Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Round Barn, Morrisville, Vermont (1980)

From 1975 until 1995 I drove the back roads of Vermont, very often with my camera. I adored my adopted landscape, of course. In the fall of 1977, San and I moved to a big new house on the edge of the village of Hyde Park, about 30 miles south of Canada and an easy 2-hour drive from Montreal. We were ten miles north of the year-round resort town of Stowe, an hour's drive northeast of Burlington and the view of Lake Champlain, and about 45 minutes in good weather from Montpelier, the state capital and home of quite a nice book store and a natural foods market that sold the home-made bread of a local humanist baker, Jules Rabin. Just east of Hyde Park lay the town of Morrisville, and just outside of town, on the road to Lake Elmore and then onward to the back entrance to Montpelier, sat this round yellow barn.

Just beyond the barn was a small country home of a woodworker whose business was named The Wood Nebbish. The word nebbish, I have just discerned, means a "pitifully ineffectual, luckless, and timid person." Until the age of 13, I hadn't heard any Yiddish expressions, having been raised Lutheran and schooled with Lutherans.

I am not moving toward endorsements of any particular religious theme here. This passage is about how the notion of religion was formed in me as a cultural idea rather than a theological one. My father, the architect, recounted a fateful letter home from boarding school at the age of 15, when he informed his father, minister of the Lutheran church in the small German-speaking town of Hamburg, Minnesota, that he was not going to become a church minister, musician, or teacher like his 9 siblings. This declaration was not a separation from his church. Church-going was at the core of his way of life. It was the same way with Mom, who had been raised in the Catholic church and had become a Lutheran before she met Dad.

Dad and Mom were different kinds of Lutherans, but neither was given to discussion of religion. For them, a code of beliefs was a fixed point in life, an anchor. It was in a Lutheran Sunday School that I had a transformative experience that gave status to questioning and opened the door to interpretation. So I became a third kind of Lutheran, more in league with my cousin, Walt Bouman, one of several theologians in the family. I became the kind of Lutheran who could inquire into other religions, stop attending church, and one day welcome a marriage ceremony conducted by a Buddhist priest who lived in a monastery in Jemez, New Mexico. I, too, am anchored by a system of beliefs. I, too, have something one might call a theology, or a cosmology. What I might call it doesn't matter to me. That I have it at all is what links me to my parents' cosmology and to yours, Reader.

A propos of the Christmas season, I discovered the fervor of Dad's convictions when I was in 7th grade and said I wanted the Elvis Christmas Album for Christmas. I might just as well have proposed that he give me an encyclopedia of satanic practices. He exploded in rage. There is no better way to say it. He didn't break up the house or batter me. Remaining in his easy chair, he simply "went balistic" as we would learn to say a decade later. He didn't use the term "blasphemy," though it applies to his reaction.

I did acquire that LP record, though not through any act of his! He did not seize it, ruin it, confiscate the record player, or prevent my memorizing its satanic verses. To this day I do a fair imitation of Elvis's "Blue Christmas," if you're not paying much attention and have other things on your mind.

This began with "nebbish" and the exoticism of Yiddish expressions. In junior high school they buzzed around me left and right. My 9th grade girlfriend, Arlene, liked the word "meshugganah" (crazy). I never asked her to translate it and I never used it myself. I sensed these terms were "cultural property." The absurdity of violating those cultural boundaries is one of the jokes in the movie, "A Mighty Wind." Another word I heard a lot and never understood until just now was, "schlemiel," meaning a habitual bungler.

Last Saturday Kathy and I watched the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast of Les Contes d'Hoffmann. It was a fabulously theatrical experience, true Grand opera, and one peripheral character in the third tale is named Schlemil. Nothing about his deportment suggested he was a bungler, though.

Well, enough reminiscing about how we form ideas about ourselves and others.

My photo of the round barn is the first of a series of desktop wallpaper images I'm going to post to my Flickr site for any and all to enjoy. I'm using the round barn this week as my desktop image.

Once I started growing daylilies, farm fields like that always caught my eye as potential daylily farms run by me. I imagined acres and acres of vibrant color and I went on like that for several years before it dawned on me that someone was going to have to do a tremendous amount of digging, washing, dividing, and weeding. I didn't have to ponder the scale of that labor very long before I scaled back my dream to a scope that I could possibly manage if everything went well for me and I developed the strength of Hercules.

My heart goes out to those who have lost their mothers recently. My mom died peacefully, slipped away during a surge of misplaced optimism about her imminent release from the hospital after her final COPD episode. Mom only had to endure 9 months in the nursing home. It may have seemed like an eternity to her. Until the big hurricane in 2004, Mom had been able to live independently, in a manner of speaking, with very limited eyesight and intensive visitation by my sister and brother-in-law. The stress of the hurricane or simple progression of her disease made it untenable for her to live without continuous monitoring. On Sunday evenings before her transfer to the nursing home she and I had weekly chats. I remember the sound of her voice on the other end of the line as if we just spoke last night. She had an earthy sense of humor, having been raised on a farm in New Jersey, and it served her well when there was nothing to do about various indignities except extract a laugh with a play on words. Her response to word play led me to name my big, raspberry 2010 daylily MOM'S MIRTH. The flowers are as colorful and big as her sense of humor.

San, too, had a laugh the night before the life ebbed out of her. I recall her last days as if I just helped her through them. My daily life seems nested in memories like those Russian wooden dolls-within-dolls. When Kathy recounted her day for me yesterday I was sure I discerned the 10-year-old who carries a bubble of joy up through the layers of memory to the adult Kathy I married in July.

The turn of another year approaches; the light of days lengthens again; our sorrows and joys disperse and blend within us and like geraniums in the window we lean toward the light.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Imagination of Boundless Fertility

This time of year, I imagine more people are studying the music of Handel's Messiah than are listening to the 2009 remastered recordings of The Beatles. I sure am. I'm getting ready for one of the great musical treats of my life -- singing 18th century music under the direction of Nicholas McGegan. He's leading the St. Louis Symphony and Chorus in Messiah on December 11-12-13. Hot Diggety Dog is all I can say about that!

I’m completing a year of listening to 5-star recordings of Handel operas. I play them on my car stereo during many long drives through Missouri. I also play them during short drives. I play them in drives of all lengths and never use the radio.

One might think that all these arias, overtures, and tempests would be indistinguishable after a month or so. They are no more indistinguishable than 500 grandchildren would be to the doting grandparent. Each one bears the stamp of creative spark. Even the ones that have been borrowed from another opera and reworked slightly delight me none the less.

What enchants me is the play of three imaginations – Handel’s, the conductor’s, and the singer’s. Most of the pieces in Handel’s opera were written as vehicles for international stars. He had to write music that would show off the distinctive gifts of each star in his opera company. Handel’s audience, too, expected ever-new productions with ever-new music to show off some of the best singers in Europe.

Modern conductors approach Handel as a master of theatrical and dramatic effects. They sense the way that a dramatic impression can be rendered through a manner of increasing the energy of the bow on the violin or cello. They imagine themselves as Handel himself, urging his orchestra to play one aria in a different character from another, to suit the dramatic moment more closely than the musical notation by itself could indicate.

I am replaying a 2008 recording of Riccardo Primo in my car and on my office computer because I realized that it will be impossible to make a “highlights” playlist of this opera for Kathy. Almost every aria is a highlight. Paul Goodwin conducts the Kammerorchester Basel. The countertenor, Lawrence Zazzo, sings the role of Richard, the Lion-Hearted. Soprano Nuria Rial sings the part of his fiancĂ©, Costanza. Soprano Geraldine McGreevy sings Pulcheria, daughter of the Cyprian ruler, Isacio.

It’s too bad that you can’t buy MP3 samples of this opera from iTunes or Amazon. Some of it has been posted on YouTube, though, and you can listen to a few samples of what modern Handel performances sound like.

Here is Riccardo’s Act I aria about his stormy shipwreck on Cyprus, “Agitato da fiere tempeste.”

That gives you a good idea of what expert "divisions" sound like nowadays. The same artist conjures with gorgeous tone in Riccardo’s Act II aria, “Nube che il sole adombra.”

Just a few minutes later, Riccardo and Costanza sing a ten-minute duet that makes time, and Act II, come to a stop. Here’s a performance of “T’amo, si” from a 1996 recording of the opera, with Sandrine Piau and Sara Mingardo:

Here’s the Catalan soprano, Nuria Rial (Costanza), celebrating her good fate in the Act III aria, “Il volo cosi fido” from the 2008 Paul Goodman recording.

It’s nice to see the actual singer after all these pseudo-videos, so here is Lawrence Zazza singing Coronato il crin d'alloro from a 2004 Paris production of Aggripina Ottone.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"So What? Who Cares?"

The question, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The question is blowin’ in the wind.

The winds of change are blowing across our continent. The winds are not named Mariah this time; they are named for Baby Boomers like me and my juniors. The 1945 calendar on the wallpaper of the Schowengerdt House in Warrenton marks the beginning of "my era" on the earth. "My stuff" from childhood is in museum displays now. I'm about to be a voice from the past. My theme is a phrase from a song that Bob Dylan wrote about twelve years ago:

Walking through the leaves falling from the trees,
Feeling like a stranger nobody sees.

There is no clear demarcation between my parents’ generation and mine. The border between generations is broad and blurred. When I retire next year I won’t be on the cutting edge of the Boomers; I’ll be behind it by a couple of years. The trailing edge of “The Silent Generation” overlaps my generation. I’m made up of both. If you’re in your fifties, you’re solid Boomer.

This national wind of change will last about 15 years. People over 50 are part of it. “Empty Nesters” are past midlife now and they are reorganizing their stance in the world for greater meaning. They are entering nonprofit life with technical know-how and with attitudes about learning that represent a big step forward for museums and libraries. They want to make a difference as never before.

To give a few examples, my late wife and I were in our 50s when we made a three-year pledge to the capital campaign of our church. We were also in our 50s when we made our first thousand-dollar gift to a nonprofit other than our church.

Our involvement in the capital campaign surprised both of us. We were at dinner with two friends who had agreed to spearhead the campaign. They were not soliciting us over dinner; we were just discussing how the campaign would be broken down into levels of workers. I volunteered to be one of the workers who would solicit a set number of other parishioners. Then I started thinking in terms of what would be possible if I selected a number representing “spare cash” in the weekly flow of money through our checkbook. I picked $20 and multiplied it out over three years. I said, “Do you realize that a commitment to allocate an extra $20 a week to this cause would enable us to make a pledge of $3,000 over the three-year campaign?” Our friends were amazed at the magic of breaking down a big challenge into something doable on a weekly basis. We pledged that amount on the spot.

My point is that we had financial means in our fifties that we didn’t have before then, and we wanted to use those means for the benefit of organizations that meant the most to us. During the same period in my life I became more actively involved in developing a curriculum for a horticultural organization to which I belong, and I served as President of my garden club and as a board member of a national association of state humanities councils.

The youngest Boomers are in their fifties now, and the eldest will retire this year and next. They constitute a wind of change in the nonprofits in town. The question that’s blowing in the wind is the one we ask of the institutions our parents set up: So what? Who cares?

In the museum and library fields there is a natural tendency to think about the stewardship of objects or environments. We want to create clean, well-lit, “inviting” spaces for the public. We want to provide “access” to information of all kinds.

Ten years ago when I said to a group of library people that I supposed the inherent mission of a library was to nurture “better readers,” they recoiled. They wanted nothing to do with helping people appreciate good writing. That couldn’t be considered part of a library’s mission.

Seven years ago I said to a group of museum supporters, “How do you imagine you will use the new space you think you need to succeed? If you had twice the space, would the museum be twice as boring?” Of course, when people start to imagine a lot more space, a lot of the space is empty, so people can move around better and have a better experience. I suggested they create the space they dream about by subtracting display cases and objects in the current square footage. Pull your vision of a better future into your present; don’t wait for it. This was the beginning of my conversion to visitor-centered thinking.

Visitor-centered thinking goes well beyond creature comforts like clean carpets and a quiet, well-lit room. Those are helpful, to be sure, but they are not in the realm of “So what? Who cares?” Visitor-centered thinking is concerned with engaging and nurturing the intelligence of the visitor. That is the only source of an answer to “So what? Who cares?” That is the beating heart of an educational mission.

I see failures of stewardship everywhere I go. The maintenance problems of museums and historic homes are often crushing. People base appeals on what they suppose to be the inherent importance of the institution. Unfortunately, the mere existence of an institution does not provide an answer to “So what? Who cares?” The institution has to provide an active benefit to the population.

There is hope in that proposition. It is possible to become a community’s engine of learning even while the wallpaper peels off and the place needs better climate control. In fact, it is necessary to be an engine of learning in order to persuade the public that the institution deserves support. The most noteworthy failure of stewardship I see is the failure to stimulate the intelligence of the population. This is a failure that can be reversed much more easily than mold in the basement.

I see huge educational potential everywhere I go. Last week in Warren County I visited the historical society and led a discussion exercise in which each trustee and volunteer was asked to tell one personal story of a connection to the county’s history. Two of the trustees spoke of personal research projects using primary documents in the collection. I encouraged them to share their passion for these materials with visitors. The person telling the story of research has to be regarded these days as “part of the collection” and “part of the display.”

Two others recounted memories of growing up just after World War II. These were “Boomer” stories, but they seemed to emerge from a time warp. The town of Warrenton had been electrified in the 19th century, but one museum trustee grew up in a rural home with kerosene lanterns. Another trustee remembered that when her father expected the water in a local creek to rise, he would park his car on the opposite bank. If he needed to drive somewhere, he would disrobe at the creek, wade across with his clothes held high, and dress on the other side.

As we sat around the table comparing those memories – Boomer memories, all of them – we began to imagine that one theme of that county museum has to be about “Town and Country.” The gap between Town and Country closed in our remembered past, and “country life” became so easy that Warren County attracted new people.

The most important assets of a museum or library are the people who engage the visitor’s intelligence and help it grow. A library that does not care about more and better "reading experiences" is not in a position to answer the question that is blowing in the wind. Why should a library be less interested in promoting that than Border’s or Barnes and Noble? If you look carefully at what retailers are doing these days, you’ll see more and more “staff recommendations.” I see them on the bulletin board at Whole Foods Market, too. Retailers are “personalizing” the experience, giving big places a human face and personality. I see this as part of the new, questioning wind.

You can catch this wind. It can fill the sail of your little boat. “So what, who cares?” demands the energy of motion. It’s up to you to make that motion refreshing, not just another blast of hot air.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grandfather of Eight

"They all got married and they didn't hesitate,
I was, whoo!, Oh, Lord, the grandfather of eight."

I am called toward retirement.

With the beginning of another school year, this lifelong teacher is feeling the rush of possibility. Every year since I began Kindergarten I have felt a surge of positive energy at the end of the Summer. That energy was intense last year. I was bursting out of the cloud of grief over San’s death in June. This year I feel it and savor it as one savors the last sip of a good bottle of wine, because this year is my last as the leader of the Missouri Humanities Council. Each opportunity to shed light, to liberate creative energy, feels like a chance to pitch for a World Series win or to write a line as good as “Fourscore and seven years ago.”

I will retire on May 15. I am not leaving because the work has grown predictable. To the contrary, in the work of discovery, nothing is predictable, nothing is done by formula. It is all done by meeting people who want to be effective, who want to work their way out of knots and pockets of discouragement, and by thinking with them about “what if?” This work is done by learning about this or that town, or this or that subject, or this or that challenge, and seeing what can be done that is uplifting, constructive of human intelligence, and constructive of relationships.

I am “called” to my retirement as I was called to music, to writing, and to teaching. I am called to create what I hope will be a happy closing section in the story of my life. San felt that death cheated her out of sharing this part of life with me. We had been thinking of how and where we might spend it, and then we were suddenly focused on negotiating for the best quality that could be wrestled away from a quickening shortage of time.

In one sense, I owe it to San to live that wished-for final chapter, and I owe that chapter to Kathy, who married me in July. Before she died, San blessed me, and whoever would become my next love and marriage. Kathy and I feel as if our departed spouses nudged us toward each other. We belong together. Our life honors the lives of Tom Wofford and Sandra Bouman, and their parents and grandparents all the way back to Adam and Eve.

I think of retirement as a lived blessing. One of life’s miracles or graces is that an imagined good is instantly transported from the future to the present, so that it is spilled liberally on our path, a libation of goodness.

My cup of goodness includes eight grandchildren. The baby girl in the picture is my youngest, Arianah Wofford. This time last year, thanks to my daughter Jennifer's marriage in 2006 to Jared Steagall, I had two teenage grandchildren. Now Kathy has brought six younger ones into our big family. Until last month, when I met Arianah and her three siblings, I had not actually held and entertained a baby in thirty-six years! It was as if no time had passed. I am called to be a grandfather! Visiting my big family is now a calling.

In my new chapter, I imagine I will join the Y, and that I will volunteer in some form of teaching capacity. I would love to be a tour guide in a fine art museum, for instance. I would love to conduct a workshop on collage and Cubism in which the song lyrics of Bob Dylan were part of the mix. I would love to lead book discussions. I would love to write a form of music criticism that I haven’t seen much of since I last wrote a bit of it 35 years ago. I think the music critic has a social function to fulfill and that the function is to expand the intelligence of the reader.

Naturally, I will sing as long as I can with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. I will take Kathy to the opera, here, in New York, in Santa Fe, and who knows where else? She and I will develop our gardens and I will breed daylilies in the summer and dream about their beauties the rest of the time. If you want to see some of mine, just Google for Daylily Lay, and sing that name, don't just speak it.

Retirement is eight months away now. Until then, I'm going to have the time of my life in this work I love so well.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Marital Haiku #1

Your eyes enchant me
And your voice is beautiful.
So, what did you say?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Auras of Power

So I learned a minute ago that Ted Kennedy died last night of his cancer. I know something about the vigil of a family, the death rattle, the astonishing, holy quiet that fills the room when the body no longer breathes but the warmth of life has not yet cooled on the forehead. The fingertips blue, the face relaxed, and a sense of awe and wonder for those alive to sense it. Alas for the end of life. Alas for the loss of having any more tomorrows to plan and look forward to. Alas for entering the time when we hope the end of tomorrows comes quickly.

I think Ted Kennedy sensed the special mantle of leadership that is available to those who rise, either by force of personality or by station in life. Ted Kennedy, I think, had both of those things. He was infused with the aura of his family name and the people's sense of hope that stuck to the family name despite the human failings of individuals. He was blessed with a strong constitution, such that early in his career when he suffered a broken back in an airplane crash, he came back from it and rose above any further mention of it.

He became a champion of things his family was expected to champion, either because he personally believed in them or because he needed to appear to champion them in order to retain the devotion of the followers. There is a border zone in the human spirit between truth and pretense, or truth and feigning, in which the thing we feign one day becomes the truth of us by and by, either because we have come to believe in it, or because we have "incorporated" it, made it a part of our body and soul and identity. I'm saying that Ted Kennedy was born into a societal role and he filled that role splendidly all of his life. A former age would have termed his "performance" the Obligation of the Noblility, Noblesse Oblige.

I'm not suggesting that he was posing as "the good man." I'm suggesting that in his public life he passionately advocated what the populace hopes those of noble spirit will advocate. In his public life he upheld our hopes, those of us who wanted leadership like his or hoped for better social conditions in the ways he did.

I used to receive hate mailings at my office from a source in southwest Missouri who absolutely did not want America to have leadership like his. For that faction, Kennedy's name was synonymous with the sure destruction of the American Way.

Mourn with me, then, also, the blue finger tips of the girl Mary Jo, trapped in a small pocket of air in the sunken car that Ted Kennedy somehow escaped as it sank into a pond after he drove off a short, low bridge in 1969. He later said she had asked for a ride back to the hotel. She had told none of her five co-workers at the party that she was leaving. Her purse and hotel room key were still at the party.

Mourn the people who are caught up in the auras of power and personality and who are consumed.

In the paper today I read about two bright hopes of Missouri politics who played dirty in the 2004 election, lied about it to investigators, and who will now do jail time, not for playing dirty, but for lying about it.

Back in August of 1969, the month I finished graduate school and began my teaching career, the month of Woodstock, the month after Mary Jo went for late-night ride with Ted Kennedy, our society was in a time of transition from hushing up the misdeeds of our nobility to gleefully exposing them thirty years later during the humiliation of the Clinton household. I have wondered this morning if a situation parallel to the last ride of Mary Jo Kopechne could possibly result in only the brief suspension of a driver's license were it to happen today.

I mourn the loss of Ted Kennedy, and his failures of spirit and judgment, and of the damages that occur inside those auras of power.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Passing Form of Institutionalization

I have a step-nephew, once or twice removed, and named Wilson Oldhouser, III. He is the grandson of my stepfather-in-law, Wilson Oldhouser, who I first met in 1975. I’ll call my stepson “Bill” to avoid confusion. Bill is a lawyer in Baltimore, an hour’s drive south of York, PA, where Wilson lived most of his life. Bill had formed a lifelong bond of affection for Wilson, and vice-versa, and so, by the grace of God, Bill was in the right place, with the right maturity and legal connections, to intervene by degrees when Wilson began to lose his senses.

Wilson died in April of this year in an Alzheimer’s care facility near Bill’s home. Alzheimer’s was Wilson’s largest and possibly only fear in life. He had seen his brother Woody succumb to it. When it came upon Wilson’s own mind, it buffered him from a terrifying self-awareness. Thus, as far as I know, Wilson never spoke of losing his senses. He didn’t know they were gone. There was some god-given essence to Wilson that prevailed in social interaction even when he could not remember.

Wilson was larger-than-life to the members of the family and to many of his friends. He had a big, outgoing personality. He had a piercing baritone speaking voice and a huge smile. He loved adventure and feared no risks. As a fighter pilot in World War II, he had lived to tell the tale of more than one brush with death.

My late wife, Sandra, was his stepchild. That was an uneasy relationship for her. She had lost her father in a divorce that took her by surprise when she was fourteen. A couple of years later, her mother, Gladys, married Wilson in 1956. In 1975, before I was taken to meet Gladys and Wilson, Sandra thoroughly cautioned me about Wilson’s brash manner. I think she feared he would scare me off.

When I met him I made a brash game of our getting to know each other. I made wise cracks. I gave him goofy answers. I made him laugh. He realized that we were in for a long game of verbal delight. And so, as our relationship developed, he never once tried to throw me off balance, and I never engaged him in anger. We had become something like buddies.

During my period of grieving over Sandra’s death these past months, I didn’t keep up with Wilson’s condition. I contacted Bill in April to ask about Wilson and learned that Wilson was in failing health at the time of my note and that he had died five days later.

Bill is an excellent writer. His Christmas letters to the family are always warm and interesting. I saw that warmth and ease again this week when Bill sent me the transcript of a memorial gathering of lawyers and judges on August 7 in York, Pennsylvania. I take this transcript as a “historic artifact” because it is evidence of a vanishing form of memorial called “Minutes of Respect.” It resembles a Quaker assembly in which various people rise in turn and say something in memory of a departed friend.

At the close of the proceeding, Judge John Uhler remarks on “Minutes of Respect” as a passing institution. He speaks of the manner by which a profession memorializes its members and considers whole people and whole lives. He says, “There is always a debate as to the appropriateness of the continuation of these Minutes of Respect, and the debate evolves from the younger members of the Bar. They are not swelling to include themselves in observance to these Minutes, and it's a passing form of institutionalization of times gone by. I'm an advocate that these Minutes continue. How else can we memorialize the history of our members, the sheer diversity of interests that our members bring to the table and before us? And quite frankly, the Minute that has been presented by Bill has, quite frankly, given a new focus, a new picture of Wilson that I never had the opportunity to experience, and I thank him for that. We need to memorialize our history, and it's important not only for the family members but it's for the members of the Bar to recognize that there are more things to life than billable hours.”

I have made a PDF file of the Minute of Respect with Bill’s permission. I have also connected Judge Uhler’s final remark – “there are more things to life than billable hours” – to the objects I see in museums. Local museums have long served the function of “memorial station” for town residents. There is a memorial quality to donating tangible objects to a museum, so just about everyone, sooner or later, will approach the museum board with a proposed donation of objects.

It is the job and duty of the museum people to bring objects to life. Last week as I gazed at an array of rusting old farm machinery I thought, “There is so much more to life in a farming community than obsolete tools and machines.” What Judge Uhler is responding to is a compelling story. The presence of rusty equipment is not the museum’s problem. The problem is the absence of story. That is a problem that can be solved over and over, in ways that offer a fitting memorial to the forbears and departed friends and relatives who worked on the land.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Life in the Attic

A museum colleague passed on an email report about how the Ohio Historical Society has redefined itself in response to a 42% cut in state funding in the past two years. The key information in the report is this statement:

“In direct response to what the public has said they want the Ohio Historical Society to offer, the Society will be transforming the state history museum at the Ohio Historical Center to focus on collections learning. In studies that have taken place over the past three years, the public has said they want more direct access to the collections, more opportunities for hands-on experiences and ways to explore stories of interest to them using current technology and the resources of both the museum and library.

Plans call for public labs and workspaces in which activities that are usually carried out behind the scenes will be front and center. In addition, collections that are normally stored off-site will be brought to the facility for easy viewing. A distance learning studio, spaces for new exhibitions and technology enhancements are also among the innovations under development.

“The collections learning center will be created in phases, beginning with the removal of current exhibits, many of which are more than 20 years old. Development and implementation of the first phase is scheduled to begin in January 2010. OHS Director Bill Laidlaw was quoted as saying, "the collections-learning-center concept will help make Ohio's story personally relevant and engaging to today's audiences. We will be creating more exhibitions and programs for traveling to OHS sites, libraries, historical societies, community centers and other museums across the state. In this way, we are redefining the concept of 'state museum.' We will be a museum with a presence all over the state-not just in Columbus."

I have added boldface to the report I received. Reporter Tim Feran, in a July 24 blog for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, used the well-chosen word, “attic,” to describe the collection of the Ohio Historical Society: With 2 million objects in a wide-ranging collection, the society is known as "Ohio's Attic." That characterization is followed in the blog by a direct quote from OHS Director, Bill Laidlaw, "We have to protect the collections first. That's why we were founded. We would never sell anything to cover basic operating costs. Never have, never will. If you lose it, it's gone forever."

I gather that the state historical society is saddled with an ungainly mission. Although it has existed since 1885, it has been charged with the management of a network of local historic sites. For the past 50 years it has also been designated as the archive for the state’s three branches of government. Apparently, it serves a large number of people interested in genealogy, too. This “mission creep” is a familiar feature of historical organizations large and small. The financial difficulties of the Ohio Historical Society provide a case-in-point. The organization has to redefine its mode of operations to use much less money and have a much more compelling effect on its visitors/clients/users.

I can see in the quotations above a certain tension between an “object-centered” approach to museum management and a “learner-centered” approach. The fault of most mission statements in the nonprofit world is that they fail to talk about the nature of the transformation they cause within the served population. In the field of education, the key result of an organization’s activity is “enlarged intelligence.” Stewardship of intelligence is the primary function of education, and yet you won’t find it in the statement about “protecting the collections first.” You won’t find it in most museum mission statements.

Of course, anyone in Bill Laidlaw’s position must say that the collection won’t be auctioned off. There are a lot of people who believe that collecting and preserving objects is a complete and sufficient statement of the mission. "Collect and preserve;" it rings in my ear like a lead bell, I've seen it so often. Bill Laidlaw has to honor a swath of influential people who have not yet thought beyond "collect and preserve." Everyone in his position has to say what he said while doing everything in his power to enlarge the vision of what a museum’s true purpose might be.

The media want to spin the stories of big museums around the money theme. They take the easy way out. Money stories are easy. The reports talk about staff furloughs, reduced hours, etc. Laidlaw plays into the media’s chosen spin with a “protect the objects” refrain. He, or his PR person, should have played the unexpected “learner-centered” card.

If only he had spoken of a museum’s social function rather than its “collect and preserve” function, he could have made the kernel of the case for restoration of all that lost funding. Over $7 million is at stake! The money-winning function of a museum is to engage people in a richer story than they would ever devise on their own. The museum exists not for the sake of its objects, but for the sake of nurturing the intelligence of the population, no matter what the mission or the statutes say. People are not hungry for bigger and bigger attics. They do not mourn the loss of an attic, they just make another one and put it out of mind. They are hungry for meaning. In nonprofit life, money always follows meaning.

In some of the boldfaced passages above, you can see the public hunger for more interesting learning experiences in a museum. They want more hands-on experiences, more opportunities to explore stories of interest to them. But I am disheartened by what I read next. The response to the public’s desire for more engagement is to focus on the object-centered work the conservators do, to bring it “front and center.” They’re going to create a living exhibit of museum staff work!

People of good intent will differ on whether that is strategic thinking. I hope OHS reconsiders that idea. It looks to me like “see how interesting life is here in the attic?”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Making Life More Interesting

Every morning from mid-June to mid-July I’m usually in the garden by 6 am with my notebook and camera. One of my creative occupations is the cross-pollinating of hybrid daylilies. I’m one of thousands of backyard hobbyists or business people who raise anywhere from 50 seedlings a year to mind-numbing numbers exceeding twenty thousand. I’m on the low end of the spectrum. I raise about two thousand a year.

There is luck, whimsy, and disciplined thought in this occupation, as there is in writing poetry or moderating a workshop with museum volunteers. The triumphs are all the sweeter when they are unpredicted, when they come seemingly out of nowhere or from the grace of God. A good paragraph feels that way, or a bon mot when trying to convey a vision.

This morning I stood in the garden looking in awe at a dozen or so plants from a single pod of seeds gathered three summers ago. Every plant from this cross grows in a healthy way and has blemish-free foliage. That’s the ticket! Yet the flowers on each plant have their own style of opening in the morning, which surprises me, and their own coloration, which does not surprise me. It does not surprise me that the best flower in this cross (above) is borne on the plant that seems inclined to produce the lowest number of buds, and that the best bud-producers in the cross are producing ho-hum flowers.

If things had gone otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this reflection today; I’d be thinking of how I could conceal the “perfect daylily” long enough to increase it for the massive influx of orders at Daylily Lay, a garden whose name is sung, not spoken.

At lunch today with a delightful PR professional whose last name in Dutch means, “from Lion,” and whose hair is blonde but not leonine, I said “A humanities council helps people make life more interesting.” It’s as simple as that. Those classes we took in Literature or History or Archaeology or Comparative Religion or Baroque Art had a common focus on the production of meaning in human experience. They also had a common result of cultivating a habit of mind appropriate to the subject. In other words, those classes not only opened up a slice of the world to us, they helped us learn to think better, more widely, deeper. We learned to ask more and better questions of the world around us. We learned to appreciate our place on the long highway of human experience.

When I listen to a recording of a Schubert piano piece, I enter another world and live in the ebb and flow of musical ideas that make more sense to me because of some instruction I had a long time ago. A professor taught me how to listen. Have you ever had such a music teacher?

I studied poetry once with a man who taught me how to read, how to notice on many levels, how to savor, how to devour.

Sometimes how a story is laid out is as interesting, or more interesting, than the story itself. Kathy and I were talking the other night about the artistic choices in the screenplay of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. We were trying to imagine the F. Scott Fitzgerald story behind the movie. Neither of us had read the story. I placed a bet that the notion of a backwards-running clock was borrowed directly from Fitzgerald’s original. It seemed so “literary,” so unnecessary to the film. Yesterday I found the story online and read the first page or two, finding no mention of a clock. There might be a clock in there, but I don’t intend to read further. It’s low priority now. What was great was that Kathy and I could have that interesting discussion because of how we’d been schooled to think by our teachers.

A humanities council helps local people and institutions carry out activities that make life more interesting – in families, school classrooms, libraries, historic houses, museums, community centers. My colleagues and I are teachers and guides. We facilitate action that constructs a better family, school, library, museum, town, county, country, and world.

The Greek term for daylily is hemerocallis, which I’m told means “beauty for a day.” That gorgeous rose pink daylily may prove to be a phantom of experience. The toothy white edge may be an effect of a prolonged heat wave and high humidity. When the weather cools off, the next flowers may be merely gorgeous pink, and the white edge will be wire-thin or not there at all, like the present flourishing of homo sapiens during a long ice age that appears to be on the wane.

I learned some interesting things about ice in a rented BBC documentary on the earth last weekend. It provided a very long view of earth history, such that the human experience could be seen intimately connected to the history of ice and atmosphere. How strange to feel that the past and future I imagine, as well as the present I live, are all related to something, some energy, much larger than all of us put together. I have certainly felt that way in connection with spiritual ideas, but not before in connection with what might be called natural history.

Oh, how I came to love her very nature!

I feel intimately connected these days with Schubert and Bach, Handel and Verdi. The molecules of my dear late San are intermixed with theirs and with mine, too, and mine are intermixed with Kathy Wofford, who I'll marry on July 19 in a circle of friends near my daylily garden, far from the collapsing glaciers, but not far from the thought of them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Guessing Someone's Intent

A couple of weeks ago I had another peak experience on the stage of Powell Hall.  The St. Louis Symphony performed Beethoven's 9th Symphony to three sellout crowds.  I don't think it possible for an orchestra to play better or to hear a more devoted interpretation or to be more thrilled and still live to tell about it!

The element of devotion comes from our maestro, David Robertson.  I have thought since the first time I saw him prepare a concert ten years ago that he brings an enormous empathy to a score.  Trained in composition, he looks at the notation to discover how the piece lives and breathes.  He tries to imagine why a composer made each choice, as if the options were his own.

The result was an approach to the 9th symphony the likes of which most of us had not encountered before.  We all grew up with recordings of the 9th that were made a generation or two earlier.  An earlier approach to Beethoven brought out beautiful passages that seemed "untroubling" to my ears.  I knew the Ormandy way, the Karajan way, the Muti way, and I thought I understood, through them, "the Beethoven way."

Robertson's approach startled me, shook me, made me question why he "imposed" such difficulty on the performers.  I came to realize that he had decided to approach the printed score as if Beethoven actually meant what he wrote down.  What a concept!  Beethoven may have been stone deaf, but let's not assume that after a lifetime of experience with voices and orchestras, he suffered from insanity.

To give only one example, there is a section at the opening of the final movement in which the orchestral basses seem to be playing a vocal recitative-without-text.  It sounds like a standard recitative in my favorite recordings.  There is nothing untroubling about the sound of it.

My favorite recordings, however, don't follow Beethoven's instructions.  He says "in the character of a recitative, but in tempo."  Robertson caught the string bass section off guard when he took that section in tempo.  It was as if the musicians had never seen the music before.  Their passages didn't go anything like the way they'd done them previously.

Taken in strict tempo, those passages sound awkward, there is no way for them not too.  They sound like they truly do not "work."  The listener senses the string basses are attempting to do something for which they are not at all suited.

And then a unique thing happens.  For the first time in a classical symphony, a human bass sings these words: "Oh, friends, not these tones."  And he means, "let human voices take over here; human voices have what this symphony really needs at this moment."  And so the chorus enters and completes the resolution of the earth-shattering tensions of the whole symphony.

In Robertson's interpretation, taking Beethoven literally, the text of the singer makes the kind of sense it never makes when the old-style interpretation is in play.  If the orchestral basses sound perfectly fit to play a recitative, there is no reason for a human voice to say, "enough, already!"

That's what we learned this time by watching David Robertson devote himself to someone else's intentions.  I think everyone in the hall sensed how special a concert this was.  A second after the last note sounded, they leapt to their feet as one, shouting and clapping, thanking us all for opening their ears to a work of genius.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I know this guy named Robbie. He always has a book with him, and when the chorus takes a break, Robbie doesn't leave the chorus seats, he just stays put with his book.

An adult chorus is a complex organism. We get an idea of each other as musicians, primarily. Robbie's a really fine, high baritone. He does meticulous prep, sits in a way that looks totally engaged in the task, and is rock solid reliable. (This has been a banner year for baritones. Ringers to the right of me, ringers to the left of me, ringers in front of me, less than six hundred.) We're the opposite of the Light Brigade. We charge toward success, won't settle for adequate. We're a band o' brothers, we happy few.

It turns out that last night I asked Robbie what he's reading, and he said he's reading young adult books, "fantasy writing" in the vein of the Harry Potter series. It turns out he has written reviews of over 800 of them! It turns out he also has two blogs! It turns out he is not only a voracious reader but a massively productive writer.

Some of my most interesting stories began with a small question so a musician. "What's your day job," I said one time and found a common interest with a future corporate sponsor of the READ from the START program of the Missouri Humanities Council. Like a church, you join a chorus for the aesthetic pleasures, and then you become part of a community of distinct personalities, hopes, breakthroughs, and sadnesses.

Robbie's book reviews are at Muggle Net.  His blog is called A Fort Made of Books.  I'm going to put links to his writing on my blog.  What a discovery!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

First Growth

I photographed first growth this morning with Lola-the-Poodle.  The daylily, MING PORCELAIN,  looking clean, no burn, is up an inch.  DIVA ASSOLUTA, some of it on the edge of the clump, is up two inches.  David Hall's oldie, GUSTO, is up 3 or 4 inches.  BARBARA MITCHELL and most others are not up at all, saying "Brrrrrr!"  I photographed orange-red Witch Hazel this morning, too.  I'm thinking about my new daylily show for clubs and know I want to begin with the awakening garden, when crocuses alert us to the renewal that's coming as soon as the daffodils push farther up.  Daylily shows are not actually about daylilies, though they may look like it.  They are about hope, risk, vision, the journey to clearer sight, the process of learning to keep friends.  Daylily shows are about gardeners.  Bless gardeners.  Curses on thieves and scammers, who are thieves.  Flay them first, then curse them.

So, lately, a fog has begun to lift, one I didn't know was there.  I know it by its lifting.  I am shedding books and vinyl records.  This week I'm taking 10 boxes of sheet music and scores to the university where San had the best decade of her career, also a box of CDs for the Vocal Literature class and six boxes of books about music from our joint professorial library.  I'm staging surplus file cabinets and small furniture items in the garage for the big day in April when scavengers troll the streets of my neighborhood for the bulky items we place at the curb for pick-up.  We're limited to five items per household, but we can be confident about placing many more than that number out on the curb.

Out! Out! Out!  San and I were complementary opposites.  She could not throw anything away except newspapers and junk mail other than retail catalogues.  I am a purger in need of a measure of restraint.  Rather than build more and more bookcases, I donate books I no longer need to reassure myself that I exist and that I have good taste.  I almost never reread a book, so why do I store read books on wooden shelves?  I think they constitute an environment, one of metaphorical mirrors (I have thought from time to time).

Soon purchased daylilies will begin to arrive and it will begin again.  I just printed Avery clear labels to put on EON plates for the seedling crop that will go into ground in May.

Last night while waiting for water to boil I leafed through the New Yorker magazine and came across a feature about Natalie Dessay, a soprano sensation I haven't heard about until last night.  I finished the article over breakfast and saw where she's taking on the role of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.  Eureka!  Kathy's birthday is in July.  I got on line and set up a birthday present a week early.  We're going to Santa Fe to see La Traviata and to sightsee for a couple of days the week after the Region 11 daylily meeting in Manhattan (not New York, but Kansas).  San daydreamed about us retiring to Santa Fe, a dream of a place in her opinion.  I didn't want to retire there, because of daylilies.  Arid air, water restrictions.

We were married there on Garcia Street in a friend's back yard almost 32 years before San died last June.  I lived there from 1972 to 1977 and I'll tell you, it is less of a dream to live there on a salary that's not enough, in a job you know you'll have to leave when it comes time for a tenure review.  Sometimes the sense of magic about a place depends pretty much on whether things are going well.  They were going well for San and me that summer, when she got up all the courage in the world and said, as we drove downtown a week before returning to Vermont, where I would be her sub while she went to France to study again for a month, "why don't we get married?"  Since that happy conclusion to our rekindled romance, Santa Fe has been extra-special to us and to me, and now it is time to plan to bring Kathy into the sense of special places, as she will for me when we go to her family reunion in southern California in August.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Resolutions for my Imaginary Museum

I imagine that when I retire I will volunteer in a museum and try to make things interesting.  I’m motivated in that direction by a little section of the patchwork-quilt-song-lyric, “Mississippi,” by Bob Dylan. 

Stick with me, baby,
Stick with me anyhow,
Things are gonna start to get interesting
Right about now. 

We’ve got to stick with our local museums, anyhow.  My imaginary museum wishes there were more volunteers.  It wishes that visitors were more in evidence.  It wishes things were in better order, that the place looked less cluttered, better lit, cleaner, more interactive, and…there are so many ways to say this…more like the product of a lively mind.  There are any number of museums that are already delightful, but it will be just my luck to retire in a place where the museum faces a world of challenge. 

So I’m putting myself into the situation of the people I visit, cheer on, and admire and I’m assigning myself an imaginary retirement in their shoes, with only two months to go before the doors open again.  Here is a list of resolutions about what to attempt in those two months.  There is no chance I can accomplish all of these, but I’ll see what I can do to make a difference.

  • I will create an interesting activity at the museum entrance, which I will clear of all distracting clutter so that the visitor’s first impression is that of being welcomed into an “introductory” space that feels “hospitable.”

    The activity will involve the visitor and also launch the visit.  The Blackworld History Museum in St. Louis “launches” each visit with a handout.  It’s a list of things to find in the displays.  The visit becomes some kind of scavenger hunt.  People love having that list to focus their attention.

    The activity will be germane to the museum’s mission.  If the museum is in Missouri’s prairie region, and if there are farm implements on display, maybe I’ll create some kind of hands-on experience involving sod, soil, and plows of several designs.  Much of Missouri was once tallgrass prairie.  I have not yet seen a museum in Missouri that conjures up the appearance of tallgrass prairie or the special technology (a plow of specific design) that made agriculture possible.  I can’t remember seeing a county museum that oriented the visitor to the interesting features of The Earth at this county’s location.  Was the county a buffalo range, an ancient sea bed?

  • I will look at the old photographs in the collection and gather a set of them together in a little display about “how to read a photograph.”  I won’t need more than a handful of pictures.  I’ll find one that is superb as a grayscale print and use it to teach about the range of tones in a fine print.  (I saw one such picture in the museum in Unionville, and it was arranged with other objects so that they all made more sense of each other.) Then I’ll state a few facts about what one sees in the image and pose a question or two.

    I’ll find another one that serves a purely documentary purpose.

    I’ll find a third one that’s a standard business portrait in color from the 1960s or 70s and compare the portrait style from that era with the earlier era.

  • I will make a little display called “Hand Made, Tailor Made, and Catalogue” for ways of obtaining clothes.  (Hmm.  I could add “hand-me-down” and Army to that list.) There’s a doll in the Clay County Museum with a label from the doll’s donor saying, “Whenever I made a dress for myself I also made one for my doll.”  There are several “feed sack shirts” in the museum in Unionville.  There’s a 1920s fashion catalogue in the Morgan County Museum in Versailles.  It belonged to one of many traveling salesmen who came through town on the railroad and stayed in the hotel that is now the museum.  There’s a tailor-made suit in a small historic house in Chamois; it was made in that town for the wedding of the donor’s husband.  I’ll find a few examples and pose questions about remembering home-made clothing, tailors, seamstresses, or catalogue shopping.

  • I’ll organize one small display area to look like it’s lived in.  I saw such an idea at the Bates County Museum last summer.

  • I’ll have an interactive military display where people can polish brass and spit-shine a black shoe, hopefully with experienced instruction.  If possible, I’ll have some complete military outfits available for kids to put on and “fall out for inspection,” again with someone experienced.

  • I’ll see what I can do with color in the museum.  The Harlin Museum in West Plains has a small workbench of a local sign painter.  My eye always goes to it, when I’m not wishing I could play that Porter Wagoner guitar.  I’d try to do something about the skill of sign-painting or lettering people’s names on glass office doors.  I’ve always wanted to know how painters of those doors really steadied their hand with the stick they use.  I’ve wished for a museum that would let me try that out.  Now that I’m making resolutions, maybe I can figure out how to schedule such an experience one Saturday morning a month, for the kids primarily, but also for the parents as a “benefit” for people who drop a donation in the cigar box.

  • I will subtract objects from the displays one at a time for as long as I can get away with it or until the entire museum looks appealing, whichever comes first.  (Never underestimate the value you can add by subtracting something that competes for attention.)

  • I will pull various things that are currently displayed with other things just like them into new relationships.  I will try to create expectations that displays in my museum stimulate thought.

  • I will think of the other volunteers whose friendship is essential to the success of our museum and I will bake cupcakes for them, or go visit them, or take them out to tea, or invite them to go visit and evaluate another interesting museum with me.  I will remind myself every day of the off-season that people volunteer for positive social interaction and fulfillment of some kind.  I will create positive social interaction with the other volunteers this winter.  I will mend fences and build bridges and make friends.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Detail in Classical Music

I recently bought a stack of complete recordings of Handel operas, going with "Used-Like New" whenever possible to spare expense.  The initial motivation was to hear more of the work of one of my favorite conductors, Nicholas McGegan.  Another motivation was to hear more of the glorious singing of the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  I now own a lot of her recordings!  The subject of this short blog is "authenticity" in Nic's work.

This subject of authenticity is something experts and critics love to chew over.  There are no recordings of 18th century concerts, of course.  There are, however, reproductions of 18th century instruments.  There are contemporary accounts of some of the details of musical taste and interpretation.  Conductors can make educated guesses about sound from the number of musicians that Handel used, the size of the performing space, etc.  All of these ways of knowing are based on forms of evidence that are one step removed from the music on the page and the words beneath the music.  It is in the deep thinking about the expressive potential of notated music that I believe Nic McGegan soars!

I have listened to many live and recorded performances by Nic.  I've sung in several concerts he conducted and have seen firsthand the way he releases the expressive potential of the details in the scores.  The question critics may pose is, "how plausible is it that such attention to detail ever took place in the real-world performing conditions of the 18th century?"  Put another way, "Is Nic McGegan over-expressing what is in the score?"

These questions came to mind the first time I worked with him.  The details were refreshing in ways I had not heard before.  The overall integrity of his conception was compelling.  While he is not the only "leader" in the pack of 18th century specialists, he is distinctive in the way he conceptualizes the sound.  Other leaders are distinctive, too.  That is in the nature of leadership at the top level.  I love them also.  I would not say flatly that I think he is better than his peers; only that I am more refreshed by his renditions, more thrilled by what I hear in his concerts, than I am by the others.  

If you want to hear what I'm talking about, borrow his recording of Rameau's music from Nais and compare it with any other good recording.  You'll instantly hear differences in the "thickness" of the sound and in the balance and in the ornamentation and in the phrasing.  You don't have to pick a winner; you may actually love contrasting approaches to the same pieces, as I do.  But if you compare them, you will begin to hear what is distinctive about Nic's gifts.

I've about finished my first listening to the full recording of Handel's Ariodante.  I've got another full recording lined up to go through the same opera, start to finish, with another five-star ensemble.  I may have more to say on this subject as I get deeper into these performances.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Anthems For The Stadium

Just sitting and listening to music can bring on thoughts of improving the world.  I have wondered recently about updating the moldy oldies that people sing at baseball and football games.  I don't mean to replace the National Anthem, of course.  That uniquely unsingable anthem stands as the supreme challenge to singers young and old, strong and weak of mind or voice.  

Even if you can remember the words, you really can't remember where to breathe.  Not that anyone would fault you for breathing before "see" in the first line.  Nor will  anyone fault you for sounding as if you are being slowly impaled when you sing "free" after an ill-considered breath in "land of the free."  That, too, is expected.  The singer of the National Anthem is expected to suffer greatly during the task and to emerge alive, though seldom victorious.

Bad style and bad technique do not mar our love of country.  We have heard so many spectacularly bad renditions that we have come to accept them as a part of our Heritage.

So leave the National Anthem alone and let it survive serial attempts and assaults by one and all. I have in mind other opportunities for updating the music at our sports events.  I envision the replacement of a moldy oldie like "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" with something really suited to the lungfull of air you can take after five beers, several hot dogs, a plate of melted cheese product with traces of corn chip, and many bags of popcorn or peanuts.  What I would much rather hear is a chorus of 40,000 fans singing either of two Three Dog Night hits from the Golden Age of Polyester, "Joy to the World" or "Shambala."  Yes, I really mean it.  Imagine the joy of thousands of people singing the much easier words and tune of Shambala:

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrows, wash away my shame
With the rain in Shambala

These are confessional, hopeful, wholesome sentiments made into prayer with the three-part harmony of Ah-ah-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo, Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah!  After several choruses of that, they'll all be primed for an astroturf-melting shout of "HOW DOES THE LIGHT SHINE in the halls of Shambala?"  People will be so happy they will forget that the teams have resumed play.  Verily, if the beer hasn't intoxicated you, the singing of that Ah-ah-oo-oo chorus will do the job!

I think the Cardinals organization should take this seriously.  I think our government should take this seriously.  I am seldom happier when chiming in with a song than I am when I sing this great rock anthem, Shambala.

There are certain songs that every adult should know by heart.  Especially in these hard times, we should all know the timeless one by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, "Free Falling."  That's the tune for the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, the Stock Exchanges, and the hyper-compensated thieves who have been pushed out of the aircraft with golden parachutes.  Rather than have it sung at those times and places, I'd have it sung by the hundred thousand Penn State fans in Happy Valley.  They'd sing it in place of "Fight On, State!"

On the Home Page of the investment brokerages, I'd have a singable audio clip of Paul Simon's "Slip Sliding Away."  Doesn't that make sense?  "You know the nearer your destination, the more you're slip sliding away."  These are songs everyone should know.  Besides, the Paul Simon "investment anthem" is less troubling than the Beatles' "HELP!!"

Another really good one for those who are embattled and resisting impeachment is also a Tom Petty tune.  "I won't back down" is the name of it. Tom sings, "you can stand me up at the gates of Hell and I won't back down."  Then comes the big refrain that 40,000 fans should chime in with..."HEY, BABY!  THERE AIN'T NO EASY WAY OUT.  HEY, YEA!  And I'll stand...my...ground.  And I won't...back...down."  

These songs should be required learning by one and all because they represent the vanishing legacy of My Generation.  My 15-year-old granddaughter, who wants to play electric guitar, does not recognize the name "Tom Petty" and can't sing or play any riff or phrase from "Free Falling."  You can say all you want about a generation that doesn't realize that Muhammad Ali was an American boxer, doesn't recognize the phrase, "it depends on what "is" is," thinks the American Revolution was a rock band, and is bewildered by telephones with dialing mechanisms.  All these things can be remedied or punished.  But you can't replace a timeless cultural legacy that is embedded in these singable evocations of History.  

Ah, Paul Simon, how you grind up syllables!  My personal theme song is one of his.  I'll sing the refrain in Paul's pronunciation: "But I would not be cawn-vic-ted by a jury of my peers; still crazy after all these years."