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played my 25th sing
Baylor's All-University Sing is a huge show that's been huge in my life. I've performed in it now for nearly half its existence. It's still a rush to perform to sold-out crowds night after night, still a hurdle to put in 8-hour days of rehearsal, still exhausting to play a 5-hour 130-song show, still at times overwhelming to see and hear what 1200 college students are capable of, still a blast to return to my alma mater twice a year for an extended dose of Baylor architecture, Waco weather, old friends, and new.
had 366 days of tooth problems
Root canals, crowns, pain, shots, this dentist and that dentist. Not a single day without feeling it, right up there next to my brain. Really, it's no fun to talk about. Phhhht. And it's not over yet.
heard my hometown orchestra play my notes
One of the great thrills of being a composer is hearing your work come alive performed by someone. It never gets old. I've been fortunate to hear my music played by some of the best ensembles around, but last year was the first time the San Antonio Symphony had ever done a Brake arrangement. It was for their Fiesta pops concert, with Tejano star Patsy Torres singing. What a feeling, to sit in the audience and hear those seventy musicians giving voice to what I'd heard in my head, and to feel the reactions and responses of people around me. Boundaries expand.
created an irenikon
The Big Game this last year was full of puzzles, wordplay, errands, red herrings, temptations, frustrations, and — surprise — a surprise ending that asked us all to think and feel differently. It was the second Big Game for the FWC summer retreat, and once again people of all ages joined in the serious fun. Big Game lovers, get in touch and I'll shoot you all the juicy details.
I always enjoy doing commercial work, whether it's composing the perfect jingle or the perfect music bed, or arranging someone else's work, or recording it in my dungeon or in a big studio. It's just always a blast. Last year my music was heard in commercials for KFC, Carlsberg Beer, Taobao.com (China's version of Amazon/Ebay), and our own Texas MedClinic.
rang the bell
San Antonians will immediately know what I'm talking about: the Old San Francisco Steak House. Few people even knew it was still in business; and now, sadly, it's closed for good. After playing there one night, I decided that I was going to get on that swing (usually peopled by a glamorous gal in red velvet, white feather boa, and fishnet stockings) and swing till I could kick the bell mounted on the ceiling. Since that's where the swing is attached, that means getting horizontal, which is way harder than it looks when the swing is so much larger than you were used to on the playground. It took me longer than I'd have thought, and I was winded when I dismounted, but, folks, I did it.
Between the Steak House and Bella on the River, I ended up doing many more solo piano gigs than usual. For Bella, I pulled off jazzy versions of old Motown songs and Gen X pop hits; for the Steak House, I decided to dig deep into the Great American Songbook, taking care not to repeat a song the entire several-month stint. I love playing in ensembles, but the energy of playing alone can be nice too. How fun, to stretch out and get into the zone where working out and pleasing an audience and indulging whims and expanding the brain all happen at once.
I'm gifted with being able to speak to crowds of people effectively. Last year there were some wonderful opportunities: Holy Trinity again had me speak, I led a Passover Seder, and I spoke at Catherine's church summer retreat. I do love standing in front of a group of listeners and reaching them with words and gestures.
sniffed a long-lost fragrance
In a fun discussion about fragrances with friends and brothers, I was reminded of Yardley, the after-shave that was always at my grandmother's house on childhood visits, and was generously applied after a bath. I clicked around and found a vintage bottle. Even as I opened the shipping box, the smell overwhelmed me with memories. It's an old-fashioned smell, mentholy and witch-hazely, with a distinct lavender top note and a lingering mid-century smoothness. I put it together that the first times we used it at our grandmother's house were really only a couple of years after our grandfather had died. What did it mean to her to splash this on the young Brake boys? What fragrances will Greta and Clara, or their children, associate with bright or dim memories of me?
wrote music for a book
An interactive storybook app, that is: "Noah's Ark," published by CBD, the world's largest distributor of Christian resources. I not only composed the score and recorded the instrumentalists, but also did all the audio production, including rounding up voice actors, with NPR voices John Clare and Adrienne Lawrence Mendonca, expert cartoon voice Darren Kuper, and Anna and Isabel Chappell in the two biggest parts as the narrator and the voice of Dove. Got an under-10 friend? Got an iPad? Get it!
Find out more
I'd gotten my brassy Razr rather late in the game and kept it even later. But finally it gave out, pooped out completely, right around the time that a package deal availed itself to a bunch of family members, and now I have a spiffy Galaxy S3. It's beautiful and functional. Good tools are a pleasure.
got a farmer tan
2-year-old Greta pulled me outside most mornings and afternoons. She has spent a great deal of her life outdoors, which I'm thrilled to promote in her, because I spent much of my childhood outdoors, too, and loved the education it gave me. We kicked around the neighborhood, picked up rocks, swam, kicked plastic balls around, ran in circles, sat on steps, played in dirt, and more.
wrote a solid worship song
"Behold (The Lamb Of God)," based on the words of John the Baptist. The key for me was coming up with the line "from age to age He saves," which propelled me into a time-traveling set of verses, from before time began to the end, through the visions of prophets and the experiences of a flesh-and-blood person. I'm really pleased with the clean upward-moving melody and (at least in my first arrangement) the energetic pulse. It's been tried in a few congregations. I'd love the whole world to hear it.
Hear it now, and look for a nice crispy version of it on iTunes, coming soon.
accompanied some 130-year-old cowboys
They're the characters in a film, "Billy and His Pal," made in 1911 and recently preserved by the National Film Preservation Foundation. Since there was little budget for costumes, several of the extras were real cowboys from around here, wearing their normal gear, which means you get a glimpse of how things were then. No soundtrack survives, so the folks at the Texas Archive of the Moving Image got in touch with me to compose one and play it for a showing. This is my fourth silent movie score, which means that I've now worked with more dead film directors than living ones.
drank topo chico
The venerable mineral water brand has been around for over a century, but I'd never tasted it. It's that thing you see in the store that you never get. But Darren and Greg enthused about it so much that one time during a gig run I got some and experienced the most bubbly bubbles ever worked into water. It's really amazing how bubbly that stuff is.
ended my last ministry at my old church
on the fifth anniversary of beginning it. The goal wasn't to change things, or even to change hearts. The goal, my final ministry there, was to get an organization to at least examine the way it handles conflict: things are great when everyone's getting along, but what happens when something goes wrong? How does the whole thing go down? For five years I talked, mostly behind the scenes, with people at every level of involvement: leaders paid and unpaid, committee members, the whole bit, and, to a person, all were enthusiastic about addressing a lasting problem and turning a new page; to a person, they all found some way not to do it. My job, I believe, was simply to stand witness, to be the one who brought it up.
said farewell to an old hero
Dave Brubeck died after a full life and full career of helping people love music. The Jazz Protagonists, along with our guest the saxophonist Rich Oppenheim, did a full-scale tribute — not some puny hour-long concert but a three-hour gig — played to a gloriously packed house full of folks who love jazz and Brubeck. I've listened to him my entire musical life, but had never actually inhabited his style for the length of an evening; the discipline was an intense and engaging pleasure. The audience (and the local press) went wild. Man, let's do this again.
listened to pop music
A wake-up call: I was watching a video of a talented kid playing all the great rock guitar riffs in chronological order in one take, delighting in each era as it passed. And then, I stopped recognizing the riffs. Right around the turn of the century, though I kept listening to jazz and classical, I'd stopped listening closely to the popular music of the day. Something to chalk up in "things I didn't do in 2000 (or after)," except of course you can't because you often don't perceive these major changes taking place. I started listening again, and discovered that we're experiencing a flowering of pop: melodic, acrobatic melodies, interesting rhythms, and complex electronic textures, performed by some really great singers and instrumentalists.
celebrated 3000 days of marriage
It seems like Catherine and I just got married. But this year we passed the 3k day mark. As of January 2012, we'd officially known each other for ten years. Suddenly that's a huge chunk of one's life. How many days will I spend with this remarkable, beautiful, brainy, hilarious, gentle, and true companion? No man knows, but the wisest men will envy every one. By that milestone, though, another milestone had taken place: yep, in case you hadn't heard, I
impregnated my wife, again
Catherine and I began trying to have another kid back in 2011. We tried and kept on trying, which was fun, but just as we were getting resigned, thinking that at least our miracle baby came before rather than after years of disappointment, sure enough, my beautiful bride was pregnant once more. Carrying a child was once more a difficult journey for her, given her Crohn's condition; difficult, but possible, and she came through with flying colors. Though the baby was due on Christmas Day, she didn't arrive till New Years, so you'll just have to read more about Clara a year from now.
expanded my microphone collection
by getting a couple of good large-diaphragm condensers and a couple of good small-diaphragm condensers. When you have more tools to work with, you can use just the right one for the right purpose. I'm eager to put them to work.
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What a year. Dedicated to the glory of God.
so, what did you do?
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