Summer Writer’s Block

It’s not a big surprise that my annual summer writer’s block is back. I’ve come to expect it. When summer rolls around, every orifice in my body tightens up when it’s time to extract something creative for this fine magazine. I’ve found it tough coming up with magic when I’m wearing flip-flops and board shorts while sucking on a cold Corona. Truthfully, after 9+ years of at least one article a month, the well might finally be dry. Brilliance is fleeting. Truthfully, I may have peaked in the spring of 2011. As NBA announcer and former Golden State Warriors Head Coach Mark Jackson once said (when the team got bounced from the playoffs too early), “There’s no shame in my game.” Well there’s no game in my shame either or something like that. I came, I wrote and now I’m tired. I don’t want to talk retirement just yet, but similar to last summer, the best that I can do right now is come up with a few random thoughts on a variety of unrelated topics.


My oldest daughter, Hannah, is leaving for college in a couple of weeks and I’m sad. I’m happy for her, but sad for me. Me, I’m probably going to cry. I’m very close with my girls and not having the oldest one around will take some getting used to, and I’m not sure I’m ready. Granted, every baby bird leaves the nest eventually, but my guess is it’s easier for the mommy bird to adjust than the daddy bird. Mommy birds are tougher and they had to sit on those damn eggs forever. Not to mention regurgitating three meals a day for months. Now with just one kid at home, I’ll have to focus 100% of my attention on her younger sister, Claire. How was school today? What did you do at school? Do you like your teachers? Who did you hang with/talk to/text? Do you have a lot of homework? What are your plans for the weekend? Do you want to walk the dog with me? Watch TV with me? Go to the gym with me? Let’s bake cookies. Hopefully I’ll be able to hang on until Parents’ Weekend at the University of Colorado (Sept. 30th – Oct. 2nd) without first having a major breakdown. Whatever you do, don’t even remind me that both my girls will be going away this time next year because I don’t think my heart can take it. I’m thinking of starting The Danville Lonely Dad’s Club. Applications are available online at

Olympic Blues

I love the Olympics. There are over 10,000 athletes representing 205 countries (minus a few who have been banned for PED doping). It’s the thrill of international competition, the amazing athletic accomplishments and the immense pride of country that inspires me every four years. It inspires me to go into rehab after watching approximately 280 hours of television over a two-week period. I just can’t seem to get enough swimming and diving, track and field, gymnastics, rowing and fencing. What am I going to do with all my spare time once the Olympic committee wraps up the closing ceremonies? I guess I could pick up a hobby like ballroom dancing, magic or binge watch Game of Thrones. I’ve heard Game of Thrones is a little Olympic-like, if Olympic events included slayings, incest and dragon defecation.

Happy Viewing

If Game of Thrones is too big a commitment, Silicon Valley and Veep might be the right call. These two HBO sitcoms are quite possibly the funniest two shows on television—that is, if you don’t mind an occasional F-bomb in the dialogue. By occasional, I mean virtually every other word frequency. Regardless, both of these shows are uniquely crafted, wonderfully acted and perfectly paced if you like that sort of thing. Silicon Valley follows the rise, fall and VC flogging of a start-up data Compression Company located in Sun River, Oregon. Just kidding, the company, Pied Piper, is located in Silicon Valley…pay attention! Veep, on the other hand, is about a female Vice President and her staff of politically gifted, but morally challenged, gutter-mouthed nitwits. Serena Meyer maneuvers Capitol Hill as the Assistant President (VEEP) for three seasons before ascending to the position of POTUS, President of the United States in Season Four. The brilliance of both shows is in the writing—something I can relate to, obviously. The rapid-fire in both SiliconValley and Veep sparkles with topical references, industry accuracy, jaw-dropping insults, putdowns and trash-talking. If only I could employ that type of banter in my work place. I hope the writers of these two shows can keep it up because, take it from someone who knows, it’s difficult to be brilliant for an extended period of time.

Book Club

I don’t belong to a book club, but I’m open to an invitation. If I did belong to one, my first recommendation would be The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom. You might recognize the author’s name from his previous works, which include Tuesday’s with Morrie, The Five People You Meet in Heaven and For One More Day. While technically I can label myself a writer, I’m not a Mitch Albom type of writer. He’s in a completely different league than yours truly. Using baseball vernacular, Mitch is first ballot Hall of Famer, 300-game winner and I’m a single A utility infielder that makes a lot of errors. The above-referenced book chronicles the life of a guitar virtuoso from birth to death with Forrest Gump type run-ins with actual musicians such as Duke Ellington, Elvis, Hank Williams, Burt Bacharach, Lyle Lovett and Paul Stanley of Kiss. It includes a love story, a reunited family story and a music history story. From cover to cover, it’s a wonderful compelling read. The type of writing a hack magazine scribe can only dream about penning. One day.

Dub Nation

I’ve been a Golden State Warriors fan since the early 70’s and the addition of Kevin Durant to an already great team, still hasn’t sunk in. I saw my first game in 1975, the fall after they won their first NBA Championship and to be honest, I truly never thought I would see the team win another one. The 2014/15 season was a dream come true and the conclusion of the 2015/16 season was a nightmare. Now, with Durant, they might not lose a game next season. If you thought 73 wins was impressive, just wait until they whip off 82 and then sweep the playoffs 16-0. Just kidding, the Dub’s might lose one game, if they rest the starters. However, they might also run off 5-6 titles in a row. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Rubba Dub Dub, 4 All-Stars in a tub.

I do like these compilation pieces, although a few of you “haters” might see them as pieces of dog excrement. I like dogs so I can give anything a positive spin. Hopefully next month, I’ll regain my mojo and come up with an entire article on just one topic. Either that or I’ll formally retire from my 10-hour a month volunteer writing job and travel the world. Just kidding, I can’t afford to travel the world. Who do I look like, Mark Zuckerberg? If you did like this article, please “Like it” on my Facebook page and maybe MZ will hire me to be Vice President of Humor Lifestyle at FB or the official FB Humor Lifestyle blogger. The stock options alone would cure my writer’s block.

And Then I Wrote…

This month my lovely bride and I will celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary by taking a ten day cruise to Alaska.  When the travel agent asked what we looked forward to the most, we both replied, “Being pampered.”  Both of us have had some physical problems this year, so we simply want to rest and have our needs taken care of. This will be our twenty-eighth cruise.

Cruise ship in Glacier BayPeople travel, of course, for a variety of reasons: relaxation, sightseeing, aiding those in need, seeing other cultures, and simply for bragging rights at cocktail parties.  Remember the couple who return from a trip to Europe and tell about having dinner with the King and Queen of Sweden. When asked how it was, the wife replied, “He was nice, but she was a bit haughty.”  On their next trip they insisted that they had dinner with the Prime Minister of Great Britain and his wife. The answer again, “He was nice, but she was a bit haughty.” She lost all credibility after visiting the Pope in the Vatican.

My wife Shirley and I are people watchers, as well as sightseers. We’ve met some delightful folks over the years, and, yes, we have met a few whom we would not describe as delightful. We have been on tours that we adored, just as we adored some of our “on our own” explorations.  We both enjoy cruising and those gigantic ships are really quite inexpensive resorts: lodging, food, entertainment, transportation, shore tours, shopping (for Shirley), recreation, and classes all for $100-500/day per person depending on the accommodations, the cruise line, and destination.

Vacations, touring, and cruising, however, are even more fun when they are almost free, free, or even include getting paid. I personally have been fortunate enough to have had eleven such experiences, nine with “the Boss.”

After teaching for two years, I decided it was time to try my hand at professional theater, specifically, acting. I tried it for several months to no avail and decided that I did not want to continue that lifestyle in order to become an “overnight sensation” after twenty-five years. I, therefore, enrolled at U. C. L. A. in order to pursue an M. A. in theater. The classes I took were marvelous, but I did not like the regimentation of the performing area. I acted in two plays and, without realizing it, happened to be in residence at the university at the proper time to be eligible to tour the Orient with a show from the school sponsored by the U. S. O. and the Department of Defense.

We performed at bases in Southern California, then flew in military cargo planes to Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Wake Island, Guam, and Hawaii. We averaged one or two shows a day for about six weeks; flew around 45,000 miles; and we were paid the magnificent sum of $7.00 per day from which we had to pay for our rooms and meals. Most places did not charge us, so I came home with a camera, a tape recorder, and a few—very few—dollars in my pocket.  I also came home with incomparable memories, pictures, and stories with which I have bored family and friends for over half a century.

After I abandoned the career that never was, I returned to teaching high school in the Southland. Four rather successful years later, I read about a organization which had campuses all over western Europe. They taught classes in language and culture and toured in the countries where the language was spoken.  Teachers who recruited eight or more high school students could accompany the students as “chaperones” and receive the trip free. I tried, unsuccessfully, to recruit students for a Spanish program. (Why Spanish?  I have no idea.)  When that failed, I recruited four students for one of the French programs and four other kids from the area who had signed up on their own were assigned to me, giving me my eight and the free trip.

After a few days in Paris we went by coach to the mountains in southern France at Villard-des-Lans where we were housed in a school for French students with respiratory problems during the regular school year.  High in the Alps, the views and clean air (we were from the L. A. area) delighted us.  Because I had rather extensive residence camping experience, I was named assistant principal and received a small stipend. The money, however, paled beside the adventure.

The following year the organization offered me a position as principal, but I did something else. What was it? Oh, yes, we got married. The year after that, however, I went back as a principal, accompanied by my new bride. We spent three weeks in Melun, a suburb of Paris, then another three weeks on the French side of Lake Geneva at Evian-les-Bains, where the girls’ dormitory was a renovated 12th Century castle.  Talk about wonderful experiences—and I got paid nicely. Small children prevented a return for other summers.

About a decade later, while at Purdue University, I taught a full semester, four credit hour course in American Musical Theater. After my retirement in 2000, I adapted the course for Elderhostels (now called “RoadScholars”) and for the Diablo Valley College Emeritus program. In April of 2004, while reading the Travel Section of the San Francisco Chronicle, I found a story detailing lecturing on cruise ships, listing two agencies that contracted lecturers. I sent resumes to each of them. About three weeks later I received a phone call asking if I could do the musical theater program on an Alaskan cruise out of Vancouver, Canada. A quick check of our calendars (four seconds flat) prompted a loud, definite, joyful “yes” answer, beginning a four year love affair with virtually free cruising.

Of course, I had to adapt what had originally been a full semester course, later four to eight hours, in order to accommodate cruise schedules that varied from two to five hours. I never knew what my schedule or hours would be until we were on the ship itself. The number of people attending the lectures ranged from twelve to 200, and we  met some fascinating people, including the mayor of one of the largest cities in the U. S. and a retired sports editor of the New York Times.

In the four year period from 2004-08 Shirley and I enjoyed eight cruises: two to Alaska, two to the Mexican Riviera, two back-to-back in Hawaii, one from Florida to San Diego through the Panama Canal, and one from New York City to the Caribbean. We had to pay the agencies $25 or $30 per day per person, but, with one exception, we had ocean view cabins with everything available to us that any other passenger enjoyed.  Actually there was one and only one restriction: we had to agree, in writing and notarized, that we would not play Bingo, which is not much of sacrifice to people who do not play the game.  Why no Bingo?  I never did get a definitive answer to that question.

When the recession of 2008 hit, however, the cruise lines stopped contracting lecturers in the arts, and we had to pay full price (ugh!) for any subsequent cruises, including the one this month.  Additionally, the cruise lines insisted that lectures all be on Power Point, which I find boring and too regimented.  One other factor dictated that it was time to “pack it in”:  I turned 78 in early 2009.

When we cruise now, we have to balance the budget, the calendar, and our aging bodies. But, it was sure fun while it lasted.

Anchors Aweigh!







Mallet Instruments

Some of the most unique and varied sounds of a percussion section in bands and orchestras come from the melodic mallet instruments. These instruments add exciting sounds and rhythms to the ensemble. They include the popular Xylophone, Marimba, Vibraphone and Glockenspiel. I would venture to say that not too many people know the difference between these instruments.

If you think all musicians in bands and orchestras just sit quietly and play their instruments, watch the percussion section in the back of the band or orchestra. There you will find a beehive of activity. Here are the movers, beaters and shakers of the ensemble. A percussionist must be versatile with the ability to play many percussion instruments: Mallet instruments; Snare Drum; Bass Drum; Timpani; Cymbals and more, while being able to move quickly.

wooden xylophoneAudience members frequently comment that it is so much fun to watch the percussion players as they are very animated and move around so much. They must be careful not to get in each other’s way while quickly moving to other instruments.

“My favorite instruments are the mallets,” said Christine Calara, the very talented principal mallet player in the Danville Community Band.  “I enjoy playing these instruments because they are unique and also for their soloistic nature.” Calara started out playing piano and this experience transferred well to the mallet instruments, as the two rows on mallet instruments resemble the white and black keys on the piano.

Mallet Instruments

The Xylophone is a percussion instrument consisting of two rows of graduated, tuned bars of hardwood, usually rosewood, that are struck with a stick or mallet that may be either hard or soft. Early instruments were known in Southeast Asia in the 14th Century. They are also used in many non-western cultures, particularly in Africa. They have also attained a high degree of perfection in Javanese orchestras.

Xylophones have a range of three and one half octaves with a tone quality that is dry and wooden without lasting resonance. In the 1830s the instrument became better known and was admitted into Musica Regularis; accepted by symphony orchestras as well as rhythm bands.

The Marimba is a xylophone-like mallet instrument from Africa, primarily the Congo, and also Central and South America. It was introduced to America in the early 16th Century through the slave trade.

It has a number of wooden bars, also usually rosewood, of different sizes and thickness. Located under the bars are tuned, tubular, metal resonators encompassing up to six or seven octaves in larger instruments. The most common instrument is probably four and one half octaves. It is not unusual for the larger Marimbas to be played by several musicians at the same time.  It has a warm and mellow tone and is played with rubber or felt-headed mallets. The instrument is considered the national instrument of Guatemala and is very popular in Central America.

The Vibraphone is a percussion instrument originating in the United States around 1920. It is similar to the Marimba but has tuned and graduated metal bars arranged in two rows, again, like a piano keyboard. It is played with padded beaters. It is fitted with electrically driven rotating propellers suspended below the bars causing a vibrato sound—hence the name Vibraphone. A sustaining or damper pedal is part of the instrument. These instruments are usually built with a three octave range although some are larger. The Vibraphone is used frequently in jazz music.

The Glockenspiel is a percussion instrument made up of tuned metal bars, rectangular in shape and arranged in two rows like a piano keyboard. It is played with mallets and has a range of two and one half octaves. This instrument has been used in orchestras since the 18th Century and is of Asiatic origin. They are sometimes known as Orchestra Bells.

A Bell Lyre is a portable Glockenspiel in Lyre form, designed to be used in marching bands.  It is held in front of the player and struck with a small metal beater.

Mallet Musicians

Some noted mallet players have become well-known for their musicianship and fame. Lionel Hampton is one of the most famous musicians in the modern era. Hampton, (1908-2002) was an American jazz vibraphonist, percussionist and band leader. His early fame began when he was invited to play with Benny Goodman in his trio that then became a quartet. He also played with Louis Armstrong and Buddy Rich. In 1940 he left the Goodman group to form his own band.

Arthur Lyman (1932-2002) was born in Hawaii and played Vibraphone and Marimba. He excelled in Faux-Polynesian music that became known as “Exotica.”  During the 1950s and 60s Lyman was known as the “King of Lounge Music.”

Martin Denny, (1911-2005) a pianist, composer and band leader often used mallet instruments in his music and hired Lyman to play in his combo in 1954.  The two men became closely associated in the music world.

The addition of mallet instruments bring exciting sounds and offer different rhythms, melodies and a great range of tones that add to the overall appeal of the music. Not only are the mallet instruments a great addition to the music but they are fun and exciting to play.

Please submit your questions and comments to  Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the  Danville Community Band.







Assistance League Scholarships

In the fall, these determined visionaries will attend such institutions of higher learning as Diablo Valley College, U.C. Davis and Princeton.

Congratulations, Scholarship recipients of 2016!  Kneeling (L to R) Sharofidden Abdugapparov, Scholarships Co-Chair Cindi Segale, Christopher Yi, Jomari Fernandez, Barune Thapa, Scholarships Co-Chair Lesley Salo; middle row (L to R) Erica Wagoner, Justine Rawlings, Antonio Chavez-Islas, Carl Damon Wiley, Alejandro Hernandez, Opal Franklin, Marina Edwards, Angelica Singh;  standing (L to R) Terra de Haan,  Jules Mc Clary, Jenna Weathers, Ahmadullah Hasani, Lillian Hunter-Reay, Tajh Elliott, Julie Ho, Vanessa Cortez-Avila, Dannesha Lewis, Bob Zhou, Liliana Calderon, Ines Torres and Brittany Chauvin.Alive media magazine august 2016 Assistance League of Diablo Valley Awards $146000 in Scholarships

Since 1999, Assistance League® of Diablo Valley’s Scholarships program has provided financial and emotional support to high school, community college, and university students who express a desire to advance through educationby maintaining a designated grade point average, volunteering in campus and community projects, and charting an academic time line.

While the aforementioned requirements document both academic and community achievements, the interview phase gives the Scholarships Committee members invaluable insights as to how these aspiring nurses, police officers, physicians and computer scientists have overcome substantive challenges. One young man in Pittsburg who found himself without transportation to the interview rode his bicycle to Walnut Creek. Another candidate related how he longed for the day when he could tell his widowed mother that she did not have to worry about his college expenses.

As in previous years, the desire to excel prevailed.

High School awardees include Liliana Calderon, San Raphel High School; Sharofiddin Abdugapparov and Julie Ho, Pinole Valley High School; Alejandro Hernandez, Middle College High School, San Pablo; Christopher Yi, Aspire Richmond Academy; Jomari Fernandez, Pittsburg High School; Juels Mc Clary, Deer Valley High School, Antioch; Tajh Elliott, Freedom High School, Oakley; Carl Damon Wiley, Jr., De La Salle High School, Concord; Matthew Cawley, Brittany Chauvin, College Park High School, Concord; Lillian Hunter-Reay, Miramonte High School, Orinda; and Tiffany Bui, Sierra High School, Manteca.

Community College recipients include Ysidra Camarena, Antonio Chavez-Islas, Vanessa Cortez-Avila, Ahmadullah Hasani, Charrell Sherman, Ines Torres and Rubie Villela, Los Medanos College, Pittsburg; Valeria Avila, Opal Franklin, Contra Costa College, San Pablo; MaryAnn Ching, Marina Edwards, Dannesha Lewis, Erica Wagoner and Bob Zhou, Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill.

Additionally, three relatively recent categories, titled Spotlight, Sandi Lou Back-to-School and the Norma Dresser Field of Dreams Scholarshipsare funded by private donors who have determined the criteria for eligibility. Recipients must maintain a 2.8 grade point average and carry a minimum of 12 units during the entire time they receive funding.

The Spotlight Scholarship, which is renewable each year, is awarded to students who show particularly strong focus on their educational goals that lead to a career path in their chosen field.   Recipients are Natalie Hill, UC Davis; Kayla Lopez, JFK University; Justine Rawlings and Jenna Weathers, Cal State University East Bay; Alison Spencer, UC Berkeley, Eric Wagoner, Jr., Los Medanos College; Sophie Zhang, Princeton University. More specifically, the Spotlight On You Scholarship addresses vocational and technology education; this year’s recipient is Terra de Haan, Los Medanos Community College.

The Sandi Lou Back-to-School Scholarship award supports astudent who has returned to school after a lengthy absence.   William Hays, currently a student at Diablo Valley College, will attend UC Davis where he will major in Computer Science.

The Norma Dresser Field of Dreams Scholarship celebrates a chapter member who spent her last years dealing with deteriorating vision.  This scholarship benefits students with visual impairment as they work toward their educational goals. The recipients for 2016 are Atheana Savage-Anderson, Horizons High School, Concord and Angelica Singh, Diablo Valley College.

A fourth privately funded scholarship is the multi-year Mardis Preciado Memorial Scholarship.  The recipient must be a student who has received a one-year scholarship from Assistance League of Diablo Valley last May and has achieved a 2.8 grade point average in his or her first year in college.  The money will be disbursed in equal payments over the remaining six semesters of undergraduate work as long as the student maintains 12 units and a 2.8 grade point average.  The 2015-16 recipient is BaruneThapa, a student at University of California, Berkeley, whose major is Public Health/Molecular Cell Biology.

Congratulations to all!  Scholarships committee members look forward to hearing from them in the ensuing years.  To learn about all of Assistance League of Diablo Valley’s philanthropic programs, please visit this website: