Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A marathon . . . and then some

The wonderful and fabulous Kristin Baxter has completed her first marathon . . . and then some. On December 31, 2011, at the Coastal Trail Runs' New Year's One Day, Kristin ran around Crissy Field in San Francisco until she amassed 26.525 miles. How awesome is that?

Monday, December 26, 2011

El Paisanito

A beautiful song, performed by the Choral Project. Includes a duet with the marvelous and talented Kristin Baxter. See if you can hear her beautiful voice.

If that Quicktime player doesn't work, you should be able to download the file by clicking on the next link and saving the file to your computer and playing it from there. Here's the link:

Click here to download.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Choral Project

Joyful sounds poured forth from the Center for Spiritual Living in Willow Glen on a recent Sunday morning. Performing a variety of songs for those assembled was a local choral group with international experience.

The Choral Project was founded in 1996 by Artistic Director Daniel Hughes. He wanted “to create an ensemble that would share concerts specifically intended to transform and heal.” The forty-member ensemble, many of whom come from Willow Glen and other San Jose neighborhoods, rehearses weekly at Le Petit Trianon Theatre in downtown San Jose and performs around the Bay Area and beyond.

Variety is the spice of the Choral Project. They have performed music from the Medieval Period (c. 1000-1250) to 20th-century works, to works that have been written specifically for the choir, and they regularly feature music from other cultures around the globe.

The Willow Glen performance included four songs in three languages. From a rousing Sephardic love song to a toe-tapping spiritual, the Choral Project thrilled the audience and earned multiple standing ovations. One song included five percussionists and another incorporated full choreography—while singing in Japanese.

Therein lies the genius of Hughes. By incorporating “choralography” and instrumentation with a set list that explores stirring melodies as well as more complex pieces, he makes it accessible for even the most casual listener. Whether you are a true aficionado of choral music or you are visiting it for the first time, you could do no better than a Choral Project concert.

Being an organization strongly rooted in education, the group has several outreach programs designed to assist youthful enthusiasts of choral music. The Composition Contest is an opportunity for high school and undergraduate students to flex their muscles with choral writing. Three winners are selected, and their works are performed in the final concert of each season.

In the Mentorship Program, high school students from around the Bay Area apply (via essay and video audition) to participate in concert preparation and one performance during the season. They sing a portion of a concert's set, attending the rehearsals and group activities leading up to that concert.

The Choral Project also started a choral festival in which the very best high schools from the Bay Area (and slightly beyond) can come and sing a set showcasing their fine artistic work. The Choral Project sings for them in kind, and then all the participating choirs join with The Choral Project en masse for some thrilling music making.

All of these programs are designed to keep the fire of choral singing alive in the young people who will become the next generation of choral singers.

The group will be closing their successful fifteenth season in June with a concert entitled Voices of Crystal. Highlights include pieces by Francis Poulenc, Lili Boulanger, Irving Fine, Eric Whitacre, Stephen Schwartz, and Maurice Duruflé, as well as spirituals, rousing gospel music, and folk music from around the globe.
Performances will be at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz on Sunday, June 12, at 4:00 pm and Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara (where many of their concerts throughout the year take place) on Saturday, June 18, at 8:00 pm. Tickets are on sale at www.sjcp.com and at the door.

Later this year, the Choral Project will travel to Tolosa, Spain, to participate in an exclusive choral competition. After doing very well at the California International Choral Festival in San Luis Obispo, the group received an invitation to the 2011 Tolosa International Choral Competition based on the recommendation from the conductor of a Basque choir that had also performed in San Luis Obispo.

The winner of the Tolosa Choral Competition goes on to compete against five other competition winners in the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing (despite its name, the contest is open to choral groups from other countries).

If Spain is not in your upcoming travel plans, there are plenty of other nearby opportunities to catch the Choral Project in action. After all, they are a homegrown sensation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Caption Contest

This is the way it works: someone signs you up to receive The New Yorker. I know people who have received New Yorker subscriptions as a gift, but I've never met anyone who signed up for themselves. I am in the midst of a yearlong free ride myself, enjoying each weekly issue for its fiction, nonfiction, cartoons, and current events. The list of shows and clubs and other goings-on in New York at the beginning of each issue are of less importance. I live rather far away.

The back page of each issue is the Caption Contest.

Readers submit a caption, three are chosen to be voted upon, and then readers vote. The winner gets a framed print with their caption. Pretty decent. I decided at the start of the year that I would participate each and every week, in the hope that I would eventually win and have something to hang on my wall that I really didn't need. For the above cartoon, I thought my contribution was pretty good.

"Perhaps we should downsize the furniture as well."

But no, I didn't make the final cut. These are the three we got to vote on:

"Is that your foot?"
"Should I call and downsize our pizza order?"
"They're outside protesting, sir."

I forget which one I voted for. I only know I couldn't vote for my own because (yet again) mine wasn't chosen. Still I persist. The actual winner was "Is that your foot?" How disappointing.

By my recollection looking over the entire list of submissions, there were somewhere near 5000 entries. So, odds being what they are . . . well, you know. The odds are long.

This week's cartoon:

What would be your caption? (No, I don't want to steal yours, I already submitted mine! I'm just curious. Heck, go online and submit your own. Just tell me first!)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Newspaper Gods

Pity the last few people hired to work in the old Betamax factory. They thought they were starting the dream job of a lifetime only to have it fizzle within weeks. Also those folks building Edsels long ago. Sure, they might have gone on to work for another automobile manufacturer, but the disappointment must have been palpable.

Industries are born, grow, and some die. Some implode instantly while others dwindle over lengthy periods of time, as if they are on life support. They never actually revive, but they never entirely go away either. Witness the newspaper industry.

As a victim of cable TV, the Internet, and a general lack of interest among the American populace, the newspaper industry has been on its last legs for a long time. Its utter demise has been forecast for many years. Newspapers are going out of business, or merging with former competitors, or shrinking in size and distribution, or replacing reporters with items pulled from the Internet, or substituting advertisements for most articles. This has been going on for a few years now, which makes my entry into the newspaper world back in 2007 a spectacular bit of bad timing.

I started writing commentary pieces for Silicon Valley Community Newspapers just over four years ago. Once or twice a month they allow me to pontificate on whatever subject matter interests me, and they even pay me for the effort. Lately, though, my offerings take a while to come to print because of the restriction in number of pages in each issue. Sometimes the Op-Ed page is completely skipped over.

So it has been a while since I've had a piece in the paper. Fortunately, when I do, it is also available on the San Jose Mercury News web page. Here. This is my latest. Hopefully it isn't my last.

Looks like I picked the perfect time to be a newspaperman. I wonder if I can get a job at the old Betamax factory.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

April Fooler

I have never been the greatest April Fool. Mind you, I can be a fool at any time of the year, but as far as perpetrating a good April Fool's joke I have come up a bit short. Nothing that ever really compared to what I considered the standard: my mom calling to the three kids early in the morning, "Snow! It's snowing, kids, run and look!"

My sister, brother, and I ran to the living room shutters and threw them upon . . . to gaze on a sunshiny and blue sky morning. It was April 1 and we lived in San Jose, California. If we had given even a moment for rational consideration we would not have fallen for it. But we were young, sleepy, and Mom was usually a trustworthy sort, so we ran, and looked, and were disappointed, and then laughed. If I remember it practically forty years later you know it must have been good.

I probably pranked my kids when they were young, but nothing really comes to mind. Which makes them not memorable. The one I do remember was when a friend and I taught kindergarten in adjoining rooms back around 2006. I was in Room 13 and Aimee was in Room 14 but we taped paper over those numbers on the classroom doors and wrote the other number. We swapped the pupils' pencil boxes and a few other items to give the semblance of our own rooms.

When the morning bell rang, we opened each other's door and looked at each other's students. I said, "Mrs. Kalivoda is over there" and pointed down to my classroom. Her students scampered to her as mine walked toward me with a thousand questions. The parents looked a bit confused as well.

Escorting the students inside, I pretended that nothing was the matter and proved my thesis by pointing out their pencil boxes. Then I passed out their morning work and told them to get busy. Through the opening to Room 13 we could see Aimee was doing the same thing with her students.

The parents figured it out, laughed, and left. Most of them figured it out. I think a few truly thought we had changed classrooms. Aimee and I continued the joke for a while, with morning read-alouds in the wrong rooms. Then we got back to normal.

Proof that it was successful and memorable: a sixth grader who experienced that joke-of-jokes six years ago just brought it up, telling me how funny it was. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all the proof I need.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beyond an Ironman

You are probably familiar with the triathlon: swim, bike, and run. The Ironman is the über-triathlon . . . 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, followed by your garden variety marathon of 26.2 miles. I can only dream of such a thing; I'm just not that much of a swimmer. An acquaintance is competing in the Texas Ironman this May and I look forward to hearing of his adventure.

I have run marathons, 36 to this point. Though truth be told two of those were 50-milers. I have spent time on my feet. Last year I rode my bicycle about 4600 miles. I aspire to a few other achievements, namely the Tahoe Triple (three marathons in three days, encircling the lake) and another 12-hour footrace (rather than how fast can you run a distance, this is how far can you go in an amount of time).

Maybe we're all nuts, but let me tell you, what I have to impart here is really nuts.

In Brooklyn, New York, in 1879, an Englishwoman named Ada Anderson walked 2700 quarter miles in 2700 quarter hours. Consecutively. To rephrase: every fifteen minutes she walked a quarter mile, or one lap around a conventional track. By timing it right, in other words walking one quarter-mile at the beginning of a quarter-hour and walking the next quarter-mile toward the end of the next quarter-hour, she might have twenty minutes rest max. Usually it was more like ten.

And she did this for 28 days, without cease. Every fifteen minutes, a lap. Can you say sleep deprivation? I knew you could.

Two years later, Exilda La Chapelle exceeded this accomplishment in Chicago. She walked 3000 quarter miles in 3000 quarter hours. That's 31 days and change.

No more whining from me about how hard it is to run for four or five hours. Clearly I ain't done nothin' yet. There's a track over at the Campbell Community Center. Maybe I'll look into taking it over for a few hours . . . or a few weeks. Maybe I'll give a go at this insane physical accomplishment. Maybe I'll call Kurtis and see if he wants to join me.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No Breakthrough

Well, it is always nice to be nominated, even if you don't win. That's what celebrity always say after the Oscars or the Tonys or the Emmys or the . . . other million award ceremonies where celebrities get all celebrified.

It is nice to be nominated. That's why I nominated myself for Amazon's Breakthrough Novel awards last month. I don't know how many were turned away from first round voting, but I survived. And now that the second round cut has been made, I have been vanquished. Summarily dismissed. I am not amongst the 250 still with the potential of being officially published (of course 249 of those people will be soon crying in their soup as I am now, but for right now they are winners!).

This was to be expected. It wasn't as unlikely as, say, winning the lottery, but the odds were against me. And now the odds have fallen on me.

But cheer on with me those who remain, for they are all potential winners. One real winner, but 250 potential winners. And that will have to sustain them until the moment they are disappointed. I will do my part toward restoring their faith in humanity by offering my two self-nominated books, Will Teach For Food and The Average Family, for sale. Here. Other great books are there as well. Take your time while browsing.

Sure, it is nice to be nominated, but it is better to win.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Postcard You Wouldn't Expect #2

Last week I shared a postcard from 1993. Later the next year, the same fellow sent another greeting to the two girls and their newly arrived brother. So, three kids, aged four years and younger, took a look at the picture of William Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then read the following:

Hi [names removed]!

We're having a lovely time in England. We have visited charming English gardens, mighty medieval castles, grand, dramatic cathedrals, Shakespeare's delightful home--pictured here--and the pastoral Lakes. Everything went smoothly until the railroad workers went on strike and shut down the trains. Those bastards. I think I'm going to kick all of their asses.

Love, Uncle [XXXX] and Aunt [XXXX]

Wasn't it nice of him to drag his wife into his unholy message?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Couples Relay Results

If you read about the race I signed up my wife for without telling her, I can now share the results with you. Actually, even if you didn't read it I can share them.

Kristin and I ran in the 33rd annual Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders' Couples Relay on February 27, 2011. One partner runs around the lake first, and then tags off the second runner. It is just about exactly a 5K for each (3.1 miles). The female runs first. On our team, that would be Kristin. She was worried about coming in last, but as she has never come in last place in any run that was unlikely. The competition did look a bit fierce. Lots of real "runners" in their runner clothes and doing their runner warm ups.

Since it is a Couples Relay, the only results that count are the team results. We came in 150 out of 155, which is definitely not last place. If Kristin tells you that she came in last in the first group of runners, or that nearly twenty teams or so completed both laps before she completed her own, tell her that doesn't matter. Tell her emphatically. She didn't come in last place! In fact, she did her 5K in 44:30, which is a very fine performance indeed. I was able to pass a couple of blokes on my lap, thus are slight rise from last place.

Go Team!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Postcard You Wouldn't Expect

There is, in my collection of things, a postcard sent from the Napa Valley to two young girls in San Jose in 1993. The older sister was two years old; the younger, six months. The picture on the front is titled "The Rhine House in Summer" and the preprinted facts on the back say this:

"Beringer Vineyards, the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley, was founded in 1876 by Frederick and Jacob Beringer. In 1883, this seventeen-room gothic mansion, now known as the Rhine House, was built to be the private residence of Frederick Beringer. It was patterned after the Beringer home on the Rhine River in Mainz, Germany. The home now serves as the winery's hospitality center."

Below that is personal note from the girls' uncle:

Hello [names removed]!

I'm sitting on the can so I thought I'd drop you a line. We were in Napa a couple of weeks ago, but now we're in Washington, D.C. Tomorrow we're going to the White House and the Capitol, etc. Out of all the cities we've visited, I think New York has the most hookers.

Love, Uncle [name removed]

Now that the girls are coming of age, I have decided that this is the right time to unveil this little masterpiece. It is surely a family keepsake that will charm descendants for many years to come.