Category Archives: Music

Man of La Mancha

Man of La Mancha at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire served up the most moving time I’ve spent in a theatre in a long while.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it’s a play-within-a-play. Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, is arrested and put in a holding cell to await the Inquisition. He waits with his assistant, among those who also wait: if they’re lucky, just to be tried for theft or murder; if unlucky, to be called before the Inquisition. The other prisoners rob Cervantes of his belongings, including a manuscript. To ransom the manuscript, he enlists his fellow prisoners’ aid to present a story which he hopes will convince them to let him keep his manuscript.

In other productions I’ve seen (or performed in), both the outer and the inner play are set in 16th-17th century Spain. For this production, director Nick Bowling (and designers  Jeffrey D. Kmiec, Jesse Klug, Nancy Missimi, Robert E. Gilmartin, and Sally Weiss) reimagined the setting of the outer play, presenting the characters as modern—people you could easily imagine populating a present-day holding cell. Since these people had no notion of when they might be allowed their day in court, if ever, the production evoked associations with any justice system that’s arbitrary and unfair. As we know from the news, there are too many people in the world being held unfairly even in our supposedly enlightened age.

You should go. To this production, if you can, though it’s only possible until August 14, 2016. If you can’t attend the Marriott production, your next best bet is probably to listen to a Broadway cast album of the show. Don’t bother with the movie.

The ensemble acting and vocals at the Marriott Lincolnshire were sublime. While I can’t mention everyone, I need to say that for both acting and singing, Nathaniel Stampley, Danni Smith, and Richard Ruiz brought the production to a peak of near-perfection. I think it was the combination of the immediacy (or maybe the timeless feel) of this production and the beautiful vocals that put it over the top for me. I wept like a tiny little girl. In my defense, I was not the only one. I heard sniffles from BK, Sis, Cookie, and Cookie Jr., as well.

There are people who knock the musical as reducing Cervantes’ work too much, or as having too simplistic a message. I can’t speak to the former since I haven’t yet read his novel. As to the latter, I say, “hooey.” Evil remains in the world, and it’s not illusory. We have our work cut out for us. If anything, even a Broadway musical, can give us the courage to face the task, I say revel in it.

And then sally forth.

Somebody Else’s Turn — BK

It’s been a long time, but I’m excited to announce the first guest post in just over a year!

BK (yes, the BK made famous (?!) by this very blog) shares some of his thoughts on music and writing, with tips on enjoying either or both. Here’s what he has to say:

The focus of CeeBee’s blog is normally writing. As a guest contributor who is not a writer by craft, I cannot give writing tips or point to helpful books or workshops. And, as an engineer by profession, I am more a supporter of the arts than an artistic individual on my own. I do, however, enjoy music.

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I play at guitar. I am not an accomplished musician. There will never be long lines outside the box office where eager fans wait to get the best seats to a BK concert or multi-thousand hits on a YouTube music video featuring my latest release. So, if American Idol or a big recording contract is not in my future, why do I play? Let me introduce you to the BK Theory of Musical Performance.

Set your level of expectation:

What I seek in playing is fun. I do not expect note for note reproduction of an Eric Clapton guitar riff. And no one will ever confuse my rendition of a James Taylor vocal with the original. But that is okay, because my goal is to play well enough so that when friends come together we can make a happy sound.

Accept your mistakes:

I was discussing guitar with a former coworker who played while he was in college but had stopped playing when he moved into the real world of jobs, student loan repayment, independent living – the adult things into which we fall at some point in life. No time to practice, fewer friends with whom to play. “But why did you stop?” I asked.

“I used to be able to play songs without missing a note. Now I make mistakes.” I guess this is an extension of setting expectations, but it is also a statement about self-forgiveness. When CeeBee and I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band a few years ago there was a moment during the show when the band had a miscommunication at a song bridge. Bruce made some comment about the band messing up and they picked up then continued the song. After the song ended Steve Van Zandt whispered something and Springsteen broke into a big smile. Stepping to the mic, he said “So Little Stevie just told me that I was the one who was off.”

He laughed. “You just heard The Boss (expletive deleted) up!” So if The Boss can make light and move on, then BK can do the same.

Make the music your own:

I cannot play exactly what Little Feat plays on “Willin’” nor what Blind Faith played on “Can’t Find My Way Home” but it does not stop me from adapting the song to my skill level. I jokingly say that I reserve the right to correct oversights in the original songwriter’s version. You may be surprised at how well your interpretation works for you. Probably one of the biggest kicks I get from playing with friends and family is when the version of a song that comes out of the jam session elicits enthusiasm and comments. I remember one jam session version of “Hotel California” done with a reggae syncopated rhythm and with Guitar Jack absolutely wailing on the guitar. When it was over, we looked at each other with an almost “Was that us?” look on our faces. Okay, maybe The Eagles have nothing about which to worry, but we really stuck it that afternoon.

There are other things. Play with family and/or friends if you can. Set the goal as fun, not perfection. Kids are especially good at this. The next time you have a family gathering you may be surprised at how enthusiastic the little ones can be.

I have been very lucky. I came from a family in which music was a normal part of life. Then I married into a family with a similar love of music. And so many of our friends enjoy playing, singing and listening that pulling out a guitar usually leads to others joining in.

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How to make this about writing? Let’s try this.

Set your level of expectation:

If you write as an outlet for your inner artist, take satisfaction from meeting your milestones. You completed a short story and are happy with the results so you deserve a reward. If your goal is to be published, you probably need help from someone for whom writing is his craft rather than from a back porch guitarist.

Accept change in your choices:

I modified “Accept your mistakes” here because, in writing, you make character choices, plot choices, and dialogue choices that, after self-editing, friends’ suggestions and group critiques, you decide to change. The changes are not mistakes but the natural result of refinement during the authoring process. Writing a story or play is a living activity. The story will evolve as you proceed. That the first draft requires changes does not invalidate your effort.

BK didn’t include a writing section on making the work your own (the way he said to make the music your own), so this is CB, adding on to what he wrote:

Make the story your own:

We’ve all heard the old saying that there are no new plots. Depending on who you believe, there only three, or seven, or thirty-three plots…or some other number I’ve forgotten or haven’t come across yet.

However: we all still like stories that utilize old plots or somewhat familiar characters. An individual writer can help a story say something it never seemed to say before. That’s what keeps us looking for new novels, short stories, movies, and TV shows.

So, whether you’re a writer, a musician, a knitter, or an enjoyer (um, is that a word?) of some other avocation/vocation, keep at it for as long as it brings you joy. That is all.

Crowning of the Year

Nativity

I hate to admit this, but often around this time of year I forget to be joyful and perpetually hopeful and all of that. I get anxious and crabby and convinced that I’m never going to get everything done in time for Christmas. I am not what you could call “filled with the spirit of the season.” Until I hear the music. It’s the music that does it for me. It makes me cry like a tiny little girl. In a good way.

Anyway, there’s a little-known advent song that takes me out of myself and helps me wrap my head around getting ready for company, called “People Look East”. I never heard it growing up. I learned it at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington-Normal a few years back.

These are the lyrics, though we only ever sang verses 1, 2, and 4.

1. People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

2. Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
One more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
That in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the rose, is on the way.

3. Birds, though you long have ceased to build,
Guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen
God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the bird, is on the way.

4. Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
One more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather,
Bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the star, is on the way.

5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
With the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.

Here’s a link to a performance of the song, in case you wanted to hear it. It uses an old French song that I believe is called “Besançon.” The lyrics were written in 1928 by Eleanor Farjeon.

Ravinia 2014

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Sigh. Ravinia season is almost over.

Every summer we trek up to Highland Park for at least a few shows, even though we don’t live that close. We didn’t go to many this year. I swear it’s getting harder every year to find Ravinia concerts we want to attend that aren’t in the middle of the week. Some of us have work the next day, you know, Ravinia folks? In case any of you are reading this, not everyone lives on the North Shore. I would have liked to make the New World Symphony concert you scheduled for a Thursday. And both BK and I would have loved hearing Buddy Guy with Mavis Staples (scheduled for a Tuesday); it almost broke my heart to miss that one.

Still, when we can manage to get there, Ravinia is mostly a good time.

The good? Picnicking on the lovely grounds. Arguably the best—and certainly the easiest—way to do that is to stop at Pita Inn in Wheeling and pick up delicious Middle Eastern food. That way all we have to worry about are drinks and utensils and the like. We might also bring fruit and cookies on those occasions, but we often make a trip to the Carousel for some Superman or Cappuccino Crunch ice cream for dessert. When the timing is too tight to allow for a trip to Pita Inn, I pack dinner. The timing was indeed tight for our most recent trip, so I brought bruschetta, a 3-bean salad, sandwich fixings, pinot grigio, water, grapes, and cookies.

Also good: the people-watching. Crowds vary, depending on the act. For the Moody Blues, the crowd was remarkable only in that they were even older than BK and me. That doesn’t often happen.

The bad? The ungodly racket.

BK, Sis, and I had pavilion seats, thank the Lord—and Larry, who gave us the tickets. One immutable piece of advice I have for anyone who attends Ravinia in hopes of actually hearing the music is that they’d better get pavilion tickets. Most of the lawn patrons are so rude that if you’re sitting among them, you can barely make out that there’s any music happening. It’s as if they’ve confused Ravinia with a forest preserve. The music might as well be coming out of their boom boxes and they feel it necessary to shout over it so their friends can hear their drunken witticisms.

It’s not necessarily a sure thing that you’ll hear the music even within the pavilion, but at least there are security people there who will shut the loudmouths up temporarily, and the ratio of security to audience is better in the pavilion than it is on the lawn. Also, once a concertgoer is in the pavilion, he or she no longer sucking down alcohol, so said concertgoer might have a bit more decorum.

I sound crabby. I really do like going to Ravinia; it’s just not a perfect experience. Often, though, it’s better than I expected. Case in point: last Friday’s Moody Blues concert. More on that later.

So whose shows did we attend this year?

  • John Hiatt / Robert Cray*
  • Willie Nelson / Alison Krauss & Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas* / Jason Isbell
  • Train* / The Wallflowers
  • The Moody Blues
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Thanks for this photo, Sis, and the video (linked to below)

The Moody Blues weren’t tickets we would have bought for ourselves, but a member (aka heavy hitter) from BK’s company also happens to be a generous Ravinia donor. He knows we go to Ravinia every summer. He couldn’t use his Moody Blues tickets, so he offered them to us. I figured I would know one Moody Blues song, “Nights in White Satin”. I knew tons, like this one.

In addition to the music, there were fabulous slides of the Moody Blues through the years alternating with trippy psychedelic visuals on a bank of three screens behind the band. Another bonus: the other concertgoers actually listened to the concert! I don’t know if it’s because they were older, or because it rained on and off through the evening, so only really committed fans attended, but we could actually hear the show. All in all, we had a swell time.

We have one more concert this season—we’re seeing Poi Dog Pondering on September 12. Then summer will really be over. Sigh.

*Jaw-droppingly awesome.

More on the Million Word Party

July 1, 2014

My latest streak on 750 words.com – 595 days
Total writing days – 1024
Total word count – 989,119

I’ve written other words, but that verifiable word count puts me within 10,881 words of the million words Ray Bradbury says you need for mastery. I’ve written about this before. I’m not saying mastery will magically appear on the day I’ve achieved that goal. I think the million words may well be a minimum requirement. Still, it feels like an accomplishment.

If I can manage to write an average of 800 words a day going forward, I can celebrate having written a million words in about 14 days. As of this writing, that makes it July 15th, or thereabouts. I’m going out on a limb to say the party is on. August 2, 2014: be there!

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I’ve already started an evite. If you didn’t receive a link to it, here’s the short reason*: I either don’t have your email address or I’ve got it wrong. If you want to attend, please let me know by leaving a comment below, or messaging me via email, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+  to let me know. I’ll make sure you receive all the relevant information.

Seriously, I’d love to see you there.

* The answer may be more complicated, like you live thousands of miles away and I don’t think you’ll come. If I’m wrong (and you would indeed like to come) please let me know!

Million Dollar Quartet

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Apollo Theater in Chicago

This is my last Bro-related post for a while. Bro and Bride went back to Houston a few weeks ago, but we did take one more fun excursion—not previously shared in this space—while they were in town.

Bride said that at some point during their visit, she’d love to see some theatre. A lot of times when people say that, they mean they want to see one of the big touring shows. This can be an occasion for eye-rolling from a host who lives in the area and knows that Chicago’s local theatre is awesome. However, Bride knows there are plenty of worthy shows all over Chicago, and she was happy to see something homegrown.

Left to my own devices, I might opt for an original play, something on the experimental side, like In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story at Lookingglass Theatre, but we needed to pick something everyone would like. We hoped to get into the Second City revue, but you can’t exactly do that at the last minute.

Luckily, we ended up finding tickets to Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre. The Apollo is a fun little theatre. They’ve previously produced other shows along the same lines as Million Dollar Quartet, by which I mean musicals based on actual performers/events, which feature their big hits as kind of a backbone to the proceedings. Sis and I saw Always Patsy Cline there some years back. On that occasion, and before we even got into the performance space, we discovered that they served Schlitz beer, a brand we hadn’t seen in years. The reason they were serving it became clear very shortly into the performance, when we saw the actress playing Patsy knocking them back.

Yep. At the Apollo, they encourage you to bring your drinks into the theatre. Once Bro discovered this, he was totally on board with the entire concept. Other than a pretty relaxed theatrical experience, though, we weren’t sure exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. The good news is, it was a lot of fun: a tight show that clocked in around 90 minutes, with no intermission. So you’d be all right attending in the middle of the week, even if you live in the suburbs, because you still won’t be up too late.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, Million Dollar Quartet is based on an actual event—the night of December 4, 1956. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were all at Sun Records together, and magic happened. It’s a great excuse to hear some fun music, like Who Do You Love, Sixteen Tons, Hound Dog, Whole Lotta Shaking…I could go on and on. The actor/musicians blew me away, especially Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis and Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins. But really, the show was about a pivotal night in the life of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. He was an artist in his own right, or at least a muse, and people just don’t remember him in the same way that they remember the names of the guys in the quartet. Anyone who’s ever tried to express something new artistically could relate to Sam Phillips’ struggles. That’s what spoke to me most about Million Dollar Quartet. It had something for everyone, or at least something for everyone in our group: fun, drinks, music and a thought-provoking, character-driven story line.

 

Maintaining my mojo with Lt. Kijé

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Winter’s okay when it looks like this

So, winter. I’m kind of ready for it to be over. It would be one thing if we still had enough snow to ski, but we don’t. The one week which contained enough snow was inconveniently full of other distractions, like work and shoveling. Besides, Cookie’s mom was in the hospital (she’s okay now) and Cookie needed to deal with that, so we couldn’t get together to ski.

All my exercise since about January 2nd has taken place inside my cozy gym, on machines or the indoor track. I try to vary it. One thing you can say for elliptical trainers and stationary bikes: it’s easy to read while using them. That may be where I get most of my reading done. One thing you can’t say for either of those options: they’re not weight-bearing. I need to do some weight-bearing exercise to keep my bones strong. So the other thing I do is “running.”

I don’t love running. When I do it, it’s called slogging – a cross between slow and jogging. I got that term from my son-in-law (thanks, Danny!) and it’s quite descriptive of what I look like while doing it. I’d rather walk, but I can’t get my heart rate up enough that way, so slogging it is. I plan to slog later today, and while there isn’t enough snow to ski on, there’s still enough out there to make sidewalks and roads slippery and/or impassable and generally to cramp my style. So I’ll head to the indoor track at my gym.

To make indoor running – okay, any kind of running – tolerable, I listen to music. It’s too much work to put together a hip, happening playlist of current music that goes at exactly the right speed to help me keep my heart rate in the zone. I have a few tried-and-true things I use while slogging. I rotate playlists so as not to get too bored. In the winter, I’m particularly fond of Prokofiev’s Lt. Kijé suite.

The sections have evocative titles: “Naissance” (Birth), “Romance”, “Noces” (Wedding), “Troika”, and “Enterrement” (Burial). I’ve done almost no research on this bit of music, but here’s what I know: Prokofiev wrote the suite for a movie score. In the movie, there’s no actual Lt. Kijé, but I like to pretend that there really was such a person.

It’s fun to imagine what might be happening in an imaginary movie while you’re slogging. “Naissance” starts with this sad trumpet part, reminiscent of “Taps”. I figure little Kijé’s dad died in combat and his mom is giving birth to him while in mourning for her late husband. Then the music gets into some perky flutes, like a little boy discovering the world. Then the theme turns martial, but in kind of a playful way. At that point, I imagine little Kijé playing with toy soldiers and then his friends, fighting mock battles the way kids do, or used to, before their parents quit buying toy guns and made them cut that out.

Some sections – I’m looking at you,  “Romance” and “Enterrement” – are too poky for running, even the way I do it, but the other three work just fine.

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A troika – Wikipedia Commons Image

“Troika” (which sounds like this) is the best section, you ask me. Especially in the winter. I imagine I’m the lead horse, and even in horse form, I’m aware that this isn’t your ordinary rodeo (or sleigh ride). We’re carrying the noble Lt. Kijé and his bride off to their honeymoon and I’m very proud to be in the lead for this auspicious occasion. This makes my slogging adventurous and fun – much more than just huffing along an indoor track would be.

There’s not enough of Lt. Kijé to fill out all my running time, so I’ve added some other pieces, but it’s always fun to rotate him into my exercise music this time of year.