My Week Spot

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully, you can find something worthwhile on these pages. I am so grateful for all of the responses you have sent, and I am deeply touched by the fact that my random gleanings have had an impact on so many of you.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Friday, January 28, 2005

Stanzi will turn 15 on March 1st. At her age, sleep takes up most of the day. Posted by Hello

Stanzi is my Wheaten Terrier. She is quite simply the greatest dog God ever made. Posted by Hello

Soprano Jokes

(The Divas, not the Mobsters)

If you threw a violist and a soprano off a cliff, which one would hit the ground first?
The violist. The soprano would have to stop halfway down to ask directions.


What's the difference between a soprano and a terrorist?
You can negotiate with a terrorist.

What's the difference between a soprano and a pit bull?
The lipstick.

How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb?
One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.
Two. One to hold the diet cola and the other to get her accompanist to do it.
Four. One to change the bulb and three to pull the chair out from under her.


What's the difference between a Wagnerian soprano and a Wagnerian Tenor?
About 10 pounds.

What is the difference between a soubrette and a cobra?
One is deadly poisonous, and the other is a reptile.

How do you tell if a Wagnerian soprano is dead?
The horses seem very relieved.

What's the first thing a soprano does in the morning?
Puts on her clothes and goes home.

What's the next thing a soprano does in the morning?
Looks for her instrument.

What's the difference between a soprano and a Porsche?
Most musicians have never been in a Porsche.

What's the definition of an alto?
A soprano who can sightread.

A jazz musician dies and goes to heaven. He is told "Hey man, welcome! You have been elected to the Jazz All-Stars of Heaven--right up there with Satchmo, Miles, Django, all the greats. We have a gig tonight. Only one problem--God's girlfriend gets to sing."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

I am what I am

One of the hardest things to do in a constantly changing world is stay centered. 21st century realities demand constant adaptation. Careers that used to span a lifetime now seem to begin and end over night. “Long-term” relationships are often measured in something (much) less than years. Many of use have lived in several places in our lives, each move allowing and requiring self-redefinition. Madonna may be the master of reinvention, but we all have to do our share of it.

In fact, the only constant is change. Some changes are dramatic: death, marriage or a new job. Others are more subtle: a new friend, a receding hairline or a tooth replaced by a crown. Most day to day changes are trivial: a flattering shirt that gets coffee stained, a missed bus or a thought-provoking Blog. But, each change forces us to view the world differently, to accept a revised definition of “normal.”

The more transient the world becomes, the more I value those things which last. Family. Old friends. Antique furniture. Old master paintings. Classical music. While I don’t pretend that anything is permanent in this world, these things have stood the test of time and somehow seem more worthwhile to me than ephemera. That often puts me at odds with gay culture; I have no tattoos, no piercings and no Gwen Stefani CD’s.

But in the final analysis, the only reality we carry with us throughout our lives is ourselves. Sometimes this is easy to forget, because we get so busy adapting to new environments. For all the adjustments, we are still the same person. Only by holding on to who we were, can we keep track of who we are.

My career as a singer has encompassed many different styles of music: theater, pops, opera, oratorio, liturgical and cabaret, plus more than a few Temple High Holy Days. I haven’t sung in a rock band yet, but who knows? Each type of music requires a slightly (sometimes dramatically) different vocal technique. Even within the same style, different conductors can have vastly different tastes.

Since moving to Chicago in 1996, I have worked primarily as a choral bass, in contrast to my prior background as a solo baritone. This has necessitated that I expand my range downward (I use my low D’s frequently). I also have taken much of the “ring” out of the voice, in order to blend in the choral setting. These were not so much conscious choices, as pragmatic adaptations to the requirements of each gig.

Then, last week I had a coaching session with Patrick Sinozich, a friend and colleague from Grant Park Chorus and Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus. He is a brilliant diagnostician and a constructive and supportive tutor. He immediately identified the techniques that I had adapted (rightly or wrongly) for choral singing which were not my best voice for solo singing. Specifically, he was missing the ring in my voice.

As we worked, my singing improved in quantum leaps. I was seeing improvements immediately that singers study voice for years to achieve, simply by changing my thinking about how I was singing. Everything became easier, particularly the high notes. It physically felt better, always a good sign in singing. It was much more fun for me, and probably much more fun to listen to, if only because I was enjoying singing more.

I was not discovering a new way to sing, but reconnecting with the way I used to sing. It had been so many years since I had sung that way; I had come to believe I couldn’t do it anymore. I thought age (and martinis) had robbed me of my ability to sing with that ease and clarity of tone. My voice is obviously a little different from what it was years ago, but its essence has remained remarkably constant.

Singing this way brought back a flood of memories, like having my life flash before my eyes. I remembered who I had been in my prior life. (That may sound like Shirley MacLaine talking, but it’s true). I remembered roles, performances, venues, mentors, directors, conductors, coaches, and even extremely patient choreographers. I remembered the friendships I made. All happy memories.

Over the years, there have been some who liked my singing, and some who disliked it. I tried to develop as versatile a technique as possible, so that I could be useful in as many situations as possible. I always prided myself on being able to provide whatever was required by the impresario del giorno.

But attempts at versatility ignore that fact that my voice is what it is. I may try to vary it: larynx up or down, brighter or darker tone, louder or softer, more or less vibrato, crisper consonants or more legato. In the end, the essence of my voice remains more or less the same. And that’s OK. Actually, that’s pretty special.

Reconnecting to the past has been very centering. Reconnecting to a happy past has been particularly edifying, like a warm homecoming. Plus, reunion with my prior self is enabling a much more confident approach to the future. Thank you for that, Patrick.

Now, I’m going through my closet, trying on clothes I haven’t worn in a long time. Some of them look pretty good.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Top Ten Bush Quotes

10) "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream." —LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000

9) "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." —Greater Nashua, N.H., Jan. 27, 2000

8) "I hear there's rumors on the Internets that we're going to have a draft." —second presidential debate, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 8, 2004

7) "You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.'' —Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001

6) "Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB-GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." —Poplar Bluff, Mo., Sept. 6, 2004

5) "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again." —Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002

4) "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully." —Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000

3) "They misunderestimated me." —Bentonville, Ark., Nov. 6, 2000

2) "Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" —Florence, S.C., Jan. 11, 2000

1) "Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." —Washington, D.C., Aug. 5, 2004

Monday, January 24, 2005

This was the view Sunday afternoon from my living room window. Even amid all the harsh weather, winter can be surprisingly beautiful.  Posted by Hello

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Blue State Blues

The thinking (nearly) half of the population is feeling pretty blue this Inauguration Day. Like most GLBT's, I'm feeling downright scared. But, take heart! Here's my list of reasons not to slit my wrists, leave the country, return to the closet or otherwise give up.

1. We always get more accomplished during repressive regimes. During Clinton, we got the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask/Don't Tell. During W, we got overturning all sodomy laws and the first legal marriages of same-sex couples. Never underestimate the power of being the underdog in this country.

2. All of the prior attempts to stack the Supreme Court have failed. The reason: Justices serve for life. They don't have to kowtow to any constituency once they have the job. The majority of justices who voted to overturn sodomy laws were appointed by Republicans for their "conservative" beliefs. Never underestimate the power of unintended consequences.

3. W has created such an unholy mess with his idiotic foreign policy. Now, he's going to have to clean up after himself. Never underestimate the power of bad potty training.

4. We are divided into two camps in this country. Those who live by intellect, and those who live by faith. When I was growing up, the goal was to live by both. Now the faithful have no intellect, and the intellectuals have no faith. But both sides CAN evolve into something more integrated. Never underestimate the power of synthesis.

5. Finally, America ultimately responds to HOPE. Bush was elected on the basis of FEAR. In West Virginia, Republicans received mailings saying that Democrats were going to ban the Bible. In Florida, Hispanics received mailings saying that Democrats were anti-Catholic -- conveniently ignoring the fact that our candidate was Catholic. Fear of terrorism. Fear of a change in leadership during wartime. Even fear of that most dreaded of all evils - Gay Marriage!!! But fear never creates any progress, which is why we Americans tire of fear so quickly. Never underestimate the power of HOPE.

The next successful candidate will be the one who leads the country out of fear, into hope. Let's work our asses off to make sure that person is on our side next time.

Pandora’s Consolation

It’s been almost 30 years since I was in Junior High, but some days it feels like I never left. Junior High is a trying time for most kids: raging hormones, peer pressure, acne. But for some of us, Junior High was a living nightmare.

Pizitz Middle School was my second home for 6th through 8th grade. 1973-1975 was post-Stonewall, but that just made things worse. In Birmingham, Alabama, before Stonewall, everyone pretended there was no such thingas homosexuality. After, it was the greatest evil a person could commit. Being called a “homo” was worse than being called a thief, a rapist or a murderer.

I tried desperately to be closeted. Actually, I tried to be invisible. But the bullies were onto me. I got beaten up almost daily. I had very few friends. My day was divided into two sections – P/E and the time I spent dreading P/E.

As bad as it was for me, Dean Rainer had it the worst. Because of a series of extremely unfortunate events, he was suspected of being gay and rumors about his sexuality quickly became common knowledge. He was regularly mocked by everyone – including the school principle in a student convocation! He was being held up to all the rest of us as an example. “This is what we do to fags.”

Those wounds were deep, and the implications were tragic. Fear of loving. Fear of being unlovable. Fear a rejection from parents, siblings, friends, teachers, clergy, everyone that I loved. Fear of living. Fear that I would never be entitled to all the basic joys of life: god, family, marriage, children, respect, career options. Essentially, I thought that I would have no life, no liberty and no pursuit of happiness.

Today is Inauguration Day. And I feel like I am right back in Junior High. For the first time in years, I am actually afraid to be gay. However, ……

There is a huge difference between now and then. I was wimp in Junior High. No more. Now, I'm a dirty-fighting, bitch-slapping, take-no-prisoners, shrieking-in-your-face Cruella DeVille with nine inch nails. And I am pissed off. Now, I won't be bullied.
I’m working hard for the Human Rights Campaign (Federal Club Member, thank you), Lamda Legal, Chicago Gay Men's Chorus and anyone else I can find to productively channel my anger through. Most of my free time, most of my free money, most of my energy and most of my thoughts are about how to make this world VERY different from the f#%ked-up place it is today.

Like many others, my first impulse after the election was to leave. Go to Canada. Amsterdam. Paris. But that was Junior High thinking. What if all the Stonewall rioters had just packed up and gone quietly to jail? What if Lawrence and Garner had not stood up to the state of Texas when they were arrested and had not taken their case to the Supreme Court (ultimately, resulting in the elimination of all sodomy laws)?

Mostly, what about my ballet-dancing, organ-playing 15-year-old nephew Kevin who might be gay? What about all those other kids who are gay? Who is going to leave the world a better place for them if I give up? I had to grow up in a hostile environment with no mentors; I don’t want any more kids to have to endure that.

So, I’m fighting back. OK ... Now I’m feeling a little less scared. Maybe even a little hopeful.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Short summer cut Posted by Hello

I am the new Hortense

When I was growing up going in Shades Valley Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, there was a pillar of the community named Horty Jones. She was a vibrant, opinionated and somewhat eccentric woman, but what I remember most about her was that she was old. Mind you, for an 8-year-old, 13 was old. 30 was incomprehensible. 50 meant one foot in the grave.

One day I asked my mom why Horty Jones had such an odd name. Mildly surprised by the question, she responded that Horty was short for Hortense, as if I should have known. I had never known a Horty or a Hortense before (or since). Her name might as well have been Tyrannosaurus Rex, because as far as I was concerned, she was from another age, another planet.

I remember thinking, "Why didn't Horty's parents name her something normal? My mother's name (Virginia) seemed vaguely exotic (no one else I knew had it), but familiar since hers was one of the first names I ever learned. My Dad's name (David) was still in common use. I had never really encountered the idea that names could come and go, like hoopla hoops or flagpole sitting.

What a difference some age makes.

Here are the most popular baby names of 2004 (with 2003 in parenthesis)

Girls' names
1 Emma (Emily)
2 Madison (Emma)
3 Emily (Madison)
4 Kaitlyn (Hannah)
5 Hailey (Hailey)
6 Olivia (Sarah)
7 Isabella (Kaitlyn)
8 Hannah (Isabella)
9 Sarah (Olivia)
10 Abigail (Abigail)

Boys' names
1 Jacob (Jacob)
2 Aidan (Aidan)
3 Ethan (Ethan)
4 Ryan (Matthew)
5 Matthew (Nicholas)
6 Michael (Joshua)
7 Tyler (Ryan)
8 Joshua (Michael)
9 Nicholas (Zachary)
10 Connor (Tyler)

Where is Steve? How long have I been missing? But now that I think of it, I don't know a single Steve under 30. Horty Jones is now dead. Is this a mortality wake up call? What about Ann (my sister) or David (my brother) or Richard (the name of far too many men I've dated)? But then, I don't now any truly young Anns or Davids or Richards, either.

And pardon me, but are all young boys being named after porn stars? I'm sure we're all breathing a sigh of relief that Zachary's popularity was short-lived, but is Connor really an improvement? The girls names sound considerably more old-fashioned. So, is Hortense due for a comeback?

The question I keep asking myself is "Why?" Why would we an entire population forsake family names, forsake our own names, in order that our children might be stylish? Do parents actually think that their child's faddish name will last better than a namesake?

And how much longer can Waspy names dominate the list? The real areas of growth in the population would suggest that before long Fernando or Mohammed should be much more popular than Tyler. Or will the pull of assimilation be so strong that we see Muslim boys named Nicholas?

Maybe we've got it wrong. We don't have to use faddish names, or namesakes, or even Biblical names. African Americans have some very beautiful and original names, blending African and Anglo sonorities. The American Indian tradition of the first thing the father sees on leaving the tent from the newborn babe produces great imagery, but is limited primarily to the physical realm. For sheer poetry, the Asians have us all beat. Their names often have actual meanings in the language, meanings which relate to beauty and spirituality. To illustrate, I have included a very tiny sampling of Chinese names:

AN: peace
CHANG: free; uninhibited
FANG: fragrant; sweet smelling
HUAN YUE: joyful; happy
HUI YING: bright; intelligent
JIA LI: good and beautiful
JIN: gold
JING: crystal; sparkling
JUN: truth
NA: graceful
TAO: peach; symbol of long life
XIA: glow of the sunrise or sunset
XUE FANG: snow fragrant
ZHI: Irises; orchids; noble character; true friendship

For the record, the only opportunity I have ever had to name any creature was my dog. Stanzi. That was Mozart's nickname for his wife Constanza. I was playing the role of Mozart in Amadeus at the time, and it was a lovely way to commemorate the experience. Maybe not poetic, but at least somewhat original.


NB -- Spellcheck didn't recognize Horty or Hortense. But it caught my misspelling of Tyrannosaurus. So maybe we should stick to dynosaur names. They last longer.