Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bullying in School

  The very idea of children committing suicide because of bullying is disgusting. Look what happened at Rutgers recently with that 18 year old violinist who killed himself.  He was tormented because he was gay.  Also, there was that story in Ohio where this 17 year old kid blew his head off because the bullies told him to.  They literally told him to shoot himself in the head and not come back.  Bullying can do permanent damage to innocent people.  It is a tough situation for the victims because they want to tell an adult, but what if the bullies find out they were told on?  I remember doing that, and it only made the bullying worse.  These bullies cannot possibly feel secure with themselves if they are bullying.  Maybe they do, I will be damned if I know.  But, these sensitive kids who are targeted by bullies are being destroyed emotionally.  I saw it first hand in an ally in Baltimore when I was living there.  I was walking to school from Cathedral Street, and I saw something that just disgusted me.  It has been ten years, but I still shudder when I think about this sometimes.  This girl was being tormented by these two bigger girls, and they had her pinned to a wall.  It drove me up the wall to watch it.  They were calling her names and threatening her.  I wish I had done something.  I wanted to start screaming at them to leave her alone.   I had it done to me.  Not at that level, but still I was a target.  I dont know what made me think of this, but I know that bullying still goes on in schools, and it is very hard to stop it.  Also, I give a damn, especially when the teachers do not care.  I love teachers and am the ultimate supporter of what they do.  Please do not misunderstand me here.  All I am saying is that a select few of them do not give a damn what is going on.  If children are committing suicide over bullying, and afraid to go to school, I just think that is really messed up.   

Fall? Winter? What is this supposed to be?

What do you call this weather anyway? Snow in October? I see the winter wonderland, but the leaves are on the trees with various colors. I would like to call up mother nature and ask what the fuck we all did to deserve the confusion. Friday was in the mid fifties, seasonable for middle of autumn. Then yesterday I walk outside and the windchill is like 20. The temperature was 32 at one point. Powerlines went out because parts of trees were falling down. I am still wondering if I fell asleep for two months one night. No, it's October 30th and I have to scrap bleeping snow off my car. Grrr... This is an evil, evil joke by mother nature. In January and February, snow storms captivate my eyes because mother nature is doing her standard thing. March is the joke month! Not October! October is one of my favorite months so leave it alone. Well, anyway, I am trying to win a pointless argument with mother nature, and whatever power told her to play this joke on the Northeast. Call me self centered, but I love my autumn weather the way it is supposed to be in each respective area. I look outside, and see leaves that are red, orange, yellow, green or whatever. It looks gorgeous. Mother nature is laughing so hard she feel off the sofa right now. I say, ha ha, very funny, stop playing these cruel jokes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The man and all his money

The man and all his money

Walter was a billionaire who worked himself up from the absolute bottom in order to earn his fortune. He grew up poor in the deep south, and came from an abusive background. Walter first earned his fortune as a professional basketball player, but he was also trained as a business man. He really let fame and money get to his head when he was a young man. He had been drafted as the first pick in the NBA draft, and he led his team to five championships. Now he was the owner of his team, and his team was still a successful championship contender. Walter had extravagant riches such as five mansions, ten cars, recording studios, game rooms. You name it, Walter had it. He even owned several beach resorts all over the country. Walter had been married three times, and he had a supermodel wife who was twenty years younger than him. Walter was forty five at this point, and had retired from basketball ten years earlier. He had it all, but he was materialistic and therefore, unhappy. Something was missing in his life. He wondered what it could be, because he only thought about himself.
Walter was racing one of his fancy cars one day, and he lost control of the vehicle. His crash destroyed the car, but Walter managed to escape from the crash. Luckily he was driving in a secluded area and there was no one he could have hit with his car. He thought about how glad he was that no one was hurt. Where did this thought come from, he wondered. Then he had tears in his eyes and began to cry because he had an ephiphany. A light bulb went off in his head which was like a stroke of lightning. He had all these riches and material things, and he had been keeping it all to himself. He made a decision then and there on the side of the road, car smashed to pieces, that he was going to give back to the world. 

    It was December and it was time for the holidays. So many people were going bonkers shopping. Walter started giving money to charities all over the world. Millions of poor children got fed for Christmas and Chanukah because of Walter's newly found selflessness. He gave some of his cars to his friends. Some of those friends were people he ignored since his high school days. Most of these people were still very poor. Walter was extremely lucky to have good fortune throughout his life. Now, he had a deeper soul because he nearly got killed because of his reckless behavior. He sold his mansions and moved into a more modest sized house. He left his young wife on good terms, and married a woman whom he loved who was closer to his own age. He realized this was true love, and they had two children whom he put through college. He did everything he could for them. Walter did keep his job as owner of his former team, but he was now a mentor for young players, and he helped the players families. When Walter died he was at peace with himself and the world. He was given a second chance, and he took full advantage of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We all hurt sometimes

We all hurt because we are human. Hurting is a part of life. Things in life happen that cause us to hurt, or we simply hurt because we feel lonely, or something in our soul is temporarily missing. I see people every day who are obviously hurting a great deal on the inside. Also, people hurt other people which I don't get. Although I have done it myself. I do not want to sound like a hypocrite. If I do hurt someone I try to amend the situation as quickly as possible because it really will not sit well with me otherwise. Sometimes people just need a hug or to be told something kind. I feel a bit of a chocked up feeling writing this because there have been times when I have hurt very deeply. A loved one or friend gets sick or dies, someone says something nasty, someone takes advantage of another person or treats them like an object. These things happen, and people hurt as a result of them. You know the good news about hurting? It passes. When the pain is there it feels like it will never go away. This happened to me two summers a go. I was hurting terribly. Guess what, it did pass. It has happened since then, and it has passed. There is always light at the end of every tunnel. There is always light at the top of a well. If someone is hurting perhaps they will read this and gain some comfort. It may be hard to talk to someone, but it is worth telling someone if you are hurting. Putting it out there will help the pain get better. That is the beginning to finding the end of the tunnel.

Poisonous Villainy

  Poisonous Villainy
      I am not referring to when the wicked Queen poisons Snow White, although the Queen dressed as the old lady scares the hell out of me.  Poisonous villainy is the kind of poison which makes a normally good character act in ways which are unnatural.  Often the result is a good characters demise, although sometimes the good character can overcome the poison.  Poisonous villainy can be a real tragedy in various plays, movies and operas when it is used on innocent characters.  Poisonous villainy often comes from flat out hatred, or relying on passions such as lust for power, jealousy, envy and many more.
     The emperor in Star Wars (yes the Star Wars geek is back) uses villainous poison in Anakin Skywalker.  He plays with Anakin's mind and tells him various lies which Anakin is manipulated into believing.  The emperor manipulates Anakin into believing that the Jedi counsil does not trust him.  Also, he convinces Anakin that the powers of the dark side can save Padme.  This is of course common knowledge, but the poisonous villainy is the key focus of this post.  A good character is destroyed because of it.  Of course the emperor takes a nice tumble at the hands of Anakin when he tries to kill Luke.  Luke is close to being poisoned like his father in episode VI, but is able to overcome it.  The poison administered by a powerful villain brings out the worst in any good character because the purpose is to exploit their weaknesses.  Anakin totally gets nailed, because the emperor exploits his fear.
     Othello goes down hill really fast when Iago uses villainous poison on him in the play and the opera.  Scarpia also poisons Tosca in the same way in that both villains bring out jealousy in Othello and Tosca respectively.  Iago does it more than Scarpia.  Scarpia's main purpose is to possess Tosca.  Iago wants to destroy Othello because he was promised captain and it went to Cassio instead.  Cassio is the bait for the poison.  Tosca is tortured by Scarpia into believing that Cavaradossi is cheating on her.  Otello is tortured big time by Iago throughout the entire play.  Iago does such a good job of pretending to be Othello's best friend and confident, that he really exploits Othello's jealousy.  Iago survives, and Othello kills himself.  Scarpia certainly gets his in the end when Tosca murders him.  So does the Emperor when the redeemed Anakin kills him.  Why Iago survives is beyond me.  Othello stabs Iago at the end of the play, but he lives and is arrested.  A villain as bad as Iago should have to live with the guilt if he even feels it in the first place.  
   The queen in Snow White aims to kill snow white immediately with actual poison.  Hey, queen, snow white is prettier than you, get over it sweetheart.  My point is that it is the villainous poison that slowly tortures normally good characters that makes a villain powerful.  Twisting another person's mind with various deceptions is the ultimate way to torture them.    However, the villains better watch it, because it will come back like a boomerang in the end. Although my post is about fictional characters who engage in poisonous villainy, I will relate it to real life. In real life there is karma. Karma is the boomerang. If I treat people poor me in will come back to bite me in the ass. Here ends today's post.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changing the things I can change

Changing the things I can change

     There is this really awesome prayer which says "God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.". The words "us" and "we" can be changed to "me" and "I" if a person sees fit.  There is also the short version "fuck it." The dude's approach in "The Big Lebowski" does come in handy sometimes." The longer version which I quoted above which is not the whole thing does carry a lot of weight.  We cannot change the events which took place in the past.  I cannot change the fact that people made fun of my weight or that bullies picked on me.  I can change the way I look at the past by forgiving.  Hard to do, but it is essential to try.  If you want to stop trying, keep trying anyway.  It is essential to forgive for the sake of emotional health.  I cannot change the fact that I am not going to be the next Roger Federer.  Too bad, right?  Courage to change sure is a tough concept to put into practice.  I can totally be the cowardly lion sometimes even though that is a temporary easy way out.  Well, I do not want to be the king of any forest.  That is a big responsibility.  

     Having courage to make positive changes is scary because it is unfamiliar territory.  Knowing the difference is pretty straight forward.  I can make positive changes which are within reasonable bounds.  I just need to have the courage to make them.  Easier said then done.  Sometimes, I need to call instead of email, or talk in person versus on the phone.  Not easy, but making changes like that make me useful  I can totally change the way I look at things.  I can change what I eat, my attitude towards things, my weight etc...  I cannot change how people think of me or how they react to me.  I often think I can.  Talk about a bullshit story.  I can change how I view other people.  If I can make a change that will result in my being useful to myself and others, that is a pretty good change.  If I say that I cannot do something in the present that I am capable of doing, I shut off all possibility.  I cannot change the fact the people get sick and die.  That word accept can be inconvenient sometimes because it can be hard to swallow.  What other choice is there?  Life has it's ups and downs and curveballs, fastballs, sliders and sinkers, and change ups.  I can change how I deal with those situations.  I can accept what happens versus sitting in a timeout chair with my arms folded.  Accepting what I can and cannot change is a long process.  As I learn it, I become more and more serene.  Most of all, I become a useful person.    

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gianandrea Noseda Brings His Leadership to New York

An opportunity to see Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" is an event that music lovers should not let slip from their finger tips. Also, if you want a strong message on how war tears people apart on the inside and outside, then look no further. Benjamin Britten was waiting for an opportunity to mourn the spoils of war, and he does not hesitate in this work, which is one of the most important of the twentieth century. Britten was a pacifist through and through. War clearly hit his insides very hard, and he uses the interval of the tritone to alert the listener to his ill feelings about war. Also, the ending has this peaceful tranquility to it, until Britten presents the unsettling resolution to F major from the chorus, and ends the piece there. It is a monumental work throughout with a very powerful message.

Every field needs strong leaders, whether it be in the work force, sports, volunteer work or the arts. The arts are suffering, so us artists need leaders like the conductor Gianandrea Noseda. Mr. Noseda is an awesome leader who showed his leadership skills by conducting an extraordinary performance of Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem" at Avery Fischer Hall earlier this afternoon. Maestro Noseda was joined by soprano, Sabina Cvilak, tenor, Ian Bostridge, baritone, Simon Keenlyside, the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus and the American Boychoir. This performance blew me away from the very beginning until the very final chord. Noseda conducted like a master, and was very clear in his gestures and pacing.  The London Symphony chorus did an impeccable job in important tuning moments.  This was especially true in the chilling resolutions to F major at the end of several of the movements.  The audience showed their appreciation when the chorus was acknowledged by Maestro Noseda.  The performances by Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside were great works of art on both accounts.  They are two artists, and most of all they are sophisticated and humble human beings who know how to give to the world through their art.  Their accounts of Wilfred Owen's poetry were absolutely chilling.  Both artists are very intelligent, and made every word mean something.  Sabina Cvivalak is a soprano from Slovenia who I had not heard of until today.  She has a full lyric soprano which carried well in Avery Fischer. But is the soprano solo in this work a lyric?  I would say no.  It should be a spinto or light dramatic soprano in my opinion. Ms. Cvivalak's lower register was a little underpowered for my taste. But in all fairness, the vocal writing for the soprano is less even than for the other two voices. Benjamin Britten challenges every single performer in this work whether it be the orchestra, soloists, chorus, boychoir or the conductor.  The American Boychoir sang from backstage in this performance.  The American Boychoir did a good job serving as the angels from above.  Although their sound had a little bit of a lack of balance with individual voices sticking out.  The choir does have a very good sense of rhythm though. The rhythmic energy was one of the strongest aspects of this performance.  Mr. Noseda is very demanding about details in rehearsal.  I remember being in Verbier, Switzerland and singing in the chorus of Puccini's "Tosca" under his direction.  I was in awe of his genius in rehearsal, but he sure was tough.  He demanded the best out of each performer, and he knew how to get it.  His apparent tough demeneur was there, but underneath I saw a gentle and sensitive soul, and both of those characteristics came out in his leadership today. His sense of passion and commitment intertwined with precision worked very well this afternoon.  I thank the powers that be for bringing the arts leaders like Gianandrea Noseda.    

The Man and His Dog

     It was a gorgeous fall day in New York City.  The leaves were turning and falling off the tree.  Plus, the temperature and light winds were just right.  A man was walking his dog in central park with no particular destination in mind.  He had a stubborn dog who only liked to be walked sometimes.  However, today he wanted to go for a long walk to keep his master company.  As they walked, they passed many benches and trees where various types of people were sitting with their families, spouses, girlfriends or boyfriends, pets, or alone by themselves.  Suddenly, as the man and his dig were walking, the man began to feel a pain in his chest like a hammer hitting it.  He realized he was having a heart attack, and he begged his faithful companion for help.  The dog went up to a strange couple and was barking very nervously.  The couple initially told the dog to shut up, but then they realized that something was seriously wrong.  Dogs are masters at sensing danger, so the couple followed the dog.  They found the man struggling for his life, and they called 911. The man did survive of course and loves his dog more than ever.  This story is fiction, but dogs save lives all the time.  They even save other dogs as demonstrated on the news last week.  If you have a chance to rescue a dog do it.  Do not let them be destroyed just because their previous owner was an unfit owner. A dog could save your life.  They can even save your life emotionally, and not just physically.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

War Requiem

My first experience with the "War Requiem" by Benjamin Britten was in 1988 when I was in forth grade. I was in the American Boychoir and singing in the balcony at the Trenton War Memorial. It had a very powerful impact on me even though I was ten and had no clue what was going on in the piece. Benjamin Britten was a pacifist, meaning that he hated war and violence of any kind. The "War Requiem" was premiered in 1962 for the reconsecration of Coventry Cathedral which was destroyed in the Battle of Britain during World War II. The work is a strong outcry against war. Britten lost several friends in the war, and this work is dedicated to their memories. The soloists represent people from Russia, Britain and Germany. The tenor is English, the baritone is German, and the soprano is Russian. This work is a very large scale work involving a large main orchestra, a chamber orchestra, an adult chorus, a boychoir and an organ. The texts are a mixture of poems by Wilfred Owen, and the Requiem mass for the dead. The tenor and baritone soloists sing the English texts by Wilfred Owen, and everyone else sings the Latin text. The only exception is during the Agnus Dei when a poem and the Latin text are put together. Wilfred Owen was a soldier during World War I who was killed a week before the war was over. He was a brave soldier who fought hard, but he still was disgusted by war. He describes the noises of guns and bodies laying all over the fields. The deaths of these men are meaningless until they are brought home to their families. Wilfred Owen wrote some of his most famous poems in the hospital where he was being treated for shell shock. The doctor recommended that he transform his experiences into poetry. The "War Requiem" is a work of genius from beginning to end. Britten stabs the audience in the heart with the harsh interval of the tritone. That interval represents the fear of fighting in a battle where you could get shot at any moment. Britten makes a powerful statement in this work to signify how pointless war actually is. My last experience or this piece was when I attended Peabody, and there was a workshop conducted by Britten's friend bass-baritone John Shirley-Quirk. John Shirley-Quirk was about 70 years old when this workshop took place. The last two baritone solos were so hard for the participants that Mr. Shirley-Quirk started singing them himself without a score. It was just incredible. Tomorrow this worked is being performed at Avery Fischer Hall. It has been ten years since I have heard any of it live. The conductor Gianandrea Noseda has a big job to do tomorrow. He is the guy to do it. Hopefully if anyone who reads this is going, this little introduction was a helpful too.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Spectres of the past

A man was walking through a park in Paris. The park was so beautiful that the man could not believe what he was seeing. It was as if he was inside the painting in the movie "Mary Poppins.". As he walked he became more and more focused in the present. It was as if there was a circle with a red dot in the center of it helping him focus on his surroundings. He saw a carousel with parents and their children playing on it as he continued his stroll home from work. All of a sudden as his walking meditation grew deeper, he saw himself walking with the spirit of his child self, and they were holding hands. This man had a childhood which started as a very joyful one. He was a musician by trade, and his grandfather used to play whatever he requested when he was a child. This spectre of the mans past whom he was walking with was little, innocent and happy. The innocence of a child is indispensable, he thought. Oh, how he wished he could have that back. As he walked with his past spectre that child started to get older. He remembered being a young child in an all boys school where he got to travel a lot. He remembered how he had a tough time in this all boys school. As he continued to walk holding hands with the phantom, the phantoms hands became colder. It was as if that innocence was going away, and he was beginning to face the growing pains of adolescence. As they walked the child grew more, and the child began to become more reserved and distant. The man felt a chill down his spine when these pains of growing up came back to him. As he continued to walk with the spectre, the boy was now in high school. He remembered having a good time in high school, but the spectre was now angry. The wounds were deep on this boy, and it was hard for him to trust people. As the man held hands with his past self, there was a feeling of disconnect and depression from the boy. Then the boy was in college. As the man continued to walk in the park, he remembered doing well in college and grad school, but he remembered having to drink a lot at parties just to feel comfortable. Then all of a sudden before the flash of his eyes, he was holding hands with a grownup in his late twenties. That was his grownup self from ten years a go. Here was someone who was in great pain, and drinking constantly to try to hide from it. He also had depression and was drinking to hide from that too. The grip at which the spectre was holding the mans hand was so tight, that it was painful. This man remembered himself holding on for dear life ten years a go. He could not continue drinking the way he was drinking and live a meaningful life, let a lone live at all. All of a sudden the grip loosened, and the man remembered surrendering. So, as the man's consciousness came back into the present, it was just himself walking in the park. His life had improved immensely. He got on a train to get back to his chateau, and there was a young woman sitting across from him who was very drunk and in a lot of emotional pain. The man knew what that felt like. He saw himself from ten years a go through the eyes of this person. The pain in this persons eyes was unmistakable. The man had great compassion for this complete stranger who was in such pain. But at the same time, a great sense of gratitude came over him. He gained a new perspective on his life, and realized that he never had to feel pain in that way again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Happy belated birthday John Lennon

John Lennon would have been 71 on October 9th had he not been robbed of his life at the age of 40. It is hard to imagine that we have lost 31 years of greatness. John Lennon stood up for what he believed in, and that was peace. He despised war and hatred of any kind, and referenced that in several of his songs. He also stood up for civil rights and women's rights. I will not talk in detail about his murder in this post. The anniversary of his death is not until December 8th. John was killed that evening by an obsessed fan named Mark David Chapman. All John did was sign an autograph for him despite having recorded all day. The murder of John Lennon was an unspeakable tragedy. This completely unnecessary tragedy was announced during a football game which Howard Cossell was announcing. Cossell was absolutely crushed by the news, and he did not think the game should have continued. My friend Patrick and I were watching the movie "Imagine" a while back, and we were moved to tears by the fact that someone killed this great man. Here was a man who dedicated his life to making a difference in the world taken away by two swift gun shot wounds. John had a rough upbringing for sure. His father left him and his mother at a very early age after his parents had separated. John's father left permanently when he was five, and only came back into his life when he was famous as a Beatle. John was put into the care of his aunt Mimi because she thought that Julia (John's mother) was unfit to raise him. However, Julia was a big part of John's life until she was run over when he was in high school. Her unfortunate death hit John very hard, and effected him for the rest of his life. The first song on his first solo album "Plastic Ono Band" has funeral bells at the beginning of it, and it is called "Mother." Everytime I listen to a song that John wrote whether it is on a Beatles album or one of his solo albums, there is always a meaning behind them which makes me think. He had a such a deep soul inside of him, that it is absolutely remarkable. He loved his wife Yoko very dearly, and was a terrific father to Sean and his son from his first marriage Julian. Both of his sons were robbed of their father, especially Sean who was three when the murder took place. John wrote a song called "Beautiful Boy" for Sean. Only a person with a very good heart would think of something like that. It is amazing how John was able to live such a unique life despite his rough upbringing. He wanted peace in the world above all else. It was more important to him then fame. "Imagine all the people living life in peace." How a human being can write something like that is beyond me. John shared so much with the world in his brief 40 years on this planet. Although his time was short, I for one am glad that we had him at all. "I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will live as one." I could not agree more, and I certainly could not say it any better. Violence, war, hatred, and discrimination have no place in this world. John expressed emotions through music in a powerful way. I am thankful that he was a part of this world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The aria/cabaletta form from bel canto to Verdi

The aria form established during the bel canto period of Italian opera is known as the aria/cabaletta form. Arias starting with baroque opera usually has recitative where the action is going on, then aria. The aria stops the action. A cabaletta is a follow up melody to an aria, and it is fast. The character gets excited about going to battle, going to kill the SOB, winning someones love, gaining something or whatever. Bellini and Donizetti always used the aria/cabaletta form in their operas. Bellini and Donizetti kept the orchestration relatively light in their cabalettas. The main object of the game during the bel canto period was the beauty of the voice. Verdi continued to use this form, but eventually he cut it out entirely. In his early operas Verdi always used the form because it was common practice. The main things he did were to kick the orchestration up a few knotches, and write higher for the voice. Kind of him to do that wasn't it? I am just joking of course. He wrote brilliant cabalettas, and he always used the form until 1851, when his middle period began with Rigoletto. The composition of Rigoletto was paramount in the history of Italian opera because Verdi got rid of the Rossinian code, and also used the aria/cabaletta form in a new and unique way. The Rossinian code was the formula by which Giacchino Rossini's operas were constructed. Every major character had an aria, and there was a concerted finale with all the characters and chorus on stage at the end of each act. Verdi's genius was absolutely remarkable. He changed all this, and here is how he accomplished that. Verdi abolished the Rossinian code in 1851 when Rigoletto was premiered. What he did in "Rigoletto" was fascinating. Act three ends with just Gilda and Rigoletto. There is no concerted finale. That is the first thing. At the beginning of the second act, the Duke sings an aria and cabaletta in the traditional form. In Rigoletto's aria the big change occurs, because Verdi writes and aria/cabaletta in reverse. No it is not a cabaletta/aria, I am calling it an aria and cabaletta in reverse because the tempos are fast/slow instead of slow/fast. Rigoletto begins in an absolute rage demanding his daughter back, and then there is the cantabile section of the aria where he is begging. Verdi's changing of the guard in this aria really heightens the emotional intensity. Verdi would go back to the old form in his next operas when he wanted to. Both "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata" have arias and cabalettas for the major characters. Verdi's cabalettas always have more weight and intensity to them like I said before, so they do have his own stamp on them. The duet "Teco io sto" in "Un Ballo in Maschera" has a cabaletta with an awesome intensity. The last time Verdi used a cabaletta was in his opera "La Forza del Destino." In his last four operas Verdi abolishes the aria and cabaletta form completely. Interestingly Stravinsky went back to it once in his opera "The Rakes Progress" with Anne Truelove's scene. It has rarely been used aside from that. Puccini and the verismo composers who followed him never used this form to my knowledge. Twentieth century opera is mostly recitative. Verdi really changed the course of opera with changing the form and eventually abolishing it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

First opera for those looking to be initiated

Those who are new to the art form of opera might want to take a look at this so as to get initiated with a good introduction. So, what is a good first opera? There are many opinions on this matter. I would say that a good first opera should be three hours or less for the most part. There should be a lot of action which is quick moving, and memorable. There should be beautiful arias. That is a must, because that is what people who are new to opera are going to expect to be hearing. Chances are that newbies are going to be more familiar with sopranos and tenors then the lower voices. Before I was familiar with opera, that was the case for me. The story needs to be easy to follow. It does not necessarily need to be happy per say. How many operas have happy endings anyway? Most of the time someone freaking dies at the end. That is the nature of the beast. I will name a few operas that could be a good starting place. It may result in a new hobby. Who knows, right? Carmen is certainly a good one. The overture is from the TV show "The Bad News Bears.". Also, the Toreador song is so famous, that people will probably recognize it. The arias and ensembles are easy to listen to, and the action keeps moving and is easy to follow. La Boheme and Tosca are two other good starting points. La Boheme features great arias, duets and ensembles, it is easy to follow, and the music has an awesome simplistic beauty to it. The ending is heartbreakingly sad though. A good introductory opera none the less. Tosca has famous tenor arias which are well known. Tosca has a dark plot with murder and suicide. The music is sublimely beautiful, and this opera is one of the most popular of all time. For children I would recommend the Magic Flute or Hansel and Gretel. In my personal experience of doing both these operas for children, the children responded more to Magic Flute. Both of these are good for adults too. Rigoletto and La Traviata are the final two I will recommend. I am recommending these two simply because they are so famous. Both are relatively short and easy to listen to. The tenor in Rigoletto sings the aria "La Donna e mobile", which is a very famous aria. I used to sing it myself aloof with Pavarotti when I was a little kid. For those new to opera, I hope you got something out of this posting. Remember, opera is a play set to music. Singing is a supported form of talking. Also, do not be intimidated by the foreign languages. Think of it as a foreign film with subtitles. The subtitles are right in the theatre. At the Metropolitan Opera House they are right in front of your seat. If you see an opera at the Met, check out those chandeliers. They are pretty cool looking. They go up to the ceiling right before the conductor comes out and takes a bow.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

May the road rise up to meet you

One of the bloggers I subscribe to, Sharon Longworth talked about an experience of listening to a song while driving to work which brought back past memories for her. I had a big blank going through my head on what to write about today until I saw that. It is amazing how inspiration can come out of left field sometimes. So, here is how this post has unfolded. I thought of this unison choral arrangement of the Irish prayer "May the road rise up to meet you." It is a simple arrangement in D flat major which used to make me cry every time I sang it. I went to camp Albemarle nearly twenty years a go. It was a music camp located on Lambert Drive in Princeton, NJ. The name of the mansion was Albemarle, and it used to belong to the inventor of Listerine. The six summers I spent at this camp was a great time in my life. I remember always enjoying my summers there. The staff even let me board an extra session one year because it was just a wonderful camp. There were various musicians playing different instruments. Everyone had to sing in the choir though. Dr. Anton Armstrong was in charge of the camp when I was there. He always picked this song as the last one on the concert program as a way to say goodbye through song. This song meant that it was truly over. Kids are most often sad when camp is over. I know that I was. I was waiting for the track announcement for my train from NYC back to Princeton Junction, after having read the post from the blogger I follow. This song came to my mind. It made me remember the garden at Albemarle mansion. It had a well right in the middle of it. There were also brick walls that I used to climb and jump off of. We also used to play capture the flag, and I would hide in the garden. I used to love pool time, and I remember walking through the garden to get to the pool. Songs sure do bring back memories don't they? This song is not anything too profound as far as the music itself. It's simplicity is effective though. Thinking of it now, I sense the theme of optimism in the song wishing everyone a safe and fulfilling year. Camp used to be once a year. We were wishing each other a safe and prosperous year with the power of song. Those times as a child at that camp were special. As an adult, and with my busy life it is easy to forget how special those times were. I remember feeling accepted at Albemarle. Here are the words to this Irish prayer which moved me in song. "May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Choosing a Path and Following It

I am mainly writing this so I can share quotes by various thinkers on not giving up on dreams, hope etc... Do not give up. We only live once. There will always be critics inward and outward. Outward critics are sometimes trying to help, sometimes not. It is how we feel on the inside that counts the most. I'm no expert on this by any means, so I will go right into the quotes here. This first one is just dead on, so check it out. Savor Emerson's words. “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”. Here is another one by Henry David Thoreau.      “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”. Now, a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." Fear can really bite us in the ass if we let it rule our lives. Have some freaking faith. You can quote me on that. See if you recognize this one. It is really inspiring." First off, I am thirty-five years old. I am divorced. And I live in a van down by the river! Now you kids are probably saying to yourselves "hey, I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna get the world by the tail, and wrap it around, and pull it down and put it in my pocket!" Well, I'm here to tell you that you're probably gonna find out, as you go out there, that you're not gonna amount to jack-squat!". Alright, back to being serious. Here is an inspiring quote by Harriet Tubman. "Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” That patience thing sure can be tough sometimes. Nothing comes over night, so patience is an important virtue to have. Living in a hopeful and optimistic state is better then that fear state which is like being pinned to a wall. William Blake sums that up pretty well, and this quote by him will be my ending point. Action is the prescription for the fear state of being stuck in life. With this quote by Blake, I wish everyone a good evening. "Father, O father! what do we here In this land of unbelief and fear?The Land of Dreams is better far, Above the light of the morning star."

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Dark Versus the Light Side of Anger

Anger is an emotion. Let's start there. It is fine to angry, but it can either wreck havoc or bring peace. Anger can be used as a poison for the person who is angry, or for the victim on the receiving end. Or it can be used constructively to make peace in a situation. One of them is terribly unhealthy, the other is just simply more logical. I am talking about emotions a lot lately, because they all have good and bad ways of being used. It is important to distinguish between both sides. In this case I will talk about the dark side of anger first. Toxic anger is used in a lot of ways, and it does serve a purpose. There is explosive anger, violent anger, vengeful anger, and anger turned inward. Anger turned inward results in depression because the anger remains inside. Toxic anger also causes various illnesses. Strokes and cardiovascular disease are two examples. I know that I get depressed when I turn the anger inward. Toxic anger ruins friendships and relationships. Explosions of anger leave permanent damage on the recepient even though they might say that the outburst is forgiven and forgotten. Our dog was beaten before my sister adopted him. He is happy now, but I see that the damage is still there. Toxic anger releases endorphins, but why not release them doing something like working out? Toxic anger repels people and animals away like the wind of a hurricane. It also makes people sick. If people engage in the toxic form of anger, there is a price ti be paid. I had Lyme Disease in 2009. I still have symptoms from time to time in that I feel fatigue, aches, and minor arthritis when I am angry in a toxic way. When I get my chill back on, the symptoms go away. How do you think that works? Well, I either relax or if another person did something I did not like, I have the option of using the healthy or constructive way of expressing anger. It is all about choices. Easier said then done of course. The light side of anger is keeping the emotion under control. Yes, I do like Star Wars analogies. Anyway, I call the light side of anger, constructive anger. This is because, constructive anger is helpful way of expressing anger just like constructive criticism is helpful. Helpful is the key word for constructive anything. Constructive anger is about talking to the person that upset you versus exploding at them. Talking the situation out often has some good results such as creating a deeper relationship with the other person. Plus, it is helpful to myself and the other person because that person can get a better understanding of what the deal is. Of course how the other party reacts is out of my control, and none of my business. Usually relationships can improve by talking versus exploding. That can even apply to myself, if I am angry at myself over something I can improve my relationship with myself. Anger is most certainly a toxic emotion, but it can be expressed constructively, and then it cools down. At least that is my stance on it. Usually it starts out with the intensity of the anger turned all the way up to overdrive. At least that tends to bs my experience. But if I restrain myself when the intensity is high, I can pause and wait for the intensity to go down, then the result is anger used the right way. When the initial temperature on my anger intensity scale is hot, my thinking is irrational. When I calm down, I must deal with whatever is bothering me and then forgive the other person and move on.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Importance of Friendships

Friends are such a critical part of living a complete and healthy life. Living without them is a miserable way to go through life. Friends spend quality time together, and when they ask me how I am, they care what the answer is. If I am not doing well and I try to pretend I am, true friends can see through that because they care that much. Friendship is love for another person, but not in a physical way. A good way to make friends is to be a friend. Everyone needs friends they can talk to and lean on for support. People who think no one cares about them are wrong, and that perception leads to depression and sometimes suicide. Animals need friends too. I know that our dog certainly needs my friendship, and I need his. His friendship helps me tremendously when I am down. All I have to do is pet him, and it lifts my spirits. I know for sure that I function better when I have people I can lean on. Facebook is great, but talking with friends results in intimate relationships, technology does not. My main point in writing this post is that it is plain unhealthy to isolate. Plus, it is a waste of time. Trust me on that. People who isolate are at higher risk for alzheimers, obesity, lack of excersize, and smoking. Isolating results in the slowing down of cognitive functioning, and it just feels plain shitty. Isolating is a dangerous thing because it is a trap. When I isolate something is wrong, and isolating leaves me trapped in the problem. Do not get me wrong. Alone time is a great thing, but that is not the same as isolating. I think people isolate when they actually need friends the most. Isolating makes it awfully hard to make friends because isolating equals being trapped in your own world. Isolating is a choice, but not the wise one. Here are five things that I think make true friendships work. 1. Friends need to love each other unconditionally, 2. Friends need to listen to each other and try not to judge each other, 3. If a person is at risk of making a foolish decision, the friend needs to tell them, 4. Friends need to work it out if they have a disagreement if the friendship is worth saving. Relationships take work. 5. Friends need to show support for one another. The theme of friendship comes up all over the place. Many famous thinkers write about it, and it is a popular topic in movies, plays, musicals and operas. I will leave you with a few of my favorite phrases about friendship. "A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud." Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A true friend stabs you in the front." Oscar Wilde, "The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?" (Henry David Thoreau) "I get by with a little help from my friends." (John Lennon) "The bird a nest, the spider a web,man friendship." (William Blake). Blake's quote Is saying that man needs frienship like a bird needs it's nest, and a spider needs it's web. A person can survive physically without friends, but their soul cannot.

My Tribute to Jose Van Dam

Have you ever had an experience of seeing one of your favorite performers live? In my mind this type of experience is untouchable. I have been fortunate enough to have this kind of experience in my life. Since I am a musician and I got to see my favorite singer in person, it was a spiritual experience for me. The singer whom I saw was the great bass-baritone Jose Van Dam. I was sitting quietly and thinking of something to write about. I was also looking for some inspiration. I thought of the few times when I got to hear Van Dam, and it reminded me of why I love singing so much. Hearing him took me to a realm where I was completely drawn to him because he had such unbelievable artistry. He was capable of singing a hauntingly beautiful pianissimo anytime he wanted, but he could also roar like a lion. He sang repertoire from the baroque period through late twentieth century, and he has done it for around 50 years. I am not going to go into details about when and where he performed such and such. Boring, as Homer Simpson would say. I got to hear this great artist in both opera and recital. Both were surreal experiences. My father was with me on both occasions, and he agrees. Life is about experiencing, so I want to talk about the experience of hearing this amazing artist. I remember buying Van Dam's recording of Duparc songs, which I happened to find by chance at the old Tower Records in Philly. That was the first recording I heard of him. I was just blown away, and thought to myself, I have to hear this artist So, I looked through the met season for the 2000-2001 season, and there was Van Dam's name, and he was cast as Golaud in Pelleas et Melisande. What a night it was. My dad and I were sitting in the balcony level in the Metropolitan Opera House. James Levine conducted and Suzanne Mentzer, Dwayne Croft and Robert Lloyd rounded out this great cast. I remember when Van Dam starting singing in the first scene. It was very delicate, but I was wondering if that was all he had. I sure was wrong to ask myself that question. He was taking out his watercolors of vocal colors and was pacing himself like the singing sage that he is.. As the show went along I just remember being captivated by his presence on stage. When I am at a show, I am distracted very easily most of the time. When I saw this performance, it was as if I was in the room alone with Van Dam. I had never had that experience before. He sang with an astounding dynamic range considering how big the stage is at the Metropolitan Opera House. Also, the beauty of his soft singing in the final act is something that is hard to put into words. It was pathetic, yet hauntingly beautiful. Golaud is consumed with jealousy. Even when Melisande is dying in childbirth, he is still pressing her on whether she loved Pelleas or not. Pretty sick isn't it? At the beginning of my final year at Peabody, Wayne Conner told me that he was doing preconcert lecture for a recital that Van Dam was giving at the Perleman Theatre at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. I managed to get two, so my father could go too. We were sitting about 10 rows from ten front. Van Dam was 62 years old at this point and he did the Kerner Lieder by Schumann and Dichterliebe for the second half. The first half blew me away. It is amazing how vocally healthy he sounded at that age. There were tears in my eyes during some of the songs because of the gorgeous sounds Van Dam was making. So, he performed an hour and a half worth if music, then he encored with "Extase" by Duparc, which is an intimate and soft song. After that he sang "La Calunia" from "The Barber of Sevile", during which Van Dam cranked up the volume. I really wasn't expecting Van Dam to be as good as he was in this recital. If you need inspiration, seeing your favorite artist is always a good way to find it. I remember feeling very inspired after these two experiences of hearing Van Dam in person.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Rigoletto (The Ultimate Challenge for Baritones)

Verdi once said that the title role in "Simon Boccanegra" is a thousand times more difficult than Rigoletto. Simon Boccanegra is insanely hard, but I still think Rigoletto wins the title for the ultimate challenge in the baritone repertoire. He sings a lot, and has to sing very high constantly. Perhaps not as much as Simon Boccanegra, but still a lot. There are several high G naturals written in the duet with Gilda in Act I. Also, there are a lot of interpolated high notes which are not written in the score. Verdi was very in favor of interpolated high notes because they strengthen the drama. Most singers go up to the tenor range at the end. Verdi did not write that. The roles difficult tessitura is only the beginning of why the role of Rigoletto is so challenging. First and foremost, he is a Verdi baritone, and nothing less. He must have a darker and more powerful voice than a lyric baritone. Lyrics sing the role, like Fischer-Dieskau. I respect his musicianship, but his type of voice does not cut it for Rigoletto in my opinion. Rigoletto needs to sing with tremendous power, but also lyricism. His act two aria "Cortigianni" is an example of those two qualties. The lyrical singing in a Verdi baritone has a darker quality than that of the lyric baritone. Verdi is very big on expressing various emotions such as anger, sadness, desperation etc.. in his vocal writing. Rigoletto goes from intense anger to tearful begging in this aria. The lyrical section is the tearful begging section. That section must be sung lyrically with a darker vocal quality that lyric baritones simply do not have. I cannot stress that enough. There are still more challenges to this role which cannot be overlooked. Rigoletto is a hunchback, and has to stand in a hunched position. An obvious point, but what about singing in that position? Normally standing in a hunched over position puts the neck in an outward position, which means that the neck and spinal cord are not straight. Baritones singing this role have to be smart about maintaining good posture, but still be in character. Sherill Milnes remarked in the series "A Homage to Verdi" that if a singer performing Rigoletto is not careful about maintaining his posture to support his vocal mechanism, he will not be able to vocally get through the part. This is a challenge for anyone singing the role. If my neck is out, my larynx goes up, which equals not good. It is certainly possible to be this character and sing it. I have seen several singers perform this part, and they are careful with their posture when they are actually singing, and obviously walk like a hunchback when they are not singing. Rigoletto gets to sing some of the greatest music ever written for the baritone voice. The role sure is tough though. So is portraying this dark character. Rigoletto is a very emotional man who compares himself to the assassin Sparafucile. Sparafucile kills people in a literal sense for money. Rigoletto does it by mocking people. Slandering people verbally may actually be worse than killing people. Unfortunately it is Rigoletto's fate. It is his occupation, but he has a conscience. Plus, Gilda is his daughter, and the only family he has left. Obviously, he has had a difficult past which we know really nothing about. He does have fond memories of it, and he loves his daughter. That is his good side. He is a villain for the most part. The character is tough emotionally to portray, which is tiring on the singer performing the role. Rigoletto has to be sung by singer who is a Verdi baritone, a good actor, and a smart musician and vocal technician. Pretty challenging for sure.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Rigoletto's Big Mouth

Rigoletto is a dark opera to say the least, and Rigoletto himself is a dark character. His job is to be a court jester for the Duke. He makes fun of people, but he ends up going too far which results in his demise. Although he is actually doomed from the start. He is a hunchback, and is at the mercy of the Duke. Rigoletto is conflicted between good and evil, as are a lot of Verdi baritone characters. When he makes fun of people, he tends to go too far. When he makes fun of Monterone he gets cursed. He mocks Monterone for complaining that the Duke fooled around with his daughter. If anyone should know better than making fun of that, it should be Rigoletto. I find the fact that he made fun of Monterone like that quite ironic. Whenever there is a curse on someone, they are done for. Here is the twist. Monterone initially curses the Duke and Rigoletto, but eventually the Duke is let off the hook. The curse on Rigoletto remains and does end up being fulfilled. It actually results in Rigoletto's daughter Gilda's death. This is very tragic because Rigoletto does have a good quality to him, and that is his love for Gilda. Unfortunately, that good quality does not prevent the curse from becoming a reality. Here is how the curse is fulfilled, and how Rigoletto loses big time. Gilda is literally all Rigoletto has left aside from his house. His wife died, and I assume he has no other family. Plus, he is very unpopular among the noble man. Rigoletto mocks various people in the court, and there is a rumor started by Marullo that Rigoletto has a mistress, so they can get back at him. That mistress is Gilda, because they do not know he has a daughter. The noblemen end up abducting Gilda to play a joke on Rigoletto. Rigoletto begs them to give her back, and he really puts some beg into it. He pleads for her sincerely. Here is the problem. The Duke gets a hold of Gilda too, and she falls for his bullshit. He does not know that Gilda is Rigoletto's daughter because he has been following her to church dressed as a student. Rigoletto is very private about his life in general. He hardly gives Gilda any information when she asks about his family history. Rigoletto is insanely overprotective of her too. So much so, that she does not tell him that she has been talking to Gualtier Malde (the Duke). She falls head over heals for the Duke, and when she finds out that he is to be murdered, she steps in and sacrifices herself for him. She does this despite the fact that he cheats on her with Maddalena, the assassin Sparafucile's sister. The Duke is such a good con-artist, that Gilda still feels compassion for him despite his dishonest behavior. It is not her fault that she is naive. She is just sixteen, and was practically imprisoned by her father's overprotective ways. In the end, the curse comes true, and Rigoletto is left completely alone. It is a sad ending to this opera in that the one innocent person Gilda is killed. Rigoletto's sharp tongue gets the best of him, and he ends up with his daughter in a sack mortally wounded. His love for her does not work as an escape from Monterone's curse because a sharp tongue is the ultimate weapon, and Rigoletto pays dearly for going too far with it. By the way "Rigoletto" is one of the greatest operas ever written. I highly recommend it to anyone. My father was playing a recording of it about 15 years a go, and it got me liking opera.


Love is a very broad concept which is described beautifully in Corinthians. I just discussed compassion in my last post, which of course is part of love. Here is what Corinthians has to say about love. Johannes Brahms sets the last sentence to music as an end to his unbelievable set of four last songs. "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7,13 These statements about love are just awesome. To me the first statement means that love is unconditional, and that a person needs to be loved for who they are. Each person is unique. Unconditional does not mean without compromise. Compromise within reasonable boundaries equals a loving relationship with another human being or even animal. Lack of kindness and jealousy serve no good purpose. Love can conquer those things. Arrogance serves no good purpose either, and it is no loving to look down on other people. Bitterness and hatred serve no good purpose either. Forgiveness is tough sometimes to practice, but it is loving. It is hard when a person suffers a terrible wrong, and the person who administered the wrong wants forgiveness. It certainly never fails. Somehow, that is a tough concept to grasp, isn't it? I can certainly think of moments when I have loved myself, another human being, or a pet and have acted based on love. It absolutely does not well. Anger does, unless it is constructive and comes from a place of love. Again, I hope someone got something out of this posting.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I am not the Dalai Lama, or Thich Nhat Hanh, nor do I claim to be. The concept of having compassion certainly has meaning for me though. Trying to understand what a person is going through if they are angry, sad, depressed in despair or stressed is what the concept of compassion means to me. Compassion for others that is. Compassion for self involves the same elements I just mentioned for having comoassion for others. I think having compassion for one's self is a hard nut to crack. I would say that having compassion for myself is harder for me then having compassion for others is. Learning to have compassion myself and others is a learning process, and an important one, and it takes patience especially for me to have compassion for myself. I tend to be tough on myself. Making a mistake, or doing something by accident can be a catostrophic event when I do it, or I just simply get into a negative mindset where I start attacking myself. I would never intentionally treat another person that way. A good perspective on being hard on yourself, is to ask yourself if you would treat another person that way. I should hope not. There are certainly times where I forget to have compassion for others. Especially when I think someone is being rude to me, a driver is going to slow, and so on and so forth. I forget quite easily as a matter of fact. The point of all this is that we are all equal, we are all human beings, and all we can do is do the best we can each day. I was starting to get into an attack mode on myself in my mind when I was driving home from Yom Kippur services earlier. I decided to have some compassion and not entertain those unrealistic thoughts. I had compassion for myself, and realized I was exhausted. Progress was made in that moment. If anyone who reads this is having issues with having compassion for themselves and/or others, remember that suffering is optional. I hope this was helpful to someone.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Charles Ives, The Man

The following text which Charles Ives wrote and set to music has made me curious about who he was as a man. I looked up Samuel Ramey on YouTube for listening pleasure, and happened to stumble on this poem and song, and was very touched by it's beauty. Ives was unique in that he could make a strong statement in a minute. The text is a tribute to the family dog that died, and the song may be the first he ever wrote. Check out this moving poem. "One evening just at sunset we laid him in the grave; Although a humble animal his heart was true and brave. All the family joined us, in solemn march and slow, From the garden place beneath the trees and where the sunflowers grow." Obviously, Ives had remarkable depth to him in order to come up with such a touching poem. Ives clearly loved his daughters, as shown by this poem. Ives was a business man during the day, and a musician at night and on the weekend. His buisness associates did not know that he wrote music. He was quite successful as a business man, but he always believed in living by modest means. He could have retired a millionaire, but he wanted to help the working man have life insurance. He was a family man, and making a good living for his family was very important to him. He said, " if a composer has a nice wife and some nice children, how can he let the children starve on his dissonances?" Ives was a strong lover of his country, and a humble man who did not seek recognition. His love for his country is evident in a lot of his works. As a matter of fact he quotes "America the Beautiful" in his second symphony. Ives loved to experiment with different sounds, and would not simply go with the trends and write "attractive" music. Unfortunately, his health began to go down hill in 1918, when he suffered a major heart attack due to diabetes. He lived 36 more years, but he stopped composing in 1927. He lost the strength to compose, and soon after retired from business because of his weak health. He was heartbroken when he could no longer compose. Supposedly, he went downstairs to his wife in tears, and said that he just could not do it anymore. A sad story for sure. Who knows where his composition would have gone had it continued. The same goes for Mozart, Bizet, Jimi Hendrix, Duparc, John Lennon, John Coltrane and many others. As a composer he was a big experimenter. For example he wrote a piece called "Quarter Tones" for piano. Also, in his famous song Charlie Rutlage the pianist has to use their fist at one point. He was nit a man who lacked a sense of humor. He wrote a song called "Slugging a Vampire" which is 35 seconds long. Also, he set texts in other languages such as "Feldeinsamkeit.". That text was set by Brahms before Ives set it. Ives does a remarkable job setting this text. Charles Ives was a remarkable man and musician, who put his family first. His legacy as a musician and man will always live on.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Autumn Is Here

Spring and summer sure went fast didn't it? I am wondering where they went. Now, it is October, and we are certainly into autumn which is when the leaves get old, and turn beautiful colors before they die. The leaves falling off the tree is equal to the circle of life as well. We all have leaves falling off the tree metaphorically speaking, then new leaves bud and we are reborn with new ideas. What I mean is that we have something going on in our lives, and then we outgrow it and move on, or drop something we should not really have been doing in the first place and move on. The leaves are aging now and beginning to turn. The leaves turning and falling off the tree is not a long process, so it is important to enjoy it as it is important to enjoy the moment. Season changes all have their beauty to them, and the leaves turning is a beauty which is hard to top, especially in New England. Autumn is on the horizon, and the sunsets are currently as beautiful as they come, and the moon is currently almost full. If there is any season that goes by the fastest, I think it is autumn. Autumn is only getting started right now. As I look outside everything is quiet and calm. Eventually the wind will pick up and there will be leaves all over the place, which reminds me about George Carlin's bit on baseball and football. He says "football begins in the fall, when everything is dying." I am not sure where that came from exactly, but I wanted to quote my favorite comedian. So, I did. I just cannot believe how fast time flies. It feels like it just keeps going faster and faster. I am completely in the moment while I am writing this blog, because I have developed an affinity for writing. It is important to try to enjoy every moment of everyday, because time goes as fast as the leaves turning and falling off the trees if you really think about it. October is where we are now, and that is when the leaves look their most beautiful. By the time November rolls around, they are almost gone. Then they do not return until early April. As I am writing this, I appreciate the simple things in nature more. When I am not present, I usually think about myself. Certainly not about the things in nature. Winter is up after fall. I am not a fan of the cold, but the earth must turn on it's axis, and life must keep going.

Darth Vader Complex

One of the most interesting characters in movies is Darth Vader, who was once known as Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader's life goes in a circle from good towards evil, then back towards good again. Anakin starts off as a confident little boy in episode one, and he is declared the chosen one because the force is so strong with him. When he was a boy, Yoda was against having Anakin trained because he thought his future was clouded. He also sensed a great deal of confusion and fear in the young boy. Both of these characteristics led up to him becoming Darth Vader. Obi Wan insisted on training him anyway, which did not work out too well. Anakin became arrogant, angry and impulsive, and did not listen to Obi Wan. Also, he got married to Padme, and marriage is against the Jedi Order at the time. Anakin's inability to listen and do what he was told screwed him royally. He was a conflicted man throughout his life with more power than he could handle. He is an incredibly complex character, who cannot control his anger. In Episode VI, "Return of the Jedi", Anakin's son Luke says to the emperor that his overconfidence is his weakness. That is Anakin's big problem throughout the saga. In addition, he has no patience at all. Lack of patience is always a problem, and it kicks Anakin's ass throughout his life. Also, he craves recognition and power, and therefore, is twisted by the emperor into believing that the Jedi are out to get him. Anakin's story is one of a troubled teen, who could have used therapy to overcome his problems. Instead his problems consume him. Like I said, he has zero patience and claims that Obi Wan is holding him back. He gets very angry about this in Episode II, "Attack of the Clones". Now, as I understand it, Jedi are not supposed to initiate an attack. Anakin goes in and attacks Count Doku anyway, and loses three forths of his arm. Also, a tribe kills his mother, and as a result he kills every single one of them. The injuries he sustains as the result of his bad karma are so bad that he needs the famous breathing advice to stay alive. Until the end of Episode V, "The Empire Strikes Back" Vader has a tremendous lust for power. The dark side is all about power. When he meets his son in "The Empire Strikes Back", there is a shift in his feelings of anger and hatred because he has feelings of love for his sin. His son ends up being his path back to the good side. That path is short lived, because he dies minutes after he turns back to the good side. In "Return of the Jedi", Anakin is redeemed, and sacrifices his life for Luke, because he cannot stand seeing Luke in pain at the end of Return of the Jedi. The emperor was striking Luke with force lightning, and sort of toying with him. He wanted to torture him a bit before he killed him. Vader grabs the emperor and throws him to his death, but as he is doing that, the emperor's force lightning destroys his breathing device, and protection which was keeping him able to walk. He cannot breath, and he cannot walk when Luke tries to carry him to safety. He dies very quickly after Luke takes the mask off. In death, he is redeemed and learns his lesson.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Joy of Singing

The art of singing is a beautiful art form which is intended to give the singer and the listener joy. Quite often I get all wrapped up in having a perfect technique, diction etc..., that I forget that singing is a joy, and a precious gift. Anyone who has any unique gift should use it as much as they can. Singing is an astounding art form, and that is why so many people come to hear singers of various genres. When people sing songs, or hear songs being sung, they are transformed to another realm. It is a singers task to express various emotions with their voices and their bodies, and to give themselves and the audience joy as a result. Singing is a joyful activity, but nerves often get in the way. Nerves serve their purpose if the energy is directed the right way. In my experience, I had nerves serve me both ways. When the nerves result in adrenaline which is positive, that rush is awesome, and the results can be a positive surprise. the other way around equals high larynx and a strangled sound, or not being involved in the emotions behind the text and music. It is absolutely astounding to think about what the human voice can do. How can a particular person's voice bring forth so much emotion in themselves and the listener? I am sure that there are a lot of people who have sensational singing voices who do not realize it. Do not be afraid to try, and remember it is a joy. Remembering that it is a joy, and that no one can bring you down except yourself is key. I often need to be reminded that it is a joy. Guess what. Remembering that singing is a joy makes us singers who think too much stop thinking too much. It does not matter whether people think my singing is good or bad. It only matters that I do not forget it is a joy. If I do forget that it is a joy, then it is an arduous chore.

Monday, October 3, 2011


This past July I was fortunate to have been able to spend 10 days in Verbier Switzerland as part of the Verbier Music Festival. Of course the music and Swiss pastries which I had way too many of were highlights. Verbier is a small town in the Swiss alps in the French speaking region of Switzerland. Being able to ride the tram nearly up to the top of the Swiss alps was an experience I will never forget. I rode up two levels to about 10 grand above sea level. I got off the tram and could not believe the beauty of what I was seeing. I could see down for miles. I could see towns, chateaus, and cow farms. Also, the clouds were a lot more visible and blended in with the mountain top. So, after my breath which had been taken away returned, I walked around a bit commenting to myself and continually saying holy shit out loud because it was so beautiful. As I walked around I saw sculptures of a duck and an elephant on the path. The sun mixed with the clouds and the temperature in the 60s was right on. At the top of the mountain, I could see snow cover which looked like a picture on a christmas cards, but it was real, not an illusion. The cow farms were an added bonus to the scenic views, I saw hundreds of cows and several sheperds with their dogs at work. The Shepherd's farewell by Berlioz began to play in my head as I watched the activity going on. I sat and closed my eyes on the bench where I was sitting, and attempted to meditate. Tears came into my eyes because I felt this incredible sense of joy to be experiencing that moment. The Swiss alps in Verbier should be one of the seven wonders of the world. I am so grateful that I got to experience such a wonderful, once in a lifetime trip to Switzerland. It really is important to be grateful for things in life. I am grateful for things such as that trip, my health, my family, my friends, any gigs at all in music, music itself, and most of all that I have this moment to write this blog. Now, I am writing and preaching gratitude. I am not a hypocrite. Quite often I am quite the opposite of grateful. I tend to focus on what I am lacking. That is all good if it is done in the right way. In other words I can focus on what I can do to improve the aspects of my life that I think are lacking. Sulking about it is as useless as I don't know what. You all can think of an analogy on that one. A friend of mine told me to smile. I hate being told to smile. However, it is a valid point. Smiling is a good exercise for the hundreds of muscles in your face. In addition, we all could be dead, so why be miserable like Eeyore? We are all alive and only get one shot at it. Why not be grateful, right? My friend Jim had his Verbier Festival shirt on earlier, and it made the sensational trip we took come to my brain. Thinking about gratitude is a fantastic reframing tool if a person is in a bad state. I hope this was helpful or inspiring to someone.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Line Between Constructive and Unnecessary Criticism

The line between constructive and unnecessary criticism partially depends on the person who is on the mound delivering the critique versus the person at bat. Personally, I can be an overly sensitive batter or returner when being delivered criticism. How a person takes criticism that is intending to be constructive depends on them. However, there is criticism which is harsh and unnecessary like a pitcher intentionally trying to hit a batter. Anne Midgette recently slammed Placido Domingo's conducting of Puccini's Tosca with the Washington National Opera. I am not advocating that he is a good conductor. I really do not know. She said that he sabatodged the performance. That is not constructive criticism. Mr. Domingo wrote a personal letter to Anne Midgette saying that her comment was out of line. She has the tendency to hit her batters with the pitches. Stefan Zucker does that too. He writes harsh criticisms of great singers. Check out his biography of Francisco Araiza for an example at Of course people are entitled to have opinions. I would write about what could be better about Domingo's conducting. I could say that the orchestra was too loud and it was hard to hear the singers. If I read that, I could go back and conduct smaller beat patterns to solve the problem. I did not like when Susan Graham transposed an aria in Don Giovanni, but I did not intentionally take a stab at her. I am way too critical of myself sometimes of myself and others. I try not to intentionally hit batters with my criticisms. I feel like Anne Midgette does that in her reviews consistently. Constructive criticism does not mean being polite and nice. A reviewer wrote that entrances were hesitant in a concert I was in with New York Virtuoso Singers. That statement by Allan Kozinn was the truth, and it was constructive. A comment like that is helpful, because I can learn to be more confident. How we take criticism is up to us unless it crosses the line. The truth can be told without intentionally hitting the batter.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Power Greater Than Ourselves in Music

The Bach chorale Break Forth, Oh Beauteous Heavenly Light from Christmas Oratorio was on my mind today. It is a popular chorale sung by millions of different choirs on Christmas each year. I spent time with my friend Holly, who I had not seen in fourteen years. Fourteen years since high school already! Time sure flies like a speeding bullet. So, Holly Westergren and I were reflecting on our high school years.
Especially on the pieces we used to sing in Princeton High School Choir. Works such as the Rachmoninoff Vespers, Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia, Lauridsen's O Magnum, Durufle's motets and Ride on King Jesus came up. We started singing the Bach on Walnut St. in Philadelphia. Holly started singing Break Forth, then I joined in on the bass line. Usually, I refuse to start singing in a situation like that. I have refused to sing for family, dates etc...many a time. I could not help but sing along with Holly this time. The unique beauty of this Bach chorale is impossible to resist. There are these select moments in music when I wonder how a composer thought of something so beautiful. This is the case in all genres of music, and certainly the case in this Bach chorale. How did he come up with that? This chorale gives me a chill throughout my body because of the energy it generates. The music speaks to me about coming together as a family, community, or country to forget about all our troubles and celebrate. We must keep music going on in the world. It saves lives and changes lives. Music is a power greater than ourselves. When I hung out with Holly, sang in the services, and sang in Carmen tonight, I felt that power. A higher power does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. I think this is the case with the affect that music has on the soul. Also, the healing power of it is undisputed. There is currently a strike going on with the stage hands in Philadelphia's music scene. It is effecting the events at the Kimmel Center, Academy of Music, and the Merriam Theatre, in that as of midnight last night they are closed. This is a sad situation, because people need the Arts more than we might think. Music and any other art form saves lives. If someone is sick or suffering, a performance of a great work like "Carmen", which is currently being performed at the Academy could heal them. For example, when victims of strokes are exposed to music, they have a better recovery and outlook on life. Music helps people with Parkinson's disease move their muscles more effectively. It calms people down when they are experiencing an emotional crisis. I listen to music when I am distressed, and it helps me. There is a true story about a man who was stuck by lightning who developed an affinity for the piano after his accident. Oliver Sacks talks about this in his book "Musicophilia." The number of things that music can do is endless. Robbing the people of Philadelphia and the rest of the world of these artistic events is a sad thing. I sincerely hope that this situation gets resolved. A lot of people, have worked countless hours to make these productions possible, including the stagehands of course, and many people have paid for these tickets and have looked forward to these events. Do not underestimate how powerful these events are.