At trivia night last night at Elephant & Castle, Rahul, Darren and I gorged on free appetizers but didn’t do so well in the trivia department. We really need more people, both a sports guy and a guy that watches a lot of current tv. Our previous attempt was a couple of months ago, with Rick chipping in that time, and we might have done marginally better this time. Darren came through with the most answers. They couldn’t crank up the audio system as much as they needed to because there was a Christmas party going on downstairs, so it was hard to hear some of the questions and I never did hear a couple of the answers, but here’s most of the questions that I can remember after 20 hours and three beers:

What are the teams that have only won the Stanley Cup once?
Name the actors/actresses who have said 3 or more quotes in AFI’s top 100 movie quotes list
What pro sports team is named after a kind of osprey?
What European capital is situated on the Spree river?
What university has Touchdown Jesus?
What is the first name of both of the Gilmore Girls?
What show is hosted by Jillian Michaels?
What North Carolina company name is an anagram of a church that was across the street from their first headquarters
What instrument do the following three guys, including Geddy Lee and some guy named Such, play?
What song was played on the radio as a signal to evacuate Saigon?
What is the occupation of Chesley Sullenberger?
What was the first item sold on ebay, which, although broken, got its owner arrested at an airport and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail?
What is the name of the bone separating your nostrils?
What movie prompted some reviewer to coin the phrase “torture porn”?
What tv character is played by Zachary Levi?
What mammal has the second largest population on Earth after humans?

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Chloe texted me during chorus rehearsal last night to tell me we’d gotten the call from the Marlborough Historical Society that we won a Christmas tree, one of the 41 decorated trees they were raffling off in their annual Festival of Trees that we visited on Sunday. We can’t remember exactly what this one looked like, apparently it has a lot of gold ornaments on it, we should be picking it up in a day or two.

This will go nicely with the tree we won at last year’s festival, when there were a lot less trees and a lot fewer people. It was Chloe’s name on the ticket in both cases, so technically she’s the winner, and now two for two. Last Christmas we were going to be traveling so we’d already figured on not buying a real tree, and then ended up winning what I thought was the best one, which came not only completely decorated but with a bottle of wine and a couple of other non-tree items. While I still prefer real trees – with the piney smell and the tradition and needles all over the floor and trying to be good about filling up the base with water but it dies within a couple of days anyway – you can’t argue with success. If Chloe was old enough, she should buy a lottery ticket.

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Thanksgiving recap

Nov 30, 2009

For the first time since July 2005, Jill and Bob and the girls came to Boston for a Thanksgiving visit this past week. I’ve been badgering them to come out for the last few years, particularly when I’m entertained with descriptions of their frequent trips to southern California and now Florida to visit other various brothers. So when Jill was telling me this June about impending trips to both places within a couple of months, before I could even jump on this inequity with an “Aha! And what about coming to Boston?” she countered with their plans to visit here in November.

And thus it came to pass. They found there way to the house by Monday mid-afternoon, while I was still at work. I tried to get out of there early but ended up reaching home maybe half an hour sooner than I would have on a normal day, but I had the rest of the week off to either entertain, chauffeur, or watch sports, or some combination thereof. Beth made dinner and Ashley studiously practiced her Christmas music on the piano, which she did every day during their stay. The kids teamed up on the bedrooms with the trundle bed and air mattress, that all seemed to work just fine. The biggest challenge, as expected, was eight people using one bathroom, but once the girls got the knack of using the bathroom when it was available, rather than the last minute when they absolutely needed it (much like driving through Wyoming) then they were fine.

Tuesday our kids were still in school, and Chloe had requested we use that day if we had the notion to “do something historical”. The weather was overcast but not rainy, so we drove up to Concord and toured Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, which I have driven by many times but never been inside. I remember calling them 20+ years ago when we were looking for a wedding venue to see if they did weddings, which they didn’t, but that’s about it. Ashley and Alexa had seen the movie with Winona Ryder so they had some passing connection to the place, plus I thought it would be good for them to see a house that was even older and draftier than ours.

The tour was pretty full for a dreary Tuesday afternoon, most everyone else there, including a few families, were from out of state. By pure chance we got there three minutes before the next tour was about to start, so we didn’t see the video, but the tour guide was very good and answered a lot of questions, particularly from other people’s kids who had just watched the movie on the way there. Several of the downstairs rooms had been emptied of furniture in anticipation of some holiday thing going on in December, so it made it easier to get around with a large group. The house doesn’t look that big from outside, but there was a fair amount of space inside.

Alcott’s best known book, Little Women, takes place in Orchard House, according to the tour guide. But while its based on the story of her childhood, that story didn’t happen in this particular house, since they didn’t move there until 1858 when she was 26. She did write the book at the house, however, transplanting the action from the real location up the street at a previous residence, now known as Wayside and run by the park service.

Anyway, after the tour everyone was hungry so we drove into Concord center and had lunch at a recommended diner-type place called Helen’s, which was very good, Jill got her lobster roll (lobster being one of only two must-haves on their agenda) but Bob held out for getting an actual lobster later on. Did a little shopping at the toy store down the street then headed back to our house (which we could call Leaf House based on what’s all over our backyard now, in the summer maybe Skunk House would be a better name but that’s more the whole neighborhood, not just us). Besides lobster, Jill & Bob’s only other agenda item was to get Bertucci’s pizza, so we ordered that out for dinner, although now that its been probably 10 years since the chain left the Chicago area, it would seem the nostalgia factor has faded somewhat, and the menu has changed quite a bit also.

Wednesday we had talked about driving to Plymouth to check out the rock and the Mayflower and whatever else was going on down there. It was another dreary day, more rain this time. Everyone was moving kind of slow, Bob and I went to the gym in the morning, then we all went off for a somewhat late lunch at Uno’s in Westborough, by the time that was over it was already 2pm, so I pointed out that we could still go to Plymouth, but we wouldn’t get there until 3:15 and it would be dark at 4:30. So we decided to go with Plan B and drove down to Webster for some indoor mini golf at Monster Golf (which is kind of like Plymouth, although I can’t exactly say how). It’s a fun place to kill an hour or so, it wasn’t very busy, and there are enough arcade type games there to keep the kids occupied until they rack up enough tickets to buy some cheap crap. Ashley got a little plastic lizard in a bottle of colored goo, it doesn’t appear to do anything other than exist, but she seemed happy. We drove home in the rain, trying to avoid holiday traffic.

Thanksgiving day for me was just a run-up to dinner, as I spent the better part of the day in the kitchen. Everyone else pitched in with one thing or another, making it actually a pretty easy meal to prepare, just a lot of different things to keep track of. By using a store-bought pumpkin pie and making the boring versions of green beans and sweet potatoes, that limited the number of dishes and the complexity to a certain extent, plus the cranberry sauce had already been made on Tuesday and the stuffing and pear cobbler topping prepared on Wednesday. So by 5:30 or so everything was ready and it came out rather well if I do say so myself. Chloe and Alexa entertained themselves watching various tv marathons, plus about half the Macy’s parade, there was hardly any time or opportunity for watching the NFL games.

Friday Bob and I were back to the gym in the morning, while Beth and Jill went shopping for most of the day. Since us guys were in charge we ordered out subs from Family House for lunch and watched the Illini get thrashed by Cincinnati during the afternoon. Bob had bought a 1000-piece puzzle at the Concord toy shop that depicted some Christmas village scene, so we had set up a table in the living room next to the tv and the grown-ups with some help from Justin spent hours and hours working on it over the course of several days. The day was dreary and rainy yet again, so there wasn’t much point in scheduling anything more ambitious (Thanksgiving day, on the other hand, was reasonably clear and sunny, but everything was closed and there was nowhere to go). Justin and Ashley played Monopoly for hours on in, Justin occasionally lending her money when Ashley got dangerously short of cash, with no expectation of being paid back (isn’t that how the recession happened?). Once the womenfolk were back from shopping, we headed over to Coral Seafood for dinner, since Bob was determined to get his lobster, and it sounded pretty good to Jill and me, too. The kids I think all had non-seafood items, and since there were still plenty of leftovers in the fridge we didn’t get dessert at the restaurant. At the end of the meal, the waitress must have been nearby while we were talking about walking next door to Starbucks, because we hadn’t been in there two minutes looking for cookies for the kids when she walked in to hand Bob back his credit card which he’d left on the table.

Saturday the sun was trying to come out but there were 25mph wind gusts too. The Lemkes flight wasn’t until 8pm, so there had still been talk of taking in Plymouth on the way there, which would’ve involved three cars because I was driving into the city that evening to play at the BSO Café. But once again no one was moving very fast that morning, and packing took a while, so lunch came and went and everyone preferred to stay local. We brought back sandwiches from the place up the street, then did a little shopping at the Wayside Country Store and the Paper Store since Ashley in particular had some money to burn. I had to leave shortly before they did, so I can only assume they made it back home in a timely fashion. But it was a good visit and hopefully generates good press towards influencing any future plans from that other bunch in Orlando.

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From the fall of 1975 to the spring of 1977 I studied piano with Denis Morel, who basically was the piano faculty at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois. My studies with him coincided with his entire tenure at the small liberal arts college. How he ended up there I have no idea. Morel made reference several times to having studied with Jakob Gimpel, who according to online sources had been teaching at California State University at Northridge since 1971. MacMurray may have been Morel’s first college-level teaching job, he must have still been in his 20’s at the time, so he’d be nearly 60 now. He was always just “Mr. Morel”, he did not have a PhD at the time.

I’m not sure where Morel was from originally, one would think he must have been from the general southern California area to end up at Northridge, but maybe not. He said something once about having to save up money to get a lesson with Gimpel once in a while, so it would seem he still made it back to southern California on occasion, which would make sense if he had family there. We talked one time about his preference for college football vs. mine for pro football, he said he liked the lack of perfection at the college level, that any play could affect the outcome of the game. He referred to either his high school or college team as having a defensive line consisting of four guys with last names beginning with I, C, B, M, which came to be known as their ICBM defense.

Since I was only 13 at the time I started lessons with Morel, my dad usually drove me to lessons in Jacksonville. Morel was frequently late, or behind schedule, not unusual for piano teachers. His studio was I think on the top floor at the end of a narrow, dark, paneled hallway, next to the “music library”, which was basically a tiny room filled with records. The music library might have been only slightly smaller than his studio, there were two pianos in the room, facing each other from opposite corners, with enough space between them to walk through. There were piles of music everywhere, there must have been a desk, too, although I don’t specifically remember it. Dad would usually just sit at the bench of the other piano with nothing to do while I had my lesson. In the winter time, the windows were covered with plastic to keep the drafts out, and on breezy days the plastic would snap in and out loudly and randomly. Having grown up in a new house I’d never seen that before. The building, like the music department, has long since been demolished.

Morel had a scruffy beard that was only an inch or so wide, extending from ear to ear around his chin like elongated sideburns, with no mustache. In colder weather I remember him wearing some sort of cape that tied around the neck. He was living somewhere fairly close by, within walking distance, and was supposedly married to this girl whose name I don’t remember, but the one time I saw her, Dad picked up on the fact that when we were introduced she didn’t have the same last name.

It was during this time that I really started getting into classical music, which wasn’t easy to do in central Illinois in the mid-70’s. While I was working on the Mendelssohn Variations, he ordered an LP of Alicia de Laroccha performing it, picking out her recording from the Schwann catalog based on her reputation, but after listening to it he gave it to me, saying “I like the way you play it better.” I also discovered public radio, but the closest station was in Peoria, and didn’t come in very well or very consistently. One December they were doing a “Beethoven’s birthday bash”, playing a couple of days of Beethoven continuously, culminating in the 9th symphony. I already had some familiarity with the 5th and 9th symphonies from records, and would conduct along with the radio performance. Dad mentioned this to Morel, who said maybe I was going to end up as a conductor. I think as a Christmas present one year he gave me an LP of Gimpel playing Schumann.

Morel played a couple of faculty recitals while at MacMurray. I came across the programs recently. One thing I specifically remember him playing for me in his studio at the end of a lesson was Au Bord d’Une Source. He showed me once how he took a wad of paper or cardboard and shoved it between the block and the lowest key on the piano in his studio, to shift the action to the right as though the soft pedal were always down, so that he would have to play out more and build up his sound. He also claimed if he didn’t break at least one string a year while practicing then he was doing something wrong. He made reference once to how he didn’t like to loan out music to people, saying when that happened, “I can’t sleep nights, I pace the floor.”

He advocated for me to have a grand piano to practice on. Unbeknownst to me or Mom, Dad responded to an ad in the paper and bought a 6’ Kranich & Bach grand from a guy in Springfield. The guy thought the piano was 30 or 40 years old. When Dad told me about it we drove over there to check it out, although it was a bit of a formality since he’d already agreed to buy it. I could tell as soon as I touched the keys that the piano was in rough shape. Unfortunately it never did end up being much of a help for practicing, the piano tuner figured out from the serial number that the piano was more like 75 years old. Hammers kept breaking and had to be hand-made from some place in the UK, so it would go months at a time without being played because keys just didn’t work. Not only that, the piano was in the living room, and we didn’t have a separate family room, so it was hard to practice around tv watching and everything else that went on there.

When Morel told me he was leaving MacMurray after two years, I was devastated. I remember asking him “What’s wrong with Jacksonville?” (admittedly a very naive question) and his response was “What’s right with it?” I expect he wanted to get out of that one-horse town, not to mention a liberal arts college whose music department was on its last legs and would be shut down entirely only a few years after his departure.

Some time after he had left for his new position at Hastings College in Nebraska, I sent Morel a letter, now in high school and filling him in on my further studies with Dr. Ralph Robbins, a retired professor who had been his predecessor at MacMurray for decades (and before that at Hastings College c. 1930, which had something to do with helping Morel get the job there). I must have mentioned also my participation in community theater, as when he wrote back he said he had gotten a letter from someone claiming to be me, and yet regaling all the outgoing stuff I was doing, using the phrase “ludicrous, of course”. I don’t know if there was more than one letter or not (I probably still have them somewhere), I had also told him about playing for William Browning at the American Conservatory in Chicago (which seems like it would have been after freshman year, but I don’t remember exactly), he thought I meant John Browning, who was still loosely affiliated with Northwestern at the time, of whom he said “you should jump at the chance to study with him, even though rumor has it he’s of persuasion B”.

Dr. Robbins also kept in touch with him, and at some point not more than a year or so later he heard from someone else at the school that Morel had resigned under dubious circumstances, apparently having ditched the woman he was living with, who may or may not have been his wife, in favor of one of his students. Dr. R tried to contact him through calls and letters but none were ever answered. To this day, 30 years later, I have no idea what ever became of Morel, it would seem that he never held another college teaching job, or else he changed his name.

Interestingly, as my enthusiasm for playing and practicing has been rekindled since 2002 or so, I’ve revisited several of the pieces that I studied during those two years, including Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses and Schumann’s Kinderszenen. All my teachers had some influence on me of course, but my studies with Morel came at the most important crossroads of my piano-playing career, where I had basically “outgrown” my first teacher but didn’t realize how much more there was to learn. Morel’s approach was to focus on technique, including a lot of scales and exercises, which I’d never had to do much before, and also to pick apart seemingly simple works (like the Schumann, or even simpler like the well-known Clementi Sonatina in C) to show just how much detail in a piece needed to be considered and brought out, beyond just the notes. As far as I know I was his only private student during his stay in Jacksonville, certainly the only one my age.

So on the off chance someone with more information does a Google search, or the man himself is still out there somewhere, I’ve put together this little remembrance to see if it elicits any feedback from the blogosphere. It would be interesting to hear from others who studied with him, and even better to find out whatever happened to him. It remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of central Illinois classical music history.

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Well, it wasn’t supposed to take six months to get the final pictures up, but these things happen…






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The kitchen, during

Sep 21, 2008

In the interest of creating phony dramatic tension, now here are some pictures of the kitchen shortly after the demolition. Also, the living room wall which crumbled when they jacked up the house to make it level.




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The kitchen, before

Sep 7, 2008

So here’s what the kitchen used to look like (although it typically was not this empty). These pictures were taken around mid-July, just before the destruction began.


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Last day in Denver

Aug 10, 2008

Last day in Denver, and let’s be honest there’s not a lot going on here other than your general outdoor activities.

We had thought about going to the science museum after the convention was over, but it’s only open until 5 and it was already after 2, so I decided to skip it and we walked over to the Virgin Megastore instead. It turned out to be a short visit, since their classical section was fairly lame and nothing was on sale. Beth was in the middle of doing laundry at the hotel, so we went back and checked on the clothes and hung out for a while watching the Olympics, then went out early for one last dinner, at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Back in the room it was more Olympics and more packing, trying to figure out how to get everything into the suitcases and keep them under the weight limit. Have to get up early tomorrow to get the car dropped off and get to the terminal for a 10am flight to Philadelphia, should be home by 7:30 or 8pm if everything is on schedule.

So it was a long trip, more like two trips back to back, with a clear dividing line during that long drive through southern Wyoming on Tuesday. Next year’s Worldcon is in Montreal, much easier to manage, and 2010 is in Australia, so we can skip that one entirely. Lots to get through after this trip, lots of ideas, hope they stick long enough that something comes of it.

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Worldcon Day 2

Aug 7, 2008

Beth took the kids to a student production of Peter Pan this morning that was nearby, then they drove out somewhere and did some shopping. Meanwhile it was day two of Worldcon, and today’s panels were a little more interesting, although even though I got a good night’s sleep I still passed out for a few minutes during one of them.

I got back to the room at the same time as everyone else, and we turned around and went out to dinner at the Breckinridge Brew Pub across from Coors Field. On the way back we stopped at Barnes & Noble for a while, and that was that. Tomorrow more of the same.

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Worldcon 2008

Aug 6, 2008

The first day of the Worldcon had finally arrived and for once we were already in the city and ready to get started. Beth decided that the most interesting thing to do in Denver would be to get the car and drive down to Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods, which took most of the day. Meanwhile I got going so I could register before the first panels started at 11:30.

It was raining by dinner time and Beth and the kids were back from the mountains later than they hoped, but I waited around until they returned and we walked a few blocks through the puddles to get some Italian food and seafood at the Rialto Bistro. There wasn’t much Italian food in Wyoming, and certainly not in Yellowstone, so it was a welcome change of pace. The Rockies are in town during the entire convention, playing some non-descript teams like the Nationals and the Padres, but tonight’s game ended up being rained out and will be made up tomorrow afternoon, which is a bummer for the block of tickets that the con made available to fans a few weeks ago. We had thought about catching one of the games, since they stink this year it’s no problem getting tickets at the door, but I don’t know if we’ll manage to work that in. A full day of panels are on tap for tomorrow.

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