Thursday, August 30, 2007

90 and going strong

Today I attended a birthday celebration for a friend who turned 90. Bill was a pilot. He began flying DC-3’s for TWA in 1942. He met his wife her first day on the job as a flight attendant. They have been married 58 years.

In 1977, when the FAA said he was too old to fly passengers, he moved to Pakistan and then South America to keep flying. He returned to Kansas where he has been an encourager and an inspiration to thousands of people.

Bill never misses an opportunity to talk about his faith or about the great life God has given him. Because their life is filled with friends and vitality, you would never guess their age. Both Bill and Evelyn seem twenty years younger than the calendar indicates.

I often talk about the need to finish the race strong, and here are two people who are doing it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Music Fans?

At a music conference I attended a few months, one of the speakers committed that only about 10% of the population is music fans. I was surprised by this statement because I thought everyone (well, almost everyone) loved music. I quickly realized that this percentage depends a lot on your definition of "fan."

His definition of a music fan was simply someone who liked a wide variety of music, could listen to a song all the way through, could identify different instruments and styles of playing, and could recognize virtuoso playing when they heard it. It turns out that there are not as many people in this category as most musicians believe.

The speaker was a radio consultant – the type of person that record companies hire to try to get their records played on the radio. His comment was in response to a question about why radio stations play the same tedious, unimaginative, handful of songs over and over when there are tens of thousands of recordings released every year, most of them quite good. He was explaining that radio stations are not as dumb as they seem because the vast majority of people don’t want to hear anything new and most people have very limited taste when it comes to music – probably because they only listen to a handful of boring unimaginative songs over and over again.

This would explain why it is easier to get ten thousand people to pay $75 to go to an arena, where they can’t see or hear, to see a well known performer than it is to get one hundred people to go to a much more intimate setting, with great sound, to see a solid band for fraction of the cost.

I became aware of this year’s ago when I would invite friends over to listen to music – usually a new artist that I wanted to share. I always came away frustrated because before the first cut was through they would be talking over the music about something else. I quickly learned that not many of my friends were anywhere near as interested in music as I was. For the next twenty years, music became a very personal thing where I would discover new artist, buy their records, become fans, and never tell anybody else. Only recently have I developed friends with similar interests that I can share music ideas with.

I guess the point is: God made us all different. We each have our own interests and passions. I seldom watch a football game all the way through and I would have a great deal of difficulty telling the difference between one play to the next, or one position to another. I couldn’t tell you when deer season starts, but I know the difference between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster. Isn’t it great that God didn’t make us all the same?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Be careful who you hang with

Homer’s Coffee House hosts an open mike jam session every Monday night during the summer. This is a time designed to promote community and give new or first-time performers a chance to play. At the same time it gives more established performers an opportunity to play songs that they might not normally do.

We just go around the circle and give everybody a chance to play and sing. The variety of people who show up each Monday is amazing. It is not unusual to have a person who has never sung in public before do a number followed by professional rock and roller singing a country or folk song. We never know what is going to happen.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Some nights everybody sounds great, and other nights, it seems, everybody is struggling just to stay in tune. The reason, I believe, is that we are greatly influenced by those around us. If there are two or three people in a row who are having a hard time carrying a tune, the next person up, even if they are an experienced musician, is likely to struggle to stay on pitch. Conversely, a few good musicians elevate the whole group to do better.

I think this principle applies to other areas of life as well. If we surround ourselves with quality people, we are likely to perform better ourselves. The opposite is also true. If those around us are goof-offs and low-achievers, our own expectations are soon going to be diminished. This does not mean that we should totally avoid people we think are somehow “inferior,” but it does mean that we need to choose our friends wisely. It means that we need to be in a positive work environment if we want to accomplish great things.

Years ago, I played music with a guy whose favorite saying was, “Dumb is contagious.” Turns out that he was restating what the book of Proverbs says when it cautions us to not be companions of fools, but rather associate ourselves with people who will help us learn and grow.