Monday, November 18, 2013


Ellen and I are in New York City at the bedside of Ellen's old and dear friend, Adrienne Asch, who is in her final hours. Ellen and Adrienne go back almost fifty years to Swarthmore College days.
Adrienne has been dealing with cancer for some time, and it has spread into her brain lining. We first came down two weeks ago when Adrienne was in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital, and was receiving radiation therapy. At that time, Adrienne was still able to communicate, albeit in very limited ways. Her face showed great pleasure at the presence of friends, and she could answer simple "yes" "no" questions. But now, two weeks later, she is home in her apartment and she is almost completely unresponsive; many of the physical signs suggest that the end is near. We came down Saturday and will probably stay to the end.

Adrienne is a truly remarkable person. If you Google "Dr. Adrienne Asch" you will find out just how remarkable she is. Or better yet, go to YouTube, put in her name, and watch her talk at a Tarrytown, NY conference in 2010 on Bio-ethics. I am particularly grateful to Adrienne because just a month ago, she agreed to be a sponsor for the Blanche Moyse Chorale performance of the Christmas Oratorio. I first met Adrienne 10 years ago when she came to a Marlboro concert of the Chorale with Ellen - just after Ellen and I had met. She is a great lover of J.S. Bach. She was also a manager for the choral group Western Wind for some time, and they came to her hospital room and sang for her last week. Scores of friends have made the pilgrimage to see her in her final weeks. E.g., a former student of hers at Wellesley who is now a grad student in philosophy at Stanford came today all the way from San Francisco just to see Adrienne and pay her respects. She feels Adrienne was her finest teacher, and although the mother of 8-month old twins(!) she took the time to come all the way east to say her goodbyes in person. That is typical of the influence Adrienne has had in people's lives. 

Dr. Adrienne Asch

This is the second such vigil we have kept this fall. Through all of September and into October we spent many hours at the bedside of my friend, John Nissen, another remarkable person. John died on October 4th, and his funeral was on October 26th. That was another occasion when the testimonies people gave made clear what a wonderful mentor John had been to so many people, especially students. These vigils have given Ellen and me many opportunities to reflect on life and death, to review our own wishes for our final days and hours, and to give thanks for life and for each other.

John Nissen

We hold Adrienne and John in our hearts!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Another concert

Today, Sunday, Katie was in her third concert of the weekend - actually the fourth if you count her church singing job this morning. No one told me about that until after the fact, so I didn't get to hear her choir. But this afternoon she was in a concert of the University Singers, the top choral group in the Department of Music at University of Missouri, Paul Crabb, conductor.  It was held at First Baptist Church in Columbia, the usual venue for this group. The church has a good acoustic for a chamber choir. It was a wonderfully diverse and demanding concert. Here is the program:

     Cecilia Lied                        Dirk Janszoon Sweelinck

     Laudate Dominum                           Josef Rheinberger

     Hymn to St. Cecelia                           Benjamin Britten
                                                        Poetry by W.H. Auden


     You Are the Music                                       Dan Forrest
                                                        Poetry by Amy Lowell

     O lux beata Trinitas                                 Ko Matsushita

     Resurget                                                   Steven Hirner
                                                a student in the Music Dept.

      The Dream Keeper                               William Averitt
                                                 Poetry by Langston Hughes

The only familiar piece in this concert for me was the Britten, which I had sung a couple of decades ago. The pieces after the intermission were all contemporary, and some were very difficult. The group performed at a very high level. It's really great that Katie gets to sing in a choral group of this caliber.  I think she is getting some really good training and experience at Mizzou, judging from this weekend. Next spring,  Katie already knows she will have an important role in a full opera, The Crucible, by the 20th century composer, Robert Ward (based on the play by Arthur Miller). She will sing the role of Tituba, the African slave who is accused of witchcraft by the girls. Can't wait to see and hear that! It will be in March, 2014.

Before the concert we all went out to eat at Le Bourgeoise Restaurant in Rocheport, MO, which is on the Missouri River.  The last time I ate there, Katie had just graduated from high school! Almost four years ago - May, 2000. The food is very good, and the setting is spectacular.

After the concert, Rob, Betsey and I came home while Katie was initiated into Sigma Alpha Iota, a music sorority.  Katie came by later in the evening to say goodbye and pick up Gertie (her chihuahua, which Betsey was taking care of during this very busy weekend.)  A good weekend!!

Tomorrow morning, fairly early, Betsey will take me back up to La Plata, MO where I'll get the 9:55am train to Chicago. I hope to meet Maggie and Jerry at Union Station in the late afternoon and have supper before I get on the train to Albany, which leaves at 9:30pm.  With luck I'll be in Albany by 3pm on Tuesday, or thereabouts, in time to make it to River Singers rehearsal.

Betsey and Katie

Le Bourgeois Restaurant

The University Singers

Katie is just to the right of Paul Crabb's right hand, on top row.

Another world

Saturday I had sort of a cross-cultural experience - a visit to Mizzouland. I learned that there is a sub-culture that lives in this world much of the time. It was the Missouri-Tennessee football game. People start arriving in RVs a day or two before, park in a huge lot and start tailgate parties that run right up to game time and even after - yes, some people actually are parked in the lot near the stadium, but instead of going into the game, they have a TV set up in their patio tent and watch the game on TV while they nosh. Cheaper, I guess, and you see plays up close. Of course you could do that at home, but it wouldn't be as much fun. There are so many people that the cars fill the lots available and park on the shoulders of the highways leading from the stadium for a mile or two in every direction. It's amazing.

Rob had a parking pass so we got pretty close to the stadium, walked past numerous tailgate parties, past the Mizzou 350-member marching band that was lining up to parade into the stadium. We walked past what is reputed to be the largest college marching band drum in the world, past the "Golden girls" - the cheer leaders in gold lame (sorry, can't find the accent aigu), and joined the throng filing into the stadium. It was a beautiful late fall afternoon, but a bit chilly. Starting time was 6pm, so it would get chillier by the time the game was well underway.  The reason for the 6pm start time was for the game to be in prime time on TV,  so they lost the chance for a beautiful fall afternoon football game for the sake of $$.

The stadium holds something like 60,000 people - small, I guess, by SEC standards (Missouri is now in the Southeast Conference with the likes of Texas A&M and Alabama). Missouri actually has plans to enlarge the stadium by making it higher - to the tune of $200,000,000 or so! We were a bit on he early side, so a lot of seats were empty, but they all filled by game time. There was a pre-game show on the field featuring the band, which formed a huge capital "M" and then did their famous "flip" in which they quickly turn "MIZZOU" into "TIGERS." Meanwhile the Golden Girls are doing their thing. There is, of course, a huge screen on which all the Mizzou players are introduced one-by-one, and the announcer whips up the crowd by shouting "M-I-Z" to which the crowd responds "Z-O-U!"
At each touchdown, fireworks are set off. It's another world, for sure.

Mizzou got off to a shaky start but pretty quickly found themselves, and by half-time the score was Mizzou 24, Tennessee 3. They went on to win 31-3, but we decided to leave near the end of half-time to (1) avoid  getting too chilled, (2) avoid the end-of-game crunch in the parking lot, (3) watch the game at home on TV and (4) have snacks prepared by Rob. We got the best part of the game live, but got comfortable - the best of both worlds. On the way out of the parking lot we saw the TV screens of the dedicated tail-gaiters.

Here are some photos:



Golden Girls

Big Drum

Crowd filing in

"T-I-G-E-R-S" formation


A sea of black and gold

Congratulations! (AP)

Opera scenes

Friday evening, Katie was in  series of scenes from a wide variety of operas. The concert as a whole featured virtually the entire vocal performance student body at Mizzou, undergrads and grads, and there were twelve scenes performed. It was amazing! Katie herself appeared in six scenes, from The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan) , Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck), La Traviata (Verdi), The Rake's Progress (Stravinsky) The Consul (Menotti), and Candide (Bernstein). In three of those, she was in the chorus, in The Consul and Candide she had minor but significant roles, and in Orfeo, she had the lead role as Orpheus. She was amazing. Orfeo required a lot of solo work as well as ensemble. As you probably recall from school days, Orpheus has been allowed to rescue Eurydice from the Underworld but cannot look at her and cannot explain why. When Eurydice stops because she thinks Orpheus no longer loves her, he turns, and she dies again. Orpheus then tries to commit suicide so he can be with Eurydice, and the goddess Amore takes pity on him and revives Eurydice. This is the scene that was portrayed - three actors, Orpheus, Eurydice and Amore. Gluck cast a famous castrato of his era as Orpheus, but ever since Berlioz' recasting of the opera, it has been performed by a female mezzo. It was just right for Katie's rich alto timbre.  In The Consul, Katie had the role of the mother of John Sorel, a political dissident in a totalitarian country. The other actor is John's wife, Magda, so again there was both solo work and fine trios. In Candide, the scene was the finale, "Make Our Garden Grow," and Katie was the Old Lady. That scene ended the entire show.  In Mikado, Katie was in the chorus for "Three Little Maids from School," in La Traviata she was in the chorus in the party scene, and in Rake's Progress (which is a powerful opera and was especially well-performed) she was a patient in Bedlam. I made videos of some of the scenes, which I don't have time to download here, but here are some photos. I'm so glad I could be here for this performance. I'm so proud!

From Thr Mikado

Orfeo ed Euridice

La Traviata party scene

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trip to Missouri

I'm on a short trip to Columbia, MO to see Katie in a couple of musical performances. Tonight she'll be doing a scene from Christoph Gluck's Orfeo et Euridice, singing the role of Orfeo (which is usually sung by a mezzo soprano), and Sunday afternoon she'll be in a choral concert with the University Singers. Tonight's concert is in the restored Missouri Theater. It will consist of a series of scenes from several operas, rather than one full opera. Katie will have minor roles in two or three other scenes. Rob, Betsey and I are meeting for supper before the concert.

So, I came out on the train, leaving Albany at 7:05p.m. Wednesday evening. I traveled coach - a roommette would have cost an additional $380 - but I had the full seat to myself and actually slept two-three hours, I think, which is not too different from having a sleeper. We arrived in Chicago only about a half-hour behind schedule Thursday a.m., which is about the best time yet for that trip. I had supper and breakfast in the dining car. They had run out of the best option for supper by the time I got there, and what I settled for was ok but not great food-wise (a chunk of chicken, wild rice and vegetable medley). I supplemented this meal later with the snacks Ellen had prepared for me (thank you Ellen!).

However, in the dining car,  I sat across from two women who turned out to be very good conversationalists. The older one had graduated from Stephens College (where Betsey works here in Columbia!) back in the 1960's and had gone on to get a PhD from UofC Santa Cruz in a program called The History of Consciousness, which allowed her to do work in feminist history, and in particular to research the life of Matilda Joslyn Gage (March 24, 1826 – March 18, 1898) who was a suffragist and an abolitionist, and a prolific author. Gage was also a severe critic of the Christian Church, and laid out her views in her best-known book, Woman, Church and State, which "was one of the first books to draw the conclusion that Christianity is a primary impediment to the progress of women, as well as civilization. Then, as now, religious doctrine was used as a justification for the dehumanization of women, depriving them of civil, human, economic and political rights, even denying them the right to worship alongside men. Gage reviews extensive evidence of this complex. From a 21st Century perspective it is both astounding how far we have progressed, and dismaying how little has changed." (quote from the introduction to the on-line Google edition of the book). We had a lively and animated conversation, and when I mentioned my interest in the life of John Brown, found her to be very knowledgeable of his life and his impact on U.S. history.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

Then at breakfast in the dining car, I again sat across from a woman academic - this time a member of the faculty at the Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University. When she learned that I was going to visit Katie and hear her in an opera, she recommended that Katie look at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, as a place for graduate study in voice. I don't know if I just got lucky or what, but these were both high-level dining car conversations. This is one of the reasons I enjoy train travel!

I talked with Maggie & Jerry on my cell phone as we approached Chicago, but they were going to be hosting their monthly "coffee klatch" group so could not come in to meet me during my 5-hour layover in Chicago.  (They are going to try to come to the station on my way back Monday afternoon).

I had hoped to get out and walk a bit in Chicago but (1) it was raining, (2) the rental lockers cost $6 an hour, which seems a bit excessive,  and (3) there were no empty lockers anyway. So I walked around the Great Hall several times just to get some exercise (pushing my rolling suitcase). I worked some on my computer in the waiting-room (no WiFi available, unfortunately), but then later I discovered a restaurant near the Great Hall which did have free WiFi and where I could get a chicken Caesar salad, so I was able to download email.

During my layover, I also read in what has proven to be a fascinating book I brought with me, which I just sort of picked off the shelf at home at the last minute: The Jesuit and the Skull, by Amir D. Aczel. It is the story of Teilhard de Chardin, and his contribution to the field of paleontology, his experiences in China (where he was "banished" by his order because of his unorthodox views) and in particular his involvement in the discovery of "Peking Man", in 1929 - the fossilized remains of an example of homo erectus  who lived some 500,000 years ago, widely regarded as establishing the "missing link" between the apes and the modern human. Teilhard is a fascinating figure, someone I would like to know more about. And if you have been following this blog, you know that I have an on-going interest in fossils, in the theory of evolution, in the relation of science and theology, etc. So this book is "right down the line" and is well-written. (Aczel has written several books that look very interesting).

The train ride from Chicago to La Plata, MO was very nice, and it goes through some of the finest farm land in the country, so it was very pleasant just looking out the window. I read a bit more about Teilhard, worked a bit on one of the "Shirley letters from Wellesley" for Katie, and had supper in the dining car. No more women academics, but an interesting conversation nonetheless - a woman who commutes from between Topeka, KS and Naperville, IL by train!  I think she makes the trip once a week, lives in a hotel in Naperville and has a home in Topeka. Wow!  She works in security for SAP, a multinational software corporation which produces software for managing the manufacturing process and customer relations. I asked her to describe her work, but I had difficulty understanding her description!

I got into La Plata a bit after 8p.m., only about fifteen minutes late, and Rob was there to meet me. I caught up on Shay family news in the ride back to Columbia, then had a nice talk with Rob and Betsey before turning into bed.