Personal Growth

The Old Airport

For years in my town, it was fashionable to hate the 'old airport'.  You know, that sweltering tin shed left over from World War II.  Apparently there were still bullet holes in the steel girders from the Japanese Zero's that strafed it.  The building served as our domestic and international terminal in our little outback town for many decades.

I remember back before they built the new 'modern' airport, you would *always* hear people moan and complain about the old one.  "Why don't they upgrade it?" they would ask.  "It's a travesty, and embarrassment to us, an eyesore".

So in the 90's, they did build a new terminal.  A big concrete soulless, unaesthetic monstrosity that looks as plain and ugly as most other airports in the world.

You see, I hate the *new* airport.  But I never really hated the old one.  Here is why.

Because on that one day in December 1978, when we migrated to Australia, I remember stepping out of that QANTAS 747 on top of the mobile staircase (no aerobridges on the old terminal), and feeling the humid heat wrap around me, I blinked and took a mental picture of this place.  The picture I took in my mind is actually quite similar to the photo above.  We must have parked in about the same spot.

I was only about 12 years old, but I remember walking across the shimmering heat haze of the tarmac, through a glass door to the immigration area.

There, we lined up behind one of the customs desk, and waited patiently while a *huge* man in a tight fitting blue uniform scanned our passports and paperwork and stamped them.  He was actually the first Australian person I had seen here since we arrived from Malaysia, and I was impressed and intimidated by his sheer size.

I remember his intent look as he processed our paperwork, and sweat rolling down his face as the overhead fans did little to alleviate the heat in that hot section of the tin shed.

Far from being scary, he actually turned out to be really kind as he looked at us, smiled and welcomed us to our new home.

After we passed through the immigration, my two sisters, my mother and I went to the public waiting area.  My dad had already arrived in Australia before us to set things up, and was going to pick us up soon.

My older sister and I were feeling rather parched in this heat, so we decided to buy a cold drink.  We carefully counted out the small amount of Australian money we had, and checked the price list above the only refreshment stall in the centre of the airport, and decided that we had enough money for two cups of orange juice.

As we approached the cheery young girl behind the counter, she smiled at us and said "Just a minute, I have to refill the OJ machine".  I watched her as she pulled the spouts out on several tetra pack juice cartons to fill the machine.

I was filled with wonder - I had NEVER before seen juice packs with the spouts that you could split and pull with one hand.  All the ones we had in our 'old' country had to be cut with scissors.  I thought this was the precursor to MANY wonders that we would get to see in this new land.

Then, my mother reminded us that we needed to get our luggage.  I looked around for the carousel, but could only see signs pointing to a fenced off area next to the car park.  We went there but it was empty.

Then I noticed that there was a tractor with several baggage trailers still near our plane, which was busy disgorging the contents of its hold onto the trailers.

Shortly after that, the tractor just drove into the fenced baggage area and the tractor driver parked and opened the fence gate so that we could all approach the trailers and pick our luggage off them.

Yes it was rustic, but it was also magical and quaint at the same time.  I had this combined feeling of dread and excitement at our new lives that were about to be rebooted here.

The old airport now stands silent, empty and abandoned, but it will always be a major milestone in my life, and for that reason, I could never bring myself to hate it.

Ten Months With No Hot Water

 Ye Olde Heater...

Ye Olde Heater...

Sometime in June 2013, I was working in my office when I noticed a puddle of water seeping in the doorway and running towards my amp and guitar collection.  After moving the valuable equipment out of the way, I went outside and noticed that our hot water heater, which was in an enclosure outside my office, had sprung a leak.

After shutting off the water and mopping up the mess, we called in two plumbers to assess the damage.  They both said that the heater, which was about 20+ years old, had split and needed complete replacement.  One quoted us $2200 for the replacement, and the other quoted $2500.  We also got a quote to change over to solar hot water, but that was around $7000.

Now, we had about $5000 saved away in a family savings account, but we had already decided that 2013 would be a year of seriously pursuing our artistic goals.  We had already earmarked  that money (1) for a portraiture course in August in Adelaide that my wife wanted to do, and (2) for a guitar building course in Melbourne in September that I was keen on.

We thought long and hard about this, then decided that we would defer replacing the hot water heater until the next dry season, about a year away.

This was despite the fact it was one of the coolest dry seasons we have had, and hot water was pretty much the only thing that could warm us up in the mornings and evenings.

But we gritted our teeth and persevered.  For arts sake.

Here is what we found.

SHOWERS

Time wasted in the shower was reduced markedly.  From an average of 10 to 12 minutes each standing under a warm cascade of water daydreaming, the family reverted to short, quick shower in the bracing cold water.  Shower times were down to less than 5 minutes as we got in, soaped and rinsed and got the heck out.

Our sons went from sometimes having 3 showers a day, to only having one a day.

This also resulted in the pleasant after effect that the shower and bathroom needed less cleaning due to less usage.  Towels and bath mats were also less in need of regular washes.

 

DISH WASHING

Now here is a funny thing.  I didn't actually realise that dishwashers have a built in water heater  (After all, we never had a dishwasher up until we moved into this house, which had one preinstalled).  For the first few months, we were hand washing everything, but only once or twice a day.

My wife would boil up a large pan of water on the gas hob and use that for the dishes.  Even after we realised we could still use the dishwasher for hot washes, she persevered with the pan heated water, and the dishwasher was reserved for weekend use.

This was probably my least favourite aspect of this experiment.  I HATE having the sink filling up with dirty dishes for a whole day.

The boys did learn to only use one cup/plates etc. during the day though, and wash them up, because they could not keep raiding the dishwasher for clean ones 10 times a day.


SHAVING

This was a challenge for me, because I like my hot shaves, so I used to co-ordinate my morning shaves with those mornings where my wife was heating up a pan for the washing up.  I used to grab a couple of cups of hot water to shave with.

This meant that we had to really time our activities so that we minimised the number of pans of hot water we needed to make.

After a few months of this, I just reverted to cold shaving, which wasn't the most pleasant of experiences, but I managed to do it.


CLOTHES WASHING

This was a simple remedy.  Our washing machine had a 'cold wash' setting, so we simply bought cold wash soap powder and ran with that.

It seemed to work better.  Things like the elastic on underwear etc. didn't seem to break down as fast as they did with hot washes.


ELECTRICITY

I monitored our electricity usage during this time, and noted and power usage dropped by around 40% during this time, which translated to around $400 on our quarterly electricity bills.

I put this down also to less electricity being used by not using the dishwasher as often, or not needing lights in the bathroom for as long etc.

Water usage was also down by about 30% over normal.


OVERALL ANALYSIS

It was an interesting family social experiment, and one that we all participated in with a little bit of reservation.  I am proud of our two boys for running with it and not complaining too much.  At best, they will realise that hot water on tap is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

As the weather cooled down this May 2014, we decided to bite the bullet and replace the hot water system.  We now have wonderful hot water available on demand again, and I won't kid you - it is very welcome.

But I won't forget our little lesson learned, and we still try and prioritise our time in the bathroom and be as efficient as we possibly can.  Hopefully we can keep in mind that this is a luxury that not everyone in the world can experience, and we will savour it a lot more.


FOOTNOTE: The old hot water heater is currently being converted into a 'nuclear tower' in the garden to be used for an upcoming Nerf battle.

2013 Challenge - A Summary

Well, it's 2014 now.  Wow that time has flown.  This time last year, I started this blog, and set myself the challenge of learning and recording at least one new acoustic fingerstyle piece each month and posting about it on here.

I may have fallen just short of my 'one per month' target, but I think I can be excused a little there.  The whole challenge did spur me on to do other related things, such as building my own acoustic guitar, which took up a fair chunk of time, but was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

There are still about 4 songs that I began to learn, but didn't perfect in time my December, but these will still be completed and recorded at some stage.

I have set myself a new challenge for 2014 (which I will post about a bit later), but I certainly don't intend to let my old challenge get stale and forgotten.  I plan to rehearse and perfect the songs I learned in 2013 and get the professionally recorded in a studio some time this year.  I was thinking that perhaps for Christmas this year, I might create a little compilation CD to give to friends.

In the meantime, here is the compilation of all the songs that were a result of my challenge.

Improving My Musical Memory

TaylorGS_MusicSheets.jpg

If you have been following this blog since the start of the year, you will know that I have set myself the challenge of learning, practicing and recording at least one fairly complex fingerstyle song per month.

Not being a natural sight reader, and not having played guitar regularly for a couple of decades, this was a fairly daunting task for me.  

I generally break down my learning the following way:

  • At least two hours per day for a whole week just playing the song slowly from start to finish so that I can get the whole piece 'in my head'.
  • At least one to two hours per day for the following week concentrating on problems areas (i.e. tricky changes or chordal progressions).  I also try and work on dynamics and adding some 'feeling' to the song.
  • A few days after that doing 'dummy runs' of the whole piece from start to finish under 'concert conditions' to test my recall and confidence.

At this point, I feel I am ready to record the piece.

The problem with this method though, is that a couple of months after recording the piece, I cannot seem to recall it at all.  I have had the situation whereby I sit down with my guitar and say to myself I will play one of the earlier pieces, but then hit a blank.  In my head, I can 'hear' the song, but I have no idea where my fingers have to go to even start the piece.  It's like I have only ever heard the song on the radio and never played it myself.

This concerned me greatly, and I wondered if this is how people suffering from some form of dementia experience the early onset.

I set about examining my methodology.  Perhaps this 'cram' technique was not good for long term recall?  I mean, I can still remember songs I learned 20 years ago and play them off the cuff, but new ones just didn't seem to sink in.  Perhaps my age (47) has something to do with this?

I decided to set about trying something different for the last few pieces I am learning.  I really wanted to see if there was anything I could do to improve my recall and long term memory for these pieces.

1. Changing my practice time

I have always thought of myself as an 'evening person', and in fact do most of my best creative programming work (my day job) in the evenings.  I used to practice in the evenings too, in between programming sessions, believing that this was my optimal time.

However, I have since swapped my practice sessions to the morning, when my brain is fairly fresh and I am finding that if anything, I am picking up new pieces faster than I did before.  It has only been a couple of months, but I feel that the pieces I am learning now are being retained better than some earlier ones.

I think trying to play guitar in between computer programming sessions also didn't work well.  I mean, it works great for just plain relaxing, but as far as focused learning, I don't think my brain switched between the two type of creative flows easily.

2. Getting plenty of sleep

This is related to (1) above for sure.  Trying to learn something new at the end of the day when my brain was fatigued certainly didn't help me.  Now, when I approach a new piece of music with a well rested body and mind, I find there is a clarity there which I have never experienced before.

3. Learning two pieces at once

I mentioned above that trying to cut computer code and learning a new song didn't work well together, but this month I have tried something different in that I am trying to learn TWO whole new songs, at the same time.

This means that I break up my 2 hour practice sessions to spend about 30 minutes on each song on a rotating basis.

At first I was concerned that I would just confuse myself and end up playing the wrong changes, but that hasn't happened.  I find that I can slip into the whole 'mood' and feel of the song quite quickly and easily.  It also helps to break the boredom when I get stuck on a particular bar.  I just switch to the other song for a while and then come back and explore the problem area with fresh eyes.

Whilst I used to learn a song from the first bar to the last in sequential order, working on two songs together means that often I come back to the song in the middle or towards the end.  This is helping my recall for later parts of the songs quite well.

4. Looking after my health

Another thing I have changed is my seating position when playing.  Rather than using an office chair, I have been using a special chair designed for performing guitarist, which coerces my body into the correct posture.

I have also upped my water intake, which I have read helps to improve mental performance and memory.

5. Planning ahead & working smarter

I know constant practice is important to really learn and retain a piece of music, but it turns out that most of the pieces I chose to learn this year use some very unconventional tunings.  It is quite tedious to change and maintain different tunings on a guitar, and you also risk damaging the instrument by constantly changing the tension on the neck (not to mention constantly breaking strings).

To this end, I tended to ignore some songs for a long period as I just couldn't be bothered switching tunings all the time.  What I have done now is to actually purchase a new guitar and 'borrow' a guitar off my sons so that I now have up to 4 guitars which I can leave in different tunings and ready to go.

That way, when the inspiration seizes me to play an older song in open 'C' tuning, I know which guitar is always in that tuning now and can grab it and immediately play it without and distracting preamble.

 

It is still early days in my experiment.  I hope to come back in a couple of months and reported that yes, the techniques that I have outlined here have helped to improve my retention. 

Feel free to check out my progress on this blog and on my SoundCloud page.

Building My Own Acoustic Guitar

 My workbench at Thomas Lloyd Guitars

My workbench at Thomas Lloyd Guitars

Ok, it's been yet another delay between posting here, but this time I have an excuse - You see, I've been down in Melbourne building my own acoustic guitar for the past few weeks. 

I enrolled in the Thomas Lloyd Guitar building workshop, and was guided through the build by master luthier Chris Wynne and his able assistant Bill. 

I actually started a day by day photo essay of the build over at the Acoustic Guitar Forum - the link to the thread is:  

 

In summary, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I learned so much more than just how to build a guitar.  I learned about how I could go beyond what I thought my limitations were, and after years of self talk telling myself that I couldn't do certain things with precision - when it came down to the crunch, it turns out I got pretty damned close. 

 

Making Mistakes

perfect-guitar-player.jpg

I have a confession... You know those songs I have been posting on here for the 2013 challenge I set myself?  Well, I cheated.  Sort of.

You see, one thing I really struggle with is the ability to play a song through from start to finish note perfect, without missing a beat or playing the wrong note.  I don't think I have EVER played a whole song through without at least one small mistake in it.

If you listen ever so carefully to those clips I posted, you can hear every now and then a subtle click or pop where I spliced together different takes.  On a good one, there will only be one or two splices, but on some, there up to six or seven splices.  Don't even ask me how make takes I went through to even get to that point.

There is something about hitting that 'Record' button that puts that extra pressure on me to get things note perfect.  Of course, I then tense up and make even MORE mistakes.

However, this is something I have been working on diligently this year.  I want to be able to play songs without making as many mistakes as in the past.  I know asking for total perfection is a bit unrealistic, but I would at least like to be able to put in a performance level effort every time I pick up the guitar.

In analysing my playing, I found that my mind tends to drift to a myriad of other subject while I am playing, instead of focusing on the music.  I will catch myself thinking about inane things to do around the house or work problems that I am having.  Obviously, I will have to quell this noise a lot more if I am to improve my playing.

In essence, I have to find a meditative state whilst playing.  I need to focus myself on each and every note and nuance, as well as the tempo and maintain a relaxed state of body so that I can adapt to the music a lot better.  This is my goal for the next few months.

I am hoping that when it comes time to do the 'professional' takes for my songs later in the year, that I can walk into the studio and play them with as few retakes as possible.  It makes sense from an economical viewpoint as well, as I will be paying for studio time by the hour and thus quicker takes will cost me less.