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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

La Bonne Cuisine*, part 3

So this month's Cookbook Club at the PCI branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia features "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Childs and Simone Beck (and that other woman). I've tried some of the recipes and don't find them particularly difficult if you follow the directions--including reading the directions, especially the part where JC tells the reader to go through the motions of preparing said dish--something I've been doing for several years, without knowing it was a good way to learn.  So far I've prepared Haricots Vertes a la Provencale and Boeuf aux Oignons.  Both have been wonderful, but it got me thinking about the 2009 movie "Julie and Julia", starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in the titular roles. The premise of the story was that Julie set a goal for herself to prepare every recipe (her count was 524) in volume one of Julia's book in the course of 365 days. I've been reading and cooking from (with great pleasure, mind you) that book for the last week, and to say the least, her claim that she completed such a herculean task in the course of one year raises suspicion. Here's why:

1) The movie intimated that, while she had friends over on a regular basis, she cooked most often for her husband and herself.  Following the recipe to the letter would yield enormous amounts of food--according to the cookbook, for 4-6 people.  Did she cut the recipes down accordingly?

2) Given the amount of food, not to mention the exotic ingredients many recipes required, it would require a budget far exceeding their limited means.  Was Julie secretly wealthy?

I also availed myself of reading viewer reviews at and discovered that I am FAR from the only voice expressing skepticism.

All that being said, I'm looking forward to November 6 and the next session of Cookbook Club.

Bon Appetit!!!

--*Leonard Bernstein, composer, 1947. Full title: "La Bonne Cuisine: Four Recipes for Voice and Piano".

Saturday, August 11, 2018


I'm not entirely certain why I haven't written since April.  We've had three deaths in the family since March (My mother, father-in-law, and my wife's godfather) and so we've been taking care of family business, so I guess that's part of it too.

The girls are headed to college (and back to college) in a matter of days.  We're very excited, although it'll be MUCH quieter with only our son home (still looking for a job).  Is there a parallel of the "honey-do" list for adult kids who are recently graduated but don't have a job yet? (GRRRRR) If not there will be...heh, heh, heh...

Work at LU is about to gear up. Students are back on campus for marching band, a few moving into the dorms, with classes starting on the 22nd.  BUT--the big news is that after four years without a director, we're getting one--Carla Sarratt from Wilmington NC. She was in the public library world in her most recent position.  We'll see how it goes.  We hear that she's big on programming and public engagement, so buckle your seat belts.

*--David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


The longest business relationship that I've had in my life, even longer than my marriage (25 years this year), is with my insurance agent at State Farm (no, his name isn't Jake). He's seen me through good and bad times, high points and low; he's always been there. We even have a "Facebook friendship" that started after he retired. We've never socialized, sat down for a beer or dinner, (and I would if I had the opportunity), but was always dependable and gave top-notch service.   I trusted him, and he never gave me a reason to reconsider that trust.

I know that not every insurance agent or company, nor every business of any kind, is like that.  It can be disappointing, even devastating, to realize that the relationship was not what it seemed.  I'm not naive enough to think that people (and business models) don't or will never change, it's just that when it comes down to really needing the significant other, be it business or personal, to be there for you, to be in your corner, it turns out that the positivity, well wishes, and words are just a facade to get you to go along.

I'm not going to mention the department in or the name of the institution involved (it isn't State Farm) but I have to say that I am indeed VERY disappointed in their lack of transparency, their lack of cooperation, and their seeming lack of effort in matters concerning members of my family. 

We are not blameless. Perhaps we didn't accomplish necessary tasks with the expediency expected of us. However, we have been more than patient with this department--perhaps too patient.  I'd love to be able to say the institution's name, but you know how negativity in social media goes these days.

To Be Continued...

*--from West Side Story, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Bernstein, Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents, 1957.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Off the beaten path*

I've been thinking about patron service a lot lately.

We're on spring break this week, here at Lincoln, and between preparing a Music and Dance Libguide and working the LP collection, the lack of decent inexpensive restaurants nearby has me going (too) often to the McDonald's in the next town.  Two recent experiences make me wonder about the level of people providing customer service these days.

1) I was at one Mickey D's last Sunday evening. They had a (presumably) new self-service kiosk, the first one I've seen outside of Wawa and Sonic.  The line at the counter had more than a few customers so I tried it out. Everything was explained on the screen, and I ordered a McChicken and a coke, grabbed a table ID tag, and went to a table and waited for them to bring my food.  I watched a party of five order at the counter, grab their drinks, sit down and get served while my one sandwich (and no drink) sat at the counter...and sat...and sat.  If I hadn't flagged down the counter person while she was delivering to the party of five, I might still be sitting there.  I showed her my receipt (and, I will confess, my annoyance) and she retrieved my sandwich.
"where's my drink?"
"oh, you get your cup at the counter"
"but I didn't go to the counter, I ordered at the kiosk"
"oh--what did you have?"

I finally received both items, but my conclusion is that the counter help was either 1) new and undertrained or 2) severely undertrained. In any event, they were understaffed and undertrained.  I promptly took the survey offered on the receipt. I have yet to hear back from them.

2) Another Mickey D, closer to work, this morning. I got in line behind half a dozen people with--you guessed it--one person at the counter.  After she took the order for a group of five, she left the counter unattended for (in McDonalds time) what seemed like forever.  Her back was to the waiting customers nearly the entire time. Didn't say anything this time. Got my food, sat and ate, went to work. Neglectful? Maybe. Understaffed? Definitely, and this was at 8 am--peak hours for breakfast in my estimation.

A third experience at our local chain grocer (Giant, not to be confused with Giant Eagle) was not the first time I've had trouble with them. Between inaccurate signage, poor quality food (frozen chicken wings with razor-sharp shards of bone), and just plain rude behavior have me going to a competitor.  Yes, I filled out their survey too, and have yet to hear back from them.  Maybe I've used up my lifetime supply of good will.

Yet another:  Stopped at the Red Roof Inn in Cranberry PA for a room for the night with my wife and adult daughter.
Me: I need a room for three adults.
Them: Will that be one bed or two?

Look--I get that service jobs, especially in the fast food and retail industry, are thankless and low-paying, and that you're subjected to the worst, cruelest, and condescending in human behavior. I've been there, I know.  They're entry level, and ideally should lead to bigger and better things within a given company.  Even if they don't, trainers and training managers--all managers, really--need to take training their people seriously.  Don't wait for your corporate office to mandate how to be nice, how to be considerate, how to take customers issues seriously (or with a grain of salt in many cases).  Too many generations of parents expected that of the public schools and look at how that turned out.  Former Secretary of Education William Bennett was right--K-12 education (and by extension, corporate training programs) aren't a one-stop solution where all of society's problems can be fixed.

Here's some simple rules to follow:

1) don't assume.
2) answer questions as though it's the first time you've been asked that day (thank you Disney).
3) treat people the way you would want to be treated.
4) don't make excuses. just do your job. rattling off a litany of excuses just rubs salt in the wound created by having a negative outcome in your transaction.

Now get off my lawn!

*--Justin Moore, Off the Beaten Path,  2013.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Varsity, down the field,
Never yield, raise high our shield,
March on to victory for Michigan! (and the Maize and Blue)
Oh Varsity, we're for you,
Here for you to cheer for you,
We have no fear for you, oh Varsity!*

No songs for the junior varsity or the freshman squad, certainly not for the middle schoolers or beginners...

Why doesn't anyone want to teach any more? It's a fine thing to work with young people, to be sure, but at what level are you and your skill set most needed? What boxes do you check off at the end of each practice, each rehearsal, each performance, each season? How do you measure individual and group success?

I see sports programs all over the place but very few places of real learning. Ample evidence of game playing, but where is the learning about personal fitness at the earliest years?

George Cavender, long-time band director at the University of Michigan, had it right. In one talk he laid out a case for how music education should take after their counterparts in physical education in terms of marketing their product (with the all-important caveat of having steak to go with the sizzle).

If there was one place where you would find ample evidence of the truth in the saying, "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey", you would find it in N-12 music education.  Why do some high school bands flourish and thrive, while others are held together with "spit and sealing wax" (Robert Culver, Professor emeritus of Music Education, University of Michigan)?

The schools that "get it" understand the process, from top to bottom. Their teachers, parents and staff understand the value of early intervention in music literacy, what music literacy is, and what it takes to climb that seemingly never-ending staircase to excellence. They understand the value of having people who can function as adults in the "scrambled eggs" chaos (Tom Millard, retired music educator, Ann Arbor (MI) Public Schools) that is the years of upper elementary and middle school, regardless of the subject matter.

A dear friend of mine who worked for many years in the music publishing business once said, "There's a special place in heaven for elementary and middle school band directors" (Jean Anne Shafferman).  There's a hilarious story to go along with it, and I don't tell it nearly as well as she does, but I'll try.  She was attending an elementary school holiday Christmas program where the band was playing "Silent Night". The young man playing bass drum had obviously been told to make sure the audience heard the bass drum on the third beat of the second measure. So the first verse rolls along:

Si-i-lent Niiight....BOOM like a cannon shot! Jean Anne said, "I about fell out of my chair laughing", recalling the moment with unadulterated glee.

How does one make the case for differentiated instruction? For individual instruction? For teaching how to "Work and play well with others"?  It's even an integral part of NAfME's national standards for music education. Is the large-ensemble model with its foundations in the pre-WWII years still viable today?

I have so many questions but so few answers.

*--Earl V. Moore, Class of 1912 [Text: J. Fred Lawton, Class of 1911]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Another Opening, Another Show*

I’ve read several accounts of how the Ithaca (NY) High School planned stage production of Disney’s full-length feature animated version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was cancelled by a school district (in part) because of complaints that the girl cast as Esmerelda was perceived to be “too white”.  In my estimation there are larger questions to be asked of not only the Ithaca High School community, but of K-12 school communities across the country.

1)      Why did the school choose to produce this property, and what is considered by the Adults in Charge when selecting a property for production? Ideally three things go into the choice of a show: First, thoughtful consideration of the available resources—people, musical forces, facilities, in other words, what is; second, thoughtful consideration of the work involved and the time available; and third, envisioning the outcome—what can be as well as what is desired.

2)      Is the story being told in a way that maintains Hugo’s intent and the integrity of the story? This particular property is a Disney creation. As such it must be assumed that liberties have been taken with the original story, as it does with most Disney re-creations. Without casting aspersions on Disney (although I will freely admit I’ve already done so), the point of view the script, music, and cinematic images of these productions are often jarringly at odds with the original work.

3)      Can that intent and integrity be maintained in the face of current social mores? Much noise has been made in recent years about the wholesale destruction of artifacts and relics in the Muslim-controlled nations, but rewriting of history isn’t limited to those countries. Here in the United States, artwork, statuary, and even songs have fallen victim to someone’s narrow view; people who disagree are branded infidels, racist, sexist, misogynist, etc. and people who want to speak out, even mature, sensitive, reasonable voices,  are effectively silenced.

4)      There is the issue of artistic autonomy: How much discretion is given to the person/people in charge to propose, justify, cast, and produce a play, probably an extra-curricular activity, and who or what is owed justification for that adult’s choice? I can’t help thinking that there is a slippery slope to be navigated when choosing, justifying, and producing any theatrical property these days.

5)      People get nervous when conventions are put to the test. Call them ideas, traditions, sacred cows, or things of value, people will rally around what they believe in or believe to be important—as well they should.  The problem comes when the premise of that convention is flawed, as I believe it is in this case. 

6)      Since someone else will probably do it if I don’t, I’ll make the inevitable comparison to sports. Football coaches get tons of advice year-round—some of it asked for—but yet very few question their autonomy in choosing their assistants and training the players to compete in the sport of football (unless of course he and the team fail to win on a regular-enough basis).  If the coach is people-savvy, he’ll surround himself with the right people, ask advice of knowledgeable folks in not only the local community but the coaching world and beyond, and establish and maintain a good working relationship with the people placed in charge of him.  As a former K-12 educator and interested observer, I would want to know if the play director/advisor/faculty member in charge had that structure in place, and if he or she had that working relationship with the powers that be.

7)      Is the play part of the school curriculum? Then there are (or should be) structures in place to provide guidance as to what is appropriate content, and how material is presented in the classroom and to the community.  This goes back to #4 and the autonomy given to the adults in charge.

8)      To what extent has the community’s view of the play (and how it should be presented) been influenced by the Disney animated version? As a former musical director for community theater productions, I can say that Hollywood has a strong influence on how people, whether they’re actively involved in theater or not, view stage productions. For example, in one production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in which I was involved, it became clear early on that more than a few of the cast members didn’t approve of my musical choices because “it wasn’t like the album” or “it wasn’t like the movie”.  In fact I specifically avoided listening to or watching any other recordings because I was not involved in re-creating a music video.  I was working with live people in live theater. The recent spate of made-for-television musical theater productions and the buzz around them is ample proof of this.  Many people are just becoming aware that the stage versions of The Sound of Music and Grease are markedly different than what appeared at the movie theater, and are noticeably upset.

9)      What part, if any, did race play in casting? According to NYS Department of Education statistics, Ithaca (NY) High School’s enrollment by ethnicity (their words) is 66% White, 13% Asian, 10% Black/African American, 6% Hispanic, 6% identifying as Multiracial, and less than 1% Native American. I have no idea how many students tried out for the play or the various roles, or certainly who was encouraged by whom to audition for that play. I would like to know if statistics are available on the makeup of high school theater participants.

10)   Even if your 1st grade teacher said “time for music class” as she walked you to the music room or waited for the teacher to arrive to your classroom, after which she sprinted to the breakroom for that life-giving dose of caffeine, it is a fact that early training in the arts leads to greater willingness, confidence, and success in later participation and support of the arts at whatever level one finds oneself. Attitudes towards the arts—especially one’s individual view of their own artistic gifts, talents, and achievements—develop early, often influenced by the expressed and implied attitudes of those in charge of children.  

The situation at Ithaca (NY) High School is not going to be addressed or solved by slapping a coat of social justice rainbow paint on the current state of affairs.  Increasing artistic and expressive opportunities begins as it always does—with sustained, appropriate education and opportunity at the earliest possible age, parents and other responsible adults willing and ready to help the children in their care access that education and opportunity, and an unwavering commitment to the highest level of individual and group achievement.  Development of ideals in the public interest is not an overnight phenomenon.

I hope that this will be an ongoing conversation, and that reasonable voices will prevail.

*--from "Kiss Me, Kate" by Cole Porter;  opened on Broadway in 1948.

POSTSCRIPT: Florida school shooting all but took the Students United Ithaca group off the front pages, and that's just fine.  We have bigger fish to fry right now, right now, then who's getting a part in a forgettable Disney-version school play.

UPDATE (March 25, 2018): I was curious to see what show was being done by the young upstart theater company, and they have not only changed the show to "Hairspray", centered around an "American Bandstand"-like TV show in 1960's Baltimore, but--surprise, surprise, they have their director of choice, and many of the SUI 5 have leads in the show.  Exchanging one clique for another. No progress here.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Daughters*, part 2

After I finished this afternoon's post, I realized that the title might lead one to think of the recent scandal at Michigan State University, so I will do my best to write something coherent and helpful.

I'm lucky, I guess--I have a mom, two sisters, and female cousins all over the country, and I know how angry I'd be if they had an encounter with someone like Dr. Nassar.  The Christian I'm called to be says to be forgiving, especially if I'm for giving him a punch in the nose (and a few other strategic places). 

Not to dismiss the hundreds of young women's suffering, but I wonder if half the fuss that was made at MSU would have been made if it was members of the women's basketball team instead of pretty, white, well-heeled, Olympic-level gymnasts (and I don't think I'm stereotyping here). 

I'm a University of Michigan grad (BM '82), and proud of that fact; nonetheless I empathize with the students of MSU in their time of anger and uncertainty.  The depth and breadth of what happened is nothing short of mind-boggling, and heads have rolled, from the university president to the athletic director (with more sure to  follow). The MSU Board of Trustees did themselves no favors by eschewing comparisons to Penn State, especially that knothead Joel Ferguson. Ironically, the more he sounded off, the easier it was to make the leap between the two scandalized schools. I can only imagine that the Board will look a little different come the next election. A breach of trust of this magnitude may well have the students and alumni wondering who to believe (and believe in). Like their fellow land-grant institution, I believe that lasting change at MSU will not come easily, if at all. School ties run deep in Michigan. People I know out here on the East coast are always amused when I tell them that families break up over the U-M/MSU rivalry, but I'm pretty sure that if you spend enough time in the state, you'll learn at least one related story. If the MSU Board of Trustees had any sense, they would do well to take a long, reflective look at PSU, to ascertain if its entrenched institutional exceptionalism in any way parallels their own recent words and actions.

Michigan's three largest research institutions of higher educaton--U-M, MSU, and Wayne State University in Detroit--have their respective boards of directors chosen in the primary and general elections, and their place on the ballot is generally only of interest to the higher-ups in the two political parties and the respective university communities--at least until now. Recall election, anyone?