Yin and Yang,Though Mostly Yang

Yesterday, I experienced the yin and yang of life.

Since my life has been teetering on a most abrupt precipice of late, the day began in the new “normal” style: one slated for adventure. I jumped into my Sun Goddess, started her up and took off for the beach. After all, it was a glorious, crisp, California-winter sort of a day! I knew the ocean must be looking spectacular with the skies awash in bright blue. The divergent cloud clustering sprinkled sporadically here and there could only add to the panoramic skyscape. Well, needless to say, I was not disappointed.

I took the 57 to the 5 which is not a route I drive usually. Why not? There’s ocean south of Malibu! Once I reached Orange County in a flight of vehicular fancy only Southern Californians dream about, I spotted a strip of blue just a bit past Los Osos, I believe. Next, I noted the artistic carving of swallows on wing in the freeway side walls as I commandeered my wheels past San Juan Capistrano, down the 5 which courts the coastal lands.

And then- I spotted it! My muse. The Pacific. She lived up to her name, all smooth like a blue plane of glass-an azure shimmer at peace. Not a sailboat on the water, no mark of humankind, just outstretching calm.

I was grateful the freeway, itself, was flowing like a body of water. That allowed me to appreciate the beauty. But after many miles I hit cities that were further inland and the 5 no longer hugged the shore.

But, still, even as cities these people were so lucky to be so close to feel the ocean air. Maybe they can’t hear the pounding surf, but the air is quite different than inland. I knew this was why I was driving on a whim. I was in quest of sea songs carried on sea winds. I think my car has a “Seaward” button to press for immediate automotive splendor.

Further on, the 5 lined up with the coast again. The long stretch from well before San Onofre through and past Camp Pendleton, slicing through Mission Viejo, has that bright blue platter of water-served up as an irresistible feast for our eyes…Oceanside, then Carlsbad, Escondido, etc…a reception line of communities welcomed me all along the way.

Finally, on impulse, I veered off the road taking an offramp to somewhere… I just made sure my trail was headed west. Well, I drove to the beach. Kids were just coming out of school and skateboards were at play, getting riders to their destinations. A friend’s house? After-school tutoring? Music lessons? Grandma’s? The burger joint? Starbuck’s? Home to hug their mom or the family collie?

I then spotted a place that might be a good place to live one day. I zipped into the driveway and had a look around. A realtor was there showing it to interested potential residents. She was very sweet and quite willing to explore any question or concern That popped into my mind. I admired her savvy. She knew her facts and knew what people need to know. After a fairly short look around, I walked back to my parking space. All the while I was thinking… imagine living down by the beach?!

Well I backed out and shifted my sweet ride into Drive. As I moved forward about 75 feet, suddenly to my dismay, the engine turned off. Just shut off like the snap of one’s fingers. This has happened a few times before in the last three months. Same scenario. I go from reverse into drive and then the engine decides to take a hiatus!

Well, the bad thing was, I was in the middle smack dab of the driveway…cars could not leave nor enter as long as I was a sitting duck. Not even a swan. A duck. Of course I panicked! Of course I tried over and over to start up the engine! But to no avail.

Now, the realtor with perspicacity drew lines from point to point with a mental pencil and straight-edge ruler. She determined before I even call for AAA, that I secure myself and my little roadster off to the side. I thought, “Sure, Brilliant! Who has my I dream of Genie bottle? Where did I last pocket my Bewitched magic nose?” I suggested we go ask a neighbor to help push the car.

In a flash she went to elicit help and a gentleman flatly denied saying he had back problems. Well, “Mavis, the Marvelous”, returned to say she was going to push me herself. I told her no, that she will injure herself! She replied, “So what? I’m 78!” I countered with a pleading that was laced with wonder as to how anyone could think so cavalierly about their heart and Health? I implored her to just let me call a tow-truck. I was too fraught with worry for her.

But folks, there are miracles in this world. Mavis the magnificent told me in all of her senior citizen shrewdness, to put my car in neutral. I did. And before I could get out to help, she commanded me to stay put and steer to the right. Her hands placed on my side mirror and door were primed for action. You know, that fierce “I am Woman, hear me roar”, feistiness fueled her to move me and my wheels just a few feet to clear a drive path!

With my jaw dropped and queasy stomach churning in anguish for her well-being, I witnessed a bonefied miracle. She HAD to get to her next appointment- and by golly she mustered the strength to get the job done so she would!

I wanted to thank her and pay her and exchange information— but she hopped into her own car, carefully eeked it past me looking straight ahead, and took off for location unknown… in a dash of time.

My friends, if ANY of you say being older is debilitating, please eat your words. Mavis was Superwoman yesterday as well as Supercitizen. She proved women can do what we set our minds to do. Her determination became my miracle. I am EXTREMELY indebted to her. But most of all, I’m in awe. What a gal! Thank you, Mavis!

After much incongruent cell phone communication, and a time lapse of about 40 minutes…my car simply started up on a first try. I had no choice but to just go- GO!

You can all guess the ending. It took me nearly 3 hours to get home to our snowy San Gabriels. It was pretty much the most horrific, frightening, nail-biting, topper of all driving experiences driiiive home of my long life. But, I’m here, in one piece.

The Sun Goddess? She’s here, and on punishment. Shame on her. I need to solve this problem. But, I will ever be grateful for a Mavis, a woman with Chutzpah to have crossed my path in a HUGE , important way.

 

Our Music Man

Probably, the stars lined up well in advance of the following chain of events. All I know is, when I was five years old, I had the privileged opportunity to ride the Santa Fe Super Chief all the way to Washington D.C. It was part of a month long escape from the San Gabriel Valley oppressive summer heat and to attend the CAN: Convention of American Nurserymen.  My father was in the fine business end of horticulture. He sold truckloads of live plants that would be shipped anywhere across the wide USA. He worked for the wholesale nursery company known as Monrovia Nursery. It eventually became “The Giant” in the Industry. How fortunate that I was just barely old enough to come along for the adventure with my two brothers and big sister, mom and dad. Many events took place on that trip, but this is not about those. No, this introduction is the springboard for making a connection from one magical night on a magical stage to a decade later: a bevy-full of magic on numerous stages. It is a connection between the famous role of an actor and a real live, true man.

Back in 1960, my family dressed-up for the theatre one of those nights we spent in Washington D.C, on that summer vacation. I remember buckling my patent leather shoes, twirling my cascading long curls, adjusting my velvety bow, and spinning 360s into a fanning circumference of my satin dress. I was primed for pleasure of unknown heights. My sister was dressed in a matching frock, looking very elegant, dreamy-fancy and wide-eyed. My brothers were in suits, ties, belts and polished good leathers.  My parents were the epitome of fashion perfection. Not a piece of lint to be found, looking lovely and daper and not at all like parents of a growing family.

We took a car to the famed National Theatre.  Because we were somehow blessed by the gods, we actually sat in “The President’s Box” and afterwards were invited to go backstage and meet Robert Preston, the lead actor.  The show was the stage performance of “Music Man”.  Being able to see from up on high, I could take in the full spectacle; watching the trilling fingers on trumpets, marching musicians, and seeing it all happen at the talented hand of the master himself, “Professor Harold Hill”. My young eyes took in that charisma and hung onto every word that was said or sung. I watched the dramatics, the dancing, the convincing, the swooning…I watched love unfold and story outcome evolve. I rejoiced along with the audience with the boisterously jubilant final act. It was sheer, captivating entertainment all wrapped in one big musical bow. I think I fell in love with music itself that wonderful night…

Years later, by the time I reached high school, I had already been immersed in a world of music under the instruction of a myriad of tutors. My uncle taught me basic fingering on our household piano, and my mother would often play piano or organ. I had a public school teacher introduce me to the violin and eventually I had a private teacher to refine what things I learned. In junior high, I had Mr. Ross, whom I could swear was really Beethoven when he would jump up and down on our orchestra conductor’s podium. Mr. Wilshire came later, and I learned to play to please. Both men were taskmasters in their own way. Both etched deep streams of chromatic chords into my soul.

Then, one autumn day in 1970, I came to be under the directorship of Mr. Gordon Norman. He was so many things all wrapped in a Stewart Tartan Plaid suit jacket. To me, he was Professor Hill revisited. He was official. He was sharp, exacting and our sergeant of arms. With either an outward swing of his arms to say, “Instruments up, let us begin” to a more intent tapping on the music stand, conveying “Let’s get it right THIS time, folks”, his leadership would instigate and inspire.

I played first violin for him. I determined to keep my spot in First Violins, and sometimes, had to accept “Second Fiddle”. He discreetly would tell me he needed strength in every section. But, I knew it was because most of my extra-curricular focus had nothing to do with striving for brilliant bowing. You see, I was also in the Plaid Piper Drillteam which marched behind The Tartan Marching Band. Spreading my free time quite thinly, Mr. Norman knew first and foremost I was a student. Therefore, in orchestra class, there would be occasions when he would tell all of us to stop and put our instruments down. He would allow us to study for an English vocabulary test or go over notes before an important exam. I appreciated his being “in tune” with the kids. Mr. Norman seemed to know what we needed. It was easy to have a good rapport with our “fearless” leader.

Granted, Gordon Norman was the director of the marching band. But, he knew what sort of effect he wanted both the band and drill team to create. Being of extremely short stature, my presence in the parade block formation on the street had only one possible location: front row and the far end position on either the left or right. One’s eyes could see a row of drill team girls lined up and guided up, standing sharp as a tack. Following it across visually, was an interruption at the end of the row where a sudden drop would happen. This was where my not quite 5 foot height would boldly attempt to proclaim its existence. Mr. Norman would once in awhile saunter over to me, peer downward, and with a smirk combo of stern, yet kind, ask: “Are you standing in a hole?”. He knew it didn’t take much to make me laugh and just lose it. Thus, his jokes were a good test of what restraint I might possess. After all, when standing at attention before stepping off the competition line, you cannot flinch one bit….not even if a giant blue bumble bee decides it likes your colorful tartan pinned close to your neck and ear lobe. (This actually did happen to me in a competition parade when we were all frozen at attention.) Did I move? Absolutely not! That’s trained fortitude!

Being a Plaid Piper Drillteamer, meant long hours of practice. Daily we were called to the football field to go through the field show routines. Each week we had a new show, so a lot of practicing had to ensue. I vividly remember one 1971 morning, we were called to practice to be there by 6 am. All of us girls had rollers in our hair-the band girls as well. That particular morning, the ground shifted and rolled and it was my first outdoor earthquake I had ever experienced. But, Mr. Norman waited for it to calm down, and we continued on without recoiling from further practice. Even when the regular school day ended, the last period of classes was 7th period. The entire band and drill team practiced until the sun went down. That was the time. We ended after sunset. Every school day. Every week. He was determined to have us reach our best.

It paid off well because, Mr. Norman and his compadre in arms, Mrs. Jean Thompson who specifically oversaw the drillteam, created the finest marching charts and field shows a high school band could have. We won countless awards and were invited to venues not usually associated with high school marching bands. We performed in the Rose Parade, at the Rams Game at the Coliseum, at the 49ers game up in San Francisco. Along the way we slept over in Porterville and Fairfield. Gordon Norman had to be in charge of the whole shebang– each of us staying in homes of families in those towns who had children in their high school’s marching band. That was a truckload of trust back in the day!

In 1972 he took all of us to Switzerland where we spent weeks roaming the Swiss Alps and picturesque hamlets. We rode cogwheel trains to the top of snow-capped peaks, we cleared Mt. Pilatus and looked down on Lucerne through the clouds below. We took a lake cruise, and drove in buses through winding mountain roads. We visited and performed in the towns of Bern, and Interlaken. We stayed one weekend in a university dorm. We marched in the “Fetes de Geneve” and met the Soviet Union Army Band. We exchanged pins with them and other international bands from all over the globe at that grand celebration. How could a mere music teacher instigate and carry-out such an enriching experience for 300+ students?

For the Switzerland trip, we learned new ways to perform. I learned the “Black Bottom” and the “Charleston Dance”. I was invited to help devise and perform a flag twirling routine. We presented these at an amazing band concert hall in Geneva. I’ll never forget the Russians playing the “1812 Overture”. We even heard the hauntingly beautiful alpine horns perform. These were memories for life. Rich, storied, philosophical, and educating. What Mr. Norman and Mrs.Thompson gave us goes beyond anything any other teachers could have given.

When competing in our own hometown area in Southern California against other high school bands, we strove to and often won, top prizes…First Place and Sweepstakes! Mr. Norman expected so much from us. But in that message of expectation was the mantra of “I know you can achieve it”. Thus, we did do very well. We loved being winners, travelers and entertainers. We loved being enthralled with the world of music, march and dance. We loved it because he loved us. We believed no task was too hard because he believed.

And this is where my reference to Professor Harold Hill comes in. Gordon Norman was our “Professor”. I don’t know if he stepped off a train from Iowa or not, but, when he came to Glendora, he turned up the volume on our quaint, little town. He used his salesmanship to convince our parents to buy authenticity. We wore Stewart Plaid from Scotland, and donned real accoutrements for the pipers and drill team right down to the hackles, amber silver brooches, ostrich feather bonnets, ghillies and kilt pins. ***I’m not sure, but he and Mrs. Thompson may have been instrumental in securing permission from Scotland and England to allow us to wear the Royal Stewart Plaid.*** I know there already were tartan and British regalia uniforms already in use…but he demanded more exacting finesse; more items from the true sources. Why not wear Stewart Plaid? That was our Music Man’s motto- “If you can dream it, then go for it!” Of course, this became embedded in all of his musicians and drillteamers’ hearts. I know I think that way. I am as my son once put it: an “infernal” optimist! I got that from Gordon Norman.

He insisted the band have white shoes for marching and before parades each shoe was on the marcher’s foot in a plastic baggie. Parents scurried about as the bags came off just before step off…and with white shoe polish in hand, checked for any stray marks. Gloves were examined for lipstick spots and replaced if need be. Our drill team hair had to be one style, a pageboy, and it could not touch the shoulders when straight. Tons of hairspray was in use. Every girl had to wear mascara and the exact same color lipstick. It was all about polish. It was all about the smile, too.

Gordon Norman also instigated the booster parents to sew woolen capes for the Drillteam. Our skirts were very short and we often were very cold out on football fields standing in attention. My mother was one of the boosters who sewed those woolen knee length capes lined in satin. He must have been listening to us, because it seemed we always had our needs fulfilled. How fondly I think of that cape. I can almost feel it, smell it and be warmed by the sentimental thought of it.

“Gordy” had chutzpah. Still does. Often, on our way home from an event, he would lead three buses full of growling stomachs and voraciously hungry students. Woe to the fast food chains who would see huge buses of our 300+ children arriving. He would ask if they could take on the challenge. He had a way of making the earth move at his behest. Even as his musicians and young charges, he was not easy on any of us. He would say, “Nobody else picks up your instrument. You bring it, you take it. Nobody will do it for you.”

If he wanted something he asked. He had a knack for knowing whose bread to butter to get permission for us to practice marching down Foothill Boulevard and on the 210 freeway before the Glendora stretch officially opened. You knew if he asked (you), to do a favor for him, he had full faith you could do it. I recall one day in the band room, he looked at me and said, “Would you mind cleaning up my office? It’s an awful mess.”  I laugh in memory because that was the day he first taught me a term I eventually taught my own students. I asked him that day where to put a pile of papers that looked impossible for me to sort out, not likely knowing what they were…his answer? “Oh, they go in the circular file, Julie.” He saw my quizzical look and then smirked back and shifted his eyes to the metallic, dark green trash can. Even at home nowadays, I’ll say to put something away in the “circular file”. It was a responsibility to help out my teacher. I was more than proud to help him out.

He made us all revere him, but, not by “Harold Hill” pretend tactics. That is where the distinction lies. We just knew he had scores of ideas and he did not like backing down from them. We knew those ideas always became something great. His power of positivism was his shining mace. He led us in spirit cheers in the gym using lighted letter banners to spell out our High School name. We had spirit sing alongs on each bus and observed a “silent zone” returning to home, driving past our campus southern border, where we inwardly thought of our Alma Mater song “Praise to Thee Glendora”. As we turned the corner, then in modulated reverence, sang the words– once out of “the zone”. Mr. Norman galvanized parental efforts to hold raffles, to fundraise, initiate barbecues, host band parties for the kids, hold pancake breakfasts and set up assembly lines in cafeterias for making pizzas to sell throughout the city as a means to get us all on trips long distanced and even across “The Pond” to Switzerland.

If, I think back to winter, 1973, I can imagine myself polishing my black marching drill team shoes. I check to see the small piece of plaid in each square buckle was tightly fastened. Next, I inspect my black knee socks for any miscreant speck. I adjust my short stewart plaid kilt, and pull down my black vest with silver diamond-shaped buttons. I fluff the ruffles around my neck from my white blouse, and have a fellow drillteamer make sure my cap is at the right angle with black ostrich feather hackle pointed upward. She’ll have smoothed out straight my tartan plaid draping off the back of my shoulder. I know not to put my gloves on until the very last. I was a Plaid Piper Drillteamer. I marched behind the legendary Tartan Marching Band. My snappy movements are filed in muscle memory, and I only have to concentrate on letting the music lead me, as I accentuate with crisp movements. I’m ready to perform for Band-o-Rama.

Band-o-rama just celebrated its 50th year performance. Gordon Norman started the tradition and was invited this year to guest conduct. The traditions remain from what we did long ago. The band played as the drill team now known as Pageantry, performed “Scotland the Brave,” “The Highland Fling”, and “The Sword Dance.” It ended with our Alma Mater, “Scotch On the Rocks” and “Amazing Grace”. Our Drum Major kneeled on one knee in full Scottish regalia and a lone piper played the tune. The moment was spell-binding. Tears glistened.

Back in 1973, I sat on a drum case of a friend, waiting for it all to begin. I thought of Mr. Norman and what he must have had to go through to start this whole operation. He had to convince the students, the parents, the school administration, the college whose auditorium we utilized, the city businesses to help pay for the building for the entire week of practices before the show.  But, our “Professor Hill” has that smile. He has a way of winning us all over. I think his smile says, “If not for me, then do it for Music”. Well, we did. We have. I hope we always will.

I get up from that drum case. I don my pristine, white gloves. I’m ready. The curtains rise. The Glendora Tartan Marching Band is sitting erect with instruments poised. The Band Leader, Maestro, Director, our “Music Man”, walks out under the flood of stage lights. Thunderous applause. He steps onto the podium box. He raises his conductor’s baton….the drum cadence commences. I emerge from the side curtains and march out with other Plaid Piper drill team girls performing our “Scotland the Brave” routine. The Pipe Band slowly rises up from the dropped floor and the magic begins….

 

Thank you Mr. Gordon Norman. Thank you for everything.

 

 

The Abounding Sounds of Glendora

A train of thought, worth the ride….

Nestled against the softly shapened foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, is a bedroom community no longer so small. Grown from town to city, it barely retains its quaint character. Those who have been fortunate to be raised in such a place can keep the charm alive in the halls of their memory. A sweet mixture of home and community is what comes to mind.

When I think of Glendora, a series of sounds comes spilling forth:

Firstly, there are musical sounds. Glendora is rooted in music whether in the schools, the downtown district or the homes. Foremost in thought is our marching band playing “Scotland the Brave” with the bagpipes skirl leading the tune. Marching shoes are hitting the pavement marking time with crisp white drillteam gloves slapping palms and thighs in unison. Next, I recall Glendora High School’s orchestra playing an “A” at the tap of Mr. Norman’s baton on a metallic music stand. If I dig deeply enough, I can remember Charles Ross’s plucking of violin strings to tune young children’s instruments. When I used to walk the halls in high school, often, the harmonizing sounds of choir practice in session would showcase those beautiful voices…Indeed, music in school was prevalent.

Music was always a part of homelife. I hear my brother’s sax, his bass viol too, my other brother’s Ludwig drum set pounding the fury, and his Martin guitar gently strumming. I remember the lilt of my sister’s flute and my own violin practicing. Lucky was the occasion when our uncle would come to visit and perform on the organ just about anything on request. He thrilled us every single time. Never forgotten was my mom’s organ and piano playing in our house on weekend mornings. She played with verve and woke us up. I can still catch her rhythmic, clandestine “when nobody is looking” tap-dance in our kitchen and quite fondly, my father’s sweet whistle of tune while tending his roses or loading logs in our fireplace. He’d pull back the metal screen and shift the wood about. Once it began, the sputters and snaps would commence. As my mind ferrets the thoughts of sounds around home, I can hear the tinny sound of my beloved transistor radio and the blasting lyrics to “Oklahoma” coming from the downstairs’ bedroom record player console. Slipping into thought are the strains of Hendrix, Janis, Iron Butterfly, Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Safaris, Simon and Garfunkel, Glen Campbell and John Denver. Sounds from televised “Sing along With Mitch”, “The Lawrence WelkShow” and specials featuring that swoon worthy voice of the one and only Elvis.

You could say music was rampant in our Glendora household. Often, before a big family meal, a brother-sister duet of “Heart and Soul” would enliven the ivory keys of our family upright piano. When it came to meals together, there was plenty to talk about, too. If I try hard, those voices come to life for me. A sentimental thought emerges of the tiny, yet lively chirping of “Moonbeam” our canary, abashedly interjecting his opinion into the dinner table conversation most evenings. But, specific outdoor sounds are in the halls of my memory as well.

Taking a mental walk outside, I hear the mourning dove’s call in my backyard, a neighbor’s rooster heralding the break of day, a variety of birds chirping cheerfully as if in homage to the sunshine, the crows holding a rambunctious convention several times a year up in the trees, a woodpecker ardently at work, the unique baby-like wail of the local peacocks, and lest I forget, the questioning call of the lone owl who made our tall avocado tree his home. From my upstairs bedroom window, I detect the distant whinnying of the Armstrong’s stabled horse. Either outside or in,  occasional planes fly high overhead humming their beelines; airport bound. A tuned ear appreciates these sensorial details, including the “every so often” sonic boom made from the jets clearing the sound barrier up near Edwards Airforce Base.

Inclusive of this audible menagerie is an infusion of yells with squeals that signaled the splashes of diving, running jumps on springing boards and belly-flops into our family pool. My brain hones in on the tick, tick, clicketing of the Rainbird sprinklers, the Santa Fe train’s wan whistle cry, and carefree siblings singing songs on the swings in our yard. I even remember the muffled giggles as we would literally sausage-roll ourselves down the verdant, grassy knoll up behind and northeast of our back porch veranda.

Imagining being in town, at Finkbiner Park, I hear the melody blaring from the ice cream man’s truck that used to canvass our neighborhoods, and come round to the playground. Walking along our suburban streets, I hear rock n roll bands practicing in their families’ garages, the clacketing of skateboards on sidewalks and at the skate park, the sound of jump ropes slapping the ground as feet hop and voices recite chants, the basketball slamming onto cement– then the dunking sound it makes, whooshing through the hoop. How clever was the repetitive flapping of playing cards placed inside the spokes of bicycles ridden up and down city blocks. All these sounds made Glendora not just a town, but a hometown.

Almost anywhere near the downtown village one could and still can hear at Christmastime, the pealing Christian Church bells. On Sundays, if walking about, the grand Methodist Church pipe organ can be heard uplifting hymns to Heaven, And, most days, the chimes ring from the Public Library tolling out the hour. A more subtle sound is the clear “dinging” of Bock’s Variety Store’s old-fashioned register bell. Carried on the wind are distanced shouts and cheers at the Little League baseball games held at Sandburg and Goddard. From in the village can be heard the crack of wooden bats hitting homers, and the softball crowds rousing support emanating from the Finkbiner Park stands. Amongst the minutiae of memory are the sounds of strollers’ squeaky wheels with babies babbling on board.  Then there is the sound of strong winter gales blowing in the trees and through palm fronds. Happily remembered is the exultant vocalizing of the “Whoas” of passengers and riders in cars going down the “The Dip” on Sierra Madre Boulevard. From the eastern end of Glendora was heard the fireworks popping and crackling on the Fourth of July, and for some, the 4:00 Quitting Time horn blast at Monrovia Nursery.

Whether one was shopping, walking, roller-skating or riding around the various streets of Glendora, there was a plethora of sounds to now remember. I most certainly do! The thoughts fly past quickly.  I recall the sound of water from a hose being sprayed onto cars and kids giggling in playfulness as they soap up the tires. I hear truckloads of carolers rolling through the neighborhoods at Christmas, singing on front lawns or from the truckbed. I can identify the squeaky opening sound of the ice-cream freezer door at Finkbiner’s Market, the clip-clop of horses’ hooves along Sierra Madre, the flapping in the breeze of the elementary schools’ USA flag and California’s flag. I hear their rope and metallic fastener clanging against the tall standing flagpole, and even the school buses’ engine rumble as it is idles and takes off with a load of excited students. My mind hears the spritely discourse or happy conversation downtown along Glendora Avenue. Memory fires up the sounds of different makes of cars and vehicles driving up Glendora Mountain Road, especially, a Diesel Engine Mercedes SEL, a 56 Chevy, a Volkswagen beetle and a Triumph roadster, for they belonged to family. I can think of the sounds of automobiles zooming down Glendora Mtn. Road, down Valley Center, and along Foothill. Sometimes the acceleration was quite obvious! Other times, usually at dusk, lone, territorial coyotes call after the speeding wheels as if to say- “Be careful! We are still here!”

Glendora was a splendid town in which to live. Her sounds invigorated, lulled, and inspired. I hope that the citizens living there today take the time to stop and have a listen, because Glendora’s sounds are testament to her beauty. Glendora is not just roads and  buildings. It has been an on-going symphony of sounds for well over a hundred years. They describe a way of life. They reflect the people. The people of Glendora.

Julianne Cull (2019)

 

Walt Disney Hall Concert

 

I am no stranger to the Walt Disney Music Hall.

One of its fine features is the focal point in the main concert hall: the Pipe Organ. It looks like no other, and seems to resemble a splaying upwards of wooden French fries. They are the pipes and behind them are shuttered slats that are a system of horizontal and vertical valves that open and close, releasing magnificent sound. Only maestros should have the privilege of performing on this one of a kind organ. Today, Cameron Carpenter joined the ranks of esteemed organists who got the chance to fire-up the artistically designed bad boy brute of an organ….
The concert was set for 2 pm on Sunday and it was marvelous! It exceeded my expectations. It began with a composition by Christopher Cerrone, called: “The Insects Become Magnetic”. Evidently, it was the world premiere of this particular piece of music, which sounded very avant- garde to me. I did observe my sister’s knee was bouncing up and down about 55 beats per minute, just like she would do under the dining table when she wished she could be excused to go upstairs to study. My son, sitting on my right, slid into that “Hmm, cool,… something to dissect and categorize and analyze on various strata and levels. Yay! Caviar for my brain!” I couldn’t see my brother in law. He was sitting on the other side of my sister. But, I know he appreciates all kinds of music, too. We, the four of us were there, dutifully and anxiously taking in an afternoon of tantalization in tone and timbre.
First of all, I noticed the percussionists did many weird and wonderful things…I could have sworn there was a saw (hand saw for cutting down trees), only deduced by the sound that was presented. All the performers were doing things to their instruments in an unconventional way.. Most of the time. Very bizarre. The harpist’s harmonics could easily be seen being executed  and heard above the sometimes “brilliant din”, which is how I’d describe the encompassing symphonic sound. How busy and industrious the timpanist and the whole orchestra were! I whispered an aside to my son, saying, “I bet the musicians, including that timpanist, are having fun playing this composition!”  The bold bowing of the bass viols marched a demonstrative legion in unison and strength. (Locusts, perhaps?) The violas kind of mirrored them.(high pitched droning cicadas?) The violins used the tips of their bows a lot; creating a strangely at odds calm vs tedium mood. The cellos were the “meadow” of this musical depiction, providing a groundwork from which delightful, auditory discoveries would spring via the array of brass using giant mutes. (I was afraid someone would drop one of those silvery mutes, as they slid them into the bell of their tuba, baritone, or horn) and eventually slide them out again.) Lest I forget, I must mention those sneaky, persnickety oboes needling their way into this musical foray. Decidedly, I need to hear this composition again, because I spent the first half of the piece trying to figure out where the different sounds came from! As an overall afterthought I’d say the world premiere was rather fraught with frenzied alliteration, if that is possible in music… As I described, different groupings of instruments would echo the outcries of others. Most assuredly, it was a near visual of frenetic wings in flight, incessant buzzing, hovering notes that truly had no real melody line, only redundant intonation; which almost became too much to bear! I did like it, but I was hopeful for relief in sight toward the end. A truly modern expression, this is for sure!
Then, Mr. Carpenter stepped out all tall and young and rather a mystery. He received applause, and my expectation hung suspended for a moment because I was miffed that Carpenter did not play on the Disney Hall organ for the Poulenc composition. Instead, the stage hands rolled out his Traveling Digital Organ, which I read, has had additional, unique sounds built into it per his request. It was brought out and placed in front of the violas, a little to the left side of the stage.  We could see his footwork and all the fingering and action with his hands. Quite striking! My sister later commented that she was impressed by the pedal footwork Carpenter did. His agility and command rather boggled her mind…and of course she would notice this, being a ballerina herself, for 12 years. Cameron Carpenter and the Philharmonic were performing Poulenc’s “Concerto in G for Organ, Strings, and Timpani”. It was a resolution for our ears, to hear something that “spoke in sentences with anticipated conclusion.” I did especially enjoy the “andante” part of the Poulenc piece. The rousing last movement was also deserving of a very grateful, GREAT applause. Mr. Carpenter returned for two deep bows in his midnight blue suit that made him look debonaire and quite slender. As the applause resounded, he humbly put his palms together as if he were in prayer, and gave a very generous, slow and low bow. 
 
After receiving his thunderous applause, he came back to play a piece not on the program. It sounded like “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, but, I wasn’t sure. It seemed not as long as the “Toccata” I knew. Possibly, it was, and he just cut out some of the variations. I remember thinking, “Can one DO that to Bach? Oh my!”. In any case, I’d stake my last meal it was a Bach piece. Later, I learned it was Bach’s “Little Fugue in G”. Well, it showed off his flying fingers which at one point I thought flew off his wrists and tumbled onto the floor. His roaming feet however remained intact. From that display of showmanship he earned a three times call back for another bow-seeking standing ovation. You really have to see him in person. Have you? 
 
After the necessary intermission, came the Saint-Saens.The Philharmonic performed “Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op. 78.”  Well, I LOVED this piece! I can’t say anything specific other than when the patrons returned to their seats, the digital organ of Carpenter’s was gone from the stage. Up above the trombones and to the right of the timpanist was an organ console that manipulated the pipes and their valve slats of the famed Disney organ! At first CC was just sitting quietly content as “a peach in a basket”, and I didn’t even know what the wooden console was, because this time he was facing the main audience. Mind you, in the hall there is seating right under the pipe organ facing from above and behind the orchestra. I don’t think I would enjoy those seats. Half of the experience for me, is watching the performers show off their talent. Though, I suppose placing the console in this position gave that audience on the opposite end of the hall under the hall’s pipe organ, a chance to look down and see Carpenter do his magnificent keyboarding and pedal work.
 
I did not even realize the pipe organ was going to play, but, as Cameron Carpenter sat there so still, along with his comrades primed and ready for creative purpose, slowly an ever subtle organ line thread itself to the surface of the music. This went on for quite awhile, and then it seemed the strings and brass had their limelight in the telling of story. While being lulled by their gentle, quieted message, I felt a vibration in my seat. At first I thought, “Oh no, not an earthquake!” My sister didn’t flinch. Nor my son. He was hunkered down in pensive perusal of the music, and she was sitting leaning onto her husband’s shoulder with her knee still trembling now and then. She looked calm though. I decided to “let it go.”
 
Surprisingly, there was that vibration again! Next thing I knew, as the music played on, the vibration was manifest with a very baritone note that increased in decibels until OBVIOUSLY the pipe organ had “woken up!”. Now, I saw the valves open like shuttered slats horizontal and vertical, and the teal blue glow from behind was quite dramatic. I looked at the console and saw that Carpenter was indeed playing: I only knew by the sway of his shoulder from side to side in expression with the melody. Awesome!!! WOW, this was thrilling! More bold vibrating notes that your body didn’t just hear but FELT through to the bone. I thought bagpipes could stir the soul…well, no, not even in the same “vicinity” as the pipe organ! Now granted, I have heard many a pipe organ, but THIS was a pipe organ! No— it was like a mighty BEAST! Even though CC wasn’t situated up inside it, as Disney designed the organ seat to be, his console had to be connected to it and it just was an experience, I can tell you! The music was unique and riveting. Two good words: I believe. 
 
Finally, after I knew who was doing what, and my ear noted a closer to more conventional notation  start to emerge out of the behemoth beastly led first movement, I figuratively “leaned back” to match my actual sitting. Allowing the music to flow, I didn’t take stock any longer in who was doing what. I honestly don’t remember the main motif at this moment, however, I did know (I remembered) how it went when the theme first started to be introduced in the symphonic work. Excitedly, I mentally sailed back through time to Pepperdine University, to my little soundproof room in the Payson Library listening to a classical piece on the tape recorder. If only that professor knew how invaluable it was to teach us to recognize such things by ear as it was one of the greatest gifts I received in my collegiate education. Well, I “knew it” and it felt as familiar as a beloved sweater in which to envelope myself. I truly smiled inside as each movement was told via my much beloved chromaticism, especially dark, rich, depth reaching chromaticism. I am a sucker for that! How come? Do you think because my Uncle started me on the family organ when I was a youngster? Perhaps.
There were strains ethereal as well; so much so, that my eyes felt compelled to open and gaze upward at the curved beams covering the ceiling overhead. For the first time after all my many visits, I decided they looked like ruffling pages of music notation. This is because the warm colored wood has little round holes in it housing lights shining down to iluminate the floor. You mostly don’t see the bulbs, just the black round music note-like holes sporadically carved into the “bulging aloft on a breeze” bent wood beams. When I had that epiphany of what they looked like, tears effusive, came to awash me in sheer happiness and peace…it indeed felt as if I were sailing on an ocean. Quite serene, I tell you. Quite serene. Heaven bound, for sure. 
 
Well, the symphony ended quite dramatically, and the conductor, Roderick Cox had had his dance on the podium. He wasn’t “my Dudamel”, but that’s okay, he engaged the musicians with similar gusto and fearless frenzy even…but uniquely him, quite proper, too! I believe this was his Southern California debut. I was impressed. Most salient learned thing about him? He undoubtedly LOVES music. Ka Ching! High Marks from Julianne!
 
Thus, that was the 2 pm concert in Los Angeles at the Disney Hall, November 18, 2018. I shall not forget.
 

The Toppling of Tradition

Come on, SERIOUSLY? Very recently, I heard a radio discussion as I was driving along in my car, that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I think it is because it is one of a string of long-time stock-piling incidents building into a fevery pitch; or in keeping with the theme, a bonfire! It was about Halloween and the Trick or Treating expectations. Children were at the very core of the controversy, which kind of got my witches’ brew boiling….

A phone caller into a local radio station was saying how very adamant he was that 17 year old kids had the audacity to still be going door to door in quest for candy amongst all the other kiddies. Now, let’s dissect this issue. First and foremost, one is still a child until 18. Thus, these are children. It’s the lawful stance. I’m of the opinion that if a youth still wants to seek out candy, so be it, unless his dentist has put the kibosh on that endeavor. I say this because it’s actually a good thing a seventeen year old would rather be downing Hershey Bars and Abba Zabbas than a plethora of other worrisome desirables being paraded in front of our offspring today.

I mean, these kids who granted, could easily become glutonous and bully-prone, typically just stand at your open door dressed in black with some funky make-up on. Sometimes they go as far as putting a fake ax in their skull or blood dripping from their eyes, but, nonetheless, they just stand there, peaceably. In black. Quite blank faced, usually. Then because one of the bunch, often is a big brother or cousin with a younger sibling, he or she will come right out with it: “Trick or Treat”. They usually have to because the little “spirits” are famous for ALSO just standing there in costume, gawking. That’s when I bring out the bowl and hint that one or two candies should be enough for each. In recent years I haven’t gotten as many of the scallawagging ghouls, so when they do come, I now say “Take as much as you wish”. Invariably, they are polite, and only take one or two pieces, but, I rather live for the pant and squeal of excitement from the child who just makes a sweeping grab and practically runs away as if in possession of gold. It kindles my own memory of the excitement I felt as a young candy scout on the loose. In all my grown-up years of being a Trick or Treaters’ host, I have only had one occasion where I regretted handing out sugary yummies.

Maybe my experience is an unusual and lucky one. But truly, what is the big deal? Adult life is hard as it is; why not allow the older children to hang on to their innocent existence just a tad longer? Eighteen years of childhood is a small amount in comparison to the 70 to 80 more years spent as an adult. Adulthood is saddled with rules that become laws and consequences that become fate. I say, let the insouciant behavior commence day in and day out until it is legally, afforded no more.

This is why I never scolded my kids when they went out on warm nights and “T.P.ed” their peers’ front yards. (This is another tradition of youth, that is not necessarily tied to any holiday, but it is in the same vein of fun as trick or treating.) Throwing a few rolls of toilet paper up into tree limbs and wrapping up shrubs, lawn furniture, standing flamingoes, mailboxes on posts and hanging porch swings never really hurt anyone. An inconvenient nightmare come morning? Of course. But, if the local kids do it to your yard, your kid was considered cool. When my big brother was voted ASB president of his high school, a battalion of seniors on the cusp of being 17 descended on our property one hot end of September night. They engineered a HUGE mess, and because we siblings saw it all going on, my folks heard about it, and came downstairs to survey the situation. I remember my dad calling the teenagers into the house and telling them that enough was enough, but he knew it was all in fun. My mother, resolved to turn on the oven, and got her homemade cookie batter out of the fridge. She baked cookies for all of them. As everyone gathered round to enjoy chocolate chip cookies and whole milk, my dad made the perpetrators promise to clean up the “T.P. masterpiece” as soon as possible. They did. The next morning, they all came back, erased any trace and then played basketball. Our parents gave those kids the gift of time. They allowed them to still be young and carefree. Now, if it happens today, the local police are promptly called, instead. Not much freedom left for being a kid.

This is what I believe Halloween is partially about. It’s about still celebrating being a child. Playing the traditional game of asking for candy, and disguising one’s looks is all about fun without regulation. It is why on October 31st a good number of grown adults in the USA still drive off to work dressed as baked potatoes, astronauts, Wonder Woman and Harry Potter. It’s why it’s still a prevalent holiday that anyone from any background can freely participate in and “escape” the tribulations of being oneself for just a day, or even part of a day. It helps us all forget a truckload of worries. At the office nobody actually tricks or treats, well maybe in some unique manner they do. Dressing-up in a costume is more about tapping into our “inner child” and unleashing one’s imagination. Plus, there is a breadth of freedom and safety when one takes on a new personna. It feels a little bit mischievous. Anonymity breeds the feeling of adventure and power. Definitely exciting. Additionally, all these adults get just a smidgen of attention more than usual. That’s the kid in them. It’s in all of us. Once a year, for a day, if we decide to play along, our typical self is dissolved. And– just think, its a tradition! Woe to the workplace that deems such frivolity unacceptable!

Just what do mature adults secretly wish they could escape from? Bills, gasoline prices, car repairs, proper childcare, taxes, mortgage payments, divorce settlements, cases in trial, health strategies, worries about illnesses, car accidents, politics, shootings, crime, illegal drugs and war. The long list of impending doom and erratic tragedy is real, unfortunately. It weighs on people’s hearts. Do we really want to rob a seventeen year old of a final year spent in semi-bliss, away from these woes? In truth, by that age they already know what is coming down the pike. Why not let them have one last year to cavalierly, skip down their path to adulthood?

That radio show caller might think back to his childhood and recall how he felt on the brink of college and life beyond graduation. Better still, why not reflect on all the happy memories of being a child. I know it is something valuable we all should do from time to time. There is so much to appreciate.  We ought to be willing to share those remembrances with today’s youngsters. Sharing can mean extending understanding and perhaps reviving some “lost” Halloween traditions. You see, so much today is already pre-planned, pre-prepared, even pre-fabricated, leaving not much wiggle room for unique approaches to celebrating this most festive holiday.

I’d like to start with me. Once upon a time I was a young girl. I was fueled on imagination! It all probably began one rainy day indoors when my little sister and I took our blankets and turned them into “princess capes” by pinning a costume jewelry brooch through the edge just under our chin. There we had it, a long trailing, “royal cape”. When Halloween rolled around each end of October, I had already created a mental picture of whom or what I wanted to be. I wore nothing store-bought except for maybe a cheap mask and those silly wax lips. Everything else that comprised my costumes came straight from the bedroom closet. So I want to be a gypsy? No problem…I’d put together scarves, a swishy skirt, a peasant blouse which was all the rage in the sixties, and dangly, costume jewelry. I would dig around in junk drawers, the attic or trade with my siblings. Half the fun was the challenge to design a costume that looked as authentic as possible. Not only did the planning keep me occupied, but it challenged my creative spirit. Many little girls were doing the same. My brothers put their costumes together, too. Sometimes they would ask for my help, or I, theirs. Maybe, our mother might sew something to contribute to the whole effect. It was a fun, family experience no matter what.

When my brothers and sisters and I went Trick or treating, we went in a group. A few times we broke into pairs, but mostly we went together. It was fabulous exercise. We walked as far as our little legs could go. Our parents stayed home and answered the doorbell, while we “scoped-out” the “good houses” with kind people giving generous treats. A few times we would recite a Halloween poem or perform a little dance, in keeping with the traditional way to trick or treat. Our mini performances were our “ticket” to earning the sought after confectionery, though, not every house demanded we show off. As our pillow-cases grew heavy with quite a trove of candy,  our masks would steam-up as we grew out of breath. One year, we literally were dog-tired, and came home dragging our stash behind us. It was an athletic feat to go trick or treating. But, well worth the effort!

My folks were pretty “cool” parents when I look back in perspective. We could keep our bounty in our secret hiding places. Usually, first thing we would do is dump it out onto the dining table under the chandelier light, and inspect what everyone had. This is where we learned to become barterers and traders, and even “philanthropists”. My parents might ask for one or two of our candies, but it was our stuff, and they knew it. I don’t know how it happened, but, eventually, the sweets would end up in our sack lunches as our dessert. For months we would have one piece of candy per day at school to polish off our homemade lunches. Nowadays, many elementary schools go so far as to ban candy of any kind. Oh, honestly!

There was more than one way to celebrate Halloween. One year, my brothers,  sisters and I were allowed to turn our garage into a neighborhood “haunted house.” We blind-folded our friends and put them through “scary” experiences. One of them was taking clean toilet paper, wetting it, into thin rolls that resembled worms, and laid the wet “creatures” on the arms of our haunted house “victims”, as they sat in the Haunted House “parlor”. The “frightening tricks” we did were as innocent as that, but, when you are blind-folded, and something wet and cold is put on your arms, your imagination runs wild, which can be quite frightening! Needless to say, each sibling had their own station in which to employ a “scary” experience, and of course our enterprise was a success!

Another way seventeen year olds can still appropriately participate in Halloween, is to carve pumpkins. It’s true some killjoys go around after midnight and destroy pumpkins perched on railings and porch steps. Maybe they never had the opportunity to spread newspaper out on their kitchen table or in the garage, and proceed to cut open a pumpkin, extract its pulp, carve a spooky expression, and enjoy placing that first candle in the jack-o-lantern they had made, to see it lit. What was the lingering treat after all this handiwork? The roasting, salting and eating of the pumpkin seeds- a nutritious, delicious treat!

If we just allow people to put their brains to work, they can easily come up with fun ways to make Halloween an enjoyable occasion. I remember one year, long past 17, tapping into my “creative self”. I was living in my first apartment, and had a melodeon pump organ in my living room right, by my front door. When the doorbell rang, I decided to open the door ever so slowly with a pull tie rope and with my other hand, playing chords on the instrument, while one foot pressed a pedal. I did my best to sound as musically terrifying as possible. I remember little ones would either run away, or bravely hold their ground on my doorstep, to which I rewarded them with candy bars. This is the creative spirit of Halloween, folks. A day to tap into the recesses of our imagination. Not store-bought. Not commercial. Not blood-curdling horrific. Just a modicum of mystery to add color to life.

I’m of the opinion that the American traditional way of celebrating Halloween has succumbed to the toppling down of some fundamental building blocks that are not only foundational, but, necessary. Children and adults surely need to be reminded at least one time a year, that they were once very, very young, and very, very unadulterated. Child’s thought was just that, his or her own thought. Original. Unique. Having Halloween in 2018 be diminished down to a mere, tolerable date at the end of October is really sad. Imposing a cut-off for what ages can don costumes and make believe who they are, while trick or treating is cynical, pathetic control. To shield one’s kids in only a church carnival where everyone is monitored to the max, is the antiseptic way to celebrate this holiday. I can see why parents feel forced to make this choice, but why not simply at least accompany your children door to door? How can there be a trustworthy society if we don’t utilize trust ourselves? I did with my kids. They knew we couldn’t visit “everyone”. But, they had fun checking out the different homes, their decorations and guessing who were their neighbors behind the masks passing by on the sidewalks. It was a social event to say the least!

Why pour over the internet or the department store flyers to find the best deal on pre-made disguises? They are probably being crafted in countries where the workers’ wages are far less than the “bargain price” they are being sold for. For heaven sakes, why purchase plastic tote bags when a decent old pillow will do? Does everything have to be a “cute contest” to keep up with the Joneses? But you know, even I can relent on this and say that if it makes it truly fun for the child to have a tote or bag to remember Halloween the rest of the year, then so be it.

It seems the point I wish to make is that if we tear down the traditions of Halloween, we are eradicating some simple joy we all still really need. A holiday that allows people young and old to play the same way, tap into their creativity, and share the experiences with others, is one worth not ruining. Let those 17 year olds beg for sweets, please. And do get that pirate hat out of the trunk in the garage. Go for it! Live childhood another day!

 

 

 

 

On the Cusp of Autumn

🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂🍁🍂

Autumn in Southern California is an unpredictable thing. Not only is it hard to know when it will finally “feel like Fall”, but when it will actually occur is also an uncertainty. Of course it will happen! We will all rejoice and sigh relief from the oppressive, baking sun we endured the long-drawn our summer. But, when it does indeed make its presence known, everything will seem all the better.

We have already had some precursory signs which both tantalize and frustrate. Obviously, one cannot fight the laws of the celestial heavens. Our sun is seen at a different angle in the sky now, and we are beginning to have shorter days. Thusly, the marine layer is creeping in at night from the coast and its fingered fog is reaching far inland, up into the northern desert nether lands, and burrowing deep into the valleys and Orange County. Overnight, the thermometer in Southern Cal is dipping into the 59s and low 60s, and if you are hunkered down in a cabin up at Big Bear or Arrowhead, you are on the brink of 32 degrees, with a chance of snow. But, none of this noted drop in temps is lasting too long. During the day, there has been a 20-30 degree rise. By 4 pm, it is not quite hot enough to warrant the air conditioning, but it is such that seeking shade and liquids are still priorities. Therefore, tis the season of dangling the proverbial “autumn is approaching” carrot over our heads.

I for one cannot wait to open my front door one morning, and smell that fall has indeed come home. The air will feel wetter, heavier and have a fresh scent to it. Everything will be drenched in deeper colors and a portending mood of promise will linger all around. Even the cement may have a hint of scent of pre-sunrise precipitation, This immediately excites something within me. It is like a trigger. I will soon be reaching for an umbrella and scarf; and none too soon!

When on my walks I first spot that first leaf turned red, or orange, or yellow, I will know Autumn is upon us. So far, nothing. It is just past the first week in October. Patience is important, yet, I know it likely will arrive as late as the last week of the month. Typically, my children would have to wear sweaters or jackets to go “Trick or Treating” on Halloween. There are rare occasions though, when even by Halloween, Autumn is still in the wings. I can remember back to childhood having to tug along my pillowcase jammed with a candy trove, breathing steamy breath through my dime store mask. Eventually, I’d give up anonymity, and push it on top of my head in order to breathe freely and cool off a bit. Having this memory, I know full well that just because September 21st is the autumnal equinox, doesn’t mean immediate glory days.

And how glorious the months of Autumn can be! Once here, we revel in trees ablaze in reds, golds, tangerines, even deep purples. In California, the nurserymen are much to be credited for finding and planting species that do have showy fall color, and are able to withstand the extremes of blistering summer heat. In decades past, far underground have flowed waters that today’s trees if mature enough, can still tap into for resiliency. When Fall has finally stepped up to the stage, you can discover this plethora of different types of trees that will indeed display color galore. I am grateful to all the landscape architects who have designed with a rich palette in mind, for it brings a vibrancy to our environs that is nothing short of spirited. Having green and lush most of the year is definitely soothing, but, also having a demonstrative Fall botanical fanfare for all to enjoy is quite special, if not invigorating.

I love the Fall for the crisp in the air, the bite of an apple and in the brisk of the wind. Seeing that first swirl of autumn leaves evokes cozy thoughts and spurs on promise. It’s the same effect you get when you style a toddler’s lock of hair and as the brush pulls away, the hair bounces enthusiastically into an expressive curl. Even the first fireplaces put to the task, send out a plume of good things to come. Where there is wood burning there is a hearth, and where there is a hearth, there is a home and where there is a home, there is much to be appreciated.

Sitting near the fireplace, for the first time in Autumn, every sense is heightened and brilliantly noted. That smoky scent, the flush over face and hands awash in warmth, one cannot help but feel entranced by the sporadic snapping percussion of spark or the “hushed” glowing of ember. Immediately, this scenario calls for one of several engagements. There, before the hearth, the choice can be made. Either engage in quiet pondering, read an intriguing book or hum a heartfelt tune. Maybe knitting a secret present or whittling a small token from wood are past times of preference. Not everything must adhere to modernity. Perhaps, a sincere conversation or an impromptu tale to be told may fit the bill and savor the experience. Better still, is there a harmonica in your pocket? A dulcimer in the corner? A fiddle upon a hook? A recorder on a shelf? How about a banjo by the woodbox? Any of these instruments put to fine use on the brink of the moment is worthy of performance, remembrance and gratitude. All are fitting ways to rein-in long desired Autumn.

This is what the season of Autumn does, I believe. It brings us back to home, back to the fold. It focuses us near to the most meaningful part of our lives; our family. Even if your hearth is far away from loved ones, just coming in out of the cold, settling down by the fire, and kindling the thoughts of good things either gone by or good things yet to come, is invaluable. It could be this is why the seasons are the way they are. On the third of four seasons, we witness a final profusion of color. Its a last testament to what life can and maybe has been. The celebration and acceptance of change, the gusting of wind with coil and spin, and temperatures calling for shelter all hone us in like the shine on a sickle. We are honed in to home. To hearth. To heart. To Family. To dreamscape and imagination. To prayer and resolve. To praise and guidance. To warmth and peace. To safety.

Is it any wonder that so many of us residing in Southern California love the Fall time of year? It would seem Fall itself is magical. There may be an “Old Man Winter” waiting up in the canyons, ready to take over in a blanket of frost and white. But, in Autumn, we have “Wise Man Wizard”. with the sweep of his invisible wand, he summons moisture and rain. Then, he flicks it again to stir- up the winds. With that mysterious touch, he commands the temperatures to fall, and the leaves to grandstand their dramatic hues. Then, oh so subtly, he gently twirls his wand, capturing crisped leaves in his design to be noticed. Our eyebrows raise. Our footsteps pause, our heads turn to listen, and our heartbeats do a mini bellyflop from within. We know its here. Autumn has come!

There, at home, is the cinnamon in the applesauce on the stove, and the pumpkin bread cooling from the oven. A log just softly cracked in two in the fireplace, and the kitten opens one eye, spots it, shuts his lid again, and goes back to his undercurrent, slumbering purr. There’s the door, the latch is lifting….another pair of boots has come home.

The Sweetest Thing

There are many beautiful things in life.

An infant’s responsive smile,

The curled edge of rose petals unfolding

the whiff of brownies baking in an oven…

What makes them quite beautiful is that exact moment when they are “discovered”.

If one truly pays attention, throughout the day, one can spot these beautiful nuances everywhere and in many forms. It’s a simple matter of being attuned to the surrounding world. Thus, just at the very moment when a baby’s dimple deepens, or the third from the center layer of rose petals begin to unfurl, or the second that chocolatey aroma hits one’s olfactory system, is when the exquisite beauty is realized. And what a sweet thing these miniscule moments actually are. For they are gone within a millisecond. Poof. Well, if you are fortunate, there is a bit of lingering in which to fully appreciate these beautiful pieces of reality.

Life can be exalted to sheer loveliness by so many different notes in the symphony of Nature. Maybe you notice a shadow play made from trees’ leaves and twigs cast onto the lawn in a city park. Perhaps, for a moment, you feel a paper-thin, but percussive rhythm as your shoes walk and crunch over fallen autumn leaves beneath an overhead canopy of color. Hearing this, you are persuaded to break into a lackadaisical sing-song kind of march, that definitely leads up to a melody your mind is tempted to begin humming, as you saunter along. In addition to the music from your soul, you might take in a gentle serenade going on above, up in those same trees which gave you the crisping leaves and the flashing color. Out of one eye, you catch a slash of brilliant blue streaking from one perch to the next. It is a surprise and contrast that becomes the climax of this beautiful moment. Frozen in the beauty of it all, you stop, close your eyes, and then the birdcall takes “center stage.” It is a jubilant finale to an ever-so delicate slice of time. You just witnessed music “coloratura”,~ personified…

It is with this very same excitement, openness and gentility that a very sweet love story began.

Long ago, about 1947, in the coastal city of Santa Barbara, a young woman and a young man were about to meet. Their union was a blessing that continued to unfold for 52 years. It was a thing of great beauty because it was borne from effortless love. These two people found that their love for one another was incredibly easy to give and was indubitably meant to be.

The young lady had come from the Midwest, but had grown up in Canoga Park, California from age twelve, onward. She was an Education major in college at UC Santa Barbara. Among her wide variety of interests and pursuits, she also aspired to be a teacher, just as her aunt back in Illinois had also been a school-teacher. In her senior year, Dorothy was just returning from an “over the school break vacation” camping trip she had been taken on, against her wishes with her brother. He was sequestering her away from a young man she had been dating and really liked, but whom her brother did not believe was suitable for her. He even managed to bring her late back to school so she would have no real chance of connecting again with this fellow. For probably the first time in her school career, she was tardy returning to the campus. All the other young women in her sorority were already settled and excited for the semester to begin. Dorothy showed up, suitcases in tow, on the brink of classes beginning. Thus, when a traditional soiree was to take place in the parlor of her sorority house, she had to throw herself together and get all spruced up for the party.  Dorothy went down into town and bought very pretty pale blue material for her formal. Once back at the house, she went downstairs into the basement where there was a sewing machine. She sewed herself a very lovely gown which would prove to be the perfect look for the occasion. Gentlemen from fraternities were invited as guests, and everyone would be introduced.  It was the initial social event of the season, and one nobody wanted to miss.

Well, Dorothy, was very glad to be reunited with her sorority sisters, and the last thing that was on her mind was meeting a man that evening. She was still thinking of her beau that her brother had gone to great lengths to make sure she would not be reunited with ever again. Dorothy was simply thrilled she was one year away from graduation and focusing toward that end was of utmost importance.

In the salon, all the ladies were sitting or standing in clusters of two or three with their forties-style hair framing their demure faces. They wore the most elegant of dresses, high heels with stockings all perfectly arranged, and maybe some were wearing gloves. Dazzling in her powder blue gown, Dorothy scoped out the room after she had made all her reunion hellos with friends, and frankly didn’t see anyone who piqued her interest. They all seemed like nice guys, but, nobody that would give her the least bit of a spark. The only tantalizing development was what she had been told by the sorority housemother. This year was different, a second hasher had been hired. Thus, Dorothy was curious as to who he was. But, so far there was no special moment: no dimpled grin, no blushed curl of petal, no scent of delectable chocolate in the air.

Until….

Across the lounge Dorothy spotted him. In through the service door emerged a flame of bright blonde hair. It was a young man who had handsome, chiseled Scandinavian features. She liked his cute gold-rimmed glasses. He was slim but muscular. He was tall, but not too tall. In fact, he was just right. He was carrying a tray with pieces of delicious cake on it. He was the new hasher! He was hired by the housemother to help serve for the reception. He had been in the Navy and was now earning a degree in Physical Education also at UCSB. He, too hailed from middle America, the farmland, to be exact, but also grew up in the Los Angeles area as a teenager. Now here he was, a bright, happy hasher, stepping into Dorothy’s world. She just simply saw him, and desire was  ignited.

Here’s the thing. Not only was this man the spark for Dorothy to see, but he, too, detected her across the room! His eyes canvassed the rest of the female population, but, who stood out was this darling woman also with toe-head blonde locks. Her curls and waves tastefully caressed the outline of her very pretty, finely featured face. She appeared petite, a bit sun-kissed, and with eyes as blue as his. Dressed to the nines in her soft blue, she was indeed, that spark for him. It was romantic magnetism that pulled them together. This hasher, named Clifton, decided to cast typical protocol aside and not work the sitting room from first at the door’s entrance and then move around, guest by guest, but instead, to follow his instincts. He made a bee-line straight for Dorothy, and set down in front of her a rather ostentatiously-sized piece of cake. It was much larger than all the rest, and it was his signal to her, that he was interested.

Thus, the “shadowed interplay of leaves and twigs” began their visual song that would soon lead to their heartfelt, hand in hand March through life.

Sonny and Cher & “I’ve Got You Babe”

One day, while scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed, I came across a very vintage video, all black and white, of Cher and her trusty companion, Sonny. She is wearing a sparkly pantsuit, silhouetted with bell bottoms, and a simple sleeveless shift top. One half of her outfit is black, and the other half is white. To top off the interesting “look”, she is wearing bauble earrings of generous size, that are plain half black and half white globes, split horizontally right around the middle. Her signature sleek, long black hair with bangs mirrors her signature sway in time to the rhythm of the song. Sonny, steps up onto the small platform stage beside her, in blatant black and white checkered pants, wide leather belt, and a funky floral black and white shirt. The presumed odd contrast of design works surprisingly well to pull off a “nerdy-cool” ensemble for him. He of course, has his bowl haircut without one piece of hair out of place. In fact, he looks adoringly into Cher’s eyes and notices one teensy hair caught in her thick eyelashes. With a loving boyfriend-like sweep of his fingers, he brushes it away, she not flinching for one second. The song they are singing is “I’ve Got You Babe”.

Indeed he does. She does too.

The simplicity of this song video actually speaks volumes. It tells me, that the two of them know who they are. A duo. A team. A union. And each one is unique to the other. I think the wearing of black and white reiterated this fact. Not because one is female and the other male. No, its because Cher was and still is, the epitome of svelte, chic and cool all in one. Being very statuesque, with elegant, elongated features, her hair, her bangs, her eyelashes, her nose, her long torso on a set of “must be a mile long” legs. And as she sings, her body is a modest, yet totally engaged continuance of movement, flowing and accentuating the drive of the beat. She even improvises an “air tambourine” with her slender, long fingered hand. Sonny, on the other hand, is shorter, maybe somewhat stocky, perhaps not, it is hard to tell by the voluminous pants and shirt. Making out any kind of physique is impossible, so what one learns to visually cherish are his expressive eyes, sly smirk and exuberant body language. Clearly he loves this woman beside him, and looks up to her, figuratively and realistically. Where she is somewhat reserved in her singing at first, he comes on strong and nearly boastful. His demeanor is without thought to pose or style, he just portrays himself, in the now, being in love. Hence the black and white. Two very different auras, but both a fine melding at the seam or line of meeting.

What I become enamored with, is the chemistry that flows across that line of demarcation. As they sing their loving song to one another, messages volly back and forth, telling of complete respect, gratitude and promise. That’s right, as their modern-day (1960’s) musical sonnet spills spontaneously; its apparent they are obviously making overtures to one another. It is a blatant, unabashed pledge to give, to care for and never take for granted the other partner in this fantastic twosome. They are singing a ballad, each the minstrel and the recipient. It’s a genuine, beautiful thing to hear and behold.

It is also atypical.

Today’s music seems rife with so many negatives. When did disgruntlement become cool? Lyric after lyric is a pondering of the unsavories in life. The words of today seem hell-bent on parlaying what is discordant. I suppose composers feel if they are in a state of angst, they must be intellectual. Thus, all we tend to hear is accounting after accounting of what brings dismay, shame, worry, failure, trouble, poverty, contamination, distress, ill-will, ignorance, thoughtlessness, irresponsibility, fretfulness, disease, crime, irony, and ill-fated outcome. Of course these things do exist, and ever so more today than before, perhaps. But, is it the answer to have music become the posterboard for pessimistic opinion and incendiary activism?

I suppose if some of the music out there waved these banners, that is alright; after all art is meant to reflect life. But, in truth, today’s world does have some pretty fine things to sing about! Beauty does abound! Love can be found down every corridor and in every niche on this earth. Why not allow the music industry the opportunity to capitalize on optimism? We know when thinking positively, circumstances do proceed better. I don’t quite know how, but they do. Why not send a salient shout out to the composers of our time, that we are ready to see the light, the sweet, and the pure; for indeed, they do exist!

The love ballad of Sonny and Cher, proclaiming their lucky stars they have each other is a far more wholesome way to deal with being human, in my opinion. It’s not because they both donned rose-colored glasses. It’s because they made their choice to focus on good. Youth take the meaning of lyrics seriously. They hang onto every word. If all that they read is an overwhelming truckload of doom and gloom, then is it any wonder that we have children bullying their peers, feeling suicidal or teenagers shooting children in their schools? I believe the time is now to switch gears and change the degradation and the proclaiming of ruination. Do not most of us still have our spiritual belief systems and our Higher Power to whom we intrinsically entrust our lives daily? Are there not such things as dreams, wishes and hope? Why do the lyrics of today dash these to the side as if they are no longer important?

This is critical.

Once and for all, only “seeing” the downfallen and writing of how the world is full of suffering is not in any way, shape or form a productive approach to bringing music to our planet. Our continued widespread use of music for politically charged or extremely morose themes could prove to be dangerous, and even frighteningly cataclysmic. People need to be reminded where there is yin there is yang! Each coin has a flip side. Behind the dark cloud there is the Sun. Why constantly dwell on what is wrong, when indeed, there is a Wealth of Wonderful out there, right now, needing to be expounded upon? People need peace in their pockets and hope in their heart. There’s a lovely, grand world out there to discover and explore musically.

Sonny and Cher sang of appreciation for another human being. What might happen to this rather “insecure at the moment” realm in which we live, if it were to mostly hear songs of the kind-hearted, uplifting theme? I would like to think it could change lives. It could save lives. It could even save our society.

What else would be more “cool” than that?

To all the songwriters and musicians out there. Don’t stop championing your causes. They are significant. They are dire. Of course. But, please, find it within the deepest recesses of your soul, to extrapolate the impetus to also write of what is truly fine. Please be a beacon of all that deserves to be lauded, praised, detailed, treasured and esteemed. There’s plenty of material to write about. It’s all around, we just have gotten so used to zooming in on the bad. Songwriters, your pen is definitely a mighty sword. Your choice of words can instigate sharing, applauding, encouraging, and expanding positivity in our midst. Grab a “brush” and “paint” your lyrical canvas with words that generate warmth, healing, love and enlightenment. Free yourselves from the tyranny of the downtrodden. There are far more inspiring sagas to tell in song. Be a modern-day balladeer! Write odes to Love, for Love is everywhere. Find it, and write about it. We know there are beautiful moments happening every day. Make them known! Change the destructive attitude with your intuitive, written voice. You will be heard, and life will gradually become a better, happier place. We need you, the time is now. Sonny had Cher, and Cher had Sonny.

Who will you be there for?

 

An Afterthought Remembrance of 9-11

Remembering 9-11 is always an emotional experience for us all. That morning, 2001, I recall driving to work in a state of ignorant bliss. I was listening to classical music on KUSC. But after about the first two miles, an unusual feeling came over me. It was strange because I didn’t know what it was and couldn’t put my finger on it. All I knew was, everyone was driving oh so calmly and not in their usual mad rush to work or school. I thought: “Is it a holiday? Oh, dear! I could have slept in!” Then, I thought, “No, maybe there was an earthquake and somehow I didn’t feel it in the shower before breakfast. But, no, that couldn’t be. If it were a big earthquake, enough to slow people down, then surely I’d know it. No… I guess I’m just imagining things.”! Thusly, I resumed my listening to the music that roused my soul, and really thought nothing more about the odd feeling and the way people were behaving.

Once I zipped into my parking spot at school, I gathered up my usual accoutrements; coffee mug, purse, satchel and a stack of books. Into the office I went, ready to be greeted by either the secretaries or the principal. I immediately noted a spectrum of looks on the faces of a handful of colleagues gathered around the secretaries’ main desks, which ranged from empty stares to anguished frowns. Still, I thought, “Oh, Silly, you are thinking so dramatically. Stop it.”

As I proceeded to exit the office door to go stride up the hallway to my classroom, someone said to me in a monotoned voice, “Your brother called you and said to call him right away- here’s his number”. Instantly, my worrywart brain ran the gamut of fears: “My brother? Which one? Why? Oh no, not my mother! Is she okay? Are my kids alright? Did something happen to one of my family members?” At fiber-optic speed every frightening scenario synapsed throughout my mental network. In this case, it was unfortunate to be blessed with a vivid imagination. Well, I spun around on my high heels, and high-tailed it into the teachers’ lounge. There was a phone I could use right there. (This was not the cell-phone era). Just the fact that I received a phone call at work from a sibling, was a riotous event. Why I didn’t think it was something good or joyful, I cannot say, except for maybe, those zombie, mesmerized drivers I encountered city-wide on every road this morning.

I then looked at the note. It was from my baby brother. (I’m fifteen years his senior, and he is the cherry that topped the ice-cream sundae when he completed our family.) I started dialing…and made a last ditch effort to figure out what this was all about. I pulled out the positive, and thought it was either a prank or he was going to swing by for a quick, impromptu social call. You see, I was and am so proud of him. He lived and worked in Los Angeles. His present job was Head-hunting in business. He had a way with people, and was excellent at matching the person to the right occupation. But what could he want?

“Hi…”, he said. Pause. “Did you hear the news?” I responded with no. “Well, it’s very bad, very serious… a plane at 9:00 am New York time, drove straight into a tower of the World Trade Center. Then another plane did the same thing to the second tower.” “What? How could such an accident happen? Really?”, I responded. “We don’t know, but the president has put a freeze on every airport in the country. There are other planes- and they think we are being attacked.” As he told me these things, he stated them in a firm, soothing voice. All I could do was think and then say, “Our beautiful America? Who would want to kill us?” “Why kill our citizens?”. None of it made any sense. Lastly, my brother went on to tell me there was fear the White House was a target. Then… I just lost it. I began to cry, my face became hot and flushed and my heart seemed to beat out of my chest. Finally, he said he would talk with me when school was out, and to keep in touch. He said I should feel safe in school and that the boys were safe in theirs. How did he know I wanted to just go grab my kids from daycare? He knew I had a job to protect and care for my children where I was teaching. His thoughtful gesture in reaching out to extend an informative comforting hand, reminded me I needed to be stoic, resilient and level-headed. I needed to not discuss the unfolding events unless point blank questioned about it. I needed to be a brave, wise, protective, professional. The call to arms had sounded.

The rest of the day was as if I were living in a mist. I honestly recall very little about what we did in class. I believe I simply went through the motions. It must have been surreal.

On my drive home that fated day, I reflected on the phone call. I was impressed with the stewardship my younger brother demonstrated. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. He acted in faith, taking on the role of our father, our dad who had passed away two years prior. My sweet, giving, steadfast “littlest” brother, assumed the paternal responsibility. I heard later that night he had called all my siblings and had driven out to our mom’s to be at her side. He gave us his love. He made sure the family would not be stricken or broken apart. He made sure every single one of us was connected and in the know. He was a fine American that day. He showed “the enemy” they wouldn’t succeed because he emboldened our strength of family.

My zany scallawag, “Goodnight Moon” loving, Little Tykes green tractor farmer, Little League pitcher, Atari champion, computer-wiz, thespian extraordinaire, violist magnifique, USC Trojan, business entrepreneur, racecar driver, shrimp scampi chef, baby brother —proved to be “The Solidifying Factor” in what was inarguably, a quite fretful, disillusioning perhaps even dangerous day. For that dedication to family was surely a rise to honor. I will always be very, very grateful that he loved us as our father.