Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Adult Ballet’s Dark Side”

The article I just now read is titled “Confessions of an Anonymous Ballet Teacher: Adult Ballet’s Dark Side,” and it’s hilarious and entertaining. I have taken many a ballet class through the years. I briefly taught adult ballet classes, back in the day. I am currently an adult ballet student who, in the studio, is ever scrutinizing, analyzing, observing every dynamic to tuck into my fiction writing, which is frequently set in the ballet world. And, oh my goodness, this author, who chose to remain anonymous, and probably that’s a very good thing – just nailed it. Take a look at the article:

I was delighted to discover such a fun, well-written article about a subject that so interests me. I haven’t explored the website Dance Advantage prior to this, and what a pleasure it is to come upon it, and the article. They host guest contributors, and feature annual lists of best bloggers to follow, to read up on, and I’m realizing that maybe here, I’ve hit the motherlode, all this good writing and commentary about the ballet world to read, link, emulate. Take a peek at them here:

But never forget this: adult ballet students have the power to rule the world. Are you a fellow adult ballet student? If so, yay, and send me a shout-out! If not, well… what are you waiting for?

Max Bruch: the Romantic composer you’ve never heard [enough] of


Max Bruch, German composer of the Romantic Era, wrote over 200 works. Ask any violinist and they’ll nod, maybe even roll their eyes, saying “of course, the violin concerto. Played it. Everyone student has.” Or heard it. Or heard Bruch’s celebrated Kol Nidrei for Cello and Orchestra. Or his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. And that sums up Bruch for most.

Bruch wrote two more violin concertos, that, possibly, you’ve never heard (not to mention a gorgeous Serenade for Violin and Orchestra). He wrote three symphonies that, likely, you’ve never heard. I’m listening to the second one right now. It’s cracking my heart open.

The problem with poor Bruch was, you see, he was born too late. He had to follow in the footsteps of German masters of the Romantic Era such as Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms. He learned a lot from them. He loved their structured, balanced, lyrical style; it was what he did best. However, by the time Bruch had a really good sound going, the times, they were a-changing. A new kind of Romantic music was piquing the interest of the public, the more flamboyant, passionate styles of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Wagner, Bruckner. Bigger orchestras. Bigger risks. Bigger sound, larger than life drama and pathos and redemption all built in.


And like that, the tides had shifted. While Bruch continued on with a successful career, composing, teaching, conducting, what have you, history turned its back on him. It cast him as a side note to the masters and deemed his repertoire, with the exception of his violin concerto and Kol Nidrei, largely forgettable. Not music you will hear too frequently in today’s concert halls.

I love Bruch’s other violin concertos, his Serenade for Violin and Orchestra (op. 75), his Romance for Violin and Orchestra (op. 42), his Im Memoriam (op. 65). And his symphonies. The No. 2 in F-minor, in particular. The second movement. I am utterly smitten. I play it over and over and it’s as if I can feel the spirits of Schumann and Beethoven. They are hanging out with me here as I sit and listen. Check it out.

Where did it come from, this music? What made Bruch write the movement this way, with those swirls of otherworldly emotion, so very much like Schumann’s own Symphony No. 2, third movement? It’s uncanny. I get that same prickly feeling, both elated and close to tears, and it’s like I’ve consumed a shot of something heady, like antique scotch, and instantly my emotions are running higher, as as are my thoughts, my analysis of the music. There is an increased need, almost frantic, to get it right, to explain it all with words. To say, “Folks, this one is a gem. You have to hunt down a copy and give it a good listen. This is pure genius.” No, wrong word. It wasn’t pure genius, pure originality on Bruch’s part. I’d have to give those awards to Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann. But what Bruch produced, is art, that seems to give off an invisible radiance, one you can feel on your flushed cheeks, deep within your heart as you listen. This is art that got overlooked because it came just a little too late in the cycle of things, in the relentless push of progress, seeking out a new sound, something less classically romantic, more gritty and provocative.

The second movement plays for eleven minutes. For that time (because of course I am listening to it yet again), I will once more puzzle over what makes it work, what is seizing my heart, keeping it hostage. I will come back tomorrow, play it again and again, in the hopes that at some point I will find the clues required to unlock that place, release me from this obsession. And maybe, through that, I can crack the nut of why classical music, and art, affects me as it does.

I think the joke’s on me, though. Art can never be unlocked, un-cracked, figured out. And lucky us, for that. It means we can spend our lifetimes exploring, searching, falling into it, loving it.



PS: My heartfelt thanks go out to violinist Salvatore Accardo and his lovely, loving renditions of so much of Bruch’s music. He has my undying devotion. Here are two beloved CDs I own and would highly recommend:



Motherhood Lessons

In 2006 the L.A. Daily News published an essay I wrote about a troubling bingo night – yes, such a thing can exist – that helped eased the burden of my parent’s soul. There’s both a comfort and a bittersweet charm in rereading it now, with my son being almost fourteen, and not seven. The gist of it, the emotional bumps and dings of parenting, is timeless. So, please, allow me to share once again.


It’s bingo night at my son’s elementary school. He’s never played serious bingo before, the kind where adults and children alike hunker down, armed with stacks of bingo cards, markers and steely expressions. At seven, he doesn’t yet understand the ways of the world—that you can play multiple games all night long and still never win. My son, I sense, is about to learn a life lesson. Therefore, so am I.

“Bingo!” I hear him shout out fifteen minutes into the games as I’m selling cards to late-comers. A buzz of speculation fills the crowded cafeteria. I’m thrilled. I’m also scared. Does he really have bingo? I wasn’t paying attention to his card. He scrambles up to the judges station and my stomach twists. And for a good reason. The judges point at a spot on his card, then shake their heads. He hasn’t won. The stomach twists become knots as I watch him return to our table, face stoic, chin jutted out. “They made a mistake,” he says, trying to control his trembling voice. “They were wrong.”

I am the mommy here, so I hide my own pain and keep my voice breezy yet sympathetic. I compare his marked card to the numbers on the blackboard. “No, sweetie. See? You got this first number wrong.”

The night, of course, is now tainted. Stress levels increase as grumbles give way to tears and accusations. “Why did you make me come to bingo night?” he cries forty minutes later. “I knew I’d hate it. I hate this.” I feel sick. My head pounds. We finally leave early, only to have him twist around in the parking lot and shriek that he changed his mind, that he wants  to go back, that he’ll do anything to go back, and please, pleeeaase, Mom? But of course I must hold strong. The ride home is a full-blown symphony of screams, sobs, pleas, threats, and hurled taunts that I just don’t understand; I just don’t care. Bad Mommy. You blew it yet again.

I’m not cut out for this job. I can’t cope, I cry to my husband, who always manages to maintain control when battling our son’s willful nature. But, that said, how can I be expected to stay strong and resolute when my son, my baby, is sobbing out my name, now holding out his arms to me? When our eyes meet, so do our souls. This is, after all, the little creature who grew from a seed inside me, who was set on my chest seconds after being born, wet slippery flesh against flesh. A mother and child eternally share a bond that transcends rules and reason.

My emotions are intertwined with his, a point driven home a few years ago when we found a dead snake in our driveway. The snake was black and delicate, slender as a pencil. My son picked it up and we decided such a pretty creature deserved a proper burial. My husband dug a hole for it and said a few noble words before motioning for our son to set the snake into the ground. I watched his little face process the implication of the scenario. Tears filled his eyes. “But I don’t want it to be this way,” he cried, clutching the dead snake. And right then, I was there inside him, experiencing the terrible, sweeping realization that this snake, once alive like us, was now dead and my son was expected to drop it in the hole, dump dirt on it and bury it forever. He began to cry, heartbroken sobs against which I had no emotional defense. I crouched down, held him close and sobbed with him.

A snake. A bingo game. What happens when the issues become bigger? A broken heart; the betrayal of a close friend; the dawning awareness of life’s inherent cruelty and unfairness? My presence on that journey, I realize, is what defines the role of mother. Wherever he may go,  there I’ll be, swept along emotionally.

I panic that the tender years are slipping past too quickly. No more sippy cups or sweet mispronunciations of words. No more holding hands as we walk together into his classroom. Some day soon he’ll tell me he’d rather go to his classroom alone. In another half-dozen years, he’ll be asking me to walk 100 feet ahead of him at all times and never acknowledge that we’re related. This cliché I’d laughed about with my friends now shocks me with its inexorable approach into my own life.

Whether or not I’m cut out for this job, the truth is, I will rise to the challenge. I am his mother, after all. And that title—encompassing guardian, disciplinarian, confidante, advocate, greatest fan—says it all.


The Inheritance – a short story excerpt

This short story first appeared at Espresso Fiction in 2006

Opal chanced upon the violin the day she went searching in the attic for her husband Stan’s gun. The attic was awash in clutter. She waded through it all, stubbing her toe on the Christmas tree stand and knocking over a stack of boxes. And in the end, no gun in sight. She sighed and picked up the violin case instead.

She’d inherited the violin—a Stradivarius, a real Stradivarius, according to the stained, yellowing label inside—six months earlier, after Aunt Julia had died. Stan had gleefully speculated about its worth, so she’d taken it to a local violin shop, a dusty little basement store that doubled as a shoe repair. The room was dim and quiet, the smell of leather, polish and varnish unfamiliar but not unpleasant. The violin-maker, or luthier, as his business card read, was a tiny, bent man with the hint of a foreign accent. He appraised the violin, scratching notes on a pad of paper before picking up the violin again and turning it this way and that. Fifteen minutes later, he gave her the news. Made in Europe, yes, but the “Antonius Stradivarius, Cremonensis Faciebat Anno 1719” label affixed inside did not mean, as she and Stan been hoping, that Aunt Julia had left her a Stradivarius.

“Just a copy,” he told her. “This label, it means nothing. Not a forgery, so to speak. Makers did this often, back then, imitating a famous luthier’s style. This looks German, made around 1890. Some flaws in the design, excessive wear here, but a worthy little fiddle, nonetheless.” He made a few more adjustments, tuned it, and returned it to her.

By the time Opal returned home, Stan was already back from work. He was stretched out on the couch, reading the paper, but sat up expectantly when he saw her. His oxford button-down shirt looked as fresh and unwrinkled as when he’d left the house ten hours earlier. She marveled, as always, that time never seemed to touch him. His hair was still dark and thick, the classic angles of his jaw still well-defined with no hint of a jowl. He looked the same as he had on their wedding day, twenty-five years earlier. “What a catch,” her friends had all whispered. Little did they know the catching had been the easiest part.

“So, how much?” he asked her when he saw her carrying the violin case. He stood and rubbed his hands together just like they did in cartoons. All that was missing were the dollar signs in his eyes, now lit up and fixed on her. She savored the moment of being important, of having information he was dying to learn. “Six figures?” he asked when she didn’t reply.

She shook her head.

“Damn. Eighty thousand? No?”

“It’s a copy. But not a bad one.” A note of defensiveness crept up.

“So, what, then? Fifty thousand? Twenty?” His voice grew more terse with each shake of her head. “Well then what, for chrissakes?”

“Two thousand.”

“Two thousand dollars?!” He stared at her, his expression now angry, accusing, as if she’d been part of a plot with Aunt Julia to trick him, to deny him of something due to him. “A lousy two thousand dollars—that was your big inheritance?”

A hard knot of anxiety worked its way up her back and into her shoulders. “I didn’t plan it this way, you know.”

He glared at her, his mouth working as if trying to form the best words. Then he drove his fist into the top cushion of the chintz sofa. He took a deep breath, straightened the pillow and walked over to the violin case, which she’d set on the adjacent Queen Anne chair. He gave the chair a swift kick that sent the violin in its case sliding down. It thumped on the gleaming oak floor, causing the violin inside to ring in protest.

“Stop it!” She swooped down to pick it up. “It’s not the violin’s fault.”

“Sorry,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away. “Not as if I’m damaging some fine antique though.” He shook his head as he leafed through the day’s mail on the side table. “Two thousand bucks. Your Aunt Julia was always a flake. Figures she’d tell you she was leaving you an inheritance and instead give you a tired piece of junk.”

She ignored him and went into the kitchen to make dinner. Later that evening, she tried to play the violin, but the screeches produced were horrific. She could hear Stan snickering in the adjacent room. Deciding she didn’t need one more thing beating her down, she stuck the violin back in its case and left it in the den for days, weeks, until Stan tired of tripping over it and shoved it in the attic.

Now, months later, here was the violin. No gun, just the violin. Clearly this was not her day. Sighing, she abandoned her gun search and left the attic with the violin.

[To continue, and/or read the story in its entirety, go to ]

Serenade for Violin and Song Sparrow

This article first appeared at in May 2008

It is Saturday, a warm, drowsy afternoon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and my family and I are doing our respective family things. My husband is in the office, tapping away at the computer while my son putters about in the playroom, pausing from time to time to take his role-playing outside. I am upstairs practicing the violin, working on a Bach minuet, having recorded the second voice so I can duet with myself. Me and myself, we’re sounding okay, in an adult beginner’s sort of way. Nice, even. Apparently I am not the only one to think so.

When I hear the whistle from outside, via the back window, I assume it’s my son, using one of the whistles we make him take outside because it’s so loud. But the sound persists beyond his normal attention span. Curious, I pause my recording and peer around the partition that separates my practice corner from the rest of the room. Through the open screened window I see the source of the noise. It’s not a whistle. It’s a sparrow, what I will later come to learn is a Song Sparrow, russet and gray with bold streaks down its white chest. He is on the bedroom’s balcony railing. He is whistling and singing. Loudly.

Birds have perched on the balcony railing before; they have twittered and whistled before flying off. Here in the mountains, nature abounds. But it has never been like this. The sparrow is focused, intent, as he whistles straight at me. His eyes are unblinking, as if he has a message that he must get right, that there will be no second chances for him here.

He is serenading me, I realize. Well, my violin. Or surely it is the ineffable clarity and beauty of Bach. No matter. He continues to sing out in my direction in that clear, oh-so-loud whistle. I begin to play short phrases in response to him, not daring to break the spell by going back to the music on its stand in my practice corner. I fudge it. He doesn’t seem to mind. I play, he listens, head cocked, then sings back.

It is charming, miraculous. It reminds me of the scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona is singing so beautifully that a bluebird flies over and begins to duet with her. Granted, once Fiona hits a clinker note, the bird, unable to reproduce such a horrific sound, blows up, blue feathers wafting downward. The same fate does not befall my sparrow partner, for which I am grateful.

This goes on for over ten seconds, a wondrously long time when you’ve got a wild creature singing to you. Then the sparrow, spying the adjacent picture glass window, flies over to it and bumps into it. He wants to get in. He must get in. He must meet this beloved. He bumps his head against the glass a second time, a third time, before finally accepting the intransigence of the glass and flying away.

I stare at the space long after his departure, transfixed by what has just occurred. Then I run downstairs, crying for my family to come here, come here, there was a bird and he was singing to me. They follow me upstairs in a bemused fashion and I begin to feel a little foolish as I try to explain the impact of it, the magic. And then the sparrow comes back. “Look!” I cry and as if on command, he begins to whistle again as I play again. An encore performance, for a brief few seconds. Then, like the shy, modest performer he is, he flits away before we can applaud.

I tell my husband and son the rest, how the sparrow tried to get into the room, to which my husband responded in the pragmatic fashion that defines him, that the bird merely saw his own reflection and was trying to get closer to his exotic twin. The rationale makes sense to the logical mind. But I know in my heart that the song sparrow just had to get closer to the music. That magic sound, of violin and Bach.