Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cape Troubadour
Asbury Park has Springsteen, the Florida Keys have Buffett, Jamaica has Marley, and Cape St. Claire has our own Dirk Schwenk! Yes, the Cape has an up and coming musician/singer/songwriter to add to our ranks of talented and interesting local folk. Actually, Dirk has been honing his craft as a musician for some time, but with his solo performance at last year's Strawberry Festival, and now this year with his new band backing him up, we here in the Cape are just getting to know him as an artist.

I first became acquainted with Dirk as many of us Cape parents become acquainted - at the bus stop. During the school year, it's a morning gathering place for parents and kids from kindergarten through 3rd or 4th grade. The kids are always dressed for the day and ready to go, but as the year drags on, the parents show up with their cup of coffee in progressively more casual attire ranging from workout clothes to full on pajamas and slippers. (I have been known to show up in my turquoise-blue-with-pink-ice-skating-elephants flannel PJs.) The bus stop is a nice opportunity to have a quick chat with the neighbors while we wait for the freedom that comes with handing our kids over to the care of the public school system.

Despite a couple years of bus stop exchanges and the odd neighborhood Christmas party, I was unaware that Dirk was a musician. When we first met, he told me he was a lawyer specializing in waterfront related cases (good choice for this area). His wife, Stefanie, runs a top notch preschool out of their home around the corner called Best Beginnings. They have two boys, Connor and Luke, who are winding down 5th and 2nd grade at Cape Elementary, respectively. Who knew that the guise of an ordinary, nice looking, enjoyable Cape dad was just a cover for the next Cape Idol?

Music has long been one of Dirk's interests. He discusses it in his responses below to a set of questions I sent him for this post. Like most of us with hobbies or talents that we dabble with in high school, he didn't choose to pursue it in a serious way, instead following the more conservative, reliable path of an education and professional career. This is the wise thing to do in most cases. While there are exceptions with mad talent and drive that find success "following their dream", there are many more who don't and are left having to pick up the pieces.

The nice thing that I've found with blogging and that Dirk appears to be finding with music is that once you achieve a certain comfort level that those years of study and career-building or home-making afford you, you again have the opportunity to pursue those hobbies that you once put on the back burner. You might well even discover new ones. And by comfort, I don't necessarily mean financial comfort but a comfort within one's own skin - a recognition of what is important to us and the experience, maturity, and courage to give voice to it.

I wouldn't trade my work career at NASA that resulted from my math and science training, and Dirk clearly values his work as a lawyer (and it pays the bills!). I am very much enjoying, however, the side opportunity to tap into my inner-writer/journalist, and I see a parallel to what Dirk is doing with his musical interest. It's a second chance to explore that fantasy career that some of us set aside for more practical considerations.

Those of us with families and responsibilities may not have the time and energy to dedicate to a whole new career path (although some do successfully), but we certainly can make time to cultivate our talents and passions on a smaller scale. We do the things that we love to do best and often it's those things that have the most meaning and impact to ourselves and the people around us. If nothing else, it makes us more satisfied and well-rounded people and nourishes our spirit.

What hobbies have special meaning to you? Music, photography, cooking, writing, sports, painting, sewing? Maybe a little of everything! I would love to hear about the interesting talents my Cape neighbors pursue. Tell me about them in the comments.

I'll quit and let Dirk tell you more about himself and his music. Below is the list of questions that I sent him and the responses that he so generously provided. Join him at the Cape Strawberry Festival this Saturday, June 11th. Dirk will be performing at 11:45 with his new yet-to-be-named band, and according to his recent Facebook post, "should not totally blow."  I'm anticipating better than that from our local lawyer turned troubadour. Any of you planning a big party this summer better line him up!

I will be at the Strawberry Festival as well to hear for myself. My kids will be manning one booth or another between youth sailing and girl scouts (my daughter is not a scout, but her friends have asked her to join them). I will be at the Broadneck Patch table/booth with the other Patch bloggers (a blather of bloggers? a bevy of bloggers? a blunder of bloggers? a blight of bloggers? - if you don't get this, it's because you haven't read my previous post A Murder of Crows!).

OK, now I'll let Dirk speak (his responses are in italics). Thanks again, Dirk, for taking the time to provide thoughtful answers. Best of luck Saturday!
So, I know from our bus stop days that you and your wife, Stefanie, have 2 boys who attend CSC Elementary. What grade are they in now? I’ve lost track since my two went to middle school.
My boys, Connor and Luke, are finishing 5th and 2nd grade right now.  Connor will be at Magothy Middle (I think!) next year.  
How long have you guys lived in the Cape, and where did you live before that?
We moved to the Cape in the Spring of 2005, when it began to sink in that we would need to send our children to school. Before that, we owned a house in Eastport and rented for a long time near the stadium in Annapolis. We have been together in or near Annapolis since about 1992.  
What brought you to this neighborhood?
We liked the big trees, the schools, the water access, and the more casual atmosphere. We were also strongly influenced by the fact that my Mom and Stepdad live here.  
When I first met you, you told me that you were a maritime lawyer, by trade. Are you still practicing law, or have you left the courtroom behind (quit your day job) for your musical career?
I am still practicing law. Mostly I am working on cases involving waterfront property and water access, nowadays. I can't really see going to a full time career in music, as the grind of travel is not really what I love in life, and I love my lawyer-job, too, but I am very glad to have people hear the music. Its nice to feel like I shouldn't hide that anymore.
I actually had no idea that you were a musician. I see on your website that you played in a band back in school. Have you always been involved with some kind of band, or are you just getting back to it?
I have always played something -- I can remember Mommy and Me music classes when I was very small; I played clarinet in the band through high school; I started bass guitar in high school and guitar shortly after that. I learned and wrote in college, and had various bands then and for several years after. I took a long break up until a few years ago in which I did not play outside the house and pretty much everyone knew me as a lawyer or a sailor or through sports. I have always felt very shy about telling people about my music, and I was positively horrible about getting gigs. Just in the past few years I have started to play in front of more than just family again. 
How long have you been writing music?
My senior year of high school, my buddy John Metters -- guitarist in the band I played in in high school -- came to me with a chord progression and a title: "Ode to Backseat Cushion." I took his idea, moved things around a bit, and came up with a song I still think is pretty good -- it certainly captures where our minds were in high school, and I still play it sometimes. Since then I have always written songs. Most get tossed in the garbage, but hopefully find one or two decent songs a year. Since I have been back focusing on music, I am writing more, but time will tell whether the new songs are really good enough to keep around.  
Do your boys play musical instruments? Stefanie?
Not really -- I am hoping to get Connor going on bass guitar so that I can turn him loose on my other band, Generation Gap, but so far that has not really reached top priority. They will sing with me sometimes, if they are of a mind.  
Do they think it’s cool that Dad is in a rock band?
My boys are pretty tough critics, but at least they don't seem to mind. They like a good party, so that helps.  
Who are your band-mates, and how did you meet?
Right now the band consists of Phil Runk on bass and Curtis Cunningham on drums and myself on guitar and vocals. Phil and Curt have played together in various bands all the way back to college. I met Phil at the Lake Claire beach one day when I was sitting around playing guitar -- he is a Caper as well. We decided to try to play a few songs to see how it went, and here we are ... about to debut the thing at the Strawberry Festival.  
Where do you practice and how often do you get together with your band and practice?
Phil has a complete band set up in a room in his basement and his wife and Mom have been good enough to allow us to bang around down there while they cover his kids. As a band we have been getting together about once a week -- we'll get together twice this week before Saturday. The first day that Phil and I met, he told me that whatever it was that I was writing, it would not be too hard for them to learn. Luckily, he has been right, and even introducing songs that they have never heard before, things have come together surprisingly fast. We will not be perfect on Saturday, but we should be pretty good. 
What instruments do each of you play in the band (the kid across the street from me plays drums if you’re in need of a drummer – may as well put him to work if I’m going to have to listen to him practice anyway…)?
See above, but Phil also plays guitar and other string instruments, and I play bass in another band that is playing on Saturday, Generation Gap. I am just OK on bass, but it is a very fun group of people fronted by Dan Tobin from the Cape. And I've heard your neighbor is pretty good!
Did you have formal guitar training, or did you just teach yourself? Do you play any other instruments?
On guitar, I took one semester in college, but for the most part I am self-taught. I did learn a great deal about music and presentation of music playing in band and singing in middle and high school musicals. My high school band teacher, Mr. Brown, was excellent, and really emphasized that we had to use dynamics and tempo to capture a song. I am sure he would be surprised to know I learned something from him, since I hardly practiced and wasn't very good, and he eventually had to kick me out for getting in trouble on the band bus.  
How does Stefanie feel about your pursuit of a musical career? Is she your biggest fan, enthusiastically supporting your dream, or does she roll her eyes a little and humor your musical hobby? Maybe a bit of both depending on the day?
Stefanie is my second biggest fan after my mother. (Aww - comment injected by Cape Blogger) She would probably be my biggest fan, but she is worried that I will get a big head and that I will not help get the boys ready for school or unload the dishwasher. She does support me greatly in everything that I do, and without her support there wouldn't be either a legal career or a band. I wrote the lead song on current CD "I've Been Thinking" for her and about her, and I am still somewhat stunned and appreciative that she picked me out of the available guys on the planet. (Once again, Aww...)
Who are your favorite musical artists?
Right now, I love Ben Harper and Jack Johnson because they are all putting out new songs that resonate without engaging in anything that is too formulaic or too conscious of trying to be popular. I have great respect for Tom Petty, Paul McCartney; Paul Simon and that generation of songwriters that are still putting out good music 40 years into their careers. I love outlaw country -- Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash especially -- and the Rolling Stones. Mostly though, I love good songwriting in almost any era or genre -- I can cry about the passing of Bob Marley pretty much any day or time. 
I know you workout a lot at Big Vanilla (because I'm there so much...right?). Do you use an iPod or mp3 player, and if so, what are 5 songs on it (come on, tell me the embarrassing ones – I confess I have John Denver, Little River Band, and Celine Dion on mine – now you go…).
I am sure that if I had an ipod, I would have embarrassing things on it -- I like John Denver and I would have all sorts of country and punk music I probably shouldn't admit to. I don't have an ipod though, because I always put them through the wash and ruin them, and also because I like to chat at the gym more than I like to work out. In a vulnerable moment, you could get me to confess that I think I should know the pop music they play at the gym, just in case Big Dreams came calling.
What other gigs have you and your band played (old band and new), and what would be your dream gig (I’m not talking the Verizon Center or Wembley stadium – locally speaking).
The new band's biggest gig so far was in Phil's backyard for a crowd of about 20. My old bands played some of the bars in Chestertown and Annapolis, but none that are even in business anymore. My dream gigs ... Well, even this time last year it was just to do a party or two as a solo guitar player, so things are being ratcheted up a bit just lately. But all of my dream gigs are outside with a nice crowd, maybe some sand and a water view. Locally, next year I would like to do some of the things like Bands in the Sand and Eastport-A-Rockin -- the festival atmosphere appeals to me much more than a late-night bar.  
I love that you did the photoshoot for your website at Fairwinds Beach.
I think it’s such a pretty spot (the subject of my blog header photo, as well). Did you have those done professionally, or do you have a talented photographer in your life?
I love that beach, too -- its my favorite place in the Cape. The pictures were taken by Heather Mckay Bowes,, who lived in the Cape until last year. Her profession is photography and her passion (as opposed to her bread and butter) is photographing musicians. She did me an incredible favor taking those shots on one of her last days before she moved. Having met me in person, you can see what an incredible job she did!
I actually took the photo for my blog one morning when I dropped off my son for sailing camp. I believe your son(s) participated, as well, and I see on your Facebook page that sailing is a hobby of yours. Do you have a boat and/or get much opportunity to sail?
The boys are in Cape sailing, and we get out some casually on various boats, but as far as serious racing, I have hung up my sailing boots for now. I sailed on my high school and college sailing teams, and Stef was crazy (and supportive) enough to let me use some of the money that we got for our wedding to buy a small racing boat, even though she was not a sailor. She and I actively sailed and raced during the 12 years that I was not doing music, and got pretty good. When we were in babies, racing was a great weekend escape and a time to work together as a team. We are always looking for ways to get out on the water, but our race boat is for sale.    
What’s your favorite thing about Cape St. Claire?
We love all the beaches and water access and we love the more casual neighborhood feel.  

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