Thursday, December 31, 2009

Memories of New Years Past

Tonight is New Year's Eve, and I have the best dates any grandma could have—my 8- and 6-year-old sweeties. I've spent the day doing contract editing for Tyler, broken only to shovel the VeryLongSidewalk that borders my corner lot, and to write this post.

This year—as opposed to years past—I'm okay with having no romantic interest on New Year's Eve—or any other night this past year, for that matter. When I remember catastrophic dates of New Year's Eves in the past, I am grateful for the absolute lack of drama.

In that vein, I share with you my post of exactly two years ago, when I was anticipating leaving Tucson to rejoin my family in Youngstown. It ranks right up there as one of the worst NYEs in my life.

My best NYEs? When I was 19 or 20, Mike Painter (whom I would have married and loved all my life, had he asked) went to one of his Lambda Chi Alpha brother's apartments for a party. Everybody was drinking to beat the band, and we chose not to drink. We spent the evening laughing at everyone making total fools of themselves. The other? That would be 1988, when John and I had been living together for about four months. We hosted a theatre-and-dinner party at the elegant 1905 rowhouse on Lamont St., NW, where we were housesitting. I think the play we saw at Arena Stage was "Six Characters in Search of an Author", then the 15 of us went back to the house for an elegant seated dinner. We were having so much fun, it was a few minutes past midnight before we realized 1988 had gone. Those were the days!

What was your best or worst New Year's Eve?

No elegant dinner for me tonight. Just more precious time and memory-making with my two sweetest babies.

I wish you a memorable evening with those you love.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Who's Old? Who's Young?

I spent much of the day with Tyler and Jaci and the babes. Many conversations circled around tomorrow afternoon's scheduled departure of the babes and me to the mountains of North Carolina, where my mother, brothers, and sister-in-law await our arrival.

I called down there today to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and my older brother, Jerry, told me Mother had only packed one outfit for the entire five-day trip. This of a woman who loves to shop, who will buy new clothes when she has not an inch to spare in her closet. Daddy used to joke about her saying, "I spent $100 today but I don't know what I got" and patting the couch or bed around her, trying to find her packages. This was in 1960 when $100 was a far larger amount than it is today. Even last summer, when we met in the mountains, a side trip to Highlands found her coming home with a new blouse and a new sweater.

Tonight as we were doing some dinner tasks in Tyler and Jaci's kitchen, I said to the very-tall-for-six-and-a-half Ridley, "Uncle Jerry and Uncle Jim and Aunt Molly are going to be so surprised to see how tall you are." She looked at me and asked, "What's the name of your other friend who will be there?" I was stumped, as only family will be at the property. I said, "Who do you mean?" She replied, "You know. The one who can't hear." I looked at Tyler and then at Ridley. "Do you mean my mother? Grandmother?" She smiled, nodded, and called over her shoulder as she bounded back to the dining room, "Yeah, that's the one. I just couldn't remember her name."

Umm. She's your greatgrandmother. We call her "Grandmother."

Tyler, Jaci and I just cracked up. I was laughing so hard I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.

It's going to be a very interesting couple of days in the mountains. I think a lot of laughing will occur, and it may not all be "laughing with" someone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fun With the Cleveland Orchestra

Tonight the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus sang the last in a series of eight Christmas concerts. As old and venerable as the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus is, you've got to expect that there are some traditions. I found fun and giggles in observing these traditions.

The challenge is to push the fun as far as you can without diluting the audience members' experience. This might be the eighth time an orchestra musician has played or a singer has sung this repertoire, but it's the first time many of those audience members have set foot inside Severance Hall. Your goal, as a performer, is to make the most memorable musical experience possible for those audience members. Ideally, you'll convert casual first-time attendees into patrons and/or donors.

The first clue that this was the final performance was that several female orchestra members added a little seasonal bling to their attire, sporting a sparkly headband or a tinsel-wrapped ponytail. I noted one woman with small discreet green Christmas ornaments as earrings.

I can imagine Maestro Porco's heightened awareness, knowing—with each lift of his baton—that he could be surprised, and that he must be prepared so that the surprise wouldn't cause him to lose his concentration, his place in the music.

The first half of the concert proceeded with no surprises beyond the normal occasional missed note or inadvertent solo. (That's the beauty of live music, dontcha know? A CD plays the music the same every time, but a live concert is never the same twice!)

The chorus had the first joke in the second half, with expert planning from our assistant conductor and the chair of the chorus operating committee. When Santa came out and did his shtick with the Maestro, they concluded their stand-up routine with a duet performance on "Jingle Bells". They sing the verse, and the audience joins in on the chorus. At the conclusion of "What fun it is to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight," the entire chorus shouted "Hey" and slung their right hands up into the air. Maestro Porco heard the ruckus in the chorus and turned to eye us, looking surprised and then laughing.

Our plan was for him to believe that would be the only joke played on him, so he could relax. But we weren't finished.

The next song was "The Twelve Days of Christmas", which historically is done with audience participation on the "five golden rings" phrase. The arrangement we do is a normal choral arrangement. The sopranos sing the first verse, more voices are added on the second, full harmony comes into play on the third, and so on. Maestro Porco led the sopranos on the opening, but at the phrase "a partridge in a pear tree", the basses suddenly boomed in. He turned to the sopranos for the second verse, and at "two turtle doves", he turned to the basses, but the tenors came in, followed by the basses on "a partridge in a pear tree". On the third verse, the Maestro had figured out our scheme, and looked straight at the altos for "three French hens". The sopranos sang "four calling birds", and we all went back to the arrangement, as written.

Ah, relaxation for the Maestro. The jokes were over. But, no! The orchestra had not been heard from.

The next piece was that fabulous arrangement of "Sleigh Ride" that gets jazzy on the second time through. The percussionist has a big clapper thing that consists of two flat pieces of wood he slaps together to make the sound of the whip in the air urging the team of horses on. When it came time for the clap of that clapper (I'm sure it has a better name, which my son, the percussionist, could tell me.), the Maestro turned to the percussionist, but the sound of the clap came from the other side of the stage. We looked, to find JoElla Jones, the orchestra's keyboard artist and our venerable accompanist, with a much smaller clapper, struggling to follow the percussion part and clap the clapper at the appropriate moment. It was a fun and memorable moment, and she continued to play that part through to the end. And when the audience applauded, Maestro Porco turned to JoElla and gave her a solo bow.

Holidays are hard for me. I always think they should include time with your beloved life partner, and I have none. But this year, I haven't missed that connection at all. I had many hours of making beautiful music with wonderful new friends in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, and I'm heading into Christmas with a sense of deep gratitude for how full my life is.

May the music of the season bring you as much joy as it brings to me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Messiah Is Come

I'll make this quick. I've got to get up and out the door for another Cleveland performance, but I wanted to share with you the review in the Plain Dealer of our Thursday night performance.

There was one little blip in a missing cue to stand, which then affected the next chorus, as most of us were obsessing about the missed cue rather than obsessing about the notes we were singing.

<Professorial Hat On>
For the uninitiated, an explanation: the movements in the Messiah that are sung by the chorus are referred to as choruses, so the statement I just made means the next movement, not the next body of singers who sang. The solo movements are recitatives and airs.
<Professorial Hat Off>

As I posted on Facebook yesterday, "Why, after singing 6,974 black dots, is it the 4 you blew that you remember instead of the 6,970 you nailed?!"

Last night was the first of eight holiday concerts. The orchestra and chorus performed impeccably, and the audience loved it. I'll share one little bit of shtick between Porco and Santa, then I'll head for the shower.

Porco: "How 'bout them Browns?" (Or something about the Browns to Santa, with an accompanying roar from the audience. I guess the Browns are a local sports team. I KID! I KID! STOP YELLING AT ME!)

Santa: [Some funny response]

Porco: "Talking about sports, how about Tiger Woods? Is he still on your list?"

Santa: "Yeah, but it looks like I'm not on his."

This was followed by a rim shot from the percussion section.

By all accounts, the bits between Porco and Santa are hilarious, but from the last row on stage I can't hear clearly. Good thing I've got seven more concerts to concentrate on their words.

Enjoy your weekend. With three concerts in the next 36 hours, I'll sure be enjoying mine!

Photo Credit: Roger Mastroianni for the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fame or Notoriety?

If you're a TiVo/DVR kind of person, set your machine for the Today Show tomorrow, 12/10/09. Jaci will be interviewed in a segment about having one's iPhone or similar electronic device stolen.

Seems my kids are everywhere lately!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Man of My Life

Twenty-five years ago today my daddy died. He was 70 years old and a doctor beloved by all his patients.

Long-time readers know I don't have a great relationship with my mother. But I had a wonderful relationship with Daddy. I adored him, and he mirrored my feelings.

Where Mother tore me down and demeaned me, Daddy built me up and made me feel I had worth.

He was a small-town physician when Orlando was a relatively small town, long before the Mouse hit town. He left the house at 6:00 every morning to make rounds, eat breakfast at some small restaurant between the hospital and his office, and then see patients all day. Several days a week he performed general surgery. Operating room tasks were his favorite, and he told me once that, if he had it to do over again, he would specialize in surgery. For years he took obstetric patients, until tiring of the 2am calls. His day finished with the day's paperwork and more hospital rounds. He usually got home around 11:00 p.m., long after I was in bed.

I lived for Wednesday afternoons and Sundays, when he was off. On Wednesday evenings, the family would go to dinner at Howard Johnson's, where we could get a vegetable plate. I would order chocolate cake, saving the frosting for the last few bites. Daddy would inevitably reach his fork over and steal a little of my chocolate frosting.

Even to this day, Daddy is in my head, telling me I'm a good girl, telling me he's proud of me.

How lucky I was to have had him in my life.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Into the Car, Onto the Stage

It's hell week again, so I might not post over the next week.

Today we perform for alumni and friends of Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School. This is their 25th Annual Christmas Concert, where they rent Severance Hall and the orchestra and chorus, observe our rehearsal, enjoy an elegant dinner with tables throughout Severance, and then end the day with a concert. There will be so many people on stage for the rehearsal that we have to move onto the stage in shifts. I'm second shift. Much attention must be paid!

And I'm going into the busy day in a frazzled state of mind. I learned from the dermatologist yesterday that I have ringworm—there's one lovely round red itchy patch on my right forearm. Evidently Angel brought it with him from the shelter. He then gave it to Rudi. One of them generously gave it to me. I'm not happy. I have now spent over $500 on this little kitten I got from the shelter. I guess that'll teach me to do a good deed!

In reality, it's taught me to trust my instinct with shelters. When I walked into this shelter on Mahoning Avenue, the smell of feline urine was overwhelming. I started to turn and walk out, but the lure of the kittens was too great. There were other shelters I visited, but I brought the g'babes back here and let them fall in love with a kitten at this particular not-so-clean shelter. As a result I have a kitten whose diarrhea has continued for six weeks and who has brought the ringworm fungus into my home.

I haves washed all the linens in my bedroom. I've quarantined the cats to the dining room, kitchen and basement. My friend is coming over today while I'm in Cleveland to vacuum every piece of upholstery the cats might have lounged upon. And I'm keeping the g'babes away from these cats.

There are a few giggles to the story. I went to the compounding pharmacy, who didn't have the medication for the cats in stock. The pharmacist there told me it was a common medication, and that Walgreen's or Giant Eagle would have it. I went to the Walgreen's on Market and 224, where a delightful young pharmacy tech named Brandon helped me out. It turns out the medicine was about $120, but if I paid $20 to get a "W card" for one of the cats, I'd save $60 on that prescription. Net savings of $40.

The cats have to take the medicine until the fungus is gone, which will probably be four weeks. FOUR WEEKS! And, once mixed, the medicine is only good for two weeks. Yep. In two weeks I get to go back, get a "W card" for the other cat, and pay $80 again.

I am disgusted with this turn of events. I am disgusted with this shelter, putting infected cats out into the community. I am made myself for not following my instinct. This is a darling little cat, but money is money! I was going to put up a tree yesterday, but after hemorrhaging money at the dermatologist, the vet clinic, and Walgreen's (my medicine, with insurance, was $40), I'll defer the tree to next year.

I was supposed to have a sleepover with the babes last night, but babysat them at their house instead, then fell asleep on their couch until the parents came home. I got home at midnight and now must get up and clean.clean.clean until leaving for Cleveland.

So what comprises the rest of Hell Week? Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night Messiah rehearsals, Thursday night Messiah performance, Friday night Holiday performance (skipping the lavish office party at Cleveland's House of Blues), Saturday matinee Holiday concert, Saturday night Messiah, and Sunday matinee Holiday concert. Next week I'll have the first Monday night off in about three months, so I'll go to my knitting group. The weekend of the 19th is five more concerts, and then it's Christmas, and then I'll take the babes and go to the mountains to spend a few days with my mother, brothers, and sister-in-law.

Can you say, "Whew!"?

[I had a hard time deciding on an image for today's post. A picture of a ringworm patch? Yuck. A picture of the kitten who caused all this chaos? Not in love with the kitten right now. A picture of a person singing, or driving, or sleeping—all of which I'll either be doing a lot of or wishing for this week? Nothing cute enough. So you get an image of the place I'll be spending so much time: Cleveland's spectacular Severance Hall. Yes, I am a lucky singer.]

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cooking Up Traditions

I babysit my grands every Tuesday night so Jaci can go to her creative movement and Tyler can attend the Ulysses book group. I race from Akron back to Youngstown, pick up the babes, and head to a restaurant to dinner. We have a lovely time together. They catch me up on their schoolday and give me the scoop on all their friends. I get my Grandma Fix, and all is well.

Our restaurant norm is Denny's, but last night their choice was Bob Evan's. When we got out of the car at Bob Evan's, I realized my purse was missing. In my haste to get to Youngstown, I had left my purse—including all IDs, credit cards, and cash—at the office. Oops.

I told them we'd have to go home and have scrambled eggs for dinner, as I had no way to pay for dinner. They willingly and happily got back in the car and we headed to my house. Fortunately, I had been grocery shopping recently—Flash: I hate grocery shopping. My refrigerator was stocked sufficiently so I could sate their appetites with scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, toast, applesauce, yogurt, and these fabulous dark chocolate organic cookies that I found at Giant Eagle. Are you impressed?

When I took them back to their house to put them to bed, Boston looked at me and said, "We should eat at home every week." Then, his little brain cogs turning, he laid out a whole schedule of what nights we would go out, what nights we would eat in, what we'd have for dinner, what we'd have for breakfast on sleepover nights, and what nights we'd decide whether to go out or stay in.

They don't mind my lame cooking! They don't judge the quality of my kitchen efforts! They're perfectly happy with cuisine that Le Cordon Bleu or New England Culinary Institute or Julia Child would deem sub-edible!

You think I can find enough things to feed them that will come out of my kitchen in a format that won't cause them to gag?

More importantly, what was there in those moments at home around my dining table that grabbed his imagination and made him feel that environment was better than "Grand Slam with no pancakes" and "Oreo Sundae with no whipped cream" at Denny's?

Whatever caused this attitude adjustment, my credit card appreciates the relief it's going to feel.

Cooking? I'm equal to the challenge!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

When You Care Enough to Send . . .

My older son's birthday is Saturday and I found the perfect card to send him.

TJ is not like anybody else. I've frequently said he lives on another planet and I'm not even sure which solar system it's in. I don't think he'd be insulted by that statement. I think he'd be proud.

I stood at the card counter and opened every card in the "Son" section. Mushy, smooshy, drivel. "Having a son like you …", "When you were little …", "Son, my heart …". Each one was a little softer and sappier than the previous one. There was nothing in any of these cards that described my son or our relationship.

Buying cards has been a problem my whole adult life. I refuse to send a card just to be sending a card. I want it to say what I'm feeling. And my feelings are complex.

I don't love my mother. I respect her. I try to be a good daughter to her. But the only times I feel any love for her are when I'm sick and wanting to be pampered. So to send a card that says, "You're the best mother in the world" just ain't gonna happen. She's not the best mother in the world. If they just made a card that said, "Thanks for trying so hard", I'd grab four and send one each year. (She's 96. She's not gonna remember!)

I've been known to be so tickled by cards I've read that I repeat the description and the text to friends. I think it was my buddy JW who said he never knew anyone to get such a charge out of the card aisle.

TJ's card? "Son, you're unique."

Perfect!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The New Meme on the Block

A "Be Thankful" meme surfaced on Facebook at the beginning of November. Members were urged to "think of one thing you are thankful for and post it as your status [every day]". I tend to participate in the saner memes that I see, partly because I feel so alone here; when I participate in a self-revelatory meme, I feel less alone. I feel like I've allowed some anonymous person or some unnamed friend to know me a little better.

When I saw this thankfulness meme, I thought for a moment about participating, but didn't think I could find enough things to be thankful for to get me through the entire month of November.

Sometimes I feel like there are two points of light in my life (spending time with my grandchildren; singing in the CleveOrch Chorus) and everything else is bleakness. But I really do have other things that matter to me. Today is the appropriate day to elucidate these things.

So, on Thanksgiving, a day I always enjoy, I'll share with you the things in my life for which I'm thankful:
  • My grandchildren, and the fact that my son and daughter-in-law trust me to be their principal babysitter.

  • Making beautiful music with CleveOrch Chorus, and making friends there after moving away from all my Tucson friends twenty-one months ago.

  • My children. Tyler and Jaci let me know daily that they care for me. Scott has an enormous heart and is a good person. We're not in contact in the manner Tyler and I are, but we have a quiet bond that endures the absences.

  • My mother's health. At 96, she's in decent health. My brothers and sister-in-law and I have concerns about her, but we don't have to worry. Knock wood.

  • My brothers and sister-in-law, to whom I've become closer as we have had to join forces to figure out what to do with and about Mother. I always wanted our family to be close; as we age, we are achieving that closeness.

  • I have a job and can pay my bills. I am slowly digging out from the real estate fiasco of 2008. I trudge to Akron every day and keep my nose to the monitor to ensure my state of employment continues.

  • My old friends: Gail M., who's been a part of my life since 1957; Cheryl K. (PianoLady), who keeps me grounded and shares a Broadway weekend with me every October and who sends great cards on every holiday or change of season—she still writes letters and I cherish those letters; Gail R., who loves singing as much as I do and who is going to Ireland with me next year; Polly P., whose friendship endures despite her high-profile job and busy life; my Washington friends, who love singing and whose friendship I cherish because they knew John and understand my loss; my Tucson friends, who all taught me how to be courageous and come out of my natural introversion.

  • My new friends: friends and acquaintances of Tyler and Jaci's who have reached out to me and welcomed me since I moved to Youngstown; and Tani—Tani of the warm heart who opened her world to me and introduced me to all her friends after we met in the play area at the mall. My life is richer for knowing these people.

  • Arts. I am thankful for all the art forms I've been able to absorb over the years. I am happy to exercise this knowledge, and I am indebted to all the people who see my work and encourage me, who spur me on. As I look around my home at things I've sewn, knitted, quilted, and beaded, at tables to which I've applied glass in mosaic, at stained glass hangings, at pots I've thrown and boxes I've built from clay slabs, at lampwork beads I've turned over a torch—I am thankful for the ability to learn and absorb.

  • Words. I'm thankful for words and my ability to work with them and appreciate them.

  • Music. Even though I've placed it last on this list, it's first in my life. It makes my heart beat and gives me a connection to so many people. Music truly defines who I am.


My adoption has clouded my life for the entire 59 years. I consider my life to have been difficult, but when I feel sadness for that difficulty, I hear a story of a person who suffered real—physical, mental, financial, life-altering—difficulty, and I feel ashamed of being so focused on my insignificant difficulties.

John and I shared two years of our lives from mid-1988 to mid-1990. We had much happiness and much extreme sadness. He chose to listen to one who was whispering in his ear; when he made the decision to follow her pleas that he leave me, he felt guilty for hurting me. But he followed his heart rather than worrying about pleasing people, and I saluted that boldness. I had been encouraging him to listen to his own heart, and I had to honor his courage. We remained friends and I reassured him repeatedly that the happiness of our time together far outweighed the sadness. Eventually he realized the error of his ways, quietly opened the door and invited me in, and gave me the most outrageous joys of my life. I miss those joys, but how fortunate I was to have been able to experience them.

So while I may never be able to stop wishing abortion had been available in 1949, I will concede that the joys—my children, my grandchildren, my music, my friends—have been greater and more important that the pain and difficulties I've endured.

May your joys be greater than your pain, and may you have a lovely day of thanksgiving with your family and friends.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Needle in a Haystack

Finding time is, for me, like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

About six months ago, I came up with the idea of having a handcraft market at the office for all the employees and their spouses who "make things". The market will be held next Thursday, December 3, to help people get a jump on their holiday shopping. As a result, I've been spending every spare moment—for the past six months—sewing and knitting and trying to build up my inventory of handcrafted items for this market.

The result is that I feel I have no totally free, unscheduled time. Three weeks ago I spent the entire week taking care of my grandchildren. I scheduled a number of doctor's appointments for their schooltime, as getting from Akron to appointments in Youngstown is very difficult. When they went to bed, I went to bed. There was no free time. Two weeks ago I had two nights of rehearsal and babysat three nights so Tyler and Jaci could meet social commitments. There was no free time. Last week I had two nights of rehearsal and babysat every other night in the week. There was no free time.

I am not complaining. Let me say it again: I am not complaining. Don't interpret any of these words as complaints. They're just facts. I wouldn't trade my time with my grandchildren for all the free time in the world. Helping my son and DIL with my grandkids is my life.

But the result of this schedule is that I don't have a storeful of knitted/felted items and handcrafted jewelry to sell next week. Really, though, if only two or three items sell, it's okay. It will defray the materials costs for all the items I've made. And I'm thinking of taking the leftovers and opening an Etsy store.

(Jaci has taken studio space in the Ward Bakery Building, and we're working out the details of my sharing her space to create bags and jewelry that her wedding and lifestyle clients would like to own.)

I'm hopeful that this pattern of constant sewing and knitting and beading will continue. Well, maybe not constant. Ideally, I would find fifteen to thirty minutes each day, at a minimum, to work on projects. (Yeah, so I should also be finding fifteen to thirty minutes a day to exercise, and we all know how well that's going!)

I guess finding a needle in a haystack just requires discipline—constant and mindful discipline.

(The little bag in the photo on this post? It's felted wool. That means I knitted the bag to a size of about 10"x12", then put it in the washer with hot water and a little Woolite detergent. After thirty minutes the agitation had shrunk the wool and I had a darling little bag, about 5"x7". I sewed the buttons and beads on, and have decided this is my new favorite pattern.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A New Blog in the 'Sphere

There's a new blogger in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley Blogosphere. His name is Boston, and he's eight years old. The apple has fallen right under the tree, and it's not a rotten apple!

He's been showing lots of interest lately in writing. How fun that he's taken that interest into cyberspace.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Love of Music

As I sat in rehearsal tonight, singing some beloved Christmas songs, including old favorites in lush new arrangements, I noticed something amazing. Every moment I wasn't singing, I was smiling. (Note that I didn't say I was smiling while I was singing. That's not such a good idea.)

I truly love singing with this chorus. I love it with every fiber of my being.

Work is particularly challenging right now, with a new release of our software slated to be released momentarily. There's tremendous pressure being placed on my colleague and me to get it done, get it done right, and get it done right now. There are very few moments throughout the day when I feel like smiling. And my drive is long and hard. I dread leaving the house every morning.

But I don't mind the drive to Cleveland before rehearsals. And I don't mind the three hours spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair. And I don't mind the drive home from 10:00 to 11:15, or later.

When I sit in that rehearsal hall, amid likeminded singers, accompanied by incredibly talented pianists, and led by a sensitive conductor, I am happy*happy*happy.

For those three hours of my life, all is right in my world.

MusicMonday Phrase of the Day

This is Monday, it's 11:15 p.m., and I've just arrived home after another Cleveland Orchestra Chorus rehearsal. Tonight you're to be gifted with another Pithy Porco Phrase.

The cast of the chorus Holiday concert rehearsals is large and assorted. We perform nine Holiday concerts (and two Messiahs), so the administration pulls together vast numbers of singers, in hopes that enough can survive the stress and typical sicknesses of the season to have a full chorus for every performance. In our Monday night rehearsals you will find the normal COChorus, plus those members of the summer Blossom Festival Chorus who want to sing with us, plus the CO Youth Chorus and the Cleveland State University Chorus.

That's a whole lot of bodies in one rehearsal hall. And yet when we sing, it sounds like only four voices. The blend, the togetherness, the synergy—it's truly awesome.

But the downside is that the choruses other than COC aren't used to singing with Maestro Porco. They're not in the habit of practicing the discipline we practice. Well, some are, and some aren't. But it must be frustrating to Maestro Porco to have to repeatedly request quiet so his requests and instructions can be heard.

Tonight, in a moment of frustration, he said, "Let's hear what silence sounds like." If I hadn't been trying so hard to be quiet, I would have laughed out loud. It struck me as the most perfect phrase, a phrase which could be translated, "Hush!"

The silence was wonderful. And I learned a new phrase I can and will use on my grandchildren!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

All Notes Are Not Created Equal

If you've read more than, oh, five posts in this log, you are aware that I love making music. I passionately love making music.

I began playing piano by ear at three-and-a-half. I started accordion lessons at four, piano and theory at five, organ at seven, and auditioned for the church choir at eight. During the audition, the choir director discovered my perfect pitch. I consider myself a musician first and foremost, and piano is my primary instrument. Choral singing would be my second instrument, if choral singing can be defined as an instrument.

I don't love all genres of music, but I respect talent and perseverance. And once I am exposed to and begin learning a choral work, I am in love with it by the time we stand on stage behind the orchestra to perform the work.

As I'm learning, I love observing the director to see what inspired phrases he or she is going to use to make a point or teach a lesson in a manner that we will retain the information at least through performance, if not forever. Many singers will grab that inspired phrase out of the air and write it in their music. In fact, over fifteen years ago some singers in The Washington Chorus memorialized Robert Shafer's inspired phrases in "The Book of Bob". When he moved to City Choir of Washington two years ago, some singers were searching for a Book of Bob to again be able to quote those phrases.

Cleveland Orchestra Chorus has a total of four rehearsals with Maestro Porco to be able to learn all our holiday concert music. Some of the music is tried and true; some requires a lot of practice to get the notes down. We are charged with doing all that practice on our own, in order that rehearsals will go swiftly and smoothly.

Many singers sing the notes and the words without speaking them first, without stopping to think about the vocal inflection of that spoken phrase. Think about how you would speak "What sweeter music can we bring?", as opposed to singing "what sweet-er mus-ic can we bring", concentrating on making sure each note was held for its proper duration, at the notated volume. The tendency is to make the two syllables of sweet-er equal, to remove the natural inflection that comes when speaking "sweeter", accenting the first syllable. Portions of last Monday night's rehearsal were spent just speaking the words to pieces we were rehearsing, trying to hear what the natural speech patterns were. Our goal? To enable the audience to understand clearly every word we sing.

The inspired phrase that Maestro Porco used to help us remember? "All notes are not created equal." I grabbed that and wrote it in my music. Then our rehearsal notes arrived by e-mail this morning and, again, I saw "All notes are not created equal."

I must remember to speak it and hear it before turning it into music.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Everybody Needs a Buddy

There's something about cats and sewing rooms. The cat tends to get onto the sewing table and interfere as much as possible in the sewist's creative process. I found this great basket on Etsy and it seems to have directed Angel away from the table. Rudi was wayyy too big to curl up in it, but Angel has found his new go-to place.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sing A Song of Christmas

Tonight was the first chorus rehearsal for the Cleveland Orchestra's holiday concerts. There were approximately 230 singers (comprised of members of the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Blossom Festival Chorus, and Cleveland Youth Orchestra Youth Chorus) at the rehearsal, plus conductor, assistant conductor, accompanist, and chorus manager. As one of the taller singers, I usually am seated on the back row. Tonight that was the 7th row! It's a long way across seven rows and through a line of bobbing heads to see the conductor's gesture!

The chorus members always receive our music prior to the first rehearsal, and are expected to have the music prepared and be ready to sing at rehearsal number one. There is never to be any sight-reading or fluffing of notes. Due to the sheer volume of music (ten or so songs times 233 singers for holiday concert, plus 65 singers for Messiah), some of us did not get our music ahead of time. Therefore, tonight's rehearsal did not proceed as smoothly as Maestro Porco would have preferred.

We only have four rehearsals to prepare this music before the first concert. If you count the number of pages in the songs we're singing and multiply it by the average number of black dots per page, that's a lot of ink we've got to sing in nine more hours of rehearsal.

Maestro Porco was troubled tonight as he looked around the chorus and noticed some people listening rather than singing, trying to get the music.

The quotable quote for tonight? "Rote learning is for the Peace Corps" (i.e. not for a top symphonic chorus). Translation: In the Peace Corps, you're trying to communicate with natives struggling with a foreign language and foreign concepts. You're an accomplished musician. Learn your music on your own before you walk through these rehearsal doors.

In a phrase? Be responsible!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Rules, Rules and Nothing But Rules

(With apologies to Bernadette Peters and "Greens, Greens and Nothing but Greens" from "Into the Woods".)

I've been wanting to write about this all week, but I'm exhausted. The past two nights I've been asleep by 9:00 p.m. This full-time g'parenting is just exhausting. And please note that that statement is not a complaint—it is merely a statement of fact. I was able to pull this full-time duty when I was in my 20s and 30s. But, People, I'll be 60 in seven months, and this is hard damned work.)

The babes attend the local Montessori school. The administration there is very conscientious about the environment and healthful nutrition and the like. But, for my taste, they're a little too conscientious.

I've been having to pack the babes' lunch every day. The first day I tucked in some Hallowe'en fruit snacks that were left over from Saturday night. When Ridley got home, she told me, "That's fake fruit. You can't send that again."

Fake fruit? FAKE FRUIT?! The babes' mother does not purchase food that is not nutritious. She doesn't purchase fake food.

And, by the way, I know from fake fruit. My mother kept a bowl of wooden fruit that was brought as a gift from Honduras by a family friend. That's fake fruit.

And to remotely and figuratively slap my hand because I sent a decent snack that you deemed inappropriate. Do we maybe need to be a little less intense about some things?

Okay, I know you have precedents you have to uphold. And I'm just an agent of my grandchildren's parents. So I'll try harder next time.

But I reallllly don't like people telling me what to do. And I don't like the thought that you have deemed a perfectly decent snack to be "fake fruit."

Whatever!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Makin' Up Stories

Instead of reading stories before bed, the babes and I frequently make up stories. One person will start, pausing where someone else is to add a word or take over the story line.

Last night I started a story about a boy with four cats and a dog. Ridley named the boy's father "Jim", and Boston named his mother "Rosa". The boy became "Sam", and the cats were "Sally", "Willie", "Sarah", and "Wally". Then I asked Ridley what breed of dog Sam had. She said, "a Chocolate Puff." Hmm, that's not a breed with which I'm familiar.

I asked her what a Chocolate Puff was. She said, "You know. A Chocolate Puff. Like Guide."

That would be a Chocolate Lab to the rest of us. The photo above? Guide, at nine weeks, when he moved in next door.

Jaci's Live Blog

Jaci, with the help of cameraman Tyler, is live-blogging from New Orleans. Her posts are must-see Internet. If you have never met Jaci, a single viewing of these videos will explain to you why everyone who knows her falls in love with her. Her personality just glows through these videos.

Go. Read. And keep checking back for more as the week progresses.

Day 1
Day 2

Did You Vote?

How nice that my life thsi week is including quiet post-8:30am mornings into which I can slip a conversation with an old friend or a pastry at Panera. Or voting without stress.

If you're a Mahoning County reader, please vote to keep the light on at our libraries.

Go vote—it's your right, your privilege, your obligation.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Grandma Report, Days 1 and 2

I have made it through two days as full-time grandma; it's 8:45 and I'm ready for sleep!

Yesterday began at 6:00 a.m., involved a PIT airport run at 8:30 a.m., an afternoon at the Akron zoo, and a dinner of fish sticks followed by a make-up-the-rules-as-you-go game of Pictionary.

This morning I was up at 6:00 to get my shower and be ready to go before the babes got up at 6:50. Unfortunately, I had a headache that started around 3:00 a.m. We got breakfast, clothes, practiced piano, put the dogs out, scraped frost off the windshield, and made it to school in time. My day continued with iced tea and the crossword at Panera, then my annual GYN appointment, a run into BB&B for a new shower curtain, a quick call to the office to try to solve a problem, picking the babes up from school, errands, more piano practicing, a cupcake-making session, more fish sticks, and a game of Life.

By the time I turned their light out at 8:15, I was totally ready to drop onto my bed. My head is still hurting, and I'm trying to stay awake long enough so I won't wake at 4:30 tomorrow morning. Rain is forecast for tomorrow, and snow showers for tomorrow night. As soon as this weather settles down, my head will stop hurting and I'll be a more long-suffering grandma.

There were a couple of high points to the day. One was seeing how low my blood pressure was at the doctor and realizing it was a result of the beta blocker. So: higher weight, but fewer headaches and lower blood pressure.

The other high point came at the end of our game of Life after dinner tonight. Boston said, "That was fun. I'd much rather do that than watch television." When is the last time you heard your 8yo say something like that? I was thrilled.

I feel privileged to pick them up from school and hear their conversations about their days. Boston talked about the boy who told him he hated him. Then he talked about the girl who told him she loved him and how nice that felt after the boy saying he hated him.

I feel grateful that my son and daughter-in-law trust me enough to allow me this privilege for a week.

I feel tired.



Several friends have asked how I'm managing work with this responsibility. I'm not. I took the whole week off—two-and-a-half days of vacation (all that's left for the year), and two-and-a-half days leave without pay. I can't imagine trying to balance work with everything that's required to manage these kids' lives.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Word of the Day

My grandchildren's vocabulary never ceases to amaze me. I'm spending the week with them, so am getting lots of amazing moments.

Today we stopped at Wendy's for lunch on the way to the Akron Zoo. Ridley, ever amazed at her own ability to tell jokes (funny is in the brain of the beholder, dontcha know?), asked me if I knew what the dummy's favorite restaurant was. When I gave up, she responded, "Denny's". Okay, so Denny's is the babes' favorite restaurant, and "dummy's" and "Denny's" sort of sound alike. Vaguely.

I told her I didn't find her joke funny. Boston then said, "It's awkward." I asked him what was awkward. He said, "Her joke." Awkward. Hmmm.

Then in the evening after finishing our dinner of fish sticks and applesauce (whew, I made it through day 1), they delved into their Hallowe'en baskets. Boston came up with some candy corn, which he loves. He was sorting through the eight-or-so kernels he chose for his dessert, and held up one misshapen kernel. "This is awkward," he observed.

There you go. The word of the day, from an eight-year-old's point of view. "Awkward." Can be applied to jokes or candy.

My Grandma Instincts tell me this week is going to yield lots of blog fodder!

Soul Custody

I'm nearing the end of "Olive Kitteridge" and, although I don't like the character Olive very much, I am loving Elizabeth Strout's writing.

In the chapter I listened to on Friday's evening commute, the teenaged girl's mother had left home when the child was very small to go to Hollywood to be an actress. The teenager wanted to find and get to know her mother. Her father, a minister, told her that would be impossible, as he had filed the papers and had sole custody. The girl, when she heard that, thought he had "soul custody."

I left my children when they were small, and although I believe I acted in their best interest, I agonize—to this day—about that decision and action. Reading about a mother who leaves her child(ren) is difficult for me. Reading about the gossip and disapproval of friends and neighbors is even more difficult. An outsider can never know what goes on inside the life of another.

"I loved you so much I gave you up." What a mixed message. How seemingly hypocritical.

I've been privy to an adoption discussion on Facebook over the past few days. Adoption is such a hot topic for me. In retrospect, I believe my struggles as a parent and my struggles in my many marriages were tightly connected to being adopted. How can a person who has never felt accepted or loved or "good enough" be a partner or a parent?

One of the contributors to the adoption discussion shared the fact that a friend who had just met her true love found out they were both adopted and it gave them a special bond. My marriage to John—his third, my fourth—was the perfect marriage for both of us. His mother had died when he was three and he spent the next five years in and out of foster homes and an orphanage. I always felt we were able to fill in the holes in each other's souls, and that's why the marriage was so successful.

The fewer holes one has in her soul, the easier it is to have custody of her own soul.

Wow, That's A Lot!

There are so many lessons that must be taught to children for them to successfully navigate the world. I attempted to teach one of those to Ridley yesterday.

She and I were sharing the bathroom as we were getting ready for the babes to go back home after a sleepover at Grandma's. Ridley is fascinated by the scale in my bathroom and hops on it every time she goes into my bathroom. Every time! She still doesn't grasp the difference, at 6, between height and weight, between measuring and weighing. Sometimes she'ls look at the scale readout and say, "Look how tall I am." We're working on that lesson, for one.

Yesterday she was so proud to be "almost 80". Then, as I weighed myself before getting in the shower, she looked over at the scale and said, "Wow, that's a lot!" Ooh, bad thing to say.

I have gone back on a beta blocker, after twenty-plus years, to stem my frequent headaches. It has been a tremendous success—I've had fewer headaches in the past couple of months than in any two month period in the past, oh, ten years. The downside to the beta blocker is that I've been piling on the pounds, no matter how careful I try to be with my diet.

On the great scale of life, if I have to choose between carrying some extra pounds or dealing with daily headaches, I guess I'll take the pounds. But that doesn't mean I'm not sensitive about the weight. So I told Ridley it was better to not comment on people's weight, that it was considered rude. She said okay, and smiled.

But in retrospect, I'm thinking maybe my weight isn't as bad as the scale has been indicating. This morning, for example, I got on the scale before my shower and it said 205.5. I may be heavy, but I'm nowhere near 200 pounds!

Maybe it's time for new batteries!

Friday, October 30, 2009

It Could Have Been Worse

As we discussed my recent speeding ticket before staff meeting this morning, a colleague told me about the day his wife got a speeding ticket on the way to work, then another, in the same location, on the way home. From the same trooper!

Now there's a big Oops!

In My [Worst] Dreams

I thought I was fine with yesterday's speeding stop, and that it was just another fact of my everyday long commute.

This morning I woke at 4:30, then was able to go back to sleep until 6:00. During that extra bit of sleep, I dreamed I got stopped [again] for speeding and had to go someplace with the policeman. I had left the front door of my house—a little square white number—standing wide open. When the policeman brought me back home, every single thing had been stolen out of my house. Every stick of furniture, every item of clothing, every knickknack and gewgaw. Gone!

I'm not sure what lesson I should take away from that dream, but I'm thinking I need to pay a little closer attention to my speed. And ask Santa for a radar detector!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Usability

My colleague and I spend a portion of each day thinking about usability—How can we make our screens and error messages friendlier for our users? How can we get our point across without making the user feel denigrated?

On this morning's commute I had a mandatory roadside meeting with an Ohio State Trooper. When I got to the office I went onto the county website to pay my fine. ($140 - ouch!) When I clicked "Pay Court Costs and Fines", I got the screen you see below.



I'm thinking Portage County needs a little help with their usability studies!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Central Heating

This week I'm listening to "Olive Kitteridge," the Pulitzer Prize-winning "novel in stories" by Elizabeth Strout. The narration on the audiobook is beautifully performed by Sandra Burr, who nails the Maine accents.

There are so many beautifully-written lines in this book. I wish my iPhone gave me the option to click a button and bookmark a paragraph. I may have to buy the hardcopy book and read it again, just to be able to highlight all the brilliant writing by Ms. Strout.

This morning the line that caught my ear was "Bonnie was the central heating of his life." Wow! The central heating of his life. How much more graphic can a metaphor be? How much more clearly can one indicate how close to the core of one's life something is?

If you haven't picked up your copy of "Olive Kitteridge" yet, go! Borrow or buy! This writing is worth every minute you devote to it.

And what are you reading?

Don't Be Givin' Me *That* Treat!

The babes and I had our regular Tuesday night dinner date last night—Denny's, of course—while their parents attended board meetings and book clubs.

I was searching for conversation topics, and settled upon "what kind of candy do you hope you get for trick-or-treat?"

Ridley, chasing after my own tummy, replied, "Lots of Hershey's." Oooh, chocolate. I like how that girl thinks.

Boston, to my shock and surprise, replied, "Candy corn." I parroted, "Candy Corn???" "Yes", he said, "I love candy corn."

Well, somebody has to, I guess.

(If you were wondering, I was excused from creating Hallowe'en costumes this year. Boston is going as a skeleton, thanks to Walgreen's and a glow-in-the-dark marker from Jo-Ann's. Ridley is recycling her witch costume of two years ago. The only item that needed replacing was the hat.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Male of the Species

I enjoy spending time with my woman friends. We care about each other, and we show it by supporting each other's ideas and emotions. We'll let each other vent, making suggestions for possible solutions, but without denigrating the other's feelings or indicating that we know more than her on any topic.

Men, on the other hand …

The most telling movie scene, I believe, comes from "City Slickers", where the characters—several men and one woman—are all sitting around the campfire. The woman is questioning why the men only ever talk about sports. They ask what she and her friends talk about, and she answers, "Oh, relationships…".

This morning I sat down at my desk, and heard a conversation taking place over the cube wall. One guy's heat pump quit over the weekend, and I could hear various male voices offering solutions. I walked down the hall and past where they were standing, just to observe. There were no fewer than five guys clustered around the homeowner's cube. All were speaking, simultaneously at times, in loud, I-know-everything-about-everything voices. The conversation went on for, fully, ten or fifteen minutes. Every party to the conversation had advice for the homeowner, and each was sure his was the ultimate answer.

Now I will freely admit I am the Patron Saint of Repairmen. I'm not going to get on my back under the sink to fix a leak, or dig into the wires in the wall to change an outlet. I make a decent salary, and I spend a good chunk of it repairmen, who fix the problem and make it right. But even if I knew more about fixer-uppering than I do, I certainly wouldn't insist that my way was the only way.

I found it quite amusing that all these smart software developers had so many strong opinions about heat pumps and spent (wasted?) so much of the morning advising one of their own.

I guess it's all about the bonding, whatever form it takes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Poop, Poop Everywhere!

My honeymoon with the new kitten is over. Over!

The poor little guy has had diarrhea since about eight hours after he arrived. I've tried various different foods, including all the tried-and-trues for stopping diarrhea. And yet the flow continued, unabated. He didn't like using the litter box, no matter how frequently I scooped. So he would empty his intestines on my bed, on Ridley's bed, on the comforter I laid on the guest room floor for him to sleep on, on both rugs in my family room, and so on.

I took him to the vet on Thursday afternoon and got meds. After three doses, his stool had form and he was using the litter box. But now he's decided to urinate in all the places he was previously pooping.

My entire house smells like feline urine, and I am very*very*very upset about this. I do not want a house that smells of feline urine!

The babes stayed with me last night. This morning I got up to go to the bathroom, and suddenly heard Boston scream, "Grandma!!" at the top of his lungs. I could hear the exclamation marks in his tone of voice. I raced off the toilet back into my bedroom, thinking the house was on fire. The kitten had peed on my bed and gotten Boston's pajama sleeve.

Sigh.

Is this kitten ever going to learn? How long does one keep a rescued kitten before giving up and taking him back to the shelter? He is a real sweetie pie, is pretty, is affectionate, is docile. But he pees inappropriately. Let me reiterate: I don't want a house that smells of feline urine.

What if I invent a cat diaper? Do you think I'd instantly be the wealthiest woman in the universe?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oh, My Aching Back!

When I left work last night, the rain was falling. I parked outside Jo-Ann Fabrics and went in to see if they had any decent cotton/Lycra knit I could use for a new dress for Ridley.

As I walked through the door, my feet went out from under me and I landed with a crash on the floor. Wet shoes. Wet floor. Some combination these factors forced me to my butt on the floor. This is now the third time in the past six months that I have fallen—twice in my home and once in public. In my home, alone, it's frightening. In public, it's embarrassing. I have decided I need to always carry my phone as I walk around my home, in order to call for help if the fall is too bad. In public, I stand up as quickly as possible and go on about my business as if nothing happened.

But today, sixteen hours post-fall, I started carrying some drawers from the basement to the new sewing space on the second floor. I could hardly climb the stairs! My back felt like it was going to seize up.

I'm only 59 years old. The lovely lady from whom I bought my home, after her fall, was 92. Is this how it starts? Do I have 30+ years of falling ahead?

How does this happen?! I don't think I'm careless. I think I walk with care. But here I am, in a lot of pain, looking for painkillers and heating pads.

Have I mentioned? Aging sucks!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wrinkles?

I've always loved the mellow voice of Andy Williams. I remember watching his television program when I was a teenager, fantasizing about appearing on his program. This week Andy Williams was featured on CBS Sunday Morning. I marveled at his smooth skin, then heard the narrator mention that he is 82 years old. Wait. He's more than 20 years older than I, but he has no wrinkles. Zero.

I'm thinking one cannot get to be 82 years of age with that few wrinkles unless a scalpel was involved.

It's not that he looks bad. He looks darned good—for a man of 52. Not a man of 82.

I sometimes think of getting collagen injections to get rid of these sagging lines on either side of my mouth. And as much as I dislike tattoos, I think about getting permanent eyeliner.

But a facelift? I've seen the videos of plastic surgery, the peeling away of the skin, the horror stories of before and after. I've seen the photos of Barry Manilow and Kenny Rogers and Melanie Griffith.

Can I be anti-facelift and still be pro-collagen and pro-permanent-eyeliner without be hypocritical?

It all leaves me with one question: whatever happened to aging gracefully?

(Question of the day: Would you have elective plastic surgery?)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Too Nice?

Is it possible for a person to be too nice?

I'm very good at not standing up for myself, at leaving the status at quo. I don't like confrontation. I don't like hurting people's feelings. I would rather just bite my tongue than come up with a clever comeback when someone says something sharp or critical to me.

My cubemate accuses me of being too nice. She is never at a loss for words and never hesitates to stand up for herself or her work. I can't imagine having that kind of confidence and nerve.

Is it a negative trait to be quiet, to worry about hurting others' feelings? Is there some sort of balance between being subdued and being forthright.

Is it possible to be too nice?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Another Successful Concert

The reviews are in, and the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus concert last weekend of the Brahms "Ein Deutches Requiem" was a success.

From Cleveland.com (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

From ClevelandClassical.com

And besides being really good, it was a lot of fun. On Saturday night, our dear friends the Goulds were in the audience with Tyler, and my next-door neighbors, Jean and Marilyn, had also driven to Cleveland for the concert. After all the years of attending my son's performances, now he's attending mine!

Re-Blogged!

Following our Saturday evening warm-up for the Brahms German Requiem, a fellow alto came up to me and said she had read my blog and enjoyed it very much. I tried to imagine what she was talking about, and thought maybe she had seen my Facebook profile and followed the link from there to my blog. A few minutes later I saw her again and asked what she meant, how she had happened to be reading my blog. She said my blog had been posted on ClevelandOrchestra.com, on their blog. Grabbing my iPhone, I quickly navigated over to the Cleveland Orchestra website and was astonished to see my words on their site.

I posted a note about the reblogging on my Facebook profile, and got lots of notes from friends.

Then, after the Sunday concert I went out to dinner with my old Tucson friend Ashley Smith. We had worked together on the administrative staff of the Tucson Symphony, and she is now the manager of the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. I told her about the reblogging. She said she had been in staff meeting on Friday and one of the PR people had said that a chorus member blogged about the chorus. She thought they had contracted with a chorus member to blog for them and had no idea it was me and that it was just off a Google Alert hit.

It's been a real high for me—great fun to have my words seen and appreciated and reposted.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ordo ab Chao

Weeks that are filled with rehearsals and performances are also filled with blocks of time to sit and wait. To take advantage of that gift of time, I've been reading (hardcopy—turning the pages—reading, not just listening to) Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol". A phrase that occurs frequently throughout the book is "Ordo ab Chao", which translates to "order out of chaos".

During this week of chaos, my car becomes my temporary home. I eat breakfast and dinner and, sometimes, even lunch in my car. I flip empty water bottles onto the back seat and drop excess papers from my folder onto the passenger seat. I shudder each morning, as I get back in the car, to see the state in which I left the car on the previous night. I don't like having a messy car, but during Hell Week, there are only a finite number of aspects of my life which I can control.

So now that Hell Week is concluded, the next tasks on my To Do list are to restore order to my car and start relearning the Messiah.

Oh, and finish "The Lost Symbol", which I'm enjoying very much. I like finding books that let me escape from my life. And I like books that are set in Washington, DC. "The Lost Symbol" is two for two.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Rules of Evidence

I don't remember much about my Evidence class in law school, which occurred about 21 (!) years ago. However, I do remember one of the early lectures, where the professor was trying to get us to think clearly about what did and did not constitute evidence.

He described your being in a highrise building and looking out the window at the street below. You saw several people carrying opened umbrellas. Was it the intention of these people to state that rain was falling at that particular point in time?

(Oh, don't ask me what the conclusion of the lecture was. In the 18 years since graduation, I've forgotten more law than I ever learned!)

The other day I was looking for a particular pair of earrings and found my beloved diamond and Burmese ruby wedding ring that John gave me in 1996. I have been trying to come to grips with the fact that I may never meet another man who will sweep me off my feet and become my long-time lover. The ring doesn't fit on my right hand, and I decided I wanted to wear it again. So I put it on my left hand ring finger and have been wearing it for three days.

I wonder if it can be construed as evidence. Am I "bearing false witness"?

Whenever I see a handsome, age-appropriate man, I immediately look at his left hand ring finger. If I see a Little Band of Gold, I cross him off my list. I am simply not interested in having a man who has another woman. I'm one-of-a-kind and choose to remain so.

But am I causing the same chain of events to occur around me? Might there be a man who would see me and want to come up and introduce himself but be detered by the presence of that sweet ring on my finger? (Bear in mind that no man has come up and introduced himself in the past, oh, 24 months. But the impossible can always occur, right? Maybe/maybe not.)

It feels nice to be wearing this ring again. It feels comfortable on that finger. But at the same time, I feel like I'm an imposter. It's like I'm trying to fit in in a state where the majority of people are married, or the majority of people my age are married. To find the statistics—the actual numbers for Ohio—would take more time than I am willing to devote to this project. Suffice it to say that it feels like I'm a lone reed standing in the wilderness.

I don't know where I'm going to end up on this issue, but for now I'm enjoying the ring. Again.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Unintentional Intimidation

Last night was dress rehearsal for the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus in preparation for tonight's Brahms Ein Deutches Requiem concert (to be repeated on Saturday night and Sunday matinee). As we moved through the work, Maestro Welser-Möst took no notes. But when we reached the end, he had us move backward to specific points and measures. He referred to no notes; he didn't turn to an assistant for reminders. He just knew exactly what we needed to fix. He knew what German diction was incorrect and what entrance was too loud and where a passage needed to be more espressivo or brighter.

Lisa, who sits next to me and is also new to the chorus, and I just looked at each other. She mused, "How can he remember all of that?"

I suddenly flashed back to sitting at the piano in my weekly Harmony lesson with Nadia Boulanger. I would play my 32-measure exercise. At the end, Mlle. Boulanger would correct me in her heavily French-accented English: "In the third measure, the tenor voice should have moved up by a third instead of down by a step. In the fifth measure, the alto voice . . . ." Whaaa? How did she do that? She wasn't looking at my manuscript paper. When I was studying with her, the summer of 1971, she was almost blind with cataracts. She just had this incredible, phenomenal, [insert other superlative here] musical sense and ability to remember what she heard.

She was, after all, Nadia Boulanger. How do you think she got to be as famous and influential as she was?!

I was telling Lisa about this, in response to noticing Maestro Welser-Möst's ability. I said, "I was in tears three days before and two days after my private lesson every week. I was totally intimidated."

Lisa asked if the intimidation was intentional. I thought for a moment, and then replied that I felt it was absolutely not intentional. It was an outgrowth of my having grown up the big fish in a small pond, and then reaching Fontainebleau, where I was a minnow in the ocean. (Okay, so minnows are freshwater fish and the ocean is saltwater. Change minnow to the smallest saltwater fish you can think of, and the analogy will be correct.)

And yet, I consider that educational experience, surrounded by some of the biggest names in the universe of music, to be one of the most important and formative of my life.

What did I learn? I learned how little I knew. And I've been trying ever since to fill in those holes. I'm not there yet. I'll never be there.

But I'll always keep trying and learning and growing.

[Note: While searching for a photo of Mademoiselle, I found the photo of her studio, taken in 1969, two years before I attended. A number of the people in that photo were in attendance the year I was there—which happened to be the 50th anniversary of the school. It was a mind-blowing summer. I was invited to dinner the night Soulima Stravinsky, Igor's son, was Mademoiselle's dinner guest. I met any number of world-renowned musicians. And I met and sang under the baton of Robert Shafer, whom I would re-meet in Washington in 1984, and sing under his baton for 15 years. And, through that association, meet my good husband. Isn't life funny?!]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Portrait of a Lady

A lovely lady named Ruth died this morning. I never met her face-to-face, but we shared several phone conversations over the past fifteen years and passed greetings back and forth through e-mails and Facebook, thanks to her daughters.

Our connection was through my "good husband." She was his second mother-in-law, and he held her in the highest regard. Even after her youngest daughter divorced him, Ruth stayed tuned for updates on his life. She knew how happy he and I were together, and was thrilled for him to have a totally fulfilling marriage. She was devastated by his early death, and I imagine today they are playing cards together or singing old show tunes together in the Great Beyond.

Because I loved this man whom she loved, she accepted and embraced me as if I were her own daughter. She had three daughters, and if you can judge a woman by her offspring, she was an incredibly successful mother and grandmother and great-grandmother. Her daughters are all active in their communities and in their churches. They take good care of themselves, physically, and have large and loving families who share their love of life. These daughters all open their hearts to those around them. They are adept at expressing love and acceptance. Sometimes you hear cynics express the opinion that all families are dysfunctional; that opinion has no place in this family.

Her passing was quick and as untimely as a death can be at age 92. She fell a week ago and broke her hip. Two days later she had surgery to repair the hip, and went quickly downhill after the surgery. She hung around long enough to hear from all her kids, grandkids, and greatgrandkids, and died this morning with her three daughters at her bedside.

Anyone who has made so many people happy for so many years should have no problem resting in peace.

Thank you, Ruth, for your caring heart.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Challenge Yourself!

Many choral singers joke about being in Hell Week during the days immediately preceding a performance. I have posted on Facebook that I'm in "Brahms Req Hell Week", as we are performing the Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem on Thursday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon this week. Those performances are preceded by back-to-back rehearsals. Last night we had the Conductor's Piano Rehearsal with the chorus and Maestro Welser-Möst. Tonight we have our first orchestra rehearsal, which will be attended by invited guests of chorus members and invited Cleveland Orchestra donors. Tomorrow night we have dress rehearsal, and—too soon— 5:00 p.m. on Sunday will arrive and the excitement will have concluded.

I love choral singing. I love becoming so intimately acquainted with a piece of music, whether it's Bach or Beethoven or Vivaldi or Brahms or Verdi or Britten. I may not love the work for the first two or three rehearsals, but the longer I listen to the notes, the harmonies, the exquisite work of the composer, the more I grow to love the music.

And it stays with me for years and has emotional attachments that last and last. Any time I hear the Vivaldi "Gloria", I am transported instantly to the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, where John and I sang with the Oratorio Society of Washington in 1996, three months after our wedding and three months before his diagnosis with metastatic prostate cancer. The Fauré Requiem that we performed on that same tour is one of my most beloved works, and members of that chorus sang the work at John's memorial service twenty-one months post-diagnosis.

I could probably tell you indiosyncracies of each choral performance in which I've participated since 1984 when I joined the Oratorio Society.

I'm blessed to have performed for years with first-rate choruses. I'm a perfectionist, and I like to perform with like-minded singers. I don't have any desire to perform with, or patience for, singers who simply don't care. The chorus with which I sang last year was filled with singers who had been in that chorus for forty years and seemingly used it simply as a social outlet. When I would find myself, rehearsal after rehearsal, tweeting and posting on Facebook about the agony of that particular rehearsal, I knew it was time to rethink my choral membership for the coming year.

In that chorus, I knew I was one of the best musicians in the alto section. I wasn't being egotistical—I was just listening to what was going on around me.

This year I am singing with the most talented and committed and musical group of singers it has ever been my good fortune to be a part of. I know, for certain, that I'm not one of the best musicians there. And it's humbling. It's challenging.

I'm challenged to keep rehearsing and perfect my technique. I'm challenged to exercise my ear. I'm challenged to listen to the incredible alto voices around me and try to analyze what they're doing that I could adopt to make my voice more beautiful.

This is a good thing. Challenge, to me, equals growth.

I don't want to stagnate. I don't want to become complacent. I don't want to just get along. I want to be better and better, to recognize growth in myself.

So I drive to Cleveland a minimum of once a week—or in weeks like this, six times— and I put aside all other interests for three or four hours. No knitting, no tweeting, no reading, no surfing the Web. Just total focus and undivided attention to the conductor and the lessons he wishes to teach us.

And I'm a better musician because of it.

In what ways do you challenge yourself?

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Classless Society

We got a new CEO last December. Naturally, I first looked to see if his ring finger was adorned. (It was.) Then, dreaming about possibilities in my life, I ran a few Internet searches to see what I could learn about him. He was already taken, but might I find someone similar with whom to enhance my life?

He's modern American royalty. He married well; his father-in-law of thirty-plus years' standing is the past president, CEO, and chairman of a Very Large American Corporation. He lives in a chic western Connecticut town, belongs to several country clubs, and—by anyone's definition—is a very classy guy.

I don't live in his world. Never have. Probably never will.

I am the [adopted] daughter of a doctor who grew up dirt-poor in rural southern Florida and rose above his beginnings to get an education and succeed in his chosen field. I grew up very sheltered, raised in a conservative evangelical Christian denomination where we kept to ourselves. My mother's friends were all members of her church. My dad's friends were electricians and auto mechanics and pharmacists. We were more comfortable at a drag race than at the golf course.

In my years as a professional pianist, I have played for many society parties. The wives or the office managers of doctors and lawyers and chiefs of commerce have employed me to make beautiful music for their holiday cocktail parties or birthday parties or wedding receptions. I would sit at the long, black grand pianos and underscore the clinking of champagne flutes. I would wonder what it would be like to wear that designer gown or that diamond ring or to be married to that handsome blue-blazer-wearing man.

And deep inside I would know that I was sitting where I belonged—support staff rather than esteemed guest. I was capable of doing something people admired and loved, but I was not the person they would ask for a coffee date the next day. They didn't know what I had accomplished in my life—with whom I had studied; how beautifully I could sew; what advanced degrees I had achieved; how kind and loyal a friend I was. They only knew that their host knew someone who knew me and knew I could play the piano beautifully and would do so for the right remuneration.

The two circles do not easily intersect. Sure, there are hugely successful people who had very humble beginnings. The prime example of this type of person is Oprah—she has worked hard and succeeded large and surrounded herself with trusted advisors and friends who have helped her stay centered.

But my sense is that, for most people, class does exist. There is a lower class and a middle class and an upper class, and various stratas within those segments. Random crossover from class to class is possible, but not probable and not customary.

By no means am I suggesting we are a caste society, but I am asserting that there are divisions, and that breaching those divisions is an unnatural act.

Do you agree? Or disagree? Or think I'm living in an earlier century?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Housemate


With a very happy Boston. The g'babes named him (given a range of choices) "Angel" for the character in "Rent". Rudi is named for Rodolfo, the character in "La Boheme". And if you follow musical theatre, you know that "Rent" is drawn from "La Boheme".

Other suggested names were Vivi or Tony for Antonio Vivaldi, George for Georges Bizet, and all the male characters from "La Boheme" and "Rent".

He's a little cutie, ten weeks old, and—so far, knock wood—is getting along find with Rudi.

Inhale, Exhale, Repeat.

Time seems to evaporate. Every Monday several work colleagues ask where I went over the weekend, and every Friday they ask where I'm going this weekend. I've developed a reputation for being the driving queen. I love the weekend trips, but I'm very tired of the daily 120 miles back and forth to Akron.

This past weekend was my annual Broadway weekend with PianoLady. In case you don't remember, she and I met as piano majors at Florida Technological University (University of Central Florida) in January of 1969. If your brain is tired, I'll tell you that's forty—count 'em, forty—years of friendship. We started our Broadway weekends in 1999, then skipped a few post-9/11 years while I was living in Tucson. And now we're back at it. This year I drove into the City—a first for me, and not much different than driving in D.C.

I arrived around noon on Friday, checked into the Marriott Marquis, then set out to explore. I've fallen in love with a sectional sofa in the CB2 (offshoot of Crate & Barrel) catalog, but refuse to buy a sofa without first sitting on it. CB2 only has about five stores, and one is in NYC's SoHo, where I've never before visited. After doing a little research, I set out in search of the M-1 and M-6 bus lines. After walking about 25 blocks in 3" heeled boots, I divined that buses were not in my future, and hailed a cab. I found CB2, sat on and loved the couch, got the salesman's card, and hit the streets again. I looked up at each storefront I passed, and was astonished to see Pearl River. I had been hearing about this shop for years, and now, by happenstance, here it was. I went in and petted a few yards of silk yardage, but resisted the urge to buy.

Back on Broadway, I walked one block north and into the Swarovski boutique. If you make jewelry using Swarovski crystals, or you love sparkly jewelry, you must go into a Swarovski boutique at some point in your life. In*credible! They have every style of crystal bead, in every color they manufacture, plus finished jewelry, and crystal embellish bags, and …, and …. Again, I resisted the urge to buy, but enjoyed every moment of the visit. In the back of the boutique is an equally embellished lounge. I can imagine the after-work Cosmos and martinis flow freely.

Leaving there, I headed north again, this time on a back street rather than on Broadway. My destination was Sullivan and Houston (pronounced HOW-stun, if you didn't know) to find a precious little island of yarn in the big city. PurlSoho is well known to anyone who reads yarn or knitting magazines. And it's worth the search to find this little tucked-away gem. Beautiful yarns, knowledgeable yarn-loving sales associates, and fellow yarn-loving shoppers. Yummy! There was nothing I really needed at the moment, so I picked up some more sock yarn for my favorite sock-knitter, Tani. She loves to live vicariously through my travels, and I love bring fiber mementos back to her, as I know she'll use and love them.

After PurlSoho, I went three doors north to PurlPatchwork, and petted some lovely quilting cottons before hailing a cab and heading back to the Marriott.

PianoLady arrived at the last possible moment after not being able to hail a cab from Grand Central. Let's just say that this nonsense with closing Broadway between 42nd and 49th has really messed up cab service in the City.

She took a moment to catch her breath, and then we headed out to meet her friend, Susan, for a visit to the Titanic exhibition. I think we spent two hours looking at these incredible relics that rested on the ocean floor for 50+ years. I'm not a great lover of things historical, and tend to get glazed-over eyes when I go into a museum, but this was a fabulous exhibition. I'm so glad we went!

And then dinner. Susan had chosen Chez Josephine for our dinner. Fun! French food, French-speaking servers, a sweet little kimono-clad Maitre d'. And live piano music. Toward the end of the evening, after the theatre crowd had cleared out, I asked the pianist if I could play a piece for my friends. He had me clear it with the Jean Pierre or Jean Claude or whatever the Maitre d's name was, and I sat down. PianoLady and Susan were so deep into their conversation they didn't realize I was playing, thus thwarting my intention. Oh well. The pianist loved what I was doing and kept asking for more. And after I sat back down at our table, diner after diner complimented me on their way out the door. Fun!

Susan headed for Grand Central to go home to Westchester, and PL and I headed back to the Marriott. And that was Friday.

Saturday morning we grabbed a Starbucks breakfast and headed for the TKTS line. This is the first year we haven't had our show tickets at least three, if not six, months in advance. We decided we were just going to go with whatever we could get at a discount. Our first two choices only had obstructed-view seats, so we went with "Burn the Floor", starring Anya and Pasha from "So You Think You Can Dance."

After getting our tickets, we did our annual walk through the shops around Rockefeller Center and into Colony Music. We stop first at Dean & DeLuca for coffee. Then I got some music Tyler needed at Colony, and cool earrings for Jaci at Banana Republic. As always, we followed our shopping with salad and breadsticks at Olive Garden.

Then it was time for our matinee. "Burn the Floor" was dance and live music, lots of Latin dance, lots of skin and tattoos and piercings. I loved the swing and jive and waltz numbers, but didn't love all the Latin numbers. I want dancers to look like they're happy and enjoying each other's company, not like they're angry. But that's just me.

I was happy to see so many dancers and musicians with jobs. I enjoyed the show, but I didn't love it. When we left, I said to PL, "Can we please go see another show tonight? I want to go home with that urge to tell everybody about the show I saw." She acquiesced; we went back to the room and I got online and ordered tickets to "Next to Normal".

Our annual Saturday night dinner is at Café Un Deux Trois. (If you're reading this at work, turn down your speakers before clicking that link.) And it always finishes with profiteroles. (My profile photo, above, was taken at this dinner in 2008.) We love this annual rite. Every year we talk about going somewhere else for dinner, but always end up back at 123 44th Street. They've expanded the menu this year, and have included some smaller plates. The crepes with goat cheese, spinach and mushrooms, and crepes with chicken where fabulous and a nice alternative to a full entrée. This dinner is always a highlight of the annual trip.

After dinner, we relaxed in our room for a while, then headed to the Booth Theatre for "Next to Normal". (Again, speakers off if you're at work.) Small, talented cast; brilliantly composed and orchestrated score; clever lyrics and book; sleek, industrial set. I enjoyed every moment of the show. The score reminded me, in places, of "Rent", and now that I look at the website, I see that it's from the director of "Rent", so that makes sense. If you're heading to NYC, see "Next to Normal"!

After the show, we had drinks in the Marriott lounge, The next morning, we again did our Starbucks run before I headed off, driving west to make a 6:00 p.m. rehearsal in Cleveland.

I've included, below, links from previous years' trips. And in closing, I repeat this year's implicit theme: Old friends just can't be beat.

2008: 1 2

2007: 1 2