Saturday, November 9, 2013

Billy's Bad Bod: Backwards, Hey

Yesterday afternoon I got discharged from the hospital after a long talk from the resident MD and my current nurse: take it easy for a week; realize that a good portion of your problem with your heart has to do with your thyroid, which is producing too much bad stuff, making your heart race, filling your lungs with water, scaring the shit out of you as you try to breathe. So I'm seeing a Thyroidologist  on 3 December to see if he can figure out how to deal with it.  And of course, new drugs to address the problem and drugs to address the drugs.  Get it?

Yeah, but my cardiologist said, as he prepared to poke et, al, 'you did indeed have a slight heart attack. You wanna call it congestive heart failure, go ahead."  This was the day before yesterday, and, boy, them surgical nurses was cute!  Naturally, I charmed them from here to Chattanooga.  Drugs weren't much (proponol), but the girls made up for it.  Procedures didn't take long and proved: 1) zapping my heart four times (I was asleep) couldn't bring my heart back into rhythm.  This is not uncommon, but I think they're blaming that dirty ole nasty thyroid; 2) the rapid pulses I had experienced the day before had not done substantive damage to the chambers of my heart.  This was very good news.  And the witch doctors and mechanics and medicine men will see what they can do with this almost-71-year-old-machine called my body.  BTW: everyone who came into my room to poke, zap, measure (every 3-4 hours) remarked how I looked more like fifty rather than 71.  Heh, heh. 

OK. Now the fun part.

I usually lie down to read in the afternoons, hoping I'll fall asleep.  I usually do. On Tuesday, I didn't. At about 300 I noticed a little difficulty breathing.  I got up, walked into the bathroom (not sure why), noticed a lot of difficulty breathing, came back out and dived for the cell phone on the bed.  911 was really good, and as fast as they could possibly be. Not fast enough: I was gulping shallow breaths so that by the time they tossed me into the Unit, I was a wild man: wouldn't calm down, kept tearing the cup off my face.  I could only speak one word at a time, and could not talk to Erin.  It was a mess.  Poor Erin: she was scared almost as poopless as I was when she came home and found me gone, and all my modes of transport still there.

So yeah, folks, I'll tell ya that not being able to breathe is quite possibly the worst thing that can happen to you: no defense; no cure.  In the ER, they opened both arms and the back of one hand and pumped me so full of stuff that I could almost not hold it.  The mainlining of Ativan put me out, thank God, and whatever else they pumped into me seemed to correct the breathing problem and the pulse of 130-140 (think about that for a second).  They told Erin that my situation was very severe.  Poor thing.  When I woke up, I was fine.

As of this morning I feel great except for a pronounced weakness in the legs: to be expected after over three days on my back and butt.  Looking forward to a real breakfast, a little college football (no a lot).  Probably a nap.

All told: happy to be here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anecdote V: Billy Basque

I discovered Basqueland (Euskadi in Basque) in the beginning of the new millenium, 2000.  The USC Chamber Choir had won the competition in Varna, Bulgaria the year before, thus qualifying us to compete with the winners of five similar competitions in what is known as the Grand Prix of Choral Singing.  We lost to a Russian children's choir, but that is another topic.

We were housed in a beautiful seaside town west of San Sebastian called Zarautz (someone once said that a Basque typewriter only has x's, k's, and z's). The town had a gorgeous promenade and our hotel was in the main plaza: la Plaza Muzika.  Basque country is half in Spain and half in southern France, all of it beautiful.  Simply and quickly put: It was love at first sight for me.  And since most Basques also speak Castilian Spanish (castellano) I could stumble my way through happy hours and stores even though Spanish is my weakest language.  I fared marginally better in French Basqueland even though that was my second weakest language. The other three in order of strength are English, German and Italian.

I vowed I would return.  Two years later, for my 60th birthday, and after winning another competition, our English friends and four other close friends met in San Sebastian and we spent two weeks exploring the area, including to the land of the Three Musketeers where we got to sample a number of Armagnacs and visit a farm where ducks gave up their livers for foix gras (another great story, but not for here).  We were a party of eight living like lords, including an evening at the world-famous Basque restaurant, Arzak, that took three hours and was worth every minute (worth every Euro, too).

Again, I vowed I would return.  So our party of eight visited Zarautz and I visited a real estate office for rental information.  The fall of '02 was a sabbatical for me, so I made arrangements to rent an apartment on the fourth floor of a building right on the Bay of Biscay.  I arrived on 1 October and stayed for a month, finishing the book I had started in September.  That month cost me $3000, a thousand each for rent, plane fare, and food and drink (ca. $33/day).  At that time, the dollar and the Euro were almost exactly equal (yea!).

Here's what those days were like.

I got up at 830, put my espresso on the stove, and went out to the seaside balcony to open a window and watch the folks running on the beach and strolling the Paseo. When the espresso was ready, I brought it into the coffee table in the lounge and drank it with my roll, serrano ham, and manchego cheese.

I started writing at 930 and wrote until 1230, when I went in to shower and shave.  Then I would go to lunch between 100 and 130, always choosing the restaurant's lunch special that was usually three courses, with dessert being ice cream.  I went back to my FourthFloorSeasideApartment (ahem) at 300, napped for a half hour, and resumed writing at 330.  I was always armed with a novel at both lunch and dinner, by the way, because I didn't have enough Spanish for cheery conversations with strangers.

At 630 I stopped writing and proofed what I had done during the day.  With my first martini by my side, of course.  At 730, I left the apartment, walked the Paseo for a while, had my second martini in the bar right across my street (I had taught them how it was made) and made my way to a restaurant at 830.  This was a relatively expensive meal because I always ordered foix gras if they had it, with a small glass of red vermouth, followed by a meat entree of some kind and a suitable Spanish wine.  At 1030 I went home, got into bed and read one of my novels until midnight.

About once per week, I would buy my breakfast at the small coffee shop across the street and read the paper, which was my only source of news (television news was far too fast for me to comprehend).  My paper was El País Vasco ('the Basque Country') and I could slowly make my way through it with about 75% comprehension. It was there that I read about the latest shootings in the US and the terrorist bombing on Bali.  On Saturdays, I rented computer time at a small shop and read about college football in the US, called home and the like.

I wrote six hours/day every day in that October except for three, when I rented a car, drove to Gascony to buy Armagnac, stayed at a neat little Auberge and came home, whereupon I drove around the mountain to a restaurant that I could see from my balcony but had never been to because I didn't want to decipher bus schedules.  It was all fish there, with a grill that was kept burning all day.  They brought around a large platter with raw fish on it, I chose the one I wanted and they grilled it.  It was exquisite, as were the side dishes.  I had draft beer for dessert, drove back and returned the car  (a small Peugot).

If this sounds like heaven, that's exactly what it was.  And no, I was not lonely, though I occasionally did long to speak English.  Fortunately, a German chorus came into town for a few days (they won Tolosa that year) and I spoke it with them once German became too much work for me (usually after the third beer).  I only learned one word of Basque ('augur') and have forgotten utterly what it means, though I think it meant goodbye in the sense of 'hey, later, dude.'

I'd do it again if I could.  You want to read about these unique people who I dearly love, I recommend Mark Kurlanski's A Basque History of the World, which I bought just before my Birthday Jaunt in '02 .  Don't google them until you do.  Okay?  Okay.

Grafitti message in English on the side of a building in the passage just below me: "Tourist--you are neither in France nor Spain."  Got that?  Good.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Anecdote IV: Billy Banker

After I quit being a Dock Donkey in the fall of '62, I decided I would try to do something that wasn't hard labor and maybe even be able to work in the daytime(!).

So I applied to Citizens National Bank (long since defunct).  I was interviewed by a wonderful older woman who tried to make sure that I was willing to make a career of banking and not quit and go back to school after a short time.  I promised her that banking was all I ever thought about and couldn't imagine doing anything else.  I was a good liar and got hired.

So I worked full time at a small branch out in the San Gabriel Valley, Hacienda Heights, and got my teller training there, in fact.

I soon learned that banking was not for me: I was fast but not at all thorough thus didn't always balance to the penny at the end of the day and everyone had to stick around til they found my error.  This made me very popular. I also learned that many of the general public are righteous assholes who considered the entire bank staff to be their servants.  The servile manager and assistant manager did nothing to dispel this impression.  Plus the pay for us tellers was pissant.  Wanna know why?  'Cause almost all of the tellers were women and we all know what they're worth!  And those women made lunch in the staff lounge torture for me: all they talked about was pregnancy, children and Las Vegas.  I soon learned to bring a book to work.

About mid-year I told that sweet woman who interviewed me that I was indeed going back to school in the fall of '63.  She was disappointed.  She decided to make the most of my impermanence by making me a sub teller for any branch in the entire LA basin that needed one.  So I filled in for vacation people, sick people and the like, driving all over the basin to various branches and rarely being in the same place for more than week.  It forestalled boredom, at least, and I knew the end was in sight.

So I re-entered UCLA in the fall of '64 but needed money for rent and food and gas and my church choir check just wouldn't do it.  I applied at the Bank of America branch in downtown Westwood and was hired as a Boy Friday, I could walk from campus to the bank.  I helped the Operations Officer, did my time at the Customer Bitch Desk (the bank was never wrong), and helped the Assistant Operations Officer track down problems.  In essence, there wasn't any job in that bank I couldn't do (except approve loans) and there was much glamour in it because a lot of movie and TV actors had their accounts with us.  And lemme tell ya, when Zubin Mehta's wife, Nancy Kovack, entered that lobby, time and people stood still.  Holy Moley, what a dish she was. (Mehta took over the LA Phil at only 29, btw.  Nancy quit here acting jobs).

Of course, when things got busy in the lobby, I went on the teller line, usually at the request of John Heenan, the O.O.  When the lobby got a bit crowded, he'd yell "Dehning, get on that line."  I'd open my window and that lobby would empty out in minutes.  I was a real whiz on that line!  Of course, I didn't always balance out to zeros at the end of the day, but that was a small price to pay for the Dehning Blitz on the crowd, especially on Fridays.

I worked 25 hours/week at that bank until January of '66, when I finished at UCLA and went across town to enter USC.  Each semester, I got a letter from the UCLA counseling office warning me that such a time consuming job was detrimental to my studies, which was correct, but I had to work, and in those last three semesters at UCLA I never got anything less than a B, but of course damned few A's.  The A's came when I entered grad school and was only in classes I loved and in which I had a deep interest.  Funny how that works.

Next:  Billy Basque.  Watch this space.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Anecdote III: Midnight Cowboys

I had passed my written and oral exams for the DMA in May of 1969, after studying full time for three months.  Marge had been working full time as a long-term sub at a local high school the entire spring semester.  We had made plans to leave for Europe, flying on 7 September from LAX to Zurich.  We had saved $3000 and planned to stay for six months.  It turned out to be seven months and I had to borrow 700 from my life policy to make it back home.

So we left the house we were renting in Granada Hills and moved in with my dad and stepmother for the summer to avoid rent.  They loved having us around, actually.  Marge worked for a temp agency based on her Flying Fingers at the keyboard.  But I, almost the revered Dr. Dehning, got a job at Sears as a janitor.  Stores need to be cleaned at night, so we worked the graveyard shift from 11P-7A.

That store sparkled when it opened in the morning.  We were a crew of eight plus a foreman, all of whom were black except me and Mac, and Mac, it turned out, was gay.  I found this out after about a month one night at lunch (we got 45 minutes for it, plus two 15-minute breaks during our shift, thanks to the union).  One of our tasks was crushing all the boxes that were opened during the day.  It was a big machine in the floor that crushed them and then they had to be dragged out.  It required a two-man crew, and Mac and I were always sent down there to do it.  Maybe it was the WhiteGuys thing or maybe they thought I was gay, too.

Anyway, back to lunch.  One of the crew was about 6'6" and built like a Sequoia.  His name was Snake and he was the neatest guy; I liked him best.  So I asked him finally, "is Mac homosexual?"  "From his heart," Snake said.  Actually it came out 'frumis hawt.'  Turned out that Mac also had false teeth.  Hmm.  Snake really liked me, too, and he wasn't gay, thank god.  (We still said 'homo' or 'queer' in those days; 'gay' was a long way off.)

In addition to crushing boxes, other duties for the crew included cleaning sinks and toilets, mopping service floors, polishing mirrors and windows, and polishing floors.  In short, ensuring that the place was spic and span by 700.  We had weekly staff meetings run by our foreman, Charles, regarding techniques and the like: "Now I found out that some of you are cleaning the sinks by just wiping them down.  That's no good.  You gotta use (holding up a bottle) diss here Bab-O (emphasis on the O.")

I usually wound up polishing the floors with a big electric buffer and I did a damned fine job.  Those suckers gleamed when I finished with them. I was proud of my work. Take a look at how much floor space there is in a department store next time you go in one, you'll be impressed with my industry and diligence.  If nothing else, my patience (and no radios or ear phones to get me through the boredom).

All told, I'm very glad I had that experience.  Doing semi-hard, mind-numbing work with those men gave me an appreciation of what a lot of the work force had to live with on a daily basis.  Yeah, it paid well, but it grew old quickly and I was glad to leave at the end of August.  I never told those guys why I was leaving, and I sure as hell didn't tell them that I almost had a doctorate.  And nowadays, when someone is angry that garbage collectors and janitors make almost as much money as they do, I tell 'em, "They got it coming, you don't like it, then YOU go and collect garbage or clean toilets.  No one's stopping you."

I never did ask Mac why he had false teeth.

Next:  Billy Banker.  Stay tuned.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Anecdote II: Redeemed Wide Receiver

I've often said that in the next life I'd like to be either a jazz drummer or a wide receiver, especially the latter.  From a very young age I've loved throwing and catching a football.  I wanted to try out for my high school team but my dad didn't have the money to buy insurance so I signed up for band instead.  Probably a good thing; I was so skinny I'd have been broken in half.  I was disappointed but got over it.

So I just kept throwing and catching up until I lost my legs to the spinal cord injury.  For one golden moment though, I was a star wide receiver.  The quarterback was Larry Meredith, who is Don Meredith's cousin, so it runs in the families.  We were at a faculty picnic at UOP in the early fall of '75 not long before Megan was born (Marge was really pregnant).  I was in a bit of political trouble at the time because my Dean wanted me out and there had been a campus-wide uprising in support of me in a struggle that began in the fall of '73.

Anyway, the President had been sympathetic to the problem and I had been fully reinstated but my dean was making life miserable.  The President was there at the picnic, watching a few of the male faculty goofing off.  Larry and I had been playing pitch-and-catch.  We decided to do one more.  I went out on a deep fly pattern, Larry threw it long, hard and high.  Somehow I climbed high enough to make a gorgeous catch.  It garnered scattered applause and the President had seen it.  He came up to me and said, "Bill, Chester Caddas [the football coach at the time] is looking for you!"

That catch cemented my job; the Dean was gone by June of '76.  They just couldn't get rid of a musician who was a decent athlete, too.  Would you?  Anyway, I still love college football, most of all the passing game because many of the receivers are so shifty, smooth and quick.  It's artistry in motion, to use a cliché.  It's beautiful to watch, and I love it, God help me, despite the moral morass in which college sports are mired.

As Larry said in the acknowledgements section of his book, Life Before Death: ". . .  William Dehning, whose neurons fire in harmonic convergence of music, sport, and ectomorphic id."


Larry is quite possibly the most intelligent man I know.  And he loves sports, too. He is the originator of the Turkey Bowl, a post-thanksgiving day event in which the old guys played the young guys and quite often won.  One year, a game played in the rain, I was declared Most Valuable Player after I caught two touchdowns from Larry, for the only scores of the game.  One of my proudest moments as a wide receiver.  And my career was over.

Until the next life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anecdote I: Dock Donkey; Nude Redhead; Shtupping Janis

I withdrew failing from UCLA in May of my sophomore year, 1962.  Reasons for the Withdraw Failing were three: I was dumped by my girlfriend for the second time; I was a stupid fraternity boy; I was conducting my first choir ever (I was social chairman of the fraternity and got the coolest Jewish sorority to join with us in Spring Sing--choir numbered 50, I conducted them: my first choir) and kept missing classes.  By the way, I qualified for UCLA's engineering school out of high school, a fact of which I am to this day very proud.  UC took only the top 5% of high school classes in those years and cost $75/semester to attend; essentially free, as California state universities were intended to be before Ronald Reagan, who hated educated people. His Party still does.

Spoiler Alert:  I got back into UCLA in 1964; I left the fraternity; we lost Spring Sing but the girls made me an Honorary Jew; I acquired my first church choir job later in 1962.


So I was out of school in the spring of 1962, but my high school friend Jan Butler was working for Republic Freight lines at a great hourly wage and suggested I apply; I had to do something besides stay at home and flog my guitar, so I did.  I applied, got the job and was forced to join the Teamsters Union and give dues with each paycheck; I didn't mind that because the job paid so well, thanks to the union.  And yeah, there were a few 'thugs.'  Hoffa was still alive, after all.  I guarantee: there are no 'thugs' any more, much as the Right Wing would love for you to believe otherwise.

The reason it paid so well is that it was damned hard donkey work.  Jan and I had to work the graveyard shift from 1100 to 700 AM.  Republic was located off of San Pedro street in downtown LA.  The task consisted of unloading freight cars outside the dock and walking the pieces on flats that we pulled up and down the dock and then dropping the freight right outside the trucks on the other side of the dock that would move the freight throughout the city (drivers loaded their own trucks at 700AM).  The flats were heavily loaded and the dock was fifty yards long.  Talk about beasts of burden . . . And when the RR car was full of appliances, we had to move each one out to its designated truck by hand if it weighed under 600 lbs.  This was done with a large hand truck that we had to 'break down' and then push along the dock.  If it weighed more than 600 lbs. we could yell for a forklift and they would take it for us.  I once had a refrigerator that weighed 597 and yelled for the forklift.  He came and asked what it weighed.  I told him.  He said, 'take it yourself.'  Forklift operator was a top level union job and the men who operated them were big wheels and knew it.

We worked in crews of four: a caller, a checker, and two donkeys.  The caller said what the item was, the checker checked it off on the bill of lading, and the donkeys (Jan and I) did the hard work.  Callers and checkers did not have to go into the rail car to 'break out' the boxes and hump the freight up and down the dock. 

Then there was a foreman and an assistant foreman.  The foreman was a really neat, honest, hardworking guy who just helped in general, at times operating a forklift.  I don't know what the assistant did, but he belonged to a nudist camp out near San Berdoo.  Jan and I were a folk duo (later a quartet) that sang gigs (always for free) and he asked us to come with him on a weekend to the camp and entertain.  So we recruited our friend Mike Seeley to borrow a string bass and play along.

Nudists put their clothes on at night and take them off in the day, the opposite of normal people.  So when we sang our gig on Saturday night (we arrived Friday afternoon), they danced to the slow tunes and listened to the fast ones.  This was after watching nude volleyball, flopping johnsons and all, during the day, as well as nude swimming of course, not to mention nude eating and other things.  I was really attracted to a really well built redhead that I saw dressed at night.  She invited us to breakfast the next morning, so we undressed and had bacon and eggs nude.  Red was sitting right across from me at the picnic table and I dropped my fork on the ground.  When I bent down to get it I was able to verify that she was indeed a true redhead.  We later dated a couple of times but couldn't seem to deepen our relationship with clothes on.  And apparently she wasn't inclined to deepen the relationship with clothes off, either, so that was that.

I made a good chunk of money that summer (thanks to the union) and managed to buy a really fine Goya guitar that I taught myself to play when off work.  That guitar cost 200 1962 dollars, which was a big deal, believe me.  But it was sweet, baby.  I later had to sell it as well as my fine Olympia typewriter because I was broke and had to buy car insurance.  Know who one of the prospective buyers was?  Country Joe McDonald, of Janis-Joplin-affair and Woodstock-Gimme-an-F(UCK) cheer.  Joe and I went to the same high school; he was a fine trombone player in the band in which I played horn, but picked up the guitar early on and that stuck, I guess you might say.  He was a year ahead of me and went on to fame, fortune, and nude album covers, whilst I, now guitarless and with no Redhead, got married, went back to school, got three degrees and made a career flogging choirs instead of guitars.

If you read the  previous two posts, you will see why I'm glad I did.  Joe is still alive and doing well, by the way, as am I.

Next: Redeemed Wide Receiver.  Watch this space.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Teachers Live For II (with surprised thanks to Paul Blankinship)

  •  Dr. Dehning,

     Thank you for connecting with me on Facebook. I don't know if you remember me or not - I don't think I was a particularly memorable student - but as a student of yours at UOP, I not only learned a great deal, but ended up a very different person.
    I was motivated to write to you because I met a colleague of yours, Megan Solomon (I hope that's right) at an event for new students at Oberlin college (where my son is heading, as is her daughter).
    We got to talking, and I told her what I've told several people - that being a part of your class was one of the few defining moments in my life, and that I caught a glimpse of the person that I wanted to become there.
    She suggested I write to you to let you know how strongly you influenced me as a student, and then as an adult - so that's the reason I decided to write.
    One thing I feel you should know is that I wasn't a student with ambition or direction - I didn't know choral music or vocal music. I also didn't stay in school, both because I ran out of money, and because I lacked the perspective to know how to focus myself and my energies.
    And yet - despite that - I ended up making a life as a musician, mostly as a cocktail pianist and accompanist for jazz singers, but also leading a number of very good choirs, because I valued what I saw you do, and because I saw how you took music generally, and choral music specifically, seriously, and how you respected music and your musicians with the literature and technique you brought to bear.
    The idea I'd like to convey is that even those of us who must have seemed mediocre musicians and students were raised by your example and teaching. I'm sure the cream of the crop would have done well anywhere, but I never could have done any of what I did without having had your influence in my life.
    As I said at the beginning of this note, I wasn't a memorable student. I hope you know that for every one of those memorable students whose success marks your career, there are others, like me, who look at the time they spent in your class and wonder how they got so goddamn lucky.

    All the very best to you,


Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Teachers Live For (with inadequate, heartfelt thanks to Ethan Sperry)

I don't have sufficient words to express my gratitude for this; they fail utterly.


Hi Dr. Dehning,
First of all, I so wish I could have been at the USC Reunion. I'm so glad it was such a huge success and I hope that means it leads to others. With 2 small kids and your reunion falling right before my own choir's tour, another weekend away from the family wasn't in the cards this time.

So I just got back from the best musical experience of my life so far - actually one of the best experiences of any sort I've ever had. I took the Portland State Chamber Choir on tour to Italy for 12 days at the end of which we competed in the Seghizzi Competition with choirs from 21 different countries. You probably saw this on Facebbok, but somehow, we not only won the entire competition (which no American choir has ever done in the 52 years this competition has been running), but we won 14 other awards as well.
This is in large part thanks to you. Many choirs at the competition sang much harder repertoire than we did. And I mean MUCH harder repertoire. They also had a lot more flash to what they were doing. We sang a much wider diversity of repertoire, and we sang it with real understanding and communication. Much of the repertoire we sang I learned from you (this is true of almost every concert I do by the way). I not only learned about it, but I learned how to understand it and bring it to life.
In our 20th Century set we sang Pizzetti's Piena Sorgeva la Luna
In our 19th Century set we sang Verdi's Pater Noster (and I think this piece won us the competition)
In our Spirituals set we sang Precious Lord (which is still my favorite arrangement of any spiritual)
In our Folk Music set we sang Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal (which we sang on my first day in Chamber Choir with you in 1996)
THANK YOU for standing up for the greatness our best choral literature
THANK YOU for teaching me why it is great and teaching me how to teach others this as well
THANK YOU for being a relentless advocate for beauty in the world

I was going to end this letter there, but I'm going to try and say something more substantial. Not sure if it will work. I would be writing this letter even if we had come in last place in the competition. The choir made HUGE breakthroughs on how to sing together at the beginning of the tour well before the competition. This (as you know) often happens on tour and is its own reward, and I think we all enjoyed our pre-competition concerts as much if not more than competing.

The effects of the way we were singing were profound on the singers and on me. We all began treating each other differently. I know that every person on that tour (36 of us) truly loves everyone else we shared that experience with. There was a universal sense of acceptance and a willingness to be vulnerable that changed us all as musicians and people. The amount of pure joy we shared with each other and will continue to share with each other and anyone else we come into contact with is immense and it makes the world a better place. I wanted to share this with you if I could, because I think you are one of the few people I know who would actually understand what I'm talking about.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Reuniting in Manhattan Beach

I have never written anything here about my professional engagements since retirement and am not sure why.  Maybe because I didn't set this blog up until retirement; maybe because I wanted this to be personal not professional.  If they wanted professional they could go to my website. As if anyone cared, anyway.  I gotta admit that I am still embarrassed by the egoism blogs represent and in many ways I still don't know what purpose they might serve.  Then someone tells me to 'blog more,' confusing the hell out of me.

So this one is professional, except I didn't get paid to do this one.  First the food, my goodness: Rob Istad's self-sponsored reception on Thursday night at the hotel after the first rehearsal (booze included!); a fantastic group meal of Greek food on Saturday night after the last rehearsal at Petros restaurant (including margaritas and sangria!); a lineup of fish tacos with all the trimmings after the performance organized by Karen (cash bar, booze not included, but this Silverback Ape didn't have to pay for a single drink!).  Not to mention the many meetings at Grunions bar at all hours; this is a funky neighborhood joint a half block away from the hotel where everyone seemed to know everyone else--the best kind of bar, in other words.

Now imagine 24 singers, one accompanist, one conductor working for 11 hours on Rheinberger Mass for Double Chorus (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo), Martin Mass for Double Chorus (Kyrie, Credo), a Gabrieli double chorus madrigal, Lauridsen Mid-Winter Songs I and IV, Victoria Vere languores nostros, Holst Nunc dimittis, and two fine Trashy pieces stuck into the middle of the program. Then a performance to a big crowd packed into that little Lutheran church that simply didn't know when to quit applauding once they started. And they kept starting. 

I'm talking, of course, about last weekend's USC Chamber Choir Reunion (Dehning Years) that was an event for the ages, at least my ages.  Karen Schrock Simring was the inspiration and ringleader who simply wouldn't take no for an answer; Rob was the on-site organizer who got the church for free, sent copies of my scores to all twenty five people, and took charge of all logistical matters for all four days.  The rehearsals were a triumph: every suggestion I made was accepted and performed immediately.  That's never happened before, really.  And the performance was the best rehearsal to the third power: every move I made was immediately and correctly deciphered.  And the audience bought every second of it.

You'd think that would be enough and the end of the story.  But it ain't. I expected they would love seeing their colleagues and friends again and rehearsing fine music together.  And they did. What I didn't expect was that they wanted to rehearse great music with me, their former conductor and teacher, in front of them; that's the main reason they were there.  That's simple professional respect, though.  But the many expressions of love--there is no other word--of me as a person were utterly unexpected and more gratifying than it is possible to relate here or anywhere else. 

They love me.  Holy cow.

I cannot relate how wonderful that makes me feel. I lack the vocabulary. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I owe ACDA a lot.  The first national convention was in 1971 at the Hotel Muehlebach in Kansas City.  I attended. It had been chaired by USC's Charles Hirt, and I was in my first year of teaching at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.  Then the first divisional convention I attended was the next year in Indianapolis.  Our NMU kids got chosen to sing there that year and Charles Hirt was there to hear them (the three-year rule came later, luckily for me).  All of which went a long way toward landing the position at UOP the very next year.  Many years later, the performance by the California Choral Company at the '91 national in Phoenix had much to do with my going to USC, in part because Morten Lauridsen had heard them and came backstage and badgered me into applying for the opening, which I did the following Monday.

But all of that is just politics.  More important for me--as it is for anyone in this business--was what those meetings did and continued to do for me musically and technically, especially during the formative years of my late 20s and 30s.  For one thing, the convention attendance was small enough to fit into a hotel ballroom; you got a chance to talk to everyone sooner or later, and everyone heard and saw everything the convention had to offer.  Thus there was only one 'track' and everyone was on it. We had breaks for lunch and dinner.

When I started in this business, the only recordings one could find were Messiah, the Verdi Requiem, and Carmina.  Oh, and the Shaw Chorale BMinor. The only amateur choruses we heard on those recordings were the Mormon one and the Westminster one. So the only place to hear the entire canon of choral music done by choirs we all might conduct one day was in person at a concert or at a professional convention.  Nowadays, of course, there isn't much that hasn't been recorded, professional choruses abound, and collegiate choruses have utterly taken over.  I began to learn at these events that there was a lot of superb music that wasn't written for orchestra and chorus. I began to learn that choral music had the largest body of literature. Most of it was sacred, but I didn't care about that then and I don't care about that now: great music is great music.  What sticks in my mind from that first convention now were Schütz Psalm 98, Bach Singet, and Schönberg Friede auf Erden.  I'd never heard them anywhere else: Talk about opening my ears!  We even heard a fine junior high choir do the Hindemith Six Chansons (try to find that nowadays).  This is not even to mention Frank Pooler's Long Beach State crowd doing all the wiggy composers such as Folke Rabe and the like.  Pooler had a lock on that stuff as well as the Carpenters (I won't talk about his Mendelssohn, though).

So naturally I heard a lot of different takes on choral sound and attended a lot of interest sessions in which folks talked about how they achieved that sound.  The only sound I really had firmly embedded in my ears at that point was Hirt's USC Chamber Singers and I knew that my 18 NMU kids weren't going to approach the sound of those 16 USC semi-pro honkers.  I had to look and listen elsewhere.

One of the places I was fortunate to listen was the Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Choral Association festival held annually in SoCal.  I participated in four of them during my time at CalState LA (one year) and USC (three years).  I heard college choruses conducted by, in no specific order, Howard Swan, Paul Salamonivich, Bill Hall,  Dave Thorsen, Frank Pooler, Fran Baxter, plus a bunch whose names I no longer remember, but it was the entire spectrum of the West Coast sound and nowhere did one hear the neutered Lutheran straight tone sound, which is the cousin of that antiseptic Texas high school choral sound.  No, the sound of all of the choruses was truly vibrant. Many of them performed in ACDA nationals in subsequent years, usually to great acclaim.

I have nothing against MENC and its state offshoots or the various state 'vocal associations.'  They do fine work, especially for the classroom teachers and band directors.  But as Roger Wagner said to Charles Hirt in the elevator at that first ACDA convention: "Damn, Charles, it sure is great not to have a bunch of band directors running around!"  Those ACDA meetings were all about choral music then and they still are. 

I'm sorry to say that I was never a 'networker' or a politician of any stripe and I'm not bragging, I'm complaining: I'm convinced that had I been a bit freer with the handshake and the small talk, I probably would have gone farther, sooner, in my field.  But I was there for the music, the conductors, the sounds, the bull sessions, the demonstrations. 

That was then.  Now I care more about seeing people I have met over the years, and of course, the former students from the three schools where I taught for nigh unto four decades.  Of course I always look forward to hearing some of the finest collegiate choirs the country has to offer. 

And by golly, I can think of maybe a couple times that groups I conducted were maybe even numbered among them.

Here's to ACDA for helping and promoting some of the best in the art form from Womb to Tomb: kids choirs, middle school choirs, high school choirs, church choirs, collegiate choirs.  We would not be where we are without such a fine umbrella organization.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


27-30 June, Manhattan Beach, CA for rehearsals and a performance of Rheinberger, F. Martin, Brahms, Vittoria, among others.  Karen Schrock, Kelley O'Connor and Erin came up with this idea in a Huntsville gay bar about four years ago and Rob Istad leaped gleefully aboard.  Karen and Rob have done an immense amount of work already, with more to come.  We must have a balanced group, so contact Karen: to reserve your place.  Trinity Lutheran Church has agreed to host us for rehearsals and performance, and Karen has lined up motel rooms within walking distance of the church (and the beach; we can't rehearse all the time).  She will need $150 to reserve your place; this is an estimate for group dinners in restaurants and any amount not used will be returned.  You must reserve your room by 27 May to get the group rate Karen has negotiated.

Please help us by spreading this word to as many of the members from the years 92-07 as you can.  Use Facebook, too.

I am flattered and humbled by this effort.  I hope to see and hear a bunch of you sing some great music together again.  It's been too long. 

And let your conductor acquaintances know that a bunch of the music we'll be rehearsing is in my latest book, A Matter of Choice: Interpreting Choral Music.  They may wanna give a listen.

Fight On!  Or. . . Sing On!  Or. . . something . . . 

Friday, March 15, 2013

ACDA Conferences

This is the first year since 1991 that I have not attended that bienniel conference.  That's 22 years and 11 conventions, and I performed or presented at 4 of those 11.  My reasons for not attending this year are financial (my younger daughter got married on the Big Island this year, and it all comes out of my own pocket now that I am unemployed) and not concerns about ambulation, just in case you wondered and I hope you did.

Anyway, I just got off the phone with my talented, gregarious wife, who made me feel really good about the number of my colleagues in Dallas who either asked about me or said nice things about me, including two of my absolute favorites, Ron Staheli and Simon Carrington (who enjoyed my latest book), neither of whom is a former student.  Speaking of the latter, it's great to hear of the number  of those who asked after me also, in addition to strangers who just know my name or my books or who heard CCC and USC perform from '91 to '05. I understand that some folks are going to invite me to do some clinical or conducting work in Korea and elsewhere now that I'm able to be up and about, in a manner of speaking.  I have missed that; my last engagements were in December of '10 (Taiwan) and February of '11 (PA) both of which I enjoyed tremendously and all seemed pleased with me, too.  I look forward to more.  And I hear that someone may be interested in an interview and an article about me.  Ah, jeez (shuffle, wince, avert eyes).


Someone once said that we only appreciate with absence.  I have found that to be true: When folks are around, we take them for granted or worse; when they're gone we wish they were back.  I feel that way this week, actually: I don't miss the performances at ACDA this year (I've done much of the music, including the Britten, and don't really care to hear much of a lot of the rest unless it's Bach) but I do miss seeing the people I know and meeting people I don't.  I have had an immensely rewarding career, but barely better than some and not nearly as good as many.  I don't have any illusions about my professional worth or my contributions to the profession.  And I'm really shy among strangers.  Really.  Also nervous.  Also insecure because I assume that most are better than I and I don't know how to blow my own horn; I don't even know the fingerings, truth be told.

But I still enjoy seeing folks I have known since my full-time collegiate career began back in 1970 (it was all church work and academic stuff before then, and many of those folks are now dead--I was a real whippersnapper).  I was a star in grad school: Hirt and Vail had me start a new chorus and asked me to teach conducting; I was asked to conduct the Concert Choir when Vail went on sabbatical in '68, which included preparing a chorus for an orchestral concert conducted by Ingolf Dahl that included Webern's Das Augenlicht, but those days are long gone.

The only thing left is guest work and ACDA conventions (and, of course, the great meetings of NCCO, with which I had a little bit to do). 

So I will do my utmost to not miss any more.

Deo gratias, say you.  Cheers, say I.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Choral Conductors Facebook Fishing?

I use the FoxNews technique of the question mark in the title because, like them, I have no specific evidence for my claims.  I could also use their 'some say' technique also, but again, have heard nothing at all from anyone about what I'm going to say here.  I may stick with question marks just for giggles.  And it is entirely possible, probably even likely, that I am way out on a limb with this one.


Is anyone besides me getting annoyed with the current trend of choral conductors throwing out lavish compliments onto Facebook after a gig or performance?  'Last night's performance of the Intergalactic Honor Choir was a thrill, thanks to the preparation of the directors involved, especially Karl Koral, who organized the event.  It was an honor to conduct them.'  This kind of post invariably elicits the return compliment of 'we couldn't have done it without your planetary genius.'  And how about announcing every pissant thing we do and then posting a picture of the plaque or certificate we received?  And how do you feel about the conductor who announces how grateful, honored, or, most gag-inducing of all, blessed they are to be standing in front of their charges and leading them, which is only what they were hired and are paid to do? 

And my favorite: I learn more than I teach.  I have learned a few things from the individual choruses I have conducted over the years, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I knew a helluva lot more than every one of them or I would have gotten out of the business.  And I always taught more than I may have learned. (This is not to deny the  insecurity that afflicts all of us).

These falsely modest devices seem to be simply subterfuges for bragging, first of all, but--more important--mere fishing for compliments: they are so lucky to have you; we couldn't have done it without you; working with you is an artistic revelation and more fun than sex.

Is this just sour grapes on my part?  Could be.  I never had FB to post my glories, coddle my students, be publicly grateful to all involved.  I had to use actual letters in the mail, or later, the occasional email.  Point is, no one saw it but them.  And I didn't thank them, I complimented them, which is what they really wanted.  I wrote these letters throughout my career, beginning with my last LA church choir, 1966-1969. 

Who would be hurt by foregoing FB and simply sending an email to the gig chair, the ensemble?  Why isn't this done more?  Why do we have to publicly demonstrate how diplomatic, Christian, grateful, honored and blessed we are?  Is there something wrong with keeping it private and in the family?  And qui bono by making it public?  Hmmmm?


I finish with questions, too: What the hell ever happened to self-effacement or--saints preserve us--genuine modesty?  Am I the only one left who was raised by Lutherans, who was taught to never have an exalted opinion of oneself or, if so, to at least have the decency to keep it to oneself?

PS: this post is dedicated to Miguel Felipe ('blog more') and Christian Campos ('where's the professional rant?)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mini Diary; Lack-of-Progress Report

It's been a while and I must make apology to my Followers; all four of them.  I have been both lazy and a bit busy. My younger daughter, Megan, got married at Kealakaua Bay on the Big Island on the day of the Winter Solstice.  It was a gorgeous partly native, partly Jewish, mostly Pagan ceremony overlooking the bay.  It was also the first time in five years that the family (including Marge, my ex-wife) was all together.  Both Libby and Megan are smart, beautiful women and I am very proud of them.  Meg lives on the Big Island, by the way, and from the wedding attendance, it's apparent that everyone on the island loves either her or her husband or both.  We ate the whole pig and finished two kegs!  Erin also took advantage of the the resort hotel where we stayed: massage, pedicure, facial, yoga.  And of course, we ate like royalty but without the treasury; Eurasian food is a real joy.

 Prior to that time I did a choral festival at Biola University in LA in November that was a lot of fun, and where I had fine Korean food (ain't none of that around here, despite the strong LG presence) with two former students, Christian Campos and Joe Paguio. It was also great to see and hear the work of former students Shawna Stewart, Michelle Jensen and Shannon Mack.  And a perfect stranger sitting next to me at my judge's table asked me to sign his copy of my first book.  Blew me away.  Speaking of books, my second (and last), A Matter of Choice: Interpreting Choral Music, was published in early December and is available in both paper and e-format.  The profit for me is better at, but if you insist, you can also find it on Amazon, of course, as well as what's left of Barnes and Noble.  Mazeltov to me.


We flew RT from Chicago to Kona and back, arriving home on the 23 December and drove from Chicago to Green Bay, where we spent Christmas and New Years with Erin's wonderful family (well, mostly wonderful; some of the Rabid Republicans can be hard to take, but mostly they have learned to either ignore us or stay away from politics.  We ain't always easy to get along with either).  Her parents and siblings are utterly delightful and her bro has become a better cook than I, which is saying something but I'm not sure what.

Now Erin is back to work and I am back to my domestic and Recovery Routine, which now consists of bi-weekly physical therapy, trucking around the house with only one crutch, thrice/week work at the YMCA that includes four lower-body and six upper-body machines, for a daily total of 12.5k pounds of lifting, plus a few minutes on the recumbent bicycle.  Also, of course, visits to at least two specialists now and then, one of whom had predicted that he was 90% sure that I would be walking unassisted by now.  He was wrong: I am obviously a 10% kind of guy (hence the Macintosh).  My progress has leveled off and I still use two crutches when out of the house.  My physical therapist, whom I haven't seen since August, was really impressed with me this week, however, and she is an expert on spinal cord injuries, so she oughtta know, I guess.  My stretching/exercise routine four days/week is now up to almost 45 minutes per session and is really boring but necessary.  I sure wish I had the balance to resume yoga, but I would endanger not only myself but anyone within four feet of me.  I see the neurologist-who-failed-to-diagnose-my-condition next week to see if his current prognosis might again include walking unassisted.  I was told by my physiatrist (yeah, believe it or not) and PT person that my improvement would reach a plateau in a year and then slow down.  It has done both.  The anniversary of the corrective surgery is 2 Feb, but things are surely better: I am a long way from those first two months in a wheel chair, for which I am grateful, and will continue to do my utmost to improve further.  Fortunately, I have a very supportive wife and a delightful caregiver who is with me most of the time when Erin is at work.

Things could sure be worse.


Hey!  If you read this, could you please leave a comment so I can take roll?  I'd love to know if I should abandon this and rely completely on Facebook, or keep this up.  Dunno what might be best: they are both ego-centric exercises after all.  I mean who REALLY cares about what I do or what I think?  Huh?  I mean, really . . .