Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The World of Wombat is thrilled and honored to announce a new association with the pre-eminent directory of online funny stuff, Without further ado, let's get right to the FAQ's:

Q: Just how much of an honor is this?

A: A tremendous, nay unspeakable honor, well beyond any other honor bestowed by mortal man.

Q: Isn't that overstating it a bit?

A: Yes.

Q: What does one have to do to be associated with

A: It may surprise you to hear that there is a years-long, painstaking review process by a team of leading academicians, theologians, and proctologists. It would certainly surprise the folks at, since it is not true. Actually all it means is that I registered this site there, and eventually they may get around to reviewing it and directing some traffic my way.

Q: Why do you keep showing the link to

A: Good question. I am hopeful that the good people at will appreciate the effort to send some visitors their way and speed up the reviewing process.

Working in my favor, also, is that founder Diesel is a close personal friend, owing to the strong, abiding bond forged by the fact that we've each posted a message on the other's site once or twice -- plus I'm aiding him in his quest to get more airplay for Huey Lewis.

Working against me is the sad reality that this blog only has three regular readers. I am therefore not likely to be able to drum up much cross-traffic. (The print edition of this blog is, however, wildly popular in nursing homes.)

Q: Are there any requirements for being listed at

A: One requirement is that the blog be updated frequently, at least once a week. Since up until now I've been operating on the less-stringent "whenever I feel like it" standard, this will likely result in more posts here.

Since my brain won't be any more creative, however, prepare for essays about what I'm having for lunch or things I read in the newspaper. (I'm also about to leave for a two-week vacation, so prepare to be disappointed if you expect a post next week.)

Q: Wait, if this is we're talking about, aren't you also required to be funny?

A: (a) Technically, yes, they strongly suggest that. But (b) I've read some of the blogs linked there, and there doesn't appear to be much oversight. And (c) Hey, just what are you implying here??

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wonderful Counselor

"Counselor" is one of the titles that I wear in my professional life. It says it right on my law license: "Attorney and Counselor at Law." The "attorney" part generally means that I can represent someone, that is, act in their place in legal matters. As a "counselor," I am able to give advice to my clients, on what steps to take to stay legal, to benefit themselves, to not improperly harm others. (It's also often used to address a fellow attorney -- particularly useful when you've forgotten their name!)

At this time of year we're often reminded of the verse in Isaiah that foretells the coming of God's Anointed One, the Messiah, Jesus, and says He will be called the "Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." For some reason this year I've been struck by the first one, from a lawyer's point of view.

Lawyers are counselors, but not always good ones. (After all, as the old adage goes, it's 98% of lawyers that give the other 2% a bad name!) But Jesus is the wonderful counselor. He gets it right. You can trust His advice. You can follow His lead. He is the Way -- to stay legal (righteous before God), to benefit yourself, to do good to others.

Wherever you are in life -- close to God or far from Him -- there is a Wonderful Counselor available to you. Turn to Him. Trust Him.

(Not sure where to start? Click here for help.)

From all of us here at Wombat Central, have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!

BRWombat & family

Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is a great idea!

If you're like me and love finding internet time-fillers, here's one that is interesting, educational, and helpful to others all at once. The website is The site is a fun (and challenging!) vocabulary quiz, and by playing it you help provide rice to hungry people in the world!

The concept is simple but amazingly creative:

1. A banner ad appears at the bottom of each question page.
2. The advertisers pay a certain amount per view to the website.
3. The ad money is donated to the United Nations World Food Program.

SO... the more you play, the more will be donated to feed the hungry! Currently the rate is 20 grains of rice per question answered correctly (up from an original 10). As web traffic increases and ad revenue goes up, the web site's organizers hope to increase that amount further.

Finally, a website that lets you feel good about wasting your time there! Visit soon, play often.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Believe... or not, the Vocal Majority's new Christmas CD is out!!! We just got them on Tuesday, and as of now they're not even listed on the VM website. They should be available online and in Barnes & Nobles soon -- at least Dallas-area stores, maybe more.

I may be a bit biased, but this is one awesome Christmas CD! It has a great mix of songs, lots of different styles. It's a mix of secular and spiritual carols, some a capella, one with full orchestra, one with just acoustic guitar. A couple of the tracks feature the two champion quartets that have come out of the chorus (Max Q and Acoustix). And one song is sung in the Yoruba dialect of west Africa! Hopefully there'll be some cuts from the CD available for listening on our website soon.

And yes, I am on it! I qualified in time to make the last recording session. Again, sorry for patting myself on the back like this, but seeing this is almost as good for me as having my name up in lights on Broadway. I'm probably enjoying this way too much, but this is just too cool -- my name is in the liner notes!

It's been less than ten months since I first even attended a VM rehearsal. In that time I have sung over 65 songs (needless to say, each of them was new to me, if not the song itself then the arrangement!); I've performed with the chorus in ten different appearances (in two states); and now I'm on a VM album! I may eventually become ho-hum about being in the group, but -- wow! -- not yet! It still seems like a dream.

So... buy the CD and prove to me it's not a dream. :-)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Huey Lewis needs your help!

There comes a time in any man's life when he needs to stand up for justice, to right the social wrongs, to take on a cause greater than himself.

This is not one of those times.

Huey needs your help!But hey, I loved me some Huey Lewis & the News back in the day, and his music still brings back a lot of good memories. As far as good causes go, this will not make a great deal of difference to the world, or help liberate the oppressed. Our sights are set a bit lower: getting Huey more airplay on classic rock radio stations. If we can hear him more often, than our efforts are not wasted.

Do you like your bands in business suits? Did you thrill to point out Mr. Lewis's "sorry but you're too darn loud" cameo in Back to the Future? Were you made vaguely uncomfortable leading a drug-free existence only to find yourself singing along to "I Want a New Drug"?

If so, then we need your help! Please click on the picture for the details (and a glimpse into a very funny blog, Mattress Police)!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Wombat Book Club

I'm not Oprah, so I don't expect this endorsement to sell millions of copies (sorry, Janey!), but I highly recommend Jane Hampton Cook's newest release Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the Revolutionary War. The author is a friend, the wife of a former college roommate (and best man at my wedding)... but don't let that stop you from getting this book -- it is very worthwhile.

Battlefields & Blessings is a fascination collection of devotionals framed around the Revolutionary war and the devout faith of the early patriots who founded our nation. It is structured for a full year of daily readings, organized into a weekly pattern: Sunday's devotional draws from a sermon of the era, the weekday studies revolve around the life of one of the many interesting participants in the conflict, and the Saturday reading provides a modern application.

I suppose I should add a disclaimer, lawyerly type that I am... I did contribute in a small way to the book. One of my earliest entries on this very weblog (here) was adapted on one of the modern application days.

But don't let that keep you away either. :-)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Click the logo!!!

I'm a big fan of The Office on NBC, and for fans of the show there is fake business operating online for the show's fictional paper company, Dunder Mifflin. Without boring you with the details, I'm an "employee" of the Yakima, Washington branch, and am competing for ad-clicks for this fictional branch. (Yes, it's a waste of time, but... well, not much time, at least. This took me maybe eight minutes to throw together!)

Anyway, if you're reading this, please click on the image above, and I'll receive credit for it. Thanks!

Monday, October 08, 2007

TOP NINE: Other uses for VM recordings

Vocal Majority office manager extraordinaire Gera Shoemaker recently shared with the group some of the interesting phone calls she fields from around the world, many about the effects of the VM's music on people's lives. It's pretty cool to hear how the group's CD's help people through illness, grief, loneliness... but I have to say my favorite was the Idaho farmer who plays Vocal Majority music around the clock to his 300 acres of rose bushes, saying that no other music makes his roses grow as big or as beautiful!

Which of course got me thinking... what other unusual uses are there for the VM's music??? And so, The World of Wombat is proud to present:

From the great minds at the Wombat Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Short-Order Cooking School:

Top Nine other interesting uses for Vocal Majority recordings:

Can teach you Portuguese while you sleep, if we ever record a song in Portuguese.

8. VM arrangement of “Heigh Ho” makes dwarves’ mining operation more efficient.

7. Those responsible for the Fox Fall programming lineup did not listen to the VM while deciding which shows to air. Just sayin’.

Boosts airline on-time service by 2.3%.

5. Aphrodisiac effect equal to (BW+MG)^2 (Barry White plus Marvin Gaye, squared).

4. When played in lobby, increases hotel’s guidebook rating by one whole star.

3. Makes hamsters run extra-fast in their little wheels.

2. Having 120+ VM members in your CD changer allows single driver to use HOV lane.

And the number one interesting use for Vocal Majority recordings:

1. Makes warring Iraqis long for democracy.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I'm not alone!!!

It's been over a year since I posted my manifesto against church signs here ("Church signs tick me off," September 2006), and I have just recently discovered the wonderful Crummy Church Signs website. I highly recommend it -- this guy is a Christian who dislikes church signs for many of the same reasons I do: not just the poor grammar and/or spelling, bad puns, or bumper sticker theology, but for the weird, distracting, or just plain unappealing face we're putting on our churches for non-believers.

The website is also snarky and very, very funny, which I love. Check it out!

Monday, September 24, 2007


The Fall Vocal Majority shows were an amazing experience, at least from a performer's point of view. Thankfully, the feedback from our audiences suggest it was a huge success for them as well!

Me in my first-half cowboy getup.
The theme of the show was "How the West Was Won."

Where to begin? I enjoy the regular rehearsals with the VM so much that it's easy to lose sight of how much more fun it is to perform for a live audience! It's a pleasure just to perform with these guys -- and then to have such overwhelming response from the packed theater on top of that, it's beyond description. What a blast!

Max Q performs as we watch quietly (most of the time) behind the scrim.

Our own champion quartet Max Q were guest performers, and man oh man are they good. They opened the second half of each show with a 30-minute set, and the guys of VM got to sit on our risers onstage, in the dark, and watch them perform from behind a scrim. It was a treat each time. They are so talented, funny, and entertaining! I sometimes tell myself that I'd like to give the quartet competition a try, and then I hear what champions sound like and quietly decide to stick with what I'm doing now.

My mom & son Benjamin with me after the show.
(Older son Brandon took the picture!)

A special treat for me was that my family finally got to see me perform! Up until now, only my father & father-in-law have seen the VM in a show (in Denver in July). My wife and boys have seen me in rehearsal, but it's not the same. They and my parents, along with two uncles, one aunt, and a few family friends, were able to attend the Saturday matinee, and they all really enjoyed it. (Whew!)

As for me, I didn't trip, fall, or miss any (obvious) choreography moves. Yay!! It speaks for the amount and quality of the singing that I've been doing in the past 7 months, too, that after three 2-hour shows and all of the wide range and vocal gymnastics required of a VM baritone, my voice is not in the least bit hoarse or strained. I'm probably in the best "singing shape" of my life, more than after a summer touring with the Continental Singers (26 years ago -- yikes!).

My feet and legs are not nearly as sore as after Denver, but that week included a lot of walking. Upper body is a different story. My shoulders, chest, and arms are sore!! We pump a lot of energy into our choreography, and even the non-choreo songs demand a lot of intensity in our bodies. Consequently, I am pretty stiff and achy. Tylenol, aspirin, Motrin and Aleve have become my close friends!! (Not all at once.)

All in all, a wonderful weekend. VM being VM, of course, we continue with our regular rehearsals on Thursday, shifting our focus to our next events: Sky Ball on October 13 and our Christmas Shows on December 13-15, along with a smattering of private holiday appearances! As they say, the music never ends.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Vocal Majority Fall Show

One week until my local debut* with the VM! Get your tickets now! :-)

*Okay, my local public debut. I have done a private show for a convention at the Gaylord Texan hotel.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This is taking over my life

I share my bed with a barbershop quartet.

Lest you think that is TMI, I guess I should mention that it is a "quartet" of stuffed animals. Becky & I had given each other stuffed dogs some time ago, whom we named Sandy & Chewie, and then some friends sent me a stuffed wombat, named Wilma. The foursome was completed when I returned from the Barbershop Harmony Society convention in Denver with a "barbershop bear" for Becky -- a teddy bear wearing a red vest and a BHS pin.

I added my own "BARI" pin (I don't really have any place to wear it except barbershop gatherings), and that became the bear's name: Bari. Our boys, Brandon & Benjamin, promptly decided that he and the other three animals make up a barbershop quartet.

We've yet to hear them sing, though.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Honoring God in harmony

As much as I've yakked about my new barbershop "hobby," I often find it hard to fully convey just exactly what it's like to sing in a magnificent chorus like the Vocal Majority. It's more, much more, than just making a pretty sound and being happy about it. As I've told my wife, there is a spiritual component, too. Singing with the VM pushes me to my limits, and when I am using whatever gifts God gave me to the fullest in that way, I am fully convinced that it brings Him glory.

The closest I can compare is to draw on the words of Olympic runner and later Christian missionary Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame), who once wrote his sister that "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." Running a footrace is not exactly a spiritual endeavor, yet it became so to Liddle because he was using his God-given abilities to the fullest to honor Him.

My musical talents are far from Olympic-quality, yet whatever I have is a gift from the Lord. And when I am using that talent as best I can, as VM makes me do, the harmonies that result are glorious, and I feel God's pleasure. And not just on gospel or inspirational songs, though our repertoire includes quite a few of those -- I feel it as much performing "Luck Be a Lady" as when singing "God Be with You." It's an incredible thing.

(I think too often we are too limited in our view of what brings God pleasure anyway. I can't imagine He smiles only when we do "church stuff," any more than my boys only please me by what they do in Sunday School! If we are abiding in Christ and living abundantly as He intended, we are bringing Him glory no matter what the activity.)

I'd been mulling these thoughts for months, trying to decide how to best express them here, and then a longtime and accomplished barbershopper has come along and put these concepts into words better than I could. Dr. Jim Henry gave the July 29 keynote address at Harmony University and the full text of his speech has been posted here. Dr. Henry argues that this is much more than a "hobby": "It doesn’t just fill your leisure time. It feeds your spirit. It changes your life and the lives of everyone for whom you sing." He goes on to cite the many ways God has used his singing and that of others to effect the lives of people around the world. Dr. Henry no longer calls music his hobby -- it is a ministry.

This was driven home even more for me yesterday, when I was able to join VM at the memorial service for a former member of the chorus. It was very emotional to sing "I'll Walk with God," "You Raise Me Up," and "The Lord's Prayer" for those assembled, and a definite honor to be able to minister in a time of loss. And yet, I found myself ministered to even more, as friends and family spoke of their loved one as a man who was at once a rugged outdoorsman, a loving husband and father, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and a man unafraid to express himself in song. What an amazing combination

The ability to make harmony on Earth is, I am convinced, a loving gift of God straight from the gates of heaven. It has power to impact the heart of both the musician and the hearer. I know that the tremendous joy I feel singing with VM pales in comparison to the joy I'll have singing to my Father in His presence... but then, I'm singing to Him now. Maybe that's why it feels like heaven.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Me on YouTube...

...with a bunch of other guys. VM's Denver performance has been posted on YouTube! No closeups of me that I noticed, sorry (actually that's a good thing!), but you can spot me in the long shots 2 or 3 in from the right-hand side (depending on the song), top row.

BTW, tickets are now available for our Fall show, September 21 & 22 at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas! Regular readers of this blog (both of you) feel free to use my code "5043" for a 10% discount when you get the tickets through the Vocal Majority website!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Onstage with VM in Denver!!

I've just returned from Denver and the international convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society and its affiliated organizations worldwide, and yes, I have now actually performed on stage with the Vocal Majority!!! (Three times, actually!) And what a rush it is -- the cheering crowds, the adrenaline and emotion, and the amazing satisfaction of ringing chords with the greatest group of guys in the world. I'll probably post more after I'm home longer and can collect my thoughts -- the whole week is a blur right now -- but I thought you'd like to see a couple of pictures.

This is on stage at the Pepsi Center, around midnight on Friday night, as we take our place on the risers for our spotlight performance. On the other side of the closed curtain sit 10,000+ people about to be wowed. Even though as reigning gold medalists we do not compete this year, the group works just as hard as during a competition, with the goal to always improve and still be the best there is. The energy in the group as we wait behind the curtains is one of my strongest memories, as we pump ourselves up to put on the show of our lives (and mirrored by the excitement after the curtain closes and we -quietly- pump our fists and celebrate)!!

Onstage at the Pepsi Center -- photo courtesy of my dad! I am on the top row, third from the right-hand side. We are attired in black tuxedos with black shirts, gold ties and pocket squares -- and gold medals!

This is from our Saturday morning "Master Class" at the convention, a little closer up so you can see me. (I've had to check these pictures myself several times -- this is such a dream, I still can hardly believe I'm in the group!!) We are wearing our Denver "travel shirt," a burgundy button-down with a clever logo forming the letters "VM" into the shape of mountains.

That's it for now -- I'm headed to bed, since I still haven't caught up on sleep and I go back to work tomorrow. Many, many thank yous to the men of the Vocal Majority for allowing me the honor and privilege of joining my voice with yours. Thanks also to all of the wonderful barbershoppers from around the world that I met in Denver -- this hobby truly attracts great people!

And congratulations to VM's own Greg Clancy & Jeff Oxley, who with Tony De Rosa & Gary Lewis comprise this years International Champion Quartet MAX Q!!!!

Friday, July 06, 2007

With VM in Denver

I'm in the Mile High City with the Vocal Majority! Tonight we perform at the Pepsi Center - this is us heading in for our morning tech rehearsal. The Barbershop Harmony Society convention has been a blast so far - lots of great music!

Note: If you missed seeing this post before, there's a reason: this was originally sent live from Denver, but due to some issues with posting from my cell phone it was misdirected. Just found it and put it with this blog.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Odds and ends

Random thoughts:

  • This has been a crazy week. We needed rain after last year's drought, but we've received more than we bargained for. We haven't personally been affected by any flooding, BUT it did mess up our church's innovative Vacation Bible School, which we hold in a nearby water park! Two of the four nights were canceled because of the weather, and I was out last night because of VM practice. (Which reminds me of a shirt I saw one guy wearing last night; it read, "I CAN'T, I have rehearsal." Becky didn't think it was as funny as I did.)

  • My 21-step Qualification Checklist for The Vocal Majority is now complete! My first signature was obtained back on April 5 from my auditioner, Wes Dean. I got the final signature last night from co-director Greg Clancy. Greg congratulated me and pointed out that yesterday was a good day to finish the list, as it was the 32nd anniversary of the VM's first gold medal win in 1975!

  • After today, I will be off of work until July 10. Most of the time off I will be back in Denver. I grew up there, but it's not easy to get back very often, and yet I find myself heading back for the second time this year! What's even wilder is that we typically plan trips long in advance, but until November or December of 2006, we hadn't even thought of going to Colorado at all this year, but circumstances allowed us to travel up in March over Spring Break; and then when I passed the initial VM audition in April, I did not think I could get qualified in time to travel to Denver, but I was strongly encouraged to do so, and now I'm riser-qualified and Denver-bound. It's been a whirlwind and lots of work, but fun all the way. I can't wait to perform with the group!!

  • Speaking of that, we perform in two shows in Denver and also will conduct a "Masters Class," where we'll sing some more. As mentioned in the previous post, we sing at the Pepsi Center on Friday evening, at the tail end of the chorus competition. On Saturday afternoon, we perform as part of the World Harmony Jamboree, a 2+ hour concert featuring award-winning quartets and choruses from many different countries. VM is representing the nation of Texas. :-)

  • I'll post more soon -- maybe while I'm there, for sure when I get back!

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    I'm in!

    VocalMajority.comI have passed my Final Performance Qualification with The Vocal Majority Chorus (after previously having passed separate Music (vocal) and Choreography reviews). Last night I was presented with my cufflinks and bolo tie for my performance tuxedo, meaning I am officially "riser qualified" and can perform in public with the group.

    I'm not ashamed to say it was a lot of work. I thought the two months it took me was a long time, but it turns out it's not. In fact, I understand one other rookie who qualified with me last night has been working at it for over 9 months. I really admire his perseverance -- I don't know if I could have sustained that kind of effort!

    There are many, many things that impress me about VM, and I'm still discovering others. But from a new member point of view, I am awestruck at a combination of two things that few groups have, in my experience: (1) Extremely high and inflexible standards AND (2) an extremely helpful and encouraging membership doing all they can to help you succeed. Many groups have one or the other: some are friendly and welcoming, but take anyone willing to join. That's not bad, just different. Those groups can be a blast to be a part of, but the quality is not the same. Other groups have high standards but lift not a finger to help you get there. They tend to be elitist -- if you can qualify, you can be one of them; otherwise, you probably weren't "worthy." Those groups tend to be good but not very pleasant.

    The combination of both of these factors makes VM special. Their rehearsals are always open to the public, and any guy can step in off the street, never having sung barbershop (or anything!) before, and they will immediately be put on the risers next to 25+ year veterans with a pocketful of gold medals. Amazing! But if you want to join, there's a pretty rigorous audition, one that many guys try 4-5 times to pass. The thing is, each time you "fail" is used as a teaching time to help you the next time. They really want you to get in, and help you to do so without sacrificing their quality!

    Then, once you join, there are even higher standards for being able to perform with the group, both in singing in VM's style and moving (and expressing) the way they do. There is a lot of music to learn, and a lot of moves to study. They expect perfection. But many of the veterans give up extra hours of their time to teach you, and everyone -- everyone! -- is willing to answer questions and give pointers. They do not relax their standards, but to a man they are pulling for you and helping in whatever way they can to get you over the hurdle. It is an extraordinary group of men, and I am very, very honored to be one of them now.

    Oh, yeah, they sing good, too. See them -- I mean, us!! -- in person if at all possible!

    My debut with the group will be onstage at the Pepsi Center in Denver, before a crowd of 10,000+, on Friday July 6. Should be fun! (For tickets, or to order the live webcast, go to the Barbershop Harmony Society website.)

    Tuesday, June 05, 2007

    Harmony Explosion

    I have not yet become "riser-qualified" with The Vocal Majority Chorus (that is, certified as to sufficient learning, vocal and choreographic, to perform with the group in public), but I think I'm getting close. It may even happen this week. BUT, I have to say, as anxious as I've been to perform, last Saturday night made me almost glad -- almost -- that I have not yet qualified. VM performed at the closing night of the Harmony Explosion Camp, a 3-day music camp for teens sponsored by the Southwestern District of the Barbershop Harmony Society. If I'd qualified in time, I would have performed with the group. As it was, I got to do something I'd never done before -- be in the audience for a VM performance! That's right, although I've heard the group on the radio, seen them on TV, and even been backstage a their shows, until Saturday night I'd never just sat in the audience to hear them perform!

    I can't begin to tell you how awesome the group is. They performed a 30-minute set, and every song was moving, entertaining, and technically amazing. They garnered three well-earned standing ovations before reaching their last song! And their encore -- Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho -- was goosebump-inducing. I was getting misty-eyed at the amazing-ness (if that's a word) of it all. Hard to believe I'll be up there with them (soon? eventually? maybe?)!

    There are several VM videos on YouTube if you want to see them perform -- even Joshua -- but nothing compares to seeing them in person. Make every effort to see them in concert some time soon -- you won't regret it! (Upcoming dates: Denver in July -- VM is performing a couple of times at the Barbershop Harmony Society international convention in Denver this coming July 2-8 -- I hope I'm with them then. Texas in September -- the VM Fall series of shows, titled "Deep In The Heart of Texas," will be held September 21 & 22. Details for all of this and more are on the VM website.)

    As awesome as VM was on Saturday night, I can't fail to mention the Harmony Explosion Chorus, the 65 or so teenage guys that attended the camp. They closed the show with a set of six songs of their own. For a group that had only been together for less than three days, they were amazing, and in their own way, just as entertaining as VM. Oh, sure, they were far from technically perfect, but their performance was energetic, passionate, and a heck of a lot of fun. (I'm still smiling about their closer, "Zombie Jamboree." I'd smile more if I could get the tune out of my head!) All in all, a tremendously entertaining evening.

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    History of the World, Part One

    Sorry for the delay since I last posted. Part of the reason was my hectic schedule, but mostly I've just been struggling to come up with a non-Vocal-Majority-related topic to write about, hoping to give my readers (both of you!) a break. Plus, the rest of my spare time (such that it is) is taken up with learning VM music and VM choreography to the point where even I am almost sick of it... oh, wait, I wasn't going to write about that. Sorry.

    Actually, I have managed to fit into my limited down time some pretty interesting reading, of Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples. I've never been a huge history buff like my brother Greg, but occasionally I find myself becoming fascinated with history if the story is well-told. Churchill's book (actually a single volume compiled from his original, more scholarly, four-volume treatise) is pretty dry from time to time, but I've still found it interesting. (Note to my pastor: I was joking when I said I was carrying the book around just to look intelligent. I actually am reading it.)

    What is most compelling to me is the big picture it gives. It starts with the Roman-occupied British Isles and works forward chronologically, through the Dark Ages, the Medieval era, and onward to the early/mid-20th century when it was written. Most of the historic figures I had heard of, and many of them I knew their stories already. What has been new is how they flow together, how one familiar story relates to another, over and over through history. I highly recommend it.

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    Onstage with the VM

    UPDATED 5/8 to add: Pictures from the Spring Show are now up at this link.

    Saturday's Spring shows were my first appearance onstage with the Vocal Majority.

    Mind you, when I say I was "onstage" with them, I mean it in only the most literal sense. I helped push a grand piano out to center stage for an appearance by "Liberace," and then helped remove it afterwards. That's right, I was a stage hand -- but it was still a blast.

    After the final show, I was in full rookie "grunt work" mode, collecting pocket squares, sweeping the dressing rooms for trash and any stray costume pieces, and then loading the tuxes, sets, etc. onto VM's truck. The show ended around 10:10 p.m., and I and the other rookies were done about an hour-and-a-half later. Tiring, but not too bad.

    The guys in the group are so encouraging. Many of them, including director Jim Clancy himself, came offstage, shook my hand, and said that I could/would/should be onstage next time -- presumably meaning more than pushing a piano! That made me feel pretty good. I also have had several men console me as I labored after the show, saying things like, "Don't worry, we've all had to go through this," and "All the hard work is worth it."

    I'd smile and thank them for the encouragement, but... honestly it isn't necessary. You see, my dirty little secret is -- I love the grunt work. Being backstage at a show like this is an incredible experience in and of itself. You get to hear the show, soak in the audience response, and even contribute in a small way. (There were several of us rookies backstage singing along from time to time!) And hey, unlike the men on the risers, I occasionally got to sit down during the show! Even the post-show work is fun in its own way.

    I've worked most of the positions in various (pre-VM) shows -- from lead roles to chorus positions as a performer, and stage hand and tech crew backstage. Each has its own rewards. Mind you, the goal now is to get onstage (for the whole show!) and perform as a fully-qualified member of the Vocal Majority, and I haven't lost sight of that at all. But I find I'm also enjoying the path that it takes to get there.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    TOP NINE: Vocal Majority surprises

    As you've read here, I am a new member of The Vocal Majority, a mindbogglingly successful and entertaining men's pops chorus. (Even if you didn't read it here, if you're around me at all then you know, since I can hardly bring myself to shut up about it.) I thought I knew a lot about the group, but what I've seen so far has opened my eyes. And so, The World of Wombat presents...

    From the great minds at the Wombat Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Short-Order Cooking School:

    Top Nine surprising things about the Vocal Majority:

    9. So far, Jerry Falwell hasn’t attended a single rehearsal. (Note: He wasn't dead when this was posted. It kind of takes away from the humor now that he's gone, doesn't it?)

    8. Twenty percent of the initial audition is Canadian football trivia.

    7. Long-time members have poor posture due to the weight of the many gold medals around their necks.

    6. Rookies are required to sleep in their tuxedos for the first year.

    5. Good-natured ribbing between the voice parts sometimes escalates into knife fights.

    4. Most of choreography training is spent watching old episodes of “Solid Gold.”

    3. Official all-purpose flour of the Vocal Majority: Gold Medal.

    2. There is NO number two! (Well, just once, in 1978, but not since.)

    And the number one surprising thing about the Vocal Majority:

    1. No satanic rituals are involved in VM's success; they just sing really well!

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    VM Notes (wordplay intended)

    I really can't fully explain what is happening here. Last night's Vocal Majority rehearsal was a rough one for me physically -- it began with my first hour-long rookie choreography lesson at 6:00, followed by the regular 3-1/2 hour practice, standing on risers the whole time as usual. At the 10-minute break, when I'd normally go sit and rest my feet, I was instead chasing down the signatures I need as a new member (as I contact the various people responsible for adding me to the roster, getting me on the member email list, getting me a name badge ordered, etc.). Add to that tearing down the risers at the end of practice (my job as long as I am a rookie), plus the fact that Vocal Majority logoI hadn't eaten before coming to rehearsal (never again!), and then standing around for 15-20 minutes afterwards just singing some impromptu barbershop with a few of the guys (fun!), I was on my feet for all but about 5 minutes out of 5 hours! I was really hurting by the end of it all last night...

    ...and yet this morning I feel great. I can't explain it -- but I love it!

    I am officially a member of the Vocal Majority now. I've completed all five steps of "phase one" -- passing the audition, being signed off by director Jim Clancy, checking in with the "Rookie Coordinator," being approved by the Board of Directors (I was interviewed at their meeting on Monday night), and submitting my membership application and dues. Phase two consists of ten administrative steps, including getting assigned an official position on the risers, getting my own copies of music and practice CDs, and the various sign-ups mentioned above. Phase two also includes the choreography and vocal training, and learning the VM's entire current repertoire, with emphasis on fifteen or so "core songs." When I am ready (meaning perfect or darn near close, from what I gather!), I will have a qualification audition. Only when I pass that will I be able to perform with the group.

    There were several really enjoyable moments for me last night, not least of which was being able to sit on the risers as a member during the "halftime" announcements, rather than stepping down to be introduced as a guest. I also witnessed, for the first time, some members become riser-qualified. Five or six guys were pulled out during rehearsal for their qualifying attempt, and apparently they are not told at the time whether they passed. At the end of rehearsal, directors Jim and Greg Clancy stepped forward with an announcement, and Greg held out a small, dark blue velvet drawstring bag. The guys in the group starting getting excited for this -- I of course was clueless as to what was going on at first. Greg announced a man's name and held out the bag to him, and the rest of the group cheered wildly as he stepped out to claim it. I figured out at that point that he had qualified, but I had to ask a veteran member what was in the bag.

    It contained his cuff links, for the new performance tuxedo he will soon be wearing.

    Two other men were announced in the same manner. Also, two others passed their initial audition, so I am no longer the newest member.

    One final note (A#?)... One thing about I've learned about the group made me laugh. I knew when I joined I'd be considered a "rookie" for a while, and have extra set up/tear down responsibilities. What I didn't know was how long I'd be a rookie. I thought maybe until I passed the qualifying audition, or maybe for a full year. Wrong. The group is so accustomed to winning the international gold medal every three years that new members are rookies until they "get their own gold medal" -- in other words, until they are a part of the group when they next win! (I was specifically told it doesn't count if I just steal someone else's!) So... it looks like I'm a rookie until the summer of 2009!

    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Vocal Majority - Step One

    A few weeks ago, I wrote of my first visit to a Vocal Majority rehearsal ("Chords that ring forever") and what a thrill it was to be able to add my voice to their best-in-the-world sound. (Not an exaggeration -- an unparalleled eleven international gold medals, including gold the last ten times in a row they've been eligible to compete!) Well, I'm hooked. Since that article, I've been to several more rehearsals, and last night I took the plunge and auditioned.
    The Vocal Majority's 2006 Gold Medal performance on YouTube

    I've auditioned many times in my life, for various choirs, solos, theatrical roles, etc., and I can say without a doubt that I've never had an audition as demanding and intense as the Vocal Majority's. They say that maybe one in five people pass on the first try. (It certainly didn't help my confidence last night when the man escorting me to the audition room told me, "This is the route you'll take from now on when we come get you to audition." Come get me... again??? I asked him if it was a multi-part process, and he said, "No, it just takes most guys three or four auditions to get in." Yikes!)

    I did not time the audition, but it was at least thirty minutes in length, quite possibly forty-five -- all of it one on one with the auditioner, Wes, who sat at a piano while I stood. Besides the usual checking of my vocal range, I was asked to match pitch; duplicate 3- and 4-note sequences with some very odd intervals; find the baritone note in various chords (the most difficult for me, especially the tight clusters!); improvise harmony (both above and below the melody) on a known song; then improvise harmony on a new, previously unknown melody (Wes played a chord and sang the melody twice, and then I had to sing with him); and finally clap out a variety of rhythms of increasing difficulty.

    All that, Wes told me, was to see if I could sing baritone. But the audition wasn't over -- I then had to show I could sing baritone the VM way. I had to sing one song twice using different emotions -- heartrendingly sad and joyous. (My limited theatrical experience helped quite a bit here!) For the last part (there's more?!), Wes wanted me to sing without vibrato -- a key to the VM (and much barbershop) sound so the pitch can be kept pure and bring out the overtones and undertones in each chord. And, oh yes, the piece he wanted me to sing without vibrato was "The Star-Spangled Banner." Nothing like trying to tackle the extremes of our national anthem at the end of an already long day of singing!

    He seemed satisfied, though, and told me right away I had passed. YAY! At that point, it was 10:30 at night, and the group's practice was winding down. As we rode the elevator back down to the rehearsal hall, the group was finishing up singing their powerful arrangement of "The Holy City." I walked into the room to a chorus of "Hosannas" -- literally! It matched the joy I was feeling quite well!

    And so as of last night I am... still not part of the group. But I've taken the first step. After an interview next Monday with their Board of Directors (and hopefully a vote of approval), I will be able to pay my dues and be an official member of the Vocal Majority. THEN comes a LOT of work, because I have to learn their entire repertoire of music and lots of choreography -- and pass yet another audition -- before I am certified to perform with them in public. Hey, like I said, they are the best in the world. I'd be disappointed if they didn't have high standards.

    But I can at last join them in saying (as they do at the end of each practice, right after singing "Keep the Whole World Singing"), "it's great to be a barbershopper"!!!

    BTW... now that I'm (almost) a member of the group... Tickets are now on sale to the Vocal Majority Spring Show, "VM Las Vegas," to be held at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, TX, on April 20-21! Get yours at!

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007

    Driving safe (& satisfying)

    While I routinely drive a few miles per hour over the posted limit (hey, I'm a prosecutor, I know the law, and I fully believe I am complying by driving at a "reasonable and prudent speed under the circumstances then and there existing" -- but that's for a different article), I am hardly an aggressive driver. Aggressive drivers scare me, the ones that weave in and out of traffic and (my own personal pet peeve) tailgate if you are not going fast enough to suit them.

    Tailgating particularly urks me, because the offending driver is endangering not only themselves but me and any passengers I might have. So I'd like the tailgating to end, but I also don't feel compelled to hurry out of the way of the idiot drivers -- no sense rewarding bad behavior.

    When tailgated, I used to tap my brakes a couple of times without slowing -- to let the driver know I was aware of their presence and thought they were too close. On rare occasions, this would solve the problem, if a driver were merely inattentive but otherwise well-intentioned. I've come to learn it has no affect on the intentional tailgater; in fact, it would often anger them further that I knew they were there and wasn't moving myself out of the the way for their smugly entitled impatient selves.

    So, how to get them off my tail without rewarding them, while at the same time avoiding road rage? It's not perfect, but I've settled on this: if I'm going to be in an accident, I reason, the chances of it being severe decrease the slower the vehicles are traveling; therefore, I slow down -- gradually, of course, so hopefully the trailing idiot might think it's unintentional. Usually just slowing down a bit to the actual speed limit is enough to exasperate them into going around me.

    I have to admit it can be satisfying to watch the driver in my mirror -- out of the corner of my eye, so it doesn't look like I notice them -- get frustrated over the obstacle in his path and work to find a way around me. It's a double bonus if they change lanes and I can speed up again -- gradually, of course, so again the idiot will think it's pure coincidence. The problem gets solved without road rage, and I get to torment a bad driver in the process. Win-win all around.

    Until yesterday, with a scary freak of a driver actually leaned out of his window and stared death daggers at me when he finally passed. I may have to act more unintentional.

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Greetings from the top of the world

    This is something I don't do every day - blogging from 14,110 feet above sea level! I am actually posting this message from the top of Pike's Peak in Colorado! (Pretty amazing that I can even get a signal!) Definitely a high point (heh) of our Spring Break vacation. (Thanks to Brandon for braving the COLD wind long enough to take my picture!)

    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    A real whiz!

    Two Brandon posts in a row, I know, but he's earned it! CONGRATULATIONS to Brandon, captain of the Armstrong Middle School 6th grade Whiz Quiz team (and pictured here with the team sponsor): They defeated Murphy Middle School to win in the District finals this evening! (Immediately after the awards ceremony he changed into a dress shirt & tie as we drove back across town to his school, so he could join his honors choir concert -- we made it just in time for the last song!)

    Saturday, February 17, 2007

    Money? I vaguely remember that...

    The change one week can bring...

    Before, when we had at least some extra moolah:

    ...and After, when we're poorer and an orthodontist is richer:

    Thanks to Brandon for letting me post this online. And congratulations to Benjamin, who took home an Honorable Mention at the District Science Fair with his partner Jarom!

    Thursday, February 15, 2007

    Chords that ring forever

    Thank you, Vocal Majority.

    I have a handful of favorite memories from things I've done in my life, and as a singer, some of my best memories involve music. I've already mentioned in previous articles about getting to sing with Russ Taff, Steve Green & Point of Grace, all spectacular experiences with my church choir. Some others stand out: spending a summer touring across the U.S. and Canada with the Continental Singers, culminating in a huge concert at the Long Beach Arena in California; performing Forever Plaid two years running, and then some, with a great group of guys in SE Texas. Another fond musical memory involves just singing around a piano -- with a handful of other members of the Oklahoma Baptist University Chorale, a spontaneous "premiere" of a favorite choral arrangement for the author of the song.

    I think I've just added another one of those memories that will stick with me for life.

    Last week, I had the privilege and honor to attend, along with my father-in-law Bob, a rehearsal of The Vocal Majority. If you've never heard, or heard of, the Vocal Majority, you owe it to yourself to correct that deficiency in your life. Officially the Dallas chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, they bill themselves as "America's Premier Pops Chorus" -- and they have earned that title. VM is a group of 130+ men who perform (mostly a capella) a huge repertoire of favorites: not just barbershop, but gospel & inspirational, Broadway, pop, standards, patriotic, you name it, in concerts and competitions year-round. They are also the reigning gold medalists in the BHS's international barbershop chorus competition, and they have won that championship an unrivaled eleven times, including the past ten times in a row! In other words, they're good.

    They're also, as Bob & I learned, a lot of fun to sing with. Yes, that's right, we actually got to sing with them at their rehearsal. For such a talented group, they are also very welcoming and open! When we checked in as visitors (& after being very warmly welcomed!) we were each given a heavy 5" binder filled with music, matched with a member who sings the same part, and invited onto the risers to sing with them for the entire rehearsal! And let me tell you, it was a glorious experience. I've been singing all my life, even dabbled with barbershop in college, but to be surrounded and enveloped by such lush harmonies and tight chords -- and to get to add my voice to the mix -- was beyond description. It was musical heaven.

    (Okay, reality check: the rehearsals run 3-1/2 hours long, and the entire time, except for a ten-minute break, we stand on risers! So, honestly, only the first two hours were really glorious. The last 1-1/2 hours were slightly painful -- but still amazing!)

    So, add another incredible musical memory to my collection of favorites -- I sang with the Vocal Majority (and I have the pin to prove it)! I hope to sing with them again (and perhaps again and again and again -- but I shouldn't get ahead of myself), but this first time will stay with me for a long, long time.

    Tuesday, January 30, 2007

    When Worlds Collide...

    This is the story of an elaborate inside joke, one I hope I can do justice to in the retelling. It is nothing I had a hand in; I was just one of many who enjoyed it in all of its complexity. I am still stunned -- and grinning from ear to ear -- now, almost two weeks after the gag was revealed.

    Our -- and by "our" I mean the general public's -- first exposure to the joke began with an episode of NBC's clever Thursday night sitcom My Name is Earl. If you've not seen it before, I recommend it. It's the story of a man who has a past of stealing and mistreating people, but who decides to set things right and make up for his past misdeeds. He's well-intentioned, but he and his friends (the best description of them I've been able to come up with is "usually-lovable white trash") often mess things up further in the process.

    On the January 18th episode, Earl tries to help a man his ex-wife once unintentionally kidnapped, but finds that the man is dead, accidentally folded up into a Murphy bed while he slept. (The show's humor is a bit twisted!) Earl feels compelled to give him a funeral, but can't find that the man had any friends. Eventually Earl discovers that the man had lots of friends, but all through his computer -- playing war games, chatting with friends, and commenting on TV shows he's seen. In the end, the man's friends are invited by email and a quality funeral is held. Also, Earl's brother rents the dead man's apartment -- with the Murphy bed now chained to the floor for safety.

    In the segment of the show where Earl is narrating his discovery of the man's online life while flashbacks show the guy at his computer, one of the items is that the man debates TV shows online "using the name 'WhoJackie'." The guy is then heard in the flashback speaking as he types, saying this: "No, I don’t think shows should do more meta jokes that cater to the online bloggers and I’m sure everyone at Television Without Pity Dot Com agrees with me."

    When I heard that, I was thunderstruck. You see, (sometimes abbreviated as TWOP) is a real website devoted to discussion of TV shows, and I've hung out there for years (since before it gained its current title, back when it was, although mostly as a lurker. I really enjoy the snarky recaps of various shows, especially of reality TV. I actually read recaps of shows I don't even watch, because the recaps can be much funnier and more entertaining than the shows themselves! So, just to have the name of the website mentioned was a hoot.

    But this joke goes deeper than that, if you'll notice. The context of the remark is another layer of humor itself -- the speaker takes the position that TV shows should not insert meta jokes (self-referential humor, winking at the audience) to cater to online bloggers, and yet the line itself is a meta joke, winking at the TWOP readers! Too funny.

    It goes deeper.

    I got on TelevisionWithoutPity the next morning to see how people responded, and quickly learned that on the night before the show aired, a poster named "WhoJackie" had left a comment on the My Name is Earl forum that included the line said on the show ("No, I don’t think shows should do more meta jokes that cater to the online bloggers and I’m sure everyone at Television Without Pity Dot Com agrees with me.")!!!! Yes, they not only put the reference to TWOP in the show, someone went to the trouble of setting up an account as "WhoJackie" and putting the show's comment on TWOP!!

    Even more humorously, the full post started with this sentence: "First, I have to admit that I’ve noticed something weird about myself. I talk out loud when I type. Does anyone else do that?" Hilarious.

    "WhoJackie's" post that night was actually a response to someone else asking what people thought about meta jokes, so... at least one more person (or at least account) was in on the joke. Whoever was posting as "WhoJackie" was setting up his message to fit in the flow of discussion, making it even funnier when people saw the post used on the show. Following this so far?

    And deeper we go...

    Some of TWOP's Eagle-Eyed Forum Posters did some snooping and found that "WhoJackie" had been a TWOP forum member for a couple of years. They searched for some of his posts and found a post from November of last year where, completely out of the blue, he asked other readers what they thought about Murphy beds. He stated he had just moved into an apartment that had one, and he was worried about accidentally dying by folding up in it while he slept!!!

    There was a response by yet another poster -- suggesting that he chain the bed to the floor. Just how deep does this joke go, anyway???

    A little bit further, at least.

    In the show, Earl's ex-wife Joy posts a message using "WhoJackie's" account and email, informing his online friends of his death, and inviting them to his funeral. A few hours after the show aired, Joy's message appeared on TelevisionWithoutPity, posted -- as on the show -- through WhoJackie's account. Wow. Brilliant. Whoever did this is going all out.

    The extent of this meta joke is amazing, all the more because only a tiny fraction of the show's viewers will ever learn about it. You've gotta love a show that respects its viewers enough to do that every now and then.

    "Joy's" message included WhoJackie's email address, with an invitation to write her there. So I did. I and many others sent messages expressing our admiration and gratitude for such well-executed humor. A short time later, I received a simple reply thanking me for my comments and for watching the show from Greg Garcia, the creator of My Name is Earl. Hee!

    If you'd like to read WhoJackie's posts themselves, start here, then you can continue on and enjoy the responses and further posts.

    Thanks again, Greg, or WhoJackie, or whoever else made an already-clever sitcom explode into the real world in such a delightful way. My smile is sure to go beyond two weeks.

    Monday, January 01, 2007

    My New Year's resolution - 1985

    I know many people make resolutions at this time of year, but for some reason the idea of New Year's resolutions has always struck me as a bit arbitrary and unnecessary -- if you want to make a change to your life, why wait until a new year? So, back in my college days, I resolved to never make another New Year's resolution. I'm happy to say that I've been able to keep that resolution perfectly in the 20+ years since.

    Happy New Year to all my World of Wombat readers (both of you)!