Sunday, December 27, 2015

Well, Three Out of Four Ain't Bad

This is the post I've been waiting two weeks to write.

I'm still conducting a 24-team NCAA Division 1-A football playoff, and I can't wait to finally get cracking on it. Finally got time that I can spend actually playing the games.

Really excited about the 2015 field, because it's got four teams that've never participated in this version of a playoff before, one finally back in the field for the first time since Ronald Reagan was calling the shots at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, two others making their first appearance each since Bill Clinton was giving Oval Office speeches, and...well, here's what the 2015 field looks like:

1. Clemson (13-0; ACC champ)/2. Alabama (12-1; SEC champ)/3. Michigan State (12-1; Big Ten champ)/4. Iowa (12-1; Big Ten at-large)/5. Houston (12-1; AAC champ)/6. Oklahoma (11-1; Big 12 champ)/7. Ohio State (11-1; Big Ten at-large)/8. Stanford (11-2; Pac-12 champ)

9. Western Kentucky (11-2; C-USA champ)/10. North Carolina (11-2; ACC at-large)/11. Notre Dame (10-2; independent at-large)/12. Northwestern (10-2; Big Ten at-large)/13. Florida State (10-2; ACC at-large)/14. Oklahoma State (10-2; Big 12 at-large)/15. Navy (10-2; AAC at-large)/16. TCU (10-2; Big 12 at large)

17. Appalachian State (10-2; Sun Belt at-large)/18. Toledo (9-2; MAC at-large)/19. Bowling Green State (10-3; MAC champ)/20. Florida (10-3; SEC at-large)/21. Temple (10-3; AAC at-large)/22. San Diego State (10-3; Mountain West champ)/23. Michigan (9-3; Big Ten at-large)/24. Arkansas State (9-3; Sun Belt champ)

Using a system akin to what your state's high school athletic association uses in order to determine football playoff seeding, I got results that agree with the College Football Playoff selection the top three spots.

Had the Big 12 had two more members, it could go back to playing a football title game. And the lack of such a sports event costs that conference's champion 50 extra quality points every year. 

Speaking of quality points...Houston and Iowa had the same number of them (500) this time around. But the Hawkeyes (making their first D-1-A playoff appearance in six years) got the nod over the Cougars (back for the first time since losing to Oregon in the 2011 title game) because Iowa's Division 1-A opponents won 69 games to 67 for the 1-A squads Houston had to fight. 

Northwestern, Florida State, and Oklahoma State totaled the same number of quality points as well- 365. The Seminoles got a higher seed than the Cowboys on account of FSU's 1-A foes winning 69 games themselves in 2015 while the 1-A teams that played O-State racked up 68 wins. (One of the Cowboys' foes was Kansas...which limped home without a win this season.) 

Still, the Wildcats topped the Cowpokes and 'Noles because their own Division 1-A opponents won 75 times, enhancing Northwestern's first time in these playoffs since 1995 (when the 'Cats lost in the semifinals to future Big Ten foe Nebraska).

It's also North Carolina's first time in this set of playoffs since 1997 (when the Tar Heels lost in the first round to Ohio State). San Diego State, meanwhile, had been waiting since 1986 to get back to the playoffs. (The Aztecs went out in the first round, too, losing to Texas A&M.)

To top it all off, it's time to congratulate Appalachian State, Navy, Temple, and Western Kentucky for making it into these 1-A playoffs for the first time each.

Can't wait to see how these teams do. I'll be using Lance Haffner Games' old 3-in-1 Football, and playing the games computer vs. computer. And when all the results are in, I'll be glad to let you know.

I'm Jim Boston, and thanks for reading this blog!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Well, It Happened

The eye operation I was scheduled to undergo, that is.

It wasn't the cataract surgery I'd written about earlier. (Last month, I was told by the ophthalmologist scheduled to do what turned out to be yesterday's surgery that putting me through cataract surgery at this present time might mean losing my eyesight.)

Yesterday's operation had to do with repairing the retina in my left eye.

A couple of months ago, when I made my first visit to Midwest Eye Care in eleven years, I was told that a retinal rip had been found in that left eye (as well as the cataract in said peeper).

So yesterday, at 9:30 AM (Central time), Dr. David Ingvoldstad (the O.D. I met last month) and one of the clinic's nurses, Sarah Plagman (Sarah, I hope I got your last name right!), went to work on that offending eyeball of mine.

First of all, I received six drops of dilating fluid (Sarah was hoping that just three would turn the trick); then, when the left eye proved it was lubricated enough, a numbing fluid was added.

Then David put a new lens into my left eye. And after that (with Sarah holding my head so that my chin would stay on the bar), he administered four laser blasts to that left eye.

The whole thing was completed by 10:00 AM.

And something I'd agonized about for almost two weeks turned out to be fine.  

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they didn't have to stick a patch over the affected eye once the operation ended. (The patch would've gone on if a local anesthetic had been applied around that left eye.) What's more, I was told that I could immediately go back to my pre-surgery reading, watching TV, computer work, etc., etc. 

After yesterday's argon retina laser operation, my left eye feels a bit better...for now.

The final verdict is yet to come, for it usually takes a month or so before argon patients can tell the difference in their eyesight. (I'm still worried about the halo effect in my left eye.)

Well, for me, the next test comes on 1-18-2016, when I come back to the Midwest Eye Care office at 4353 Dodge St. here in Omaha. 

Here's hoping yesterday's operation turns out to be a complete success.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

It's Gone On for Way Too Long

This one's going to be bittersweet...or even sour.

I just got through flipping channels this afternoon and finding out that Iowa State blew a 35-14 halftime lead against Kansas State and...lost to the Wildcats, 38-35, on a fourth-quarter field goal by Jack Candele.

Last week, the Cyclones lost to Oklahoma State, 35-31...after enjoying a 24-14 halftime lead against the ranked Cowboys.

Paul Rhoads' club, here in 2015 alone, also coughed up games against Iowa and TCU despite having halftime or first-quarter leads. In addition, it lost to Toledo in overtime. (Never mind that the Horned Frogs have been in the Top 25 of both the Associated Press poll and the USA Today poll all season long, the Rockets have been in both polls much of this 2015 season, and the Hawkeyes jumped into both polls at midseason and have been rocketing up both surveys ever since.)

Speaking of Hawkeyes...I checked out the Purdue-Iowa game today. The Hawks won it, 40-20, and are still undefeated. What's more, they'll play Ohio State (if not Michigan State or even Michigan) in this season's Big Ten championship game on 12-5-2015 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN.

Kirk Ferentz' club has turned things around from 2014 because, among many other things, he, his staff, and their players learned the value of conditioning. 

Better conditioning has helped the Hawkeyes (now 11-0) play the whole doggone game, not just the first two or three periods. (And Ferentz dialing up a few wrinkles he might not have thought of in 2014 hasn't been too bad, either.) 

If football were a two-quarter or three-quarter game, ISU would be bowl eligible right now (if that were to happen, it'd be a first since 2012, when the team finished 6-7).

Instead, it's 3-8, with a date against West Virginia remaining. 

Football ISN'T a two-or-three-quarter sport. And the Cardinal and Gold have, coming into today's action, won just 44.4% of their games...and that's dating back to 1895, when Iowa State got into the football business. 

Football mediocrity at Iowa State isn't a recent thing at all.

It's gone on for decades.

Tiresome decades. 

The best the Cyclones have done was share just two conference championships...and those happened in 1911 and 1912, when the 'Clones and Nebraska's Cornhuskers each went 2-0-1 in 1911 (2-0 apiece the next year) in the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association (the forerunner of today's Big 12 Conference). Then in 2004, I-State and Colorado, both 4-4 in conference play, split the Big 12's North Division title...but the Buffaloes, on a tiebreaker, ended up facing Oklahoma in the league's title game. (The Sooners crushed the Buffs, 42-3.)  

Think about all the outright MVIAA/Big 6/Big 7/Big 8/Big 12 football championships the men from Ames missed out on. Think about all the winning seasons left on the field.

*In 1938, ISU (then known as Iowa State College; it didn't become Iowa State University until the 1959-60 academic year) was rolling along, winning its first seven games of the year and about to get its first all-to-itself Big 6 championship ever
...but on 11-12-1938, the Cyclones traveled to Manhattan, KS (site of this afternoon's game) and played the Wildcats to a 13-13 tie. A week later, the Sooners snapped up the league title by shutting the 'Clones out, 10-0, at Clyde Williams Field in Ames, IA.

*1944 was the next year the Iowa Staters posted a winning season. It could've been a championship season, too...except Oklahoma came to Ames on 11-4-1944. 

And the Sooners stunned Mike Michalske's team, 12-7. 

State came within inches of upending the team from Norman.  

*The 1959 team was the first of two ISU clubs to post identical 7-3-0 marks.

This one could've been the first in team history to win eight games...if Dwight Nichols, Tom Watkins, and Co. could've found two more touchdowns to beat Kansas on Halloween. 

*1961 could've been I-State's third straight winning campaign...but Clay Stapleton's team got clobbered at Colorado, 34-0, on 11-25-1961. [The club's next winning season was 1965, when Iowa State came home 5-4-1. The next winning season after that was 1971...the year the Cyclones (then coached by Johnny Majors) went bowling for the first time ever, thanks to a mark of 8-3-0. A Sun Bowl loss to Louisiana State turned Iowa State's ledger to 8-4-0.]

*1976 was Earle Bruce's fourth year in Ames; he'd replaced Majors so that Johnny could head up Pittsburgh's Panthers. After three straight 4-7-0 records, Bruce got ISU back to 8-3-0. 

Even so, Iowa State could've joined Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Colorado in the Big 8 throne room. In fact, Iowa State would've replaced O-State as a league trichampion...if the Cowboys hadn't beaten the Cyclones, 42-21, yesterday in 1976.  

That failure in Stillwater prevented bowl committees from inviting ISU to a taste of postseason action that year.

*The 2000 Cyclones were the first in club annals to win a bowl game (37-29 over Pittsburgh in the Insight Bowl).
Dan McCarney's sixth season at ISU yielded eight other wins for the only current Big 12 member without an outright league football title. 

Nonetheless, if the Sage Rosenfels-Ennis Haywood-Chris Anthony-Marc Timmons-led team had a victory over Nebraska or Texas A&M or K-State, the Cyclones would've been able to claim at least a share of the top of the Big 12 North.

*Rhoads' first Cyclone team- the 2009 edition- could've come into its own Insight Bowl date with a winning record.
But Iowa State couldn't handle Missouri (the Tigers won, 34-24). Nevertheless, at the Insight Bowl, the 'Clones beat Minnesota, 14-13. 

You know how far down ISU football has come since this son of Cecil Rhoads, one of the most famous high school football coaches in Iowa history, got his first NCAA head assignment?

Paul's first game as ISU head football coach resulted in a 34-17 win over North Dakota State.

Five years later, those same Bison came back to Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, IA, and socked it to the 'Clones, 34-14.

And Iowa State led the defending Division 1-AA (okay, FCS) champs for much of the first half. 

It all comes down to conditioning. If Paul Rhoads and his assistant coaches can't find a way to get their athletes better conditioned so that the Cyclones don't continue to blow halftime leads (and, instead, can learn to put teams away when they've got those clubs on the ropes), athletic director Jamie Pollard and his bosses will have to find a staff whose members CAN AND WILL stress conditioning. 

Way I see it, maybe it's time to completely reconstruct Iowa State University football.

Yeah. I know. I'm just a football fan.

Still, I do know this: Something's wrong when the same college football program that stank when your great-grandparents were of college age, was mediocre when your grandparents could've enrolled at a university or college, couldn't win consistently when it was (or could've been) your folks' turn to attend Dear Old U, and still wasn't good enough for SportsCenter during your own college years (unless these, right now, are your college years) can't cut it today. 

#After the 1978 season, University of Iowa officials decided to rebuild their school's gridiron team (it had suffered its 17th consecutive nonwinning campaign). They successfully pried Hayden Fry off the U of North Texas campus; his third season at Iowa resulted in a Big Ten cochampionship and the Hawkeyes' first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1958 season.

Fry, after previously saving UNT football (and doing the same at SMU before that), became the winningest head football coach in U of I history. After the 1998 season, he stepped away from Iowa City 143-89-6. [His successor there, Ferentz (one of Fry's old assistant coaches), is now 126-85 at Iowa.]

#27 years ago, Kansas State University's potentates decided to take their institution's football program right back to the drawing board after Sports Illustrated called K-State football the worst of all major NCAA grid teams during the 20th Century. (The Wildcats didn't win a single game in 1987 or 1988, won just three times combined in 1985 and 1986, and since America's television era began in the late 1940s, had racked up just four winning seasons- 1953, 1954, 1970, and 1982. And only the '82 effort came with a bowl bid attached- the first one in KSU history.) 

So...they called another of Fry's assistant coaches, Bill Snyder, and asked him if he'd like to resurrect what had been labeled a "basket case." 

Snyder took the Kansas State job...and got the 'Cats a winning season in 1991. He followed that up with the 2003 Big 12 championship (the Big Purple upset heavily-favored Oklahoma, 35-7) and a share of the league's 2012 title with those same Sooners.

Bill tried to retire after the 2005 season...but when school officials realized Ron Prince wasn't cutting it in Manhattan, they culled Snyder out of retirement in time for the 2009 cycle.
Iowa's old offensive coordinator now stands at 191-100-1...all of that at K-State.

#After the Southwest Conference broke up following the 1995-96 academic year, the Big 8 took in four of the now-defunct league's members: Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Baylor. (A&M split for the Southeastern Conference after the 2011-12 academic cycle...and took Missouri with it.)

The team from Waco, TX instantly became the whipping boys in the newly-reformulated Big 12. Things got to the point where even Iowa State could count on an automatic W whenever the schedule called for the Bears and Cyclones to taste it up. 

Chuck Reedy (remember him?) was the last head coach to give Bearball a winning record in the 20th Century; his 1994 and 1995 Baylor teams turned the trick. Over the next dozen years, Dave Roberts, Kevin Steele, and former NFL star Guy Morriss tried to get Baylor football back to where it could play in bowl games...let alone where Grant Teaff (the head coach in Waco from 1972 to 1992) took it: To the top.

They couldn't match Reedy or Teaff. 

The top brass at the world's largest United Methodist school yanked Art Briles off the campus of another old SWC school, the University of Houston.

Briles followed a pair of 4-8 showings with Baylor's first winning record of the current century- a 7-6 finish in 2010 (the Bears lost the Texas Bowl). Since then, his high-powered offense has produced a league title in 2013 and a piece of last year's Big 12 top prize (shared with TCU, a- you guessed it- one-time SWC member).

Art will be 64-35 at Baylor if his Bears knock the Cowboys from the unbeaten ranks tonight. (At Houston, where he coached from 2003 to 2007, his Cougars were 34-29.) 

So, there you are...if Iowa, Kansas State, and Baylor could take steps to clean up the rot that had set in on football at each of those schools and turn those teams into consistent winners and even champions, Iowa State certainly can, too.

Cyclone fans deserve it.  

By the way...a big shout-out to the people who put together. Most of the information in this post came from that site.

Monday, October 19, 2015

I Don't Want to Wait Another Eleven Years

On 10-13-2015, I went to Midwest Eye Care at 4353 Dodge St. here in Omaha to do something I hadn't taken care of in eleven years: Undergo an eye exam.

I was hoping to replace the eyeglasses I bought there the last time I visited the facility- the first set of bifocals I've ever owned.

Instead, the staff told me it was time to get cataract surgery. (Dr. Scott Greder and his staff found a single cataract in my left eye...the only thing wrong with either of my peepers. Outside of my needing glasses to begin with, that is.)

Felt stunned to find this out.

Ever since then, I've experienced all kinds of emotions; almost everything from grief to anguish to relief. (After all, when you have to close your left eye to get clarity when you're driving at night, you've got to do something to correct the situation. And when you experience a halo effect when you're trying to see, you need to do something to fight the situation.)

After I got home from a trying shift of work, I got home and went to the very computer on which I'm typing this post. I started doing some research on cataract surgery...and when I reached and read up on what the Mayo staff had to say about the procedure, well...let's face it. 

Tears came to my eyes.

Okay, I've probably now lost the support of any rap music fans by admitting tears ever came to my eyes about anything. (You know what some rappers and some of their fans have to say about men who've shed tears. With that in mind, how would they feel about Jesus in John 11:35?)

The day after the Midwest Eye Care appointment, I started asking around about what it's like to go through cataract surgery. 

One of my coworkers at a local plastics factory went through this last year; after both his eyes got the treatment, he's seeing much better than before. 

My ten-going-on-eleven-year-old nephew has already undergone the surgery twice...when he was three, then again five years later.

Found out the procedure is commonplace, and it takes anywhere from five to twenty minutes (at the fewest) thanks to laser technology. And you get to come home the same day of the surgery.

In all, according to the Mayo Clinic Website, it takes eight weeks to fully recover from the operation. 

I was able to get the eye exam in the first place due to receiving a bonus from the company I work for. Even with health insurance through the company, I've still got to be ready to pay a deductible. Right now, I'm all set financially to fork over the deductible dough.

I'm scheduled to go on a consultation at MEC at 2:00 PM on 11-24-2015; afterwards, I'll be able to find out when my own operation will take place. (I'd rather get in on laser technology than the old procedure- the one with tiny knives. Laser surgery is more accurate than the old system.)

So in the meantime, I'm working to take comfort in the chance to see better than before (and get in on experiencing more vivid colors and sharper images).

Who knows? Maybe, fifty years after putting on my first pair of glasses, I might not need them anymore.

Here's what I do know:

I don't want to wait another eleven years to get these eyes checked out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"You Mean There's Still a Contest?"

Glad to be back!

Now that it's official that the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival will take place in a new location (Oxford, MS) and will continue to happen on Memorial Day weekend, it sounded like a great, great time to pick the contest's history back up. 

Where we left off, it was 1994...and Mimi Blais came to the Holiday Inn Conference Hotel in Decatur, IL (the OTPP site since 1987) and tore the place up as she snared the Regular Division's Traveling Trophy and took it back home to Montreal, QC.

And it was a year where only five Regular Division contestants and just five Junior Division ones went after prize money. 

When Mimi won it all in the RDs, that did it.

Put the brakes on the shrinking of the contestant field, that is.

When we met at Decatur's Holiday Inn in 1995, six Junior Division hopefuls and eighteen Reg Division contestants took to the stage...including four RDs who decided not to go after the Big Dough the year before (after competing in 1993) and six newcomers to the division.

In addition, three of the JDs had never competed in OTPP before. In that group, there were John Schultz and two names we'd hear from for a long time to come: Noah Harmon (a son of Linda and John) and Dan Mouyard.

Newcomers to the Regular Division were Teresa Arth, Clarence Maley, Mitchell Johnson, Rod Ludwig, Howie Wyeth (a descendant of Andrew), and John Yates. (John Y., from Bowmanville, ON, teamed up with Mimi to give the contest two Canadians that year.) What's more, Brian Holland, Marty Mincer, Faye Ballard, and "Perfessor" Bill Edwards got back into the mix after a two-year absence, Todd Robbins took up the call after staying away for seven years...and John H. ended an eight-year siesta from competition, while Linda moved out from behind the judges' table to climb back on stage, end a six-year hiatus from competing, and take on the contest piano, that 1883 Weber upright nicknamed "Moby Dink."

And the biggest news of all was...Julie McClarey, six years after winning it all in the RDs, jumped back in. 

It was all because of the giant competitive shadow Mimi cast. 

For the first two rounds of Reg competition, it looked as if Mimi was going to keep that trophy, in spite of Julie and Linda (and those two inseparables, Marty M. and "Perfessor" Bill) tagging after her.

Still, Julie's sets got stronger with each round...until her textbook technique (standing out in "Grandpa's Spell" and "Alabamy Bound") enabled the Mom from Decatur to snatch the Traveling Trophy away from the classically-trained Montrealer.

By three points. 

Meanwhile, Marty Sammon (that's right, blues fans; that Marty Sammon) showed that he wasn't going to let go of the Junior Division crown...which, this time around, he won by eight points over Max Schiltz.  

Just as Mimi heard Julie's footsteps in 1995, Julie heard footsteps herself the next year...a year in which seven pianists (all but one duking it out in the RDs) tried OTPP competition for the first time. 

That meant new RD'ers Gale Foehner, Will Hahn, T.J. Thompson, Brad Pregeant, John Skaggs, and an Irishman named Desmond Crawford.

The lone new JD'er, Illinoisan Hillary Fedirka, joined Max from Missouri in trying to get the title Marty S. wasn't able to fight to keep in 1996 (circumstances kept him from making the trip from the Chicago suburbs to Decatur that Memorial Day weekend).

It was almost Max' year.

Instead, 1996 was Pennsylvania Dan's year.

By three points. 

Over in the Regs, Brian went from knocking on the door to the division's Top Five to kicking it down. He and John Skaggs ended up replacing Bill E. and Marty M. as the two men in the Regular Division's money line...and Faye wound up taking Linda's place in the RD Top Five. (Linda, Marty M., and Bill E. didn't taste it up in 1996.) 

Julie Mac heard footsteps, all right...but she still outplayed Brian and kept her place at the top of the Regular Division. Brian, meanwhile, passed up Mimi and relegated her to third place (with Faye and John Skaggs rounding out the quintet). 

But the Man from Indiana served notice...and the next three OTPP Contests would belong to him. (Well, at least the adult competition would belong to him.)

I didn't get to see Brian Holland snag his first RD crown. I'd moved from Sioux City, IA back here to Omaha, NE on 3-29-1997...and I hadn't yet earned enough vacation time at my new job (with an information technology company) to make the trip back to Central Illinois. 

By contrast, Noah did get to come back to Central Illinois...and he had to fight off three new JD contestants: Mindy Dunkle, Neil Blaze, and John Clark.

The only new adult contestants in 1997 were Steve Kummer and Arlene Stoller. Meanwhile, Aaron George came back...after sitting out the previous six contests. In all, fourteen older pianists joined the four younger ones.

Mindy caught Noah at the top of the Junior Division...but he prevented her from becoming the first girl to rule the JDs because of his better technical score. 

Steve acquitted himself quite well, too.

All he did was finish second in the RDs to Brian...meaning he'd also passed up Bill E., Marty M., and Adam Downey.

Yep...the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival was beginning to hit its stride, not only in terms of competition, but also in terms of fan support.

In fact, things got to the point where the performer field would grow...wildly.

When we pick up the topic again, we'll see just how wildly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

High Energy

Finally, finally able to get back to blogging! (Things got so hectic these last sixteen days that I couldn't get back to the computer to post this...and I apologize for that.)

Sixteen days ago, Dave Wickerham (one of the best theater organists on Planet Earth) came to Omaha, where he knocked 'em dead at the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, the facility better known as the Rose Theater.

It'd been three years since Dave previously concertized here in the Big O...and when he came back for the 2015 version of the River City Theatre Organ Society's annual fundraiser, he was in fine, fine form at the theater's three-manual, 27-rank 1927 Wurlitzer.

Initial fears were that not as many people this time around were interested in watching the Encino, CA native punish (okay, coax) the only concert-worthy theater pipe organ installation in Nebraska.  

But a great crowd at the Rose destroyed those fears.

And the audience members watched him lead off with a medley of "Get Happy" and "I Want to Be Happy."

We in the audience got happy, all right...and after the applause died down, Dave got into some banter, then launched into some of the Great American Songbook.

Dave W. kicked that segment of the concert off by saluting Irving Berlin, throwing in tunes like "What'll I Do," "Always," and the one that put Irving on the map for good: "Alexander's Ragtime Band." 

The next medley focused on...rain.

That's right, rain. Dave put together "Singin' in the Rain," "Laughter in the Rain," and "Stormy Weather." (Don't laugh at the inclusion of "Laughter," the youngest song in the concert at forty years of age. After all, Neil Sedaka had that Great American Songbook ethos, did other Brill Building graduates such as Carole King and Barry Mann- to say nothing of the teams of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.) 

Now the focus was back on a single composer, this time George Gershwin...and this time, the organ tried to punish Dave by going into cipher mode.

He wasn't having any of that.

All Dave did was continue to play through the cipher during a medley that included favorites like "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Strike Up the Band."

It's not really an RCTOS concert at the Rose without a silent movie, and Dave turned to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy for this year's showing. This time, it was the 1926 film called "Putting Pants on Philip," where Stan played a kilt-wearing Scotsman and Ollie was the American who ended up taking him in.

The movie did its job, adding to the fun of the outing better known as "Let's Get Lost in the Music."

"Putting Pants" led to a fifteen-minute intermission; after that, Dave came back out...this time paying tribute to Duke Ellington and his longtime arranger, Billy Strayhorn. The tunes: "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and "Take the 'A' Train."

By the's also not an RCTOS concert at the Rose if a nationally-known theater organist isn't paired up with a local act.

And for 2015, the local act was a five-man group known as Omaha Street Percussion.

When Omaha Street Percussion walked onto the Rose Theater stage and began to take to all those unorthodox forms of percussion (trash cans, trash can lids, etc.), the energy at the theater kicked up a notch...actually, a bunch of notches.

After the first selection, the men of OSP launched an audience-participation exercise: "We'll give you a beat, and we want you to clap to it." The left half of the throng got a different beat to clap to than the right half. 

The audience ate it all up, all right.

As one concertgoer put it: "High energy."

Two high-energy numbers later, Dave himself jumped in, joining OSP in the famous "Tico Tico." 

With the crowd all pumped up after OSP's segment of "Let's Get Lost," Dave ran the event's anchor leg, delivering a medley that he played at this year's American Theatre Organ Society convention (held mostly in Philadelphia, PA, with Atlantic City, NJ taking on the convention's other events). was a patriotic medley. (And brought the house down at this year's ATOS get-together.)

"Yankee Doodle" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" got in there as part of Dave Wickerham's song cycle. "The Girl I Left Behind" and "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory" were in there, too, along with "This Is My Country."

For the medley's last song, Dave motioned the audience into standing up.

And then, he took it all home with "God Bless America." (Many, if not most in the crowd, sang along.)

With Dave showing why RCTOS brought him back to the Big O to concertize, and with Omaha Street Percussion more than holding its own (okay...that's a real understatement!), this was one of the best fundraisers the local ATOS chapter ever staged.

All was THE best!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Phone Problems

They've been a sore spot for me ever since 4-28-2015, the day Level 3 Communications decided to get out of the long-distance business.

I found a new provider almost a month later...the same company I've had my digital regular telephone service with ever since the 21st Century began.

Was unable to make long-distance calls from the day Level 3 quit the business until just two weeks ago- 7-14-2015. (For three months, I'd get this message: "Sorry. Your call cannot be completed." It sounded as if a young Jack Nicholson gave the message.)

And NOW, when this week began, people were unable to call my phone number without hearing: "We're sorry, but the number you have dialed is out of service."

Yesterday, I called that provider (all right, it's Cox Communications)...and Cox' technicians took care of the problem.

Cox, many thanks!  

To those of you who tried to call me and felt annoyed about major problems with my phone, please understand that I didn't enjoy going through this kind of crap, either. 

I'm very glad the problems are now solved! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Who Said You Can't Play a Rag on the Violin?

If that's what you believe, you should've come to Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ on 7-12-2015...the day of the eleventh annual Ragtime to Riches Festival.

More about that later.

But first of started with a heckler.

He came into the church's Memorial Hall at about 1:30 PM (Central time); he announced that he was trying to cool off. (It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit here in Omaha at that time that Sunday.)

At that time, Nick Holle (who codirected the 2012 documentary movie "The Entertainers"), Faye Ballard (one of the movie's stars), Daniel Souvigny (old-time piano's newest star), Danny's mom Vicky, and Marc May (nope, football fans, not the one from ESPN; I'm talking about a local free-lance photographer I play alongside in our church's praise band) were in the building with me.

Daniel (one of Faye's students, by the way) was warming up on both R to R pianos- that battle-tested turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright as well as a brand-new, 2015 Yamaha grand brought in to replace the church's 1920s Mason & Hamlin grand.

Heckler heard Daniel go to town on one piano after the other...then wondered out loud: "Who's that?" 

The question-and-answer session continued after Vicky, Faye, and Daniel left to get a bite to eat. Eventually, the questions began to get personal. (One of those was directed at me after Heckler took a look at the cover of one of my CDs: "Did you lose weight?") 

Yes, I did. I'd lost weight since December of 2011...when my profile picture was taken. 

Take a look at that profile pic. It was snapped at an antiques shop in Omaha's Old Market.
The store had concrete walls, and I was in the Old Market on a cold day...and concrete walls just don't do a good job of keeping the cold out.

To beat all of that, I had on five layers of clothing.

Too bad Mr. Heckler couldn't think about that.  

And the Man Who Wanted to Beat the Heat was becoming the Smart Aleck in the Room. became 1:55 PM. In five minutes, R to R 11.0 would officially begin. 

Heckler hadn't made up his mind yet.

I told him: "You can either stay and pay the $10 (admission) or you can leave." 

Mr. Smart Aleck left the church.

After Mr. Jerk (well, that's what somebody else called him!) left First Central, an audience began to build...and, at 2:15 PM, Ragtime to Riches 2015 began with a workshop about how Tin Pan Alley worked in the 1920s. 

This year's workshop went more smoothly than the 2014 effort...only because, this time around, I buckled down and prepared so that I wouldn't need to keep looking at my note cards.

I didn't want to look like a dork.

In preparing for R to R's 2015 workshop, I went back and reread my post about last year's Ragtime to Riches ("The Tenth Time Around!")...and realized I'd skipped a decade. (In 2014, I talked about the Alley's 1900-1909 period...and I promised that the 2015 workshop would focus on 1910-1919.)


So...I went ahead and spotlighted the Roaring Twenties in this year's workshop...and I'd pick up the Taft-Wilson years- okay, the bulk of the Taft years plus the lion's share of the Wilson years- during the Omaha event's first concert (at 3:00 PM, right on the nose). 

As things turned out, it all fit nicely. After all, the audience found out that the 1920-1929 period was the most prolific decade in Tin Pan Alley history (all because composers and performers alike wanted to come up with the next "Tiger Rag," what with the 1917 tune's 1918 debut as a recording ushering in the Jazz Age)...and this year's first R to R concert was set up to show how the Ragtime Age morphed into the Jazz Age.

Planned on eleven numbers...but I ended up getting eight of 'em off, starting with 1910's "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and including 1914's "St. Louis Blues" (the first written blues number ever published) and closing it all out with..."Tiger Rag."
The only other rag in the set was 1910's "Spaghetti Rag."

Well, the audience did enjoy R to R Concert #1...and it ended at 4:00 PM, right on the nose.

Fifteen minutes later, that fourteen-year-old sensation from Hampshire, IL (on the northwest edge of the Chicagoland area) made his Nebraska debut...and took to that brand-new Yamaha grand.

And he rocked it!

Daniel's first number was Adeline Shepard's "Pickles and Peppers," one of the tunes he and fellow World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival participant (and fellow Illinoisan) Nathan Beasley had fun with this past Memorial Day weekend.

Danny went on to craft a lively, fourteen-selection set that included several tunes found in the three-time OTPP Junior Division champ's latest CD, "Possibilities." (If you haven't heard this collaboration with noted jazz drummer Danny Coots, you're in for one heck of a treat!) 

The R to R audience heard Daniel Souvigny put forth "Possibilities" cuts such as Clarence Wiley's "Car-Bar-Lick Acid," Andy Razaf's and Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," and "Ham And!"

Then, for his eleventh number, Daniel really broke it open.

He did it by breaking out his violin.

Faye came over to the Yamaha and turned Danny's next offering into a this case, Scott Joplin's "Bethena," the most famous ragtime waltz ever composed.

Daniel reeled the Memorial Hall crowd in...and won 'em over.

He put an exclamation point at the end of it all by playing  Nat Ayer's "King Chanticleer." (On the Yamaha piano, not his violin!)

Two concerts to go. 

When Faye took to the Memorial Hall stage at 7:00 PM to run R to R 2015's anchor leg, she wanted to take something from Danny's playbook (she called him "the technician") and something from my own playbook (she termed me "the historian"). 

What OTPP's contest coordinator (who's also an office manager at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at her alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) came up with was a continuation of her "Ragtime 101" concert from last year's turn here in the Big O...and it was still some kind of special. 

Faye kicked her set off with two of her all-time favorites: "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay" and "It Had to Be You." 

After using those two numbers to show how songs can be turned into rags, Faye Ballard shifted the music to "Harlem Rag," the first published rag written by an African-American composer (in this case, Thomas Million Turpin).

And following her tribute to ragtime's Big Three (that's right: Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb), it was Full Circle Time.

That's absolutely right: Faye invited Daniel to come back up. This time, the two Illinoisans reprised a tune Danny did that afternoon, "Pork and Beans," and made it into a duet.

Faye's renditions of May Aufderheide's "The Thriller" and of Julia Niebergall's "Horseshoe Rag" came before her closing number, Zez Confrey's digit-busting "Dizzy Fingers." 

All in all, the audience (filling up 40% of Memorial Hall) came to enjoy the eleventh annual Ragtime to Riches Festival, and they'd like to see more syncopated events come to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. (Who knows, what with OTPP's future still up in the air? Perhaps this is a real opportunity for R to R to gain more of a following.)

Oh, by the way...the Great Plains Ragtime Society took in $130 from ticket sales this time around.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I've Got My Paper Bag(s) Ready...How about You?

Take a look at all these Republican presidential candidates for 2016.

Study them.

If you've got the stomach, pick up a copy of your local newspaper or a newsmagazine and read what they've got to say.

And if you've got even more of a stomach, watch these candidates on TV...and listen to what they've got to say.

Donald Trump...John Ellis Bush...Scott Walker...Rafael "Ted" Cruz...Rand Paul...Rick Perry...Marco Rubio...Rick Santorum...Chris Christie...Mike Huckabee...Piyush "Bobby" Jindal...Lindsey Graham...Ben Carson...Cara Carleton "Carly" Fiorina. (I've got the feeling I've left somebody out!)

You hear them bashing this ethnic group, that ethnic group, LGBT people, America's middle-income and low-income households, this country's rank-and-file employees.

You catch the officeholders among them just plain making it harder for rank-and-file Americans to live their own lives. If the Walkers and Jindals among them aren't fighting to put labor unions out of business, they're working 24/7 to make sure women can't get real access to health care products and services.

This country's biggest media companies don't help when their reporters and their immediate superiors (and the superiors' own bosses) care more about Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails (and actual or perceived role in the 9-11-2012 Benghazi uprising) than about JEB's role in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, his role in the 2000 US presidential election, and his signing of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law when he ran the Sunshine State's government. 

It all makes me want to vomit. (And I've thrown up just twice in my life...once in 1965, and then again two years later!)

The rhetoric of today's Republicans- especially those trying to get the chance to ride Air Force One- just makes me want to vomit.

How about you?