From August 2014

Tuesday Discovery – Sorry, It’s a Day Late.

This week’s Tuesday Music Discovery features an immaculate artist who was little known outside of France and sadly left behind but a few recordings.

Germaine Thyssens-Valentin was born Maastricht in the Netherlands in 1902. She studied at the Royal Academy at Liege under Isodor Phillip and Marguerite Long, then under Gabriel Faure at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1924 she married Paul Valentin and hyphenated the two last names. Her marriage brought about a lengthy hiatus to her career as she stayed at home to raise her five children.  She resumed her career in 1951 after twent-five years of absence from the concert stage.

She was the first pianist to perform all of the piano works of he teacher Faure in a series of concerts.  And today’s recommendation is a disc of Faure’s thirteen Nocturnes reissued on the Testament Label. These recordings were made in 1956 and were re-issued in 2002. It is my ceaseless delving into the music bins of thrift stores that brought me this delightful hour and twenty minutes of music for the astronomical sum of $1.50 American.

Ms. Thyssens-Valentin plays with a gorgeous and sonorous tone that is well captured in these mono recordings. The folk at Testament always have been very spiffy with their re-masterings and this is certainly no exception. I have always adored Faure’s music for its understated emotions and calm serenity.  It has been written that Faure lived a charmed life and that his music reflected his happy existence. This elegant, reflective and sometimes elegaic music proves that theory.  If you can find a copy of this lovely disc, you’re in for over an hour of delightful quietude.

The release is accompanied by an excellent program booklet in English, German and French.

Testament MONO SBT 1262 79:50


Germaine Thyssens-Valentin

Tuesday Discovery – Ben Howard

My utter weakness for sultry British boys with James Blunt-like angst in their voices aside,  Ben Howard, whose 2011 debut album Every Kingdom I just very belatedly discovered, is a welcome addition to my growing list of favorite Indie songsters.  Singable tunes, clever lyrics and atmospheric orchestrations are the selling points of a young artist with an outstanding sense of formal structure and well, some damn catchy tunes.

I have to interject here that as much as I am enamored with his music, his website drove me nuts. I have never seen anything so difficult to navigate and so full of well, nothing. The home page has no navigation tabs and I had to find the other pages by way of the Google search engine entry. There’s no bio and no real information about the artist or the music. The merchandise offered is only available from England and in British pounds. It’s not a very world friendly place. Fortunately, I found the vinyl on Amazon!

That aside, I have found myself listening to Every Kingdom over and over again and getting lost in the dreaminess of Ben’s voice. Since this is an older release and I am sure it’s been well reviewed, I shan’t give you a blow by blow description. I will just say that Ben Howard is a musician with immense talent and something to say. If you haven’t availed yourself of his music, check it out. It’s available in every imaginable format!

Ben Howard

Some Stops Along My Spiritual Journey

One of the by-products of my recovery from alcoholism has been a renewed desire to explore my faith and re-evaluate my spirituality.  In Alcoholics Anonymous, we are committed to turn our lives and will over to the care of God as we understand him. Some people like to refer to this god as their higher power, some people profess the faith of their upbringing, others change from one tradition to another, others still create a higher power of their own out of whole cloth.

My personal journey has led me to where such journeys often lead, to books. And after reading quite a lot about Buddhism, about the history of the Christian Church and about what several branches of this church actually teach, I have had to call my whole concept of religion into serious question.

If we come from a church going family, we are taught a list of dogmas early in life that we are simply expected to believe. For example, we are taught the Nicene Creed and that we should accept its words without question. But we are never taught about who wrote that creed and why, and that there were decades long controversies over its content and that dozens of other creeds were written and proclaimed and dismissed and fought over.

We aren’t taught that the divine God-head status of Jesus wasn’t officially conferred upon him until well more than three hundred years after the crucifixion nor that the Catholic church split between the east and the west over the very question of the nature of Jesus in relation to God.

We never consider that there were far more documents written about the works of Jesus and the apostles other than those that made it into the book that we call the Bible. Why do we know nothing of the relationship between Jesus and his earthly father Joseph? Surely someone had some memories of those years between Jesus’ appearance in the temple and when he began his ministry some twenty years later. Then there are the fairy tales about Mary’s immaculate conception, limbo, purgatory, venial and mortal sins and the infallibility of a man in a white dress and ruby slippers.

It’s not that I mean to simply take cheap shots at people’s faith. I thoroughly understand the need to believe in something more powerful and more creative than ourselves. But I must call into question the blind faith that so many have put in a belief system that has been made up as it went along for the sole purpose of keeping a few powerful men in control of the the minds and behavior of the masses.

For now, I have taken to exploring just how I understand God and trying to divine through personal experience how he works in the world and in my own life. I can’t not believe that I am protected by a benevolent creator who guides me into not only good things but into a pure and meaningful relationship with himself. But I also have come to understand that this relationship is of the most personal and private nature imaginable. It is not guided by fears of punishment nor a set of rules and regulations that were set up by some ancient council to guide my behavior toward some punitive and political agenda.

My guiding principle is this: that I must be good and honest and kind to my fellow beings and never cause them any kind of harm or suffering.

That is my new starting point, and I have set about to discover again just who this God being is and how his representative on earth in the person of Jesus, whose teachings I can gladly accept plays a part in my faith. But I want to take the time to try and learn  just who this Jesus really is and how he might speak to me in his own voice, not in the tired diatribes of a manipulative and power hungry institution called a church.

On Listening from the Inside

The tragic death of Robin Williams is beginning to be talked out and the comments are becoming redundant. But the untimely passing of this great artist by his own hand bring to mind some thoughts that I think are worth sharing.

I won’t pretend that Robin Williams was my favorite actor of all time or that he changed my life or that he was my best friend twice removed. Such presumption is unseemly and an affront to the memory of a great man. What I will reflect upon is that Mr. Williams was a one of a kind artist; the kind with genius, generosity and heart. These qualities are rare in anyone and Robin had them in spades.

I read a post on Instagram where some armchair Dr. Phil called his suicide selfish. Such a comment belies an ignorance and an arrogance that I find intolerable. To berate and belittle someone’s suffering is beyond reprehension. Besides, what could Mr. Williams have possibly gained by taking his own life other than an end to the pain that had plagued him for years and was well and publicly documented?

It is a shame that it takes the demise of a cultural icon to call attention to our need to slow down and disconnect from our devices long enough to hear the cries of someone in need. In a world that now fits conveniently into the palms of our hands, a world in which we have instant access to practically all of the recorded knowledge of our species, we often fail to listen to the voice of the person next to us. And in failing to listen, we fail to hear. And in failing to hear we fail to learn. And in failing to learn we fail to act. And in failing to act, we simply fail.

Today, I don’t just mourn the loss of a great talent and a great humanitarian. I mourn our collective loss of real connectivity, that connection that exists only in the personal and analog bond between one human being and another.

In the film One Hour Photo Robin William’s character soliloquizes about the wonder of a single photograph, about the underlying message that accompanies a person’s desire to aim a camera at another person and make a record of his existence. Years later, those millions of anonymous pictures, whether they appear in a box at a flea market, on a funny greeting card, or in a museum, say one thing. They say “Look at me, I was here, and for at least one moment in time, someone loved me enough to take my picture.”

Thank God that we loved Robin Williams enough to take his picture over, and over and over again.

Farewell to La Cage aux Folles

Today is a bittersweet day.  At three p.m. the curtain will rise one last time on Georges, Zaza, les Cagelles and all the gang.  Even though after thirteen performances and five weeks of rehearsal I am a little weary of the tunes and can practically quote the entire show from memory, I am sad to see my first theater project in over twenty years fade into history. It has been a truly wonderful experience.

I guess what I really want to say is thank you so much to Lon, Doug, Logan, Matt, Rob, Anthony, Ricky, Kris, David, Matthew, Erin, Victoria, Cameron, Carlos, Chris, Anna, Eddie, Kristy, Hope,  and all the crew for letting me be a part of such a splendid experience. And to my wonderful orchestra: Randy, Christian, Carlos, Curtis, Koryn, Kristen and Chris, thank you so much for making this such a fun show to play and conduct. You guys are superb musicians and I promise that you are all my official “A-list” for any future show I might be in.

The theater is a home. It’s a family. It’s not just a place of glitter and fake walls. Anyone who has ever been in a show knows that the community that has dedicated itself to entertain, motivate, inspire and move you is also the community that cares deeply not only for its art, but for its own. I had forgotten after some twenty years away just how much I love actors and musicians. As Shakespeare said, “We are the stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep. ”

To those of you who got to see the show, I hope that we were the stuff of dreams. To all my friends in the cast and crew, you’ve been a dream come true. And as we put this show to sleep,  thank you, all of you,  for letting me back into your wonderful world.