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Thursday, December 11, 2014


When I moved to Pennsylvania in 1989, I was struck by the contrasts in the classical music scene.  One could perform in a group of just about any level, and some of them were quite good, even the ones at the community (amateur) level.

One city boasted four "professional" concert bands, including one whose recordings get played frequently on WRTI, the public radio station out of Temple University. Being a solid player at the time, I was flummoxed when the first question out of everyone's mouth was, "are you a union member?".  Since I wasn't, I didn't get work, even though I could play rings around most of the local talent. This probably stems from the union shop atmosphere in the region, who had lost the major employer due to union nonsense. It was immortalized in a song by Billy Joel.  Some in the area still haven't forgiven him.

2) The leader of one of those bands was also the personnel director of the local Symphony orchestra, which meant that he got first crack at wind, brass, and percussion players who auditioned for the ASO.

3) There were three local professional orchestras, all staffed by pretty much the same players.

4) The local chamber music society seems to think that only orchestral string players and pianists play chamber music, and that's all they program. To be fair, they do have a "special relationship" with a local youth orchestra (translation: the kids get 10 minutes as a curtain raiser for no pay), and they are having a brass quintet fulfill this purpose once this season.

5)  One of the local community choirs had a gala fundraiser recently with a world-renowned performer who has performed many contemporary pieces. Her program that night? Bach, Beethoven and Brahms on the first half, and salon-style, I-can-play-this-faster-than-you pieces on the second. Yawn.

6) One of the local colleges built a new (and admittedly very nice) performing arts center. The opening concert featured no less than the New York Philharmonic, playing Bernstein's Overture to Candide, and Brahms' First and Second Symphonies--well performed, I'm sure, but a program they could have done in a drunken stupor. The next two visiting orchestras played Brahms First and Brahms Second.  I called them on that nonsense in the local paper, saying that the audiences in that area deserved better. To their credit, they did respond to me, but they didn't take me seriously. They should have.

7) Most ticket prices are exorbitantly high and will likely remain so.
Symphony Orchestra--$19-$52/$10 for students
Choir: $35-$36/$9
Chamber orchestra: $25-$35
College theater: $15-$22/$8
Same college's summer theater: $33/$18
Private college symphony orchestra concert: $18
Private college band concert:$15/$5
Private college choir concert: $15/$5
Community theater: $20/$10

I'm reminded of the trend in professional sports towards smaller stadiums.  Fewer seats means higher ticket prices--and many of these groups play in relatively small houses.

8) The only public college in the region (actually about 30 miles away) doesn't have much of a music department.  The region's private colleges, on the other hand, have well regarded music programs, but again, ticket prices remain unaffordable for many.

So what's the solution?

It could be argued that failure to pay union scale or better will cause the best players to go elsewhere. It has happened, and there's no reason to believe it won't continue to happen. Grants are out there, but with every arts group competing with a seemingly shrinking resource pool, some will swim, but surely too many will sink.

David Bowie, Hunky Dory, 1971.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Call*

Today marks one month since I started at Rowan University, and to say it's been a challenge woefully understates the case. I have learned to do so much in the way of original and copy cataloging, and have had my reference skills tested on more than one occasion (note to self: finish the 18 questions from Bob). It's less than an hour till I go home.  I've worked on a couple dozen pieces of music today ranging from Bach chorale preludes to the Walton Viola Concerto, cleaning up records and adding barcodes, and getting around the University infrastructure.  People are getting to know me--but when you're 6'4", you're hard to miss.

This month, I've:
--hired one employee
--fired one employee
--commenced training for the Music Library staff
--worked on various phases of cataloging over 100 items
--nearly completed the workstudy manual for the Music Library
--successfully completed weekly payroll duties
--assisted students in a wide array of reference needs.

Bob, my immediate supervisor, Jim, my predecessor, and Mark, his predecessor, have been remarkably patient as I discover how much I don't know, and have been able to get me to melt my iron will enough to want to ask for help.

I do enjoy working here very much, and whether I stay a year or ten will largely depend on how I handle the work.

St. Jerome, Pray for us!
SS. Cecelia and Gregory the Great, Pray for us!


*--from Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906-1911.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Romany Life*

Just a quick blurb to welcome the 30th country to visit the blog--Romania, who put down nineteen hits today. Great to see you.  Just a gentle reminder that discourse on this blog is welcome and too infrequent.  Answer back, will ya?

*--Victor Herbert, 1898.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Victors*

I can't believe it.

The call came out of the blue last Friday, and it's totally changed my life.

The director of the music library at Rowan University (Glassboro NJ) called and asked if I would still like a job. I was in utter shock; he told me that my name was high up on the list of candidates for a position that I applied for in the beginning of 2014, but for some reason wasn't selected for an interview.  Anyway, there's been a lot of movement in the department and now they need someone to fill in on an adjunct basis, with the definite possibility of moving to a permanent position.

There are a couple of down sides to this development.  First, on the purely silly: I can't run the practical joke I was going to play on the local classical music radio station, and I'm really vexed about it. Second, if the job becomes permanent, I have to establish residency in New Jersey. My girls want to finish high school where they are.  I can apply for an exemption to the rule, but who knows what it will take?

On the other hand, my dream of working in an academic situation to help my kids pay for school is about to come true. God is good, and he has truly showered his blessings on me this week. Combined with getting to do a concerto with the Warminster (PA) Symphony, this has been one of my best weeks ever. Alleluia!

I must get some sleep. Onward.

*--Louis Elbel, 1898. Fight Song of the University of Michigan. Go Blue!!!

UPDATE:Yesterday evening, of one of the best days of my life, I attended rehearsal for Archdiocesan Choir.   We sang music of Faure, Stanford, Palestrina, Mozart, and Herbert Howells.  At the end, we did Vaughan Williams' O Clap Your Hands. Perfect end to a near-perfect day. My heart is full.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Strife is O'er*

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

In the Lutheran tradition (and other Christian churches, I'm sure), the funeral service emphasizes the Resurrection, with corresponding hymns.  I couldn't think of a better prelude to my remembrance of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay. This was originally posted on Facebook:

Today I learned of the passing of my high school orchestra teacher, Gerrit Van Ravenswaay, or as most of his students called him, “Mr. Van”.  Although it’s been over thirty years since I last played under his baton, the lessons I learned in his 5th period orchestra remain with me to this day.  My first concert with the orchestra featured the Grand Rapids-based Jubal Brass Ensemble, who joined us on the finale for a performance of the last movement of Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.  As a lowly sophomore tooting away on my Bundy trombone, I felt overwhelmed, overmatched, and really out of place. He didn’t have to say anything; the expectation was that I would improve, and even though I earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Music, I’m still practicing, forty-plus years later.

The music was always important, and Mr. Van challenged us with the best. Symphonies by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Haydn, student performances of concertos by Lalo, Wieniawski, and Gordon Jacob, and Wagner’s Parsifal were all on the program during my time at Holland High.  He encouraged us to seek out more demanding performance venues, like Grand Rapids Youth Symphony, music camps, and All-State ensembles.

But the music, as exalted as much of it was, paled in comparison to the life lessons we learned.  He had so much to teach that would make us better people and better citizens, and I remember the orchestra would sit patiently while Mr. Van held forth on some topic totally unrelated to what we were playing that day.  It never seemed like preaching—although I can imagine some folks might have seen it that way—and  I often wondered what his sons Steve and Gary, as well as his daughter Julie, were thinking as we sat together in class.

The people with whom I performed in the Holland High School Orchestra have grown up and grown older, and some perform on the instruments they did in high school, but most have gone on to other things. I won’t say I was one of the lucky ones; even though a good part of my adult life has been spent performing music of the great composers—which is truly a blessing, make no mistake—the greater blessing was to have learned life lessons from Mr. Van as a trombonist in his orchestra, and later as a teaching colleague and trusted friend.  Thank you, Mr. Van, and well done, thou good and faithful servant.


*--Words: Un­known au­thor, poss­ib­ly 12th Cen­tu­ry (Fi­ni­ta jam sunt prael­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Fran­cis Pott, Hymns Fit­ted to the Or­der of Com­mon Pray­er, 1861.

Music: Vic­to­ry (Pal­es­tri­na), Gi­o­van­ni P. da Pal­es­tri­na, Mag­nif­i­cat Ter­tii To­ni, 1591

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One More River to Cross*

A college classmate and fraternity brother shared this with me recently. I had taken a buzzfeed quiz as to which Warner Brothers character I was and got Wile E. Coyote. My friend had an interesting take on it that seemed to fit in our current struggles to find meaningful employment in our field:

"Wile E. Coyote and Winston Churchill had a lot in common. He said that success was the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. I guess you are in great company with Winston and Wile."
*--Traditional, via "Spirituals", by William Stiickles, coll. 1948.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

All By Myself*

I'm taking a MOOC through Coursera on copyright law that is offered by Duke University. Started last week, and find it to be as thorny and complex as it was when we covered it at Clarion (I've forgotten which class).  One of the discussion board posts had to do with the student's school or employer policy on personal work and copyright.  As I wasn't aware if we had one, I inquired first of my library director (no response) and then the director of the main library of our county system--who referred me to the executive director, who informed me that the county didn't have a policy, but that I would have to check with my employer, who either would or wouldn't have a policy. I'll take that as a no.

I have to wonder about the viability of such a "system", where it's clear that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing--or otherwise doesn't care. That and $8.50 an hour might get you a cup of coffee. Onward.

*--Eric Carmen, Eric Carmen, 1975

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Esprit de Corps*

I think I'm finally getting the hang of this strong leadership business.  Fruit doesn't always come the first day or week, or month or year.  But it comes, and we can celebrate it for the wonderful things it brings.

Last Monday I was informed by my older daughter that she was seriously considering signing up for the National Guard when she turned 17.  Where did this come from, I asked?  She told me in serious tones that she had listened to one of the speakers during business camp and that he had said, "work for a cause, not for applause"--and for her, I guess that meant military service.  Her grandfather De Kok would be proud.

Last night my younger daughter made the decision to attend our local high school for all four years rather than the charter school she had attended for the last five. She wants the opportunities in the arts she's seen her brother take advantage of over the last two years.  The Music teachers at our high school are chomping at the bit to get her.  They even asked us if DJ had any younger siblings and looked crestfallen when I told them last spring that there would be no more De Koks coming through.

So I lied.

Interview for tech position at Slippery Rock tomorrow at two. Onward.

*--Robert Jager, Marks/Leonard Publishers, 1983.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


What's it all about, Alfie?
Why did I do this?
Why did I spend two years busting a hump to finish a second masters at Clarion?
I'm not sure it was worth it.

I have a feeling that there's two kinds of librarian candidates out there.

The first is more knowledgeable in librarianship than technology.
The second is more knowledgeable in technology than librarianship.
I have a sinking feeling that I should have become the second kind by going to Rutgers, taking their preset list of 12 classes, get the MLIS (and better chances at jobs).

105 applications out there, and I haven't had a college interview in six weeks.  The fall is getting larger in the window every minute, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Maybe it's like K-12 teaching, and everyone waits to the last minute. But I don't think so.

I'm good at what I do. I know it. Why am I not communicating that to people?  What is wrong with me? What is wrong with what I have to offer?

Can someone give me a heads up as to what I'm doing wrong? I don't honestly have a clue.


St. Jerome, pray for me!

*--Burt Bacharach and Hal David, 1967

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day in the life*, opus 6

Day one of the new Spring City Library is about to take place.  There's still a ton of little things to do/find/put away/clean, but we're as ready as we can be.
10 am: we're open!
1130 am: first chance to breathe. I've been nonstop activity since the doors opened. Fifteen preschoolers for story time; the computers have been a flurry of activity; people genuinely glad to be here (including me); processed five new library cards (there were weeks that went by that I didn't do that many at the old location) and updated a sixth. Whew!
1255 pm: just finishing up lunch.  I hate ordering out ($$$) but we never know how busy we'll be. Currently two kids in the reference section filling in library card apps.
415 pm: I spent much of the afternoon working on a draft of a presentation I hope to give this fall at the Music Library Association Atlantic Chapter Fall meeting in Philadelphia.  Lots of oohs and aahs from patrons who are walking in here for the first time, but not much else foot traffic.  One of our computer regulars, Mr. M., has been in three times, along with one of our hearing-impaired patrons, also a Mr. M.

I have to confess, I've enjoyed today.

*--John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Everything Old Is New Again*

I haven't seen the inside of the newly constructed Spring City Public Library yet.  New furniture and furnishings, light, bright and clean--or so I'm told. Same books/CDs/DVDs/magazines as before. I hope it's nice.  I know that being busy (for a change) will be nice.  I'll see it for the first time Monday, and I'll be the first employee there on the first day it's open. More later.

*--Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager, 1974,

PS: Welcome to my new visitor from Lithuania! 29 countries and counting!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Impossible Dream*: the quest for the perfect library collection

One of my favorite books is Chaim Potok's The Gift of Asher Lev. Halfway through the book, the titular character, a world-famous artist, has an imaginary encounter with Pablo Picasso, who derides every aspect of the man's work and philosophy on art.  He says, in part: "You know what a painter is, Lev? A painter is a collector who wants to create a collection for himself, and he does this by painting himself the pictures he loves by other artists."

Is it just me or do some librarians approach collection development in a similar way?  Do we collect for our community, or for ourselves?  To what extent do we check our egos/feelings/opinions at the library door?  Inquiring minds want to know.

*--from Man of La Mancha; music by Mitch Leigh, lyrics by Joe Darion, libretto by Dale Wasserman. Based on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which was also the basis for a 1959 "straight" play by Wasserman. 1965.

PS: Happy 100th blog post!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Leader of the Band*, opus 2

I watched my son graduate from high school today, along with 400+ other students.  He's thrived at his new school, and it makes me proud that he buckled down and did his work, and sad that we didn't do it sooner. Parents learn as they go, I guess, just like our kids.  I would guess that he finished somewhere in the middle of the academic pack--two of his close friends finished 3rd and 4th in the class respectively--but distinguished himself as an immensely likeable kid, one who has made and kept friends easily. He's learned a lot of tact--how NOT to say something even if it's all too tempting.  He builds people up and has a ease about him that is already serving him well. He won awards for drama and music at the senior honors assembly, not because he applied for them, saying, "look at me!", but because people already looked at him and saw something they liked.

He's headed off to a Division II school for technical theater (sound/lights/sets/props etc.). I don't tease him about majoring in "stage crew" because as a theater person myself I know how invaluable competent people are in that field, and as one of my composer friends pointed out, if he lands a union gig in a major city, he can out-earn the actors he's working for (but I'll never tell HIM that).  I have friends and acquaintances making good money in the field, so more power to him.

I realize this wasn't precisely about my library work, but I needed to say something.  I am still, after all, a family man.

My family is growing up.  Hallelujah!


*--Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age, 1981.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In the Beginning*

In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep...
--The Bible, Genesis 1:1-2; also opens American composer Aaron Copland's 1947 choral anthem In the beginning)

"All beginnings are hard". So said Chaim Potok in the opening of his 1975 novel, In the Beginning. The story revolves around the Lurie family, an Orthodox Jewish family in New York City, in the depths of the Great Depression.  He battles health issues in his early years, bullies in elementary and high school, and the doubts and fears that come with being on your own as he enters adulthood.  In a sense, I've entered that same sphere of angst and drama with the job search--a sense of lack of worth, the seemingly endless waiting for emails and calls for phone and in-person interviews, the complex issues of being resigned to stay where I am and not wanting to bloom where I'm planted.

Am I ungrateful? Am I angry? The Christian Catholic in me says yes to both; my gut (which I wish was more in tune with my faith) says I'm entitled.  I'm fighting these microcosmic wars on a constant basis No one listens and no one wants to listen. It makes me wonder when my turn will come, or if where I am is my turn.

I'm not going to let this turn into the Great American Rage against the System. It is, after all, a beginning. Onward.

--Chaim Potok, In the beginning, 1975.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day In The Life*, part 5.

Nancy dropped me off at 845 this morning. Three newspapers awaited me at the door--the Pottsville (PA) Mercury, the Phoenixville (PA) Phoenix, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. An added bonus--a double serving of the first two.  I guess it's to make up for the times they missed.  I'll clip the coupons and give the rest of the paper to any patron who wants it.
900am: Sandy (PT co-worker, paraprofessional) walked in.  She worked the paging list after I created it.  A short one today, just 9 items.  They've been a little on the light side since the flood in the children's area (a hot water pipe burst early on a Sunday morning, about a month ago.  We lost about 3800 titles, mostly children's lit, children's non-fiction, some large-print editions, and graphic novels.)
955am: opening in five minutes; gotta run for now.  No van deliveries, so it'll probably be a typical light Saturday.

1030-1130am: A library card update and a new patron card.  The new patron is carrying a very cute 9 1/2 month-old boy who seems very interested in things going on around him. One of the crew brings back a bunch of books, as does one of our home-schooling dads.  Still, it's been quiet for the most part.  I have to make a sign for the cookie bake-off contest.  It'll be a difficult chore--no really, I have no date or time or categories or rules to plug in.  We'll give it a shot anyway.

1140am:  I eat my lunch (leftover stirfried curried chicken and brown rice, and a Granny Smith apple), and return to the Internet.  Maybe I'll work on my job list and get caught up this afternoon.
*--John Lennon and Paul MacCartney, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967.

Onward, Christian Soldiers*

"High School Diploma/GED is required. Competence with diverse musical styles, proficient at the organ and piano, choral conducting skills, pastoral sensitivity, and collaborative and diplomatic skills are required. Responsible for planning, coordination, oversight and execution of all liturgical music needs of the parish. Over the course of the year the commitment averages less than 7.5 hours per week."
So reads  a local job announcement for a position entitled, "Director of Liturgical Music".  An important position in any church, don't you think?  
I'm sorely tempted to rip this to shreds, verbally--as would be any competent church musician--so I will.
1. High School Diploma/GED is required
We ask less of people who work at (name your favorite local fast food restaurant). Are you saying that people pursuing undergraduate, graduate, and yes, even doctoral degrees in church music shouldn't bother?

2. Competence with diverse musical styles
One might say, "well, what's wrong with that?"  If you're old enough to remember the Clinton administration, you may remember the fuss that was kicked up over their shady translation of "e pluribus unum".  The proper translation is, "Out of many, one (referring to many cultures coming together to form one nation)". They tried to convince people that the correct translation was, "Out of one, many".  I don't need to tell anyone who runs a choir that success in leading worship depends in part on unifying disparate forces, and bringing more people into the fold--not Balkanizing church musicians into as many different categories.  We are indeed all in this together.

3. Proficient at the organ and piano
Let me state for the record that I do NOT have a problem with this. A strong organist and pianist is crucial to church music success.  I do have a problem with it ending there.  It is not enough to take Duke Ellington's statement, "If it sounds good it is good".  By whose standards are we judging?  Organizations like the American Guild of Organists and National Association of Pastoral Musicians have well-established standards by which churches large and small can evaluate their musicians.
4. Choral conducting skills
See #3 above, but I will add--"Equip the called".
5.  Pastoral sensitivity, and collaborative and diplomatic skills are required.
I don't honestly know what all that means--I do hope it doesn't mean, "we want a doormat".

6. Responsible for planning, coordination, oversight and execution of all liturgical music needs of the parish.
Including weddings, funerals, all Masses great and small; finding supply organists, soloists, training cantors and choirs (and those two tasks are NOT the same, even though they both involve the voice). I wonder why they didn't include the word "quality".
7.  Over the course of the year the commitment averages less than 7.5 hours per week.
In whose parallel universe? That doesn't even cover practice time--and I haven't included library tasks, phone calls, recruiting, getting stuff in the bulletin, preparing for special services, choir rehearsals, cantor training, professional development, and instrument/equipment maintenance. 
For those of you who are saying, "we aren't paying you to practice", well, fine, but don't expect us to improve, learn new music, or even to keep up the high standard our vocation/avocation demands of us. We aren't automatons, who, when you flip a switch, provide an hour of music for your dining and dancing pleasure.  We are musicians--human beings who have devoted our lives (or large chunks of our lives) to the glory of God through our musical contributions to worship. To treat us as anything less is plainly wrong

Why in 2014 are we still arguing about this?
Because of nonsense like the above ad.
If there isn't a pastoral musicians week for Catholics (or churches of any stripe for that matter), might I suggest putting it around November 22 (St. Cecilia's Day) to honor God and our patron, and to get the word out that what we do matters, both in heaven and on earth.

*--Words by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865), music *(hymn tune "St. Gertrude") by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1871).

PS: Why should a librarian care?

Because we too are in service of others, and subject to the whims of a fickle public whose idea of why libraries matter began and ended with Marian Paroo. I've recently applied to positions asking for "advanced degrees" but paying minimum wage. I've applied to what I thought were entry level positions but turned out to be "middle management" (their words).  For the field to say, "entry level is what we say it is" is irresponsible.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Old Wine in New Bottles*: a change in emphasis

At the suggestion of a patron who knows these things, I'm going to change the focus of my blog.  It'll still be Prisms, but I'm going to be writing more about librarianship--my day to day work and my research--and less about family and music.  The latter two keep their importance in my life, but if I'm to do anything of importance in librarianship, I need to focus my doing, thinking, and subsequent writing, on librarianship. Let me know how I'm doing!

*--for small wind orchestra, by Gordon Jacob, 1960.

Monday, March 17, 2014

West Side Story*: a review with benefits

West Side Story and this writer have a long and (forgive the turn of phrase) storied co-existence.  It was the first musical he played in the pit orchestra on trombone (Hope Summer Repertory Theater, 1978, featuring Tom Stechshulte as Lt. Schank, and the first play in which he played a supporting role (Ofc. Krupke, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, 1979). He has played the Symphonic Dances on several occasions, for both orchestra and concert band and watched the movie on TV countless times. He's now coming full circle and seeing it live from the audience for the first time, over 35 years after his first performance.

In the ten years the writer has been living in Norristown, he has heard seemingly hundreds of accounts of the Cecil B. De Mille-like proportions of Bishop Kenrick HS/Kennedy-Kenrick HS/Pope John Paul II HS's musical theater productions, leading him to wonder if West Side Story should more accurately be named Western Hemisphere. Nonetheless, he will attempt to keep an open mind as he listens, watches, and evaluates.  This review is, as I say, with benefits, because I will also pass judgement on PJPII's musical theater program.
Sunday: Saw the show; took the family out for dinner afterwards.

Monday: Well, rather than give a blow-by-blow description and my opinion thereof, I'm going to make statements and let you compare what I witnessed to what you've seen in high school and college productions of this show.

1.  I was handed a program that topped out at 186 pages--35 of which were actually about the show. The remainder consisted of advertisements and personal messages purchased by the family and friends of cast and crew.  Charles Dicken's novel A Christmas Carol wasn't that long.

2. Pre-show, they presented a slide show of "rehearsal highlights", with music from the West Side Story soundtrack.  I was really tired of "Tonight" and "Somewhere" by the time they started, which was

3. 20 minutes late.  

4. Instead of the overture, they played a short film featuring toddlers, voiced-over by teenagers and adults, in scenes from the play.

I don't have strong enough adjectives (fatuous and tacky come to mind) for my opinion of that film.  It's one thing to create that for one's own personal use, but don't make me sit through it as part of the admission price.  It insulted Bernstein, Sondheim, Laurents, Robbins, and everyone involved in creating the original play. If you can't honor the composer and other creative forces who came together to create a masterpiece like West Side Story, then you have absolutely no business putting on that play.

5. Now, keep in mind the student's parts with lines were double-cast. I have no fundamental problem with that. Vocally, this is a demanding show. Tony, Maria, Bernardo, and Anita were triple-cast. I suppose that if you have the qualified folks to do those roles in great enough number, fine.

The problem I had was that the cast totaled--get ready--over 250 students (plus the four adult roles--Doc, Schrank, Krupke, and Glad Hand).  This made for a longer show than necessary, although I did admire the effort made in getting that many actors in and out of the auditorium and off and on the stage. 

6.  All I will say about the choreography is this:

"Cool">swing dancing on the last chorus>NO. Just say NO.
"Nightmare">Truer words were never spoken.
That being said, the kids did execute fairly well. There were just too many of them, and frankly the masses muddied any sense of nuance or artistry that the directors wished to portray, not to mention the fact that I couldn't find the singing/speaking actors on more than one occasion.

7.  20 minutes for intermission turned into 35. Pile that on to the 20 minute delay at the beginning and it makes for a long evening.

8. The best parts of the show were when only the named roles were on stage, and not when the cast of hundreds was literally spilling over the edges.

9. They seemed to take great pride in the fact that 25% of the student body was involved--250 out of 1000--but this is a show about a small neighborhood in New York City, not about all five boroughs.

10.  Orchestra: needed a piano and competent pianist. Badly. One of the co-directors, I forget who, is also reportedly the instrumental music teacher at the school.  Out of 19 musicians in the orchestra, only five were current students; the rest were alumni or ringers or both. Bernstein's score is uncompromising in its difficulty, especially for the instrumentalists in the pit--and frankly, the orchestra didn't measure up. Again, why no overture?

11. There are shows that no doubt lend themselves to this showy, glossy, glitzy treatment--State Fair, Footloose, Grease, and 42nd Street spring to mind--but not West Side Story.

I said at the beginning of this post that I would pass judgement on the PJPII musical theater program, but if you got this far, you know how I feel. 

*--Music by Leonard Bernstein; lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein; book by Arthur Laurents; original choreography by Jerome Robbins, 1957.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

One Step Up (and Two Steps Back)*

By my own estimation I’ve submitted roughly 50 applications for library positions so far.  Of those, I’ve received perhaps half a dozen rejection letters and 4 interviews.  The interviews were for the following:
West Chester University (Music Library)
West Chester University (Main Library)
Manor College (Catholic two-year in Jenkintown PA)
Neumann University (Catholic four-year in Aston PA)
Salem State (MA) University
Bucknell University (Lewisburg PA)

The rejection letters were from the above, plus:
Montgomery County—Norristown Public
Holland (MI) District (LD)
Allegan (MI) District (LD)
University of Virginia (Music)
There are more but I don't have a record currently.  

I should start calling the jobs I haven't heard from.

PSERS is a big pain in the butt.  Because I'm taking disability pension, I can't apply to Pennsylvania universities (PSU, Temple, Lincoln, Pitt), PASSHE colleges (i.e., West Chester, Edinboro, Kutztown, etc.), Pennsylvania community colleges, or PA K-12 charter or public schools (well, I can apply, but it makes things enormously complicated--and frankly, not much of any significance has come up).

I have to wonder how people currently working in academic libraries got their foot in the door. How is “entry-level” defined in the academic library world?  In business, one might assume you’ve had an internship or at least some related experience. I'd love to hear from people and how they snagged their first job.

*--Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love, 1987.

UPDATE: This process is teaching me the value and virtue of patience.  I received an email from a school in New England that needs a  Humanities/Social Sciences reference librarian.  I'll be doing a phone interview on Monday at 3:00 pm.  Wish me luck!
UPDATE #2:  A job as a Performing Arts Librarian just opened up in the Midwest.  It's applied for. Now the waiting comes...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Brothers, Sing On!*: A concert review with benefits

Today has been one of those rare days.

When people have days like this, they usually say something like, "I can't possibly explain it to you--you had to be there".  Nonetheless, I'm going to do my best to do just that.

I drove up to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to hear a concert at Rutgers University, under the auspices of the Intercollegiate Musical Council (IMC), an organization that promotes male choruses and glee clubs at all levels.  This year's conference was hosted by the Rutgers University Glee Club, whose director, Dr. Patrick Gardner, had been my glee club director my senior year at Michigan.  He was just 27 at the time, and I remember thinking that having your doctorate in anything at that age was impressive.  Well, he left me with a strong impression that has lasted throughout my career as a trombonist, singer, conductor, and teacher. Makes me sorry I didn't do my MLIS at Rutgers, if only to sneak into rehearsals once in a while to say, "Hi, Pat!".

The afternoon concert was a bit different than the others this weekend in that three of the four featured groups were comprised of singers who were past college age--into their 70's and 80's in some cases. 

The fourth, the Central Bucks High School West Mens' Choir from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, opened the concert with strong, well-balanced singing and demanding literature.  The highlights for me were an Eriks Esenvalds setting of Joyce Kilmer's poem Trees,  which featured rich, languorous harmonies accompanied only by tuned water glasses, and Tjak, a so-called "Balinese Monkey Chant", where the students were challenged to execute demanding choreography while singing a complex a capella score.  I admire the moxie of their conductor, who not only gives his charges musical challenges but isn't afraid to go beyond the "stand and sing" model that too many choirs follow. The multi-media and dance elements were an excellent addition to outstanding singing.

Next up was a group with which I was familiar from my last Glee Club Tour in 1982--The University Glee Club of New York, with whom we shared the stage in Lincoln Center. All of their members had belonged to their respective college glee clubs and choruses, and it was clear from the get-go that they loved their craft and cherished their art.  Their soloists on the Russian folk song, Kalinka, the Jerome Kern standard, Old Man River, and the gospel standard Swing Down, Chariot,  sang well and were offered balanced accompaniment by chorus and piano.

Third on the program was kind of the reason I went to this concert in the first place.  Measure for Measure, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, is populated with Michigan Glee Club alumni, and two of the singers, Dennis Giszczak and Brent O'Banion, were in the Club when I was, and we hadn't seen each other in almost 30 years.  It is not an understatement to say that this was one of the most joyous reunions I've ever had.  We caught up in the minutes before the concert, took the obligatory cellphone picture (posted on Facebook) and wished each other well.  At that point, I didn't really care what they sang--it could have been "Mary had a little lamb"--but I'll try to be objective.  My favorite piece of the concert had to be "Tell My Father", where a  young soldier sings of his father and his own mortality. .  Dr. Ohrt, M4M's conductor, told the audience that it had been first composed for a middle school choral festival, and, in a moment of poignancy, stated that the text took on a very different significance depending what age you're working with.  It moved me deeply and found myself sobbing quietly--and I'm sure I wasn't alone. After that came "War Music", a noisy, bumptious piece that reminded me of Holst's and Vaughan Williams' settings of Whitman's Dirge for two veterans.

Finally, ex-Chanticleer veteran and IMC President Frank Albinder took the stage with the second of his two groups, the Washington (DC) Men's Camerata, whose performance consisted of highlights from both previous and upcoming concerts of the season.  I especially enjoyed the Claude Debussy Noel des enfants qui n'ont plus de maisons (Carol for the homeless children), which was described as a protest against the ravages of the First World War. Albinder was clearly the most gregarious of the four directors, and had the audience chuckling on more than one occasion.

I'm resisting the urge to dig into specifics on the concert, and while that may be maddening to those of you who know my penchant for acid-dipped prose, in every case today, the men were energized, focused on their musicianship, and clearly enjoying the moment.  Congratulations to all involved, especially Dr. Patrick Gardner. IMC is there to support male choruses and the music they perform, and that they do well.  May they continue to do so.

Brothers, sing on!

 *--Music by Edvard Grieg (original title, Sangerhilsen, catalog number EG-170), 1883; English lyrics by Herbert Dalmas and Howard McKinney (c. 1940's).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don't Cross the River (if you can't swim the tide)*

I'm a little slow out of the gate on this one, but I wanted to congratulate the University of Michigan men's swimming and diving team for steamrolling the rest of the Big Ten and winning the conference title this past weekend.  They won eleven events and scored 889 points, leaving Indiana (564 points) and Ohio State (515 points) in the...well it's swimming and diving so I can't say in the dust--how about floundering in a mud puddle?  Go Blue!

*--Dan Peek for America, Homecoming,  1973.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bloom Where You're Planted*

I'm  nearly 54 and job-hunting again.

This is one time I envy those who are under 30 and doing this. They can move all over the country, especially if they're not married yet. Life's one big adventure, and they're on the "upward slope" (Robert Louis Stevenson, Songs of Travel). There are times I wish I was 30 again, and no doubt it would have been a different big adventure.

I've applied to nearly 30 positions and received two interviews--both at local small Catholic colleges.  One interview lasted all of 10 minutes, and the other at least had the courtesy to ask all of the questions on her sheet.  No offers yet, but I'm getting turned away from better and better positions.

I still have 25+ applications outstanding, but I'm finding that if I don't hear within a week of submission, I'm not going to hear in a positive way. Still I press on, for me, for my family, in praise of the One who made me.  Onward.


*--Royce Robinson, Big Kids, Big Plans, 2009.

This is me and a bit of my work.
LinkedIn profile
STEM for all Scouts website
LibGuide, Bridges and Earthquakes
LibGuide, Research in Education
Essay: Knowledge vs. Understanding

Day in the Life*, part 4

I haven't done a blog post that was strictly about library work for a while, so I think I'll do "Day in the Life" again.

755am: walked in, sat down, ate my breakfast and scanned the Inquirer and the Times Herald, daily newspapers from Philadelphia and Norristown, respectively.  The BK next door, which I've written up for poor customer service service on several occasions, forgot to salt the hash browns.  It's little things like that that make me pine for my days at Country Kitchen.

I check my "Intranet" email and my yahoo email and discover that there are new PD opportunities. Made a mental note to check them later.

9 am: I'm working the paging list and ran into a few problems with copies of materials that weren't there.  A lot of YA fiction going out today. I also do a "selfie" (self check-out) of a cookbook I ordered and a movie my daughter requested.

10am: First patron comes in to return books.  It's snowing surprisingly hard, even for February.  According to the weather talking heads, it's not supposed to amount to more than an inch and be done by noon.  I'm not so sure, judging from the front row seat I have.

Sorry, it's 920 on Friday the 28th--forgot to finish the post, but truthfully, there's not much to report. Afternoons here have become deadly dull. Onward.

That's the way it was, and we died from it, AND WE LIKED IT! Introduction.

I've decided today to give bouquets and brickbats on customer service.  Not just for the library but in other arenas as well.  I'll name companies but not individual employees (I generally save that for my missives to the company in question).

Today's bad customer service experience was at Wawa in East Vincent Township, Chester County.  I stop there for gas or lunch or breakfast on occasion.  Often I get the overly chummy, chatty female cashier, when what I really want to do is get what I came for and get going again.  This morning was especially egregious, in my estimation.  I picked up a box of half-price donuts for my colleagues at the library, coffee and a sandwich for me, and went to the cashier station.

Cashier: "Hi"
Me: "hi"
Cashier: "Do you want a bag?"
Me: "please"
Cashier: "That's going to cost you one donut"

I was not in the mood to kid around.  I waited a good ten seconds for her to proceed with my order, but when it became clear she wasn't going to continue without a response from me, I looked her square in the eye, glared, and said "May I move on, please?". She did, I completed my purchase, and went on with my day.

My mind was filled with unkind thoughts as I left the store (like saying to her, "from the looks of things, that's worked on other customers"--but I still struggle with my weight) but held my tongue. I swear, I wonder if I have undiagnosed Aspberger's syndrome.  I get so impatient with people making lame jokes.

Well, that's the way it was, and I didn't like it--I was annoyed by it.  Onward...

*--Dana Carvey, as a cast member of NBC's Saturday Night Live, had a recurring character on Weekend Update called "the cranky old man" who would rant about nutrition, education, safety issues, and the like.  I don't know ANYONE who does that, do you?

Friday, February 7, 2014

You Should Be Dancing*

Observation:  in the 1950's-1970's, it was the baton twirlers' mothers.  In the 1980's-2010's, it was the baton twirlers mothers wondering why  the band suddenly didn't need twirlers any more.  Those who figured it out became drum corp auxiliary (flags and rifles) mothers when their girls joined the corps.  Today it seems to be the Dance Moms (title in italics because of that vile show on Lifetime) who are giving arts teachers fits.They all seem to fit a pattern of behavior and attitude which will destroy even the best-laid arts education program in a New York minute.

POSIT: School arts programs exist to, among other things, provide creative outlets of various kinds to students, an introduction to careers for those interested in going that direction, and information to all students on the fundamentals of particular art forms--not necessarily in that order.  Further, local, state, and national organizations have created standards and/or best practices with the intention of providing a curricular basis.

For example, NAfME (National Association for Music Education, formerly MENC--Music Educators National Conference) has a list of nine such standards. To wit:

1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
5. Reading and notating music.
6. Listening to, analyzing, and describing music.
7. Evaluating music and music performances.
8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.

This doesn't include competition standards and it doesn't ask the music educator to value or emphasize one type of music over another. This broad set of standards allows for teachers to be uniquely creative, to draw upon their own strengths and knowledge to enrich their student's knowledge and experience base.  One could even substitute the word "dance" or "choreography" in many of these standards, and chances are good that you'd be able to come up with a pretty strong curriculum if you did.  Then again, I'm not the dance education expert--but wouldn't you know, there's a group who is.

NDEO, the National Dance Education Organization, has developed its own philosophy of what dance instruction should look like at various levels, and has coordinated with NAfME and other arts education organizations  to create coordinated national standards for arts education.

I think it would pay for any parent whose child is involved in a K-12 school arts program (and an alarming number are not) to investigate these standards and decide for themselves whether or not their child's school arts program lives up to these standards.  To the extent that they do not, both organizations offer myriad ways in which the concerned parent might positively advocate on their child's behalf. 


*--Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, Children of the World, 1976.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Happy Trails*


I had such high hopes for 2014.

One was that the Boy Scouts of America would do a better job adjusting to modern day conveniences like computers, networks, listservs, etc., and that they would once and for all, clarify their membership policy.  Looks like it's not going to happen on either count.  My son aged out six months ago, and I haven't been a leader there either, but I still get correspondence addressed to "chartered organization representative" inviting me to one function or another, in spite of repeated requests to remove me from their rolls. The local council as a whole isn't really good about using computers, although there are exceptions.

Second, I had hoped that the "alternative", now called Trail Life USA, would not get off the ground. Well, I'm going to allow the reader to judge for themselves if they choose to go to the website, but apparently the group is not for Catholics, Jews, Mormons, or members of other churches that have chosen to affiliate with the BSA through either chartering an organization or its individual members joining.  As odious as some people find the BSA, you'll find a lot to dislike with "trail life", whose motto appears to be "Walk Worthy".  Caveat Emptor!

*--Dale Evans Rogers, for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, 1952.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Academic applications so far: 12 in 4 states

Public applications so far: 5 in Michigan, many more in PA in the five county area.

1) $8-9.00 an hour for a job that requires a Master's degree and gives no benefits is nothing short of insulting (not my current job, mind you).
2) If what I was told about college music teaching jobs is true--that if it's posted, it's already taken--what's the point? 
3) Ditto for the candidate whose background is unorthodox--like mine.  Consider that I've been:
A) a music teacher, kindergarten to post-college;
B) a hardware store manager (which is a LOT like working a library, believe me--give me five minutes and you'll get an INTERESTING "elevator speech"';
C) a hard-working free-lance musician for most of the last 40 years.  I'm truly a man who's "25 with 30 years experience"
D) a paraprofessional in a small rural public library for the last 2 1/2 years, dreaming of and working toward bigger and better things.

Top that, fellow candidates, and I'll see you in Philadelphia next week.

*--Paul Simon, Bookends, 1968.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Same Old Auld Lang Syne*

It seems only fitting that I end 2013 with this title, one of my favorites by Dan Fogelberg.  As I stated in my last post, I was on my back with excruciating back pain, muscle spasms, and honestly wondered if I was ever going to be pain free again.

Well, three weeks and two trips to the ER later (along with massive amounts of painkillers and physical therapy), I'm at least able to work for short periods of time. By turns it's been gratifying (the family gets along without me) and maddening (the family gets along without me) and I'm trying to get ready for the ALA mid-winter meeting in Philadelphia in 10 days to begin my job hunting in earnest.

Some thoughts on job-hunting:

1) I'm 53 (54 next month) and I realize that whoever hires me will do so at considerable cost.  I taught school for the better part of 16 years, have run a successful business, played and sung a dizzying array of music at an even more dizzying level, and received my MSLS degree last month with a 3.916 GPA.  Quality doesn't come cheap.

2) My dear wife and three teenage children  don't see moving with dad's every job change as the adventure that they used to. Son has a girlfriend, and daughters are involved in many facets of their school's lives.

3) To quote Jon Lovitz's character in A League of Their Own, "How it works is, the train moves from town to town, not the station".  Truer words were never spoken. While it would be really great if a job opened up in greater Philadelphia for which I was the perfect candidate and it was the perfect job with the perfect compensation package, chances are good that my next library job will be out of the area, and, to quote Patricia Wettig in City Slickers, "We'll jump off that bridge when we get to it".

4) It would be tempting to take a part-time reference or circulation position at a local library, or even a library managership at a public library.   But that wasn't why I went to library school.

More later.  Cheers

*--Dan Fogelberg, The Innocent Age, 1981.