Search This Blog

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

It's Been Awhile

Greetings all,

It has been more than five years since I have posted on my blog, and now that I have decided to remove myself from the Dallas Theater Community, I will have more time to think and to write and to come up with some clever things to say on my blog.

Upcoming topics include music and art, the Trump kakistocracy, thoughts on sober living, spirituality and finding the good in everyone, including myself. Stay tuned everyone. I should be interesting

Oh yeah, and I'll be posting record reviews too

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

In Praise of the Public Library

Since my youngest days, the public library has been one of my sanctuaries. It was at the New Castle, Indiana public library that read my first biographies of Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, and it was there that I came to appreciate classic American cinema through their circulating collection of silent eight millimeter films.

It was also there that I learned to truly love classical music. Since we could not afford to buy lots of records, the library's collection of long playing records was my infinite source of great music. For me, the library was, and still is, a wonderland. It was a place where I could get lost for hours reading great stories, histories and biographies.

Our fair city of Dallas has an amazing public library system. It has dozens of branches that offer myriad services that go well beyond just lending books and movies. They offer help with your taxes, help getting signed up for health insurance, help finding a job through seminars and workshops that are frequently offered. They give people who can't afford it free access to the internet. They provide a safe and quiet place for students to study and do research. In a word, the Dallas Public Library is a gold mine of resources for our community.

Yet, this invaluable resource is so low on the public totem pole that they only have enough funds to keep the doors open for just over forty hours per week.

Literacy and access to information is one of the most important building blocks of a strong and free society. The expertly staffed, remarkably modern, thoroughly efficient library system that we have here is a priceless asset. What is appalling is that our city government so under-funds it that it has to be completely closed two days a week, and when it is open, it is open for fewer than ten hours a day.

I encourage you, dear readers, to do two things. First, start patronizing the library to get the books that you want to read and the movies that you want to see. I know that anyone savvy enough to read The Tenor Diaries must also be an avid reader of books and periodicals. So consider stocking your e-reader with files from the library, or, if you're like me and still love a thick paper tome, try checking out some books from your local branch.

Second, make your views known to our mayor, our city manager and to our city council. Tell them that this time honored resource is important to you and to your family. Tell them that you expect your tax dollars to be better put to use in making our libraries more available, open longer and able to keep completely current with acquisitions.

The libraries in Dallas are some of the finest in the country. Please show your support by using them and advocating for them at City Hall.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Please Help Support Choral Music in Dallas

Dear friends,

It is not often that I use this space for a direct appeal, but since it's my space and and you're a supportive audience, here we go.

In 1999, I founded The Helios Ensemble, a consort of professional musicians that produces operas, concerts and recitals in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The group has undergone a number of reincarnations over the years and we are about to set out on a new venture.

In August of this year, we will present The Helios Festival of Voices, a weekend of choral and vocal concerts for your enjoyment. After lying dormant for a few years, this is our first major venture in some time.

I am happy to report that we have a wonderful and active board of directors that is working very hard to make this festival a reality. Future plans include enlarging the summer event into a workshop and institute for professional and amateur singers and conductors.

All of these lofty goals cost lots of money, and here's where I am personally asking for your help. Please consider making a tax deductible contribution to The Helios Ensemble today. No gift is too small and every dollar helps to employ  fine professional musicians to present great concerts of choral music to our community. Ticket sales raise only a portion of the money needed to stage the kinds of concerts that we present, and that I am sure you enjoy.

Please make a generous, tax deductible contribution to The Helios Ensemble by sending a check to

The Helios Ensemble
C/O Robert Brooks, treasurer
9632 Vista Oaks Drive
Dallas, TX 75243

Your support will be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for helping to make great music possible in Dallas!

Kevin Sutton
Artistic Director 
The Helios Ensemble

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why I Will Be Paying the Tax Penalty for the ACA

The controversy continues to swirl around the Affordable Care Act, and at first I was a loyal Democrat and supported the law wholeheartedly. That is, until I tried to get health care myself.

Like a good citizen, I battled the slow web site and got signed up right after enrollment opened last year. It took some doing but I got my policy and was excited to have health care for the first time in years.

Yeah, right.

Comes January and I discover that the doctor assigned to me by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas did not accept the policy. Yep, that' right. BCBS had assigned me to a designer concierge medical office that didn't accept ANY kind of insurance, let alone my subsidized discounted policy. So, I call BCBS. Well, I tried. It took weeks to get through to them, and I was only able to get to speak to someone after I blew up at a representative who was calling ME to ask why I had not yet paid my premium. I told her why on no uncertain terms.

Not only did the doctor they assigned me not accept my plan, hardly anyone else did. Were I to keep my insurance, I would have to visit a clinic in the very worst part of our fair city. Yeah, that's right, the ghetto.
Not happening gurl.

I finally got through to BCBS, only to be told that if I wanted to change my policy, I would have to contact, that since I bought my policy through the marketplace, they couldn't change it. Oh, well, if I wanted, they would sell me a policy independent of the marketplace....for $800 a month. Yeah, that's as much as my rent folks.

SO, I dutifully called, only to be told that no, they couldn't change my plan, nor could they edit my profile and re-enroll me. I would have to do that through my provider.

See where this is going?

So as of today, March 27, 2014, my Blue Cross plan has been cancelled due to lack of payment. I'll be damned if I will pay for something that I can't use. Furthermore, I can't re-enroll and start all over again until November. Healthcare for every American!!!!

 Yeah, right.

Thank you, dear government for mounting yet another cluster fuck. Oh yeah, I even wrote to my Senator about my problem. He wrote me a very nice paragraph expressing his sympathy and directed me to contact my state senator for help. Let's see how that goes.

Good health to you!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hearken Back if you Will...

Everyone who knows me knows that I love vinyl records, and that I have a special affinity to the classic vinyl issued throughout the fifties and early sixties on labels like Capitol. Columbia and RCA, not to mention Verve and Blue Note and the like.

One of my favorite pass times is to troll through used record stores or the usually hidden away bins of records in thrift stores or garage sales to find some wonderful fifty cent treasures. Last night my adventures led to a four dollar shopping spree that netted some amazing finds.

First, for a whomping $.49 I found copy of Ruby Braff and his men playing "A Hi-Fi Salute to Bunny." Trumpeter Bunny Berigan had died fifteen years before this 1957 issue, and RCA wanted to pay tribute to the great trumpeter who sadly could handle neither business nor alcohol and died broke of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of thirty-three. With an all star cast featuring Braff on trumpet; Walter Page on bass; Steve Jordan, guitar; Nat Pierce, piano; Buzzy Drootin, drums; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Benny Morton, trombone; and Dick Hafer on tenor sax, these boys whip out seven signature Berigan tunes that swing to the max. It never ceases to amaze me how well vinyl holds up over the years. This 57 year old record sounds amazing, mono and all!

I have always believed that Don McLean is one of the greatest composer/lyricists in the history of American song. Of course, he's famous for American Pie, his 1971 masterpiece lamenting the passing of Buddy Holly. (That album contains two other absolutely brilliant songs in Vincent and Crossroads.) McLean recorded rather prolifically in the seventies and eighties, never really achieving the widespread success of Pie.  For a mere $.99 I picked up his ballad collection Tapestry. Even when Don is being silly he has something important to say (think On the Amazon and Narcissisma from his 1972 eponymous release) and Tapestry doesn't disappoint. McLean has always been able to tunefully and poignantly get to the heart of any matter be it a love song or an encomium. The money tune on this collection is And I Love You So, which became a much bigger hit for Perry Como than it did for its composer.

And finally the gem of the evening, which cost me some big bucks ($1.99), was a 1967 release by the Swingle Singers. What that octet could do with da-ba-da-ba-da was amazing, and this collection of music by Spanish masters is breathtaking. Featuring vocal transcriptions of great instrumental works, the Swingles cover music of Sarasate, Rodrigo, Granados , Albeniz and Soler. The high point is the stunning rendition of the adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The perfect balance and intonation of this crew that was to inspire dozens of future famous vocal groups like The Manhattan Transfer and the New York Voices, is simply beyond belief and it must be noted that there was no such thing as autotune in 1967.

There are so many forgotten wonders lying around all over the country in boxes of old records. I encourage you to dust off your old turn table and give that old fashioned vinyl a spin. I think you'll be amazed at what you will discover. Happy digging!!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Twenty Questions Trivia Quiz 2014

Looking back over past entries I noticed that it has been a year since I sent out a little trivia quiz. So, I thought I would post one for 2014. Last year the prize was a lollipop and a gold star. Being more health conscious this year, the prize will be a cupcake and a diet coke. Have fun! And no Googleing!!!!

1. What famous piece of classical music determined the standard length of the compact disc?

2. Who said, "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." ?

3. Who was the first recording artist to use the technique of overlaying multiple tape tracks to harmonize with herself?

4. Who composed the song "Smile" made most famous by Judy Garland?

5. Who discovered and perfected alternating current?

6. What famous politician invented soft serve ice cream?

7. If you are a phlebotomist, what is your profession?

8. Who was the federal agent that led The Untouchables?

9.  What was the professional name of Denis Pratt, also known as the Naked Civil Servant?

10.  What significant social uprising happened in 1969 on the evening of Judy Garland's funeral?

11. Desilu was a television production company founded and run by whom?

12.  Susan Harris, who created The Golden Girls, became famous a decade earlier for another controversial sitcom. What was it?

13. In what city was the 70's sitcom "One Day at a Time" set?

14. Who was the only bachelor President of the United States?

15.  What was the name of the law that banned the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages in the US?

16.  Why will Lady Mary Crawley never be the Countess of Grantham?

17. What was the name of the office that enforced the Motion Picture Production Code?

18. What is the only X rated movie to win a best picture Oscar?

19.  Traditionally, American first ladies adopt a cause to champion during their husband's term in office. What is the cause of first lady Michelle Obama?

20.  Name the nine members of the United States Supreme Court.

Please leave comments with your scores! I would love to hear how you did!

Some Lovely Bach from a New Source

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1027-1029
Marianne Muller, viola da gamba
Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord in G, BWV 1019 (transcription for viola da gamba)

Marianne Muller, viola da gamba
Francoise Lengelle, harpsichord

TT: 71:09

Zig-Zag Territories ZZT 340

By the early eighteenth century, the viola da gamba, although still popular in France was fading into the background in favor of the more sonorous cello. Bach however loved the instrument and very likely played it himself. Indeed, Bach used the gamba, which so closely matches the timbre of the human voice, in some of his most poignant expressions of sorrow in both the St. Matthew and St. John Passions, and in the Actus Tragicus.

These works are somewhat unusual in that the harpsichord is given its own independent part, fully contrapuntal and containing its own melodies, rather than its customary role of providing the harmonic bed for the melody instruments. This is undoubtedly due to the lighter sound of the gamba, which would enable it to balance nicely with the less hefty sound output of the harpsichord. 

It is likely that Bach composed more than the three extant sonatas (the first of which is his own transcription the sonata for two flutes, BWV 1039). Alas, we only have these three. But what delights they are! These works are undoubtedly some of Bach's most tuneful and elegant forays into instrumental music. 

Mmes. Muller and Lengelle offer radiant performances in this recent recording on the Zig-Zag Territories label, a company with which I am just becoming acquainted. Marianne Muller produces a warm and vibrant tone and her performances come alive with humor and spirit. On occasion I found her tendency to slightly halt the tempo in certain phrases with an extra stretch here or a little gap there to be disconcerting but on the whole these are trivial complaints and can be dismissed as interpretive licence and sensitive musicality. They are just not to this writer's particular taste. 

Francoise Lengelle is fleet of finger and plays with great clarity and attention to detail. Individual melodies are brought out with elan and there is a deft balance between soloistic playing and accompanying. Ms. Lengell√© clearly knows the difference between the two and adapts to both roles beautifully.

In this day of the download, this is the first recording I have ever reviewed that I heard via a subscription service and not from physical media. I can say that I found the listening experience to be quite satisfactory, and although Rhapsody (tm) does not provide program notes or performer biographies, these were easily found by a quick Google search and a visit to the label's website 

Regardless of your chosen format, this recording is a lovely seventy plus minutes of music making, and should appeal to a broad array of tastes. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dallas Symphony Delivers Mixed Bag in Mostly Russian Program

Tonight's Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert offered up a mixed bag in both its choice of repertoire and the quality of the performances.

Guest conductor Paul Phillips, known to work wonders with the student orchestras at Southern Methodist University led a program of works by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Copland that was at times fascinating, at others bold and exciting and at still others found wanting.

Opening with Dmitry Shostakovich's Five Fragments, Op. 42 from 1935, Phillips molded taut and concise statements from these brief studies in orchestration. One wonders if these works would have been more effective cast for smaller forces, given that most of the orchestra sat idle at any given time throughout the brief ten minute work. Most notable was the rather haunting third movement, scored for muted strings. It was interesting to hear a rarely performed work by such a major composer, but in the end, it served only as a curious appetizer, with little to take home.

The youthful Ukrainian pianist Anna Federova joined the orchestra for a disappointing romp through Rachmaninoff's hyper-romantic Second Piano Concerto.  While Ms. Federova's considerable technique was in evidence, her playing lacked the physical power to create the  rich sonorities called for in the score. Coupled with an overblown and generally sloppy orchestral accompaniment, we occasionally found ourselves cupping hands to ears to hear the piano. Ms. Federova also erred on the side of cliche when it came to playing Rachmaninoff's arching melodies, particularly in the slow movement. I often just wanted her to get on with it instead of milking every last semi-quaver until it ran dry.

Of course, the Meyerson audience lumbered to its feet at the end of the concerto. When will our fair music loving public learn that fast and (occasionally) loud, do not make for a life changing experience? The de rigueur standing O has become tiresomely trite around these parts. Not everything, especially tonight's performance, deserves such high praise.

Aaron Copland's massive third symphony rounded out the program. It is pretty rare to hear this enormously scored work in live performance, and Phillips and the DSO did not disappoint this evening. Kudos to the brass and percussion sections for some serious virtuosity. Maestro Phillips kept the tried and true Fanfare for the Common Man ending moving at a nice pace, building the final climax slowly and delivering a nicely thrilling payoff at the end.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Fred is Dead. Good riddance!

It was just announced that arch-hater Fred Phelps has died. The only two words that I can bring to mind in response are good riddance. I would love to be a fly on the wall at his entrance interview with St. Peter.

Although it's not my place to judge, I have no sympathy for him or for his family, as they have made careers out of sowing hate, lies and bigotry for more than fifty years. May he wallow in the dung heap of history along with other such charmers as say, Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin.

The world is a little bit cleaner today. So long, asshole!

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Brilliant Cast Dazzles at Collin Theater Center

Rarely is one treated to so consistently fine a collegiate theater experience as Collin Theater Company's vibrant and near perfect production of In the Heights, the 2005 musical about the trials and triumphs of families in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.

The plot revolves around the lives of the residents of a Latino community in the early 21st century. Nina, the play's central character, is the barrio's great white hope; the first in her family to go to college, Stanford, no less. The story opens when she returns home to disappoint family and friends by having lost her scholarship and subsequently dropping out of school. Amidst financial woes, mixed race romances and struggles with cultural identity, fortunes change when Abuela Claudia, matriarch of the entire neighborhood wins a large lottery jackpot. Before she can spend her money, Abuela dies, and through her death comes redemption for nearly everyone she touched in life.

In thirty years of theater going, I have rarely seen such a uniformly talented cast. Forty-plus strong, this gifted ensemble sings, raps, dances and acts with skill, precision and complete credibility. Taylor McKie's sophisticated dance numbers are brilliantly executed. Mark Mullino has trained his singers to shine both as soloists and as a choir, and the balance between movement, music and elocution is nearly perfect.

Clinton Greenspan plays the fetching Usnavi (named after the Naval vessel his father spies in the harbor upon entry into the U.S.). Mr. Greenspan is deftly able to run the A to Z emotional gamut with aplomb, always believable and never over-wrought. His dark good looks and well honed musicality are a powerhouse package, making him a young actor with much future promise.

Megan Black's satin voice is the selling point for her portrayal of the conflicted Nina. With spot on intonation and a uniform clarity from the top to the bottom of her range, Miss Black is a singer's singer and a joy to hear. Amanda Brown as Abuela Claudia turned in the most polished vocal performance of the night with her show-stopping first act aria, followed very closely by Juliette Talley's you-go-girl second act ass kicker, pulled off to perfection despite a faulty microphone that could have upstaged a less seasoned and confident performer.

The Rookie of the Year award, especially for his superb singing, goes to Leo Thomasian, who's understated yet perfectly executed side kick Sonny, often stole the show. This is a young man with a gift who deserves a much wider audience.

Colin Philips provided splendidly sung comic relief as the Piragua Guy and Mark Quach's brazen dance moves made his performance one of the evening's great delights.

In a production with very few weaknesess, I did wish for some of the younger chorus members to butch it up a bit, and I found Phillip Slay's effete portrayal of Kevin Rosario to be more metrosexual than patriarchal. But those were but mild distractions.

Mark Mullino led a superb nine-piece orchestra whose presence was powerfully felt yet never overwhelming.

In short, this was a joyous night of theater. You've got one more chance to see it, tomorrow afternoon, and this is a spiritual uplifting not to be missed.

In the Heights was written by Quiara Algeria Hudes with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Friday, December 06, 2013

The Sound of Ignorance

Last night, NBC took a big ratings and financial risk by mounting the first complete live production of a Broadway musical on prime time television in over fifty years. And while the production of Rogers and Hammerstein's classic The Sound of Music  was not without its flaws, its merits far outweighed its shortcomings, and those of us who love the theater can hope that NBC's experiment is a harbinger of things to come.

What I want to address here is the flurry of comments with which teachers, actors and musicians deluged the social media sites. Although there was a good deal of positive commentary, I feel that it is my obligation as a professional musician, teacher and critic to address some of the outright stupidity that I read.

I particularly want to speak to teachers. From what I was reading last night, it would seem that Walmart, who was the major sponsor of the event, is also issuing music education degrees, such was the level of incompetence that I read from people who are supposed to be in the business of educating our future actors and singers.

For example, one person wrote: : "I don't see why they would want to remake a classic in the first place." The implication here is that NBC was trying to do a remake of the now classic Robert Wise film of  The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. This was obviously not the case. Anyone who knows both versions of the show knows the changes that were made to the stage production for the film. So to the person who inquires as to why The Lonely Goatherd was being sung in place of My Favorite Things,  I would advise you to do your homework and learn both productions.

NBC did not attempt to re-make Julie Andrews. Rather it mounted a production of the stage musical. Revivals happen every evening on Broadway, and to make a comment like "I don't see why they would remake a classic" is well, just stupid. By that logic, we would not have Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Neil Simon, or for that matter Andrew Lloyd Webber, because we would be proscribed from mounting any production that was not the original.  Such a practice would also kill all regional, community and touring theater because if we couldn't do a new production, we'd all have to flock to the theater of origin to see a show.

Further, I was dismayed at the snarky and even cruel comments that people were making about the NBC production. This was particularly egregious from educators. To simply throw out a tirade of negative comments without backing them with any constructive criticism is not only immature,  it's useless to any reader, especially a student. If we want to train future professionals to be discerning, then we need to define for them just exactly what good is. We do not need to reel off a string of snide one liners.

Ultimately, the NBC production had its weaknesses, this is true. In particular, Carrie Underwood's inexperience as an actress and her lack of classical vocal training showed in last night's performance. And, if I were the casting director, I would have cast a somewhat older actor in the role of Max Dettweiler.

Yet, the good that NBC did by producing a live musical in a prime slot far outweighed the bad. The sets were gorgeous, the camera work outstanding and on the whole, the cast acted and sang with aplomb. Even more importantly, we got a lesson in what a live performance can be like. It has risks, and there is the possibility of an imperfection or two (like when the cameraman slipped in the wedding scene giving us four seconds of shaky picture.)

What our teachers should be touting is that a major network gave a number of younger and even first time actors a shot at a major production. After all, don't we want there to be work available for our now students when they become future professionals? The answer is clearly yes.

And so I say to our nay saying educators, first, learn your craft. Before you spout off idiotic comments about song placement, please at least have gone to the trouble to have seen or read the original play. Second, set an example to your students by backing up your critiques with something more than clever sarcasm. After all, we critique students so that they can learn and grow. And last, think a little bit about what a contribution NBC made to the future of our art and show a little gratitude. Remember that theatre with a future is your job security. Unless you just really want to see the arts in schools reduced to nothing and thus forcing you into the minimum wage workplace.