Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What Are You Reading?

After PianoLady told me she was reading Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom", I picked it up off Audible.com and have been slowly making my way through it. In contrast to the daily two hours of drive time during which I listened to book after book, my only dedicated time now is my Monday night drive to and from Cleveland for rehearsals. The audio book is over 24 hours in length! At one day a week, that's three months of rehearsals to complete the book!

Do you know how easy it is to forget the facts you've already learned when you put a book down for a week? Very easy!

I will say that the thing I don't like about audio books is the fact that you can't look ahead to see what's coming. In a hardcopy book, when I get bored, I'll glance ahead to see if my interest is going to pick up in the coming pages. That's not an option here.

The other thing that's frustrating is when I hear a passage that I'd like to remember or quote in a blog or Facebook. Unless I pick up the iPhone, look at the display and write down which section I'm in and how many minutes into that section, I'll never find the quote again. I can't exactly highlight it!

I did look at the Wikipedia page on "Freedom", and learned the scene will soon move to Washington, DC. I love reading or watching works set in cities that I love, and I totally love DC. So my boredom will fade soon.

What are you reading?

Monday, November 22, 2010

It's In His Genes!

Saturday afternoon the Stambaugh Chorus, which I accompany, gave their first performance of this season at Barnes & Noble. The program included an hour's-worth of music, including two movements of the Poulenc "Gloria", three choruses from Handel's "Messiah", and the long-and-involved "Many Moods of Christmas". There was a lot of ink on those pages!

At each rehearsal, I had problems with page turns. The Poulenc, especially, would benefit from the pianist having three hands, not just two. I was very concerned about being able to play for the performance without a page turner.

As I tried to figure out what I was going to do to solve this problem, I remembered an audition I played for Tyler two years ago when Boston stepped up and adroitly turned pages for me. I thought I might secure his services again, especially with the enticement of iTunes gift cards exchanging hands.

I want to tell you, this kid is unbelievable! For one hour, he stayed completely focused on what I was doing. In addition, he was able to watch the conductor and adjust the volume knob on the keyboard when my hands were too busy to reach for it, or when I failed to see the signal from the conductor.

He has been playing piano for several years, can read music, has two grandparents and a father who are musicians, and proved himself on Saturday to be a natural, gifted, intuitive musician.

He was the darling of the chorus, and appeared to love every minute of his engagement. He applauded after the songs, sang the Christmas carols during the audience participation numbers, and laughed at the appropriate moments.

The kid is a natural, and he made his grandma very, very proud.

His reward? A Star Wars book with Legos inside. Just right for a nine-year-old page turner.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Haven for my Soul

I'm a firm believer in havens. Everyone should have a space he or she can retreat to, where almost nothing is out of place, no door ajar, where there are no distractions to prevent complete relaxation, comfort and ease.

Last night as I sat down in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus rehearsal space at Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, and as our assistant conductor launched us into our stretches and warmups, and then into the music for the upcoming Holiday Movie Magic concert, I felt my soul relax into its haven.

My life has been incredibly busy lately. A week of managing my grandchildren's schedule while simultaneously juggling all my normal work duties and musical rehearsals nearly "done me in." And a slowdown isn't really in sight until after the final COC holiday performance on December 19th. I need a space and a time to slow down, to let everything else go for a short period of time.

Last night's rehearsal was that time, that space.

When a COC member walks into a rehearsal, she knows exactly what is expected. She knows that while the chorus is warming up and preparing to sing, no latecomer will walk through the rows to disrupt the concentration on preparing for proper vocal technique. She knows all cell phones will be off—not to ring, not to ping an incoming text, not to be referred to until the conductor takes a mid-rehearsal break. She knows exactly what music will be practiced, and she knows she was expected to practice that music at home—to read through the music so that there are no surprises, and to listen to the study recordings provided by the COC management. She knows the singers around her will not disturb her with idle chatter. She knows all members will treat the conductor and the accompanist with the ultimate respect of sitting quietly until it's their turn to sing.

That's just how it's done.

But even more importantly, she knows the pace of the rehearsal has been very well thought-out. The repertoire has been chosen to be suitable for the talent and skill of the singers in the organization, as have the singers been chosen to suit the calibre of performances produced by the Cleveland Orchestra. The music is challenging so that we all grow. If the notes themselves are not so challenging, then there's always a challenge in producing the very best in enunciation, in phrasing, in tempi—in feeling—so that we are creating and crafting a final product that will make the members of the Cleveland Orchestra proud to call us their own, and will make the audiences want to keep coming back to hear us again.

Because of the skillful manner in which the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus rehearsals are organized, each singer can drive home after the rehearsal feeling good about his performance in the rehearsal, and about himself as a singer. There is no frustration, no thought of "why am I wasting my time in this organization?". There is no wasted time. There is no wasted effort. There is a feeling of accomplishment and success.

"I was given a hard job to do, and I did it very well."

I drive over 75 minutes each way to rehearsal each week. When we're in final preparation at Severance Hall, that amount increases by 15 to 30 minutes. I have lots of time to think.

As I drive home after each rehearsal and performance, I spend a few moments tipping my virtual cap to the people who make this haven possible: First, Manager of Choruses Jill Harbaugh, and her delightful new assistant, Rachel Novak. (I've worked in orchestra management. I know who turns the wheel!) They sort music; they read hundreds of e-mails and respond quickly and politely to even the most inane question; they order meals; they keep us organized and on target. Jill and Rachel are assisted by kind-hearted volunteers who work to carry some of the load. Next, Maestro Robert Porco and his assistant conductors, Frank Bianchi and Lisa Yozviak. Then—always present, always alert; always ultra-prepared—accompanists Joela Jones and Bill Shaffer. These two pianists are simply brilliant! Finally, I ponder the kindness, generosity and respect of my fellow choristers, and strive to give back to them as good as I get from them.

These thoughts of gratitude make my drive pass quickly.

We lead a charmed life in our musical haven!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Ways of the Mind

This morning I'm thinking about all the decisions our brains process in the course of a day—or even a minute.

This week I've been on grandma duty for a 9-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl—my little darlings. But the schedule that they are on to get their Recommended Daily Allowance of art, education and culture would choke a bus driver: Monday is Boston's band practice; he's learning trumpet. Tuesday is piano at SMARTS. Wednesday is modern dance. Thursday is Suzuki piano (the Jazzman keeps calling it Kawasaki piano, Boston keeps correcting him, and I keep laughing) followed by ballet for the Ridley. Friday, nothing. Great sigh of relief emanating from the grandma/driver/organizer.

I didn't even cover the morning schedule their mother has so carefully orchestrated. Up at 6:30 or earlier, downstairs and eat breakfast, practice piano or get dressed, alternating as there is one piano for two pianists. Out the door at 8:00 a.m. Race down the interstate and get in the drop-off line at its three-cars-at-a-time pace.

Hurry up. Wait. Hurry up. Wait. Stay alert.


(And I haven't even addressed trying to fit my work in amidst all the driving and organizing. I was awake at 5:00, laptop in bed, working on a client's Web content.)

So think about the number of decisions. The incident this morning that really got me going on this track occurred as I was getting out of the car, back at my house after spending the night at the babes' house.

I was carrying my big bag filled with four knitting projects (it's holiday-gifts-for-teachers time, y'know?), a plastic grocery bag carrying the new project that I work on while waiting in the drop-off/pick-up line; my leather tote bag with laptop and adapters; my purse; and my trash from my Friday morning you're-a-good-grandma treat at S'bux. To get to that point, however, I had to mentally sort through everything on the front seat. Does this piece of paper go in? No, You've got to take it to the doctor's office this morning after the window guy comes to install the kitchen windowsill. Does this bag of music go in? No, you've got to take it to a copy shop to make reduced-size copies so you get get ready for next Saturday's Stambaugh Chorus performance. And so on.

My keys were in my hand. I got to the door and realized I was wearing my sunglasses and had left my reading glasses in the car. Do I turn around and go back to get the glasses? No, this is too much stuff to carry. Do I set it down on the back porch and go to get the glasses? No, get it into the house and set it down once.

I maneuvered the door and the security system and placed bags on the kitchen counter and the floor, then went back to the car. Once I was back in the house, I started gathering bags again to go up the back stairs to my office. Then I realized I had left the half-empty S'bux mocha cup in the car. Go back [again] and get it out of the car or leave it to sip on, cold, later? Go back. Out. In. Out. In. Once in and ready to go up, decide whether to lock the back door or leave it unlocked so the window guy can just come in when he gets here.

See what I mean? And that was just in the course of five minutes or less!

Then you get to your desk. You've got multiple projects ahead. Do you work on the bookkeeping, which is ongoing, or finish the work you started at 5:00 a.m., or do a quick post to a client's Facebook page, or start something new that's done today.

Weighing. Balancing. Choosing.

Thoughts in closing?

  1. I wish all that brainwork burned more calories.

  2. I think I'll take the kids to a playground after school and just let them be kids!

P.S. The Jazzman and I have been talking about it all week. We think life was much simpler in the 50s and 60s!

P.P.S. And if I haven't said so explicitly, the Jazzman moved in last Saturday. And I have hardly seen him all week. There's something quite unfair to him about all this, but he's been understanding and wonderfully helpful about it, taking care of the kids two evenings while I attend obligatory rehearsals.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

If You Can't Say Something Nice . . .

A couple of weeks ago I picked up the babes from their Wednesday dance class to have our weekly dinner-with-Grandma. As we got into the car, Ridley said to Boston something on the order of "stop complaining". He responded, "I'm not complaining. I'm just telling the truth."

I smiled. I almost laughed out loud. I time-traveled back almost 40 years to Early First Marriage and a husband who didn't know himself, much less me. (Note to lawmakers: Allowing people to marry before, oh, age 25, might be a poor idea!) At some point shortly into the marriage he commented on how much I complained.

His statement caught me by surprise and made me stop and think about my words. I wasn't complaining. I was simply stating how I felt or what I noted.

If I tell you I have a headache, I am imparting knowledge to you. Yes, I may tell you that every day, but I frequently get headaches every day. It's merely a part of my life. It's not a complaint!

Ditto "I'm cold." "I'm tired." "This job is hard." "These pant are too short."

Just facts.

How interesting to learn that my grandson's brain is wired the same way.

- - - - -
Why a graphic of Thumper, beside the fact that I just love him? Here's the quote:

Thumper: He doesn't walk very good, does he?

Mrs. Rabbit: Thumper!

Thumper: Yes, mama?

Mrs. Rabbit: What did your father tell you this morning?

Thumper: [clears throat] If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Flagging Grandma Checks In

This is report number one from a stressed, exhausted, and frazzled grandma, for whom any of the candles mentioned in the graphic would be a perfect gift. Oh, and a few hours of unscheduled time. That would be a great gift, too.

My son and daughter-in-law left early Saturday morning to fly to New Orleans for her annual photography conference, sponsored by Pictage, the online photo lab that Jaci uses. I tell you what—I wish I had had the knowledge and brilliance to invent something like Pictage. What beautiful work they do, and their presentation is—simply—fabulous!

Anyway, T&J planned this trip before the dates for Ballet Western Reserve's production of "Snow White" was set in stone. Yep, the productions would be the same day T&J were flying south. My Saturday was filled with leotards and tights and costumes and sitting/waiting. And dodging a bunch of laughing, hopping, screaming baby ballerinas.

I attended the afternoon performance. The children did a fine job, but—truthfully?—I prefer trite, overperformed "Nutcracker" to "Snow White". But that's just me. I heard lots of accolades all around me. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it.

Sunday morning we went back to my house, where I worked for an hour, then took the babes with me out to Jas's to help him finish clearing out his apartment. Back at home I fed the babes pizza for lunch, then emptied my car and helped empty Jas's. Then I put the kids in the car and we went to Youngstown Model Railroad Association's open house. Wow, what a setup. If you like trains, at all, you need to go next Saturday or Sunday between 12:00 - 6:00 to see these two layouts. There's an O gauge layout at street level, then an even more elaborate layout in HO gauge downstairs. This was an absolute treat.

Back home, I practiced for a while and tried to interest Boston in turning pages for me. He helped a little, but was much more interested in playing with my metronome. Oh well.

Back to their house, feeding dogs, dealing with homework, watching America's Funniest Videos with Ridley while Boston finished his homework. Grandma was asleep by 9:30.

Woke up at 4:00 this morning, thanks to the time change. Kept trying to fall back asleep until my alarm went off at 6:00, when I snoozed it for another 20 minutes. Got up and dressed and found the babes in the living room eating their breakfast. Poured a bowl of dry cereal and made a cup of tea and went to sit with them.

Then as I was walking back to the kitchen, my besocked feet detected something wet on the floor. I leaned over to run a finger through it to smell for dog urine. As I leaned over, I spilled my tea—and realized that what I had stepped in was previously spilled tea! Stood up to continue into the kitchen and spilled more tea. Walked through the breakfast room and somehow I dropped my empty glass cereal bowl onto the tile floor, shattering it in 937 pieces, which covered the breakfast room and flew east and west into the kitchen and dining room. Took my cup to the sink, then went in search of a broom and dustpan, which were not.to.be.found! I selected a Swiffer Sweeper which I found in the mud room closet. I slowly and carefully pulled all the glass into a little pile, then looked for a dustpan-equivalent. All I could find was a sheet of printer paper, which allowed me with much effort to get the biggest pieces up and into the trashcan. Finally I had all the biggest pieces of glass up—after stabbing my finger with a shard of glass—and went to get the vacuum cleaner to suck up the rest of the glass. The only electrical outlet I could find was too far away from the breakfast room for me to reach the entire room. (I guess I should be glad, in the 83-year-old home, that I didn't have to use a vacuum powered by natural gas! Or a crank!) I finally remembered where the dining room outlet was (a dark outlet on a dark baseboard where old eyes can't see it.) and finished the task.

Okay, morning catastrophe concluded. Now wash dishes and pack lunches, all the while supervising piano practicing from afar. Inspect the children's outfits, take Ridley back upstairs to find a longer shirt so her little midriff isn't on display all day long. Grab my things, put the dogs in the backyard, set the alarm, and hit the road.

Took the kids to school, where the big kid who helped them out of the car—some snotty-nosed power-hungry redhead—laughed at the hat Boston was wearing and said, "You know you can't wear hats in school." He had already thought he'd leave it in his cubby, but the only thing good about this redheaded kid's mouth is I convinced Boston to leave his hat in the car. Geez! Kids should NEVERNEVERNEVER be put into positions of perceived power. It only turns them into ogres!

Last year when Jaci and Ty went to this conference, I took the week off of work. In retrospect, that was a very smart move, even though I got into trouble for it when I got back to work. But that's a whole 'nother horror story!

So here's the deal: if you don't hear from me the rest of the week, you'll know why. Just picture a grandma driving and driving and driving—to piano lessons and dance classes—and preparing meals and supervising homework and practicing and all the things that moms take for granted.

Jas and I were talking about it yesterday: Life was sooooo much simpler in the 50s and 60s!!!!!

P.S. The chronic hives? Vasculitis. Increase the 180mg of Allegra to twice a day. Get a prescription for prednisone. Get bloodwork.

F. That's all I have to say. F. You can fill in the missing letters!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Adding Insult to Itching

Remember my post back in June about the correlation between itching and a new yarn I was using? This problem has never gone away. By my calculations, this problem began on May 25, 2010.

It bothered me horribly in June when the Jazzman took me to Chicago to celebrate my 60th birthday. It continued bothering me in July when we went to the lake for a week. It persisted through three trips (May, July, August) to deal with moving Mother to an assisted living facility and most of her belongings back to my house. It bothered me whether I was knitting or not. It bothered me whether I was wearing cotton or wool, taking multivitamins or not, washing clothes in "free & clear" detergents or detergents filled with chemicals. It bothered me.

I had gone to my regular dermatologist back in early June. Let's just say that was a very unsatisfactory doctor visit. I got no answers. But in defense of the medical establishment, neither did I push for answers. I just lived with it.

In the past month it's gotten worse and worse. I figured it was the ringworm that Angel gave me come back to haunt me. I would wake in the middle of the night and scratch my ankles or knees until they bled.

Finally I got the name of a different dermatologist and went two days ago to get checked out. I just wanted the beautiful, smart young P.A. to give me a pill I could take to get rid of my "ringworm".

She took one look at my arms and legs, then looked at me sadly and said, "This isn't ringworm. This is chronic hives."

What?! Chronic hives?! I've never had hives in my life. In sixty years I've never had hives. And, boy howdy, do I have them now!

She gave me a prescription of antihistamine and a one pound jar of salve to rub into the itching welts. (I asked her if she expected me to bathe in the stuff!) She biopsied one of the welts, and gave me a long, detailed questionnaire to fill out regarding my diet and lifestyle and medications and any practices that might be causing this ridiculous condition.

So far the welts have stayed on my arms and legs. There's been nothing on my torso. Oh wait. Last night there was a 2" welt on my chest. And a big raised welt on the back of my neck, itching to beat the band. Lovely. And this morning I noticed a great big welt on my left butt cheek. Great! Just great!

If it spreads to my face, I may just crawl in a hole and stay there until it subsides.

The only goodness is that it's not catching. I can't give it to the Jazzman or my g'babes. That's the only goodness, so far as I see it.

Okay, it's not cancer. It's not a heart attack. It's not a toomah! (Tumor, for those of you who haven't seen Kindergarten Cop.) But it's annoying as hell, and it itches, and it's UGly.

I know there's nothing you can do. And I know you didn't really want to hear about this. Oh wait—those of you who really didn't want to hear about it quit reading already! But I needed to vent, so thank you for listening.

Now to find the cause. I've stopped all meds. (Except my estrogen. I refuse to give up my estrogen! If that tiny little patch is the cause, I'll just have chronic hives until I die. I ain't goin' back to hot flashes!)

The P.A. suggested stress could be a cause. Hmmm, let's see. On May 6th I started a new job with an enormous pay cut. I worry about finances every single day. (As I know most of you do - we're all on that stress boat together!) This summer I went through a major life change with my mother, had to spend days sorting through and packing all her [crap] and spending even more money to move it all back here. And I turned 60, no small issue. And today I'm taking in a roommate/lover/life partner. (Yes, I will readily assert that not all stress is bad. Some is quite wonderful, thankyouverymuch, but it's still stress.)

I guess the next item on my to-do list is exercise to try to alleviate some of the effects of the stress.

Geeez. Hit me again.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Future of the Symphony Orchestra

When the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus performed last month with the Youngstown Symphony under the baton of Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer, I had a blast. I had only seen Maestro Fleischer in action twice before. To be looking at his face rather than his back, to witness the joy and excitement and enthusiasm in his facial expressions and body language was an absolute delight!

And wait until you see what he's bringing to Youngstown this Saturday night! Fleischer the conductor will present Fleischer the composer in a unique concert/show.

Here's a video interview about the performance.

Maestro Fleischer is obviously attuned to what every orchestra governing board and management team is talking about today: The orchestra audience is aging. We must program differently to bring in younger audiences or we will cease to exist.

It's a simple but very challenging concept. The under-40s are accustomed to multitasking, to watching videos, to light and sound and action all at once. They're used to tweeting their every move and thought to all their friends. They're used to instantaneity! They're loathe to just sit and listen to some guys and gals in formal dress sitting and sawing or beating.

Orchestras are having to learn how to use social media and how to think ahead—think forward. When Wolf Trap stages summer operas, they now tweet the plot as it happens so the audience can know what's going. Cleveland Orchestra now offers Friday night concerts that start earlier, exclude the intermission, and close with cocktails, jazz, and dancing.

We must innovate!

And innovate is what Randall Craig Fleischer is doing with Echoes. If you miss this concert, you will miss seeing the future.

Buy tickets here.

(And, no, I am not affiliated with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra. I just know a good thing when I see it!)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

What Are You Reading?

I just finished "Eat, Pray, Love" after avoiding it ever since it slammed into the American consciousness. As I've mentioned before, I tend to avoid books and movies that are phenoms. But I like to read the book on which a movie is based before I see that movie. I've been thinking I want to see Julia Roberts in "Eat, Pray, Love", so picked up a copy of the book and then, lacking time to sit and read, got the Audible.com version. And now I'm not sure I want to see the movie!

One thing I especially like about reading is forming my own mental images of people, places and things. Do I want to know what Hollywood thinks Felipe looks like? (I haven't even looked to see who the actor is who plays this important role.)

I enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert's writing and want to look into more of her work. There were passages I absolutely loved and wanted to include in this post. However, when you're "reading" an audio book, it's very hard—while driving—to pick up the iPod, open the player, note what track it's on and how many minutes into the track it is. I just may have to listen to it again while sewing or knitting so I can stop and copy down the portions I want to share.

Gilbert's experiences and thought/growth processes made me ponder my own life and where I could have done things differently. But, then, I do that on my own anyway. I'm kinda introspective/obsessive that way. (Do you think I have Obsessive Introspective Disorder?)

I've delayed long enough now that it's out on video. Maybe I'll rent it, invite my Knitting Buddy Melinda to bring her latest project, and we can knit and watch it together, sans popcorn. Then I can see if Hollywood's version of Felipe is as delicious as he is in my mind.

And what are you reading?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What Defines Your Life?

Listening to conversation between Rosie O'Donnell and Molly Shannon on XMRadio today. Each of these women lost her mother at an early age—Molly at 4 and Rosie at 10. Rosie said her friends have said to her that it is the defining incident in her life. No matter what success she achieves, no matter how happy her life is, she still and always comes back to "My mother died when I was 10. I lost my mother. I was a motherless child."

My life experiences stretch far and wide. Marriages, jobs, talent. Experiences.

But the central theme, in my mind, is Adoption. It seems every thought goes back to being adopted, to being abandoned and—in my mind—tentatively retrieved. Every word is weighed to ensure it will not cause someone to abandon me again. It's a sickness.

I will say that having a wonderful man in my life—a man who loves me and cares tenderly for me through any apparent craziness—is the best medicine for my adoption sickness. With each day that passes in this affirming relationship, I feel more settled and less abandoned.

Maybe definitions can change.