Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy Hogmanay!

I guess if we were in Scotland now, for New Year's Eve, we would be wishing everyone "Happy Hogmanay!" It is their name for this date...probably from olden times when you wished people to have "many hogs", a form of wealth in the new year. It is celebrated now by children going about singing and asking for gifts. It is also the name of a gift, cake or treat given on New Year's Eve. Its origin are actually "unknown". I would guess that after tasting one of those "Scotish treats" called "Blood Pudding" one would promptly forget the origin of "a lot of things".

"First Night" is also another name for this evening, especially in New England around Boston. It was started back in 1976 by a small group of artists and has spread from there. It hasn't made it out here on the the "left coast" yet. Maybe "Times Square" might have a form of it tonight with the millions jammed in there to watch "the crystal ball drop" and get roaring drunk. Not for me. I do like the idea behind "First Night" - an outdoor, artistic and cultural celebration from the afternoon until midnight. It would probably be a bit frosty to be outdoors all that time in New England without a little "warming spirits" in you. It would be fun to see a community's local culture, music, dance, comedy and art with plenty of food, fireworks and "ice sculptures". They wouldn't melt too fast. Might even last until "Groundhog Day" (ala Bill Murray)

Betty and I have gone through several New Year's Eve "traditions" in our lives. Now we mostly enjoy staying home, cuddling in with a cozy book or movie and a "wee dram of chambord". We just had Swedish pancakes with lingon and raspbery syrup from Wisconsin (thanks Patti & Roy)
We were out late (8:30) last night to a "house warming" party in Hemet. An "investor friend" of ours was holding forth. Betty, our designated driver, "touched not a drop" for the challenging drive back over the hills on Hwy.79 and its winding, single lane, truck-hogged lanes.

My favorite New Year's Eve custom over the years was when our church youth group would gather for the "Watch Night Service" at the sanctuary and after "praying-in the New Year"(on our knees) we would all go over to a "friends house" (like Gloria's) and have late night/early morning snacks before bundling up and hiking to the start of the Rose Parade on Orange Grove Ave. We'd bring blankets etc. and "keep warm" with our latest "squeeze" By the time the parade started we were all pretty sleepy. My dad and I would also get up real early (5AM) and drive to West Pasadena, park the car and walk across the "suicide bridge" (before freeways) over the Arroyo Seco ravine. We carried a "half ladder" to lean up against the corner of a building at the bottom of the first hill the parade came to on Lake Ave. He would be at the top of the ladder taking 16mm film/home movies and I'd be at the bottom one or two rungs trying to see over the heads of all the "interlopers" We'd then have the parade to show/plague ourselves/friends with for the rest of the New Year. When we were trying to raise our four boys we wanted to give them that same "special parade feeling" so we hiked from East Pasadena (Sierra Madre) to the end of the Parade route to set up our ladder/chairs we had carried. Then "personal-space invaders" would come late and crowd around us with all kinds of interesting smells and dialects. So much for that. Now we stay home and have a better view over and over on several different TV channels (favorites Stephanie Edwards and ? forgot his name). This year, no parade until Monday, Jan. 2nd because the 1st falls on Sunday. The founders of the "Tournament of Roses" back in the 1890's ruled against Sunday parades. "Blue Laws"? no, they didn't want to frighten the coach horses tied up outside the churches along Lake Ave.

This has never been a time for "Resolutions" for me. I make them all year long with the same results, little success. I'm still working on one that I made when I started this Blog last May. It has made me more mindful of my everyday thoughts and interest/ideas for sharing and it has helped me "preserve" my life as I see it or have seen it. But still the nagging problem...that won't just "fad away". It has also given me a "wealth" of "perquisites" (perqs) that are both unearned and delightful. I'm referring to many new contacts, comments, ideas and sharings that serrundipidously(?) keep happening with it's exposure on the internet. I resolve to continue "blogging/posting" mainly as a discipline and exercise to become more observant and mindful of my "present" and "past" experiences/thoughts and what a wonderful life I am having. Happy News Year! Bob

Monday, December 26, 2005

Xmas "05

This is the specially printed program of our "Holiday Extravaganza". I'm sure it is the first annual performance of our "Grand" Children. It had piano solos, dancing, solo singing, joke-telling, group singing, you name it. The kariokee(?) mic and loud speaker was a key feature. Cameras were flashing, Gramma was dancing with Stone, Shelby was such a sweet soloist. Beginning piano lessons were quite evident. It was a group effort and well planned. This was one of the real "joys" of Christmas for us.

Above and to the right is a special gingerbread house made by the Burgan Family at a special event at Downtown Disney. It was the centerpiece on the kitchen island of a wonderfully delicious feast provided by all. It started with "Fruta Soupa" and "Cardamon Coffee Cake", Senseo Cofffee and delightful finger food. Then, after the "gifting extravaganza" the dinner was displayed and servered. Trevor was at his best and in his element with the "roast beast" and special traditional, requested dishes. Shireen brought it all together with her ability to organize and decorate. She introduced and "won" the "hit game" of the day called "Left, Right, Center" with real one dollar bills. It is played with 3 dice, so labeled plus a dot which indicated that the tosser could keep the money in front of him/her. It was great fun. Everyone had their favorite gifts to give and receive in the spirit of the day. It was only slightly damped by the sickness (fever) of Layla and Brooks. There was talk and guessing of the "chosen name" of a baby girl expected in May by Miriam and Shane. No secret names were revealed.

There were 3 or 4 cell phone calls to and from Clark and Soren at their Xmas celebration. We missed them and will see them tomorrow no doubt. Clark has been home now more often with his new job being closer and regular hours. He and Soren are such "buddies". Soren may also have a new brother or sister soon. We, grandparents, are so blessed with these wonderful kids and grandkids. We wish we could see them all more often. Maybe when I retire for good this next year that will be more of a possibility...I hope...good health continuing.

The first recorded celebration of Christmas on December 25 took place in Rome in 336 A.D. Church fathers designated Dec. 25, the birthday of the popular pagan god Mithras, as Jesus's official birth date. The celebration of the birth of Christ also took over the pagan winter solstice holiday, which like the birthday of th sun god Mithras, fell in late December. From thereon December 25 was to be observed as a holy mass, or "Christ's Mass. Christmas is from the Old English words for Cristes maesse, "the mass of festival of Christ". The exact date of the Nativity is not known, but even in pre-Christian times the period from Dec. 25 to Jan.6 -now known as the "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - was considered a special time of year. The abbreviation "Xmas", thought as sacrilegious by some, is entirely appropriate. The letter X (chi) is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.

I've heard that if the baby Jesus was born around, what is now Mother's Day, he would've been conceived(?) around Dec. 25th. I also heard that a turkish monk from Istanbul/Constantinople who eventually became St. Nicolas was the the one who established the tradition of giving to others (less fortunate?) and that his birthday has been honored in many different names (like Santa Claus) So it is a multicultural day of feasting and giving and honoring children and the birth of them...they are our hope and continuation in the future. We love the so. Bob!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Winter Solstice

Yes, today is the Winter Soltice for this year. The word "winter" comes from an old Germanic word that means "time of water" and refers to rain and snow -as well as low temperatures- of the season in middle and high latitudes. In the Northern Hemisphere, it is commonly regarded as extending from the winter solstice (the year's shortest day), December 21 or 22, to the Vernal Equinox, the start of Spring. The word "winter" came into English circa 888. The soltice is one of the two times of year when the Sun's apparent path is farthest north or south from the Earth's equator. In the Southern Hemisphere the situation is exactly the opposite where the Winter Soltice is June 21 or 22. The word "soltice" is from Latin solstitium, from sol "sun" and sistere "to stand still" as it is regarded as a point at which the Sun seems to stand still. It was first used in English around 1250.

One of our customs during this time of year ie. Christmas is to decorate our home with traditional evergreen boughs, trees, ornaments. Being part Swedish and German we love to put up things that remind us of that heritage that we have collected. Speaking of "counting blessings", this is one that I love to "count" every year. My wonderful wife will not let me put a picture of her in this blog and so I'm putting some of her beautiful decorations in it. She "decorates" our life, always has. Her inner beauty shines through and with her lovely appearance and her "artistic accents" I feel I have a true blessing in this way. We used to put up the "live" tree together after we went to cut it down. I would cut off an inch of the trunk and get it in the sugar water and screw in the clamps. She would make sure it was straight. Then we'd do the lights and I'd help with the ones too high for her and the "angel" on the top. Now, we have two, smaller, artificial trees (pictured here). One is all red, green and has traditional straw ornaments from Sweden. The other is filled with her collection of Lennox tea cups, bows etc. We try to have this all done by today, which was also my mother's birthday. The presents go into the trunk of our car on their way to our sons' home in Laguna Niguel...and Ontario. We also like the small figurines of kids in a snow scene. Needless to say, we have no snow, no cold weather either this year...near 80 degrees.

Another Soltice tradition for me is finding and listening to the seasonal music. I have already published two posts on my two favorite local choirs. Last night I heard probably the best concert I've ever heard by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from Temple Square. I used to listen to them every Sunday on the radio before church. They are the best in their immense sound with that massive organ. This time, most of their songs were without sheet music, memorized. The first song was a departure for them with live dancers coming down the aisle from everywhere, just so beautifully staged using the whole massive tabernacle...exiting up through the choir. The hand bells intersperced throughout the choir played by members was so effective in "Ding Dong Merrily on High" Audra McDonald, Toni winning soprano, came out and did five familiar carols. The best in my opinion was "Children Go where I Send thee." Then there was a single ballerina doing the Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy. It was so precise and elegant. "Whence is that Goodly Fragrance Flowing" was new and mezmorizing to me. Lovely. Then a real shocker, "Betlehemu" a Nigerian Carol with all the drums (16) and movement by the choir (swaying), clapping and responsive "shouting"(Eng. sub-titles) So not what you'd expect from the M.T.C. Then more familiar carols/sing-along (yeah right) with Audra with the best at the last..."Deck the Halls" with a different, syncopated up beat. Then a gem of a Polish carol "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly". I saved the tivo recording just to hear it again. Then the spoken Christmas Story (Luke 2) by Peter Graves and the accompanying orchestra and choir and the finale "Angels We have heard on high" Fantastic! Standing "O's"

I have yet to listen to St. Olaf's Choir from Trondheim, Norway. I can hardly wait. Bob

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Count Your Blessings!

If you want to hear a different version of this familiar hymn check out the new "Christmas Companion" 2 CD album from the Prairie Home Companion and Garrison Keillor. This has John Mc Donough singing a charming version with accompaniment by the PHC regulars Dwarsky and Stein. It makes you think at this time of year especially. I miss not hearing that wonderful, weekly, old fashioned radio show from "Lake Woebegone" (St. Paul, MN) It is such a throw back to my early days of listening. I'd lay on the living room floor with my head right next to the old fashioned console speaker for hours. I last heard this perrenial standard when we could get the college station from Pasadena City College which carried the Public Radio feed. There is no station out here in The Pass. Betty and I used to listen to it every Saturday night, even in the car coming home. It was always good for a chuckle and some "pretty good" music too. Garrison is famous for his writing and his "sound-effects man" on the show. He used to produce a daily 5-min. show in the early morning with a poem. I'd listen on the way to my job teaching. It was an inspirational start to the day. His voice, modulation is unique and very rich. His jokes about scandinavians, especially Norwegians and Lutherns are a bit "old and moldy". With the CD I got, unsolicited, a "bobble-head Martin Luther" I'm using it for a "white elephant" gift tomorrow at the office party.

When Betty and I were in Hastings Ranch last week visiting Clark and his new job at Ethan Allen, I happened to sit in a "lazy-boy" type chair near the front of the store. I often do this when Betty is "shopping" which she was for a long time with her "favorite salesman". Next to the "easy" chair was a hand-crafted piece of pottery ie. a candy dish/ash tray. I usually don't do this kind of thing, but I turned it over to see who made it since Clark also "throws" pots. The artist had carved into the back some good advice: "Count your blessings each and every day." What good advice. I need to be more mindful and thankful for all the good things that have happened to me and my family...not just at Thanksgiving time or Christmas but each and everyday. I think that this kind of awareness has a "self-fulfilling" effect. Expecting "a blessing" and "things" to work out for the best is not "naive" and unrealistic, but just the best way to handle what does come our way, ramdomly or not. You never know..."the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street..." (Music Man) and it might just be full of lots of surprises for you and me. Bob

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Mountainside Yuletide Celebration!

"Go tell it on the mountain..." A truly "mountain top experience" is what I'd say about the annual Christmas Concert by the Mountainside Master Choral. On the right, you see the cropped cover of their printed program. It was such a joyously upbeat celebration of the "traditional" choral music in "modern arrangements"; Christmas Spirituals and popular carols. It was sung in Latin, German, French, Spanish, English and even alittle Russian, I think. The Garrison Auditorium on the campuses of the Claremont Colleges was a very intimate setting and therefore easy to hear and understand all those languages. As usual the choir had impeccable diction and pronunciation/enunciation. ie. one of their hallmarks over the years. Their goal, as announced by Bruce Roger, the founding and now retiring director, was to "put you all in the Christmas Spirit"! Mission accomplished!

This time, I got there in plenty of time and got a reserved seat in the rows for season ticket holders. Almost right away, my ol' singin' buddy (stood next to him) and former chorale president, Kirk Schaumann, spotted me and made a "bee-line" for me. After a warm greeting and firm hand shake, he asked me to rejoin the choir (the 2nd tenors, only 5 now) for the last two concerts directed by Bruce. Believe me, I, again was flattered, and almost persuaded. I mentioned my growing tendancy to "fall asleep while driving late at night" after rehearsals. He countered with, "You are invited to stay over night at our house." What a warm and hospitable thought and gesture (even without checking with his wife and growing family). My sister had also suggested that. Regretfully, I again, declined mentioning my attachment to "my own bed" as I age. I'd love to do the last concert with Bruce and his favorites, but we have booked a cruise of the Greek Isles during that rehearsal and performance time. I will miss that concert and this wonderfully talented group of artists.

The first half of the concert was acapella except for a couple pieces with percussion and oboe. The orchestra seats were set up and ready and Bruce had to bridge the gap created. He did it handsomely. His leadership/conducting is still, in my experience and view, the apex of evocative motivation. His meter and pace is very exact and although I couldn't see his facial expressions, (as I can Grant's) I know, from many years of concentrating on them, it is highly responsive and "with it".

"Resonet in Laudibus" arr. by Stroope was familiar to me and still a very precise way to start the concert historically. "Myn Lyking" arr. by Terry was originally from the 15th Century. It was so exquisite and different than the first with its "lilting quality". "Gaudete" arr. by Kay was different again. ie. very up tempo, almost syncopated with a great "tenor section" lead.

The Tree Traditional Carols were all right out of the "jeweled music box" ie. so clear and precise in harmonics and rhythm. I am continually amazed by Larry Thorp and his "solo". He must now be near 90 years old and still holding forth with that rich first tenor. He also takes on the responsibility of leading and caring for the tenor next to him on that high, top riser row who is blind! Amazing! I love that tenor section and notice the absences. My favorite carol of the three was, "O Come, All Ye Faithful" It was greatly and dynamically a departure from the "traditional" one. With it I noticed a trend or pattern which was verified with each section or "set"ie. the last song was mostly or at least ending at triple forte (fff) Good idea for mounting "a celebration" don't you think?

The next part of the program, was announced as a "taste" of Spanish and French. I agree. It was much more than a "touch" as the printed program said. "Fum, fum, fum and A La Nanita Nana" were both familier to me. I might've sung them at one time. They were mixed English and Spanish or French. It was hard to detect the language in the first one. The second is a beautiful lullaby. The third "Il Est Ne" was a very "French" carol and rather "round-like". Again, I loved the tenor section's ending..."Il les ne". Once again, the ending pattern, FFF on "Christmas Comes Anew" but not before many dynamic shifts and swells magnificently.

The last "set" before the "break" was three Christmas Spirituals. The last song was most like a "Moses Hogan" arr. "I believe This is Jesus"It was the best for me with its dynamics and "rock" beat. Bryan Malolot's tenor solo was so beautiful and sincere in "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" and I kind of liked the "bongos" on "Go Tell I on the Mountain". Dave Johnson is the perfect baritone soloist for this. He can still give you chills.

After intermission, with a small orchestra in place, we truly continued to "celebrate the yuletide" with more popular and even secular carols. I loved the pitsticcato(? plucking) accompaniment in the first song, "What Child is this?" and the "camel's gait" percussion. My favorite of the three was the second, "Love Came Down at Christmas" It was such a contrast to the others. Smooth and flowing, descending phrases and the light strings/voices made me visualize "falling snow". "Good Christian (Men) Friends Rejoice!" again ended FFF and those kettle drums made it happen! Also there was a successful attempt to mimic the cymbals with "instrumental voices". Unique!

The next to last section: "Popular Christmas Songs" was nostalgic, heart-warming and even humorous, yes, funny! "The Sleigh" was, for me, a fast, spritely ride over the Russia! Excellent. Mel Torme's "chestnut" was just that, "A Christmas Song" of warm memories. The next two, to me, featured the incomparable talent of "Pro" Mojica, pianist par excellance! The "Minute Waltz" ala Christmas was just packed with almost too many words. It moved! It even had modern references ie. "on line". "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was just the opposite... and it actually got me "misty" (welled-up eyeballs) It was a "show case" of the keyboard virtuosity and "ad libbing" of Pro. So smooth, with staggered breathing. The ending, Wow! Then finally, "Jingle Bells" "like you've never heard it before" Bruce. This, I think, was the first, successful attempt at a "comic solo" by "granny"...even Bruce hammed it up. It reminded me of that infamous soprano from Claremont a few years back... only she was slightly off pitch. Diane Whitham wasn't. She had everyone laughing. This was the "jazzy-ist" You can tell that this is one of Bruce's fortes. When I sang with the group, it was a running joke, "don't even try to do anything, up beat, jazzy or syncopate Bruce" we can't even "feel" it, let alone perform it. Mission accomplished, Bruce. Your current group, many who have been there since the start, have "gotten rhythm". Thanks!

Then, to top it all off, a beautiful "Garland" of six traditional carols arr. by Susa. I have also done this and enjoyed its variety. My favorite, of course, "We Three Kings" and the tenors. It was the best way to bring it all together with the orchestra, kettle drums, and FFF. We then we had to do the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah"...standing! It is tradition. It was then I realized that I hadn't sung like that for a long time. When was tenor this high? Was it always this fast? Maybe I'll try bass, my first love. Oh, what a wonderful celebration! It was touching when Bruce made that last announcement and gripped his heart. He was realizing that this was his last Christmas Performance with "his family". You will be missed Bruce...God's speed to all your next challenges. Bob

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


The annual Christmas Concert of the Los Angeles Master Chorale was a glorious, lively and heart-warming experience of rejoicing in song. It kept all of its promises and then some. This dog on the program cover even looks like he's "rejoicing!" Maybe he's one of the 10 Dancing-Dalmations in "The Twelve Dogs of Christmas".

This time I gave myself plenty of time to get there and partake in the ambiance of the festively decorated Disney Concert Hall. I tried to take pictures of the star-bedecked foyer/lobby but it was too immense and ill-lit. Hanging star mobiles and a gigantic, rotating star-shaped light show made its lofty, sweeping, serpentine facades sparkle. There were even projected stars in the "lecture area". There I was warned about taking picture in "The Disney". "Cameras are not allowed." I put mine away and decided to just enjoy the whole experience aurally. But first, some sustenance at the cafeteria now run by "Patina Group". I noticed the prices had gone up again. I had two side dishes and a drink for $15.50. I mentioned to them that yesterday I had eaten at another one of their restaurants in Downtown Disney called Naples/Napolini. They knew of it. Excellent food at both places. Then I strolled around the Philharmonic Gift Shop and bought some extra Christmas gifts for my grandchildren, come on, it's Christmas. I asked to be shown the L.A.M.C. CD's and the clerk almost didn't know where they were and there was nothing new, nothing I didn't already have. I even got a gift for myself "Conductor-obics" w/ baton!

My first, unexpected treat was a mini, acapella concert from the La Canada High School Chamber Singers. Some thirty or so in number; they got the Christmas Spirit going in me and brought back many pleasant memories of my high school days as a "madrigal singer". The ill-fitting tuxes, the o-so formal long dresses. These kids were good, well-rehearsed and some even smiled. Their director was a pro and so proud of them. They did many of the usual carols and then one of my favorites, "Carol of the Bells", I sang that back in Jr. Hi. Their conductor did a real "showman thing" ie. she started them and then just walked away to the back and sat down. They then did a "rock" version all by themselves. Excellent!

When I got into the auditorium to my assigned, season seat in front of the "Wells Fargo Stage" sign, I was surprised to see more the forms of poinsettias, nine pots of them lining the stage. They looked very appropriate for the season and against the preponderance of the lighter- stained wood of the the stage, the organ pipes, they looked quite "Christmasy". The members of the orchestra were sauntering in and tuning up. They were just the strings and woodwinds, sans the violas. It turns out that 300 + years ago Dietrick Buxtehude, composer of our first cantata, didn't have violas to work with. I also learned that Bach walked over 200 miles to hear his mentor's fugues and compositions. Before our own lively conductor, Grant Gershon, bounded on to the podium, we got the "lu-lus" again. These are triads sung, by him, I think, to get everyone's attention to not use their cell phones or cameras. What is funny is the Spanish version of that announcement and the use of the new word "pager". Everyone chuckles.
With just a few announcements about the evening's offerings, off we went on a wonderfully lively and spirited "ride" with "Das neugebor'ne Kindelein". (the Newborn Child) It was so full of joy and lightness which is so amazing to me because it is hard to sing that way in German. Most of their sounds are in the back of the mouth and throat. Grant was literally up on his toes bouncing with the meter and expression of the short pieces. Very enjoyable.

Next, after the entrance of the violas, we went galloping off into Bach's Christmas Oratorio, Cantata #5 our of 6. This is the one about the Three Wise Men and an Evangelist. Two of the three "Kings" were female. It think they were L.A.M.C. members because there are so many soloist in the group (a quote from Grant). They were gorgeous, and so were their voices as soprano and mezzo. Later, the other "wiseman", a baritone, went back and sang a haunting duet with a virtuoso oboeist. It too was gorgeous. The cantata is quintessential Bach with all the interwoven fugue-like melodies. Again, very prancy and toe-tapping. I was mesmerized by two of the sopranos in the choir on the ends and how they were "just loving" singing and "selling it". One, had curly red hair, so angelic in her way of moving to the music. She later turned out to be a soloist, without her own microphone, towards the middle in front of the tenors singing "There is No Rose of Such Virtue" I would have to agree just listening to the purity and line of her high soprano voice. The other was behind her on the end, stage right, a wonderfully expressive black woman with lustrously large hair and a smiling confidence in all she sang. I'm guessing a rich, voluptuous voice. I later wondered why she wasn't singing the solo in the Moses Hogan, "Glory, Glory, Glory to the Newborn King". Not to say that the "coloraturist" soloist they had chosen wasn't magnificent when she "belted" out that last phrase. She got a second round of applause. I was probably 10 feet away from her and WOW! That is what Moses, rest his soul, would've wanted I'm sure.

At intermission, the ornate, turquoise and gold harpsichord and pipe-bedecked "continuo" were wheeled off-stage right before me and a grand piano was brought in. I knew there was a change in the air and rightly so, according to Maestro Gershone, when he came back. The second half of this longer concert was wonderfully different. We even got to "sing-along" with "The Beast", the over 6000 piped organ. Christoph Bull, after "continuo-ing", was at his best with "Angels We Have Heard On High". The whole hall was a-vibrating with those basso pipes. I could go on and on...this was such a full-of-surprises concert. The Haitian Noel with their "Clicking" accompaniment. The Chanukah Suite with its rhythmic clapping. The Toni-Award Winning Composer, Jason Robert Brown, was there...and took a bow. WOW! The Concert Master's standing duet with the harpsichord, I think, was so perfect. He so looks the part of one of our major composers with his long grayish-white hair and beard.

Grant's favorite carol, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was seamless and flawless and so "cozy"-feeling. Staggered breathing, I would assume. I can hear why he likes it, yet can't remember the title. As he made each of his final curtain calls, and bows with his musicians, he would sheepishly wave to "someone" up in the right balcony; as if to say, "Isn't this grand, isn't it wonderful that I have the priveledge of doing this with these talented artists." I'm sure he and his performers were also remembering what Bob Dylan said, "An artist has to be careful to never think that he's arrived somewhere. He has to be in a constant state of becoming." With his leadership and his wonderfully supporting organization, the L.A.M.C. will continue to "become" and show us all how to "Rejoice!" in the Message of this Season. Bob

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mr. Harata, et al...Thanks again!

I have a whole list of "inspiring" teachers to remember and thank. My most memorable was Mr. Harata at Eagle Rock High. He was my English Lit. and composition teacher. He was the first teacher who had me convinced that I "could write". He, by his wealth of encouraging comments, in the margins, had me rough drafting and rewriting with aplomb. He led some lively discussions of our assigned reading in English Lit. All the standards you'd think of for that course. We then had to write a major research paper on one of them. I chose "Pilgrim's Progress". I was such a believer at that time. I remember I compared that work to one of C.S. Lewis' books, I think it was "Screwtape Letters". Ah yes, the devil writing about how he was tempting a poor innocent "pilgrim". What fun! And he read it!...and egged me on.

Another high school teacher, whose name I've forgotten, gave me a writing award from the English Department. I don't know if I kept the certificate. It was for "Most Sincerity" or something like that. You see, I had almost totally plagerized a story about the animals talking at Christmas and how the donkey had said that he carried "A King". When I turned it in I put in a footnote that I had done that. She was impressed that I would admit it I guess.

I remember another teacher in Junior High liking my poem about my first walk on new snow and the sound it made with my big boots. I don't remember the class or the assignment but I remember who I was walking with when I had those "poetic feelings" future wife and first love. I didn't know it at the time. It was a church "winter camp" we both went to.

Then there was the teacher of Social Studies in Jr. Hi who got me to write for an Essay Contest on "My Hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower". I didn't win, but I learned alot about how to do research on someone's life. My mom was a republican and helped me. My dad was a democrat. When they voted, they always said they "cancelled out each other". I didn't become either, nor did I follow in Dwight's footsteps either. I enlisted in the Navy like my dad.

In college, I'll never forget Zenos Hawkinson my U.S. History professor at North Park. He was the consummate lecturer and had you with him from the very beginning. Then he gave such inspiring "blue book" essay tests. "Imagine the Colonization of the Moon" and compare it to the "Colonization of America". ..all in two hours. Remember those assignments? He made History come to life and relevant for me. .. the first time too.

Then there was Mr. Soneson, my philosophy professor. Again, challenging my beliefs and my "very conservative" upbringing. He had me doing papers on "pragmatism" and William James. This was the most difficult kind of writing because it was soul-searching at the same time.

At Cal-State L.A. I had a famous counselor and Statistic Professor for Psychology. Solomon Diamond, had just written a new book on Statistics and it was "not boring" as you would expect stat to be. He had some crazy examples and illustrations of probability, and coefficients of significance which really stuck with you and made it crystal clear. He was a good counselor too and led me into more Psych. courses and the desire to be counselor. I later found out that you had to have 5 years experience as a teacher. I did that and never looked back. I was having too much fun teaching. I got into teaching drama, plays and acting and that side-tracked my love of writing. Now I'd like to combine the two...screenplays? Who knows? I'll just keep bobbin' along and see what develops. Hopefully I've inspired a few students, maybe one, to write for the pure pleasure of it. Bob

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You're a Good Man...Teacher Man

Tonight, on TV, "Charlie Brown Christmas" will be on for it's 40th time. It is as old as our oldest, Clark. The newspaper today says it almost didn't make it past network executives...too slow and boring...reading a portion of the Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke by little Lisping Linus. It is now ironic that's main message, anticommerialism, is thwarted by it's years and years of top "Nielsen Ratings" and all the millions it has made for it's advertizers over those years. The ugly little tree strikes a "chord" in all our hearts. Some even write poems about it.

Charles Schultz has left us but his legacy lingers in his characterizations by cartoon. His estate is still earning millions. I know, at first, I was not attracted to his little "anti-hero" Charlie (patterned after himself, I suppose)...always a bit depressed and then you had "bossy" Lucy etc. She reminds me of Alicia who first put on "Your A Good Man Charlie Brown" in my Young Actors' Workshop in Claremont. She has continued for all these years with a very successful, "non-profit" corporation call "Karosel Kids". I did try to stage its sequel, "Snoopy" when I taught at El Roble. It was much more "up" and "cute" and it was a commercial success. But the image of Charlie still remains, average, n'er-do-well', always complaining, the butt of jokes etc. gets the football pulled away every year and his kite stuck. We identify with him to a point and the humor in the predicaments.

Betty and I have just heard the new audio book by Frank McCourt. It is called "Teacher Man". Here, I think, we found the same fascination as with Charlie. He, with his charming Irish brogue, describes his 30 years of teaching in the New York Public Schools. "How did I ever survive?" he asks. We had read his previous books, "Angela's Ashes" and "'Tis". They are also autobiographical. They have that same "hang dog" "poor me" kind of humor. He bemoans his upbringing (barely surviving) in Limerick, Ireland, and his education with the Catholic Church. He continues to show how it effected him when he got to America in "Tis". The guilt and depression he continued to struggle with all through his life. He is such a "storyteller" you almost can't believe all the "tales". But, as he says over and over, he..."didn't give a fiddler's fart" and just kept trying.
He taught mostly at Trade Schools where the students could care less about "English" and "Creative Writing" his subjects. He did get a chance to teach at Stuyvantson(?) one of the top schools with a "more motivated student". There he did the kind of lessons I would've done (did). He had all the varied ethnic group kids bring in their mom's best foods and had a great picnic in the park nearby. He then had them bring in their best recipe (books). They then had lyrical readings of their favorite recipes with instrumental accompaniment from the band students. He asked the kids to "observe everything" through a "writer's eye" asking why and why not. He challenged them, as they him, to document their feelings about their lives no matter how "hum-drum" and "normal" they seemed to be. To hear him tell it all is part of the charm of the stories. He's a good man, always well meaning, just like Charlie but taken the wrong way and constantly getting into trouble and getting fired too. He departs from Charlie when he spends so much time in the local "pubs" with many a "pint" which was his father's undoing. He had "the gift" ...of gab, as they say...and sometimes it got him in trouble in the classroom too. This is also something I've experienced too. Now, I just post blogs...and teach "the 12 Days of Xmas" with motions to Kindergarteners. Bob