I wore mine and went to WSM's offices to compare it with his. Well, it turned out that his tie was different in a way that didn't show up on the tube. But it was fun to speak with him face-to-face that day. And ever afterward I enjoyed speaking with Keith by phone or e-mailing him. Upon returning to Nashville last summer I contacted him by e-mail and mentioned the "infamous" necktie -- and he remember the tie!

Well, this great deejay and personal friend has been fired by Gaylord, the huge corporation headquartered in Dallas that owns radio station WSM-AM 650. While listening to the Grand Ole Opry show last Saturday, during the portion that Keith was emcee, a couple of the Opry cast on that portion made mention of him as tho' he were leaving the show. I had read on WSM's own Website of how Keith's working as deejay for the station and emcee for the show was his "life's dream", so I was very puzzled. I couldn't imagine him leaving his life's dream for another job or career and he wasn't old en'uf to retire.

So Monday I phoned the radio station and asked the woman who answered my call about Keith. She informed me that, yes, he'd been fired. At my expression of shock and disappointment she responded that they at WSM were distressed, too. It's pretty clear that "bean-counters" at Gaylord's out-of-state headquarters, in dealing with on-going losses of the company were reacting as they had just over a decade ago. Rather than adjust things in some other way, back then they killed Opryland themepark, and now they were getting rid of the live deejay of the mid-day show, the "least productive" shift on-air.

No matter that said deejay had worked for the station for 34 years -- oh, yeah, by firing a veteran they took care of ever having to pay pension as well as being able to cut salary. No matter that said deejay was also emcee on the world's oldest continuously-broadcast live radio show. No matter that we regular listeners to WSM loved said deejay. Gotta bow down to and worship the Bottom Line!

That's the 21st-century American way with huge, multi-state, multi-national corporations.

Does yours truly seem bitter? I sure hope I do! Keith was my personal friend. If by falling on my sword I could get him back into his life's dream job, I'd do it in a heartbeat!

I don't stand alone in my anger at out-of-state Gaylord Corp. and what they're doing to Nashville, its legendary radio station and its
music industry that makes it "Music City"! A petition has been set up requesting WSM's CEO to reconsider and reinstate Keith Bilbrey. When I learned of this thru and on-line version of a column from the Tennessean newspaper, I clicked on the link at once and signed the petition. At time of this writing there are almost 4000 signatures. And you should read some of comments added by signers. Does myw riting seem bitter? You ain't read nothin' yet!

Hre is the link, if you, dear reader, wish to join in the effort:

Finally, I've developed a list of the Five Worst Things to ever happen to Nashville. It's in chronological order, not necessarily in order of how deleterious:

1. The War Between the States and all its battles in and around Nashville.

2. The hostile takeover of locally-headquartered National Life by Houston's American General.

3. American General's sale of the radio station and the Opryland entities, not to a local individual, family or firm but rather to Oklahomans who liked the Opry but whose business experience 'til then was in newspapers and a couple of radio and TV stations. (No experience in hotels, theme parks or the general hospitality-tourism industry.)

4. Gaylord administration's murder of Opryland Park.

5. The deaths of Mr. & Mrs. Gaylord, who at least were fans of a traditional-style Grand Ole Opry. Doubtless whoever runs the huge corporation, wherever it's headquartered (Dallas?), hates traditional country music and is more into the hotel aspect of the firm anyway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

M.o.M.C. -v. 6 "Yours Truly Sings"

Saturday the Fourteenth may have been the actual day of my double-nickel birthday, but the observance commenced the day before and continued into the next day, Sunday. And this was thanks to church -- my "church family" of Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples).

First, I received a birthday card from church members Ray and Jackie Ashworth. They were the only ones to mail me a card. They'd also mailed me a Christmas card.

Late Friday afternoon I bussed over to the church and then drove the van from there to the downtown rallying point for homeless men seeking lodging thru "Room in the Inn". You see, it was the second Friday of the month and thus ECC's turn to host some fellows. Ten men boarded the van and back I drove to the church. We got treated to a delicious supper prepared in the church kitchen. I even supplied a small store-bought cake, iced like a birthday cake, on which I had stuck a little sign "borrowed" from a cupcake, that said "Happy Birthday". I cut it into ten rather small portions so each of our Guests could have two or three bites.

I also got out my guitar and practiced the song I would sing during the offering collection of Sunday Worship. I played a few other songs, out of Johann Anderson's "Songs" book. It displeased me that my voice clearly didn't sound in the best of shape! And when I gave the song one more practice Saturday morning before driving the ten men back to downtown, my voice sounded no better.

Sunday morning, my birthday now officially over & done with, I showed up early at Eastwood Christian Church (Disciples), to have time for further practice. I tried some warm-up vocal exercises, then practiced the bass part for the anthem the entire choir would be singing, "Turn Back, O Man" (NOT the one from "Godspell"). I'm really a baritone singer, and this particular arrangement had a high bass, in effect a baritone below the tenor. It went as high as D above middle-C and then a few measures later E-flat above middle-C. Once again it distressed me that my voice wasn't in the fittest shape and I had difficult reaching those two highest notes. Then when I practice my offertory special, its highest note challenged me, too.

But not to worry! First, I had a cup and a half of hot coffee, black, and participated in a very, very good discussion in Sunday School class. Pastor Jay had us reading and discussing the lectionary readings for the day, such as Exodus 20:1-17 (the Ten Commandments) and Psalm 19 (David's praise of God for His Creation and His law/commandments).

When I left the class and entered into the choir's vocal warm-ups I judged that my voice felt and sounded better. And during Worship I had no difficulty singing any of the anthem, "Turn Back, O Man" (again, NOT the "Godspell" version). As usual following an anthem, I left the choir seating in the chancel, disrobed and donned my suitcoat. Then I went to the front of the church (i.e toward the main-entrance end of the sanctuary) and deposited my offering in a plate, and found a seat in a pew toward the front of seating. Jay had a great message in his sermon focusing on the Psalm reading, and I felt blessed.

When it was about time for the offertory, I went to a room off the chancel and got my guitar and readied to go out and sing and pick. For the call to offertory Gene and Cindy Lovelace did a dramatic rendition of the story of the widow's offering (Mark 12:41-44, etc.). Once they sat down in a front pew, yours truly walked out and told the congregation how yesterday was my 55th birthday and how when we will celebrate Christ's resurrection in a few Sundays it'll be 40 years of being a born-again Christian. Also, how much of that time has been devoted to following the Lord's callings to various ministries, and how the song I was about to share, "Here I Am, Lord", was thus very special to me. I invited them to join in singing the chorus on the third and final time.

Well, don't you know? During the second chorus I could hear a few folks singing along, and the final time nearly everybody was singing -- clearly and strongly! This was EXACTLY the effect I had wanted: solo on the verses and first chorus, a few additional voices on second chorus and many voices on the last chorus! Praise God!

And indeed, Lord, here I am, ready to go and do whatever You call me to be or do!

Oh, and to top it all off -- or, to finish in FINE fashion -- our closing song, post-benediction, was the first verse of "Be Thou My Vision". This wonderful Irish hymn is my favorite of all hymns, and has been since I became a Christian in '69. So, for me, it served as magnificent postlude to my singing "Here I Am, Lord".

. I the Lord of sea and sky I have heard My people's cry.
. All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save.
. I who made the stars of night I will make their darkness bright
. Who will bear My light to them? Whom shall I send?

. Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
. I have heard You calling in the night.
. I will go, Lord, if You lead me.
. I will hold Your people in my heart.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Double-nickel birthday in Music City

Yesterday was Saturday the Fourteenth -- or in a nod to The Bard and his "Julius Caesar" drama, it was the Eve of the Ides of March.

Oh, and also it was a birthday for yours truly. I celebrated the double-nickel!

Nobody baked me a birthday cake, I received no gifts -- not even an offer for hiring for a desperately-needed job -- and only one card came in the mail. Nevertheless, it was a very satisfactory observance for yours truly. I may be getting to the age when the annual rolling of the number of years on God's green Earth matters less 'n less. In fact, I probably wouldn't have made much of this birthday, except that it was the double-nickel, and I'm back in Tennessee and in Nashville.

My wife Ellen and our daughter Sarah drove down from Clarksville and took me out to lunch. They said it would be a surprise. Well, what a pleasant surprise! Instead of going some place where all three might have eaten before together, we ate at La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant on Nolensville Road. Now, dear reader, I'd passed this place many times on the bus. And about every time I considered that some time I needed to try it out. It's a bright, inviting-looking building, and always has plenty of cars parked in its lot.

I was amused that, after we were seated near the front windows, in looking around I saw a TV on toward the back, with a Spanish-channel show being broadcast. It looked like "Sábado Gigante" and the host sort of appeared like "S.G"'s Don Francisco. However, the waiter said that no, that wasn't the show nor was that him.

While living in Houston, Texas, Sarah had gotten as well acquainted with Tex-Mex cuisine as I had in San Antonio. It was very interesting to listen to her comments about this or that Tex-Mex food item or about specific experiences she had had in the huge Texas city. I was delighted to learn that the chain Taco Cabana extends to Houston. And she liked it as much as I did, including (or especially) the picante/condiment bar with the little portion cups and lids. She and I both took advantge of the lidded cups to take home small portions of the various picante or jalapeño slices or whatever!

Here at La Hacienda she ordered a torta, and she used some Spanish in the ordering! I'm proud of her for that! Ellen ordered a plate of quesadillas. And I wanted a combo plate, of taco enchilada and tamal -- but I ordered by the combo number -- and ordered número cinco by mistake instead of número cuatro. So what I got wa a combo plate with refried beans, rice, tamal, enchilada and chile relleno! And that last was a large chile; in fact, at first I considered it to be a bell pepper.

Oh, well, it was delicious, regardless. And then the girls urged me to celebrate my birthday with a sopapilla. I'd had these before, in fact several times when I first got acquainted with Ellen at TCU in Fort Worth. But what came out to the table was what I would have labeled a taco-salad gone sundae! There was a tortilla bowl like the ones many restaurants serve taco salads in. But instead of the veggies and other taco ingredients there was a generous helping of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and three maraschino cherries. I shared a cherry and a portion of the rest with each of my girls.

M-m-m! What a delicious birthday celebration! I might just take such a sopapilla over a traditional birthday cake any year!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The "Intimate Evening" live

The Grand Ole Opry isn't the only show broadcast on WSM-AM 650, "The Air Castle of the South" that I treasure. Another is done one Monday a month: "An Intimate Evening with Eddie Stubbs". This show got started during my recent residence in Texas, but as soon as I moved here in the middle of last year I became an avid listener. I can remember fondly his "Intimate Evenings" with Patty Loveless and Steve Wariner.

And then late last week I got an e-mail congratulating me on winning admission to the upcoming show! I like to have died! Eddie's scheduled Guest was Ray Price! I couldn't imagine a better Guest for Eddie to interview, and yours truly be there in the audience! Well, yes, there's George Strait -- but I doubt THAT will ever happen!

So I was almost beside myself about getting to actually go to the Ford Theater in the Country Music Hall of Fame for this edition of the "Intimate Evening" show! I even dressed up despite the e-mail invitation saying dress was casual, and I arrived early. Entering the building and finding out that the theater doors wouldn't open for 45 minutes, I shrugged my shoulders and prepared to enjoy that much time of the guitar playing of David Andersen. A few months ago I had seen his portrait at the Visitor's Center in the Sommet Center. The painting labeled him "The Ambassador of Music City" -- and I hadn't even heard of him! So I had quickly gathered info on Mr. Andersen. I learned that he was a talented guitar player, somewhat along the lines of the late Chet Atkins. And he had performed the day the new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opened, and frequently afterward.

And now I was getting to listen to his guitar playing. After several minutes of just sitting and enjoying his talent, I was bold to ask if he took requests. When he nodded, I said, "In honor of tonite's Guest, Ray Price, please play his 'Crazy Arms' ". Mr. Andersen and a woman sitting nearby then burst my bubble. Ray Price would NOT be the Guest; he had been called back suddenly to his home in Texas. Bobby Bare would be Eddie's Guest instead.

Well, if that don't beat all, I concluded! I actually considered leaving, and how had I known hours earlier I'd have sought a "rain check" or similar. And I certainly wouldn't have dressed up for a Bobby Bare appearance, as I had for a Ray Price event! But I was already there, so reason took over and persuaded me to stay and just enjoy the show as is.

When Eddie came on-stage in the little theater (I suppose it holds about 200, in fairly steep seating going down to a flat floor that serves as the stage), he apologized for Ray's absence. He pointed out that this is the 41st edition of "Intimate Evening" -- and the FIRST that the scheduled Guest couldn't show. He also was emphatic that Bobby Bare was NOT Price's "replacement" or "substitute", and the he'd actually wanted to get Bare on the show for some time. Now was the opportunity.

When the aired start of the show came along, it featured "Marie Lebowe", my least favorite of Bobby Bare's songs. I despise anything to do with witchcraft -- and this includes all the Harry Potter books and movies! This was thus NOT a good start for my experience of the show. I found myself remembering who HAD been scheduled to appear -- and plotting my escape at the earliest convenient and inconspicuous opportunity.

But I didn't, and I'm glad I didn't! That's the power of "The Air Castle of the South" -- a mistake or a necessary change often gets to shine in its own strength and grace. After a few words between Eddie and Bobby -- the Guest was very casually dressed (Eddie was wearing what he ALWAYS wears, suit and tie) -- we heard a second song: "Detroit City". And things took a decided turn for the BEST with this song. I've always liked "Detroit City' and considered it a heartfelt and heart-touching expression of homesickness for the faraway home of one's youth. "I wanna go home, I wanna go home! Oh, how I wanna go home!"

And things just got better from there on out. At one point Eddie and Bobby were reminiscing about early hits of Bobby's, and they named "Five Hundred Miles" and "Four Strong Winds". Well, dear reader, when I was a boy growing up in Idaho I heard both often on pop radio, and I loved them both. I identified them as folk songs, not country. But, as Music City has taught me, the line between "folk" and "country" is a very thin one!

Between songs there was lots of conversation about Bobby's life history. His is a standard biography of a country singer. After a rather difficult childhood and discovering that he liked to sing, pick guitar and write songs, his early years were lean -- or should I say "bare"? Actually at more than one point Bobby in relating some incident would make a rather racy or suggestive comment. And even tho' I didn't see Eddie's face go red, I could hear the embarrassment in his voice as he'd point out either that "there's 'intimate' for you" or "this IS a family show!"

At about half hour intervals (the broadcast show is two hours long) we'd have a break for commercials and the playing of a Bare song. During these breaks a certain number of the audience would be allowed to come to the stage floor and briefly greet Bobby or get his autograph or a snapshot with him. When it was my turn I did briefly shake hands and thank him for showing up on such short notice. But my greater interest was in speaking with my deejay hero, Eddie. I love talking with this fountain of country music information! Of course, in the time constraints of the moment all I could say this evening to Eddie was how I'd initially been disappointed with the change (from Ray to Bobby) and had I known earlier in the day I'd have requested a "rain check" -- but that I was GLAD I was there, because Bobby turned out to be so entertaining after all!

And then came a really pleasant surprise! Eddie announced that Bobby's long-time friend and "one of the 'Grand Ladies' of the Grand Ole Opry", Jan Howard, was present in the audience. He asked her to come to the stage floor and sit and talk about the main Guest. This was absolutely delightful! I cannot say that I'm an avid fan of Jan's, but I do like her. One of the alto singers in the Eastwood Christian Church choir, Peggy, in her looks causes me to think of Jeannie Seely with a strong touch of Jan Howard. Also, Jan's late ex-husband, Harlan Howard, a terrific songwriter and influence in country music, coined a very apt definition of the genre. "Country music is three chords and the truth" is written on a wall not far from the door into the Ford Theater.

Well, I suppose we were getting "the truth" about Bobby Bare tonite, in the "Intimate Evening"! And it was a very entertaining and musical truth!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Go, Commodores!

Well, Spring weather is blossoming here in Music City! And this past weekend I was busy -- nothing unusual, as the reader should know from having read this or my other blog. But I certainly do wish I'd made time to follow the winter sport I love, basketball. And particularly university level basketball! And now that I'm back in Nashville, especially the basketball of my beloved grad-school alma mater, Vanderbilt!

As I found out just this morning, thanks to WSM's Charlie Mattos, my alma mater's teams were smashing this past weekend! Hi-hip hooray, Vandy! The Lady Commodores played Auburn yesterday for the SEC Women's Tournament crown. Auburn is higher-ranked than VU, but the ladies in Black & Gold beat the gals from the State to our south, for the umpteenth time. And thus claimed their sixth SEC crown. Only the mega-team coached by Pat Summit to the east of here has more.

And the Commodore Men ended their season with an SEC victory over Arkansas, finishing the season and heading into the Conference tournament with a three-game win streak! The guys haven't had a notably successful year, particularly in losing to the Vols both here and in Knoxville. But like my beloved NBA Spurs, they seem to be hitting their stride just in time for post-season play.

Go, Commodores! Men and Ladies, best of success to y'all!