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Alter Egos: Dennis Modracek/Chris Carlson

  Cover Story  

Dennis Modracek, maintenance worker
I play a cornet. During my lunch break I practice in the old coal bunker of the Cornell heating plant. Most of my playing is with the Eastern Iowa Brass Band, a 30-member group that performs an average of 20 concerts a year and is a member of the North American Brass Band Association. We have attended 15 of the last 16 annual national brass band competitions, mostly with great success. At the 1998 competition in Lexington, Ky., I won the solo competition. I also play in three polka bands, the Mount Vernon Community Band, and church.

After high school, I didn't play for 20 years. In 1988, Jim Hakes, who was vice president/treasurer for Cornell, told me the Brass Band needed a cornet player for the competition. Jim played first chair cornet for the band and since he signed my paychecks, I could hardly say no.

In 1991, the Brass Band was invited by the Smithsonian Institution to perform for the American Folklife Festival. It was the first week in July, 98 degrees every day, and we played two concerts a day to 2 million people that week. There were 100 Porta-Potties in a row on the Mall. Best week of my life! In 1996, the Brass Band was invited to play for a ceremony on Mays Island in Cedar Rapids as the Olympic torch passed through Iowa. There was a huge video screen and I got to be on it (my wife tells me) when I played "Sugar Blues." Sixty thousand people attended that event. In 2000, I played a solo with the Cornell Wind Ensemble in King Chapel.

I love music. Through music I have made many friends. My philosophy is: "Life is short. Play loud!"

Chris Carlson, professor of sociology
I am a backyard beekeeper-I raise bees and harvest the honey the bees produce. My neighbor, Paul Corbin, and I have several hives of bees located in our fruit orchards. Depending on the season, we produce up to 300 pounds of honey each year, which is more than sufficient for home consumption, leaving plenty to give away to friends and relatives.

Bees in two- or three-pound packages are shipped via UPS in the spring and "installed" in the prepared hives. The bees build their honeycomb on a foundation in frames that are contained in each hive. The queen lays eggs in the lower levels of each hive, called the hive body, and the bees produce honey in the upper levels of each hive, called the supers. By the height of the season, in what is called the honey flow, each hive will contain tens of thousands of bees. At the end of the season, the honey is extracted from the supers and the hive bodies are prepared for the winter. Bees survive the winter on honey they have stored in the hive bodies.

Paul and I began keeping bees after realizing that lack of pollination was affecting the yields in our backyard fruit orchards. We decided that raising honeybees would be a good way to increase our rate of pollination and we would have the added benefit of producing honey for friends and family. Paul and I took a course on beekeeping, purchased the necessary equipment, and went into the beekeeping business, learning as we went along.

Surprising as it may seem, I find the actual task of "working the bees" to be very relaxing. Beehives must be checked and maintained periodically during the summer. It requires intense concentration and focus to work a hive so that the bees do not become angry and decide that their hive needs defending. Good beekeeping requires slow, careful, and methodical work.

Besides, I like fruit, I like honey, and I like to be outdoors. I also like my partner. I guess you don't have to scratch very much before you discover my rural Midwestern roots.

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