The Teen Beach Movie Balance

The day was (probably, around) August 10th, 2013. It was the time that Lady GaGa released her single “Applause” and Katy Perry released her single “Roar”. I had the ambitious idea to download both songs that morning in order to familiarize myself with the tunes enough to record a solo piano cover of each that evening. I hadn’t heard either song before but I listened to both recordings on a loop so playing them on the piano would be a trivial exercise later. I thought I’d be the first on the market with these covers and my YouTube channel would get the recognition it deserved in my head. But alas I was wrong. I was very wrong. There were already thousands of piano covers online recorded well before the official release of the single. I didn’t bother recording either song. I ended the day having nothing to show from this except embarrassingly high iTunes play counts for these pop songs. “Applause” was an otherwise worthless song but Roar seemed fun and worthy of a pop hit. It does sadden me a bit that my 4-year old daughter associates Katy Perry with “Eye of the Tiger” instead of Survivor.

You’re gonna hear me roar (if you’re quiet)

On the opposite end of this spectrum are the songs that I record myself playing for my annual Top 30 project. Most of these songs are too niche and have almost no audience for a solo piano rendition. My cover of Steep Canyon Rangers “Tell the One I Love” has 23 views after almost 2 years. It has no competition, but it also has virtually no audience.

My notable skill at the piano is my ability to pick up a song very quickly. This works great at a bar or a party (or just entertaining myself) but doesn’t translate well to a YouTube video. It’s assumed that a YouTube video is the polished best-effort and it’s not relevant how long it took the player to prepare. But there’s a balance out there for me somewhere; a tune that isn’t saturated by covers or that is too obscure for an actual audience. One where my video is the best simply because it is the first and only one. I found that balance in Disney’s Teen Beach Movie.

The movie came out in 2013, apparently seeking to re-create the magic of High School Musical with a new cast and setting. I don’t know exactly how I stumbled upon it but I like to think it was due to my 2-year old daughter who still repeats the phrase “ready freddie” from the movie today without knowing its origins. While it was a marginal hit for Disney it wasn’t the blockbuster sensation that High School Musical was. It had a cult following in the pre-teen crowd who may enjoy a piano cover of their favorite summer song, but not have the skills to perform it themselves. The solo piano version of a medley of songs from Teen Beach Movie has 17,000 views as of this writing, and while that may not seem like enough to brag about, it’s by far the most successful thing I’ve ever posted to the Internet. Here’s the video:

Why am I mentioning this now, two years after the release of both the original movie and my cover video? Teen Beach Movie 2 was just released in June and I felt compelled to again create a solo piano rendition of a medley of songs. I’m premiering it now. First!

But what if Teen Beach Movie is the trilogy we all hope it to be? Well, I guess I’ve leveled the playing field by revealing the secret. I’m up for the challenge.

My Top 30 Albums of 2014 — A Fact-Based and Self-Promoting Approach

Wouldn’t it make sense if all Best-Of lists were done deep into the following year? It would give the author time to reflect on the year as a whole and include December as valid month for artists to create. The answer is, of course, no. No one wants to work in December, artists and authors included, and by the time January comes around people have moved on to try and do something that will make someone’s best-of-the-year lists.

This is my annual list of my top 30 albums of the year ranked by iTunes play count. I play at least a portion of one of the songs on the piano simply because I can. A surprisingly early baby delayed it more than usual, but in the most beautiful way possible of course. My target audience (me) said it was fine to hand it in late.

1) Weird Al Yankovic “Mandatory Fun”

2014 was a big year for parody and novelty albums with Steel Panther, Weird Al, Paul & Storm and Brentalfloss. I mean those terms in the most endearing way.

Weird Al’s album was really the only chance for overlap with the Rolling Stones list (it didn’t make it). It takes the top spot on my list partially because I put so much time into learning the epic 9-minute closing track “Jackson Park Express” on the piano. It’s paid off since as of this writing (6/12/2015) it has nearly 700 views. That’s around 2 per day!

Per usual, my favorite songs are originals, style covers and the obligatory polka. The parodies are fine but get tiresome quickly. It’s my conceited belief that true Weird Al fans stay for his original work, and he just does the parodies to help pay for his songwriting hobby.

2) Transatlantic “Kaleidoscope”

2014 was the year of Prog Cruises (1 cruise). Listening to albums from the bands on the cruise brought back memories of rum, 80 degree weather in February, infinite salad/soft serve, and keyboard solos. For the aforementioned reasons, these albums got a lot of play this year. Transatlantic albums never disappoint and I’m happy to wait a few years between releases to keep the quality up.

3) Within Temptation “Hydra”

This was easily-digestible pop-metal to start off the year. For some reason I’m more forgiving of pop-metal when it’s led by a female vocalist.

What made this album interesting was the guest vocalists. Tarja Turunen was an obvious choice being a fellow corseted female metal vocalist. Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum was a less predictable choice but fit well. I can only imagine that they both just ran into each other having booked the studio at the same time and figured they mine as well do a song together. Xzibit rapping on “As We Run” reminded me that I enjoy rap when it’s used to balance out a non-rap song. It’s only when a song is entirely rap that it becomes boring. If it’s used in place of a bridge or guitar solo it can add interesting dynamics to any song.

4) Big Elf “Into the Maelstrom”

I enjoyed Big Elf’s first album after constant endorsement from Mike Portnoy. It wasn’t until I saw them on the Prog Cruise that I really got into them, including the first album and this strong follow-up.

5) If/Then Soundtrack

Quality musicals in this style are hard to come by. We get about one per year at most. I can only imagine the work that goes into these before the average person gets a chance to listen.

6) Old Crow Medicine Show “Remedy”

Another strong release that grows on you the longer you listen. “Shit Creek” is such a perfect title to a bluegrass song that it’s almost embarrassing that it took this long for it to happen.

7) John Gorka “Bright Side of Down”

Gorka will always be music to clean the house to. You’d think my house would be cleaner with this getting the #7 spot.

8) The Duhks “Beyond the Blue”

To me The Duhks will always be Leonard Podolak, Jessee Havey, Tania Elizabeth, Scott Senior and Jordan McConnell. I had the pleasure to see this line-up at the Burren in Somerville in February of 2014. I don’t think I realized how special the show was and that it may be the last time I see them with this line-up. After an energetic instrumental Tania looks at Jordan with the biggest smile and says “that was fun”. She meant it. They weren’t going through the motions and playing these songs for the millionth time. They were having fun in their original band knowing that many of their members were going on to bigger things.

The album by itself is a good enough album, but falls short of their classic albums (with Jessee). With the death of liner notes I’m not even sure Tania plays on this album. Her harmony vocals are certainly missed.

9) Tuomas Holopainen “Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge”

The album title almost reads as a joke, especially since it’s coming from the guitarist of a symphonic metal band. The entire album plays like the intro track to most other symphonic metal albums, but that’s a complement here. I hear bits of Yanni and David Arkenstone and didn’t miss the vocals at all.

10) Opeth “Pale Communication”

I’ve made my point about how the beauty of Opeth had always been the merger of clean and death vocals. Opeth has moved on and so shall I, and I can’t fault them for moving forward. I don’t expect another “Still Life”.

Primitive Survival Rating — Air Conditioner Edition

The Discovery Channel show “Naked & Afraid” ranks all contestants on their PSR, or, Primitive Survival Rating. I figured the show just made that up, but it’s a thing. The Discovery site has an online test so everyone at home can know their own PSR. I answered honestly with what I think I should do and got a 9.0 out of 10. In practice I probably would just hit refresh on my phone’s Foodler app looking for a pizza place that delivers to The Amazon until my phone, or my body, dies. I understand that the point of the quiz is not to access ones survivability, but to have something flashy to post to a Facebook page and drive traffic to their site. Regardless, if there was a question regarding air conditioners and roof access my PSR would have been lowered.

Late May is air conditioner season in New England. Homes are old enough where the installation of central air would be more difficult than having the the house torn down and built again. Instead we have individual-room wall units that cannot be installed gracefully, which I prove true every year.

I am old enough to have purchased a TV when they were massive boxes and not the nice flat kind that can be carried without the need to bribe friends. In the early 2000s I wondered why the technology of the television hadn’t drastically changed in 40 years. My wonder was soon answered with the advent of flat TVs. My wonder on why there is no flat (or HD) air conditioners (HDAC) has gone unanswered.

This week was hot and after a few nights just suffering though I decided to bring up the bedroom air conditioner. I wrote about the rough winter in a few earlier posts and glossed over jumping out this same bedroom window to shovel snow off the roof. Dropping 6 feet onto a pile of snow is fun, and falling down afterwards is kinda funny. But the same fall without the snow is less forgiving (but still kinda funny).

A young couple in the 70s create a makeshift shelter after getting stuck on the roof.

There are 2 windows that exit out onto the roof of my house, but at the time I was only focused on the bedroom window. As I put the AC in place I grabbed the usual pieces of wood to stick under and support the unit. It fell off onto the lower roof.  I grabbed the second piece of wood and it had the same fate. But I didn’t care, I could just jump out the other window like I did over the winter and place the wood in its place from behind, a much more convenient angle anyways.

I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. No shoes. I jumped out the window and as soon as I hit the roof I quickly thought ‘wow, that seemed dangerous’. Focusing on my task I put the wood in its place and was confident that the AC was now properly installed. I returned to the open window and quickly realized it’s not as simple to climb back into as I remembered it being in the winter.

The window ledge came up to my chest. I know what you’re thinking now. That can’t be that hard to climb back into. You’ve seen Tom Cruise jump to a window on an higher floor while hanging hundreds of feet above the streets of Dubai. But there’s a few factors in play. First, I’m no athlete. The entire first paragraph was there to foreshadow an event that would lower my PSR. Second, while Tom Cruise didn’t care if Dubai’s Burj Khalifa was damaged, I was looking to keep my vinyl siding intact. I could have grabbed onto the vinyl strip that based the window, and climbed up with my feet, but the siding would almost certainly have been compromised. There was a second thinner and harder lip to aid in keeping the window shut that was also a factor. This is the lip that proved most problematic.

Open Water 3: Roof

To my immediate right was where the roof begins to slope. I can climb the slope to get higher up, but the higher I climb, the further away the window becomes horizontally. I climbed a few feet to my right, just enough to stick one of my feed onto the ledge. Without shoes the aforementioned lip would unpleasantly dent into my foot. But even without that there’s no way I can fling myself through the window, and I don’t think anyone besides a circus-grade contortionist could have lifted themselves through the window at that angle. I switched legs and stuck another foot on the ledge. I’d fall in a different direction, and break a different arm, but the outcome would be the same. I tried the original leg again to get a proper sense a comparison, but it didn’t matter, this method wasn’t going to work.

It’s at this point that I realize I’m stuck. I’m not stuck in an urgent, life-threatening kind of way. I’m stuck in a somewhat comical way and I’m unsure how to escalate my need to get back inside. I looked down and the concrete driveway was 12 feet below me. The fall wouldn’t kill me, probably, but even I realized I’m not at the point of jumping yet. I could probably climb in through the other window which housed the freshly-installed AC, since that’s over the part of the roof that slopes. This means pushing the AC into the house, possibly damaging the unit, and I’d have to touch that ouchy outside part of the AC that designed to give parallel papercut-like wounds.

Now I realized I may be a spectacle. I paused for a minute and looked around at all my neighbors. I envisioned people settling in with a few beers and friends to figure out just how I was going to resolve my situation of questionable and confusing urgency. No one was in sight.

My next primal instinct was that of MacGyver. If I could just raise myself up by even a single foot I thought I could get in. I could have screamed for my wife and had her throw me up a step stool, but it seemed too early to call for re-inforcements. The only tools at my disposal were what I could sort of grab at in my 4-year old daughters’ bedroom. A fleece “Sofia the First” blanket was the only thing I could pinch and retrieve, but it served as my eventual tool for re-entry. I thought at first I could step on it, but no, that would raise me up by only a compressed inch, and then how would I get the blanket back.

The solution was to place the blanket over the window ledge to alleviate the pain from the dreaded window ledge lip. I was able to pull myself up using my forearms and eventually get my chest onto the ledge with my legs dangled at a 90 degree angle. Like the most graceful whale-on-land, I flopped through the window chest first, successfully completing my mission.

Each contestant on Naked & Afraid is allowed to bring one “helpful item”. In most cases they bring a hatchet or a fire starter. I’m not sure if I’d chose to bring a Sofia the First blanket as my “helpful item” but it would certainly solve the ‘naked’ half of the show title’s dilemma. In my situation a hatchet or a fire starter could have only made things worse. I’m grateful for the blanket.

On Stage 2 Tier Folding Z Keyboard Stand Review

It’s easy to think that the Internet has everything you could ever want. Sometimes it’s not until I’m looking for something very specific that I realize how young the Internet really is, and that it wasn’t created to answer my questions alone.

What I was looking for was a duel-level keyboard stand for 2 keyboards: a Yamaha p100 and a Roland Fantom G6. That set-up isn’t out of the ordinary and each keyboard met the appropriate spec for weight and shape. But I thought my intention was unique. Instead of using the stand to turn me into a rock star to be used on stage, the duel stand was really a space-saving solution. I wanted to be able to sit with the large keyboard and only be minimally obstructed by the second layer of keyboard. I’m a piano player first, and the Roland is really just a toy from my perspective. All duel-level keyboards are targeted to the live performer but I had to pick one and just hope it worked for my purpose.

No, no. I said one person and two keyboards. Simple mistake.


After reading some reviews I settled on the On Stage 2 Tier Folding Z Keyboard Stand, in part because it’s not the model that Guitar Center sells. For some reason this made the On Stage model seem of higher quality.

Yes, like this, but sitting.


Overall I’m happy with the purchase and I’ve used the new set-up for over a month now. I’ll talk about in more detail below, and actually create a bit of a review, as advertised, instead of the previous anecdotes. If you have no interest purchasing a keyboard stand the rest of this article will get very boring.


I was warned about the difficult set-up, and they weren’t wrong. The instructions were very general and not at all in the step-1, step-2, step-3 form that I’d expect. Looking at the picture of it fully assembled is a must. This was not a large concern for me since, like Ikea furniture, it’s a one-time project. I have no intention of bringing this set-up to live gigs. If used for touring this could be a deal breaker and I imagine I’d lose one of the “On Stage Stand” branded knobs in every city I visited.


You will look like a rock star with this set-up, regardless of intentions. Surprisingly, it didn’t take up much more space the single keyboard did previously. I found that it really helps to place a black keyboard cover of the top keyboard when not in use as demonstrated in the video below. This really helps with the top keyboard is decorated with hundreds of knobs, switches, widgets and flashing lights.

Or rock out.


Overall I can play the main keyboard in the same manner that I did before, which was the most important requirement. The Yamaha has built in speakers that aim upwards. With the new set-up it does sound a bit muffled as the Roland sits only a few inches above the speakers. This is often just motivation to turn on the external speakers.

Another factor I didn’t consider was how the set-up prevented reading music on the Yamaha’s built-in music stand. The top keyboard prevents this completely and you’re left with 2 options: either temporary remove the top keyboard or try and balance the sheet music on the top keyboard, somehow. I’ve resulted to the balancing option, but typically don’t play while looking at a book anyways. If you’re playing with a duel keyboard set up you’re assumed to be a rock star and rock stars don’t read music.

There’s no concerns about sturdiness. My playing style can best be described as organized banging and the stand never moves. Even the top keyboard can take a beating.


My old stand had 4 legs, like a simple desk. This Z set up may work great for the stand-up keyboard player but has its drawbacks when sitting. The bottom of the Z is long and easy to trip on. The middle part of the Z does hit your knees if you aren’t careful. With clever adjustments this isn’t a huge problem, but with I’m not wearing shoes I’m always cautious of getting bruises. So far no major damage done.

In conclusion I don’t think a better stand exists for my purposes.


Jason McGorty