Tuesday, January 30, 2007


"This little light of mine,
I'm gona let it shine..."
"Shine on me,
In the...evening"
These little song phrases in my memory are conjured up when I think of "shining on" someone or something. The first is a Sunday School song I was taught and the second is a Barbershop Quartet Chestnut I enjoy singing. So I thought the concert last Sunday night at L.A.'s Disney Concert Hall by the L.A. Master Chorale was going to be a "shining tribute" to Steve Reich, one of our best modern, minimalist composers on the occasion of his 70th Birthday. Well, it truly was. And yet it was so much more for me, casual, amateur choral music singer/fan/blogger. The graphic from the printed program shown above gave me a hint of the rich and textural experience I was to have musically with the shining, dark, pock-marked pebbles glistening from the signature architectural shapes of the, now familiar, L.A. Landmark.
I arrived five minutes late to "Listen Up" only to find standing room only. This rarely happens at these pre-concert lectures i.e. mainly populated with early-bird retirees, like me, who have nothing better to do before the concert. I stood for awhile, listening and taking some notes while Alan Chapman from KUSC, Grant Gershone, L.A.M.C.'s Director and Steve Reich, honored, baseball capped composer held forth. These sessions are usually very conversational with little interacting from the masses. What seemed to be the fascination with this particular concert was the West Coast Premiere of a recently commissioned work by Reich on the tragic kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl by Islamic extremist in Pakistan in 2002. Daniel was a Wall Street Journal reporter of American Jewish decent. He also played the jazz and blue grass fiddle. My interest was piqued and my memory was jarred back to that loathsome event. Even though I wanted to hear more about the inner workings of the minds of the composer and the director, I needed alittle fuel and a pit-stop before the concert that I knew would be emotionally draining on me. So I stopped standing in the side/back and went back downstairs for refreshment.
I had missed the Christmas concerts due to illness and family obligations and I wasn't about to miss this one for other reasons. I usually like to come into my seat early and get settled and read the blurbs in the program. I sit on the extreme stage left now, just three rows from the lip of the apron. It is an area that I can stretch out my legs and relax and not have to get up 17 times for latecomers. Usually a little usherette stands in the corner holding a pile of programs that she offers to no one. It seems her main purpose is to spot "flash photographers" and tattle to her superiors on just exactly where they are sitting. He then "walkie-talkies" to his cohorts on that level and, boom, they're busted. Never mind that the hidden, slanted, unmarked steps are there to trip up unsuspecting, older, disabled ticket holders. She does give the verbal warning but there are a series of three steps that usually surprise most. Someone will have to fall and...threaten to get letigious before the steps will be marked with glow-in-the-dark caution tape and have extra ushers there to grab an arm. Anyway, I go on...too much. I usually make sure my cell phone is off or turned to vibrate. I've recently upgraded my phone to one that takes pictures. It doesn't flash...so...yes, I was tempted to take a picture of the organ pipes and send them to my musician son. No one would be the wiser. Good thing, I don't tempt too easily.
I was amazed at the set-up on the stage, a first. Everything was mic-ed. Eighteen music stands and eighteen microphones for the singers in the back of a small complement of an "orchestra" i.e. four grand pianos, four marimbas, a few reeds, horns and strings. Only one bass viol.
This was the set-up for the first half, "You Are Variations" by Reich which the chorale used to open the Disney a few years back. For the second half the marimbas were replaced with "vibes" (vibraphones) and the strings were cut to a quartet with a bass drum (muted) and a "tam-tam" (gong) I knew we were in for a ton of percussion.(usually always fun for me) The "Daniel Variations" singer were reduced to 12 and excluded any basses or altos...interesting. My excitement and anticipation was rising. Everyone/thing was amplified so there were two gigantic multidirectional speakers on either side down stage right and left.(also a first for me) Usually the accoustics in this special hall were unaided (very lively) Wow! Then I saw and read that the composer himself would do the "mixing" from the booth in the back. This was just like a recording session...which, I guess, there will be in the future with "Nonesuch".
The first introductory, companion works performed were motets from the Renaissance Period by Josquin des Prez and William Byrd. They can be very beautiful, flowing and polyphonic(weaving melodies like canons or rounds) Their subject matters were very fitting from Psalms. "Jubilate Deo Omnis Terra" and "Haec Dies" in the first half and "Absalon Fili Mi" and "Justorum Animae" introducing the darker second half. I was all set to be awed...and musically, I was; but visually, staging-wise I was distracted. The professional singers came out in their "informally diverse and black costumes and proceeded to sing to each other in a circle near the edge of the apron. In the first half, they were very near me and I had an excellent view of some basses big behinds (eye-level). I also heard individual voices, especially a tiny tenor one. Now, granted, as a singer, I have practiced this way so to better hear each part/voice and blend, but to perform this way, even in a concert hall with "surround seating", no thanks. There were two areas of risers that could've been used in these small side areas without mic cords...at least face one direction and smile at the audiences instead of each other (which they didn't do either)
I was prepared for non-harmonic, minimalist music with few cadences. This was the least of what I got; especially with the "Daniel Variations" The driving, repetitive nature of the percussive pianos and marimbas. Soon I was in another world of my thoughts and dreams/nightmares about this horrific lapse in justice. The minor dominant chords were taking me back to Daniel in the lion's den and the Persian King, Nebuchadnezzar's demands and dictates. History? repeating itself? "Handwriting on the wall..You have been weighed in the balances and found wanting." always was used to scare us kids. Nightmares coming true for many of our best and brightest/youngest even today. Yes, the music was disturbing, that was its purpose. Yet at the end, the major dominant chords helped bring me back to our modern day Daniel who simply stated his name, "My name is Daniel Pearl." for all the world to hear and know that he still existed, his strong will would proceed. "He was what his thoughts were. Explanations come to an end somewhere. Say little and do much." Even today, we commemorate his sacrifice and we too hope, as he did, that the Angel Gabriel likes his music.
"Hide it under a bushel,
I'm gona let it shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine,
All the time!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Dying Breed?

Is extinction threatening our unique breed? We Bloggers must unite! Somehow we must propagate. I'm doing my part. I even have cards I pass out to those who might be interested in reading my journal of thoughts and opinions. I have registered my "blogging theme" with the Writer's Guild for future "spin-offs" (attempt at humor)

In a recent article in our Press Enterprise entitled, "Burnout Thinning Ranks of Bloggers", Jon Tevlin of the McClatchy sites these signs: The Technology firm of Gartner Inc. has announced that 2007 may be the year the blog world loses steam - there were more than 56 million active weblogs (blogs) in Oct. of 2006, according to Technorati, but the average life span is three months and declining. (I've been doing my blog since March of '05 with about 2 or 3 posts a week!...lately maybe once a week) There are already 200 million ex-bloggers. The peak number worldwide will be about 100 million before July. Today's exuberance will level off to a stasis of at least 30 million active bloggers and 30 million frequent community contributors worldwide.

The reason, according to Gartner, is that people have gotten bored with their blogs, or just found the responsibility - not to mention the strain - of saying something profound or even interesting every day just isn't worth it. (Here, I totally disagree. I usually find something everyday in the two newspapers I subscribe to or the several magazines that suggest topics of interest. Then there is always what is happening to me in my "retirement world" i.e. going back to college, singing with my barbershoppers, going to concerts and reviewing them, shopping, playing with games and puzzles such as my nintendo DS "Brain Age" etc. or tutoring at the Kindergarten and Middleschool or gambling at the local casinos)

"A lot of people have been in and out of this blogging thing," says Daryl Plummer, chief Gartner fellow. "Everyone thinks they have something to say, until they're put onstage and asked to say it." (Aha! No wonder I like it...I'm at ease on the stage, having taught drama of some sort all those years.) However, I just took the "Online test" for Jeopardy and it was a "humbling experience" to say the least. You get only 15 seconds to read the question and type in the the answer before the time runs out on you. Most of the time, I had an answer, maybe right, but time had gone. We watch the show every night and usually do pretty well without the question phrasing and the pressure of time. They don't stage the "Seniors Contests" anymore...not that entertaining I guess.

What I've also noticed is that alot of our up and coming, younger generation doesn't have "time" to bother with the newspaper or printed media. They get what they need or all they want off the TV or the internet "sound bites". No "in depth" coverage or fascinating "human interest" stories. These are perfect for Blogs in my book. Too bad for them, living life at such a "surface" level. The metaphor I like is the "bobbing" I do when I meditate...going deeper each time in that "sea of consciousness". Maybe that will come with age. Come to think of it, I was pretty busy and stressed out when I was suppporting my family with at least two jobs. I should not criticize my juniors without remembering what we went through. Just glad to be here and blogging and bobbing away. Bob!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Divine Comedy or Tragedy?

I just found these pictures of Dante Alighieri in an information service I get called "Knowledge News". They are quite interesting to me since I just started studying the Renaissance Period in my Art History Class. Dante and his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy are significant in the development of the Tuscan Dialect of Vernacular Italian or "common language" invention and usage during a time, more than 700 years ago, when Latin was primarily used to convey the Glory of God.

Italian scientists have recently reconstructed the face of Dante, their nation's most famous poet. Using a combination of modern forensics and a plaster model made from his skull in 1921, they produced the bust you see above. He must've had quite a "Roman Nose"...a comedic nose?

"Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

So begins Dante's Divine Epic. For more than seven centuries, Dante's readers have connected with that feeling--of finding themselves lost--before following him on a poetic journey that leads, literally (or at least literarily), from the depths of hell to heaven's heights. It has been more than a few years since I was required to read it, but I remember the arduous trip for I, at the time, was considering going to the Seminary of our church and it must've had an influence on my deciding not to go. Undergraduate college courses had that effect on me. i.e. "dark forest" "fear and trembling" etc. Also, I didn't really believe in "Purgatory"...hell, yes, heaven, maybe. My what a distance I've come since my first major research paper back at Ol' North Park College -"Symbols of the Godhead". Can you even imagine?

Anyway, back to Dante - He was born in Florence, Italy in 1265 and became one of the city's leading political lights. His very success proved to be his downfall because in 1301, the Florentine faction he helped lead lost power to a rival faction, and he wound up exiled. Bad news for his budding political career. Good news for the history of literature. A few years into his exile, he began writing La Commedia (people added "divine" later) in the Tuscan dialect of vernacular Italian he had spoken back home. By the epic's end, his poem consisted of 100 cantos, each roughly 140 lines long, and all written in terza rima, a rhyme scheme he invented for the project.

The first canto introduces the entire work. The other 99 are divided into three equal parts: Inferno, in which the Roman poet Virgil leads Dante through nine descending circles of hell. (I was reminded of this when our tour in Rome took us to a catacombe...only it got cooler and damper) Purgatorio, was next and he was led up Mount Purgatory (a volcano not unlike Vesuvius which we saw fromt the forum ruins at Pompeii) and then Paradiso, in which Dante's deceased love, Beatrice, takes him on a tour of heaven (Virgil, a heathen poet couldn't go) (here I'm transported everytime I hear "Im Paradisium" a standard movement in most Requiems especially Faure's or Mozart's)

Together, the cantos draw a detailed map of the Medieval Christian Cosmos. This was one item we were in need of when we spent a day in "Fiorenza"(Florence) and didn't want to live in their museums and cathedrals. We ended up sitting an immense pallazio between the architectural wonders getting our "characatures" drawn by a local "al fresco arteest" My wife looked just like Oxana Byooul to him.

The Divine Comedy wasn't all fire and brimstone, penance and salvation to Dante. He wove in classical allusions, philosophical reflections and juicy details from his personal life --including spats with his political enemies, who got their just desserts in his version of hell. This classic work is considered one of the greatest literary works of all time but many of his contemporaries viewed it as vulgar in the "common tongue".

I'm sure some of my family, friends (contemporaries) view my "blog writing" in this same way..."pearls before swine" "putting out my private thoughts and pictures for the whole world (internet) to see...shameful! Tragic! What have I come to? Well, I don't care. I think it's a kick. Something to do in my "retirement spare time" It helps me remember all the wonderful things I have done so far and what I can dream and look forward to. Bob!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chimerical Uxorious Coxcombs

These then are the new "words of the day". Believe me, they are nothing you would want to be...even though, at times, you may feel that way. A "coxcomb" has many obsolete meanings now ie. a cap worn by a court jester adorned with a strip of red, a fool. Now it refers to a vain, showy fellow; a conceited, silly man, fond of display, a superficial pretender to knowledge or accomplishments; a dandy, a fop. Now, you add to that the adjective: "chimerical" and you get "indulging in unrealistic fantasies or fantastic schemes. This comes from the Greek "khimaira" = "she-goat" or "chimera" which in Greek mythology was a creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a dragon. Top it off with an adjective like "uxorious" and you have the ultimate tragedy ie. "excessively fond of or submissive to a wife". Can you imagine?

Shakespeare did...probably more than once. Of course now we think it might have been the Earl of Oxford, his Ghost Writer. The play I'm referring to is "That Scottish Play"...you know, the one we "theatre people" don't refer to by name outside the rehearsal hall for fear of "the curse/jinx". You see I've been consulting on one of the first Shakespeare Plays I attempted back in the day..."Macbeth". Our local drama coach/teacher has chosen to have her kids do scenes from it and I've been trying to explain it to them. Macbeth's flaw was not only the three witches who put "a curse" on him but his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth. Of course, she went crazy with guilt, ie "Out damn spot" This all happened when there was much credibility given to such things as "witchcraft" not unlike "Harry Potter" and his cohorts. Since it was presented in England during the reign of King James, of Bible sponsoring fame, it was banned for five years or more and thus got its reputation. ie. a very dark and tragic-tragedy. This was a play where you could truly "break a leg" stumbling around in the dark. My first attempt at the play was so much fun and such a "success" that it got in the local paper in Claremont. I had two rebellious sisters in my class at the time. They were constantly challenging me and the school rules. ie. came to school barefoot. So I gave them the parts of the witches in Macbeth and they just loved it and took off with it. Of course we had to have all the scary make up, sound effects, green lighting and slimy animal part props for the caldron. The boys loved the sword fighting...first time they had been allowed to do that in school (with wooden blades)

The "fool" for Shakespeare was more associated with Falstaff or Yorick. Even "Taming of the Shrew" and "Midsummer Night's Dream" had fools or foolish acts. I have fond memories of them all at my "elementary level". We had more fun with the "fairy dust" and the special sound-effects for that when "Bottom and Titania" were made to fall in love with each other. And we did it all without "kissing or touching". I'll never forget the "fight" between Kate and her "not-to-be uxorious" husband. We had to choreograph quite a knockdown drag out brawl with out "a scratch".

Schools now days wouldn't allow any of that. No siree! Teachers wouldn't be given the kind of "freedom" I had. Too bad. We learned alot of vocabulary and "life lessons" and how to work as a team, cohesively...something schools don't/won't teach now. It is not on the Standardized Tests. Can't be measured and evaluated by paper and No. 2 pencil.

Who might be the "Chimerical Uxorious Coxcombs" now? Not us Bobs!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Her Jar is a Door!

What happens in Vegas...stays in Vegas! Not quite. We recently had an opportunity to do some "shootin'" in Vegas. I'd like to tell you about it.

First of all, we had a great time. We went to celebrate my wife's sister's 65th Birthday. She wanted to see Celine Dion so we all got tickets. WOW! What a show! State of the Art Staging with "visuals" to match and enhance her spectacular "sound system". You couldn't take your eyes off of it. I tried to use my binoculars but then I would miss alot of the overall effects and the expansive choreography. It set me to dreaming about "staging" again and my minute productions back "in the day". What is it? "Young men see visions, old men dream dreams." Or is it the other way around? Anyway, the Director, Dragone, has some "Colosseum" there at Caesar's to work with. To me, from the outside it is shaped like a big "jar". He has taken the lid off the jar and given that audience a spectacular view of an "open door" with all kinds of possibilities and ways of expressing Celine's songs and dances. (hence the title of this post) ie. her band, 2 drummers, 2 keyboards, violin, accoustic guitars etc. are (at times) hidden in "see-through" stair mounds that open and close. Things fly, rise up from under the floor and appear out of nowhere. The lighting design and choreography supplement each other to the degree that they pulsate with the music and her "crystal shattering" vocals. She is very personable with the audience at times and effemeral too. The whole cast, after the bows walks out arm-in-arm to "What a Wonderful World" (L. Armstrong's) She also does a tribute to Frank Sinatra blending voices and pictures just the way Nate King and Natalie did. Go see it. You'll be awestruck too.

Another very interesting experience was our visit to the "Silverton Casino" and the "Bass Pro Shop". This was my brother-in-law's request. He wanted to pick up some fishing gear for his grandchildren. I had been there before with him last August and was quite impressed with the "taxadermy" displays. Half of the pictures above are from there. You've got your stuffed elk, bear, skunk, fish and even African animals. You've got your ammo, tackle and every possible thing you might need to hunt, fish, hike and even mountain climb. I included two stuffed people too,mountain climbers. My wife didn't want to see them or even go near them. She has some awfully scary memories of bears trying to get into our tent-cabin in the Sequoias. We gambled a bit and I found a new table game I really liked and made alot of money at. It is called "Boston 5" and is a form of poker played against the dealer. Minimum bet was only $2. but you had to put it in 5 places to collect. I just couldn't seem to lose. My only other winning instances were at two video poker games where I got four 7's and four 2's. I decided to stop while I was ahead.

We also visited the Atrium/Solarium at the Belagio. We just have to include that each trip to Vegas. Half of the picture above are from that display. Giant polar bears and reindeer made of flowers and pecan shells...not looking threatened or endangered at all. That's more my kind of "shootin' range".

We had some wonderful meals. Buffets at Paris and Bellagio are the best. Our new favorite place happened serrandipitiously. We had reservations at Spago before Celine but when we looked at the weird menu we changed our minds and went across the forum to "The Palms". Great choice! It is trying to be a "west-coast" "Sardi's" you know, with the characatures of "stars" all over the walls. (by the way, Vincent Sardi Jr. just died at 91 in New York) So we felt like stars and our waiter, Fernando Coyote, "Coyote" was quite a character himself. He and I sang the Mexican Birthday Song to my sister-in-law to bring down the house (restaurant) "Estas son las mananitas..." He got a big tip. The food was very delicious. We (both couples) split the salmon and (they) beef. We'll be going there again and look for sister restaurants in L.A. etc. We went out to Lake Las Vegas and to Monte Lagos Casino but we were not impressed at all. It was kind of dead, as in winter-dead. The casino was empty and in the "wine cellar". It was a side trip of only about 45 mins. On the way back we gambled at Mandalay Bay. Ideal place to throw money away. ie. very open, high ceilinged, spacious and the bar maids are "spectacular". I was hanging around the sports book which is close to the Mama Mia show entrance and some lady came up and offered me a free ticket to see Mama Mia (again). I was tempted but no...it is more fun to see, even a second time, with someone you love. So I went back to see my "Mama Mia" and her sister who were having the greatest time with "flaming Sevens" and "Free Merlot". Bob!