I belong to a poetry critique group that meets once a month—we call ourselves The Side Porch Poets.  At each of our meetings one Side-Porcher (we take turns, alphabetically) brings an assignment for the next meeting—a poetic form or subject matter that can serve as a challenge, an impetus, a useful cue. “Dissonance” was written to fulfill an assignment called “The Accordion.”  In this form, the first stanza is a single line (any length); second stanza, two lines; third stanza, three lines, and so on to any number of stanzas, before the pattern collapses down again— the fourth stanza/four lines, followed by a three-line… Read More »


A Year at Mills College

My wife Deborah attended Mills College in Oakland, California for her freshman year in 1966–67. While there, she was introduced to a sampling (pun intended) of contemporary composed music that made a lifelong impression on her. Her exposure was a potent seed that drew her, and later me as her acolyte, into whole universes of musical possibilities. Her experience is a shining example of the value of an arts education in developing a well-rounded, open-minded human being.

Mills is a very small, all female institution, though a few men do attend grad school there. In those antediluvian times when Deb was there you still had to sign out… Read More »


Do Music Lovers Read Blogs?

Do music lovers read blogs? Occasionally. Rarely. We go to concerts to be catapulted into heaven, arcing like rockets across the sky, and when we come back to earth we have to reestablish our identities as mild mannered Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. But what just happened? It was amazing but inexplicable. Or better yet, explaining it is an entirely different art. Once in awhile we might wonder what someone authoritative has to say: maybe they can make sense of this delightful but indefinable phenomenon.

Yet we all love to not only take a trip but to squeeze it into a neat synopsis afterwards. And music being hard to… Read More »



The Friends Of Chamber Music was proud to present the premier all-male chorus Chanticleer earlier this season, and they pulled off the impossible: they packed the stage with virtuosos and sang together without coming to blows. The range of their offerings was huge, so I was startled to find that my favorite piece, O Frondens Virga, was written in the eleventh century. Using only locally available notes. By a woman, during a period when there was very little historical evidence of their existence. (That period is just now coming to a close.)

The woman’s name was Hildegard von Bingen, and she was really something. There was almost… Read More »


Music Appreciation

Classical music is an elitist art.

That doesn’t mean it’s expensive, though it can be. Elite simply indicates it isn’t instantly available to everyone. In many cases, appreciating it takes some work. But that is hardly a reason to scorn it. All art forms take some getting used to, some education, to instill appreciation.

For many people a more than ordinary measure of persistence is required to reveal the joys of classical music. Arts organizations face an uphill battle to bring it to a wider audience, but the incentive is hard to resist: once a person gets past the initial strangeness or foreignness of classical music, it… Read More »


A Nonviolent Revolution

John Cage opens his book, Silence, with a key insight:

“Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at fifty miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain. We want to capture and control these sounds, to use them not as sound effects but as musical instruments.”

In music we “don’t like,” we prefer to stay on the banks and generate disparaging thoughts about the stream at our feet. We imagine the water is in some way polluted or dangerous, and we are better off keeping dry. There is something really odd at work here:… Read More »


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