Friday, September 29, 2017

Reasons for playing

WE ARE IN the throes of school band instrument rental season. They are flocking to Fifth and Maine and we are expecting an onslaught of slightly bewildered parents and excited kids in the store today and tomorrow. Thanks to Boyd Music, we are stocked and ready.

Most children are told by the schools what instruments to pursue, but we hear all kinds of stories about why kids get into music. One parent told us his child simply woke up one morning and "wanted to play the drums," which led to piano, trumpet and other instruments.

A mom and her curious son came in yesterday to rent a trumpet. The kid says, "I want to try other instruments too." By that he meant he wanted to strum every guitar in the store, poke at the keyboard and ask about that big guitar with the thick strings. Curiosity might kill the cat (or maybe make him throw up all over the store, like our Fast Eddie) but curiosity sparks imagination and creativity in music.

A dad came in with a used clarinet the other day and asked us if it was good enough for his daughter. "I just want to get her into it," he said. It looked fine, but we told him to check with the teacher to make sure it was playable. He came back a few days later extremely grateful and happy that we gave him good advice and answered his questions. It's what we do. We are happy he's happy. "She's playing the clarinet!" the excited dad said.

Video games are expensive too!
I would never tell a parent what to say to a child, but when a mom looks at her kid and says, "You are getting really expensive," it kind of irks me. I understand the economics of renting an instrument and it isn't cheap. But you can spend just as much on video games, computers and DirecTV. In fact, you can spend a lot more. Getting your child away from the computer or cell phone isn't easy, and kudos to parents who realize an instrument is far more than something you lug to school every day.

Lastly, I had a guitar student come in yesterday. He was dragging and beat up after a long day at work. He is employed in the medical field and does very well for himself and his family, but you can tell he's challenged and doesn't always enjoy what he does for a living.

"This is the best part of my day," he said. "It's therapy and I really need it."

Sounds like the best reason of them all, and I know exactly how he feels!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hey! That's Emily Hart on the poster!

HAPPINESS IS LOOKING at a Quincy Symphony Orchestra poster and seeing your daughter's smiling face.

For weeks we've had it hanging in the store and I can't believe how many people say, "Hey! That's Emily Hart on the poster! How is she doing?" That's usually followed by a discussion on the blood DNA sample I had to provide to prove she's actually related, but I digress.

I am proud of Emily. She has worked very hard and has attained great success in a very short time as instructor of oboe at Western Illinois University. She is the Guest Artist at Sunday's Morrison Theater Awakenings Concert. If you have never heard the oboe, I encourage you to come and hear it with a great orchestra and music. It's a high and lonesome sound - it sort of drifts through the room, and it's very moving.

We are in the midst of school band rental season at Second String Music. It makes me think of how Emily got started, and how the music teachers influenced her. I remember vividly going to Lana Anderson's house near Berrian School on Eighth Street, then to Marianne Peters, and to Larry Finley for piano.

Lana and Marianne both play in the QSO and I'm sure they are bursting with pride when they see Emily and hear her play.

Emily also got tremendous instruction and opportunity at Quincy Public Schools, and I'm forever grateful for people like Kathy Dooley. Both the public and Catholic schools have massively successful music programs and have pushed countless students to great heights.

Yup. That's our Emily on the poster. She's all grown up, teaching and playing music for a living. Fortunately it's the opposite of her old man, who never grew up but actually does teach and play music for a living. What a strange world we live in!

We can't wait for Sunday afternoon and I hope you can join us for a great concert.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reactions to music - priceless

A GROUP OF parents with young autistic children visited the store this morning. The idea was for me to play a few instruments and introduce them to different noises and sounds, and how to play them.

As always, it's an awesome reminder of the power of music.

We started with a ukulele, and each child got to strum on one. We had the teacher play a flute and tell them about it. Then I showed them an acoustic guitar and electric guitar, a bass and a keyboard. This was the watch and learn part, and the children were very curious about all the strange noises.

Then came the fun part - kazoos! Each child was given a kazoo and taught how to hum into it. I wish you were here to see the reaction on each child's face as he or she started making noise. That's all it is, making noise - but it's magical, and the pure delight and awe on their faces told the story. Same goes for the parents!

We've got another group coming in this afternoon and we'll make more noise. Music is already a big part of the early childhood curriculum, and I hope it remains a constant and positive thing in their lives as they grow older.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

September sale

WE ARE HAVING a guitar sale at Second String Music. Why? Because we have a lot of great new guitars  in stock and we want you to save money.

This week only, all our new Jackson, Gretsch and Fender guitars are 15 percent off. That's a lot of dough and if you are thinking ahead for Christmas, this would be the time to save money and get a great guitar.

The Fenders are the famous Stratocaster Bullet and Affinity brands. We have a bunch of packs, which include the amp, chord, strap, picks and everything you need to get started. Steve Rees went through them all and said they are in ready to rock. We have the Fender Mini and Jackson Minions too for the small children.

Speaking of Steve, he'll be working every afternoon next week because school band rental season has kicked in big time. We rented a bunch of instruments Saturday and we are well ahead of last year's pace. Once again we are partnering with Boyd Music of Jacksonville, and they offer new or nearly-new band instruments at great prices. Plus you can't beat the service and we answer all your questions - renting an instrument can be intimidating, so we are here to help and make it easy.

Let's have a rock and roll week!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Meeting a star, and how to be a star

Holly and Chris, down on the farm in Mount Sterling. (Photo by Adam Duesterhaus)

SATURDAY NIGHT OUR jam band Pepper Spray played at a private party near Mount Sterling. The owner of the beautiful farm threw a bash for his niece and her fiance. What a blast! The people were great we had more fun than should be allowed in a gorgeous outdoor setting.

The owner called me a few weeks ago and asked me to do sound for the "opening act." It was an acoustic duo and they played about 300 yards from the farmhouse in a very intimate setting. I had no idea who the woman was, or her partner.

So I get there, set up the equipment, and I find out the "opening act" is Holly Williams and her husband, Chris Coleman. Holly is the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr., and granddaughter of Hank Sr. Chris played with the Kings of Leon for five years and is also well-known for his painting. Geesh! I felt like I was in way over my head.

They could not have been nicer, and their hour-long set was incredible. They were down to earth and super easy to work with, and they played their hearts out.

Here's the main thing I took away from the experience. We were talking about Nashville, where they live, and how there are thousands of incredible musicians trying to make it. Chris said, "It's not about how great of a player you are. It's about your style of playing and what sets you apart." Chris recently played percussion and recorded an album with Miranda Lambert, and he said it was recorded live in a rundown garage in Nashville. "It's about the feel," he said.

The other thing? These are regular people who like having a good time and meeting other regular people.

Man, what fun. It was an honor to meet and work with Holly and Chris, and after a raucous Pepper Spray gig too (and much fun with The Cheeseburgers at the Hannibal Country Club last night), I'm gonna need a day or five to recover!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Living Downtown

OUR GOOD FRIENDS Chris and Victoria Kelley have moved into a downtown loft and are throwing a party tonight. Sheryl and I are going early and I'm eager to see the new Kelley digs.

We get asked a lot about our building and if we have apartments. The answer is no. It's always been zoned commercial and it wouldn't be cheap to convert the space. Never say never, but for now we have no plans for residential use.

I think it would be cool to live downtown. You could walk everywhere and there are lots of decent restaurants and bars. Now a place at Seventh and Maine has opened called the Yum Factory and it's another nice addition to The District.

We have a great house in Calftown, and having three dogs makes it tough to live without a yard. We are a mile away from the store. So there's no need or desire to move downtown, but I think it's great there's a push for better housing in the downtown core area of Quincy.

The District is the place to be. We have our share of challenges but there's no other place for Second String Music, and for people who live down here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lotsa stuff, staying organized

WE ARE BURSTING at the seams with guitars and music stuff. Already we have people looking for the dreaded Christmas present, and right now the floor is full of great gear.

We think it's full, anyway. Yesterday a man came in and looked around and commented about how open and clean everything looked. It was a very nice compliment, and Sheryl has a sharp eye for display and how to make things look good.
What seams?

We have a room behind the counter full of stock and guitar boxes. The other day I went back there and took all the empty guitar boxes to the bank vault space, and Sheryl reorganized the stock. Now we can actually find stuff without looking too hard and it's a good feeling to be ready for a hopefully busy time.

Maybe it's in the water. On Sunday I went through a closet at the house and pulled out vintage Gus Macker shorts and shirts, old jeans and a bunch of other stuff. We also had a extra bag of sheets, blankets and pillows, so a trip to the Salvation Army helped us unclutter.

Unclutter? Yup. Unclutter. Not only is it a great name for a band, it's a great way to describe staying organized.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Getting the birthday present right

IT'S A GOOD thing the women in my life are easy when it comes time to buying presents. Sheryl is pretty simple, and Emily goes with the flow.

I can still screw it up. The track record doesn't lie. Fortunately the most recent birthday present was a success, and it's very true that the gift giving is better than receiving.

Emily turned 26 yesterday. What the .... TWENTY SIX? She got some pretty cool birthday presents over the years, and she still has her Barry Sanders No. 20 Detroit Lions jersey we gave her when she turned ... 7? Something like that.

Emily spent her birthday teaching in Macomb, then driving to Quincy for a Quincy Symphony Orchestra practice (she is the guest artist at the Oct. 1 concert, much more on that next week). We are planning on helping her with a major purchase next month, but I wanted to do at least a little something for her big day.

So, as usual, I ran down to the Sweet Apricot in the Maine Center and Sara saved me.We picked out two really cool candles - Emily likes candles. See? Easy Peazy! I met Emily at her QSO practice and gave her the present and she was too busy to look in the bag, but she was happy.

I got home from working at The Whig last night about 11. My phone beeped. It was a text from Emily - "These candles smell amazing! Good job Dad - 10 out of 10, you nailed it!"

Nah, Emily. You've been nailing it for 26 amazing years. Thanks for putting up with your dorky and crazy dad, and I'm glad you had a good birthday.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Interesting music store questions

WHEN YOU OWN a music store and there is a big sign on the front that says "Music Store," you get a lot of people coming in and asking questions. A lot of them say, "I know this is a dumb question, but ...."

There are no dumb questions. If you don't know, you don't know. If I go to buy a watch or a birthday present for my daughter (Happy Birthday today Emily Hart!), I'll be asking dumb questions, too. It's okay. Ask away and we'll try our best to answer.

Lately we've been getting some, well, really interesting questions. So here's a list. You can't make it up, even in a music store. Ah, the adventure of retail and owning your own business!

1. What are string winders for?
2. Do you have any left-handed pan flutes?
3. Can I pawn my typewriter here?
4. Is this a bank? (To be fair, it was a bank, and it still says "Bank" above the front door).
5. Can I have your cat? Is he dangerous?
6. Why doesn't this kazoo work?
7. Really? You have to plug it in and the light has to come on?
8. Can I just have this guitar? I'm broke this month but I promise to make payments when I get my check.
9. I'm looking for 501 Maine. Why is there no 501 Maine? (Look for 510 Maine, please.)
10. Do you have Zumba CDs?
11. I just bought this guitar online and it doesn't work. Does it cost anything to fix it?
12. Why can't I play Stairway To Heaven? Wayne's World? What is that?
13. Is Frank Haxel here EVERY Friday afternoon?
14. Can I charge my phone in here for a minute? Do you have a charger?
15. Why is there a dog bone in the middle of the floor? (Fair question, actually, if you haven't met Angus.)
16. Does Rodney really need all those guitars?
17. Don't you think it would be good exposure for your band?
18. Is there an instrument Steve Rees can't play?
19. Why aren't you organizing more free concerts in the park?
20. Wait a second .... you mean I can park all day just down the street for free?

See how it can be very entertaining to own a small business in a relatively small town? We enjoy every day and always find the humor in the many questions we may have to answer. Come down and ask us a stumper!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Major scales work

I WILL NEVER be a good lead guitar player. I can strum and keep rhythm. I'm going to keep trying. I might get there, some day.

Last week I filled in at the Club Tavern and Todd Boyer tore it up on lead guitar. Geesh ... you hear a guy like that and it makes you either want to quit or to get better. I ain't quitting. So ... I'll work on getting better. The guy I was filling in for (Matt Roberts) is a monster, too.

One of the things I stress in lessons is learning scales. It's more about ear training than anything else. It helps to navigate on the guitar and to learn where the notes are, and why they work.

I've been learning a ton of songs with the new app Sheryl got for me. It's been life-changing - I've known and loved these songs forever and now I can finally tackle them and it's so much fun.

My mother, God bless her soul, was a huge Cat Stevens fan. I think Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman are two of the greatest albums ever made. Yup. Albums. Records. Those black cylinder things that you put on a device called a "record player." The scratches and pops just made it sound warmer.

Anyway, I dialed up the classic "Wild World" and learned it. In the chorus it has little riff, right after "Oh baby baby it's a wild world .... duh duh duh duh duh duh duh dub .... " I heard it and I thought, I'm in trouble, I'll never be able to figure it out.

Wrong. It's a simple scale. It took all of 30 seconds to learn it. I'm stilll not very good at it - a little practice and timing and I might be able to pull it off.

I'll never be mistaken for a great guitar player. But I'm having fun and I'm learning every day I pick it up, and it just gets more and more interesting. A bunch of my students had fun with Wild World last week, too.

It is, indeed, a Wild World.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Yes, we do have lefties!

That looks... Wrong.
FOUR OR FIVE times a year we have somebody come into Second String Music and ask if we have any left-handed guitars. The answer is yes - we always have at least one left handed acoustic Ibanez and one left handed Ibanez Gio electric, both great guitars.

I wish we had more in stock, but they simply aren't in huge demand so we carry what we can and special order lefty's for our customers.

The other day a loyal customer ordered a gorgeous lefty Takamine acoustic, a GN-51, and it arrived today. We also hooked him up with a lefty Ibanez hollow body a few years ago, and he is over the moon with his guitars.

There is a raging debate about playing lefty versus righty. I'm fine either way, and I have a really good lefty student who bought an Ibanez acoustic from us. We've even restrung guitars upside down for left-handed players, though it's not generally recommended.

Most of our guitar brands offer left-handed guitars, and we're glad to order stuff - it only takes a few days, and you don't have to worry about warranty or shipping issues.

Left or right, it's still rock and roll to me!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Blog writing in bars

I TRY TO write a blog every day, or at least Monday through Thursday. Sometimes blogs write themselves. Other times it's a struggle and the screen stays blank for a long time.

Routine is important - I try to do it first thing when we get to the store. It doesn't always happen, and there are days where it gets done a few sentences at a time.

This is an image of a blinking cursor...
Last Friday I was playing at Revelry, and Kellie Mast came in, got a glass of wine and started pecking away at her phone. This isn't unusual - people tend to peck at phones at all times, no matter where they are.When you play a solo acoustic gig in a bar, you are mostly background music and it's not about the audience going crazy, or even knowing you are there. It's more fun when they do, but I just like to play. I don't worry about all that other stuff.

Kellie was actually writing a blog, using her phone. For her, sitting in a bar watching somebody play and sipping wine is a way to motivate her and get a blog done. Whatever works.

There might not be a more helpless feeling in the world than starting at a blank screen. The idea is the key, and getting started in the toughest part.

Well looky here ... I'm done with another blog!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Parking Wars Update

IT'S WORKING. OUR efforts to enforce the two-hour parking on Maine Street between Fifth and Sixth are paying off. In the more than five years we've been here, we've rarely seen open spaces during the weekday. This week, we've had customer after customer comment on how easy it was to park and how nice it is to be right in front of our building. Yesterday the UPS guy parked right in front of the WCU Building and delivered packages, instead of parking at the corner or simply in the street. Sheryl witness the look of shock on his face. He probably thought he was being punk'd.

If more people knew parking wasn't so bad downtown, then we'd have more customers. So ... we have parking! For now, anyway.

A Quincy Police Department officer issued 11 tickets Friday morning. Five more were issued Monday. Sheryl and I are watching the street, writing down tags and taking photos, and reporting violations.

Several times we've called and waited for an officer to show up. That's fine. They have important things to do and our parking issues are down the list, and we are patient. When they do show up, we very much appreciate their time and understanding. They have been great. We are supporters of our local law enforcement and We Back The Blue every chance we get.

We have no wish to make anybody mad. We just want the law to be enforced and for people who work down here to be courteous, respectful and to keep the customers in mind. I also walk the walk and I'm making sure to not park in front of our store, but up  the street where there is no parking limit.

Most importantly, this has been a group effort. One person complaining all the time does nothing to fix the problem. Second String Music, Ally's Boutique, Kristopher's, Martini's at 515, the businesses in the Maine Center and the clothing store across the street are all in this together. We reported violations for more than a week and remained polite and respectful during the process before action was finally taken, and we've learned that persistence pays off.

We are willing to talk about the parking issues and we appreciate everybody who has concerns, ideas and solutions to the issue.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Big sale first thing

SMALL RETAIL IS an adventure. So it's always nice when you arrive at your store half an hour before your posted opening time, and a man is waiting, and we open the door for him.

Then he buys a really nice Luna acoustic guitar for his granddaughter's Christmas present.

That's right. I said it. The dreaded "C" word. It's a little more than three months away. Look, I hate the overhype of Christmas, but in our world, it's a our biggest time of the year and we count on the business. So we are ready.

The man is happy, we are happy, and we are off to a great start this Tuesday.

Oh - he parked right by the store, too!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blown down in storm coverage

WE'VE BEEN WATCHING a lot of storm coverage lately. Hurricane Irma is winding its way up the Florida coast and into Georgia, and we get to watch a lot of windblown TV guys getting soaked and telling us it's really windy.

Sheryl, as always, is entertaining when we watch such things. "Get inside, you big idiot!" she screamed at one of the hunky CNN reporters. He was wearing waders and a black T shirt, and having trouble standing up in the 120-mph winds. Then they cut to Anderson Cooper. "You are STILL on the air?" Sheryl said. "GET SOME SLEEP."

At one point yesterday, a reporter was doing a live shot from the "eye of the storm." Apparently when the eye passes over, the rain and wind stops, but it picks up again. "What are you doing? You are going to get whacked here in a second. LEAVE!" Sheryl said. But the guy didn't listen and he kept talking about flying debris and power outages and why everybody else should leave Florida.

Sheryl grew up in Florida and was taught much about what to do in a hurricane. She gets stressed when people put themselves in danger. I think they should listen to her.

These hurricanes are no laughing matter, and my heart goes out to the millions dealing with flooding and damage. But after a while the coverage becomes a bit numbing and it's hard to comprehend what is happening.

Many times I had to write about storms and floods and pestilence. It wasn't hard to find the human element and tell stories - they told themselves, really.

But I was always glad I was a newspaper guy, and not somebody standing in the storm of the century.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

All Dressed Up

I HAVE A MEETING today with a local institution, relating to our business. It's something Sheryl and I take very seriously and I'm trying my best to be prepared.

So, I got up this morning and I did something I haven't done much of the last five years, namely, put on a nice pair of pants and a nice shirt.

Hey - this guy is wearing my shirt!
I think it's important to look good and professional. But I spent 24 years of tucking my shirt in (most of the time) and it's just as important to be real. I'm not fooling anybody by coming to the store in a 3-piece suit. Sure, you'll have to appreciate my Cheeseburgers allegiance and know how many guitars I have by the number of different guitar T-shirts I wear, but that's part of being in the bidness.

We were at State Street Bank this morning and Bobbe White commented on the fact I was "all dressed up." It took a moment for it to sink in, before I realized I wasn't wearing white socks.

It's kind of cool, actually. Looking good is feeling good. GQ ain't calling soon, or ever, but I still tuck my shirt in and try to make a good impression - as long as it's just once in a while.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Maine Street parking wars continue

THERE ARE SEVERAL businesses inside the WCU Building across from Second String Music. Several of the employees park on Maine Street and ignore the two-hour parking limit signs.

10:30 am Wednesday morning.
It's frustrating. We'd like as many spots as possible open on Maine Street for customer parking, not for employees. To make it even more maddening, count how many vehicles on Maine Street have PDQ passes. Yep - they pay big bucks for indoor parking at the Fifth Street parking facility. Yet they feel the need to park half a block closer to their office and take up a space on Maine. Why?

There are 14 vehicles parked on the south side of Maine Street right now (10:30 a.m.). Eight have PDQ stickers. EIGHT. There is one parking spot open.

Ooops. That spot just got taken, and the woman who got out of the car isn't happy with me lurking around and taking pictures. And ... she has a PDQ pass in her windshield. Lovely. That means nine of the 15 vehicles parked in front of the WCU Building are owned by people who work in the building.

A parking ticket is a whopping $5 fine so is no deterrent for this behavior and there isn't a real parking enforcement officer anyway. That needs to change, and we have started working on it.

Two things can't happen. We can't confront repeat offenders - they know who they are, and nothing we can do or say will get them to be less lazy or more considerate.

And we can't rely on the Quincy Police Department to send an officer down here every day to write parking tickets. They have way more important things to do.

Then again, Sheryl and I just paid our property taxes and we are not afraid to let the city know this is an issue, and we'd like to deal with it.

Stay tuned - we are working with QPD and we think we may have a solution to combating the day-long parking problem. In the meantime, we are watching carefully and keeping track of the many repeat offenders.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Long weekends rule

SHERYL AND I enjoyed our two days off. It's the first time in forever we've stayed in Quincy and done nothing. It was great seeing my old friend David Wilkins and his wife, Susan, who were coming back from Colorado and decided to stop in the Q-Town.

Susan was really impressed with Quincy. "It's like a real town!" she said. Then we took her to Woodland Cemetery and she was in awe. They stayed at a very nice hotel in town and were very pleased with the services and hospitality.

Come back again when we can hang around for a few days, Susan!

NOT Quincy IL
Our friends Nick and Lori Hopper came by last night for hamburgers, beverages and stogies, and not necessarily in that order. Well ... Nick and I took care of two of the three. Just before they showed up the sky turned a weird yellow and it was strange outside. Turns out the smoke from the Oregon forest fires was blowing over the upper atmosphere. Then the moon came out as it got dark and it was glorious sitting by the fire.

It was great company and a nice way to cap a restful weekend.

Most of the time we go somewhere on Labor Day Weekend. The decision to stay here was the right one. Maybe next year we'll join the annual Hart Sibling Summit in Phoenix or trek back up to a Lake Michigan Beach. But for now, I'm happy we stayed home.

Oh, by the way ... another rock and roll weekend awaits!