Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Central State University Chorus in performance

Last week a beloved relative died, and I needed consolation. When I learned that a visiting university choir would be performing at Stockton, I decided it might be what I needed. I’m so glad I followed up on that impulse!

“Central State University” was confusingly generic, so I had to go on line to find out where it is located. The answer is Wilberforce, Ohio. It’s a Land Grant institution with about 2000 students.

The chorus was small, energetic and very highly trained. I’ve done enough choral singing to know that the human voice is a tricky instrument, and blending 25+ voices is a major undertaking. Director Jeremy Scott Winston is to be commended for his leadership. The CSU Chorus is wonderful! They are also wide ranging, singing in every style I can think of except maybe rap-grunge-metal.

The concert began with a processional. Being surrounded by music is so glorious! The Chorus entered with the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. A U-Tube post describes it as “the all time most inspirational anthem of faith and hope”. Yes.

More than half the work performed was familiar to me. I was delighted to hear selections from the Mendelssohn oratorio “Elijah”. “He watching over Israel” is a complex choral piece. “If, with all your hearts, ye truly seek him” was performed solo. It is such a beautiful melody.

I wish I had been able to keep track of the names of soloists, which were unfortunately not identified in the program. They were extremely talented.

Other high points were “Let There Be Peace on Earth”, “Impossible Dream” from the musical Man of La Mancha (aka Don Quixote) and “There is a Balm in Gilead”.

The only thing wrong with this event is that it wasn’t a sell out. Publicity had been spotty.

I got what I wanted from my evening with the Central State University Chorus – entertainment and distraction, yes, and also beauty and excitement and live exposure to an art form I particularly treasure, choral music. Thank you, Ohio guests, for the gift of your wonderful performance!

“God respects you when you work, but LOVES you when you sing!” Author unknown.

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“The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle

I read this 1912 classic because it was recommended by my son. Our whole family enjoys Conan Doyle, because the Sherlock Holmes mysteries are so perfect to listen to while driving. We need good books for long distance travel. It’s hard to beat The Hound of the Baskervilles when you need to keep yourself entertained for a few hundred miles.

Conan Doyle wrote all kinds of things in addition to the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, which he didn’t consider his best or most important work. He considered “The Lost World” an adventure story for boys.

And it is surely an adventure! Our hero impulsively joins an expedition to the Amazon in order to impress his girlfriend. Conan Doyle creates lively characters. I especially enjoyed Professors Challenger and Summerlee, scientists with big egos who argued about absolutely everything. The setting is also vivid. No wonder “The Lost World” has been so widely adapted, giving birth to five movies (1925 to 2001), TV and radio shows and (beginning in 1995) the whole Jurassic Park phenomenon – book, movie, arcade games, video games…

If you were stuck in a beach rental on a rainy weekend, finding this book on a shelf would be great! You could read it out loud and keep your whole family amused.

Piano Adoption

I’m downsizing! Or at least trying… It’s not that I’m planning to move, only that the arrangements and furnishings that have worked for so many years need to be re-thought for retirement.

Having a piano was fun, but a few years ago I injured my wrists, so I can no longer play. No one in my family needs a piano. I’d heard they can be hard to get rid of. This is probably true if you try to SELL one.

I offered my piano to my colleagues at work, who actually number around 1000 souls, many musically inclined. Half a dozen responded to my message. My piano went to a good home! The new owner’s grandchildren will be the primary beneficiaries. I was able to hand over a few beginner level piano books.

My advice – remember that a piano cannot be harmed by playing it! Pianos are made to be pounded. (Think about what you see at a concert performance.) They are not fragile! Children can be encouraged to express themselves.

A downsizing relative has offered me an electronic keyboard. When I need to pick out a melody or find a pitch, it will do the job.

“The Green Mile” by Stephen King.

My son, a Stephen King fan, knows that HORROR is not my genre, whether in books or movies. I’m such a wimp! Don’t scare me! I already suffer from enough anxiety.

Robert told me “The Green Mile” was more like fantasy. But I couldn’t read the whole book, I stopped before I got half way through. King is a compelling writer, and his tale of death row prisoners and executions in the Depression South was more than I could cope with. He created some great characters, especially the death row manager, who carefully eased the path of the miserable, violent men he ultimately executed. He narrates the story from the perspective of his old age.

What makes this “fantasy”? A condemned prisoner arrives who seems to have supernatural powers, a strange, poor, mentally challenged man who may accomplish miracles.

But I couldn’t face reading about another electric chair execution, so I can’t tell you more! Maybe I should check the Internet Movie Database for the plot. “The Green Mile” was made into a highly successful movie starring Tom Hanks.

Robert’s next book recommendation was considerably more cheerful.

“How Few Remain (Southern Victory)” by Harry Turtledove

As indicated in my blog post of March 24, 2016, I wasn’t impressed by Harry Turtledove, the “master” of alternative history (per Wikipedia). I decided to read this book (in which the South won the Civil War) because I overheard a comment that it was relevant to America under Donald Trump. The USA is portrayed as led by a hawkish and very stubborn politician who wages and loses an unwise war (to force the Confederate states back into the union.)

About 25 years after succession, the Confederacy is thriving but faces international criticism (especially from England and France) because of slavery. The United States, feeling a return of confidence after its defeat, invades the Confederacy and interferes (on flimsy grounds) with its purchase of Sonora and Chihuahua from Mexico. The CSA establishes military dominance and the USA suffers a second defeat. The CSA announces its intent to end slavery, but most antislavery activists suspect that little will change.

The “few” who remain refers to the generation of military leaders who went to West Point together and then fought each other during the Civil War.

Turtledove takes the liberty of putting real historical figures into his fiction, in this case Samuel Clemens, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln is the most interesting. Conveniently not assassinated, he is defeated for another term as President and wanders the country, speaking out on what we now call economic justice, supporting unionization and being accused of socialism.

I was just interested enough to keep reading this book, but Turtledove is not my cup of tea. I still like the idea of “alternative” historical fiction. Maybe another author will be more to my taste. Suggestions, friends?

“She Made Me Laugh – My Friend Nora Ephron” by Richard Cohen

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Nora Ephron is almost my contemporary, but the eight year age difference between us is, in fact, a big deal. Born in 1941, she faced a level of sexist chauvinism which was being challenged by the time I graduated from high school and headed out into the world. Ephron’s life is an interesting study in American feminism as it emerged after World War II.

I admit to being only sketchily familiar with her books and movies. I saw “Sleepless in Seattle”.

Richard Cohen, nationally syndicated columnist for the Washington Post, wrote about Ephron because they were best friends. Inadvertently, he provides insight into the New York City world of the rich and famous (and those aspiring to be…) There’s a little too much name dropping, but the affection that underlies the writing is unmistakable.

I think Ephron’s book Heartburn falls into the category of “guilty pleasure” fiction. It’s based on the breakup of her first marriage, which happened at a time when women were often advised to turn a blind eye to spousal infidelity. I can’t help but be disturbed by her fictionalizing her family (especially her children) so extensively. She was, according to Cohen, absolutely confident that she did no harm.

I believe Ephron has been compared to Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) whom Wikipedia describes as “poet, satirist and critic”. I read a biography of Parker and would describe her as brilliant but mean spirited. I think Ephron was equally bright and talented, but far more kind and generous.

If you enjoy biography and/or contemporary gossip, this book is a good read.