Friday, March 31, 2006

Failure to Launch from Elizabethtown

"Chic Flicks"? These are not. They came out in different years but we just saw them both recently. They resonated with me on several levels both by contrast and comparison. I identified with parts of both of them and they made me think about how my life has proceeded or will cease to proceed. They are both comedies with provocative undertones.

Having had four sons and being one myself I know the importance of "launching". Career and/or "a life's work" is so important to us males. Our identity is so imbedded in what we do...successfully; especially when we do it "on our own" independent from our supportive parents or family group. There are always varying degrees of this rite of passage which is also very "ideo-specific"(new word?) to each child within the family group. What they need or don't need, when, is so important. Then there is the ever-present possibility of "launch and re-launch" and how many times that needs to happen. One almost needs the "wisdom of Solomon" to know what is right and what is "co-dependency" And, of course, there is also the temptation to judge what was or has to be done and the guilt that then comes from that. This movie thoroughly gets into all that in a humorous way. Yes, one of the few, lately, where I actually laughed out loud. I'm not a big fan of Sarah Jessica, she's a good actor but just not that appealing to me. Betty, on the other hand, seems to simply drool over Mathew Mc...I wonder why. "The Sexiest Man...Alive!" (he hastens to point out) Actually I kind of like the look and humor of the supporting actress whose name escapes me right now...those eyes. Anyway, it features a very "successful" son who just doesn't want to leave the sphere/influence of his "ever-loving parents" and they go about severing that connection the wrong way. Complications ensue, needless to say. It is also not wanting to "launch" from "his buddies" and that appealing "bachelor way of life", ie. no commitments, responsibilities etc. Parenthood takes care of that, in spades. It probably all goes back to "potty training".

Then you have the "lead"(protagonist) Orlando, in Elizabethtown, who maybe launched too soon and/or is a collosal the tune of 1 billion dollars. He is interrupted in his attempt to commit suicide (darkly comedic) by the bad news that his father had died. He has to go and bring his body back from his hometown after cremation. On the way he meets a very special stewardess. He finds out that he maybe didn't really know his father and his "former life" and that his values might need some adjusting. What has become important to him maybe isn't all that important in the overall scheme of things. I especially related to this movie because of the location. I don't know if there really is an "Elizabethtown", Ky. but I'm convinced I've been there. My dad took me back to "Wallinscreek", Ky. when I was a kid. I loved it. I got to go barefoot the whole time (two-three weeks) and came back speaking with that distinctive twang. I met some of his family and got to know their values. Front porches were big as were fireflies and a weed called "life everlasting". Fried chickin' and bisquits were uniquely special. The featherbed enveloped you. The train we used to travel to and fro had many stops along the way and many people to observe and converse with. These are values and memories I treasure somewhere between "launching" and "being launched" in the wind. In the meantime, I'll continue to Bob!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring Sing-spiration!

Birds do it. I've noticed. With the light starting earlier these days, I'm sometimes awakened by their glorious day-greeting songs. No more swimming in the dark of morn. "Morning has broken, like the first morning, black bird has spoken, like the first bird." It's great to be alive and healthy they're singing. Why not?

Monday, as I was leaving my tutoring assignment, the teacher asked if I knew any "Spring Songs" I could teach or she could teach. I told her I would think about it and get back to her. I racked my brain and had some trouble. I went to a couple "source books" I still have from when I used to lead a group. We used to have a "Spring Sing" and each class plus the "resident glee club" had to come up with a song to perform at school. I wonder if they even do that anymore? I'm amazed at what I found...not much with the word or concept "Spring" in it. My specialty was "folksongs" and there just aren't that many. "Aura Lee" has the word "spring" in it but that refers to the watery kind. One of the kids in the class was quick to point out that there were also the "metal kind". I had to explain...'neath, piped, swallows(vocab). That got into an annual Spring event, St. Joseph's Day and the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano Mission. They were late this year.

Of course we had to present "Garden and Growing Folksongs" "Inch by Inch, row by row, Gonna make this garden grow..." It has six verses and a rather profound comparison metaphor to life. Too deep for these little charges. Then there is the "Anti-Garden (parody)" "Slug by slug, weed by weed..." Then there is the old familiar "Oats, Peas, Beans and Barley Grow". Did you know that can lead into a creative group round dance? ..."Waiting for a partner, waiting for a partner, Open the ring and take me in, While we all daily dance and sing." One of my favorites is "White Coral Bells" I'm always reminded of them growing along the paths of the Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, CA. We lived close by and used to walk its perimeter regularly to lose or maintain weight. There are different colors of coral bells, not just coral or white, so I'm told. Here the song asks the singers (kids) to use their imaginations by ..."hearing the bells ring"...and refers to fairies singing. This is hardly a reference you can make anymore in public without a derogatory remark. Too bad.

However, the kids' all time favorite "Spring Song" and one most of the kids already knew was, "On Top of Spaghetti"...yes, that's a Spring song. It refers to a "meatball rolling into the garden and growing into a tree with moss and sauce" It also refers to sneezing, a Springtime activity. Kids love it. I told the teacher she could have (I would) the kids "act it out". Another song I forgot I had in my uke case was "Froggie Went A-Courtin'. My dad used to sing that to me. We had our grandkids sing and act it out the last time they were over at "Camp Gramma". It has 14 verses with true dramatic conflict ie. "uncle rat's consent, a hungry tomcat and a big old snake" who all come to the "wedding of Miss Mousie and Froggie" Great stuff for kids and fun in school.

What amazed me was that the requesting teacher didn't know any of the songs, tunes or words except the spaghetti number. I thought that this was one of the "main things" for schools to "pass on" or teach ie. "culture" folk culture. Maybe not, anymore. Too concerned with the 3 R's and passing the tests to get the funding and the good PR in the local news. Too bad. There is a wealth of vocabulary, grammar, syntax, meaning in songs, lyrics etc. Families don't pass it on anymore around the hearth or campfire I guess, nor do the schools (or Scouts) A me. Oh well...

I didn't even think to share the Springtime song I sang today in our Barbershop Group. "Jeannine" Have you heard it? Beautiful..."Lilacs in bloom, rarest perfume, tells me that waiting has ended. Springtime is here, soon you'll be near, When all our heartaches are mended. Close in my arms fond embraces, once more in happier places; Jeannine, I dream of lilac-time, your eyes they beam in lilac-time, your winning smile, and cheeks, blushing like the rose. Yet all the while you sigh when nobody knows, Jeannine, my queen of lilac-time. When I return, I'll make you mine (all mine) For you and I, our love-dream can never die. Jeannine, I dream of lilac-time...I dream of my Jeannine."
Alittle too old and schmatzy for such young ears or for "Betty Marie". But what a song of Spring and Love! Bob!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


I believe I just had an "unlocking experience". I'll try to share it with you in a sequential narrative. You be the judge. Let me know what you think.

I knew I had two concerts to attend this last Sunday, March 26, so I started out early from my home. I live about an hour away from the the first in Claremont, "A Classical Memory" at the Garrison Theater, Scripps College by the Mountainside Master Chorale. I expected the "coming home from the river traffic" to be bad but it wasn't. I got into Claremont more than an hour early. I drove around the village and was tempted to stop at "The Bakery". I noticed alot of cars around the "Folk Music Center". Then I saw the sign, "Open Mic Tonight". I got an idea. You see I had received an email from Border's Book Store promoting Ben Harper's new CD "Both Sides of the Gun". They had sent a "podcast" of his lead song "Better Way". I had enjoyed it and had noticed it was filmed in and around the Folk Music Center with all its ethnic instruments on the walls. I went in and Ben's mom, who now runs/owns the store was just getting off the phone about that night's "open mic concert" there. She got me his album...alittle over $17.00. It was busy and noisy(they have always allowed customers "hands-on" sampling) but we talked. I told her I had had Ben for Jr. Hi. English and I remembered he was a good student and now, here he was, writing his own songs/poems) When I said that he did his homework she raised an eyebrow in disbelief. I told her to say, "Hi, from me and, keep up the good work." I went out and got in my car and popped that CD in my player and listened to the first two cuts. I noticed that is was a double album in black and white with a triple fold packaging, clever. One half (one CD) was more rhythmic, throbing, driving, the other had more ballads, softer, more personal touch. It was full of protest about the current political climate ie. war etc. but from two different platforms. Ben had written most and played many different instruments in them.

I still got to the first concert early and was met at the door by one of my "touring buddies" She is from England, where we toured and I just can't think of her name right now...she's an alto. Anyway, she wanted to know if I had been invited to a little get-together (dinner) honoring Bruce. I said no and when was it. She said it was early in June before the final concert. I was sad to respond that we might not be back from our cruise but keep me informed by mail. I asked if they had found a new conductor, not that they could really replace Bruce, the founding director. Yes, they were working on it and had a fresh, young, energetic man in mind. This was good I thought. Then I asked if they were doing the Mozart Requiem first or after the intermission. No intermission but a small break. I thought this might work out after all. You see I had heard and sung Mozart's last composition, the one he didn't quite finish before his untimely death. I knew I was going to have to miss it. No disrespect to all my MMC friends but I was concerned again about the freeway travel and downtown L.A. where just the day before more that 500,000 demonstrators had been in virtually the same area, near the Music Center. So I enjoyed the first half of the concert with very traditional, religious text compositions from Johann Michael Haydn and Wolfgang. Johann Michael was Joseph's younger brother and maybe not quite as famous, but he wrote some beautiful music. (no "unfinished symphonies") These are from the late 18th Century and the "rules of composition" then were very restricted...mainly by "the Church" and these composers had to be careful if they wanted to support themselves. Mozart was actually the first composer to not have to rely on a "church commission" to make it. He was prolific in his short life, writing operas and all kinds of pieces with "too many notes". We all know the (true?) story from the film "Amadeus" and still wonder if he didn't "channel God's music" himself and cause the "jealousy" that prompted his last "mystery commission" which he thought was probably his own requiem. These were all sung in Latin and maybe, originally German. The themes of most of the texts had to do with "salvation" and belief in the hereafter. They were group prayers and affirmations of faith. To this day they still are, once you translate, read and listen. The musical settings are so harmonically and structurally beautiful that they still move many of us. "Laetatus Sum" "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord! Peace be within your walls, And security within your towers."

On the road again, I continued to listen to Ben Harper and his group. I had a stray thought about how his name was right out of "Tom Sawyer", he was Tom's sidekick and dupe. Tom tricked him into painting his fence. Hmm...Let me listen to those lyrics alittle closer..."You have a right to your dreams And don't be denied...I believe in a better way."

I arrived at the Disney Concert Hall early enough to grab a bite to eat. On the escalator going up to the lobby I said,"Hi" to Rich Caparelli(?) from K-Mozart Fm 105. Told him I enjoyed his preconcert introductions/conversations with Grant and the artist/composers. I told him I quoted him in my blog posts. He was interested and took my card. He warned me of his upcoming "Minimalist Knock, Knock Joke". This was the theme of the nights concert which was part of the "Minimalist Jukebox Festival" which had been on-going for the last two weeks. I didn't know what to expect but I was open to a "new musical experience". And, believe me, that's what I got! Two of the night's three contemporary composers were there: Meredith Monk and Michael Torke. Meredith performed her pieces with the chorale along with two of her soloists from her performing company. Michael was in the audience and came to the stage for many bows afterwards.

The concert started out on a bare "minimalist stage" ie. flat, up center, a chair, a stool, 3 music stands, 2 mics and the organ console off up right. The chorale was dressed informally all in black and walked very directly in to form a circle. Grant was directing from the center, up left. The tenor's backs were to us, the main audience; but since the theater is "in the round" it worked. They proceeded with the most beautiful acappella settings of Arvo Part's compositions from the texts in Psalm 137 "By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept" and "The Beatitudes" They were clean, precise, economic and "minimalist". They were profound. What a way to start a very different concert. "Blessed are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of God." I was moved. Then came the most challenging part, I'm sure for the chorale members. No printed music or notation. Choreography and singing at the same time (no gum chewing either) No text or story line but a wealth of meaning. Lots of "bobbing"...I responed to that (my blog's name Bob!...a verb) Mostly non-sense syllables which were performed and juxtaposed in such a creative ways that it almost defies description. There was a sort of "wave" of passing sounds/harmonics along a line of 15 or more singers all holding hands with their eyes closed. (like the game "telephone") They communicated, I noticed, with a slight squeeze of the hand just before intonation. It was spectacular. There was Mongolian Throat
Singing with overtones octaves, thirds and fifths above. Grant had the audience try it as a "filler" while they rearranged the stage. He demonstrated using the oo sound and going to the schwa "dreaded r" or "er sound". This is a sound chorale groups are told never to use. What made it real for me was his referring to his daughter. He said he couldn't do it around her, too scary? ...maybe even for the dog.

Then there was a long intermission while they hydraulically set up the stage for a full orchestra and Michael Torke's selection. It was the capper for the evening. Eight proverbs from "The Book of Proverbs" in the Bible, interpreted with full chorus and orchestra and two soloists. Some were even rather humorous. Lots of percussion of all kinds punctuated the pieces. I had to laugh because the couple sitting next to me, not regulars, were suddenly jarred awake with the "crack of the whip" for a horse. They had both had lolling heads and were dozing. Here again, the minimalism was demostrated in an economy of word and tonal assignments with variations in sequence which might have affected the meaning but in the end, he brought it all together with the parts equaling more than the whole. Mr. Berry, the near soloist, was the most expressive with his interpretation of a rather slanted version of "adultry". Again, we had a soloist who shook hands, this time, with the older lady two seats from me. She was so excited during the "curtain calls". Her grand daughter, next to me, sat passively throughout the performances much "taller" than me. Each proverb had an ethical point and a melodic statement. It gave me much to think about. It was also in English for ease of understanding.

I didn't drive home humming or whistling any of the "tunes" I had heard. I finished Ben Harper's double CD. It kept me awake on the hour and a half home. As I look back on this evening, I can truly say that I "unlocked" some of my preconceived notions about what "a voiced concert" of music could be and how it can appeal on many levels with and without words/content. At times, I feel so locked in to a didactic world of writing and explaining, narrating and evaluating. It was refreshing to change that and just observe it all happening...and Bob!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Serendipitous Lux

It was just one of those glorious days yesterday. We had decided to invest it at "the happiest place on Earth"...Disneyland. Each time we go we try to find something new to enjoy. We don't like to stand in lines or eat fast food so this is usually a big challenge. We didn't have our children or grandchildren with us and they usually have an agenda. This was our day just to have fun and practice walking and standing for our upcoming cruise excursions in Greece, Rome and Turkey. It was shirtsleeve weather and actually hot in the sun. We tried to find some shady or sheltered activities. Of course we had to visit "Soarin' Over California", still one of our favorites. We revisited the Haunted Mansion to see that it had gotten back to its original displays without the "Tim Burton Touch". We put on our "bug-eyes" (3-D) and saw the cute bug show with all the sensory surprises. We saw that Pirates of the Carribean was closed for refurbishing to coincide with the new Pirates movie coming out with Johnny Depp.

That's when we saw the banners leading to the Art Gallery above Pirates. We took the challenge of the wooden stairs and banisters above "New Orleans Square" and were pleasantly surprised with four rooms and a patio up and away from the din and ever-milling crowds. They were filled with over 50 artist's works over the last 50 years of Disneyland. Not just sketches, these were professionally wrought and hung paintings and models of many of the "lands" and "ideas" before they saw fuition. There were even two "Thomas Kincaids" of "Mainstreet". Yes, the "Painter of Light"(Lux) as he or someone calls himself. They had the customary "light touches" in the windows etc. I know my son, Brooks, just abhors this "type of art" but, it is art and very "marketable". Everything, of course, had a price and was "for sale". We were tempted by a charm bracelet under glass with the "Small World" theme...only $125. Something to add to all the Disneyesque bling. Now you see lanyards and vests with all the "flair" ie. tradeable pins.

Then we decided to check out the old "Horseshoe Saloon" which had a long-running show we had seen many times through the years This is the one where the "top banana" unendingly spits out his "teeth" after being "slapsticked". They still have shows and some "western fast food" treats. We settled for some sassparilla type root beer. "Billy Hill and the Hill Billies" is now holding forth. You might guess the kind of "blue grass" and finger-pickin' they attempt. They do get you to laugh and just marvel at their talent with fiddles, guitars, mandolins, bass viols and harmonicas. For their grand finale they stand close enough together to play each other's instruments, quite a trick. Although a "lighter fare" we did enjoy it serendipitously.

From the ridiculous to the sublime we were just sauntering out and heard a great "band sound" coming from the bandshell next to Frontierland. Betty had memories of this place on her numerous "date nights". She would go dancing at this spot on Fridays or Saturdays. (even polkas). What we discovered was a fully decked-out high school band in place and ready to perform. They were all the way from Gresham, Ore., Sam Barlow High. What a fine looking group! We decided to sit in the back and enjoy, expecting the typical "band fare" by a "seated, not marching, band. Wow! Were we surprised! This group could play! They sounded well rehearsed and polished. They were serious too. Two young conductors were very precise and expressive. We were expecting the usual "Disney Tunes" from their movies and cartoons, like a medley, (and that came later) but, shock, a classical favorite of mine from way back. I didn't even know a "band" would attempt it or that there was band orchestration for it. "Lux Aeterna" by Morten Lauridsen. This is a requiem. It was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Choale a a few years back and composed for them. It is the most glorious expression of the concept of "eternal light" that I could ever conceive. I had the rare previledge of singing it with the Mountainside Master Chorale. It soars melodically and I have all I can do not to sing along and or "conduct" it. Human voices make it thrilling for me but those high school instrumentalist were getting to me right there. Afterwards I went and shook the hand of the conductor and thanked him for that "sound trip down memory lane".

What struck me as tragically sad is that few if any of our "wonderful california schools" could begin to perform such a piece at that level. Long before I retired from teaching, "The Arts" had been the first thing to be cut from the school budgets. It started so slowly and innocently when they no longer offered instrumental lessons (even 1/2 hr.) at the elementary schools. Each year, the Jr. Hi. and High school music teacher used to come down and "pitch" to each class in the 4th grade the "fun" of renting an instrument and taking that by the time they got them they would be in the marching band or orchestra. No time was set asside during the day because it would take them away from the "standardized test prep" that is now called "education". Choral teachers at the local schools by then were long no glee clubs or choruses. It first was relegated to afterschool if a kid could stay and it didn't interfere with their full plates of team sports and gymnastics etc. I remember one of the last "music teachers" that had to teach a regular elementary class, had a Jazz Band that kids did try to get into. His name was "Joe"...(something)...he moonlighted at Disneyland by climbing the "Matterhorn" in ledderhosen. He got us into Disneyland free one time. The last glee club/choruses I directed were connected to "Musicals" I was doing. I had no accompaniest I could count on. What a challenge. We also had several "recorder ensembles" and folk dancing groups. It was all done under the umbrella of P.E. at my last school. Thanks to Mr. Yeager. It was surely "enlightening" to realize that music is still taught and respected at least in Oregon. Bob!

Monday, March 20, 2006

"Groundhog Day" for "The Weather Man"

Here it is Spring again! 2006! We have recently had some very inclement weather, much needed this year, especially in Arizona near Phoenix. Last year, at this time, we had too much rain. We even had snow the other day. It didn't stick. Betty and I went out in it to go to the doctor. A rare occurance around here. Soft and quiet, it was almost "spell-binding". There is a palpable feeling I get with a "change in the weather" or a "change in the season". I seem to need it and relish it, ie. the "cold snap", the "sudden wind". I love to listen to the rain or hail on our patio cover slats.

Thanks again to Netflix we just saw another 2005 movie we had missed when it was in theaters. "The Weather Man" with Nicolas Cage and Michael Caine was quite "different" as movies go. We liked it. It sort of reminded me of "Groundhog Day, one of my favorite movies with Bill Murray; which I've probably seen 7 times. At first we couldn't figure out if it was going to be a comedy, a tragedy or, as listed "a drama". It wasn't clear for me until the end. "Groundhog Day is definitely a comedy, ie. even with the ancient Greek definition: "protagonist goes from low to high estate". It has profound meaning for me. So much of my life has gone "that way" ie. "repetition is the basis of all learning". This is what I taught and how I taught. This is still they way I learned and am learning "Life's Lessons" over and over...until I get them "right".

I think "The Weather Man" takes "Groundhog Day" to kind of a new level and provides a much more "furtile ground(hog)" to "grow thoughts and ideas" mix my metaphors. Nicolas Cage's character is also sympathetic. He is the protagonist but mostly sees himself as an antagonist. His feelings about this are greatly reinforced by all those around him. He messes up his marriage and family because of his "absentmindedness". He continues to have unresolved issues with his highly successful dad who is dying. He is frustrated by the "unpredictability" of his job and how even the meteorologists, who advise him, can't satisfy his need for validation. Bad things are happening to his kids and he is constantly striving to be more "in touch" as an "absentee dad".

The key metaphor for me was his "progress" with his "new hobby", archery. He takes it up to get closer to his estranged daughter and then finds out she doesn't really like it (target shooting) because she wants to "hunt animals". Out of desperation, he goes out on his own and just "shoots" to "release" his anger and frustration. He gets better and better with repetition and learns how to "release the shaft" when the "knock" is properly seated. The key concept here is "release" and that is what he eventually has to do. I won't spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it, but it is quite profound in a "dark and comedic" way. Life is like that. Changes happen, good and bad. How we react seems to me to be much like how we "react" to the "weather". Are we prepared for it? Probably not. Do we have shelter from it? Not always. Are we strong enough to survive it or go out in it if we need to? I would hope. As we continue to practice "releasing" we can get "closer to our target"(bulls'eye) and the gratification or "lesson" we need to learn at the time. Rainbows are lovely and beautiful, but very rare. Bob!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Thanks for the Inspiration, John Reynolds Gardiner

I was saddened to read in yesterday's paper that John Reynolds Gardiner died March 4th. He was only 61. He wrote two of my all time favorite children's books: "Stone Fox" and "Top Secret". Actually, he only wrote one other, "General Butterfingers". Yes, a three-book career...his second career. He worked as a contract engineer specializing in thermodynamics for such aerospace corporations as Rockwell International and McDonnell Douglas. His brother got him to enroll in a television writing class, taught by an instructor who didn't give a hoot about spelling and grammar. He had always wanted to write and had lots of "creative ideas" but was afraid they wouldn't be accepted if they weren't in the correct "format".

He didn't like to read when he was young and hadn't read an entire novel until he was 19. He didn't like being read to either and would pretend he was asleep when his mom would try. He got his master's degree in engineering but his writing skills lagged. At UCLA he was in the "dumbbell English" class. ESL kids got better grades than he did on the required compositions.

He loved to tell stories to his own kids, three girls, and his grandchild. He was concerned about quality stories for children and spent many years traveling to schools speaking to kids about creative writing. He sometimes invited them to stand before the class and finish a sentence he gave them. "If only I could..." Overcoming obstacles can make for a good story. His books were geared for readers in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades. (my specialty)

His first story, "Stone Fox" was actually first written as a screenplay for TV. He was told to write it as a book. After it sold more than 3 million copies they made a TV movie of it. Buddy Ebsen played the Grandfather. Willy, a little boy had a faithful dog he called "Searchlight". Granddad was very sick and hadn't paid the mortgage on the farm. Little Willy and Searchlight had to "save the farm"...and granddad, by entering and winning(?) the local, annual dogsled race. It was an insurrmountable problem because "Stonefox", an old Indian, always won with his champion dog. There's where the plot thickens... I read it to my class many times, once a year at least. I'd always have trouble getting through the "tear-jerking" conclusion.

"Top Secret" is just the opposite. ie "tongue-in-cheek" humor about "Mandatory School Science Fairs" and a boy who, with his "experiment" turns himself into "a plant" and wins the prize. It is almost believable. Lots of insights into all the things that can and do happen at these fairs. I ran many of them and "Invention Conventions" too. Parents can get overly involved and teachers can become to "officious". Here again, in this story, his grandfather is the only one who really inspires him and listens to him. "General Butterfingers" has a simular theme. Gardiner had three daughters and a granddaughter...hmmm. I've read these books now to classes at which I volunteer. Kids still seem to like them...hmm. Gives me some ideas...Thanks, for the inspiration J.R. R.I.P. Bob!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Who knew that you could be "shocked" by "Joe Green"? I didn't. Luckily I hadn't read the L.A. Times rave review of the L.A. Master Chorale's seventh concert this season at the Disney Concert Hall. "Emotions Resound" was the title with an evocative picture of our conductor Grant Gershon and his mezzo-soprano soloist Eugenie Grunewald. It is an "electrically glowing" review of their handling of the famed Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi (Joe Green) I will not, here, review a review. I agreed with most of it and I think the concert I went to on Tuesday night benefitted from the Sunday night review. At the pre-concert lecture, when asked by Rich Caparella from K-Mozart fm 105, how he thought the concert went, Grant hedged a bit and said he was "greatly superstitious" and wouldn't comment except to say that this monumental piece was perfect for the Disney and its accoustics. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to do it with close to 200 "world class" musicians including the soloists.

At the lecture, which was really just a conversation about the highlights of the work, I also learned about the setting and motivation for this famous Requiem. It was composed and performed in Milan and San Marcos Cathedral in 1874 to commemorate the death of one of the 19th Century's best poet, novelist and political leader, Alessandro Manzoni. He was for the unification of Italy at the time as was Verdi. This was against the Catholic Church and Pope Gregory; not a popular position back then. You almost had to have a "passport" to go from city-state to city-state. Verdi was reported to be an "atheist" or at least an "agnostic" and that too was not good at the time. The common people so loved Verdi and this Requiem that at only the second performance at "La Scala" they stopped the show several times with thunderous ovations and demanded that a particular section ie. "Offertorio" be played again...Encore!" (in Italian)...and again before the piece could finish. Verdi was conducting and he was presented with a silver crown. These Italians really like their "operatic requiems". Grant shared that when he was just in high school, with no thought or ambition to be a conductor, the Verdi Requiem Score was the first one he bought..."just to study" and learn from the "master". Verdi's own colleagues at first dismissed it as just another one of his "operas"...until they truly heard it and listened to its sublime beauty and depth of meaning. Grant jokingly began rehearsal with the comment to his musicians that "this piece of music picks up where the operas leave off" At the end of most of Verdi's opera you have alot of "dead people" usually. This experience takes you to "where they feared to go" ...hell..."Dies Irae" and their hope and pleading to escape that.

This, for me, is where the "electrifying" comes in and continues to be brought back throughout the different sections. With a full orchestra, massive percussion (big bass drum) and a brass section to "die for" you are literally "shocked" and suddenly it is all around you from the heights of the concert hall's third balcony rails. It is rather unnerving. He certainly knew how to give you a "picture of what hell could sound like". (even though he didn't believe in it) Wow! ...and the pipe organ wasn't even turned on. Of course, what makes this happen is the contrasts from triple P to triple F and there was plenty of that. It starts with the chorale in just a whisper and it ends that way with the soprano soloist pleading "Libera Me" morte aeterna. Very dramatic and effective.

I could go on and on with many more impressions that weren't in the published review. Notable to me (and Mr. Pasles, the reviewer) was the tenor soloist Stuart Neill and his interpretation as one of the "lost or dying souls". He looked to me alittle like a picture of Verdi himself, without a beard. ie. same wavy hair, very "Italiano" and he sang without any music (score)...yes had it all memorized. Do you know how difficult that is? Because of this, his eye contact and hand gestures were so much more personal and involving. (I'm a tenor too) Upon enter and exiting, several times for all the ovations, he, alone was interactive with the orchestra members, shaking their hands etc. The "Agnus Dei" duet was supposed to sound like a "gregorian chant" muscially but, for me, their overly vibrato-ed delivery got in the way. The double fugue was so perfect at the end and to me, it just went to illustrate the "lostness" of the "poor soul" pleading for mercy. The "Sanctus" which normally you expect to be "heavenly and ephemeral was circus like and right out of "Aida" without elephants...beautiful but not..."holy". My most exquisitely beautiful moment, acoustically and emotionally, was in the "Offertorio" after the descending arpegios of the chorale and the tenor's high and clear (falsetto) "Hostias et preces tibi"...just gorgious.

This time my favorite chorale singers to watch, were not anywhere near me being placed behind the orchestra and up the stairs. I watched, in "pain" as one of the "altos"(?) struggled, with help, up all those stairs from her wheelchair. She had to stop and rest serveral times. What a desire to sing and perform! No handicapped access for chorale members? My new favorite performer was a first violinist very near (maybe 10 feet away).(5th row, 1st chair) I watched her warm up, pertly sitting on the edge of her chair, practicing all the more difficult parts. She'd stop and survey the audience too....looking for a boy friend(?) maybe. She played with such concentration and rapped attention. She raised her bow with a flourish at the ends of appropriately grand phrases. She was so "into" her part in the orchestra's performance which was magnificent. At the end, on the third "recall bow" by the soloists, Stuart, the tenor, grabbed and shook her hand. She beautifully and graciously accepted his hand. A warm gesture of "love and acceptance"...the main message of the evening. This made the evening just about perfect for me. Bob!

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Pirates of Penzance" by Candlelight

"It was the very model of a modern major musicale,
With patter songs and lots of words all meant to confuse you all,
With comic choreography,
And costumes bright for all to see,
It was the very model of a modern major musical."

...this Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta is only 127 years old! Yes, we went to the Sunday Brunch Performance at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. We used to live just half a mile away and it was very easy to become "regulars" at this regional live theater. It has been there now for more than twenty years and I can see major improvements over the years.

I can remember when Ben Bollinger's Company took over the old high school gymnasium there at Griswold's Old School House. It followed in the footsteps of the ill-fated Claremont Playhouse. Malcolm had attempted to have a "quasi-dinner theater" with folks getting a special deal to eat at Griswold's and then come over for a play he directed. I had just finished two successful seasons/summers of the directing the "Young Actors' Workshop" there. We had classes for all ages from K-12 in mime and stagecrafts and full blown musicals. We even gave Ms. Allen her first venue for "Your A Good Man, Charlie Brown". She went on to produce the "Karosel Kids" with Malcolm which became a very successful Children's Theater Group.(still running)
I did some performing too; nothing of note ie. "Virgil" in "Bus Stop" and "Adam" in a summer production. It was then I thought it best to get back to my "classroom productions".

The initial productions from Candlelight were quite quaint as I remember. It was a family affair with everyone pitching in. It mainly used local talent and was a good place for many to begin and put on their "credits". My main criticism at the time was the "canned music" or pre-recorded tracts of accompaniment that the "actors" had to "keep up with". It just didn't seem like a "real" musical with "live" musicians. That is still the same, but now they have tiny "face microphones" that hook on to their ears or are taped to their cheek. There is a tendency now to try to "sing over" or "sing louder" than the accompanying full band or orchestra. This time I was sitting close enough, front and center (3 feet from the edge of the apron) and I could see and hear their full voice, operatic arias. (and the drips of sweat too)

The "leads" in "Pirates" had beautiful solo voices and they really belted out their numbers. "I Am a Pirate King" was glorious and yet had that bombastically comic touch with lots of "sight gags". My favorite, "I Am the Very Model..." was quintesential English upperclass snobery and so precise. There were a couple of romantic ballads which were so typical of the period, full voice and right in each other's faces.

The choreography was clean and just right for the tightness of the stage. There were pratt falls and mock fights galore. The policemen had that "Keystone Kop" gait and were a great contrast to the sweet pattering steps of the "maidens" (General's Wards) There were lots of "group moves" like in "group hugs". Lots of attention to detail and authenticity in the costumes.

And of course, what would Gilbert and Sullivan be without your puns and word-play? The protagonist "Frederick" was sent to apprentice for "pirates" not "pilots" because his nurse "Ruth" had been "hard of hearing". Later, "orphan" and "often" are confused comedically. The "soft-hearted" pirates would never attack or hurt "orphans" which most of them least not very often.

The whole experience was great fun and I would highly recommend it. The candle-abra (sconces) along the walls are kept burning throughout,(smell of smoke included) but the oil-wick lamps at the tables are snuffed before the curtain's rise. The wait service was a bit slow and the dishes were not cleared before the intermission desserts. I had a scrumptious bread pudding with Jack Daniel's sauce. The pre-show dinner music was superb. Michael Ryan, a local guitarist, so impressed with his classical and flamenco numbers. He too has come a long way from when we first heard him and his small combo at the local eateries in town. He has a website: and a show "Michael Ryan and Friends" coming up April 2nd at Gardiner Spring Auditorium in Ontario; ought to be good. We need to continue to support our local, live theaters, They are almost becoming "extinct" I think. Bob

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Long-Lost Artist, Found!

"I never realized how many people wanted to be artists, but gave it up at one point for one reason or another," said David Fairrington recently. He directs Banning's Center for the Arts and just delights in reigniting that interest and desire in those who come to this new downtown Art District's Gallery. In this way, he envisions the need for this Center and its "mission" which is more than the "sum of its parts" ie. a gallery for display and sale of both locally and nationally known artist's works, a classroom for aspiring artists of most ages and media, a tea room for the artists' refreshment and networking of creative ideas and contacts, and even a performance venue for new performance artists, dancers and musicians.

My curiosity was piqued recently when I came home and found that my wife was once again inspired to paint in oils. I had missed that pungent smell of turpentine which usually accosted my senses announcing her creative activities. She assured me that it had been quite awhile since she had used that stinky solvent for her brush cleaning as she showed me her new "studio" in our small, home- office. She then told me about her new, weekly "lessons" with David at the Arts Center. It was on my day off at the time, so I wanted to go with her and see this Center and meet her new painting mentor. I was so happy to see that she wanted "to paint" again. I've always thought she was more "herself" and happiest when she was painting. I had given up trying to encourage her and just knew she would get back to it when she felt ready and inspired. Thanks, David!

I first met David Fairrington and his wife Lilly at a public information meeting for the newly started "Arts District" project for downtown Banning back in October of 2005. He had invited my wife, as his newest student, and we decided to go since we had been involved in or supporting "the Arts" for many years; raising three out of four of our sons as "artists". I was encouraged by what I saw and heard that evening and posted my comments in my blog. ie "Banning Arts Colony?" On a recent, rainy Tuesday I helped my wife tote her painting gear to her gallery/classroom and took a little tour of the Center. Again, I was impressed. Later, that morning, when David found out I liked to write, he invited me to come back on a Monday, when the Center was closed, and do an interview for this posting and a possible article for publication in "Art-Talk".

He offered me a cup of coffee, the Tea Room was also closed, and we sat and talked for almost two hours. He cleared a space at the classroom table. He had recently gotten a donation of art supplies to add to his " student store" and he was organizing them and getting ready to render at his own easel -his only "free day to paint" as the Center's Director/Teacher. He told me a little about the history of the Center when it was called "Artists in Residence" and didn't have a full-time director and wasn't open to the public as much. Now the Center's hours are: Tues - Sat. 10:A.M. to 4:P.M. with two docents and many volunteers. There have been special events into the evenings including special openings of local artist's shows, collaborations such as the current show called "Timeless Goddess" with three artists, jazz musicians, dancers and demonstrations such as "pot throwing".

April 8th the Arts Center will be the hub of a downtown Art District "street faire" called "Art-Hop" It sounds like fun. The Spanish-styled building has a wrought-iron enclosed front yard and patio right on the sidewalk for displays and performances in warmer weather. There are three rooms besides the classroom with almost 1000 square feet of display area. Most of the walls are well lit for hanging paintings and surround tables and chairs for tea. I can just imagine the warm ambiance especially on Saturdays between 10:A.M and 2:P.M. when Denice Myers reads "your future" from your tea leaves.

While I was there, a local artist dropped in and inquired about the possibility of "hanging" some of his paintings for sale in the gallery. David encouraged him to bring them in and he would decide what he could put up "on consignment". There are two other galleries across San Gorgonio Street, which is one of the main streets in downtown Banning (next to City Hall).

All in all I can see now why my wife and other local "budding artists" might be attracted to come and participate in this center. It is not just the unassuming gallery, classroom and tea room. It is David himself. He has a wide and varied amount of experience as a career, commercial artist; in Viet Nam, as a Combat Military Artist, and in Hollywood, as Promotional Graphics Artist. He has the reputation as a well-known and talented portrait artist in the United States, especially in California, Arizona and New Mexico. He not only leads and teaches by example but he is able to critique and suggest ideas to his students in a way that is very non-judgemental and supportive. He has an openness and acceptance in his demeanor which makes it very easy for his art students to try "new things" and take risks. He considers "teaching" as more of a "learning experience". He was recently quoted, "If you listen and pay attention to your students, you can end up seeing the world through a different set of eyes." As the old saying goes, "El que da, recibe. El que ensene, aprende." He who gives, receives. He who teaches, learns. Bob

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Flat Stanley" does The Huntington Gardens

Yesterday we took "Flat Stanley" to one of our favorite places in the world, The Huntington Library and Gardens. It was a beautifully fresh day after the rains. Buds were just beginning to awaken all washed and sparkling with the remaining dew. The skies were mostly clear with just a few multi-layered cumulo-nimbus clouds lurking. A perfect day for photography.

Our grandson Stone has had a "class project" to take his hand-crafted, two-dimensional, laminated character to a "distant place" that he hadn't been yet. Last year we took his sister's "Stanley" to Oak Glen. Then we take lots of pictures and Betty creatively mounts them in a "scrapbook" for presentation to their classmates. "Flat Stanley" is from a recent children's book/story where the main character is the "ultimate tourist" around the world because he is easy to mail there and flat (2 dimensional).

What was amazing to us was that so many people who saw us "posing Stanley" in the park, knew exactly who he was and what we were doing. Young families, older couples, grandparents all commented on our "project" and some said it brought back fond memories of their "travels with Stanley". There was an instant kindred spirit established with strangers. The only time we felt alittle foolish was when we "captured him" having "high tea" with us at the Huntington Tea Room.

At first, though, we took him to the Children's Garden and he "played" in all the fountains and creative enclosures and shapes. There were places to go in and under and over that were challenging at times...but he made it. He got wet and misty in the "rain forest fog". He climbed on topiary trees and plants of all shapes. Then he got lost in the Conservatory and almost fell in some carnivorous pitcher plants and venus fly-traps. Then he smelled the orchids and bromyliads(?) and went "swimming" in the lily pond with the koi. He waded in the bogs and slid down the bannisters. What fun he had! Then he had to rest on a ancient stone-sculpted bench. Several times he was almost eaten by the sentry stone lions that guard the Tea Room and the Japanese Gardens. He ate way too many finger sandwiches and scones and drank a delicious dark tea that smelled like roses. He made sure that most of his petite desserts had some form of chocolate in or on them. He could hardly make it to the Bonsai Gardens and those tree that are just his size. He saw the display of "National Doll Day" in Japan and was almost swallowed by the rock croc in the Zen Garden. There he meditated for a spell and leaned against a small border post. He resisted the urge to inscribe graffitti on the immense stands of bamboo.

Another new section I wanted to show him was the "beginnings" of the "Chinese Gardens". It has been long overdue as a permanent display garden at the Huntington. It will be built in two phases, the ponds and the pavilions. I included pictures at the top of this post because I can't get them to go down here. It is going to be grand and gigantic. It already has a fully matured stand of pine trees for the setting. Stan and I can hardly wait until it is fully finished in '09. I tried to explain the karmic irony (?) of this nacent project to him with my best pedagogical perceptions. You see, the original Huntingtons, the fathers and grandfathers of the Library's founder, built the western link of the "transcontinental railroad" with Chinese Immigrant/Slaves. They were not even allowed to ride those trains let alone live in the neighborhoods near San Marino and the Huntington. The great wealth from the further infrastructure ie. the Pacific Electric System in SouthernCalifornia helped the Huntington descendants buy and collect land, art and written treasures from around the world, even China. Now, the support and funding by non-profit grants and Private Estate Donations are in-part supplemented by these same Immigrants descendants and their progeny. This is truly "the American Dream" ...coming in the "back door" so to speak. It has happened before and it will happen again. Bob!