A piano played by a president…or “You’re not my Daddy anymore!”

January 31, 2008 at 7:17 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings | Leave a comment
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We have a piano in the front room of our house that used to belong to the Francestown Academy. The Academy has been out of business for awhile now, but in its day, it was pretty impressive. It’s alumnae included a couple of US Senators, state Supreme Court Justices, a US Supreme Court Justice and Secretary of the Navy (Levi Woodbury), Eben Locke, “whose father fired the first gun of the Revolution,” and perhaps most famous, Franklin Pierce, US Senator and PRESIDENT of the United States.

We bought this piano at The Francestown Labor Day Festival for $50 (truth is, the $50 was more of a donation. I’m guessing the Francestown Historical Society would have paid us to get the thing off the stage – which I did, with three of my strongest friends, a piano jack, a couple of 2×8’s and a lot of luck). After it’s tenure with the Academy, our piano had played for many, many years, the second Saturday of each month in the Francestown Contra Dance – but, it had fallen out of tune, and they couldn’t seem to get it back in. We lucked onto the scene, and for a mere $50, and a few months of visits to the chiropractor, it was ours.

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Franklin Pierce Played Here…

Actually, though, when I was driving home from work that Tuesday, I wasn’t thinking about the piano, the academy, or even US presidents. I was thinking about the fact that it was about 30 degrees in January, the sun was shining and it would be a perfect day to polish up our sled track in the back yard – we might finally get the luge track I’d been hoping for. Abe was at a friend’s house, Gus would probably be napping, and Isabel loves to sled. I walked in the door as Tonya was walking out, “I have to go get Abe, make sure you practice piano with Isabel…”

Suddenly that piano loomed large, blocking out sun and fun and sledding…”let’s go Isabel, let’s get this done, I want to get outside.” There were three songs – 48 notes, total (when you’re practicing with a beginning pianist, you have time to count). The first two went beautifully…the first half of the third song, “Legato Skips,” was great, but then…but then…the last eight notes, Isabel stalled. Lot’s of, “Come on, honey, you can do it…” “I can’t, I can’t…” ensued. Finally, I said, let’s just stop, and go outside, but then she wanted to finish – but still ‘couldn’t.’ We were frozen at the piano. I envisioned Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Navy, having a tantrum at this piano. I imagined Franklin Pierce trying to make his way through the 19th century’s equivalent of “Legato Skips” (which may well have been “Legato Skips…”)

As Isabel began crying at full tilt – stuck between wanting to please me and those 8 notes, my mind raced between trying to be patient, wondering if I was being too patient, and the sledding hill. Then, suddenly, she said it…”You’re not my daddy anymore!” (actually, she sort of cried/screamed it.) I should pause here. I’m assuming that, if you are reading this, you are a parent. If you’re not, you may not understand how my daughter could have uttered such a profound statement, which seems so out of proportion to the situation. Welcome to the twilight zone of parenthood where sometimes things happen that are so strange and out of context that you learn to accept the fact that there simply is no explanation (a little like what comets must have been to stone-age people).

Anyway, I wish I could say that I wept and embraced my daughter, and she cried and realized the error of her ways, like the end of an Eight is Enough episode. That’s not what happened, though. I got up and said, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.” About five minutes later she came into the kitchen and said, “Daddy, do you still want to go sledding?”   I said, “Sure, let’s go.”  On our second run, as we reached speeds that neared those of a luge, and all was forgotten, I began to wonder if Franklin Pierce had ever slid down this hill.

 

 

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Cluck Old Hen…Fiddlin’ Powers and Family or “For those about to Rock, We Salute You!”

January 29, 2008 at 7:20 am | Posted in kids music, Music for You | Leave a comment

Just thought I’d share a song that I have come to love -it’s Cluck Old Hen by Fiddlin’ Powers and Family. It was originally recorded in 1925 on an Edison Diamond Disc test pressing. It’s currently open source audio – enjoy it, play it for your kids and remember that rock and roll is a state of mind…and these guys sure had it!

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“You want some of this?!?” -Fiddlin’ Powers and Family -1925

Free Mp3’s – or Sleep Well Tonight!

January 28, 2008 at 7:58 am | Posted in kids music, Music for You | 1 Comment
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For your entertainment and erudition, I reworked my reworking of You Shook Me All night Long – Please Sleep All Night Long.mp3 – same lyrics, slowed down a bit for the lullaby effect (sing it to your kids tonight and take glee in the fact that you’re singing them a little AC/DC)…and I added the full version of Abe’s Lullaby to the list of downloadable (and free) mp3’s (Abes Lullaby.mp3). If you have a son named Abraham, who is under the age of, oh, I don’t know, 17, sing it to him tonight before bed. Alternatively, any three syllable name would work – Caroline, Isabel, Stephanie, Sabrina, Christopher, Jaqueline, Miranda (Did you ever notice there are a lot more three-syllable girls’ names than boys’ – interesting.)

p.s. Promise, I’m done with the lullabies – everything I said here is still true!

Public Domain starts in 1923 – aka You want some great Free Music…without Limewire?

January 27, 2008 at 6:56 am | Posted in kids music, Music for You, Reviews | 1 Comment
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Pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve paid .99 for a song. I remember saving up my allowance to buy a 45 at the record store. The first record I bought, I’m very embarrassed to say, was John Travolta’s “Let Her In” – HOLD ON! Before you stop reading this blog forever, let me explain. I actually thought I was buying Paul McCartney,’s “Let ’em In…” (You remember, “Someone’s knocking at the door, Somebody’s ringing the bell, Someone’s knocking at the door, blah, blah, blah – blah, blah, blah…AND LET ‘EM IN.” I don’t really recall John Travolta’s song – not surprisingly.

These days, iTunes has revived the .99 tradition (You can find my CD’s there: Dreher on iTunes). Somehow, though, I can’t imagine that today’s kids, clicking their way through a sale at iTunes on their parents’ credit card, will ever remember that transaction as fondly as I recall running down the street in 1976 with a few quarters and change clutched in my little hand on my way to a date with Paul McCartney…or John Travolta.

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An easy mistake to make….

Anyway, if you’re willing to step even a little further back than 30 years (and leave the 70’s for awhile) – if you’re willing to step, say 95 years back, there’s a treasure trove of music that’s absolutely free because it’s in the PUBLIC DOMAIN. That means it’s yours, it’s mine and most importantly, it’s our kids’. Think of all the great music – Stephen Foster’s stuff, “Oh Susannah,” “Camptown Races,” “Hard Times Come Again No More…” all public domain. “Frogie Went a Courtin -” public domain, “Frankie and Johnie – ” public domain, “All the Pretty Horses – ” public domain – you get the idea. There’s so much great stuff that you can sing, perform, record…for free.

Probably the best website that I’ve come across for Public Domain music is (appropriately enough) Public Domain.org. Not only has its founder, Benjamin Robert Tubb, listed hundreds of songs that are in the public domain, he’s tracked down lyrics and played them all in midi files!!! He’s got them catalogued by author, by genre and by year. If I weren’t a happily married man, I might just fall in love with the guy for all the efforts he’s made for the common good. You really need to check out his site. At minimum, you’ll get a few songs you can sing with your kids. Possibly, you get a major history lesson in the cultural trends that have shaped our country. Mr. Tubbs does go to great pains to point out that his performances of the songs are copyrighted. In other words, I can’t put them on my next CD. At the same time, he puts them all up for free – to listen to, download, take on a car ride…he’s my hero.

I might as well put in a shameless plug at this point. Since I just happened to mention my next CD, I thought I’d add that it will feature some great, and often unknown, public domain music. The whole project started when I found my great grandmother’s 1st grade school book – published in 1891. There were, of course, a bunch of songs in it, some well known, others lost in obscurity, all public domain. One jumped out, “Weaver John.” Here’s a demo of the song that I played with Gavin, my bassist and back-up singer, and Dave and Chris, my percussionists – Weaver John – you can listen for free.

 

 

 

 

 

My Wonderful, Wonderblink Wife…

January 25, 2008 at 5:33 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Reviews | 1 Comment
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Wonder Blink Photography

Since the day I met her, my wife Tonya has been a natural behind the camera – great for me, because it means I never have to take any pictures (I’m the type of photographer who thinks I have an astounding shot, but forgets about the clutter in the background, forgets to focus, or ends up taking a close-up of my pinkie). The thing about photography is you need to hold a bunch of things in your head at the same – not one of my strengths. Tonya, on the other hand, seems to be able to think about stuff and DO things at the same time – amazing from my perspective…and her photos are amazing from my perspective as well – here are a couple:

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Our kids on Wallis Sands Beach on the New Hampshire Coast

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Isabel and Abe

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For years, Tonya has thought seriously about starting a photography business – this year, she and her friend Diana decided to finally do it. They began Wonder Blink Photography this spring, and have been doing lots of family photo shoots since – they shoot a candid photo-journalistic style – and seem to be able to capture the twinkle in a little girl’s eye, the love of a mom for her kids or the fleeting look of glee in a child’s face, like few photographers I have seen. OK, so I know I’m biased, but take a look for yourself -and while you’re at it, check out her blog – wonderblinkblog – not only is she a great photographer, she’s full of wit and wisdom too!

Rockin’ the Walk

January 24, 2008 at 7:59 am | Posted in Fun for Your Family | Leave a comment
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Last year and in year’s past we have had the privilege of playing at the Walk Now for Autism Walk here in NH. It’s a great event – fun to play and full of excited and enthusiastic people. Last year it was at Greely Park in Nashua – we arrived in a soaking rain – but somehow, no one seemed too upset about it. I asked Susan, the Co-Chair of the event if she still wanted us to play – she said, “If you guys are up for it, we sure are!” We got our cars as close to the stage as we could and ran our equipment in – people were using the stage as shelter, so it was a bit crowded. The walk was set to start in 10 minutes…then 5 and the rain kept coming. People were zipping up their rain coats and tightening their boots, not daunted. Suddenly, just one or two minutes before the walk was to start, the rain stopped. The clouds parted, and a little sun peeked through. It seemed miraculous, almost unreal, but definitely fitting the optimism of the day.

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Rockin’ the Walk in Year’s Past

Autism Speaks is a great organization. In 2006 alone, they funded $20 million worth research; through their Baby Siblings Project, they’ve pushed diagnosis (and early treatment) of autism to as early as 24 or even 18 months; they began The Autism Tissue Program (ATP), making over 60 research projects possible since 1998; they’ve funded researchers at Yale University… the list goes on. (Check out the website – www.autismspeaks.org .)

Their walks, which take place all over the U.S., are where the rubber hits the road (literally). They are where regular folks earn money to fund these astounding projects. People know they are doing something great, which is why, on that very rainy day in September, no one was awfully concerned about the rain. What they were doing was a little like the weather, miraculous, and we were happy to be a part of it.

We have some inside information (you heard it here first) that this year’s walk is scheduled for October 5, at Greely Park in Nashua. We’ll be there – hope you are too!

 

AC/DC or AB/CD? PART II (Read pt. I first!)

January 23, 2008 at 7:52 am | Posted in Music for You, Reviews | 1 Comment
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Irony – Angus Young or Brian Johnson (AC/DC’s guitarist and lead singer, respectively) might be unable to define that word, but it’s a bit ironic, nonetheless, that after my disparaging comments about “You Shook Me all Night Long,” last night, that was the one that I ended up re-writing for my kids. After writing that post, I felt compelled to listen to “Back in Black” this morning on the drive to work. A few things struck me. First, these guys loved the blues – a lot of their music is full of blues riffs – I like it. Next, wow, are these guys juvenile. Honestly, I know they were going for the adolescent boy’s audience, but it really is too bad that so many of the lyrics are in such bad taste because the sensibility is more like four year old (as opposed to 14) – take the first line to “Hells Bells:” “I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain I’m comin’ on like a hurricane…” What parent of a four year old hasn’t experienced that early on a Saturday morning after staying up a little too late Friday night…”Morning sweetie, I’ll get up in a sec..?” Mostly, though, I noticed that these guys knew how to write a catchy tune – which is why I was humming “You Shook Me…” all day long.

It did morph over the day, though, and, against my better judgment, I will post the result. I’m no Brian Johnson (and I’m no Angus Young, for that matter), but please understand that I recorded this in about ten minutes in my barn (and it’s pretty cold, so I was in a hurry…) Anyway, hope you enjoy, Sleep All Night Long.mp3

Here’s the lyrics – I played it in G, just in case you want to sing it to your kids tonight before bed…

You are a fast machine, you keep your motor clean running around, like I have never seen
You have the tiredest eyes, telling me no lies, it’s time for bed before you start to cry
So we go up the stairs, letting go of your cares, you love your crib your favorite blanket’s there
So now let’s be quiet, come on just try it, sleep through the night everything will be alright now
Please, sleep all night long, don’t wake me up no, no, no – please sleep all night long

You’re working double time, just learned how to climb, you can go up the stairs in record time
You want no applause, and you never pause, you can tear up a room, you just go, go, go
You never cool it down now, in between rounds when you’re finally asleep, I’m dead on my feet
So now let’s be quiet, come on just try it, sleep through the night everything will be alright now
Please, sleep all night long, don’t wake me up no, no, no – please sleep all night long

AC/DC or AB/CD?

January 22, 2008 at 8:48 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Musings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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I remember when I got my first AC/DC album – I was 12, it was “Back in Black.” My older sister’s bad-boy, motorcycle driving boyfriend gave it to me for Christmas (he must have been moved by the season). You probably remember the first song, “Hell’s Bells;” it starts with that ominous bell and then the really cool guitar riff – here it is, in case you forgot –hells-bells.mp3. I have to be honest, here, even after 27 years, it’s really good! It has it all – Angus and that riff, a great build-up, some serious drumming and Brian Johnson’s singing – it rocked, I can’t play it for my kids, though, it would scare them – bad.

So, as I dusted off my old cassettes, I started to ask, how can I give this stuff to my kids…? Take “You Shook Me All Night Long,” ouch – we all know what that song’s about, our five year olds don’t…”Shoot to Thrill,” no way, “Have a Drink on Me,” uh-uh, “What Do You Do for Money, Honey?”… yeah, no. In spite of Angus and the boy’s intentions, though, I hear potential for kids here…

“Shake a Leg,” “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” a few more, I’m sure – rework them and before you know it, you have a set list for a kids’s show…almost.

Stay tuned – I’ll throw up a couple of AC/DC numbers redone for the kids in the next day or two –

Obama – Llama, talking to 2 year olds about politics, or politics and potty training….

January 21, 2008 at 1:02 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Music for You, News and other stuff... | 1 Comment
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I was on the way to the polls New Hampshire primary day, and I had my 2 year old in tow. Our discussions about the candidates were going nowhere at all until I said, “Baraka Obama likes to ride a llama, and when he’s done he sits out in his sauna.” Gus was a little more attentive. Then I said “And old Mit Romney, he has lot’s of money but he’s not as funny as his friend Guiliani.” Gus got a chuckle out of that…

 

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Obama and his Llama

It occurred to me that, from a two, three, four or even five year old’s perspective, the greatest measure of someone’s fitness for public office might be how many words you can rhyme with his or her name. In this field of candidates, it’s a tough call…let’s take a look…

McCain – rain, mane, train, feign, insane (ok, we’ll avoid that one…)

Romney, Guiliani – Not a lot here – if you stretch, you could use money, funny, bunny and even sunny (Rudy’s campaign could use a little sunshine – probably why he’s been spending so much time in Florida…).

Clinton – ouch – help me out…maybe mitten, kitten, etc. Not sure she’d like the lyric, though, “Hillary Clinton gentle as a kitten, when she goes outside, she always wears her mittens…”

Huckabee – I definitely like the long ‘e’ on the end – lots of potential – Apple tree, can’t you see, you and me, cup of tea, and, for the potty training parents out there, time to go pee –

Kucinich – Spinach, and, of course finish (got to hand it to the guy – doesn’t matter what the voters say, he’s in it until the end…)

Edwards – Another tough one – backwards, milk curds (as in curds and whey), cow herds…

SO, with that in mind, and in the name of keeping our young ones involved – I offer the following song, it really does nothing to inform you about the candidates, but, who are we kidding? Neither do most of the debates, polls or speeches…. obama-llama.mp3.

If you have other (better) rhymes, I welcome them!

p.s. – Please excuse the final line (Then there’s Huckabee, climbed an apple tree and said, “Abe can’t you see, it’s time to go pee…”). Considering how useless this song is otherwise, I figured I might add a useful line and try to prevent Abe from having another accident.

Lullabies, Audacity, and loving them all the same…

January 19, 2008 at 1:49 am | Posted in Being a Dad, Music for You, Musings, Reviews | 1 Comment
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We were waiting for number one – knew she was a girl, had her name picked out, it was early summer, school was out, and it was really hot, so we sat around and wondered what it would be like to have a kid. Isabel just wasn’t that interested in letting go, and joining us in the outside world – that was my state of mind when I got into the lullaby writing business. My lullaby career lasted exactly three songs (You guessed it, one for each kid).

I might be missing something, but lullabies do tend to sound alike – they are, by definition, NOT exciting. If they are exciting, they’re not doing their job, which is to put someone to sleep. Don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure they’re mostly in 3/4 time – aka the waltz – but when you waltz (at least when I was in high school), you had the hope that it would lead to a kiss on the bleachers. Lullabies don’t even have that going for them. In spite of that, I enjoyed writing one for Isabel, and I paid for studio time to get it recorded. It came out pretty good, and, as a bonus, my Mom sang back up. Here’s a little sample of that – Isabel.mp3.

We all lived happily ever after until Abe came along, and, when he could talk, began to ask why he didn’t have a lullaby like his sister. I realized it was time for number two – “Go to Sleep Little Abraham.” Then, I had another realization – writing and playing the thing wasn’t enough – I had to record it, just like I did for Isabel. After looking around a bit, I found AUDACITY (actually, I bought it from some jerk on ebay for $10, and when a home burned CD arrived in the mail, I decided to look it up on line, only to find out that it was a free download.) AUDACITY is a free multi-track recording software – it’s no Pro Tools, but it does the job for your basic lullaby, or demo – you can find it here – Audacity . My first effort, recording “Go to Sleep Little Abraham,” involved a very cheap mic (you’ll here the distortion on the vocal track), a Casio keyboard, and my guitar. It wasn’t amazing, but here’s a sample – Abe.mp3.

Well, two was enough – until it wasn’t. In our discussions about whether or not to have number three, the fact that I would have to write and record another lullaby never came up. I knew, though, in the back of my mind, that my fate was sealed. My main objection to naming our third son Gus was that it rhymes with ‘fuss,’ and I knew, I just knew, that I wouldn’t be able to avoid using that rhyme in the lullaby I’d write. Do me a favor if you decide to listen to it, just ignore that part of the song (never mind the fact that I put it in the chorus so it repeats about 79 times in the song). Remember that I did it in the name of loving my children equally – in other words, it’s for the kids, who can argue with that?

The only difference between this one and the “Abraham” is that I invested $100 in an Shure SM58 (which you ought to buy if you have $100 laying around just to support the company – it’s such a work-horse mic ) So, here’s GUS.mp3 recorded on my 2000 HP computer – Yamaha guitar, Shure mic, and Casio Keyboard plugged into the mic input on the computer – not a work of art, but cheap as it gets, and, as far as my little ones are concerned, evidence of my love for one and all.


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