Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wurst no. 7

Anklamer Rauchwurst
Weihnachtsmarkt Rotes Rathaus

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wurst no. 6

Brandenburger Rostbratwurst
Spandauer Weihnachtsmarkt

Friday, December 18, 2009

Wurst no. 5

Krakauer (aka Polish sausage)
Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wurst no. 4

Krakauer mit Käse
Weihnachtsmarkt an der Gedächtniskirche

not a Wurst

Rothenburger Schneeball, Zimt (cinnamon)
Weihnachtsmarkt Prager Straße

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wurst no. 3

Thüringer Rostbratwurst
Winterwelt-Berlin/Weihnachtsmarkt am Potsdamer Platz

Wurst no. 2

some kind of böhmische Wurst
Strietzelmarkt Dresden

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

a week of Wurst

Welcome to my latest occasional series, A Week of Wurst. Enjoy!

Wurst no. 1Thüringer Rostbratwurst
WeihnachtsZauber auf dem Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

go faster, day

When I had the above phrase posted as my gchat status, one of my nerdiest and most brilliant friends messaged me the following:
Chris: I know it seems like the day is not going much faster, which could be accurate
Chris: as the (negative) secular spin acceleration was -19.8 parts per billion per century around the year 600 AD and is now -8.6 parts per billion.
Chris: but have hope!
Chris: the net residual acceleration is 41 ppb!
I love smart people.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How not to cultivate new audiences

I had an email in my inbox this afternoon from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra advertising an upcoming concert. 'Jascha Heifitz of our day' here in two weeks! read the subject line, as if that comparison alone would set the box office phones a-ringing.

Presumably, most symphony-goers know who Heifitz is. But that's just the thing: they're already going to the symphony. What of the uncultured masses -- the ones the ASO should probably be reaching out to so it can put a few more butts in seats? Half the people who received this email are probably wondering who the hell Jascha Heifitz is. I'd like to think of myself as being pretty culturally aware -- I was a music major in college -- and honestly, I had no idea who Heifitz was until after I graduated. (To my credit, as a voice major I'm much better with big name vocalists of the past.)

My point is, do you think we could come up with advertising that speaks to a broader segment of the population? Or one that doesn't make you feel dumb that you don't know who an old-timey virtuoso violinist is? It might help with those lagging ticket sales and sinking revenues. I'm not saying it will turn things around, but it would certainly be a start...

[full disclosure: I am a current member of the ASO chorus and a past symphony subscriber.]

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I just saw a post about the Pearl Jam show in Universal City, Calif. on October 6 -- while I was at the U2 concert at the Georgia Dome, the lucky bastards at the PJ concert were having their faces rocked off by a reunited Temple of the Dog. DAAHHH! I have no words. Check out this video from YouTube -- the quality isn't great, but it still gave me goosebumps:

Really makes you wonder what the hell got into Chris Cornell when he was making his latest album. He so clearly was made for grungey wailing. He is a rock god when he's in the right genre.

Pearl Jam, won't you come back to Atlanta? Please? Pretty please?

Monday, September 14, 2009

do i dare?

Brach's has taken to touting its candy corn as being MADE WITH REAL HONEY in recent seasons. One day in the not-too-distant past I thought to myself, hey, I have a good source of real honey, maybe I should try and make my own candy corn! I googled the recipe, and, to my great surprise, located approximately zero recipes that involve real honey. Doh.

[It should be noted that I have a severe addiction to candy corn. Jon says he read a study recently that said that when you work to make something you often eat less of it, though, so maybe that's in my favor here.]

So, I don't really have the I'm-overrun-with-honey excuse anymore, but I'm still sort of intrigued. On the one hand, how cool would I be if I made homemade candy corn? On the other, how crazy do I have to be to want to do that? At any rate, it's on the table. My kitchen and fiance will be spared the experiment for the time being as I've got out-of-town weddings to attend both of the next weekends, but there's still plenty of time until candy corn season runs out. What say you?

Sunday, July 19, 2009


My sister, my fiance and I have been laughing about this for weeks now, so I thought I would share this hilarious clip with all of you out there in kyberspace. This also continues the Eddie Murphy series that was inaugurated with the Ice Cream Man post. If you are watching this at the office, be sure to use headphones... the language is definitely not suitable for work!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

the cat's out of the bag

Ok, so there's something I haven't told you... of course, you could have noticed or found out on your own, but only if you ever looked at my profile, which I doubt you have...

I started a wedding blog.

I told my sister last night.

Oy. I know, I know, I'm a bandwagon-jumper, but frankly this is a good way to keep Jon and my sister and heterolifemate from getting assaulted with weddingy crap a fair amount of the time. It's a good outlet, for my sanity and yours! I started it a couple of weeks ago because, as I mentioned, I don't want this to become an obnoxious wedding-obsessed blog. I'll keep posting about whatever I feel like here, and all to do with weddings shall henceforth be filed away under a different url. Anyway, if you're so inclined, check me out at (apologies to Norman Maclean).

(photo by, who else, Our Labor of Love)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fun with heavy machinery!

So, as I posted before I have enrolled myself in a letterpress class so as to be able to print my own excellent wedding invitations (and much, much more) for a reasonable price. Turns out it's not that difficult! I am by no means a master, but the fact is that it's a pretty simple process, and the name, broken down into its parts -- letter, press -- sorta says it all.

Now halfway through the class, I'm happy to say that I have picked up steam and am operating much more quickly with the presses and even with hunting for type. Assignment no. 2 was to create an announcement of sorts. Since I'm moving apartments this weekend, I decided to print some postcards to mail out with my new address on them. The added challenge of this assignment was to use two colors, which means you're running each piece of paper through the press twice. Here's the finished product:

Am I a badass or what? This is awesome.

[p.s. there is actually a street name printed, but in case I have any stalkers out there I didn't want to post it... stay away, stalkers!]

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Where were you last night?


Let it be known that Ten Club is the best fan club in the history of fan clubs. Sure, they put out the Christmas singles in June, but they make up for any delays by making sure members always have SWEET tickets to shows. I LOVE YOU, TEN CLUB! [You can see all my pictures from the show here.]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Seen in my office parking deck...

Ah, the joys of working above Underground Atlanta. (Yes, it's real.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

11 months to go!

I've said before that I don't want this to become a wedding blog, but I don't see the harm in the occasional update. Since we're down another month and I've been wanting to write about a few things anyway, I figure it's time for a check-in.

Not much measurable progress has been made since I first wrote about plans for the big day. Catering was on hold while my Mom was out of the country for a church trip to Russia for a week and a half. We had a bunch of meetings and tastings scheduled for mid-May, after her return, but due to a medical emergency or three Mom only just got back to our house this past Saturday, and she has a long recovery ahead of her. Needless to say, progress has been slow during this family crisis.

Nevertheless, progress has been made. Jon and I managed to whittle down our venue's preferred vendor list and select a caterer: we're going with Bold American, the catering arm of Fifth Group restaurants (South City Kitchen, La Tavola, Ecco, etc.). It just so happens that the sales manager we worked with was recently married herself -- you can see her mind-bogglingly beautiful wedding photos (taken by Jesse and Whitney, who will be shooting our wedding!) here. We also have a couple of friends in common, randomly. I know she'll be a ton of fun to work with, so I'm really excited about that decision.

We're currently in the midst of DJ scouting, which so far has been uneventful and doesn't merit much space here. I'm going to two of those ridiculous, massive bridal events with my old friend and bride buddy Shelley this weekend, so I may come back with some new leads... so far the DJ group we're in talks with has two strikes. One more and they're off the list!

In developments less directly related to the wedding, Jon and I found an apartment to share! We weren't being terribly active in our looking, but were keeping our eyes peeled for opportunities in prime locations. Sure enough, one turned up. We have yet to sign the lease, but, in theory, we're set to move in July 17 or so. It's the top floor of a lovely home in Virginia-Highland, owned and occupied by and architect/designer, and it's even got a wee nook that Little Man can claim for his own. More on that later as things get sorted out.

Forthcoming will be ruminations on my hunt for a lovely wedding dress -- stay tuned!

(Geez, this was longer than I intended it to be...maybe I should start a wedding blog. All the kids these days are doing it, so the market's a bit glutted, but word on the street is that wedding blogs can forge some helpful connections and perhaps save or even earn a blogger some money... Things to ponder. As if I needed more.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

new blog, new arts center

Pierre Ruhe and Catherine Fox, formerly arts critics for the long-suffering AJC, have banded together with some of their colleagues and launched, which aims to fill the gaping holes in arts coverage left by the AJC buyouts. The blog went live May 26 and just yesterday garnered a mention on New Yorker critic Alex Ross's acclaimed blog, The Rest is Noise.

Today at 3 p.m., Pierre and Catherine will be on the inside of an invitation-only event at the Woodruff Arts Center where the new master plan -- to include, I hope, a shiny new hall for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra -- will be revealed. They'll be live-blogging the meeting, so if you want to be the first to know, click over to this afternoon for all the latest news.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letterpress wisdom

Last night was the first meeting of my two-month-long letterpress class at the Atlanta Printmakers Studio. Given the events of the past few weeks, and especially tonight, I thought the first print I pressed myself (of type previously set by our teacher Jason Kofke) was particularly fitting:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our negative-one-year anniversary!

At precisely this time next year, I will be at some stage of readying myself for a wedding: Mine!

I somehow feel less lame planning and talking about the wedding now that we've arrived at the point when the big event is no more than a year away. I also feel like less of a tool having a wedding website so far in advance, but sometimes it's just more fun to mess around with blog templates than to do something more productive. Not gonna lie. The site is a work in progress, but check it out.

I have promised not to turn this into an obnoxious wedding blog, but I will be posting occasionally about weddingish things. Watch out next week for ruminations on the start of my first DIY adventure: letterpress class!

*the term "negative-one-year anniversary" is used with kind permission of Abby J. Wolbe, Esq.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Since my mom is such a popular and wonderful lady, I have started a new blog to satisfy the demand for information on her medical adventures in Russia. LLAMA WATCH will have the latest updates from the family's conversations with her and Ellen and Al Smith, her guardian angels in Moscow. For all the latest on my mother's well-being, be sure to add LLAMA WATCH to your blog reader or just try to remember to check it a couple of times a day. I'll post as often as I have new information coming in, and I'll continue to update it once she arrives safely back in Atlanta until she is up and about again. Send up prayers and happy thoughts for Llama and her doctors and friends in Russia, and don't forget to check LLAMA WATCH!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

С Днём Матери!

For those of you who don't speak Russian, that (apparently) means Happy Mother's Day -- which, in Poespeak, translates to Happy Llama's Day. Since my Llama is laid up in a hospital in Moscow recuperating from emergency surgery on this special day, I wanted to share one of my favorite pictures of her with you, my vast internet readership. This photo was taken a couple of years ago at the church where she used to work during vacation bible school. They had a petting zoo one day, and mom decided to show her llama brethren some llove!

Kisses to you, Llama. Feel better soon! Can't wait to have you back home!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The German says to wait here...

In honor of the holiday, a little song and dance:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Let me bring you up to speed...

It's been a little more than three weeks since Jon and I got engaged, and we've already got the makings of an excellent wedding in place. We have reserved the church, its stellar organist, and one of its pastors (no. 3) to be half of our officiant tag-team. We also picked a reception venue that we both think suits us really well -- sorta artsy and laid-back, but can dress up real nice -- on only our second site-scouting trip. (Total bonus: the rental includes the use of two big leather couches and four comfy leather chairs in the lobby of the main reception space. Score!)

Once we got the big location issues nailed down, we moved on to the vendors. (This struck me as something of an odd word to use at first, but I can't think of a better general term for it, so vendors it is.) Ever since I first came across Our Labor of Love's blog (courtesy of Richard Blais/Gawker) and discovered, to my great joy, that they were based in Atlanta, I knew I wanted them to photograph my eventual wedding, whenever it might be. Something about their photos sucked me in. I probably spent an entire workday, or maybe two, looking through back posts on their blog. Once I met Jesse and Whitney in person, first at the NotWedding and again in a two-on-two meeting with Jon at Dynamic Dish, it was done. (Jesse greeted me with a hug upon second meeting -- this went over well with me, being a hugger myself.) We both felt immediately comfortable with Jesse and Whitney, and to have them shoot our wedding is a(n admittedly short-lived) dream come true. If you enjoy pictures of people, you will lose yourself in their blog for hours.

So, anyway, things are starting to come together. Next on the list? Catering and reception entertainment! I've got some connections that will get me awesome ceremony music for a steal, but the party music worries me a bit more... shall see how that shakes out.

Oh, and did I mention when this all goes down? May 22, 2010. Ink it.

(photos from Our Labor of Love)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Illusions, Michael

Now comes the part that most people are interested in: the ring. (I promise this is the last engagement-related post. But I had a good title for it so I had to!) Jon's mom gave him her engagement ring on the sly when we were out in Idaho a few weeks back, and he has since (obviously) passed it on to me.

One of my favorite things about it, aside from the fact that it belonged to Jon's lovely mother, is that it's an "illusion" setting. Tricky! What is an illusion setting, you might ask? Well. As the Antique Jewelry University's website says, "An illusion setting is a prong setting designed to make a diamond look bigger than it actually is. This is accomplished by a ring of metal surrounding the girdle of the diamond and often bright cut. This ring diffuses the outline of the stone which in turn causes it to look larger."


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I am the northern lights!

So, I know y'all already know this, but I just had to post about it... Tuesday night at the Josh Ritter concert at Center Stage, during the song "Kathleen," Jon asked me to marry him. So now I'm an engaged lady! Jon is my intended, as my dad might say.

Thanks to Josh and the band for an unforgettable show! Thanks especially to Josh for writing an excellent song with my name in it. Otherwise, it's been "I'll take you home again, Kathleen," and Zady's got the rights on that one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009



It's apparently already that time of year in Atlanta -- the fleet of ice cream trucks is out in full force with the onset of 70-degree afternoons. Now that I'm living within a half-mile of Atlanta's largest park and just a couple blocks from the neighborhood middle school, the ice cream man is a virtually inescapable part of my day. I can hear the doppler-distorted chimes as the truck loops around behind the school, across my short street, and back out to the wide avenue full of joggers, dog-walkers and teenage kids. Amazingly, I have not yet rushed out into the street to chase it down. It's only a matter of time.

The ice cream trucks I've seen through downtown, midtown and my neighborhood, Virginia-Highland, seem to be the same, standard-issue vans I recall from my childhood, but with one key difference: the music. For whatever reason, the ice cream man assigned to my area blares not "Pop goes the weasel" or "The Entertainer," but Beethoven's ubiquitous "Für Elise." Because everything is tastier in A minor?

This bizarre choice of music cast my mind back to my college days at Northwestern, especially those spent living in Allison Hall on University Place, one of the local ice cream trucks favorite cul-de-sacs to cruise. To my surprise, I couldn't recall the ditty that truck played, though I did remember cursing the ice cream man on many occasions when his awful (but cheerful) tune hit my ears. All I could think of was "Pop goes the weasel" and "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush" -- I knew it was neither but suspected a combination of the two. After a bit of internet recon, I found what I was looking for: "Turkey in the straw." (Better known to me, and countless former girl scouts and summer-campers, as "Do your ears hang low?") It would have bugged me for days if I hadn't figured it out, though maybe not as much as the song itself promises to now that I've remembered it...

And now, because I can't blog about the ice cream man without including it, I give you this timeless clip from Eddie Murphy:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sasha Frere-Jones answers your questions

Last month, New Yorker pop music critic Sasha Frere-Jones's number was up for Ask the Author, a regular blog feature on the magazine's website. He answered readers' questions about specific artists, copyright issues, and his writerly process, and kindly dispensed some wisdom for aspiring music journalists. (He even gave Kaki King a shout-out. Holler.) If you haven't read it yet, it's definitely worth your time. Here's a snippet:

Isn't music criticism just a veiled attempt to create an exclusive canon of what's cool?
David Kootnikoff
Hong Kong, China

I thought it was an overt attempt to get a seat in the balcony.

Ding! You can find the whole Q-and-A here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Look, Ma! New blog!

Hello, readers! I wanted to let you know that I've started a new blog called Atlanta Arts Review. It will be perhaps less whimsical than this one, but no less relevant. I don't recommend it if you want to follow the daily escapades of my cat, but if you're into music and art and all that jazz, and especially if you live in Atlanta, it may be worth your while.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

the birthday cat

Though Little Man isn't getting any bigger, he is getting older.
Hard to believe it's been four years... ah, college!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I heart Etsy (and you should, too!)

I don't recall what first led me to Etsy, but for whatever it was I am exceedingly thankful. If you're not familiar, Etsy is an online marketplace of awesome, where all things handmade can be found. Anybody who wants can set up a shop and peddle his or her wares. (I have a dear friend who has an Etsy venture selling homemade body scrub, and I doubt she'll be the last of my crafty friends to sign on. And check out those awesome labels! That's another shop right there.)

Ever since I happened upon Etsy, it has been my first stop for all gift searches, from birthdays, to bereavements, to babies. As one might expect of a worldwide showcase of handcrafted things, there are inevitable pockets of country kitsch and Lillian Vernon-esque personalized crap, but it has been my experience that Etsy-bought items are well made, reasonably priced, inspired, and one-of-a-kind.

It may have been my search for a locket that first found me scouring thousands of search results on Etsy. I found one at MStevensonDesigns that I wear all the time now, and hardly a day passes when someone doesn't ask about it. Melissa, the creator of my beautiful locket, was incredibly helpful and accommodating, going so far as to send me a new clasp when the original broke. She also made a custom locket for me, which I gave to my sister for a milestone birthday.

Another great Etsy find turned up as I searched for all things "llama." I purchased one of these ceramic figures from Daga Design for me, a second one for my mama (the great Llama herself), and have designs on a third for my sister. Instead of kitchen witches, we will soon all have kitchen llamas to oversee our culinary endeavors.

More recently, the presidential inauguration inspired me to find something for my Christmas tree to commemorate and celebrate Obama for years to come. I found some "official" Obama ornaments on eBay for upwards of $40, but once again, Etsy (more specifically, felt cafe) came through with the perfect thing, exactly what I didn't know I was looking for.

Finally, a few weeks ago I decided I needed some calling cards that I could use for personal purposes, so I didn't have to give out my government-job business card when I was interviewing a prospective student for Northwestern, say, or discussing my freelance work. I had seen Avie Designs in December at the Indie Craft Experience holiday show, so I looked up her Etsy shop and scored a set of 48 calling cards for only $12.50. Because she's local, I received them within two days of my order. She's got even more designs up now, if you're interested.

These are only a few of the excellent things I've scored off Etsy to date. (I'm considering a kickass mod cat bed these days... Little Man has a birthday coming up! And yes, I am a crazy cat lady.) Whether you want business cards, earrings, art for your walls, or vintage children's books for your friends' kids, Etsy probably has what you're looking for. If you haven't checked it out yet, give Etsy a try.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bon Voyage, Buhweet!

See you in July, Kreesta! Travel safe in the meantime. Ah nub noo!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thursday night in Decatur

As I mentioned in an earlier post, author, critic and former professor of mine David Hajdu is coming to Decatur's own Wordsmiths Books tomorrow night. He'll be reading from his latest book, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, just released in paperback. He goes on at 7:30 p.m, and the event is free (aside from the cost of his book, which you will doubtless be inspired to purchase).

You can find more information about his book here, and read an interview with Hajdu conducted by event co-sponsor Cable & Tweed here. I can't recommend this event strongly enough. Come out and support Wordsmiths and the fine cultural criticism of David Hajdu.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ASO Chorus highlights for 09/10

If you watched the ASO's live webcast earlier today, you've already heard about all the wonderful things in store for the 2009-2010 season. In case you missed it and don't feel like sitting through an hour and 20 minutes of press conference, I'll hit the highlights for you. (For the full season, look here.)

The biggest news, at least for the chorus, is that we have been invited back for a third time to perform with the Berlin Philharmonic. We'll be singing Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem, perhaps the most beloved of all German choral works, once again under the baton of our brilliant and irresistibly charming principal guest conductor, Donald Runnicles. As if that isn't good enough, we'll be going December 14-21 – hallo Weihnachtsmarkt, here I come! Oh, and did I mention our soloists for this engagement? Gerald Finley, my baritone love! (I've not heard the soprano, Genia hmeier, but I'm sure she is equally stunning.) If for some reason I don't return from this trip, you can safely assume I have run off to the Alps with Gerry.

The Brahms also opens the season at home for the chorus in October, but two weeks prior to that, the ASO's chamber chorus will present Stravinsky's opera The Nightingale in concert form, continuing the recent streak of operas at the symphony. On the same program, Yo-Yo Ma will play the world premiere of a cello concerto by Angel Lam. We're taking the show on the road in November, first to Athens (Nov. 5) and then to Carnegie Hall (Nov. 7) as part of their China festival.

In 2010 we've got Rossini's Stabat Mater, Mahler's Symphony No. 3 and Verdi's Requiem on the docket, and we finish out the season with another world premiere of a choral work by "Atlanta School" composer Michael Gandolfi. The last two concerts will be reprised in mid-June for the League of American Orchestras and Choral America conferences in Atlanta. And then we'll all pass out for a month or two.

Of course, I might miss all of those spring concerts if I'm off gallivanting about Europe with my dreamy baritone boyfriend...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Opera 101 done right

If you read my last post, you know that Akhnaten is probably not the best "starter opera" one could attend, at least to my mind. A far more popular toe-dip in the waters of opera is Mozart's The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte, auf Deutsch). The fanciful tale of a prince on a quest to rescue a fair maiden, the daughter of a malicious queen, from her captors, Magic Flute has fairy-tale elements, comic characters, memorable tunes, and a dash or five of freemasonry for Mozart and his friends. Each year in recent memory, New York's Metropolitan Opera has mounted an abbreviated English-language version of the puppet-heavy Julie Taymor production around the Christmas holidays as a draw for families.

In short, this is a great first foray into the world of opera. As I was airing my complaints about Akhnaten Wednesday night to a former classmate via facebook chat, he directed me to YouTube, where my alma mater Northwestern University's 2005 production of Die Zauberflöte can be found in its entirety. "Dritter Knabe," or third boy, was my one and only opera role during my undergrad years -- unless you count the role of knitting/laughing chorus nun in Suor Angelica. Now that it's online, I can relive my collegiate opera days whenever I like. Woo!

As an explanation of my character, the trio of three boys are usually sung by young boys with unchanged voices, but many productions will use three women instead and call them "spirits." In this gang it would appear that Cindy, the first soprano, was the cute girly one; Kate, the middle voice, was the normal one; and I, on alto, was the chubby one. In a Kerri Strug wig. It's actually pretty humorous... At least I'm ridiculously cute.

For those of you who want to bypass the parts not involving me (though there are some pretty hilarious wigs and costumes, as well as hilariously bad acting), I made the effort to find the spots featuring yours truly. (The Queen of the Night was pretty awesome in this production though, so I'd recommend checking her out too.)


Find Kathleen at: 31:42, 40:00, and as a bizarro dancing woodland creature at 48:40


Find Kathleen at: 29:30, 30:45, and in her big scene from minutes 37 to 50. If you want a taste of her infamous childhood sulk routine, keep your eyes out at 49:45 or so. Also, that's me on the far right in the video box freeze!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Philip Glass: not for beginners

For those of you who may be rookie opera-goers, let me give you some advice: do not make anything by Philip Glass your first.

While I've been to dozens of operas in my day, never had I seen a performance of the famed minimalist's music before this evening. I attended the final dress rehearsal of the Atlanta Opera's concert-staged production of Akhnaten, the last in Glass's trilogy of so-called portrait operas, which is based on the life of the ancient-Egyptian pharaoh of the same name. (The companion works, Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, depict Albert Einstein and Mahatma Ghandi, respectively.) Here, "concert-staged" meant full costume and makeup for all but the chorus, clad in black and seated at the back of the platform; minimal set and lighting effects; and supernumeraries and props aplenty. If there's an industry standard for concertizing operas -- more often than not an awkward endeavor -- I'd love to see it. On most occasions I find myself wishing they had gone one way or the other and not just split the difference.

Tonight's open dress was billed as one for high school and college students. Also present, probably in greater number than either of the aforementioned groups, were opera donors and gaggles of elementary-aged kids, dressed to the nines. When General Director Dennis Hanthorn appeared onstage to welcome the audience, he asked for a show of hands of those who had never seen an opera before: At least a quarter of the audience, perhaps even a third, was experiencing live opera for the first time.

Which brings me back to my point. If you've never been to an opera, this is perhaps the worst place to start. I am a curious person who is accepting of most musical genres and styles, but tonight I learned that Philip Glass's particular brand of minimalism really doesn't do it for me. His music is unrelentingly repetitious, pushing listeners to the point of boredom and eventually annoyance. You could tell the orchestra musicians were listless, too -- only minutes in, their playing grew tired and imprecise. The music would be fine for a film score, supporting visuals and action onscreen, but lacked the depth and momentum I have come to expect from opera, where music is the driving force. (My date and I both surmised that a straight-up concert performance might have been the best presentation.) There's only so much that an A-minor arpeggio has to say.

What may have been more troublesome for the neophytes in the audience is the fact that the title role of Akhnaten is sung by a countertenor. Operas employing this voice-type -- a man singing in a woman's range -- are generally not ones I would recommend for young children (easily confused) or males below the legal drinking age (infantile fratboys). My fear is that dozens upon dozens of kids in attendance will have been insufficiently prepared for the experience and subsequently freaked out by the strange man in Cleopatra eyeliner, singing like a girl. (I realize that this opera probably ties in with some school curricula that have been devised to take advantage of the King Tut exhibit, in Atlanta through May. I am grateful that opera is part of these children's education, but disappointed it wasn't a better, more engaging production.)

In this Atlanta Opera staging, the performers were about as dynamic as artifacts in a museum exhibit. (Incidentally, this setting provided the story of Akhnaten with modern-day bookends -- a heavy-handed tactic that was, frankly, lame.) That's not entirely their fault; the story has no fun or even sympathetic characters that we can laugh with or relate to. I don't think we heard everyone singing at his or her best, either. Soprano Kiera Duffy, playing Akhnaten's mother, Queen Tye, was under the weather and marked her performance, singing quietly an octave below where her part was written. A male trio of three advisors and priests lacked any semblance of balance in its ensemble singing, overwhelmed by the tenor; the opera chorus rushed and shouted its way through pages and pages of ah's. Don't even get me started on the orchestra brass.

In the end, I'm glad I went, if only to realize how vastly Philip Glass and apparently I differ in our conceptions of music, opera and drama. I'm interested to read the eventual review in the paper from Pierre Ruhe, one of the few remaining arts & culture types on staff at the AJC these days. Since Dennis Hanthorn took over directorship of the Atlanta Opera from William Fred Scott, nearly every production has been hailed a resounding success. I don't see how this could possibly qualify as such, at least in terms that go beyond the novelty of performing and selling tickets to late-20th-century opera in Atlanta.

[Editor's note: Indeed, Pierre gushed over Akhnaten, interpreting the sold-out event as an indication of Atlanta's ever-improving standing in the music world. What I found interesting about his review is that I agreed with pretty much everything he said about the production -- mostly stated as fact -- but we differed on one key point: he liked the music, and I did not. Minimalist masterpiece, you say? That may be so, but minimalist works should be held to the same standards of quality and musicality as more familiar pieces from earlier periods.]

Monday, January 19, 2009

I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.

Tonight, before our regular Monday evening rehearsal, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Allison Vulgamore came to speak to the chorus about our role in the 2009-2010 season. We had the privilege of being the first to hear the details this year, though we were sworn to secrecy, or at least tactful discretion, until the season is officially announced. Vulgamore and Robert Spano will meet with the orchestra musicians on Wednesday, and the rest of the world will be informed at 11 a.m. on January 27 via a live webcast. Spano, Vulgamore, Principal Guest Conductor Donald Runnicles and Board Chair Ben Johnson will host the announcement, with messages and/or appearances from some special guests.

It's no secret the past year has been particularly difficult for the arts, and recent headlines paint a bleak picture for the immediate future -- engagements are being dropped and productions cut at organizations all across the country. The ASO is not immune to these conditions. However, Vulgamore assured us that, as the board and the administration look to cut costs and stave off a deficit, they will make every effort "not to cancel the art."

In spite of hard times, it looks like next season will be phenomenal (or, pick one of the words Vulgamore used: joyful, thrilling, outrageous, super-cool). I'm excited about the repertoire we'll be performing, the conductors we'll be working with, and the audiences we'll be stupefying with our Shawian sleeve of sound. As Vulgamore told us tonight, the ASO is an institution of ensembles in great demand, and the season to come clearly supports her assertion. Tune into the webcast or check back here on January 27 for the good word.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Timesuck of the Day

An alternate title for this post might be "How Paste Magazine is beginning to redeem itself of a year of busy-redesign overkill and subpar content," because Paste is the creator of my new favorite time-killer, Obamicon.Me. Whoever came up with this is a GENIUS. Even if it is the dude who likes five different fonts in eight different colors on one page.

Pretty much everything looks cooler Obamiconned. Take me, for instance:

BEFORE: Nice headshot. Meh.

Pop art icon! Yeow!

Of course, making commemorative posters of myself was not the first thing I did with this exciting new procrastination tool. I tested it out on the family pets, starting with Emily's mischievous boys. (Note: The cat pictured in "RAAA" is actually named Bubba. Not Raaa.)

Leroy wins on inspiration, Bubba wins on ferocity, and Jake wins on just plain awesome. Here's one of my own docile Little Man. (I'm sure I can do better than this, but my iPhoto was taking its sweet time. It does have a sort of "Meet the Beatles" charm, though.)

The novelty wore off after an hour or two and I needed a break, but after a good night's sleep, I admit, I was back at it again. I'm still searching for the perfect shot of my Llama...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Office retreat

Today's takeaway:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Best of 2008

I intentionally delayed compiling a best-of list until after the new year because I was supposed to go to a kickass concert at the Variety Playhouse (owned by an alum of the 'Monster, as I just discovered) on New Year's Eve and I suspected it might make the cut. Finally! New year's plans guaranteed not to suck!

But alas, the Gods of Rock decided I had gotten more than my fair share of awesome in 2008 and conspired with the equipment on Jon's plane from Spokane to deny me the chance to ring in the new year with The Whigs, Band of Horses, and a sweaty throng of Chuck-Taylored dudes in indie-rock glasses and secondhand t-shirts. (The upside is that it was a really easy ticket to offload, so I didn't lose any money on the deal.)

Without any further ado, I offer up to the blogosphere my top eight concerts for 2008. (The two Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus concerts are ones in which I performed, just to clarify.) Here's the breakdown, in chronological order:

1. The Whigs
Mission Control album release party
January 25, The Earl, Atlanta

Because headliners at the Earl start playing on the far side of really late, I and other early types stood through two mediocre openers before the Whigs plugged in: the Sammies, from Charlotte, and Wax Fang, from Louisville. I recall being wholly unimpressed by the former. The Earl is easily my favorite of all the venues where I've seen the Whigs play -- low ceilings keep the decibels high and a small space means the rowdy crowd has to get friendly (and watch out for sweat and spit flying from the stage). The new awesomeness of Mission Control got the audience just as riled up as the old chestnuts from the band's 2005 debut album. (Example: toward the end of the show, an ecstatic fratboy flung his PBR tallboy into the air, dousing me and the other folks at the front of the crowd in the process.) In summary, they rocked my face off.
photo: - visuals

2. Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten
with Anthony Dean Griffey
Donald Runnicles, conductor
Metropolitan Opera Live in HD
March 15, AMC Discover Mills 18, Lawrenceville

Similarly, the Metropolitan Opera's production of Britten's Peter Grimes rocked my face off, but in a big-screen sort of way. The Live in HD format has some advantages over being in the opera house, and this production is a case in point: while patrons at the Met were made to stare down a hulking wooden wall for the duration, multiple cameras enabled operagoers in multiplexes the world over to experience different angles, to see close-ups and wide pans, and to frequently ignore the fact that the size of the stage had been at least halved by the ginormous set piece. I should also mention that Anthony Dean Griffey and Patricia Racette gave incredible performances, both vocally and dramatically. I now own this on DVD and am beyond excited.
Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times -

3. Colin Meloy
April 10, Variety Playhouse, Atlanta

Colin Meloy (of The Decemberists) is my new favorite. This solo show was loose and quirky and completely enchanting. In case you can't discern the detail from my high-quality cell-phone photo, to Meloy's left is a little round table with a bottle of red wine, a glass, and a strange little shrine that he picked up on a previous tour stop. Just a dude, his guitars, some booze... and a shrine. As you do. The music was sincere and pithy and the stories that filled the gaps amusing, but what struck me most was that Meloy came across as a totally normal guy -- one who really, really loves with what he does.

4. The New Pornographers
April 17, Georgia Theatre, Athens

I've come to the conclusion that The New Pornographers are one of the best bands on the face of the earth. There are many reasons for this, principal among which are:
  1. Neko Case
  2. singing in harmony
  3. an accordion
This was the second time I had seen them in the space of six months. Now it's been about eight months and I think I'm going into withdrawal...

5. Requiem by Hector Berlioz
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus with the Berlin Philharmonic
Donald Runnicles, conductor
May 15-17, Berlin Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany

Performing in Berlin with the Philharmonic under Donald Runnicles was an incredible thrill and a privilege -- it's difficult to even put into words. Each evening had its own strengths and weaknesses but, if pressed to pick one that stood out, I'd have to go with our final sing on Saturday. The best part was knowing someone in the audience -- my late grandpa's Berliner friends were there waving at me from the last row -- and hearing the people's reactions to the music afterwards. All I can say is that it was amazing, and I hope I have the chance to do it again in the near future.

I also had the opportunity to share the ASOC's Berlin experience with the folks back home in Atlanta as a writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's now-defunct ATLarts blog -- you can find links to those dispatches here.

6. Pearl Jam
June 22, Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.

Yep, that's me ON THE FRONT ROW. THE ENTIRE AUDIENCE IS BEHIND ME. I nearly started crying when the usher showed us to our seats -- they were dead, I mean DEAD center. On row 1.

Allow me to explain: Perl Jam's fan club, Ten Club, has always distributed concert tickets based on seniority. This particular eight-date mini tour marked the start of a new policy whereby the first four rows of seating are chosen randomly from the entire fan club pool. In short, there is a god, and he loves me very very much.

This is another concert experience that I can't really put into words, but in a totally different way than the previous one. From where I stood pressed against the security rail, Eddie Vedder wasn't 15 feet away from me. It didn't even feel like I was at a concert: all those things concerts normally entail for me -- standing on tiptoes, dealing with a purse, craning my neck to see the stage -- didn't apply. It was just me and Eddie, with naught but a security grate, a four-foot stage and some sound equipment between us.

So close was I that the shot below, taken with my trusty cell phone, was not zoomed in at all. I also made eye contact with Eddie Vedder on at least one occasion, prompting him to toss me a half-empty water bottle from which he had just taken a swig right before he launched into "Given to fly." At the end of the show, drummer Matt Cameron threw me one of his personalized Pearl Jam wrist-sweatbands. Toss in my ticket and front-row wristband and I've got a pretty sweet collection going.

To my left there was a thirty-something mom who had brought her 11-year-old son to the show as his first concert and had landed on the front row by the same stroke of luck Jon and I had. The band members were constantly chucking guitar picks at the kid. Eddie bent down at a couple points to ask him if he played guitar and was he any good, and during the encore they pulled him up onstage to play. !!! (Afterwards he and his mother got to go backstage. DAAHH.)

I still don't think I've fully processed the experience. Unbelievable. Epic.

7. Ra Ra Riot
October 10, The Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta

Ra Ra Riot, a band out of Syracuse University that was just starting to get good attention when I was in grad school there, has redeemed the fact that Northwestern produced exactly zero worthwhile groups during my time in Evanston. Like the New Pornographers, Ra Ra Riot is a larger-than-usual co-ed group with interesting instruments -- the two female members play electric violin and cello, respectively (not just tambourine). This date marked the second time I've seen them in Atlanta, the first being in August of '07 at Vinyl (photo is from that concert). At the Drunken Unicorn, the group was rolling out the material from its first full-length album The Rhumb Line, some new, some reimagined, all pretty damn awesome. If you haven't looked into Ra Ra Riot, do so posthaste.

8. Doctor Atomic by John Adams
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
with Gerald Finley and Jessica Rivera
Robert Spano, conductor
November 21 and 23, Symphony Hall, Atlanta

If any of you has talked to me in recent months, you are probably aware that Doctor Atomic is my latest obsession. Gerald Finley (right, pounding a very watery martini) had me all aswoon from the moment I first heard him in the Met Opera Live in HD broadcast on Nov. 8, and the situation only got worse once he arrived in Atlanta. Nathan Gunn who? Finley is my new baritone love. Sigh...

But I digress. The ASO and ASOC, supporting singers largely from the recent Met production, mounted the opera in a "semi-staged" format -- often a difficult pill to swallow, in terms of concert presentation, and here the production's weakest aspect. In spite of a preponderance of park-and-bark blocking, Gerald Finley and Jessica Rivera were undeniably stunning in their well-worn roles. A sizable majority of the chorus detested the music, but I found that the more time I spent with it, the more brilliant and beautiful the score revealed itself to be. I was among the apparent few who were sad to have to turn in our scores -- although I was not at all sad to part ways with the staging.

Regardless of whether or not Doctor Atomic resonated with you, the fact that Bob Spano and the ASO challenge Atlanta audiences each season by programming top-quality contemporary works is something worth noting and supporting. (I reeeally wish the AJC hadn't discontinued its arts blog just before the performances took place because I would have loved to have heard more feedback.) As a performer, I haven't been this excited about anything in years. John Adams was there. The singers from the Met and the original production in San Francisco were there. The chorus worked its collective ass off and sang its role better than any other chorus has to date. The whole experience made me want to be a better musician and strengthened my resolve to find a way to make creative and cultural endeavors the focus of my professional life.

The stars of Doctor Atomic, with director James Alexander,
conductor Robert Spano, and composer John Adams.
photos: someone at the ASO (I got them off the chorus website)

Bring it on, 2009.