Scott Cawelti Photo
  • Photo Essay on the Cedar Valley Acoustic Valley Association--CVAGA

    • Posted on Oct 20, 2015
    October 20, 2015 

    Here's a blog version of a photo essay on the Cedar Valley Acoustic Guitar Association. 

    In September and October, I visited two CVAGA Song Swaps, two open mics at Jameson's, Bob Long's guitar shop, Raldo Schneider's Wednesday night rehearsal, and interviewed both Rick Vanderwall and Rick Price.  The founding Ricks, as I call them.  

    THANKS to all for permission to photograph,  and I do hope the twenty photographs I chose here does them justice.  I took dozens more, but I thought these were the best. 

    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.   

    I also hope to publish this work soon as a  "real" book, along with extended text for each of the photos, again thanks to Brenda Scott's advice and counsel.   

    Do let me know what you think; this is a work in progress.  


                           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, 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.   Price also serves as the group's treasurer.  

    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 mostly as volunteers, though several do get paid a nominal fee.   

    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.  

    The amateur 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.  The semi-pros among them have become far more known and appreciated because of their regular appearances at CVAGA events.  

    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 
    1. Bob Long in Shop 1
    2. Bob Long in Shop 2
    3. Jovita Long with Checker and the Blue Tones 
    4. Rick Vanderwall with admirer at Artapalooza
    5. Rick Vanderwall with Mayor Crews at Artapalooza
    6. Rick Price at Song Swap, 9-3   [note: this pic is now at the end of this series]
    7. Karla Ruth and Deb Niermann at Song Swap 
    8. Uncle Chuck, Perry Miller, and Jay at Artapalooza 
    9. Uncle Chuck at Artapalooza 
    10. Mike Morris at Jameson’s 
    11. Raldo and Friends Rehearsing 
    12. Raldo and friends from Outside 
    13. Brothers Gors at Jameson’s 
    14. George, Jim, and Paul at Jameson’s 
    15. Phil Watson at Song Swap, 9-3
    16. Barb Waters at Song Swap. 10-1
    17. Kim Nicholson at Song Swap, 10-1  
    18. Marty Drilling at Song Swap, 9-3
    19. Song Swap 10-1
    20. Eli Smith at Song Swap, 9-3

    Posted in
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • The Unexamined Life Can Kill--The Danger of Meaninglessness

    • Posted on Oct 11, 2015
    Here's this morning's WCF Courier column.  Why seeking and finding meaning makes all the difference--and that would be positive meaning.  

    In my decades of teaching at UNI, a year seldom went by that I didn’t notice at least one young, white male who fit the profile of a mass shooter.  Right in my class.   

     Sullen, usually slouched, no smiles, never contributing to discussions.  Often these sad students dropped the class, or may as well have.  

     Such lonely souls worried me, even when they didn’t disappear.  They just seemed to give up, and came to class in body only. If they finished, they were undistinguished and unknown.    
    When they have access to guns, they’re potential shooters.  And most have access to guns.   

    Gun control?  With millions of weapons already out there, that seems like a dead end.   Still, we need at least as much control for gun ownership as for car ownership.  Well regulated, as the second amendment says.     

     Beyond that, the only hope I see is spiritual. 

     I don’t mean imposing a set of religious beliefs.  That would be as unconstitutional as confiscating guns. 

     These lost students and dropouts suffer from feeling that their lives are essentially hollow, meaningless exercises in futility. No wonder suicides are common.   

     We now live in a toxic cultural stew: Competition, individualism, violent media depictions that center on gunplay, and no values beyond protecting lonely and fragile egos. 

     Last year I co-taught a course where we discussed several films and books about moral choices.   Many of the characters we studied suffered from the soul-sickness that leads to depression and potentially suicide.   

     Class discussions focused on the differences among characters who survived, prospered, and eventually found meanings that gave them life and hope.   Other characters became depressed and descended into despair and suicide.   

    Three contrasting examples: Neil Perry in the film Dead Poet’s Society, Edna Pointellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and Viktor Frankl in his nonfiction holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. They all reveal the same powerful lesson:  Meaninglessness can be fatal.    

     Neil Perry committed suicide, not because he had not found meaning, but because he was prevented from realizing it by his authoritarian father.  
    At the point where Neil would have chosen to find a fulfilling career, his father insisted on forcing him into a career about which he cared nothing.  In a fit of depression about the meaninglessness of his future life, Neil commits suicide.  

     Edna Pointellier discovers that her marriage is a sham and unsalvageable.    She tries an affair, then distracts herself with various hobbies, but found nothing she cared about. For her, suicide seems a better alternative than a living a meaningless life. 

     Viktor Frankl, in contrast, writes about a genuine solution.  Frankl survived horrific traumas as a prisoner in Auschwitz, where he developed his ideas about creating and living a meaningful life.  Man’s Search for Meaning deserves serious attention as an antidote to meaninglessness. 

     At the risk of oversimplifying, Frankl believes that every moment involves choices, and consciously using that moment to make positive choices makes all the difference.  But you have to know it’s possible.   

     As Frankl puts it,  “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 

     I’m well aware that someone who feels rejected and lonely, who’s driven by obsessions and self-pity, who has access to guns, probably won’t suddenly find a meaningful better life.  It has to happen early, and often.   

     I’m talking about a widespread and constant conversation about finding positive larger meanings beyond the self.  Religions offer one way, as does spiritual seeking, commitments to causes, vocations, and powerful relationships with genuine intimacy and love. 

     Without any sense of meaning, people become dangerous to themselves and others.  

     The unexamined life can kill.  

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Death
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
Contact Scott Header
Contact Scott Photo
Brothers Blood Book
James Hearst
Landscape Iowa CD