Sunday, July 9, 2017

Hard To Say Goodbye

So, it's 1960. Li'l Clemmy is 4 years old. He's playing in the front yard where his Momz can keep an eye on him. A boy from down the block comes riding up on a 2-wheeler. He notices Clemmy's training wheels and says: "You want me to help you learn to ride without those extra wheels? I'm Tony, by the way..."

And that was the day that I made my first friend without direct parental influence.

We hung out all through our elementary school years, and started to drift apart during Jr Hi. Different social circles and all... you know how it goes. On the rare occasions that we would hang, it always felt the same- like no time had passed. Sr. Hi was more of the same. Even though I was college prep and he was vocational track, the bond was always close.

I stopped out of college after my Junior year. Just burned out on tests, practicing, the whole academic scene. Came home, shacked up at the parents house and took a blue-collar job. Zero social outlets with all my shiftwork... and my HS pals were all still finishing up their undergrad careers. I finished a first shift day and was hanging at home, when there was a knock at the back door. There was Tony. "C'mon, man... there's someplace I want you to see." We hop in his old turquoise 65 Chevy Biscayne and ended up at the local YMCA.

"Follow me."

We went down the stairs to the basement level- somewhere I'd never been in all my years of membership.

"Take off your shoes; follow my lead..." Then he bowed deeply at the waist, and walked through the door. 20 people in Karate uniforms snapped to attention, and raced to line up on the center line of the dojo. They all bowed in unison and said in chorus: "Ready to learn, sensei!" While I was off at school, Tony had completed his karate training and was a certified 2nd degree black belt in Eugue-Ryu Karate- a very hard, direct, punishing Japanese/Okinawan style of martial arts. He and a HS classmate of mine, Michael Young were the teachers. I became a Dragon (the club's mascot) that day.

That dojo became my home for the next 7 years. Tony and Michael became my running mates. I'd found My Peeps. Karate tournaments, club-hopping, concerts, weekend jaunts to other towns... my early 20's were a pretty special time.

July, 1979. Tuesday. I had dinner with My Parents, and was planning to go early to Karate. My Pops was playing in the citywide racquetball tournament (senior div), and I wanted to check out a match before class. At the last minute, I decided to ride my bike instead of drive. The trip took an extra 10 minutes because of my decision. When I rolled up, there was a small crowd in front of the Y. Tony was there, too. He sees me, and walks me away from the entrance.

Bro- class has been cancelled tonight. Toss your bike in the back, and let's go for a ride." We drove in silence for about 20 minutes, and ended up at Bressler reservoir, about 4 miles west of town. As we sat looking at that placid body of water, Tony gently and compassionately informed me that My Father had died on that racquetball court not 20 minutes before my arrival (weeks later, it dawned on me that had I driven to the Y that day, I would have arrived at the exact moment My Father's corpse would have been hauled through the front door, and placed in the EMT van).

My next 2 years were a struggle for everyone who knew me. Without My Pops, I was rudderless. Angry. Mean. Violent. Self-destructive. And Tony was there, the entire time- pulling me back from the precipice of insanity, pulling me out of night clubs just before the fists started flying, rallying my Dragon brothers and sisters to embrace me and keep me near until I could find my footing again.

He was with me when I got married. He invited me to be with him when he married Terri. He invited me to be one of the first to hold and kiss his two angels, Joya Ann and Tyler when they entered the world. He held me up when My Momz passed in 1993. And he always had my back, no matter what.

And yesterday, at around 1:30PM, my very first friend in Life left us all.

Smart. Funny. Soft/sweet. Hard as nails. Wise. A poet. A philosopher. A warrior.

I'm not posting this as a bid to call attention to myself. I'm doing this as a tribute to friends/family who have made us who we are. I'm doing it to encourage you all to make the most of the relationships you have.

Because tomorrow is a promise that one day will not be kept.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Why David Bowie's Death Didn't Make Me Sad

I'm 19 years old. It's The Summer of '75.
I'm riding shotgun in "The Blue Deuce" -a '68 (?) Oldsmobile 225. Navy blue. White pebble-grained vinyl roof. Hood so long, you could play a set of tennis on it.

The pilot: My ace-boon cruising mate, 'Boogamain.'

Me and Boog went everywhere together. Inseparable. We had our own unique style as runnin' mates. Our own language. A 'simpatico' that often precluded the use of words at all. We could communicate entire paragraphs to each other with just a fleeting facial expression.

We're waiting for the traffic light at Market & Metcalf to change. First in line at the stop light. Middle of the day. 4 or 5 cars lined up behind us. This tune comes on:
"Boomf/dodaaadot, dodaaadot, dodaaadot- doodadooKAAAAIN... (X4)
{David Bowie's voice]: "Faaaame- makes a man take things over...."
...and I lost it.

Keeping my (outer) cool, I looked at Boog. Then I looked at the radio. Then I looked back at Boog ( with popped-open eyes), and said: "Daaaaaamn!"
As I was staring directly at him, I grabbed the door latch- and opened the passenger door. Boog instinctively understood... he reached over, turned the radio up to 11... and popped the pilot's door loose.
3 seconds later, Boogamain and 'B2' were dancing on the streets of Lima, Ohio... to David Bowie's 'Fame.'

Such is the power of Music.

Horns be honkin'
Folks be cussin' us OUT.
We didn't care. On that hot Summer day in 1975, David Bowie's jam stopped traffic in a Midwestern American town. For two full cycles.

Civic order: short-circuited.
When music interrupts life... it becomes Art.

Throughout that entire Summer, whenever Boogamain and I were together on the road (...and we were 'Road Doggs' a LOT that year...), we'd stop whatever we were doing... and dance to David Bowie. Dude even shut down a powerboat while I was water-skiing. When I heard the Panasonic hand-held Big Box blasting back from the boat... I started dancing- in the water ('s hard to 'bust stylish moves' with a big orange life preserver strapped to your torso...).

Such is the power of music.

For 40 years, I've paid homage to that moment in Life when Boog & Me helped Bowie stop traffic in a small midwestern industrial town. Every single time that tune comes on the radio, I 'stop, drop.... and roll,' yo. I was even late for a wedding gig in Ann Arbor because I pulled over on Highway 23 near Dundee, MI... and paid tribute to Bowie.

Such is the power of music.

This morning at 7:15 AM, Ella Bitchgerald woke me up to take her outside for her morning ritual. When we were done, I logged onto the internet- and learned that David Bowie had died.
Without a second thought, I YouTube'd 'Fame,' pushed it to my whole-house sound system...

...and this morning- even before my first cup of coffee- a 59 year-old man danced like he was 19 again.

Such is the power of music.

I'm too busy reveling in all that he shared with us to mourn what we can no longer have. We have 50 years of gifts from David. Now is the time for us to start truly cherishing them- and the memories they evoke in all of us.

Rest well, Maj. Tom.
'Ground Control' has your 'six.'

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

COURTESY ALERT: this is a long post. If you don't have the time or inclination, please don't feel obligated to read further. I'll totally understand.


After being cut off in mid-sentence 4-5 times, asked questions I was not allowed to fully answer, and being treated to verbal bullying and condescension in a frustrating 6-minute phone call that ended with me being hung-up on, I walked into Monroe Pharmacy today with a prescription I was trying to fill for my wife. Follows, my 2nd exchange with said establishment:

[Counter attendant]: Can I help you, sir?
[Me]: "I hope so. I'd like you to direct me to the pharmacist who was part of  a particularly frustrating phone call I had about 10 minutes ago."
[He, standing next to the attendant]: "That would be ME. As I recall, I specifically asked you if this was an original, first-time prescription being called in at the beginning of our conversation, did I not?"
[Me: "Yes, you did... and I tried to tell you that I didn't know-"
[He]: "And then, I asked you if you had an account with our store, didn't I?"
[Me] "Yes... and when I tried to explain that perhaps I did, and that my wife didn't- "
[He]: "And then, I asked you if the prescription was written on an official Rx form-  didn't I?"
[Me]: " (My God... it's happening again....) Yes. You did. And when I tried to tell you-"
[He]: "So- what's the problem, then? Let's see the scrip."

At that point, he extended his hand, palm-up... and did the 2-wag, "hand it to me" gesture....without even making eye contact with me.

I stood there, without extending that piece of paper even one inch in his direction.
In fact, I then flexed my elbow, sending the piece of paper upward... as if to say: "Psyyyyche!"

[Me]: "Oh, I'm sorry... you must be under the impression that you still have my business. I actually came in here as a courtesy... to tell you face-to-face why you've actually LOST my business... AFTER 20 YEARS. I don't give my money to people who treat me with arrogance and condescens-""

[He]: " Well... you're always free to take your business somewhere else..."


At that point, even the other employees stopped to see what might happen next.

[Me]: "Well... thanks for YOUR permission to take MY business somewhere else.... but you again interrupted my courtesy..."

By now, my voice is rising to the point that everyone within 20-30 feet can hear it... another 2-3 decibels, and the police may have been called, as I continued:

"I think I'll just go... RIGHT. ACROSS. THE STREET... and start giving MY LOCAL MONEY to the national chain*  that's pushing Your Mom & Pop shop OUT OF BUSINESS. It's something I NEVER do, when I have a decent local option. Know what, dude? You might be a good pharmacist- but you absolutely SUCK at customer relations. I won't spend another DIME in this dive of yours- and I won't even come in here to get the discounts when you hold your 'going out of business' sale. I'm done here. Good luck in the future."

[He, with a sarcastic tone]: Thank you.... 'sir.' "
[Me, with equal 'snark' in my voice]: "It was my pleasure."


I got sucked into an "Alpha Male" fight- with a total stranger I'd never seen before. In 20 years of doing business with this local establishment, I've never once before dealt with this guy. All of his personnel have always interacted with me well... until today- when I met this imperious, supercilious individual.  

"The customer is always right?" [smirks]

I worked in retail. The customer ISN'T always right. I've always known better, from personal experience. Sometimes, they're rude. Sometimes, they're overbearing. Most of the time, they're totally ignorant of the things you know, as a person 'in the know.' But I also know this: In a town of any size, customers have the option of trading where they please... and 'customer loyalty' is always fostered by a reputation of service and attentiveness.

In businesses/services that deal in human health, it's been shown- time after time- that those who actually LISTEN to their clients are the ones who routinely provide the best care/service. I saw it first-hand, as I watched one of my very closest friends run his father's drug store as the Primary Pharmacist/store boss for almost 5 years. In almost daily exposure to that arm of retail, I NEVER ONCE saw him treat a customer as I was treated today.


I HATE it when I allow others to bring out the worst in me. It diminishes my ability to control who I am and what I allow from myself as a person. I only share this with you all because it's the first time in over 2 decades that I've actually behaved like this in public, and I need to mark this date (personally AND publicly) so that I keep that part of me in check. Today, I knowingly and purposefully 'made a scene' in public.

My Parents would be mortified at my behavior today. I am personally mortified, as well. I was raised better than this.

Over the years, I've grown myself a long fuse... because I know that it's attached to a very big charge. I'm an ugly Human Being when my C-4 goes off.  Shit gets damaged when I get pissed. PEOPLE get damaged.

I don't want this for my life. I don't wish to be defined by this ugliness that lurks inside me. The throbbing in my head, the out-of-control feeling- that acrid, bilious taste in the back of my throat- all are reminders of the worst decisions I've ever made in my life. I came very close to reliving those days today. This dude was lucky. He's lucky because I'm now 57, instead of 27. Nobody deserves treatment like this... when he's only trying to conduct business and learn something along the way) during a normal day In The Life.

I was taught the rules of 'common courtesy' at the same time I was taught my A-B-C's. I honor My Parents' lessons as best I can in my everyday dealings. I do my best to treat everyone I meet with the basics of regard and decorum. I was also taught to not allow myself to be treated like someone's personal doormat. Today was one step over the personal line I draw for myself... and I took a stand.

Story Upside: I immediately opened an account across the street, was treated with courtesy and efficiency.... and when I returned after running the rest of my errands, got to drive away with my wife's prescription- in less than 2 minutes, without leaving my air-conditioned car... courtesy of their drive-through service.

To: Monroe Pharmacy's Head Pharmacist/Perhaps Store Owner (whatever your real name is...): this divorce didn't have to happen... but I'm actually O.K. that it did:

1. You taught me something about myself... something I can work on, to make myself better.
2. You showed me a Prime Example of whom I don't want to be, whenever I interact with others.
3.. You showed me that 'walking away from an asshole' immediately puts distance between me and the smell it usually produces.

Life goes on,

*National chain: CVS.

Monday, June 16, 2014

In Appreciation Of Fathers

1. [Me, at age 7]: "Dad... other kids in school talk about getting an allowance. What's an allowance?"

[Pops] "An allowance is something parents give their kids to teach them that the world owes them something. You'll never get an allowance from me. Instead, I'm gonna give you something better.... I'm gonna teach you how to earn a wage."

2. [As I was washing the car in the driveway, age 13]: "Don't miss a spot, boy. If you only clean the top, Your Bottom is still dirty."

3. [After inspecting the car, and before paying me]: "Yeah.... nice. This ride is as clean as the Board Of Health."

4. "If you want to save time and effort, do it right the first time. Thinking saves a whole lot of doing. Take it apart, and start all over again. You'll learn- "

5. "Folks will forget what you say in a day. They'll remember what you do forever."

6. Age 14. On my way to Indiana University for their Summer Music Clinics. I was free-associating (out loud) about how I'd shock the IU world with my mad-ass cello-workin' skills... and get a private session with Janos Starker (Google him for background)

[Pops]: "Do you believe that you're the best cello player of your age that you've ever met?"
[Me] "Well... yeah- I guess I do."
[Pops] "That's because you ain't met nobody yet. It's one thing to be the biggest fish in the pond. It's whole new game when you swim with the sharks. This summer will show you if you're ready..." (Pops didn't know a lick of music that My Momz didn't teach him... but he knew how The World worked-).

7. "People look at a great piece of art hanging on a wall and ask themselves: 'Who did that?' They'll also look at a half-assed piece of crap sitting in someone's front yard.... and ask the same damn question."

8. "When folks praise you, first ask yourself: 'why?' If your answer is all about you, you haven't figured out what they want from you yet."

9. "That (person) is so dumb, he couldn't pour water out of a boot if the instructions were written on the sole...."

10. "If you always settle for 'good enough,' you'll die wondering if you were 'good enough.' "

11. [After I personally, TRULY 'fucked up'- Big Time]: "This is a simple equation, son. The world needs Good People to move on. Either you get yourself right... or you'll just get left."

12. "The smartest man in the room is often the one with the fewest college degrees."

13. "Any job worth doing is worth doing to the best of your ability."

14. "Marry a girl who can cook and talk and think. You'll need all that good food just to keep up with her- and you'll never be bored."

15. I was 17. Pops & me were stopped at a red light. A young, 20-something slow-walked past the car at the crosswalk. Body be slammin,' yo. Hips swaying hypnotically, she was the essence of raw animal sensuality. She looked over her right shoulder and smiled at us as she cleared the lane. Those hips disappeared when we both saw the gaps in her smile.

[Pops]: "Damn. That was fun- for a minute."

16. "Take care of your tools. Everything you buy will eventually break. When they do, you'll need your tools and your brain to save money- and learn something new. Newer isn't always better."

17. I was 8 years old. My first 'paying gig.' (Remember- Pops didn't do "allowance"...) Pops and Uncle Babe (Oliver Wendell Freeman) had a 'sideline money-maker'... they hauled pianos and organs for a local music store. Dave & Mary Porter would sell the inventory, "3 Aces Moving" would deliver the treasures to all those happy suburbanites who'd bought into the 60's mantra: "A parlor isn't complete without an upright piano."

[Pops]: You have three jobs: help us cover the pianos with these packing blankets, fold the blankets after we deliver the pianos, and memorize the lines on this piece of paper.... you'll need them when you ring doorbells."

There was just something about an 8-year-old Af/Am kid dressed in 'work clothes' with impeccable manners (representing the store which sold you your new piano), that made well-to-do suburban wives 'open up their pocketbooks' to 3 generations of sweaty Black Americans hauling her newest acquisition into her parlor. Tips be flowin' free, yo.

18. I was 13 years old. After seeing My Father march through our town in support of African Americans to enjoy the same rights of citizenship as other Americans, on a Monday, I saw him come home from a day of incarcerating some of the very same people who walked hand-in-hand with him on that previous Saturday. When I questioned him about the apparent dichotomy, he said this: "Saturday was about all of us. Today was only about some of us."

Pops knew People.


These are just a few 'pearls' that I heard while growing up. RLC One was the kind of person who made a room extend its walls to accommodate him when he entered. He carried a charisma, natural ease and sense of true gravitas everywhere he walked. He was a man of true substance. The kind of man you'd want in your life, in any measure. 35 years after his death, RLC Two is still scrambling like a madman to catch up.


It's been 35 years since I've had a conversation with My Dad.

I have deeply missed those conversations.

If there existed some 'cosmic cheat/hack' that would allow me to converse with My Dad today, I'm certain that 90% of what he'd have to tell me would fall on the same deaf ears he talked to when we shared Time and Space together. After all, it took 30+ years for some of his wisdom to actually make sense to me now.

Still... I'd be grateful for the time... and the 10% I'd actually be able to use today. I'd live my life striving to glean meaning from the other 90%.

I miss My Dad on Father's Day.
I miss My Dad Every Day.


If you miss Your Dad like I do, take a moment to remember him fondly.
If you still have Your Dad, it's not too late to tell him what he truly means to you.
If you are a Dad, please understand the responsibility you have to Our Collective Future.

Be one of The Good Guys.
Be a good son to Your Fathers.
Be an example to The Young Ones who need your guidance.

This is how you keep Dads alive... long after they have left us.

Celebrating Father's Day as an orphan,


Saturday, March 19, 2011

What A Night!

So... where to begin? I guess we should start a few hours before the concert. Today the weather was glorious: 65F, light, fluffy clouds, warm sun... the perfect tonic after a winter that weighed down upon people like cold lead. We did some preliminary yard work, I took Bella for a nice long hike at her favorite preserve, and grilled dinner outside... with no parka, insulated gloves, gore-tex boots and thermal underwear! Blissful. I was very satisfied and content, as I headed upstairs to engage in my well-practiced pre-concert ritual.

I'm not a superstitious person, but I have learned to stick to a very rigid routine when prepping for concerts. I stick to a specific order of duties/events, and I try to NEVER waver from it. Why? several reasons:

1. It's efficient. A complex sequence of small but necessary duties is handled with a minimum of exertion or concentration. Items are where they are supposed to be. I can go about my cleansing/grooming/dressing routine virtually on auto-pilot, which allows me to begin focusing on the job I am about to do.

2. It's relaxing and reassuring. In a job when anything can happen at a moment's notice, the predictable nature of my routine gives me a sense of calm and control. Important, when the next big thing I do involves me only being in control of one thing- the way I play my cello.

3. It cuts down on unnecessary drama. Life throws enough of the Big D our way without warning or invitation (as you'll see later), so the last thing I need is to amp myself up scrambling around the bedroom for a lost set of studs/cufflinks, or trying to find a mislaid set of car keys. Order be a good thang on concert night, yo.

This evening, I decided to wear a super-fine tuxedo shirt that's fairly new to me. It was custom-made for someone who backed out after it was completed. The tailor at the shop thought it would fit me, and it did... as though he took MY measurements for it. Now look, guys- 'Zilla's not a huge clothes horse, but he knows a good bargain when it crosses his path, and he does like to look his best when in public... so you simply can't just walk away from a 200+ dollar tux shirt that will only cost you $50, do you? I thought not. Only one problem: the stud holes in this shirt are hand-stitched, and considerably smaller than the holes in the shirts I usually wear. After fumbling around with my favorite set of studs like a 3 year old who's just learn to dress himself last week, I decide to slap in another set of studs rather than grab another shirt. Routine: interrupted. The next set of studs get fumbled, and skitter across the floor, coming to rest beneath the bed. Now, I'm rattled. I fish them out from beneath the bed, and now my fingers have minds of their own. Feeding them through the shirt holes is akin to microsurgery while wearing welder's gloves. Bottom line- it took me 10 minutes longer to dress myself tonight... putting me behind schedule, and affecting my mood in a very unhealthy way.

Dogs may not be the smartest mammals on the planet, but they are intuitive and sensitive as hell... especially to their human care-givers. Tonight, Miss Bella decides that it's her sworn duty to velcro herself to Dad, and NOT LET HIM LEAVE until he reassures her that his entire life isn't falling apart. It was really kind of sweet- in an annoying, (s)motherly kind of way. More delay. I give her some strokes, speak to her in calm, soothing tones, and finally get her to move from the door. (It actually worked to help calm me a bit, so maybe My Girl is smarter than I've credited her...)

'Twas a high-tension week. Demanding music. Uptight MD. Rehearsals packed-with-info/micromanagement/detailed corrections. All at the end of a long, seemingly endless slog of schlock concerts to far-away places in nasty late-winter weather. This would have been a great time to have that one extra rehearsal, know what I mean? The evening's menu: Dr Atomic Symphony, by John Adams. Folks have been struggling with this piece privately for the better part of a month, just learning the licks, patterns and non-patterns. The piece coalesced much more slowly than comfort would have liked, and at the end of dress rehearsal, we only felt generally secure about the performance(s). Sibelius 7... every bit as demanding as the Adams, but with an entirely different aesthetic. And to round out the evening, Dvorak Cello concerto, b minor. Alban Gerhardt, soloist.

The Adams went well... though not without a glitch or two. The brass soloists stepped up and shone like diamonds. We really do have some top-notch players in Our Little Band... and they rose to the occasion tonight. I expect a much tighter and forceful performance tomorrow night, now that we've allowed the piece to settle in a bit.

Sibelius... (remember my earlier reference to 'drama?') Cello section/Desk2 is a tight machine of simpatico, honed from 5 years of trench warfare together. We are good colleagues, good travel companions to run-out concerts, and even better friends. We have our own coded 'language' and private jokes.... and we're not a bit shy at one-upping each other where the humor is concerned. All this bonding has made us a solid stand in our section. We carry our weight and help to anchor those near us, who might not share such a tight bond with their standmates. In short- we think and act as one on the job.

(At this point, it's important to take a directorial 'flashback' to the first Sibelius rehearsal. Our MD's custom is to 'play down' a piece on the first reh, to get a feel for what work needs to be done. Movements will be played non-stop, with general comments at the ends. Sibelius 7 is played continuously, from start to finish. Big Tech (my nickname for him) and Clemzilla (his nickname for me) finish reading page 6, scan to the right side of the score... and see page 9 staring us in the face! (Oh, those f'horrible handwritten Sibelius scores....) 'Zilla dives to his folder on the floor, pulls out his photocopied 'practice part' (times are tough- a regional orch must economize where it can), and tosses pgs. 7&8 onto the stand. Crisis averted... this is how we survived the week.)

Sibelius is running smoothly- cello section is well-prepared for this work. TeK & Zil successfully navigathe the chromatic "rising/falling waves on the sea" section, and the shared tension and intensity begins to subside at the botto of page 6. Our eyes scan to the right- and see page 9 staring us in the face! O...M....G... ! Nooooooooo! 'Zilla does the only thing he can- he waits for the 2 measure rest, and calmly shortens the music stand to its lowest height. The next 2 -3 minutes of playing were a combination of relying on semi-memorization, anticipation/approximation of pitches seen from roughly 8 feet away, and a whoooolotta silent (and feverish) praying. It must have looked a bit funny to the audience- two usually poised cellists rubbernecking with an exaggaerated upright posture, swaying like a couple of meerkats in the Kalahari desert. I hope we pulled it off without attracting too mutch attention to ourselve... we DID try to do it with all the 'cool' we could muster. Good thing Sibelius was followed by intermission... I needed the full interval to slow my heart compose myself, and mop gallons of flopsweat.

Second half: A Tale of Two Concerts. It was the worst of gigs, it was the best of gigs. From the moment he took the stage, Alban Gerhardt OWNED the venue. Our two rehearsals prepared us for the general architecture he'd planned, but kids... one must understand that true artistry is also subject to expression in the moment. Mt Gerhardt sucked us in with his very first utterance, and used that attention to guide us through a carefully-planned but amended script. Timing was microscopically different than in rehearsals; phrases were extended slightly or compressed slightly for added urgency.... this fine cellist told a spontaneous and heartfelt story to houseful of rapt story-lovers. The level of technical mastery he demonstrated made his playing seem effortless. Fortissimi were projected two blocks beyond the confines of the hall. Pianissimi drew the listener onto the stage with us, so that they might hear his intimate whispers. The Band turned itself into a single accompanist, that they might be better able to 'turn on a dime,' and give this man the level of support his exquisite music-making inspired. It was as knockout a performance of "The D" as I can remember witnessing in my life. I heard it afresh tonight... and I heard it without the excess and hystrionics we've all come to expect when Antonin's masterpiece is trotted out. A very special night indeed. Mr. Gerhardt's efforts weren't lost upon the masses, either. He was rewarded with a spontaneous standing ovation- the kind that looks as though every seat in the house was wired to 120 volts, and the switch just got thrown. 3 curtain call later, and we were all treated to a scintillating encore: The Prelude to Bach's 6th suite for solo cello.

At the end of the evening, I looked at TeK and said: "Folks came to a concert... tonight they got a clinic on how a cello is worked." TeK just looked at me and said: "word."

I'm exhausted. I think I'll go to sleep now.

(originally posted at ICS website 03/19/11 00:05:13)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Essentials For Survival

Today, I had to face an uncomfortable truth about myself: I'm under-educated.

7 years of elementary school
3 years of junior high
3 years of high school
6 years of college
7 years of intensive training in Eugue-Ryu Karate
17 years of intensive training at my chosen art form
25+ years in the field, learning something new every day...

...and I still don't know the things I need to get on in this world.

During a surprisingly long period of professional inactivity, I luxuriated in an passtime that many 'normal' Americans take for granted: I watched a bunch of television. Some shows were very entertaining. Some were a waste of time. Some made me want to actually practice- which should indicate just how wretched they were. I saw detectives, criminal behaviorists, forensic investigators, doctors, spies, widows, professional men and women, and families on Hallmark Holiday Movies.

And after all that, be they good shows or bad, one theme emerged during this past week. It all came crashing down on me in one moment of crystalline clarity: I lack two very basic skills that seemingly EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE CIVILIZED WORLD already possesses:

1. I can't pick a lock.
2. I can't hot-wire a car.

Folks- in less than 24 hours, I saw an Autralian medical diagnostic specialist break into a patient's apartment with 2 slim little pieces of metal and I saw a housewife hot-wire a car to save her abducted child from a murderous kidnapper!

Where was I when everyone else was acquiring these valuable skills? "Tomorrow's housewives" were sitting next to me in Mrs. Short's 7th grade English class, and "Future life-saving doctors" were in my Speech 101 didactic encounter group during my freshman year at the BeeGee. Did I just miss the memo that told me where the after-hours extracurricular lock-picking and hot-wiring seminars were being held? Why didn't Scot or Greg (my dorm mates)take me along?

People- many's the time that such skills would have come in handy:

*The time I took my dog for an 'emergency walk' just before rehearsal, and locked myself out of my apartment.
*The time when My Momz was laid up in the hospital, and I had to drive 1.5 hours to my hometown to pull her meds from the medicine cabinet for the doctors,... only to find that she'd changed the locks a month before.
*The time when I had to jet to a concert, and couldn't find my car keys. (I'd have gladly borne the risk of a break-in that eve, if only I could have hot-wired my Triumph Spitfire. Of course, if I actually possessed BOTH life-skills, I could have locked the damn apartment door anyway- knowing that I could always pick the lock upon my return. It's not like my stuff was actually safe- seeing that EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FREE WORLD HAD FREE ACCESS TO MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS ANYWAY...)

[at this point, it should be noted that in each of the aforementioned cases, I'd be using my "universally-known" powers for Good- not Evil....]

If I'm to believe what I see on TV, it's only by the grace of God or the innate goodness of my fellow man that I haven't been ripped off, carjacked, violated, broken into, and generally just plain ol' "punk'd" by my fellow man on a daily basis. If I had even one of these skills, I could at least make an attempt to break even. As such, I've been lucky. I've only been violated a handful of times in over a half-century of living. Perhaps more of us really are good than bad.

Or perhaps, TV is just jacked-up... and is the "vast wasteland" that Newton N. Minow coined it to be- just 5 short years after I was conceived.

For my part, I'm choosing to believe that Mr. Minow was right. The alternative is just too surreal to digest.

I think I'll stay away until 11:00PM, and tune in to Charlie Rose tonight... or maybe crack open a good book. If I don't make a stand soon, I'll be ripe for the new season of:

The Real Housewives of Flint, MI.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Artistry of Motion

There can be poetry in the movements of the human body. Bio-engineered for an astonishing array of different tasks both large and small, it is a marvel of physics and engineering. The human body in motion is what unifies two seemingly disparate activities as ballet and playing defensive end on a football team... and why I can enjoy watching both in equal measure.

There is another practice which seeks to unify the artistry of dance with athleticism to create "physical poetry"- the art of conducting a symphony orchestra. In addition to the aforementioned attributes, a true conductor must also :

** possess a thorough working knowledge of every instrument in the ensemble

** possess a thorough working knowledge of the role of each of those instruments within each and every piece

** possess a thorough knowledge of the architecture of the work- its basic structural components, all the details of its idiosyncrasies, everything

** be intellectually and artistically engaging. Knowledge of the score in itself isn't enough. He must bring a unique, credible vision of the piece and be able to communicate that vision to a compliant ensemble. The conductor earns his accolades on Saturday night at Orchestra Hall... he earns the players' respect and cooperation in the Rehearsal Hall.

and.. on concert night, he must be able to communicate his entire catalog of wishes silently... using physical gesture as his only means of communicating.

So... the conductor must indicate to his players: tempo, volume, style, mood, balance of voices, style of attack, phrasing, the architecture and architectural details, pacing.... (pant,pant)... all at the same time. For the entire time.

Given that stringent set of demands (of which I've only tapped the surafce), it should be easy to see why there is a paucity of truly impressive conductors on the circuit. Some are beautiful to behold, yet inspire nothing in the way of artistry. Others are towering geniuses and artistic interpreters par excellence, yet move about the podium like drunken Kodiak bears. Some are human metronomes. Some are charlatans. Most are adequate traffic cops.

The rarest of conductors can combine it all, for a truly spellbinding experience- from the grandest of ideals to the smallest of details- and can do it without even a hint of ambiguity. That's a gift few are afforded... and why it's so important to expose the world to such rare gems whenever and wherever they are found.

It is in the spirit of sharing Great Art, ladies and gentlemen, that I proudly present to you, Charlie (5 years old)... conducting Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring' -one of the most challenging and demanding works of the 20th century's Western Art Music repertoire:

Trust me... I've played under worse leadership.