Musicians Warming Up

Every once in a while I come across a piano teacher or musician who think that they need to stretch their hands or run scales to “warm up.” The myth behind warming up is that you are able to isolate a body part such as the hands and move them to warm them up. If that were true, the blood that you think you warm up in your hands while moving them, because of circulation, doesn’t stay there. It circulates throughout the rest of the body meaning “cold” blood is coming back into the hands. Furthermore, you are not warming up the blood or muscles, the blood is already at its maximum temperature. The real issue is circulation.

A danger in moving cold hands or other body parts is that the elasticity of the muscles and tendons are compromised because they are in a contracted state and if you try to move cold body parts fast, you can cause damage to the tissue such as micro tears and pulls to either the muscles or the tendons. Slow movement and in the medium range of motion is always advised when the extremities are cold.

When the body is cold, the blood is kept near the core vital organs and circulation is slowed to the extremities such as the hands and feet. That makes our hands and fingers feel cold and stiff. Stretching is not a solution and our teachers and coaches have been teaching this mistruth about stretching for years.

When you stretch beyond the mid range of motion you are creating micro tears in the muscle tissue or tendons and the body’s response is to rush blood to that site to both immobilize and repair the damage. This process gives us the sensation of “warming up” when in reality we are damaging our tissue structures. Whenever we move, we must only move as far as the mid range of motion, not the extreme where we will stretch, tear and damage tissue.

There are actually two categories of muscle, fast twitch and slow twitch. Musicians should take the time to learn which ones are which and how to utilize them in their craft. Even so, forcing fast twitch muscles to move fast or to stretch them when they are cold and in their contracted state could damage them. Think of your muscles as being like warm gravy. The gravy can easily pour out of the bowl when it is warm. Now put the bowl in the fridge for half an hour and note that it no longer pours fluidly. You can’t just run a spoon through the gravy to warm it up, it needs to come out of the fridge and be warmed totally.

If you have a teacher or coach who prescribes stretching and isolation exercises to warm up the body, find another teacher. It is not their fault that they have been given erroneous information themselves from their own teachers, but, their ignorance on the subject can cause you permanent damage. Ignorance is not bliss if it results in tendon, nerve or muscular disorders. That is like going to a mechanic who says that your tires are bald but you can probably get away on them for another few months. He may be the best mechanic in the world but he is risking your life.

If one wishes to truly warm up the body and consequently the hands, one needs to sit in a warm room so that the whole body warms up, not just the part they are going to use. Another solution is to do some mild whole body movement to get the blood pumping throughout the circulatory system.

There are mini steppers on the market for under $50 that a musician can take to a gig with them and use in the green room before a performance. After doing twenty minutes or about 2,000 steps on one of those, the blood will be circulating efficiently throughout the whole body and one may even break a small sweat. You won’t have to warm up your legs because you’ve already been walking all day and, movement that is well known such as walking is as simple as the brain turning on and off a switch. One doesn’t need to warm up to remember how to ride a bike. The brain just knows what to do, like flicking a switch.

Conditioning is important, too. If you can only do three minutes on the stair stepper before fatigue sets in then you’re not going to achieve a full body warm up in that amount of time so, it would behoove you to do this every day so the body is conditioned to work at that level without fatigue. One doesn’t want to go on stage exhausted and weak. It is also advised to be hydrated before, during and after this simple body warm up procedure.

I’ll not endorse any particular brand but you can find mini steppers on Ebay, tax and shipping free. Read the user reviews on Amazon to find a brand you think you can trust.

. . . with “Rhyme on My Hands,” a Tribute to Comic Songs

A pudgy high-school kid who likes classical music isn’t bound for much of a social life, especially in the photogenic wilds of Fairfield County, Connecticut. Fortunately for Byron Nilsson, there was salvation. It came in the form of an LP he swiped from a radio station in nearby Danbury, an album on the back of which one song title was scribbled out, with the added inscription: “NOT SUITABLE FOR AIRPLAY.” The album was “Noël Coward in Las Vegas.” The song was “Uncle Harry.” The lyrics were mildly suggestive.

That Coward album – and a book of Tom Lehrer songs and recordings by Flanders & Swann – inspired a love of well-crafted light verse. Which means it rhymes. And can get a delightfully nasty before you realize it. Byron not only enjoyed those songs, he learned them. His social life didn’t improve, but he gained a measure of frightened respect.

“Rhyme on My Hands” is the latest excuse for a cabaret performance by Byron and his longtime musical director, Malcolm Kogut, spinning the fantastic story of how he weathered a life of scorn and heartache in order to sing these songs for you. Songs like “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” “The Irish Ballad,” “The Sloth,” and “The Butler’s Song” will liven the proceedings.

The show takes place at 3 PM Sunday, January 2016, at the legendary Caffè Lena (47 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs) and tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com or by calling 1-800-838-3006. Their recent Valentine’s Day and Christmas shows played to sold-out houses, so they’re hoping they can inveigle an audience once more. Warm yourself on a chilly afternoon – or come see this show!

The “Lost” or “Forgotten” Sprakers Falls at Flat Creek

The “Lost” or “Forgotten” Sprakers Falls at Flat Creek

I had heard of and seen pictures of the fabled Sprakers Falls but couldn’t verify their existence or location from any online source. Internet searches only yielded that the waterfall is rumored to be near the town of Sprakers or is “lost.”

My friend Doug searched a topo map and upon further investigation of drone maps, they helped me to discern where I thought the falls to be.

We parked at an Eerie Canal Bike Path parking lot across from the Sprakers Reformed Church. Our original plan was to drive up Canyon Road and look for parking spots or herd trails leading into the canyon but upon perusal of the Canyon Road entrance, a narrow, single lane, no shoulder dirt road, we decided to park at the lot and traverse up the creek.

Looking at the shaded spot on the topo map I calculated that the waterfall was only eight tenths of a mile upstream. I used a phone app called MAPMYHIKE and at an average speed of 1.7 mph and a distance of about one mile, 35 minutes and 12 seconds later we arrived at the falls.

The water level in the creek seemed low and very manageable. Evidence of high water debris deposits and entanglements showed that the creek must have recently been a raging river up to four feet deep. At that level it would have been absolutely unnavigable.

We intentionally wore old sneakers and simply trudged through the water which was actually a welcome relief as the temperatures were a humid 85 degrees. There were a few locations where the water was about four feet deep and there was one impressive swimming hole beneath a medium sized waterfall half way upstream which had no discernible bottom. It was a fine reward for the intrepid adventurer. At this point we could hear the turbulent roar of the larger falls slightly upstream.

The rocks in the stream were predominately slimy and slippery. Bristling with mistrust, whenever we could, we hopped on the top of dry rocks or walked along the shore. I advise bringing a walking stick to catch your balance should you slip in the slime or mud which sometimes caked the shoreline. I speak from experience.

There was evidence of wild life such as the footprints of deer and racoon. We did see two hawks, possibly a Cooper and Sharpshin. There were an assortment of smaller birds plus two Kingfishers who zigzagged the stream ahead of us. In the water there were minnows and crayfish. At one point the air became rapidly charged with the unmistakable effluvium of skunk and at another there was a strong odor of rotting flesh. We looked around for its source but it was probably above the creek-line in the woods and the scent of decay was just wafting down the canyon walls.

The actual waterfall flume was resplendent and impressive with a small grotto hollowed out to the right of the main fall. The water was turgid, most likely with the water of the previous days storm. There was poison ivy up in the grotto area so we didn’t venture too far under its overhang. Our original plan was to climb the falls and bushwhack to Canyon Road then take the road down from there. I was told there were private homes up there but while walking upstream along the creek bank there were no discernible trails or access to properties above the canyon.

The creek had an assortment of man made debris such as car bumpers, radiators, a bike frame and tires. Most likely these were washed down from a dump site or farm after various heavy rains over the years.

Around the actual waterfall, there was evidence of human partiers who left their empty soda and beer cans for others to enjoy. My friend Doug would have carried them out but I am more passive aggressive and left them in the hope that should they ever return they will be ashamed at seeing the mess that they left. Probably not. Only now do I realize that after the next storm, their nickel valued aluminum detritus will be transported downstream to eventually adorn the mighty Mohawk River.

Video – Malcolm Kogut
Music Patrick Moraz from the album THE STORY OF I

Three Day Hike

These are photos from a three day hike through the Adirondack Mountain range in upstate NY. We ascended eight arresting peaks in twelve hour excursions. The steep ascents, rocks and roots in the trail, crowded trails, occasional black flies and carrying about four liters of water made for an arduous trip but the worst offender was the 90 degree temperatures and high humidity. I need to invest in more moisture wicking clothing. Most all of the mountain streams were dry so there was no chance of filtering water en route. Pictured are my partners in crime, Doug, Jim and me, Malcolm Kogut.

The pictures include Ausable Lake from Blake Mountain, the fire tower at the top of St. Regis mountain, a distant view of Giant, Noonmark and Sawteeth, the ridge walk of Whiteface Mountain, Mirror Lake in Lake Placid and a sign designating the “Ladies Mile” trail from back in the day when women were considered the more “dainty” of the sexes.

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News Anchor Flubs

I was watching the news this morning, one day after the opening Olympic ceremony in Rio and you know that period during the news when the anchors have no real news to report so they just banter off the top of their heads? I call it verbal detritus. One of the anchors said that she cheered when the American team came out. I know that anchors are probably required to be college graduates but I don’t think this one was paying attention during Geography 101. It’s okay, I am smart enough to know what she meant but this is what she really meant to say.

There is a super-continent known as the Americas or the New World. It is divided into two sections, North America and South America. In North America there are at least 23 officially recognized independent states or countries. To the far north is the state or country of Canada. Then there is a conglomeration of states comprising of the county The United States. Both those countries are of America. Below that is Mexico and assortment of other American countries such as Nicaragua, Panama, Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Jamaica and many more. They are all part of America and they had teams at the Olympics representing their state in the Americas. They are all American teams. So “America” isn’t just the United States, it is a whole super-continent.

To further complicate things for our anchor who wasn’t paying attention in class, there are a couple dozen independent territories owned by countries or states from the European continent such as the Cayman Islands (UK), Martinique (France), Aruba (Netherlands), Greenland (Denmark) and many more. So, does that mean France is part of America? I don’t know. Maybe a news anchor will be able to tell us.