Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Just In

By Mitchell Hadley

Honor Guard Accidentally Drops Ted Kennedy’s Casket in Chappaquiddick Water

(BOSTON, MA – August 30) What started out as a solemn day turned tragic Saturday when the honor guard escorting Senator Edward M. Kennedy to his final resting place took a wrong turn and accidentally dropped the Senator’s casket off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island.

The incident occurred as the hearse was transporting Kennedy to Logan Airport in Boston for the flight to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington. While en route, the hearse’s driver inexplicably took a wrong turn and detoured some 100 miles, including a ferryboat ride, before winding up on the bridge, which spans the island's Poucha Pond.

At that point, the back door of the hearse suddenly and without warning flew open, allowing the casket to fall out, skidding off the side of the bridge before flipping over and landing upside down in the water, where it remained visible for only a moment before tipping downward and sinking slowly to the bottom. Several members of the honor guard repeatedly dove into the water in a desperate but ultimately futile attempt to free Kennedy’s trapped body from its watery grave.

Undertaker Richard Bruce, who supervised the arrangements for the late Senator’s funeral, remained cautiously optimistic. “Of course, this is a most unfortunate situation, most unfortunate” Bruce said. “We can only hope that the Senator’s mortal remains were able to find the air pocket that the Poseidon 3000 [casket] creates as a result of its patented hermetically sealed lid. It is, naturally, our finest model, and we are confident that its lacquered walnut and polished bronze exterior should be able to keep the water out of the plush velvet interior for several hours. Fortunately, we understand that the suit in which [Kennedy] was buried was made of wash-and-wear material.”

Sheriff Arch Brahmin, reporting from the scene of the accident, said a team of trained divers was preparing a search-and-rescue mission. He acknowledged, however, that the task would be made more difficult by the fact that the honor guard apparently waited sixteen hours before reporting the accident, passing several homes and a fire station without stopping to phone authorities and advise them of what had happened.

“It’s frustrating, sure, but you can’t prepare for everything,” Brahmin said. “After all, how many times does something like this happen?”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

This week we look at Verdi's massive opera Macbeth, originally written in 1847 and revised in 1865. Verdi was a master at Shakespearian adaptations (what a pity he was not able to pull together the King Lear he had so wanted to do), and with Macbeth he found a ghost story perfectly suited to opera.

In this performance from 2005, we hear Maria Guleghina as the murderous Lady Macbeth in the famous scene where she is unable to wash the blood from her hands, haunted by the memories of her past crime. Una macchia è qui tuttora! - "Yet Here's a Spot." The conductor is Bruno Campanella, with the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Dominick Dunne, R.I.P.

By Mitchell Hadley

Dominick Dunne, it seems, knew everyone and did everything.

He was a veteran of the literary circuit, a Hollywood producer, a constant fixture wherever the stars were on both coasts. He succeeded, he failed, became an addict, sobered up, and succeeded again. He could drop names with the very best of them, and the names he dropped were always heavy ones.

He was the brother of John Gregory Dunne, which made him the brother-in-law of Joan Didion. He was a survivor - the murder of his daughter and the lenient sentence her killer received propelled him into the area of true crime, which he made his own personal domain, and it propelled him back to the front pages.

He was a successful author, lighting up the pages of Vanity Fair with his accounts of the trials of the rich and famous. He was a familiar face on television, both on his own show on CourtTV and as a guest of Larry King’s. It was said that he was the people’s representative at the trials he covered, and each night he would tell you what he’d seen as if you were an old and trusted friend.

He wrote best sellers. The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. People Like Us. An Inconvenient Woman. A Season in Purgatory. He was a most outspoken critic of the O.J. Simpson fiasco, believing beyond doubt that Simpson was guilty of murder, a story he told in his memorable novel, Another City, Not My Own.

Dominick Dunne died of cancer today, at age 83. There is some irony in the fact that he died the day after Edward Kennedy, insofar as he chronicled the story of Michael Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy (widow of Robert), in A Season in Purgatory. I imagine he might have appreciated that irony, or at least acknowledged it.

I enjoyed watching him on television. I enjoyed reading his books. I’ll miss him, but the wonderful thing about words is that they have the power to live long after their authors have departed, and for that we can always be grateful.

Edward M. Kennedy, R.I.P.

By Mitchell Hadley

Late on the night of July 19, 1969, a car driven by Senator Edward M. Kennedy veered off a bridge spanning Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. With Kennedy at the time was a young woman named Mary Jo Kopechne, who had once worked on the campaign of Kennedy's late brother Robert. The two had attened a party that evening, and Kennedy offered to drive Kopechne to the ferry, where she could return to the mainland. Kennedy dismissed his chauffer and offered to drive himself. Witnesses say alcohol was served at the party.

Kennedy was able to escape from the sinking car, and made his way to shore while Kopechne remained trapped inside.

It was not Kennedy’s first encounter with trouble while behind the wheel of an automobile. While a student at the University of Virginia law school, he was cited for reckless driving four times, including once when he was clocked driving 90 miles per hour in a residential neighborhood with his headlights off after dark. His Virginia driver's license was never revoked.

After swimming to shore, he walked back to the party. At least one source reported that his route would have taken him past several houses and a fire station. He did not stop for help.

At the party he told his cousin Joe Gargin (a lawyer), and Paul Markham, who hosted the party, what had happened. The three men returned to the scene of the accident, and later said they tried for close to an hour to rescue Kopechne, without success. Gargin and Markham returned to the party, at Kennedy’s request telling no one about the accident. They assumed Kennedy would call the police, as all three men knew he was required to do.

Kennedy decided to return to his hotel. The ferry had stopped running for the night, so Gargan and Markham drove Kennedy to the crossing, where Kennedy then swam across the 500-foot channel to his hotel in Edgartown, where he fell asleep. He did not call the police.

The next morning he was seen talking "casually" to the winner of the previous day's sailing race. Later in the morning Kennedy, Gargan and Markham returned to Chappaquidick Island, where Kennedy made several phone calls from a payphone. He talked with his lawyer and with Kopechne’s parents. He did not call the police.

By this time the car had been discovered, and a police diver had found Kopechne's body. He later testified that Kopechne's body was pressed up where an air bubble would have formed. Before dying, she had scratched at the upholstered floor above her head. The diver said that had he been called within five to ten minutes of the accident, there would have been a “strong possibility that she would have been alive on removal from the submerged car.”

Police checked the car's license plate and found it was registered to Kennedy. When Kennedy learned the body had been discovered, he crossed back to Edgartown and went to the police station.

Mary Jo Kopechne’s corpse was whisked out-of-state to her family, before an autopsy could be conducted. Her family received a payment from Kennedy’s insurance. They never sued.

In later years, her family successfully fought an attempt to have her body exhumed and autopsied. Kennedy's family paid their attorney's bills.

There was speculation about the relationship between Kennedy and the younger Kopechne. The bridge over which Kennedy drove would have taken them not to the ferry crossing, but to a secluded beach.

Kennedy eventually pled guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and received a suspended sentence of two months.


Incredibly, the voters returned Edward M. Kennedy to the U.S. Senate, where he would serve for over 45 years.

Incredibly, he would ask during the height of the Watergate scandal, "Do we operate under a system of equal justice under law? Or is there one system for the average citizen and another for the high and mighty?" There was no trace of irony in his voice.

Incredibly, he would run for the presidency in 1980, challenging the incumbent Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. His campaign was tainted by Chappaquiddick, but moreso by his inability to answer succinctly answer a question posed by Roger Mudd on a television interview. The question: “Why do you want to be president?”

Incredibly, he would become one of the most powerful and influential members of the Senate, the elder statesmen of the Democratic Party, known to many as the “Lion of the Senate.”

A Roman Catholic, he divorced his wife and remarried outside the Church. He differed with the Church’s teachings in fundamental issues such as the right to abortion, which he repeatedly voted to protect. He continued to take Communion.

He struggled with brain cancer for several years. He was unable to attend the funeral of his sister Eunice a few weeks ago. He continued as the senior Senator from Massachusetts until his death last night at age 77.


In the classic Twilight Zone episode “The Hitch-Hiker,” Inger Stevens stars as Nan Adams, a young woman on a cross-country trip who, after barely avoiding an auto accident, starts to encounter a hitchhiker who keeps showing up at the side of the road, no matter how far along on her trip she may be. At first she rationalizes it, figuring he’d gotten ahead of her by hitching a ride with a faster car. Later, she becomes hysterical, doing everything she can to escape the hitchhiker and his haunting appearance. When she calls home, she is told that her mother cannot come to the phone - she is mourning the death of her daughter, Nan. Finally, she comes to terms with the inevitable: she hadn’t avoided the auto accident after all; it had killed her, and the hitchhiker is in reality death come to claim her.

We don’t know if Edward M. Kennedy continued to see the face of Mary Jo Kopechne after leaving that car on July 19, 1969; we don’t know how many times in the subsequent years her visage appeared to him along the side of the road, on the Senate floor, in a bar or restaurant, or in the mirror of his bathroom. These are things we can never know. We only know this: that after all the years of swimming and driving and running, the hitchhiker has caught up with him at last.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


By Bobby Chang

A recent "Last Call" segment on Fox News Channel's On The Record with Greta van Susteren was put as a video on the Web site for the popular Fox News programme. That segment of her messing with her Cheesehead reminded me of a joke I had with my then voice teacher (not my current teacher). She admitted being from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that she "came from a long line of Cheeseheads".

One admission she made to me was that as an academic quiz team participant for her high school, they went to New Orleans for the National Academic Championships. On the way from Michigan to New Orleans, she admitted to me, they traveled to Kiln, MS the hometown of a certain NFL legend, which is 115 miles from my (current) voice teacher's hometown of Laurel.

I cannot imagine in light of recent reports, what she would do today. But years ago, I had a joke (and made a hilarious photo alteration, but it wouldn't be apropos today) where that voice teacher and I both wore Cheeseheads. The video of Greta messing with her Cheesehead reminded me of the joke I had with that teacher about not wearing the helmet with horns in operas, but instead a soprano wearing a Cheesehead!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wish I'd Written That

By Paul Drew

I'm very easily pleased – only the best will do".

Opera star Bryn Terfel, misquoting Oscar Wilde, who once said "I have but the simplest taste – I am always satisfied with the best." Personally, I think I prefer Terfel's version.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Harder He Falls

By Mitchell Hadley

Here's a piece so good, you'd think we'd written it.

Before you think that's too egotistical, though, let us explain. Our regular readers know our habit of taking movies, television shows, or other stories, and spinning off our own versions - looking, in effect, for (apologies to Paul Harvey) "the rest of the story." (See this piece on Hogan's Heroes as an example of what we're talking about.)

Anyway, we've got this article from Tuesday's NRO, in which David Kahne combines two of our favorite genres - sports and politics - to come up with, as the header says, "the current travails of President Obama [as] run them through a Budd Schulberg prism." Schulberg, who died just a couple of weeks ago, wrote some of the hardest-hitting stuff of our time - What Makes Sammy Run, On the Waterfront, and one of the great movies on boxing and corruption, The Harder They Fall. (Which doubles as Humphrey Bogart's last movie.)

It is this movie that Kahne uses to study the presidency of Battlin' Barry Obama, “The Punahou Kid.” It's a fun piece, and as is often the case with fun pieces, it contains more than a gram of truth. Kahne skillfully tells the story of Obama's election, and then comes that "rest of the story" moment:

It took my agent all of two days to sell this baby to Fox, and it’s already slotted into the production pipeline right behind Mission to Pyongyang: The Bill Clinton Story. Naturally, I’m already at work on the sequel:

Fooled by his easy success, Barry chows down on burgers, vacations in Paris, takes up bowling, and even learns to fly-fish in Big Sky country. When his former opponent Hillary — old, fat, and out of shape, but part of his “Team of Rivals” — warns him to watch it, he packs her off to the Congo to look for Marlon Brando, and she has never heard from again. Meanwhile, a fast-rising challenger, Sarah “The Barracuda” Palin(Clint Eastwood, in the most daring role of his career), is making mincemeat out of various pugs, mugs, and tomato cans. Barry tries to duck her, but the cry goes up: Come out and fight like a man!

I’m kicking around a couple of titles: Trillion-Dollar Baby is one. Or maybe just keep it simple: The Harder He Falls: This Time, It’s Personal.

Read the whole thing. It's good. You'll want to remember it a few years from now...

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

Nothing too heavy this week - just one of the most delightful overtures in opera. It's the maginificent prelude to Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), and this is proof as sure as anything that Mozart was a genius. This rendition, from the PBS broadcast, features James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.

This Not Just In

By Mitchell Hadley

The headline in this morning’s paper read “He’s Here,” and based on the size and boldness of the type I thought for a moment it was the Second Coming, and I’d missed it.

But no, it was only Bret Favre un-retiring once again. Perhaps it should have read “He’s Back” instead, and been in a little smaller type; after all, it’s not as if we didn’t see this coming. . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bob Novak, R.I.P.

By Mitchell Hadley

I distinctly remember the first time I figured out what Robert Novak was all about. It was during a misbegotten youth spent in politics, and it coincided with the first time I saw The McLaughlin Group on television. Back then, the regular panel featured John McLaughlin, of course, along with Pat Buchanan, Morton Kondracke, Jack Germond, and Novak.

For some reason, I'd been under the impression that Novak and his writing partner, Rowland Evans, were more liberal. I'm not sure why I thought that, although Novak himself has mentioned that the duo became more conservative as the years went by; I was probably thinking of the Novak I'd read about in the early 60s.

At any rate, it didn't take but an episode for me to discover two things: first, that Bob Novak was no liberal; and second, that I liked his style. He understood that politics was a bare-knuckled business, and that you weren't going to get very far if you were afraid to speak your mind. (It reminds me of a piece of advice that I've always carried with me, from the first time I appeared on television, when the host said, in so many words, that if you had something to say, say it; don't wait to be asked for your opinion.)

He also knew what he was talking about, and he wasn't afraid to let you know it. (My favorite line of Novak's was when he would invariably tell McLaughlin, "John, you're wrong and I'll tell you why you're wrong.") With his chin thrust forward and his chest puffed out, wearing one of his typical three-piece suits, he would remind me of a bantam rooster.

Later, Novak would move on to CNN, where he starred on Crossfire. Different show, but the same Novak. I didn't always agree with him (the Gulf War was an example) but I always respected his opinion, and that fighting spirit of his seldom let you down.

It would be a mistake, though, to remember Robert Novak as "just" a television personality. He was, first and foremost, a reporter. He and Evans put out the Evans-Novak Political Report for over forty years (continuing alone after Evans died in 2001, although the name stayed the same), and for all that time it was must reading for anyone interested in what was going on inside the Beltway. His most famous moment of recent years was his involvement in the Valerie Plame affair, proving he could still find the spotlight. One of my favorite stories, however, was the quote he relayed from an unnamed U.S. Senator to the effect that Democratic presidential candidate (and later nominee) George McGovern was for "amnesty, abortion and acid," and that once middle-America found this out, McGovern's chances would be dead. Many people suspected that Novak manufactured the quote, but he insisted that it was genuine, and that the source had asked that his identity not be disclosed. This Novak honored until the Senator's death, when Novak revealed tha the source had been none other than Thomas Eagleton, who would go on to become McGovern's short-lived running mate. A political junkie has to love a story like that.

Novak wrote a wonderful autobiography with the marvelous title The Prince of Darkness. He reveled in that nickname, but it was hardly descriptive of the real man. His love for his family, his conversion to Catholicism, his belief in the founding principles of America, his infectious sense of humor, and the many loyal friends he left behind - all this provides evidence that, far from darkness, Robert Novak was a man who radiated light. May he soon see that eternal light in which he so fervently believed.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Orwellian Doublespeak

By Bobby Chang

While it's not directly mentioned in 1984 by George Orwell, it is well-believed that doublespeak is displayed in the famed Orwell novel of a Communist-style society that is envisioned by the British author. I have noticed doublespeak in our society, from the White House to even our churches.

Health Care Reform. To impose an extremist European-style socialism by forcing rationing of health care (see the long limits in Europe; I have had too many friends with severe injuries in recent years they would never be allowed treatment under proposed socialised medicine), strict limits on coverage, excessive regulation on what types of treatment would be allowed (such as the Oregon case where the woman was told they wouldn't pay for her life-saving medicine, but they'd be willing to pay for medicine to kill her), and worst of all, Big Brother watching over every move made by a person. They are willing to create a gaggle of Michael Schiavos to kill people on their own will. If seeing Terri die at her unfaithful husband's cruel hand in order to marry another man was cruel enough, how much worse can it be when it takes place the afternoon where you are seeing Terri's sister speak? How can health care reform work if they want a friend who has a dangerous growth in her spine left untreated and force her to die by taking euthanasia pills instead of fixing the problem by removing it?

Cash for Clunkers / Auto Task Force. The Sierra Club in 2001 began a "War on Sport-Utility Vehicles" that went after them for various reasons that do not make sense. Yet by the time of massive fuel price increases, they began winning the war. Now with the new CAFE standards, Auto Task Force, and Cash for Clunkers, liberals are winning the war against SUV's. Mid-size SUV's from Detroit are being phased out in favour of the hip "crossovers" which are small and mid-size cars raised to look like an SUV, but do not have the capability, towing (front-wheel drive), durability (no ladder frame), or safety of one, which Rush Limbaugh would call symbolism over substance. Cash for Clunkers is part of the war, since every SUV sent to the crusher has been replaced by a small car.

Worship. One of the most common doublespeak in our society today is in churches with the term "worship". It has, through the push of the major labels, become codeword for rock music in church. "Worship" as used in many choral books, now means "rock music," especially when "praise" is added, but often "modern". To an entire generation, we have seen "worship" has become a code for rock music. Churches have discarded sacred choral groups for modern rock bands to appease a generation that have lost touch with choirs and do not attend choral events. Whatever is left has been mostly rock music. Last month, I practiced some Die Jahreszeiten in preparation for the next night's practice on a piano at church. I saw a few suspicious microphones and monitors sitting at the foot of the pulpit and was not amused, wondering if this was a rock concert setup, and not church. I asked why this was a rock music setup. The youth responded by telling me this was worship music, not rock music. I informed them of the Orwellian doublespeak, and none of them changed their tone. They had been sold, hook, line, and sinker what concerned me -- they only know "worship" as doublespeak for rock music, and could not break through it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

For a little change of pace, here's the great Victor Borge with "A Mozart Opera."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bad Girls and Bad Boys

By Cathy of Alex

Gentle Reader:

I want to, I'm compelled to, add to an excellent post that my friend Mitchell shared the other day.

My buddy, Quantitative Metathesis recently gifted me with a copy of "Bad Girls of the Bible". She was a tad apprehensive when she gave it to me. Would I take it wrong? Would I think she was making a commentary on me?

She needn't have worried. I was delighted. I speak "Bad Girl". I even owned the album in the late 70's-scary when you consider I was not even 12 at the time.

I've seen the bumper stickers Mitchell is referring to. I agree with his interpretation of the reasons why people put them on their cars. I've also seen these bumper stickers "Subvert the dominant paradigm". I believe those bumper stickers are added by folks who think that the dominant paradigm subverts their right to liberality as they see it. I disagree. I think, the dominant paradigm these days IS liberality. Liberality of body. Liberality of thought. All of which has it's roots in liberality from morality. If anyone should be suberting the dominant paradigm, it should be Christians.

If anyone should be subverting the dominant paradigm of our culture today, it should be "bad" girls and boys-like you and me. Like most Orwellian beliefs these days: bad means good.

The Bible and almost all of Catholic history is full of people, women AND men, who were bad, who subverted the dominant paradigm.

The Woman at the Well who dared to engage a man (even if it was Jesus it was still a MAN at the well, which was also a subversion in and of itself since men did not hang out at the wells unless they meant trouble. Water drawing was women's work) in conversation. When you reflect that she was questioning with Jesus Himself it becomes even more subversive. The Woman with the Hemorrhage who touched the hem of Jesus' cloak, The Mother of James and John who had the audacity to ask that her sons sit at the sides of the Lord always, The Canaanite Woman who reminds the Lord that even the dogs eat the scraps from their Master's table, The Magdalene, the woman with the demons who some traditions maintain was a prostitute before her conversion, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar who anointed The Christ for His burial.

The Centurian who asks for healing for his servant and amazes the Lord with his simple faith (a statement we recite to this day at Holy Mass), the Apostle Thomas whose disbelief and stubborn refusal melted into the most powerful 5 words there is: "My Lord and My God", the Apostles as a group who were always failing (most spectacularly with Judas but they all did at some time or another), the man carrying the water jar in Mark 14:13; men did not carry water in those days. What was this man doing? Obviously, he was a sign and an obviously out of place occurance for the Apostles to follow to find the room for the Last Supper.

Christianity and Jesus Himself records these deeds well. Who knows but even Judas may have been forgiven? It's for God to say.

Those are some people of Scripture. Christian history has given us Martyrs in France, Japan, Korea, Mexico, China, during anti-Christian persecutions in those lands.

Clearly, these Holy Martyrs had faith, a faith that sustained them and told them that what was going on must be resisted. They could not, in good conscience, just "go along" with the dominant paradigm. They died for their beliefs.Christianity does not advocate subversion for the sake of subversion, because it's 'cool' to be countercultural..No, we must serve both God and Caeser, but if Caeser is enforcing laws that we cannot, as people of Faith, accept, then we resist.

If that makes us bad in the eyes of the world, than so be it. The eyes of this world don't matter anyway. THE eyes of the other world do.

Herod told The Magi to return to him with word of where to find this Savior so he could "worship" Him. The Magi resisted and did not return to Herod. Thus, they subverted the civil authority of their day so that the Infant Jesus would be safe.

Maybe Bad Girls and Boys do make history-the only history that matters.

Remember, though, there was one girl who was never bad: Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. I think it's safe to say, she made history too. In a big way. In a way, none of us girls, or guys, will probably ever top whether we are 'bad' or 'good'

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reflections on Die Jahreszeiten

By Bobby Chang

It has been a wonderful twenty-nine days from first practice to final concert for participation in the University of South Carolina Summer Chorus II programme, which is open to students and members of the Midlands community. The Summer Chorus programme involves a student conductor who is in the process of fulfilling a requirement towards earning the Doctor of Music Arts in Choral Conducting, with her eyes and ears being the capable eyes of an experienced conductor. In this, a retired professor at a women's college is mentoring the student conductor.

I have so many people to thank on his wonderful journey of these days. Conductors Lillian Quackenbush and Jennifer Adam have been exciting people. I can remember watching "The Quack" in many events at her church, often in bigger works such as The Seven Last Words of Christ and "The Three Sopranos (2002)," along with her work in the Midlands with the Washington Street United Methodist Church's Messiah annual singalong. Mrs. Adam has a great career ahead of her after she was able to calm me down the second performance (I was jumping the gun on a few times when Mrs. Quackenbush had us open our books; I hadn't sung choir in three years), but I just wish the battery on her evaluation video camera didn't die so often (I had to inform her of that a few times in a break). I have a great appreciation of our three soloists. Our Simon, bass Michael LaRoche, the first time I've seen him, and I have a greater appreciation of basses, as these "heels" (basses sing "heel" characters in opera; tenors are "faces") they sing "higher" than what I thought of a bass' vocal range was before I took voice lessons (if you've heard Southern Gospel music, a bass sings extremely low) it's just one of those solid basses with a career ahead. For Lucas, David Quackenbush, Pharm, (he is a pharmacist in the area, and Lillian's husband), we have a solid tenor and always exciting to see both "Quacks" when I'm attending a choral event, as I've seen him sing tenor in many events, and he sings at his wife's church, naturally! As for Hanne, it's nolo contendere, I am speechless about Serena Hill as usual. But there should be a good reason -- she is the reason I love classical music, as she has taught me to sing for a majority of the seven years since I started singing, and when Miss Hill has been the eyes and ears in your voice, you can't say enough about being mesmerized by her voice and how it gracefully glides and how you want it like hers.

I thank Rosemarie Suniga for being our accompanist on the wonderful Steinway pianos that grace the recital hall and our practice rooms. There's something different about a Steinway that makes it different than a Gibson Zhongshan that I've seen in churches and even the older pianos (my alma mater is now a Steinway school). When someone of her level shows the prowess that I saw, she's on the list that I can appreciate, joining a list of five accompanists I have worked in the past -- Marion Sprott, Allison Hilbish, Laura Sturgeon, Beverly Bradley*, and Rebekka Cleland. Having Miss Suniga ensures me that a karaoke machine will remain banned, as I left the choir at church for three reasons years ago -- first the material being offered came from the major secular publishers, OCP, and GIA, which is devoid of doctrine and theology, second, karaoke replaced the accompanist, with one case of a karaoke DVD (which kids think is better than an organist), and third, teens dancing to secular song replaced the choir too many times. Have to thank Steinway for the grand piano also.

Finally, I must thank my teammates on this team. How can you turn a classically trained singer who feared for his choral life into one who can blend with teammates and learn to sing in the greatest setting in the greatest works ever? Without my teammates, I cannot imagine if I would have sung this or survived the eight practices and all of you I cannot name in this letter. Thank you so much to my fellow singers.

"God of Life! God of Love! Infinite God!"

"Forever gone, forever past, the days of pain of sorrow, the wintry storms of life. There Spring eternal reigns, unending bliss and happiness, reward the righteous man!"

Those lines just stick out and are stuck in my head!


* Gibson Zhongshan was Baldwin Pianos; In 2001, Gibson acquired Baldwin in bankruptcy court, and did a partnership with state-owned Zhonghan in China in 2006. Two years later, Gibson shut down all Baldwin plants Stateside (most notably Arkansas) in favour of the Dongbei and Zhongshan pianos, and many are not happy with the move. I drove past Gibson headquarters in Nashville for a friend's wedding in 2007. As a personal preference, I would prefer an Steinway Musical Instruments to a Gibson.

* Mrs. Bradley was prior to this performance my only accompanist whom I had the opportunity to work in a choral setting. I also have worked with two other accompanists, but the one at church back home was too often shed by the choral leader for a karaoke disc, and I grew tired of it as my singing continued, with incidents such as having the choir pulled in favour of teens dancing to pop tunes, and for Christmas, teen puppet and dancers replaced the choir. As I learned more classical singing, I decided to walk away from the choir, having sung in choirs just twice afterwards -- the 2006 Messiah in Charleston (conducted by Stephen Distad, organist Beverly Bradley), and this production in question.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Opera Wednesday

By Paul Drew

Last week we took a look at Benjamin Britten's intense Peter Grimes. This week it's Britten's equally intense Billy Budd, based on the novella by Herman Melville with a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier. Like Grimes, there is a homosexual subtext to Billy Budd, but I don't think it's gratuitous; rather, it becomes an integral part of the plot.

Here we see a clip from the Metropolitan Opera in their 1997 production, featuring the great James Morris as John Claggart, Britten's personification of evil. This is Claggart's famous aria; interestingly, when I was talking with Mitchell about this, he mentioned that this aria was cut from NBC Opera's 1952 production. Why? Well, it's true that cuts had to be made in order to squeeze the opera into NBC's limited timespace (there were so many cuts, in fact, that NBC wound up calling it Scenes from Billy Budd), but the real reason was that NBC Opera mastermind Samuel Chotzinoff felt television could (and eventually would) streamline opera.

Claggart's aria, as is the case with many arias, was designed primarily to give us a glimpse into the character's thoughts and motivation. Chotzinoff reasoned that television, with its ability to offer close-ups and other special effects, would be able to convey emotions and thoughts more quickly and effetively - a kind of opera shorthand - rendering such long scenes unnecessary. I don't think he was right then (and neither did Britten; he was furious at the cuts NBC made, leading to a profound distrust of TV's ability to broadcast opera), and I don't think he's right now. This aria, which Chotzinoff thought unnecessary, has come to be seen as one of the opera's greatest moments. You be the judge.

A Place For Classical Music - Are You Kidding Me?

By Bobby Chang

As classical music's sources keep dropping it seems, I found classical music can be found on a channel you might not expect you'd see it.

The Big Ten Network.

The program? Northwestern Campus Programming.

Are you kidding me? A network devoted to sports of one conference is airing classical music?

I am not kidding, but it's a good thing. Big Ten Network is a channel that airs not just sports, but all programming that originate from the conference's schools. Northwestern used their Big Ten time to air a classical music concert from the school. Might we see Big Ten Network become a source for classical music as the institutions air classical music concerts during assigned Campus Programming sites?

Imagine original science research, literature, history, music, and other wonderful information from the universities airing on the Big Ten Network to keep people educated and informed about the wonderful information, music, and theatre that today's pop culture society forgets. Maybe it seems the other conferences should look at such programming.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Well-Behaved Woman

By Mitchell Hadley

One of the more popular, and dumber, bumper stickers you see nowadays says, "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History."

Now, I suppose it's hard to argue with this; after all, look at the evidence. Lucrezia Borgia was a poisoner, or so legend tells us. She wasn’t very well behaved, and she made history. Eva Perón was a string-pulling despot – she wasn’t very well behaved either, and she had a musical written about her.*

*Come to think of it, so did Lucrezia – the eponymous opera by Donizetti, which was much better than Evita. But that's a subject for some future Opera Wednesday.

Queen Mary was so famous they named a drink after her – the Bloody Mary – which suggests she wasn't exactly a Miss Manners. Lizzie Borden, Imelda Marcos, Jiang Qing – all of them famous enough to enter popular culture, none of them what you would call paragons of model behavior. And we haven't even mentioned Madonna or Britney.

Are we sure these are the role models we want for young women?

I submit that the greatest trait of women (and men, for that matter) who make history has nothing to do with how well-behaved they are, but that they're countercultural. Mother Theresa, Florence Nightengale, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir, Saint Therese; these were women willing to fight for something they believed in, women who had faith in themselves but also had faith in something greater than themselves, women who reached high but did so with humility. Counterculturalism means breaking the mold, rather than breaking rules. These women, and many like them, didn't rebel against culture: they transcended it. And in doing so, they changed the world around them.

In my opinion, it's no mistake that the people who sport these purple bumper stickers have chosen to focus on behavior rather than the transcendence that comes from counterculturalism. To start with, let's be honest: if you're talking about people not being "well-behaved," then that must mean they've "misbehaved." And if you look at the women (and men, for that matter) who have changed the world for the better, you see something profoundly different from “misbehavior.”

Misbehavior isn’t an adult trait. It’s a sign of immaturity, something adolescents do. A temper tantrum is misbehavior. Talking back to your parents is misbehavior, and you'd usually get sent to your room without dinner for it. Chewing gum in school used to be misbehavior, although I suppose that's pretty tame today. The time-worn response to misbehavior used to be to tell someone to "grow up." However, since Americans today seem to have entered into a perpetual adolescence, I guess we can’t be surprised that misbehavior no longer carries the stigma it used to.

But the idea that "well-behaved women seldom make history" is a perfect catchphrase for this generation. It's short and catchy, and it's totally devoid of any logic whatsoever. It's the kind of phrase that people can feel good about. They can't explain it to you, but it makes them feel good, and in the end isn't that what's important? If there's one thing Oprah's taught us, it's that feelings are everything. And if you have this bumper sticker on the back of your car, or perhaps on the door to your office, I have no doubt that you feel good about it.

These people want to avoid the true rammifications that result from being countercultural. It doesn't simply mean being a contrarian, and it's not as easy as SpongeBob celebrating "Opposite Day." It often calls for deep and profound self-examination, and results in a commitment that not only transcends culture, but becomes a life-altering experience. It may mean you give up your friends, your harmless vices, everything that you enjoy and that you think is important to you. It calls for sacrifice and self-discipline, which we know are hardly the traits of one who misbehaves. It's not easy, and many times it doesn't "feel good," and worst of all others might not be able to see you doing it, so that you won't get credit for it. That's why you won't hear these people talk about it - not when it's easier to simply, well, misbehave and call attention to yourself. Sacrifice is so, you know, grown up.

Perhaps some day these people will get it, but I doubt it - they're too busy feeling good about themselves. In the meantime, the well-behaved women - the women who seek to transcend the culture - well, they probably don't have time to think much about it. They're too busy changing the world.

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