On the Friday before the Big Vote . . .

Person voting

Person voting

My wife and I voted earlier this week. We are done with it. I am just some schmuck out of over 100,000,000 voters, but my single vote matters – and therefore give the appropriate weight to what I put down here. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do until I stepped up onto the stairs into the courthouse. I won’t tell you what I finally did, but here were my choices as I saw them.

I could not vote for Mr. Trump. If I said some of the things he has said in my teaching career, I would have been fired, and probably unemployable at any other school. His lack of experience would be like hiring a little league coach to manage the Cubs – even with such personnel as the Cubs have, there’s no way he could have a successful season. He comes across as unstudied, showing no intention of doing so. If I were a Republican, no matter how wonderful I thought the Republican platform may be, I couldn’t see him carrying that standard for the Republicans.

Mrs. Clinton is a policy wonk, plain and simple. All those awkward emails and Bill Clinton controversies and other matters aside, I just have never been comfortable with her since she carpetbagger her way into a senate seat in New York. That never made any sense to me, and it has colored my opinion of her ever since. To continue in the teaching vein as I did with Trump, she reminds me of the teacher in the movie “TO SIR WITH LOVE” who received a love note from a student who had a crush on that teacher, and then promptly corrected the letter for grammar and structure, totally missing the message from that student. Too much procedure, not enough heart. A technical politician in the tradition of some professorial, book-learned savant, not a Happy Warrior like Humphrey or Ronald Reagan.

Third party candidates. Gary Johnson needs a geography lesson. There’s just no ‘there’ there when it comes to what he has to offer. Jill Stein appears so uneducated for an educated person. There were a good amount of names on the ballot in addition to these two. Anonymous is as anonymous does, to borrow a phrase.

Write-in candidates. A waste of a vote? A way to say ‘enough of this crap’? But who the heck would listen?

Not voting at all. Well, no. This is not an option for anyone at all.

As I sit here on my easy chair on the Friday morning before the election, it looks like both major candidates are going to get 40% of the vote each. The two third-party people might get 8% between them. Perhaps 1% will write in a candidate. That leaves 11% of you out there who will make the difference.

Go make the difference.

BOOK REVIEW: SHELTERBELTS by Candace Simar

book-coverSHELTERBELTS
By Candace Simar
267 pages
Published by North Star Press

My taste in reading favors people; real people. I’m not much for murder mysteries or romances. Give me ordinary folks who live ordinary lives but yet have their own stories to tell.

You can’t get much more ordinary than a community of farmers in a nondescript Minnesota township. Yet, that’s what Candace Simar gives us in this novel. Her ordinary people become folks we all know from our own lives; the blabbermouth gossip lady, the simple village idiot, the old maid to be, the mothers and fathers who have hopes for their kids, the kids who might dash those hopes . . . and let us not forget the community built around the businesses in those townships, from the farm supply dealers, across the street to the merchants, and down the road to the ramshackle Lutheran church which serves as the social and spiritual center for the people in this book.

Candace Simar’s writing style is warm and neighborly. Taking from her pool of wonderful words, she gives us descriptions that finds us saying to ourselves, “Hey, I know someone just like that!” There’s Tia the spinster to be, who could just as well be your own cousin Barbie. There’s Harvey, the struggling farmer who never gives up, even though his son Eddie is a simpleton – just like the guy down the road from your house. You’ve all met someone like Tillie – she’s the one who knows everything about everyone in the town and for sure will you can bet she will tell you everything about everyone in the town, often in one breath.

Your mind sees and feels each character – their clothing, their posture, their ethics . . . and you have felt their emotional disappointments, their victories, their hopes and dreams. You know what it’s like to not be properly dressed for certain social occasions. You know what it’s like to observe an awkward moment at a public gathering – or even have been the center of one of those awkward moments. All of this is here, made clear by the hand of Candace Simar in SHELTERBELTS.

The novel takes place at the very end of World War II. The boys that have left the farms to serve Uncle Sam haven’t quite returned yet; well okay, one does. Those in the township go through their lives, doing mundane chores, observing the weather and all conditions that concern farming, planning on money coming in from crops and egg sales. The radio is a big source of news. A few farms have been innovative enough to allow their houses to be wired for electricity, who some find uppity, while others become jealous.

But at the top of it all, the theme of community commands the reader’s attention. The mechanics of the social interplay become a stage of action for Simar’s writing – and she generates hearfelt actions out of that mechanical world. Through her characters, she reminds us that the community is out there, so full of support and hurt, all at the same time . . . and not letting us forget that our own community, flawed as it may be, is still so very near and dear to us.

There is a list of emotions that appear here – elation, disappointment, jealousy, spiritual glory, the joys of simple life – Simar paints all of them with a clarity and realism that draws deeply upon our own wells of emotion.

I just wish the book didn’t end so quickly – I wanted to know more about the characters and where they were headed. I wanted to read more about the improvement in their lives as the effects of World War II faded. Perhaps there will be a SHELTERBELTS II.

There are several books about community that I read over and over again, year after year – Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Hassler’s GRAND OPENING, come to mind. I’m adding Simar’s SHELTERBELTS to that list.

*I have had the pleasure of meeting Candace Simar, a writer living in central Minnesota. Other books she has written include ABERCROMBIE TRAIL, BLOOMING PRAIRIE and FARM GIRLS. I must also add that she is a fine SCRABBLE player, having bested me more often than not in the online version of that game of words.

Chanticleer and Cantus in Concert: Minneapolis

A Concert Review
Cantus and Chanticleer in Concert
Orchestra Hall
Minneapolis, Minnesota
October 3, 2016

cantus                                                                                                    orchestra-hall-auditorium_main

For her birthday, I ordered tickets for my wife Sue and me to see these two premiere vocal groups, teaming up for the first time. We have seen several wonderful concerts over the years; few of them top this one.

The eight men of Cantus call Minneapolis their home. They have developed quite a following, especially here in Minnesota where there is a deep vocal tradition, including the well-known Lutheran college choirs like St. Olaf (Northfield), Concordia (Moorhead) and Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter). A group of men from St. Olaf found themselves hungry to continue with choral music for men, giving birth to Cantus.

An even dozen men make up Chanticleer, based in San Francisco, California. The group itself has been around longer than Cantus, starting in 1979.

Earlier this year, the two groups happened to find themselves in the same area while on tour. They got together informally over a drink or two. Of course, then next thing you know they are singing right there in the bar, enjoying their common music and wowing the patrons in the bar. A video from that night has gone viral on YOUTUBE, providing the groups with the impetus to join forces in a concert, as seen here . . .

 

We drove the two hours to Minneapolis, took care of some business, dined at the BRITS PUB, and took our seats in row 19 of Orchestra Hall, and oh, what we heard and felt as we were part of a sold out performance there. We knew something excellent was afoot when the audience erupted with applause as each group entered to do their pieces even before a single note came out of their mouths. This was especially true for Cantus as they entered – the audience gave them a clear home town welcome upon their entrance.

The concert began with a few pieces by Chanticleer, all from the sixteenth century, followed by Cantus with three of their own, all of which come from their upcoming concert regarding Veterans’ Day – a very compelling text (the poem “Five Ways to Kill a Man” by Edwin Brock) was put to music by Bob Chilcott, giving me one of the best pieces of the night. More from Chanticleer – two pieces done in Russian, and then Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise”, done without words. Cantus returned to the stage with a Polish piece, a setting of In Flanders Field and then a piece by Minnesota composer Libby Larson. To end the first portion of the concert, the groups combined to sing the same Ave Maria (by Franz Beibl) that got them together on that Youtube video a handful of months ago.

Following intermission, the groups populated the stage together, joining voices for a piece by Giovanni Gabrielli and then a piece based on Bach’s “Jesu Meine Freude”. Next came the two groups bringing the audience to an emotional high with Steven Paulus’ “Pilgrims’ Hymn”. I teared up, I’m sure Sue did, too. No doubt, we were not alone. The piece was performed with such clarity and blend – such strong vocal power – that there was no other option but to be tugged down the emotional road of the thrill of the music. They concluded this portion with Deep River.

Cantus brought their spiritual chops with them and sang “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight”, only to be answered by Chanticleer’s version of “Shenandoah”. To wrap up the concert, the groups rejoined with the song “Ride the Chariot”. A standing ovation brought the singers back onto the stage, who listened to strong, long applause and shouts of pleasure and encouragement to do another.

Not to disappoint, two more spirituals served as encores: “We Shall Walk Through the Valley of Peace” and “Good News, the Chariot’s Coming” brought the crowd to their feet once again.

The concert was more than a concert. It was a collaboration of two groups so well matched and blended in their voice. It was cooperation in programming. It was an effort that, as far as I know, may never be matched. We can only hope that the two groups will again put together another strong concert to give the world another great musical moment.

The concert itself is available for a short while through the MPR Facebook page. You can find it here at:

You can read more about Chanticleer and Cantus through a link to MPR and their choral streaming service here:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/topic/choral

Book Review: The Cello Suites

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Book Review:
The Cello Suites
By Eric Siblin
Published by Grove Press
270 pages

Bach and his music. Boring? Pablo Casals, that old Spanish cello player. Boring? Combine the two in one book? Boring squared? Not at all. This fine study it totally interesting and innovative in many ways.

Eric Siblin has penned a truly interesting and well researched book about these two musical men and their connection through a set of six pieces written for the cello. Siblin, who has made a name for himself by reviewing rock music, suddenly found himself wrapped in the classical music world of Bach and Casals as he learns of the story of the search for the original copy of the six cello suites by Bach, and how Pablo Casals single handedly brings these pieces to the world.

The structure of the book is unique; there are 36 chapters in the book, one named for each movement of the six suites, including preludes, allemandes, courants, gigues, sarabandes and gavottes. Each chapter centers on biographical work on Bach or Casals, or on the families of either man, or on the nature of the music, or on Siblin’s own reflections as he experiences these pieces, or on music history.

One would think that such material would be dry and thunderously dull. Think otherwise, reader. Siblin uses his writing to present a book that offers a conversational tone about his subjects, allowing the reader to settle into his chair and enjoy the lives of these men, and of these works of music. The language, though scholarly, is not highbrow. This is not for musical snobs only; it reads well for all.

We meet Bach and his family. We read of his moves from German town to town as he builds a career that he hopes will increase his stature with each city. We meet the princes and lords of the German city –states as they parry over his skills, and as he performs for and against other musicians. We meet his kids, his wives, especially Anna Magdalena, and how many of them build their own musical careers.

We meet Pablo Casals as a child in the Catalonian part of Spain, and how he develops his love for the cello. We meet his mother, his family, and ultimately his wife – when they marry, he is 80, she is 21. We watch Casals tour with his cello. We see his directorial work as he creates his own musical group. We learn of Casals and his political influences in Europe, starting in the 1920s, then on into the Spanish revolution in the 1930s, on into World War II and even into the halls of the United Nations, and then into Puerto Rico, where he concludes his time on earth, having been a consummately admired musician.

The suites themselves become characters in a way as Siblin describes the personality of each of the suites. Once intended as mere practice pieces, because of Casals’ recording of them in the 1920s, they became true virtuoso pieces for all cellists. Siblin also delves into the unknown of the pieces. He wonders who the suites were intended for. He asks if they were indeed meant for the cello or for a unique five-stringed instrument of his own devising.

THE CELLO SUITES is interesting, informative, and a good read. Congratulations, Mr. Siblin, on your fine job.

Book Review: A Notion of Pelicans

Book Review: A NOTION OF PELICANS
By Donna Salli
Published by North Star Press
173 Pages

notions

I have met ladies who are like the women who populate the world of Donna Salli’s book. I would bet that when you wade into A NOTION OF PELICANS, you will find women you know, too.

There’s the church basement lady who is firm in her ways and solid in her faith. There’s the uppity college professor who makes sure you know her opinions. There’s the lady thespian who is proud of her artificial world on the stage but not so sure of her real world. There’s the pastor’s wife, who recognizes her place in the community but still has her desires. And of course, it all comes from the pioneering spirit of the lady who founds a church based on a heavenly sign in the form of circling pelicans above the hills along the shores of a beautiful lake. Interspersed among the story of each ladies are short vignettes of a night in the town where the church and the ladies reside. And yes, the lore that began with those pelicans so many years ago presents itself, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes obvious.

Each woman is featured in a chapter all their own. Ms. Salli more than tells us about each lady – she shows us the life and emotions of each lady. By the time we read of each woman, we know what she looks like, what her habits are, her preferences in culture and men.

Just like the women who have so many aspects, the setting of the story offers so many moods. The small town of the Pelican church is located on the shores of the Great Lakes, which can be clear and sunny, or stormy and dark, and every mode in between. Is it a cool night? Rainy? Sunny? What season is it? The descriptions in the book fill us in well with every breath of wind and movement of the lake.

Salli’s writing style presents humor and pathos as we meet each woman – her writing skills are many, and very precise, so that all the words are used in a crisp, clear manner. Each chapter moves right along with its purpose. Ms. Salli’s training as a writer began with poetry, so we see her preference of economical use of words, and of choosing the right word in every sentence.

I am fortunate to count Donna Salli as among my writer friends. I have been allowed in on some of the decisions that led to this book. In so many ways, I see Donna’s world, and I also saw some new matters that let me know Donna even better as a writer and as a person.

When you buy your copy of A NOTION OF PELICANS, buy two. I can guarantee you have a friend who will like this book as well as you will.

 

The Minnesota Twins, Veterans, and my fourth grade teacher

(this article was written for and appeared in the Aug. 13, 2016 issue of the Hometown Focus of Virginia, Minnesota)

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Grandson Ryan Rossman and Mr. John Pagliaccetti

Baseball is a very American thing. So is honoring our veterans.

For every home game at Target Field, the Twins select a veteran to raise the flag during the Star Spangled Banner. At the game against the Atlanta Braves on July 26, 2016, that honor fell to John Pagliaccetti, retired Mt. Iron school district teacher, and his grandson Ryan Rossman. Mr. Pagliaccetti served in Korea, discharged as a sergeant first class. Major Rossman, still on active duty, has been deployed twice to the Middle East. Proud family members and friends were there to and share in the pride of the night. When I saw the event listed on Facebook, I knew I had to go.

In 1963-64, John Pagliaccetti was my fourth grade teacher in Parkville. People ask me who my favorite teachers were, and the name Pagliaccetti comes instantly to lips. My classmates and I recall an exciting, enthusiastic teacher, whether he was in the front of the classroom delivering a science lesson or playing baseball with us on the playground. I became a teacher, influenced in part from Mr. Pagliaccetti.

From my home in Brainerd, I caught the North Star train in Big Lake, headed for Target Field. When the train stopped at the Ramsey station, I looked out the window to see several Pagliaccetti family members boarding the train – John Pagliaccetti, his wife Loretta, their daughter Sandi Scott and her husband Tim, and their daughter Abby. In a lucky turn, they boarded the same car I was riding. We greeted each other with smiles, hugs and introductions. I learned that it was Abby who had arranged for the day. Abby, a music teacher in the Cities, had led a group of students who sang at the stadium awhile back, and when she saw how the Twins honored veterans, she thought of her grandfather and her brother, and how it would be so grand to have them selected for that duty. She completed the necessary paperwork, and the rest was all set. Then she posted the event on Facebook, and that’s how I learned about it. I asked if I could take pictures, and that’s how I got to be there.

The train pulled into the stadium with plenty of time. We found our way through the concourse of the stadium to our seats, where more friends and relatives joined the group, including my sister and brother-in-law Cher and Ger Anderson, who were students of Mr. Pagliaccetti as well.

Abby had instructions for us to meet at the flagpole at 6:30. Once there, Mark, the Twins official in charge, described what would happen, and that he’d be the cameraman – meaning that images would be on the huge jumbotron screen. As the time neared, Mark arranged the two veterans at the foot of the pole, with the family in a line extending from the flagpole. The flag was spread out among the family and friends and then connected to the flagpole cable. As a local church choir began singing the Banner, Ryan started cranking the handle that winched the flag up the pole as John guided it from the hands of those standing alongside. When the flag reached the peak of the flagpole, John and Ryan raised their eyes and saluted the flag, grandson and grandfather side by side.

Cheers arose as the anthem concluded. The family shook hands and embraced in prideful hugs. Mark arranged for family pictures around the flagpole, allowing those of us with cameras to take more shots as well. We returned to our seats to take in the Twins/Braves game and to visit and enjoy the evening.

There was another bonus on the night. Mark arranged for John and Loretta to be part of the Kiss Cam tradition at the stadium. In the break during the sixth inning, cameramen all around the stadium focused on couples as they kissed, their images appearing larger than life on the jumbotron. Several couples appeared on the screen, including a few couples from the Pagliaccetti group. The best couple of the night, saved for last, was John and Loretta Pagliaccetti as they kissed and then embraced in front of the nearly 27,000 fans in the stands. The ovation they received would almost rival any Iron Range celebration of similar joy.

Though the game ended in a Twins loss, we returned to the train, where we again ended up on the same car, and then saying goodbye with more smiles and hugs and handshakes. What a wonderful way to honor our veterans, and what a way for me to honor a teacher I so much respect.

John Pagliaccetti and his wife Loretta recently moved to Champlin to be near family. They have lived in Parkville, Mt. Iron and Buhl. Mr. Pagliaccetti graduated from Chisholm in 1950 and then joined the army, where he served one year in Korea. Loretta graduated from Hibbing in 1952. The two married in 1953. They have 3 children; Sandy, Gary and Debra.

Major Ryan Rossman, Sandy’s son, graduated from Chisholm in 1997. He attended St. John’s, where he was part of the ROTC program. He has been deployed twice to the Middle East over the years. Ryan is a brigade operations officer and works out of the Bloomington armory. Major Rossman is married to Andrea and they reside in Brooklyn Park with their 3 children: John, Lia and Grace.

The necessity of decency in teaching – and elsewhere.

After 34 years of teaching, there’s a whole lot I learned about the profession. Here are three of them.

If I insult students with handicaps . . .

trump handicap

If I reject students just because they’re new to the district and don’t ‘fit in’ . . .

trump and immigrants

 

If I demean women . . .

trump reporter

These things would potentially happen to me:

– Called on the carpet
– Suspended
– Fired.

I’ll leave it at that.