Please think again, Mr President

President Obama’s comments regarding Britain’s decision to hold a referendum on its continued membership of the European Union have caused annoyance over here, particularly his stated opinion that, because of American sacrifices, he has a stake in the issue.

Of course, America’s military involvement, together with the unstoppable might of the American mass production machine, certainly had a powerful effect but Britain had already been fighting two of its ‘partners’ in Europe, Germany and Italy, for two years before the strong isolationist voice in the USA was silenced. The change of heart was occasioned, not by events in Europe, but in the Pacific. Then, as now, America’s intervention was driven primarily by self-interest.

The Battle of Britain had come and gone by this time. The Royal Air Force, although outnumbered three to one, had secured control of the skies above southern England, thereby frustrating Hitler’s plans to invade Britain. In any case, can anyone seriously believe that the Wehrmacht would have been allowed to march triumphantly into London, as it did in Paris? No ruddy chance. I lived through World War 2 and used to shelter under the stairs with my mother as the Luftwaffe bombed an armaments factory half a mile from where I lived. I’m just old enough to remember the mood of the nation quite well.

And where does Mr Obama’s idea that Europe is united come from? Even Britain itself is not united. We have strong Welsh and Scottish claims to independence. The British and the French really do dislike each other. Striking French lorry drivers think nothing of blocking channel ports and, as I predicted at the time of the last referendum, regarding what was then the ‘Common Market’, when the chips are down countries will scurry into their own back yard to look after their own interests.

The biggest cause of annoyance here is the sheer hypocrisy of Mr Obama’s statement. Would the USA sacrifice an ounce of sovereignty to Mexico or Canada? Not an exact comparison, I admit, but its essence remains.

In case anyone is interested, these were the reasons I voted against membership of the Common Market in 1975:

Each interested country had its problems. Join them together and you just get a bigger problem. 

Britain had failed to invest in research and development.

Britain had overmanned and inefficient companies.

Britain had over-powerful unions (Jim Callaghan’s government governed by consent of the unions).

Britain had a closed-door, elitist management style that alienated the workforce.

Britain was resting on its laurels in the belief that ‘British is best’ (which it had been, at one time).

Britain suffered from class-distinction, as it still does. There is a stratum at the top of society that believes it has a divine right to live in clover and that the rest of us must ensure we’re sober and alert enough each morning to keep it there.

All these problems began in Britain and have to be tackled in Britain. None of them can be solved by joining with others in an artificial attempt to create a super state. Such integration has to occur organically.

The strangest aspect of Mr Obama’s comments involve his advice that Britain should not ‘withdraw from the world’. Britain founded a vast Empire that, despite its occasional excesses, was the greatest force for good the world has ever seen. Judging Britain’s continued influence purely on its economic and military power misses the point.

We must get out of Europe and the sooner the better. Then all those Euro-MP’s will be forced to do something useful to us all, not merely themselves.


Garritan instruments, again

Just to bring all this up to date (see three previous) – and in case there is anyone else out there who suffered in a similar way – I have discovered that, if I import the MIDI file (which is how you’re supposed to do it!) instead of dragging the file into the tracks area of Logic Pro, as you do with loops, all the instruments sound, both the native Logic and the imported Garritan ones.

But I’m still open to advice concerning why Finale appointed itself to be the default program when dealing with MIDI files generated in MuseScore.

Garritan: the saga continues

Two blogs ago I claimed that MuseScore, my scorewriter of choice, produced ‘clean’ midi files, that I’ve been dragging into the Logic Pro tracks window. This is a fair claim, supported by experiment. Today I had problems with MuseScore midi files and discovered that, when I opened the midi, stored temporarily on the desktop, it opened in Finale! Somehow Finale has appointed itself to be the ‘default’ program. This explained the problem. I had to select ‘open in MuseScore’ and export it again as a midi file. (I chose a different name to be quite sure.) It worked, on three occasions. The score in question was also taken into Finale some time ago and the file still exists, which could explain the mystery.

Each time I closed the unwanted instance of Finale an on-screen message informed me that Finale had quit unexpectedly and a report would be sent to Apple. I hope someone reads them.

Having believed, at one point, that a move to Finale was required I produced scores in the program. Because of this and the fact that, for example, I haven’t yet found a flugelhorn or bass trombone in Logic’s suites, I can’t dump Finale.

No one expects life to be easy – mine never was – but life really shouldn’t be like this. Suddenly, I’m getting a message to sign into iCloud when I start the computer. Now where did THAT come from? I’ve never used iCloud.

It’s easy to feel there’s something sinister going on here.

Garritan Instruments: an afterthought

I’d hoped that when I opened the Garritan instruments in my newly-acquired Logic Pro X they’d be the answer to my poor playback facilities. As always with virtual instruments, some sounds – tuned percussion, horns, drum kit etc. – are OK but the trumpets, especially, are poor and the muted sounds even worse.

To be fair, Finale isn’t a sequencing program and its playback is OK for a composer’s own needs or when sending demos to established customers who know your worth. My epic struggle to get them to work (see previous) was  not entirely a waste of time because, at least, I learned how to clear unwanted clutter from MIDI tracks. (It was my own ears that alerted me to that problem.)

Then I discovered something that so many young composers will already know. The ‘Legacy’ heading in the downloadable files list in Logic Pro isn’t a set of legal terms and conditions, it opens around 15GB worth of instruments! Some of this is in the form of additional loops but there are so many sets of instruments I’ll have to write a family-tree kind of diagram and set up some small music files as a handy way of making a choice.

Many loops are MIDI files which can be dragged into the tracks area in Logic or Garageband and tailored at will using either the pencil tool or by option-dragging etc.

Despite all this, the only way to achieve broadcast-quality demos is to buy some of the expensive instruments that are available.  In this connection I’m indebted to fellow-blogger Jim Gramze for pointing me towards two sites that didn’t arise in my own search:

[Until 1994, when I acquired Encore, I had been – since 1958 – a traditional pencil scores and manuscript knib craftsman so my current quest, which will be old stuff to first-year music students, began comparatively recently. During my radio days I just handed the score over to the BBC’s copyists. My own manuscript parts frequently drew some very kind remarks. Interestingly, I spent so much time writing in this way that I lost my ability to write in longhand and now have to write everything in capital letters!]

A Garritan instrument problem solved

An old buddy of mine, a fine trombonist, once commented that young players start where we leave off and I’ve just experienced another example that proved the point.

This story begins with my decision to buy Logic Pro X three weeks ago. I already had Pro Tools. I also doubled the RAM in my 27” iMac which now stands at 16 GB, with 16 more to come.

I know the keyboard inside out but I have limited technique so the easiest way for me to assemble the midi tracks is to export my scores to the desktop as midi files, drag them into a new project in Logic and assign the virtual instruments. I generally use MuseScore for notation because, despite the fact that the program still lacks some of Finale’s features, it’s far quicker overall. (I can add the other stuff manually.)

The problem is that I needed to supplement Logic’s excellent instruments to provide all the options I required. I haven’t complemented them with third party stuff yet because I want to avoid duplicating what I already have. As I expected, with the industry’s obsession with rock and pop, there are tons of drum, guitar, keyboard and bass sounds.

I have Finale and its Garritan instruments so this seemed to offer a way out.

I bought my first Mac in 1988 and have worked with Illustrator, PhotoShop, Quark XPress, many word processors and three different notation programs. In other words, I’m no stranger to learning curves and the frustration of learning new tricks. But nothing could prepare me for the week of misery I experienced as I tried and tried (and tried) to get the Garritan instruments to sound in Logic.

I consulted every source I could find and watched the Aria Player video over and over again. The problem here is that the images bear no resemblance to what I see on my computer.

My daughter Vicky had been watching me in silence.

‘Can I use the computer?’ she asked ‘I’ve had an epiphany moment and I think I can solve this’.

“Yeah, yeah’ I thought.

Unknown to me, because she is so unassuming, Vicky had used music software while acquiring her degree in computer animation. I often proudly describe what I’m doing but I now know that she’s been pretending to be impressed for a long time.

‘The files are corrupted’ she explained. ‘If I export them to the desktop and place them back into Logic the computer will create files the program can recognise’.

To my indescribable relief it worked.

The files are still corrupt to an extent because Finale converted the score dynamics into *step-edit stuff that sits in the background. I hadn’t used step-edit. This has caused some difficulty in assigning the dynamics (with the automation feature). I can’t find any save option in Finale that will help me to avoid this. MuseScore exports clean midi files, so that will be the way to go. It’s just that, with the current project, I had used Finale to create the score because I believed that, with so many accomplished composers worldwide using the program, I obviously needed to overcome my ‘silly’ dislike of it.


It’s likely that, struggling with deadlines, and with the knowledge of how time-consuming it generally is to learn new stuff, composers just stick with what they know. I did, for a long time. There’s also an element of snobbery about using free programs such as MuseScore.

[An impressive feature of the piano-roll edit feature in Logic Pro was revealed when I took  the midi files featuring 4/4, 5/4 and 11/8 time signatures into a project set up simply in the default 4/4 metre and it all worked! To make matters even more diabolical, I had subjected the 3,3,3 2 structure of the 11/8 to permutations, so that the ‘2’ portion moves around cyclically.]

*I’m grateful to a contributor to the Logic Pro forum for a clever solution to this problem. My files are now clean and the improvement to the overall sound is dramatic.

‘So how bad was the operation?’

‘So how bad was the operation?’

My heart attack has had such a sobering impact on so many of my friends, colleagues and family that I felt motivated to write these articles. Two people have given up smoking and another is now taking statins.

I have to issue the statutory warning that I’m not qualified to recommend the use of any medication. There are vague stories about adverse effects resulting from the continuous use of statins. 

Feedback on here has been sparse to date but I’ve had a number of replies via the social media links to the file. If viral propagation takes place (one share so far on Facebook) we might just make a difference by helping others to avoid complacency and self-deception and face up to reality.

This time, for the benefit of those who are facing a bypass operation, here’s how it goes:

On the day, and I was postponed twice because of more urgent cases, the porters arrived to wheel me, bed and all, into the theatre. I now understand how difficult it is to coordinate these affairs. Some patients also have diabetes and there’s a limit to how long such people can fast, as we all have to before an operation (‘nil by mouth’). Others have defective heart valves, too, or both ailments combined. It ain’t easy!

A nurse arrived and gave me a little calm-you-down pill (and what wouldn’t I give for a bottle of those) and in I went. In the theatre anteroom, I was asked to take deep lungfuls of oxygen to oxygenate my blood. This is because they have to stop the heart and hand your bodily functions over to a machine which monitors your vital signs. Then they squirted anaesthetic into a cannula in my hand and I was gone, in an instant. The next thing I knew it was 2.30 am and I could hear a soft voice telling me to wake up.

In other words, the operation itself is a push-over, except for the 2% chance you won’t make it! The trade off here is that, without the operation, I would have lived for around 4/5 months.

I felt no pain, just a slight soreness in my chest where they ran down my sternum with a small circular saw! I was aware of my right leg, too, where they harvested the vein they required. I have no varicose veins so this was straight forward. ‘The body is a rich source of spare parts’ the surgeon told me. ‘You have twice as many veins as you need’. Sometimes they use a redundant vein in your chest. I really think they enjoy cutting people up.

I was wheeled into theatre at 3.30 pm and the operation lasts around five hours. They like to keep you sedated for six hours so my 2.30 am wake-up call was spot on. Everything must have been OK.

I’d made friends with a guy called Albert and I was vaguely aware they were having trouble waking him in the bed behind me. My wife and eldest daughter Sally had arrived by this time and we were all concerned. I’m not sure what happened to him. New Cross is like a small city.

Sleep became my biggest problem. I’ve never been able to sleep on my back and I couldn’t sleep on my side until my sternum had more or less healed (after around a month) so I slept in the comfortable chair beside my bed most of the time, and the same when I got home. A nurse asked me to get into bed at one point so I waited until she went off duty and got back in my chair.

Because I had three stents fitted (@ £1050 each!) my blood had to be just right. I needed extra anti-coagulant because the stents are a foreign body but, too thin, and the vein grafts won’t heal. The surgeon and his team have to walk a tightrope. The result of this is that I ended up with around 1.2 L of fluid (mainly blood) in my chest cavity, which caused my left lung to collapse. My blood/oxygen levels were within specifications on one lung only. I used to be a pro trombonist, which probably explains this. Added to this, there was a temporary system failure with the result that the X-Ray images couldn’t be accessed on computer for a while.

The draining and re-inflation process was pretty unpleasant. I shall say no more.

They usually get you walking about the day after the operation but the above setback delayed my stroll for a day. I then spent a day or so walking the corridors carrying a bottle of blood joined to a tube that went into my left rib cage. This caused slight inconvenience at bed time, more reason to sleep in my chair.

I stood in front of the mirror in the ensuite bathroom. I had a multi-headed cannula inserted into the main artery in my neck, a tube leading from my ribs into a bottle, another cannula in the back of my left hand, plasters on my chest and leg, surgical stockings, and bruises around my abdomen where the anti-coagulants were administered at bedtime (to guard against DVT’s).

‘Good grief!’ I thought. ‘You look as if you’ve been hit by a truck’.

Despite it all, I’m recovering well and feeling better than ever. Shortly before rounding off this blog I went on a three mile march, descending and re-ascending around 300 feet and I felt great!

Looking back to my first admission by ambulance, I’m still in awe of the skill and professionalism of all those concerned. The ambulance personnel had sent precise details of my condition to the hospital and I was wheeled straight into the ‘Lab’ from the vehicle. A smiling and confident multi-national team approached me and it was obvious they all knew exactly what the problem was and where they had to go to put it right. Access to the heart artery with the stents was via my right wrist, with a local anaesthetic. I still can’t believe it.

Their fast and efficient response minimised damage to the heart muscles cause by the restriction of blood flow. This is very important.

In no time at all I was in bed wondering what had happened. I was still as high as a kite on morphine, too. And so very tired!

At my lowest point I dreamed my grandfather, a regular soldier, was standing at the foot of my bed holding his rifle. He looked so young and so frail. His eyes looked without seeing. Heaven only knows what he’d seen. ’Chin up lad’ he simply said.

I awoke with a start, my eyes dancing around the deserted ward in the subdued light. It had all seemed so real, as dreams often do, especially in the confused state people enter following major surgery.

What I’ve been through is nothing. Nothing.

Action Heart: a follow-up

I had my first session in the superbly equipped hospital gym Monday 7 December. Everyone walks up to a bank of blood pressure machines as they enter. Because this was my first visit, I also had a portable ECG monitor strapped to my waist and a series of contacts attached at intervals around my chest. The equipment sent information by a wireless link to the hospital system during my session. The staff already had my history in their file which they had clearly studied. They finally printed out a graph which, too, goes in my file.

Everything was OK and my closing B.P. was 116/76. My opening BP was 140 over something which is as high as they wish it to go. I travel to hospital on public transport, a journey requiring two bus routes. This being my first trip, I began to think, at one point, I was going to be late. This illustrates how insidious stress can be. In my case, because I’m a punctuality freak anyway, the prospect of being late caused me extra anxiety.

I’ve got the times sorted now, so I’ll be OK next time. Unless one of the buses is late!

The session begins with a warm-up procedure not unlike those pictures we often see of old-timers (like me) staying healthy, followed by sessions on cycles, treadmills and other exercises. I’m required to register the degree of hardship on a little card I carry with me as they turn up the dials, which also records my blood pressure at the start and end of the session. It’s my responsibility to read the data to the reception staff before I leave. This is all part of a growing tendency over here to expect patients to be actively involved in their treatment. Or are they just shifting part of the blame?

On the subject of stress, I have an appointment with a counsellor 21 December. I know, because I’ve tried and failed, that I need help, here. An over-active mind is the culprit, I believe, and I was interested to read that many of our favourite physicists suffered in a similar way, many of them turning to alcohol as a solution. Not that I’m claiming to be as clever as Richard Feynman. I wish…