New Look




An album of 10 solo piano improvisations in various styles, recorded in 2007-08 on my then-new old Knabe baby grand. (stereo)

Also available:
noodler – piano improvisations recorded on a Baldwin studio upright (mono)
Grand Noodler – 8 more improvisations (mono) is now a blog, rather than an actual website. In recent years, the only changes I had made to were within the blog area, anyway.

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Back in the Saddle

I bought my second Trek bike back in 2014, the FX 7.2. A 24-speed fitness bike, it was just what the doctor ordered. I recently found out that President Biden and I both ride an older Trek fitness bike. I know this because he fell off of his in front of reporters. And now I also know that I won’t be buying toe clips anytime soon.

Disclaimer: I’m an out-of-shape older man in my late 60s. I retired just after COVID began really spreading and had no real physical activity for two years after. Eventually, even I noticed a lack of strength and stamina and understood the saying, “Use it or lose it.” I decided to get up, get out, and get moving. In August 2021, I started walking and had my routine up to 3 miles, but that petered out after 9 trips (Hey, we had a heat wave.) Walking was boring and took a lot of time.

In March 2022, I pulled the bike out of the garage, determined to get some strength back in my legs, raise my stamina, and work on my growing midsection. The first attempt was 1.58 miles at an overall 6.5mph, just up the road and back. I knew from the outset that I had no legs. I also knew that it would take a couple of weeks just to get things moving in the right direction. I was going to make this work this time.

First up, the saddle. Mine was a brick and my butt was complaining after every ride. I swapped that out for the Bontrager Commuter “Fluid” saddle, supposedly softer than gel. My butt thanks me, but still complains after one of my longer rides.

Next up, I swapped the Hardcase Lite tires for the Bontrager Connection Hybrid tires, a cross between a knobby gravel tire and a paved road tire. A little wider than the Hardcase, a little more stability. Pump them up and they roll very well on asphalt. Let some air out, and they work well over gravel or dirt. (Or so I hear.)

We have a two-bike rack for our 2018 Ford Escape. We ordered this Escape with an option package that gave us a trailer hitch (and paddle shifters, for some reason). When my wife joins me on the trail, we use the rack. When it’s just me, I can throw the Trek in the back of the Escape, without even having to remove the front tire. Easy in, easy out.

I have a nasty habit of starting out strong but giving up much too soon. Whether it’s walking or cycling, I rarely hit ten times out with any regularity. This is different.

I’m lucky to have Chester Valley Trail in my backyard. This is 13 miles of beautifully built trail on an abandoned rail line that stretches from Exton in Chester County to King of Prussia in Montgomery County. This trail will eventually connect Downingtown to the west with the Schuylkill River Trail, going all the way into Philadelphia proper.

East of Route 202 near East Whiteland Township Building, looking west.

So far, I’ve only pedaled 5 miles eastward plus the return trip. As of this writing, I’ve been out all of 22 times for a total of over 150 miles.

I start out at the Exton County Park trailhead, just behind the Church Farm School. My usual run is three miles out to where the trail intersects with Route 401, three miles back. Every once in a while, I’ll stretch it to 4.5 miles each way (Route 29).

My first 6-mile ride was an overall 7.7 mph and almost 47 minutes.
My latest was an overall 11.4 mph and just under 32 minutes.
That’s progress!

It took a good half-dozen trips to the trail before my legs stopped screaming. I found that my arms hurt, too, holding my weight over the handlebars. (A touch of arthritis in my right shoulder doesn’t help, that’s for sure.) The ride has become much more pleasant lately and I’m not completely drained when I get home.

It may take time for you to start enjoying the ride, too, but all I can recommend is that you stick with it. Make time, ride as often as you can. Your body will adjust. And riding on established trails is better than trying to get along with road traffic that doesn’t want you there. Check listings in your area.

Trek FX 7.2 at Route 401 trail crossing
Trek FX 7.2 at Route 29 trail crossing
Trek FX 7.2 just east of Route 202 underpass
The Route 202 underpass is the longest and well-lit.
My only complaint about the trail is that it is uphill in both directions (I swear).

NEWS: Bought a GoPro Hero9 Black and thought I’d “map” some of the Chester Valley Trail. Here, together with one of my piano solos, is the portion of the trail from Exton Park to the Route 401 crossing. (Playback settings should be 2160 or 4K.)

Chester Valley Trail map (2017)

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Now Hear This

It’s a warm, sultry Summer evening. The sun has set hours ago. You step outside to enjoy a soft breeze and to watch the intricate dance of the lightning bugs. In the background is the sound of millions of Summer insects, from crickets to cicadas to god-knows-what. It is all very high-pitched and nonstop.

This is what I hear. All. The. Time.

Early on, I remember lying in bed late one night, listening to the insects chirping away. Then it dawned on me that it was midwinter and that there really were no insects. Not in the dead of winter! This is when I became aware of Tinnitus.

As I understand it, I have lost the ability to hear the very high, almost ultrasonic sounds. My own brain, trying to help, is “filling in” the upper frequencies with phantom sounds that only I can hear. But it is constant. It never stops. My brain is doing a crappy job of helping.

As with any constant sound, I sometimes lose awareness of it – it fades into the background (but never goes away). Most often, it’s because I’m paying attention to a rival sound – radio or TV or traffic noises.

(Naturally, as I type this, I am keenly aware of it – it is very much in the foreground.)

Along with tinnitus, I also have degenerative hearing loss, getting a little worse each year. Little by little, the range of upper frequencies that is lost to me increases. The very highest notes in music sometimes escape me. Blame playing the piano with the lid raised, year after year. Blame listening to Genesis and The Doobie Brothers with headphones turned up WAY too much. Riding a two-cylinder John Deere mower for two hours each week, unprotected, probably isn’t helping, either. Blame every loud sound that I’ve exposed myself to over my lifetime.

I’ve always had problems hearing the human voice in television and movies, especially British films with inappropriately loud music scores at a time when the characters are whispering. Or action movies, where explosions and gunfire are competing with the spoken word.

For many years, I haven’t even tried to hold a conversation in a loud bar or at a wedding reception with an ear-damaging DJ. I’ve never mastered lip reading, and there is simply no way that I can make out what anyone is saying against a backdrop of everyone else yelling to be heard.

A person with a well-modulated, well-enunciated speaking voice is a joy. There are many people that I talk with who are easily heard and understood.

Low talkers annoy the hell out of me. There are a few who poke their heads into my office and begin whispering something to me. I now cut them off immediately and ask them to speak up. Even so, after half a sentence, their voice begins to trail off again into obscurity, forcing me to blurt out, “Eh?,” like every other cranky old man. I’m always afraid that I’m going to “pull a Seinfeld” and agree to something that I didn’t actually hear. I am not going to be wearing a puffy shirt.

I wear headphones while watching the bedroom TV. I originally bought them so that my late-night TV watching wouldn’t bother my wife, who has to be up very early in the morning. But I find that they’re a godsend now. The headphones almost force the human voice bandwidth into my ear canals, so I can hear just about every word.

If I’m watching TV downstairs, I find that the surround sound speakers actually muddy the sound. There’s one center speaker that is allegedly enhancing the vocal range, but it’s not really helping. When voices get low, I find myself cupping my ears with my hands, pointing them toward the sound. (It helps. Really.) Even so, the lack of clarity and missed dialogue have me more and more lost as to what’s going on.

I watch MSNBC a lot. For the most part, this is one person speaking at a time, and that voice is the only sound coming out of my speakers. I find it easy to listen to and can pay attention to what’s being said. On the rare occasion when two guests begin arguing over each other and then the moderator joins in… Forget it. I can’t hear anything that any one of the three is saying. I can’t handle overlapping voices.

I listen to NPR all day at work. I use an iPod Nano and ear buds while I work, and, unless the topic is especially interesting, NPR is basically low background noise to distract from the tinnitus. White noise to combat white noise.

Unless I’m in the kitchen, I can’t hear a whistling tea kettle or the beep of a microwave. I’m becoming very good at guesstimating when things are going to be done.

My wife asks me if I can hear baby birds or peepers (pond frogs). Nope.

Why don’t I just buy hearing aids?

I will. Just not yet. I find that a good hearing aid can run $2,000 to $3,000. The little research that I did tells me that buying cheap gets you cheap, so I’ll get a very good, reliable pair when the time comes. No health insurance covers or subsidizes hearing aids.

Hearing aids are optional, it seems. A luxury. I’ll spend the money when I’m missing $2,000 worth of sound.

You’ll all just have to do me a favor. Speak a little louder than you normally do (you don’t have to shout), just a good-level inside voice will do. Don’t slur, don’t trail off, don’t mumble. In other words, speak to me the same way you’d speak to any other elderly gentleman.

And I sometimes find myself talking too loud, as though I’m talking while wearing headphones and am not aware of the volume. I think this is how I unconciously let people know that I’m having trouble hearing them. If I yell at you, I’m sorry. Let’s both compromise on the volume.

Here’s an ad for the new HTC cellphones. HTC incorporates a hearing test into the HTC 10, in order to maximize the “high definition audio” output for each individual pair of earbuds. They call it a Personal Audio Profile. Each time I plug in a set of headphones or buds, I have the option of taking a quick “quiz” that is used to equalize the music for my hearing. Or I can take a complete hearing test (you know, a series of high, medium, and low tones for both right and left ears) so that the phone can take my own weaknesses into account. As you would expect, the upper range is greatly boosted for my benefit. I hear things in the music from my phone that I don’t hear anywhere else. Every phone should have this feature, since every pair of ears is unique.

In the meantime, every once in a while I’ll enjoy a bit of silence. I’ll close my eyes, focus on the tinnitus, and picture myself standing out back, listening to the sound of a million insects chirping on a warm Summer evening.

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