My, aren’t we feeling precious?

I cringe when I hear someone extolling poets – or anyone else in a given field, say professional athletes – as a somehow superior species.

Even outstanding individuals need to be tempered as imperfect humans rather than extolled as gods.

Not that we shouldn’t keep striving toward excellence.

How do we take pride in our own accomplishments while staying humbly grounded?

Have you ever been divorced?

IN THE KITCHEN, A GRAY DAY, she’s made some kind of decision, has the Question: “What are you going to do about it? It could be the answer of our marriage.”

Afternoon rainy and green; the soil, saturated.

Smiling at her, “I don’t know. Sounds like your problem. How do you want me to answer? It’s a no-win. Seems to me you’re full of … (One, two, three.) Besides, I have a date in an hour.”

& gave her a hug.


FOR SOME REASON, THE HOT WATER in our big bungalow was not working. We had to be somewhere in western Pennsylvania the next morning – a job, perhaps. “Oh, we can stop at the Holiday Inn on the way. Shower in one of the empty rooms.” Except we got started late, and entered a room shortly after 8. Turned out it wasn’t empty either, but was occupied by two single, very attractive young women. Hailey got her shower in; not sure about me. As I was dressing, one of the girls was taking a deep bath. The maids were circulating. I couldn’t find matching shoes, but we left anyway. At the doorway, Hailey was holding up some see-through panties, with a mischievous leer.

My, I could have steered this dream in a much richer direction, had I been more attentive … and less responsible. Turned Hailey into the procurer for my menage a trois. Oh, my.

WE’VE JUST PURCHASED an old house (this picks up on a much earlier dream, a white frame on Patterson Road) when she fills the bathtub for us, in a kind of seduction attempt … I resist, it overflows. I grab a fluffy lavender bath towel to mop up the mess before it drips through the ceiling below, … irritating those neighbors(!) As I grab the towel, I comment that it’s my current love. Still, she wants sex again “for old times’ sake.”


AS SOME TYPE OF ATTEMPTED reconciliation, we decide to take a cruise, on a parade of cruise ships that ply the Ohio River as a kind of amusement park/smorgasbord … something we’ve apparently done before and enjoyed. The fun is somehow in a ride – somehow akin to a roller coaster – that goes from ship to ship … that is, also akin to Kings Island … only this year, the big thrill is the gap between ships in which the “riders” fall to the water before being scooped up to the ship ahead. Only when I’m cast out, I manage to break my fall, float in ways resembling a parachutist, and land softly in the water. But rather than being scooped up, I remain there and am soon swimming down a street of amphibious cars and trucks. I wind up at her house and am even climbing around on the oven and sink when I realize the presence of a scholarly yogi who asks some pointed questions. Maybe I’ve been with other ashramites all along. Eventually, she arrives, miffed, with a sense of Scarface off in the background somewhere (driving away, it seems). I tell her she finally has what she’s wants, that I’m leaving for good, and I brush past her out the door. (Only later do I worry about the credit cards.)

Somehow, this picks up on an earlier dream – perhaps repeated – of an amusement park somehow like a zoo but filled with food stands. (Lobster in the Rough, expanded? The Deerfield Fair?) There, I also eventually find myself outside the fence, but also somehow freed.

At any rate, this was disturbing enough to wake me at 7 a.m.

Why her? I am feeling somewhat adrift these days. And financially inadequate, looking at plumbing and other household projects as well as the charter school’s shortfall and a desire for a vacation.

A doctoral thesis dilemma

Doctoral hopefuls in English literature are often cautioned against selecting their favorite author as their dissertation subjects. So I’ve heard. Seems they’re quite likely to wind up hating everything about the person by the time their deep-dive project wraps up.

Wonder if that will happen with me and my Quaker history project before I’m done presenting it one way or another.

Not that I’d want to be addressed “Doctor.”

A shoutout to vocal warmups

If you like to sing, even if only in the shower, let me encourage you to check out some of these online.

One of my biggest surprises after getting involved in serious chorus participation after I retired from the newsroom was the importance of the warmups at our rehearsals. I had come to four-part, a cappella singing through Mennonites in my mid-30s, and I had never cottoned up to practicing scales and similar exercises back when I was learning violin as a preteen.

What George Emlen and then Megan Henderson presented in our first 15 minutes or so of rehearsal each week with Boston Revels totally changed my attitude. A good warmup not only added a few notes to my range but also tuned to the entire ensemble into a more, pardon the pun, finely tuned and more responsive instrument. Some of the exercises were definitely fun, laughter filled, as well as challenging. Try singing “Many mumbling mice singing by the moonlight my how nice” repeatedly as the pitch rises and the tempo speeds up, for instance, and soon the sopranos sound like they’re the Chipmunks on laughing gas. Or any of the numbers games.

And then, when Covid interrupted in-person interaction, some online offerings stepped into the void. I’m still finding them very helpful during the week between the rehearsal warmups with my new group, Quoddy Voices, and conductor John Newell.

Here’s a sampling:

  1. Cheryl Porter Vocal Coach. One of my favorites. With her big boxing gloves (seriously) and irresistible if corny enthusiasm, she could as easily be leading a housewives’ weight-control calisthenics round. But her exercises are heavy-hitting, well-grounded, and even dance inducing. Suitable for group singers and those looking to solo alike. Diss her at your own risk.
  2. Nathan Dame. Great perspectives from an outstanding Wylie East (Texas) public high school music educator. This is an example of why music can be a crucial part of a well-rounded curriculum. Dame pours so much energy into his adolescent choruses, I’m left wondering how he recovers at the end of the day. The kids clearly rise to his challenges and respect them. Many of his insightful techniques, meanwhile, seem to arise somewhere within him rather than from a textbook or standing tradition. And you can practice alongside them.
  3. Roger Hale. Solid college-level sessions for both actors and singers, grounded in classical perspectives with his Dixie State University students.
  4. Madeleine Harvey. Her video series relies on the fundamentals of traditional vocal training, things like breathing, breath control, tone, range top and bottom, pitch, agility, and avoiding strain. These are the kind of sessions a singer encounters with a personal professional vocal coach.
  5. Eric Arceneaux, Professional Vocal Warmup. His technical understanding of the voice extends to many popular music styles. Makes snobby me appreciate the abilities of some top-selling singers, too.
  6. Matthew Gawronski Just follow the notes on the screen. Some versions include a full choir to sing along with.
  7. Church Music Dublin with Mark Duley. Practical, everyday stuff. He’s one leader who finds physical movement with the hands and arms or more can improve the sound. I was skeptical at first. Not so now.
  8. Tony Leach with the Collaborative Music Education series from Pennsylvania State University. Professor Leach adds rote training in the African and African-American traditions to his excellent classical discipline. You’ll definitely get a sense of what makes Gospel such a focused genre to perform. I just wish the videos included his student choruses so that you’d get a feel of singing with others.
  9. Paul McKay One Voice. Not all of the warmups are for folks who read musical scores. McKay’s especially fine for explaining the inner working of things like riffs and runs and other techniques that greatly extend today’s vocal expression.
  10. Cincinnati Youth Choir. Don’t scoff at some of the children’s choirs. Their energy, clarity, and precision can be contagious. Just listen to the CYC’s video of “One voice” for proof. Besides, they can humble some of the rest of us.

Of course, if you start with these, you’ll quickly discover a host of great concerts and conductors as well. Beware.


They weren’t always ‘innocent’ victims

Among the stories I deleted from the draft of Quaking Dover was one dealing with the fate of a grandson of Dover founder Edward Hilton.

While both of the immigrant Hilton brothers eventually left Dover, Edward’s family married prominently.

I still feel that the story illuminates the tensions of living on the frontier of early New Hampshire, as you’ll see. It just didn’t fit into the emerging thrust of my book.

Take a look:

In the summer of 1706, Winthrop Hilton led a work crew of 17 men into the forest of Epping, which was then still part of Exeter. Across New England, all white pines of two-foot circumference or more were reserved for the Royal Navy to use as masts, and the provincial surveyor recorded and marked these as the King’s pine. Hilton’s task was called limbing, in this instance the removal the limbs and bark from mast trees felled the previous winter.

“Their only tool was an ax,” Joy True, curator of the Epping Historical Society, explains. If the bark was not peeled off these tall, straight, majestic trees, they would become damaged by worms.

Hilton was also the highest-ranking military officer in New Hampshire, a position he filled after the death of Major Waldron in 1689. The family homestead in Newfields, also then part of Exeter, was a fortified, manned garrison.

“In 1706 the natives kept careful watch,” True writes. “They attacked and killed any man that left the shelter of the garrison. By the summer of 1710, the ravages of the war had greatly exhausted the people of the upper New England villages. Many of the men that were fit for military service were away at Port Royal in Nova Scotia defending settlers from Indian attacks. In the meantime, small bands of Indians in this area were making forays into the white settlements with increased daring.”

Colonel Hilton made for an exceptional target. As a leading figure in the expeditions to the eastern frontier, he had taken in the raid against the Indian settlement at Norridgewock, Maine. “As a result, he became the object of bitter grudges by the enemy,” True observes. “He was above average size, of muscular physique, and of resolute character. He was one of the best, a leader in his community; and he was respected by friends and neighbors. But Hilton had a darker side; he thought nothing of killing the enemy, man, woman or child. On Indian raids, he often spared the women and children, taking them into captivity. Hilton and his band of men, traveled far and near, pursuing the enemy. Is it any wonder, the Indians hated him, and plotted their revenge?”

He thought he had enough men to avert trouble, but it was, as True notes, “a wet and stormy day, and all their powder was wet, so of little use to them in an emergency. The attack was so sudden; they never had a chance to respond.

“Colonel Hilton had determined many years before that he would not be captured by the Indians. He would fight to the death rather than being captured. The enemy was aware of this, and after all their planning, they knew they could steal closer to Colonel Hilton and give him little opportunity to defend himself. Then they struck, their first target was Hilton, and then two other men were quickly killed, and two men were captured. The rest of the men fled for Exeter, and safety.”

One of the captives “was probably Dudley Hilton, brother of Winthrop. His body was not recovered at the massacre, and he was never heard from again.”


Let me now ask:

Does any of this fit into what you had envisioned as early New England?


Musically, it’s about time moving on

One of the subtle changes in the world of high culture in my lifetime has been the widespread acceptance of women as both conductors and classical composers.

Long seen as a bastion of Dead White Males, almost exclusively Europeans, the musical bias was deeply engrained. Few of the world’s leading orchestras even had women in their ranks, much less on their programs or as regular guest soloists. That snobbery, by the way, also excluded American conductors and composers, and people of color in general, across the board in the Old World and the New.

When the gender line began to bend, the first women composers to gain significant attention, as far as I remember, were Felix Mendelsohn’s sister, Fanny, and Robert Schumann’s wife, Clara.

More recently, Amy Cheney Beach has come to the fore. New Hampshire-born and then proper Boston society, she was largely self-taught, a piano virtuoso whose hefty piano concerto and symphony are both personal favorites. Her keyboard works have justifiably gained advocates, and a comprehensive retrospective at the University of New Hampshire marking the 150th anniversary of her birth was a revelation. Some of her gorgeous chamber works, moving into a more Impressionistic vein, actually moved me to tears listening in live performance.

Today, talented women composers are showing up everywhere, even winning major prizes like the Pulitzer. Quite simply, it’s hard to keep up.


Similar advances are being seen on the podium, led by Americans.

Pioneered in the ‘60s and beyond by Sarah Caldwell at her Opera Company of Boston and Margaret Hillis at the Chicago Symphony Chorus, early conductors of note also included Judith Somogi with opera and orchestral roles across the U.S. and then Europe, Eve Queller at her Opera Orchestra of New York, and Fiora Contino, who I remember from opera productions at Indiana University.

Later, as innovative major symphony music directors, we’ve been blessed with Joanne Faletta at the resurrected Buffalo Philharmonic and Marin Alsop in Baltimore.

It’s all opened the doors for a slew of younger conductors who are moving up the ranks and in the running for major positions like heading the Los Angeles Philharmonic, now that Gustavo Dudamel will be moving on to Gotham.

Looking at the 18 conductors being heard on live Metropolitan Opera broadcasts this season, I see four are women, one twice, something that would have been unimaginable at such a conservative institution only a decade ago.

Do note the trend, then. Anyone else find it exciting?