Retirement: Month Two

We're not in Kansas anymore, Linus. Platitudes build up like vascular plaque, to be scraped into two columns: 1) so very true, and 2) you gotta be kidding!

Best laid plans--(1) This was a crying shame. After having drifted through life as a preacher's kid, vagabond, following wife, and PTSD-zonked recovering co-dependent, I bit the bullet and put together a plan for getting out from huge debt from alcoholic relationship and settling down in one place long enough to scrape up a pension, I was stoked. Out from crushing financial burdens (and I count zero as a blessing), car paid off, and non-penalized, maximized retirement and social security. I had a viable, kick-ass goal. The State of Texas went "Aha! Let's yank that right out from under her." Massive sabot tossed into the clockworks.

Adversity makes you stronger--(2) No it doesn't. Solving problems makes you stronger, and sometimes adversity stacks up so deep you're drowning in alligators. You gain strength from learning HOW to solve problems, not get beat-up.

My friend and fellow elderblogger Ronni Bennett send a congratulatory note when she learned that I'd retired and signed up for Social Security. She wrote of the day she decided to march down to Social Security and officially begin this new phase in life. Ronni stressed the importance of celebration, which I must admit was way down the list of what I mostly felt during that time: stark terror.

She reminded me that all of life's great passages are to be celebrated and enjoyed. And so I promised her I would begin to envision how I shall celebrate this step along my path. I'm beginning to see Winter Solstice as a fortuitous date. Remembrances of Paul Winter Consort concerts in the Cathedral in NYC, Howleluja Choruses, the urge to push, to grow out of the caves, the earth, the crypts.

This is the first Halloween I've identified with in a long time. Not as trick or treat, no little kids will be coming to my house on Oct. 31. More the feeling that the ground is being prepared for the winter, and readied for spring and growing.

The first 2 months of my retirement have been in turns hectic, despondent, excited, hermitizing, singing, way too introspective, seasoned with books and film. Realizing that other friends were correct in warning me of the physical crash. Your body telling you that you were unbelievably stressed out, and now you have to take care of it.

Like being underground. Cracking open a geode to find something unexpected. Dancing to new rhythms. Anticipating the light.


Austin Civic Chorus concert and AVAE rehearsal notes: 10.17.10

Austin Civic Chorus tore it up with the Mozart Mass in c-minor Sunday afternoon at St. Matthew's Episcopal. Good job, gang. You sounded confident, well-balanced, sure of your entrances, and thoughtful with the delivery. It was a pleasure to get to hear the group after so many years of not being able to make concerts. Ryan Heller is just right for the group. Commuting from Portland, OR to Austin sounds wacky, but perfect for a young conductor. Two of the most interesting cities in the country.

I also took advantage of sitting in the lobby to nail down the Sviridov, which is the biggest Russian challenge. The music is tricky but predictable, so it's a matter of learning cascades of Russian by transliteration, as there's no way I could learn enough Cyrillic to read it straight.

Good thing I did, because that's exactly what we worked on about 3 hours later. The rest of the program is a breeze, so it was good to have several hours to devote to Svirodov. Yeah, the concert will kick a**.

Nice to have a smaller group again to woodshed. Accomplished so much more, as we could move on quickly and cover more music. We have a bye this Tuesday, with 3 rehearsals left to polish to concert gleam. It'll be great. Everyone loves the music, loves Ryan, loves the group--good attitude + good musicians = crash hot performances.

Today was a red letter day in the retirement saga. I signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B, and Social Security. When the difference between signing up now and waiting til my 65th birthday in less than 3 months is only $22, then it was a no-brainer. Yes, I will be 18 with 47 years experience. Better than the alternative...

Austin Vocal Arts Ensemble presents "East Meets West" on Friday, November 12, 8:00 p.m. at Hope Presbyterian Church, 11512 Olson Drive; and Sunday, November 13, 3:00 p.m. at Oak Hill United Methodist Church, 7815 Hwy. 290 W.


Rehearsal notes 10.12.10--R.I.P. Joan Sutherland

I have this thing about tuning. I've related elsewhere that I get physically ill when pitches are not in tune. Tonight at rehearsal I had a mini-epiphany (is that even possible?): I am addicted to A440. 

I was brainwashed. My mom was an accomplished musician, and so I was exposed in utero to a decently tuned piano and voice. We all played and sang from day one. I began formal piano lessons at age 5 and flute lessons at age 7. Records, concerts, recitals, church choir, school, Back in the day, we were expected to line up at the strobotuner and tune ourselves individually before each band or orchestra class. I figured out the trick of scoring two miniscule right-angle lines on the headjoint of my flute so that at least the instrument was aligned to play A440. Then I could concentrate on embouchure, fingering, and angle.

Each type of instrument tends to have one or two problematic notes related to the physics of that particular instrument. In the case of wind instruments, or aerophones (flute, oboe, bassoon, sax; as opposed to soprano recorders, shakuhachi, and other indigenous woodwinds), some fingerings or registers just can't be machined that precisely. In others, it's how the human body interfaces with the instrument. The flute fingering for C in the staff uses no fingers at all--the instrument simply rests on the left forefinger at the join of the hand, and the right thumb, where there are no keys. The slightly graduated bore of the head joint and the diameter of the key holes have to be precisely bored to produce that pitch, and that's pretty darn tough to do. Hand-made flutes that get this right bring are more expensive than most folks expect, especially if they are made with exotic metals and/or woods, and are made with jewel-precision.

I digress into Musicologyland. Point being that the voice is an even more precious human instrument and our brains can be tuned. So this particular mini-piphany is about realizing that I automatically assume that every singer thinks and perceives sound the same way that I do, and that I ought not do that.

This all about producing music and so NOT about negatively judging singers. It isn't the PERSON who is not in tune, it is the TONE that is vibrating at a different cycle per second. And that's all it is.

Apropos of not much...
Pianos are tuned differently, because the physics involved are those of a percussion (rather than stringed) instrument, because the sound is produced by felt hammers which just happen to be tapping strings clustered together in threes. As far as our ears care, it's the tuning of the strings that determines the pleasing (or not) sound of the instrument. 

Next class: the related topic of overtones and the overtone series...
Tonight's rehearsal was a called rehearsal, which just means that it was outside the normal schedule. As a result, not everyone could attend, so it was at about half-strength, and began and ended earlier. This is a good thing in the rehearsal process. It requires more acute listening, reveals insecure language spots (torrents of Russian rushing at you at terrifying speed), and it helps nail entrances, breath marks, page-turns, and other assorted rehearsal best practices.

And for what it was, it was a very productive and satisfying rehearsal. A perfect ending to a fabulous long weekend in Dallas with fine friends, music, food, wine, and talking to 3 a.m.

This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon: Austin Civic Chorus performing Mozart Mass in C. Check it out on Facebook.


Layoffs continue

The university just laid off another 15 folks from our division. Lots of unhappy people, a few happy ones who were eligible for retirement and got their act together. No separation remuneration, nothing but a FAQ session with human resources and a tiny tag on your file that says any university hiring org has to consider you IF you meet the job requirements--no job guaranteed. Higher ed pretty much sucks in Texas right now. It will be even worse if our incumbent guv gets re-elected.

I had no idea how much stress I was under until 3-4 weeks out from retirement. All of a sudden I'm overwhelmingly fatigued, sleep a lot. That seems to be pretty much the normal reaction, say my friends who have already retired. No one realizes the toll until you let go of the daily grind. Similar to the phenomenon of busting butt at the end of a semester and coming down with a cold or flu as soon as vacation begins.

We're still ahead on precipitation for the year. Seeing green vegetation was uncanny through the summer, it just doesn't seem natural, somehow. Not that I'm complaining...at the moment. It's unsettled enough that it's nearly impossible to forecast how any given season will play out. We stand to break a record low tonight. There will likely be more records falling in the next year.

I still measure the year from September to August--school time. Probably for the rest of my life, since I'm tied to the university through retirement. Makes it a little awkward when January and tax time rolls around.

Next up: applying for Medicaid (mandatory) and Social Security (trying to hold out til January). Still looking for more freelance editing/writing work, if anyone has any leads.  Just a half time job will do--may even look into seasonal IRS work, however mind-numbing that will likely be. Better than living in a tent.

Do check out the UNICEF clean water banner atop the right nav bar. The world is running out of potable water, especially in drought-stricken countries, and especially children. Consider buying UNICEF holiday cards--they're always beautiful, and the $$ goes toward saving children of the world. I still have some cards my parents obtained from the '60s. They help remind me of my parents' commitment to humanitarianism. We are the lucky ones. It furthers one to lend a hand. It's also good for your personal health. Really.