Month: September 2015

Who to fire: the way-too-early edition

We’re a little less than a month into the college football season, but the first firing has already been made in the form of Tim Beckman, head coach at Illinois. Beckman was ousted after three seasons of mostly mediocre results, but the real story came forward when current and former players accused him of verbal abuse and willfully ignoring injuries.

While this was a unique and unfortunate case, you can expect plenty more of firings from now until December. I present my case for all of the head coaches who I believe should be ousted:

Al Golden, Miami

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Golden, who enjoyed a successful run at Temple from 2007-2010, has been far from the savior of one of the nation’s most historic and respected programs. Even after an ongoing NCAA scandal was unofficially concluded a few years back, Golden’s teams have been some of the most underachieving in the FBS. He has probably recruited more NFL talent than the rest of the ACC coaches combined. But the Hurricanes’ disgruntled fanbase has still yet to see a conference title in the ACC era (2004-present), and Golden’s overall record (28-22 in four years) leaves much to be desired.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina

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Fedora’s hiring seemed to be great at the time, as he had enjoyed great success at Southern Miss (34-19 in four years) and brought a reputation to Chapel Hill as a spread offense guru. Like Golden at Miami, Fedora and his staff have recruited well through a prolonged NCAA investigation, but the Tar Heels just haven’t been good enough to contend in a mostly-average ACC Coastal Division. With controversy still surrounding the program, it’s best that UNC takes things in a different direction.

Kyle Flood, Rutgers

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Flood was the offensive line coach under previous head man Greg Schiano, who led the Scarlet Knights from being perennial cellar-dwellers to consistent competitors in the former Big East Conference. Since taking over in 2012, Flood has improved facilities and managed the transition into the Big Ten last season.

But nothing has gone right for Rutgers this year, in the form of ugly play on the field and suspensions of six players off of it due to various allegations of theft, aggravated assault, and domestic violence. While Flood’s record isn’t awful (23-16 in three years), his teams have not been stellar, either, and the move to the Big Ten in 2014 exposed some major weaknesses on the Scarlet Knights’ roster. With the NCAA swarming around the program, Flood needs to leave as gracefully as he can.

Mike London, Virginia

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London is a tough-as-nails, blue-collar guy, and that was sorely needed when he arrived in Charlottesville in 2010. While London is an outstanding recruiter and has drawn kudos for creating a culture of discipline and accountability, the on-field results have been mediocre (24-40 overall). Yes, the Cavs have certainly been up against it in the schedule department, but London has never found a consistent performer at quarterback or helped produce a decent rushing attack. The most glaring statistic, though, is London’s 0-5 record against the kids from Blacksburg.

Darrell Hazell, Purdue

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Like Tim Beckman at Illinois, Hazell was hired at Purdue due to his experience in the Midwest as a coach at Kent State, and also because he coached under the legendary Jim Tressel at Ohio State.

Hazell’s 11-win campaign at Kent State in 2012 was nothing short of amazing, and that was the springboard to his hiring at Purdue. But the honeymoon is long over for Hazell, who is 5-22 and counting, while staring up at an improving Big Ten. The Boilermakers’ sluggish offense has gone through five different starting QBs in two years, one of whom — former four-star recruit Danny Etling — is no longer with the program (transferred to LSU this summer).

Trent Miles, Georgia State

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When Miles was hired to replace the retiring Bill Curry in 2013, there was hope that he could transform the Panthers as they became full-fledge FBS members in the Sun Belt Conference. Miles had done an excellent job at the FCS level with Indiana State (his alma mater), so there was reason to believe that he could do the same in downtown Atlanta.

Two weeks ago, Miles registered his first FBS victory over an FBS team — a three-point road victory over Sun Belt opponent New Mexico State. The bad news is that it merely took Miles 20 tries to get such a win (overall record 2-25). Despite a quality staff of assistants and a fertile recruiting ground, the Panthers have been truly awful in the Miles era.

Norm Chow, Hawaii

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It’s a real shame to put him on this list. The 69-year-old Chow has been an assistant at BYU, Utah, USC, UCLA, and the NFL’s Tennessee Titans; he is arguably the most respected assistant coach in college football in the past couple decades. In 2012, he took his first head coaching job back in his home state.

Chow’s teams have proved to repeatedly choke in big games, losing nine games by one possession or less in the last two seasons. There’s also been very little continuity from year to year, as evidenced by the fact that only one assistant coach remains from Chow’s debut season. This year could be his last stand, facing a record of 10-30, dwindling attendance numbers, precious little depth, and a buyout north of $200,000.

Paul Petrino, Idaho

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The remote location, the lack of tradition, the less-than-adequate facilities, and the lack of any real recruiting footprint have long been obstacles to Idaho football. But contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to win in Moscow; the Vandals have been to a bowl game as recently as 2009.

In 2013, facing a daunting Independent schedule after the WAC got smothered in conference re-alignment, athletic director Rob Spear brought in Petrino, the younger brother of current Louisville head man Bobby Petrino. Paul Petrino brought an excellent reputation as a coach, plus familiarity with the program, as his first NCAA coaching gig was at Idaho from 1992-1994. Following a predictably poor showing as an Independent, Petrino led the Vandals to the Sun Belt in 2014.

Last season, the Vandals weren’t even eligible for a bowl game after posting below-average Academic Progress Report (APR) scores. This August, an ugly incident occurred when Petrino swore at and nearly punched a sideline reporter and had to be restrained by an assistant coach. And there was also an unsettling incident where three Vandal players were caught shoplifting from the campus bookstore and Petrino refused to suspend them, leading to whispers that he had made the charges go away.

As of last week, Petrino, in his first head coaching gig, has an ugly record of 3-23.

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ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Fat Kid Wins Cake

As you drive through the hills of Virginia on U.S. Route 501, you pass a sign that reads “Welcome to Buena Vista — 6,002 happy citizens and three old grouches.”

In reality, the actual population of Buena Vista is 6,650 (according to Wikipedia). The town is small, sleepy and scenic, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains about 15 miles east of the larger city of Lexington, home of the Virginia Military Institute.

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You’d never guess it, but Buena Vista is home to an up-and-coming local music scene, particularly in hardcore and punk rock. Crazy, right? Rockbridge County has been home to a small-but-growing metal community in the last five to ten years, and while some bands have not survived, they have still made a big impact on disciples of the heavy in the rural parts of the Old Dominion.

One of the bands that has helped cultivate a large following in a short amount of time was Fat Kid Wins Cake. Aside from their hilarious band name, FKWC played a lot of shows and garnered a large fanbase for a band that was never signed and was made up mostly of high schoolers. But despite their youth and lack of exposure, FKWC played their hearts out every time they took the stage, showing a deep love for their craft and their Christian faith.

Founded in 2008, FKWC grew a cult following in the area, primarily due to their raw sound — an exciting mix of techno beats and crushing, mosh-worthy breakdowns. Vocalist Christy Dixey’s powerful screams and the pounding rhythms of guitars, bass, and drums made FKWC a great entry in a genre that was gaining speed at the time.

Their Facebook page says this under the biography section:

Sometimes we get caught up in this world, and we forget our true reason for living. Our goal is through music, a group of regular kids can inspire and show the way of Christ, how He loves you, and through Him, you can live eternally.

The band traveled around Virginia, playing small venues and never drawing major exposure. They were a true indie band, unsigned and making huge gambles on their success. When they made money, it was almost exclusively through t-shirt and album sales. But FKWC found a place, and they showed what they were capable of, while remaining humble and sincere in their approach.

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Musically speaking, FKWC listed The Crimson Armada, The Devil Wears Prada, Set It Off, Attack Attack! and Jamie’s Elsewhere as their primary influences. I would probably compare them to Iwrestledabearonce — as both bands feature goofy song titles, a female lead vocalist and heavy electronic presence. But IWABO were never a group you could take too seriously (for obvious reasons) and their lyrics were never stellar.

Personally, I loved FKWC’s tracks on their self-titled debut album, especially “Katie, the Fastest Speed-Walker,” “Pinhead Larry,” and their stand-alone single “My Friend Plank.”

FKWC showed they could hold their own, frequently playing shows with other local bands such as Withstand the Ocean, Witness Thy Martyr, Decimation of a Minor, Celebrate the Tragedy, Silence the Assembly, and Black Rose Effect. They traveled all over Virginia, and even went as far as the coastal parts of North Carolina and up to Pennsylvania as well.

I was lucky enough to see FKWC live at Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista on July 17, 2012. The show was not heavily attended, but I was still amazed at the level of passion and intensity that FKWC brought to the stage. In addition to their musical prowess and sense of humor, they also showed the deep commitment to their faith that still inspires me to this day. I met Christy Dixey after the show, and I still remember how this small town 16-year-old girl was so sweet and encouraging towards me.

On September 12, 2012, FKWC posted this on their Facebook page:

Hey everyone, hope everyone has been doing well! We regret to inform you that as of November 3rd, we will no longer be a band. After four years of being a band, we feel that God is calling us to step away from this band and to pursue the next chapter in each of our lives. We have had some of the best times in this band, and this band has helped us each so much in our walks with Christ, as a band, as well as in our own personal lives.

We want to thank each and everyone of you for every little thing you have done for us. From buying merch, to feeding us, etc. Most importantly though, we want to thank God for allowing us to do all of this for as long as we got to.

We will be releasing one more new song for you guys. We will also be selling our shirts for a cheap price at our final shows, and all of the money for them will be donated to a non-profit children’s organization.


We will have two last shows for you guys with the original lineup:


1. Friday, October 12th, Shenandoah Valley Youth Center, Elkton, VA
2. Saturday, November 3rd, Heaven’s Pit, Stephen’s City, VA


Come out and worship with us for the last time!  
God Bless!

On November 3, 2012, FKWC played their farewell show at Heaven’s Pit in Stephens City, Virginia. That night, guitarist Zac Montgomery proposed to longtime girlfriend Cassidy Dixey, FKWC’s keyboard/synth player. And the following morning, the band posted once more to Facebook:

We would just like to thank each and every single one of you that supported us over the last four years. We couldn’t have done any of it without you! Praise Jesus for allowing us to do this for as long as we did. Though we are no longer a band, we will always be here for all of you. If you ever need prayer, feel free to message us on this page, or any of our personal pages.

We would love if you could pray for all of us, as we move on to the next chapter in each of our lives.

  • Zac and Cassidy will be getting married, and are becoming youth pastors of their church.
  • Christy will be finishing high school, and ministering through different things.
  • Levi will be continuing to minister through music in In Search of Reason.
  • Chris will be continuing to minister through music in Eight Days From December.

So please pray that we will always keep our eyes fixed on God, and always do what he wants.

God bless each and every single one of you.

Love,
Fat Kid Wins Cake.

FKWC may never be remembered nationally. They may never have another chance to play for certain audiences or in certain venues again. But their legacy lives on in Rockbridge County and beyond, and I am very grateful that they were a part of my life ever so briefly. And their music is still just as powerful as it was when I first heard it.

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Fat Kid Wins Cake was (left to right):

Levi Ryman — bass

Christy Dixey — lead vocals

Chris Oberholtzer — drums

Cassidy Dixey — keys/synth

Zac Montgomery — guitars/backup vocals

Should comedy be free?

This past summer, veteran comedian and TV personality Jerry Seinfeld spoke out about his annoyance with the prevailing attitudes of politically correct society — namely that society is becoming increasingly paranoid and far too easily offended. Seinfeld joined a growing list of celebrity comedians (including people as liberal as Chris Rock and as conservative as Larry the Cable Guy) who have declined appearances at college and university campuses. Seinfeld lamented that younger people, including the college-age crowd, can’t take a joke and instead resort to labeling everything as offensive.

In a summer that was one of the most controversial in recent memory, Seinfeld’s comments struck a chord with many. I include myself in that category; I’m sick and tired of people getting riled up over the tiniest little thing. A joke is a joke, people. Let’s lighten up.

YouTube personality and libertarian blogger Julie Borowski posted an excellent video on the subject, insisting that the PC culture is killing comedy. Here’s the link:

All this begs us to ask the question: should comedy be free?

Many comedians over the years have made us laugh and spoke to cultural issues with sharp, biting comedy. This is especially true in the world of standup comedy, where audiences are always in on the jokes and buoy the comedian’s individual performance. And while it’s true that many of these comedians are unfiltered in their opinions and frequently use explicit language, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad. In fact, most of these people have historically used their platforms as a way to expose real issues and real problems that society faces — racism, sexism, political corruption — the list goes on.

And while some have done it just to be deliberately provocative towards their audiences (Howard Stern, Joan Rivers) and not provide any real context for the shock-humor, many others actually have real opinions and don’t just do it for a paycheck. Despite controversy, these celebrities have found a place in a genre that was mostly kickstarted by opinionated people talking about real issues — such as George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, and Robin Williams.

But still, controversy inevitably comes calling. Whether it’s Daniel Tosh being forced to apologize for an improvised joke about gang rape, or if it’s British funny-man Sacha Baron Cohen getting slapped with lawsuit after lawsuit, comedy will always have some aura of controversy and faux-outrage behind it.

Baron Cohen is a good example. The man behind oddball, over-the-top characters such as Ali G, Bruno, and Borat has not shied away from controversy during his career. He was repeatedly slapped with lawsuits due to his mockumentary style of filmmaking, in which he would interview unsuspecting people in character and duping them in believing everything he said. Not surprisingly, this backfired several times.

In a rare out-of-character interview on The Today Show, Baron Cohen talked about how the character of Borat has been misconstrued. Consider that Borat, who is a raving anti-Semite, is played by Baron Cohen (an Orthodox Jew and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor) was the focal point of ongoing uproar. Baron Cohen explained that he believes that comedy should be free, and to isolate a certain nationality or ethnicity as something that you “can’t make fun of” is — in and of itself — an act of reverse discrimination, and can even be seen as pandering or condescending.

Similarly, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, are no strangers to death threats, litigation, or controversy. Entering its 19th season this fall, South Park has consistently provided side-splitting humor and biting, unforgiving satire. You might try to make a list of topics that South Park HASN’T made fun of….good luck with that.

Parker and Stone, who very much believe in the First Amendment, are fervently anti-censorship. They explained it in the commentary of an episode that made fun of Islam: “either all of it’s ok (to mock), or none of it is.”

That makes sense. It all comes down to freedom of speech in the end. You have every right to be offended, but censoring something will not make it go away. Conversely, you have every right to say something shockingly outrageous. It’s a two-way street, and I’m afraid certain segments of our PC culture have clearly forgotten that. Punishing or suing someone for non-defamatory reasons is a very slippery slope, because we all have the right to voice our opinions. Some opinions are true, but controversial. Some are false, and controversial. And still others are blatantly ugly or downright bigoted.

We all have standards of morality and decency. That’s perfectly fine and good. It’s part of what makes us unique, helps shape our worldviews, and helps craft a sense of ethics inside of us. But merely getting upset and demanding that someone else be silent because you yourself don’t agree with what they’re saying? That would be equally wrong.

People have the right to state their opinions. To classify something as “hate speech” bridges the gap between individuals, ignites the ongoing culture wars, and does not allow for freedom of speech or of rational thought. We’re creating a culture of victims who feel the need to cry wolf every time they feel even remotely offended or disturbed.

That needs to change. We all need to be able to laugh, and perhaps most importantly, we need to respect the rights of others to have their own views.

Frances the Mute (2005)

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Progressive rock has long been involved in the broader landscape of rock music. Ever since the British Invasion, there has been no shortage of psychedelic and prog-rock hidden between the cracks of mainstream radio rock. Most people have a lot of familiarity with the classics of the late 60s and most of the 70s, but I bet the average guy on the street probably wouldn’t be able to name a lot of experimental/prog-rock bands in the last couple decades.

One of them is The Mars Volta, a prog band from the dusty streets of El Paso, Texas that was active from 2001-2012. I’ve gone into great detail in previous posts about the career of The Mars Volta, specifically regarding the broader careers of vocalist/lyricist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist/composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. But I’ve never reviewed a full TMV album. So today, I’m changing that — by examining TMV’s sophomore album Frances the Mute.

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Rodriguez-Lopez wrote all the material on Frances the Mute while TMV was on tour promoting their debut album Deloused in the Comatorium. To understand Frances, one must first try to understand Deloused. 

Deloused was an excellent debut for the band, selling 500,000 copies in its first week despite limited promotion, and receiving lots of critical acclaim. And apart from that, it was a darkly-themed stroke of genius. Inspired by the tragic story of a childhood friend from El Paso, Deloused follows the fictional Cerpin Taxt, a damaged man who OD’s on a mixture of heroin and rat poison, slips into a coma, and starts battling the dark side of his mind. It’s one of the more ambitious and progressive albums of the decade, highlighted by Rodriguez-Lopez’s frenetic guitar riffs infused with heavy Latin and jazz flavor.

On March 25, 2003, in an eerie turn of events, TMV’s sound manipulator, Jeremy Ward, was found dead in his L.A. apartment of a heroin overdose. He was 27. The band was on the road when they heard and immediately canceled the rest of the tour.

So during the songwriting process for Frances the Mute, Rodriguez-Lopez was reminded of a story that Ward had once mentioned. Ward briefly worked as a repo-man and once stumbled upon an anonymous diary in the back of a car. Ward noticed several striking similarities between the author and himself, particularly the fact that they had both been adopted. Therefore, Frances the Mute became a story of an orphan trying to find his birth parents, while being guided along the way by various shady, eccentric characters.

Rodriguez-Lopez wrote and composed the entire album, with Bixler-Zavala penning the lyrics. Inspired by the methodology of Miles Davis, Rodriguez-Lopez brought the individual parts to the band members one-on-one, without allowing them to hear the part or the context of the part before playing it. Rodriguez-Lopez would play everything over slowly with the individual members, allowing them to become comfortable with the part.

“We’ll sit there and play it forever and slow—real slow—to understand what’s happening. It’s easy to play something fast and loud, but to play it soft and slow takes a certain amount of discipline. Then once we understand the part, everyone’s free to elaborate—their personalities come out and it’s not my part anymore; they get into and give it that swing that I can’t give it,” Rodriguez-Lopez said.

The band had a mixed reaction. Keyboardist/synth player Ikey Owens didn’t like it at all, but bassist Juan Alderete and drummer Jon Theodore had more positive reactions. Theodore said that it was the first time in his career that he had ever been so methodical about the recording process. “This was the first instance where I considered every single hit all the way through, every figure up to and including every change. There were no question marks,” he said.

Rodriguez-Lopez explained the method to his apparent madness: “When you’re in the studio ‘what ifs’ are your biggest enemy, so my general rule is, if it’s something you can’t live with, then we should examine it. Not that there isn’t a lot of refinement to what we do. Obviously there is, but I consider it a balance of raw energy and refinement.”

After an intense, demanding recording session, Frances the Mute was released on March 1, 2005 to positive reviews. The album is without breathers, with all songs fading into each other. Therefore, as a concept album, it’s designed to be listened to in one sitting, rather than being seen as individual songs.

The album is extremely experimental, blending jazz-fusion, math rock, space rock, and Latin-American music. It also features strange, eerie soundscapes, especially the beginning of track four (“Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore”). The song opens with the pre-recorded sounds of Puerto Rican coqui frogs, blended within a thick layer of synthesized fuzz and bizarre sound effects. Similarly, the final two minutes of the comparatively pop-sounding “The Widow” contains distorted, looped sound effects and extensive use of an organ.

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It’s an ambitious and epic record for sure. Rodriguez-Lopez’s ample use of effects pedals add plenty to the musical landscape. In addition to his unorthodox playing and epic solos, Rodriguez-Lopez eschews traditional sounds, using dozens of effects and manipulations to make his guitar sound weird, as well as his fondness of odd chord progressions (especially the tritone).

The opening track “Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus” starts with a Latin-infused acoustic part before blasting out of the gate with complex rhythms, changing tempos, and lengthy soloing courtesy of Rodriguez-Lopez. After 13 minutes of that, “The Widow” starts, with a more radio-friendly acoustic-based set of verses, before breaking into a Led Zeppelin-esque chorus and a soaring guitar solo. It’s by far the shortest song on the CD at five minutes 51 seconds, although it has a lengthy two and a half minute outro.

“L’Via L’Viaquez” boasts a very catchy salsa-style rhythm, showing off TMV’s Latin background, and it clocks in at about 12 and half minutes. Towards the end of the song, Rodriguez-Lopez has a dueling, back-and-forth duet with his childhood idol and primary influence, salsa pianist Larry Harlow.

Now here comes the fun part.

The aforementioned “Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore” and “Cassandra Gemini” contain numerous sequences respectively, coupled with lengthy jam sessions and trippy, synth-based weirdness. “Miranda” is four songs in one, totaling just over 13 minutes, while “Cassandra Gemini” clocks in at 32 minutes and 32 seconds.

This is clearly where the experimental side really begins to show. The two songs also include guest musicians such as Flea (bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers) on trumpet, and Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez on flute and saxophone, in addition to lengthy improvisation.

While sometimes I feel like the music can get a little too indulgent for its own good, it is still composed impeccably and everything flows together nicely for the most part. It’s just a matter of patience for most people — I mean, it’s a 77-minute album. It honestly took me two or three listens before I really began to appreciate Frances the Mute as some type of weirdly good CD — and something more than the outward pretentiousness and grandiose scope. And even now, when I listen to it, I alternate between feeling like “oh hey, this is really unique and interesting” and “OH MY GOD WRAP UP THE JAM SESSION AND START SINGING AGAIN.”

In fact, The Aquarian Weekly, while praising Frances and giving it an A grade, said “You have to be really patient to even think about getting into this record….a real heavyweight fight for a listener to get through.” Other critics agreed, praising the scope and sound of the record, but concurring that Rodriguez-Lopez & Co. would have to “rein it all in” on subsequent albums.

So in short, I very much like Frances the Mute, but I can’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t have a very open mind. I give it an 8.5/10.

Track Listing:

  1. Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus (13:02)
  2. The Widow (5:51)
  3. L’Via L’Viaquez (12:21)
  4. Miranda That Ghost Just Isn’t Holy Anymore (13:09)
    1. Vade Mecum
    2. Pour Another Icepick
    3. Pisacis (Phra-Men-Ma)
    4. Con Safo
  5. Cassandra Gemini (32:32)
    1. Tarantism
    2. Plant a Nail in the Navel Stream
    3. Faminepulse
    4. Multiple Spouse Wounds
    5. Sarcophagi

The Mars Volta is:

Cedric Bixler-Zavala — vocals/lyrics

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez — guitars

Juan Alderete — bass

Jon Theodore — drums

Isaiah “Ikey” Owens — keyboards/synth

Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez and Lenny Castro — additional percussion

Flea — trumpet

Adrian Terrazas-Gonzalez — flute/saxophone

John Frusciante — guitar on “L’Via L’Viaquez”

Larry Harlow — piano on “L’Via L’Viaquez”

String, brass, piano, and percussion arrangements by David Campbell