The generosity of Don Campbell

My singer-songwriter friend Jeff Greenway invited me to a BS Fridays  music showcase at the Cameron House in August. I was pleased to also see Melanie Peterson‘s name on the bill. Melanie is also a friend and a very talented singer-songwriter.

All of the performers were unique and talented, and one singer-songwriter, new to me, really impressed. Don Campbell‘s performance had a great rock energy, and his songs were catchy and well written. I introduced myself to Don after his performance, and told him about Song Talk Radio. I also purchased one of his CD’s, Sail the Grateful Way. I took a cue from another fan of his and had him sign the album insert with a generic personal message like “Neel, thanks for the support! Enjoy the album.” (You can’t expect a personal message from someone you just met.)

After I got home that night, I realized I didn’t have his CD with me. I must have left it on a table at the venue and neglected to put it in my bag satchel man purse messenger bag. I immediately messaged Melanie, who was one of the event organizers, to see if someone perhaps turned it in to her. No luck.

The next day, I contacted Don on Facebook and conveyed my woes. Don was very understanding, and graciously offered to give me a free replacement CD!

It took some back and forth, but last week we met for coffee and Don gave me another CD, again signed with a generic personal message. We shared a great conversation about performing, songwriting, and other stuff.

As for the person who snatched up my original purchase, you got some great music for free. And every time you open the CD you’ll see my name and remember what you did.

Thank you Don for your generosity!

Don Campbell CD signed personal message

Being an introvert and meeting people

I was always labelled the “shy one” or the “quiet one” at family gatherings, and even school group activities and other social functions. Being an impressionable child, I just believed what I was told and didn’t actually do anything about it.

I don’t think I noticed, as I grew older, that I could carry on one-on-one conversations really well, or that I gravitated to very small groups of people; I believe my ideal group size, to this day, is two or three people. Any more than that, and it’s a sliding scale to anxiety.

Several years ago, well, maybe at this point, many years ago, I read The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney.  Marti says, “Introverts are like a rechargeable battery. They need to stop expending energy and rest in order to recharge. Extroverts are like solar panels that need the sun to recharge. Extroverts need to be out and about to refuel.” It’s how we’re wired, so there’s not much you can do to change that. You can, however, accept and embrace and leverage your “introvertedness” to your advantage.

At large parties, I take a few minutes of alone time, step away from the fray and literally recharge. When I engage in the party again, I feel refreshed and ready to talk. I try to engage people one-on-one as much as possible. I accept that I am comfortable spending time alone – it allows me to pursue many things I value, like writing this blog.

Of course, words like “introvert” and “extrovert” make it look like it’s a binary system. The truth is, it’s a scale, or a gradient. No one is fully introverted or extroverted; everyone falls somewhere in the middle, and it also depends on the environment or the activity. You can say you’re strongly introverted or extroverted, for example, or more extroverted in certain situations.

I’m old enough to clearly remember a time before the internet. It sucked. The internet is an introvert’s playground. While some of what we do online is technically for the world to see, many of the social interactions are one-on-one. At the very least, as an introvert, you have time to consider, edit, or save and come back to, anything you post. Except on twitter, which is something I still don’t fully get.

Meetup.com is a great place to bring together the online and offline worlds. There’s a meetup group for quite literally every interest imaginable. (OK, so I haven’t looked up “ritual dancing barefoot in the forest with unicorns” yet.) I was first introduced to meetup.com by someone I was chatting with on an online dating site, before online dating was as mainstream as it is now.

So, one truth about introverts is that we despise small talk. We’re much better at, and enjoy, meaty, meaningful conversations. Get philosophical, go on a rant about life, the universe, and everything – we’re game. Part of the challenge, particularly with a new acquaintance, is getting past the small talk. Usually it helps when you’ve already got a common interest.

The first meetup groups I joined were for songwriting and photography. Right off the bat, I could easily engage anyone in a conversation.

Ironically, this was harder at the “Introvert Social” meetup (yes, it exists, and it’s gigantic, perfect for introverts #sarcasm). The first Introvert Social meeting I went to was at a pub (not the quietest, but pretty good for introverts) with about 12 other people, and I was the most talkative one there. That’s never happened before, or since. The trouble here, of course, is that everyone is introverted, so no one wants to start a conversation in a large group. Plus, there’s no common interest except for being introverted, and introverts don’t want to talk about that unless it’s a group therapy session ;). For myself, I started engaging with only the two or so people around me, and before I knew it, I was ranting about something, and the whole table was listening.

Suffice to say, meetup is still a great place to meet others and make new friends. Through meetup, I went with a group of 30 photographers to Cuba for a week, and also became a host of a songwriting radio show. I’ve made new friends, and even improved my own skills in my areas of interest.

I have found that for myself, I’m less of an introvert when engaging in an activity that I’m passionate about, and can talk about with confidence. Another truth about introverts is that we don’t like public speaking, and would rather write our thoughts out. But I’ve started presenting workshops on songwriting and home recording, two things I know a lot about and can talk on for 90 minutes. Naturally, I plan the crap out of them with power point and notes, so there’s little spontaneity, but I manage to cover everything I need to.

My experience on Song Talk Radio is similar; I rely more on scripting parts of the show than my co-hosts. I’m also drumming for a band started by a music production client of mine. This is a safe place for me, even though it may seem ironic that the “shy guy” is pounding away in a rock band (at least I’m not singing lead vocals).

When I worked for a non-profit organization, my job was largely behind the scenes, managing the website, doing layouts for newsletters and e-mail blasts, and writing articles. Sounds like the ideal job for an introvert. Once a year, though, my introversion got pushed a bit. During the organization’s annual conference, part of my responsibility was to engage the conference delegates and take their photos for a large-screen slideshow at the banquet dinner. We referred to these photos as “happy snaps.”

Now, walking up to strangers with a big camera and asking them to smile for a photo is not ideal for an introvert. At first, I had a hard time approaching people. Then I realized that the engagement was so temporal as to make it kind of fun and fascinating. I would ask, take a quick photo or two, say thank you, that’s a lovely photo, and move on. This was as close as I was ever going to get to any of our members, and that was an amusing thought. After the first couple of years doing this, I even had members ask me to take their photos because they enjoyed seeing their friend’s smiling faces at last year’s banquet.

So all in all, I feel I’ve carved out a nice space for myself as an introvert. It’s a long process, with lots of trial and error, but like most things, the more you practice it, the better you get at it. You begin to predict what choices are going to work for you, and how to prepare for the situations where you’re not at your best. Large family gatherings can still be an energy drain for me, but I’ve got enough me-friendly things going on to keep me happy, energized, and confident.

Start here, or don’t

So this is the “sticky” post, meaning whatever else I blog about, this post will forever retain its priority position at the top of my homepage. Above the fold, as it were. So what to put here? Heck, since my blog has no centralized message, thesis or sales pitch, I don’t really need a sticky post. Enjoy the rest of the site.

Beige Shelter show at Lee’s Palace

As part of the band Beige Shelter (drums, percussion), we played our biggest show yet at the historic Lee’s Palace. The crowd was receptive, enthusiastic and supportive. Of course, since this was a “real” concert venue, the stage lights made it almost impossible to see anyone in the audience. But we know what we heard.

The Beige Shelter line up is: Adi Aman (songs, guitar, uke, vocals), Neel Modi (drums, percussion), Tom Kuczynski (bass guitar), and Karan Sabharwal (lead guitar).

I’m thankful to be playing with such talented musicians and Adi’s songs are passionate, heartfelt, and even spiritual. This is music in fine form.

Beige Shelter performing at Lee's Palace - L to R: Karan, Tom, Adi and Neel
Beige Shelter performing at Lee’s Palace – L to R: Karan, Tom, Adi and Neel

We also performed a well known hit from the 80’s:

Is Canada Delivering On The Promises Of Medicare – Presentation

I worked closely with Tony Dagnone, the former CEO of London Health Sciences Centre, on his presentation for the 2016 CHES Conference. Tony wanted to see some creative “whiteboard” illustrations to bring some visual interest to his narrative. For these animations, I used a combination of stock drawings and my own illustrations.

Most of the time, whiteboard animated videos include a recorded voice-over narration. For Tony’s presentation, I had to time the animations to his live narrative and split the animations to insert into Power Point. This way, an animation would finish before Tony would finish his taking point and remain on the final frame of the video, and he could finish talking before proceeding to the next slide / animation. We also worked collaboratively on streamlining his narrative text.

For some of the slides, a simple photograph sufficed. For others, we needed charts and graphs. Between the several types of media, Tony’s presentation had a great variety and dynamic.

The presentation was very well received, and Tony was complimented on the visual interest of his presentation.

This video is an excerpt of some of the “whiteboard” animations I completed, with my own reading of Tony’s narration.

Milky Way Photo at Algonquin Provincial Park

I’ve always had an interest in astro-photography, having previously taken star trail photos and of course, the moon. One subject I hadn’t yet tackled yet was the milky way, or at least the slim, tiny portion that’s visible from Earth.

The most important thing you need for successful astro-photography is a clear, dark sky. Knowing that I was going to spending a few nights in Algonquin Provincial Park, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Milky Way photo from Whitefish Lake
Nikon D7000 with Sigma 10-20 DX lens at 10mm, f/5.6 at 30s and ISO 3200

I did some research online, finding a few helpful articles. Even with a relatively dark sky, the band of dense stars is faint and hard to make out with the naked eye. Enter a smartphone app, Sky Guide, to help me out. Run the app, point is at the sky, and it tells you in real time what you’re looking at. The greatest thing about the app is the ability to fast forward in time, to see where celestial objects will be, say, four hours from now. As a starting point, I knew that I needed to be facing south to see the milky way.

The first day at Algonquin, I staked out a spot near a river and dam that faced south over the water. Sky Guide told me that the moon would be out, and it would be full. A full moon, according to my research, is bad; bye-bye dark sky. Still, I tried it out, and sure enough, I ended up with dim star points on a gray sky. The location was less than ideal, too, as the close trees obscured much of the milky way.

I figured that with the moon being full and only starting to wane, my hopes of a good shot were diminished. The next two days at the park brought rain and cloud cover.

On day five, I spent the sunset taking photos at our campground’s beach (which faced north). While waiting for dusk, I looked again at the Sky Guide app to see what other opportunities might be in store for my final night before returning to the light polluted city. Sunset was just before 9 pm. I fast forwarded the time to 10 pm and turned my phone south to see a projection of the milky way. I then tried to locate the moon. Nowhere in the sky. What’s this? It’s below the horizon until after 11 pm!

So, I had a clear night and an invisible moon. The third thing I needed was a clear view south. I checked the park map for a close by location. The neighbouring campground, Whitefish Lake, had a south facing beach. Perfect!

Excited, I ventured out after dark and arrived at Whitefish Lake just after 10 pm. The beach was vacant and dark. It was Monday night, and the campground was relatively empty.

Shooting in the dark has its challenges. You can’t see your framing or if your horizon is straight. The first few photos I took were slanted and had more lake than sky, but the milky way was unmistakable. Anyway, with exposures lasting only 30 seconds, it was easy to have trial and error, unlike a star trail shot which can last 30 minutes or longer before you know whether you had success.

It took several tries before I finalized the framing; obviously, I wanted a ton of sky and hardly any lake.

The most surprising thing about the photo was the yellow glow behind the trees. Even though the sun had set over an hour ago, the long exposure picked up and amplified the latent bit of sunlight that was invisible to the naked eye. Truly, it is darkest just before the dawn.

The final shot didn’t take much post-processing; a small colour adjustment to make it cooler, some sharpening, and a slight straightening.

On the whole, planning and access to the Sky Guide app helped make this venture a success.

Music Event Flyers

I designed a few promotional event flyers for music shows in Toronto. Deadlines were very tight, and I provided files suitable for both printing and sharing on social media, including banners for the Facebook events.

Algonquin Provincial Park camping trip

For the first time in over two years, my wife and I headed up to Algonquin Provincial Park for camping. Now when I say camping, I mean, with the car about ten feet away, a large cooler, a tent made for six people that I can actually stand up in, an air mattress, and all my camera gear. Oh, and the ability to high-tail it into town for a Tim Horton’s breakfast when you wake up and it’s pouring rain (day 3).

Still, Algonquin is a natural wonder. It’s really the first major destination outside of Toronto where you truly feel like you’ve entered the rugged, beautiful Canadian wilderness.

Here are some of the photos I took while on various hikes off Hwy 60. For some, I used HDR (high dynamic range) photography, where two or three bracketed exposures are combined together, revealing both shadow and highlight details that would otherwise be impossible with a single exposure.

Craigleith Provincial Park & Tombermory

My wife and I missed camping in the summer, since we hadn’t gone since 2013. To get back into the swing of it, we opted for a park close to Toronto, and one where an urban centre was close by, since we were sure we’d have to stock up on something or other.

We chose Craiglieth Provincial Park, on the south shore of Georgian Bay, near Collingwood, Ontario. We also took a day trip up the Bruce Peninsula to Tobermory and Flower Pot island.

The “flowerpot” rock formations are a sight to behold. Despite having been to Tobermory a few times before, I was never aware they were on an island. The biggest challenge in photographing them was finding the 1/200th of a second when no people would be intruding in the shot.

Gigging with Beige Shelter

I’ve been playing drums and percussion for a while for singer-songwriter Adi Aman, aka Beige Shelter. The band name comes from Adi’s feeling that the colour beige is neutral and can express a wide range of emotions, and music being the place of shelter where he can best express them.

I started my collaboration with Adi as his producer. We’ve worked through twelve songs for his debut album release later this year. He expressed an interest in performing more to promote the album and get his music heard. I volunteered to back him up on percussion. So far I’ve played a drumkit when it’s available, and also cajon and shaker. In the future, we hope to rope in a bassist and lead guitarist.

Our gig at Page One cafe in downtown Toronto felt like our first “real” show. We had a great turnout, thanks to our friends and to FXRRVST and Madison Galloway, our supporting performers. I’ve branded my look, always performing in a pressed shirt and bowtie.

Beige Shelter performing at Page One
Beige Shelter performing at Page One

So far it’s been a high performing with Adi. His songs are very well written (we even co-wrote on one of them) and his performances are passionate and energetic. Together I think we make a good team, as I also give him tips on improving his performance and creating interesting song arrangements.

There’s nothing quite like getting on stage on putting on a show of great original songs. You get into a “zone” where the world around you fades into the background and for a moment, it’s all about the music.