Sunday, February 21, 2010

Opportunity and hindrance

I married my music teacher. While that has brought me many musical opportunities, it also keeps me from practicing as much as I might like. I hate to make student noises when she's trying to relax at home, so I tend to try to practice when she's away.

For the past week she has been in California at the American String Teachers Association national conference. She did a presentation on teaching adult beginners, which was very well received. She used a poster of one of my cartoons, which was also very well received. I am going to have to set up an e-commerce site so teachers can download cartoons for a fee. She set me a deadline some time in May.

Once that is up and running I suppose I can add sections on other topics. Obviously I have to learn some things.

While she's been away I have had an orgy of practice. I wish I could say it had made me a lot better, but it certainly hasn't made me any worse.

I still have trouble with paper training. Music tends to get into my head. I like to play while wandering around the house or standing in front of my computer speakers, harmonizing with drones on a collection I purchased from Darol Anger's website. The tracks play for about six minutes in iTunes. Oddly, it appears no longer to be available. Glad I got mine.

The drones help train the ear. They also generate some weird resonances. Each drone suggests a tune to me. I'll work the riff over and over until the track changes to the next one in the sequence. The change makes me hunt around for the musical relationships that work with the steady note. Or, if I like what I've been playing, I will start the previous track over again.

The Internet needs Tune Search, where you play the little scrap of tune you've picked out and it tells you what it's from, if it's from anything. If it's not from anything, congratulations, you're a composer! For the moment, you can only play it for a more experienced friend who might be able to identify it. But that risks embarrassment.

Eventually I have to put away the instrument and get to bed. I've had to work every day she's been away, so I should not have been staying up as late as I have. But then the house is quiet and cold. The cats do what they can. My natural restlessness when alone keeps me up and playing. I'm even plinking stuff out on the piano with one hand while brushing my teeth.

With a musician co-worker I was browsing mandolins on a website he frequents. When he bought a travel guitar there it came with a free mandolin. Crazy. But a fifty-buck mandolin sounds about like you'd expect when they can go for as much as $230,000. And we thought the one for a mere 23 grand was impressive.

Looks like a solid starter instrument will go for about $200. Just thinking. The cellist and I had both been thinking one might be handy. Tuned like a violin, it offers another platform for trying out some of the same tunes. And it's easier to play when slouched on the couch in front of the tube. Why fight it?

After six straight nights of practice my fingers are wrecked. But it's like when I finally got the Telemark turn. My legs were screaming, but I wasn't going to stop when things were finally working right.

Learning a difficult instrument as an adult is like trying to saw down a redwood tree with a nail file. You're only going to get it if you keep at it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Free Market Failure in a Service Economy

A sport shop in town sharpens ice skates. The owners invested thousands of dollars in a large, console-type machine to provide top-quality service to their customers.

Other businesses in town have offered skate sharpening. On the basis of price, quality and the intangibles of customer service, these establishments competed for customer dollars. Gradually, all but one gave it up.

The survivor, a multi-sport shop, balanced its offerings through the four seasons of each different year. It did not set out to have a monopoly on sharpening. That condition was an accident.

One customer, an accountant with several hockey-playing children and ample disposable income, decided he no longer wanted to pay the established sharpening business for their services. He invested instead in his own machine.

Over the years, he has developed a sort of client list among various skating groups. What is not clear is whether he is charging for his services or simply giving them away because he enjoys it.

If he is giving away a service another business has made a capital investment to offer at a professional level, he is undermining the free market. He takes unfair advantage of his position, having a comfortable income from another source, to reduce the income of hard-working people who don't have the same options he does. If he is charging a rate so low that no commercial establishment could match it, he's competing unfairly, using his other income as a subsidy.

From a standpoint of personal freedom, this guy should be allowed to do whatever he likes. But if his hobby involves legitimate services someone else has to charge for, its ripples travel throughout the financial world. In this microcosm you can see what dooms the fantasy of a completely free, unregulated market. Unpaid dabblers throw unmeasurable turbulence into the calculation. And they are but one variable.

Monday, February 01, 2010

The First Six Days

Helping someone grieve for one of the most important people in her life is especially hard because the thing you want most to give them is impossible to provide. You can't make it not hurt. You have to let it hurt and walk with them at their own pace.