Friday, November 11, 2016

The Power of Music

Yesterday morning, in front of the entire Berkshire School student body, I made a speech about the power of making music with other people.  My aim was to create a space for musicians (and anyone who wanted to become a musician) who'd been practicing (or dreaming) in their dorm room to find each other and to begin making music together.  Not for an audience, but for the fun of it, for the magic of it, for themselves.  To turn off their Netflix, their video games, pick up a guitar, a horn, a pair of drum sticks and believe in themselves.

Today we had our meeting.  About 30 students, faculty, and a few faculty kids showed up, guitars in had, smiles on their faces with such eagerness on their faces.  Before half an hour was up, kids were hurriedly scurrying out the door to begin practicing with their new band mates eager to get to work.  Their assignment was to form a quick group, and in a few weeks, the 30 of us will come back together to play one song for the group, cover or original.  

I did not do that much.  I told them to make a conscious choice about how to use their time.  I told them about the power of making music.  I told them everyone has to pick up an instrument for the first time.  Basically,  I gave them permission to believe in themselves and to belive they could be in a band.  For sure some will get too busy and be on to other things, but by the looks of what I saw, Berkshire now has a little more rock and roll in it, and I'd wager that for some kids, there's no going back!  The tiniest encouragement and a tiny bit of structure and look out!  I am very excited to see where it goes.

If your're interested further, here's what I said.

Hello Bears,
I wrote this out because you all make me nervous.  

Last year, my first year as a teacher here at Berkshire School, I loved going to all the different kinds of music events around campus, and maybe I missed it, but at some point, I said, “Where’s the rock and roll?!”  I went to a public high school in eastern mass where at every talent show, there were multiple bands playing music, so I naturally expected the same here.  But it appears it’s not happening on its own, or it needs a little encouragement so I’m here to try to infuse and instill a little rock and roll into and out of the students and faculty here at Berkshire School.  Because I know you’re out there...

But you say, “I like music, but I’m not a musician”  To that I say, become one!  I once taught a promising astronomy PG named Kevin.  For reasons I don’t know, he started playing the guitar.  Maybe it was given to him, maybe it was a friend’s, maybe it was something he always wanted to do.  But he started in January, and he was performing at the talent show a few short months later.  While I was on duty in deWindt last year, I would bring my guitar and we played together when we had the time.  One night I asked him, where do you get the time to play and practice?  He said something to the effect of..., “I just stopped watching Netflix.”  

Next you say, “I don’t have the time!”  To that I say, do you watch Netflix? And do you play video games.  It’s amazing what 20 minutes a day can accomplish.  Ten years from now, you will think, if only I had started when I was in high school.  Know that it is your choice whether you will say, “I’m a good Netflix watcher” or “I’m a good video game player” or “I’m a good Shawn’s hanger-outer.”  Might it be kind of cool to say, “I’m a good singer” or “I’m a good guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, horn or whatever player.”

Next you say, “I don’t have the money to pay for lessons.”  To that I say, youTube and many other online resources that are incredible and often free.  That’s how Kevin did it.

Next you say, “I’ll never be good enough to play in front of people, so what’s the point.”  To that I say, performing music in front of other people is fun, but that’s not the point.  The point is to MAKE AND CREATE music with other people.  It’s not for the listeners.  They come second.  Anyone who plays an instrument will tell you, it’s way more fun to play music that to listen to it.  (Studies have also shown that playing and practicing an instrument is one of the best things you can do for your brain.)  

Dave Grohl, the drummer from Nirvana and now the frontman for the Foo Fighters summed it up best.  He said,  “When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not good enough.’  It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy and old drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy junk, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”

So to that effect, there’ll be a meeting for anyone who is interested in creating some more music together.  You don’t have to be a musician yet!  It will be a place to see what we have here on campus and to see where we want to go.  For students (AND ANY FACULTY AND STAFF!) who are interested to find other people with similar skill levels, (ranging from never picked up an instrument to some of the very skilled musicians we have) and for people to find those with similar musical interests (rock, bluegrass, folk, brass, whatever).  

Every musician has to pick up an instrument for the first time.  Every incredible singer has to write a first song that is usually terrible.  Music is for those making it, there’s nothing like creating music with other people, and it’s my opinion that music...is WAY better than Netflix.   The choice...and may it now be a conscious one, is up to you.  Use your time wisely.

For me, playing music is on the same level as sports, flying airplanes and climbing towers on the side of an active volcano in Antarctica at negative 20 degrees Celsius.  It lights my mind and body on fire, heals my soul and fuels my spirit.  

No commitment necessary.  At the very least we’ll make a list of who knows how to play what instrument (voice included), and who wants to play what kind of music (all kinds are welcome).  We meet in the music room this Friday night at 6:30pm to see who and what we have and hopefully after that the revolution will take care of itself.  Send me an email if you’re interested and can’t make it.  Thanks.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Not Selected for NASA

I contacted my astronaut friend today to get any word about how the NASA selection process is going.  He said they'd made the first cut and that if my references weren't contacted, then I've been passed over, which means I didn't make it to the "Highly Qualified" pile.  So this one's over.  At least I know now.  

I wonder who looked at my application and what they thought...I'll try again if they open up the application again three years from now (they usually open it every 4 years - since 2000 anyways).  But by then I'll be 42 and my friend said once I'm over 40, it gets a lot harder to get selected.  If I made it past the first cut this time, I'd think there might be a chance next time.  As it stands now, it all seems very unlikely.  18,000 other applicants were too hard to beat.  

So the dream is disappearing, but still maybe one last chance, though an unlikely one.  For now, it means some good things...I can keep teaching at Berkshire School, keep flying Freddy, keep sailing Daphne, keep driving Bessie.  Perhaps a future sail across the Atlantic will be better than a flight in space.  I can keep playing the guitar and bass and I don't have to move to Houston.  

I didn't expect to get selected, but it's still disappointing. For now I'll just have to be an astronaut on planet Earth.  I'll just have to make that do for now and maybe forever.  Generally it is awesome being an astronaut on Earth, but I wanted a taste of space.  Maybe someday.  I'll keep training, as the training might be almost as good as the real thing.  

Thanks to all who've supported and encouraged me in this pursuit.  One of the best part of being an astronaut would have been how many people I could have shared the experience with, and also riding a rocket into space would have been pretty cool too. 

Back to Earth adventures!  To infinity and beyond!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Almost Home

Almost a thousand miles today. I got out of the cockpit and after more than eight hours of flying today and thought, I need to sit down!  So after a pee break, and put fuel in the wing tanks, I climbed back in the cockpit. I woke up just outside of Houston this morning. Part of me wanted to see if I could make it all the way home with some awesome tailwinds created by a high and a low boundary. But I stopped to see some friends (Davey and Fox!) and almost saw some more (Peske and Ben!) and now find myself in a quiet airport in PA. 

Although I would have liked to have crossed the one thousand nautical mile mark today, I'd rather be right here.  I'm not quite ready to be home, not quite ready to land and immediately unpack.  I woke up at 0500 this morning and while I feel that I'm exhausted I also feel the life in me.  They do a strange thing in PA where they lock the airports, even the pilots out after a certain time. (All other states seem to trust pilots.) And while I can't go inside right now, I'm perfectly content sitting in my vessel, my ship, my craft.  We clean up, debrief the day, record the facts of the day. A sweet dinner of apples, arugula, triscuits and cheese.  

I sat watching the last light disappear and felt like I was on a boat in a peaceful anchorage. So happy to sit and look at the sky, look at the dials, contemplate flying more than 900 miles.  Free miles from the wind push no me along. After many months of many hours of computer time, it is so nice to have the eyes open and to be looking across miles and miles. One mile straight down and tens of miles in all directions. 

Life is good.  I love being a pilot, I love my ship. I love that pilots don't usually sleep in their planes or have skateboard in their planes.  If I never get to be an astronaut in space, at least I'm getting to be one on planet Earth. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

By Sky to Houston

Repairs in progress.
It's time for some "By Sky" to Houston, TX to have a meeting with an astronaut.  Being a teacher now, I have a long spring break, and so instead of flying commercially when my astro contact said to come down to visit, I am flying Freddy (N7202G) a 1970 Cessna 172K Skyhawk that's been in the family for at least 30 years.  The details of the story have to be saved now for a potential story for Popular Mechanics, but here are some of the memorable bits so far...

Crossing Delaware Bay
The test flight to VT to see Chad play a show proved the carburetor heat cable needed replacing when it came off in my hand...in flight.  I landed safely but had to work a fix to get back to my local airport and mechanic that involved a nearby ACE hardware store and a few hours of trial and error.  In Delaware I was told to keep clear of the restricted airspace where aerial gunnery practice was happening.  Then saw two fighter jets dead ahead about to practice their gunnery on me...then I realized they were sea gulls.  In North Carolina, I stopped for some surfing with two of the other three Crazy Horse guys.   In Mississippi, I landed at an airport that was staffed from the prison across the street.  (It seems to be a very strange prison, but the hospitality from Terry (serving 10 years on a crack cocaine dealing charge - he's served 8 years, 2 months so far) was outstanding.  And then there is landing at Ellington Field in Houston which did not disappoint.  Vectored in for landing traffic, I was told I was number two to land, following the F-16.  I love this airport, and am now in one of their pilot sleeping rooms.  No charge for pilots.  Amazing.  Freddy is parked near a T-38.  The same jet trainer that the astronauts use to keep up their proficiency.

Three days, 16.3 hours of air time.  Over 1500 miles flown.  One weather delay, two surf sessions.  Flying is unreal.  It is amazing that I can throw some switches, turn some dials, press some buttons, pull and push some levers and end up in Houston!

Tomorrow to be a NASA tourist and Monday to have a meeting that may (or may not) impact my future...Very happy to be in Houston!


Sunset as I arrived in Houston.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Spacewalk T-shirts!

I'm making shirts for my tree service!  See below for info if you're interested in having one sent to you.  $20/shirt.

If any of you don't know, I've been a certified arborist since 2006 and made my business a real thing this past fall.  Since '06, it's been something that I did in between other contract work but this year, I've been doing it as my main work.  I named the business Spacewalk Tree Service because when I'm in the trees I often feel similar to what I imagine what an astronaut feels like on a spacewalk.  Hopefully someday I'll have a chance to compare them myself.

The shirts are being printed by friends of mine at Fox Island Printworks on North Haven Island in Maine.
American Apparel Track T: XS-2XL
http://store.americanapparel.net/tri-blend-short-sleeve-tra…
(They're very soft, good shirts.  State Radio uses the same kind.)
If you want one, email me (benjaminurmston@gmail.com) the following:
Size
Color (best on black or navy - AA calls them "tri-black" or "tri-indigo")
The cost is $20/shirt and you can pay once the shirts are made at the end of the month. I'll send the shirt to you.
 The actual shirt will have the typed SPACEWALK TREE SERVICE below it as shown in the mock up below.

Yeah, springtime! My best to you and your trees.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 4E: Washington, Iowa to New Castle, Pennsylvania


Highlights of today:
1. A dawn discussion with a young South African crop duster.  They fly the hell out of their machines.  No airport pattern, they head straight for the middle of the runway 30 feet up, kick it high into the air to lose their airspeed, kick it hard over and land.  Remarkable flying that I won’t try in Freddy.  Twenty flights a day.  Fly, load, fly, load…until the conveyer belt loader broke and I had to leave. 

2. Flying above the clouds, which is always a highlight. 







3. Stopping after my second flight at Neil Armstong Airport in Wapokoneta, Ohio, Neil’s hometown.  I met a family that included a grandfather, a father and his two young daughters.  They had flown over from elsewhere in Ohio in their Cessna 170.  They invited me to join them in the courtesy car so we drove to the museum discussing space and flying and the like.  The museum was fun, we practiced landing the shuttle simulator, watched a film on the first lunar landing and poked around at the displays. 





4. Most air traffic controllers are male.  Every now and then there is a female controller and it is nice to hear a change in tone.  But today, there was this amazing voice on the other end of the airwaves.  There was something about her voice.  I could have listened to it all day as I tried to picture who was behind the voice issuing appropriately strong, instructions and communications to her aviators.  When I had the airport in sight and were bidding each other the customary “Good day” or “Good night,” I couldn’t resist telling her that she had a beautiful voice.  She responded that I did too, but she was just being polite.  I’ll keep a listen out for that one again. 

5. The double sunset I saw when the sun set on the cloud layer I was flying above, and then again on the ground as I was descending. 

6. Playing my travel bass guitar with a headphone amp and The Black Crowes on my ipod also playing on my headphones through the amp, playing and dancing around in the dark, under the stars as the space station flew overhead. 

I should make it home tomorrow!  Returning is always a bitter-sweet experience.  How I love sitting in Freddy’s cockpit.  It’s been a fantastic voyage so far.  A few more flights to go!


Friday, September 12, 2014

DAY 3: Ogallala, Nebraska to Washington, Iowa



Eastward!  I left Ogallala late morning today.  The clouds lifted just enough to warrant a try, knowing full well I might just take a loop around the pattern.  The clouds were low, only a few thousand off the deck, but it was enough.  I paid careful attention to the antennas on the chart and made sure I stayed far away from them, even knowing I was above them all.  I don't usually like to fly only a few thousand feet up but with I-80 below me and an endless grid of fields and N-S/E-W criss crossing roads, I knew if I had an engine failure, I had quick options.  Thankfully, I did not need such options. 
I landed in Maryville, Missouri and hoped to beat my record of 45 minutes before I start the engine again, but was delayed due to a long weather briefing.  IFR conditions prevailed but at last we came to a solution of heading northeast to make a little bit of progress and set me up for tomorrow.  


I passed two beautiful cranes up high today.  So beautiful to see them in their element, up high soaring along.  Otherwise, the most interesting thing I flew over today was a huge abandoned ammunition cache.  Bunker after bunker for miles and miles.  

Ammunition bunkers.

A coal plant.  To think, some people think a wind turbine is an eye soar.

I hope there were some people enjoying this sunshine on the ground.  They must have done something right!
So off I went back into the sky and eventually made it to Washington, Iowa.  I passed the airport in hopes the briefer had been wrong or that conditions had changed, and I found a huge opening in the sky, but beyond it was solid and low overcast.  I hit my personal minimums and turned around but first climbed a few thousand feet in the huge hole just to see a bit of the sun that I hadn't seen in a few days.  So beautiful on the white clouds from above.  

So beautiful above the clouds.
Back down I went and back to Washington for a smooth landing, the cheapest gas yet at $5.05/gallon and a few crop dusters on the tarmac.  


I fueled up, organized and then tied Freddy down for the night.  The legs were eager so I ran the runway as I did this morning in Ogallala.  For how much I like the mountains and the sea, there's something to be said about the plains at dusk on a cool night.  The sunset reminds me of the sunset pictures from space, the open views satisfy my aviator's want to look at the sky in all directions.   

It is remarkably colder today and I've put on pants and shoes for the first time in what seems like months.  I'm now about 900 nautical miles from home.  Within striking distance but rain will probably preclude me from arriving home.  Maybe that will mean a stop at Neil Armstong airport in Wapakoneta, Ohio - Neil's hometown...

My bed for the last two nights.
How I keep busy when I'm organized and exercised.