Search This Blog

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.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Some Thoughts On Music Media

Back in 1987 when I was a young skinny dark-haired graduate student, I took a job in the local Sam Goody Store in Nashville. Compact Discs were starting to take over the market and vinyl records were seemingly doomed. CDs provided a huge resurgence for record labels who by the end of the 80's were in quite a sales slump. Not only did the new technology offer what was then perceived as perfect sound, but it saved tons of shelf space and weight when moving to a new apartment too!

The market was booming because not only did everyone want the newest releases in the new format, but thousands of listeners spent millions of dollars replacing their old vinyl collections with CDS. I can't tell you how many stories I hear today of people who sold their records and have lived to regret it.

The huge debate amongst music aficionados centered around a handful of topics: 1. Do CDs really sound better than vinyl records? 2. Will all of the important titles from the LP era be issued on CD? and 3. Do CDS really last forever?

Thirty years later, some of those questions are still debated. As to sound quality, I will always contend that except for the pops and tics that come from a worn record, LPS have and always will sound better. But that's not proven and many blind tests have failed to definitively answer the question. I will say, however, that there is still nothing more amazing than pulling a new record out of its sleeve, checking out the amazing cover art and playing that baby for the first time. For a guy my age, vinyl will always be king.

As for the reissue question, for the most part that answer was yes, and it was the reissue business that kept the major labels afloa through most of the 90s. There were things here and there that never made it to the silver disc, but for the most part, the catalogue was saturated with every imaginable title, including thousands of recordings that had been out of print for years.

Question three is proving a mixed bag. Many CDS, particularly ones issued early on in Japan, and many a home burned disc did not last forever. Their information deteriorated and you are no longer able to play them. Add to the fact that CD players have a rather notoriously short lifespan, particularly higher end models, and you have some problems at hand.

That brings us to today. Although the digital revolution has not managed to kill the vinyl record, in fact vinyl has enjoyed a big resurgence in recent years, it has brought about the death of the record industry as we knew and loved it, and with it, the compact disc is breathing it last or so it seems.

In his excellent book Appetite for Self-destruction, Steve Knopper documents the spectacular fall of the American record industry, brought about by sheer hubris and stupidity. I myself predicted back in 1987 that one day in the not too distant future, all the music in the world would be available in a big data base accessible to one and all through an inexpensive monthly subscription.

It would take the advent of high speed internet to make my prophesy come true, but it did. And the record labels sat back and watched it happen, completely unprepared to deal with the consequences of file sharing and the easy and free distribution of music.

Some say that the demise of the industry is a bad thing. I contend that it was an inevitable good because there is now more music available than ever before and countless artists who would have never been picked up by a major label now have a voice in the greater music world. Huzzah!


Now that we have had a little history lesson, (call it a reminiscence if you will) here are some of this writer's observations about some, and I emphasize here, selected, digital music streaming services.

It all started with Napster, and we all know what a copyright nightmare that turned out to be. Napster lost its lawsuit and was eventually swallowed up by Rhapsody, a product of Real Networks. (Remember when you had to download a Real player to see movies or hear music on line in the dial up days?)

Rhapsody offers a ginormous track library for a modest price and is available for most any kind of delivery device you can imagine. My biggest beef with them is the careless way that they handle classical music. Yeah, I know, we aren't the biggest market share, but if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right and Rhapsody frankly SUCKS when it comes to the proper labeling and categorizing of  Bach, Beethoven and the boys. After many years of devotion to Rhapsody, I finally got fed up with them and switched to SPOTIFY.

Spotify's layout and format took me a little getting used to, but now that I have figured it out, I love it so far. They have an enormous library of albums, they DO properly label classical music (although I find that their classical selection is rather bogged down in giant compilation sets that most serious music listeners skip over on sight) and they have lots of great extra features, including detailed biographies of most of their artists. All for 9.99 a month.

If you are a serious classical listener, there is only one place to go, and that is to the Naxos Music Library.

Klaus Heymann's little label that could has now just about conquered the world of classical music. With 87,000 plus cds available to stream and a catalogue that grows by the week, it's hard to beat this service. Include complete program notes, services for schools and teachers and a price point of $20-30 a month depending upon bit rate, you just can't go wrong. Naxos also offers Jazz, world, audio books and lots of other categories for your listening pleasure.

Another personal favorite is Grooveshark, which offers a very friendly interface and a big catalogue of music for free. They do offer a premium service as well, but the print ads on the site are not intrusive and the only real advantage to paying is to have access to their mobile apps.

Pandora is worth mentioning as well, but call me selfish, I like being able to select my own music. If I am in discovery mode, then Spotify, Rhapsody and Groove shark all have "Radio" functions that allow me to explore music that other people are listening to.

I have yet to explore Google music, but with 74 lifetimes worth of music at my fingertips, I had to stop somewhere.

We live in a wonderland of media, and frankly, I think we could argue that there is too much on hand. Where to we start? But hey, we also have just as many books to read and movies to watch. So hunker down in your den and bust open the Chardonnay! You've got lots of listening to do.

Happy music making everyone!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Returning to My Favorite Hobby

My mother will tell you that I learned to read off record labels. Ours being a very musical family, there were always dozens if not hundreds of records in our home, and my parents and grandmother taught me at a very early age to love records. More importantly they taught me how to properly care for them and to respect that they were extremely valuable. I think that I was about the only five year old in history that was allowed to operate the family phonograph unsupervised. I would always seek out the record player in any new home I visited, and I took it quite personally when my mother's friends wouldn't allow me to operate the machine!

Since getting sober on April 15, I have been going back to my roots and rediscovering and reengaging in the things that molded my early life. I am once again an avid reader, I practice the piano regularly and I am getting seriously back into collecting and listening to vinyl records. I thought I would share some of my recent adventures and comment on the state of record stores in general.

First off, I found what every collector dreams of just today, and that is a couple of bins of nice records dropped off at my favorite thrift store. For a whomping five dollars, I got my hands on ten little gems, and if I had had more cash in my pocket I would have bought several more. The nice man at the thrift gave me a special deal since I told him that I was a musician and loved vinyl. Those are the things you love when you pursue this hobby. Consequently, I got my hands on ten really nice records from the fifties and sixties for a song. (Sorry, couldn't resist)

Once upon a time, Dallas was a record nut's paradise. Sadly, the good stores are mostly gone with one exception which I will discuss in a moment. Vinyl has made a big comeback, especially amongst young people and consequently, the prices for used records have taken a precipitous climb. Part of this increase is due to greed on the part of store owners and just plain stupidity. Caveat emptor!!!! Make sure that before you drop fifteen bucks on a used record that you know what you are getting, because most of the records available in Dallas stores at any rate, are just ridiculously overpriced.

So here's a little low-down on what I have observed of late in the BIG D and a review of local outlets for vinyl


Located on lower Greenville avenue in Dallas, this little slice of the vinyl Garden of Eden is by far and away the best record store in the city.

Now here's a word of warning to old timers who are just getting back into the market. New records are not cheap. Your average brand new record will run you twenty bucks, and more if the pressing is on 180 gram vinyl. My first reaction to these prices was rather hostile until I stopped to think that a] a new record back in the day was around ten to twelve bucks b] it's been at least twenty years since I seriously collected new vinyl so take the passage of time, and the fact that records don't sell in the quantities that they did in the 80's, $20+ is really not unreasonable.

Good Records carries the largest selection of new titles in Dallas, and they also have new pressings of many old favorites. Add to that a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff and this store is a true winner. They are huge supporters of local musicians and so, even though you may pay a few bucks more than you might on line, I heartily endorse Good Records as my primary source of new additions to my collection.

And, although their selection of used records is pretty limited, they are fairly priced and graded for condition. They also have a full selection of CDS and great hours. Good Records is a good old fashioned mom and pop record store that is in business for the love of music. Go back and watch the campy 90's film Empire Records  and you will get the idea.


Located in the Old Towne shopping center at Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue, CD SOURCE has long been a staple of the bohemian music scene. Crammed to the gills with thousands of CDS and DVDS, CD SOURCE has recently gotten into the vinyl business.

Although I have always liked the hippy atmosphere and the friendly and off-beat staff, I find that this outlet has more annoyances than endearments.

Their vinyl stock is crammed in to every nook and cranny, basically a disorganized mess, difficult to browse and overrun with more trash than treasure. For every gem you find you will have waded through twenty pieces of crap. Couple that frustration with a pricing structure that basically parrots EBAY and AMAZON and you're in for a less than stellar experience.


Recent visits to Half Priced Books big superstore on Northwest Highway  have run the gamut from frustrating to infuriating.

HPB used to be the best bargain store in town, but now someone has informed their buying staff that it's cool to triple all their prices for vinyl. Couple that with bins that are overrun with knock off repressings of classic jazz titles and an extremely inconsistent title selection and I have concluded that aliens have landed in the back room and sucked the brains out their buyers.

I've pretty much written this store off as a source, although I from time to time find gems at their Preston and LBJ location.


Located on Live Oak Street just off of Haskell Avenue, this store is a wonderful time capsule of music's golden age(s). Packed to the brim with vintage audio equipment, musical instruments and memorabilia, this little cave also has a respectable record section.

I was pretty excited to check it out until I looked at the price tags. The big sign over the bins that read "This is not a thrift store, so don't expect thrift store prices" should have been the giveaway. From the looks of it, the same records have been sitting in those crates since the 70's and the prices are simply ridiculous.

There is a nice little back room full of five dollar records, but a trip through ten or fifteen crates revealed mostly junk.


Lloyd Sitkoff's private record business in Carrollton is a classical music lover's paradise. Lloyd has upwards of 20,000 records and just as many cds, and he deals almost exclusively in classical music. If he doesn't have it it's not to be had. He's a great guy, prices his items very fairly and can get you what you need. You can check out his treasure trove by making an appointment at 972-242-4767.


Forever Young Records in Grapevine, TX could be a collectors wet dream. Thousands of Square feet of damned near every record ever pressed makes this place a nostalgia overdose. Sadly, high prices keep this buyer from being a regular customer there.


Fort Worth boasts a groovy store called Doc's. Although I haven't visited in some months, and they have moved to a new location since I last shopped there, Doc's as I remember it has an excellent and varied selection of vinyl in fine condition and at very fair prices. I am looking forward to a trip over to Cowtown to check this place out again soon.

Anyways, there are some thoughts for anyone looking to add to their collections and spin some black discs. Here's wishing everyone some very happy listening.

Friday, August 30, 2013

On the Current State of Things

I am made rich by making my wants few.

Thus the wisdom of the great thinker Henry David Thoreau. That simple phrase got me to thinking about the state of our economy, and how we live in it.

I have a couple of younger friends who are recently graduated from college or graduate school. They are both extremely bright and able guys who walked out of school and into very good paying first jobs. They also need every penny of that good salary to pay back the mountain of debt that they incurred in student loans. They both have nice cars, nice apartments, good clothes and an active social life. And a load of worry about how they are going to repay loan debt that hovers dangerously near to six figures. Not to mention save for retirement, eventually buy a home and all of those other things that make for a 'successful' life.

In my youth I was really materialistic. I had to have all the latest gizmos and gadgets, a decked out apartment, a new car and a wardrobe full of clothes that were expensive for expensive's sake.

Myriad mistakes, a prolonged legal battle and a descent into alcoholism took away all of my fancy toys. In fact it nearly took away everything that I had. And while I am not looking to join a monastery and don a monk's habit, I have through the grace of God and the twelve step group that saved my life, come to look at material possessions and what they do for my inner happiness in a new light.

First I have come to realize that we as a society need desperately to address the high cost of college education and the gross disparity between the cost of living and the typical wage. Not to mention the disparity of income between the haves and the have-nots in our country. But these are huge political issues that I have neither the education or the political power to attack on a grand scale.

Therefore I have put some serious thought into how I can live my life in a way that provides for my needs while at the same time preserving out planet's resources and making the modest income that I am able to earn go the furthest and be used to its most economical extent. Here are some things that I have put into practice that have not only brought me a great deal of peace where money is concerned, but have also given me a great deal of inner peace.

Let us start by repeating Thoreau's wisdom: I make myself rich by making my wants few.

Notice first that he said wants, not needs. What can we do to want less and in so doing actually have more? I have started at home by turning my little villa into what I call my gallery of recycled chic. With few exceptions, all of the furnishings in my home were obtained second hand. Some were family heirlooms, some were hand-me-downs from friends and others were bought from a local thrift shop that benefits a local women's shelter.

The result is a fashionably bohemian apartment that is comfortable, pleasant to look at and furnished at a minimal cost and a lowered impact on the environment. I buy most of my clothing second hand at the same thrift shop as well as many of my accessories and kitchen ware. Yes, there are times when you have to buy new things. I understand that. But so often, we don't.

When I am finished with something, I try to give it to someone else who might need it, or I sell it on Craigslist instead of just throwing it away. I often donate unwanted things to the same thrift shop where I buy so much. This whole practice saves me tons of money and in turns helps others in need.

Money is becoming more and more scarce for many people. The recent protests by fast food workers bears this out. It is my hope that retailers will begin to take notice that a barter and recycled economy is on the rise if for no other reason that people can't afford anything new. It simply isn't necessary for certain products to cost as much as they do. Of course, an argument like this begs the questions of outsourcing, cheap foreign labor and all of its inherent evils. These are problems that also need addressing, and I hope that my readers will join in the debate for solutions to these dreadful societal diseases.

In the meantime, here are some things that you can do to conserve resources, save yourself some money and come to find the joy in the simple things in life. Yes, I know that in this world there are things that we simply need to buy. We need computers and we need cell phones and we need transportation. But let's think about some of these ideas.


One of the problems we single people face is wasted food. It is very hard to cook for one person and processed, packaged food is no where near as good for us as freshly prepared meals made with good and healthful foods. I have a group of single friends who rather frequently meets up at my villa to share a meal. Each of us provides one or two of the ingredient and everyone gets to eat well for a tenth of the cost of the same meal in a restaurant and nothing goes to waste. The added benefit of fellowship and conversation makes the enterprise all the more appealing.


Do you really need  a brand new $1200 sofa? How about checking out used furniture stores or thrift shops. My little bargain center is located very close to one of Dallas' more affluent neighborhoods and daily gets in beautiful furniture items for less than half the cost of a new piece. Once it lands in my living room, no one knows that I bought the thing used. (except when I brag about how much money I saved!)

Everyday dishes, household accessories (candle holders, picture frames, lamps etc.) can be found used and in beautiful condition for a fraction of the cost of a new item.


If you live in an urban neighborhood like mine, most of your daily needs will be in walking distance. I never drive to the post office, the grocery store (unless I am stocking up for the month), the dry cleaner, the coffee shop and to most restaurants in my area. It's good for the body and it's good for the earth. I know that this doesn't work for everyone, but it does for many.


Netflix and Hulu are just lovely and I am a fan of all bookstores, but face it, the public library has thousands of books, DVDs, audio recordings,and  books on tape and CD. Now many libraries offer downloadable books for your e-reader. Take advantage of the fact that all of this stuff is FREE for you to use. If you do buy books, go through them from time to time and donate those that have been sitting on your shelf unopened for months to the library for others to use and enjoy.

This also leads me to another point. READ MORE! Books are the best entertainment around. Learn something. Get engrossed in a good story. Make yourself more interesting at parties by actually having more stuff in your head to share.

These suggestions are but a start, but I hope that you will think about what you've just read and try to put some of these ideas into practice. They have made me a happier and more contented person and I think they will have the same effect on you. Happy reading everyone.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Stoli Boycott

Much has been made in the press about the recent draconian anti-gay laws passed in Russia. And, true to form, the gay community has reacted in a rather knee jerk way by boycotting Russian Vodka brands, particularly Stolichnaya, or "Stoli" vodka.

In the 1990s, the gay community successfully staged a boycott against the Philip Morris company by refusing to consume Miller Beer and Marlboro cigarettes. That boycott is considered by many to be one of the most successful and effective actions of its kind in history. PM caved and now they slap a rainbow on damned near everything that comes out of their warehouses.

How effective, however, will a boycott be on a vodka brand that is for the most part made in Latvia and not Russia? I contend, not very.

First of all, why is it we always eschew products that contribute to the belief that gays spend most of our time drunk and high and in a cloud of smoke? Why does most of our consumer activism originate in a bar?

The truth is, boycotting Stoli isn't going to affect the financial security of a single Russian, and certainly not  Russian lawmakers headed by their gulag commandant Vladimir Putin. If we are to make an effective protest, we need to attack something that will hit the Russian government in the pocketbook and in their international reputation.

The obvious answer lies not in a barroom but in an athletic stadium. There should be a world wide demand on the International Olympic Committee to immediately cancel the Winter Olympics in Solchi and move them to another location. Calgary, Lillehammer, Tokyo....there are bound to be former Olympic sites that still have all of the infrastructure in place. To yank the games from Russia would hit their government where it hurts and show a rogue like Putin that this isn't Nazi Germany and you can't sew pink triangles on gays and leave them open to discrimination and potential physical harm.

Let's use a little common sense for once and attack a problem at its source instead of just switching vodka brands.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Some Thoughts for Today

Most of my journey away from alcoholism has been a spiritual one. I have found that in order to stay sober, it has been essential for me to reconnect with God (in AA we say "God as we understand Him"). Since I am unashamedly a Christian, you may assume that I understand God through the person of Jesus Christ.

One of my greatest enlightenments thus far has been one of trust. I have come to simply trust that God will assist me in all my difficulties, provide for all of my needs and remove from me any flaws or sins that block my path to a relationship with Him.

Now you might notice that I did NOT say that God has given me everything I want. The Ferrari, the mansion in Highland Park and the private jet are still on my bucket list. But everything that I have truly needed has been provided in God's own due time.

I have come to practice a spiritual discipline of prayer, study and meditation each day that is now essential to my emotional equilibrium and stability. I feel empty if I fail to say my daily prayers (in the shower since I figure while I am cleansing my body I might as well cleanse my mind and spirit) and study. This study includes the wisdom of other paths and thinkers, particularly those of Buddhism.

Here's an exercise that I have found very helpful and uplifting. Jesus said, "ask and you shall receive." Thus, every morning, I ask God to give me ten things that I need. It may be the will not to drink today, or the means to make the money to pay the rent, or the courage to make amends to someone that I have hurt by word or deed. It can be anything, as long as it's a need and not a want.

Then at the end of the day, I thank God for twenty things that he gave me that day. They are often the very things that I asked for in the morning, but since God's gifts to us are at least ten times what we need, I thank him for twice as many as I asked for. I thank him for giving me a place to live, a means to make a living, for friends to keep me company, for my two cats who show me such unconditional love and affection. You can thank him for any blessing.

By doing this every day, I find that I stay in tune with the things in life that are most important spiritually: trust, and gratitude. It has worked for me thus far and I pray that you give it a try and that it works for you.

Have a lovely day!

Friday, April 12, 2013

In Memoriam Jaqueline Wollan Gibbons

It was with the deepest sadness that I learned of the passing of Jaqueline Gibbons. There are probably fewer than a dozen people in the world that I hold in the kind of esteem, respect, awe and love that I have for Jackie. Her death leaves a gaping hole in my heart and spirit.

Beyond brilliant, Jackie was an intellectual force of nature. Her depth and breadth of knowledge on hundreds of topics was astounding and sometimes a little intimidating. And yet she had a gentle way of sculpting souls. I shall never forget when she and Hal invited me to dinner in their home some twenty years ago, and Jackie took the time and compassion to have a serious talk with me about the merits of humility, grace and kindness. Without ever putting me down, she helped me to see that true success comes from being nice to people, by building up others over oneself and by letting one's accomplishments speak for themselves.

Jackie Gibbons was one of the kindest, gentlest, most gracious and beautiful ladies I have ever had the honor of knowing.

With her departure, the world has not just lost a loving wife, mother and friend. We have lost a poet, a dreamer, an environmentalist, a musician, a philosopher and a peacemaker. Jackie sought and found perfection in so many realms that it is impossible to categorize her life. She was all things to all people, or at least she tried her very best to be.

Words cannot express the influence that this quietly joyful woman had on my life. She was the voice of reason, the caress of compassion and a cauldron of calm. It is easy to say that she left the world a much better place for her having passed through it. It is painful to admit that without her, we are all diminished. Thankfully, she touched so many lives that there is a strong hope that the seeds she planted in all of us will continue to grow and flourish, and that her good soul will live on in the lives of all who loved her so much.

And so, dear lady, farewell and rest in peace. And as your beautiful spirit soars around the universe, please pause from time to time to come back and visit us and lend us a cosmic hand. You will never be forgotten as there is no way that a spirit as rich and beautiful as yours could ever really die. I'll miss you very much. Thank you dear Jackie for making such a positive difference in my life, and for sharing some of yours with me and so many others. I love you very much.

Monday, April 01, 2013

News and Views from the Tenorsphere

Wow what a week!

Let me begin by saying that I hope that all of you had a blessed Holy Week, Easter, Passover or whatever religious or personal holiday you might have celebrated last week. We here in Dallas enjoyed some absolutely beautiful weather and I personally had a wonderful week of work, worship and relaxation with friends.

Tomorrow afternoon I am off to Montana for the eleventh annual Montana Early Music Festival. Maestra Kerry Krebill has assembled her usual cast of stars from all over the country to bring some magnificent Italian cathedral music to life. I never cease to wonder at how Kerry can bring off musical miracles year after year in the beautiful setting of the Montana mountains. Check out the festival at

I don't have a single point to make with today's post, but a couple of things have caught my attention in the news of late.

One is the recent speech that legendary Dallas developer Don Williams delivered to a group of high powered Dallas land barons at the Dallas Country Club. Mr. Williams has always been an outspoken advocate for the less fortunate and he quite eloquently called out our fair city's more affluent for their lack of interest in developing the poorer parts of Dallas. Bravo to you Mr. Williams for having achieved so much in your own career and for wanting to help other people achieve their dreams as well. I encourage my readers to check out recent editorials and reports about Mr. Williams efforts at

On a lighter note, I have been exploring and enjoying one of our city's somewhat hidden gems, the beautiful Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. Chock full of delightful restaurants, boutiques and art galleries, this is a treasure of culture and grace. Noteworthy is Oddfellows Restaurant and Bar at 316 West 7th Street. Lovely atmosphere, charming (and very good looking) staff, reasonable prices and delicious food and beverages make this a must try culinary destination. Check it

Ok, it's off to the presses, and the laundry, and the packing, and the score marking.....ugh. Have a beautiful day and thanks for reading.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Movie Day!

So after a seemingly endless Palm Sunday morning (that Gospel reading is LONG!), I retired to Shirley and Leroy's for a lovely brunch and what turned out to be a movie marathon. Here are some thoughts on what we saw.

Our first outing was to see Django Unchained. There is no question that Quentin Tarantino is a brilliant film maker, and that in spite of his pandering to gratuitous violence, he has a way of making the splattering of blood and guts all over a set seem rather funny. Sadly, the dear boy just doesn't know when enough is enough.

The first hour was admittedly rather entertaining, leaving us rooting for Django and the good Dr. Schultz as they wiped out one bad guy after another. Django's revenge on the evil overseers at Big Daddy's plantation was worth a good round of "getims" but the minute Leonardo DiCaprio opened his mouth, the whole show turned south. From his entrance on, scenes dragged on for far too long and we felt trapped in a bad dream with a bunch of foul mouthed psychopaths. Lose about forty-five minutes of the words "fuck" and "nigger" and this would have been an effective movie. Instead if left me wanting the damned thing to end so I could go shower off.

We next ventured into the world of the collegiate A cappella phenomenon for what turned out to be a delightful ninety or so minutes in musical geekdom. One might call this charming little movie Glee on Steroids. It tells the story of a male and a female singing group and their struggles to win a national championship while overcoming the typical personal demons of young adulthood. It's all there: fat girl who can wail a tune, geeky boy whose big dream is to be a singing star, and a very attractive boy and girl who eventually get over themselves to realize they belong together.

Spectacular singing arrangements and a careful balance between angst and joy make this a charming Sunday afternoon film.

Well, we were on a roll so we decided to check out Spielberg's acclaimed Lincoln.  It was everything that you would expect from so artful a director and so gifted a cast. Daniel Day Lewis was brilliant in his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, particularly in the way he captured Lincoln's voice, at least what we can conjecture that he would have sounded like. Tommy Lee Jones gives a tour de force performance as Thaddeus Stevens, Joseph Gordon-Levitt should have had a bigger role as the president's eldest son, and Sally Field delivered the same performance she's been delivering since Steel Magnolias. She and Shirley MacLaine should start an academy on how to play oneself in every role you take.

It turned out to be therapeutic to simply not recharge the phone and enjoy seven hours of fantasy land with good friends. I highly recommend it if you have an uncluttered day!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Twenty Questions

Good morning all. I thought it might be fun to give you a little trivia quiz today just for grins and giggles. There is no particular logic to the questions other than the facts are kind of fun. If you can answer all twenty questions WITHOUT using Google, you'll win a lollipop and a gold star. Have fun.

1. What secretive medieval organization effectively founded the first international banking system?

2. Who was the only former U.S. President to swear in a successor?

3. Who invented FM radio?

4. Name two southern female authors who became internationally famous on just one novel each.

5. Who discovered alternating current?

6. Which famous silent film era comedian made a cameo appearance in Sunset Boulevard?
     a. Charlie Chaplin
     b. Buster Keaton
     c. Oliver Hardy

7. What world renowned composer was born on this date (March 21) in 1685?

8. In 1972, members of the Palestinian Group Black September kidnapped and later killed eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. In what city did this attack occur?

9. Orson Welles' 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane  is based on the life of what American newspaper baron?

10. In his famous fifth, Beethoven introduced two instruments never before used in a symphony. What were they?

11. Why is November 22 a significant day for musicians?

12. What famous Broadway and Film musical is based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Diaries?

13. What are you if you're a sesquipedalienist?

14. Why are nickels larger than dimes?

15. Who was the first African-American to sing at the Metropolitan Opera?

16. Who invented the swivel chair?

17. Who said "Give me liberty, or give me death!"?

18. What makes white asparagus white?

19. Where were Orville and Wilbur Wright born?

20. Name two words in English that have no rhyme.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

ACDA Revisited, Part II

Hello again. Here is the second installment of my review of the 2013 National Convention of the American Choral Directors Association. Let's begin with the concerts that I got to hear.

The University of Delaware Chorale

Interesting programming was the high point of this choir's performance. I appreciated conductor Paul Head's epoch spanning selections, with a nice balance of traditional favorites and new adventures. Giles Swayne's spiffy Magnificat was a nice little surprise, as was Kevin Memley's elegant Ave Maria, deftly paired with Bruckner's gorgeous setting. If there was anything to quibble about it was that the Delawarians bought into the convention's general trend of over singing. But not too much to offend.

The University of North Texas A Cappella Choir

The UNT A Cappella Choir delivered a beautifully executed performance of some very challenging literature. True to form, Jerry McCoy found delicious repertoire that was sadly hampered by the poor acoustics of the Winspear Opera House. I wish I could have heard their Meyerson performance. The two standout works were the Gloria from Frank Martin's near perfect mass setting, and Dan Forrest's lovely Entreat me not to Leave You.  This is a choir with a reputation for seamless blend and balance as well as spot on intonation. In spite of the bad room, we got a suitcase full of pretty much flawless singing.

The Westminster Choir

For a group with such a stellar reputation, this was one of the more disappointing concerts of the convention. Although the repertoire was well chosen it just wasn't all that interestingly executed with Victoria sounding like Bach sounding like everyone else. The biggest flaw was the choir's tendency to shout, particularly in Holst's stunning Nunc Dimittus. Brandon Waddles rollicking Ride the Chariot sounded like a Pentecostal tent revival with the ending being unbearably loud and out of control. And my God, who unleashed those Banshee sopranos in the final bars? It was pretty bloody awful.

Britten's War Requiem

The Dallas Symphony Chorus rounded out the week with a world premiere performance of Steven Stucky's Take Him Earth, and Benjamin Britten's monumental War Requiem. Sadly, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is away on tour and thus a pick up group of local musicians served as the orchestra. Although they were very fine, the Britten is not a work that is suited to bands that don't regularly play together and there was some sloppy playing including a rather nastily botched trombone solo in the beginning of the Dies Irae. The singing however was superb and Craig Jessop led a well paced and emotionally stirring performance. It was a little odd to see him beat out measures in seven and five meters as opposed to dividing them into groups of twos and threes. But I'm nitpicking. Phillip Cutlip and Stanford Olsen were superb soloists as was soprano Barbara Shirvis, although she was at times overpowered by the orchestra.

Steven Stucky's Take Him Earth, commissioned for the convention and in memory of President Kennedy, was well sung but the score failed to impress. To use a text that was so perfectly set by Herbert Howells is a risk and sadly, Stucky's music was a bit of a sound mush without central themes or interesting melodies.

Please note that if I didn't review your choir here it is because I did not have the opportunity to hear you. No choir that I heard went unreviewed.

Outstanding Composers

Four composers deserve special kudos for their outstanding and at times even amazing music.

Kevin Memley was well represented in ACDA concerts. Of particular merit is his She Walks In Beauty, which received a fine performance by the Indianapolis Youth Chorale. I had heretofore not heard Memley's music but I shall certainly seek it out in the future.

Dan Forrest was also a frequently heard composer and Entreat Me Not to Leave You as splendidly rendered by the University of North Texas A Cappella Choir was a particular standout.

Ola Gjeilo is one of two composers that I would award an ACDA Composer of the Year Award were there such an honor. His gorgeous O Magnum Mysterium was ravishingly performed by the Mt. San Antonio Chamber Singers and Ubi caritas was another fine work as performed by the Kennesaw State University Men's Ensemble.

Eriks Esenvalds stood out as the finest newer composer to be performed. Again the Mt. San Antonio Chamber Singers dazzled us with the hauntingly beautiful Long Road,  and the Pacific Lutheran University Choir of the West gave us a stunning first performance of Northern Light.  Luminescent sonorities and brilliant effects from the use of native instruments and tuned water glasses made this young Latvian's music stand head and shoulders above almost anything that we heard all week.

In summary, the ACDA put on an inspiring and informative conference, and it was a gas to get to see some old friends, particularly Dr. Douglas Amman, who was my choral professor at Ball State University long many moons ago. I also had the pleasure of meeting two fine young composers from Clarke College in Iowa. I am sure that Timothy Gelhaus and Adam O'dell will give us some fine music to listen to in the future if the works that I have already heard are any indication, and I am sure that they are. It was also great to meet a fine young singer from Wyoming in the person of David Ginger. The best part of ACDA is the new friends you make, and the old friends you see.

Congratulations to all who worked so hard to put on a great convention, and here's best wishes to everyone as we look forward to Salt Lake City in two years!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ACDA Revisited Part I

Last week's biennial national conference of the American Choral Directors Association ended with a bang. A fine performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem concluded a week of generally fine performances and interesting workshops. Here is a review of what I heard and saw. I will break it down by category to make it a little easier to digest.

The Event and Venues

Dallas' shiny new arts district is in the main a great place to hold performance related convention. The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center is the gem of our city and it did not disappoint. Sadly, the Winspear Opera House proved again to be less than stellar. The hall is designed to showcase the solo voice, and thus it is pretty much useless for anything else. Ensembles sound dead in the space and there is no bloom to the sound. Several conductors complained that the whole acoustic changed the moment an audience came in and that everything they had done in rehearsal to make a good blended sound flew out the window. The brand new City Performance hall was strangely underused. This would have been a far better venue for choirs than the opera house. The Cathedral Guadalupe was reserved mostly for sessions dealing with church music. Aesthetically astute perhaps but the choirs who had to suffer through the Winspear's deadness would have benefited from singing in the Cathedral.

Exhibits were set up in the lobbies of the Meyerson and the Winspear, which worked well for the most part. The only instance of bad planning was on Saturday when the exhibitors blocked off the front entrance to the Meyerson to tear down, thus forcing hundreds of people to us a narrow side entrance making for several log jams of people. This should have been better planned.


 I had the opportunity to hear about seventeen choirs over the four day span. I observed a number of trends. First, I am thrilled that we are moving away from the preponderance of music that is nothing but a string of cluster chords. As one of my colleagues deftly opined, you can stack overtones to the moon but if they're boring, who cares.

There was no shortage of dull, however. Any convention in which performers are performing for other performers is bound to generate an over abundance of esoterica. But even the most seasoned academics need to enjoy a show every now and then. I was disappointed to find myself falling asleep in concerts because of the endless stream of dull commissioned pieces whose final product did not merit the amount of rehearsal time they took to perfect. On the positive side, the use of instruments and movement in several concerts was not only refreshing, but often inspiring and thrilling.

Following are brief reviews of the choirs that I heard.

The Arlington High School Colt Chorale Varsity Men

This fetching choir, conducted by Dinah Menger and Mason Barlow stood well above the crowd. With brilliant programming, professional level showmanship and stellar sound, this choir's infectious enthusiasm was awe inspiring. It was obvious from the get-go that these young men were in love with performing. Truly fine singing and tasteful choreography made this one of the outstanding performances of the week.

The Arlington Martin High School Chamber Singers

Arlington, Texas seems to have a choir vitamin in its water supply. The Martin High School ensemble presented a solid program that got better as it went along. Sadly, I heard them in the Winspear which was a hindrance to any choir that had to sing there. I was particularly impressed with this choirs elegant performance of Kevin Memley's She Walks in Beauty.  The inspiring It Takes a Village by Joan Szymko received a rousing performance with some fine solos and great enthusiasm.

Camerata Musica Limburg

Although some professional commitments kept me from hearing this outstanding professional mens ensemble in concert, I did get to attend their master class at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning. If the beautiful sounds that they were able to produce at nine a.m., I am confident that an evening performance would have blown me out of the water.

The Florida State University Singers

Kevin Fenton led this largish mixed choir in a well executed but rather dull performance. This was an example of too much dull repertoire sadly, some rather perfunctory singing. Particularly disappointing was the they way that Dr. Fenton blew through the gorgeous harmonies in Mendelssohn's stunning Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen. To these ears, Fenton took Adolfus Hailstork's (whose name was misspelled in the Choral Journal program guide) Crucifixion entirely too fast, thus negating the pain that the composer masterfully built into the score. FSU's red costumes were unique but a bit of a distraction.

Fullerton College Chamber Singers

I hate to say it, but this concert was the most disappointing of all that I heard. John Tebay led his primarily undergraduate choir in an out of tune shout fest that was made all the worse by his clueless interpretations of the repertoire. Hans Leo Hassler's  Exultate Deo  was transformed from an elegant dance in to machine gun fire. There was no sense of rubato or finesse in Brahms' masterful Ich aber bin Elend. Sloppy intonation and a lack of blend destroyed the delicious harmonies. Eriks Esenwalds' stunning Long Road received a phoned in performance. (Compare it to the breath taking rendition from the Mount San Antonio College Chamber Singers and hour or so before). Shawn Kirchner's rousing O What a Beautiful City was hollered at us, not sung.

Highland Park Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir

One of Dallas' outstanding church music programs lives at HPPC under George Gregory Hobbs watchful hands. Dr. Hobbs led this large choir in solid performances of a number of excellent church anthems. I particularly appreciated the choice of repertoire as it showcased what the choir exists to do, that is, lead worship. No academic esoterica here. Solid singing and prayerful restraint were the hallmarks of this performance. Sadly, the monstrous and marvelous organ of the Meyerson Symphony Center showed that it wasn't designed to accompany. A lack of richness in the string sounds and overpowering principles were a bit of a distraction even though HPPC's fine organist kept the big Fisk under control.

Houston Chamber Choir

Robert Simpson led his professional chamber choir from Houston in an exciting performance, one that I sadly had to hear in the acoustically bereft Opera House. Of particular merit were the movements from Dominck DiOrio's A Dome of Many Couloured Glass. Not only is this a very exciting work, I don't think that these ears have ever heard a marimba played so amazingly. Srephen Tobin's virtuosity was quite breathtaking. Bob Chilcott's entertaining Weather Report was the other high point of this first rate performance.

Indianapolis Youth Chorale

Cheryl Eisele West led her gi-normous youth choir in what was one of the more inspired concerts of the week. Well chosen repertoire, fine intonation and elegantly shaped phrases made for a very enjoyable thirty minutes. Kevin Memley's She Walks in Beauty received its second fine performance of the week and Dan Forrest's Dance of Exultation  was quite the rabble rouser. This large choir was able to pull off some exquisite pianissimos, but these ears thought that the fortes were over sung, a trend that seemed to permeate much of the convention. Louder ain't always better. But as an Indiana native myself, I was very proud of the home team, especially for exposing so many fine young singers to much great literature.

Iowa State Cantaums

This outstanding sounding choir definitely gets the nappy time award for most uninteresting music. Dedicated to new works, this ensemble holds its many commissions as a source of pride. And well it should. Now it should just commission some interesting pieces. We were treated to thirty minutes of beautifully executed difficulty that quickly wore on the ear. Enough already of the endless bands of cluster chords. Yawnsville.

Kennesaw State University Men's Ensemble

This fine choir brought about some confusion in the ranks. During their introduction, the host commented that this group had only four music majors amongst its members. The printed program however revealed that well over twenty singers were pursuing music degrees. This little revelation took a bit of the wow factor away. Personnel issues or no, this was an exciting performance and the highlight of its concert session. Using various percussion instruments, creative staging and well, fine singing, this choir presented a vigorous program that was well selected, finely balanced and excellently sung. The highlight was Ola Gjielo's lovely Ubi Caritas, in which the composer made a guest appearance playing an improvised piano accompaniment over his own score. It was pretty thrilling.


Let us stop here to declare that this was the finest choir to perform in the entire convention, bar none.

Bruce Rogers is a programming genius, and his flawless blend of music, motion and performance perfection are almost beyond words. This was a performance that was so beautifully executed, so passionately rendered and so gorgeous in its visual presentation that for this listener, time literally stopped for the duration of the concert.

From the first note of Victoria's exquisitely simple Regina coeli, we knew we were in for a treat. Ola Gjeilo's stunning O magnum mysterium was deeply enhanced by the lovely staging, complete with a Madonna in a simple white shawl.

And the gifts just kept on coming and from all over the world. Every piece on the program pleased more than its predecessor, and Eriks Esenvalds' Long Road, transported listeners to flights of ecstasy. Perhaps I gush, but I have not been treated to a choral experience like that one in many a year and I will be first in line to attend Dr. Rogers' next master class or workshop.

It was most obvious that this was utterly inspired singing. You could read it on the singers' faces. Dr. Rogers must be a most inspirational conductor to get such astoundingly beautifully and emotionally charged musicianship from his young ensemble. By far, this concert was the apex of the week.


The Choir of the West's superb singing and programming rate it the other choir of the week to get a red banner. Richard Nance led a well balanced program that was marked by first rate musicianship, outstanding balance and tone and music selections that flowed together beautifully. The highlight of this nearly flawless concert was again a work by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds. Northern Light is a hauntingly atmospheric work that combines a splendid text, eerie mystery and the marvelous added effect of tuned glasses. This performance brought chills down the spine. Mr. Esenvalds is certain to continue to rise in fame, but more on that later. It was refreshing to hear music of Francis Poulenc so beautifully rendered. ACDA conventions can tend to ignore the music of past masters, and Poulenc is a sadly neglected master. The rousing So I'll Sing With My Voice of Dominic Argento brought this Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way) performance to a thrilling close. Along with Mt. San Antonio's Chamber Singers, this performance can be awarded Best in Show.

San Antonio Chamber Choir

Professional ensembles were very well represented this year and the San Antonio Chamber Choir comes to the top of the list both for vocal virtuosity and interesting programming. Timothy Kramer's Lux Caelestis, from which the choir performed two movements, stole the show. The performance provoked loud bravos from Dr. Jerry McCoy, who is arguably the biggest champion of contemporary choral music working today. If he gives you a bravo for a new piece you know it was good. Of additional merit was the lovely setting of the Medieval poem Mille Regretz by Andrew Rindfleisch. Amongst a sea of rather modern music, Scott MacPherson delivered a rather ravishing performance of Johannes Brahms' Dem dunkeln Schloss, der heil'gen Erde. It was a welcome intermission between all the modernity.

The Tallis Scholars

Known for their superb recordings and performances of sacred music from the Renaissance, it was a pleasure to hear the ten finely honed voices of The Tallis Scholars perform some new music. A new and as unyet named work by Eric Whitacre was rather typical of this composer's chord stacking. Arvo Paert's Nunc dimittis was hauntingly beautiful. Better even still was Palestrina's setting of the same text, through which this exemplary choir showed us just how this music is supposed to sound. It seemed to this listener however that the group might have been a little tour weary as little enthusiasm or body language came across in their performance.

There is more to come tomorrow as I will review more choirs, the closing performance of Britten's War Requiem, my choices for composers of the year and some general thoughts about the state of our art, but time and space dictate that I get this off to you, dear readers, and bring more tomorrow. Your comments are welcome. Feel free to send along your thoughts.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Criminal Justice and the Modern World

It costs the state of New Jersey more to incarcerate a low level, non-violent criminal offender than it would cost them to send him to Princeton.

Such a fact can't help but give one pause to reflect upon our justice system and contemplate ways to appropriately punish offenders while not bogging down public budgets by feeding and housing low level offenders.

Such thoughts have occurred to the brain trust at the Deloitte Corporation who this week presented a fascinating alternative to incarceration for low level, non violent offenders. It involves the use of smart phone technology to create a "virtual incarceration" where offenders would be monitored by authorities but allowed to remain in society. Such phones would be equipped with applications that track an offenders job status, his general whereabouts and daily habits. An analytical computer program would allow judges to determine risk factors and sentencing guidelines and help them to determine which activities to monitor.

For example, a drug offender might be required to use an app that determines intoxication or drug use by the movements of the eyes, as read through the phone's camera. The offender could also connect with his or her probation officer via iPhone's Face Time app, thus saving time and expense of travel and allowing the offender to maintain a job without the interruption of regular visits to some far off office.

This seems like a brilliant plan to me on all sorts of levels. First, it would surely lower recidivism rates. Statistics show that a person who is removed from society and placed in prison is considerably more likely to offend again. And why not? The barriers that society places in front of persons who have erred in the past are tremendous. Most people with past convictions find it at best difficult to find employment and even more difficult to find adequate housing. If you've been convicted of a sex offense, regardless of the circumstances, the burden of registration and the easy availability of your address, workplace and car licence makes any kind of successful re-entry into society nearly impossible. Very few people who have sex related offenses on their records have the emotional and psychological stamina to face down the myriad obstacles that are thrown in their paths.

By allowing persons who are convicted of non violent crimes and that are deemed unlikely to offend again to remain in their homes, with their families and in their jobs seems to be a much better recipe for success in reducing crime and the expense of punishment. Of course we should also be discussing the nature of what constitutes a crime in this country, particularly as it relates to drug use, and the disproportionate way in which sentences are handed out according to race and socioeconomic status. But that's a story for another day.

Meanwhile, Deloitte seems to have come up with an innovative and cost effective plan to reduce the number of people currently held in jails and prisons in the US, which, incidentally holds a full 25% of the world's imprisoned population. It is a technology and philosophy that certainly deserves further scrutiny and consideration. To read more about the Deloitte presentation at South By Southwest, click on the link below.

Friday, March 08, 2013

My Love Affair with the Crawleys

 Season three of Downton Abbey is now behind us with all of its shocking turns of event, and I am left to ponder how the first television series I have followed in years will fare in season four. With the departure of Dan Stevens, Jessica Brown Findlay and Siobhan Finneran from the show, there is room for some fantastic new plot lines, or for the show to jump the shark.

Let's start with Dan Stevens' departure. Since Matthew was the heir, and thus far in English Law, women cannot inherit, Lady Mary has no chance at all of being the Countess of Grantham. In fact she won't even be the dowager. Since she gave birth to a male, the child's future wife will be the next Countess and Lady Mary is consigned to spend the rest of her life as well, Lady Mary.

Then there's the scheming Miss O'Brien. Will she simply be gone at the beginning of season four, or will we see her just long enough for her to actually tell Lady Grantham that this time her rumored departure is for real? Remember SHE thought she was being let go in season one, (it was her Ladyship's soap) and then Thomas stirred up a nasty revenge rumor in season three. Let's hope that Miss O'Brien's replacement is at least somewhat nice. I know, the next lady's maid should be a lesbian who falls in love with Mrs. Pattmore.

How about Lady Edith? The poor girl always seems to take on Mission Impossible when it comes to boys. Will her editor be able to get out of his thankless marriage? Will Lord Grantham consent to Edith's on-the- side relationship with a married man? The poor girl's been jilted and jerked around since 1912. I think she deserves a little shot at happiness. And besides, editor boy is anything but ugly.

It seems that Thomas and Jimmy have come to some truce after Mr. Barrow took a beating to rescue his wannabe boy toy. It will be interesting to see if the conniving valet cum under butler actually becomes nice for a change.

Let us now consider Mr. and Mrs. Bates. Mr. Bates has been exonerated, Lord Grantham and Mr. Carson have managed to find a suitable job for everyone, and Anna and Bates have settled in to their little cottage on the estate. Isn't it about time that a little Bates enters the picture.

And what about Mr. Branson? Will Lady Mary fall for the hot little Irishman? Hmmmm? Let's just hope that his Lordship listens to Tom and doesn't blow all of the money for a third time.

Several new characters are joining the cast, including the first person of color. That's sure to stir up the Dowager's ire. So much to wonder and I hate it that season four is still months away.

Finally, here are some wishes for my favorite characters. I hope that Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes fall in love. I hope that Mrs. Crawley falls head over heals for Dr. Clarkson, in spite of the fact that she was the bane of his existence during the war. I bet that Daisy ends up moving from Downton to her father-in-law's farm. And let's hope that poor Alfred finally finds a girlfriend.

Severt Philleo and the author as Martha Levinson and the Dowager Countess, Halloween, 2013

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Alone in the Crowd

There is a lot of blabber about the use of personal devices and their effect on the ways in which we interact or communicate. Have they killed the art of conversation or have they enhanced our ability to stay connected with one another? Have they caused permanent damage to good manners or should we be adaptive and realize that there is a new code of social conduct in place? Big questions.

I think perhaps the answer is that smart phones and lap tops have done some damage to conversation. And I believe that in certain situations we should indeed turn the damned things off and just talk to one another. By the same token, there are some new rules and I think that since the only thing which should remain constant is change, then a little evolution on our part, (our meaning those of us that did not grow up with smart phones and the internet) is not amiss.

On two different occasions I have been accosted at my favorite watering hole by a patron who felt the need to make a rude comment about my using my phone at the bar. Both people made a case that a pub or bar was a place designed for socializing and that if he owned the bar, all phones would be checked at the door. Good luck with that buddy.

I completely disagree that public places such as restaurants and bars are by definition places to socialize. Yes indeed they can be, and if you go to one with the intention of meeting new people, then by all means put your phone away. On the other hand, I am the type who often enjoys being "alone in the crowd." In other words I like the stimulus of being around other people but at the same time I don't necessarily want to be bothered.

I go to my favorite coffee shop to check my email and write my blog entries and read the newspaper or a book. Sometimes after a long day, I want to go out for a drink and play my favorite video games or text with out of town friends and unwind for the day. Does this behavior make me rude or antisocial? Am I required to display my full wit and charm just because I am in a place where people gather with friends? Decidedly not. I have just as much right to privacy in a coffee shop as I do in my home. If I want to invite guests I will, if I don't, I won't.

Times and manners and customs change far more rapidly than they did when I was a twenty something. Technology has greatly enlarged the size of what could be called a community, and thus I believe that we should adapt to the changes and find a happy balance between electronic and face to face communication.

Given that the instant and online world is still relatively new, we might take a little time to find a balance between our virtual and actual realities. But things will be fine in the end, and if things aren't fine, then it's not the end.

I'm having a dinner party this weekend and the phones will be off. Meanwhile, as I sit here in the coffee shop writing this missive, feel free to text me. I am open for business.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tempus fugit

It is a little overwhelming to think that it was one month ago yesterday that my father died. It has caused me to think a great deal about time, how I use it, how precious a commodity it is and how very scarce! Self evaluation is a good thing I suppose but man is it ever a pain. And it seems that I am forever in a state of change.

Part of me loves the idea of an ever changing world with a daily new adventure. But the other part of me would love to have some stability. A stable home, a stable income, a stable boyfriend. Hell I would be satisfied with a stable cat! (Sorry Ben-Kitty but you are a bit of a wild card at times.)

If I have learned any important lessons from my father's departure, it is that whether I like it or not, I finally have to totally and completely take care of myself. At 49, that isn't the easiest habit in the world to learn. And I am way behind where I should be at this age.

But nothing changes if you just sit on your hands, so there's no time like the present. I have always found that any time I make some public announcement about amending my life, I usually fail. SOOOOO, I am going to ask you for your good vibes, karma, thoughts and prayers as I set out on a journey of finding myself and of making myself stable and independent for the very first time.

Not sure how I am going to accomplish it at the moment, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Wish me luck and I will keep you posted.

By the way, I am going to attempt to throw a weekly dinner party from now on with a rotating guest list. This week's menu features Asparagus salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette, Cream of Cauliflower soup, Maple Roasted Pork loin with orange glazed carrots and rosemary roasted potatoes.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

La Comedia e finita

It  seems a bit silly perhaps to comment on the closure of a bar, but given the amount of time and money that I have spent at Dallas' somewhat sleazy Drama Room over the last couple of years, perhaps a philosophical comment or two is in order.

Dallas has some twenty-odd gay bars, and since most of them are within either a few steps or a quick cab ride apart, one doesn't usually get attached to a specific watering hole. I, on the other hand, tend to have what I call a "home bar". That "Cheers" kind of place where everybody knows your name and your bartender knows that you don't like drinking straws. The Drama Room was such a place.

I liked the bartenders and the dancing boys and the general atmosphere there. It was the place where I got my vodka prescription filled. The scene of some hilariously good times and the venue at which I made some of my most dreadful missteps. Yes, I am confessing that at this point in my life, I spend too much time and money in bars.

This fact was brought home to me last night when I ran into a friend whose first words to me were: "well, I see they closed your house down. What are you going to do now?" When one's identity becomes that connected to a drinking establishment, then perhaps it is time to evaluate a bit.

Yesterday, the Drama Room closed for good. Of course, I feel sorry for the staff who are now out of a job without so much as a day's notice. But for me, perhaps this turn of events is a good thing. Although there is fun to be had in the other clubs on our famous Cedar Springs strip, none of them have quite the appeal or the crowd that I enjoyed at Drama. So to quote the song from The Color Purple, maybe God is trying to tell me something.

I will be the first to admit that I have neglected not only my fiscal responsibilities in favor of being a party boy, but I have also neglected my friends, my family, my art and my faith. In just a couple of weeks, we will have our first fund raiser for The Helios Ensemble as we resurrect a group that has been dormant for some years now. Here's my chance. Wish me luck.

And to close, fare thee well Drama Room and good luck to all your staff. It was a ride that was like the best of roller coasters: great fun, and hella scary at times. In Canio's immortal last words, la comedia e finita.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that this year, even though it ends in unlucky thirteen, will be boisterous, prosperous and any other fun -ous that you might pursue.

Many of you have continued to keep my dad and our family in your prayers as he struggles with his final illness. I wish to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart. His condition continues to worsen, sadly, and the biggest issue at the moment is his dementia. I am told by the professionals that this is a normal effect of the cancer and that there is little to be done. He will have some lucid periods, but he will continue to lose his ability to remember or to comprehend basic tasks.

The worst effect of his dementia is my inability to effectively to communicate with him. He doesn't remember our conversations even minutes after they happen. And he is completely unable to learn how to use his cell phone. This is hard for me because I want him to know that I am trying to stay in touch, but he simply can't comprehend it all.

I want to reiterate here my pledge to be a kinder person this year. Aunt Junie says to kill 'em with kindness and she is right. I have been shown such grace and love during this period and I hope that I can share the kindness that I have received with others, be they friend or stranger.

Best wishes to everyone in this hopeful new year.