Sunday, December 30, 2012

Does anyone read this any more?

It's my own fault for not being very consistent with this, but one of my resolutions for the new year is to keep this up and be a little more interesting than in the past year.  I don't know if I can do it, but putting it out there for all is one way to be held accountable for it, right?

So I ask this... if you have read this, please post something to let me know that this is not all in vain.  Otherwise, I may just give up. 

Talk soon!  Happy New Year to all!

J. Michael

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ring out the old, ring in the new

So Christmas is over, thank goodness.  I can't say it wasn't stressful, but thankfully, it all came together in the end and nobody threw anyone else overboard. 

On to New Years.  I suppose I should put my resolutions out there in public so that I can be held responsible, but to be honest, how many of us TRULY keep any of our resolutions past February anyway?  I would LIKE to lose some more weight and hit the gym as often as possible, but motivation is such a big factor, all I can resolve to do it try.

Saving money.  I need to.  In watching Suzie Ormond on TV, I have learned that I am gonna be in pretty bad shape come time to retire.  Living paycheck to paycheck with no pension and no savings is a burden.  It's gonna be rough come next July when the ship contracts are over. 

We are in Brisbane again in a couple days, and I am looking forward to having a day to myself.  The last couple of times have been stressful mentally, going to see Merle.  Don't get me wrong, I am so glad i got the chance to go, but it can be really depressing.  Thankfully, she is moving out of the home she is in now and moving in with her son and his family, so hopefully things will look a little brighter for her.  She wants me to come up and see her yet again, but I don't have transportation, and honestly, I need a break.

I am awaiting a new suit from the designer Robeaux, which will hopefully be waiting for me next Auckland.  I am excited, because not only is it going to be an amazing look, it means my solo show and possible solo career may be off to a running start!  I have hired Lisa Crouch to do my music charts, and I have sent her so much music to write.  It will probably cost a fortune that I don't have, but in the long run, I feel that I will get my money back and then some.  Maybe I will be able to retire after all... HA!

The Christmas show was interesting.  It went well.  It was short and sweet.  Darian and I opened with a mash-up of Let it Snow and Winter Wonderland, after which, she sang an amazing version of Ave Maria.  I then sang a new song I found called "Thank You" which got me choked up first time around.  We then did Do You Hear What I Hear and closed with White Christmas and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.  In between there were a couple of other numbers from the dancers and guest ents.  I think it was fun and served it's purpose.  

Speaking of winter wonderland... I was putting away all my Christmas decorations today, because I don't want to have any up by New Years... bad karma.  But I was looking for places to store stuff, and lo and behold...under my bed, in the drawers there, was a plethora of Christmas decorations that I had no idea were there.  Oh well... it would have made my cabin a winter wonderland.

More later, as I am about to run out of time on this card...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

So I tried to sleep on it...

This is one of those occasions where it didn't work.  I mean, I feel better about the whole Christmas show situation, so yes, I guess it did work.  (Thanks, Dad)

But for the second night in as many days, some idiots (crew members who shall remain nameless) decide at 2:30 in the morning to run up and down the halls shouting, drunkenly, of course.  Last night (this morning) they literally POUNDED on the door across the hall trying to get whomever lives there to wake up and open the door.  I wonder if it ever occured to them that maybe the person wasn't there...?

It went on for 45 minutes.  I'm not exaggerating.  It started at 2:30 and went until 3:20.  Of course, it woke me up from a long awaited and much needed deep sleep, and of course, then I couldn't get back to sleep again. 

Am I going to become one of those grumpy old men who sits on his front porch and is unhappy for the remainder of his days?  I hope not.  Maybe I should re-think doing another contract.

But here we are in Wellington.  It is a gorgeous day.  I went CD shopping at some secondhand stores, and found a few CDs that will make a nice addition to my collection.  One of them I found makes me think of my sister, Amy.  It is Andy Gibb's "Album".  I remember she had such a big crush on him.  I also remember going to Blossom Music Center to see Neil Sedaka in concert when I must have been 10?  8?  And Andy Gibb was his opening act.  No one knew who he was.  Then he made his hit with Love Is Thicker Than Water and Shadow Dancing, as well as I Just Want To Be Your Everything... the rest is history.

So it made me laugh, and I can't wait to crank it up in my cabin and reminisce about my childhood.

Christmas is just days away.  Hours, if you want to put it that way.  I am so not ready.  I have to get a secret Santa gift...the final "biggie" and I can't find a thing. 

Summer in New Zealand makes me depressed.  Not as depressed as a certain Band Master... but nonetheless.  There are so many people walking around in perfect fitness, and here I am looking and feeling like Jabba the Hutt.  Fat.  It is a vicious circle.  I get depressed, so i don't want to go to the gym, so i stay in my cabin and eat.  Then I get more depressed... ugh.  I need to totally get over myself.  Just do it, dumbass!!

Hmm.  I have another Christmas show rehearsal today.  Piano Man tonight.  Day off tomorrow.  Christmas Eve I think I have off as well.  Christmas Day we are in Napier, I think.  I'd love to go see Les Miserables, but I don't even know if there is a movie theatre in Napier, not to mention we don't usually have a full day there.  Maybe in Auckland. 

Alrighty.  I should go.  Get out in the sun and enjoy the time I have in port, instead of sitting in McDonalds using very slow internet which is just frustrating me even more. 

I'll get over this, I promise.  It's just a phase and that time of the year.


Why the Holidays sea

First I must preface this entry by saying that this is simply a rant.  Something I needed to get off my chest because of the day I had.  With that said, I know I will fell better tomorrow, and as Dad says..."Sleep on it.  You'll feel better in the morning."  I know his words are true.  I'll let you know.

People take Christmas cruises for three different reasons.  First, because they want to GET AWAY for the holidays.  Second, because they are being SENT AWAY for the holidays by folks who don't necessarily want them around.  Third, because the cruises are SO CHEAP, they are too good to turn down.  Which makes the clientele unique during the holidays.  

Which in a nutshell, means that this crowd is interesting.  They are so amazingly quiet during the shows that we wonder if the zombie apocalypse has begun, but at the end of the show they are screaming for more.  Go figure.  Unfortunately there is one young man who sits down front who looks like he is having his toenails removed one by one with no anesthetic.  Most of the unhappy people sit down front where we can see them.  Why is that? 

Okay.  So we were in Akaroa today.  The day was beautiful.  I spent the morning with Brandi, taking headshots and photos of the roses and different flowers blooming there.  I love Akaroa.

Had lunch at a fish and chips, not my favorite one that burned down... but that one IS getting ready to reopen on Boxing Day.  It was good.  The french fries were good.

Got back on board around 2:30pm in time to get in a quick nap before the rehearsal for the Christmas show.  That was set for 4pm.  A quick note about the Christmas show:  Our Company Manager, Darian, Myself, the Cruise Director, and the Music Manager/Bandmaster all got together a few days ago to talk about the show we were going to do on Christmas Day.  The Cruise Director wanted something upbeat and basic, so Darian and myself came up with a few songs to do... each of us would do a duet with each other, and a solo number as well. The Dancers would be doing a number, and one of the Guest Ents coming on would do a ten minute set as well.  Din, Dan, Done.  Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy.  You get the drift?  The music manager had said that he had a bunch of charts of Christmas Carols and holiday song that we could choose from.   Darian and Myself decided on "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "Let it Snow/Winter Wonderland" as our duets, and Darian would sing "Ave Maria" and I would be doing a number called "Thank You".  Of course, there are no charts per se for these songs, and the bandmaster knew this going into it.  He didn't seem worried if we only had lead sheets.  So off I go to find lead sheets.

Finding lead sheets was fairly easy, thanks to friends on Facebook.  I used a music writing program called Sibelius to mash together Let it Snow and Winter Wonderland.  I managed to give it a dance break for the dancers and a couple of key changes to make it less tedious.  I thought I did a pretty good job.  As for the other two, I found a copy of some charts for the Whitney Houston version of Do You Hear... and so I tried to do a chart for it, but after ten hours of frustration, I gave up and did a simple melody with the chords written in.  "Thank You" was another story.  I got the music, but it was only the melody written out, no chords, no piano accompaniment, no nothing.  Okay.  I can deal.  I found the chords, and started to write out some of what i could get off the recording of the original.  I thought I did a pretty good job, considering there was nothing before.  I now had something that could at least give the band an idea of what the songs should sound like.

Apparently band members and musicians... okay, SOME band members and musicians (I won't lump them all together, because so many friends of mine are musicians)  so, SOME band members apparently need to be fed by hand every single note that they are to play.  I find this hard to believe because our band uses lead sheets that are ONLY chords to do their big band sets and their jazz sets. 

So rehearsal comes.  The band master goes off about how there are no charts for the songs and how he "never in his professional career" has he ever had to do anything like this before.  He starts throwing around the "F" word at least a dozen times in a single sentence.  I finally broke.  I said to him "Be thankful you got any music at all.  What would you have done if I had not given you anything?"  of course, that set him off even more.  He then went on to say he was just depressed and wanted to toss his trumpet in the sea and throw himself to be eaten by the sharks... and of course some more "F" this and "F" that's for good measure.

Did I mention that the rest of the cast and the crew and the cruise director were watching this happen?

I guess I also should mention that I was recording the entire thing as well, on my little digital recorder so i could practice without the band.  Needless to say, I took the entire thing VERY personally.  I know that the charts are not up to par.  I know that.  You don't need to rub it in.  I have never written out parts before.  Did he call me to talk about what could be done?  No.

Did I call him?  No.  So I admit that we are both at fault.  But enough is enough.  We all have a show to do.  We are all a little depressed at this time of year because we are away from our loved ones.  It's not my fault.

Oy.  So then I had to do a show tonight with the band, and act as if everything was cool.  It was actually one of our better shows.  The band master did come up to me after the show and apologize, which I have to give him credit for, but I wanted to say "Really?  Are you F'ing kidding me?"  But I didn't.  I held my tongue and thanked him for his apology and let him know that I accepted it.  Grrrrrrrr.

So I am trying not to go to bed angry.  We are going to be in Wellington tomorrow, which I enjoy.  I will be spending money.  Sorry, Dad.  I have to get some gifts for the cast, and I still have to do some other Christmas shopping as well.  I would like to get the new recording of Les Miserables, which was released on itunes today.

As I said before, this was a rant.  I will get off my soap box now.  I will try to upload some of the pictures I took in Akaroa.  It makes me calm knowing that the world did not end, and that there is still beauty in nature.  Norm, if you read this, please know that is why I have not gotten back to you yet.

Happy Holidays, and as our band master said... Merry F'ing Christmas!

ps...I have tried to upload some pictures and it keeps crashing my computer... that's a whole other story.  Maybe Santa will send me a new computer for Christmas.  An iPad!!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Holidays are HERE!

And I am still here as well.  Another Christmas at Sea.  Hoo boy.

Actually, I hope it won't be all that bad.  Unfortunately on the news these days, all there is is bad news.  As I write this, I am watching the news accounts about the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut.  As an educator, I can only imagine the horror the folks are going through there.  It is every teacher's nightmare what happened.  My heart is so sad, mere words can't describe the amount of pain and sympathy I feel for that community.

With the holidays upon us, the Cast is getting ready to hunker down and celebrate.  We are planning on doing a holiday show, the crew is having a holiday disco, and we are pretty much gearing up for the end of the world as well.  There are some cast members who subscribe to the 12/21/12 theory.  We'll see.  Between the earthquakes and the basic crumbling of the world's economy, things are pretty bleak out there.  Thankfully we have the human element to look forward to. 

I have been watching the TV series "The Walking Dead" which is basically about the zombie apocolypse that takes over the world.  It is really fascinating, believe it or not.  It is not just about these zombies that are invading, but about the people who have to band together and deal with them.  They have to leave loved ones, lose loved ones to different types of attacks and situations, and it makes me think about what I would do in the case of an emergency on board.  I guess that's a good thing?

I don't have much else to report, really.  I should do a year in review for everyone to read, but I may do that later this cruise when I am not paying for internet connection. 

I had the opportunity to revisit Christchurch this past cruise, and it made me cry, truly.  The city is coming back, and they are very resilient, but the city is horribly broken. 

I am going to go.  I don't know what else to type right now.  So it's best to be silent, i suppose.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Cruise Dynamic

One of the drawbacks to the world of working on a cruise ship as an entertainer is that you have to maintain almost perfect health.  There are no understudies.  There is no one who can step in for you at moment's notice.  They can't simply re-block the show to cover a singer. 

This happened last night.  Darian, my leading lady has lost her voice.  The show was Piano Man.  It was a formal night.  Beginning of the cruise.  She waited until too late to go see the doctor, and by then she could not be signed off of work because the show had already been scheduled and printed in the daily list of activities.   This is extremely frustrating.  We do have "safety tracks," which is basically a recorded performance of someone who has done the show in the past.  For some unknown reason, they can't (won't?) record over these vocals to substitute our voices.  It works okay for  the female voice, to a certain point, but when the lead male singer was an African-American with a very unique vocal quality, it makes me look like a fool trying to lip-synch to his voice.  But I digress.  Darian was the one who had to do the lip-synching.  I ended up taking about six of her solos added on to what I was already singing.  Needless to say, my voice is exhausted today.  Spent the day in solitude, resting voice, mind and body.

What I don't understand is this: Why was it okay to overdub those voices way back when, but not any more?  It's not like they hired studio singers at an outrageous amount of money to record safety tracks.  They (the folks on the ship) used a live performance to cover their asses just in case something like this happens.  When we have a contract that lasts over six months, it is bound to happen.  We have been traveling to and from New Zealand, which weather-wise is a mess on allergies and keeping a body healthy.  Not to mention we never get a break, really.  We also went from three months of basically one show a week for the longer cruises, to performing 10 mights a week, out of a 14-day cruise.

Thank goodness my voice has held up.  But between those of us who are reading this, I have to thank my training, and the belief that the show must go on.  The new kids are spoiled.  I'll say it.  They are.

In other news, I went to see my friend, Merle, this past Brisbane.  She is bedridden with cancer, and is now in a rest home.  What an interesting and frustrating story.  Her brother and kids have basically emptied out her house and bank accounts, because they thought she was as good as dead.  She is hanging on.  She's a tough cookie.  The rest home is charging her for spa treatments she doesn't get, and she isn't even allowed to have her personal doctor involved.  Now I don't know how the Australian health care system works, but to me this is outrageous.   Shouldn't her GP who has been her personal doctor for most of her life be involved in the decisions and such?  The doctors she has now are insisting that her scans are "clean" but they won't give her a clean bill of health to go on a cruise, which is what her life is made up of.  Cruises.  That's what she does.  The doctors won't let her see her scans and won't share them with her personal doctor. 

Yikes.  Kind of nightmare.  She is doing well, though I think she was just trying to put on a brave face for me.  I know she is very sick, but I tried to get her to keep eating and start doing more exercises to keep her getting stronger.  Her legs are too weak to hold her up for too long, and therefore she can't walk. 

We are in Auckland again tomorrow, which is a nice city.  I don't have any plans of sorts, but I will be going to see Hobbiton when I am in Tauranga, and then I am hoping to get back to Christchurch while we are in Akaroa.  I'll write more later.