My daughter had her art debut at our church on November 7. Actually, it was just outside the building, where we meet for coffee hour, weather permitting.
The church had acquired the piece of art, shown above. I was a tad confused when one of our pastors mentioned ME in the morning announcements. Oh, she saw the piece on my blog or my Facebook feed, which features my blog.
The pastor was so taken by it that my daughter was asked to make another one for the church. But the process was tedious, ripping up pieces of magazine pages – mostly Vanity Fair – and sorting the colors. She was disinclined to do it again. But she would consider parting with the original.
After it sat in our living room for well over a year, in no small part due to COVID, it finally got to church. After the unveiling, my daughter briefly talked about the meaning behind the work. She was trying to come up with a more representational Jesus while at the same time maintaining the beatific tradition. I annoyed her only slightly as I chatted with the church members about her fastidious process.
I’ve noted that my wife doesn’t often go to church in person these days. But both she and her mother, who’s moved to Albany in the past few months, attended.
One thing I had not noticed all the time the piece resided in our house. There are hymns, from a discarded hymnal in the background, but there are no titles or page numbers.
Also in November
There was an in-person ceremony for the new inductees for my daughter’s high school branch of the National Honor Society. The day before the event, she and her mother went shopping for a suitable dress. She and her friend since first grade, Kay, both were handing out the programs. When the school district newsletter came out a day or two later, both Kay and my daughter were featured.
In the past month, I had several days that I considered normal-ish. Familiar, though with a twist.
Th, 12/9: I went to the Proctors Theatre in nearby Schenectady. I’ve been going there to see for years to see touring musicals. Often I’ve had season tickets for the Thursday matinee because it’s the least expensive option. Indeed, I made that choice way back in the spring of 2019 for the 2019-2020 run. I saw three shows. and then…
I don’t even remember when Summer: The Donna Summer Story was supposed to take place initially, but I think it was rescheduled at least twice because of COVID. FINALLY, I got to take the bus to the old vaudeville venue. First, I was asked for my vaccine card, which I had on my phone. Then I could pick up my ticket at the will call.
As for the show itself, there were actually three women playing the disco queen at various stages of her life. One also played Donna’s mother and another Donna’s daughter. Oddly enough, this was not confusing. And all of them were very good.
I wasn’t a huge disco fan. But as I wrote about her three years ago, I had a lot of respect for Donna Summer: her look and especially her voice.
On The Radio
But as this review in the Chicago Tribune noted of the tour: “It is a very rough book.” Yeah, that was it. The show “carelessly abandon[s] most of its scenes in mid-flow for self-serving monologues. The story veers “back and forth between the personal and the professional” in an uneasy manner. The reviewer thinks those “behind-the-music-with-the-guys-in-suits stuff… so rarely works in these kinds of shows.” I’ve seen some that do work – Beautiful, for one – but this was not one of them.
This I didn’t remember: “Summer, of course, upset a lot of her gay fans with a homophobic remark at a Cleveland concert, at the height of the AIDS crisis to boot.” The story monologue disowning her previous statement was astonishingly clunky.
Sa 12/11: Likewise, it was the first visit to the Albany Symphony Orchestra at the Palace Theatre, under the direction of David Alan Miller, since COVID. A church friend had tickets he could not use. Yes, proof of COVID vaccinations was needed.
The first piece was Don Juan by Richard Strauss. as the show notes suggest: Strauss “makes us see from the get-go the bravado of this libertine.”
The second and third pieces, one before the intermission and one after, were written by Christopher Rouse (1949-2019). The ASO, which Rouse visited frequently, was to record the compositions the following day.
From the composer’s notes about Heimdall’s Trumpet: his “blasts on his trumpet announce the onset of Ragnarok, the Norse equivalent of Armageddon.” He rightly notes “the title… refers properly to the finale… in a very short orchestral fortissimo outburst…” And it was so! Eric Berlin was the fine soloist.
Rouse’s bassoon concerto, with the virtuoso Peter Kolkay was a lot more fun, with Kolkay sometimes fading out, yet the orchestra’s other bassoons filling in. It was not buffoonish, though. Comedy is difficult to explain.
Finally, excerpts from The Nutcracker, not just the suite but about a third of the whole ballet.
Su 12/12: Our choir has been rehearsing since October, with everyone with at least two shots. But the group, other than the section leaders, haven’t sung. That is until 11/27 when half the choir got to sing, masked. And no forte, because we’ve read that it is the volume of singing, or speaking, that has the greater chance to spread infection.
My half got to sing on 12/12. It was a little difficult because, being spread out, it was hard to hear the others in the bass section, let alone the other parts.
That said, it was GLORIOUS to be in the choir loft again. I’m not saying I got a little verklempt, but…
Sometimes I have to relearn the lesson. Part of my sadness this year involved the passing of three members of my church in 2021. But that’s not the totality of it. It was that there was no service to recognize any of them. Well, until this week.
Rev. Dr. Hugh G. Nevin died on January 22. Before my time there, he served as a temporary fill-in clergy. If I were to say he was a decent man, it would sound like faint praise. But it really isn’t. He displayed wisdom and grace, always.
He was a basso profundo in our choir, hitting those low notes that were beyond my range. Although he and his wonderful wife Vaughn ostensibly retired from the choir, they would participate in the special music that the choir, prior to the pandemic, performed a few times a year.
His service will be held, FINALLY, at the First Presbyterian Church at 1 p.m. on October 16. “COVID-19 protocols are in effect and masks are required. Reception outdoors following the service, weather permitting only.”
Will McMorris was in the Tuesday morning Bible Guys. The change to ZOOM was a struggle for him. His technological prowess made me feel like Steve Jobs. But he tried very hard.
Will was one of the few non-black-adjacent folks to show up at the Black History Month meetings. He was a very curious guy, in every sense of the word. I know he went through a bunch of stuff, some of which he told me about in great detail, which occurred long before I ever met him.
Will died on March 8 after having a stroke and a fall. He indicated that he wanted. He had not reached three score and ten. His brother said that Will wanted a memorial service at FPC, with a time of “food and conversation” afterward. There will be a time of an in-person service one of these weeks.
Go ask Alice
When the church e-blast indicated that Alice Schrade had died on September 1, my wife knew that I must not have read my email. For she knew that I adored Alice, and Alice adored me. When one of my pastors got the word of her passing, they said they immediately thought of me. Alice and I often hugged and talked regularly about almost anything: race, church, politics, and especially social justice.
Her obit noted: She was “involved working for the Interfaith Focus breakfast program and the food pantry. Alice loved to travel and in 1992 went to Guatemala where she fell in love with the country and its people. She became involved in promoting justice issues for the people affected by the violence and worked to promote the weavings of the highland women. She promoted Mayan Hands to raise money to support Guatemalan weavers.”
As with Will, “A memorial service will be held in the First Presbyterian Church of Albany at a future date.”
I went to two events recently which made me feel more OK mentally than I’ve felt in a long, long, long while.
This is not to say that I hadn’t felt glimpses of this before. Eating lunch on April 6 with friends Carol, Karen, Bill – all of whom I’ve known since kindergarten. Also, Michael, who I only met 35 years ago. This was 13 days after my second vaccine shot, so I was still feeling tentative.
On May 1, I had a date day with my wife, seeing the tulips in Washington Park, visiting Peebles Park, and eating indoors for the first time in 15 months, which made me a tad wary.
The Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library had a small reception for our Literary Legends for 2021 this month. The accomplished Lydia Davis signed my copy of her collected works back in 2013. I knew Gene Mirabelli 30 years ago as a mentor of other writers, in addition to his own prodigious output, and, remarkably, he looks about the same.
I got to chat with both and their families and later introduce the authors. This felt… normal. In another time, this might have been No Big Deal. But in light of the last 15 months, it felt like, to quote Joe Biden when the Affordable Care Act was passed nearly a dozen years ago, a BFD.
It helped that the day was PERFECT. Not hot and humid, or chilly and raw, or rainy, since the event was held in the garden of the Bach branch of the APL.
Then I had a delightful conversation with the two librarians, Christina and Deanna, about why I play my CDs in birthday order, which, because they are librarians, made sense to them. It’s SO good to be understood.
Then on Father’s Day, my wife and I attended church in person, as opposed to on Facebook. We were asked if we felt ill (ill and well sound the same with a mask) and were seated n socially-distanced “pods”. But it was in the building. No one could sing except the soloist; I discovered at least one other person besides me moving their arm as though they were singing the individual notes. Hearing Trevor on the organ in that space was a vast improvement over listening to it on the laptop.
In the sermon, the pastor used a word I had heard only on a single occasion before. The same pastor talked about liminal space.
From here: “The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin root, limen, which means ‘threshold.’ The liminal space is the ‘crossing over’ space – a space where you have left something behind, yet you are not yet fully in something else.” An example would be “that time in the early morning when you are floating in and out of sleep.”
Or from here: “In certain spaces under certain circumstances, you’ll experience a feeling of things being slightly off. An altered reality, if you will.”
So we are in a liminal time. Not quite back to “normal”, as much as some folks want like to believe. Vaccine reluctance in some parts of the country could – strike that; probably will – bring on a surge in the Delta variant of COVID-19. We need to protect the children who haven’t had the opportunity to get the vaccine, which is why APL still requires masks indoors.
In some way, there was no date more 2020 for me than December 7. I received three packages. All contained masks.
One was a package of 50 disposable items I had ordered about a week earlier. The second was a mask featuring the mustache of John Green, which I had ordered about a month and a half earlier. It was a Pizzamas thing; don’t worry about understanding that, because I don’t either.
The third, though, I had ordered so long before that I had forgotten about it altogether. Ten black masks with the letters UNITY in white silhouette. Within each letter, a message. all in caps.
Healthcare for all. Back Lives Matter. Save the Planet. Protect Dreamers. Ensure voting rights. The image description from Democracy for America: “We believe there is more that unites us than divides us. These issues are not just for the few, they are for all of us.” I hope so.
In my Christmas stocking, Santa brought two more masks. One was a woodsy scene. The other was a black mask with Day-Glo musical notes. I like these.
Finally, in the mail on New Year’s Eve, came a mask with a card, sent ostensibly from my church’s address. The lettering was intentionally designed to obscure the handwriting of the sender. The white mask had a pinkish rectangle that featured a white cross. In red letters: FIRST PRES CHOIR 2020
For the last few years, an anonymous benefactor had left the choir t-shirts and pens, both emblazed with messages about the church, left near the choir loft. Since we haven’t sung since March 2020 – haven’t even been in the building – I was particularly surprised by this largesse. I have a theory about who it might be; my wife thinks it’s someone else. Thanks to the choir Secret Santa once again, whoever you are.
I went to the local grocery store on Tuesday, moving through as quickly as possible. The cashier wore a Pittsburgh Steelers mask. I asked her if her team was going to win this weekend. She said, “I hope so. They only lost by two last week, and they rested some of their players.” I added, “And the Cleveland Browns needed that game. But what about that three-game losing streak?” She sighed, “I don’t know WHAT that was about.”
I mention this because, too often, the mask is a sign of less sharing. You can’t see people’s facial expressions. But at that moment, the mask facilitated a human connection that I too often miss.
Here’s hoping that in 2022, I won’t need the masks anymore. But I keep seeing those newspaper headlines. LA Times, Jan 1.: Spiraling COVID-19 deaths leave morgues overflowing and funeral homes turning away grieving families. And even around here. Times Union, Jan. 1: In Albany County, the mark of 346 new infections in one day is 77 more than the prior record. So know I’ll still have those masks available in 2021. It’s good to have a variety…