31 Things, Day 12: Compose music

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

My last post on music in this 31 things series involves something I have never done once, and that is compose music. I want to do this because I believe I can, and I also believe that today’s technology may make it possible. Twenty years ago when I was fiddling around with a keyboard, I had heard of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), where music you play could be interpreted by a computer and recorded digitally, but I didn’t fully grasp what it could lead to; today, you don’t hear that much about MIDI, but it’s still around. Instead, you hear more about Indie musicians, who are are able to record their music with exceptional quality, and sell it themselves, without the need for a recording studio and the producers and executives and all that stuff. All thanks to computers.

I’m not talking about any of that though. The technology I’m interested in allows you to actually make the music using just a computer. Sure, it’s not “the real thing,” but for someone like me who loves music, but doesn’t play it, this is as close as I will get to be able to see if I could create songs. A piece of software I’ve had my eye on for years is Cakewalk Music Creator, which allows you to compose, mix, create, all with virtual instruments. Really sounds like it’s exactly what I would need.

What would I compose? I don’t know – that’s the fun part. The idea of a group of people just “jamming” together is amazing to me;  in this case, I’d be jamming alone, and just see what would happen. I’ll admit, it would be incredible to compose a concept album, prog-rock style, something on the level of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. The storyteller in me likes that idea a lot. But I also realize it’s very ambitious, so I wouldn’t set my sights too high initially. It’s fun to dream though.

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, composing music.

31 Things, Day 11: Play music

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

My wife tells people that I’m the most musical person she’s ever met who doesn’t play an instrument. It’s certainly not for lack of desire, nor a lack of trying, but I will admit it is for lack of persistence. I know I’m lazy, and that doesn’t help learning anything, but for me there’s something different about learning an instrument.

Take the piano for example. I tried to learn to play that thing 20 years ago in high school. Got a book, electronic keyboard, and tried to teach myself. A year after I started, I was shocked – SHOCKED – that I didn’t sound like this guy:

A couple years later I actually took some lessons with a teacher. 10 lessons later, I still didn’t sound like the above guy. Very disheartening.

Fast forward 10 years, and I started appreciating bass lines in songs, realizing I hum that part of a song more than any other part. Let’s learn bass! But … I didn’t sound like this guy:

What the heck?! Ok, so then this video game called Rock Band comes out, and people claimed you can really learn some good drumming fundamentals from it. I love prog rock, it’s drum heavy; I’ve got good rhythm, let’s do this.

But I can’t play like Phil and Chester.

Why is life so hard? All I want to do is play the piano, bass guitar, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, violin/fiddle, flute, sax, clarinet, hammered dulcimer … what’s the big deal? This should be easy!

Alright, this has been quite tongue-in-cheek, but it really is somewhat acurate to what goes on in my head. I want to make music because I love the sound of good music. When you first learn an instrument, it sounds awful. I know this logically, but I can’t seem to get past this mental barrier: “Why am I trying so hard to sound this bad?” I have some natural artistic talents that I didn’t have to work hard at to look good initially, just to refine them to be even better. Playing music requires some kinesthetic skills that are not natural to me, so it requires more work. I don’t like work all that much (read: lazy). So, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I may never actually play any instrument.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.

I suppose I could just be a singer in a band. However, I’m very embarrased if people hear me sing. Kind of like acting, I think I could only sing on stage if I was playing a character in costume. My dream is to one day sing Watcher of the Skies by Genesis, in costume (singing starts at 2:28):


So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, playing music.

31 Things, Day 10: Listen to music

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

I love listening to music. I can appreciate almost every genre out there: classical, funk, jazz, 80s new-wave, grunge, new age, bluegrass, prog rock … just not that fond of rap or hip hop. I grew up with music being played all the time in my house. My mother loves all types of music too, so there was always a record or cassette being listened to in the background, or certainly the radio. When she remarried, my stepfather had an enormous music collection, mostly classic rock of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and again, it was played often. Because of this, I can listen to music while doing most anything, even mathematical and left-brain tasks; reading, not so much – the music distracts me because it’s more interesting.

Because I can appreciate most music, I consider a majority of music to be “good.” I don’t know many people who can say that. I realize “good” is a subjective term, so to elaborate: My definition of good music is anything that moves me on a physical, an emotional or a spiritual level. By physical I don’t mean dance, much to my ballet-dancing wife’s dismay; my moving is more like bopping my head, toe-tapping, air-drumming, etc. The emotional and spritual level is… well… a little hard to describe. But I’ll try.

Sometimes I can see music.

Weird, I know. What does it look like? It’s something like wispy shapes and colors moving to the music. I don’t know if it’s some kind of aphasia or what, but when it happens, it’s beautiful. It’s not a trippy drug-induced thing – I’ve never done drugs, so I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m not going to find out, that much I’ll tell you. That being said, I found this video of some trippy, psychedelic Pink Floyd with some computer-generated “visualization.” It is the closest I can compare what happens in my brain when I really sit down and listen to music (and it’s been this way long before I ever saw my first visualization on Winamp in 1997 and said: “hey, that’s my brain!”)

This “apahsia-thing” tends to happen only with very elaborate music, such as classical (especially Mozart), new age (yes, like Yanni), and progressive rock. In my single days, I could spend hours lying down with my eyes closed and be swept away to music. As a Christian, it was almost a form of worship for me. The genre didn’t matter, I felt connected to my Creator who created creative beings who created creative music.

These days, as a tired father of two, if I lay down I’ll just fall asleep. I miss being able to really sit and listen and be overwhelmed by the beauty of music. I’m pretty sure I see in my kids the same music appreciation – my wife’s family’s genes help too, they are all musical. So I hope to share all my favorites with them some day. There’s a lot for them to listen to, though!

I’ll leave you with my favorite song of all time, the epic Supper’s Ready by Genesis. Hope you have a half-hour to really listen to it!

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, listening to music.

31 Things, Day 9: Read more fiction

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

As an author, it should be no surprise that I enjoy reading. I think every writer should read, to learn what good writing looks like (but also to learn what bad writing looks like, because that gets published too). Primarily, however, my reading is a way I can escape the real world for a little while and explore new ones – that great what if? Thus my favorite genre is fantasy, so that is what I’m usually reading at any given moment. Lately I’ve also been trying to read some classic literature; not to sound impressive or even consider myself “cultured,” but mostly just to see what the big deal is with most of these books – why are they considered so good? I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes recently. Interesting, but not too exciting.

I use Goodreads to keep track of what I want to read, but more importantly to track what I have read. I actually set a yearly goal of how many books I want to read a year. It’s embarrassing to say this, but my pathetic little number for this year is 15. And I’m behind.

2014 Reading Challenge

2014 Reading Challenge
Rob has
read 10 books toward his goal of 15 books.

I read very slowly. I don’t know if I’m just being careful, or thorough, but it annoys me, because I can’t read as fast as I’d like to. I’ve tried a form of speed reading, but I think it was a bit gimmicky, so it didn’t work. I was all excited when I read Stephen King’s On Writing, encouraging budding authors to read even if they read slowly, because he’s a slow reader too! How many books does he read a year? Around 80. OH SURE, STEVE, REALLY SLOW. More than a book a week, and I can barely get past the one a month pace. Sheesh.

But it’s not a race, just one of the many things I like to do, and keep doing it because it’s fun. So that Goodreads list just keeps getting bigger, growing faster than I can check them off. I guess there are worse problems to have.

my to-read shelf:
Rob Vitaro's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (to-read shelf)

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, reading more fiction.

31 Things, Day 8: Writing

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

Wait, aren’t I doing that right now? Well, yes, but not entirely the way I want to. This blog series is forcing me to write regularly again, and it’s something other than my novel, which is good for variety; but I’ve got a massive amount of ideas in my head and there is just not enough time to do them all. I keep a list, and hope that some day I will get to them all.

There’s the fantasy novel I’m working on, the second of a planned four book series (first one is for sale), and I’m nearing the middle of that story, which is hardest to write. (The beginnings and ends are the easier parts for me.) But I have other ideas for new novels, too, unrelated to my current series; and I have short story ideas, both related and unrelated to my current series; and I have multiple blog post ideas, and ideas for a newsletter (if people are interested in such a thing, drop me a comment here) … Yes, there are lots of things I could be writing. But as this 31 Things series proves, I like a lot of things. How often do you think writing, which is work, wins? I’ll tell you: rarely. It has to be a conscious, deliberate decision.

I have yet to decide if I am going to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. It is a great motivator, and its largely responsible for how I wrote book 1. If I do, there are sacrifices for my family, since I am not as available to them; there are sacrifices to the 30 other things I like; there are sacrifices of my own sanity. But the reward is great: another novel. IF I do NaNoWriMo, I will need to decide if I keep going with book 2, or start something brand new. Honestly, I’m leaning towards new, just to maybe get another book out there for sale. We’ll see, as I have a couple weeks left to decide.

If I have any fans at all, and you happen to be reading this, what would you prefer I do? Sequel or new? Leave me a comment.

With the advent of the indie-publishing revolution, part of me wonders what life would be like if I wrote as a full time career. It is a very appealing proposition, but I would like to combine it with some other things too, as I will explore later in this series. Until then, writing is just something on the side, as I truly am A Writer with a Day Job.

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, writing.