"Such a Lot of Wonderful Terrible Things DID Happen!"
February 15, 2015, 10:23 AM posted by Maria Choban

Two weeks to showtime. We're adding the Barbara Song by Kurt Weill.
Not as straight forward as Mack the Knife but with the arrangement I tracked down on the interwebz and the practice time I've had, I'm expecting us to align - if not at tempo, at least slowly in sync at this first rehearsal.

Oh so wrong!

We do align. And we're almost at tempo. And I'm playing most of the gypsy-spicy chords correctly. One more run through and 9 out of 10 dentists would deem this ready for concert. I look at Anthony Hudson whose avatar, Carla Rossi, Portland's Premier Drag Clown, will be performing this in The Hiding Place: A Queer Story-Telling Cabaret.
With charming quick grace, Anthony appreciatively cheerleads this first run-through:

Pretty Good
If not outright great!"

He did not intone the first or last lines.

To attempt explaining/describing genius or God is to immediately relegate me to the loony-bin file folder. But I'm going to try anyway.

Usually I don't have to think about these things because I have plenty of lead time to live with a piece in solo practice and later with rehearsal. The slow work-up time where a piece goes from well aligned with all the characters/ciphers on the page observed correctly to Magic, I call "Internalization." Stuff happens so slowly and is folded into or edited out so organically that it's easy to pass judgement on groups or performers who do not give an adequate amount of time for internalization to happen, settling only for the correct observation and articulation of the marks on the printed page, perhaps extending this (with careful analysis) to rubato or meta interpretation not included on the page; usually with an eye toward "What would the composer think?"

Even when internalization happens instantly as with me and Winterreise partner Ken Beare - I usually chalk it up to luck, chemistry, experience.

But now I'm thrown into a situation with Anthony where we both know that with everything observed, this piece falls way flat and we have limited time for Magic to happen. Anthony is shooting for Megan Mullally's interpretation which we more or less observed in our initial run through having worked up our parts in solo practice with this in mind. Now the hard work begins. Not the work of parsing the piece analytically and assigning a logical interpretation, but the work of becoming one with The Force, both of us totally open with each other while still retaining the director's ear for audience and context. We will be performing this as part of an Anne Frank exhibit. We both feel this piece is bigger than Mullally's interpretation in this context; bigger than feminism or social morality. We go to the most powerful verse - the last - and open the throttle full. Anthony is bent over in near pain at the climax. We go over a line Anthony targeted near the end of the verse several times with him asking for various different things pianistically and me keeping a wide open ear and eye. He loves the dead silence after he utters the last word in that line. I love the take he did 3 times back where instead of setting up the punch with a slight pause, he accelerates into it while still broadening, tearing his voice apart. We're getting close . . . with just this phrase. One line. 9 short words. We have an entire scene/verse to set. And then we have to work backwards to feel and figure out the ascent to this pinnacle.

Two hours later I'm exhausted. Fuck yeoman's work, this was the work of The Universe, Genius work, God-Smacked. Under alien possession since 7:30pm, I'm unable to string together a coherent adieu as Anthony leaves.

February 11, 2015, 10:44 AM posted by Maria Choban

Mendelssohn is sitting on my lap. I know he understands English but I'm wondering if he's literate as well. He's staring at the screen and I'm about to divulge last night's dalliance with Muffin.

Not sure whether the Laughing Planet on Jefferson was on the north or south side of the street, I missed my last opportunity to park but luckily did not miss my last easy opportunity to circle the block and try again. This time I maneuvered quickly over to the left lane on Jefferson where I serpentined my tonka-toy into an angled parking spot in front of a little doggy on a leash talking to a bigger doggy on a leash. I'd just finished playing a show and I was meeting my partner and a friend.

Lo! the little doggy was a kitty-cat!!!

Jumping out of the car, forgetting about my partner and our friend and the fact that Laughing Planet was closed, staying open only until I showed up for the rendezvous, I dropped half my IQ and my ability to both speak and understand English.

"Can I pet him?"

"Her name is Muffin, and yes. She's very friendly."

"Hi Sweetie!"

"Her name is Muffin."

"Doh, dou are toooo adohble putty-tat!!!"


Playing for more time with Muffin, I kept asking questions. Although he's been Muffin's slave for over 4 years, Muffin only began leash training 2 years ago. Now they frequent the Esplanade with Muffin on his shoulder whether he's walking or biking. You have no idea how hard it is to formulate questions when all you long for is to bury your face in Muffin's fur.

They both live in the building attached to Muffin's sidewalk. I'm pretty sure everyone in the building knows Muffin and I'm pretty sure I can press any button at the entrance, utter "I'm here to see Muffin" and be let in.

I have no idea what Muffin's slave is called.

Mendelssohn emits a bored, slightly disgusted sigh at my puffed up cat-erotic confessions. And I must admit, Muffin was about as interested in me as Mendelssohn diagnoses from reading this slop on my screen.

January 30, 2015, 11:35 AM posted by Maria Choban

I am a tool. I use myself shamelessly to change situations or milieus I care about. Brought up in classical music because my immigrant parents/grandparents thought it was the mark of good breeding and assimilation, it was also the first time I was able to access places in my self. The music and the playing of the music moved me in, you might say, a holy way.

To see it slipping away in a society that gravitated to something rougher, less holy (to use Peter Brook's words in The Empty Space) scared me. If this was all I knew, the thing that allowed me to connect with my self and to magically share my world with others, at what point would I suffocate and die in a tar pit?

I love rough. I feel but do not understand holy and when it's undertaken in productions I mostly judge it (unfairly perhaps) as half-baked concepts with no attempt to connect to the outside world. So schizophrenically, half of me is immersed in my historical holy of classical music that moves me while the other half rides rough with David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino. Because we are here and now, and me being a practical Greek (we are insanely practical if nothing else), it seems more efficient to move classical music from the antiquated hollow holiness of mired European tradition with all its inherited handed-down interpretations and bygone sounds (which, btw, does NOT move me - it's imitative, derivative, caricature, fake) and into the visceral rhythm, chant (hip-hop), in-your-face stimuli (lights, amplification), etc... of today.

And I evolved and became my vision of my epitome of visceral, embracing violent/rock&roll Svoboda, finding the rough Bach, grooving when I'm playing like I'm listening to Kashmir rather than orbiting around my ass while playing a Chopin waltz.

It wasn't enough. Yes I have a devoted following and I know I'm one of the few who embody the future of this genre. But I'm insanely practical and I need more numbers. So I added writing to increase my reach. I write with the anger, hipness and half the knowledge of Lester Bangs and Richard Taruskin. Maybe less than half the knowledge. I have a GREAT editor.

It still isn't enough. In Portland we have Ronni Lacroute who funds the hell out of Portland theater and some classical music. I want to become the Ronni Lacroute of classical music. I want to fund the hell out of certain groups, individuals, projects that I think have a good chance at cracking the holy bland rigidity of this ancient religion. I need to make lots of money.

It still won't be enough. I have to become president of the United States and mandate that everyone listens to those groups I have chosen and funded. Insanely impractical.

Pulp Fiction
January 11, 2015, 12:35 PM posted by Maria Choban

December 1994, Pismo Beach CA. My partner and I lie draped over chairs like cats suffering severe torpor, wondering what to do on a vacation day riddled with rain. The movie Pulp Fiction came out a couple of months before and we'd both been attracted to the trailers. Trading one set of chairs for another in a movie theater seemed an okay choice for our afternoon stint.

My ennui seeing movies back then matches my ennui attending concerts now. Back then we'd dissect movies we'd just seen much the way my partner and I now dissect concerts we attend - me with anger, he forcing a more rational analysis, cataloging where the movie/concert lost our interest and why. Back then, we didn't understand the success of Forrest Gump (which was released 3 months before Pulp Fiction) when Being There was so much funnier and tighter. We felt we were watching happy shiny movies narcotically designed to make us think we actually felt something.


When the lights came on after the movie ended no one moved. Pulp Fiction produced the same impact as a guerilla attack . . . without the death toll: numb shock. Eventually, my partner and I turned and looked at each other and he slowly said "Let's go get a drink and figure out what the hell just happened."

What just happened was that someone - Quentin Tarantino - finally rose from the murk, unobserved, with a radical new impassioned vision and without draining the fucking life out of it with rewrites and Ambien, got it in front of us - raw and pulsing, like an open-heart surgery.

It took several drinks for us to calm down and make sense of what went right. Mostly we giggled maniacally and reveled in our insides being so rearranged by the experience.

David Mamet did this for the theater with Glengarry Glen Ross. Trent Reznor did this for pop with Pretty Hate Machine. It doesn't last forever. But for the brief time it energizes the genre, what a ride!

My Parents' Epic Big Fat Greek Wedding Anniversary
December 26, 2014, 04:59 PM posted by Maria Choban

10:00am: I phone my mom to wish her and dad a happy 54th anniversary.

10:05am: mom's voice is shaking, angry at dad because he's going to throw a dinner at their house for 11 people and she's not up to cleaning, cooking, planning this event. She's right.

10:20am: I call my sister and plan an intervention on dad.

10:30am: Sis and I meet at mom and dad's.

Sis and I: Happy Anniversary Dad!

Dad: Thank you - now let me tell you about this dinner I'm going to host in 2 days.

Sis and I (in unison): NO DINNER! Mom can't handle the pressure!




Me: NO - FUCK YOU!!!!

Believe it or don't you can actually escalate to infinity and beyond just starting from trading Fuck Yous! at fairly high decibel levels. Dad started screaming "I CAN GET LOUDER THAN YOU AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!" but I'm not sure if that was after or before he disowned me. My sister sacrificially placed her body in between us.

I sat down and buried my head in my hands in disbelief at the moronic childishness of it all.

Mom walked in the room, dad told her in Greek that I screamed fuck you at him, mom said that meant he was full of poo and not that I meant fuck you, my sister tried to tell my dad I said fuck it and not fuck you (I said fuck you). Dad called her a liar, sis retorted with "Well goddamn it, then, I'm leaving!" and we were off and running once more.

Dad: You're damning me??!!!????

Sis: I said goddamn it, NOT goddamn you!!!!! (she said goddamn it).

Dad: I'm canceling the dinner but I'm not going to forget what went on here today. I can forgive, but I won't forget.

Me: Forgiving IS forgetting.

Dad: You use your definition, I'll use mine!

Me: Fine! But that makes me a better person!! JUST KIDDING!!!!!!!!

Believe it or don't he actually chuckled.

The problem with starting with a bang is where do you go from there?

My parents are 85 years old. Both my sisters and I pitch in to help wherever we can. I was cleaning old papers off the kitchen table with dad a week ago and dad came across a note mom penned in all caps to him about 3 weeks before. Dad smiled as he handed it to me to read. I pocketed it already thinking anniversary gift.

With help from online clip-art, I found a stylized fly, carefully cut it out, pasted it to the top of the note, laid the note in an anniversary looking frame my sister dug up in her closet and wrapped it up as their anniversary gift from all of us - dogs, cats, children, grandchildren, spouses and partners.

My other sister and her family took us all out to celebrate.

During the course of the meal the gift was unwrapped by both parents together. We howled as it was read out loud then passed around. Mom's a lioness, a protector, a killer, a comedian. Her daughters inherited all of the above. What chance does my father have in a house full of . . . what did he call us by the end of the meal? . . . Conspirators!






THE GREEK NAME - VROMOMYGA [dirty fly in Greek]


Pity Humanity
December 21, 2014, 07:45 AM posted by Maria Choban

I am reading Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon; his account of Lebanon between 1976 and 2001. He lived and still lives in west Beirut. I am concurrently reading Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.

They are kind of the same side of the same coin. Fisk unsentimentally details atrocities that unarmed women, children and old men endure by brigands (regardless of their allegiance because as Fisk points out - every leader, every faction is a bad guy in this book). I punctuate reading long stints of ideology advanced with realpolitik diplomacy (with its impending atrocities) - with romantic ideology practiced by the ridiculous Quixote with equal impending atrocities that befall not just him but benefactors of his chivalry: flogged slaves and cruel masters he blindingly separates, blithely riding off into the sunset with only his romantic and-they-lived-happily-ever-after scene in his head, impervious to the realpolitik outcome that ensues when he departs.

My only self-centered question: Why am I reading these books during a season when I go fetal anyway??

December 07, 2014, 06:44 AM posted by Maria Choban

Although I knew it was coming I finally read that Richard Taruskin is retiring from Berkeley this year. My father, with whom I've had a less than smooth relationship, is in his mid 80's and still going strong yet . . . . And last night I attended an event feting 75 years of Tomas Svoboda, my favorite composer of all time. Unlike most people who never get a chance to shake the hand of their rock star idols, Tomas has been in my life for most of it. I have fought with him and laughed over really dumb jokes with him (neither of us are very mature and we bring out the dumb and dumber in each other). My father and I have mostly fought with each other for the entire time I've been around. I'm sure I'd find something about Taruskin to throw a pie at if I actually knew him.

A friend stayed with us a couple of days ago and over breakfast we were discussing friendships. I was gushing about someone and he reminded me that we were frequently at loggerheads. Taken aback because I didn't initially see the connection, I finally realized and responded: I trust that my friends accept that I'm volatile (though hopefully not unthinkingly so), hot-headed and totally devoted to them regardless of how stupid I might find their stance on a point on any particular day. That's the nice thing about age; my father knows that I'm there despite the vitriol I'm capable of spewing in his direction (hopefully not too unthinking). Tomas knows that whatever I scream at him about the correct way of playing his pieces, I will still cool down and crack a fart joke with him. The not so nice thing about age is that . . . . well, it comes to an end.

I Had a Dream Last Night
December 01, 2014, 05:50 AM posted by Maria Choban

I'm in bike wear - black padded shorts, a short sleeved bike top (white with neon green central portion - short), helmet. It's warmish. mom is also in gear, riding with me. We're in a peloton of 5 to 7 women, standing still. We're in a crush of 6 lane traffic, stuck in the left most lane 6 over. I think that was my fault. The cars are small, smaller than normal and I don't feel scared but I do feel like I'm unsure how we're going to work our way 6 lanes over to the shoulder where we also need to find a bathroom. We're out for an extended trip gauging from the weird square backpackish thing on my back: maybe black mesh, has a frame, 30 inches across by maybe 34 inches long, not deep (maybe 6 inches deep). No one's scared or annoyed by the traffic. Beautiful sunny day but we (particularly mom, I think) have to find a bathroom.

We finally work our way over to the shoulder which coincidentally is a tunneled walkway into a bathroom. I offer to stay with the bikes while the others find/use the bathroom. I either release my rear tire now or find it like that later. Shortly, one of the women comes to relieve my watch so I can go find the bathroom. Oz! I follow the walkway but it takes me to a cross between an underground village, mall, office complex. Dark but not at all scary. I find a universal sign for bathroom (white stick figures on a blue background) and go through the door . . . . which leads into another passageway. Now it's like an underground suburban city without cars or roads or parking lots. No people, no signs of life outside the buildings. The universal sign points up a ramp or staircase and I go. At the top is a young woman who may or may not be part of my peloton. She's standing in front of a door looking like she's waiting to use the bathroom. 5' 7" short dark brown curly hair, wearing a dress. Friendly. Door opens by a gatekeeper - might be in a hood. Friendly. S/he informs us that this is a gym where people work out to strengthen their BDSM qualities. This doesn't surprise either of us in line. We ask if we can use the bathroom. The gatekeeper asks whether or not we also want to use the gym. The woman declines and so do I, telling the gatekeeper I have to get back on the road. Gatekeeper is fine, only asking for info, not pressuring.

We walk into a campy lobby. I see one work-out glassed in room off ahead at an angle to my left behind a lobby desk. Workouts look static. People hanging or stretched out on the floor maybe one leg raised. One is in full body paint - kind of green camouflage-y. Oddly, all bodies are young, tight, beautiful. We go up the stairs. All carpets are red shag. Chandelier over bottom stair. At the landing hangs an empty cradle. We continue up. Gatekeeper is no longer with us. We're now in a classroom. It might be a spinning class but denizens are BDSM-ing solo in myriad positions with pulleys. It looks not at all interesting. Very static. I don't look closely because I'm only here to use the bathroom and I feel bad staring in addition to thinking this is boring. We stand in the back of a normal looking classroom: bright fluorescent lights, acoustic tile ceiling, linoleum floors, sink at the front of the room. A 65 year old (maybe older?) man in a light (white with pattern) short sleeved button down cotton shirt and light (maybe light grey) shorts and tennis shoes with socks is sitting in a school chair directly in front of us talking to the room full of exercisers. He's not shouting exercise orders or chatting, but it's clear whatever the patter is, it's part of the regiment like a coxswain on a canoe team.

The young woman's turn comes up and she walks through the exercisers to the sink, washes her hands and walks back and out the door. I do the same. When I walk back I thank the gentleman in the chair : "Thank you Mr. Reznor for everything you've done for music." I don't know at what point I recognized this as a quite a bit older Trent Reznor (thinning buzz cut black hair, paunchy). I leaned a little bit over to impart this but I didn't stop to talk. Everything else in the dream is kind of a cool journey - I'm a leaf floating on a stream experiencing a fun ride - emotionally detached. But when I thanked this man I actually felt genuine thanks, gratefulness and while the man said nothing, his eyes softened. I was still my present age - an active 53. my mom was maybe only 10 years older than me in this dream and still very active.

I find a bathroom when I leave this room. While I'm on the toilet I notice white stuff oozing out of the bottom of the bottom drawer on my right ahead. Now the bathroom looks like my own downstairs bath. I remember I just bought huge new bottles of shampoo and conditioner and stored them in this bottom drawer on their side wondering whether they would leak in this position. The stuff has gushed all over the floor and I know there will be a huge mess to clean up inside the drawer. I open the drawer and see the bottles. I think about cleaning up but I have to join the riders. I remember that I don't necessarily have to use this bathroom in conjunction with my regular upstairs bedroom. Illogically, I can use another bedroom - further upstairs, hidden behind yet another bedroom. Both bedrooms do not exist in my house but they come up in a lot of my dreams. Both are dark, the second one has 2 beds in it, a tucked away respite I usually visit but never sleep in. No one does though it's there to be used. Angled dark ebony-stained cross-beams, like an attic room. Maybe gold shag? To access the favorite dream bedroom I have to walk through the first dream bedroom. There is no door to the second; it just appears.

I might find myself outside with the group, my back tire attached to my weird backpack. We're standing around but mine is the only bike I see on the ground minus back tire. Maybe the rest are fetching theirs. Seems we're ready to journey on.

("I Had a Dream Last Night" by John Prine)

"Dying is Easy"
November 29, 2014, 06:49 AM posted by Maria Choban

I read my first David Sedaris book 2 weeks ago and 3 more since.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim


Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls

In that order.

My bookclub did not find him funny - this in an email synopsis of the last meeting which I could not attend. I agree. In large doses, 4 books back-to-back or even one book straight through, his humor is dwarfed by his vulnerable self-insights; stabs which probably prick all of us (though he is never didactic). I bristled defensively through-out looking in the mirror (particularly at his last words) in "Standing Still" an essay on smug (pseudo) self-satisfaction and the fear that keeps me there. I bristled at a lot of other stuff (self-congratulatory anti-racism, poverty) and oddly, had enough perspective to laugh at myself when he described addictions. It's so much easier when shit is behind me, no longer staring me down (for now).

I don't know what I was expecting or why I never got around until now to Sedaris. Maybe I was thinking Dave Barry (funny in very small doses), Seinfeld (never funny). My favorite funny writers aren't pitched as humorists: Richard Taruskin, Tolstoy, ? ? ? (I'm trying to think of other writers . . .

"Comedy is Hard."

My favorite funny writers courageously combine bits of their vulnerable selves with insights gleaned from watching. They tend to not be didactic or mean-spirited although their inability to people-please makes for wicked straight-shooting zingers.

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