Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Nicodemus and I are taking a Greek class, and while we are struggling with declensions (don't ask) we are learning some interesting things.

About limbo, for instance. Ever since I read Dante in high school, I have thought that limbo was a place, real or imagined, where unbaptized children went after death. In Dante's Divine Comedy, virtuous pagans and great classical philosophers including Plato and Socrates, joined the unbaptized children in this shadowy place. I worried quite a lot about the children in limbo.

Then it turns out that "limbo", which means "margin" in Latin, was a copyist's mistake. The monk copying the scriptural passage was referring the reader to a margin note. The next copyist incorporated the word into the text, and eventually the concept of limbo entered the Catholic catechism, though it was never doctrine. In 1992 the catechism dropped the mention of limbo and in April of 2007, Pope Benedict officially clarified the matter without blaming the medieval copyist.

Now I want to talk about a different kind of margin. Most of my friends who were church musicians have either lost their jobs or have been replaced by amateur volunteers, playing mostly guitars and drums. Not many churches these days play the great liturgical music of the past. There is a question as to whether this is an artistic or an economic decision.

And...the 54-year-old Coastside Chorale which I accompany fell victim to budget cuts in June of 2010 even though a parcel tax initiative benefitting the school district was passed. The local adult school was axed without an apology or any official notice.

Next chapter: The Chorale starts up again in fall of 2010 under the aegis of the understaffed local Parks and Recreation department and operates for a full semester without a class list or any idea what its financial situation might be. Telephone calls are not returned. Four months after chorale members had paid their enrollment fees, Parks and Rec released a portion of the fees back to the chorus, which had salaries and expenses to cover. And then Parks and Rec closed down and their administration was passed to a city a mountain range away from the Coastside.

The San Carlos Parks and Rec intends to increase fees for the fall semester, and the remote administrators want a 40 per cent cut. The Chorale, which just wants to sing, is balking, but they do not have tax-exempt status and need a sponsor for purposes of insurance, director's and accompanist's very modest salaries, music scores and rehearsal space.

"Do you feel marginalized?" I asked the director, who several years back lost her church job.

"Do I..." she stammered. "Do I..." Finally she was able to finish her sentence. "Ever".

Friday, May 13, 2011

If a Tree Falls in the Forest: A Conversation

“Why aren’t you writing?”

“Because hardly anybody reads any more.”

“I think you’ve got your reward system backward.”

“What do you mean?” (I ask him this very frequently.)

“I mean that instead of doing the crosswords as a reward for doing something you don’t want to do, like the dishes, you should reward yourself for doing something you actually want to do, like writing.”

“It just seems pointless to write when we’re living in a time where so few people have the skill or motivation to read.”

“Well, I practice the cello every day. I practice things nobody will ever hear but me.”

“Oh, that’s not true. Everybody wants to hear you play. You play all the time.”

“But I practice because it is what I do. I think you should write because that’s what you do.”


Monday, May 2, 2011


An entire olive harvest was strewn across the parking lot at the church where Master Sinfonia performed yesterday. Birds will not eat the bitter olives, and most cars were parked well away from the half-crushed mess.

When I saw the ripe olives beginning to fall from the trees last month, I was tempted to gather them up and take them home. Then I thought that they really belonged to the church, so I resisted the temptation to harvest them.

This time, it was obvious that the olives were being wasted, so I found a bag and picked up maybe a pound of the best of the windfalls.

A gallon of olive oil costs about thirty dollars these days. Black olives are not cheap. And yet here were all these olives, being wasted. All that was necessary to use them was to wash them well and put them in salt water for three weeks.

In ancient Greece, the Athenians voted whether their patron should be Poseidon, who gave them the horse, or Athena, who gave them the olive tree. The olive branch has come to symbolize peace throughout most of the world.

Here amidst our prosperity, we complain that we are poor, but truly I think our poverty is for the most part one of education, culture and spirit.