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  • REVISED AND UPDATED: Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association Photo Essay

    • Posted on Oct 30, 2015
    October 30, 2015 

    Here's a revised version of my photo essay on the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association that I published here on October 20.  This version includes captions for many of the photos, and the essay portion has been revised as well.  

    Again, thanks to all the guitarists for permission to photograph them and
    thanks especially to BRENDA SCOTT, instructor for "The Photo Essay" course at the Bryan Peterson School of Photography for her very helpful comments and suggestions on each of the photos, and for developing the idea of the photo essay.  It's the perfect genre for writers who also love photography.   

    Playing Real Good For Free

    Why does anyone perform solo for free, as a vocalist or instrumentalist?  It’s stressful, time consuming, and of course doesn’t pay bills.   

    For those who play for free—as street musicians, open mic performers, non-paying charity background musicians, and house concert entertainers—making music inevitably becomes its own reward.  They keep their day jobs, but at least a few of them are in the world as amateur performers.   

    Amateurs play because they love making music, both for audiences and by themselves.  It gets them into a flow they can’t easily find doing anything else.  In contrast, being a professional means a whole different set of pressures and deadlines that interfere with just making music their own way, on their own time.  Besides, professional freelance musicians struggle to make a living from music.  Most of them are better off monetarily with a steady day job of almost any kind. 

    Most cities and towns support several amateur musical ensembles--choral groups, municipal bands, senior musicians, and any number of smaller ensembles who play regularly, and who rehearse often enough to make it part of a weekly schedule. They take pleasure in ensemble playing and play real good for free, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.    

    In Cedar Falls Iowa, a lively group of amateur acoustic guitarists has been meeting monthly for “Song Swap” gatherings since late 1999, where anyone who shows up with a guitar can perform one song for an appreciative roomful of fellow players. Unlike the ensembles, they’re mostly solo musicians, happy to perform alone or occasionally in a small group with funky names like “The Enablers,”  “Uncle Chuck and his Imaginary Band,” “Three Blind Mice,” and my favorite, “Old and In the Way.”      

    It’s called the “Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association,” or CVAGA, (pronounced “SeeVAYgah” and it was started by two amateur but accomplished guitarists, Rick Vanderwall and Rick Price.  They had grown tired of playing by themselves, and found that their playing and enjoyment improved markedly when they joined a group of listeners who were also players.   A small group at first, together they decided:  
    • no dues
    • no membership rules; whoever shows up is a member,  for that night anyway
    • a board, which meets twice a year 

    Vanderwall and Price did develop a written constitution, for tax purposes, which specifies what happens to money they collect from contributions and fundraising concerts.   

    CVAGA does hold one piece of property in common:  a complete and relatively sophisticated sound system, which is available for qualified members to “check out” and use, as long as they take care of it and return it to the organization’s rented storage facility.   

    Over the years the group has grown to 70-plus members, and members are often called upon to perform for a variety of events as volunteers. 

    Some members perform at least weekly for open mics, and their playing inevitably captures genuine passion and commitment.  Many of them play their own songs with a few covers thrown in, and others perform mostly songs from singers and players they admire and seek to emulate.  

    Players receive a boost in confidence from CVAGA Song Swaps, and certainly from the regular opportunities for performing that grow from the friendships they form with fellow guitarists.  

    Clearly, CVAGA has become a vital part of the musical scene in Northeast Iowa.  Listeners and fans agree:  They play real good for free.   

    Taken in September and October, 2015 
    Camera: Sony a77ii
    Lenses: Sony 16/50mm, Tamron 16/300mm
    Finished with Lightroom 5, Photoshop CC  

    Bob Long in Shop 1  

    Bob Long in Shop 2
    Bob Long makes extraordinary custom acoustic guitars in his workshop in Waterloo, Iowa.  He has built over 70 guitars in his workshop. He estimates that forty to fifty CVAGA members play various versions of “Long Guitars” ranging from acoustic cutaways to jazz/classical to dreadnought and auditorium models.  He’s also a guitarist, and he and his wife Jovita were popular performers for several years in the Cedar Valley.  

    Jovita Long with Checker and the Blue Tones 
    Married for 36 years to Bob Long, Jovita sings blues, rock, jazz, and fusion vocals with equal aplomb, and often performs with a beloved local blues band, “Checker and the Bluetones.” 

    Rick Vanderwall with admirer at Artapalooza

    Rick Vanderwall with Cedar Falls Mayor Jon Crews at Artapalooza
    Rick Vanderwall co-founded the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association, and has been one of its guiding lights from the beginning.  He often emcees performances, and serves as the organizer and all-purpose guitar enthusiast for the group.  He performs regularly as a one-man show and occasionally with “Three Blind Mice.”  

    Rick Price at Song Swap, 9-3
    The other CVAGA co-founder, Rick Price, has been improvising finger-style 12-string acoustic guitar instrumentals since 1975, and regularly performs at a variety of venues and events.  

    Karla Ruth and Deb Niermann at Song Swap 
    Karla and Deb have sung together as a duo for ten years. They perform Karla’s songs for large and appreciative audiences.  Karla has made three CDs, and continues writing and performing to the delight of her fans.  

    Uncle Chuck, Perry Miller, and Jay Robertson at Artapalooza 
    Perry Miller and Jay Robertson perform often at Jameson’s for open mic, and Jay also performs regularly with a variety of other musicians, being a superb lead guitarist on both acoustic and electric instruments. Perry hosts Open Mic nights at Jameson’s and performs with a variety of groups as well.  

    Uncle Chuck at Artapalooza 
     Raconteur, singer, songwriter of very funny and much-requested songs, (“Sail Cat,” “I Like You Just the Way You Are,” “Already There,” are among well-known songs) Uncle Chuck delights audiences wherever he performs, which is often. He has made several CDs of his original songs.  

    Mike Morris at Jameson’s 

    Raldo and Friends Rehearsing 
    Raldo and friends from Outside 
    Raldo Schneider, another popular and well-known singer-songwriter has been performing around the Midwest at a variety of functions for thirty years. He has created one LP, three cassettes, and six cds of his songs.   

    Brothers Gors at Jameson’s 

    George, Jim, and Paul at Jameson’s 

    Phil Watson at Song Swap, 9-3
    Phil Watson is half of the “Phil and Travis” duo, who perform regularly in the Cedar Valley, with Phil playing lead and Travis playing rhythm guitar.  

    Barb Waters at Song Swap. 10-1

    Kim Nicholson at Song Swap, 10-1  

    Marty Drilling at Song Swap, 9-3

    Song Swap 10-1
    The “Song Swap” meet has become an enduring tradition for CVAGA members. They meet the first Thursday of every month, and every attendee performs one song.  The skill levels range from beginners to semi-professionals.  They perform acoustically for just each other, with no sound system, no electric instruments.  All manner of songs are encouraged—both covers and originals, old and new.   It’s a friendly and appreciative group that offers an encouraging monthly performing venue.   

    Eli Smith at Song Swap, 9-3
    Eli is among the younger members of CVAGA. His father Corey brings him, and members know that players like Eli are the future of CVAGA.   If Eli becomes a passionate devotee of the guitar, some of the credit surely goes to CVAGA.  

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  • Behaving Like Children

    • Posted on Oct 25, 2015
    Here's this morning's (10-25) Courier column.  The GOP, sorry to say, has devolved into a playground fight among adults behaving like children.  The comparisons between grownup leaders in the GOP and pre-teens are obvious and discouraging.   

    Negative childhood memories often revolve around being told that you 
    “are” a bad person in some way.   “You’re a loser!” a father shouts at his mistake-prone son, and the kid slinks off, cut to the quick.   A nerd, a loser, an idiot, a pain—parents and siblings often toss those barbs at their children or brothers and sisters.  

     For no one “is” anything, good or bad, for long.   Yesterday’s loser is today’s winner.  Nerds become captains of industry.  We’re all becoming, not merely being.    

     Better and more accurate to say “Hey, you’re acting like a loser!”  Or  “Stop doing that, or you’ll become a pain!”   That’s a fixable situation.    

     One of the more demeaning labels you can pin on a grownup is “child.”  No adult  wants to be called a child or childish.   

     So I’m not going to hurl that particular insult at Republicans. I would never say some of them are children.  They’re merely behaving like children.  Not all, or even most, but many, and they're running for high office.     
    • Children fantasize about their own power and abilities.  Superheroes are children’s fantasies brought to life as a response to children’s essential powerlessness.  Candidate Trump offers the best example of a child fantasizing about swooping down to impose truth, justice, and the American Way on the world. He seems to have no grasp on how government actually works, and how little influence any one person can exert without serious and widespread cooperation, compromise, and support.   “I’m really rich!” he announces, as if that will change anything.  

    • Children make up stories to explain the world, not understanding how evidence and logic works. Candidate Ben Carson behaves like a master childlike fantasy-spinner. Darwin’s research into evolution was motivated by Satan, he asserts.  The Jews could have saved themselves if they had had guns. (Did he ever read any histories of the holocaust?)   Straight men come out of prison gay.  When someone starts shooting at you, rush them.  

    These amount to childish fantasies, directly contradicted by evidence unless heavily cherry-picked or driven by ideology. When children grow up, they look harder at evidence and draw conclusions that fit reality.

    From what I’m seeing, neither Trump nor Carson seem headed in that direction.

    • Children throw tantrums unless they get their way.  The “Freedom Caucus” in the House of Representative would have shut down the entire U.S. government over funding Planned Parenthood, an organization they despise.  Ted Cruz and his fellow GOP playmates actually did this on 2013 over Obamacare, and caused GOP leaders to openly scorn his half-baked scheme.  

    Children seem incapable of understanding the adult idea that compromise is not only helpful, it’s crucial.  

    • Finally, children often have to repeat their mistakes, over and over, before they actually learn anything.  The House GOP, with no chance of defeating Obamacare, nevertheless endlessly wasted time and resources voting on resolutions—fifty times.  Even when told by their own colleagues it was useless, they covered their ears and shouted Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, and went on their silly way.  

        Still don’t think the GOP behaves childishly?  Contrast the two Republican debates with the Democrats’ Oct. 13 debate.  News after both GOP debates focused on who insulted whom—name calling, insults, innuendo about physical features—the kind of talk that usually occurs on junior high playgrounds. 

    Chris Christie even pleaded with his fellow candidates to “stop this childish back and forth . . .” about whose career was most successful, referring specifically to Trump and Fiorina. “No one cares about your careers,” Christie scolded them, and rightly so.   

    As a Salon commentator wrote succinctly and accurately after the second GOP Debate,  “Adult children who dress up and give speeches as they role-play being President of the United States are competing in a real life Republican competition to be one of the most powerful people on Earth . . .”  

    They are adults, I’m convinced.  But their behavior reveals childishness.   
    Go comment!
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    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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