Thursday, March 30, 2006

Morons Need Jobs, Too!

To each person his own job is or becomes important. Morons need jobs, too. Give them their space; let them do their work.

When the average joe looks for a job, his primary objective is usually to find an occupation that will bring in enough money to pay the bills. Other considerations become secondary to that. If he can find something to do that he believes is important; wants to do; is trained for; puts him in an agreeable work environment; allows him to cultivate a measure of satisfaction in the act doing it; and also pays more than the minimum required by the job seeker; then those gains are all added benefits. But without sufficient money, other compensations are secondary. This is why many talented artists, musicians, and actors are sometimes seen working at mundane jobs.

On occasion a person gets a job that to most people seems stupid and purposeless. In order to maintain one's own sanity and sense of worth, the worker adopts or invents the employer's supposed sense of importance to it.

One example of that is the involuntary soldier, one who is impressed into service to fight, and risk and possibly give up his life for a cause that someone else in power believes in, but has found a convenient way to circumvent the need to fight for himself by convincing or forcing others to do it for him, even at the risk or cost of that other person's life. How often we will hear soldiers in the field sing the praises of the flimsy causes they have been sent to do battle over, as though they thought of doing so themselves.

When I worked at Motorla we had POPI inspectors. POPI (which I pronounced "poopy") stood for Protect Our Proprietary Information, a slogan that represented a whole well-intended system by means of which the corporation went to extraordinary lengths to prevent Bad Guys from stealing company technical information, including much that even the most jaded spy wouldn't give a toot about.

Much rigamarole was involved, including the need to mark printed documents with ominous classifications, keep all cubicle drawers locked when we were gone, including those that contained nothing but pencils and paper clips, screen lock programs active, and even removable media such as floppies and tapes out of drives and in locked cabinets.

On occasion official POPI inspectors would show up at 4:00am, when theoretically no one would be there, to check each cubicle for violations. My own office was located in the remotest part of a secure building that was as far from the guarded gates as it was possible to be. Nobody was ever seen in that area who did not belong there. Furthermore, there was absolutely nothing in my cubicle of any interest to anyone, even to me. Nonetheless, I arrived one morning to find a pink citation for leaving a blank floppy disk in a computer that was not plugged in and had not been turned on in at least a year.

I had to wonder about the sense of pride and accomplishment it must have brought to that POPI inspector for having made such an important find. Here was a case of a man (possibly a woman, but let's assume otherwise) doing his job. Why? Because he seriously believed that ferreting out such hideous violations was important to the good of Motorola, the country, the world, and the universe? Excuse me while I gag. He did it because it was a job, probably the only one he could get within the company, which was at that time in a business death spiral, and because he was probably too much of a moron to do much of anything that was actually important.

Ironically, there was a co-worker in my department who could not sleep because of a back problem; he lived less than five minutes from work, and who would get up daily sometime after 3:00am, and would always be there between 4:00—5:00am. Imagine the surprise of the POPI inspectors upon entering that office and finding someone there at that hour. (It happened.)

If there was ever a stupid job, that was one, but someone made at least a part of his living carrying out those inspections at the direction of persons who certainly would never do them themselves. And because a man's job is his livelihood and often a measure of his self worth, he took it seriously and carried it out as if the future salvation of mankind depended on it.

Boredom Redux

Often I've claimed that I never get bored while running. I'll stick to that claim, with a minor rider. Sometimes preoccupation with something else can interfere with whatever task we are presently performing, such that we do it less well, or quit it entirely. This postulate applies particularly well to running.

This week I've had decent runs so far, including a five-mile tempo run Tuesday, a better than expected 10.25 yesterday, and 7.05 today.

The only thing wrong is that I scheduled ten miles for today, not seven. I was doing just fine, was enjoying myself, and would have had no physical problem doing the last three miles. So why did I stop?

Recently a flood of important matters has filled my mind: searching for re-employment once again; preparing for upcoming interviews with two big companies, both scheduled for next Monday; my wife and I have been busy rolling all our material assets into a trust and making a careful evaluation of where we're at; my daughter is getting married in June and will be moving to Indiana, and meanwhile has just sold her house and moved back in with us until then; working to complete a music project, other than when I licensed the distribution rights to my two CDs for commercial distribution, the first musical work I've gotten paid for in at least 23 year; and yesterday we had an Across the Years race committee meeting at our house, and work has begun in earnest to prepare things for this year's races. These and a host of other matters, includine the need to continue to keep up with all the usual day-to-day matters of life, continue to dwell in my mind and heart, and can be distracting when in the meantime I am also trying to train to run ultramarathons, and maybe lose weight while I'm at it.

Once in a while a desire to go do something else immediately becomes ovewhelming during a training run. Today I got a brainstorm on how to solve a programming problem I've been cogitating over. By seven miles into my run I declared the workout to be Good Enough so I could run home to make some notes about my programming project.

Wouldn't it be right to say that in essence I got bored with running today, because I let something of greater immediate interest deter me from my goal for the day? That's how I view it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wagner's The Flying Dutchman — Arizona Opera

Last night was the first time in 62 years of musical life that I ever attended a live production of a Wagner opera. At that rate I'll be 124 before I see my next one. I can wait.

The event du jour was The Flying Dutchman, one of Wagner's earliest works. The music was listenable, the singers were real loud — a prerequisite for singing Wagner, the orchestra played well, meaning the first horn player didn't crack too many high notes, and the sets were fabulous.

What was the plot? I'm not really sure. Something about a sailor condemned to ride around in a boat until he could find a faithful wife, which would somehow bring him salvation. It should be noted that it doesn't always work out that way, including in Wagner's own case. Theoretically this was based on something that was considered akin to slapstick comedy in its day, but Wagner had a way of putting a morosely serious spin on things.

'Nuff said.

At a performance time of three hours, Dutchman weighs in as one of Wagner's shorter works. So what does one do in a theater seat for that long? Obviously it's not possible to concentrate on Wagner for that long, so I whiled away the time writing Wagner jokes.

Q: What's the difference between a Wagnerian soprano and a police siren?
A: Vibrato.

Q: What do you get when you cross a Wagnerian soprano with a Mack truck?
A: Another Wagnerian soprano.

Q: What words about Wagner will you never hear?
A: That's the Wagner lover's yarmulke.

Q: What do you call all the scores to the Ring Cycle at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start.

Q: What did the Wagner lovers do before heading off for a performance of a Wagner opera?
A: Shut off their water, gas, and electricity, canceled their magazine subscriptions, had the post office hold their mail, got their affairs in order, and left their children at an orphanage.

Q: What is Armageddon?
A: The basis for an amusing Wagner comedy.

Q: Who are Moe, Curly, and Larry?
A: Actors from whom Wagner derived an epic drama about life, death, love, salvation, and universal truth. (He called it Parsifal.)

But seriously, folks ...

The production was excellent, and the singers some of the best the Arizona Opera has ever hired, particularly the soprano, who has a towering yet beautiful voice, and is not built like a weightlifter, as many Wagnerian sopranos are. In fact she's kind of a babe.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Most Secure Place in the World

Many adventure and sci-fi movies show scenes of top secret highly secure fortresses surrounded by armed guards and protected by more hi-tech gear than the Pentagon can afford. Each of these movies leaves you convinced that there couldn't possibly be a more important place in the world.

What might be found in the Most Secret Secure Place in the ultimate sci-fi adventure movie of all times? All of the following:
  • The ark of the covenant, with Moses' stone tablets.
  • The real location for all the gold most people assume is in Fort Knox.
  • Vials of all the most deadly viruses ever known, including smallpox.
  • Gallons of the most destructive chemical weapons ever created.
  • The world's largest stockpile of weapons grade plutonium.
  • The files of the CIA.
  • The guy who really shot Kennedy.
  • Aliens from numerous galaxies outside the Milky Way.
  • Elvis.
  • Jimmy Hoffa.
  • Madeline Murray O'Hare.
  • Jesus Christ's high school graduation picture.
  • A stone carved out of a mountain with the date that Armageddon will take place engraved on it.

Music As Wallpaper

Music today has become like wallpaper — part of the ambience. Hardly anyone ever just listens to it any more, unless it's to get up and dance.

As a child I became accumstomed to simply listening to music, allowing it to take over my full attention. Even when I was little, I would sit on the floor and listen attentively as my father practiced, sometimes for long periods of time. To some people nothing is more boring than listen to a musician woodshedding, but I enjoyed it.

We didn't have a record player during my youngest years. I no longer remember exactly when my father went out and bought a "hi fi", but by that time 33 1/3 LPs were common, a medium that was appropriate for the distribution of classical music, and much superior to the 78 RPM records that had become popular. Meanwhile, pop music came to be distributed with one song on each side of a 45 RPM record. I never owned more then a couple of those. I remember buying "Sixteen Tons" by Tennesee Ernie Ford on a 45 single, and listening to it many times. It was the very first record I ever bought with my own money.

In those days there was always the radio. Even then classical music broadcasts were infrequent, but whenever they were on, is was an occasion for my father to sit in a chair and listen attentively, so that's what I did, too. Before long I became a radio addict. Our radio was not portable. (They didn't have portable radios yet.) Our family owned only one, and when it was on, I sat right next to it and listened to it, for at least a couple of hours every night. I sat so close I could touch it, and loved the warm smell of the vacuum tube circuitry burning inside of it. I knew all the popular programs, the schedule, and what stations they were on, and could slip easily from one to the other, even there was no a mechanism to preset favorite stations. I had to turn the dial and "tune it in," adjusting it back and forth until the signal was the clearest.

When I started to learn music, it was already my habit to sit and listen attentively to it when it was playing. There was hardly anything to do that I enjoyed more. To this day my preferred mode of listening is with a score in my lap, because I don't want to miss any details, and I'm deeply interested in knowing how composers accomplished what they did. I suppose that's why I became a composer myself.

Today few people listen to the radio except as background noise. We listen to talk and news shows in the car when commuting because it saves what would otherwise be wasted time, enabling us to catch up on what's going on in the world when we are held captive in traffic, making it less urgent that we do so on or or to read a newspaper, or God forbid, by having to watch it on the evening news, when TV news has become a joke.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How Many Miles Per Whatever?

Non-runners will ask runners: "How many miles per unit of time du jour do you run?"

If the inquirer is a fitness oriented type who sees me at the gym frequently, he may be the sort of person who assumes that I follow a periodic routine, and that I run pretty much the same amount every time I go out. The most frequent expectation is that I run so much per day. My usual quick reply is that most runners track it by weeks and months, not by days. The "per" designation is just a handle by means of which one may discuss averages, which themselves may or may not be meaningful.

My own routine is surely not much different from most thoughtful runners. I record all pedestrian miles covered while wearing running clothes for the purpose of "working out" on a daily basis, often in miles to two decimal places when running a known measured route, whether I'm going for a short walk or a long run or some combination thereof. A training session for me can be anything from one easy mile to over forty. The distance almost always predetermined, usually at least days and sometimes weeks in advance.

In turn, those daily accumulations add up to seven-day weeks. In my log I record not only the week as measured from Sunday to Saturday, but each day I calculate a new sliding total of the last seven days, including on rest days. That number can be a good predictor of how well I might expect to do the next time out.

Weeks add up to months. For a while I also calculated the past month's sliding total as 30 days or 31 days, until it dawned on me that a month varies in numbers of days, and activity tends to cycle on a weekly basis, which throws variables into the number. Therefore I changed sometime last year to adding total mileage for the past 28 days on a daily basis regardless of the number of days in the current month —g four weeks, which is constant, and makes more sense as a guide to "how I'm doing" as far as recent mileage. So while my last 28 days might say, for instance, 180 miles, the month total of 30 or 31 days may wind up as 200 or more. That's okay.

Week and month totals tend to build and diminish over the course of a year, depending on complex variables including weather, upcoming races, and explicit training goals. I'll usually set a goal mileage for a month on the first of each month, using those factors, along with recent experience as a guide, and then will rough out the weeks, particularly the long runs so as to hit somewhere near that goal.

Keeping track of detailed training data is valuable, more so than having some vague notion about how much I'm running, which would likely result in not running enough to reach ultrasized goals. More data is better than less data in a sport where a scientific approach can give a person with minimal intrinsic skills (me) a greater advantage than a casual approach. So that's how I measure it.

As noted, other people will ask about my running, and it helps to have a way to discuss it. Because I train an unusual amount on an indoor track at a gym, there are quite a few people who see me on a regular basis, and know that I sometimes run fairly long mileage there. It's not unusual for someone to come up and ask: "How much do you run every day?" There is no answer to that question if taken literally that is both easy and correct. I could do a mental calculation in the knowledge that this past week I ran 48 miles, so could say "about seven", when the real answer is that I did a couple of short runs, a 10-miler, took a couple of days off, and ran 25 on Saturday. Or I could say "about 40-50 miles a week", or I could say so many miles per month. But when you're flying by someone who asks the question in passing, that's not the time to get into a big discussion or to present a lecture on how runners train.

In January I passed on the track an older gentleman I've never stopped to talk to who asked me, "How did you do on your last marathon?" The last race I'd run was Across the Years. I don't know how he knew that I had been in a race recently. I responded quickly: "Which one?" He scrambled for an answer: "Any one." I said "A hundred and forty-two miles!" as I glided out of conversation range, knowing he wouldn't have a clue what I was referring to. He shouted back, "Very good!" in a voice that clearly indicated he was confused and didn't understand my answer.

Still, I'm always happy to discuss this topic in any amount of detail with persons who are really interested and have the time. It makes little difference how one describes his routine. It is what it is.
A rose is a rose is a rose. — Gertrude Stein

A Simple Life

Many people stumble along the path from birth to death with colossal holes in their lives.

They never read. How can a person know anything if he never, ever reads?

They never think.

They never work out.

They never learn to experience music or art or drama and sometimes cultivate a distaste for artistic beauty.

They are immune to spirituality, and rarely give God or questions about the meaning of life a thought.

The puzzling thing is that it's not necessary to be complete in all these respects in order to create an illusion of happiness. Many people die happy and satisfied having never done much of anything.

When you think about it, who of us really knows or understands much at all about anything? Those who take the trouble to investigate the world around them learn above all that they are ignorant and haven't a clue; that notion troubles them and tarnishes their happiness.

Handel's Semele — Arizona Opera Company

On January 30th Suzy and I attended the Arizona Opera Company's performance of Semele by Handel. Some musicologists classify it as a "secular oratorio" rather than an opera, but all presentations of it I've found listed by Google have been completely staged — by opera companies — so it makes little difference what label one hangs on it. Remarkably, this was the very first baroque opera ever staged by AOC in its 35-year history. I do hope they do more of it — particularly more Handel; I'd also be happy to see some Monteverdi.

Upon arriving, I brought a lifetime streak to an end: we were late! Normally we leave home about 6:30-6:35 for a 7:30 performance, which almost always gets us through the front doors at Symphony Hall at about 7:05, with plenty of time to have a coffee and cookie, chat, look at the pretty dressed-up ladies and stuffed shirts, and prepare to be put to sleep soon.

On our journey we encountered an accident snarl on the I-10. It was bumper-to-bumper from there all the way to the parking lot. When we walked in they were playing the last measures of the overture. The decrepit volunteer ushers were whispering "There's still time to be seated!" — barely. They stuck us in the back row, which I guess is a penalty box they normally keep open for latecomers. At least it was roomy. The sound and view were naturally somewhat muffled from there, though not terrible. So it was from there that we saw the entire first act. If we had been fifteen seconds later we would have watched it on plasma TV screens in the lobby.

It was the first time in my memory of a lifetime of concertgoing that I was ever late to a performance event. (I'm not counting performances at Smith Music Hall while in music school that I may have wandered into during mid-performance, having not previously committed myself to going. I'll add that during my six years in Urbana I attended at least eighty percent of what was presented at Smith Hall — probably more.) Added to the fact that I had a bad experience that morning which upset me, I was disappointed to break my lifetime perfect record of on-timeness, so I arrived in a somewhat foul mood.

Naturally, the musicians used modern instruments, no doubt for a lack of appropriate gear and specialist performers, because after all, this was another performance by the AOC using their standard orchestra members; but the program said the singers followed eighteenth century vocal practice rigorously. It certainly sounded so to my ears.

The producers chose to present the work, not in traditional baroque fashion, but with twentieth century pop art staging. The first set consisted of five full-color giant female eyeball paintings hung high over the stage, reminiscent of Andy Warhol, with a set of stark black and white striped furniture. (I presumed the eyeball gender because of the makeup, though in 2006 such conclusions are by no means true.)

"Say what!?" I said to myself.

When a slight guy appeared in Ivy League garb, replete with sweater draped around the shoulders, sleeves tied in front, and a tennis racquet, and began flitting around the stage while singing the countertenor (falsetto) role, which at first, not knowing the plot, I mistook as an effort to portray him as gay as can be, I rolled my eyes, sat back in my chair, and proceeded to make a concerted and successful effort to fall asleep, convinced that the producers had lost their collective mind. It turns out he was scheduled to marry the title character — in the end he fell in love with and married her sister instead.

For readers who may not be aware, a countertenor is a male singer who sings in the female range, usually in falsetto. This may be accomplished in modern times through extensive training first as a baritone or tenor, graduating to specialization in the upper voice. In previous times, when such voices were valued by the Roman Catholic Church, and before it was outlawed, potential countertenors were given surgical help in their youth by means of a procedure that did not involve the vocal chords.

I'm sorry I fell asleep, though given my tiredness after my usual Saturday afternoon long run, a few moments of shuteye was inevitable.

By the end of the first act I started to come around, by which time I began to realize — Oh, this thing is a comedy! It's supposed to be funny. Meanwhile I'd dozed through some undoubtedly superlative music.

There were two intermissions. After the first act we moved to our much better usual seats. From the second act on, refreshed by my nap, I was able to pay proper attention.

The vocalists were by and large excellent, including the countertenor, who did not reappear until the last half of the third act. They did sound much like traditional opera singers rather than baroque specialists, other than the countertenor, who of course is a specialist, because there is virtually no other literature for countertenors, but they sang clean as a whistle.

The cast of characters numbered six. The title role went to a soprano with astonishing virtuosity. Some of the most technically demanding music ever written for singers — most fun to listen to — is to be found in the showy coloratura passages of Handel. In fact, Getting to hear singers showing off is probably what most people like to hear most in Handel's operas and oratorios. The questions that invariably present themselves include: how fast will they go, can this singer cut it, hit most of the notes, mostly in tune, keep up with the pace of the orchestra, and not run out of breath or appear to be left gasping for breath in the next eight bars before he or she has a chance to inhale again? In this regard I'm reminded of the challenges of the patter songs of Gilbert and Sullivan, except that in the latter they also have to deal with mind-bogglingly complex and tongue-twisting lyrics.[1]
[1] "I am the very model of a modern major general,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical. ...
I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous."

The only singer I had reservations about was the bass, the father of the title character. It's one thing for a soprano to rattle through those long melismas under a cushion of orchestral backing, but to make it sound clearly in the bass range is technically almost impossible — as was demonstrated by this night's performer. He did perform one amusing and well-acted aria, though — a slower number, in which he was supposed to be the god of sleep trying to wake up, wherein he kept falling back over on his side, and letting his voice continue to drop another half another half-octave below what was written.

By far the best singer to my ears was the sister of the title character, a contralto by my estimation of nearly 300 pounds who shook the walls when she sang, manifested total control and freedom, breathtaking technique, acted superbly, and turned out to be quite the comic character. Upon accepting applause at the end, the enthusiastic cheers earned for her from the audience indicated that the masses in attendance agreed with my own assessment.

As I got into the performance I began to enjoy some of the humorous touches. One of the characters, the tenor who played Zeus, being a god, had the ability to make funny things happen at the wave of a hand, as couches would move into position, and needed objects would appear. The stage was tended by a group of five non-singing tuxedoed men, who brought things in and out, including cotton cloud bedecked scaffolding on wheels with a couch on top from whence various gods and goddesses sang.

In one aria Zeus sang to Semele and desired to give her some flowers, whereupon an attendant walked in with an enormous bouquet of roses, but while continuing to sing to unaware Semele, Zeus made a gesture indicating something bigger, whereupon the attendants wheeled in six 10-foot-tall ultracloseup paintings of roses filling the entire stage, making a most impressive backdrop.

In another, Semele has magically become transformed in such a way that when she looks at herself in a tiny mirror she no longer sees herself as a mere mortal, but as a goddess. She is so impressed with herself she can't get over it, and begins singing an aria that begins with the lyrics that go
Myself I shall adore,
If I persist in gazing.
No object sure before
Was ever half so pleasing.
which goes on and on to ridiculous lengths with no other lyrics added. Each time she launches into the amusing key phrase, beginning yet another session of self-adulation, another attendant walks in with a bigger mirror than before. In the background, the silent sister, who patiently endures it for the first several times (it was she who set the whole thing up in order to make Semele think she was a goddess and suitable match for Zeus, so she could capture the attention of the countertenor for herself), eventually started rolling her eyes, and eventually prostrated herself flat on the couch in exasperation. Surely this over the top immodesty must have been viewed as hysterically funny in Handel's day as well.

Semele, being mortal, could not really ever "unite" with Zeus, because it would destroy her, and Zeus knew it, but pursued it anyhow. He decides to go through with the unitification, but proclaims that he will use his lowest powered lightning bolt to incinerate her. At the critical time, first Semele disappears behind a screen, while making seductive gestures toward Zeus, following which Zeus shrugs his shoulders and joins her behind the screen. There is an enormous and comical flash of lightning and explosion, the screen is lifted, and Zeus is alone, but there is a large cloud of smoke where Semele supposedly had been happily uniting with Zeus. More yucks.

In another scene (I'm telling these things out of sequence), a refrigerator was wheeled out and left in the background. As each character entered, including the stage hands, he or she would go to the refrigerator and open the top compartment, which was stocked to bursting with yogurt cups. The character would take one and carry out the rest of the scene while spooning yogurt. In another scene later on, with the refrigerator still on stage, Zeus comes out to sing to Semele, and opens the bottom half to find it conveniently bursting with champagne bottles.

Other lyrics provoked titters from a 21st century audience, particularly the aria with the opening (oft-repeated) line, in anticipation of Semele's upcoming marriage:
Hymen, haste, thy torch prepare,
Love already his has lighted!
Hmmm. I wonder how many persons are aware that Hymen was the torch-bearing god of marriage in Greek mythology, the son of Apollo and a muse? I have to wonder if Handel himself saw the saucy double entendre that was implied?

By the conclusion of the opera, I was enjoying myself enormously. As the third act was about to begin I turned and said to Suzy: "This opera needs a chorus!" Handel wrote some of the greatest choral music ever written, yet this opera consisted to that point entirely of a sequence of solo arias (with a couple of duets), separated by mercifully short recitatives. Handel was an enormously popular and successful composer in his day, and clearly knew which side of the paper his check was written on, so I surmised maybe there would be a chorus in the third act. Georgie did not disappoint, as the Finale consisted of a glorious work sung by the entire cast (sans stage hands, who were nonetheless on stage). Okay, so a sextet, not a chorus, but with six parts rather than four, just as good -- and one of the best I've ever heard from Handel a well. It was shorter than I would have liked. In compatibility with our desire to see happy endings in comedies, the lyrics, Still saucy by their licentiously amoral implications, go:
Happy, happy shall we be,
Free from care, from sorrow free.
Guiltless pleasures we'll enjoy,
Virtuous love will never cloy;
All that's good and just we'll prove,
And Bacchus crown the joys of love.
In the end, judging by the audience's warm applause, a good time was had by all, and we left smiling and laughing.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Downtown Chamber Players Concert Review

Friday night Suzy and I attended an all contemporary chamber music concert. (Contemporary if you count Ysaÿe.) It's been a long time since I did that.

The venue was a huge space in downtown Phoenix called The Ice House, which is exactly what it was built to be in 1910. It's now owned by a woman who uses it for displaying large contemporary art exhibits that are unusual and can't be or just aren't displayed elsewhere, and for performance art. It's directly across the street from Sheriff Joe Arpaio's offices. (Non-Phoenix readers of this review may be unaware that Sheriff Joe is the most colorful and probably most well-known law enforcement officer in the country. But that's a subject for another post.)

The floors at The Ice House are concrete, the walls are brick, the ceiling is at least 20 feet high, and the lighting is inadequate for spectators who had to squint to see their programs. It was chilly in there, but not uncomfortable. We had a dip in the weather here, with rain and chill and even snow in outlying areas. Inside the venue nobody took off their coats, and two ladies were sitting with a blanket over their lap. Still, I didn't hear anyone complaining.

The program was all string music: String Quartet #2 by Henryk Górecki (I have a recording by Kronos), a Sonata for solo cello by Ysaÿe, "Riconoscenze per Goffredo Petrassi" for solo violin by Elliott Carter, Violin Phase (played by four violinists) by Steve Reich, and a collection of tangos by Astor Piazolla, with the last couple of pieces spiced up by first a pair of dancers with big-shot credentials, and finally by three pair of dancers, all fun to watch.

I enjoy occasional verbal program notes at a concert, especially when some piece warrants some explanation or if background information somehow enhances the listening experience — but only if the comments are accurate and not silly or apologetic, as sometimes happens with contemporary music. "You're probably gonna hate this music, but lemme explain while we're making you listen to it before you walk out."

No, there was none of that at Friday's concert. The commentary was by and large okay, but I didn't like the gross generalization of classifying all the minimalists in one lump while all the others: Carter and Stockhausen and Berio and Boulez and ... well you know ... as the "other" camp that can be described with another single label. Carter in particular stands apart from those others in many ways, as anyone who has really listened to or studied his music is aware. So I could have done without the description of the kind of music "Carter and his camp" compose as being done by the guys who studied hard at Julliard and wherever, while the minimalists were the guys who flunked out of music school and moved downtown. Yes, they actually said that.

Also, while the violinist who performed the Carter was fairly knowledgeable about the music, and played it beautifully, he could have stood to edit and rehearse his remarks at little better, and the violinist who came up next (actually a violist, the founder of the Downtown Chamber series, who was playing violin on the Reich) made a BIG factual booboo when contrasting Reich and the other well-known minimalists with the composers from "the other side of town" when he referred specifically to Carter as a 12-tone serialist composer — which he absolutely is NOT!

Nonetheless, the music was all well played and enthusiastically presented. It was equally enthusiastically received by the audience, which by and large did not need to have someone stand up to defend the music they were about to hear. This crowd seemed to be of the type who knew what they paid their money to hear and that's why they were there. It was pretty much a full house. The audiences at these concerts tend not to be the stuffy older retired rich folks who sit on their hands and complain about anything that's not Mozart.

This series is not available by subscription, which is a good thing. People buy tickets for concerts they want to hear, not more than a month or two in advance, when they get around to announcing the location and program, about five a year. At $10 a head, including wine, cheese, and crackers at intermission, it's hard to get a better deal.

It's good to know that there is an audience for this kind of thing in Phoenix. My biggest regret is not being part of the inner circle. There was not a single soul we know at this concert, no one to talk to about music. I've gotten so out of touch. I miss not being able to hear this sort of concert a couple of times a week, as in my old school days, when we would compare notes during the intermission, then leave the concert and head over to House of Chin or the Capitol restaurant and argue about the music over beers until they threw us out and shut the place down.

A splendid time was had by all.

Job Interviews Are Like Auditions

Recently I have been looking for work once again, and in so doing have had to make myself available for job interviews, the humiliating grilling in which a person is expected to lay his life's work experience on the line in the course of a few minutes. He is expected to know, remember, and be fluently conversant about everything he has ever done over a career that may have spanned decades. Sometimes it helps; sometimes it does not.

Mulling over the inadequacies of the process brought to mind an experience my father had years ago, one he related to me in some detail years after it happened.

My father was a prominent classical musician who made his entire living his whole working life performing as a violist, conductor, violinist, teacher of professionals, and occasional composer. He was primarily an orchestral and chamber music player, but principal (first chair) in most orchestras he ever played in except the Chicago Symphony, the best orchestra in the world, where he was assistant principal during his first of two stints there. His first tenure was in the late forties to mid-fifties, the second in the early seventies under Sir Georg Solti. Dad was Good with a capital G, and I don't think I've ever known anybody who loved music more than he did.

He came up through the ranks before the days of the high-power conservatory training aspiring professionals now get. He got plenty of work because he was known all over the Chicago area by those who hired that kind of musician, whether it was for a pickup orchestra, jingle recording sessions, night club dates backing Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, or whatever; most professional freelance work was obtained by a well-known core of solid and thoroughly competent musicians. That's how the business works, even today, except in today's world of MIDI-produced electronic music there are fewer jobs and lots more competition.

Today if one chair in a major symphony orchestra such as CSO opens up, management expects 250 players to show up for an audition. These will all be people who passed the initial screening, by sending resumés demonstrating they've already had years of professional orchestral experience, and also submitting tapes, CDs, or DVDs. Even after all that, the conductor and management might not like any of them, so will hire no one.

Around 1971, when my father was working as a freelancer, he got a call from the CSO business manager, who asked him point blank: "Would you like to play the season?" They had a vacancy in the viola section, and no one permanent had been hired. Of course, my father was thrilled to take it. He left when Fritz Reiner was about to take the reins of the orchestra, because the old man had a reputation for eating musicians alive for breakfast. Dad didn't want that kind of stress, plus he had in mind to expand his career as a conductor and entrepreneur, creating a fine arts festival. But if you want to make a really solid living in classical music, nothing beats a regular orchestra job with the best orchestra in the world. Musicians who get that job never leave, because it doesn't get any better than that.

So he played the season, during which the orchestra went on a historic tour of Europe, where they recorded some Mahler Symphonies that got rave reviews and piles of awards. Dad was in heaven doing exactly what he loved and was so good at. By this time he was already pushing 65 years of age, but could definitely cut the job. The next year, and I believe one more year after that, for whatever reason, the orchestra still could not find a real permanent player for that position, so my father continued as a contractor, with somewhat less money and benefits than a full member, and he was no longer assistant principal, just another section guy. But what a gig!

The time inevitably came where the orchestra's management decided to make an all-out effort to find a permanent player for that open position, which meant they had to have open auditions. Dad was never offered the job outright, but was told that if he'd like to take a shot at it, he could participate in an audition along with all the recent conservatory graduates who did nothing but practice difficult orchestral passages and sight reading and basically prepare for auditions like a runner training to win a marathon

Dad said: No way! He'd love the job. The conductor, his colleagues, and everyone in the CSO management knew him, his artistry, that he'd even been the featured soloist with the orchestra on at least one occasion (more if you count Bach's Brandenburg #6), and they knew his vast experience for what it was worth. If they wanted to hire him on that basis he'd be happy to accept. But in an open audition against some young hotshot who could play the Bartok and Walton Concertos in his sleep while whistling Dixie and stomping out the high hat part to an Elvin Jones solo with his feet he wouldn't have a prayer. Dad's position was that anyone who plays a good audition has proven exactly one thing: that he knows how to play a good audition. It demonstrates nothing about his artistry or whether he will hold up his end in one of the greatest ensembles in the world for the next forty years, and it's a sure thing he hasn't already played the Brahms 4th Symphony at least fifty times in performance. So Dad declined to audition.

That was the end of his Chicago music career. He and my mother moved to Florida where he taught for several years at the university in Tampa, was principal violist and associate conductor of the Gulf Coast Symphony until he finally really did retire — but he continued to perform right up the end, playing a recital with accompaniment just a few months before his death in 1995 at age 88.

My point in all this is that some people don't do well in put-on-the-spot interviews or tests and will screw up badly, whether out of nervousness, or whatever. And what does it prove? Nada.