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The Trip To Portland...


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The New Family Marimba is home; it’s got short legs, which I might want to change—but maybe not. (Squatting on the floor to play is supposed to be good for you.) I did get advice from the vendor on electrifying the thing; he’s unaware of anyone ever having done so, but he did have instructions from someone who electrified a different African percussion instrument using a fleet of little piezo mikes, connected in series. I don’t know if that would work with the marimba; one would have to mount a piezo on each “key” (and the “keys” are big resonant wooden blocks, each tuned to a particular note) and connect them to each other with wires—and I worry whether having the wires attached might destroy the resonance of the “keys,” which are suspended on cables and kept separate from each other.

My own amplification idea—also never tried before that I know of—is to suspend a long block of wood beneath the “keys” in place of the standard resonator made of plastic pipe (which makes the marimba sound louder, but also very tinny)—and mount on that block one or more of those “tabletop” mikes that are designed to pick up vibrations from a wooden surface. Those tabletop mikes are a little spendy, but one might need only one—and one could detach the sounding board when it wasn’t needed.

The Dell shop isolated the problem with “Justin”—it’s his CPU, alas. It has given up the ghost, alas. I won’t be replacing that any time soon; those critters are expensive. The Dell techies argued against it, too, advising that new models of this machine are only $400 now and I should just get a new one. (I won’t be doing that, either.) Since the shop refunded my money from the earlier repair job, all I’m really out is the $60 I originally paid for “Justin,” assuming he was a working computer. That’s not too bad. I’ll see if some of Justin’s parts can be cannibalized for use elsewhere. (It’d be nice if the RAM chips fit “Luke” the short-on-brains Compaq, for instance.)

Square dance caller class is fascinating. A lot of information to absorb but the basic concepts already make a lot of sense. I need to memorize calls like I do songs, which means writing them down to fix them in memory; when I’m on stage, I won’t have any props—just like when I’m performing. The instructor is very traditionalist; he doesn’t use a computer to choreograph his (or rather the dancers’) moves—instead, he keeps it all in his head. And he’s encouraging me to do the same. For equipment, I do have a laptop, and a mixer and amplifier (the same ones used for 45 Degrees North); what I do not have is speakers. Instructor Daryl suggested it might be easier and cheaper to build my own, and he may be right.

One suggestion of Daryl’s I would like to implement—assembling a small group of live square dancers (takes 8) who would let me practice my moves on them on a regular (weekly?) basis. It’d be visible evidence for me of what happens when I call specific moves, and how many beats it takes dancers to execute them; it’d also be practice performing this stuff in front of (on, actually) a live (and friendly) audience. Much like performing new songs at an open mike.

I’d planned on using the 6-hour drive back and forth to Portland to practice singing the Christmas songs for the Thirsty Lion gig—and I did; but because I tend to write on long trips, I also managed to come home with a ditty—nothing special, just a little self-promotional commercial saying how excited I’d be to get a half-time job shelving books in the library. (Like “The Occupation Song” says, “I want to occupy the library…”) Ought to pass it on to the county and see if it’d convince them to hire me. True, I’m not exactly qualified for book-shelving—but like the ditty says, “I remember my numbers from when I was a kid, and I can prob’ly figure out the alphabet.” Times may be hard but one should have fun with them anyway. The Hindu deity Ganesha used to recommend dancing: “If it doesn’t make the situation better, at least it makes you feel better.”

Joe

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