Choir Concerts

Fremont 73Rehearsal for December 2 and 3 performances.

It’s holiday performance season, so last weekend we had a concert on both Saturday and Sunday (which you can watch here and here). We had a brief performance yesterday, in Livermore, with the whole choir as a warm-up to the Nutcracker and the women as chorus during part of the ballet itself. We have a performance next Saturday with the Fremont Symphony and then D. has been roped into singing with a madrigal group on Sunday at the retirement home associated with the San Jose Mission. And then concert season is over until February!

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We are really looking forward towards the week of Christmas, just to do nothing. We’re tempted, of course, to go somewhere exotic … but then we remember that everybody really wants the week off, and services are really wonky during the holiday, and that we keep telling ourselves that it’s a bad idea to go anywhere over Christmas. But we’re tempted nonetheless.

D’s work has been rather chaotic, with multiple changes in management and with the company announcing all sorts of news. We need the break to just relax and do nothing, maybe ride the bicycles through the wilderness trail system, take some pictures.

And, of course, we need today to make more fruitcake, as most of the last batch has already been eaten!

-D & T

Midweek

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SPARROWS

I never learned to tell one from another—
swamp, field, song, vesper—all scraps
of drab: rust, dun, buff, tan. Some streaky-breasted,
some not. We hear the flutter of wings, look up,
then yawn, ho hum, a sparrow. No rush
for binoculars. Like the poor, they are always with us.
Look at them flick and flit in this dry meadow of foxtail,
switchgrass, goldenrod; every leaf, stem, and seedhead
burnished in the dying light. Maybe they are
the only angels we get in this life. But the very hairs
on our head are numbered, and the father knows them all
by name. Each sparrow, too, has a song—no flashy
cardinal selling cheer, no sky-blue jay’s ironic
squawk, no eponymous chicka-dee-dee-dee. Just us,
the unnoticed, gleaning what others have left behind,
and singing for all we’re worth, teetering on a bit
of bracken at the edge of a wild field.

~Barbara Crooker

A fable. A parable. Or, a true story

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It was the Mozart solo she’d had her heart set on. A simple kyrie, appropriate for ten-year-olds, but the rising descant over the chorus made her feel unnameable things, and she wanted to sing it with all her heart.

In parochial schools in those days, there wasn’t much else to do but participate in the arts. There was no prom king or queen, no dances, no competitive sports. Instead, the boys took piano, and the girls played the flute – or, at least it seemed like everyone in her grade did. Twenty-some girls on flutes, and not a one of them with the courage to do something original, like learn the French horn. But, it was what it was – middle school in the 80’s.

The Kyrie was the first real classical music they’d ever done, so out of the mundane realm of kids’ songs they’d done before. Everyone was aware that they were in the presence of Grown-up Music, and acted accordingly. Desire to show themselves as grown up – and sing that descant – was intense. Her choir teacher knew she wanted that solo, knew she was a soprano who could consistently hit the right notes, but, weighing his choice by scales she could not read said, “Well, sweetie, we’ll give this solo to X. We’ll save a nice, juicy Spiritual for you.”

But, she didn’t want the Spiritual. She wanted the Mozart.

♦ ♦ ♦

In college, she was to remember this moment when visiting home on a weekend to sing with an ensemble. The rehearsal was early – the music was lackluster, and the director was getting desperate as the singers’ yawns increased.

“Sing it more black,” the director urged her, finally finding both scapegoat and fix.

She stopped singing altogether, bewildered. “What? What does that even mean?”

“Well… you know,” the director gestured vaguely. “More black.”

She vanished behind a brittle smile. “You mean, with more of a swing? With more of a backbeat? With more syncopation? What?”

She kept her voice even, because she had learned it did no good to scream.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward to a progressive party in San Francisco, where, armed with cameras, teams of teens and twentysomethings were on a scavenger hunt. One of the requirements was for participants to take a picture of themselves on or near a stage. Half the group pressed to simply go to Max’s Opera Cafe and take a group shot with a singing waiter. Another vocal male found a jazz bar on one of the piers, and insisted she go inside, take the mic, and ‘scat.’

“Scat?” she echoed, for a moment setting aside the breath-stealing idiocy and horror of making an unsolicited performance in a private club.

“Yeah, scat,” he said, “Like Ella Fitzgerald. You know…scat!”

This time, embarrassment came mingled with shame, as the entire group began to wheedle. “No, you guys. Really…no.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fast forward even further, to singing with a quartet, in which two of the members – white males – donned sunglasses and capered to the spiritual style hymn in the style of the Blues Brothers. Fleeing during a break, she called her sisters, asking them what to do, how to act. They stood and listened while she laughed, tears streaming, face so hot they evaporated. “But, why am I embarrassed?” she kept asking. “They’re behaving like jackasses, and I’m embarrassed? I feel like they’re making fun of me, and it’s humiliating, but why am I the one who is feeling …stupid?

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The shame didn’t make sense, but by then she had learned that few things did, when casual racism was added to the mix did. Musically, it meant that people assumed she wanted – always – to sing gospel music, even though she did other music well. It meant that people assumed she could break into Janet Jackson improvised choreography, that she could imitate the vocal rhythms of Bobby McFerrin on a whim. It meant that instead of who was in front of them, someone whose eclectic tastes ran from the weird to the classical with many stops in between, all they saw was myriad aspects of Other combined into a single person, on whom they could glue myriad of labels, none of which were hers.

It was sometimes exhausting.

♦ ♦ ♦

We fast forward one last time, but our time machine is about out of steam. Now see it has limped to a stop at chamber rehearsal, where a gleeful last-minute addition means another entry into the program, another song to be learned. “Oh, it’ll be quick,” the director encourages the panicky singers. “It’s just two parts, in Swahili. Uh, just read the pronunciation as is — I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“It’ll be fine.” A startling phrase, after the lengthy lectures about pronouncing German as to not “sound like hillbillies.” Unexpected, after the long-winded arguments about “church Latin” vs. classical Latin pronunciations. Shocking, that an entire language is mischaracterized (the people are Swahili; the language, Kiswahili) and shrugged off as “nothing to worry about.” As the translation was cooed over, in ways the translations of European languages were not (“Ooh, how sweet!”), she found herself, once again… conflicted.

The composer’s name was American, and a thorough search uncovered no African translator. Deeper research revealed that the composer’s translation didn’t match a word-for-word translation of Kiswahili words, that the tune was from a Nigerian harvest song. There was no citation as to where the words came from, no African educator or musician listed. She feared that they were singing an imaginary lullaby, with imaginary text, the rocking 6/4 tempo convenient but false. This was music selected by an intentional community made up of good people, people whose stated goals were to bring parity, inclusiveness, and justice to the world – yet they easily diminuitized the importance of a tribal people and its language as “cute,” but ultimately too insignificant to merit concern or further study.

Perhaps, as was implied, it wasn’t that important, in a world where wrongs of greater significance loomed large. Perhaps it was merely good enough for an American winter festival – not exactly religious, Christmas, not exactly non-religious, Solstice. Not exactly meaningless… and not exactly meaningful.

Or, perhaps it was as infuriating and confusing as everything else she had ever encountered.


Edited to Add: Readers will be gratified to know that speaking up helps. The director phoned a friend in Kenya, determined that the text is maybe Nigerian and not at all Kiswahili, and promised to do due diligence to find out what he could, and add his findings – or lack of such – to the program notes. Intentional communities such as choirs and churches must be intersectional in their inclusivity, and must think through the many ways we as people can belong to various communities, and do our best to respect them all. It’s tricky sometimes, but if we draw each other back to the road when we wander off, it can be done.

Non-Photogenic Food and Bicycles

Lasagna

Sometimes, food just isn’t that attractive. It’s a sad reality, and probably the reason why our entire photostream – 34,214 pictures as of today – contains just two pictures of lasagna. The one above suffers from being an unattractive specimen (although quite tasty, thank you). The one below is obviously from a restaurant (at The Blue Lagoon, in Iceland) but we feel it’s cheating just a bit because it’s not really lasagna, it’s layers of eggplant pretending really hard that they’re lasagna. But, it’s vegan – our first experience with vegan lasagna many years ago… And now you can get it practically everywhere on this end of the state.

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As the week begins, D. will be cycling to work for the first time. Well – for the second time, as we made the trek there and back yesterday, to see how it would go. This is the first time in maybe ten years we’ve had bicycles, and we went for something much more rideable than our previous cycles. They’re low enough to the ground that even the shortest among us can cope, they have lots of gears for hill-climbing, yet still let us sit up straight, and cruise.

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The ride in to work takes about 10 minutes, just having a leisurely cycle. These are designed so the rider sits upright rather than hunching over the handlebars. They’re also designed to really keep on rolling, so you don’t have to pedal constantly to keep going anywhere. They’re rather like the bicycles of childhood, and we’ll be enjoying taking them out on the weekends as well.

It’s time to go bake cranberry orange bread/cake to take in to work tomorrow. We’ll save aside a few slices for ourselves, in celebration of our 23rd anniversary.

-D & T

Oakland Museum of California

Once again we went to the Oakland Museum of California … and failed to make it through the whole thing. This isn’t even because they keep changing out the exhibits, either – this is because there’s just so much there, and it’s all so fascinating!

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We met up with one of D’s former coworkers there, had a good wander, and D and J had a good chat about all of the craziness that working in biotech seems to entail. For example, D has now had 2 layers of management removed from above him (in less than 3 months) so he currently reports directly to a VP. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, but both D and J have job options and good names in the business, so they’re not worried exactly … but the chaos has both of them wondering whether they want to stay in this industry much longer.

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On the other hand, with Halloween coming up there will be a pumpkin carving competition at D’s work and he’s going to see what kind of pictures he can get. Hopefully people will dress for the occasion.

Have a good week!

-D & T

Christmas Choir Concert

Our choir is having a Christmas concert, December 2nd and 3rd. We are (as always) required to sell tickets. Please let us know if you’d like to come and we’ll be happy to have you along! (You can buy tickets through us, or online, but if you buy from us then we’ll get rid of the 20 we’re required to sell.)

We’re told that the Sunday concert is always more full than the Saturday one, by the way. We hope to see you there!

-D & T

Gum Wrappers & Silver Linings

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There are banks of giant Maxfield Parrish clouds blowing up just now, while we have a pause in the rain. Like most Californians, we are doubly grateful for the precipitation which clear away the last of the smoke. The fires were ghastly and not just for those who lost loved ones and property. For those of us breathing the smoke hours away, it produced some of the same anxious restlessness as the oppressive heat wave; trapped indoors, we checked the news upon waking each morning, hoping for some change, and for news from dear friends in the North Bay. (Everyone is well – even those for whom the fire damage stopped seventy-five feet away from their front door, which is miraculous when so many lost so much.)

To make an anxious situation more fraught, T was diagnosed that week with multiple overlapping autoimmune disorders. What was thought to be a wildly early onset of osteoarthritis turned out to be something we’d never even heard of – too many consonants, most of them with the same -myositis suffixes. The symptoms list was long and horrible. For a while, the smoke in the sky seemed to match the smoke in our minds, as we struggled to see past the moment. But, smoke clears, as it always does.

The premise of the fairly stupid but beautifully named Silver Linings Playbook (it was a novel, and then a film, and apologies if it’s your adored favorite) was that a man who had come away from a stint in a mental institution was going to focus himself on the positives in the world, in order to avoid a relapse. Adjacent to the secondary and tertiary plotline nonsense, this seems like a reasonable goal – to accentuate the positive. It actually becomes easier when one does this on purpose. T remembers working as program co-director for a Youth Director at summer camp, and always having on hand during campfire programs wads of the horrible Bazooka Joe bubble gum, so she could handily unwrap a piece and insert the cement-hard, sugary sweetness between his teeth, to remind him inaudibly to keep his jaws clenched if he couldn’t say anything nice. The bad jokes and cartoons in the wrappers are still a favorite of hers to this day.

Deliberate, mindful silver-lining seeking.

The stairs in this new house are a bit steep, with risers a crucial three-quarters-inch higher than the US standard 7 inches vertical. Both T and D remarked on how dire that extra lift could be, when one is tired or in a hurry, but both quickly became accustomed to the extra lift, and even fond of the clatter of uncarpeted stairs. While racing isn’t possible every day, it is now an automatic mindfulness to be thankful on the trips when it doesn’t hurt.

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Sometimes it takes a lot to remember to be grateful for everything.

While there is nothing to cure autoimmune disorders, there is management. Several of the drugs under consideration are immune suppressants – possibly some of the same ones T’s sister is on after her kidney transplant at eighteen. Some of the drugs have mind-boggling side effects, and we are struck with extra compassion for our little sister, who is making the best of a bad lot of medications. We have more options than she does – including the option to delay medication altogether until there’s proof of irreparable harm – and so see our increased empathy as a silver lining, too. The girl is a trooper.

And finally, probably the funniest silver lining is that with these various autoimmune diseases, the body produces copious amounts of …collagen, that building-block protein of connective tissue which is prominent in skin and bones. It’s also what gives us hair and nails… and right now, T, whose horrible nails have always split and peeled, and which she has kept short her entire life – right now, she has the longest, hardest nails she’s ever had. Mind you, she can’t pick things up reliably – she’s as graceful with them as an 8th grader wearing ’80’s era Lee Press-On nails, but she’s delighting in buying ridiculous nail polish and tarting herself up each week like a dance hall floozy. Polka dots! Stripes! Questionable color combinations! She’s looking forward to amazing hair next – of course, Prednisone, one of the drug options, also makes it fall out… but we’ll enjoy it while we can.

Silver linings, friends. Silver linings edging the clouds in these dark days. Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, was timely this week. May we all remember light triumphs over darkness, every time.

Happy Weekend!

New Website Hosting

For all of you out there who read this in a feed reader, apologies if you’ve just seen a whole bunch of our posts reappear: we’ve changed our hosting provider and gotten a new URL ( hobbitsabroad.com ). For everybody else, you’ll likely not notice any change, as all of the content that was hosted on Sonic is now hosted on LaughingSquid, at the new URL (well – you’ll notice that the site loads a million times faster than the old one, which is why we switched).

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Enjoy these boats, for your troubles.

-D

Olive Tomato Garlic Bread

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THIS BREAD. THIS. BREAD. OH MY.

OK, we’ve found something wonderful in including sundried tomatoes in our olive bread. And, no, there’s not a recipe – go play with bread, that’s what it’s for.

This bread includes garlic-stuffed green olives, olive oil, Kalamata olives, minced garlic, a bit of crushed red pepper (what else do you do with leftover pizza toppings?), and a couple of handfulls of sundried tomatoes chopped coarsely. It’s primarily white whole wheat (in case you didn’t know: there’s a mutant strain of wheat which has a white hull, so you can have whole wheat that looks like white flour) but also includes about a cup of actual all-purpose flour (the end of the bag, from making carrot cake).

The fantastic rise on this isn’t from anything special – I think it’s because I didn’t weigh this down with flaxseeds and rye berries. It’s also because I decided that 4 cups of water gives 4 rather meager loaves, so I went with 3 loaves instead. It also might be because I left them sitting on top of the oven while the carrot cake was baking, so they were kept nicely warm throughout the rise.

The tomatoes add a wee pop of sweetness, offsetting the saltiness of the olives. This is awesomely tender (due to the olive oil) and makes fabulous toast. Next time I’ll opt to add the olives and tomatoes by hand, rather than throwing them into the stand mixer, because they’re a bit broken up from having been kneaded in with the dough hook. On the other hand, this is just so tasty that maybe it doesn’t matter that the olives are broken.

It may be time for lunch, now, and some sandwiches made on this bread. Or maybe just some cheese, so as not to obscure the flavor of the bread itself.

-D