Sunday, May 20, 2018

Concert Day

Bow has met bass, performers have met conductor, the intrepid Dr. Joe Ceo, and in a few hours we will practice briefly, then take our turn on stage.

There are about 50 or 60 of us in the Reunion Orchestra, of wildly varying ages and abilities. Take the string bass section for starters. Our first chair is a professional bass player, a conservatory graduate and first chair of the Buffalo Philharmonic; he's about 20 years out of high school. Next is a member of the Lexington Philharmonic and longtime teacher who was in the youth orchestra a couple of years before I was. Next to me is a 2017 high school graduate who was playing his final concert with the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra this time last year.

Not that any of this matters. Playing music together banishes age and occupation. What's important is being in tune, on time and willing to give our hearts to the task at hand.

And of that there is no question.  We traveled from New York and Texas and California and Virginia to do just that.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Have Bow, Will Travel

I am usually an optimist, but not enough to pack my string bass bow in checked luggage on the flights from Little Rock to Lexington. The bow, and my concert black clothes, were stuffed into my smallish briefcase. Or, to be more precise, my computer, notebooks, journal, book and clothes were stuffed in the briefcase. The bow was resting on top of it as I roamed around the Charlotte Airport.

To back up a bit here ... The Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra is providing a string bass but I'm providing the bow for this weekend's musical activities. I'm so glad it's not the other way around, but the bow has presented some logistical challenges. It's too large to fit into a carry-on bag, which is why I was checking luggage to begin with. And it's fairly delicate, too, so it has been well padded.

Now the bow and the bassist (seems presumptuous ... but that would be me) are on their way to pick up the bass and take it to Bryan Station High School, where the rehearsal (and the fun begins).

Have bow, will travel.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

View from the Brow

Yesterday, for the "retreat" part of this work week in Arkansas, we drove an hour and a half west to Petit Jean Mountain. It was where the organization I work for began —  and a place that holds special memories for me.

I spent most of the day at a conference room inside, but there were a few minutes at the beginning and end of the day when I could walk to the brow of the hill and savor the view —  the big puffy clouds casting shadows on the fields, the hawks soaring high above the pines, the two mountain ranges that draw the gaze ever westward.

It was a view that captivated me decades ago — and still does. I thought about why. It's more than just the beauty, I think. It's also the promise and perspective, metaphor for a nation that once stretched its legs across a continent and took its strength from people and from place.


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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Down in the Delta

On Tuesday, my colleagues and I drove two-and-a-half hours south to see some of the work we've done in a small town called Lake Village.

It's a pretty little place, situated on the banks of the largest natural oxbow lake in the country. Before visiting I had no idea there were any oxbow lakes in the country, natural or un-.  Lake Chicot was formed when the Mississippi River shifted course 800 years ago. It was discovered by the French explorer Lasalle in 1685.

It was 95 degrees and dusty in the Delta (we were only eight miles from Mississippi), but looking at Lake Chicot cooled me off a bit. Enough that I decided to take a stroll along it and see the cypress trees with their knobby knees.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Into Arkansas

I've been working with Winrock for two years and am finally at headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. I flew here Monday morning, looking out the window at the bright sun and clouds, at  the green patchwork below.

When I lived in Arkansas years ago, I wrote an essay called "Out of Arkansas." It was a play on Out of Africa, the memoir by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen).

My move from Manhattan to a mountaintop in Arkansas seemed as radical to me as Karen Blixen's trip to Kenya must have seemed to her. And when I looked from the plane and saw the vast landscape below, I thought of the breadth of Africa and of the American West.

It's a liberating landscape for those accustomed to more cloistered, forested Eastern environs.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Good Night, John Boy

I'm remembering Mother's Days of the past, including my first as a mother, which was also my first day in the Virginia house.  I can remember another a few years later, including a meal at a now-defunct restaurant when the cleaning crew started sweeping around our table mid-meal because the girls had made such a mess — and we swore we wouldn't eat out again as a family for at least 10 years.

I can remember so many other Mother's Days with my own dear mother, and how I would sometimes have breakfast with her and dinner with my daughters.

Yesterday I hung out all day with the girls, laughing over old times and new times, buying and planting flowers, sipping Mimosas, sharing laughs and eating way too much yummy food. One of the highlights was when Celia unveiled this Mother's Day card, riffing on my fave show (from eons ago), the Walton's -- complete with Capehart stand-ins (including dogs and cats). We roared over this one!

Feeling so grateful this morning, so thankful that these smart, funny, beautiful young women are my daughters.


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Saturday, May 12, 2018

My Musical Dad

Today would have been Dad's 95th birthday, and he would have gotten a kick out of it. Imagine me such an old man, he'd say, with his trademark grin.

I've been thinking a lot about Dad and music as I practice for the concert next weekend. How he made sure Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff was blaring from the stereo, about his excitement finding the "Suite from Spartacus" in a bargain bin.

Dad grew up on church and popular music; classical music he found on his own. He never grew tired of telling me how: It was watching "Fantasia" that turned him on (and not in the way that my generation got turned on during "Fantasia"). He heard Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Symphony play Beethoven's "Pastorale" and Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" — and music was never the same.

In fact, Dad was on a committee tasked to find the money to fly the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra to a music educator's conference in Russia. Since the invitation was unexpected, he and the other committee members had only a few months to finance the trip. Dad used all his sales personality and charm on business and civic leaders — "our budgets were committed months ago," they demurred — and even on the U.S. State Department, the closest he came to a bull's eye. They were going to charter a military plane for us — quite a feat during these Cold War days.

In the end Dad didn't quite pull it off, but it gave him lots of stories to tell. Now Dad is gone, so I tell the stories for him.

(Photo: Walt Disney Pictures. Don't get me for copyright infringement; this is for my dad!)

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Friday, May 11, 2018

Why She Writes

Last night I watched the documentary "The Center Does Not Hold," about the writer Joan Didion. It chronicled Didion's chronicles of crazy episodes in our nation's history: Haight-Ashbury, Charles Manson's murder of Sharon Tate and others, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. But mostly the film is about Joan Didion's thinking on these things.

A Wikipedia article about Didion mentions a 1980 essay by Barbara Grizutti Harrison, who wrote that Didion is a “neurasthenic Cher” whose subject is always herself. Apparently, that article rankled Didion for decades. Of course, the essayist’s subject is always herself.

Almost none of us writing essays will achieve Didion's fame, but we can all do what she did, which she explained in her essay "Why I Write": "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means."

(In Didion's honor, a western landscape.)



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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Musical Dreams

I guess the notes were flowing a little better during my practice session last night (a guarantee that they won't flow well today!). Whatever the reason, I found myself wondering this morning if there is a community orchestra in the area.

And lo and behold ... there is! Not only that, but they have summer "reading sessions" where they invite members of the community to come and play with them. I will be in town for every one.

And so ...

I'm remembering what a big part music used to play in my life, how it's taken a back seat to schooling, working, child rearing and how ... it may not have to anymore.

First, I have to get through the Verdi and the Stravinsky. And then, we'll see ...


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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Walking Wait

Arlington's ART 43 bus is punctual enough to set your watch to — although I suppose no one sets a watch anymore. But through the months I've ridden the "Art 43" I've come to count on its regularity.

This morning was another story. I figured there was a good excuse, and there was. An accident on the route tied up traffic for miles. But I waited ... and waited. A small crowd soon formed.

What's more important, though, is how I waited. On a Metro platform you can pace but you can't walk. When you're waiting for this bus, at least in the morning, you can walk — because the bus makes a little jog around a short block, and if you walk clockwise around the stop, you'll see the bus in time to run for it.

All of which is to say that today I walked while I waited.

The walking wait (waiting walk?) is not the most restful walk I take. But it's better than just plain waiting.

(Rice paddies in the sun. I figure if the walk wasn't restful, at least the picture can be.)

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Joy in D.C.!

I'm not a big ice hockey fan — I don't know a check from a puck — but I know jubilation when I see it. And jubilation is the story here in Washington, D.C., as the Capitals advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 20 years.

I found out from a text from Claire, my hockey-loving daughter, who used about half a dozen exclamation points at the end of her message.

It's that kind of joy. As Washington Post sports columnist Dan Steinberg wrote,  D.C. reacted "about how you'd expect a city might react, if that city had been waiting for 7,000 or so days for a team to get to this particular spot, and if that city had seen this particular team come up short in this particular round against this particular opponent every particular spring.  There was relief. There was delirium. There was exaltation."

It's one of those wins that feels like more than what it really is, that feels like payback for living in a "swamp" where troubling political news combines with troubling Metro news (including the closure of four stations for 98 days next year) combines with killer traffic for a uniquely D.C. type of misery.

But today is different. It's May. The azaleas are bursting with jewel-tone blossoms. Pollen is on the run. The Caps may not make it all the way. But right now it's more than enough that they made it here.

(Photo: Washington Capitals)

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Monday, May 7, 2018

Practice, Practice, Practice

My daughters may disagree with me, but I don't recall bugging them too much about practicing when they were studying cello, clarinet and voice. I think I know why. I don't like practicing either, never have.

Now is no different. I wish I could say that practicing the string bass is stirring my soul and enriching my life. But truth to tell, I sandwich in the minutes around everything else, often in the evening when I'm exhausted. Sometimes I don't know whether I'm holding the bass or the bass is holding me.

This is good news, though. It confirms, for one, that I made the right career choice. I can immerse myself in writing or editing and the hours fly by. The minutes I spend practicing the bass do not.

But all the minutes will be worth it when I'm part of an orchestra again, contributing my own (I hope in-tune) notes to that swelling symphonic sound.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

Born in the Bluegrass


Yesterday, researching who I wanted to pull for in today's Kentucky Derby, I ran across a fun statistic. Seventeen of the 20 mounts in the race were born in the Bluegrass. The Lexington newspaper had all the birthplaces, many of them clustered in the Pisgah Pike, Versailles area near where my parents used to live.

I didn't know all of the farms (though I knew some, most notably Calumet, with its distinctive white and red trim). But I know all of the places, know the two-lane roads that wind to them, the way the Osage orange tree branches arch over their lanes. The roll and tilt of the land is familiar to me; it's what I grew up with, too.

Reading those farm names, I could smell the tobacco scent that would waft through the air in the fall when I was a little girl, back when the big auction houses were still there. I could smell the aroma of Lexington's own racetrack, Keeneland, an amalgam of spilled beer and turned soil.

Once these places were part of my external landscape, now they're part of my internal one.

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Headspace and Legroom

Children need roots and wings, says one adage. They need the security of home and family and the confidence and freedom to fly away from it.

It occurs to me today, riffing on this, that what I need now is headspace and legroom.

Headspace so I can vanish into a world of my own creation, beyond home, family and work.

Legroom because as much as I need the mental space, I crave physical movement, too.

It's freedom I'm after, both literal and metaphorical.


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