March 2010 issue

Silver Linings

Life is full of clouds. But, for those who look closely, it is also full of silver linings. Irene and I have just experienced this in a most extreme form. The cloud: Irene’s mother died on March 3rd. The silver lining: A reunion with family members not seen or heard from in many years.

The silver lining entailed driving from Charlotte, NC to Boston, MA for the funeral; a very long trip eventually made more enjoyable by picking up Irene’s son, Bill, for the last six hours on the road.

Cousin Barbara handled the arrangements in MA and, with her husband Stanley, opened their home for a family gathering after the graveside ceremony. Nephews, cousins, nieces, uncles, aunts, in-laws and more showed up. The day was filled with incredible New England deli food, homemade desserts, shared memories, stories, tears and laughter.

The return drive was a happier one, and somehow seemed shorter and easier.

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Hold This!

I have a low tolerance for telemarketing to begin with. But there’s thing that really grinds my beans! And it is totally stupid on the part of the telemarketing companies that are using this ploy. They are the outfits that have computers cranking out phone calls to every possible combination of numbers in a telephone exchange, with an automated message that is triggered if somebody answers the call: “This is a very important call. Please do not hang up. A representative will be with you shortly….” Huh?!?

Let’s see… it’s an important call, but not important enough to have an actual person dial it when they’re ready to talk to you. It’s a really important call, but they won’t identify themselves until they’ve got time for you. And to whom is it important? The caller, or you? You don’t know until someone finds the time to speak with you.

Logic tells me that it’s not the Irish Sweepstakes calling to tell me I’ve won a million dollars. So it’s either someone selling something, or someone wanting something. Can you think of one good reason why I should put my day on hold and wait for a human being to find time for me? Yeah, me neither.

Stupid!

Now Ear This!

In audio production, everything must be done for the ear: The wording, the timing, the mix. The works! Unfortunately much of it is written for the eye, as if it was going to print. It's packed with as many words as will fit in the time allotted with no regard for verbal nuances. And the final production mix is often rejected with comments such as; “the music’s too loud”.

I have some simple suggestions that may improve the sound of the end product.

First, after writing a script read it aloud, as if you were delivering the message to someone… not just saying the words. Phrases that seem awkward or strange, when spoken aloud, should be changed. The listener’s ear will hear the same difference that you’ve detected. Think how you would actually say it in normal conversation, and edit your script to reflect that. Listeners will be more receptive to hearing spoken idioms and familiar phrases, rather than formal written language.

Second, as you read your script aloud, time yourself. An error-free delivery should be within just a couple of seconds of the desired time. I am a professional and can read it faster than you, but I shouldn’t have to! Infection, emphasis, pauses, and other communication tools take time, and the less time I have, the fewer tools I can use to communicate your message effectively.

Finally, are you listening in a manner equivalent to what your target audience will hear? Use a normal volume and small speakers for broadcast production, for example. Are you listening with “fresh ears”, like someone who’s hearing it for the first time? Or are you listening to see if the music is too loud? If so, it will be too loud! ...Or so low in the mix that it will almost completely disappear in broadcast once the station’s noise filters get through with it

Your best test of a mix is to play it back through small, cheap speakers, turning the volume down until you can barely hear the voiceover. If you can hear all the words, as well as something of the background track, the mix is right… no matter how loud the background may sound on big speakers at high volume.

“Ear” it for yourself!

Thrillin Grillin!

Recent patches of mild weather serve to remind us that grilling season is almost here, and it’s time to service the patio altar for this year’s burnt offerings. Unless, of course, you’re like the Van Riper’s who use a grill year-round. I have been known to bush snow off the deck, and whip up a bar-b-que in sub-freezing temperatures, more than a few times each winter.

Some folks use gas grills. Others prefer charcoal. A few like to use an open campfire, but they’re mostly Boy Scouts showing off. Either way, you’ll get much better results if you take the time to clean and service your grill before starting a new season of outdoor cooking. The first step is the hardest; dismantling the nasty, sooty, grease covered components of your grill. After that, it’s just another cleaning job. Back yard. De-greaser. Garden hose.

If you have one of those electric grills, such a George Forman model, don’t try to clean it with water. It’s like putting your toaster in the dishwasher! Heat it up a bit and wipe it clean with a disposable towel. Or drop it off at Goodwill on your way to Target for another one.

Once cleared of ash and debris, inspect the grill carefully. Burner elements on gas grills, and the bottoms of fire pans on charcoal grills, should have no burned-out spots or perforations (other than the gas apertures.) Or, with an electric grill, check the power cord for broken wires. If any of these conditions are found, the damaged part should be replaced. In the case of a charcoal grill, this usually means buying a completely new grill. Sorry.

With gas grills, burner elements are generally available at home centers such as Lowes or Home Depot, or on line from the manufacturer. Be sure to note the make and model of your grill before you go shopping for new burners, and be very careful to get the correct burner type: propane or natural gas. (I once tried to cook with a propane burner hooked up to natural gas. My chicken breasts wound up in a puddle of molten aluminum on the deck beneath my now bottomless grill!) After the grill is cleaned and reassembled, light it up and let it smoke for a while to be sure any cleaning chemicals or residues are burned away.

Let me know when the steaks are ready, and I’ll be right over!

What Overlooks the Hudson River in Newburgh, NY?

Mount Saint Mary College! ...Where, this summer, Dr. Irene Van Riper joins the faculty as an Assistant Professor of Special Education. This will be the culmination of a life-long dream, and a five year struggle for my brilliant wife to earn her EdD (Doctor of Education) degree. It's the same as a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), but in the field of Education, and it has enabled Irene to go from teaching challenged kids one-by-one in a single classroom, to teaching rising teachers how to do it in many future classrooms. Her mission has been to bring understanding and useful strategies to mainstream teachers who have to deal with learning-disasbled students in the general population. Now, she is in a position to do that on a grand scale.

The move... our last long distance relocation, I hope... will take place sometime this summer. For our friends, family, and business associates there will be few changes. The phone calls will continue, visits will continue as time permits, and Joe's clients will probably not notice any difference at all, since even most "local" jobs have become disembodied exercises in technology from the home studio. Emails will stay the same, cell phone numbers, Skype, AIM, Facebook, etc... all unchanged.

I'll just have to shovel more snow than I care to. But we'll be just a hour's train ride out of Manhattan, so there're NY talent jobs, Broadway shows, and everything that the Big Apple has to offer at our disposal, too. Y'all come visit when you can! (Or is it, "Youse guys...")

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