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J. Daniel Ashton

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Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, —Ecclesiastes 9:10a NIV
The LORD God has told us what is right and what he demands:
"See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God." —Micah 6:8, CEV
With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow. —Proverbs 3:5,6 CEV

see also — My Homepage

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Name: Daniel Ashton
Location: Germantown, Maryland, United States

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Friday, April 28, 2006

All's Well That Ends

OK, the title may be a little too dour. I just got a call from Sterling Autobody, informing us that our Music Van will be ready for pick up this afternoon.

And we took the bass in for repairs yesterday, and it appears that the damage actually was modest, and the bass should be ready to pick up early next week.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

News at last!

This morning I received notice that I have been selected to work on a FEMA project in an office in Alexandria, Virginia. It's great to be off the bench again! This assignment is for one year, starting Monday, May 1.

This is the same project that I interviewed for last Tuesday. I was very impressed with the people I met, and I'm looking forward to developing web services and writing in Java again. I also like the type of work the project is producing: we're providing systems to support the mapping of flood-plains. While it would be even cooler to work on the actual mapping software, I can be happy that the group we're supporting does work that is of general benefit to humanity.

My primary concerns are with transportation. The office is about 53 minutes drive from my home not counting rush-hour traffic. Using the WMATA trip planner, the absolute best travel time is 1 hour 52 minutes, not counting a half-mile walk at the beginning and a one-tenth mile walk at the end. I haven't looked into MARC or VRE travel yet, but my past experience suggests that MARC travel will be much more productive for me than Metro in terms of being able to sit down with a computer on my lap. Perhaps we should move closer to Alexandria.

The more significant concern, I think, is that this office is more than an hour away from our current brass rehearsal location, not counting rush hour traffic. Given that our rehearsals are scheduled in the middle of the heavy traffic part of the day, I anticipate significant stress in continuing to attend these twice-weekly rehearsals. Changing the rehearsal time or the location is likely to cause others in the group to withdraw, so I don't want to push that idea too hard.

Vicki suggests that perhaps it's time to foster a new branch of the ensemble with rehearsals in Virginia, with the two branches rehearsing separately until shortly before a performance. Perhaps.

One other item that hits me hard is this: Peanut has shown a significant attachment to me. We are just beginning to figure each other out, and I have greatly appreciated being at home because of this, on top of the significant value I find in being accessible to my wife and children throughout the day. A very interesting job had come to my attention with the possibility of significant work-from-home time. However, due to a series of circumstances I was not able to get a good shot at landing that job. I confess that I am experiencing significant disappointment in being placed in a job where travel promises to be a significant burden and there appears to be no chance of working from home with any frequency.

After I spent too much of today stressing about these commute problems, we came home from an awesome concert to find this article on CNN reporting on recommendations that FEMA be shut down! And at almost the same time I got an e-mail from an old friend on my previous project asking whether I would have an interest in returning to it if circumstances permitted. Too strange! Please continue praying that God will place me where He wants me to be.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The End of the End

We survived!

Since I last wrote, five more performances have taken place, and nearly two days of recovery.

Friday night the Rockville UMC chancel choir performed the Schütz St. John's Passion, and I sang the words of the evangelist. We performed from the church balcony, which is a very pleasing place to sing chamber works. We sang a cappella and I used an E5 handbell to set pitches at the beginning of each narrative, and at appropriate chords in the middle of some choruses. It was an extremely rewarding experience, and exhausting. This was followed up with a moderately brief rehearsal of Sunday morning's music.

Sabbath morning found about two-thirds of the combined choirs for the Messiah performances gathering to sing at the Triadelphia SDA worship service. We sang three well-known responses during the service, and used the following Messiah choruses:
  • Prelude - Behold the Lamb of God
  • Offertory - Since By Man Came Death
  • Anthem - Surely He Hath Borne Our Griefs/And With His Stripes We Are Healed/All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray
  • Postlude - Worthy Is The Lamb That Was Slain/Blessing and Honor, Glory and Power Be Unto Him/Amen
A particular highlight of the morning was the thrill we shared as we rehearsed a cappella in the parking lot. People suddenly realized that we have actually learned this music well enough to hold down our own parts. I think a few angels were helping us, too!

Sabbath evening at 6:55 we began the first Messiah performance with a near disaster: I failed to bring in the cellos in the second part of the overture. And I did it again at He Gave His Back. My other significant blunder was looking at the organ instead of the tenors at the beginning of Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder. But those three, while each nearly heart-stopping, were exceptional events. The remainder of the music was very solid, if sometimes faster than expected. In most cases the choir stood up or sat down during the end of the previous number, allowing the music to flow expediently from one selection to the next. As a result, I found with surprise that we were beginning the final chorus (Worthy Is the Lamb) at 8:27, for a duration not too deviant from the recordings.

Sunday morning at 8 the Maryland Chamber Orchestra Brass and three guest musicians met at Rockville UMC to prepare for Easter Sunday services, and the choir came in a few minutes later. We played several hymns for prelude and processional, three hymns during the service plus the Craig Courtney setting of Christ The Lord Is Risen Today, the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah (using the Proust/Schirmer brass parts) and two more hymns for postlude. My lip was shot by the end of the first service, and I barely survived the second service. I'm grateful that I don't seem to have any long-term lip damage, although my tone at rehearsal last night was not as good as I remember it being before the weekend. I also played violin as the choir sang an SATB setting of the famous Mozart soprano solo Alleluia.

Sunday afternoon we drove to Triadelphia, where we packed the van (the rented Nissan Quest that is standing in while our Music Van is being repaired) with everything we had left there after the first performance: Rockville UMC's harpsichord, our six music stands, eight typical music stands belonging to Triadelphia, our string bass, stool and stand, my violin (OK, that had gone with me in the morning) and all our music.

Sunday evening we repeated the Messiah performance, this time at Trinity Lutheran. The three egregious errors of the first evening were corrected, and the tempos were much more consistently controlled and stately (as some singers had requested). There were two minor misstarts, but I felt that the entire performance was a significant improvement over our first attempt.

We have a few pictures, which I hope to post later this evening.

After all the congratulations and chatting I found that Vicki had overseen the job of packing the van nearly to completion, and we headed home, stopping at Rockville UMC to return their harpsichord.

Monday I took a vacation day, and we slept in until nearly ten o'clock. We ate lunch at a favorite restaurant in Bethesda, and then spent a few leisurely hours visiting Chris' Critters, a pet bird store in College Park, and driving to Sterling, Virginia, where we wanted to visit Featherheads. Unfortunately, they were closed, but we were able to gaze through their windows. I will write later this evening about the most impressive bird I saw there.

We stopped at a most impressive Wegmans to buy a local map and drinks, and then drove back home by way of White's Ferry. Driving is not exactly a resting activity, but the scenery near the river was wonderfully refreshing.

Today I have put in a day of job seeking within IBM, particularly involving an interview for a team working on a FEMA contract. The technology and facilities and people all seem very nice, although the drive from home to Alexandria does not appeal to me. I would have to look into public transportation.

I still feel the exhaustion of the weekend, and my voice still has that raspy sound it gets when I've worked all night. But I'm beginning to have hope that I'll regain my internal energy well and return to a "normal" life within the next few days. And I'm looking forward to a pseudo-vacation as we ride Amtrak to William and Beth's PBA event in Berrien Springs next weekend.

I'm going to post this without the usual triple-checking grammar and spelling. After supper and writing other posts I may come back, clean it up and remove this paragraph. And maybe add some pictures.

Friday, April 14, 2006

One down, five to go

Last night we sang for the Maundy Thursday service at Rockville UMC. I played violin with some of the hymns and directed the Farrant Hide Not Thou Thy Face. We also sang the final movement of the Schütz Passion that we'll be doing tonight.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Beginning of the End

Tonight marks the beginning of the fruition of our elucubration. (OK, I'm not talking about a written work. But the card at Starbucks (click on 4. view winning spelling bee words.) just says "to produce by working long and diligently," and that's what this weekend will be, and has already been being. And I'm tickled by the Latin heritage of this word, which can be translated as "to work [on] at night by lamplight." That is certainly apropos to our experience in the last three months!) We have performances every night, and half of the mornings, for the next four days.

Tonight the choir at Rockville UMC sings for the Maundy Thursday service, and before and after the service we rehearse other music for the rest of the weekend.

Friday night is the first high-pressure performance for me: For the Good Friday service I will be singing the part of the cantor, or narrator, or Evangelist, in St. John's "Passion" by Heinrich Schütz, again at Rockville UMC. (This work is not well-known today, but I was able to find a recording to study, and I list it on this page, in case you're interested.)

I will direct, Sabbath morning, as a combined choir performs selections from Handel's Messiah at my home church. This is, in part, to act as a preview for the evening's performance, and in part to give us an excuse to leave the choir risers and chairs set up on the platform. <grin>

Sabbath evening at seven o'clock is the first of the Messiah performances we've been laboring over. This one will be at Triadelphia SDA, which is at 12950 Brighton Dam Rd, in Clarksville, MD.

Sunday morning, being Easter, is, of course, a big deal at Rockville UMC. I direct the Maryland Chamber Orchestra Brass, and they will be providing service music and accompanying the congregational hymns, as well as the obligatory Hallelujah chorus from The Messiah. This is a big deal for me not only because I am eager for these musicians to play well, but also because I'll be playing first trumpet, and I'm still developing the chops necessary to survive this. (I also transposed the Handel/Proust trumpet parts for Trumpet in A, a.k.a. trumpet with your tuning slide pulled a long way out, and I'm nervous about that. It seems to work so well that it qualifies under the clause "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," and hence my nervousness.)

The weekend concludes with the second performance of The Messiah, this time at Trinity Lutheran, which is at 6600 Laurel-Bowie Rd, in Bowie, MD. Our last rehearsal at Trinity was last Sunday evening, and we had nearly a full orchestra. I came away from that rehearsal feeling very encouraged and hopeful about the performances, so I'm looking forward to the performance there.

Last night's rehearsal at Triadelphia was different, but not starkly so. I knew by Sunday evening that significant portions of the orchestra would be missing at this last dress rehearsal, as well as a few key singers, so, while it was still somewhat disappointing, it was not a surprise, and for that I am grateful. The choir was solid, although we took a second pass at a few things. I still don't have a good feel for using my left hand to ask the choir to stand or sit, while conducting the orchestra with my right hand. About two-thirds of the choir stayed to prepare responses for the Sabbath morning service, and, in contrast to the time we have spent learning Messiah music, these responses were beautiful and solid on the first try. It was a wonderful way to conclude the rehearsal.

After Sunday night we get three point five days of "normal life" before we board a train heading for Michigan and the final Bible Achievement event. I'm proud and pleased that we have half of this first-place team, together with half of their parents, singing in our performances this weekend.

Friday, April 07, 2006

God's Promise

Vicki and I ran a short errand this afternoon, and discovered as we drove that a beautiful, full rainbow was painted across the clouds before us. A few moments later we noticed a second, outer bow.

On closer observation we saw something that seemed unusual about the full rainbow. At the inside, the green-blue-purple sequence was repeated. It felt as if my eyes were not focusing properly, so I blinked and stared again, but the result was the same.

I would be interested to hear an explanation of why these colors were visible more than once.

I got towed!

Would you believe it? As if getting rear-ended for a few thousand dollars worth of damage was not enough, last night our damaged van was towed and impounded by a company that was "just doing its job" in our neighborhood. Vicki and I had cleaned out the van yesterday, in preparation for having it towed to the repair shop today. I was obviously not thinking clearly, because I thought I was being smart in grabbing the parking permit tag, thinking ahead and making sure that we didn't loose access to that tag while the van is being repaired.

Of course, there was a night intervening! When we took out the trash this morning, we noticed an empty spot right in front of our house. It didn't matter that this was the same van that had sat in the same reserved parking spot for the last twenty-two months. The company found a vehicle without a parking tag, and they impounded it.

The truly depressing part of the story is that the local homeowners's association had no interest in granting mercy or clemency with regard to the impound fees. I'm sure that the person I spoke with has to deal with towing complaints all too frequently, so I was at a disadvantage with her. All she would suggest was that I should write a letter to the association.

Similarly, the towing company didn't care what I was going through or why I might have had the tag hanging inside the house instead of inside the van. Their only interest is in collecting the hefty fees posted on a greasy sign in their office.

The truly bright spot in the day was Julie from Allstate's Sterling auto repair. She immediately sympathized with our situation, and assured me that their towing company would have no problem picking up the van from the impound, and that the insurance company would take care of the impound fees! We really are in good hands.

I had to drive to the impound office to sign a release for the van before the repair shop could pick it up. I found myself frightened and disgusted by the number of tow-trucks I passed on the roads this morning. It appears to me that we have created an ecosystem where these sharks can thrive with no natural predators. I believe it's time to tighten the reins, to work with our HOA to improve the rules for towing, at least in our neighborhood.


Through the gray bleakness of human interaction required by this week's fender-bender shine a few sparklers of intelligence, understanding and compassion. I'd like to recognize some of the people who made my life easier and more pleasant.

Talking with my own insurance company was not exactly the joy I had hoped. Each of the employees was able to carry on an intelligible conversation, but I kept asking questions to which they had no answer. However, the adjustor who came out to document the damage on our van was sharp as a tack, and he really knew his business. He spent more than an hour inspecting and photographing the damage from every angle, and handed us what appears (to my eyes) to be a very thorough estimate. Rick, I salute you!

Enterprise car rental has stood in start contrast to the rental company we usually use. The other driver's insurance had a quick way to set up a rental reservation with Enterprise, so I accepted them for the sake of expedience. I'm delighted to report that working with the local Enterprise office has been an absolute pleasure! They sent someone to another branch to pick up a minivan for us. When that driver failed to get back before our deadline, Enterprise very swiftly put us in an available vehicle for the evening. The next morning it took less than thirty seconds to swap that vehicle for the van. The van itself is fun: we had never driven a Nissan Quest before. (However, I'm not perfectly comfortable with the transmission.) The Enterprise employees at our local branch have definitely demonstrated the meaning of customer service. John and company, I salute you!

Finally, in part because the other driver was a true gentleman and called in the claim ahead of us, indicating that he would not dispute it, I have found that working with his insurance company, Allstate, has been smooth sailing. They have taken care of each of our needs, and I am comfortable that our van will be returned to us in good condition. The local Allstate repair shop, Sterling, has been understanding and helpful. They even helped me deal with having had our van impounded last night, just hours before they were going to pick it up. We really feel that we are in good hands. Julie and the rest of the team at Allstate, you may soon find yourself with another customer!

Singing Schütz

I've been acting as the assistant choir director at Rockville UMC this year, and often playing violin during the service. Next Friday evening I get to do something different. The choir is presenting St. John's Passion by Heinrich Schütz, and I am singing the part of the narrator, or cantor, or Evangelist, however you want to look at it. I'm having fun with it. :-)


Everybody please help me to remember that, even though we're going to be out terribly late Sunday night (4/9) with the Messiah rehearsal at Trinity Lutheran in Bowie, I have an eight o'clock appointment (4/10) in Linthicum, and I really ought to be arriving there closer to 7:30 AM.

This appears to be the next step in obtaining the certification that I mentioned earlier. So I would appreciate your prayers for God's leading to be evident as the process progresses.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Guest Parrot

Charlie and Soleil have a guest.

Minor Setback

To our utter surprise, a driver in a lovely little Honda Element rear-ended us on I-495 this evening. The tailgate and back bumper are pretty seriously misconstrued, and all of us are finding aches and pains. It seems likely that we will be rather sore tomorrow. The string bass has some damage, as it was close enough to the door to experience the initial impact.

The biggest frustration is that this happened as we were on our way to the one and only rehearsal for this Sabbath's performance of Dubois' Seven Last Words of Christ. The primary orchestra coordinator was injured this weekend, so I was filling in, or thought I was. It turned out that we arrived more than half-an-hour late, and completely missed rehearsing the first two sections.

The other driver appears to be appropriately insured, so we anticipate getting all these things taken care of sooner or later. But how does it help us (or anyone else) to add this particular hassle-factor to our overly busy and stressed lives at precisely this time? I look forward to finding out.