Category Archives: performing musicians

Birthday Party


8  DECEMBER, 2017

We woke to very cold wind in the morning, and it turned out to be the theme of the day. Most of it wasn’t fun, but there were some bright spots.

I gave Chon a present when we woke up. He had told me that on one birthday, when he was a boy, someone had given him some Oreo cookies, and he had really liked them. I bought him a little pack of Oreos. He was  surprised.

When we came out of our room to our portal where it’s pleasantly warm, the phone rang. A sister, Chabela called to wish Chon a happy birthday, “But first”, she said, she wanted to rant at him and complain that he hadn’t opened the door to Juana, their visiting sister who came the other day to our little town. We had been dead to the world the afternoon that she came, after a brutal rehearsal in the morning. We hadn’t known about her visit – not that she was coming, and not that she came to visit her sister-in-law, who had suffered a fall and broken a vertebra, (that we also were not informed of). Then María called to say happy birthday, and that – just like that – she had done her duty. Chon is very sensitive to these things (attacks? and opinions), and he felt hurt and angry. We got to work.

We hadn’t carried even one of our many speakers and other equipment to the stage. No a surprise. We’re both procrastinators. The plan had been to begin to move the biggest equipment on Wednesday. It proved difficult to stick to the plan.

We began in the cold, windy morning. We took things one or two (or four) at a time, resting in between. Other times we had peónes to help. Not this time, and it was to prove disastrous, to me, anyway. About noon or later, all the equipment was up there except for my keyboards and various cables.

A niece, Nena, daughter of Elena, Chon’s sister, had said she would come at 1:30. But she didn’t come, and I worriedly began to prepare some things for the food for the guests. Later we’d find that she had had to make a trip to San Francisco, to sign papers for the family’s health insurance.

So – here was our menu, as planned:

Tacos de aire, a charming name for a way to serve folded, crispy tacos (you can buy them prepared, in large sacks). All you have to do to serve them is top them with liquified beans flavored with some garlic (important!), shredded lettuce and/or cabbage, salsa (the eater’s choice of red or green), and a lovely cream (thinner than sour cream). Tacos de áire, “air tacos” – no meat – gotta love the name!

Hot chocolate. We bought a big container of Nestle, which is to be prepared with milk. We sampled some made with only water, which was “OK” to us. I thought people would probably like it just like that (chocolate is a luxury here).

Cake ( to be brought by a friend, Sarita).

For the tacos de aire I wrote earlier “all you have to do is” to make the tacos de áire, but that involves preparing the beans (think a couple of gallons of “bean dip”), making the salsa (a couple of quarts of each), shredding the lettuce and cabbage, and having the cream on hand. (Sarita told us about a very good cream that she likes, brand “Aguas Calientes”).

So I was in the kitchen, making quarts of salsa and cooking beans. Chon was on the stage, setting up. But when I went out to see how he was doing, he was resting, and thinking that nobody would come to the party, because it was so horribly windy and cold. He didn’t do much to make all the electrical connections. He seemed shocked and upset about the weather. (And the earlier calls from his sisters).

I stuck to preparing the salsa, and was feeling worried because Nena hadn’t showed up. I really, really hoped she’d show up because I didn’t feel like I had time to fry, season and liquify gallons of beans. She did show up, about 5 p.m. (the invitations were for 6:30), and I was so very relieved

The stage still wasn’t set up, and I kept working, starting the water for chocolate heating, helping in the kitchen, carrying gallons of dish-washing water from the faucet outside, and generally keeping up.

Nena told me the chocolate would be better if we added sticks of cinnamon and some bags of specially prepared finely ground corn for “atóle”, a hot Mexican drink based on corn and flavored with a dazzling array of flavors to select from. That turned out to be a good decision. It made the chocolate thicker and tastier. You may feel sceptical, but it turned out really well. I liked it, and I’m a bit picky about chocolate. It had enough chocolate flavor, and it was thicker than “regular” hot chocolate. Very tasty!

Nena continued in the kitchen, making the thick, “smearable” beans from the beans I had cooked earlier, and the red salsa (she said the green salsa I had made was good – yay! – the first time I made a large quantity of salsa – I just used a much larger quantity of jalapeños than I would have made for myself – about 3 times as much, haha).

The stage still wasn’t set up. We carried my two keyboards over there, and set them up on the stand, but the cords still weren’t connected.

A few people trailed in – a friend Paty brought several relatives, and they sat waiting in the cold. They waited and more people came, and waited. Chon spent quite a bit of time teasing the flock of kids that had come in through the open doors. It seemed that he wasn’t at all concerned about getting the music equipment working. No sound check. No nothing.

I’m not sure what time we began to play, but I think it was around 9. It took a long time to begin after we LOOKED like we were ready to start. The amplifiers and the head still were not communicating. Un-technical music comments follow: when the sounds began to come, I could hear my keyboards, and I could hear the guitar, coming from different speakers. There was little volume from the drums, a dangerous thing – you can get completely lost if you can’t hear in particular the bass drum. But Chon couldn’t hear the drums at all on his side of the stage,  and he turned the volume way up. On my side of the stage I could hear sound from the drum machine that I had never heard before – offbeats with treble-ish high sounds. Extremely confusing and excruciating. Chon’s exquisitely-tuned ears weren’t hearing the same things my exquisitely-tuned ears were hearing. In several instances we weren’t playing the same chords, or even in the same key. It was horrible.

It did get better, but we only played about a tenth of our set list. It simply was too cold. My fingers felt stiff and clumsy. About half of the invited guests had gone, and a few die-hards were asking for special songs that they loved, so we were reluctant to stop.

At one point I did get off the stage quickly because one small boy was throwing rocks at the dove nest in our big pine tree. I was unpleasant, and so was he and his two friends (all uninvited).

The cake Sarita brought was very, very good. A favorite cake in Mexico is “trés leches”, made with a basic white cake, soaked with “three milks”, all canned, I think. It’s served at nearly all celebrations – something you have to get used to, and for me, still not a favorite. The cake Sarita brought was also the “trés leches” style, I but it wasn’t overly wet – a very moist white cake (I think it may have had some whole wheat flour in the mix) completely covered with roughly grated coconut – delicious! and with cajeta, a caramelized milk syrup, between the layers. It was wonderful.

Nena’s family stayed around afterwards in the cold, to chat about plans for the next harvest (her husband drives a tractor for us).

It was a day that was unsatisfactory in some ways, and pleasurable in small ways.

Here’s what we used for the party – recipe for a party of forty:

two big bags of tacos (there were lots left over)

two kilos of beans, cooked, mashed, fried, with garlic cloves

two salsas:

green: a kilo of tomatillos, about 20 fat jalapenos, 5 fat cloves of garlic, onions, salt

recipe: “salsa for 100”

red: a kilo of red tomatoes, jalapeños, onion, cilantro

two heads of lettuce shredded, mixed with one heavy head of cabbage shredded

two pints of crema Aguas Calientes

one big cake

one container of Nestle’s chocolate powder, 20 liters of water – mix into milk two bags of maizena, a type of corn starch, used for champurrado and atole.

Music Sunday!

OK, yes, it’s loud. We use our big speakers, and I’ve heard that it can be noticed in a town less than a mile away.

Right now we’re hearing The Eagles. People are on their way to mass. They just can’t miss it.

Time for breakfast of tamales at 5 pesos apiece. With beans, and café de la olla – check it out! Delicious!




You say you can’t imagine being interested in hearing a lot of hearty men’s voices singing in two-part harmony with acoustic instruments, or seeing middle-aged dancers in almost medieval costumes, moving gracefully to that same sound? A little bit Spanish, a little bit European, a little bit Middle Eastern?

We used to watch a very pleasant program on Saturday mornings, and then it got moved to a (much!) earlier time before it disappeared completely. Now it’s back in Mexico on Saturday mornings again, so we have a reason not to lounge around in bed when we’re not tending the crops.

Tenderete, a forty-year-old program from Spain, offers a varied palate of music to appreciate. From the Canary Islands, featuring local groups of singers and dancers, performing traditional music not just from Spain, but from many Latin American countries, it’s produced by Spanish public television.

Imagine your local university choir or chorale. Now put the group in traditional costume from Old Spain, which is very likely different from what you might imagine.

The harmonies may be simpler than you’re imagining – two-or-three-part instead of up to eight parts. But the singing is mostly excellent. The men’s voices especially, are good – manly and easy.

From wikipedia: “In the Canary Islands, Isa, a local kind of Jota, is now popular, and Latin American musical (Cuban) influences are quite widespread, especially with the charango (a kind of guitar). Timple, a local instrument which resembles ukulele / cavaquinho, is commonly seen in plucked-string bands. A popular set on El Hierro island consists of drums and wooden fifes (pito herreño). The tabor pipe is customary in some ritual dances on the island of Tenerife.”

There’s instrumental accompaniment. Mandolins. Guitars. Charangos. Timples. Percussion. Dancing. What’s not to like?

If you watch a video or a whole program, try not to be impatient. You’re probably accustomed to slick music videos with tons of effects. Just watch and listen. You’ll begin to hear things. (If you speak Spanish, even just a little, it’ll help.)

The pleasant and knowledgeable host of Tenderete, David Peñate.

You’ll hear song forms, and they’re OLD ones – perhaps hundreds of years old. There is musica tipica (folk-type) and popular music from other countries, including Mexico, Cuba, Peru. Try it. You might find that you like it, as I do.

But you have to persevere! You may think at first “Oh, this is boring.” If you want to win the prize you must listen. Pay attention to the instrumental playing. Really look at the dancing and costumes! Listen, really listen to the voices!

There are new and cached performances on Facebook:, and maybe you can find it on your local public access, as well. When we continue our Saturday morning on the same station we get news and travel from Spain.

Let me know if you like it.

Accidente Musicál, Dos Histórietas Y Una Receta

We had a music accident the other day. We were practicing for a Valentine’s Day party, and we were excited, because, well, it’ll be musica romántica. And what could be more fun than learning or re-learning beautiful music for a three-hour gig? We were deep into a rehearsal when The Guitar Player’s pick was mistakenly but enthusiastically thrown across the room. In an effort to protect the drum machines (we use drum machines), they were bumped off their stand, and hit the tile floor. 

These were no ordinary drum machines. They’ve been programmed to hold the rhythms and tempi (speeds) of hundreds (really!) of songs we play. And they’re (ahem!) vintage. If you’re interested, I can name models and ages. The older one broke. Some outside parts (little feet, sliding adjuster knobs) broke, and something inside broke, too. The rehearsal was, well, over, and The Guitar Player began to look for whatever was causing the machine to not work. We were making plans to visit La Plaza De La Tecnología in León, or to call a friendly repair guy we know in León, or ? There was a teensy little copper coil inside (OK, it had been inside, but wasn’t any more). We swept the floor. We looked underhand on top of furniture. Finally The Guitar Player took the rest of the guts of the machine apart, and – gasp – he found it! But that didn’t solve the problem. After all, it was broken. 

We have a back-up drum machine, wisely purchased from eBay a couple of years ago. We studied the manual (yay! we had a manual, and we found it!) and remembered that there was a way to dump all the sounds and all the patterns/songs into another device or into the other drum machine. It’s two days later, now, having had to take a day off of practicing to play for a church service in a nearby town.  End of first little story.

Two drum machines “talking to each other” via midi.

So what are we doing today? The Guitarist/drum machine programmer/composer/singer extraordinaire is getting together a few (a few hundred!) seed and fertilizer bags that a neighbor wants to buy (one peso apiece). And I got a chance to get into the kitchen and make something good. I felt liking creating a memory of meals out of my past – something comforting to help us get past our musical accident and some disturbing personal financial news from California.

Beginning of second little story. A couple of years ago we were invited to play a few hours of music in a big fiesta nearby. The woman who had contracted us is a friend. We finished the night, marred as it was by a gang group of young guys who have a history of (sometimes violent) differences of opinion with the town we were in, and who had been making comments and throwing bottles. We didn’t have to hide behind our speakers as we have on various occasions, (don’t ask!) but we were tired that night anyway. It had been stressful, and the sound we got from our system wasn’t as we had hoped – things like that can really tire you out. 

We were invited to our hostess’ house for a late night supper following the gig. She said, “I made a nice cream of squash.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that might be, but running through my mind was,”Cream of squash? Pumpkin? Yellow squash? Zucchini?” but we couldn’t politely refuse. And besides, we like her, and her very, very pleasant old style mother. We sat at their comfortably large table in the comfortable kitchen (probably not like anything you might be imagining) and she served us bowls of pale green soup. I hesitantly tasted it, and goodness! it was absolutely delicious! After awhile (another bowl, please), I asked how she had made it. It sounded extremely simple, and I imagined that she must have left out some steps. 

But here’s a very, very similar recipe I recently received from Mely Martinez by way of her blog called Mexico In My Kitchen. Don’t worry – I’m not trying to make this a food blog (I save that for my sister)!

Soapbox: (hah! I wrote soupbox first!) I’m a native Californian (a small minority), and proud of it. Californians are familiar with Mexican food. And here comes the opinion: most Mexican food you may eat at a restaurant or at a potluck (all of which I’m inordinately fond of), just isn’t what you might find in a Mexican town. As much as I enjoyed my mother’s homemade enchiladas, with tomato sauce, canned green peppers and Jack cheese, they just weren’t like enchiladas I’ve eaten in Mexico. Too much cheese! (used in Mexico more as a flavoring)! Too much tomato sauce! And when I search for authentic recipes, they’re not readily available, in my opinion, unless they’re in Spanish (and then, not always). End of soapbox – returning to the topic.

I’ve jealously attempted to create salsas and foods like the ones you can find in any little Mexican hole-in-the-wall restaurant, with some successes and many not-so-successful attempts. 

So I was pleased to see this recipe. In English. It looked so similar to the way my friend described making Crema de Calabaza. It’s so simple that you may not be attracted to it (just like I wasn’t), but I recommend making this for you and your family when you’re tired after a long gig, or a disappointment. It’s perfect for a medium-sized party. It can stand alone, with toast, bread, or cheese, or maybe a rice dish. It can be a first course. It’s smooth. It’s delicious. It’s creamy. I really, really like it. The ingredients and instructions are simple, and there are clear photos to help you if you have any doubts.

This blog photo is so much prettier than mine, but the flavor of mine was just as good! Swear! Hope you can tell.

Church Musicians At Rancho Fiesta

Patronal festivals are an important part of rancho life. They are major events, lasting several days, and they serve to gather family and friends together. People from nearby towns come, and people from faraway places as well. There are plenty of ways to spend money. Colorful booths with vendors offer food, products, artisanal candy, and regional items.

Today we went to play for a mass in a not-too-far-away place where we’d never gone before. It’s a rancho called Sitio de Maravillas and maybe someday I’ll find out why it’s named that.The name means place of wonders/marvels. It looked like a typical rancho, and there were no wonders in sight. It did look typical, if there is such a thing, but the guitar player said, “These people look like they’re from Michoacan, and most of them have the same faces as my family.” As it turns out, the rancho is an ejido. From wikipedia: In Mexican system of government, an ejido (Spanish pronunciation: [eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. And the area is only two or three miles from where many of the guitar player’s cousins live. There are some good photos of Sitio at this site:

It was a rather typical-for-us first time visit. We arrived more than an hour early and began our set up. It was difficult to find a power outlet, and there was no one to let us know where we should sing and play from. 

The colorful umbrellas are masking the equally colorful vendor booths. And that spindly-looking tower is for – fireworks!

Anyway we were a bit nervous, and the church began filling up about a half-hour before the mass was to begin, which was not exactly a calming influence.

Although you can’t see the silent watchers, they’re there – right behind the photographer.

We were surrounded by people, some praying, but mostly silently watching us set up.  We felt more nervous. But when the priest entered, we knew we could relax, because we knew him, and he’s a helpful guy (not a person who corrects you or gives mean looks or cuts you off in mid-sung-syllable). And we went on getting prepared, guessing at which kind of music they might want for whatever saint was being celebrated. There were several Maria statues in the front area of the church, which is not necessarily a clue. But we did the Ave Maria for communion (the guitarist made a good call on that one, because as it turned out, the patron saint was Maria). In the last 6 years I’ve sung Ave Maria more times that I had previously accumulated in my lifetime of church singing.

There was a pretty ceiling treatment there. The only difficult thing in creating it would be using a long, long handle for the paint brush.

Pretty ceiling treatment, done with paint.

Afterwards, the same silent watchers converted in front of our eyes into friends! and wanted to know WHERE we were from, and WHY they hadn’t heard of us before, and, and, and…And WHAT is our phone number so they can call us for upcoming events. They were welcoming, and invited us to eat móle, a famous Mexican dish often served at big gatherings.  

As we were leaving we had to hurry to get the car moved because there were about 40 Aztec/Indian dancers in wonderful costumes setting up for a show right in front of the church, which I don’t recall seeing before. Not right there in front of a church.

Fireworks image from YouTube.

When we got home we took a nap, and now I’m sitting here with a little headache, yawning, and it’s only 8 p.m. I’ll bet they’re getting ready for the fireworks in Sitio De Maravillas.

Waking Up in California – Posadas 2016

It’s so difficult to photograph an Aztec dancing hummingbird!

In which is described events in The Glamorous Life Of Professional Musicians

It’s the morning of Christmas Day. The Guitar Player is sleeping. He has a gift for sleeping in the mornings. I do not, although I’m  jealous. I have slowly begun to adjust to the two-hour time difference. Our home in Mexico is on Central Time. The first couple of days I awoke before 6 a.m., and today, in spite of the fact that we were awake until well past one in the morning, I slept until 7 a.m.

On December 14th we flew from Central Mexico to Tijuana, crossed the border, rented a car in San Diego, drove to the San Fernando Valley and got a room, all in less than ten hours, from house in Mexico to hotel in California.

We store the equipment we use annually for the posadas dinner party in la bodega “warehouse storage” part of the restaurant, upstairs. The building itself is an old winery. Every year when we arrive (and throughout the year as well) Chon is anxious about the equipment. None of it has extremely high monetary value, having been collected from pawn shops/thrift shops/chance purchases, but all of it is exceedingly difficult to replace. Picture microphones, speakers of various sizes, cables (many, many cables!), microphone stands, a keyboard stand, a good-but-old keyboard synthesizer, two now-vintage drum machines (we haven’t had a drummer since Sara moved to California), a PA/mixer for the system, vintage handmade textiles that I use for unique performance wear, an ancient tape recorder, and other items I can’t think of right now.

We arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon for the first night of the posadas dinner parties. For the last 5 years our equipment was all there, exactly as we had stored it. Only this year it wasn’t. There. The area had been cleaned and re-organized, and our equipment had been re-located to a small corner storage room in the old, old building. More apprehension. The first thing I noticed was the absence of my performance outfits, and the gorgeous, multi-colored thrift shop bag I kept them in – four huipiles.

These are some of the hupiles I wear during performances.

You can read about huipiles here, or better, Google huipil and see gorgeous images. Three long skirts, cleverly chosen from thrift shop purchases to match the huipiles in color, and in varying sizes, to accommodate a variable-sized waist, were also missing. I spoke to the office manager as calmly as I could, and told her that the huipiles were worth at least a thousand dollars. She wasn’t unfriendly, but there was obvious disinterest in her face. She said blandly, “Sorry about that.”

One of the waiters we’ve known for six years kept searching. In an ancient locked and unused bathroom he found two missing speakers and my bag of clothes. During this search, we discovered that a weighty bag of cables, including two very long, professional quality speaker cords, was not to be found.

We began to set up on the small stage anyway, while other people looked in various secret storage spots, to no avail. The night manager offered to replace the cords. Ummm – in downtown Los Angeles, about two hours before performance time? Well, it might have been possible to locate and purchase them, but all the available helpers had their own jobs to do. We kept on setting up speakers, instruments, sound equipment. We found a long speaker cord of dubious quality, with a couple of frayed spots wrapped with duct tape, belonging to the restaurant, and substituted that for one of the essential missing cords.

To make a frustrating story short, Chon worked his magic and got a good sound for us. We had a very nice supper, and the show went on, as it does. The audience that night was made up mostly of the large family-and-friends of a lovely man who has been bringing them to the show for 27 years. His thirty-two-year-old daughter has been attending since she was 5 years old. There is now a flock of pre-adolescent boys, most of whom have very nice manners when approached individually, but together – well, not so. But on this night they mostly refrained from throwing candies and using laser pointers, which helped to make everything more pleasant.

The kind and gentle man came to greet us and chat with the marionette master.

We wound up the show before ten, neatly stacked up our things on the stage, and headed to our motel, about a half-hour drive away.

Somewhere during the evening the office manager advised us that we’d be doing the show only five nights this year. Instead of nine. Imagine how we felt.

I won’t do a night-by-night breakdown of the posadas performances, but this twenty-ninth year was an excellent one. I will give you a short vignette of a silly thing that happened to me one night. We direct a posadas procession through the restaurant, with the children playing the part of the shepherds in Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter. Each year we’ve worked from a 50-year-old script most likely written by one of the then-workers in the restaurant. There is narration in English, and the traditional Mexican songs of the posadas procession are in Spanish. There is one word that I’ve never thought was a good descriptive word in the story script, and it’s always bugged me. When Joseph is begging for a place for them to stay, the person denies his request and the narrative says: “They are rejected.” Well, the narrator, ME!, got stuck right there. I said, “They are …………”. I couldn’t speak the word I’ve disliked for lo, these 29 years, and I stood there, just – tongue-tied!  Other words raced through my fogged brain – “dejected”, and then, “ejected”, which struck me as such a hilarious visual image that I made an unlovely sound with my mouth closed as I laughed at the thought, and at myself. The seconds ticked by. But Chon covered for me, saying, “She’s really more accustomed to saying this part in Spanish”, which was fanciful and so not true, and another hilarious image. I got the giggles, and barely made it through the rest of the little story without completely losing it.

“They are, umm, rejected? dejected? ejected?” The Guitarist’s reaction.

The last night, the traditional end of posadas, was particularly fun, as a family from Guanajuato, the Mexican state we live in, came – lovely and lively sisters, their parents and children came. We expected them – each year they come on Christmas Eve. And a couple we’ve nicknamed the hippies, also arrived as expected. These folks all greeted us enthusiastically, as old friends, and the night turned out just the way you’d hope a live performance could be. We played well, the beautiful Mexicanas danced, teaching their children Latin rhythms, and the hippies danced to all the vintage rock songs.

This year we added some vintage music to our song list, including some original cumbias and melodic rock songs like Midnight Confessions and Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In. Food, music, good company – really, what more could anyone ask for during the winter holidays?

Musings – My Personal Tried-And True Method For Memorizing Music

A recent party set-up at our house. You'll just have to envision the other side of the stage, which looks nearly the same as "my" side, but with additional speakers for the guitar.

A recent party set-up at our house. You’ll just have to envision the other side of the stage, which looks nearly the same as “my” keyboards side, but with additional speakers for the guitar.

My sister Eileen is an author and blogs about dogs, dog training and learning, among other things. On December 19 she made a blog entry about learning theory and definitions. In it she discusses the differences between latent learning, the Eureka effect, and memory consolidation, all terms used to describe learning. You can read it here if you’d like.  Her writing made me think, as it often does, about my own learning modes and habits. Today I thought about memorizing music, and I’m sharing my thoughts here informally. I’ve tried not to use many technical musical terms for my readers.

When I’m learning a new song that we plan to add to our set list – only about three minutes long; the average length of a pop song you might hear on the radio – I’m learning “by ear” as opposed to reading written notes on paper and then memorizing.

First I listen to a recording of the song if one exists. Maybe I’ll listen to a couple of different recordings by different groups or performers. My job is to make a reasonably accurate re-creation of the original, on a synthesizer or a piano, replacing most but not all of the other people who might be playing in the band/group in the recording.

I usually learn the melodic line first (it’s pretty difficult to resist). Once I have a grasp of that I focus my attention to the bass line, rhythm and harmony, which gives me a more complete understanding of the harmonic structure than the melody alone, and I begin to put the melody, harmony and the bass line together. If I don’t have access to a keyboard I visualize myself playing along with the recording. The last thing I learn is the structure of the song. In popular songs it’s often a variation of  the outline below.

Instrumental introduction



Chorus (often the “high” or dramatic part) often based on the IV chord

Instrumental introduction 



Bridge (optional)


Instrumental “outro” (often identical to the introduction)

The two of us usually play it together. I make lots of mistakes, but receive guidance and prompts from C, who usually knows the song reasonably well, having heard it many more times than I have over the years. 

The structure of the song is often the last thing I learn. Sometimes I write it down in outline form as in the example above.

We play it a bunch of times – maybe eight times. My version improves during the rehearsal until I get it or I get frustrated and take a break. I estimate a “normal” first-time rehearsal for a brand new song takes about 45 minutes or more (time flies when you’re having fun.)

At the next rehearsal if it is later that same day or the next day, I often (usually!) can’t recall how the song begins (“How does it start again?”, and I ask C to sing me my part, or refer to the recording. I pretty much make the same mistakes I made at the last rehearsal, but remember to correct them faster.

At the next rehearsal, given the same parameters of time lapse between rehearsals, I play it better, but I still sometimes need a reminder, especially for the very beginning. If it starts off right, I usually play it the way I like it, but sometimes forget the structure. If the next rehearsal of the new song doesn’t take place for a week or two, I have to start over,  but the re-learning is usually rapid. If we have a few days without rehearsing, sections or connections slide out of my mind, and I have to rehearse, focus and work more. But sometimes over those few days, it gets better, “magically”, without practicing. 

What would you call that – just normal, everyday, B-flat learning? Memory consolidation? The Eureka effect, latent learning? Just plain-old, B-flat learning?

The most recent song I learned was “Enamorado”, a happy cumbia, from a group named Tropicalisimo Apache, at had never heard it before. We learned it last month,

A sample set-up on a small stage.

A sample set-up on a small stage. Battered keyboard, smaller speakers.

and now we’re playing it in our holiday gigs. I don’t sing the lead; only some minor backup. Please don’t assume that the structure/form outline above fits this song. It doesn’t, at least not in my mind.

Funnily enough, the first 8 notes of the introduction sometimes escape me in performance. (“HOW does it start, again?”) I think that may be because the first four notes are a very common combination in so many phrases of popular songs. Hah! They’re the first notes of those old-timey songs, “How Dry I Am”, and “Home On The Range”.

Time Is (Not!) On Our Side

Yes, we’ve been practicing, but – life happens. Our next gig is coming up fast, and we’re trying to stay ahead of it. On December 8, we’re playing for The Guitar Player’s birthday party and concert. Here, at our house. Yes, we’ve had the very best of intentions, and we’ve made schedules.

Work list:


Clean up the garden, which is rapidly returning to its natural state. (store the big squashes, haul the dead and dying vines to the lot behind the house, dig the weeds – they show no signs of dying, protect the chile plants from children running through the garden.



Clean up the yard, which is lined with hand-made-by-us bales of the large sacks our farming salts and fertilizers come in, and sad looking cardboard boxes, and sacks and sacks of plastic bottles and containers. That requires hauling the heavy trash to a recycling center in our big truck.



Get the invitation posters printed.


Make sure the food people are prepared – yes, we serve a meal to our guests! At least this time we don’t have to go grocery shopping the day before the party.

Practice, many more hours. We have a list of well over a hundred songs that are at the ready, but this time we’re featuring brand-new-to-the-public original songs. We’ve planned a set list of 60 songs, about half of them originals.

We’re also preparing our annual Christmas/Posadas Parties set list, of about 30 songs that we alternate from night to night.

And one of the band members just doesn’t feel good. He’s got a sort of flu-ish thing that’s lasted a few days. What to do? Except for practicing and memorizing lyrics, the rest of the band can’t practice alone, by herself.

Quiet Sunday, Except For The Practicing

img_4963It’s cold this morning – 40 degrees! That’s 4.44 Celsius. We’re a little concerned about the two baby ground doves that have been sitting on the tile floor of the patio for two whole days. But we can’t see them, so we’re hoping for the best.

We haven’t been feeling our best, either, but today we’re going to practice anyway (that’s what musicians DO!)

if you haven’t made your Thanksgiving plans yet, well, make them. I’m thinking albondigas, Mexican meatball soup. Have a good day, all y’all!

October 29 Had “Unique” Written All Over It

I say that today was unique for several reasons. We are jack-of-all-trades musicians. (Can I say that?) We play for religious ceremonies, dances, and special events of all kinds.


We played for a mass in nearby El Tecolote, and it was an occasion that we had not played for before: it was a mass for San Juditas, a familiar name for San Judas. Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes. This saint is popular in Mexico City, and people make pilgrimages to temples dedicated to him all over Mexico. Unique.

We were told that there is a temple dedicated to this saint in El Tecolote. In a house. Unique! There’s a story told to us with little detail. An owner of the house promised San Juditas that he would make and dedicate a temple to him if he would answer a prayer about a desperate situation that was affecting him. The temple bears witness to the answered prayer. It’s inside a house on a street near the edge of the town. They say that at one time the house was the very last house in town.  Now the street boasts several more houses, and as we came to surmise, the houses belong mostly if not completely to descendants of this man. It’s their own family neighborhood!

The houses in this area are different in that nearly all of them can be shut completely up. The entrances are very large solid metal sheets fashioned into gates by practiced metal workers. .Some have people-sized doors cut into them, but most of them are just enormous doors or gates, opened only enough for people to slip in and out. There is no view at all of the house for the curious.

It can be trying to figure out driving directions given in another language, and often the gestures are just as foreign. We were told that the church was at the end of the town, so we turned onto what looked like the last street. Since it was a mini patronal fiesta, the street was already lined with vendors, and as we were gawking, we just about tore off the right sideview mirror of our big truck,

Here’s another unusual thing, if not unique – we drove our big truck. It’s a large old panel truck that’s big enough to carry large equipment for playing for a couple of thousand people. One might ask why we took it. I’m really not sure what provoked that decision, but as we were leaving (it’s tricky getting it out of our parking in the back lot) I noticed that the brake pedal was squishy, and I announced it. Chon said we would get brake fluid tomorrow. After we loaded up our regular equipment (that can ride comfortably in the back of the PT Cruiser) we drove about a mile to the turnoff for El Tecolote, and headed down the narrow paved road leading to the town.

We asked for directions. Down there, a woman said. Turn right after the second block. And that’s where we came right up on vendors! and lots of people milling around! By this time, the brake problem had reached noticeably scary levels.  We drove right up to the vendors’ stands, and an enormous piece of plastic that covered most of the street. After the unfortunate mirror incident, I unhappily backed up the truck onto the main street again, and went further to the bottom end of the town. A lovely woman approached, smiling, and said yes; at the next street turn right. It will be much easier for you. It was a narrow street that looked like it ended right away, but it didn’t – there was just a sharp curve that we couldn’t see around. So we made it almost to the house-that-is-a-church, and parked. In front of our truck was a castillo; a fireworks tower, so we couldn’t go any further forward. A butcher in his apron came over to us and said he would get people to help us carry the equipment right to the door, and he did. Shortly we had everything set up, and then we waited for the priest to arrive. There are few priests and many churches and people, and they are pressed for time. One priest may serve up to eight churches in one day. We were hoping it wouldn’t be the bland-faced cura who often stops us mid-song, and it wasn’t – it was the new priest, who is easy to read, and (so far!) easy-going, too.


The house-that-is-a-church.

Right as we began the first song/canto, a large bus pulled right up behind our truck, and many men in uniforms got out. No, they weren’t soldiers or drug dealers. They were a band; a banda, with uniforms, instruments and sound equipment, and they traipsed right in front of us in a row in the street, to take their instruments to the other side of the entrance to the house/church.

We continued the mass with no incidents. I wasn’t surprised, since I had read the wikipedia article about San Judas De Tadeo, when the priest admonished us all, after the mass had finished, that the children should not dress as witches, or La Santa Muerte, or devils, or zombies, but instead costumes should be of saints, or religious personages, etc.

We were wondering how we would get out of the area. But the answer to that question was obvious – we couldn’t leave at all until the bus moved. And so it was that we stayed to hear a banda performance. (talk about a captive audience!) It may have been the worst live banda I’ve heard in Mexico so far. Take a listen. (I hope you can hear this. It’s my very first time converting this kind of audio file to an MP3). At least in this example, the tuba was playing generally in the same key as the rest of the band.


The band played on, and I do mean on. We needed to move our truck because of the impending tower of fireworks, and so did the band. The fireworks guys who built the tower and strapped on all the fireworks (spinning wheels, sparkling flowers, shooting rockets, etc) stood there, at times shooting anxious looks up at the tower, the two big vehicles close to the tower, and other vehicles that were blocking us from behind.

The band moved into a set of banda with vocals, even worse than the first songs. There were two men’s voices, each one thin. The lead voice sang close-to-in-tune (and those of You Who Know, know that sometimes is even worse than badly-out-of-tune singing), and the voice singing harmony, sang really, truly, badly out of tune, which sometimes created augmented chords instead of major and minor chords.

We bought some some excellent enchiladas from one of the women in front of the church/house. Well, we were hungry, and trapped in El Tecolote! How to make enchiladas for a crowd? They’re prepared on a very large disc with a bowl-like center that holds hot oil. One woman dips a tortilla in the sauce she has prepared, then dips the tortilla in the hot oil, and lays it on the outer edge of the enchilada maker. Another woman fills the red, soft tortilla with the filling of – mashed potatoes (!), and rolls it up into its familiar enchilada-ish shape. When there are several, they are transferred to a plate, and the toppings are added. Thin slices of tomato and onion are layered on top with sliced lettuce. Then, on top of that, thin cream is drizzled over the whole thing, and then some green salsa. They’re very satisfying and delicious.

By this time it was getting cold. I’m not exaggerating. I had already put on a light-weight blouse over my linen dress, and I wound my way through the crowd to get a long sleeved shirt from the truck. It wasn’t enough, but I felt a little more comfortable.

We waited and waited until the painful banda was finished with their contract. They moved over to the previously-mentioned butcher’s shop for their (free!) tacos. Hey! Why not for us? Then the large butcher and several of his equally large brothers began the process of moving the vehicles so that the bus and we, too, could get out of the narrow street. After some pickups that were stopping up the whole movement moved out of the way, the bus backed up and parked on the side of the narrow street, and the family of large brothers began to convince me, the driver, that I could back up our big truck into a side yard to turn around (thank you, gods of driving!). That’s when I remembered that the brakes weren’t exactly in working order. In spite of this, I backed the long truck into the yard. One man was telling me to Go, go, go! When I asked who was watching the other side he said There’s no problem! There’s lots of space! It was all rather jolly, and we made our way back out the narrow street, stopping only when the lovely woman who had earlier given us the (correct!) directions said to me “Don’t forget the way! You’ll be coming here every year for the fiesta for San Juditas, godwilling!”

Heading back up the street we had come down several hours earlier, we crossed each traffic-slowing tope, and made it up to the small highway, with (almost) no brakes. Slowly, we traversed the highway back to our home in our rancho. It was after midnight, and after we made our way with extreme caution past the neighbors’ house with its overhanging walkway that could be destroyed by my carelessness in driving our tall truck, we were greeted (surprise!) by our-dog-that-is-not-our-dog, Manos. He was thrilled to see us driving something (even though it was not his thrilling super favorite moving thing), home. He leapt on us and pawed us happily, making puppy sounds. We hadn’t seen him for weeks. We surmised that his other humans had gone to the big fiesta in nearby Jalpa, and he had somehow escaped his rope or chain. It was an unusual if not unique happening…

It was the date of “falling back” from daylight savings time here in Mexico. We fell into bed late but uniquely satisfied.