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Old 05-20-2008, 10:27 PM   #1
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Long-time lurker

(this turned out to be very long—sorry!)

I’ve been around the boards for a long time (long enough to remember John Galt and Cutthroat) and have occasionally posted, but not often.

Even though I’m not likely to RE in the same sense of most of you, I thought I’d introduce myself anyway. I’ve learned a lot from the boards and thank so many of you for good advice and interesting threads. And who knows, there might be others in similar situations as ours.

I’ll turn 58 in August, my wife 48 next December.

I’m a choral conductor and was a university teacher for 21 years (from 1983-2001 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA), but left university teaching to pursue some other professional activities (I’ve always been involved in these anyway). I was already conducting two choirs in addition to my university job and was quickly burning out. I could look at another 15 years or so at the university (I still loved teaching and my students), but felt I’d simply end up repeating the same things I’d been doing and not grow. In that way, it was time to move on into the insecure world of the freelance musician.

My wife is a visual artist and is just now leaving the same university, where she’s taught for 17 years, 15 of those full-time. She, the opposite of me, was adjunct faculty (i.e., poorly paid/bottom of the totem pole) and more importantly, never felt that teaching was her calling. She filled out the final forms and turned in her keys today and is VERY happy to be moving on!

We’ll do a COBRA (signed the papers yesterday and wrote the first check today), and we’re lucky in WA state that at the end of it we can sign up for individual health insurance with no screening for pre-existing conditions and will get the rate appropriate for our age/sex. This was a big plus. It’s still not inexpensive, of course ($824/mo currently), but is workable and we’ll explore other options in 18 months (most likely an HAS).

I’ll be beginning my 10th year as Artistic Director of a professional chamber choir in Edmonton, Alberta this fall and I continue to enjoy it very much. A YouTube video was bootlegged of the choir at our Good Friday concert -- -- if you’re interested.

We’ve corresponded off and on with Billy and Akaisha and have long admired their PT lifestyle. While that doesn’t work exactly for us (given my time commitments in Edmonton, where I arrive about 10-12 days before a concert for rehearsals), we’ve been able to do some interesting things. My doctoral dissertation, which was later published, is on Swedish choral music and that meant lots of contacts and friends in Sweden. Last year we spent about 7 weeks in Stockholm as a kind of self-made “mini-sabbatical.” I did some conducting prep work with the Swedish Radio Choir, certainly one of the best choirs in the world, and that led to an invitation to do more this year. Consequently, I was in Sweden from January 1 to February 9, then again from March 27 to May 15 (in between I had two different programs with Pro Coro in Edmonton and another filling in for an ill friend during my two weeks at home). I did lots of prep rehearsals for the Radio Choir, but also conducted their spring concert, which was in combination with a great jazz duo. The concert’s still on-line (for another week or two, I think) at: Sveriges Radio - P2.

I also have been writing a blog about what we’ve been doing at Richard Sparks - Music, Conducting, Choirs

We were able to afford this in part because we have a great friend (publisher of my book, she’s Swedish, but lives in S. Carolina) with an apartment in Stockholm, where we stayed. We seriously considered moving to Sweden last year, but for a non-EU citizen, it’s not easy to get a residence/work permit, so we’ll continue to visit as we can.

We also made changes to cut down our expenses. Following Billy and Akaisha’s “low cost living,” we bought a manufactured home in a small park last August for cash (including what we spent to fix up/upgrade) and our space rent is only $250/mo, which includes water, sewer, and garbage. Property tax is very low, about $550/year (we’re paying only on the home, since we don’t own the land). This keeps our “must pay” items low, should we need to really cut back, or allows us to leave for longer periods of time (as Billy and Akaisha do) without worrying to much about what we leave behind or how much it’s costing us.

My wife is exploring options for how to market what she does as an artist, but I have enough stuff lined up for next year that we can get by even if she earns nothing. I’ll conduct an opera in Edmonton in November and next May will be a guest professor at the University of Cincinnati (I did that for the fall quarter of 2006 as well—it’s where I got my doctorate).

My wife didn’t have any retirement fund when we met (about 12 years ago: she was on 3 different part-time contracts and getting NO benefits), so her rollover will be small, maybe $70,000. I rolled over my TIAA-CREF money into my IRA, so have about $770,000 there and we have a modest emergency fund. Don’t have any debts.

As long as I keep enjoying what I do (and more importantly, get ASKED to do interesting things, which is no guarantee!), I’ll keep at it. If it dries up, we know we can get by and, of course, I’m just a little more than a year and a half from 59 1/2 and being able to draw from the IRA without having to do a 72T, if we need it.

I have a “never say never” policy about teaching or other opportunites. I loved teaching, had a great time at the University of Cincinnati working with talented grad students and would consider going back in if the right opportunity came up. Of course, at almost 58 those opportunities get fewer and fewer! On the other hand, if I teach as a guest, I serve on no committees, go to no meetings, and don’t have to administer a program!

At the moment I don’t have anything in Sweden for the coming year, but we’ll see what happens the next season (they plan quite far in advance). We hope to go back next summer (2009) and spend time in Stockholm, Norway (my wife’s youngest sister lives there), and visit friends elsewhere in Europe. My wife has a possible exhibition in Sweden and I have a probable judging gig in Hungary. We’ll see.

Overall, we’ve tried to find ways to keep our freedom; still have time for other interests, family and friends; do things we enjoy doing; and have time for and with each other (one of the great advantages of my wife’s leaving the university is that she can travel with me whenever I travel).

Who knows when a full “retirement” might happen?
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Old 05-20-2008, 10:39 PM   #2
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Sounds like you'll be doing what you like, which is the second most important part of FIRE...first is having the funds to do it.

Good luck,

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Old 05-20-2008, 11:48 PM   #3
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Välkommen. Trevligt att ha en annan Svensk (eller Sverige-phile) här på forumet.
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Old 05-21-2008, 08:20 AM   #4
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Welcome, congrats and thanks for bringing some beauty into the world.
Take a look a Blue Cross/Blue Shield for health ins. I found it to be less expensive than Cobra. Look at the high deductable plans.
I'm single and pay 210/mo with a 5K deductable.
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Old 05-21-2008, 08:58 AM   #5
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What a wonderful life you and your wife have made!
Thank you so much for sharing your story and the engaged, active lives you enjoy!
Very inspirational.
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Old 05-21-2008, 09:04 AM   #6
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Thanks for the update! Is your manufactured home in Washington or somewhere else? I ask because your lot rent is relatively low.
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Old 05-21-2008, 03:27 PM   #7
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Nice intro. You and your wife are very accomplished people.

When or if your gigs stop, you wil have what will likely be a good SS check, so with the savings I suppose you two will be fine.

Cater to your wife- a walk-off would not help you very much!

BTW, I spent my middle and late teen years within walking distance of UC Conservatory of Music, and a brother became a horn player there. IMO, a nice place.

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Old 05-21-2008, 04:05 PM   #8
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Sounds like you've found the sweet spot.

What's Sweden like in January?
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Old 05-21-2008, 10:25 PM   #9
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Thanks to tall for nice responses.

Dex: we will look into Blue/cross/shield once our Cobra is over--most likely an HSA plan with high-deductible

Martha: yes, we're in Tacoma. Our space rent is VERY low (and we know it). It's a small park (around 20 homes) owned by a lady who build it on with her husband 22 years ago. She lives in a house at the front of the property. She has three sons, one of whom lives in one of the houses. She's happy to keep rent low to keep long-term residents. She's around 70, but her mother died a year or two ago at 95, so we hope she'll be around for a long time! We'd looked around quite a bit before buying this place and more typical rents are $500-600. One risk for us is that she dies and someone either sells the property for development (unlikely, there's lots of available land nearby without homes on it), or her sons/new owners quickly raise the rents to market rates (more likely).

haha: yes, CCM (College-Conservatory of Music) is quite a nice place--it was fun for me to go back and teach after being a student there, especially since they completely remodeled the building

Khan: Sweden in January is cold and dark, although they had a very mild winter this year and last with little snow. Most of the time we walked everywhere and hardly used the subway or bus. Even to the Radio (our longest usual walk) it was just about 40-45 minutes. The weather wasn't bad enough to keep us from doing this! For us, of course, being there in the main concert season was great--lots going on.
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Update--almost 2012
Old 12-22-2011, 10:05 AM   #10
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Update--almost 2012

An update to a thread a few years old as I "unlurk" again:

Even though I'm far from retired (and turned 61 in August, so very unlikely to be an "ER"), I still visit here regularly and enjoy the discussions.

I did take a job at the University of North Texas in 2009, coming in as a Professor in the College of Music. The job was attractive for a variety of reasons, partly because of a strong overall choral program and a colleague I wanted to work with, but also a strong early music program where I conduct the choir associated with it. For example, that group (the Collegium Singers) was invited along with the Baroque Orchestra to perform at the Boston Early Music Festival (one of the biggest in the world) last June. Here's that group doing the Vivaldi Gloria from December:


The second year at UNT (I'm now in my third) I was appointed as chair of my division, which means some administrative work in place of teaching (boo!), more money, but also a chance to do some good things for my area, which I've enjoyed. I teach with a lot of great musicians/people, which makes my job fun most of the time. And I work with a lot of talented students.

We rented for the first year and then found a very nice house in a great neighborhood--for these north-westerners, nice to have a somewhat hilly (for north Texas) terrain and lots of trees in the neighborhood: we have three big oaks and two flowering pears on our lot, and back up to a small, heavily wooded ravine/greenbelt which can't be developed.

House prices are incredibly cheap in Denton, so even with some remodeling we did, we were able to get this house for what would be a great price in most areas of the country. We kept our manufactured home in Tacoma, WA for a year, put it on and off the (bad) real estate market several times, and finally entered into a contract recently with our next-door neighbor's mother, so it's in process and we'll cash out when she sells her place. For us, it's incredibly nice, although it's not a lot of money, to get it off our financial radar (space rent, minimal yard upkeep and utilities, insurance, etc.) and minds.

Here in Denton, in less than 15 minutes I can be to school, parked and in my office. Denton itself has the ambiance of a relatively small town--it's the county seat and has a typical Texas courthouse square. Even since we've arrived, the area around the square has seen lots of nice development with new restaurants, apartments and condos--and we can be there in about 6-8 minutes. Dallas or Fort Worth are about 40-45 minutes away if we want the bigger city.

After this summer's record number of days above 100 degrees, we certainly miss the ability to do things out of doors during the summer! But there's the (partial!) compensation of lots of sunny days through the winter. We still miss our hikes in the area around Mt. Rainier!

This year has gotten crazier for me--and even further from retirement--since I was called in August about being Interim Choirmaster for a year at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas (Church of the Incarnation | An Episcopal Church in Dallas, TX), a large and very active Episcopal church with a particularly strong Anglican musical tradition and choral program, including an Evensong service each Sunday evening during the academic year. While this keeps me incredibly busy--Tuesday morning staff meetings, Wednesday night rehearsals, and essentially all day Sundays--it's proved to be incredibly enjoyable. The tradition is a great one and the repertoire that's performed (primarily, but not all, British repertoire from the renaissance through today, with composers such as Tallis, Byrd, Purcell, Stanford, Vaughan Williams, etc.) is a new repertoire to learn and enjoy. It makes for a busy schedule, but my wife is able to come along (except for Tuesday mornings) and she also loves music, so she sits in my office and listens to rehearsals while she does her own work and we can visit during the commute. The job is enjoyable enough that I've applied for the permanent position . . . and we'll see what happens. In a way, this takes the place of my conducting the professional chamber choir in Canada (Pro Coro Canada), which I reluctantly left last Spring after 12 years--but which was far too difficult to combine with a full-time university job and further distance.

DW is a visual artist and writer (both prose and poetry). She's recently discovered blogging as a way of expressing all the various sides of what she does. She started in July and has kept to a discipline of a blog post every day (and plans to keep to that schedule for at least a year), plus will begin to draw more regularly after the first of the year. She's particularly enjoying the community of fellow bloggers she's met online from all over the world. If you're interested in what she's up to, her blog is here: kiwsparks | Seeing the world through art-colored glasses

She's a talented lady!

All-in-all, we're both happy with what we're doing and where we are, so are grateful for that this Christmas season. I've always said that for any of the major changes (career-wise, place-wise, and personal) that I've made, I couldn't possibly have anticipated them even a year in advance. Who could have known that we'd move to Texas, I'd be back teaching again, that I'd be a church musician, that my wife would be a happy and contented blogger, etc., before it all happened? Not me!

My best to all of you. May you be happy and fulfilled wherever you may be, whoever you're with, and whatever you're doing.

Richard
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Old 12-23-2011, 01:31 PM   #11
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Sounds like you have a very full - and fun - life. Thanks for sharing the story/update!
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Old 12-23-2011, 02:01 PM   #12
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Welcome back Sparkee!

Denton may be north Texas to you and those around the DFW Metroplex but, where I come from Hemphill County, Texas - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia it's East Texas.

I do know what you mean about the value of a few trees and a little vertical relief (hills) in that area of the country though...very nice to have.

Glad you're both enjoying Texas.
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Old 12-23-2011, 05:21 PM   #13
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Glad you're both enjoying Texas.
Please, I beg of you, don't ever use those two words together in a sentence.
REWahoo will never let us hear the end of it.
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Old 12-23-2011, 05:54 PM   #14
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Please, I beg of you, don't ever use those two words together in a sentence.
REWahoo will never let us hear the end of it.
He thinks Texas is pretty nice... but it's everything else going on inside the borders that keeps others away.

I hear they're outta water anyway.
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outta water
Old 12-23-2011, 06:07 PM   #15
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outta water

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He thinks Texas is pretty nice... but it's everything else going on inside the borders that keeps others away.

I hear they're outta water anyway.
Most of Texas is in pretty poor shape. We're lucky around here that it hasn't been as severe. However, it's likely to continue to be dry with another year of (can't remember which!) El Niño or La Niña. And, of course, there's always the historical possibility that we're entering into a 5-15 year drought cycle. Or that climate change is helping the push into a hotter, dryer environment.

I know one of our plans is to get rid of our lawn and do xeriscaping + figure out how to use gray water for irrigation of plants and trees.

I'm not encouraging anyone to move here! Just sayin' my wife and I are enjoying it where we are.
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Old 12-23-2011, 06:14 PM   #16
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I'm not encouraging anyone to move here!
Welcome to the club...
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Old 12-23-2011, 08:33 PM   #17
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I'm not encouraging anyone to move here!
I know that feeling well. When I lived in Colorado back in the 1970s, there was a serious movement to set up some sort of internal passport system to keep the immigrants out.

Of course, the most undesirable immigrants were the Texans, but that was another issue.

Obviously, it didn't work, and Colorado's population today is about twice what it was when I lived there. Same for Texas. Meanwhile, Ohio (where I live now) is about flat for that time period, and New York (where I grew up) is up only slightly.

There's a nice resource here to look at population grown by state:
Population in the U.S. - Google Public Data Explorer
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