Category Archives: life

Professionals, Again

I spent yesterday editing down the tutorial video from the Our Father, Vindicate recording session with our very own Mr. Zack Mathers (so expect some swearing in the comments). For those of you who do not eagerly memorize every detail of my life with rapt attention and a pavlovian frenzy, I wrote a song, wanted to do a big recording session of the song, and the only way I could afford to do it was by getting a grant to fund the demo. To do that, we had to engage in some mild academic trickery, and tell them that the whole purpose of the recording session was to make an instructional video for students.

So, Zack brought some cameras along, recorded the whole session, and yesterday we editing all of that down into a 10-minute tutorial on how to record large-ensemble composer demos with no money down and only 8 singers.

I know I’ve said this before, but yesterday was another reminder: I am always shocked when people I know, people who are just, like, my people, friends, drinkin’ buddies, when they also turn out to be stone-cold awesome at what they do. I felt the same way the first time Aly edited something I had written (the proposal for this same grant, by the way). I felt the same way when June brought down a painting for my office. I felt the same way when other florists started ripping off Gretchen’s work and claiming it as their own (a true indicator of awesomeness). It’s been the same with Cory, Chad, Rosy, almost everybody (hey Bobby).

It’s always fun to get to see people who are your friends as they are perceived by their clients, and to realize that the reason they do what they do is because they do what they do. They didn’t just hang a shingle, they became professionals.

Here’s some music and ethics for ya.

This morning a mom came up to me at school.  She said, “I’m sorry I have been unable to volunteer to help for the school musical.  We are grateful for everything you do.”  Then she handed me a $25 check made out to Sharolyn Borris.

Surprised, I said, “Oh, this is help with the budget for costumes,” or some teacherly thing similar to that.  She said, “It’s for you, do with it what you want.”

Although it is not a large sum of money, what I do with it reveals my character.  What would you do?

1) Spend it on yourself.  She said it was for me.

2) Cash the check and buy something for school.

3) Shred it, as the tax payers and P.T.A. have already paid me.

Minnie Me?

Overheard in the car this morning:

Sophia (on her “cell” phone): “Ugh! I can’t believe it!”
Us: “What’s the matter Soph?”
S: “They want me to come down and go to that doctor’s appointment. But that’s not my job! I’m not a Doctor, I’m an ARTIST, people!”

Priceless. Thought it’d give you a chuckle.
What are some of your favorite overheards? Need not be kid related.

a reflection on playing music

Today I got two calls to play piano.  The first was from an unfamiliar source, wanting me to play at a “Shakespeare audition thing” from 6-9 tonight, and they didn’t mention money.  Jason and I were laughing about how much money it was take for me to do it.  $500?  In other words, I was particularly uninterested.

Then I got another call.  A man in our church has died.  He has been ill for quite some time.  His wife, for this long duration of his illness, has spent one of her few hours away from his bedside each week teaching my son’s three year-old Sunday School class.  I’m not sure how long she’s been teaching, but she was also the teacher two years ago under the same circumstance when my daughter was there.  Can I play at his funeral Friday night?

Instantly I became grateful for the ability to play, because I can’t find the words to say Thank You.

New Notes

I took a risk yesterday, and it paid off in a huge way.

I met with the Dean of the school of music, and we negotiated a big shift in my responsibilities in the School of Music. I am stepping down from my role as Director of Small Groups, and taking on the role of Staff Composer. A big chunk of my job from now on will be to compose new music and do some arranging for the ensembles in our school. In the last year, I’ve had several ensemble directors come ask me to write or arrange something, and I’ve had to say no to some of them because of the time constraints, and because they didn’t have room in their individual budgets to pay for new music. This solves both problems in one glorious swoop. I now get to say “yes!”, they get to have new things written specifically for them, I have time to do it, and they don’t have to decide between paying for new music or paying for scholarships (or whatever else they spend money on).

I have loved my role at APU since day one, and I didn’t think it was possible for it to get even better, but this is like a dream come true.

Stephen Martin (no, not that one)

Many of you know Stephen Martin – he was a trumpet player at APU with us and he’s currently an adjunct teaching Intro to Music Tech with me.

On Tuesday morning Stephen will be undergoing surgery to donate 40% of his liver to be transplanted into his nephew Liam. Liam is a little 7-month old baby, the son of Stephen’s sister; his liver started shutting down about 4 months ago. As the situation developed, Stephen volunteered to undergo testing to see if he was a match, and when he was confirmed as a potential donor, he quickly agreed to the transplant surgery. If you know Stephen, you know that this kind of selflessness and generosity is right in line with his character.

Please pray for Stephen and Liam during their joint surgeries tomorrow morning. There will be a long period of recovery following the transplant, for both Liam and Stephen. Pray for Stephen’s wife and children as he recovers, and for Liam’s family as well – he has a long road ahead of him, even after the successful transplant.

One more thing – have you checked to make sure you’re an organ donor? Have you told anyone? Gretchen and I have talked about it, and both of us feel the same way; if we die, use whatever is useful.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Okay, let’s get one things straight. Addison Road isn’t going anywhere. All this awesome has permanent staying power, and no upstart rag of a 10 billion dollar social network site is gonna shut this party down.

Let’s get another thing straight. Don’t text me at 2 am to ask me when I’m going to start writing again. The answer is the same as it’s always been. Whenever the hell I feel like it, Dan!

Let’s get a third thing straight. I missed you all this summer. Well, not you, Dan. But the rest of you. So, in fine back-to-school tradition, here’s how I spent my summer vacation.


All of this obscene wealth and technical progress has conspired to gift us, the blessed generation, with something of inestimable value: time. We luxuriate in an excess of time. No previous generation has had to devote so little of their time to acquiring the basic necessities of life, and yet we squander this gift like it’s gutter trash. These were my thoughts in May, when my wife and my University conspired together to give me the gift of three days. I spent them on a mountaintop in Malibu, at a Catholic retreat center, writing music. The result was a new composition for trumpet, piano, and laptop titled “Serra”.

I also played keyboards on a trashy j-pop album for Sony Records, which was actually much more fun than it sounds.


Not the artist, the month. Although the artist did visit. June and Stick and the munchkins made the trip down to LA to stay with us at our new house, which has plenty of room for guests. Plenty of room. Except that a few days before they showed up, Gretchen’s sister also made the trip out to LA to stay with us at our new house, which has plenty of room for guests. With her 3 kids. Our house does not sleep 5 adults and 7 kids comfortably. Also, it was that weekend that we decided to throw a Princess Party to celebrate Sophia’s 4th birthday. All in all, it was 3 day of unmitigated chaos. It got to be so much that Stick even had to drown his sorrows in 1/3 of a glass of wine!

Also in June, I got commissioned by an amazing photographer in New York to compose a piano piece for the gallery opening of his next show. His manager somehow heard “The Science Project” from The Dailies record (I know, crazy, right?) and wanted something similar. (We think we know how this happened. If you google “The Dailies”, our band is the first hit, and this photographer is the second)


Ah, July. July, July, July. I learned so much from you, July. I learned that I can punch my liver 16 times in a night without passing out. I learned that the women who are hitting on you at the Hard Rock Casino are not amateurs (to all my bosses and my students and my wife, I know this only from observation, not from experience). I learned that disposable income tends to get disposed of. I learned that a good steak is improved by excellent company. I learned that Zack is a very quick study. I learned that the occasional 3-day fling of bachelor excess is fantastic, but that I am very glad to come home to my life.

At the end of July, the APU small group came back off the road, and we stepped into the studio. I was utterly, marvelously blown away. I can’t wait for you all to hear this album. It’s the best thing, by far, that has come out of that school. And yes, I am a little biased, but still. You gotta hear it.


On Thursday, at 3:15 in the morning, we got up, broke camp, strapped on our packs, and hiked 2 hours up and out of the wilderness in the dark. We had spent the week backpacking through the southern range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, some of the most beautiful wilderness anywhere. It was me, my father-in-law Phil, my brother-in-law Brian, and 4 other guys that were friends of Brian. I can’t really explain what a life changing experience this trip was for me. It was the first time in 10 years that I left my cellphone behind, had no email connection, nothing to distract me from being present in the moment. I spent long hours talking with Phil about life, work, family, priorities, and had some extended times of solitude to reassess the things I value in my life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the next scene of The Michael Lee Experience: An Unauthorized Autobiography started that week.

We hiked out of the wilderness and got to the cars just as dawn was starting to break, and we drove to the trail-head of Redcloud, a 14,000 foot peak. We hiked up above the treeline, then above the scrub meadows, and finally got up above all vegetation. At about 13,000 feet, the air is so thin that you can only take one or two steps at a time before gasping for breath. Unless, of course, you are my inhuman stud of a 68-year-old father-in-law, in which case you just sort of jog your way up the trail, stopping every once in a while to make sure we’re still following. A thousand feet from the summit, we stood on the saddle between two peaks with the mountain range spread out before us like a painting. As we watched, thunder clouds started rolling over the peak, and a dozen people came pouring down the trail warning us off the peak.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was to turn around that close to the summit, and head back down. The reality of Colorado weather is pretty brutal though, and you just can’t be the tallest thing standing on top of a bare granite mountain when lighting comes crashing down out of the sky.

The next day, I got on a plane and flew back to my family. On Saturday, we celebrated the marriage of Zack and Sara. On Sunday, I threw up twice.

On Monday, Gretchen and I left the kids with Linda (my birth-mom) and Thom, and headed to Napa to celebrated 10 years of wedded bliss! We drank wine, ate food, drank more wine (I threw up zero times), stayed at the best little inn anywhere, stayed at another place that smelled like cinnamon, drank more wine, and just generally luxuriated in each other’s company. We rediscovered our marriage, not just as a business partnership, or a baby-raising club, or as roommates, but as husband and wife. It was fantastic.

We ended the week by heading to Sharolyn and Jason’s house (they picked up our kids from Linda midway through the week), drank some more wine, and then home.

Also, in August, I started writing a musical with one of the artists I play for, who has an uncanny ability to make things happen. Think Stephen Sondheim meets Jon Brion.

August was a good month.

This was a good summer. Great, even.

We are a blessed generation, and I am a blessed man.

Fire Season, Rain Season

Thankfully, it looks like the massive Station Fire is slowing down. Our thanks and prayers with the firefighters who have been slugging it out on the front lines.

Tuesday night was a little scary, when the fire moved over into the canyons above Monrovia, and for a little while Gretchen and I had to think through what we would pack up and what we would leave if the call came to evacuate. This is the first time we’ve lived close enough to the city / mountain divide to have to think about things like that. I don’t like it.

So, not to add more fear to anyone’s week, but I haven’t really heard anyone talking about this yet. This winter marks the return of El Niño, and all that comes with it. I wonder how the hillsides in the burn areas will fare if the rain really starts pouring in a few months.

Well, that’s for another day, I guess. I’m just glad that the danger is abating, for now.

G, and G Alone

So, I’m flying off to Colorado this next week to go walk through the trees. Gretchen will be home alone with two squirrely youngsters.

Can any of you suggest some things she might do with them to make it through her season of abandonment? Real suggestions or outrageous suggestions are equally welcome.


A couple of Saturdays ago I was in our church kitchen.  A man I didn’t recognize popped his head in from outside.  “I can’t make it to church tomorrow,” he quickly explained, “so I stopped by to drop off my tithe.”

Caught off guard, I said, “No one is in the office right now, but if you trust me enough what would be easiest for our treasurer is if I just put it in the basket for you tomorrow.”  “Sure,” he said, handed it to me, and just as quickly as he arrived he was gone.

It turns out I couldn’t have run away with it even if I had bad intentions.  It was a credit union check typed out to the church with a modest amount that included cents.  I am guessing it was exactly 10% of a paycheck.

In the midst of the ups and downs of church life, I was stopped in my tracks by his pure obedience.  He is not an active church member, but was somehow led to worship in this sacrificial way.  I had never before tithed on behalf of someone else.  It was an honor.

Baby Theft!

You know what sucks? When you and your wife swap out infant car seats between the two cars, and somebody decides to steal the car seat from you. From your driveway. In the middle of the day. And the diaper bag that was sitting on top of it.

I was along with Josiah, and no car seat, and 45 miles away from a gig that I was already running late for. I drove to our local Target to buy a replacement, with Josiah just strapped into the regular seat belt. The whole way there (3 minutes) he had this wide-eyed look on his face, like he knew we were totally doing something illegal, but also that this was an big-boy awesome adventure.

Feeling Incompetent

This week, I’m recording the last few pickups on “Our Father, Vindicate“, and editing the whole thing down to a final mix. I’m doing this in Pro Tools.

I am a Logic guy. On Logic, I can fly. I can bend it and tweak it and make it do anything and everything I need, and I can do it with my eyes closed. But, this project was tracked in Pro Tools, and I need to really understand that software better, so I’m forcing myself to finish the whole project in Pro Tools.

Yesterday, I spent 90 minutes figuring out how to remove the basic volume automation that the tracking engineer had used to make a rough mix. I just about put a fist through the monitor.

I own a house now. Last week, I needed to fix a few small gaps in the brick around out pool. 90 minutes later, I was covered in mortar glue (which does not wash off), unable to touch anything without coating it with thick sludgy stainy cement glue gunk, the bricks were permanently stained with huge swaths of the crap, and the initial problem was still not solved.

I hate, HATE, feeling incompetent. I just want to scream “I am an intelligent, skilled, and valuable person … I just SUUUUUUUUCK at THIS!” I have to fight so hard not to give up, to force myself through to the other side. I know that someday, I will be able to set mix groups for Pro Tools in my sleep. I know that someday, I will be able to repair masonry without permanently damaging myself or our home.

It’s just that today, that someday seems eternally far away.

School, Again

Well, it was a long and arduous process (I had to pay $50), but I was finally accepted as a graduate student at that most prestigious of all schools, Cal State LA (Go Golden Eagles! Or whatever!). Looks like I was wrong about never going back to school again …

As I went to drop off my transcripts at CSULA, I saw two girls feeling each other up outside the admin building. I think this is going to be a little different experience than my first master’s degree; at Biola, the lesbians are still in hiding.

I’m going to be getting a Masters of Music in commercial music, with an emphasis in arranging. I’m actually looking forward to it, for two reasons. First, I need some outside impetus and set parameters to move my writing along in new directions. Second, I feel like this is as close as Professors ever get to a “student teaching” experience, where we get to see someone else do their thing, and learn from them. I’m interested in the content, but also in the methods and techniques of the teachers.

running joke

Any long term relationship has it’s own internal language, and that includes awesome long-standing jokes. I am a firm believer that if something is funny once, it is hilariousness when you’re still throwing it out there 10 years later.

So, the thing about Gretchen is that she remembers every lyric to every song, even songs she’s only heard once. I can’t remember the words to any songs, even songs I just lead the congregation through in worship, even songs I wrote and recorded and sang 50 times.

So, of course, one of my favorite things to do is start the first line of a song, and then immediately veer off into left field, just making up lyrics as I go along.

When we were dating, she thought it was cute. When we were dating a little longer, it was a little less cute. Then we got married, and she would just groan at me. This continued for like 7 years. Then, we had a pair of little ankle-biters. Sophia is sharp enough now to get what I’m doing, and she falls of the chair laughing, then says, “Nooooooo, Dadddddyyyyy!” In almost exactly the same exasperated tone that my wife uses. It’s hilarious.

So, I’m firmly convinced that this will be the running family gag for, like, the next 50 years. Sorry babe.

What about you all? Any long-standing gags that keep coming back around, 10 years in?