Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making a Basswood Whistle...

at Buckhorn Camp

Winter has been hanging on a lot longer than normal here in the Northeast. So there's little sign yet of budding trees. But soon willows and the basswoods will be in growth mode and will sprout their leaves and bloom for the bees to go to work making the delectably basswood honey.  Young new branches will spring forth and it will be time to make a whistle.

When I was a young boy, long before I ever dreamed of anything remotely similar to being a voiceover talent, I spent a lot of time with my maternal grandfather. The timing was perfect. He was recently retired having operated a hardware & grocery store in the tiny village of Schuyler Lake all of his adult life.  He was avid hunter, fisherman and loved the outdoors.  Grandpa and Grandma Washburn had a summer cottage, known as Buckhorn Camp, on Canadarago Lake in Otsego County NY.  There grew a hedgerow populated with basswood trees.   Some call this tree a linden which is, I suppose, where the city in New Jersey may have borrowed its name from.

For me, anytime someone mentions basswood, I think of my grandfather and the basswood whistle.  Grandpa would find a new growth basswood branch and with his pocket knife snip it off. He'd trim the leaves and end up with a stick about the thickness of a finger and about  10 – 12 inches long. He then would go to work.  I watched with awe.

I borrowed some text and the illustration from an old school book I found at a flea market. The book is long out of print or copyright. On page 351 of Public School Methods, Volume 5,  published in 1916 there's a perfect illustration of how to make a willow whistle.  It's the same process for basswood and I'll share it here.

“A live willow stick about one-half inch in diameter and six inches long is cut from the tree. Then the end is slanted at an angle like in Fig. 1. Next square off the point to look like Fig 2, and cut a notch through the bark into the wood as shown in Fig. 3.

Score a line (A) with the knife through the bark the whole way around. Tap the bark gently all over the surface from the score line to the right end with the side of the knife handle. Be very careful that you do not break the bark at any point. Hold one end in the left hand and the other in the right, and twist to loosen the bark from the wood. The bark must not be broken. Slip the bark cap off the end as shown in the sketch, Fig. 4. Now cut away the shaded parts of the wood, Fig 5. Moisten the surface and slip the cap back on Fig 6.  The whistle is now ready to try.  Finish by smoothing up the left end with a jackknife.”

The basswood whistle is one of those handicrafts that has been passed down through the years in my family.   Do you have any traditions worthy of passing along?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are You with the Mike Curb Congregation..

...Burning Bridges?

Back in 1970 there was a popular Clint Eastwood film about  a group of U.S. soldiers in world War II that sneaks behind enemy lines to steal a secret Nazi stash of 14,000 gold bars stored in a bank vault.  The original soundtrack of Kelly's Heroes spawned a hit record by the Mike Curb Congregation titled Burning Bridges.

So what's my point?   Well...

In my adult life I have known many people who get angry with employers and storm out in a huff, leaving no options for a return. They burned that bridge behind them.  I have watched as the flames nipped at their heals all the way out the door.  That's one thing I have never done. Oh, OK maybe once.  But, I have always been very careful knowing that someone I worked for could be in a different situation or with a different company in the future and that he or she could be the one person that either gets me the job or prevents me from getting it.  So I am very careful not to set the bridge behind me on fire as I leave.  I know there are quite a few now that say it's OK to cut ties and burn bridges because people today often change jobs 20-30 times in their lifetime.  But, I still think that it's not a “ A Bridge Too Far” (another 1970s WWII Nazi war movie) and you might just need to cross it some day.

I had one employer, a radio station, that I ended up working for on three different occasions. Had I burned the bridge, that would not have happened.  More recently I found myself without a job after working for an organization for nearly eleven years.  They decided they needed to take a different direction and my department was eliminated.  So, I quietly walked away amicably and decided to focus all of my time on my voiceover business. A year and a half later, I was approached by this same organization to do some voice work.  Now, if I play my cards right (pun intended), they could be a repeat customer.  So, you never know.

If you're old enough, you (or your grandparents) might remember Jack Scott's tale about Burning Bridges from 1960.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What's a voiceover ten words or less?

I never realized how difficult answering that question really is. And, you want me to do it ten words or less? “Impossible,” I said. I suppose it's similar to being asked to just provide the executive summary to a long report. No one really wants to read the whole thing. We live in an impatient world. What they really want is a Jack Webb/Joe Friday response. “Just give me the facts sir.”

I sat down with a note pad and pencil figuring that I could quickly jot down my answer. An hour later, I was still erasing, crossing out words and repeatedly starting over. This is impossible.  I can't describe voiceover in ten words or less.

I looked in the on-line dictionaries, on Wikipedia, on all the well known voice actor web sites. They are all very wordy and describing this vocation in ten words or less is just not done. After several hours pondering that task, I came up with some pretty general phrases but they still didn't do anything for me.

“I sell my voice to anyone willing to pay for it.” Oh darn, that's eleven. Beside, it sounds like I'm operating in a “red light district.” I'm glad my studio doesn't have a red “recording” light or that might really be true.

So, back to the note pad and several hours later the recycle bin is filling up with rejects. I finally settled on a phrase that I am comfortable with. I know some people will have a problem with it and try to shoot holes in the definition. But, it's what I'll be using at the next speed networking event where time is critical and the definition has to be included in the two-minute elevator speech.

So in ten words or less, “What's a Voiceover?”

Any voice heard in a promotion, project, 
presentation, or application.

Have a different view?  Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It all started with a Brownie not a fudge brownie, my Kodak Brownie Holiday.

Anyone that knows me is well aware that I will stop the car for a Kodak moment. Thinking back to the cameras that I have personally owned, I can remember some of them more vividly than others.
My first was a Brownie Holiday.
It was a great little camera, and it used 127 film. The negatives were actually very big.  I think I only have a handful of photos taken with that camera. Our family moved many times in my childhood. I'm sure most of what I took was tossed out on one or two of those moves. I didn't spend a lot of time taking photos back then.

It wasn't until I was in the U.S. Air Force in Thailand in 1969 that I actually picked up the hobby and started taking photos of people, places and things that caught my eye. I didn't have a lot of money to spend, so I opted for an economy camera. But it ended up being a great little gem. It was a Petri 7S “rangefinder” model.  That means the lens was permanent and fixed at 45 mm.  It had an aperture of 1.8, meaning it worked like a charm in low light situations. For wide shots and landscapes it was perfect. The air base had a hobby photo lab. So, I learned how to develop and print my own photos and slides. While in Thailand, I took every opportunity to travel off base, mostly in the central, northern and the western part of the country. I visited places called Bang Pa In, Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Lop Buri, Nakhon Sawan, Takhli and Chaing Mai. I took thousands of black and white photos and hundreds of color slide transparencies with that camera. It finally died from overuse several years after returning to the states. It went in a garage sale, but that was one of my regrettable moments.

We had several other Instamatic varieties when the children were young as we needed cameras that everyone could operate, like the X15 shown here.

In the 1980s, I bought a Pentax K-1000, my first single lens reflex model (changeable lenses). It too served me well and still sits here on the shelf, a film camera that fell victim to the changing times.

My first digital camera was a Toshiba point 'n shoot and it was able to take images at a whopping 3 mega pixels. I did take some great shots with that camera. It went to the Adirondacks, the Cascades, Florida, Provincetown, Ottawa,  the Carolinas, New York City and Washington D.C.  It also gave up the ghost after about four years from overuse. The Toshiba went into the electronic recycle bin a few years ago. It was replaced by the Canon PowerShot A630 which is still a great little camera and shoots at 8 mega pixels.  That baby went to Boston, Malta, Sicily and to the top of Mt Etna, Puerto Rico, the Carolinas and several trips around the Northeast .

I added the Pentax K200D, my first DSLR, to the collection back in early 2009. It is now considered an antique after only three years. I love this camera even though it's only 10 mega pixels. It runs on AA batteries, is waterproof and can use all the lenses from the K1000 days.

I do pretty well with the photo equipment I own. I have to admit I have taken some really great shots over the years. I often post photos from my excursions on my Facebook page, most of them are available for public viewing -

Now, in addition to the Canon and Pentax K200D, my Samsung Galaxy SIII smart phone is always on my hip. It takes higher quality photos than the Toshiba did. It's amazing what they are packing into these little computer powerhouses these days.