Jacob was as one of our own…

I can’t remember exactly where I was when I first heard Jacob Wetterling had gone missing.  I do recall that I reacted with surprise and shock — to think that a child who lived in a small town could not ride his bike in safety sent a shockwave to me and my children, living in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis.  The bright eyes, the great smile –Jacob was a child who was and had everything we would want for our children.  Yet in an instant he was gone, and there seemed to be no answers.

I travel frequently past St. Joseph for family gatherings.  I had family members in the St. John’s Boys Choir in nearby Collegeville.  Each time I went to their events I thought of Jacob — and later also of Josh Guimond, who disappeared off of the St. John’s campus — and prayed for answers, and wondered about what had happened.  When the SJ Boy’s Choir put on Stephen Paulus’ The Star Gatherer, I wondered if it was really a story about Jacob.

But I will never forget turning on the TV this Saturday morning to the news that Jacob’s remains had been found.  Shock, horror, and anger that perhaps someone comfortable with monstrous behavior had sat on the truth for nearly thirty years, allowing the family to live in a tortuous rollercoaster.  The worst had happened.  Jacob was not coming home.  All the dreams and hopes his family had for him were forever shattered.  But then I found there also came a vague sense of relief.

My thoughts and prayers are with the Wetterlings.  We will grieve with them, and we will walk the last steps with them, and there will always be a warm spot in our heart for Jacob.


Lahti-da…yet another grand tour? :-0

As Monostatos’ Orchestra settles in briefly across the pond, thanks to yet another $1M+ check from possibly their largest current donor, is there any possibility that they will take stock of the problems they may have left at home? Hmmm…I’ll have to think about that…maybe not…

Now the MO happens to have yet another person ’embedded’ with them…(at one time it was Monostatos’ wife-at-the-time)…this time a woman who blogs under a title not dissimilar from this one…

Will anyone actually tell the truth about what they are hearing, or will music-lovers be encouraged yet again to listen with their heads instead of their ears?

And will there be — oh goody! — more Sibelius? (Even though everyone else also seems to be performing Sibelius right now)…

Guess we’ll have to wait and see…:-0

A fond memory…

My husband Donner was a wonderful jazz and blues guitar player, performing as a backup player in bands most frequently in NYC and Boston, including recording and playing with Donovan in LA. In fact, when I first lived in NYC I would stand at the door Metropole on Broadway on summer days when the door was open to listen to the wonderful music. Little did I realize that he was at times inside playing.

Music had been Donner’s life until he hit a dead end spiritually and emotionally. Once he came into recovery he considered his music something of a curse — a burden he wished to cast off. By that time, also, he was starting to deal with arthritis in his hands. I encouraged him to play with me, as I felt that could help him heal from the damage of the past. I did not often succeed, but on occasion I did. This is a video of “What Child Is This?” (Greensleeves) from the Die Zauberflote 2014 MOA Holiday concert.

Don’t sell yourself short…

Long ago I found myself in a very strange predicament; one that has had a lasting influence on my life.  I wanted to study the flute seriously and was looking for a good teacher.  By chance I was offered a ticket to a Minnesota Orchestra concert.  During the concert I found myself listening to some gorgeous flute-playing.  At one point the beauty and sonority was so compelling I found myself standing, in the front row of the first balcony.  I was mesmerized.  As the friend who had given me the ticket tugged my hand and I sat back down I thought ‘who is this person who can play like this?’  I learned that it was the orchestra’s Principal Flute, Sid Zeitlin.

Could I study with him?  Not likely, I told myself.  Someone at Orchestra Hall gave me his phone number.  I called him.  He wanted to hear me play.  I grabbed the piece I had been most recently working on, the Telleman Suite in A minor, and went to see him at his studio at the home he shared with his wife, who also played with the Orchestra.  They had a beautiful music room — very airy and spacious.

Sid barely came up to my shoulder.  I recall that we stood and looked at each other for a moment.  He had a round face, dark hair and a scowl that I soon learned was a frequent expression.  I played for him, not sure what to expect.  “Well, I’ll take you on, but that isn’t a very good piece of music.  Try this.”  He gave me the flute part to the Bach Second Suite, which I later learned was one of his signature pieces.  A bit puzzled, but obviously elated, I left.

During the next lesson he asked to see my flute.  It was a Haynes closed-hole model.  “You can’t use this,” he said.  “I’ll show you some open-hole flutes next lesson.  You can try them out.”  And so, before too long, I found that I had traded in my Haynes as partial payment for one of his Louis Lots, because I loved its sound.  However, I quickly found out the the issue for me was not open v closed-holes, but that the aperture on the mouthpiece was small, and it was not easy to hit the center of each of the notes.  It did not occur to me until much later that Zeitlin was, of course, aware of this and perhaps using it to test me.

I was surprised, as lessons progressed, that he did not recommend my working on any other pieces.  Nor did he talk about exercise books.  So I brought in what I had and he seemed uninterested in them.  Something didn’t seem quite right by that point, but I had no idea what it was.

Then I received a phone call from someone at Orchestra Hall, telling me that I would not be able to take lessons with Zeitlin, as he had suffered a major heart attack while playing tennis at a Northwest Racquet Club.  He was lucky to be alive.   I was shocked and concerned.  I let go.  I had no choice.  (In hindsight, I can see that I should have let go for good, as what followed became something of a nightmare for each of us.)

By this time I was starting to ask myself ‘if not him, who else would teach me?’  I also began to wonder where, other than this negative and combative orchestra environment that he was involved in, could I go to perform?  There seemed to be no alternative.

In short, I did call him some six months or so later and began to take lessons again.  But he was a changed man.  He seemed depressed and bitter.  He snapped at me.  He sent me on rabbit trails.  He refused to teach me orchestral excerpts (which was one of the main reasons, of course, that I wanted to study with him).  But he did teach them to the young woman whose lesson was before mine, I realized one day when I arrived early — so I sat in the hallway and learned second-hand.

Some time later Zeitlin called me to say that I would need to take my lessons at his new apartment downtown.  His marriage had fallen apart.  I felt uncomfortable at this, though I said nothing.  Soon after that he changed the lessons to a practice room at Orchestra Hall.

By this time I had learned that Zeitlin was a long-time heavy drinker, and that this could have contributed to all his problems.  I offered to go with him to an AA meeting, as I was in recovery myself, but he declined.  And then I came to realize that everything really had come to a dead end.

Not long after that I learned that Zeitlin had messed up a recording session and was likely to be fired.  Somehow, he survived.  Later I heard that he was definitely going to be fired, and for some reason I felt compelled to call the Music Director’s office and plead for his job for him.  (I am sure others did as well.) The stay did not last long, however, and then I learned he was out.  The next thing I learned was that he had died.  I still cannot describe just how I felt — this great dream I had for him and for myself had been brought to nothing.  The extraordinary tone and exquisite technique — with notes shaped like petals of a flower — had shriveled and died.  To Zeitlin’s credit, he had made sure I acquired a good headjoint for the tricky Louis Lot flute he had sold me, and so I play it to this day in his memory, and to honor the gifts that he was once so blessed to have been given.  But I carry a greater sorrow, that of accepting when there is nothing more one can do and the outcome is dismal.  I know that is an alternative I do not want for myself or anyone else.

In hindsight, I think the problems Zeitlin was facing really stemmed from the false mindset held by many (maybe even most) professional musicians – that they have to beat themselves up in private in order to ‘play with conviction’ on the concert stage.  When I would try to describe the beauty of what I was hearing him do, he would snap at me.  He could not accept appreciation, no matter how well deserved.  Nothing was good enough.  I learned he had more insecurities than I did.  The orchestral system at that time had forced him into a box.

Flute players are especially picky.  They often end up with what I call ‘poodle flute-playing’ — they are so concerned about the superficial technical aspects of their playing that they miss the depth of playing that could be available to them. This is a horrible environment.

As I am, as it were, the flute player on the outside, in the fresh air (hence ‘Rossignol’)  who is free from those constraints I can say, (while heaving a great sigh of relief), that constant self-criticism only tends to block the unique gift and voice (or muse) that each musician has.  We have to go from ‘good’ to ‘better’ in order to keep that channel open and to be honest.  We need to be in competition with ourselves, not our colleagues.  We need performance opportunities that are fresh.  We need music that is alive.  Hence, in my case, improvisation.  This is our alternative — the one that works…:-)




The “Classics Club”…:-)

classic booksWhen I was a child, growing up in Fairfield Connecticut, I was always surprised by the fact that my Father, who was a voracious reader and amateur historian, only had one bookcase full of books.  And those books, for the most part, were rather uninteresting, and I rarely saw him read them.  Instead, he went to the library and borrowed books.  His reading universe became unlimited.

Often, he read the classics, Plato, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Tacitus.  Though a metallurgical engineer by trade, he seemed to be looking for answers to the rise and fall of the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  He seemed to want to understand how the were World Wars came about.  It seemed to me he was looking for the and understanding of the forces that caused one nation to try to impose its will on another.  But, as the books came and went regularly, and he only discussed his ideas when asked, I was unable to form any meaningful understanding of just what motivated this quest.

I, on the other hand, spent a good deal of my childhood being ‘sent to my room’ (this was before the concept of ‘grounding’ became accepted).  My Mother, it seemed, took offense at just about everything I did, so I quickly found an alternative in the books I found in my room — in the headstands of the twin beds there, full of the Farley and other horse books — that I realized that just about any negative set of circumstances could be significantly improved by turning one’s attention away from the problem and into a book!  The library soon became my haven, and I regularly read a book a day.  Eventually I began to purchase books that I loved, and so my personal library began, and has continued to this day.

However, during the days when I was a single parent raising my three incredible children I worried about my Father and his lack of books.  By now my parents had left Connecticut for Flemington, New Jersey.  Their beautiful new home contained — you guessed it — only one bookcase.  Then I discovered the “Classics Club” — tan volumes with a red band and gold-embossed titles across the top.  I was delighted.  I decided I would save up and give my father these books, one at a time.  So, for birthdays and Christmas, and at other times as well, I would budget and purchase one of these books and send them to him.  I loved the thought that he would not have to think about borrowing them again.  As my Father later became ill, and then passed away, it comforted me to think that he had copies of these volumes at his fingertips.

And so these Classics Club volumes stayed on the bookshelf in the Flemington house, until my Mother decided to move.  She asked me what of theirs I wanted.  Of course, I said, “The Books!”  Oh no, I was told, they needed to be sold at auction, along with many other items considered to be of value.  To me those rather insignificant-looking books were not of much worldly value, but they were, in their way, irreplaceable.  No matter — off they went.

I spent such a long time feeling discouraged by this set of circumstances that I can hardly recall when I first had the bright idea of tracking down other copies of the Classics Club books.  And so I did, hunting them down in used bookstores and on Ebay, and putting them right near the living room window, at the top of one of my bookshelves, so that the sun hit them first thing in the morning.  Gradually, I added onto this collection.  And then, quite by chance, my Gardner cousin Mark (not from my Father’s McElwain side) came to my house one day and said, “I have the exact same set of books.  I’m going to be moving.  I’ll give them to you!” And so he did, and now I have had to move some of my Mozart books down a shelf to make room for all of the Classics Club volumes. Thank you, Mark.  🙂


An breath of fresh air, speaking out about some tangential things connected to the Mo-lockout