New website features

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So, some of the most exciting things that are happening right now have to do with fixing some of the things that have been bugging some loyal customers.

Shortly after releasing “Maybe” to Symposium members first (You have joined the online Symposium, right?), some users started to have issues checking out. In particular, the “spinning wheel” loading icon wouldn’t stop spinning, nor would the checkout process complete.

Any problems with Alijam Music are generally either server-based (my end) or browser-based (your end). Problems on my end generally result in a white-screen-of-death “500 Internal Server Error” (if I’m unaware of what’s happening), Cloudflare displaying the Internet Archive’s latest snapshot of the site (also if I’m unaware of what’s happening), or a Maintenance Page (if I’m aware of what’s happening and am trying to fix it without keeping the website operational). Server errors can also result in erratic behavior, like menu items not going where they are supposed to go, or getting a different product than the one you ordered. Sometimes these are directly my error, sometimes, these are caused by the website’s theme or plugins.

Now that I’m in more control over the server, I also have more responsibility. I can’t just send a support request to the webhosting service anymore. I get to Google what’s wrong and try the solutions I’m given.

Browser-based errors tend to result in things like “stuck” pages, or wrong images being seen on pages, or old information being seen, like prices from the day before when they’ve been changed on my side.

The easiest and first solution you can try is to press function key F5. This is a keyboard shortcut for doing a “hard reload” of a webpage. This causes the browser to toss any information it kept about the website and get all the information fresh from the server. You may have to input purchasing details again, but the page is more likely to work.

If that doesn’t work, you could try deleting all the cookies and cache from your web browser. This usually signs you out of most websites (including Alijam Music), but it also forces your browser to get everything from scratch once again. Sometimes it is more effective than the F5 approach, but it requires going into your browser settings to delete cookies and other website data.

If THAT doesn’t work, it is possible that your browser may not be working correctly. It might not be updated to the latest version, or, in rare cases, you’re using a browser that is known to have some issues with the website. Safari, in particular, seems to be a troublesome browser to use; you might have better luck downloading and using another browser for Alijam Music, like Firefox or Chrome or Opera or Brave.

If you’ve gotten to this point and still are having issues, then it’s time to contact me and let me know what’s happening. You can help me when you tell me about a bug in the website by telling me what browser and operating system you use (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, Linux, Chrome), and by telling me what error message, if any, that you’re getting. I may ask some follow-up questions to help me narrow down what to look for in the logs: one of the great things about learning how to manage an internet server is that I understand more of what the logs are describing, which makes it easier to find a solution.

Given that I had to tell people about refreshing their browser window or trying a different browser, I found this really cute floating FAQ/Troubleshooting plugin and have populated it with several of the more common questions I’ve been asked recently. I’ll keep adding to it as more common questions are asked.

As always, I cherish value each and every one of you that has chosen to use some of the music I’ve composed and arranged. It is an honor to create for you.

Stories from Lakeland

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The Florida State Music Teacher’s Association conference met in Lakeland for the first time in person since the pandemic. Alijam Music was one of a handful of exhibitors.

The exhibit hall was in the choir rehearsal room, a fair distance away from all the goings-on. Even with the lure of refreshments, it was a pretty slow event. It WAS fantastic to see old friends and new faces, reconnecting and connecting.

The commissioned composer’s work was absolutely amazing! A work for unaccompanied violin that merges music styles from the Chinese tradition with the style of Appalachian fiddle music.

And as always, I pledged to compose a piece for the event, and probably during the event. (I’ll start putting these pieces under a “conference” tag so anyone interested in the pieces I write for these events is chronicled.)

I either write a piece based upon the theme of the conference, or its location. 2018’s MTNA conference spawned the Coronado Suite, while the 2017 FSMTA conference that was at the Biltmore (which was cancelled because of Hurricane Irma) had inspired my Biltmore Syncopations. The 2019 NCKP conference found me writing an arrangement of There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight as well as the Windy City Waltz. My 2019 conference in Colorado included a piece called Mile High (melody created from superimposing a map of the Rockies onto sheet music). The 2018 FSMTA was again at the Biltmore (live this time) and I created the Vanderbilt Recreations for that conference.

The piece I started composing on Friday was quite fast, which meant I needed to locate some kind of chase or race event that happened in the area, whether it was a bank robbery getaway or a race between a train and a horse or something similar, to get a title and story for the piece.

And so I began research on the city of Lakeland, Florida. The trivia that stood out the most for me as regarding the piece was how important Lakeland was to early auto racing. A track was built in 1924, according to one source, but I couldn’t find any images or newspaper/magazine articles about it. An oval track and drag strip built in 1960 did have some images, and it was from the Lakeland Motorsports Complex that I wrote a sequel to In the Fast Lane and Speed Limit 208; Lakeland Drag Races.

I couldn’t find a suitable royalty-free image of 1960s drag racing, so I called upon AI to help me make an image.

These were the images that got created from the prompts:

I kept asking for the cars to have ONE driver, but the AI never did that. I ended up choosing the image with the yellow car (that doesn’t have a driver!). The greyscale image was from when I was still looking for information about the 1924 speedway. (I scrapped that idea when I realized the piece doesn’t sound like a 1920s piece in any form.) The two red cars image I didn’t use because it looked more like a NASCAR race than a drag strip race. The image with the blue car would have been great except that drag strip races I recall seeing are usually between two cars at a time, and not at least 7 as that image showed.

I spent more time on the image than I did the piece; the composition came together quickly because I planned a lot of pattern play and repetition into it.

Holy cow, the store is back online! (kinda)

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So, if you’ve been clicking every once in a while just to see a Maintenance page, you deserve an explanation.

During the pandemic, my website suffered a severe fatal crash, and my webhoster (who had previously been happy to help me with anything wrong with my website) decided to bail on me and tell me to hire a WordPress developer.

I soon discovered that at least part of the crash was related to a bad backup from 2017, when I started to have consistent problems with the website.

I decided that I really couldn’t trust other webhosters, because, while they harbor no ill will, just don’t have the resources to troubleshoot and fix those kinds of issues.

So I taught myself how to administer and harden a server, and am managing the whole thing myself.

That’s when I discovered I would have to re-enter all of my products by hand.

And I started thinking that I should go back to the drawing board and learn from the mistakes and create a web experience that is vastly improved from what I previously had.

I got overwhelmed with this, and entered a long period of major depressive disorder: one that damaged me, my partner, my students, and those who were looking to me as one of the providers of good music for their students. On the outside, I would seem okay, if melancholy, but inside I felt like each moment was just one step away from falling down so far that I wouldn’t be able to get back up.

My partner ended up giving me an ultimatum to get more treatment than I was already getting, because they couldn’t help me anymore. I felt like I was going to push forward only to have everything come crashing down on me. I resisted getting more help for quite a while.

All this time, I kept telling myself I would get more products back in the store, and get the store back online. But I never did.

Until recently, when my psychiatrist started me on a new medication (that my insurance doesn’t cover and is $1300/month), but this medication, along with the individual and couples therapy sessions I’ve invested in, has seemed to make a difference that *I* can notice, let alone others.

What does this mean for you?

Well, the website is back up, but as you can see, many products have not yet been put back in the catalog. That will happen over time, as well as new pieces.

I thought I had kept all the previous ordering information and would be able to recover everyone’s account, but the database was too corrupted for me to do so. You *may* have stuff saved, but you might not. If you still have email receipts from previous purchases, I’ll honor them and restore your library as soon as I can.

I’m not selling hardcopies to the public at the moment; only to dealers.

There may (nah, there WILL) be kinks and quirks and errors that still have to be ironed out, but what you see is the result of a long time of trying to figure out what would make the best experience.

I’m starting a blog of sorts that gives me a chance to talk about my recovery from and my learning to control Major Depressive Disorder. And discuss new things about Alijam Music.

I’ll write a post soon about some internal changes and what to expect from me as far as compositions, arrangements, and other products go.