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Going Up!

It occurred to me the other day that I’m spending an awful lot of time in elevators.  This is, of course, a factor of age, occupation, age, social life, age…  Well, you may get my drift.  Gone are the days when I thought nothing of running up or down several flights of stairs.  Nowadays, it’s push the button and wait for my usual mode of ascent or descent.  I live in a high rise (that’s one elevator trip); I volunteer in a high rise (trip #2); I often go to a social club which is in a high rise (trip #3); and then there are the occasional trips to friends (trips #4, 5, and 6).  My two man-made knees and my creaky back appreciate elevators, but I’ve also learned some interesting life lessons while hanging out in elevators.

My two man-made knees and my creaky back appreciate elevators, but I’ve also learned some interesting life lessons while hanging out in elevators.

In the first place, I never get to hear all of the story.  That’s frustrating.  “So Albert and Mrs. G are having a little fling, and you know what?”  (Door opens.  Arggh!!)  “Well, I’ve pretty well decided that this job is just not worth it.  Next week I’m going to” (Door opens.  Rats!)   (Enter as door opens): “…and she said that if he doesn’t do something about this situation and do it now, I’ll do something.” “How are you going to do that?”  (Door opens.  I’ll never know, but I’ll be reading the paper.)  I have often thought I could take some of these overheard bits and pieces and write a novel – or at least a short story!

Another commonality for us Riders In the Sky is our profound ambivalence to the sounds around us.  Of course, there’s the famous elevator music.  Kenny G must make a fortune from all that sound that comes from his side-mouth clarinet.  Couldn’t the building afford the Boston Pops, music from great ballets or even Mariachi?  Maybe the decision-makers are afraid we’ll break into dance and disrupt the cables.  I don’t know.

Then there’s perfume.   Some folks, both men and women, must splash on large quantities of really pungent perfume or after-shave just before boarding the elevator.  You could die from the fumes.  And even after the offender has left, the melody lingers on.  I used to live in a high rise in Montreal, and I could always tell if the woman who lived three floors up had been in the elevator; she wore a fake fur that was drenched in Armani.  To this day, I hate the smell!

And, of course, there’s the ever-present cell phone attached to a fellow rider’s face.  I always thought there was no internet service in the confines of an elevator; not so.  Being in the elevator may just require that one speaks louder and repeats often.  But I only hear one side of a conversation and I’m left to wonder what the other person was saying.  It has occurred to me, however, that people on cell phones while in an elevator have found a way to avoid talking to anyone who is also on the elevator.  It’s all a fake, people!  You gaze at the floor lights with rapt attention, I talk on my cell phone.  Mission accomplished:  I don’t have to talk to you or even admit your presence.

Another thing that’s odd about elevator travel:  if you’ve ever been on an elevator with a man whose religion forbids he look at other women, he must, perforce, turn to the wall.  In the small confines of an elevator car, this is disconcerting to say the least.  Why doesn’t he just get a cell phone and stare at the floor numbers as they appear?

Finally, for the truly faint-hearted, there are the scary sounds some elevators make (I don’t mean Kenny G).  I’m going along, up or down as the case may be, when out of nowhere comes this groaning sound and I start to wonder if this is my trip to the Great Beyond instead of to the 20th floor.  Furtively, I glance around at my fellow passengers and no one seems to be alarmed or grasping the side rails, so I decide that they are all used to this particular elevator and its song.  Nothing to worry about, right?  And have you ever checked the weight allowance posted in the elevator?  Why is that posted inside the elevator instead of in big letters outside where all those people who are trying to crowd on are?  We’re all going to die….

And have you ever checked the weight allowance posted in the elevator?  Why is that posted inside the elevator instead of in big letters outside where all those people who are trying to crowd on are?

I’m glad to announce (in case you haven’t noticed) that you needn’t take an elevator to enter the beautiful Temple Beth-El  in order to enjoy a superb musical experience.  So relax:  a few steps, a ramp and you’re all set to hear something that will make you forget all about elevator music.   In fact, our next (and the season’s last) concert is on the horizon:  The fabulous Finckel/Han/Setzer Trio will make your Sunday afternoon, April 28th, a joy.  Come join us at 3:15pm and forget all about elevators!  By the way, the 2019-2020 season will also be unveiled and subscription tickets will be available for sale. We will also be distributing a very brief questionnaire to learn your favorites.  See you there!

– E Doyle

Rest In Peace

I went to a funeral yesterday.  No, you didn’t know the man who had died and it’s likely you didn’t know his family.  Even I had only a brief acquaintance with him and his family, but it happened that a member of my family had married this man’s daughter and I’m glad I bestirred myself to attend the man’s departure ceremony.  Patience.  I’ll tell you why.

To begin with, the two families that were united by the marriage of (let’s call him) John and his wife and her daughter and my cousin are from different ethnic cultures and different races.  The funeral chapel was filled to capacity with every color of human, every manner of grieving for this ordinary, remarkable man.  The music performed ranged from “Time To Say Goodbye” through Country-Western to opera.  There was also music representing John’s ancestors’ culture.  The minister spoke of the glories of the afterlife, the rewards of a life well-lived, etc., etc., and it was clear he didn’t know John or his wonderfully variegated family.

The impressive part of this memorial, though, was not the music or the minister or the message; it was the spoken reminisces of his friends and family.  John was a man who loved others; he was a good friend, a helper, a facilitator, an accepter of differences.  For many years, he had a business which put him in contact with all manner of people and he was known as a “soft touch.”  He would try to help anyone he could, his generosity sometimes putting his own finances at risk, according to his friends.  He had a mischievous sense of humor, a dry intellectual wit and a sense of fun that remained in the fond memories of his family and his neighbors. His nieces remembered John taking them to concerts, all kinds of concerts, and how they enjoyed those special times with their uncle.  His neighbors told of the fabulous desserts he’d make to share with all.  As one by one, his friends and family spoke of John and recounted stories of his deeds and his joy, I wished I had known him better. 

The impressive part of this memorial, though, was not the music or the minister or the message; it was the spoken reminisces of his friends and family. 

If you’re lucky, once in a while you will come across someone like John – an unforgettable person who even at his last rites brings smiles and happiness to those he touched.  People like John are to be treasured, as John was and will forever be in the memories of his friends and family.  I know they will tell stories of him for years to come and they will laugh and cry for missing him and laugh for remembering him.

Driving home, I pondered (as one does) what would be said about me when I could no longer come up with a smart riposte or a lame excuse.  I measured out the joys of my life and hoped that I had shared them, as John did, in such a way as to bring joy to others.  I, too, would like to be remembered as one who joins together cultures and ethnicities and races, but John has set a very high bar.

I hope that you will share some joy with me at our April 28th concert presentation, the Finckle/Han/Setzer Trio. You will find beauty to share as you listen to this remarkable trio, known for their exquisite mastery of the piano trio genre.  We’ll be at Temple Beth-El and students and active duty military will be admitted free.  Come enjoy!

– E Doyle

The Holiday Bowl

Here we are, just a few days before Thanksgiving and the official start of the Christmas season.  The River will soon be festooned with lights, downtown buildings will sport lights and decorations and cars will sprout antlers and red noses on their hoods.  In my house, there is a slight vibration, a humming sound coming from a kitchen cabinet – and I know what it is.   It is the atoms that make up the special, green pottery bowl; they are quivering with anticipation of their annual holiday turn.

You know there has to be a story here and here it is.  Years ago, I became the current keeper of a large bowl.  It’s an ordinary-looking bowl: made of sturdy pottery, a dark jade green in color and with a wide rim that allows a firm grip.  It holds about 2 quarts, I guess, although I’ve never tested capacity.  I suspect that it may have been one of a set of green pottery bowls, but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, if it was, it is the sole survivor.

And why is it special, this rather homely green bowl?  Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough.  Then the bowl came down to my mother.  In my recollection of home, the same home where my grandmother had lived, there was a large, walk-in pantry that smelled of spices and contained rows of mysterious glass jars and bins for flour and sugar.  There on a shelf was everything needed for holiday meal preparation: a big, black roaster oven, ample enough for an enormous turkey, the pot that was big enough for a dozen or more potatoes (not to be mistaken for the sweet potato pot); there was the colander you’d need for the green beans; the pie plates for that special pecan pie that only my mother could make; the cut glass dish for the cranberry sauce – and the green pottery bowl.

Originally, it was in the care of my grandmother, a dairy farmer from Ireland.  Perhaps the color appealed to her, perhaps it was the heft of the pottery.  She was a lady known to be a superb bread maker, and the green bowl would have been just the right size and shape for dough. 

In my experience, the green pottery bowl was only used to make dressing for the Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys.  (Some call it “stuffing,” but I think that sounds like something you’d put in a mattress.)   Three or four days before the start of the serious preparation began, slices of bread would be arranged on baking sheets and left in a sunny window to dry out.  Then we’d make corn bread that included a little bacon grease in the mix.  And then someone would be assigned to very carefully lift the green pottery bowl from the pantry shelf and wipe it with a dish towel.  In goes the cut-up bread, in goes the cubed corn bread, in goes the celery and spices, in goes the stock — and the magic begins.           

So now I have made holiday dressing in the green pottery bowl for more than 50 years.  It has traveled the world over with my dishes and pots and pans, but is only taken down from its special place for the creation of dressing.  I suspect that this bowl carries within its pottery some very special spices, some magical ingredient that three generations of women have ingrained into it.  It has a little bit of Ireland, a little bit of Texas farm, a smidge of Bolivia, a taste of Argentina and of Brazil and a cold, cold touch of Quebec stored away in its elemental clay.  This is a bowl that knows its place and its role, and always gives its all to every holiday feast.  It has not a chip or scratch, it has NEVER experienced a dishwasher and will be passed on to yet another generation in my family.  It’s probably not worth the pottery it’s made of, but in my family, it is a treasure.

In these coming days, I will carefully lift the green pottery bowl from its place in the cupboard, wipe it out with a dish towel, think of my mother and grandmother, and start making the world’s best dressing!

I hope you too have a treasure and a tradition to enjoy this holiday season.  And here’s to all the cherished green pottery bowls.  Best wishes from your friends, the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.

– E Doyle

Moving Day

I am presently surrounded by all of my worldly possessions: everything from a grade school picture to my mother-in-law’s best crystal candleholders; every possible-sized pot and dishes from at least 3 sets; hair brushes of unknown provenance, pots full of defunct ballpoint pens, 4 oriental rugs of varying sizes, and one forlorn dwarf bamboo in a moldering pot.  And that’s only what I can presently see!  As I relocate from my home of 25 years to an apartment (which I thought was spacious), I have learned some valuable lessons which I will impart to you.

Lesson 1:

The three most dreaded words in the English language are, “Have you seen…” followed closely by “Where is the…” and “It’s here somewhere.”

Lesson 2:

You know you’re getting old when you need more space for your medicine collection than for your makeup (and note that all your makeup, which has been hidden away for years, begins with some variant of “anti-aging”).

Lesson 3:

If you say to yourself, “Where did this ever come from?” or “Is this mine?” toss it!  If you haven’t seen/used it in memory, you don’t need it.

Lesson 4:

If you and your significant other are still on speaking terms after a couple of weeks of this, you’re good for all eternity – or at least until one or the other of you walks out in disgust.

Lesson 5:

Keys.  If you have any idea of what all these keys you’ve accumulated over the years unlock, you’re a better person than I.  Corollary:  put tags on all keys while you still have some idea, albeit vague, of what they go to.  Another corollary: do you know how hard it is to throw away a key?  What if…?

Lesson 6:

Carefully label all boxes as they are packed.  That way, you’ll have a perfectly good reason to burst into tears when, unpacking, you find your good silverware at the bottom of a box of coat hangers.

Lesson 7:

When you just can’t take the sight of clutter as far as the eye can see, when your beautiful, light-filled apartment is pitch black because there are boxes stacked against the windows, when you find one more piece of something you know goes with something else but you can’t remember what and you don’t dare throw it away because you know that sooner or later you’ll find what it goes to, when it’s all just too much – well, it’s time to find a wine glass and a bottle of good wine, put the classical guitar music on and just try not to think about it for a while.  It will still be there when you’ve finished the wine, but you just won’t care.

I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?

How did all this stuff accrete to me?  I feel like a coral reef without the pretty fish!  Layers upon layers of boxes, paintings, pitchers and pictures, lamps and lamp shades, international things that I’m sure caught my eye in Bolivia or Beijing, Egypt or Copenhagen – what is it and why do I have it?  Or does it have me?  I look enviously at refugees, carrying all their worldly possessions in bundles and, while I don’t wish to be in their number, I respect their ability to put all of their really important possessions in a sheet or serape, bring the corners together in a knot and sling everything over their shoulders.

I did miss one very important lesson:  if you can find some clean clothes somewhere, put them on and come to a concert.  November 11th, the American String Quartet along with Tom Sleigh and Phil Klay will be performing at our regular venue, Temple Beth-El, at our regular time 3:15.  You can come inside, shut off the clutter and confusion for a couple of hours and just relax, re-lax.  It will all be there when you get back, but I am a believer in escape, no matter how transitory.  And if you see someone with a serape full of possessions over her shoulder, well that will be yours truly.

– E Doyle

Goodbye, Summer

I know when summer’s about played out when the “end of season” catalogues begin stuffing my mailbox.  “Seventy percent reduction,” they scream.  All the wonderful merchandise the shop couldn’t peddle during spring and summer (and some left over from last summer’s sales).  There’s that suit I craved when I first laid eyes on it in the spring catalogue.   “New for summer!” the headline blared.  “Cool, well-styled, just the outfit for office-to-evening,” they promised.  But, oh boy, it wasn’t cheap.  Now it’s the perfect “transitional” suit – whatever that means – and the price is half what it was in the spring catalogues.  I’m not biting.  I’ve gotten this far without it; what’s a couple of months more.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.

Another catalogue that arrived yesterday was filled with merchandise for Halloween and, yes, Thanksgiving.  Oh, pul-eeze!!  I’m sure the next one will be touting Christmas wares.  Can’t we just enjoy the waning and still beach-worthy days of August without the constant reminders that time is marching on?  I don’t know if I’ll even survive until Thanksgiving, let alone decorate my Thanksgiving table with themed placemats, napkins and centerpieces.  Ugh!

In the interests of complete disclosure and truthfulness, I used to write advertising copy for a long-gone department store (remember those?).   The challenge was to grab the attention of the newspaper reader (SALE! In 36 point letters would usually accomplish that) and then to convince them that this was an item he or she had to have.  Oh, and everything had to fit in the space allocated by the evil layout designer, Helen.  I still have my well-worn and thumbed through Roget’s Thesaurus.  How many ways can you say “exquisite”?

And while I’m confessing my sins, I might as well tell you that I voraciously read out of town stores’ ads, magazine copy and even catalogues for bits and pieces I could use.  My boss thought I was a creative genius.   If only she knew….

I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.

So I recognize the challenges faced by a catalogue copywriter and, really, I sympathize.  But just as it was hard for me to gin up enthusiasm for Christmas copy in September, it must be murder for these poor hacks to rhapsodize over fall fashion sometime in April to make their mid-summer deadlines.  If you’ve just walked two or three blocks to your cubbyhole (copywriters don’t get real offices) in the blazing heat of July, it’s darn nigh impossible to switch your gears to contemplate the wools of November.  To write about ski gear in August, swimsuits in January and, gag, Christmas wreaths in September takes a very special kind of crazy.  I know.

Check your personal stack of newly-arrived catalogues, though.  Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”  That’s doesn’t qualify as a “screamer,” as we say in the trade, but I hope it speaks to you.  That’s the season offering of the San Antonio Chamber Music Society and the subscription form.

Lurking amid all those incredible bargains and must-have merchandise, I hope you’ll find one that reads (in 18 point), “2018/19: A Stellar Season.”

If you have to say goodbye to summer, what better way than starting off the concert season with the Brentano String Quartet plus soprano Dawn Upshaw on October 7?  “Glittering clarity” is how The Strad described their music.  Man!  I wish I’d written that phrase!

The season gets better and better and, really, you won’t want to miss one concert.  Just look:

Reverting to my copywriting days – Only $100 will buy a season ticket PLUS 1 bonus ticket that can be used at any concert!!!  AND  any ticket may be used for any of the 5 concerts!!!  And students and active-duty military attend our concerts FREE!

Just call 210-408-1558 to reserve your season ticket or order online.  I will recognize you, you know:  you’ll be the one in the “transitional” outfit, right?

– E Doyle

The Pipes

Lucky me!  I’m just back from a trip to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Hebrides and France. The music that remains swirling about my poor, jet-lagged brain is the evocative, mysterious and moving music of the bagpipes. I know you’ve heard the joyful music of “River Dance” and the mournful music of “Danny Boy;” but have you heard the magical music of the Galician pipes the gaita?

Let’s talk pipes, shall we?  There’s a matter-of-fact and altogether boring description in Google:

“Bagpipes are a woodwind instrument using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag.”

Does that even begin to describe the lump in the throat caused by a solitary Highland piper playing in a cathedral?  There’s no explanation there either of the effect on the feet of a rousing Irish pipe melody played in a pub where the beer flows and the dancers twirl and tap.  And then there’s the smile that appears on the listeners’ faces when a well-loved tune like “Amazing Grace” is played on the pipes.

The bagpipes have a long and glorious history, you’ll be glad to know.  Evidence of pipes goes back as far as 1000 BC:  the Oxford History of Music, no less, says there’s a Hittite sculpture showing bagpipes at Euyuk in the Middle East.  The Greeks, too, had pipes and it’s entirely possible that Nero (more famous for playing violin) could play the pipes.  I wonder, was he actually playing the pipes while Rome burned?  Doesn’t sound quite right, does it?  By Medieval times, it seems as though everybody had taken up the pipes.  They get a mention in The Canterbury Tales (1380):

A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne, / And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.

At the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh 1547 (surely you’ve heard of that), the bagpipes were used to bring the Scottish troops to battle and, they hoped, frighten the bejesus out of the English.  For a’that, the Scots lost and the Duke of Somerset won the day.  T’was a terrible waste of the music.  But this period saw the creation of the ceòl mór (great music) of the bagpipe, which reflected its martial origins, with battle-tunes, marches, gatherings, salutes and laments. [J. E. A. Dawson, Scotland Re-Formed, 1488–1587 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-7486-1455-9, p. 169.]

Through the years, the pipes have become increasingly associated with the military – there were pipers in Afghanistan – the police and firefighters.  Could you ever forget the heartbreaking pipes playing after 2011? But I’ll bet you didn’t know that the bagpipes provide the “official music” of the sport of curling!   I haven’t quite figured out curling, but I’ll enjoy the music nevertheless.

So regard the bagpipes, in all their forms and nationalities: Scots, Irish, Spanish, French, Asturian, Portuguese and everywhere they’ve traveled with armies.  The proud music swirls, the pipes with their banners, the bags with their clan plaids lend their special lilt and flair to parades and commemorations.  The wonderful peals of bagpipes are music to the ears of so many people in so many countries, but I can guarantee that there’s nothing like the Great Highland bagpipes as they’re played in the Scottish highlands.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Piping in” someone or something.  You’ll be that happy to know that we’ll be “piping in” our 76th season at the San Antonio Chamber Music Society.  And if you wish to be piped in to the first performance on October 7, you’d best make haste and buy your season tickets online at sacms.org.  And give a wee listen to the Merry Ploughmen of Dublin.

Have a wonderful summer, one and all.

– E Doyle

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