Beethoven and Baklava
August 18, 2015, 06:18 AM posted by Maria Choban

I just opened a Greek bakery*. A lot of people interested in pastries ask "Will you bake Baklava?" That's like asking the pop star classical ensemble Ethel if they're going to perform a cycle of Beethoven's string quartets.


You will never get me to bake the ubiquitous Baklava! Go to Costco and buy it! Greeks are as fucking lazy as most classical ensembles. If it makes money (Greeks & Baklava) / loses only a little money (classical musicians & Beethoven) why fix it?

The difference between Greek pastries beyond Baklava and the mess that is contemporary classical music (beyond Beethoven) is that people gotta eat and they wanna eat sugar and life in the Greek lane beyond Baklava is addictive. While life beyond Beethoven and similar incredibles (composers and pieces) who remain standing and thriving over time is as risky as contemplating going vegan and being subjected to tofu cheese. You won't die of starvation if you change your mind about listening to tofu cheese music.

What I have in common with Ethel is . . . well . . . Ethel is as delicious as Phinikia, Kourabiethes, Tsourekia - none of these are Greek pastries you've probably heard of. But listen to Ethel's Heavy and eat a Tsoureki. Most of you will be back for more of both.

*Marika's Greek Bakery pastries are currently only available Saturdays at the Beaverton Farmers Market.

Ai Weiwei or The Highway!
July 22, 2015, 03:28 PM posted by Maria Choban

What are you doing Friday night?

Travel Alitisa recommends getting to the Portland Art Museum around 5 pm when doors open for FREE to the public (until 8pm) and take in the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Take the kids. Take the neighbor's kids! Hell - take the whole damn neighborhood!!!

While you're chaperoning the munchkins, keep them busy going in and out from the museum to the courtyard where they'll catch Piano!Push!Play!'s FREE Friday evening show outdoors! P!P!P! "rescues pianos and puts them on the street for Everyone to play." No need to coach the kids on concert etiquette unless they have chocolate chip cookies and they're NOT sharing. You'll love the show, they'll love the show. The main act - ARCO - performs on amplified instruments from memory - LOUD AND PROUD! The opening acts - The Mousai and MC Hammered Klavier - bring a different kind of audience friendly to the mix. The Mousai are charming storytellers, weaving words around the sexy lush music they play. MCHK is full force adrenaline.

5:00pm: Ai Weiwei at The Portland Art Museum
7:00pm: P!P!P presents The Mousai and MC Hammered Klavier
7:30pm: P!P!P! presents the main show - ARCO!

What do Ai Weiwei, P!P!P! , ARCO, The Mousai and MC Hammered Klavier have in common?

Rebels with a Cause! Music and Art for ALL!

Only one of the above have been in the slammer though (and for all the right reasons).

After the show?

YOU take the stage and play the piano parked all summer long in the PAM courtyard!

You Can't Make up this Sh*t!
July 18, 2015, 03:42 PM posted by Maria Choban

I have a witness!

At intermission we were given pointy gold unicorn horns (birthday hats) and kazoos. Where am I? At a PDQ Bach concert, of course, feting Peter Schickele who's 80th Happy Birthday we're kazooing. Back in my seat waiting for the second half to begin I eavesdrop on the conversation behind me.

He: Were you able to get your kazoo to work? I couldn't get mine to do anything!

She: Me neither.

He: Cheap crap lot they bought from probably China!

And although Schickele was funny as usual, nothing topped this exchange. My only misgiving was that no one would believe me if I wrote it up as Alitisa.

Outside after the concert my partner asked whether I heard the couple behind us discussing kazoos and wryly ran on "Perhaps for the price of the gala he expected a well crafted Italian instrument."

I Wanna Practice But...
July 12, 2015, 06:27 PM posted by Maria Choban

Putting Out Fires
July 05, 2015, 02:16 PM posted by Maria Choban

Because a friend emailed me that he was "watering, watering, watering" his little plants today, I stepped outside to water the basil and check my spring planted blueberries and everbearing strawberries. Flames were licking over the top of the ditch in front of my house! Thankfully the hose which we use to water the artichokes was within reach and I ran to the faucet, turned on a jet stream and put out the five foot swath of flame. I soaked the area and watched as cops talked with my neighbors across the street. I heard "fireworks" "kids walking up the street talking loudly." I did my own investigation because I saw no evidence of firecrackers or any other fireworks around the smoldering portion. Instead, when I crawled into the ditch I found a cigarette butt right where the smoke had been swirling after I doused the rest of the flames.

It burns me when kids are automatically blamed. I was in my studio which faces the street the entire time, either reading on the couch or working on this computer but never practicing the piano. I never heard kids or firecrackers. First of all, kids are way too smart to be out in this heat! It occurs to me that it was probably a jack-ass around the same age of these parents who was either a passenger or a driver of the car that flicked the cigarette butt out of the window into my ditch.

And that's what I told the cops.

I showed them the butt I collected and asked if they wanted it. They did not. But they thanked me for putting out the fire, saving a trip by the fire department.

Dirty Downhome Democratic FUN!
July 01, 2015, 10:58 AM posted by Maria Choban

Portland is in an extended heat wave -- temps in the 90s with threats in the 100s. Last Friday, I set into town at 5pm with the temperature in the high 90s, on the air-conditioned MAX. I showed up for a dress rehearsal in the courtyard of the Portland Art Museum along with TEN donated pianos turned into artworks by 10 different artists. Five pianists, one conductor, and Richie Greene, the composer, ran through Askew Reflections - Richie's piece for 5 pianos commissioned for this event. 500+ people showed up for Megan McGeorge's Piano!Push!Play! party!!! prompting the director of the art museum to quip "Thank God temperatures are so high; how would we have managed the crowd otherwise?"

On a high after the show, here's what I emailed to a friend:

It was AMAZING!!! 500+ people! standing, sitting on the stairs, in the park blocks, filled the capacity chairs. I thought Megan was going to cry! the director of the portland art museum and the director of the portland parks and rec were both on hand to speechify on megan's behalf. both likeable guys, dressed down. you missed a lovely performance of an audience member (there were 2 chosen randomly from a hat) performing ravel's jeux d'eau. the richie greene piece went swimmingly. you MUST get down to PAM and see the artwork the pianos have become! my personal fave is a toss-up between the white&black, the doug-fir (with antlers!), the paws.

this was exactly what I had hoped and more. democratizing music. the variety of ages was like nothing you'll see anywhere. little 5 or 4 year old dancing in the aisle through several acts. street folks sitting on the cement wall (park block side) enjoying. it will be hard to top this event this summer. megan should be very very proud.

Megan McGeorge and her pianos at Piano!Push!Play! party Friday night.
Photo: Alicia J. Rose

Saturday was Beaverton Farmers Market day. We got lucky. Temperatures did NOT climb into the mid-100s as predicted. In fact, we sneaked out just barely over 80. Where $8 bags of kettle-carmel-pop-corn compete with $10 bags of hand-braided sweet Greek Easter Bread (just hold that thought in your head), who's buying which bag? You'll be wrong about 50% of the time. It never fails to make me giggle. Democracy blows my profiling mind.

And while my partner spent the weekend in San Francisco covering Terry Riley's 80th birthday party put on by the Kronos Quartet at the same time as 1 million were marching in celebration of equal marriage rights at the same time as The Grateful Dead were giving one of their last five concerts EVER, I finished my weekend in PDX as a soldier in the Timbers Army. On Sunday I was sandwiched between a seasoned Scot soccer fan who popped in, scored a last minute (sold-out) ticket to the Timbers/Sounders rivalry intending to check out the rumors that The Army rivaled Scottish ruffians, and a woman slightly older than me who kept me laughing from her opening line: "Don't worry about the words to the chants. When in doubt, yell a potty-mouthed explicative!" While no fan was maimed during the game, the Scotsman was impressed enough to hug my (very cute) sister every time Portland scored a goal. I, on the other hand, was busy conjugating and declining my substitute explicative - "FUCK!" - through the chants/cheers, complete with hand (finger) gestures and at throat-blowing decibels. I got Kronos/Riley, Gay-Rights, Family-Rights and Grateful Dead tie-dye all in one arena! It was particularly bemusing when at the end the Portland players brought their children onto the field and faced The Army and bowed. I wondered how badassed we would respond. The by-now drunken thugs let out a collective "AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. . ."

June 21, 2015, 05:58 AM posted by Maria Choban

I look up from the piano I could not keep from playing. Judith, the owner and host at Clementine's Bed & Breakfast is standing still as a deer in the kitchen. A fiercely passionate woman who thought she'd protected her piano from guests by putting a toy violin on the bench and keeping the lid closed, she walks over to me mouthing something, trying to get sound to come out, her eyes are red and puffy. Mozart'll do that to you. Finally out comes a hoarse "Thank you."

Last week a former student of mine blogged about me as her piano teacher when she was a college student. When I was a college student my piano teacher Fred Rothchild did for me what I think I did for Yuka (my college student) and hope I do for all my students: Reamed the constipating academic bullshit out of our systems. Reamed out the fear and intimidation that I wasn't meeting some composer's or esteemed interpreter's or teacher's academic proclivities. Fred went so far as to carry out my answer to his question: "What gets you to ratchet down?? To FEEL?!?"

Me: Scotch . . . and lots of it.

So at my next lesson with Fred, at his house, out came the bottle of scotch and a stubby glass.

Fred: Have at it.

While my playing got looser, the conduit between whatever I was playing and the outside world to which I was giving it got no more elastic, but my love for Fred blossomed and the interpreter I am today is a direct result of Fred's scouting nose and his belief in and love for me. Long after I left college and Fred, only one of the above continued to beautifully haunt me; Fred, seducing me with the plaintive fifth variation in Mozart's A Major Sonata I was playing while Judith sobbed in the background - wondering why I wasn't visiting him, or our first variation duet in that same sonata, me asking the questions, Fred answering laconically with single syllables.

When I play teacher to my students, Fred is my role-model. How can I get a person with whom I'm working to elicit sobs or cheers or sheer stars-in-their-eyes fan-dom-ness from the audience as when a driven father of one of my 5 year old students heard one of my teenage students play the hell out of a great arrangement of Coldplay's Sky Full of Stars?

If hand position meant anything my cat would be Rubinstein, his paws curled just so and Horowitz would be relegated to hack-alley (have you SEEN his hand position????). And if piano method books worked there would be more talent shows like Apollos Unplugged (a long-running student run talent show at a local high school) than earbuds and mp3 players.

While I had no idea Judith was listening, I play for Judith and for the garbage man who used to live next door and the retired carpenter who still does. I play to move THEM, to get the little athletes and average students who walk into my studio to fall in love with music and to play it enraptured because that is their only chance at moving me and by extension the general audience. And because I've worked hard for 30 years to detach as an insider, to regain my naive ears (while still retaining a director's experienced perspective) I am the best example of general audience I know.

May 26, 2015, 06:07 AM posted by Maria Choban

"Do you think my prices are in line?" I ask Ginger, the market manager for Beaverton's Saturday farmers market. I'm trying to figure what a customer is willing to pay for 4 different sizes/shapes of the Tsourekia I've brought to the market to sell.

GINGER: The market will answer that for you better than any single person's guess.


This is what we do NOT have in classical music: A parent who refuses to dictate (the opposite of grants panels), who respects the intelligence and the rights of the general public (the general audience) and believes in our own artistic responsibility to thrive or die according to our own willingness to respond to the market.

May 21, 2015, 09:23 AM posted by Maria Choban

After years of true modesty and feeling intimidated by great writing like Richard Taruskin's, I finally fancy myself a writer . . . although my editor probably considers me a dilettante for all the excuses I give him regarding my unforthcoming drafts of pieces he's been requesting for months.

Following a quick and dirty seduction by theater, thanks mostly to David Mamet, I fancied myself a budding playwright. My first and only Intro-to-Playwriting class did not support that.

And now I fancy myself a baker. After years of baking delectable Greek treats for family and friends around the Winter holidays, I had the opportunity to convince my father to let me have the kitchen in a building he owns. All last winter I cleaned and painted. Last week I passed the inspection and baked my first batch of Greek Sweet Bread (Tsoureki) that I took to the Beaverton Farmers Market. Selling less than half of what I brought, I froze the rest intending to cut it up for free samples the next Saturday.

The following evening I went to my parents to get caught up paying their bills. Walking through their kitchen into the family room where they were watching t.v. I noticed on the kitchen counter 2 bundles of wax paper . . . suspiciously like the bundles I wrapped the left-over tsourekia (plural) from Saturday's market.

I asked mom and dad when I walked into the family room "Did you take tsourekia from the freezer at the commercial kitchen where I was baking?"

Dad (sheepishly): yes.

Me: I wrapped and froze those to slice and use as free samples for next Saturday's market.

Dad (still sheepishly): we ran out of tsoureki here.

Me: Don't touch the tsourekia in the freezer! it's not about the profit because I'm at least $650 in the hole right now NOT counting utilities or labor. It's about the ungodly amount of time/labor producing a batch. I haven't got it down yet and I need to re-purpose every unsold tsoureki.

Dad: How did you know we took tsourekia from the freezer? did you count them?

Me: THEY'RE SITTING ON YOUR KITCHEN COUNTER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dad: D'oh!

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