March 17th, 2016
Well it has been a while since I have written in DOG Tails. The adjustments to my life continue as I try to grow my mission and my business that is JTDOG. The snow seems to have left us for the most part and as we look forward to spring and warmer days, I take a moment to reflect. I just got home from playing Webster Manor in Omro (my old Middle School) and my thoughts go out to all the wonderful folks I play for and serve as well as to their care-givers who work tirelessly day after day to make their golden years happy. I sometimes wonder who gets more out of my playing, them or me. Today is St Patrick’s Day and the only green in my closet is Packer Green, so I donned my #12 Jersey and went to play. I was warmly greeted there as always, and chatted with everyone who was already there in anticipation of the music. Once into the session, we were all having a grand time, enjoying the songs from yesteryear as well as the latest additions to my music. I’m always adding more and more songs. It all seems magical to me sometimes as I play. It’s like I’ve known them all for years and we’re all just getting together for a good time. The smiles abound as I sing and look to each person to give that smile right back to them. Once I hand out my instruments and get my “adoptive band” as I call it playing with me, it just seems to ramp up the happiness as I look around to see everyone playing their hearts out, singing and all having a ball. The care-givers there at Webster are a special bunch alright. They encourage and participate right along with their residents which makes it all seem like one big family. So I’m sitting there thinking how cool this all is when I look to see people joining hands all across and swaying back and forth to the song as I played. Does it get any better than this? Really, does it? Then one of the care-givers lets out a howl: “Oooooowwwwwwwwww!!” So I join in and so does everyone else: “Oooooowwwwwwwwww!!!” There it was, the JTDOG Howl was born. In Omro, in my old Middle School. I said it out loud, announcing that Omro was the birthplace of the JTDOG Howl. It was great! Almost every song after that was followed by the JTDOG Howl. Made me smile right there. How special is it when something comes together like this, like an encouragement of sorts for me to carry on with this mission. All of those people there are special to me, as are all the folks I serve and play for. God Bless each and every one of them, and thanks to God above for tasking my life with something so wonderful. I am blessed.
December 19th, 2015
Last night I had a double music session, kind of a half regular/half Christmas music situation. The age range was 20 to 50 and the conditions of my audience was anything from physical to mental disabilities, it was something quite new for me, but any way I can serve, I want to help. I was asked to kind of mix it up rather than one set of Regular, then one set Christmas music, so I spent my morning coming up with a nice ebb and flow of music to make it an enjoyable show. The staff there was wonderful, they had a dry erase board artistically done up with my name, musical notes, and guitars around it. Made me smile. I took the liberty of changing my name to JTDOG on the board however, just because that’s the name I need to get out there. Anyway my story revolves around a young lady seated at the rear of the audience. I played for a while and was asked to stop so everyone could grab some snacks and was encouraged to visit for a bit. I went around, greeted everyone, and chatted for a bit, moving around the room. I came to this young lady I’ll call… Noel. She was wearing a little “jingle-bell ” necklace and asked me if I was going to play Jingle Bells. I said I certainly was, and asked her if she would play the sleigh bells (that I bring with me) while I played it. She was excited at the idea and held her hand up for a high-five in which I gladly participated. Well, I went back and started playing again and got to a song where I felt it was time to hand out the participation instruments (sleigh bells, wood block and tambourine) so I made sure she got the sleigh bells since she was fired up, and because I knew it would be a while before I got to Jingle Bells. Well, as I had mentioned, this was not my normal retirement home-type music session and there were interruptions when people would come forward to speak with me. Although well intended, it was a challenge to strike a balance between being respectful to the individual and trying to keep the music going for the others. No problem, I rolled with it the best I could. I finished the song, turned the page in my music book, and that’s when Noel come forward with the sleigh bells looking SO sad. She laid the bells on the floor and said she had to leave. I told her that the very next song is Jingle Bells and pointed to it. She was so dejected looking it broke my heart. She said no, that’s okay and started to walk away. A caretaker there and myself tried to convince her to come back. After a little coaxing and the okay and encouragement of the caretaker giving her the ride back home, she came back! I told her to stand right up front with me and I launched into the best Jingle Bells I ever played with the star, Noel, playing the sleigh bells and singing her heart out! I couldn’t take my eyes off of her as she stood there just pouring herself into it, sleigh bells held high. I had to look back at my lyric sheet as we got into the later verses, but as soon as we hit the chorus, she got to sing it again with me. I was even hitting a wrong chord here & there, just because I was so transfixed watching the joy on her face. After an “extra” chorus to make it a bit longer and a big finish, I stood up beside her and asked everyone to give it up for our sleigh bell player. She bowed proudly and then again. That one song made our night (both of us), I think. I hope she went home and had sweet dreams. Merry Christmas Noel!
November 10th, 2015
I have to say, I am writing tonight with a heavy heart. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my session with the fine folks tonight at Oakwood Manor in Oshvegas. We sang and I even had a guest percussionist come and join me playing the Dog’s bongos! He did an outstanding job and I salute him! Audience participation: there is no substitute. 🙂 I always look forward to playing Oakwood, it’s where I played my first real session and they forgave me and wanted me back, LOL! My heavy heart comes from an email I received from another place and the news was that the woman I learned the special song for has passed (see my October 9th entry). I know I should expect these things are going to happen and I should consider it as a part of what I do, but for some reason it really bothers me and makes me feel very bad at losing her. It indeed makes me remember how thin the veil is between life and death and how quickly someone can be taken from us. I am honored that I had the chance to play “her song” for her on 2 different occasions and that I know she appreciated hearing it the last time I played it for her. When she gave me that last hug of appreciation… Chokes me up at the thought now. When I played tonight, I did not know of this news. When I played her song, I proudly announced that I dedicate this song for my friend “Ruby” (not her real name) and then I play it. The news came after I played in an email I read on my phone. Life is short people. We never know when our Savior will call us home. Hug your parents. Hug your Grandparents if you are lucky enough to have them in your lives yet. Tell them how much you love them. I know how much I miss my parents and wish I could do that. God Bless and good night.
November 8th, 2015
Well now that some leaves are burned and the pond (is almost) done for the year, I can sit down and take some time to write. The DOG had the privilege of serving Webster Manor in Omro, which just happens to be where I spent 3 years of my youth, because after the building served as Omro High School, it became Omro Middle School. What a welcoming and friendly staff! I was greeted at the door, and it was a pleasure to serve the fine folks there. Familiar names and people who remember the Omro of old, just like me. It was like a homecoming of sorts. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the music and many sang along, fueling me to play. It was fun to field a few questions of who I am, and directly or indirectly, I knew a few people (or families of) the folks there. I got to see some of the main building there and I have to tell you, it’s WAY different now. I miss the big old wooden staircase we used to run up and down and the place that once seemed so big to be all those years ago now seemed so small. It was difficult to picture where Miss Koplin’s room was and where I attended Mrs. Marks English class upstairs. I didn’t get to go everywhere I would have liked, maybe next time. I still remember running down the basement tunnel from the boy’s locker room that led to the outside for “Big K’s” gym class, the downstairs bathroom and the cement stairs that led to the gym where we also ate lunch where the lunch ladies would happily serve us our daily allotment of …food. I remember Mr. Anstet’s Science class, Mr. Sticka’s Social Studies class, Mrs. Gardner’s Art class, Mr. Geffer’s Math class and his duck hunting stories. The more I think the more I remember. Those really were simpler times. Who would have thought all these years later I’d be playing and singing in the same building. Mrs. Striebel and Miss Beebe would be happy that I’m still into music and I thank them for teaching me music could be so fun.
October 27th, 2015
Had a great time today at Waterford Assisted Living building 1! I had SUCH a warm and friendly crowd today. Everyone seemed to have fun with me and really got in to the music, but that’s what music is for! I tried a few of my new songs. 2 Glenn Campbell songs: Try a Little Kindness and Gentle on My Mind, Don Gibson’s O Lonesome Me, and even threw in Show Me the Way to Go Home! Remember THAT one?!? Good times with good people, I love what I do and want to do this EVERY DAY. After the music everyone was so kind and talkative, it was so nice to visit for a bit afterward with the folks there. I have a month to work up my Christmas show and I’m even gonna break out the Saxophone to make it more …FANTASTICAL! Have a great night everyone. God Bless.
October 24th, 2015
Yesterday was a rewarding day for me to play. I re-visited the woman who had the broken hip. It had been 2 weeks since I last played for her and I was glad to hear she was getting stronger, because I must admit, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. When I got to her room she was in slumber and I felt bad gently waking this poor woman. She was a little out of it for a bit, apologizing that she forgot I was coming (what a sweetheart). So I set up and as I was tuning and telling her how happy I was that she looked SO much better than the last time I was there when she tells me she forgot to tell everyone else I was coming so they could hear too. That’s when I told her I was there just for her. First she looked surprised, then she smiled so big, made me smile right back at her! I asked, but I really don’t think she knew I was there two weeks ago, but she knew I was there now and it was a pleasure to play the song I learned especially, just for her. I played all different songs for her, even my the two Glen Campbell songs I just worked up. True to her self, she asked me if I knew any Jim Reeves songs, and just like the last time I smiled and told her I would look into learning a song of his. I told her that’s what I like about her, she keeps me on my toes! It was good to see that in her again. After an hour of playing, I told her it was time to go and even though she told me she could listen tor another hour, I was pretty pooped out from the day at work and was ready to relax myself. I even got a request from the gentleman next door after I played God Bless America for her, asking if I knew America. So that’s two more I need to work up as well as the Christmas songs I need to get busy with. My work here is not done. We parted with a hug and I didn’t think she was going to let go of me for a while there. She was very grateful for my time and it was an honor and a pleasure to serve this wonderful lady. SO happy she is on the mend. I look forward to seeing her back where I normally play for her, right back in the middle of things, singing along and enjoying her life.
October 13th, 2015
Well another session done. Played for a smaller place today. Not because it was on my volunteer list, it’s not anymore because there are no hospice patients there. This lady actually was taken OFF hospice, she got better! I played there because I wanted to and because I know the people there enjoy my playing. Today was great! There is a patient there who is usually very negative and well, openly crabby. The last time I played there she sat there with her hands over her ears, convinced she hated my playing and my being there in general. Today started no different. She was angry right away and was uncooperative with the staff. Made me feel bad for her and the staff. I realize sometimes you will have individuals like that. I don’t know the back story and I try never to judge because I have not walked in their shoes and don’t know what causes their pain. So I set up and everyone else warmly greeted me with smiles and remembered I’m the guy who plays music and likes to have fun with them. As I tuned up and chatted with everyone, I noticed “Nellie” I guess I’ll call her, sitting there with a blanket over her head, Kind of reminded me of Linus (from Charlie Brown) sitting there refusing to have fun. SO I began to play and I noticed after a while she pulled the blanket off but her grimace was still evident. I played song after song and then I got to the song Lord is it Mine (Roger Hodgson). I always explain why I play that song; Sometime I have a bad day. Sometimes I’m down or sad. Sometimes I wonder why I even try. Sometimes I don’t even know why I’m down, I just am. Everyone feels that way at some point, right? That’s when I like to either play this song, or I like to PLAY (and sing) the song. It lets me purge those feelings out of my body and soul and makes me feel maybe just a bit better. Then I tell them that I hope this song can do that for them too. Then I played it for them. Now, I’m not going to lie, because I’m not sure when this exactly happened, but at some point “Nellie” was looking at me and not frowning as much. As I played more she even smiled at me and it made my day! I never saw her smile – and it was beautiful. I finished another song and whaddia know, she yells out: I remember you! You’re the guy who sings songs! I remember that song! Now I’m stoked, and answer her back (can’t even remember what it is I said), but something like: Yes I am, with a big smile on my face. I picked up my 12-string and went into “Me & You & a Dog Named Boo” and upon completion of that song, she yells out Hey I like that song! I used to have a dog! That’s awesome, I say. What was his name? Well she must not have remembered, she told me he’s gone now, but I shared that my dog was also gone and that I sure missed him. Then I showed her my JTDOG Logo with his picture.
You know, it’s little wins like these that inspire me to carry on, and to work toward my goal of doing this for a business full time, every day. The fulfillment that it brings me feeds the good in my soul and as another musician I know has said: “Feed Your Angel” referring to the little angel on one shoulder and the little devil on the other. I continue to try and “Feed My Angel” and good certainly does seem to come from it. Let’s all make a goal and tomorrow do something to “Feed our Angel” by starving the devil. Let’s all do something unexpected that’s nice to someone who doesn’t expect it. Let’s pay it forward. Have a good night everyone.
October 9th, 2015
What an experience I had today. I played for a woman that used to reside @ one of my normal places I volunteer. A month ago She requested a song I didn’t know. So, I told her I’d learn it for her. The song was one I hadn’t heard of before. Mansion on a Hill was the name. I came home and Googled it. Hank Williams Sr. Yup, I can handle that. So I learned it. When I went back to the place I played where resided, I was excited to play it for her so I asked if she was in attendance. I was told she fell and broke her hip. Another broken hip. Ughhh… This is my second person it has happened to. I was pretty bummed. She wasn’t there to hear it and I learned from the staff she was in recovery in another facility. Unlike my first experience with a broken hip with someone I served, she was pretty spry and had some zip to her, I remembered that, and that’s why I was excited to finally play her song for her. When I learned that her health was failing, my heart sunk. I wanted her to hear her song now more than ever. Long story short, I played for her today after work. It was difficult to see her that way. Memories of my Mother came flooding back, and I had to keep singing for her – I felt she could hear me, even with her eyes closed. I played for about an hour I guess. I know she heard me when I sang as well as when I spoke to her. I actually choked up a bit on a couple of songs, as I lost focus, but with the Lord’s help I got back on track. I left her hopefully a bit of a more peaceful soul, more, comforted maybe.
Before I sang her song the last time before I left, I spoke to her not for sure knowing if she was comprehending what i was telling her, but i told her that I was going to play the song for her that I learned especially FOR her. I told her to keep her eyes closed, and to imagine herself dancing as free as a bird, laughing and having fun as I would sing her song for her. I really hope she was able to do that. I’d like to think God granted her that. Good night all…