This Older Song Writer’s Ultimate Goal

Hopefully, friends reading the title of this blog will pipe up and say, “You’re not old. At sixty-nine, you have many good years left.” I hope they’re right.

But my outlook on music has changed a lot since I started learning to play guitar during the “folk fad” of the 1960s. After moving away from Norfolk, Virginia, where I belonged to a trio, and becoming a soloist, I continued to take music seriously. Even more seriously than before.

I recall telling someone that I wanted to transfer from my junior college to West Virginia University because traditional folk expert Dr. Patrick Gainer–how many people’s names can you still recall fifty years later?–taught there. But I wanted to major in music.

I didn’t. Go to WVU or major in music. Instead, I majored in English at Frostburg State.

I’d written my first song as a theme song for the trio in Norfolk and I wrote a few more songs in the ensuing years. Folk was on its way out–or at least it was being replaced by “folk rock,” something I wasn’t interested in trying. So what was I to write and perform?

As a Christian, that question wasn’t hard to answer. I would write Christian songs and use them whenever and wherever I could. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to sing in prisons, nursing homes, migrant camps, and even churches. My own church and other churches as well.

I also wrote half a dozen or so musical dramas, four of which were performed one or more times.

Throughout the first twenty or thirty years of my song writing, I had several goals. I was realistic enough to know I would never become a popular, well-known Christian singer myself, but I very badly wanted some of my songs to get published and–who knows?–maybe some popular, well-known Christian singer would use one or more of them.

Do you remember the first Christian youth musical Good News? It was written and compiled by Bob Oldenburg and began an explosion of other youth musicals. I met Bob at the conference center where I was working one summer and actually got to do a couple of songs on closed circuit TV for the youth one week. Bob asked me to send him a copy of that music. He was getting ready to work on his second musical and thought he might be able to use one of my songs.

Wow!

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to. That was just one of many disappointments in trying to get my songs into the hands of someone who saw their value and would make good use of them.

Years later, I chanced to correspond with someone who had a good publishing friend in Nashville. He had me send a CD–okay, I admit it, it was a cassette tape back then–and he forwarded it to his friend. Nothing came of it. Not even useful feedback. Or any kind of feedback at all.

I kept writing and singing wherever I could. I recorded many of my songs at home and gave cassette tapes to friends I thought were non-Christians. The funny things is I had a Jewish friend in Australia who shared those tapes with her American boss. No telling who ended up listening to some of my music.

In 1991 I went on my first mission trip, and I’ve been on numerous other trips since then–to Australia, England, Wales, Romania, and Nicaragua. And I’ve been able to use my music there.

Now I’m pretty much limited to two musical outlets: Singing in our church’s nursing home ministry. I have to give those old folks credit. They love my songs! The other is the youngest children’s choir at church. Their director periodically teaches them one of my songs and I play guitar for them to sing with in church.

I also post many of my recordings on my website, RogerBruner.com.

But what is my ultimate goal? Other than pleasing God, Who I believe is the biggest fan of my songs.

Don’t laugh. Not where I can hear you, anyhow. I would love to have one song–I’m not greedy; one will do–published in the Baptist hymnbook. Or some other hymnbook or collection of songs that are going to be around for a while.

Like many other songs in collections like those, it might not get noticed by a large number of people, but at least it would be “out there” where God could lead the people He wants to use my song to find it.

That way it will become part of the legacy I leave behind.

What about you? Have you pursued a goal that’s slipped further and further away? Have you altered your goal and changed the way you’ve gone about pursuing it? How about sharing in a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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More on the First Years of My Retirement

Not what retirement is for, but a definite advantage to spending all day at home

Not what retirement is for, but a definite advantage to spending all day at home

Even though I retired at age sixty-two to become a full-time writer–I wasn’t yet a published author–I soon learned that I couldn’t spend eight hours a day five days a week writing. Not every week, anyhow. The important thing was I had ENOUGH time to write consistently.

Although I realized that writing would continue to serve as my main activity, I gradually learned that I had time for other activities as well.

One of the most important is the nursing home ministry my church is involved with on Wednesday mornings. I joined the team that handles the services there all but the second Wednesday of each month. I became the second guitar player on the team, which has been fun, and I’ve become an even better by-ear player than before, since I don’t have access to the words and chords.

I do a solo every week–one of my own songs–but I don’t participate in the singing otherwise. Not that I wouldn’t be free to, but I couldn’t take an hour of standing, Plus I still don’t know some of the songs–make that MANY of them–the team uses, and the majority of them are in a key that’s wrong for my voice.

But doing what I can do is very fulfilling. I’ve even learned to become more comfortable with old folks who are much more decrepit than I hope I’ll ever be.

Another musical project is playing bass guitar for the Christmas musical. Although I’ve been playing bass almost as long as I’ve been playing guitar, I’m not into the fancy stuff. In order to make my playing as effective as possible, I usually spend about an hour a day practicing with a professional CD of the musical–from September until Christmas.

My wife and I walk for exercise four evenings a week. Although I was already walking by myself on Friday mornings, I’ve recently begun  doing an extra half-hour walk three to four days a week. Although outdoors in the neighborhood is preferable, I like going to the mall sometimes even when the weather is good because–being at home by myself so much with just the dog and cat–it gives me a change of scenery.

I admit it! One of my favorite almost-daily activities is an afternoon snooze. Soon after my wife returns to work after lunch, I sack out on the sofa with the miniature dachshund curled up beside me under the afghan. Thirty minutes is amazingly refreshing. The only problem is making myself get started again after I wake up. I try to limit Solitaire and Words with Friends to evenings and break times.

And then there’s helping with the regular grocery shopping (and picking up occasional items we’ve run out of), doing the laundry, mowing the lawn, and doing the vacuuming. Only occasionally am I asked to fix something; Kathleen knows my weaknesses.

However, I occasionally put together something (new kitchen stools are the most recent project) that comes unassembled.  Sometimes I even shock Kathleen by following the directions and not having any parts left over.

Of course, I also am taking more pictures, spending more time working on my blogs and website, and reading. Not only am I on track with a read-the-Bible-through Kindle app, I’m currently reading two biblical non-fiction books; which one I read when depends on what room I’m in at the time. I’m usually reading fiction, though.

My health seems to be good. Even so, the past seven years have seen me have cataract surgery on both eyes (several years apart) and a minor “procedure” that has failed to eliminate the mystery pain that has been and is continuing to bother me.

I was diagnosed with diabetes three or four years ago, but my doctor hit the nail on the head when he told me to lose weight instead of counting carbs. I lost fifty pounds, take a prescription called Metformin, and do a blood sugar test on myself once a week. The reading hasn’t been as high as 100 in years, and I’m thankful God has taken care of that problem.

I’m not quite as agile as I used to be at my guitar playing, but that hasn’t yet proven a major problem. However, I did quit making wooden crosses and walking sticks because of how those activities hurt my hands. And I’m none too sure I’ll be up to any more mission trips.

As you can see, these health issues–no matter how minor–affect what I feel like doing and–to a lesser extent–what I’m able to do. Sixty-nine isn’t that old, but the end is coming–sooner or later. When, God alone knows. But I enjoy my retirement just as I enjoy and appreciate life itself, and I’m thankful to have such fulfilling activities to keep me busy.

What about you? Whether you’re retired or not, do you find life fulfilling? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

The Taylor Guitar Factory

If you read this past Sunday’s post, you already know that my wife and I just returned from a wonderful vacation in San Diego. And that two of our many interesting activities involved music. I told you about the Museum of Making Music on Sunday, and today I’ll share about the visit to the Taylor Guitar Factory.

Dsc_8877I have a Taylor. A GS Mini, which is a 3/4 size guitar with amazing sound quality for something so miniaturized.

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Taylor has only been making guitars for forty years, compared to Martin, which has been in business since 1833. But their guitars have become widely popular and widely used among both professional and amateur musicians. They’ve been quite innovative in such things as creating a bolt-on neck and in their use of machinery, including lasers.

Upon passing the reception desk, we came to a room full of guitars I was free to take off the walls or out of the stands and play to my heart’s desire. Doing that make clear that the the $2500-2700 guitars sounded appreciably better than the $1900-2000 ones.

Dsc_8887Not that I would object to one of the lesser ones, but–drat it!–they weren’t giving any away, and about all we could afford was $20 for a T-shirt. But it’s a really nice one…commemorating Taylor’s fortieth anniversary. I would’ve loved to have one of their beautifully tooled, thick leather straps, but–alas–$80 for that will have to wait for another time.

In a room on the other side of the reception desk were more guitars. Acoustic and acoustic/electric guitars without price tags. I’m assuming they were more than the others. Also in that room were samples of their hollow body electric guitars–and a bit further in–guitars with their backs out, showing the various exotic woods one can have his choice of guitars made from. If I recall correctly, Taylors run as high as $5,000.

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The tour, starting at 2:00 p.m., was led by a young lady who used a wireless headphone system to guide us through the factory.

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Don’t let Taylor’s use of machines fool you. There’s still a lot of hand work done on each guitar. Nonetheless, machines like the ones that bend the sides of the guitar into shape–interestedly, the machine operator sprays the wood with a little bit of water before running it through the machine–and the robotic machine that buffs the guitars after they receive their finish are of special interest. Not to mention the one that dries the glue in minutes, not days.

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The wood glue they use contains an element that glows. So if any glue gets on the outside of a guitar, it can be detected easily and sanded off.

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Taylor is big on reusing as many materials as possible. A large box contains wood scraps which are either used for other parts of a guitar or donated to a local toy maker.

Dsc_8932And what can I say about the huge room full of exotic woods? Incidentally, Taylor is very environmentally friendly when it comes to protecting the forests their woods come from.

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I could say a lot more, but I’m about all talked out. Except to say they let us take some of the wooden holes cut out to make the sound holes. Great souvenirs!

These pictures are just a sample of all the ones I took. If you want to see more, I’ll be posting an album on my Facebook page soon.

Are you a guitarist? Do you have a Taylor? What do you play? All comments gladly welcome.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out HERE. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

Be on the lookout for my next novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, which releases on November 25. It’s available for pre-order HERE.

Best regards,
Roger

In Love with the Guitar

threeGuitars

I’ve been in love with guitars since I was a small child. I still recall visiting my best friend and fooling around with the stringless guitar–it was a real one–his family kept around the house. I didn’t have any image of myself up on stage using it, but I did pretend to play it. The funny thing is I’m not sure I even knew what a guitar sounded like. I just knew I’d like playing one.

I finally got my first toy guitar. I was heart-broken when I stepped on it. That plastic wasn’t durable enough to survive. My second toy guitar was an inexpensive replacement. Neither of those guitars could have been used to play real music, but they maintained my interest over the years.

When I was a junior in high school–yes, I’d long since given up the toy guitar, but not my dream–I was saving for a class ring. But the $18 Silvertone guitar I found at Sears appealed to me more at the time than the prospect of a class ring. That was during what I refer to as “the folk fad of the 1960s and 1970s.” So it was only natural that I would develop a finger-picking style.

That was tough on a cheap steel-stringed guitar, but I kept at it. Believe it or not, I made my first real progress in finger-picking during the days immediately following President Kennedy’s assassination. There was nothing else to watch on TV, so my guitar stayed on my lap and my fingers finally started to catch on.

I took seven lessons one summer. They taught me a little about reading music, but nothing about the kind of playing I wanted to do. Besides that, I realized I couldn’t afford lessons and dating. As it turned out, I couldn’t afford dating either.

I got together with two friends from church to form a trio–The Flatlanders. Very appropriate name for people living in country as flat as Tidewater Virginia. We had a lot of fun and actually got to perform some for other people.

I wanted–I desperately needed–a better guitar. At first my parents didn’t want me to save for one because they’d seen how many projects I’d started over the years without ever finishing. But I kept saving anyhow, and by the time I had close to enough, they had to admit I was really doing something with my playing. My first good guitar was a $151 Gibson. (I don’t think you can buy a Gibson now for less than $2000.)

When we moved away after high school graduation, I became a soloist. I stuck with folk music for a while, but when the fad died out, I realized I would have to do something else if I wanted people to listen to me. I had written my first song as the Flatlanders’ theme song, and I discovered that I really enjoyed writing songs.

So I ended up doing only my own songs. I’ve written over two hundred during the last fifty years.

Like most guitarists, I was always on the lookout for a better guitar–the perfect one. Probably the best one I ever had was an Ovation Anniversary model. But I sold it for two reasons. The volume control was not well placed. (Its location made me accidentally hit it and change volume when I didn’t want to.) And this guitar was one of the deep bowl models; a very convex guitar body against an equally convex tummy was difficult to hold.

I currently have a Martin acoustic-electric, a Taylor GS-mini, and an Ovation Celebrity. The Martin has the best sound, the Taylor is the most portable, and the Ovation has the fastest neck. I also have a Fender Precision bass.

My interest in guitars has led me to some interesting places. Like Connecticut for a tour of the Ovation factory and Pennsylvania for a Martin factory tour. Both of those were wonderful.

While visiting the in-laws in Memphis, I also toured the electric guitar Gibson factory. The acoustic guitar factory is in another state. But those doggoned people didn’t permit photography. Oh, well.

This October my wife and I are going to vacation in the San Diego area–close enough for a tour of the Taylor factory.

I keep saying I’ll never trade or sell the Martin or the Taylor. But–doggone it!–I don’t have the perfect guitar yet and couldn’t afford it if I found it. But I could find closer-to-perfect if was in the budget. I would probably need to publish a novel with a publisher that paid advances for that to happen, though.

What about you? Do you have a special musical interest? Or maybe another hobby that keeps you looking for better and better tools and accessories? Please drop a comment and share.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out here. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list here.

Best regards,
Roger

The “Good Old Days” That Weren’t

r1958-2    t-r1963    Flatlanders

If I recall correctly from the days of my youth, one of the things we hated most about older people was the way they talked about “the good old days.” Especially the days when they were our age.

Well, not me. I wasn’t thrilled with that time in my life.

As a Preacher’s Kid who didn’t know that moving came with the territory until my father announced his resignation at the end of the worship service one Sunday, I was miserable. I was eight years old at the time, and that’s one of the only times I remember crying as a child. I didn’t want to leave the town we were living in.

So I unconsciously decided to hate the city we moved to. I don’t recall a whole lot about that place. Not a whole lot good, anyhow. I gained a lot of weight—I remember weighing 148 in the sixth grade and having people at church talk about what a cute little fat kid I was.  Although I had friends in the neighborhood, we weren’t close in a permanent kind of way.

My parents were so concerned about my misery that they fully supported my becoming a safety patrolman. Whether that brought me out of my shell any further, I couldn’t say.

So when we moved to another city, it was such a relief from the one I’d hated so much that I was bound to like it better.  But lo and behold, the mayor prevented schools from opening on time in his resistance to integration. I don’t know how many Saturdays we had to attend school to make up for lost time, but I resented it—and Mayor Duckworth, whom I considered not to be worth a duck.

During my eighth grade year, I came down with acute viral encephalitis and was in a coma for several days. Although I survived and was not left a vegetable as the doctors feared I might be, my recovery took forever and left me without nearly as much stamina as I’d had before.

As the son of the Preacher, I often felt like I was left out of things. The kids at church were nice enough, but I didn’t really feel close to them. I was starting to like girls then but shy about admitting it. I dated very little, but enjoyed hours of telephone conversations.

Things changed when I bought my first guitar in the fall of 1962 and started learning to play. That was during what I refer to as “the folk fad of the sixties,” and I ended up forming a trio with two other guys from church. That was fun, but they had girlfriends and I didn’t.

After graduating from high school in 1964, my parents and I moved to another state. No more trio. No more youth.

Life is so much nicer now. I’m happily married, healthy in spite of the number of medicines it takes to keep me that way, and very involved in church activities. Not to mention having become a published novelist who retired at sixty-two to write full-time.

Other older folks are free to talk about the good old days if they want to, but I’m happier with my life now than I ever was before.

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Please leave a comment if something in this post has spoken to you. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I revise and re-post a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

As Long As Those Fingers Hold Out…

MontoyaOldProgram     MontoyaAlbumCover.pg     MontoyaNewProgram     MontoyaArticle

I started learning to play guitar soon after my birthday in September, 1962. I used money I’d been saving for my class ring to buy an eighteen dollar Silvertone. I didn’t even know how to tune it. Digital tuners were many years in the future.

With the folk fad in vogue at the time, I focused on learning finger picking. (Although I do strum some songs, I’ve never become comfortable or competent with a pick.) Learning the theory behind some of the basics didn’t take long, but making my fingers cooperate consistently seemed impossible.

As strange as it might sound, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and funeral changed all of that. I was off from school, and nothing but JFK-related programming was on TV, so I had LOTS of time to really polish those finger styles. Although I’ve added a lot to my techniques since then, I count that as when I really caught on to learning to play.

I do most of my playing now in my church’s nursing home ministry, where accuracy is less important than having a loving attitude. Not that I don’t practice quite a bit for the solo I do each week, but somehow I just don’t feel I still have what I used to have. Occasionally I even cheat and simplify something I’ve been doing a particular way for many years.

But what if I reach the point of no longer being nimble enough to play at all?

My mother was a very good pianist, but rheumatoid arthritis silenced her playing several years before her death. I don’t have any symptoms of that disease, but still…I don’t feel like I’m playing as well as I did ten or fifteen years ago.

But this post isn’t about me. Not really.

It’s about Carlos Montoya. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Montoya, people considered him the finest flamenco (that’s Spanish gypsy music) guitarist around. He lived from 1903 to 1993.

I went to see him in person while I was in high school—on Saturday, March 23, 1963. “Fabulous” doesn’t begin to describe his playing. Compared to him, I’ve never been a guitar player at all.

I saw him again years later—on July 30, 1986—when he was eighty-three. He wasn’t the same guitarist he’d been twenty-three years earlier, but nobody in that audience seemed to care. If anything, listeners were enthralled that he was still playing as well as he was.

Should I ever decline enough in my playing for other people to notice, I hope they won’t say, “Oh, he used to be so good.” I hope they’ll say, “He never quits trying, does he?”

Please leave a comment if something in this post speaks to you in a way you’d like to respond to. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog by Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I repost an old post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Best regards,
Roger

Each Time I Visit

JeffChadwick     Creola     RickMike     JeanDonna

Three Wednesday mornings out of four each month, you’ll see me heading out to the car with my Taylor GS-mini guitar, 40-watt Fender amp, and a backpack holding everything from a guitar cable with a built-in volume control to a bottle of water, from a hand-held digital recorder to an apple. Even though I treasure my one Wednesday off each month, each of those outings has become a highlight of my week

My church holds a worship service on Wednesday mornings at a local nursing home, and I’ve been participating there regularly since I retired five years ago to write full-time.

Our services don’t resemble typical worship services any more than the residents’ wheelchairs resemble wooden pews. Although one of the team—usually one of my church’s former pastors who didn’t want to give up this ministry when he became the pastor of a new church—delivers a five-minute devotional, our services consist mostly of hymn singing, with a special or two thrown in for good measure.

Somebody told me years ago that old folks don’t want to hear new or unfamiliar songs. Since I’ve written about two hundred Christian songs in the last fifty years—that’s slowed down since I started writing novels—but didn’t really have any place to share them, I was delighted to learn that I’d been misled. Older adults are appreciative of anything and everything our team does.

Good thing. Although our leader brings a list of the songs we’ll be using, we don’t practice in preparation for our services. But we’ve learned to work together so well that our frequent flubs don’t embarrass us anymore than they bother the worshippers.

This nursing home ministry is something I’d never expected to take such an interest in. And not just because it gives me an outlet for my music.

You see, I never felt comfortable around older people before. At least not older people who were in such wretched physical conditions. I’ll bet some of you feel the same way.

It’s easy to understand why I felt that way. I didn’t want to admit that I might end up having some physical or mental condition that would make my continuing to live at home impractical. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t, no matter how hard I like to pretend that I’m invulnerable to permanent disabling conditions.

Consider Rick, one of our regular worshippers. He’s only several years younger than me. I don’t know what his specific problem is, but he uses a walker and moves quite slowly. He’s quite an encouragement to me.

And there’s Mike. Okay. I admit it. I’m lousy at guessing the ages of African-Americans. But Mike doesn’t look like he could be beyond his forties—and he has fun calling the rest of us teenagers. He’s recently lost his sight in both eyes. And he rarely gets to attend our services any more because his dialysis is scheduled for Wednesday mornings.

Yes, I could end up as a Rick or a Mike (well, minus the difference in skin color).

When my wife and I recently took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University at church, one of the things we learned about was the importance of Long-term Care insurance. It’s quite costly, but—if needed—it’s cheaper than trying to pay for nursing home care out of the family budget. The only thing holding us back is the “quite costly.”

Although every visit to the nursing home has its uplifting moments, I can’t keep from looking at these individuals I’ve come to love and respect—even without knowing most of their names—and wondering, “Will I come here some day to live? What kind of condition would lead to that? Ad how would Kathleen deal with it?”

And the biggest question of all…how would I deal with it?

Please leave a comment to tell me how you feel about the prospect of nursing home life. I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to the top right of this page where it says, “Follow Blog by Email.”

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Find a list of them here. Because I’ve used up all of my songs, I repost a previous post each Wednesday. If you’re interested, please check that blog out here.

Last, but not least, if you’d like to hear some of my songs from the nursing home, go to RogerBruner.com and click on the Listen tab. You’ll find a dropdown box listing the songs I’ve recorded at the nursing home, complete with flubs and background noise.

Best regards,
Roger