Haiku in Bloom

A busy week, a trip to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington D. C., and the first day of spring made for good memories and the necessity of sharing some more haiku this month. Whatever your needs are, I hope they are being met. Whatever ails you – mental, physical, spiritual – I hope it is being managed. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are loved. Know that whatever your present state, it can be bettered.

Peace, Love, Spring, and Cherry Blossoms to You,

Jason

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The Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin in D.C.

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Your authentic voice
Is what people want to hear.
Let them hear your heart

4628
Your priorities
Must be kept in order if
You wish to succeed.

4629
When others succeed,
That doesn’t mean you have failed.
Stop comparing lives.

4630
It is your duty
To give your life to the world,
Serving its best needs.

4635
Focus heavenward.
The sun is beaming brightly
Above the storm clouds

At the Cherry Blossom Festival

Me and My Gal in the Blossoms

4637
How should you respond
To the hatred in the world?
Why, with love, of course.

4639
Give up all judgment.
Be a Citizen of Peace,
Enemy to none.

4640
You are on the verge
Of an explosion of Art,
Thought, and Abundance.

4641
Believe in yourself
And your ability to
Make a difference.

4642
Be the example
You want your children to love,
Follow, and become.

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Our own backyard.

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One Crazy Week/You’ll Never Walk Alone

After the Philadelphia Flower Show last weekend (see Bicycles, Bridges, and Bulbs. Oh, My), John Adams stayed in Upper Darby to be with his grandparents. He occupied his week by helping Pop Pop with his physical therapy exercises, playing with his new glow in the dark racetrack, and going to his favorite place: The Strasburg Railroad. When he finally came home this past Sunday he was wiped out. Nancy and I know how he feels.

This past week for us was no less jam-packed and, for she and I, life changing. With the little guy up north we availed ourselves of a little ‘adult time’ by taking in a movie, watching two additional ones at home, and going out to eat as a couple, quietly and without diaper bag, antsy child, or small entourage of stuffed cats in tow. She passed a milestone this week, and I started two other jobs. We closed the weekend out with a magnificent set of choral performances in church and a wraparound trip to Maryland House on I-95 to reclaim our son. Yes, it was a busy week for all of us.

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Inferno movie poster

On Monday evening, I cooked and we watched Dan Brown’s Inferno on DVD from the Redbox. It was – as you might guess from the reviews – nowhere near as good as the book. Three films in, Angels and Demons still remains the best. The book, Inferno, was a fun read with lots of back story on Dante, the creation of the Divine Comedy, and the art and concepts of hell it inspired. The film gives precious little of this, just what is needed to get from plot point to plot point. It’s worth a watch for the scenes of Europe, but otherwise read the book. You’ll get far more from it.

On Tuesday, Nancy found out that her dissertation proposal had passed the English Department at Catholic University without any revisions. This is nearly unheard of. Revisions are almost always required, and it is a testament to her writing and to her faculty mentors that it went through without incident. The Dean and an outside reader still need to pass on it, but she’s nearly home free. When it’s finally approved she can begin to write her dissertation: one step closer to her doctorate.

On Wednesday, I solidified details to join the artistic team of Christian Youth Theatre (CYT) Fredericksburg to be the music director for their production of Shrek. The production opens in June, I start rehearsals in April, but the agreement is in place. It’s been a year since I MDd a show, let alone for a new company, and on a show I’ve never done before. The gig came through a friend, Todd P., who is directing the show. He requested me, and so they hired me. Such an honor.

Thursday, I taught a voice lesson, cooked, and crammed like the devil for the show I was performing in on St. Paddy’s Day…Friday!

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The St. Patrick’s Day 2017 cast of Murder Mysteries Will Travel’s production of When Irish Eyes Are Crying

On Friday, I spent much of the morning and afternoon reviewing the script for When Irish Eyes Are Crying, a murder mystery in which I was playing the detective that night! I was recommended by my sister-in-law, Mary Anne, to join the company of Murder Mysteries Will Travel, and, after a meeting a few weeks ago, I was hired on.  So Friday, late afternoon, I trucked it up to the Bristow Country Club in Manassas to perform in my first show with the company. I was nervous – I had a lot of lines and improv – but the company of actors was amazing, professional, and empathetic to work with. The country club put out an scrumptious buffet of corned beef, cabbage, bangers, mash, and rum cake that we dined on between acts. The show itself came off well, and the company was already invited back for the summer. And I only blew a few lines toward the end that the others actors covered for me. Success.

On Saturday, Nancy and I went to Logan, the X-Men movie, and the final one for Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Nancy and I had totally opposite reactions to the picture. I found it disturbing and depressing, she found it to be a poignant farewell for Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, who are both retiring from the X-Men franchise. I won’t say more about the plot at this time because it’s still running, but I will say it’s well made, beautifully acted, and not, not, NOT for children. Depressed, I asked Nancy if we could rent a movie that night and she agreed. I picked Snowden. Again, we had opposite reactions. I found the movie empowering, she found it disturbing. As you can tell, both pictures have the ability to elicit multiple layers of divergent emotion. Go see both and decide for yourself. They are both thoughtful pieces and worth your time, but I can’t guarantee how you’ll feel about your country afterward.

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Logan movie poster

Sunday morning, my Unitarian Universalist Adult Choir gathered to sing “The Impossible Dream” (from Man of La Mancha) and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (from Carousel) at our Sunday service. We were joined by two extraordinary dancers – Kendall M. and Anthony W. – for “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  The resultant magic is hard to describe, but their choreography and its execution were moving, beautiful, and inspiring, and the congregation greeted our collective efforts with a standing ovation. There were more than a few tears in the eyes of choristers and parishioners alike. After church, I monologue coached a talented young lady for an hour on an upcoming audition, and then Nancy and I headed north to Maryland House to collect our son from his grandparents.

It was a rough, busy week, and those are just the big ticket items, scratching the surface of life. But I am reminded that the two new jobs I started this week came as a result of other dear people looking out for me and thinking of me when I needed help and employment. Logan, Inferno, and Snowden are all at their core about one person making a difference in the lives of others, either one on one, or on a global scale. And “The Impossible Dream” is about one person’s idealism, and doing the right thing by others. The week kinda summed itself up on Sunday morning as Kendall and Anthony danced in the sunlight of our circular church window to one of the greatest songs of all time. Whatever you’re dealing with, struggling with, pained by, missing, or needing, know this, as I had affirmed for me again this week. KNOW THIS:

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Namaste,

Jason

Bicycles, Bridges, and Bulbs. Oh, my!

This past Saturday, March 11, Nancy and I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show for the 14th consecutive time. Our first date was at the 2004 Flower Show on March 8. I proposed at the 2011 Flower Show (it was Paris year after all). It has become a long-running beloved tradition for us. It’s hard to believe next year we will celebrate our 15th time going together. How time flies.

Enter the Haggis

The night before the show, we arrived in Upper Darby, dropped off the little man, and then continued on to Bethlehem, PA’s beautiful arts complex down by the renovated “steel stack” district to see our favorite Celtic band, Enter the Haggis, perform. From 8 to 10:30 PM ETH played in the third floor lounge while we drank Woodchuck and sampled bleu cheese chips and bread pudding. Their two sets – consisting entirely of up tempo familiar songs – were rousing and fun. John Adams listens relentlessly to a lot of their new music, so we got a lot of laughs out of hearing live many songs that we are bombarded with daily by him. We had a great experience, drove home to Nancy’s parents’ house, and went to bed sometime after midnight.

At the 2017 Flower Show

The next day we got up late, had breakfast, and went downtown to the Flower Show by early afternoon. This year’s theme, Holland, truly was a breath of spring as compared to the last few years’ themes, which were good unto themselves, but executed with sometimes mixed results. This year it seemed every exhibitor took the theme to heart, but also had the same impressions in mind. That might sound like a dig, but it’s not. The resulting displays were largely all gorgeous. They were almost all decorated with bulbs, bridges over water features, and lots and lots of bicycles. There were big bridges and small foot paths. There were functioning bicycles, rusted bicycles, bicycles as fountains, artsy bicycle sculptures, and whatever else you can think of. And the bulbs were every color of the rainbow and everywhere. One stunning blue tulip was actually a white one that had been fed water with blue dye. The dye travels through the petals and colors the flower. Gorgeous. In addition to the floral displays, there were themed food vendors, both a Legoland and a butterfly pavilion (neither of which we did this year), and lots of shopping. We brought back a few herbs for John Adams to plant and Nancy bought a dandelion seed necklace that she’s been eyeing for several years.

The plaque at our table.

We capped our downtown experience off with a visit to the incomparable 4th and Bainbridge Deli for soup and a pastrami cheese steak. Their meats (and portions) are out of this world, and we could only eat so much, as we were heading back to Nancy’s parents’ house for cheeseburgers with the family that evening. After we were seated at the deli, we noticed a plaque indicating that President Obama and Senator Bob Casey Jr. had dined at our same table back in 2010 when they visited; just one more fun little memory to commemorate our experience.

The next day we all gathered at Wron and Sara’s for a mega-ham dinner with lots of delicious sides before heading back to King George, VA. We were full and tired, happy and wired. It had been a beautiful event-filled weekend to celebrate our “dating anniversary.”  If you are so inclined, I highly recommend the Philly Flower Show. Every year is different and it’s always worth seeing. And eating at the 4th Street Deli is like nothing else. Both events are pricey, but ultimately worth it. Enter the Haggis is a rollicking good time and not expensive. I also recommend eating at Nancy’s parents’ house, but call ahead in case my in-laws have plans. 🙂

I wish you all a little bit of winter joy as well.

Namaste,

Jason

Blue tulips

March Into Haiku

It has been awhile since I’ve done a purely haiku post. But spring is around the corner, and I’m feeling like I need a real dose of inspiration to get me through the last of the winter woes.Whatever you may be struggling with, I hope you find some measure of assistance, uplift, guidance, or what have you in the next 10 poems. Hang in there, keep the faith, assist, resist, persist, and God bless.

Namaste,

Jason

4610
Whatever happens
You must never surrender
To hatred and fear.

4612
While you sit around
Complaining about the job,
Someone’s doing it.

4613
Rise with the dawn and
Offer sincere gratitude
For the day ahead.

4614
You cannot give thanks,
Too sincerely or too much,
But be one who tries.

4615
Put yourself out there.
Without risk there is no life,
Only stagnation.

4617
When you’ve been knocked down,
Look for anything to grab
That will help you up.

4618
You want my advice?
Whatever you want from life
Go out and get it!

4619
If you have a dream,
You can acquire the skill set
To make it happen.

4625
How can you improve
The lives of those around you
Just by showing up?

4626
Look for ways in which
You can make someone happy.
Seek joy for others.

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Two Contemplative Cats

The Aim of the Art

My very first paying Vocal Director job was for Governor Mifflin High School’s production of Babes in Arms in 1994. Ironically, the male lead made state swimming and left the production a week before it opened, so it was also the first time I, as a high school graduate, stepped into a role in a rival high school show out of desperation. And, yes, there was a second time too. As a Music Director, over 21 years, I have worked largely in three distinct environments: professional theatrical, scholastic education, and worship. Each has its challenges, its strengths and weaknesses, its headaches and heartbreaks. I was asked recently by a member of our congregation (at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg) who has seen me work in a different setting ‘how I tailor my style to the environment,’ since their experience of me there was different from at UU. The answer is really a question of the aim of the art being collaborated upon. And while those aims are always the same, their positions of prominence shift.

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The UUFF Adult Choir from this past February

When one music directs in a professional theatre setting, there is usually a very limited window at the beginning of the process where the Music Director gets to be ‘in charge’ and teach the music. The director and the choreographer are anxiously awaiting their turn to take over and teach their material, sometimes patiently, frequently not so much. Music direction is treated (by many, not all) as a necessary nuisance, something to get through quickly so we can get the actors up on their feet and start teaching them the show. Once that period ends touch ups are rare, at the discretion of the director, and often done on the fly. The need is real because most musical theatre performers can barely read music, but the music and its upkeep are often subject to the constraints of time, money, and ego. There is barely enough time to teach the music, let alone terminology, support, context, or what have you. And your investment in people (at least initially) is minimal. Management wants a short rehearsal period and the best product so that ticket sales and reviews are good. The health, well being, and education of the singers are very low priorities. Do they know their music? Do they sound good? Moving on.

Educational music, both choral and theatrical, is mostly about the repetitive learning process, and the gradual team and spirit building that is required to inspire young people to pursue the arts either as a vocation or avocation. In school choral music, one is often working on the same pieces for months, MONTHS!, leading up to the big holiday or spring concert. The music must be challenging, but not too challenging; it must hold their interest and give the student a sense of musical accomplishment. It must also build a pride in belonging to the organization. Marching and jazz bands are still best at this. Product is important, but what really matters is nurturing a lifelong love for music, learning, and belonging. Students will join the choir to find their place, but they’ll only stay if you inspire them to be their best selves. And at most, you have them for four years, so you teach them to believe in themselves, to love music and the arts, and hope that they’ll remember you fondly.

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Someone’s never far from the action!

Worship music directing, especially at UU, (given that it is a non-textual faith, and stresses principles over dogma or creed) involves a synthesis of both the aforementioned environments, but it’s also much more than that.  In a worship setting like ours, the lyrics, the context in which the song is being sung, and the degree to which a choir member can invest in the song’s message becomes pivotal to success. Singers are neither students nor employees; they are peers of both the congregation and the Music Director. Their love of singing either has a long history, or is something that they are exploring after a long absence, a career change, retirement, or a courageous moment to join the choir. These singers are sharing their gifts out of love of singing, love of their community, and love of their faith tradition. As a music director, these are often the people you get to know the best, sing with you the longest, and share many of the deepest experiences. A show singer comes and goes in weeks (unless you can rehire multiple times), a student a few years; a church singer has an open-ended relationship with the Music Director to stay as long as the singing is fun and fulfilling.  For many of these singers, it is the sharing and the community building that creates the best choir experiences. The product is important, but what really matters is the sense of joy and family shared. This same approach applies to our hand bell and youth choir programs.

To sum it all up, in professional theatre the product comes first, no question. In education, the process and the sense of belonging to something special comes first. In our worship setting, our relationships – to text, to community, to our faith traditions – take precedence. While always striving for the best musical experience, the foci change and, as Music Director, it’s my job to adapt my demeanor, expectations, and repertoire to give each choir (or other musical organization) the best experience possible.  The environment really does determine the aim of the art.

Peace and Almond Milk,

Jason

Note: This post is reprinted from an article I wrote recently for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg March Newsletter. Additions to this post have been added in parentheses for clarity.

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Members of the UUFF Hand chime ensemble, before we expanded and added bells!