Our little tree

I think the general consensus is that having a memory about something makes things more fuzzy, not more clear.  It seems, in my experience, there are very rare occurrences that result in the opposite — a clarification of sorts, through what I could only account for as my memory.  A most poignant example is during this time of year, witnessing the family Christmas tree, bedecked with lights aglow against the back-drop of a quiet night or a dark corner of the living room.  It has always given me pause.

What is it about these gentle lights adorning rough fingers of pine (which we would most certainly call harsh in other circumstances), that draw us once again to a place that has now become a welcome guest to me?  This plaintive nostalgia is captured aptly by Edward Estlin “E. E.” Cummings (1894-1962) in a poem we have seen or heard perhaps countless times (and I think its fame is ultimately representative of how well it captures what we are speaking to here).

Read it again, if you would…

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold.
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

The poem has been set a number of times to music (choral), but in my humble opinion it has received its greatest clothing by Steve Heitzeg (b1959).  The little piece has, over the years, become one of the most treasured pieces I have ever heard, sung, or conducted.  It is not grand or showy. Nor is it pretentious or high.  To me, it sounds like the woods in early winter, when you venture out to find a your Christmas tree, and you stop to hear the wind’s gentle whip through the branches far above.  To me, it sounds like sitting on your couch alone in the warm glow of reds, yellows, blues, and greens.  And to me, it sounds like the echoes of laughter, decades old, bouncing off ragged chairs, cracked walls, and dusty pictures hanging crookedly on the wall.  You have to listen hard to hear.

But why?  Why this poem, why this setting… why this image of the light-filled tree….?

Because, I think, it makes me feel this:

Öèôðîâàÿ ðåïðîäóêöèÿ íàõîäèòñÿ â èíòåðíåò-ìóçåå Gallerix.ru

– Viggo Johansen “Silent Night” 1891

It really is quite simple.  It has a “clarity” that most other pieces don’t.  It has crystallized this special feeling in such a way that you are transported to past Silent Nights, and deaths, and gifts, and songs, and meals, and snow, and… smiles, and hugs, and tears.  I dare say it may even create memories of things we may never have experienced, but we are sure we had… long, long ago.

It bids us “Merry Christmas” without saying a word or causing a scene.

Oh, little tree, you are so little — you are more like a flower.

Children of Cloud and Frost

This year in Trondheim,  Tove Ramlo-Ystad and the unmistakably excellent women’s vocal ensemble Cantus are celebrating their 30th year of singing.  With recent international tours, a 2016 Grammy-nominated album (Spes), as well as an upcoming album with Decca, they are fulfilling their role as one of the very best choirs in the world.  It is here in a cold Trondheim, at the cozy Dromedar Kaffebar, that I write to you.


My friendship with Tove and Cantus has developed very much recently and resulted in a collaborative opportunity this fall.  As with most situations like this, the proper poem to use appeared out of the mist and I think it turned out to be perfect for these fair children of the frosty north.

Stand here by my side and turn, I pray,
On the lake below thy gentle eyes;
The clouds hang over it, heavy and gray,
and dark and silent the water lies;
And out of that frozen mist the snow
In wavering flakes begins to flow;
Flake after flake
They sink in the dark and silent lake.

See how in a living swarm they come
From the chambers beyond the misty veil;
Some hover awhile in the air, and some
Rush prone from the sky like summer hail.
All, dropping swiftly or settling slow,
Meet and are still in the depths below;
Flake after flake
Dissolved in the dark and silent lake.

Here delicate snow-stars, out of the cloud,
Come floating downward in airy play,
Like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd
That whiten by night the milky-way;
There broader and burlier masses fall;
The sullen water buries them all —
Flake after flake
All drowned in the dark and silent lake.

And some, as on tender wings they glide
From their chilly birth-cloud, dim and gray,
Are joined in their fall, and, side by side,
Come clinging along their unsteady way;
As friend with friend, or husband with wife,
Makes hand in hand the passage of life;
Each mated flake
Soon sinks in the dark and silent like.

Lo! while we are gazing, in swifter haste
Stream down the snows, till the air is white,
As, myriads by myriads madly chased,
They fling themselves from their shadowy height.
The fair, frail creatures of middle sky,
What speed they make, with their grave so nigh;
Flake after flake,
To lie in the dark and silent lake!

I see in thy gentle eyes a tear;
They turn to me in sorrowful thought;
Thou thinkest of friends, the good and dear,
Who were for a time and now are not;
Like these fair children of cloud and frost,
That glisten for a moment and then are lost,
Flake after flake —
All lost in the dark and silent lake.

Yet look again, for the clouds divide;
A gleam of blue on the water lies;
And far away, on the mountain-side,
A sunbeam falls from the opening skies.
But the hurrying host that flew between
The cloud and the water, no more is seen;
Flake after flake,
At rest in the dark and silent lake.

— William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

brooklyn_museum_-_william_cullen_bryant_-_wyatt_eaton_-_overallThe words penned here fit in quite well with Bryant’s natural and spiritual milieu, most vividly seen in his landmark poem “Thanatopsis.”  His poetry is permeated with melancholy, tenderness, and a love of wilderness and nature.  The deep nostalgia that almost drips from the words as you read them to some critics has come across as sappy, yet to others appear as very wise and filled with meaning and heart.  Mary Mapes Dodge wrote in Schoolroom Poets, “You will admire more and more, as you grow older, the noble poems of this great and good man.”

In “The Snow Shower,” like his other poetry, he looks closely at an aspect of nature — in this case, the falling snow.  It is nearly impossible, I think, not to get entranced by the image he portrays, which really is like the entrancing character of looking at falling snow.  Can you picture it?  Do you remember that moment, when staring into the falling snow, where your mind and heart slowed and you felt a deeper…something?  Time slows and a panoply of memories race as the ‘fair, frail creatures of middle sky’ ‘come floating downward in airy play, like spangles dropped from the glistening crowd.’ I know this feeling well, and the result is captured excellently by Edgar Allen Poe, who said about Bryant’s poetry, “The impression left is one of a pleasurable sadness.”  Exactly.

One truly is moved when Bryant transitions to the last two stanzas.  In only two stanzas he takes a great sadness and points to something that can only be described as ‘hope.’  We understand why he took time to say things such as:

“…From their chilly birth-cloud, dim and gray,
Are joined in their fall, and, side by side,
Come clinging along their unsteady way;
As friend with friend, or husband with wife,
Makes hand in hand the passage of life;
Each mated flake…”

These snow flakes, when your eye looks beyond the transportive snow and focuses on the ‘other’ that is beyond, become people and memories.  There is both a great joy in this thought and great sadness.  “Thou thinkest of friends, the good and dear, Who were for a time and now are not; Like these fair children of cloud and frost, That glisten for a moment and then are lost…” Regret… Love… Joy… Pain… Faith… Sorrow… Birth… Family… etc. all encompassed by a white dot flying and floating across the sky.


Yet look again and what do you see?  It is very distant but it is there…. a sunbeam falls on the mountainside.  How beautiful!  How enrapturing that ray of light against the dark!  Oh what hope and joy the clouds divided to share with us (even if for only a moment) the light that is ever present that we currently cannot see.  It is there.  Night will assuredly soon be over.  Nox praecessit.

This is Life.

Cantus has had a very trying time as of late.  Their conductor of 30 years, Tove Ramlo-Ystad, lost her husband Tor Ystad this summer.  He was a very beloved man, and it was an absolutely devastating loss to all who knew him, and still has a palpable effect on their tender hearts — yet Cantus banded together and supported their conductor and her family with care, sympathy, and deep love.

When asked to compose a piece this year, I wanted to speak into this tragic pain with my piece in some way, and this poem became a deep and poignant way.  Tor became a ‘delicate, snow-star,’ one we behold and marvel, and in such haste it is gone – gone too soon.  I dearly wanted this piece to be the light on the mountainside, not just for my dear friend Tove and her family, but also for these strong women of Cantus.


I was 7 years old when Cantus sang their first notes together.  What a marvel to imagine that little boy in Minnesota and the great joy he would feel when he finally would meet those fair children of cloud and frost.  For that is what the beautiful singers of Cantus are to me.

Happy 30th Birthday,


How We See

“Paradise Gardens” (Mt. Rainier), Marc Adamus

“How we see is a very personal thing.”  Marc Adamus.

It is a funny thing to truly enjoy something, just enough to be slightly above average at it, just knowledgeable enough about it to speak bravely, and perhaps just enough to create a drive to do it on a regular basis.  Certainly I have seen music be this ‘something’ for a great many people, which is wonderful (and horrible).  But a side effect of this is people begin to develop a healthy dose of over confidence, sometimes comical, often irrational.

For me, that special ‘something’ is nature photography.  I love doing it, think I have an eye (which is up for debate), and think I know what I am doing…probably enough to be annoying to people who truly have experience and the technological knowledge.  Never all that serious or dangerous, this over confidence prevails as long as you never come in contact with someone masterful so that you have no choice but to chuckle at yourself, your naivete, your misguided notion of expertise.  I think this ‘dose of reality’ chuckle is a wonderful and healthy thing.  I personally have Marc Adamus to thank for a proverbial punch to my photo-ego.

This isn’t a completely new experience for me.  During my stint in Seattle I had the honor of hanging out with a few fantastic photographers, perhaps most notably Jim Garner, owner of J. Garner Photography and ranked as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world.  http://www.jgarnerphoto.com/

Jim Garner

Besides being freakishly talented at the craft of photography (especially light), he is one of the kindest and most visionary men I’ve ever been around.  I consider myself insanely lucky to have met him and spent some quality time.  If you are interested (and you should be) check out this short interview with Mark Lutz where he talks inspiration and experience: http://www.digitalweddingforum.com/blog/an-intimate-interview-with-jim-garner

So Jim’s emphasis and expertise is photographing people and their experience, although I’ve seen some nature work from him and have been astounded.  That being said, I have always thought myself poor to below poor at photographing people (maybe even awful), which is fine.  So instead, my nature photo-ego continued, especially with the help of practicing in the northwest where you could have a toy camera and get beauty.  I remember walking markets (i.e. Portland Saturday Market) and seeing vendors selling large-print nature photography and never being too impressed either.  The photos were never all that subtle and they reeked of Photoshop.  Some were good, sure, but…my nature photo-ego continued further.  I have ended up a few good ones here and there along the way though, for instance:

Hanging Lake, Eric Barnum

I can’t remember how I came across Marc Adamus’ photography, but if you were in the room when I did, you’d probably have thought you were watching a bad firework show with a bunch of 5 year olds with all the “ooo”s and “ahhh”s you would have heard.  Please visit his beautiful site here:


I thought to myself, as I think most would almost immediately… “Aha! The pungent odor of Photoshop fills the air,” followed by a wave of skepticism.  I dug in to his bio to find out if he mentioned it.  Not only does he mention it, he talks very succinctly:

Today, the most frequent question I am asked as a photographer is not whether I use Photoshop (obvious), but how I use Photoshop. There is a great misconception among the public that photography like mine is somehow “created” in Photoshop, quite possibly because of exposure to too many Hollywood graphic effects, videogames, etc. I point out that throughout the entire history of the photographic medium one’s technique in the field must be perfect. This has not changed today. The abilities that define great photographers are first and foremost how to seize the moment and make it theirs, reacting quickly and precisely to often rapidly changing situations. No amount of processing in today’s digital darkroom can ever fix a bad composition, an out of focus image, create great light or change a mid-day sky into a sunset. No matter how much processing I apply post-capture, I have to be in the field 250 days per year on average doing everything possible, everything all generations of photographers have done, honing my skills and collecting days and weeks of failures before that rare moment shows itself and the successful initial capture is made.

He continues  to develop a stance over several paragraphs of Photoshop philosophy that details the complexities of the entire process of photography, from before you click, to post-processing.  He concludes solidly:

Anyone who thinks of digital photography as a ‘crutch’ of sorts, simply does not understand these processes and the precision with which they must be executed in-camera as well as in processing.

As we’re now into the second decade of the new millenium, the debate that started 20 years ago with the introduction of Photoshop – whether or not to use it to ‘manipulate’ the initial capture is disappearing. The public perception always lags behind the state of the art, but finally most people have come to tolerate and even respect the digital art, realizing that the relationship between reality and photography does not have to die with it. Still, it’s very unfortunate if completely predictable that there are a few who still cling to the belief that the image that comes strait from the camera is the only ‘real’ photograph, and everything else is chalked up to manipulation. Those people may not have any comprehension as to the roots of photography – those who knew Ansel well would tell you he would undoubtedly be a Photoshop guru were he alive today. At the very least though, these people have yet to come to grips with one of the fundamentals of history itself that teaches us the inevitable – those who refuse to evolve and embrace new ways become themselves obsolete. No one is ever going to come along and do away with digital post-processing. It’s here to stay, so we may as well learn the facts and learn to embrace it as part of the art.

Ok ok, so I was in the group of naive photography consumers who is skeptical of major post-processing techniques.  BUT! I think it isn’t a sin to be turned off by what I’ll call “noticeable” perhaps “egregious” Photoshoping similar to ones we’ve all seen at markets and craft fairs.  In Marc’s case, it is obvious he is a master of the process – the whole process – and I think, as an art connoisseur not only wasn’t I distracted, I was drawn in to his “journey into wilderness.”  I couldn’t stop being amazed by one after another.

One special thing for me is that I have been to many of the places he has pictures of on his website.  It became comical for me to compare his photos of beautiful places to ones I had taken …photos that until I saw his, I was fairly proud of.  I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in myself, I just laughed at my amateurism.  Now give me grace everyone as I show not my best, but just two examples that show you what I saw:

1. The Oregon Coast, head to head.


Oregon Coast, Eric Barnum

Ok, a normal “captured the day and location” sort of shot.  Not bad.


“Fade to Black” – Oregon Coast, Marc Adamus

Uh…hmmm.  Ok, that is toooooo close to call.  We’re gonna need a tie-breaker:

2. A random stream, head to head.


Random stream in Oregon, Eric Barnum

Classic “slightly out of focus, but believe me, I was trying to get the moving water, so it was hard” shot.  Nice.


“Illumination Forest”, Marc Adamus


I think the best way to say it is thusly:  I found myself remembering the places, their magic, their intimacy, their brilliance, the smells and sounds in the air… remembering everything… better when looking at Marc’s photos than looking at ones that I had taken.  Astounding.

Several times on this blog I have highlighted what it means to be a “real” artist.  Perhaps even highlighting the difference between a “real” artist and and “ridiculous” artist.  It is truly a gift to share the air on this planet with some special people who have the innate talent, the drive, the means, and the spirit to become great, fantastic artists.  People like Jim Garner.  People like Marc Adamus.  Whether it is photography, music, theater, painting, etc…it seems to me we should not only enjoy their work but seek them out.  Find them.  Enjoy them.  See the joy of what it means to be a master and applaud the sweat and sacrifice it took for them to get there.  And secondly, we should use their work as examples for our own as we learn and stand on their shoulders.  I look forward to try and capture better photos, to see beauty clearer, to capture it and enjoy it.

“Paradise Forest”, Marc Adamus


postscript:  All photos remain the copyright of the photographers.  Please visit their websites.


Here I sit, now 33 years of age, having today (as nearly every day) consumed approximately:

Besides being made famous by all forms of numerologists…like Scottish Rite Freemasons…and the Ku Klux Klan…and Dan Brown…and Nazis…(um…yay), 33 remains an interesting number.  Lets set the esoteric aside for a second.

Did you know that water boils at 33?  …according to the Newton scale, of course.

How about some Old Lace and element 33?  Arsenic that is.

Maybe I should finally sell my Honus Wagner cards that I’ve been stashing away…

Maybe I’ll celebrate today by watching the first Battlestar Galactica episode:  33.  No, I probably won’t.  I think I’d rather go to the dentist.

That being said, if I could, I would visit the galaxies in reality, maybe one of these two:


or B33

Ah yes, when was this first seen:? 1933.

Oh, p.s., on this day in 1933, Austrofascism began.  Thanks Engelbert Dollfuss! What a guy!

And don’t forget, in 33 anno domini, “a financial crisis hits Rome, due to poorly chosen fiscal policies. Land values plummet, and credit is increased. These actions lead to a lack of cash, a crisis of confidence, and much land speculation. The primary victims are senators, knights and the wealthy. Many aristocratic families are ruined.”  (Wikipedia, how scholarly of me). Sounds like America recently, maybe more than a little.

And finally, there are of course a significant number of connections between 33 and Jesus Christ, most obviously how old he was when he was crucified and resurrected (which most likely was not in the year 33 anno domini).


In the end, it is interesting and fulfilling to use special days like this to think back on faces, smiles, places, songs, hearts, home.  I want to dearly thank all who have participated in this, my story, thus far.  Each character in it is an amazingly complex individual that adds light like a prism to my life narrative.  Thanks to my dear God for these years, for being born in 1979 so I got to meet you.  Think about how special and wonderful that is to be living now with the specific people around you!

I am blessed.

We are blessed.

And, if you don’t believe it, ask Tom (because he had all the right moves).


klĭn’ĭk: Bexley High School, OH

Here is a paradox:

“How much do you have to give to sing really well?”


“Think carefully now… if you give everything to sing well, how much do you end up with as a result?”


This is the ultimate and blesséd paradox of choral singing I was reminded of during my time with the students and staff of Bexley High School.  I usually walk into clinics hopeful of some sort of weird magic to happen in the hearts of everyone, but when it happens like a joyful flood, it transfixes and holds… every smile, every hug, every word, every sound that comes forth is with the purpose to build, to create, to support.  Is this possible with teenagers?  With anyone, these days?  I guess so, and I got the unbelievable honor to share and be immersed in it.

I met Amy Blosser a couple years ago in the Walton booth at an American Choral Directors Association convention.  They happened to bring a piece of mine called “the Sweetheart of the Sun” on tour with them to Europe and it had been a special and meaningful piece for the the students.  (by the way, this is humbling to hear as a composer.  I will always trade tears for cheers in a choral experience)  We talked and talked through the possibility to work together on a commission and then unite that with a visit to the school to be with the students.

I decided on a text by my beloved friend Robert Bode (DCA at UMKC), who is currently the Hammerstein to my Rogers, called “Healing Heart.”  Amy and I talked about the Vocal Ensemble, who it was written for and I wanted to write them something completely unique, something vulnerable, something tough.  …and out it came.

When they performed it the first time for me, I cried.  So… this usually happens on the second day, not the first moment!  From the first sound from these beautiful faces, these miraculous hearts were opened to me.  I felt lucky to even share the air with these people.  Their eyes were something else.

I want to highlight two people.  Amy Blosser (director) is a wonderful choral musician and singer.  Her students respect and revere her and their singing reflects her warmth and intent.  More importantly, she is a wonderful and caring human who has dedicated herself to the divine choral cause and selflessly gives major time to America’s national choral association.  I am blessed to call her friend.

Amy Blosser

Casey Cook

I also want to mention my love for Bexley’s accompanist Casey Cook.  It is truly a rare thing to meet a pianist who can read minds.  They are here and there, but this woman is a bit of a magician.  When a conductor meets these wonderful musicians, it’s hard to not to want them around all the time for everything.  Mind readers, and they always (always!) save you and make you look amazing.  I know Amy would agree.  And! I got the chance to single Casey out and embarrass her in front of the student’s parents, who gave her the thanks she well deserves and will always deserve.

In the end, I got the chance to work with choirs of all ages, including the beautiful 8th grade choir directed by Sue Wiechart White (I’d like to congratulate this wonderful woman on an amazing and splendid career of service.  This is her final year.  It was my honor to meet her.)  From the Men’s and Women’s Glee, the Women’s Choir, to the Symphonic Choir, every group was filled with a spirit that is hard to describe, hard to capture, hard to say thank you properly.

Let me mention the community as well… from the audience at the concert, to the celebration at the Horn family home, I felt loved and accepted as a friend.

Finally, I want to share my thanks to the Vocal Ensemble and their work on this new piece which will receive a full premiere at the Central ACDA convention on March 9th, but more importantly for entering into a space with me that one cannot enter without being changed…without transfiguring (at least a little).  I connected in a special way to a few students in particular and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Thanks for talking to me, for letting me in.  Remember what I said to you, remember my eyes, remember my heart.  Thank you for giving everything …and getting in return… everything.


In the end, I really do know what is important.  It isn’t about my music.  It never will be.  If it is, someone punch me in the face.

It is about eyes shining.  It is about hearts crying.  It is about hugging and knowing what it means to love.

Hayley Williams wielding electric daggers.

When her voice hit my ears whilst embedding electric daggers into my chest, I somehow calmy remembered a quote by Jack Black (JB):

There’s nothing you can really do to prepare for rock.  Do you prepare to eat a delicious meal?  Are you hungry?  Then you’re going to eat it.

I ate it.

Hayley Williams, Lead Siren of Paramore

You know, being a composer and conductor in the classical world…or just a musician in the classical world for that matter… brings with it some sort of aloofness.  Something happens that is sort of indescribable where a veil is drawn, not lifted, especially in relationship to the sea of popular music.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m exaggerating a little… or when you really think about it… am I?  Oh I understand the reasons why, and there are many, why the Ivory Tower Musical Alchemists would think the myriad of musical merrymaking the peasantry partakes in is a little less than satisfactory.  But.  …and we should always say that when talking about something as subjective as this.  But!

But what?

But there IS true talent in that world, and my new favorite (who isn’t so new) is Hayley from Paramore, who rails and wails like a silver siren.  Her voice to me is as sharp as a knife cutting your heart out, only the knife is a feather, soft, sublime, sultry.  Such elegance in her dangerous power.  So much electricity.  JB may even speak of her “beating back the shiny demon hordes with the power of rock!”

Now be brave my fellow listeners, put your headphones on and turn up the volume!

It just seems so easy to compare her power to that of Ann Wilson (Seattle native) in 1977:

Its funny, I am a vocalist and if I really thought about it…really sat down to think…  Do I know what Hayley is adding to each sung pitch that makes it different than the countless other girls out there trying?  Why am I moved so?  Oh we have amazing talent these days: Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Pink…to name a couple power voices (that actually have it), but what is it about Hayley that spears me like St. Theresa’s spear?  No clue.


When the people come who gasp – what horror, you love this?! I’ll just shut my eyes, smile, and let the sound wash over my ears (probably until they bleed…because its too loud, lets be honest.)  And, as my beloved JB said “Rocking ain’t no walk in the park, lady.”

Note:  Look, I never said music videos made any sense though.

My Ten: Seattle

I have been gone from Seattle for several months now and find myself missing a great many things about the beautiful city.  I have so many memories about the place, having had the amazing chance to go to a multitude of restaurants, sample the city life in unique ways, and in general be out and about quiet often.  I wanted to whittle this down to ten unique things that I really liked.  Even while writing this I realized there were so many more.  Not included in this list are things like Alki beach, B & O Espresso dessert, Goorin Hat Brothers, Paseo, University of Washington, SAM, The Pink Door, All Saints, and a hundred other restaurants, nooks and crannies.  I also do not mention the weekly ritual of the neighborhood market.  I loved all these things.  I miss them very much.  But here are 10 that were dear to me:


Warm up.  Taking the Ferry, Elliot Bay

In the final year I was in Seattle, my chances to do this activity were greatly increased and whether with my car or as a walk on, taking the ferry was somehow a singular experience that I didn’t take for granted.  If you sit on the inside near a window, somehow a strange calm comes over you.  I think it is the hum of the ferry and the gentle rock of a stable boat.  Its a rather womb-like experience …can’t explain it any other way really.  If you go to the top and stroll about as many do on a nice day, the views of the harbor and Elliot Bay are stunning, and I haven’t had a better memory of Mt. Rainier than viewing it aboard a ferry.  To many this is a way of commuting from places such as Bainbridge Island and might be a day to day hassle, but for the occasional traveler, its worth trying.

10. Oddfellows and Elliot Bay Book Company, Capitol Hill

Side by side these establishments are, and they make a fine morning any day of the week.  Going to Oddfellows for a breakfast sandwich and a bottomless coffee is a fantastic idea.  The windows let in a myriad of sunlight on old wood furniture.  It just feels good to be there, something of which I take very seriously and never, ever take for granted.  And when finished, hop on over to browse the bookshelves at Elliot Bay Bookstore.  It is certainly over-priced, but they sometimes have interesting selections and the feel of a bookstore that loves books is a unique experience.

9.  Chicken Chorizo Burrito at Sonrisa, University Village; Panang Curry at Thai Fusion Bistro, Northgate

I found myself falling in love with fusion restaurants in Seattle, and two of my favorites were Sonrisa in University Village and Thai Fusion Bistro in Northgate.  I do love trying new dishes at restaurants, but sometimes one finds something so wonderful that you can’t help but keep going back for the same thing.  One of those dishes was the chicken chorizo burrito at Sonrisa.  Most of their menu is quite nice and they serve better than average chips as traditional at Mexican restaurants.  Its ambiance is a little cold and sterile, but they have a patio for the sunny season.  I would recommend a lunch there with friends.

The other gem I uncovered for myself was the panang curry at Thai Fusion Bistro in Thorton Place, which is across the street from Northgate Mall and right next to the entrance of the new movie theater.  A close second, as far as panang goes, is Jhan Jay’s panang which is vegetarian, but there is something so delicious about the way Thai Fusion completes their sauce.  It has a wonderful finish to the flavor.  A worthy meal.  The ambiance here is once again pretty sterile and dry, and would recommend going for lunch – its a little cheaper.

8.  The Center for Wooden Boats, South Lake Union

The Center for Wooden Boats is not just a marina for fledgling sailors, nor is it a place to glimpse old, refurbished boats of yore.  For a small fee, you can go rowing in Lake Union in one of these fine old crafts.  The first time I did this was on a whim after helping move my friend.  We invited another friend, and suddenly there we were, three men in a small wooden boat.  Silly really, but a lot of fun.  Since then, I have gone a number of times with visiting friends and its always a peaceful experience.  Sea planes are landing on the lake next to you and you are surrounded by beautiful views of Queen Anne, Fremont, Eastlake, Capitol Hill, and Downtown.  It is certainly a unique experience to try.

7.  Purple, Downtown

Seemingly always full and vibrant, this is a favorite of mine located on 4th Ave.  This two-leveled restaurant has a romantic atmosphere and I’ve had a number of amazing dinners and memories here.  It not only has a substantial wine list for those that want to partake of the grape, but it also has, in my humble opinion, a great menu.  In particular I want to single out the gorgonzola stuffed dates.  This small plate was a joy every time I and friends stopped by.  But truly, there are a great number of tasty bites.  I encourage you to sample and be transformed.  This is a great restaurant for special occasions.  You won’t be disappointed.

6.  Walking Green Lake, Greenlake

I cannot remember the number of times I did this.  Hundreds for sure.  If I lived in Seattle for many years, it would be thousands.  I felt a desire for it on a daily and weekly basis….and I was not alone.  Here is a woman named Mercedes Lawry with a common view on this activity:

I’ve been walking Green Lake for over 25 years and I never tire of it. I love the seasonal changes and the fact that nature provides something different on every visit.On one day, I may simply want to get my heart pumping and I’ll keep up a brisk pace around the lake. Another time I might stroll, inadvertently eavesdropping and noting the many different languages I hear (not that I can identify them all). Like most parks, Green Lake is a great place to people-watch…

Even for the visitor to Seattle, this would be a worthwhile activity.  To walk around once only takes 45 minutes to an hour depending upon pace, and you feel great at the end.  Something good I used to do with a friend would be to start by getting a hot chocolate at Chocolati next to the lake at the beginning, or getting it at the end as a nice reward.

5.  Feierabend, South Lake Union

Chris Navarra knows what he is doing.  I think that is the simplest way to say it, and the simplest way to show my love for this fine establishment.  Its ambiance is full of thick wood, rich smells, and loud people.  It just feels old and fantastic, although located in a newish building off Yale Ave.  Their curry ketchup is completely delicious with fries as well as is the rest of their menu, and they of course have all the Bavarian beverages one would want.

4.  Ballard Locks, Ballard; Arboretum, Montlake and Madison Valley

I wanted to share a couple of the peaceful parks which harbor trees and to be honest, natural beauty is rare in cities these days.  The Arboretum holds trails galore, and they are not difficult so any could partake regardless of health I think.  What wonderful trees, shrubs, and flowers of this park are worth visiting, and if you live there and haven’t in a while you should go back.  I don’t think it matters what season, it will refresh you.

The Ballard Locks is an interesting place to visit at any time of the year, but probably more so when boat traffic is high.  Watching tug boats and shrimping boats go through the big locks is fun and a little calming.  There are also several beautiful gardens in the surrounding park with places to sit in the sun and relax.

3.  Carkeek Park, Broadview

This is my choice among the many beaches of Seattle.  Many would choose Golden Gardens…and so would I except that it is often too busy.  Carkeek’s beach is smaller, but it’s trails in the surrounding park are really great and they get your heart going at least in a minor way.  If you walk Piper’s Creek away from the beach, you will even come across an rare orchard that was planted 120 years ago.  A very peaceful and beautiful place called Piper’s Orchard.

I have found an empty barbeque here more often than at Golden Gardens and it has excellent views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.  The playground and lawn gets pretty crowded on really nice days.  To be honest, I’ve found the most enjoyable days to be there are on the cold, windy, bitter days.  You can take mittens and a scarf and sit on the driftwood and breathe the clean air.  The mind can’t help but clear the confusion of the city and you feel refreshed.

2. Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Capitol Hill

Get there early.  This unique worship experience is great for visitors and locals alike.  For travelers, St. Marks is the big cathedral you can see coming into the city on your left as you head south toward downtown on 5.  On Sunday nights, the men of Compline Choir sing and chant while hundreds of people not only sit in pews, but bring blankets to lay on the floor and lean against pillars, all filling their ears with the high harmonies of the ancient rite.

I remember getting there quite early to rest and meditate in the pregnant silence.  People of types and ages would enter the hall, some finding their traditional places, some walking in hesitantly.  A different type of silence takes hold when the choir walks the aisle.  There is expectancy and honor.  They always do a great job under the direction of Jason Anderson and one cannot help but leave filled in spirit.  You won’t regret going.

1.  Breakfast at Hi Life, Ballard

This became number one quite naturally, because the fulfilling combination of great breakfast food, quality bottomless coffee, the smell of an open kitchen and wood burning stove, and great service…all at a surprisingly fantastic price.  I think to sum it up in an easy way: I felt at home here, and that is an important thing.  Three breakfast items to recommend:  Their biscuits and gravy are the best I’ve ever had…anywhere.  Their breakfast sandwich is always spectacular and finally their pancakes are way above average.

I think I sighed more and shared a poignant moment with a friend here more than any other place, and one cannot say enough about breakfast at a place you love.  If you did this on a Sunday, something fun to do after is walk a couple blocks to the Ballard market, which focuses on vegetables and other food.  As a visitor, it is a wonderful way to experience a great Seattle neighborhood and see how the locals live.  But be careful, you will fall in love with it.

I did.


I love you Seattle and miss you very much.

Cold in County Door

I wonder if the term whimtrip has been coined.  I don’t think it has, so allow me to insert a new entry into the dictionary:

whimtrip  | (h)wim trip |
1. a sudden desire to undertake a journey or excursion, esp. one that is unusual or unexplained.
2. a word coined by the renowned wastrel Eric Barnum

My recent whimtrip happened to be to Door County, WI.  Since moving here in September for the Université Oshkosh, there have been a great many people who not only recommended, but insisted that I visit.  I’m sure most would not have recommended a whimtrip there the week before Christmas, especially with the beautiful Herald of Christmas: snow.  But whimtrips are now by definition unexplained or unusual.

A friend of mine Ben acquiesced to accompany, and we left before dawn, hoping to get to the county as light hit to break fast at a place called The White Gull in Egg Harbor.  As we cruised up the road through small towns, desolate due to the season, I remember saying, “I feel like we are in the movie 28 Days Later.  There was no life

Cave Point was certainly the highlight of the day.  Its rugged beauty remains whether it is the middle of the summer or in the slow burn of winter.  The cold water of Lake Michigan crashes incessantly on the cliffs and something is surely wrong if it doesn’t make you pause. …and it wasn’t difficult to do exactly that after a strange year.  The wind was whipping and blowing its bitter breath upon our cheeks, but our eyes shone looking out across the water from the cliffs.  It was clean, and rough, and refreshing.  But! how lucky we are today to get back into a warm car.

After visiting nearly every park and small town, the notion solidified itself to me that the midwest needs snow during this time of year to sustain a measure of beauty.  Certainly one can find beauty in the browns, muted greens, empty trees and frozen earth, but it takes work.  Snow makes it easy, and County Door is ready and waiting for it.  The Herald is late.

Composing Hermitage: Chateau Wingate

It rained last night, and it was beautiful.

I’ve done these composer retreats a couple times now, and I’ll admit I’ve been lucky.  To be honest, the term Hermitage is a bit of a misnomer here.  I suppose it is more like a blissful free-fall into being an artist, mostly due to the locations in which I have been granted time to compose.  This particular time I find myself at the home of Lorin and Susy Wingate on Bainbridge Island, across the Sound from Seattle.  They are traveling in quite a beautiful place themselves at the moment: Paris!  And I wish them as much Joy as they can possible handle.

To be at a place like this, surrounded by beauty, by peace and quiet, by trees, by birds and clean rain is a great Gift.  In some ways I think it opens doors to artistry and allows beauty to be engaged with, rather than simply observed or considered.  Wendell Berry talked about this in his 2004 essay Imagination in Place:

…I dont believe I am conscious of all the sources of my work.  I dislike learned talk about “the unconscious,” which always seems to imply that the very intelligent are able somehow to know what they do not know, but I mean only to acknowledge that much of what I have written has taken me by surprise.  What I know does not yield a full or adequate accounting for what I have imagined.  It seems to have been “given.”  My experience has taught me to believe in inspiration, about which I think nobody can speak with much authority.

Places like this “give.”  Give what?  Inspiration I suppose, not necessarily because of what they have, but what they don’t have. For me, that’s generally noise.  The noise of busy-ness, the noise of cars, of complexity, of confusion.  One can sit.  Sit and try desperately to listen.  I think in many ways I spend as much time “listening” to my surroundings as I do composing.  I hear birds and squirrels and crickets and raindrops and one of my favorite things: fluttering leaves.

I do have a great deal to work on as well and I have been looking forward to it.  Several choral pieces are already in the works and I am excited about each of them.  I continue to grow and expand my language, taking risks where need be, constantly coming back to the question, “Is this meaningful?”

I think I’m finding an easier answer to that question when I do this kind of escape-composing.  This escape to Solitude Keats talked of here:

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climg with me the steep, —
Nature’s observatory — whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let my thy vigils keep
‘Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Along with composing, there will be reading and thinking of course.  Here are few of selections I brought.

I hope.

I hope I read.

I hope I listen.

I hope I compose.

I hope I am “given” what I could never speak with any authority about.

Choral Arts and “Sing in Dark Times”

This last weekend brought with it a concert by Choral Arts in Seattle called:

Against Forgetting: A Concert for Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust.

What a program it was.

In case you are unfamiliar with Choral Arts, they are a Seattle-based ensemble of approximately thirty singers dedicated to its mission: To inspire, educate, and enrich its community through the transformational power of great choral music performed at the highest artistic level.  Initially started by Dr. Richard Sparks (now Professor of Music at the University of North Texas) in 1993, the group is now conducted by Dr. Robert Bode, is the Raymond R. Neevel/Missouri Professor of Choral Music and Director of Choral Activities at the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri at Kansas City.  That’s a mouthful.  Through the years this group has been excellent, continues to be, and in some ways has grown into something more and exciting, especially with their recent CD Release, Mornings Like This, which is truly a special choral CD.

Robert Bode, photo by Danielle Barnum

Robert Bode showed his innovative nature in this particular program of Remembrance for Victims of the Holocaust, partly by programming virtually no music specifically about the Holocaust.  In fact there ended up being only one, my Sing in Dark Times.  Though this was the case, either through tangential means or very choice readings, one could not help but live in a space where swirled images, words, and memories of this terrible event.  Primary readings were taken from Surviving Auschwitz by Primo Levi and read by one of the finest dramatic actors in the Seattle area, David Pichette.    These spoke primarily to select moments of a Jew’s experience being sent to Auschwitz when things were at their worst.

The concert began with Donal Grantham’s We Remember Them, composed in 2001 commemorating the victims of the 1966 clock-tower shootings at the University of Texas.  It moved quickly to Have You Ever Heard Them Breathe a Word? by Giselle Wyers.  The text for this new piece was actually the winner of Choral Art’s “Finding Your Voice” poetry contest for students in area schools.  It was a meaningful setting of a delightful poem.

The Choral Concerto in Memory of Alexander Yurlov, composed by Georgy Sviridov in 1973, followed and packed an emotional punch.  Interspersed where readings from the Levi text.  This Sviridov work is a set of three pieces for Wordless Chorus (Lament, The Parting, Chorale) and through use of extreme dynamics and ranges brings the listener really ‘to the brink.’  I can’t say enough about how well the synthesis between these pieces and the readings worked.  Powerful.

Two movements from Howell’s Requiem (3 and 5) were wrapped around the Intermission, which created a continuity through the break.  Again, another selection that keeps one in that special place of remembrance and highly effective.

from The Hateful Crime

Sing in Dark Times by me, was the bulk of the second half, with three movements (balancing the Sviridov in a way I think).  This piece (the first of many to come in the Richard Sparks Commissioning Project) was, as mentioned, the only piece about the Holocaust.  The first movement The Hateful Crime is a very dramatic work with text taken from the poem The Death of Peace by Nobel Prize winning doctor Sir Ronald Ross.  Rather than being specific to the Holocaust, this text was meant as a ‘set-up’ for the second piece.  It talks about evil in a broad and metaphysical fashion, though exposing it as something quite specific (paradoxical….sort of).  Pigtail, (to a poem by the same name by Tadeusz Rozewicz) the middle movement, was really the meat of the piece and I think it was quite successful in transporting the audience to a particular vision.  It centers on a pile of hair taken from women who were taken into the gas chambers for execution.  This horror is only multiplied by the sight of a single pigtail with a ribbon in the midst of clouds of hair.  The music gives the feeling that this moment is “frozen in time” as a photograph, with a repetitive piano underlying an emotive soprano soloist.  The choir can only comment on this barbarity with a single shocking word, “No.” Over and over again, “No!”  One can only ask the question “What now?” after a vision like this.  We cannot turn back time.  We cannot undo.  A quote by Bertolt Brecht tries to answer this question saying:  “In the dark times, will there also be singing?  Yes, there will also be singing.  About the dark times.” This third movement, Yes, focuses just on that, the word “Yes,” in contrast to the horrible “No” of the second movement.

Following this heavy, heavy drama was a bit of programming genius I think, with a heartfelt mvt 3 from Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein.  The simplicity and warmth of the lines contained such a depth in this moment, closing with the words, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Closing the program was a moving When All Is Done, originally composed by Northwest composer John Muehleisen in 2008 for the University of Wyoming, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the murder of Matthew Shepard (the victim of a notorious hate crime).  With text by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, it speaks to hope.  Hope we need when things are dark, or wrong.

Choral Arts is quickly approaching their 20th Anniversary season, and in my opinion are putting together some amazing performances, concerts and recordings.  This is an ensemble that sounds so, so, so very good.  And it is a great blessing to be in any way involved with them.