Up Close: Geoff Speicher

Up Close: Geoff Speicher

Brains and Brass

There has been considerable debate in the academic community regarding the connection (or lack thereof) between musical ability and mathematical aptitude. While the results remain inconclusive, Geoff Speicher certainly confirms the hypothesis. As the chief software architect of Software Engineering Associates, an Archbald-based company he co-founded in 1999, Speicher is an accomplished software engineer who has designed a host of databases for a variety of industries and has bundled many of the tools he has created over the years into an application called Pario, a “mature application development environment and framework that allows you to quickly create online database applications that are easy to adapt to changing business requirements” (Quoted from http://www.getpario.com/features.html) As a trombonist, Speicher has played with jazz legends Wynton Marsalis and Wycliffe Gordon and can be heard everywhere from St. Peter’s Cathedral in Scranton to Gene Dempsey’s Orchestra to Scranton Preparatory School’s upcoming production of The Music Man. Meet Geoff Speicher …

How did you get into music?
I started at Valley View Elementary School. I went through the general music courses there and my brother, who is a year older than me, started playing trombone when he was in fifth grade. The band director, George Robinson, thought “Let’s try you on trumpet. We normally don’t start kids until fifth grade, but I want to see how you’d make out on trumpet.” He gave me a trumpet, and it didn’t work out. Then he said, “Forget about the trumpet — you’ll probably get it next year on trombone.” (Laughs.) That’s really what got me into it. Even as a little kid, I was always around music in one way or another. My father was always putzing around on a piano or a guitar, or my mother or somebody was always singing somewhere. I grew up around it — the love of music was always there.

When you play out, is there a network of musicians you normally play with?
Yes. There’s not much solo trombone work anywhere, so I play with a lot of different groups — whether it’s a pit orchestra for a show; or a brass quartet, like the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral; or Gene Dempsey’s Orchestra, the swing band/big band that’s been around for 55 years or so. There’s an orchestra, a similar big band at Skytop, and while they don’t play a ton of gigs, I’ll be playing with them in May. I’ve done performances of The Nutcracker at Lehigh University. I don’t play many of the bar gigs anymore, but I’ve done the rock band “10 p.m. to 2 a.m. go-home-smelling-like-smoke” thing. Ron Leas, the former mayor of Dalton, has what he calls The Ron Leas Brass Band, and he picks up all kinds of odd gigs — lots of fun stuff.

EC17UPC_2_WEBDo you have a favorite genre or style?
I don’t. Anything that I play, I love playing, and I listen to the same music that I like to play. I don’t listen to much pop music on the radio.

You’re not missing anything.
(Laughs.) No, if that’s all that’s on, I’ll just turn it down.

Who are your influences?
That’s a hard question for me to answer because, when I was younger, I didn’t take it [music] as seriously as I probably should have. They say, if you want to grow as a musician, you have to listen, but I’ve always been bad at listening. In high school and college, I never had anybody that I listened to and said, “I want to sound like him,” or, “I want to play like him.” That started changing the first time I heard Wycliffe Gordon play at Lincoln Center for Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Fields. He was on the stage playing the trombone, and I was like, “Holy crap, what is he doing? He’s just insane!” That started making me realize there’s a lot of individual talent, even at that level, that goes into a performance. There’s only one Wycliffe Gordon in the world. Wycliffe is a source of inspiration. I don’t have any chance of ever touching him with a 10-foot pole in terms of talent but, when he plays, and you’re sitting there listening to him, you can’t help but be happy. He exudes happiness through his trombone, and that’s what I’m trying to do at some level for people. I’ll never succeed the way that he does — I’d probably make some people happier if I put it away — but he is definitely an influence there.

What do you love about music the most? What keeps you moving as a musician?
It’s a great escape from the software engineering (Laughs). It gets me out from in front of my computer, and it’s the only creative outlet that I have. That’s what I like about it —  it’s cathartic for the soul. If I have a bad day at work, I can go to a gig and after I get the trombone in my hand for long enough, that all disappears. If I come home and sit on the couch, that stuff doesn’t disappear so easily.

It tends to stew around a bit.
Yes. Just blow it out the horn, and it’s all good.

Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about the software engineering. What led you into that field?
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but it was when my father brought our first computer into the house — it was an Apple 2E or 2C — and it had Apple BASIC built into the ROM. I started playing around with programming in BASIC and I just took to it. Programming computers suited something about the way that I think, and it was always appealing to me to be able to write commands, save them, and tell the computer, “Here, I want you to do this,” and have the computer do it.

How did you decide to start Software Engineering Associates?
By the time I was graduating high school and was toying around with the idea of going to school for music, I got some great advice from my high school band director. He said, “You can always play the trombone, and if you graduate with a performance degree and audition for the New York Philharmonic and play, great! You might get the spot. But if the next guy comes in without any formal training and plays that audition better than you do, he’s getting the gig.” That’s what put me into my computer science major at the University of Scranton, and I stuck around for another two years to get my master’s in software engineering. When I graduated in ‘99, my family already had T-R Associates, which had been selling and supporting computer hardware and off-the-shelf software since the early ‘80s. They always took phone calls from people asking, “Hey, can you write me a database?,” and they’d say, “No, we don’t really do that,” so we knew there was a market in the region. My father was gracious enough to give us a good deal on rent in the building and some seed money to get started, so it made a lot of sense to create that partnership with the existing business.

What is Pario?
It’s a tool that we use internally that I’ve been developing over the last 10 or 12 years a little at a time to write the kind of software that we write. You can use it to build database applications, you can interface with that database, it creates a user interface for you, and you get an API (application programming interface) that can create a completely separate interface that can connect to the database. We think, with the right team and the right resources, it can be much more than just a tool we use internally or that we sell and support as an inexpensive developer tool. “What is Pario?” is the question we have been trying to answer for people for several years because how you answer that question determines who your market is. We’ve never really been sure about who is the best audience to go after for this, but we’re getting closer. There is no question that it solves a problem — it solves a problem we face on a daily basis — that’s why we’re still using it. We can be more productive writing software with Pario than with anything else that I’ve ever seen. We know it solves a lot of different problems for a lot of different people, but I guess marketing is all about identifying which of those problems is the most lucrative one. (Laughs)

Did the idea for it come to you at once?
God no. I had been writing software for a few years and I started to notice patterns in what I was doing. You see these patterns and you start wrapping them up and say, “I’m going to write this small tool that will solve this problem for this one pattern I have identified so I won’t have to do it again. I have this tool in my toolbox now, this one little thing for this one pattern, and it’s done.” And then, you find another pattern, and another, and after a while, you realize you have this thing that has started to take on a life of its own. Then, the patterns aren’t  necessarily coming from a need: they’re emerging from the existing body of work, so now we see the patterns within the work we’ve done already, and we find a way to take this thing that’s grown organically and extract formal concepts out of it. Software is like that — it’s an evolution. No software is ever really done, because every time you’re done writing something, there is always some idea you can build onto it to make it more robust, scalable or efficient.

Would you say there’s a connection between your work as a musician and your work as a software engineer?
I think there’s a connection, but I’m not sure where it stems from. Some people think it’s the math. In music, if you look at the notation, it’s all about subdivisions and the music is logically structured. It’s also a trap, because you can’t look at music as a logical structure or the music disappears. As so many great musicians say when they hold up a piece of sheet music, “This isn’t music — this is paper with a bunch of dots on it.” Music is the sound you hear, and if you bury your head in the sand and read it like an engineer, it doesn’t sound like music anymore. So, there is a connection, but there is also a disconnect somewhere where you have to let go of the rigid, structured mentality in order to really, truly make music.
— tom salitsky

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown: Floodwood

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown: Floodwood

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown
A closer look at acts coming to Cabinet’s Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival

 

The local-turned-national bluegrass outfit Cabinet is hosting the Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival on Saturday, May 10 at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Other performers include Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, Marco Benevento, Floodwood, Terrapin Flyer featuring Melvin Seals and Mark Karan and many more. Here is a closer look at one of the many performing acts playing at #TheBreakdown.

Band Name: Floodwood
Band members and instruments: Al Schnier (acoustic guitar), Vinnie Amico (drums), Jason Barady (mandolin), Nick Piccininni (banjo/fiddle) and Zachary Fleitz (acoustic and electric basses).
Genre: Progressive String Music
Year started: 2012
Releases: This is Life (studio 2013) and This is Live (live 2014)
Hometown: Utica, N.Y.
Website: floodwoodmusic.com
Influences: Sam Bush, Del McCoury, Bela Fleck, Old and In the Way and Grateful Dead
How would you describe your sound? Barn burnin’ bluegrass with a  modern twist.
What can audiences expect to see at a live show?
Audiences can expect a performance that features an even mix of songwriting, vocal harmonies, instrumental arraignments and spotlighted solos. Floodwood’s live show keeps everyone involved, especially the audience, from start to finish.
What are you looking forward to most about The Susquehanna Breakdown?
The venue itself is an attraction for artists and fans. We can’t wait to work with Cabinet again and perform on the stage that we shared with all the great artists at the Peach Festival last summer.
What are your plans for the rest of 2014?
We want to play as many shows as we can and possibly take another trip out to Colorado. We have a few more festivals on the calendar that we can’t wait to play!
For fans of: moe., Phish, Grateful Dead,
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wfX0p_kKhk&feature=youtu.be
Audio: http://www.floodwood.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-live

 

The Susquehanna Breakdown Festival takes place Saturday, May 10, at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Guests can arrive Friday, May 9, at 5 p.m. to camp on Montage Mountain and attend a performance by Cabinet and others that evening. Advance tickets are $20 for general admission, $55 for VIP and $20 for camping. Tickets on the day of the festival increase to $25 for general admission, $60 for and $25 for camping. They are available at the box office and Ticketmaster outlets, over the phone at (800) 745-3000 and online at Ticketmaster.com.

 

 

Liquid

Liquid

Soaking Up the Suds with James Crane

Fact of the day: It’s generally accepted that we salivate more when we think of food or even alcohol. This makes sense, right? When you pour the perfect pint of beer or smell a pie baking in the oven, the juices start to flow. I bet you even notice it now just from reading about these things.
Believe it or not, this is an incorrect assumption. In truth, your mouth is always watering. Your saliva does all kinds of wonderful things, from protecting your teeth to keeping disease at bay. You just notice it more when the thought of ingesting something enters your mind. For instance, I just cracked open my first ever Stillwater Artisanal Ale and I’m fairly certain a waterfall is cascading down my tongue.
I’ve seen Stillwater Artisanal Ale bottles around for a while now. The art has always been captivating and the descriptions interesting, but I’d not yet picked one up. In retrospect, I now realize what a mistake that has been. If its Folklore Stout is any indication, I’ve been missing out.
Upon doing some research, I found out that it is not only a brewery, but also an art collective. This explains the allure of the bottles. Each one is done in a very distinctive style. The labels are always worth a look just as the brews themselves are worth a taste. Its nice to see Stillwater is continuing the long relationship between alcohol and art.
The pour was smooth and flat. This surprised me a bit. There was little head that didn’t bother to stick around long. While this is not at all uncommon for a stout, that fact that it didn’t look overly thick was. There was little to no lacing left on the glass. The brew was the customary black color of roasted malt, however. That gave me hope.
It smelled pretty sweet and boozy — qualities that reminded me of an imperial stout with chocolate notes to it. There was more to this brew, however. Aside from the alcoholic burn, there was definite yeasty notes, such as one finds in a Belgian-style brew. The scent of roasted malt was certainly there, but so were dark fruits such as figs and the like. It was that sweet, sticky brown sugar scent that makes me think of molasses.
The taste was surprising, though most of it followed suit with the scent. While it was certainly still a stout, there was a great deal of deviation from the standard formula. Up front were notes of sour cherries, chocolate and booze. That is an amazing combination in a beer. This was followed by deep flavors of roasted malt and dark fruit that settled nicely on the tongue. There must be some Belgian yeast in there to give it such character. That would explain the sourness, dark fruit and spicy nature of this brew.
The feel of this brew also differentiates from that of your standard stout. It was not thick or cloying, nor was it syrupy. The body was thin, leading to a bit of an increase in drinkability. I still would not want to drink a great deal of this brew, as it is quite intense. It certainly is not a session beer, but at 8.4 percent ABV, it doesn’t need to be.
Folklore has me interested in more brews from Stillwater Artisanal Ales. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I’ll let you know how the search turns out.

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown: Driftwood

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown: Driftwood

The Countdown to #TheBreakdown
A closer look at acts coming to cabinet’s Susquehanna Breakdown music festival

The local-turned-national bluegrass outfit Cabinet is hosting the Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival on Saturday, May 10 at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Other performers include Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, Marco Benevento, Floodwood, Terrapin Flyer featuring Melvin Seals and Mark Karan and many more. Here is a closer look at one of the many performing acts playing at #TheBreakdown.

Band Name: Driftwood
Band members and instruments: Dan Forsyth (acoustic guitar & vocals), Joe Kollar (banjo, vocals, kickbox), Joey Arcuri (upright bass, vocals), Claire Byrne (fiddle, vocals)
Genre: Americana
Year started: 2006
Releases: Rally Day (2009), A Rock and Roll Heart (2011), Driftwood (2013)
Hometown: Binghamton, N.Y.
Website: driftwoodtheband.com
Influences: Everything from Bach to Madonna, from The Beatles to Del McCoury.
How would you describe your sound? We focus on original songs with bluegrass instruments. Our music is rock n roll, folk and pop — all in one.
What can audiences expect to see at a live show? A high energy show with a lot of harmonies and dancing.
What are you looking forward to most about The Susquehanna Breakdown? Playing for the lovely people that come to get down!
What are your plans for the rest of 2014? 2014 will bring a lot of touring, writing new songs and beginning work on a new album.
If you had the opportunity to work with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why? Jack White. We love how versatile he is as a musician and a producer.

For fans of: Alison Kraus, Del McCoury, The Shins, Belle & Sebastian

 

The Susquehanna Breakdown Festival takes place Saturday, May 10, at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Guests can arrive Friday, May 9, at 5 p.m. to camp on Montage Mountain and attend a performance by Cabinet and others that evening. Advance tickets are $20 for general admission, $55 for VIP and $20 for camping. Tickets on the day of the festival increase to $25 for general admission, $60 for and $25 for camping. They are available at the box office and Ticketmaster outlets, over the phone at (800) 745-3000 and online at Ticketmaster.com.

Up Close: Allan Souza

Up Close: Allan Souza

Up Close & Personal

Fitness with a Smile
Zumba and fitness instructor Allan Souza comes to NEPA by way of Brazil and uses his seemingly boundless energy to teach fitness, attend business marketing classes at Penn State, support charity events in the area, travel, shop and keep a positive attitude. You can’t help but smile when you talk to him — and he says that’s the point. Also, if you can make it through his new training class without stopping, you just might get $100 out of the deal. Meet the effervescent Allan Souza …

So you’re from Rio de Janeiro. What brought you to Scranton? Give us you mini-biography, in terms of where you’ve lived.
I was born in Brazil. I actually came from there when I was 11 and lived in Virginia. Then my parents got a job in this area and we moved to Scranton in 2000. Ever since then, I’ve stayed here.

How do you like Northeastern Pa.? Any changes you’d like to see?
I love it! Growing up in Brazil was a very poor life — a very rough upbringing. The chance to come to America — cliché as it may sound — was an opportunity to have a better life. For me, coming from where I came from, it’s an upgrade. I love it! I love living in the area and I love making a difference doing what I do during the past three years. As far as changes, I’d like to see more involvement in art and music which are two things I’m very passionate about. I wish our town had more places to advertise that and show off what we have. There are so many talented people who need to express themselves.

When and how did you get started in Zumba? Were you always interested in physical fitness?
About seven years ago, I lost more than 100 pounds just through lifestyle changes. I lost all the weight and I started falling in love with fitness. Then three years ago, I took my first Zumba class with my friend Talia Walsh and I fell in love with it. Taking classes made me realize how much I could do in that field. Two months after taking classes with Talia, she recommended I get certified. From there, it took off. I was teaching at all the gyms in the area — every gym you could think of. I was teaching classes and had a dream of making my own. Last August, I had the opportunity to open my own studio and I did, Studio LA, with my partner Lisa Lavelle. She’s the “L” and I’m the “A,” hence the name. A lot of people don’t know that. They say, “We’re in Scranton. Why’s it called Studio LA?’” (Laughs)

How has the studio worked out for you?
It’s been going great. We have more than 300 members at the studio already. It’s a very different atmosphere — I think there’s nothing like it. When you walk into it, it’s like a club, with beautiful surround sound, bright colors, things you don’t expect when you’re at a gym. I want you to take whatever’s going on your everyday life, leave it at the door and have fun for an hour. So many moms don’t have a chance to go out and enjoy themselves, but once a day for an hour, they get to just shrug it off and dance. We see anywhere from 60 to 90 people per day.

Zumba is a very musical form of exercise, and there’s a lot of room for creativity in the routines. How do you create your dances? What’s your process like?
My thing is that even though I do teach Zumba, all of my choreography is original or most of it. I make it all myself. I do use some Zumba dances, but 98 percent are originally mine. Usually I hear a song I love and it takes me a good two hours to make up a dance. I like to make my dances very dance-oriented instead of the same steps over and over. I like to make them challenging, but not impossible, so when you try it for the first time you think, “I need to do this a few more times to get it down.”

EC03UPC_2_WEBAnd speaking of music, what sort of music pumps you up for Zumba? And then what do you listen to on, say, a Sunday morning when you’re at home relaxing?
I love Latin music, and my favorite music is pop and hip hop for Zumba. I do use some Top 40, but most of the music I like to find is unique. If someone comes to me and wants a routine to “Baby Got Back,” I say “That’s been done a million times.” I try to find a unique way. I found the Baltimore club mix for “Baby Got Back,” and it’s not what you expected at all. I make people think it’s going to be one thing and then it’s not. It’s definitely my idea of making up good music. As for when I’m at home, my favorite kind of music is country music. When I’m at home, I don’t actually listen to any fast music at all. I love country, piano music, instrumental music, listening to lyrics and I grew up Baptist so I listen to a lot of Gospel music, too. I enjoy dance music, but I do it Monday through Saturday. I always say my neighbors probably think I’m depressed (laughs), because I listen to the most mellow, most depressing music ever. (Laughs)

Outside of Zumba and fitness, what are your other interests? What do you do to unwind?
One of my favorite quotes is, “Empty fridge, full closet.” I love shopping (laughs). I can’t cook for my life, but love shopping. One of my favorite things to do with friends is to Google towns with small boutiques, interesting shops, fun places to see and then go there. I’m a very hyper person. I don’t like to sit. I like to be on the go, so I like to travel a lot. My family lives in Connecticut so I get there as much as I possibly can.

I understand you’re in college. I’ve done the adult student routine before, too, so I understand what it’s like to balance work and school as an adult. It’s a totally different experience than when you’re younger, in my opinion. Would you agree or disagree?
I agree 100 percent. Until six months ago, I was living on a work visa and I just got my green card. I couldn’t go to school on my work visa, so the very day after I got it I went straight to Penn State and applied for college. Right after this interview, I’ll be studying for a test tomorrow. Through all these years, I partied hard, because I couldn’t go to school. Now I’m OK with spending Saturday nights at home, and I’m OK with not going out on weeknights. I appreciate it more. This is my first semester of my first year of school and I’m 28 years old, sitting in class with young students. Some of them do not take it seriously. They’re here because their parents made them, and it’s frustrating to see them make fun of the teachers or not take it seriously.

You seem to have a deep philosophical view of the world. Can you expound upon that a bit?
One of the things that I love the most about my job is my interaction with people. I’m really proud of my classes, where I teach people of every age, gender and sexual orientation. One student is a doctor in the area and another is a stay-at-home mom. I get all kinds of people who — in a normal scenario — would never relate to each other, but in that area, it brings everybody together. It makes me so proud to know that I am a minority from Brazil, I’m a gay man and I can make a difference in people who are totally opposite from me. It’s been a blessing the past three years in this fitness world. I try to do as much charity work as I can and help raise money. I competed in “Dancing with NEPA Stars” this year. God has blessed me, so why not use my talent and the opportunity I’ve been given to give back? People always ask me, ‘You’re always happy, always smiling. Are you even human?’ (Laughs) I think the important thing in life is to remember that we’re all here for a purpose. So many times we take people and situations for granted and we become too focused on issues and what brings us down. I believe in karma and that what you give is what you get back. If you give your best, God will bless you with the same thing.

What’s next for you?
I have this class that I created called Brazilian Fit at our studio. It’s the opposite of Zumba. Zumba is dancing and this is training, like a mixture of P90X but way crazier. I have a challenge that if anyone can come to class and make it through the hour without stopping, they get $100. So far no one has been able to do it. So it’s a way to motivate. So many guys come and it’s not what they expected, These guys are strong, but their endurance and cardio isn’t there. When it comes time to do it, they can’t. It keeps people coming back to push themselves.
— andrea mcguigan