Friday, September 30, 2011

The Speed of Life

I was making a call on my cell phone while driving some place last week (I know I shouldn’t but I do.  I need to get a hands-free, but even with  that, calling while driving results as the same level of distraction as being impaired by alcohol or other drugs.  Another bad habit I need to change—calling while driving, that is, not alcohol or other drugs). As I was making the call, I thought that with the technology we have now we don’t even have to wait until we reach a phone to make a call.  We basically don’t have to wait for much these days (waiting for babies to be born is a notable and happy exception)—we download songs and documents in seconds; we use the “express lanes” for everything from groceries to banks to fast food.

And so because we can do more faster we do. We multitask and drive ourselves crazy with speed, speed, speed.  It becomes harder and harder to slow down and not be driven and anxious.

The pace of technology slowed life down in the past.  It took weeks to sail from Europe to America; people traveled by horse (4 mph at a walk to 25-30 mph at a gallop but only for a mile or so) or on foot (about 3 mph on average; letters took weeks to arrive; and when people visited they stayed for a long time because any trip was lengthy and arduous.   
Now, instead of preparing a horse and carriage for a journey (or having one’s servants do it, which meant waiting for them to do it), we open our cars remotely, jump in, fire up the engine and drive off.

When trains were first introduced in England, some people feared that the speed at which they traveled (about 30 mph) would drive the passengers insane.  Maybe, in a sense, the speed of our lives has driven us all a little crazy.  Excuse me, I’m going to write something by hand and then take a nice leisurely walk.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Things Happen in Threes

At least that's what they say and they're always right.  I never knew who they were, but they seemed to have an anonymous authority that not even my teachers had when I was growing up and believe me, they had a lot of power. One word about the slightest deviance from the straight and narrow on my part and I was in trouble both in school and at home. Maybe that's why I became a teacher: I wanted some of that power they wielded over the poor unfortunate charges in their care.  Then I became a teacher and I learned not so much, as the kids say. Actually I never had a mean-spirited or unkind teacher until I had a certain lady for chorus in eighth grade who was the teacher from the Bad Place.  I won't go into what she said and did.  It still makes me shiver.  But with my other teachers, just the knowledge that they could ruin our lives was enough to keep us in line.  But I digress.

I was thinking about things running in threes the other day, and they seem to do so. Take our recent spate of disasters: earthquake, hurricane and flood. Coincidence that we had three natural disasters and no more?  I think not, Smilin' Jack. Or that people we know in the church and community seem to die in threes. And then there are airplane crashes.  We flew to Charleston, S.C. the same week that the Concorde crashed in Paris and a smaller plane went down.  They delayed our flight for mechanical troubles and I was worried, but we got to Charleston and came back without mishap. It wasn't our time.

I wrote about appliances and house systems and cars communicating with each other and failing one after the other.  Probably just coincidence again, but as I wrote yesterday, our dryer stopped drying and then my dad's Impala that I drive started making a loud and annoying clicking sound from the dashboard, even after the engine was turned off (the mechanic said it was the "blend door actuator motor" or something like that). Both were quickly fixed but I waited for the other shoe to drop.  Sure enough it came last night when I wanted to finish a blog that I had started about noon.  My computer was comatose and couldn't be roused so I had a forced shutdown and it shut down all right. It restored itself to its noon time state and the work on the day's blog was lost.  I didn't want to redo it since it had some detail in it so I did a simpler one about my dryer breaking. Then my color printer was affected by the computer's misbehavior and kept insisting it was out of ink after I had installed four new cartridges.  This is the printer I want to throw out of the second story window every so often because it misbehaves like this every so often. Then my good old reliable laser printer kept trying to come on and making horrible groaning sounds that caused the lights to dim. I was able to set things right with my computer, but I hope I won't have to deal with any group of three disasters again any time soon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Drying Times

 Last week I was drying a load of laundry and went off and left the dryer running.  This is not a good idea for a couple of reasons: the less serious one  is that if you leave the clothes in the dryer after it is done, the clothes wrinkle.  Then you have to iron them. That's no big deal for me because I love to iron but most clothes these days don't need ironing if you get them out of the dryer shortly after it does go off.  In fact, I love to iron clothes so much and rarely have the chance to do so you can bring your wrinkled clothes to me and I will iron them and talk to you at the same time!  Amazing, I know.

The more serious reason that I should not leave the dryer running is that it can catch fire and burn the house down. This I would not enjoy. We know someone who had their house burn down from a dryer fire, and we ourselves had the lint in a poorly designed lint filter catch fire.  Fortunately all it did was burn up the wiring inside the dryer which meant we had to get a new one which was OK because we hated the old dryer about as much as I hate my color printer which is clicking and groaning and burping right now and telling me it needs more expensive color cartridges when I just replaced them. Excuse me while I throw my color printer out of a second story window.

All done. I feel better now. Anyhow, I came back to my running dryer after about three hours of supporting the local economy and found that it had not burned anything, including itself, up and that it was still running after three hours.  That was because the clothes were not dry. The dry clothes fairies that live inside the dryer had noticed that the clothes were not yet dry and had not used their magic dry clothes fairy powers to shut the dryer off and wrinkle the clothes.  The clothes were wet because the dryer wasn't heating up. So it wasn't a dryer. It was a spinner and a darned fine one at that. I guess it would have eventually dried the clothes by spinning them but that would have taken billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity and ruined our planet forever. And I would have been responsible.  Glad I didn't hit that last bookstore. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

.069 Tons

Readers of a certain age may remember a song called "Sixteen Tons" which went to number one on the Billboard charts in 1955 in a version by Tennessee Ernie Ford (readers of a certain age may remember him). I always thought the song was written by Merle Travis (inventor of "Travis picking" on the guitar, a finger style way of playing) who recorded and released the song in 1947, but George S. Davis, a folk singer and songwriter who had been a Kentucky coal miner, claimed on a 1966 recording for Folkways Records to have written the song as "Nine-to-ten tons" in the 1930s.

I was thinking of this song when, as part of my insulating the attic project (see yesterday's blog, "Hot, Hot, Hot"), I decided to take down all but last seven years of tax return records. We moved into the house in 1988 and I think the earliest records date to 1981.  There might be earlier ones buried beneath the others. I found it interesting that the assorted documentation associated with a tax return first fit into a shoe box, then a Girl Scout cookie box, and then a letter-sized storage box.  That's what I used last year, and I think I'm going to have to go to a legal-sized storage box this year.

Of course, I just can't put tax records out with the other recycling: they need to be shredded or otherwise properly disposed of.  We have a pretty good crosscut shredder, but it is an arduous process to shred thousands of checks (they used to be sent back with your monthly bank statement). My father (who I wrote about last week in Bring Him Home") is staying with us in between a stay in Manassas Rehab Center after an illness which put him in the hospital and a place in about a month at Caton Merchant House assisted living.  He wanted something useful to do so he offered to shred the contents of as many boxes as he could until he moved to CMH. I took him up on his offer and he's done about three boxes in two days.

I investigated what it would cost to have the documents shredded by a company and the answer was about a dollar a pound. I weighed all the boxes and they came to 138 pounds (or .069 tons).  I told my father I would pay him a dollar a pound to shred and he said he wanted time and a half for overtime. We are now conducting contract negotiations.I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hot, Hot, Hot, or, Great Idea #453

One of my favorite “new” Christmas movies is The Polar Express, with Tom Hanks voicing several characters and lending his facial features to the conductor of the magical train. I had never read the children’s book by the same name, but had seen the beautiful artwork that graced the cover.
Once I had seen the movie and read the book, I found both charming in a one sense but also dark and disturbing in another.  Most of the characters appear distorted and many of them menacing, so the story is not exactly “The Night Before Christmas.” (Quick note: I am not” jumping the season” like many retailers, although I should note that Target (I think) had Christmas presents and decorations on display of September 1. This post does pertain to the present time of year, as I hope you will see.)
The Polar Express has an outstanding soundtrack, with some songs by Alvin Silvestri, including my new favorite “new” Christmas song, “Believe,” sung by Josh Groban. One other standout is a cartoonized SteveTyler singing “rockin’ on Top of the World,” complete with elves and choreography. The rest of the music, once the kids reach the North Pole, consist of Christmas “standards” by the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Dean Martin.
The connection with the present time comes with the song “Hot, Hot, Hot” which is sung by the Hanks character and waiters on the train as they dance and fly down the aisle while hot chocolate arcs in glorious streams through the air to land in waiting cups.  The children appear to be either amazed or terrified by this spectacle(there is sometimes a thin line between the two).  Here are the lyrics to the song:
[bass solo]
Hot! Hot! Ooh, we got it! Hot! Hot! Hey, we got it! Hot! Hot! Say, we got it! Hot chocolate!

Hot! Hot! Oh, we got it! Hot! Hot! So, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yo, we got it! Hot chocolate!

Here, we've only got one rule: Never ever let it cool! Keep it cookin in the pot, You've got-
Hot choc-o-lat!

Hot! Hot! Ooh, we got it! Hot! Hot! Hey, we got it! Hot! Hot! Say, we got it! Hot chocolate!

Hot! Hot! Oh, we got it! Hot! Hot! So, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yo, we got it! Hot chocolate!

Here, we only got one rule: (Here, we only got one rule:) Never ever let it cool! (Never ever let it cool!) Keep it cookin in the pot, Soon, ya got hot choc-o-lat!

[drum solo]

Hot! Hot! Ooh, we got it! Hot! Hot! Hey, we got it! Hot! Hot! Say, we got it!Hot chocolate!

Hot! Hot! Oh, we got it! Hot! Hot! So, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yo, we got it! Hot chocolate!
Here, we only got one rule: (Here, we only got one rule:)  Never ever let it cool! (Never ever let it cool!) Keep it cookin in the pot, Soon, ya got hot choc-o-lat!

Hot! Hot! Hey,  we got it! Hot! Hot!  Whoa, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot!
Whoa, we got it! Hot! Hot! Hey, we got it! Hot! Hot! Whoa, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot! Whoa, we got it!

[key change]

Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot! Whoa, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it! Hot! Hot! Whoa, we got it! Hot! Hot! Yeah, we got it!

[instrumental solo]

Hot chocolate!

You might be wondering what this song has to do with anything, particularly since it is a Christmas song and it is now late September. The connection is that I’ve been singing it while I add insulation to my attic. The reason I’m singing it is that the temperature in an attic on an 80 degree day is above 110 degrees. I could wait for cooler weather, but where’s the fun in that? In order to not itch to death from the fiberglass in the insulation I wear jeans, socks, old shoes, a nylon jacket, goggles, a mask, a hard hat and surgical gloves.  So it’s very hot. But I’m increasing the R-vale of insulation in the attic to about 6 so next winter the gas company will pay me. So I’m not now.  In only ten years my heat savings will pay for the 26 bundles of insulaton I bought. Now that’s hot!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Death of a Cat

Death of a Cat
I originally wrote this in late July of 2010 as one of my columns for theNews and Messenger  I had titled it "Death of a Cat.." The headline changed to head line to "Writers and thet  Cats." More than one person told me how surprised they were to find out what the writing was really about.
There’s a special relationship between writers and cats, although having a cat doesn’t make one a writer any more than owning  a baseball bat makes one a major leaguer. To this day, Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West has about 60 cats, some of them with extra toes. We have always had at least one cat since we set up housekeeping nearly 37 years ago.  They have been a succession of domestic short hairs with the exception of the first one, Poco, a fiery-tempered Siamese who was a little too much for us. They had, by and large, a succession of names ending in “O,” and most of those names pertained to music. There was Mickey, Gizmo, Alamo, Largo, Arco and the current two, Nacho and Trio.  

 I should say the current one since Trio, a grand dame of a calico, passed on this week. She was about a month over twenty-one years, which made her roughly 106 in human terms. She had a good life and a long one. There was no question who the alpha cat was when she was in the house. She was low-maintenance in a cat sort of way, visiting us and climbing on Becky’s lap as she grew older.  Her coat and eyes were bright right up until the very end.
Even late in life when she was deaf and apparently arthritic although she was capable of jumping to the top of a six-foot-fence from a sitting position. The two cats intertwined themselves in our lives, begging for scraps from the table, sleeping on our bed (or anywhere else they wanted), sitting by patiently as we read or wrote or played the piano or watched television.
She was sent on her way as most older pets are, by a rather sudden kidney failure. We had been out of town for several days, with a relative and friend to look in on our cats in our absence. Our friend called to say she could not find Trio on Thursday and that she seemed to be ill. Our nephew Josh came over that evening and found her.  She appeared to be all right.  When we got home the next day, she was weak and barely able to stand. We took her to Prince William Animal Hospital, where Dr. Teresa Brown and her colleagues and staff have taken wonderful care of our cats as long as we’ve had them. Dr. Brown made the diagnosis of kidney failure and started us on a course of treatment. Trio revived somewhat but not enough. She lasted one more day.

  Up until the end she loved to lie in the sun in the back yard, even on the hottest days.
People who have faithful pets know the pain of loss when one dies. We tell ourselves it’s just an animal, but that thought cannot assuage the real grief we feel on their passing. Knowing that we have given them a good and comfortable life, particularly if they are a rescue animal, lessens our sorrow somewhat. I’ve noticed the phenomenon I’ve experienced with deaths of people, of expecting to see them in familiar places.  In this case, I expect to see a calico cat in the warmest (or coolest) place in the house or calling for food or begging from the table.
I believe we all have our roles to play in life.  Trio’s role was to be a constant presence, a bundle of  idiosyncrasies that cats are. She was a serious cat, and a good one.

Emily Dickinson had it right: “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.” Into our lives that are filled with all kinds of activities and busy-ness come reminders of the basics: births, graduations, birthdays, holidays and deaths. We can learn much from cats, from how they patiently wait and watch, how they are faithful and undemanding.
As I was digging the hole for her grave, a song came into my mind, an unexpected song since it ce
lebrates the wonder of life. Maybe it was a reminder that life goes on in spite of loss.
All things bright and beautiful
            All creatures great and small
            All things wide and wonderful
            The Lord God made them all.

Good-bye, Trio. Rest in peace.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Wonders of the Cardboard Box

I don’t know if you’ve ever had a thought or idea or question that you believed was so original and thought-provoking that it would immediately occasion a raging discussion that would last for days or dissolve the conversation into rapt silence as your listeners sat there in awe, blinded by your brilliance. Well, I haven’t either, although I thought I had a winner a couple of weeks ago.

I had received a package from Amazon,com that day and it came in a cardboard box. As usual, it was carefully packed and the item arrived in excellent condition thanks to the little airbags companies are using now or the stupid styrofoam peanuts that are the instruments of Satan. You know what I’m talking about—they fall out of the box, they cling to each other through static electricity and they are totally useless for anything except for cushioning breakable objects.  That, I will grant you, they are very good at. One young woman told me that they are useful for filling in bottom of pots she puts plants in.  She uses less expensive potting soil that way/   But the usefulness of styrofoam peanuts pales in comparison to the extremely common and exceptionally useful corrugated cardboard box.

I wondered to myself if boxes were found all over the world in all cultures. I thought they might, and when I couldn’t find an answer on Google I asked Amy and her bf Chris while we were hacking lunch together one day. “Do you think that the cardboard box is universally known throughout all cultures of the world?” I asked, and they promptly looked at me as if I had jst  landed from another planet.

“Noooo…” they said slowly and almost in unison. “I would think that there are some third world cultures that have never seen a cardboard box,” ventured Chris.

“They’re more likely to be made from indigenous materials,” said Amy. “And they wouldn’t be very useful or durable in a wet climate.”

I had asked the question because somewhere in this piece I wanted to say that cardboard boxes are known universally, all over the world.  Now, thanks to my young friends, I have to say that they’re widely—but not universally--known and used by most people in many parts of the globe.

I suppose I like cardboard boxes because they are useful and wide-spread, but I also like them because I can make things from them with a precision and art that I can’t do with wood.  It’s just that cardboard creations, except among the experimental art community, are not considered art.  I have a lot of experience working with cardboard.  I used to make little airplanes out of cardboard and they would “fly” because I threw them much as a rock would. I made little houses and buildings for my HO railroad and they looked dilapidated (it was the best I could do at age 10), so I made a deserted village for my train to run through. I even made a cardboard aircraft carrier about a foot long that floated nicely until the cardboard became saturated and the boat sank.  My crowning failure was a cardboard model of an experimental Air Force predecessor of the Space Shuttle called the Dyna-Soar. I made a nice model of it, about a eight inches long, except I forgot the detail of gluing a piece of aluminum foil in back of the little rocket engine called a Jet-X  to prevent the assembly from catching fire from the hot exhaust. I took the model out one fine spring day to see how it flew. I lit the fuse to the engine, and when the fuel pellet caught, launched the Dyna-Soar into the air. It took off for the heavens like a scalded hog, but then the exhaust caught the plane on fire.  It flew along, burning merrily for awhile, and then the flames reached the glue which I had used to join the parts together.  This kind of glue is extremely combustible, even explosive under the right circumstances. The tiny ship exploded into a fireball that filled me with ambivalence.  On one hand I was sad to see many hours’ work go up in flame; on the other, it was a cool explosion. As ashes from the craft drifted slowly downward, my mother looked up from the flower bed she was weeding. “What was that?” she asked. “Oh, just a little science experiment,” I answered and went back into the house.

That was pretty much the end of my cardboard builder’s career until a few years ago when a children’s musical production at our church needed an ark. I was asked to build one, and, short on gopher wood, built one out of—you guessed it—cardboard.  It was about ten feet long and looked like a ten-foot-long ark.  It might still be in a closet somewhere. Some members of the choir went down to look at it one night after rehearsal, and even Bob Wine, master cabinet maker, said it looked like it was made of wood. Of course, he was at the back of the sanctuary looking at my creation in poor light while squinting, but I’ll take any compliment I can.

So can cardboard.  The humble box made of layers of paper might not be much to look at, but try to imagine the world without it. I wouldn't want to.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bring Him Home

My dad, 86 years old, has been through some rough patches for about the last ten years. He took care of my mom when she was in the early stages of Alzheimer's.  The strain probably caused him a (minor) stroke in 2003. He really didn't let anyone know her condition, although it was evident something was wrong. Becky figured out what was happening and went with them to the neurologist who made the diagnosis. When my mom talked to me about it, she said, "I feel sorry for myself, but I feel even sorrier for all of you." I was driving shortly after I got the news and Josh Groban's "You're Still You" came on the radio. I had to pull over to the side of the road.  A family friend sang the song at her funeral and I still cannot listen to it today.

She kept falling and finally in about 2004 she was taken to the emergency room (it was on their anniversary date, February 15) and had to be placed in the old Annaberg Manor where she remained for several months. My dad visited her every day and stayed with her all day except for his own doctor appointments.  I was retired by this time and would go over and sit with her when he had to be away.

He was determined to take her home and take care of her. She became well enough to leave Annaberg although she could not walk without assistance. They had sold the farm they lived a few years before but were allowed to stay on the property as long as they wanted to. While Mom was in the nursing home Dad bought a house at my insistence closer to us and moved there. When she was able to come home he took care of her there with the help of some aides who came during the day. He was hospitalized for a pacemaker implant in 2005, and some friends and I took turns staying with her overnight.

Mom passed away in October, 2007. Dad was completely worn out and hospitalized by pneumonia several times during early 2008. After we couldn't locate him when we were out of town in the spring of 2008, we insisted that he relocate to a retirement home not far away. He had several falls and bouts with pneumonia in the next several years, topped off by a leg artery bypass last November which became infected.  He wasn't clear of that until March. He had several more hospitalizations for falls and hypertension during the summer and we started the process to move him to assisted living. About a month ago, he became dehydrated, fell, and had to be hospitalized. He was discharged to a rehab facility in town. Then he became hyper-hydrated which caused an electrolyte imbalance which caused him to be re-hospitalized. The hospital got things under control and he went back to the rehab place for three weeks of rest, p.t. and o.t. with the goal of becoming strong enough to live semi-independently in a nice assisted living place in town.

He was discharged yesterday and since his room at assisted living won't be ready until late October, he is staying with us. I jokingly offered a cardboard box in the back yard, but we have set him up in the living room, converting it to a bedroom as we did when Becky was recovering from a hip operation several years ago and couldn't use the stairs to the bedroom.

It's good to have Dad with us. He and I have turned into jigsaw puzzle champs and enjoy watching the Nationals and Redskins play and doing our own color commentary on the games. He tells me stories from his earlier days that I have never heard before. If you want to talk to him, we had his phone number forwarded to ours so just call his number and it will ring here and he can talk to you.  He would enjoy your visits, but please call to make sure he's there.

I am touched and amazed by my father's devotion to my mother, especially during her illness. He has endured all that has happened to him in the past ten years or so with grace and good humor (and a little grumbling). I respect and admire him for that, and I have found out in the past several years how much I love the guy. He is truly a great representative of the Greatest Generation. Welcome home, Dad.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Memorial, Part 4: Petitions

René Clausen wrote of this section,

The final section, "Petitions" is an elegiac and introspective musical prayer for mercy, mutual understanding, and hope for the future. The primary text is one verse form Psalm 80, "O God, shine your light on us and we shall be saved."  This phrase is presented, first sequentially, and then simultaneously, in English, Latin,(Domine Deus, ostende lucem tuam, Et salvie erimus) Hebrew (Transliterated: Adonai, behaer panecha, venivashea) and Arabic (Transliterated: Ya Rab Naw-war Alaina).  In juxtaposing these languages, some of which are the languages of cultures at war with one another, it is the hope of the composer that is so doing we may find a common ground of higher being, and be called away from darkness into light.  The piece ends with a quiet Kyrie--a plea for God's mercy on this world.

The section begins with the sopranos singing "Adonai," with an octave leap on the first two notes of each phrase. This time the word is sung with a worshipful, supplicating tone.  They are joined in turn by the altos, tenors and bass in a beautiful contrapuntal passage which   ends in two unison repetitions of "Adonai."  The baritone then reenters, with the choir singing the "Adonai" figure underneath the solo:

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy upon us all
We pray for our enemies, all those who hate us,
We condemn them to your mercy, O God.

This solo contains one of the most problematic passages in the piece.  What does it mean to be condemned to the mercy of God? Is it that we all, Americans and terrorists alike live under the mercy of God? Is judgment involved in mercy?  God is characterized as a merciful and just God, so the answer lies somewhere in the tension of those two opposing ideas.  I do not know what that answer is. 

The choir then sings the passage from Psalm 80, first the women and then the men, in Arabic.

The bass comes back in:

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy upon us all.
If there be any grain of hatred in us,
Wash us clean and cleanse us, wash us clean and cleanse us,
Wash us clean and cleanse us.
Move us to the common  ground of your being, O God. 

The choir then begins the "Kyrie" section, one of the most lyric parts of the work. This song has become popular as a stand-alone anthem. Of the idea of mercy in this part, René Clausen's department chair, Dr.  Robert J. Chabora, said, "All we can do is ask for mercy," but there is in this section a sense of hope. We may take what is violent and ugly and tragic out of life and transform it with the beauty of the art we create. That is one reason we sing, and it is one reason we went to New York City for this remarkable weekend that I think none of us will ever forget.

Memorial, Part 3: Prayers

A natural response to something like the 9/11 attack is not only grief and shock but also rage and a desire for revenge.  Rene Clausen departs from these sorts of reaction and turn to expressions of faith of several sorts. The first section of Part 3 is totally unexpected: it came from an piece by a young woman, a  Buddhist monk, who wrote a these words as a chant, a meditation. The words are simple: "May I be peaceful; may you be peaceful; may they be peaceful."  Repeated in a random fashion by the voice parts of the choir, the sound that results is a vast murmuring, ephemeral, distant, diaphanous, and soft. The  individual words may not be distinguished and the result is an overall effect rather than a meaning. The chant is based on the structure of a Buddhist Metta Meditation--a three-part series of personal meditation.

The circle become wider through the succeeding verses.  First "I," then enlarging to include one other with "you" and finally to the whole world with "they."

A baritone solo overlays the chant section.  The words of many of the prayers in the work were the work of Dr. Roy Hammerling of the Concordia College Religion Department, who wrote the prayers for a series of services held at the college in the week following 9/11.

The words to the solo in this section are

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy on us all. For those who have fallen and are lost, lost in the oblivion of rubble, blanket them with your eternal light.

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy on us all.  For those whose souls have  turned cold and empty, grant them a large measure of your mercy, and a nutritious kernel of your kindness, grant them peace, grant them peace.

Gracious and loving God, pour forth your mercy upon us all. For those whose dreams  are haunted, haunted by images of horror, enfold them in your loving embrace. Fill our hearts with your healing love.

At the end of the solo and chants, the choir moves to a statement: May I live with peace of heart,may you live with peace of heart, may we live in joy!

Clausen said he regarded the last statement as the most joyful of the entire work. 

One of our ministers posted on Facebook this statement from William Willomon in Christian Century, who asked what would've happened if, in response to 9/11, we'd have gone to the cross of Christ instead of the flag.This section considers the same idea: what if we had chosen a spiritual response instead of a patriotic one? 

Tomorrow:Memorial, Part 4: Petitions

Friday, September 16, 2011

Memorial, Part 2: The Attack

The "September Morning" section of Memorial begins in peace and serenity, evoking the beauty of a clear day with no threat of rain in the sky.  The first part of the sectionis easy to sing, with familiar notes, intervals and rests.

Shortly after the G# comes in low bass against the chords in D, and some troubling transitional chords, the chorus sings some figures which Clausen told us "should sound scary and shocked."  These sounds of fear and shock followed by each section wailing the ancient Hebraic name of God: "Adonai!" It is a calling on God in the face of the unbelievable, the unthinkable and the unimaginable.  More wordless disturbed parts follow, ending in an atonal chord overlaid by a wordless high-pitched scream from the chorus.

The percussion then plays two eighth notes followed by three beats of  silence and then two more eighth notes. This passage indicates the collisions of the aircraft with the Twin Towers. The orchestra moves into a rapid eighth note section which can best be described as agitated.  The choir reenters, singing the syllables of "Adonai" with a pause before the last syllable. The effect is that of someone who is calling on God breathlessly, in great shock at what he or she has witnessed and unable to say anything more. After a short trouble instrumental passage the women sing "Adonai" in  chant-like fashion while the men sing the opening to the 22nd Psalm: "O God, why hast thous forsaken me?" The entire chorus picks up this cry in four parts, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The next section is eerie and difficult for trained singers to produce. The sounds are not produced on a pitch and rise and fall randomly. Dr. Clausen commented that this sound was not singing: it was the wailing of humans who are fearful, awestruck, and feeling a lack of control with their breath taken away by what they have witnessed. The vocal section goes out on a high-pitched wail of anguish and sorrow, followed by the orchestra playing a descending scale, perhaps representing the fall of the towers. Next, over a low drone comes a searching piano pattern which is overlaid by a single horn playing a theme from the next section, "Prayers."

Next Week: Memorial, Part 3: Prayers

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Memorial, Part 1: September Morning

At our workshop with René Clausen, he told us that he began work on Memorial in March, 2002 after being asked by the president of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) to do the work as a commissioned piece.

He said he ran into a problem right away. How does one find a structure (a requiem, for example) for something without an established structure, for an entirely unique event. He wrestled with the puzzle of how to begin the work. His wife finally asked a question that broke the impasse. She said, "What kind of day was it?"

That question was a key to starting the piece. His answer was the it was a beautiful day, a splendid day. The sky was what pilots call "severe clear," a perfectly clear blue. I know you're not supposed to associate specific images with instrumental classical works, but this section sounds to me like a soundtrack for a film about New York. I can see a pan down from the blue sky to the end of Manhattan Island with the twin towers bright and gleaming in the sun. Then there are shots of people going to work, trucks unloading supplies, crowds of people waiting at lights, the trees and tranquility of Central Park..

The music underneath my movie of the mind is what Clausen called romantic and Debussyean, requiring a "splendid tone" from the singers. The wordless obbligato soars in great smooth arcs through this section, with the parts sometimes in unison, sometimes cascading in four parts.

After several minutes, the beauty of the music of this section is undercut by the orchestra playing a low G# in the key of D, creating a premonitory dissonance. The hijacked aircraft are coming.

Tomorrow: Memorial, Part 2: The Attack

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Memorial: An Overview

(Note: Much of the information for this posting came from a page on the  René  Clausen Music website.) Composer René Clausen describes "Memorial (as) a composition for mixed chorus, orchestra and baritone solo, based on subject material which reflects the horrific events of September 11, 2001, in New York City."

René Clausen was commissioned in 2002 by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) to write a piece commemorating the tragedies of Sept. 11, which was performed at the ACDA National Convention in New York City in February, 2003.

Clausen, conductor of The Concordia College Choir, joined the exclusive club of composers commissioned to write the Raymond W. Brock Memorial Commission The Concordia Choir, and the Concordia Orchestra along with a choir made up of Concordia faculty and friends, were asked to perform Clausen's composition.

"This opportunity was, without a doubt, the highest compositional honor of my life..."  noted Clausen.

The text of the solo in the 25-minute piece uses portions of a series of prayers written during the week of 9/11 by Dr. Roy Hammerling of the Concordia religion department.

Presented as one continuous movement, the composition has four sections.The music of the first two sections, subtitled "September Morning" and "The Attack," develop evocative imagery. "September Morning" attempts to musically paint a picture of a beautiful, sun-lit September morning in New York City. The chorus is used as a section of the orchestra, intoning wordless vocals in a Debussy-like tone poem. As might be expected, the music symbolizing the attack of the World Trade Center towers inspires music that is highly dramatic and employs non-traditional instrumental and vocal techniques that depict the catastrophic chain of events.

"The music is dissonant, rhythmically intense and colorful," says Clausen. "The only text used in the first two sections is the phrase "O, God, why have you forsaken me?" The world for God is also presented in Hebrew - Adonai. The reason for this minimal text owes to the actual nature of witness responses to the shocking, unfolding drama of the attack."

The second half of the composition, subtitled "Prayers" and "Petitions," is a spiritual response to the events. The "Prayers" section is for baritone solo, chorus and orchestra. The final section, "Petitions," is an introspective musical prayer for mercy, mutual understanding and hope for the future. The primary text is the phrase, "Oh God, shine your light on us, and we shall be saved." According to Clausen, this phrase is presented first sequentially and then simultaneously in English, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic.

Becky was at the premiere performance of this piece at the ACDA Conference in February 2003 in New York City at Avery Fisher Hall.  She said that it was an emotionally charged work that left most of the audience in tears.

Tomorrow: My comments on Part 1, "September Morning."  Please note that I meant to post the piece of "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) last night but forgot to until this morning.  So this post will be the second one today.  Think of one as being for Tuesday and this one for today.

Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)

Note: I feel I should tell you that the next several days of Biscuit City will be about 9/11 and its aftermath.  If you were saturated by coverage of the tenth anniversary and can't read or listen to or watch any more about it, I understand.  I can't do much more with it other than write this because of our experience singing "Memorial" this past Sunday at the Lincoln Center. I'll be back to the usual random musings next week. Thank you.

I am not an Allen Jackson fan (I think he wrote "Chattahoochee" and the video shows him or someone water skiing on cowboy boots), but one of his songs continues to tear me up. I actually heard it first a few years ago on a three-CD collection entitled Song of America, an historical collection of American songs sung by contemporary singers starting with a "Lakota Dream Song," continuing through Revolutionary War Songs, pioneer songs, Stephen Foster songs, spirituals, Sousa marches, music of World War I, the 'twenties, the Depression, World War II, the 'fifties and sixties, up to the present day. It was sung by Adam and Shannon Wright, about whom I know nothing except that their version of the song brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it and other times thereafter.

The genesis of the song is interesting. Wikipedia notes,

(Allan) Jackson wanted to write a song expressing his thoughts and emotions, but he found it hard to do so for many weeks. "I didn't want to write a patriotic song,' Jackson said. 'And I didn't want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn't want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day.'

Finally, on the Sunday morning of October 28, 2001, he woke up at 4 a.m. with the melody, opening lines and chorus going through his mind. He hastily got out of bed, still in his underwear, and sang them into a hand-held recorder so he wouldn't forget them. Later that morning, when his wife and children had gone to Sunday school, he sat down in his study and completed the lyrics.

Initially, he felt squeamish about recording it, much less releasing it, because he disliked the idea of capitalizing on a tragedy. But after he played it for his wife Denise and for his producer, Keith Stegall, and it met with their approval, Jackson went into the studio to record "Where Were You" that week. On Stegall's advice, Jackson played the finished track for a group of executives at his record label. "We just kind of looked at one another", RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante said later. "Nobody spoke for a full minute."

Here are the lyrics to the song with some of my comments.

Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning) 

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or working on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Risin' against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?

I was teaching then, and we had not been back from summer vacation for many days.  It was during a second period junior English class that our principal, Ann Monday came on the P.A.  It was about twenty minutes before class ended which was unusual in and of itself.  Principals tried to hold announcements and make them the first few or the last few minutes of class.

The iconic long distance shot of the buildings with black smoke pouring out of them is indelibly etched in my mind's eye.

Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out in pride for the red, white and blue
And the heroes who died just doin' what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?

The genius of this song is in the way Jackson shows us a wide variety of Americans at different daily tasks brought up short by the horrible news. This verse asks several questions which enumerate possible reactions.  For me, the answers were yes to all of the above.

The interviews with the children of the lost were unbearable to watch. Matt Lauer interviewed a little boy who was so grief-stricken. They showed that again this weekend and that's when I turned the set off.

I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell
you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love

Jackson characterizes himself as a "singer of simple songs."  This is not a simple song. And today I would say we all know the difference between Iraq and Iran. He speaks of turning to God and Jesus in this trial. I love the affirmation from Corinthians 13, "Now endure faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest is love."

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day?
Were you teaching a class full of innocent children
Or driving down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?

I was teaching a class full of children, although how innocent they were is debatable. They were finishing up a class assignment when the announcement came, and they quietly continued. I went to my computer in the back of the room and looked at the news feed. We had been to the top of the Twin Towers exactly three weeks before.  I remember looking down on light aircraft flying along the Hudson River and idly thinking about what would happen if one of them crashed into one of the towers.  I doubted it would do much damage and initially that was my thought. I wondered why Ann had announced that a light aircraft had crashed into the towers. When I saw the news feed I knew it was much, much worse.

The students finished their work and passed it in and asked if we could turn on the television that was in all our classrooms.  I said, "We can watch but you won't like what you see."  I turned the set on and a shocked silence descended on the room. When time for the end of class came, they got  up quietly and filed out.

I remember being frustrated that, since it was so near the beginning of school, I didn't know them well enough to be of any help or comfort to them.

School pretty much dissolved after that.  I didn't have a class--not that anyone was in class--so I went to the office to help the parents find their way to classrooms to pick up their children, which many of them did.  The students were clustered in the hallways, crying and hugging. Word passed that the Pentagon had been hit.  We had great numbers of students with parents that worked in the Pentagon.  I let one girl use my cell phone to try to make contact with her father who worked there.  The lines were jammed and she couldn't get through.  As upset as she was, she thanked me through her tears for the use of my phone. I will never forget that stricken tear-stained young face.

Later we found out that one student did lose a parent.  It wasn't the girl I loaned my phone to.

 Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Or speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Or go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns?

My mother called after I got home from school to tell me that my brother, a pilot for Delta Airlines, was safe on the ground in Chicago.  He spent several days there in a motel before he could get home to Atlanta.

I kept thinking it was all a bad dream when I woke up for the next week or so. We didn't have school the next day.  No one knew if the attacks would continue or not.

Since then I cannot stomach violence on TV or in movies.  I'm about the only person on earth who doesn't think Lucille Ball is at all funny, so I usually watch Frasier reruns instead of I Love Lucy. Same effect.

Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Did you stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?

We had a service at the church for the victims and their families some time that week. I think I wrote a prayer for it.  I never felt so inadequate to a task in all my life.

Amy was working in Fairfax at the time and living in Oakton and Alyssa was in college but at home for some reason.  We had dinner together as a family and talked.  It was warm and comforting to be together. I do thank God every day for my family and friends.

[Repeat Chorus 2x]
And the greatest is love.
And the greatest is love.

Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?

These ten years I have had to keep reminding myself that love is stronger than hate. The greatest of these is love. 

Allan Jackson said an interview recently, I'm glad we did it (recorded it) because I've had nothing but wonderful comments ever since, you know, 10 years ago. People told me how much the song meant to them and affected them. It still does.

He said that, despite the fact that he is blessed with more than enough hits for three shows in a row, people still come just to hear "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)."

People seem like they expect me to do it and they enjoy hearing it all these years later. I've seen people even get up and leave after the song's over, like they've been waiting for it the whole show, he said.

Jackson, like most Americans, remembers exactly what he was doing on that morning a decade ago.

I was actually here at home in Nashville, and I was walking outside. We have a big piece of property and I was walking for exercise. It was a beautiful day, just like it was up in New York. Early fall, blue sky. And I came in the house and saw it on the television, just like most people did, he said.

He paused, as if the memory had jarred something in him. His Southern manner of speech slowed even further. He said he often can't help but notice air traffic, especially in a travel hub like Nashville. He continued: I'm a pilot and I just remember ... I remember them shutting down all the air travel. I just remember, that day, it was the first time - ever - that there hadn't been airplanes in the sky. After that morning, there were none. There were no planes anywhere. The skies were so ... quiet. 

We live about 17 miles from Dulles Airport and, depending on the wind, are under one of the landing patterns. For several days there was an eerie quiet as none of the big birds flew over on their way to a landing.

Allan Jackson may or may not be a "singer of simple songs," but he got this one exactly right.

Tomorrow: My commentary on Part 1 of Memorial, "September Morning."

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Want to Be a Part of It

I wrote briefly about our trip to New York City to sing as part of a choir commemorating the tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/2001. I was so disoriented by our long trek to the big city I published the post late Thursday, which is why it appears under Thursday (Really.). Just mentally change Thursday to Friday and you'll have it.

Singing "Memorial" by Rene Clausen was such an incredibly deep and moving experience I will need to devote several posts about it. Today I will try to give you a context for the experience by writing about what Becky and I did. In other posts I will talk about the piece, "Memorial" itself. There are no links to the piece, but you can buy a CD of it as the Concordia College Choir website at I hope you will. It is a remarkable piece.

I have noted some of these events on Facebook and in emails, but I wanted to draw them all together in one place. The concert was sponsored by Distinguished Concerts International New York or DCINY, the same group that sponsored the concert in honor of the 70th Anniversary of Shawnee Press at Carnegie Hall a couple of years ago that we participated in.  It's a kind of pay to play system. You pay, you get to be in the choir. The choirs are generally directed by the big names in choral music today: Joseph Martin, Greg Gilpin, Rene Clausen. People from all around the country come to be part of a large choir. We had 22 people from Chorale participate in this event with several spouses also coming.

We arrived Thursday evening about 8 PM after ten and a half hours on the road because of accidents, congestion and roadwork at the Holiday Inn Midtown at West 57th Street. The desk clerk recommended the Puttanesca Restaurant as a good Italian place around the corner on Ninth Avenue. It was good and we enjoyed the meal. That evening news of a serious terrorist threat to New York and Washington came out.  We also heard of flooding in Northern Virginia.

Thursday evening we used a method Becky evolved at conferences of buying breakfast foods at little grocery stores and thus avoiding the high price of breakfast in hotels.

We ate our breakfast the next morning (Friday) and poked round in the morning, noticing the police had all but one lane of the six-lane avenues blocked off and were checking every truck and using explosive sniffing dogs. We ate lunch at a Subway and had our first rehearsal at Calvary Baptist Church on West 57th Street. The group was so large (250 singers) it was necessary to have different rehearsals at different places We couldn't use the church the next day, for example, because there was a wedding there. Rene Clausen both rehearsed the group and shared with us the process by which the piece came to be written, section by section. We were supposed to go until 5 PM but finished about 4. We began to have a sense that this group of singers was good.

We took the subway to the theater district, got tickets from the TKTS booth for Jersey Boys and ate at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company in Times Square. I was a fan of the Four Seasons in high school and enjoyed the music and the story although they were more pathetic with their self-made problems than tragic.  And they cussed. A lot.  If you don't like cussing, see something else.

Saturday morning, another rehearsal, another venue, this time the Ethical Society (I don't know what it is, either) on West 62nd Street. We made more progress on the song.  Becky and I had lunch at the Cafe Europa (a very good local chain) at West 57th and Seventh Avenue after stopping at the Steinway House and its interesting gift shop. After lunch, we ended up walking down Sixth to the subway at Rockefeller Center because the F Station at Sixth Avenue and 57th Street did not have trains going downtown because of construction.  We made our way to the Tenement Museum. The tour was interesting and engaging and the gift shop filled with unique gifts.

We went back to hotel briefly and then had dinner at the Puttanesca again and went to the Theater District to see How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying with Daniel Radcliffe and John Larouquette. We found out  Harry Potter is short but can really dance and sing and that Larouquette is  a comic genius

The next morning we had a big breakfast at the Europa Restaurant. Since we were leaving that evening we had to check out before dress and left our suitcases in some friends' room who were staying another night so we could change from our concert attire and put on travel clothes. The  dress went well and soon we were back in the dressing rooms preparing for the performance.  I should add that Avery Fischer Hall is incredibly beautiful. Then it was time for the concert. The orchestra played "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber and then we sang our piece.  I noticed the audience was very still which meant they were listening closely. We were seated in the third tier during intermission.The choir which did the second part of the concert was not well prepared and the music, which used some powerful and beautiful words from poetry and other important sources, was dreadful--repetitious and less than tuneful. Some of the college kids in our choir fell asleep and were snoring until they were startled awake by an all too frequent slamdown on the timpani.  By the time the torture ended we realized we would not be able to make the reception and make our train.  We changed back at the hotel and took a taxi to Penn Station. We had some pizza for dinner and found the waiting room filled with Giant fans who were on their way to a game in the Meadowlands. They stayed on the train until the Secaucus stop where they all got off.  We changed trains at Newark Station and barely made the one bound for Somerville. We retrieved the car, took the interstates back and ran into some heavy rains on the way.  We used the interstate route rather than one recommended as most direct by Google Maps or GPS. Our total time back was about seven hours. Quite a difference.

We were back at the church to allow our riders to retrieve their rides by 1:30 and then home and to bed by 2.

Tomorrow, some insights into "Memorial."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Travel Is a Curse

That's what my brother Ron, a commercial airline pilot, says about travel.  And he should know.  He has traveled a lot.
We generally have fairly smooth trips.  Driving, Becky drives and I navigate and that works out well because she is a good driver and likes to drive; I don't like to drive and I do like maps and GPS's. (Plural?) I'm a pretty good navigator except when I get us lost. Which has happened a few times.  Some. You get the idea.

We are in New York City tonight to be a part of "A Concert of Commemoration, Honoring the 10th Anniversary of 9/11" to be held in Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Center on Sunday at 1:30 PM. We and some others from the Manassas Chorale will be part of a chorus that sings "Memorial," a piece depicting chorally the attacks on 9/11 and responses to them.  It is a touching, moving and in places disturbing piece.

To get here we do what we usually do when we come to New York City: we drive to an obliging church's lot in New Jersey and take the New Jersey Transit train into Penn Station. Normally it takes about 5 1/2 hours.  Today it took 10 1/2. There was a tractor-trailer in the trees on the Beltway, and about half a mile from our destination in New Jersey, the road went from three to one lanes because of road construction.  It took us an hour to go half a mile. We had good company but it was a long hard trip.  Becky drove all the way.  I looked at my maps and GPS.

Oh, and I forgot my New Jersey Transit Senior Pass which would have given me half off my ticket. And that's why travel is a curse.

Remembering to Forget

If some of you, at least, are like me, you suffer from what some call "C.R. S. Syndrome."  C. R. S. stands for "Can't Remember...Stuff), and I have it bad.  I think I always had. I remember several teachers in elementary school that I would make a fine absent-minded professor but for the fact I was in fourth grade. I just couldn't help it.

As I think about my life, I realize that much of what I do during a typical day is devoted to helping me make sure I remember what I need to remember.  In pressure situations I have checklists and lists of checklists... which I then lose. I put things that have to go someplace by the front door.  Sometimes I put them in the car so I'll know they will go where I am going, and maybe end up at their destination. Sometimes I put them on the car roof and, forgetting they're there, drive off with papers or sticks of wood or a plastic pitcher flying away.  I console myself with the thought that I never (as did one absent-minded parent) put a baby in a safety  seat on the roof of a car and drove off.  People driving along beside him tried in every way they think of to tell him that he had a baby in a carrier on his car roof and did not succeed for several miles. Luckily, the baby was not harmed.

Like many people, I misplace certain important household objects, like the TV/ VCR (anyone still have one of those like me?)/DVD/cable box remote. If you're like me, you'll spend more time looking for the remote than walking over and turning the whatever on manually.  Then there are misplaced eyeglasses and thereby hangs a tale. I misplace mine with alarming frequency (sometimes on top of my head) but am not too hard on myself: they are clear and made of glass (duh) and hard to see.

I know some people who buy 6 or 8 pairs of drug store reading glasses and leave pair in each room.  Nice idea, but if I tried it, they'd all end up in the same room.

Recently I misplaced my year-old bifocals. And I mean misplaced them. I looked everywhere I could think of for two weeks and no bifocals. It was as if they had disappeared off the face of the earth. I distinctly remembered having them on while I talked on the phone but past that, no clue. Now, my vision insurance covers (partially) lenses every year and frames every two years.  I don't know why there is a difference; I just know that I sit on my glasses and bend the frames ( all too frequently) far more often than I break the lenses (never).

So, I decided it was time to replace my lost glasses and took myself to Prince William Eye Associates, a great practice right there on Centreville Road not far from my house. The nice people there measured me for new frames and new lenses based on my prescription on file. I put the order in, paid (they gave me discounts equivalent to my vision insurance), got in my car and pulled out on Centreville Road on my way to Bloom.  As sometimes happens around here, someone decided to pull out in front of me leaving so little space I had to cram on the brakes of the big Impala with all the strength I had. As the car rapidly decelerated, something the size of  pair of eyeglasses slid out from under the driver's seat.  It was my missing glasses.  That was where they had been all that time. I was happy to see them (and to see through them) and didn't cancel the order for the new specs since they had progressive lenses which are useful for computer work.

So, I unconsciously put my glasses somewhere and just as unconsciously found them. That has a symmetry that I like.  And I didn't make a spectacle out of myself doing it.

Some more additions to the Honor Roll of teachers:

The late Margaret Hunt, piano teacher and natural force for music in this area.  I described her memorial service in the August 15th blog, "A Series of Fortunate Events."

The music teachers at the Manassas Baptist Church School of Music do a wonderful job of teaching people of all ages instruments ranging from French horn to guitar.

And there's Sheila Lamb, teacher, librarian, former park ranger, and writer who just published her first book, Once a Goddess, now available in a Kindle edition on but soon to be published in a traditional format.