Friday, November 30, 2018


The only props the elves use in Santa’s workshop are adorable little stuffed bears and MASSIVE WOODEN HAMMERS.

You do the math.

I love to brag, but this is my view tonight

Except there will be people in the seats. And they will smile and clap. And I won’t have my butt facing them. I will instead show them both halves of my face. But otherwise, this is an exact photo of my evening. Please contain your jealousy.

Bitch Kitty is holding fort in the storage boxes (red is for Christmas!) as we fill the house with holiday crap

I mean MAGIC. As we fill the house with holiday magic.

The Canadian Brass has its first concert in more than 20 years tonight at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City

In addition to the quintet's brilliance and talents, Canadian Brass is also known for its inspired silliness. I wrote program notes for the concert in the spirit of this inspired silliness--because there's no way I could fake my way through brilliance and talent--but I had a nagging suspicion that I might have gotten a bit tooooo silly when I submitted my copy.

And my suspicions were, for once, brilliant; Hancher politely decided not to put what I wrote in the program, but the communications director said he still liked it and suggested that I post it on the social medias. Which is exactly what I'm doing.

So pretend you're sitting in Hancher Auditorium right now, eagerly awaiting the Canadian Brass concert to start, and discovering that you'll have to completely ignore your date because you can't tear your eyes away from this inspired-and-despite-my-suspicions-not-tooooo-silly-at-all little essay you've discovered in your program.

(And if you don't have tickets to tonight's concert, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? Canadian Brass is guaranteed awesome. So get your tickets here.)

We warmly welcome Canadian Brass to our country
In the spirit of holiday welcome, we will gladly add meaningless extra Canadian letters to our words when we say our neighbours to the north play marvellously with colour, humour and gruelling labour
By Jake Stigers, recovering trombonist

Canadian Brass is an institution. A very serious musical ensemble that plays very serious music very seriously. I could not be any different degree of seriousness about this.

As such, it is worth investing a bit of your time and interest right now to learn everything there is to know about everything related to brass music to ensure you fully appreciate the Canadian Brass performance you’re about to hear.

Fortunately for you, I have condensed the entirety of brass-music history and knowledge into the following few short and not at all disjointed paragraphs. But don’t worry: There won’t be a test.

(say it with me: AHM-boo-shure): The way a brass player holds his or her lips, tongue, teeth and even facial muscles to blow or sometimes buzz air through an instrument. Some people compare it to kissing, but those people are wrong. Most beginning brass players and all Hancher audience members who’ve never played brass instruments are slightly alarmed that this odd lip-shape-buzz-thing even has a name.

Transposing instruments: This is extremely difficult to explain to people who haven’t had a lot of eggnog, but music for many brass instruments is written so that when a player sees a note on a page and plays that note, an entirely different but still usually pleasant note comes out. Nobody who hasn’t had a lot of eggnog knows why, but the fact remains that the sounds these transposing instruments (note: they’re called transposing instruments, if I forgot to mention that earlier) waft over unsuspecting audiences is an effluvium of lies. (Note to self: Effluvium of Lies is a great name for a brass quintet.) Fortunately for you the listener, the notes on the pages in front of the musicians here have all been laboriously recalibrated and neatly tuckpointed to the point that they will all come out relatively correctly. We hope.

Awesomeness: All brass instruments are awesome. Even the flüglehorn, but mostly because it has an umlaut. Anyway, put a bunch of brass instruments together into a quintet, and the awesomeness grows exponentially. Especially if they’re from Canada. And they have a cool band name.

Woodwinds: Woodwinds are not brass; they are the embarrassing cousins of brass who always have too much eggnog at what were supposed to be pleasant, un-alarming holiday parties. We are polite to woodwinds because they can hit lots of high notes—which reduces strain on the embouchures of brass players who don’t have to play them—but most woodwind players got to carry small instrument cases on the bus in middle school, and the brass players who had to carry the huge instrument cases simply cannot let go of their lingering resentment.

Percussion: Percussion is also not brass. Percussion is Latin—I think—for GO AHEAD AND TRY TO PLAY OVER ME YOU BRASS WIMPS I DARE YOU. In case you hadn’t noticed, percussion is loud. To make the situation worse, percussionists actually stand up so they can hit their drums and other hapless instruments with full body force to make them even louder. It’s not polite, and it’s not fair.

Strings: If you want to hear Canadian Strings, you’ll have to go to Violincouver. Because that is the only string-instrument-plus-major-Canadian-city mashup I can think of.

Ophthalmologist: This word has nothing to do with brass quintets—except for a possible causal relationship to the size of those little black music notes—but it’s included here to make sure you notice that it has two l’s. Most people misspell it, but now you won’t. It will also not be on the test.

Often called a hashtag by the trendy kids, a sharp is an impossible-to-play-because-it’s-so-small tic-tac-toe board that is used to indicate that a note is raised one half step. Which is also called a semitone.

Flat: Often confused for a London apartment, a flat is a pointy little lowercase B (or I guess I could have typed that b) that is used to indicate that a note is lowered one half step. Which is still called a semitone.

Timbre (say it with me: TAM-ber): Also called tone color, the timbre (and I am not making this up: pronounce it TAM-ber or you will feel the cruel, oppressive judgment of every known musician past, present and future) is the character or perceived sound quality of a musical note or sound. It’s how we differentiate trumpets from sopranos (depending on the trumpets) or pianos from xylophones or the music that all these kids are listening to nowadays from rusty air horns.

Here is a comprehensive, meaningful, fully representative dissertation on every Canadian Brass instrument you’re about to hear. Or maybe just four of them.

Used to signal charges (cash was also accepted) in battles as far back as 1500 BC, the trumpet is now the go-to brass instrument for people who are too weak to carry tubas around. Trumpets are made with curves and swirls of metallic tubing that are not unlike Iowa State Fair funnel cakes, but with three vertical piston valves right in front of the trumpeters’ faces, which would make my eyes cross if I had to look at them.

Grossest feature: The spit valve. It’s exactly like a spigot on a pitcher of refreshing lemonade except instead it dumps accumulated trumpeter spit on the floor. Which is in no way refreshing. Or lemonade. A spit valve is called a water key in more polite circles. And also because the stuff that comes out of a spit valve is mostly condensation from a player’s breath, but I dare you to convince every English-speaking brass player ever to stop saying spit valve.

Etymology: The Old French trompe means, poetically, "long, tube-like musical wind instrument.” So old French people who play the trumpet are called “longtubelikemusicalwindinstrumenters.”

Linear length of straightened trumpet tubing: 6 feet.

Fun fact: The original Olympic Games involved a five-foot trumpet called the Salpinx. My research does not clarify with absolute certainty whether the Salpinx was actually played like a trumpet or instead thrown like a javelin.

Mutes: As with all brass instruments, trumpets employ mutes to alter their sound. (Do you remember our discussion about the sound-changing differentiations of timbre? DO YOU REMEMBER HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT?) Mutes fit into the bell of a trumpet and and often get mistaken for standard barware like orange juicers and martini shakers. Which explains everything you need to know.

Often called the French horn, the plain-old horn is the only orchestra or band instrument that blows all of its sound backward in a direction where nobody can hear it except for the band moms who are waiting backstage with hugs and cookies. Whenever someone points out this ridiculous (I’m sorry but someone had to say it) design flaw, players of other brass instruments usually nod knowingly at each other and politely change the subject.

Grossest feature: While the spit valve—ahem, water key—is always totally gross, the horn has another gross trick up its sleeve … which is a pun because a horn player holds the horn by sticking one hand up its bell where all the humid horn air comes out, leaving the bell-holding hand what we will politely call clammy. Never high-five a horn player after a concert. You’ve been warned.

Etymology: The French made hoop-shaped hunting horns (alliteration runs rampant!) in the 1600s that they called trompes de chasse (which, as we can carry over from our trumpet etymology lesson, means “hunting long, tube-like musical wind instruments”). Because the French invented these horns, the English called them French horns. There’s no hiding stuff from the English.

Linear length of straightened horn tubing: 17 feet.

Fun fact: As I’ve pointed out earlier in the politest terms possible, the horn’s bell faces backward where I’m sorry but the audience could probably hear you better of you just hummed. As such, the horn is especially inefficient at blaring to the home-team crowds in a marching band. Enter: the mellophone! Not only does the mellophone have a forward-facing bell like all self-respecting marching-band instruments, but the bell has a huge, view-obstructing diameter that can leave its players tripping or wandering into the middle of the field without realizing it. Which serves them right for choosing an instrument that plays backward.

Mutes: Horn mutes probably look like trumpet mutes. I think. Since they’re used in backward-facing horn bells though, there’s really no way to know.

The trombone is the long slidey brass instrument that has to sit back a few extra feet in a band or orchestra so it doesn’t hit the bassoons or saxophones or other lesser wind instruments in front of it when it stretches out to hit the low notes. While its shape should logically be a T (for Trombone), the consensus among people who discuss these things is that it’s shaped like an S (for Should Be A T But Whatever). Some trombones also have trumpet-type valves attached to the backs. Those are for trombonists who are too lazy to extend their long slidey things all the way for the low notes.

Key term: The long slidey part of a trombone is called a telescoping slide mechanism by the band kids who aren’t as cool as the other band kids. Which is really saying something.

Grossest feature: The spit valve on a trombone is also called a water key by people who are squeamish around the word spit. Because it’s at the far end of the telescoping mechanism, it leaves its spit puddle the farthest away from the musician—as opposed to other brass instruments that plop their spit right in front of the musicians and create serious actuarial hazards.

Etymology: The Italian tromba (trumpet) and -one ("big") make a trombone literally a "big trumpet.” But with a “telescoping slide mechanism.” And a “puddle of spit” that’s “really far away.”

Linear length of straightened trombone tubing: 9 feet. 13 feet if you measure with the slide fully extended. But why would anyone do that?

Fun fact: During the Renaissance, people called the trombone a “sackbut.” I am not making this up.

Mutes: Mute-as-in-shhh! mutes for trombones look like genie bottles or traffic cones sized for golden retrievers who drive. Wah-wah mutes (yes, that’s a thing) look like little toddler hats. Or the business ends of toilet plungers. Because some trombonists actually use the business ends of toilet plungers as wah-wah mutes. So wash your hands after you greet a trombonist after a muted performance. Or ever. (And this is no doubt the first time toilet plunger has appeared in a Hancher program. Three times, actually!)

You will likely encounter three kinds of tubas in your lifetime, if you haven’t already: A concert tuba sits in a player’s lap and points straight up and politely doesn’t bump into other players. A hélicon is a tuba that wraps around a player’s body like a hug from a long-lost aunt at an awkward family reunion and points kind of upward so as to be heard as it’s being played while (and I am not making this up, though it sounds impossible to play a tuba in this situation) horseback riding. And a sousaphone is a super-round, super-curvy tuba that wraps around a player’s body and points its bell at the football stands and makes super-loud, super-awesome tuba noises.

Grossest feature: Have you ever seen a tuba spit valve? It looks like the Hoover Dam of the brass world. You could drown in the ensuing catastrophic deluge if it breaks. And that would be tu bad.

Etymology: Tuba is latin for “trumpet.” Latin was never good at measurements or perspective.

Linear length of straightened tuba tubing: 16 to 26 feet, depending on the type of tuba.

Fun fact: Two men named Wilhelm Friedrich Wieprecht and Johann Gottfried Moritz patented what they called a “bass tuba” in 1835 with valves that they called “Berlinerpumpen.” All of those consonants are exactly the reason tubas are considered to be the spittiest of the brass instruments.

Other fun fact: Around 1900 there was some kind of spittin’ match (ahem) to build a tuba that played lower than the contrabass tuba, whose sound was already so low that it could only be measured on the Richter scale, which wouldn’t even be invented until 1935. So in 1913, some guys built what they called a “subcontrabass” for the World Exhibition in New York. It needed two players: one to blow in the mouthpiece and one to operate the valves. And six to clean up the spit.

Mutes: Tuba mutes are the same size and shape as Iowa tornadoes. Tuba Mutes is also a great name for a band. Especially a band of brass instruments. With five players. From Canada. Or not.

So congratulations! You can now count yourself up to speed on all things brass. And some things Canadian. All that’s left now is to enjoy the concert.

And to take the test.

Jake Stigers is a writer, singer, actor and recovering trombonist living in Cedar Rapids. He still harbors resentment toward all the flute players who could hold their instrument cases in their laps on the bus in middle school.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Fun fact:

There’s a camera in the Theatre Cedar Rapids pit that’s aimed directly at the face—and the very cold, black soul—of Benjamin the music director as he conducts Elf The Musical. He thinks it’s there so we backstage singers can follow him when we sing in the stage-left backstage-singer place.

But it’s really there so we can see if he ever picks his nose.

Elf The Musical preset time!

It looks like I’m wearing my Doug The Christmas Cop hat in this artfully composed photographic portrait, but I’m not! Because it’s PRESET!

And that, my uncultured friends, is the magic of theater!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Bitch Kitty is either hiding to get out of decorating the house for Christmas or helpfully checking the carbon monoxide detector for us

Or she’s just a bitch.

Second day. More advanced.

When Rob and I met Monday morning for our first-ever chest workout together at my new (but his old) gym, we quickly managed—despite our Don’t-Strain-Yourself Barbie(R) weights—to savagely rip our moobs from their moorings, force them mercilessly into a wood chipper, and spend the next 48 hours woefully unable to punch Nazis. Which is gymbro talk for “we had a good workout.”

I came back tonight fired up to show the same unholy cruelty to my back, biceps and babdominals (alliteration runs rampant!), and now that the carnage is over I’m typing this as fast as I can before the rigor sets in.

The good news: I’m pretty sure I’ll be unable to roll over in my sleep tonight.

The other good news: Nobody will be able to steal my wallet from my locker.

The reason for this jarring non sequitur: I discovered that I didn’t have it with me at Target on my way to the gym tonight. As an impatient line of people waited behind me and the cashier had to call for help canceling all the purchases she’d rung up and I sweated bullets mentally retracing my every step over the last 17 years to see if I could remember where I might have lost it.

The good news: I called my folks and they found it on my bedroom floor.

The bad news: I didn’t get to buy those super-cute track pants I’d found.

The second non sequitur in this rambling post: WHY ARE ALL THE GUYS AT THIS GYM SO HOT? And why won’t any of them volunteer to come roll me over in my sleep tonight after the rigor sets in?

Mom’s antique stuffed red reindeer is just as stiff and uncuddly as Dad’s scowly won’t-even-acknowledge-me-for-what-could-have-been-an-adorable-under-the-tree-photo Bitch Kitty, who is clearly trying to hate me to death

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

CedaRound: Glowing Skywalk Edition

The skywalk over 3rd Street SE looks like it extends forever when its blue-indigo-violet lighting spectrum reflects into the windows of the Town Centre Building at night.

Look! I fixed the binding in my Full Monty sheet music!

And I'm in a show with playoff music called BIG ASS TAG! Things couldn't be better.

On a totally unrelated note ...

I’ve received three copies of this book over the years, if anyone would like to receive one as a gift.

Could there BE a more adorable child smiling toothlessly from a hand-gilded, kiln-fired, liquid-shine-glazed, holly-shaped, '74-time-stamped ceramic Christmas ornament?

No. There could not.

Decorating the Christmas tree:

The annual convergence of the totally cool garland of Norwegian flags and the totally creepy pantyhose-head elf with a disturbingly short caftan, yellow throat-choking oven mitts and no discernible pants. Because nothing personifies the joy and wonder of Christmas like a freeballin' elf with pantyhose obscuring his murderous clown face and unfettered access to the kitchen knives while we sleep.

The first thing to come off in The Full Monty is apparently the damn binder for my damn script

Monday, November 26, 2018

So this first read-through just happened ...

I’m so excited to do this show I can hardly bare it!

#BeBest, Melanie

Learnings from an early morning Elf the Musical performance for area grade-schoolers:

1. They’re too cool to laugh at Ted Talks jokes.
2. Gay-coworker jokes are totally bougie and last-year to them.
3. It is easy to identify and know to avoid the one mild swear word in the script in the nanosecond between when it’s said and when the kids file it away mentally to repeat ad nauseam on the bus on the way back to school.

Rob (not pictured) and I (not pictured) officially transitioned this morning from spending the summer running our way to being lean and ripped to spending the winter lifting our way to being hunky and swole

And we promise that our massive gainz will not interfere with our ability to have good hair.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

When you have no fireplace but you have a long banister and a clever gay who got the spacing counted out correctly on ONLY THE SECOND TRY


Since I was doing all the counting and hanging and decorating, I naturally put my stocking closest to the front door so I’ll get the most Sparkle Unicorn Rainbow Dream Kitten Pillow Glitter Sequin Diamond Pudding Smooches(R) Barbies before Santa runs out. Because it’s only fair.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sometimes a super-fast hat and tap-shoe change between the first big finale and the second big finale doesn’t leave you much time to take a decent selfie

Theater is stupid that way.


I’m tired of sucking at ironing no matter how hard I try and of never having a decently ironed shirt when I need one so I’m taking EVERY DRESS SHIRT I OWN PLUS SOME CASUALISH ONES BECAUSE SOMETIMES THOSE ARE MORE APPROPRIATE FOR CERTAIN OCCASIONS and paying to have the entire pile cleaned and medium-starched AND I’LL BE THE SHARPEST LOOKING MAN AT YOUR NEXT FORMAL OR SEMI-FORMAL EVENT.

But please don’t invite me anywhere nice in the next few days because every shirt I own will be at the cleaner’s. Literally.

When you should be asleep but you realize if you don’t haul out all your Christmas crap now it’ll suddenly be Easter and you’ll wonder why the hell you spent $23 on clearance tabletop trees last January

So here are the Stations Of Christmawesomeness, in order:
1. The Enchanted Forest Of Silver Shimmers And Crisp Aspen Whites

2. The Gold Medal Glen

3. Red As A Reindeer’s Freshly Expressed Glands

4. Evergreens And Bluish-Green Wannabes That Maybe Could Be Called Mrs. Peacocks If I Could Get Those Naming Rights

5. The Sad Land Of The One Lonely Blue Reindeer Who Is Probably Dying Of Frostbite Or Something Just As Unsightly

6. Tons Of Fucking Reindeers Because I Can’t Fucking Stop Buying Fucking Reindeers On January Clearance But At Least They’re All In A Metallic-Shimmer Palette And Yes Those Are The Same Paint Chips That Were Stuck To The Bookshelf Last Year Because I Can’t Decide What Shade Of Old-Money-Rich-People-Blue To Paint My Bedroom It’s A Big Decision So Don’t Rush Me Shut Up

Friday, November 23, 2018

Greetings from the bottom of The Terrifyingly Tall Spiral Staircase Of Gruesome But Festively Lit And Probably Involving Glitter Because It *IS* A Theater But It Will Still Be Splatty Death

The staircase—and everyone’s splatty, glittery death—starts on the skull-cracking concrete bowels of the theater and climbs almost two million (which we’ll round to just two for the purposes of this post) stories to the relatively safe safety of the stage-right darkness, where things can probably fall on us from the flylines but at least it’s not US falling on the skull-cracking concrete two million-give-or-take stories below us.

On the plus side, if we DO plummet to our splatty, glittery deaths tonight, we’ll crack our skulls to the peppy jazz stylings of Elf the Musical as it unfolds around us AS I’M RIGHT NOW TYPING THIS POST. So there’s that.

Love, Love, Love

I've been reading Everything was Possible--a fascinating insider account of the creation of Steven Sondheim/Michael Bennett/Hal Prince/Jonathan Tunick's magnum opus Follies--over the last month. And at this very moment I'm listening to the cast album with new eyes (or I guess ears) as I hear the performances of the singers and actors--not to mention the voluptuous orchestrations--I've been learning so much about. It's like I'm loving my mind.

I fugue otta go shopping today, don't spend till you're Baroque

Thursday, November 22, 2018

I'll take my lumps

Max: Why do you have those lumps on your head?
Me: Because I have these lumps on my head.
Max (whispering): Because you’re weird.

“Giblets” is a funny word

I've never really liked "Turkey Lurkey Time"

—mostly because of its toddler-creativity title and Hal David's criminally mind-numbing lyrics. But the gloriously jerky melody and never-gonna-be-boxed-in phrasing are Burt Bacharach at his finest, and I think Michael Bennett defined an encyclopedic choreography vocabulary for the next half-century of show choir competitions in this song alone. Plus I've had a gay-dancer crush on Donna McKechnie—she of the endless legs and beguiling self-awareness and almost poetic extensions—since probably before I was born. Plus HOW THE HELL DO THEY ALL DANCE THIS NUMBER WITHOUT IMPLODING IN CATASTROPHIC EXHAUSTION?

Anyway, it's Thanksgiving, which in some circles means it's Turkey Lurkey Time all day. So please shout the lyrics to anything—ANYTHING!—else to drown out these linguistic burps as you marvel at Donna McKechnie (in red, who first captured my heart as Cassie in A Chorus Line), Baayork Lee (in green, who kinda got shafted when all her great Connie recitative got cut from the original A Chorus Line cast album) and Margo Sappington (in blue, who went on to a life of fame and fortune as the choreographer for the Doonesbury musical) powering through their tipsy steno-pool production number that has absolutely no relevance to the already convoluted, dirty-sexy, nothing-to-do-with-the-holidays story of Promises, Promises.

When all that selfie practice finally pays off: Happy Thanksgiving from all us Norwegians!

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody except Christina

If T stands for Thanksgiving, we’re at T minus 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mickey, Goofy and Max the ninja photobomber are ready to make Thanksgiving LIT!

Tomorrow looms ...


As is the case with many people on psychotropic medications, my bipolar meds have given me a robust case of tardive dyskinesia, a permanent neurological disorder that causes a range of involuntary movements including twitches and wiggles and shakes and grimaces and blinks and OCD things like repetitive face touching.

And I've won the tardive dyskinesia lottery and gotten the full spectrum of these behaviors, with varying degrees of intensity. Some days my knees just shiver. Some days I have epic squinting, face rubbing, rocking and anything else my body can think of to make me super-paranoid I'm irritating the hell out of everyone around me. People often ask me if I'm nervous (which happened once at a job interview I was otherwise rocking, to my eternal mortification) or cold (my veins actually course with reptile blood and I am NEVER cold) when they see me shaking. People have asked me why I'm always on my tiptoes when I sit down (the obvious answer: to help my body shake the living hell out of my legs more annoyingly). People have politely asked me to sit still.

And while these awake behaviors are bad enough, it's the nighttime manifestations of tardive dyskinesia that are killing me. Many, MANY times every EVERY night, I end up on my back with my legs bent and my feet flat and my knees slamming against each other so violently that they wake me up--usually somehow mummified in a tangle of sheets. Or I wake myself by repeatedly running my hands through my hair like I'm a supermodel being all sexy for a shampoo commercial as I ride with the top down along the 101. Or I just rub my face like I'm Lady Macbeth but the damn spots got all over everything and I need to URGENT URGENT WAKE UP AND TELL MACBETH TO ORDER DUNKIN' AND NOT MURDER DUNCAN.

Last night it was the face. Hoo boy, was it the face. And it was so borderline violent that it hurt ... and then it stung like an advanced-degree sunburn when the water hit it in the shower this morning. Which--if you see me today--is why I look like Hobo Santa because my cheeks are ultra-rosy and I'm now on my third day of not shaving and I don't care THAT much about how I'm going to look in the family Thanksgiving photos.

I take Gabatentin three times a day to help control the reason I'm extremely bad at stealing tambourines, but that is a six-paragraph discussion for another day. Key words: opiod epidemic.

Anyway, this post started out as a few sentences about how my face hurt in the shower this morning and then I was going to show you all a photo of the Hershey's Kisses I bought last night THAT LOOK LIKE LITTLE SANTA HATS. Sorry for rambling on like this, but look at the Hershey's Kisses I bought last night THAT LOOK LIKE LITTLE SANTA HATS:

One day until the carnage!