music, technology & life in pasadena, california

Lurking in Long Beach

Musicians have always taken knocks for their oft-undeserved reputations as slackers and druggies, but now, thanks to the city of Long Beach and the Federal government, you can add terrorist to the list. The Long Beach Municipal Band which holds forth nightly during the summer months has been entertaining LB citizens for an astounding 99 years, a throwback to a time when municipal and regional bands playing in band shells was the core entertainment of urban life.

Some of the best musicians in LA and the South Bay play or have played in the band and it provides steady employment during the summer doldrums. A relatively recent requirement (as far as I know) for employment is the fingerprinting of each member. The Feds run a scan of the prints with results returned to the city. A recent scan of a band member turned up fingerprints that were a close match to a known terrorist. What happened next is not exactly clear but the player was asked not to return to work.

Now, obvious to everyone involved, this band member is not a terrorist. Fingerprints are unique; “close” isn’t something that should be a deciding factor. I was told that by the time an investigation could be completed, the summer season of the band would be over and until a report was made, the city couldn’t employ someone who was a suspected terrorist or didn’t have an “all clear” on their prints scan.

It’s hard to believe that the FBI can’t confirm a person’s true identity within twenty-four hours and allow that person to return to productive and much-needed work. In our strangely Orwellian post-9/11 society, we often hear accounts like this, but until it hits this close to home, its ridiculously sad consequences fail to impress.

August 30, 2008 | Link to this entry

Heroes and Differences

As the world tried to set aside its political differences for a few short weeks, athletes met in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, an event that has always promoted goodwill and brotherhood among nations. I don’t know if the Olympics really do anything substantial towards that ideal, but it’s never a bad idea for people of diverse backgrounds to communicate with each other and celebrate those differences as well as the talents that bring them together. Athletes, artists and musicians are alike in that it’s their devotion to talent, art, passion and craft that matters, not where they’re from or what the political bent of their home country is. Music, sports and art transcend mere boundaries, both physical and of the mind.

Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, an unprecedented feat surpassing Mark Spitz’s amazing accomplishments more than 30 years ago. I listened to NPR last weekend as they interviewed young swimmers, some as young as seven years old, who were inspired by Phelps and wanted to emulate him. The Olympics always inspires accomplishment in young people as they see for themselves what can be done with dedication and hard work. That’s part of the magical allure of the Games for us all. With very few exceptions, the Olympics are “cleaner” than the everyday sports that bombard us on television, with faces that are fresher and less jaded than overpaid jocks who couldn’t care less about what their actions on and off the playing field mean to thousands of young fans who watch their every move.

Marring this year’s Olympic spirit, was the very real overshadowing of events in Eastern Europe, namely in Georgia. As Russian tanks and troops overrun the country in a strange visual replay of Prague in 1968, the world waits and wonders what the outcome will be. Georgia had been making overtures to joining NATO and that is probably the underlying major reason for Russia’s move, but the world’s remaining superpower is in a poor position to do anything about it. George Bush has long cashed in his chips to voice an opinion of another country’s invasion. His calls to Russia to heed the United Nations decrees would ring false as well if they weren’t so sadly comical.

Over the weekend, presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain proposed a League of Democracies that would join to protect democracies and republics throughout the world whenever aggression threatened. Does this make sense? Do we really need yet another organization to issue statements in defense of beleaguered countries that amount to so much lip service? The free countries of the world will surely issue those statements as they confer with each other through the usual back channels and in the press. The United Nations is a much better place in which to air out and argue actions and consequences, simply because there are more differences there; a reached consensus of differing minds is surely more powerful and lasting than one that is unilaterally based and confers legitimacy on the final decision. The President’s father, George H. W. Bush knew this. President George W. Bush wishes he had heeded this. And Vladimir Putin has yet to learn this.

August 24, 2008 | Link to this entry

Birds & Bugs

Readers of this blog may recall the following short entry I made here last year:

For the first time in 23 years, as I was sitting onstage at the Hollywood Bowl getting ready to play my quasi-60s-surf-rock solo on Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk, a bird pooped on my hand…

Well, last week I learned that in order to combat the bird problem that has plagued the Bowl since installation of the new band shell, a recording of hawks and other raptors is played at high volume levels throughout the day. The recording isn’t a simple loop, either. It’s an extended soundtrack lasting several hours. I’m sure that somewhere a study’s been done regarding its effectiveness.

Timpanist Wade Culbreath was changing drumheads Friday afternoon when he was assaulted by the cacophony overhead. I told him that Paul Horn had some success with his CDs featuring wolves and whale cries and maybe, just maybe, this was the genesis of a new project for him.

Later, during the evening concert, harpist Mindy Ball noticed a commotion in the violin section directly in front of her. When she gazed in the direction of the string players’ attention, she spied a 4-inch cockroach scurrying along the floor headed straight for her. As it crawled closer and scampered over the leg of her music stand, she steeled her nerves, waited for an appropriate spot in the music, raised her leg and squashed the offending creature in one blow.

Appropriately, the theme of the concert was A Night in Old Havana, so the foot-stomping was in order. There is no end to the professionalism of the people I work with…

August 22, 2008 | Link to this entry


Paul Viapiano is a guitarist working in film, television and live performance based in sunny Pasadena, California.

You can email me here.

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