Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Entry 156 8.31.11

Entry 156, August 31st, 2011, 8:11pm (GMT +2)

Today is the last day of August, and on the back deck I felt something that I haven't felt for months. It was a cool breeze – the first sign that the high summer's grip on the Mediterranean is beginning to crack. It felt good; refreshing, even. I've been living in a nearly endless summer since I began this contract six months ago in Panama. A bit of change will do me good.

In a larger sense, it is the first indication that my life here on the Grandeur is beginning to slip away. I have four and a half weeks left on board, and from this point on everything will begin to change again. I look forward to it – the fluidity of life here has hardened into routine. I know how to get to Rome from the ocean, I know where cheap sushi can be found in Barcelona, and I know how to go to Cafe Del Mar without spending sixty euros on beer. I know how to do this gig, and while I can always come back to it, it's time to move on.

That being said, I plan on enjoying my last month here. There's plenty to do still, and plenty of friends to drink beer with.

Change is in the air.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Entry 155 8.30.11

I finished my second experiment in hip hop beat production last night. Give it a listen here:

I learned a lot while putting this together . . . more than the finished beat would indicate. A lot of material was written and then thrown away.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Entry 154 8.30.11

Entry 154, August 30th, 2011, 12:10am (GMT +2)

A few musical observations.

Key fluency is a must on this gig. One of the numbers in tonight's production show starts in E major, moves to E minor, then F major, G major, A major, B minor, C major, and back to B minor – and we're only halfway through the number! These changes happened over the course of perhaps three minutes of music. Some of them are marked in the key signature, while others are just long strings of accidentals.

Also, as a 2nd chair trumpet player, it is very important to know what the lead trumpet is playing. I'll take three measures from the show tonight as an example. I have three whole notes – D in the staff, D again, and then up a whole step to E. The second D never sounds right, and it took me a month or two of playing the show to figure out why. The lead trumpet also has three whole notes: F, a minor third above my D, up a whole step to G, and then another G. Thus it looked like this:

Rob: F → G → G

Me: D → D → E

F is a little flat on the trumpet, and so is D, so that interval was in tune (actually, D is notoriously flat, but trumpet players learn to lip it up at an early age so it works). G, however, is really sharp, and so the sharp G against the flat D was grinding and creating dissonance. E is also usually a bit flat, so I was lipping that up enough already to meet Rob's G.

The solution was to leave the first D in place and push the second one up a few cents. Two notes, written exactly the same way – but they have to played differently to sound right! This is why you gotta know what's going on in the lead part.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Entry 153 8.29.11

Entry 153, August 29th, 2011, 2:08am (GMT +2)

In Palma de Mallorca, we dock at the far pier from the city. It's a concrete pier that stretches out from the point and circles around the bay, served as both a series of berths and a breakwater. There's a path around from the ship to the sea side of the breakwater, where huge blocks of concrete have been scattered to break up the waves. This is where I spent the afternoon, jumping from rough cube to cube under the burning Spanish sun.

I came there seeking a bit of solitude. When you live with three thousand people in a nine story building on the ocean, there is no privacy. Even your neighbors know when you're on the toilet, and your boss lives three doors down the hallway. The only way to get some privacy is to get off the ship, and for a person like me who needs to be away from people to recharge this shore time becomes vital. The breakwater in Palma is deserted, which is perfect. Not a sound can be heard except for the waves crashing against stone and the stray airplane.

Usually I just sit and think, but today I was feeling a little more active. Many of the huge square blocks are set at weird angles and are surrounded by water, which makes getting to them a challenge. I
discovered that jumping from block to block is great fun . . . I knew all those years of playing platformers would pay off in the end. At one point I leapt out to a rock that was on the edge of the ocean. It was quite a feeling, standing on this little island of concrete in the middle of the blue . . . but then I turned around and realized I had no idea how I was going to get back to shore. The block I had come from was slanted towards me, and was much further away over the water than I had thought.

Trying to swim back through the breakwater's jagged stones would be suicide, I had to jump for it. I got as much room on the rock as I could, took three steps and then flung myself out over the ocean, hoping to make as much contact with the rock as possible (more surface area = more friction = David lives to write more blog posts). If I fell, I'd probably get sucked under the monster by the waves and get my
brains dashed out on the jagged stone. The edge of the block struck me at the waist, knocking the wind out of me and leaving my entire upper body and arms splayed out along the 45 degree surface of stone
while my toes dipped in the trough of a wave below. After one desperate moment, I was able to get a leg up on it as well, and as my sandal found a grip I pulled myself onto the rock. Result: two bloody palms and a jagged cut on my leg, but nothing broken. Nothing worse than what I got on the playground in elementary school, really.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Entry 152 8.27.11

Entry 152, August 27th, 2011, 6:02pm (GMT +2)

It is so windy today that they moved flag parade indoors to the centrum. There's also a great big swell coming out of the Southwest, and the ship hasn't moved around this much since the run North out of Santa Marta. It's been great fun watching all of the passengers bouncing around upstairs. Sometimes the ship rolls, and sometimes it pitches to to the point where the side rail and the horizon form an acute angle. Like I said, great fun -- unless you get seasick. I guess all those hours spent reading in cars cured me of motion sickness.


The stars sparkle differently at sea. I don't know if I've written about this before, but they twinkle quickly and through a wide variety of colors. Red, green, and blue, mainly, but some others as well. It was really odd when I saw it for the first time.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Entry 151 8.26.11

Entry 151, August 26th, 2011, 8:41pm (GMT +2)

Whew, it was a hot one today in Palermo. I see more than ever why the siesta is a vital part of Mediterranean culture -- by about 2pm, it's too hot to do anything. I sweat all the way through my pants at the knees at one point. Even now, almost 9pm, and on the ocean, and my M&Ms are melting here on the back deck. It's not Panama hot, but it's pretty warm.

I had fun exploring, though. I found where the interesting bits of Palermo begin . . . you have to walk about fifteen or twenty minutes out of the industrial district (where we're docked) before things get interesting. There are some beautiful things to see, although I didn't have much time today. I did get a chance to spend some time in a huge empty church that I found in some back alley . . . the first time I've been in a church by myself in Europe!

Tonight the cruise division is hosting an ABC party, or "Anything But Clothes." We'll see how that goes . . . I'm off to make a costume!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Entry 150 8.24.11

Entry 150, August 24th, 2011, 4:48am (GMT +2)

Today I want to take a look at the lyrics of one of my favorite songs. This is “Two Headed Boy, pt.2,” from Jeff Mangum's indie music masterpiece “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.” It's a storytelling album with three different threads being followed at the same time. The first story is of Jeff and his relationship with an emotionally damaged woman. The second is the story of his best friend's brother, who committed suicide shortly before the album was recorded. The third is the story of Anne Frank during the holocaust.

Happy stuff, I know. But it is a beautiful album that means a lot to me, and despite what you might think from the subject matter it's actually a celebration of love. The three stories get more and more mixed up as things go until you're not sure who is who and it all blends together somehow. That's why I want to take apart the last song a little bit – Jeff switches between speaking voices so quickly that the imagery can become really confusing. Hopefully I can clear a few things up, or at least stimulate a bit of
conversation as to why I'm wrong!

Listen to it here on youtube:

Coming out of an instrumental dance (rock bagpipe solo!), there are thirty seconds of singing saws (yes, seriously) before we get into the song that's going to take us out of the album. Here's the beginning of the lyric:

Daddy please hear this song that I sing/

In your heart there's a spark that just screams/

For a lover to bring a child to your chest/

That could lay as you sleep and love all you have left/

Like your boy used to be, long ago/

Wrapped in sheets warm and wet”

Here Jeff is singing as his friend to his father about their loss, his brother who has just killed himself. He keeps this character next stanza, but changes who he's addressing.

Blister please with those wings in your spine/

Love to be with a brother of mine/

How he'd love to find, your tongue in his teeth/

In a struggle to find, secret songs that you keep/

Wrapped in boxes so tight, sounding only at night as you sleep”

Now he's speaking as Jeff's friend to Anne Frank, asking her to comfort his dead brother. The wings in her spine have been a common motif all the way through the album, and that's how you know he's talking to Anne. Even though the time frames don't match Anne and his brother have fallen in love. Is their relationship also Jeff's? Probably.

And in my dreams you're alive and you're crying/

As your mouth moves in mine, soft and sweet/

Rings of flowers 'round your eyes and I love you/

For the rest of your life, when you're ready”

Rings of flowers is another clue that Jeff is still speaking to Anne. However, now he's switched to his friend's brother's voice, as he's speaking directly as Anne's lover, not a third party. Why does he say “for the rest of YOUR life” instead of “MY life?” Maybe because he's dead already? I'm not totally sure. In the parallel story way of looking at it, this is Jeff speaking directly to his love.

Brother see we are one and the same/

And you left with your head filled with flames/

And you watched as your brains fell out through your teeth/

Push the pieces in place, make your smile sweet to see/

Don't you take this away, I'm still wanting my face on your cheek”

Jeff is speaking as his friend again, this time directly to his brother. This is the stanza that always gets to me . . . the confusion and heartbreak of a brother separated from his counterpart forever. Jeff likes the word “teeth,” it showed up two stanzas ago.

And when we break, we'll all wait for our miracle/

God is a place where some holy spectacle lies/

When we break, we'll all wait for our miracle/

God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life”

Jeff is back in narrator voice again, for the first time this song but not for the first time in the album. If there's a theme tying everything together, it is the transience of love, and that's what he's saying here.

Two headed boy, she is all you could need/

She will feed you tomatoes and radio wire/

And retire to sheets safe and clean/

But don't hate her when she gets up to leave.”

I see this as Jeff putting the album to bed. Love is impermanent, he says, but don't hate it for that. Love anyway, even if it will all end someday.

Leave some comments! Let me know if you agree/disagree!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Entry 149 8.23.11

Entry 149, August 23rd, 2011, 2:37am (GMT +2)

It is going to be a quiet week for me, at least as far as shore excursions go. The budget is severely depleted . . . as in I have three euros and three pounds to spend on shore until payday on the 31st. That's alright, I'm sure I'll find ways to keep busy. Time to work out some of these Clark studies!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Entry 148 8.21.11

Entry 148, August 21st, 2011, 4:47pm (GMT +2)

There's a small brush fire today on the island of Palma. I first noticed the plume of blue smoke during PAX drill . . . we spent a few minutes watching it after the drill finished. There's a pair of yellow
seaplanes taking turns dropping water on it and scooping up more from the harbor. It's pretty cool to watch . . . amazing the technology that we take for granted these days. Also, that would be an interesting job.

There's a Canadian frigate docked next to us. It's not very large – the Grandeur is probably twice as long, and masses much more than that (we're a lot fatter than the frigate is, beam relative to length). I wonder what the Canadian navy is doing in Spain? That would also be an interesting job, navigating a ship on a voyage across the world.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Entry 147 8.20.11

Entry 147, August 20th, 2011, 3:49am (GMT +2)

Today's show clocked 93 decibels in the pit. Musicians, if you're going to do this gig, bring some quality earplugs!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Entry 146 8.18.11

Entry 146, August 18th, 2011, 10:50pm (GMT +2)

In one of Paulo Coelho's books (I think it is “The Valkyries,”) he writes:

Love and peace are mutually exclusive.”

Are they?

Coelho has certainly chosen the path of love rather than the path of peace. He's had a turbulent private life, with at least three failed marriages. Another of his books (“The Zahir”) details his search for the love his of his life – she vanishes when their marriage begins to fall into mediocrity. Coelho's life has been a series of soaring successes and crushing defeats – full, rich, and interesting, perhaps, but not peaceful.

So I'm going to tackle this question from two different directions. First, does the search for peace exclude love from one's life? And second, does the search for love do the same in reverse?

Regarding the second question, Buddhists would say no. In fact, peace must be attained to make true love possible. Peace is the absence of all suffering, and suffering is caused by attachment. Attachment comes between us and love, because when we are attached to someone we fear what will happen to us if they leave or change. We're not really loving them, because we're too busy loving what they do for us. Only by letting that attachment dissolve can we truly love them.

This is all very well and good, but how many people do you know that have totally let go of attachment in their personal lives? I don't know any. The vast majority of people will be hurt when a loved one leaves, whether due to conflict, chance, or death. Unless we have achieved total detachment from all of our relationships, to seek love means to seek eventual suffering. And so I argue that Coelho is correct from this angle.

So what about the other direction? At first, it seems to be that the reverse would be equally true. Nothing has really changed in the equation. Except . . .

How can someone seek peace without having first known love? No one can avoid the hype that love gets in our society – wouldn't you wonder if you were missing out on something if you decided to avoid love altogether?

And let's take a look at the great philosophical figures of human history. The Buddha preached the middle path of moderation, but he only achieved enlightenment after experiencing both opulent luxury in his childhood and harsh austerity as an acetic. He even abandoned a wife and child to seek enlightenment! And there's a fair bit of Jesus's life that's undocumented between his childhood and the beginning of his ministry – one can only imagine a young, intelligent carpenter with great personal charisma doing fairly well for himself in the holy land. One can only wonder why the acolytes of the world's religions insist on lifestyles that the great masters themselves didn't necessarily follow.

Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse's fictional protagonist in the book by the same name, says this after living several years in miserable opulence:

“ “It is good,” he thought, “to get a taste of everything for oneself, which one needs to know. That lust for the world and riches do not belong to the good things, I have already learned as a child. I have known it for a long time, but I have experienced only now. And now I know it, don’t just know it in my memory, but in my eyes, in my heart, in my stomach. Good for me, to know this!”

Maybe it is the same with love. To reject love because it causes suffering may make logical sense, but to reject something without really knowing it first is not much of a gesture!

So is Coelho right? I don't know. In the short term, yes – the search for love is a turbulent and painful one (even as it is wonderful at the same time). But if I had to guess, I would say that the path to peace lies through that turbulence somewhere – in learning to accept the good along with the bad, and in learning to come to peace with the pain that life brings.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Entry 145 8.16.11

Entry 145, August 16th, 2011, 11:13pm (GMT +2)

There is a famous strip of cafes known as the “sunset strip” in Ibiza. It was a double birthday today among the cruise and spa staff, and so we decided that instead of the usual Bora Bora Beach excursion that we would head to the sunset strip.

The most famous of these is the renowned “Cafe Del Mar.” This is not the original Cafe Del Mar, which is in Columbia (and which I have visited, see Entry ---), but it is the most famous one due to the Bohemian culture and chilled-out mix tapes that the venue is famous for. When we arrived, the cafe wasn't open yet, but we were able to find some seats at Cafe Mambo next door.

The cafes are located on the ocean, with outdoor seating lining the water. There isn't a beach, really, but there is a rocky stretch of land that separates the tables from the water. This is where we hung out, as we didn't want to pay for the 6.50 euro Heinekens (yikes!) or the 16 euro hamburgers (even more yikes!). Instead we bought cartons of sangria from the supermarket and set up camp on the rocks, which worked fairly well except for when the ferry went by and we had to hold our booze and valuables (in that order) above our heads to keep it from washing away.

The sunset strip has a much more chilled-out vibe than Bora Bora beach. The music is quieter and more groove oriented, and the Mambo Cafe earned my undying loyalty by playing a twelve minute long Ray Charles track. There are less guys selling hard drugs, and no hookers, so there is a lot less pressure to party. Instead everyone sits watching the sun go down . . . when it finally sinks below the horizon there's a round of applause. I mean, it goes down every night, so I don't know why people applaud, but hey whatever. It was a good way to spend our day off.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Entry 144 8.16.11

Entry 144, August 16th, 2011, 12:22am (GMT +2)

What's the best thing about working on a ship with sixty two other nationalities of employee? It's always somebody's independence day, which means there are always reasons to eat good food and drink free beer!

Tonight's party is Indian Independence Night. I've already had some decent Indian food, and I'm about to go back for some beer. All the British people are recoiling in terror at the use of spice and seasonings (oh, the horror!) but I'm loving it. It promises to be a good night, and the back deck is closing forrenovation tomorrow so we're going to make the best of it.

It's a big deal, though. A bunch of guys just passed me in traditional Indian garb. That's not what I would think to bring with me on the ship, but hey I guess they're using it tonight so I've got no room to judge.


Listening to J Dilla at 5am. The night is sacred.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Entry 143 8.14.11

Entry 143, August 14th, 2011, 10:54pm (GMT +2)

I spent my entire day yesterday working on a new project. I've always loved the work of Hip Hop djs like J Dilla, and yesterday I finally decided to try mixing my own beat.

The thing is, I have no idea how to do it. I imagine that there are bits of hardware and software that are a dj's “instruments,” but I don't have any of those things. What I do have, though, is some basic audio editing software where I can cut, paste, loop, and adjust the levels of balance, pitch, and tempo. I do know that beats were originally created by cutting and splicing bits of tape, so I figure with my software I can replicate that process pretty well. That's what I spent the day doing.

I'm pretty happy with the result:

It just needs someone to freestyle over it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Entry 142 8.14.11

I directed the big band today! It was an interesting experience -- there were no major fuckups, so that's good, but I definitely need to work on my crowd banter. I need a way of keeping them on the dance floor while the orchestra sorts through their music . . . also, we need a more flexible set list. When I see people dancing to swing music and the next tune is salsa, we need to be able to switch it out. Otherwise we clear the dance floor without meaning to.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Entry 141 8.13.11

Entry 141, August 13th, 2011, 3:51am (GMT +2)

So apparently I'm giving a lecture tomorrow afternoon? There's a series of classes and the like that go on during the week for guests, and one of them is the history of music from the Greek era until the present. How I'm going to cover the history of all music ever in forty five minutes is beyond me . . . realistically, I'm probably just going to talk about jaz the whole time. After all, Diego always said "play to your strengths" when giving master classes.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Entry 140 8.12.11

Entry 140, August 12th, 2011, 3:03am (GMT +2)

I had the perfect pesto sauce again today. It was a good day in Rome.

There was crew bingo tonight on the back deck as well. It was wild and raucous . . . perhaps three hundred people showed up for the two thousand dollar grand prize. It was like a sporting event, with chants, catcalls, jeers, booze, food, and the like . . . the only thing missing were the vuvuzelas.

And no, I didn't win anything.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Entry 139 8.11.11

Entry 139, August 11th, 2011, 12:28am (GMT +2)

I'm beginning to realize the importance that a good rhythm guitarist carries in a rhythm section. Now that Lubo is back I can really hear the difference; John (his replacement) was a fine guitar player, but he didn't have the force of personality or volume that Lubo does. Lubo is a strong player with a good sense of time, and so he does not hesitate to lay down the groove when the rest of the section errs in one direction or another. Lincoln tends to rush and Gabor tends to lay back, so it's good to have someone to mediate.

I've heard similar situations where it didn't work out so well. Two summers ago at the East Lansing Jazz Festival Marion Hayden was playing in a band where the pianist rushed and the drummer dragged. She laid the time right in the middle, but it only served to keep the band from falling apart instead of forcing the rhythm section into any sort of cohesion (I guess that's good too, but still). Lubo's playing is giving the band a rock to stand on, especially on all of these soul and motown acts where there are lots of prominent rhythm guitar parts.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Entry 138 8.9.11

Entry 138, August 9th, 2011, 11:28pm (GMT +2)

Today we visited Monaco, just up the coast from Cannes (we being myself, Lincoln, Nicky, Joe, and Steve the new trombone player). Monaco is one of the smallest countries in the world, just behind the Vatican, and is composed of one small city squeezed in between the cliffs and the ocean – Monte Carlo. The city is vertical as much as it is horizontal; we got off the train and could have turned right onto a green patio overlooking the ocean, but instead we turned left and had to take an elevator up 14 floors to the surface!

Not much to write about the city itself. We visited the casino and the palace (the two main sights in Monte Carlo) and everything around us screamed “playground of the rich.” The casino's valet service
was a constant parade of Rolls Royces, drop-top Bentleys, Porchses, and Ferraris (except for one guy driving a smartcar . . . what?) and the palace was fronted by soldiers in spotless white uniforms wielding assault rifles. Maybe if we'd been there longer we would have found more to see, but the biggest challenge was finding food in our price range. Near the casino appetizers were 30 euros a pop (that's about fourty five dollars for an appetizer)! Cheap pizza from the supermarket eventually sufficed.

The train ride was about an hour each direction, and filled with beautiful views of the Cote de Azur the entire way.

We also met a backpacker walking to Australia. That's a long walk . . .


I did my meditation on the back deck tonight. I didn't intend to, but around 3am the ship was very quiet and I went back to look at the ocean for a while. It was one of those “I have a disquiet in my soul . . .” kind of moments. As I stood there, watching the moon set, I found it easy to sink into the awareness of meditation. The constant sweep of the ocean was what my conscious mind needed to remain occupied. There is a long history of people using flowing water as a meditation aide, so I guess I should not be surprised.

The ocean was active and muscular tonight, with a stiff warm breeze out of the East. The wind tore bits of spray off the tops of the whitecaps, and I was taken back to a memory from my childhood.

In my senior year of high school, I spent a semester as my band director's assistant. We would head over to the middle school every morning, and then I would walk back alone in time for second hour. There was one morning in January that stands out . . . it had snowed a few inches the night before, but the sky was crystal clear. The sun was just coming up and there was a strong breeze blowing, just like tonight. The snow had drifted, and as I trudged across the parking lots I squinted out at the frozen cornfields that stretched out to the horizon. I felt like the only human on Earth, or maybe an astronaut on a frozen moon, wrapped entirely in protective clothing and leaving a line of footprints through the drifts behind me.

It's not the temperature or the setting that made me think of that moment. Instead, it is the sense of looking out over a barren wilderness where the wind plays alone with the landscape. The ocean became, for a moment, a frozen tundra, and the froth capped waves became shifting dunes of ice.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Entry 137 8.8.11

Entry 137, August 8th, 2011, 3:31pm (GMT +2)

The ocean is stunning today. There's a large swell out of the Northwest coming in across the port bow, meaning that the ship is moving around the most she has this entire Mediterranean season. An hour ago the wind shifted to the Northeast and so there are lots of confused little ripples across the water. I'm sitting on the back deck watching the stern post trace counterclockwise circles against the horizon. It's about time that the Mediterranean decided to act like a proper ocean; it's been far too submissive the past several months. Today it is a majestic dark blue, with white wave tops and spray whipping through the air in the sparkling sunlight. It's exhilarating, and makes one feel glad to be alive.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Entry 136 8.8.11

Entry 136, August 8th, 2011, 11:50pm (GMT +2)

I had not one, not two, but three distinct dreams about missing the ship last night. So I stayed on board today . . . it just didn't seem like a good idea to tempt fate.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Entry 135 8.6.11

Entry 135, August 6th, 2011, 11:02pm (GMT +2)

Ben, our trombonist, signs off tomorrow. He usually leads the jazz set, but he was busy packing last night, so I took it over. This involved a bunch of running around, putting a set list together, finding copies of lead sheets, turning them into PDFs and printing them off for the band, all in about an hour. It was a bit stressful, much as I don't like to admit that I get stressed out about things . . . so when some friends told me to take a double shot of vodka with them before I left for the gig I took them up on it.

Later, during the gig, I felt funny. After a tune or two I realized that it was the alcohol, sitting like a haze in between my ideas and the horn. On an empty stomach, the sudden influx of vodka was not treating me kindly. I was embarrassed and a bit ashamed . . . I don't think anyone else on the bandstand noticed that my playing was affected, but I did.

Musicians, I know why you drink before you play. It's to forget that part of yourself that judges and is afraid you won't sound good. I can understand that. But booze is not going to work as a solution for me; I've got to get rid of it the hard way.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Entry 134 8.4.11

Entry 134, August 4th, 2011, 10:39pm (GMT +2)

An odd sunset tonight. There were three competing light schemes all happening at once when I got out to the back deck. The sun had passed below the horizon already, and so the mountains of Spain were black silhouettes against the soft orange glow. Malaga glittered, a golden-orange city of lights along the coast. And finally, the moon was rising to the left, leaving a milky white finger stretching across the water towards the ship. Beautiful, although it was something of an optical mess for my brain.

Still playing on a bruised lip. I socked it two days ago in a freak accident while eating; somehow my knuckle pegged my lower lip. It bruised and bled, but after taking it easy yesterday I thought I was okay. That wasn't the case . . . after four hours of playing today, it is sore again. The biggest problem isn't that the lip is swollen, it's that I adjust my playing without thinking to avoid the pain (I try not to change as much as possible, but some forgetfulness is inevitable). I have to take up the pressure normally carried by the lower lip in other places, namely the mouth corners and upper lip, and they're not as strong. I think tomorrow should be an easy day, so I hope it can finish healing.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Entry 133 8.3.11

Entry 133, August 3rd, 2011, 11:58pm (GMT +2)

We're starting to get used to the new cast. It is interesting to see where all the dancers feel the time. They're just like musicians – some of them feel it ahead, some a little farther back. My favorite dancers in both casts have been those that feel it a little behind, like Elvin Jones (the longtime drummer in John Coltrane's famous quartet). It creates a little bit of tension – they aren't behind, and they certainly aren't lacking in energy or drive, but they create a little bit of rhythmic dissonance that can be beautiful just like the Basie band's horn section laying back into the time (although they don't take it to such extremes as the Basie band!).

Maybe that's what swing is. Swing is a style, of course, characterized by certain repertoire and such, but it is also a quality that a music can possess regardless of genre. I've heard jazz musicians refer to music that isn't “swing” as “swinging,” and it makes sense. Swing is rhythmic dissonance.

That is the major difference between much modern music and the music that jazz musicians love to play. Most modern music avoids this rhythmic dissonance – everything is together in the same place. You can't really create rhythmic dissonance with a drum machine; sure, you can put something on a really strange subdivision, but swing is more subtle than that. It changes, it fluctuates slightly, it has certain rules as to the application of rhythmic dissonance . . . you really need musicians playing against one another to make it happen.

There is a lot of modern music I like, don't get me wrong. Electronica, house, reggaetone, etc., can all be cool, but I like them for what they do with timbres and for the raw ferocity that they attack the listener with. Rhythmic dissonance (swing) is on a whole different level of sophistication.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Entry 132 8.3.11

Entry 132, August 3rd, 2011, 3:01am (GMT +2)

Paulo Coelho's “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept” ends with a reference to Psalm 137. I don't know psalm 137 (or any of the others, for that matter) so I grabbed a copy of the bible from the ship's library and looked it up.

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.

If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem over my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation therof.

O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou has served us.

Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”

It is the cry of an exile, someone who will never see home again. His sorrow is so great that he wonders how he could ever make music again, but his captors jeer and force him to play on. On the outside, he gives in to them, but inside he keeps his love for his homeland alive. He promises that should he ever forget his love, may his “right hand forget her cunning . . . (and) let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Then his sorrow crystallizes into hatred. He wishes the destruction of those who have taken him from his home, even down to women and infants. This is the part of the psalm that bothers me . . . although as much as I think hatred is never the solution, it is a very human response to the speaker's situation. I think it gives the psalm an added layer of power . . . it is a message that I do not want to internalize, but it is one that resonates deep inside nonetheless.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Entry 131 8.2.11

Entry 131, August 2nd, 2011, 12:03am (GMT +2)

Today was an adventure!

We were docked in Barcelona again and I had the entire day off (well, almost the entire day – we had a sound check at 7:30pm in the evening, which is the same time as all aboard). I decided last night to do something that I'd wanted to do for a while now – visit Montserrat, a mountain outside of Barcelona.

Why Montserrat? Well, for starters, there's a Benedictine monastery there that is more than 800 years old. It is squeezed in about halfway above the mountain and commands a breathtaking panoramic view of Catalonia. The mountain has always been the home of hermits and monks, too, so there are beautiful isolated chapels scattered everywhere. The view from the peak is supposed to be amazing as well. Finally, it is located an hour and a half train ride from Barcelona, and therefore represented quite the adventure.

I did some research last night, and it is good that I did. Getting to the monastery is no easy piece of work. Let me detail my trip for you:

I got off the boat at around 8:30am. The shuttle bus took me into town, where I walked to Las Ramblas to catch the subway. From the Drassanes stop, I took the subway to La Plaza Espanya (the place that Joe and I got off to see Montjuic). After wandering around in the station for a bit I found the R5 train to Manresa, and sprinted down the platform to catch it before it left. The train dropped me off an hour and fifteen minutes later (most of the trip through increasingly rugged Spanish countryside) at a small depot clinging to the side of a mountain and overlooking a river. From there I took a cable car straight up the side of Montserrat to the monastery station, and then hiked the last bit uphill to the monastery proper. The bells were all ringing as I came in, which I took to be a good omen.

Montserrat towers above the surrounding hills like a ship sailing through an earthen sea. It isn't one peak so much as it is a collection of rounded stone spires that jut up from the ground. Ribbons of stone tower above the countryside, leaving lots of narrow valleys that trail back into the mountain. The monastery is snuggled into one of the largest of these openings, and is about halfway up the side of the mountain.

I could have taken a cog train as well, and I think there is a road (a long and winding road). For hundreds of years, though, the place was only accessible by foot. The monastery was originally founded because the Virigin Mary was seen to appear in a small grotto nearby several times. The grotto has been turned into a chapel, but more on that later.

A small town has sprung up, clinging to the mountainside, as a result of the tourism revenue that the Benedictine monastery generates. Pilgrims and tourists come in nearly equal numbers to honor the virgin. There's a hotel, a few restaurants, a couple shops, and a police station, among other things – all of them in red stone and tile. My favorite bit was the bar right outside the doors of the monastery, presumably for the less-enthusiastic family of those making the pilgrimage. Inside the monastery is a pretty standard (for me, at this point) basilica, beautiful but full of gawking tourists.

Nearby, tucked in between the basilica and the cliff face, is a narrow road lined with alcoves bearing the images of the saints. Here burn thousands of multicolored candles, purchased by visitors for a euro or two. I bought one and left it there – I don't know the iconography of Catholicism well enough to tell what saint I was paying tribute to, but I chose an especially quiet and tranquil corner of the walk. It spoke to me. When in Rome, eh?

The candles shut everyone up much better than all the signs in the basilica reminding people to be quiet. I don't know what it is about candles, but something there strikes a chord in people.

From there I headed to the grotto. It was a half hour walk, along a path carved into the side of the cliffs. The path was lined with sculpture – I spotted one statue of St. Peter that was clearly made by the same sculptor who did the “Death and Resurrection” facade of the Sagrada Familia. I like it – it was clunky and cubist, very sparse and yet more expressive than the more ornate displays later on.

The chapel was a very powerful place. One one side, the cliff stretches up for hundreds of meters. On the other, it falls away for several hundred more. In between are two rows of trees, a narrow path, and a
small wooden door. I stopped for a minute to catch my breath (it was a steep path!) before heading in.

The grotto has been transformed into the altar of the chapel. Bare gray rock gleam in the dim light, around a table with the image of Christ and a single burning candle. The thick wooden beams underfoot have been smoothed by the passage of hundreds of thousands of feet. Eight wicker chairs face the image, and behind them is another rack filled with burning candles. A pair of small windows in the stucco walls let in the light and look out into free space; even the most casual glance reveals a view of towns tens of kilometers away. It is absolutely silent.

In short, it was the most holy place I have ever been.

I am not a religious person (at least in the traditional, orthodox sense) and am definitely not Catholic, but I felt the urge to pray. I did. I did not take any pictures. It just wouldn't have been right.

As I prayed, a few other pilgrims came in to lay flowers on the table. They left a burning stick of incense as well. It was powerful.

I made my way back to the monastery and had lunch. Feeling refreshed, I decided to climb higher up on the mountain. From the hills below, the monastery looks impossibly high up, but now that I was here I could see that the mountain just kept on going. There was a tram up to the trailhead (a “funiclar,” yet another mode of transportation) . . . but as I watched all the tourists piling on, I noticed a signpost that read:

Saint Jeroni, 1.2km”

I decided to walk the path up to the peak instead of take the tram, because I had a few hours. What could possibly go wrong?

The trip up was uneventful, if long. The terrain on Montserrat is strange – at one moment you're pushing through a rainforest, and the next you find yourself on a windswept rock face with a slender handrail keeping you from a deadly fall. Then, back into the rainforest, and then bare rock again . . . it's all due to the strange, spikey nature of the mountain and all of it's deep narrow ravines. If Gaudi had built a mountain, it would have looked like Montserrat.

At one point I passed the remains of another chapel. Reading the placard, I found that it was the “parish church” of sorts for the hermits who used to live here. Every Sunday, a brother would come form the monastery and give service. I thought about this as I continued to climb – absolutely alone, I could imagine this as the territory of solitary holy men. The winding paths and the rugged terrain would have made it ideal. It gave the mountain a bit of an aura to it.

The path was well marked in some places and poorly marked in others. Usually there would be a white stripe with a red stripe under it on the right side, painted on the rock, but some joker had come in with a can of blue paint and turned some of them into the Russian flag. As I joined the main trail, I started to run into other hikers who had taken the tram (or “funiclar”). They told me to keep on going, and that I was near the top.

Near the peak the forest began to thin out. I found a small chapel abandoned in a field of yellow grasses, but didn't stop for long. The path changed several times near the top, ending in a long concrete staircase that brought me to the peak.

The view was worth it. Unlike Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire (which I climbed last October) where the land slopes away slowly from the mountain, Montserrat juts out without warning. I know that I mentioned this before, but it is difficult to emphasize just exactly how it felt being at the top of Sant Jeroni. It felt like I could fall off all the way to the river by the train tracks at the bottom. The mountain is like a fortress, with a jungle in the center.

Clouds whipped past my feet. I stayed there for a bit, and wrote a few letters. Some other people ate lunch, though it was not crowded at the peak. I began to wish that I had brought a water bottle.

As I was about to leave, a Spaniard with dreadlocks wearing a T-shirt that said “HARDCORE” climbed over the opposite side of the rail, where the cliff fell straight off for hundreds of meters. He saw me and grunted; “Hola.” The dude had just climbed up the sheer rock wall from below. Kudos to you, hardcore Spaniard, you've earned the T-shirt.

Anyway, this where things began to get a bit messy. Climbing up a mountain is easy – just keep going up. If you get lost, you're a moron. Climbing down, though, is a different matter, especially when you're in a hurry to catch a train. I missed a trail junction somewhere and realized it about half an hour later. The trail back to the monastery was far below me, on the other side of a gully, and I was still on the ridge, on a trail I'd never heard of without a map . . . but it was too late to turn back if I was going to make the ship. I pressed on.

There were lots of footprints on the trail I was on, so I figured that it led back to the tram. I was right, but here's where I had another problem. Everyone else on the mountain had decided to leave at the same time as I did, and so I had to wait for forty minutes to catch the tram (there was no path from the station to the monastery – the closest way was to retrace my entire path to the mountain peak).
Also, they don't sell tickets at the top, as nobody is dumb enough to walk UP the mountain and then take the train DOWN . . . (cough, cough) . . . but again fortune worked in my favor. I met a young woman from New York who was on vacation from her internship in The Hague, and she helped distract the guard while I snuck on the train.

Back at the monastery, I realized that I had missed my train back to Barcelona. There was another one in an hour, and I thought about hanging around and getting some dinner . . . it would be cutting it close, and I would be late to rehearsal, but I would still make the ship. A feeling told me to head back down the mountain now, though, and so I ran to the cable car station. I was the last person on board by a hair's breadth, and we headed back down.

There at the train station I found out that I had indeed missed the train. I settled in to wait, not sure why I had come, and began reading the schedule out of boredom (I am my dad's son, after all). What's this? A different train that doesn't go all the way to Barcelona but stops at a major junction halfway there? And when is it due? The train rolled into the station right as I figured it out.

I hopped on along with a few other tourists while most stayed behind. Thinking of the Paulo Coelho books I have been reading, I began to fervently hope that he was right and that fortune did favor the courageous after all (I will write about him eventually, I promise! More to read still). Coelho says that when people take a risk in the service of what they are supposed to achieve in life, the whole universe will conspire to help them. I decided to put that theory to the test.

My fellow tourists and I conspired to decipher the schedule on board our train. It dropped us off at a junction in the middle of Spain and headed back to the mountain . . . as we figured out which of several trains would take us back to Barcelona, another train rumbled onto the track next to us. It was exactly the one we needed! Coelho is batting a thousand still at this point.

I arrived in Barcelona about twenty minutes earlier than I would have otherwise. I caught the subway and then sprinted from Las Ramblas to the ship shuttle (at this point it was 7:10, and my call for sound
check was in five minutes). There was a man in a suit standing where it usually stops, doing nothing (why was he there? No idea. Maybe the universe was helping me out again). I asked him about the shuttle, and he said that I'd missed the last one, but that I had three options: walk, take the port bus, or catch a cab. Walking was out of the question, and I know better than to rely on city buses when you're late, and so I grabbed a cab.

And of course I managed to get the one Pakistani cab driver in all of Barcelona. When looking for a good cab driver, two qualities come to mind: familiarity with the place you're at, and a ferocious appetite for reckless driving. This poor soul had neither of these things. I could SEE the ship from where we were, and yet he still didn't quite know what was going on (I mean, it probably didn't help that I was flustered and kept switching from English to Spanish without meaning to, but still!).

But I got to the ship. I threw him some money and sprinted into the terminal. God bless the security woman who saw me and rushed me through the scanners. From there it was a full-on sprint from the checkpoint across the floor, through the duty free shops, up the escalator (three steps at a time? Yes) and down the gangway. Strangely enough I met another man sprinting the other direction. He asked me if I knew anything about a tender boat . . . I shook my head as we flew past each other. He was having a worse day than I was, I think.

I was still early enough that the chief security officer made a joke instead of giving me the lecture that I probably warranted. I made it to sound check downbeat with four minutes to spare – technically late, but it was worth it.

And after sound check I felt . . . euphoric! I had gone out in search of adventure, found it, and returned safe and sound. I had faced a series of increasingly desperate challenges, yet my intuition had led me straight through them. Of course, I had to apply some sweat and physical activity to it all too, but hell – I climbed a mountain today! And my coworkers checked their emails, or went shopping.

Coelho calls this feeling the “sacred enthusiasm,” and it is the clearest sign that we are living the life we're supposed to live. It dissipated a bit (especially once I got to the mess and sat down to the usual shipboard gossip and rubbery chicken) but I won't forget. Now that I've had a taste . . . I'll be able to find it again!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Entry 130 7.30.11

Entry 130, July 30th, 2011, 11:20pm (GMT +2)

Tomorrow we arrive in Palma, and I have eight more cruises to go. That is a strange feeling . . . on one hand, two months seems like forever. On the other hand, the five months that have already passed have flashed by in an instant. In four more weeks our lead trumpet player signs off, and the entire orchestra will have changed since I started here on the Grandeur.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Entry 129 7.30.11

Entry 129, July 30th, 2011, 2:32am (GMT +2)

We had a good jazz set tonight. Bit by bit the material from Kenny Werner's book, “Effortless Mastery,” is helping me let go of my playing.

Also, I figured a few things out on the horn this week. Over the past few months I've been building up the strength of my chops. This pushed my natural pitch sharp, but I didn't know this and so I kept setting up with my horn tuned the same way out of habit. This meant that I spent the whole day lipping everything flat to compensate. It was exhausting, and the stronger I got the worse I was fighting my own pitch! Now that I've figured it out, playing is much easier. I practiced this morning, played three shows, and was still fresh for the jazz set tonight. I'm still overblowing at the jazz sets, but that's another issue.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Entry 128 7.26.11

Entry 128, July 26th, 2011, 7:49pm (GMT +2)

Today's question: does understanding how the world works take the beauty out of it?

Mark Twain spoke of this phenomenon. Before he learned how to “read the river” as a riverboat captain, he loved to sit and watch it flow by. But after he learned to navigate, he lost his sense of wonder in technical jargon and analysis.

Today, just a minute ago, I saw a rainbow from the back deck over Cannes. Were I a prehistoric human, this would be a fortuitous omen – a sign from the gods of good luck. But because of my scientific education, I know that the rainbow is actually just light and water. We've taken them apart, and we can make them ourselves. Has the rainbow lost its power?

I think not. Despite our breakdown of the rainbow into different pieces, we've left something out. Science fails to take into account the person watching the rainbow. In seeing, I add something to the experience that cannot be measured or separated. If I am looking for support, the rainbow will be a sign of encouragement. If I am feeling sardonic, it will be a sarcastic god mocking me. If I am looking for something else, I will fail to see the rainbow. And if I am feeling scientific and analytical, it will be a marvelous collection of water droplets and sunlight.

The world still has power to make us feel things because of the act of observation. Our surroundings reflect what is inside. If we want the world to be beautiful, we need merely look for beauty in it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Entry 127 7.26.11

Entry 127, July 26th, 2011, 1:54am (GMT +2)

I've been reading a lot more Paulo Coelho. Today I finished his first book, “The Pilgrimage.” I will write about these things at some point, but at this point I just need to keep devouring his words as fast as I can.