Bill Harrison posted this tidbit over at Jason Heath’s Double Bass Blog about frustration playing with shitty musicians, and I could not agree more with this. It really sucks to be stuck in an orchestra gig with the one guy that insists on playing too loud and too fast. It’s a testosterone thing I assume – he’s too macho to play with the rest of these fools, so he’s determined to show everyone exactly how it is done by himself.

These assholes are part of the reason I left the music business. (That, and of course the massive injuries I sustained back in Boston in an accident, coupled with the lack of good benefits and decent pay – long story, another time…) I like music too much, and as a freelancer and prospective auditioning bassist I encountered just a few too many of these to really feel like this was going to be a good career idea.

This discussion reminds me of a particular incident which I love to talk about because it was just so amazing when it happened. There are certain conductors you don’t want to piss off, lest they shove the baton straight down your gizzard. In one rehearsal with Simon Rattle whilst working on the effing difficult but amazing to hear last movement of Shostakovitch 4, he let the last stand of my bass section have it. The instigator was doing his usual finishing the sections about 2 or 3 measures earlier than the rest of the orchestra, and getting the other player (who is otherwise an incredible bassist) all stirred up with a weird air of machismo and tandem crotch-grabbing more fitting for a football huddle than for an orchestra performance with the illustrious maestro:

Rattle (To me as principal):
Sir, would you please yell at them?
Me (Scared shitless):
Uh-huh….. Guys, could you please?
Me (After a second try – same problems – to the last stand – politely, maybe even timidly):
Guys – could you keep it together?
Rattle (To last stand):
If you can’t follow me, follow the concertmistress. If you can’t follow her, follow him (pointing to me). If you can’t follow him, at least listen! Because if you can’t do any of those things, you’ll never get a job! You’ll starve!
Rattle (After the third attempt with no improvement on the part of the problematic stand):

Obviously I was being too nice, but lesson learned. As for the performance, they still finished early – jock-cupping and all at the end of said passage. Mind-boggling.

So to this day, Shostakovitch 4 is my favorite symphony, even though our performance didn’t even come close to doing it justice. It sucks that we have to put up with these situations in our professional lives, but it is how we handle it and pick ourselves up in case we fall that defines our level of professionalism.

An iPhone Story

Last Sunday I purchased an iPhone. This was not my plan, but a couple of things came up to prompt this move. This thing is incredible for the most part, but with only one complaint:

The Purchase

First of all, my expectation was that I’d wait until a second generation release came about. I was quite content with my old Sony Ericsson semaphoring to the bimmer’s Bluetooth interface connection, and the old 3G iPod was the hurdy gurdy churning away at the iPod interface in the glove compartment. And these were good times. It all worked just fine – contacts loaded to the dash, control both from the steering wheel, phone call comes in and the iPod pauses until my conversation completes.

Until last week, when the phone died.

It had been dying a slow but natural death. To be honest, the only thing that was wrong with it was that the battery was able to hold less and less of a charge. The thing on my last business trip would last for maybe one phone conversation after a charge, and certainly wouldn’t make it through a couple of hours away from its power leash. But finally it ceased to work while connected to the charger. It couldn’t even hold enough juice to muster up a single phone call connected to power. Clearly it was time for a change.

And then the urgency occurred when a loved one wound up in the hospital, and my phone wasn’t working to receive the calls for assistance. What timing. Friday night in a hospital I had become all too familiar with recently, to the point where you know half the staff by name. Ugh. I need to do something about this quick.

I had two choices: Get a replacement battery for my Sony Ericsson for around $20 to hold me over until a 2G iPhone appeared, or jump on the technology bandwagon early and get an iPhone for upwards of $700 including tax and AppleCare. Naturally I went for the irrational choice and got the iPhone.

I owned the 1st gen Treo 180 when that first came out, and I loved it despite all its flaws. It was a PDA and a phone, and it was highly functional. But somehow the Treo line got confused and didn’t go quite where I was hoping it would, Palm support for Mac was off and on, and the rumors of an Apple phone began. My next phone would be a cheap-ass one with Bluetooth just to hold me over a cycle until something decent appeared. So with the iPhone finally coming out and the glowing reviews, I was placing myself in line for one of these babies.

The Initial Experience

If I may gush…

The purchase took minutes, the unboxing and activation was effortless, and I didn’t find the keyboard too difficult to operate even with my fat, round thumbs and long guitar-player fingernails. The initial sync was a bit lengthy over the USB connection for about 6 GB of data I had ready to go, and I had to rerun it a couple of times to get my contacts list right and to get the software updated on the unit. But once running, it just worked like a hot knife through warm butter.

Every application on this thing works extremely well, and well together. Syncing with my Mac, browsing through contacts, dialing numbers, watching vids from iPod or YouTube, email, calendar, and the rest of it – all very nice. The browser picks up phone numbers and converts them to hyperlinks to dial. Nice. I am sure that this is the finest mobile device created to date – very elegant.

The Browser

I’m going to get this out of the way. At the risk of being unpopular, I really am not a huge fan of the Safari web browser on the iPhone. Here’s why: I can’t resize fonts beyond tilting the screen – unless the page itself has font resizing baked in to the controls – a rarity. Zooming in on the content is inadequate, because I wind up scrolling horizontally as well as veritcally. The default page width for the iPhone is too wide and makes font scales too small as a result.

Now that I’ve had the iPhone for a couple of days, I want the handheld media type even more. This is an effing handheld device – support the handheld media type and prod developers to use it for your world domination goals instead of having to get people to fork their code. Web page layouts are too big by default for this size screen, and the web developer is confronted with the choice of either writing a version of their website just for the iPhone, or they have to install some greasemonkey-style hack. And I’m seeing plenty of websites offering iPhone-optimized versions of their sites so don’t tell me you’re doing this to offer the big giant World Wide Web in all its splendor. Boo. This would be so much better with an option to load the handheld css as an option somewhere. So much. Heck, even on a per-site basis as a preference in the bookmark or something.

What Safari on iPhone does, it does well – zoom in, hyperlinked phone numbers, and highly usable for a PDA web browser. Give me font resizing and the option to load the handheld stylesheet associated with the given web page and I’ll be happy. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a Flash plugin.

The Money Shot

OK this part I’m about to tell you was entirely unexpected. I went in to the Apple Store with no expectation that this thing would want to have anything to do with my BMW’s iPod and/or Bluetooth interfaces. It was created in 1995. This is emerging 1st generation technology two years later – snowball’s chance in hell of working with my car I thought.

I thought wrong.

This thing is sick. I tried plugging it in to the iPod interface and it just worked. OK cool – I can listen to tunes on this thing in my car if I need to. But surely this won’t pair up with my bimmer, right? No – it works effing perfectly. I pair it up, it connects just fine, it syncs my contacts, and I can place and receive calls in my car. iPhone gets charged up in the meantime – bonus points.

This thing just rocks. I am very impressed with the elegance of this innovative and highly usable design. Well done! Just fix Safari for me and we’ll be good.

The Importance of Mentor

Finding the right mentor is more important than anything else. This quote struck me as a perfect example of the mentor-disciple relationship:

Confronted with a sudden, near-lethal dose of humility, my mind hatched an insane plan. Acting with cleverness and boldness unmatched before or since, I started looking for Wil Shipley. When I finally found him, I blurted out: ���I want to work for you, with no pay, for one year.��� When I got back to Seattle, I sold my condo, gave away most of my things, and moved into Wil’s basement.

For certain disciplines, teacher is everything. Sure you can learn programming and do it well on your own with a solid curriculum of books, dedication, and a few classes. But having an iconic mentor to guide you through and provide answers to your most vexing questions on demand is a huge boost. The same goes for music study: You can go far with private lessons and lots of practice, but having the right teacher makes a big difference when you look at the statistics. Jason Heath states:

Music performance degrees are completely superfluous to your pursuit of a music performance career.

Check out his post on this for the numbers. It is an interesting statistical analysis – the four double bass teachers clearly show a strong track record for who gets hired in modern orchestra bass sections.

I say if you want to do something with your life and are willing to make a life-changing and risky change in your life to pursue that goal, then stop being such a chicken and go for it.

Recommended Music Reads

Jason Heath recently noted some book recommendations for musicians from Chicago bassist Greg Sarchet. I have a few of my own that I’d like to add to the mix!

  • Zander, Rosamund, and Benjamin Zander. The Art of Possibility
    –I complained loudly when I was in Ben’s orchestra rehearsals, and thought he was a nut in class. To this day he is one of the most influential figures in my life. This is a must-read.
  • Green, Barry, and W. Gallwey. Inner Game of Music
    –We can’t forget Barry Green’s book!
  • Hofstadter, Douglas. G√∂del, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
    –Because you are an effing geek. Seriously, this book is a key component for my theories on the correlations between music and science.

Apple Wireless Keyboard

Just a quick note about the new Apple Wireless Keyboard: It is notably more compact than its wired counterpart. More “laptop-like.” More “couch-top” like. This clearly was thought out as “hey, if we’re going to do a wireless keyboard, then what are people going to want to do with it?”

Clearly they’re going to want to sit on their couch and operate their Apple HDTV with it…

Ah, well that’s what I want to do anyway. With the addition of a trackpad, this would be a no-brainer.