Veterans Day 2017: remembering Uncle Reeves

Uncle Reeves and Aunt Jewell, early 1970s

My family has about the average number of veterans and career military personnel. I’ll write another day about the long career of my mom’s brother John Brackbill and his service in the Army and Navy. But on this particular day-before-Veterans Day, I’m thinking about my Uncle Reeves.

Reeves Dennis Church enlisted in August 1941, leaving his life as a merchant in Hot Springs, North Carolina. He trained in Boston; near the end of his life he told us highly abbreviated and edited stories of the infamous Scollay Square. In June 1942 he sailed to New York on the USS Siren as a seaman first class. By September he was sailing from Key West to Cuba, still on the Siren, having been promoted to yeoman third class. He was still serving on the Siren in March 1944, but had been promoted to Yeoman First Class. By May of that year he headed back to New York, when the Siren was decommissioned, and he was discharged in 1945.

USS Siren was a patrol yacht, originally assigned to coastal defense in New England, then redeployed to convoy duty along the southeastern US coast and in the Caribbean. As part of the crew, Reeves traveled to Trinidad, Jamaica, Key West, Cuba, and even to Brazil, and helped to rescue survivors of a U-Boat sunk by a Navy patrol plane.

That was the most excitement my uncle had. After the war, he returned home and married my Aunt Jewell, and settled into a quiet life, working for the NC state highway department. After retiring he would frequently give Appalachian Trail hikers seeking a zero a lift from the trail into Hot Springs. By the time I got to know him, thirty years after his discharge, you’d never have known that he spent the war keeping our country safe.

Which is one of the unique privileges we have had in America: to be kept safe by those ordinary people who volunteered to do extraordinary things.

Dave Brubeck and me

Back cover of the Telarc recording of To Hope! I’m in the mass of choristers in white on the steps in the back.

As I mentioned in Tuesday’s post and have previously alluded, there’s a musical story that I haven’t told about my life. It’s tied up with Reilly Lewis and the Cathedral Choral Society, and marks my first brush with a celebrity musician (at least, outside the classical world; the first was with the great Robert Shaw, with whom I sang Hindemith’s When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom’d the previous season).

We were performing Brubeck’s To Hope! A Celebration, a most unusual work that combined jazz with traditional mass structure—if not traditional mass texts. It’s still the only work of which I’m aware that incorporates both a fugue and a gospel stride piano number. The music didn’t make a lot of sense with just rehearsal piano, but everything was about to change.

It was spring at the National Cathedral, which meant rehearsal space conflicts. So we were across the street in the gymnasium of the National Cathedral School running through the music again. At one point, while Reilly Lewis was addressing the chorus, the door opened in the corner and I saw out of the corner of my eye two men enter: Russell Gloyd, who would conduct the chorus and orchestra, and a tall, white-haired man with a wide grin: Dave Brubeck.

After everyone applauded, Reilly said, “You know, I’ve always wanted to do this,” and sprinted to the piano where he played the first three bars of “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” Everybody cracked up, and Brubeck said, “Keep going!” That moment set the tone for the collaboration.

When it came to the day of the performance, it was odd to see large numbers of microphones and a large sound console halfway down the nave. It was then that the magnitude of what we were doing hit me: this was the recording team from Telarc, Brubeck’s label, who were going to record us. We got through the performance, about which I remember very little except for Brubeck’s introduction of his band—Bobby Millitello on sax, Rodney Richards on drums, and Jack Six (“S-I-X!”) on bass—and then got out of our performance clothes and got comfortable.

We had been told that we would record “patches” to cover over places where outside noise or glitches in the performance marred the live take. “Patches” ended up taking hours. At one point we needed to do a couple takes of one particularly tricky moment for the chorus that had been garbled in the performance, and the band (except for Brubeck) took a break. We nailed the take, and then the producer called for the band again. Apparently they had stepped outside for a cigarette; someone had to be sent to fetch them through the outside door located in the far end of the nave from our recording location in the transept.

When they came back in, doing the long march up a side aisle along the nave, Brubeck dryly broke into “When The Saints Go Marching In.” And the chorus sang along. It’s the only time that I ever improvised with a jazz legend.

The live recording was issued as To Hope! A Celebration by Telarc and remains the only jazz album on which I’ve performed.

Dipping into the Brubeck discography

I’ve been a fan of Dave Brubeck’s jazz since I first listened to my parents’ copy of Dave Brubeck’s Greatest Hits, which is how I discovered “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” Since then I picked up many of the great man’s recordings (including A Dave Brubeck Christmas, which I reviewed for Blogcritics back in the day), and even got a chance to sing with him. Which, apparently, is a story I haven’t told in much detail (though some parts are here and here).

But I hadn’t dug systematically into his discography, at least not in the same way that I had Coltrane or Miles. So when, during this fall’s Veracode Hackathon, a small truckload of vinyl showed up, I was thrilled to find some Brubeck records I hadn’t yet listened to. And then to pick them up for a dollar apiece at the end-of-Hackathon fire sale/fundraiser.

The three records are all different and all interesting. Gone With the Wind is a Georgia-themed recording, and Dave and the quartet dip into a bunch of different Deep South themed material, including works by Stephen Foster (“Swanee River,” aka “Old Folks at Home,””Camptown Races”) and works by non-Southerners that have grown deeply associated with the region (“Ol’ Man River,” “Shortnin’ Bread”). There’s no way in hell you’d get this record made today, given the echoes of slavery, minstrelsy, and other signs of our original national sin. But Brubeck and Paul Desmond turn in a convincing reading of the material.

What’s fascinating is that the record, which was released in 1959, was recorded after Brubeck had recorded Time Out. Columbia was apparently nervous about the odd time signatures the group was researching for the latter record and demanded something more conventional as insurance. Of course, Time Out turned out to be one of the great jazz classics of all time, while Gone With the Wind has been largely forgotten. It’s also fascinating to realize that this pleasant but largely inconsequential record was produced by Teo Macero, who was Miles Davis’s producer at Columbia—and that Teo recorded sessions with both Miles and Brubeck on the same day, April 22, 1959, for these very different albums.

The other two albums are less substantial still. Southern Scene features quartet, trio and solo performances of more Southern-adjacent standards, while Jazz: Red Hot and Cool marks a pleasant but ordinary set of live recordings of the quartet prior to the arrival of Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass.

But the delightful thing is that all three albums were well maintained, despite their bargain sale price, and sounded fantastic on the turntable. I think this vinyl hunting could get to be a habit …

Catching up

A List Apart: Web Typography: Designing Tables to be Read, Not Looked At. One of my pet peeves is tables that can’t be scanned easily. There are some great tips here, including some CSS features I didn’t know about (like td { text-align: “.” center; to align a column of numbers at a decimal point!).

Talking Points Memo: Compromise and the Civil War. Short essay by Josh Marshall outlining the insanity behind John Kelly’s remarks on how the failure to “compromise” led to the Civil War. In fact, it was the South’s refusal to accept any compromise on slavery that led directly to the conflict.

Amadeus Pro: Elimination of a continuous background noise. I’m digitizing a lot more vinyl these days and need to check into this feature to “denoise” a track based on a sample of, for instance, needle hiss.

Archive.org: 78rpm Records Digitized by George Blood, L.P. Definitely going to dig into this. There’s a Twitter feed too.

Numero Group records. The makers of the “Eccentric Soul” series, which blew the top of my head off the first time I heard it (“You Can’t Blame Me,” anyone?).

“Yankee Doodle” and the Liberty Tree

Old “Yankee Doodle” song sheet, courtesy Library of Congress

I was able to go see the Boston Camerata’s performance of “Liberty Tree” yesterday. The music and performances were stunning, evocative of an extraordinarily fertile time in the nation’s creative genius. The program mixed marches and political songs, Shaker songs, spirituals, shape note music and early American compositions from the likes of Billings and Jeremiah Ingalls, to great effect.

I especially liked the reminder, in this time when even taking a different gesture of respect for the National Anthem is met with howls of outrage (when the protesters are black), that our national symbols were not always so staid. Here’s the text of the, um, atypical but historical “Yankee Doodle” verses that opened (and closed!) the show:

Sheep’s head and vinegar,
Buttermilk and tansy,
Boston is a Yankee town––
Sing Hey Doodle Dandy.

Heigh ho for our Cape Cod,
Heigh ho Nantasket,
Do not let the Boston wags
Feed your oyster basket.

Two and two may go to bed,
Two and two together;
And if there is not room enough,
Lie one atop the other.

Exfiltration Radio

We just finished another Veracode Hackathon, and this one was rock and roll themed. One of our brilliant hackers put together an Internet radio station where you could sign up for a one-hour time slot and post a playlist. Naturally, this was catnip. I spent a few hours putting together two playlists, which I’ve embedded below—one all genres and one focusing on (mostly) 21st century jazz.

Production notes: I did some processing of individual audio files through Amadeus Pro and assembled everything in GarageBand. I’m very much still learning how to crawl with the latter tool, so I hope it doesn’t stink too much.

The playlists are below. Enjoy!

  1. Orbits (Live) – Wayne Shorter (Without a Net (Live))
  2. Tangled – Idris Rahman, Leon Brichard, Emre Ramazanoglu, Yahael Camara-Onono (Ill Considered)
  3. Love What Is Mortal – Donny McCaslin (Fast Future)
  4. Be There – Leon Gardner (Spiritual Jazz)
  5. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – The Bad Plus (Prog)
  6. El Swing – Hudson (Hudson (feat. Jack DeJohnette, Larry Grenadier, John Medeski & John Scofield))
  7. I Came to See You / You Were Not There – Ahmad Jamal (Marseille)
  8. From One Island to Another – Branford Marsalis Quartet & Kurt Elling (Upward Spiral)
  9. Lathe of Heaven – Mark Turner Quartet (Lathe of Heaven)
  10. Look at Me – Cécile McLorin Salvant (For One to Love)
  11. For Amiri Baraka – Vijay Iyer Sextet (Far from Over)
  1. Sivad – Miles Davis (The Columbia Years 1955-1985)
  2. Uncloudy Day – Mavis Staples & The Staple Singers (Gospel Brunch)
  3. Where the Sun Never Goes Down – David Byrne (Music From the Knee Plays)
  4. Rotating Head (raga version) – English Beat
  5. It’s All Too Much – The Beatles (Yellow Submarine [2009 Stereo Remaster])
  6. Damaged Goods – Gang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  7. Winter ’68 – The Black Angels (The Black Angels)
  8. Ascension Day – Talk Talk (Laughing Stock)
  9. Rebecca Sylvester – Gastr Del Sol (Upgrade & Afterlife)
  10. Hey Vegas – Bows (Cassidy)
  11. Circle – Miles Davis Quintet (Miles Smiles)
  12. &&& . . . && . &&& . . – The User (Symphony #2 For Dot Matrix Printers)
  13. Farnham – Daniel Bachman (River)
  14. Life On Mars? (2003 Ken Scott Mix) – David Bowie (Nothing Has Changed (Deluxe Edition))

iOS 11: high-bitrate audio is finally here

I updated my iPhone to iOS 11 over the weekend, having first replaced or exported data from two old apps that haven’t been updated for 64 bit (I’ll miss you, Cocktails app!). And then I synced music from my Mac and noticed that I didn’t get the customary message about tracks that couldn’t be synced.

I checked and found that a whole bunch of Boston Symphony tracks purchased from their store, which I converted from FLAC to Apple Lossless but were apparently still at a too-high bitrate for iOS to handle, appear finally to be supported and were synced to my phone for the first time ever. This appears to be a feature, and may be related to the ability to play back FLAC through some apps (like iCloud Drive).

Looking forward to finally carrying all my music with me!

Raised on radio

I’ve found myself doing more radio listening lately. Partly because it’s starting to be challenging to spend time digitizing LPs or even doing digital digging on Bandcamp (though I’m still doing both). But most of my listening has not been FM. Here’s what I’ve been turning to:

Sirius/XM Radio. Though the poor quality audio throws me off—I can’t stand listening to the classical channels for more than a few minutes—it’s great being able to turn on the First Wave channel and hear “Mad World” pretty much any day you want to. And a bunch of other tracks as well.

Iron Leg/Testify/Funky16Corners. I’m a long time listener of Larry Grogan’s expanding family of podcasts. Though I found myself fast forwarding a few of this summer’s F16C guest podcasts, I am really enjoying Larry’s posts of his WFMU radio show, “Testify.” Sample episodes: tribute to Steely Dan’s Walter Becker, heavy epics from Joni Mitchell to Nick Drake to the Temptations, and more on the show page (he also cross-posts the full sets to the Iron Leg podcast). The show graphics are great too (see above).

In the Groove. Another radio-originated podcast, Ken Laster’s WWUH radio show is jazz focused and has a special slant covering independent jazz artists. I’ve had a few discoveries from this show, including Cecile McLorin Savant (featured in Ken’s Newport Preview episode). The Wayne Shorter episode is pretty good too.

The Broadcasting System. My friend Tyler DJs this show on Monday afternoons under the nom de radio of “Tyler Broadcasting System.” WTJU doesn’t podcast but they do stream live and archive a few weeks worth of shows. I highly recommend the show from September 18 while it’s still available, which veers from Meredith Monk and Moondog to Pram and ELO and Pharoah Sanders.

EMP revisited

David Bowie by Mick Rock, in the Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle

I couldn’t let my visit to Seattle end without revisiting a few familiar haunts, and I’m glad I did. While the name of the Museum of Pop Culture is new to me, the facility isn’t—it’s the new name of the Experience Music Project, now incorporating the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame as well.

And the exhibits were spectacular. Who knew I needed to hear slightly abstract mixes of early 1970s Bowie while looking at Mick Rock’s spectacular photos of him (above) and watching video loops of him on rebuilt vintage televisions? Or to see early production sketches for the Muppets alongside the actual puppets themselves?

Or, better yet, the starring Gelflings and urRu (one hesitates to call them Muppets) from The Dark Crystal?

Then there was the Star Trek and science fiction stuff, which could take a post of its own. It was a spectacular visit.

CarPlay

I’m traveling in Seattle this week for the first time in a while (like, over ten years). Also for the first time in a while, I have a rental car rather than relying on ridesharing to get around. So when I stepped into the rental Chevy that Avis provided, I was expecting another ho-hum vehicular experience.

The car is, indeed, ho-hum, from the perspective of moving me from one place to another—though pushbutton start is something I didn’t expect to find in an American midsize car. What was seriously surprising was what happened when I found the USB jack and plugged my phone in to charge. My phone prompted me to install an app from the App Store, which is behavior I’ve seen before; I declined. And then it started CarPlay.

Apple’s CarPlay is, as promised, a simplified OS for your car’s entertainment display that rapidly did the following for me as I got ready to drive:

  1. Brought up my Apple Maps destination on the big screen, saving me the problem of driving while consulting a non-mounted phone. Safer and more convenient.
  2. Offered to read me (not show me) my text messages when new ones came in. Safer.
  3. Let the radio (which I had tuned to KEXP) play, but also offered touchscreen access to my iTunes library and to Overcast, the app I use for podcast listening. Cool, especially when the afternoon KEXP DJ threw on a set I didn’t want to listen to.

Because I didn’t install the car’s app, a few things were slightly jarring, like switching audio between FM radio and my phone’s audio. But everything else just worked. And I didn’t even play with in-car Siri yet.

Looks like CarPlay is currently supported on almost every model of car that I’d consider for my next purchase. Looking forward to it. I didn’t realize how poor the in-dash experience of my 2012 VW GTI was until I tried this.

Removing the Confederate plaques on the Rotunda

Rotunda memorial plaques, courtesy Richard Dizon, Cavalier Daily

On Friday, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia voted to remove a pair of bronze memorial plaques listing the UVA students who were killed fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Early Saturday morning, workers removed the plaques. Per the BOV resolution, the plaques will be “moved to a location at the University where they can be viewed as artifacts.”

The tablets in question were installed on the Rotunda in the early 1900s—the CD says “1903” but Philip Alexander Bruce says they were installed and dedicated by UVa’s first president, Edwin Alderman, in 1906, as a gift of the Confederate Memorial Association and the Albemarle Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. (Note that the Glee Club raised funds for the Confederate Memorial Association in 1890.)

The actions over the weekend are a direct outcome from the events that happened in Charlottesville over August 11–13, in which torch bearing neo-Nazis marched through Grounds shouting anti-Semitic slogans. Passing up into Grounds from the Bookstore and presumably passing the student center at Newcomb Hall on their way up the Lawn, they came around the Rotunda, which bore these plaques on its south side, and surrounded a group of 25 counter-protesting students at Moses Ezekiel’s statue of Thomas Jefferson. They jeered and chanted at the students, and then they threw kerosene and lit torches at them.

Tyler Magill, who was in the Glee Club with me in the early 1990s and who I count as a friend, had joined the students by this time. He was struck by a torch on the side of his neck, which eventually led, a few days later, to his suffering a stroke.

More horrors happened over the weekend, including 20 year old James Alex Fields driving his car through a crowd of protesters, deliberately murdering Heather Heyer and injuring many others.

I have been trying to write my feelings about what happened that horrific weekend for over a month, and have not been able to. Among other reasons, it feels as though once I started I wouldn’t be able to stop.

But part of it is that today’s liberal Charlottesville sits atop a veritable Indian burial ground of undercurrents of racism and secession. This is, after all, the school where the Jefferson Society debated, on January 14th, 1860, whether a state had the right to secede from the Union (the conclusion was affirmative), and where the Washington Society decided in a November 1860 debate that the Southern States should secede; where students flew the flag of the Confederacy atop the Rotunda in February 1861. And it was also the school that was built with slave labor and that ran on the efforts of enslaved workers, and that was founded by a United States President who wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” but who held both a peculiar definition of “all” and over 100 slaves.

So it is that Charlottesville seems a seat of that original sin of our country, and that our past is now coming home to roost.

The University’s actions to remove the names of those who fought to uphold slavery from its most central, symbolic building are a good start. I think the decision to display the memorials elsewhere is a good way to resolve the tension I have felt about removing public Confederate symbols. I don’t want us to forget our historic complicity in injustice and violence, but I also don’t want those reminders to continue their mission of oppression.

MacBook Pro shenanigans: FaceTime, the Keychain, and TouchID

Work bought me a new MacBook Pro at the beginning of the year. Because I’ve grown to value portability over the years, I asked for a 13″ model. Because I have a reputation as a geek, they got me the new model with the Touch Bar.

It’s been mostly great, but starting mid-summer there have been a series of odd things that have been extremely frustrating. At this point I’ve resolved all but one of them, so I thought I’d write it up.

Crashing while asleep: This one isn’t Apple’s fault. We use a corporate endpoint protection system that … has challenges keeping up with new OS versions, and sometimes causes things to really misbehave. For instance, it’s been causing our MacBooks to crash when attempting to wake from sleep. And that went on for about a year. They finally issued a compatibility patch that fixed the issue, but the (sometimes daily) crashes appear to have taken a toll on the system. For instance…

FaceTime and Messages problems: After every crash, I’d have to sign back into iCloud and re-log in to my Google profile on Chrome. A hassle, but doable. But after one crash and re-login, I noticed I couldn’t log into Messages: it gave me the message “An error occurred during authentication.” FaceTime had the same problem. I ended up calling Apple support, and their Tier 2 advised that it was likely a corrupt keychain. He suggested that I delete the login keychain and then recreate it. I decided that before I did that, I’d move all my local passwords to the iCloud keychain for safety. Which took a while, because I had to enter my password for every password entry it moved.

Then I took the plunge and deleted the keychain. The OS, thankfully, tried to recreate the keychain… and failed. Now I had a primary login account with no keychain, which is not a happy state. Logging into iCloud just gave me error messages when it tried to save things to the nonexistent keychain. Fortunately, after logging back in, I could recreate the keychain, log into iCloud, and finally get logged into FaceTime and Messages.

Touch ID. After these shenanigans, my fingerprints started to be unrecognized for login. So I deleted the fingerprint records in System Preferences and re-created them. But login was still failing. This one was easy to fix; I just logged out and logged back in, and my fingerprints started being recognized again.

iCloud Keychain. That brings us to the part that still isn’t working. All those passwords that I moved to my iCloud Keychain are there, because I can see them on other devices—but even after I’ve turned it off and back on, they aren’t syncing back to my Mac. Nor are any of the other passwords or secure notes I’ve stored there. Apparently one fix path is to turn off iCloud Keychain syncing on all my Macs and then turn it back on, the prospect of which fills me with a certain amount of dread. But we’ll give it a go, after I figure out how to back up the passwords, and we’ll see what happens. Look for an update soon.

Classic Quadrophenia, part 2

 

Yesterday I wrote about the experience of singing Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia, including the odd feeling of being a backup singer for some of the biggest names in rock and roll and of being inside a rock concert at normally staid Tanglewood. But what about the work? Did it, well, work?

I should acknowledge, to begin with, that I was unfamiliar with Quadrophenia except by reputation before this all began. I knew “Love Reign O’er Me,” and I had heard Pete Townshend perform “Drowned” in a solo acoustic set as part of the video release of Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. I knew the Mods/Rockers plot and the concept of multiple personal disorder that the title refers to (“Schizophrenic? I’m bleeding quadrophenic“). And I knew about the character of the Ace Face, because Sting played him in the 1979 feature film based on the rock opera.

But the material?

So, first of all, a rock opera isn’t an opera. The songs are songs, not arias. And yet… the musical themes carry from number to number (“Is it me for a moment,” “The Real Me,” and other motifs appear in several tracks, as does the chugging honky-tonk of “5:15”). The emotional arc of the show carries us from Jimmy’s bold statement of theme (“The Real Me” again) through despair and nihilism to a final desperate statement of hope.

And there is a real emotional story at the core, an exploration of what it means to be a man when all the supports for manhood are crumbling around you. Jimmy looks for approval from his father and mother but doesn’t find it. He falls back to the approval of his tribe (“Why should I care if I have to cut my hair? I’ve gotta move with the fashions or be outcast”). He looks at his Mod band idols to realize that they offer nothing more than the fashion he’s already growing disillusioned with (“You declared you would be three inches taller/You only became what we made you”). He takes a manual labor job and realizes that the workers are being abused but won’t stand up to protest (“The Dirty Jobs”: “My karma tells me/You’ve been screwed again/If you let them do it to you/You’ve got yourself to blame/It’s you who feels the pain/It’s you who takes the shame/…You men should remember how you used to fight”). He feels threatened by the changes to his society, the arrival of black immigrants taking jobs and the mechanization affecting even retail jobs (“Helpless Dancer”).

And so he turns to casual sex, and fighting, and ultimately slides into homelessness and despair, and strands himself on a rock in a torrential rainstorm, pleading for love to rain over him in a lyric that has echoes of The Waste Land (as well as the teachings of Pete’s guru Meher Baba).

Lyrically it’s a bleak journey but a fully realized one. Robert Christgau thought so: “… if Townshend’s great virtue is compassion, this is his triumph — Everykid as heroic fuckup, smart enough to have a good idea of what’s being done to him and so sensitive he gets pushed right out to the edge anyway.”

And as a classical crossover work? I think the real challenge that this production faces comes down to sound. For instance, there’s percussion aplenty — various drums including an enormous bass drum, timpani, snare — but if not mixed well you can still get complaints, as we did from one reviewer, that the drums weren’t there. But the visceral punch of the Who orchestration is traded for the grandeur of a full orchestral (and choral) treatment, as heard in “Love Reign O’er Me.”

And the songs are first-class earworms. I’ve had “The Real Me,” “Is It In My Head?,” “5:15” and of course “Love Reign O’er Me” in my head for the better part of two weeks now. With any luck, our rehearsals of the Berlioz Damnation of Faust will finally chase them away. 

Classic Quadrophenia, part 1

At the beginning of the summer I was feeling a little down. I was only doing one performance at Tanglewood with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and while I was really looking forward to singing Mahler’s Second again I was sad not to perform with my friends for the other weekends—especially for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, which I sang with Reilly Lewis twenty years or so ago. But I had business and family travel and so resigned myself to it being a quiet and ordinary summer.

That’s when the email came. “On Saturday, September 2nd, The Who’s Pete Townshend will bring his ‘Classic Quadrophenia’ show to Tanglewood. This show will feature Townshend, Billy Idol, Alfie Boe, the BSO Pops and TFC singers.”

I didn’t even ask. I just checked the calendar and put my name in. A few weeks later, I was dancing when I got the roster and my name was on it.

I suspect that for all classical singers of Generation X and later (and maybe for a few born before me), there’s a part of us that wants to be a rock and roll singer. And while I’m not the biggest fan of the Who, I’ve always had a ton of respect for Pete Townshend’s songwriting — and Billy Idol’s stage presence.

So we started rehearsals last week and by Friday’s orchestra rehearsal we had a show. It was mind-blowing to sing backup with Pete Townshend on tunes like “The Punk and the Godfather,” and to hear his guitar with us on “I’m One.” Even more mind-blowing was watching Billy Idol, looking a great deal like James Marster’s Spike (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), duetting with wundertenor Alfie Boe.

On Saturday, we boarded a bus to Tanglewood, rolled off and got straight to rehearsal on the stage. The main learning from this: the tech part of the rehearsal, as Pete’s sound team figured out how to balance soloists vs. chorus vs. orchestra, was the most important part of the day. As our director noted, they get one shot at balancing sound in an unfamiliar space and have to balance the audibility of quiet instruments like acoustic guitars against the punch of big percussion sections and voices. We even got our own sound check. (See below.)

And then came the performance, and it was amazing. First, Alfie Boe is a force of nature:

Second, I have never seen a Tanglewood audience so excited. They cheered for the opening bell; for the orchestra tuning; at the end of solos. They jumped to their feet and started dancing at various points. It wasn’t a full on rock concert audience—it couldn’t be, given the seats in the Shed—but it was as close as Tanglewood comes.

Last, it was an amazing honor to sing behind these guys. The passion they brought to the stage was unbelievable, and the music still hasn’t left my head.

The Punk and The Godfather #williamsnyderphotography #classicquadrophenia

A post shared by Alfie Boe (@mralfieboe) on

I had a bunch of thoughts about the music itself, but I’ll save that for part II.

Lights back on

I had a busy summer. It’s been quite a while since there’s been a month with no posts on the blog, but alas, here we are.

What was happening? Well, we went to Asheville after school let out and took the kids to the Biltmore Estate, as well as teaching The Girl how to drive a Gator. (That’s the kids with a haybale on my uncle’s field.)

I went to Tanglewood and sang Mahler’s 2nd Symphony for my third time with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, this time under the baton of BSO conductor Andris Nelsons. (It was cool.) I also got to watch a performance of music by Schubert in Ozawa Hall with Emanuel Ax and Peter Serkin accompanying the Tanglewood voice fellows, on a perfect moonlit night.

I took The Girl to hear Chris Colfer read from his latest YA novel.

I made my annual Vegas trip to attend Black Hat, where in addition to all the normal conference stuff I finally visited the Neon Museum, one late night when it was still 95° outside.

I also got to see infosec luminary Jack Daniel memorialized as a tiki god. (Really.)

We took the kids on a ferry ride to Spectacle Island, where they got to see Boston from the harbor…

And we finished the summer with a family trip to Williamsburg, where the kids got to see another side of Colonial American history.

There were many other things that happened, of course, but I’m not ready to talk about Charlottesville just yet.