Last night on Bachstraße

As the title indicates, tonight is the last night my wife, dog, and I will be spending in our apartment on Bachstraße (Bach Street, that is), named, of course, for Mr. J.S. himself.  Tomorrow, we are moving to a lovely single family house owned by a director at the opera house who is moving on to bigger and better things. This house has plenty of space, a garden, a patio, a grill, and – most importantly – a washing machine and a dishwasher, sweet baby Jesus.

While on Bachstraße for the last eleven months, I read through the first 190-some-odd chorales out of the Bach 371 (the namesake of this blog). I also completed  a 15-minute work and a four minute prelude for solo piano, a choral work on a commission for my wife’s home church in Mississippi, reworked an old choral piece, wrote a saxophone quartet, a theme and variations for Pierrot ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano plus percussion), and have completed about 60 minutes of what will eventually be a 90 reworking of my Edgar Allen Poe opera.

It was our landing point in Germany, from where we spring into our next few adventures.  But first, we’ll finish up the move tomorrow, and then will take a trip back to the states for serious family time, and hopefully some relaxation.



in which I begin to recap the last eleven months

I haven’t gotten post-show blues since I was music directing summer musical theatre (and y’ll know who y’all are). But after last night – which was my last of about 30 performances in a completely unexpected season singing opera chorus and acting as a super in six different productions, including one of my most favorite operas – I anticipated a severe case of post-show, (not to mention post-season) boo. This was enhanced by the post-performance show of affection and professional collegiality, which, in retrospect, was probably delirium at the close of an unbelievably long season for everybody involved and the promise of a six-week vacation, beginning post haste.

Costumes, makeup, staging, choral rehearsals, panic, flys, lights, Wagner operas that lasted six freaking hours, costume calls where I took my pants off in front of strange women, singing in German and Russian.  I’ve been a Drunken Norwegian sailor who was roughed up by the crew of a ghost ship, a pilgrim who looked like a reject from a Seattle grunge band, a socialite politico with silver streaks through black hair who got embarrassingly hammered at the biggest social event of the year, a stereotypical 17th century German nobleman, a World War One soldier in a field hospital, a worker bee in the Chinese court, and a highly-decorated Russian ex-military man who, along with everyone around him, has fallen on hard times because Russia is simply miserable.

All the pics are here. you can even catch a glimpse of me at the very beginning of this video (and then keep watching so you can see my wife kill it with a stick).   We’ll see how long this goes – Puccini next spring!!

My new friend

A little over a month ago, on my birthday, the wife and I were wandering home in the stupor of my mittagskuchen when we stumbled upon an unassuming store front.  On the door were the simple words – in English – “Repair Shop.”

We bit, and inadvertantly stumbled into a shop that sold rebuilt, scratch-and-dent, and discontinued kitchen appliances.

In other words – heaven.

So last week, we finally decided to bring home our new friend, Mixie:



Oh, the places we have gone!  Doughs! Soups! My attempt at mayonnaise failed miserably, but I am still able to make it by hand.  And the crowning achievement thus far – Baba Ganoush!

Mixie slices and dices, grates cheese, potatoes, and probably my fingers. And all this at about 30% of retail. I wonder if I could make margaritas in that thing…

I’m on a boat, or, won’t you please, won’t you please, please won’t you be…my corpse bride!

Last night was my operatic debut.  As part of my developing day-of-the-show ritual, I chose to drink too much coffee and fret for the entire day.  It’s a work in progress.

Here’s my costume:

2013-10-27 20.06.27I kind of hated the hat – it made me look like a mushroom, and the other sailors laughed at me – but I was rockin the sailor facial hair, and had my character all worked out.  Ladies, meet Anker Halvorsen from Bergen – married, a third generation Matrosen, skilled with a harpoon, and general all around bad ass.  My wife thought I was cute, so mission accomplished.

I have, before this, heard only one Wagner opera front to back – the wife and I watched Die Walküre on the plane coming back from Frankfurt last spring, when this whole move to Germany thing was initially set in motion.  I had just lost my gig in New Hampshire, everything was up in the air and we were considering all options, including selling our stuff, moving out of our apartment, being vagabonds, raising our level of commitment to our artistic endeavors, etc.

We lead a rather interesting life – I suppose it’s good the we think it’s interesting, although it may seem entirely unconventional and strange to most of the people around us. Watching a five hour Wagner opera on a transatlantic flight with no alcohol goes into either the interesting or unconventional categories, not sure, maybe both, but there we were.

So after the mammoth WalküreHolländer is only my second Wagner, and it’s a much younger Wagner (only two and a half hours, which was performed keine pause [without intermission], btw.)  As a complete work, it’s incredibly economical – the man gets the most out of, basically, four themes, and variations on them.  Plus, my GAWD, the man had a f*cked sense of romance – Imma kill myself so I can spend eternity with the Capitan of the Ghost Ship (spoiler alert). Swoon, or something, but credit my wife for the “corpse bride” summary.

My last take (ok, probably not my last) on all this: I love quoting Beck.  I love the way he puts words together and the sounds they make in combination with his rhythms.  Particularly:

You can’t write if you can’t relate
Trade the cash for the beef for the body for the hate
And my time is a piece of wax fallin’ on a termite
who’s chokin’ on the splinters 

I don’t know what the last three lines mean, but the first is always in my head. This opera chorus thing was proposed hand-in-hand with the added benefit of gaining an inside-out understanding of the medium, so as to inform my writing, especially as I transition into being better at writing for the stage. This is overwhelmingly true, and yet another thing they don’t teach you in school.

Anyway, I do it all again on Saturday.  This was my last, fleeting look back at my premiere. Gotta swing at the first pitch, just like Nava.

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yes, I brought my iphone with me

Life is short, opera is not

Last night I finished the – rather short – rehearsal period for the wiederaufnahme (revival) of Holländer.  If you’re looking for a new drinking song, here’s the music for my scene.


Tonight was the BO (not what you think – it’s the Bühnenorchester, which literally means “Stage Orchestra.” It’s essentially the tech dress). Yesterday was the Piano dress, and my first time on a dramatic stage since I was in Godspell in the seventh grade. Seriously.

For twelve years, I was a professional liturgical musician. This a fancy way of saying that I did church work – singing, directing, teaching, writing, wrangling choristers, touring the US, England, and France. This means a ton of performances and a metric ton of rehearsals. But no staging, costumes or acting. Well, actually…ok scratch that.

So I’m in the piano dress on the big stage. I’m bouncing around backstage looking straight up into the flys, because, frankly, I can stop.


It’s go time – the third act overture is cranking and we’re all poised to run on stage…still poised…the music is still going, y’all…the gang of guys on the other side is looking at us with a mixture of expectation and confusion, which, I assume, was the same look we were giving them, right up until the time…yep, there it is…when the entire men’s chorus missed it’s entrance. BACK IT UP!

Anyway, on a second go around, I make it out on stage, I do NOT panic at all, cuz I didn’t have time, and by some measure of instinct find myself elbowing my way to the highest, most central point of the stage.  Which is when I made one of the more startling revelations of my life.

I am an attention whore.

I’ve usually been the shortest guy around, but I’ve come to accept it. But big things come in small packages, and my center of gravity is more stable, so bite it, tall people.  How do I counteract this cruel smite of my nature? By becoming the center of attention (thank you, lightening-fast Pesci wit).


It’s Emily and Frank! said our friend’s adorable daughter…

So, when I am all decked out in my drunken Norwegian sailor costume (pictures forthcoming), you will find me where I am destined to be – up and in the middle, like a nice, high fastball. Less ambitious tenors – Best. Step. Off.

Harvest Moon

This week’s big, radiant full moon marked the end of our fourth week in Germany.  The realization of our presence here is now commonplace (Hey, we live in Europe!), and is driven home not only when all the street signs are in German and I actually understand some of them, but when an accordionist ambles down my street playing “Besame mucho” (with mucho wrong notes), when I’m in the grocery and the overhead music plays “Here I go again” by Whitesnake, only to be followed up with Tina Turner singing the theme song to “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” (and 20 extra points to any of you who have actually seen that movie), and when I’ve had wonderful – but unfortunately infrequent – opportunities to sample food that’s so stereotypical that it’s actually wonderful: Brats the size of my forearm, maultaschen (which is a thick pasta-like pocket filled with finely ground vegetables, turkey, you-name-it), borscht (BORSCHT!!), and pickled everything.

Bach’s assignments are coming along – with a new one every day.  Most I’ve never heard, but are lovely, some still sound like bad theory exercises, mixed in are a few classics – Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott, and Herzlich thut mich verlangen (which American choirs know as O, Sacred Heart sore Wounded) back to back at numbers 20 and 21, respectively, and with harmonizations that put those in American hymnals to shame.  My fingers are becoming more nimble by the day, so to make it extra special difficult, I’ll play the two treble parts with my right hand, the bass with the left, and sing the tenor part, which is followed rapidly by a nap.

I’ve finally been settled enough to complete work on choral scores that were awaiting editing, (so that they would be made appropriate for publication), and sent them off to my publisher this morning. My publisher is great – encouraging, but honest – and seems to be working very hard at getting my charts out into the open. However, I never hear about it from them. I get email and Facebook flashes showing my pieces in strange and unsuspected places, much like a stolen garden gnome that someone has taken on an exotic vacation.  They shows up at conferences, new music reading sessions, and, in this week’s ransom photo, at a professional recording session produced by my publisher in preparation for the Fall release.  Huzzah!

come thou font

PS – apologies for my freakout last week. Alles klar.

Guten Hunger

Somewhere, at some point in time, someone, or a team of someones, must have designed what a typical grocery store should look like, and then deemed that this design must be replicated all over the planet.  Even for someone (me), whose knowledge of the German language is rudimentary at BEST, it is possible to find one’s way around a German grocery store and generally know where to find whatever.

This is incredibly beneficial when coupled with the fact that very little makes me more ill at ease than the first time in a strange grocery store, especially if that grocery store is in a new town, ESPECIALLY if everything is in a language that I don’t yet understand.

The importance of food in my life can be gleaned simply by glancing at the vowel that ends my last name. Cooking and eating are two of my many passions and within them are the combined forces of home, guests, family, and hearth – not in that particular order.  Unfortunately, I am also rather competitive when it comes to cooking (and I’m  a sore loser…but, that’s for another blog).

German grocery 101: a) Globalization means kettle chips, quinoa, and Oreos; b) Germans love ketchup; c) the Käse (cheese) counter will make you want to smack your momma; d) the Fleisch (meat) counter will make you want to make yer momma smack HER damn momma.  There are also “American” sections, which yield off-brand peanut butter, Crisco, and hot dog buns “…in the American style.”  Favorite lost in translations:



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~ insert off-color comment here ~

When all was said and done, my adventure to der Supermarkt allowed me to craft a beautiful poached cod with a sauce made from a reduction of the poaching liquid, served with  mushrooms, yellow peppers and cucumbers that were sautéed then poached with the fish, sautéed beans and roasted potatoes. (thanks and apologies to Julia Child).

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