Monday, April 18, 2016

March and the Popcorn Tree

Photos by Theoden M. Wilkerson.
There is a stunningly beautiful tree in my front yard. It’s been there ever since I moved here more than ten years ago, but I still don’t know the name of the tree. I’ve always called it the ‘popcorn tree’ because of the profusion of white blossoms it produces every spring.  Right now it is an absolute riot of the purest white imaginable; the branches are crazy and grow in every direction, and every inch is covered with a blanket of the fluffiest, most fragrant, irridescent blossoms imaginable. In bright sunlight it hurts to look at this tree with the naked eye, so reflective and radiant are its flowerets.

My wife and I are getting ready to sell our house. It is an interesting and conflicting proposition for me; there are things I love and hate about this place. It’s old (for our part of the country); just five years ago in 2011 we celebrated the house’s 100th birthday. The reasons for selling are many; it’s definitely a seller’s market right now; Portland is a hot place to live and our location is great. I have gouty arthritis at the ripe old age of 44 and am incredibly allergic to all the miracle drugs now available for this condition, and as the years go by it gets harder and harder to navigate the stairs necessary to live in this 3-story craftsman. It needs someone with the time, money and/or skills to keep on top of living here. We live on the corner of a busy street; for an introvert (and yes, sometimes a borderline misanthrope) that’s never a plus.

Having lived here for over ten years, after a long and relatively unsettled life (I once counted and lost track after about 35 moves) it’s the first place I’ve ever called home for any significant amount of time. I’ll miss my spot on the couch, the locus of comfort and centeredness in my world. I’ll miss the proximity to the incredible Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance (even for a mobility-challenged individual like myself.) I’ll miss the memories of our two wonderful canine friends, Riley and Jackson, who both passed away last year within a few months of each other.  But I think most of all I’ll miss the tree in the front yard.

During the late winter and early spring, when the red berries weigh down the branches, it is life-sustaining for the robins, varied thrushes, and hordes of noisy, devastatingly handsome, pompadour-spouting cedar waxwings who depend on those berries. Not long ago I counted seventeen of them in the branches at once; for those who have ever tried to count birds you know how difficult it is to get an accurate count of even modest numbers of small, fast-moving critters; in this case they all sat stock-still, transfixed by something going on down the street. In the summer my popcorn tree’s glossy golden-green leaves provide a welcoming haven for dogs and their walkers (and yes, their messes as well.) But it’s mostly the springtime blossoms that I will regret not seeing every day.

As an atheist who firmly believes in the wonder and remarkableness of those things called life and consciousness, I’m often non-plussed (or straight-up pissed) at those who suggest that I’m somehow missing something by not believing in a "higher power." When I stand in front of the tree, looking at it assaulting the world with its ravishing comeliness, I’m dumbfounded with reverence, literally moved to tears with the simple, sheer joy of being alive, now, in this place and time, and with the experience of sharing the world with such a marvelous, fellow living traveler as the tree in my front yard. Somewhere back in time, beyond eons uncounted, this tree and I had the same parent. What is more wonderful, more awe-inspiring than that?

I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if I were to imagine heaven I think the trees would look something like this one. I will miss this tree when I move. But it will live on; hopefully longer than I will. I’d like to think that in a century or so the owner of this house, or perhaps their child, will stand in the lamb-like end of March in awe and wonder at the beautiful popcorn tree in their front yard.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Some New Tidbits

Visiting my sadly neglected blog once again...although I'm working on some new developments that hopefully will allow me to focus a lot more time writing about music here, at NW Reverb and at Oregon Music News. Neither James nor I have been writing as much at the 'Verb since we started the OMN gig but as I said hopefully that will change soon.

That said, if anyone out there is still paying attention here are a couple of things:

1. Classical Revolution PDX
has incorporated as a non-profit and is seeking 50 adventurous souls to become Founding Revolutionaries by joining at a $10/month support level or donating $100 outright. This is a worthy cause and Mattie Kaiser and Co. have been hard at work for a long time now. Check it out, give it some thought, and any contribution large or small is welcome...

2. My friend Mel Downie Robinson, a fabulous soprano specializing in early music, is doing a recital at PSU with countertenor Tim Galloway, Doug Schneider on harpsichord and Michael Wilhite on theorbo and viola da gamba. I have heard all of these musicians perform before and they all know their stuff; this should be a great show. It's this Saturday at 8pm at Lincoln Hall on the PSU campus.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New stuff at Oregon Music News

Just a quick link to a couple of new articles up at Oregon Music News:

An interview with Bobby Ray of The Electric Opera Company
proved most enlightening! I'll be at their show with CRPDX at the Alberta Rose Theatre tomorrow night. I guarantee you won't have more of a blast anywhere in the 503 for 8 bucks on Friday.

I reviewed Hideki Yamaya's latest CD
: a recording of Roncalli's Capricci Armonici sopra la Chitarra Spagnola for baroque guitar. Hideki is one of my very favorite solo baroque stylists in a city that is absolutely crazy for early music, boasting many top-notch performers. Simply put, this CD is marvelous.

Click on the links above for the articles and further linkage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

CRPDX and Electric Opera Company team up in 'Sympathy for the Devil'

Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX Present:
Sympathy for the Devil
A classically inspired rock concert at the Alberta Rose Theater

Portland’s favorite Electric Guitar Orchestra collides with the city’s
most accessible Chamber Ensemble to show you a side of classical music you’ve never even dreamed of, but will never want to leave behind…

PORTLAND — Alternative Classical Music. You could say they’re polar opposites. The guitarists of Electric Opera Company bringing their modern instruments into classical settings play the Ying to Classical
Revolution PDX’s Yang of chamber instrumentalists playing at bars and other comfortable settings. But this is a case where opposites
attract for a common goal: Making Classical Music more accessible to
the everyday listener!

Classical Revolution and Electric Opera Company will bring their
trademark stylings of 18th century masterworks to the Alberta Rose
Theater on August 19th for a concert that won’t soon be forgotten.
The theme is “Sympathy for the Devil” and there’s a heavy helping of
“Diablo in musica” in store including the Danse Macabre, selections
from Gounod’s Faust, Chopin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and
plenty more surprises. Bring your beer drinking fists and wear
whatever you want, its classical music for the 21st century!

Classical Revolution PDX in a Nutshell
Classical Revolution PDX offers chamber music performances in highly accessible venues, such as bars and cafes. By taking chamber music out of the recital hall and making it more accessible to an audience who does not otherwise hear such music in a live context, Classical Revolution strives to make the public aware that classical music is still relevant and can be enjoyed by all.

"Will the demise of appreciation for classical music be reversed by the Classical Revolution movement? Time will tell, it's transformational, it's unforgettable and every pair of ears that hears it is going to pass the word on. Now that's the stuff of revolutions alright." - Zaph Mann, OPB Music

Electric Opera Company in a Nutshell
Electric Opera Company is dedicated to revitalizing the popularity of
opera and classical music through education and performance; and to
breaking down the barriers to these arts by presenting them in a
modern, accessible medium. This accessible medium is the Fifteen
Piece Electric Guitar orchestra, in which musicians play the exact
parts as written by the composer. But the instruments typically
associated with classical music are replaced with an army of electric
guitars, keyboards, and drums.

The orchestra has been making waves around town as both a rock band teaching adults that classical music is way more awesome than they think it is, a company that produces fully staged operas, and an educational outreach group teaching kids basically the same thing. They’ve been spotted in opera houses, rock venues, middle schools, elementary schools, music festivals, non-profits, and more, spreading
the gospel of classical music to the unsuspecting.

Calendar Listing
What: Sympathy for the Devil, a concert featuring Electric Opera
Company and Classical Revolution PDX

Who: Produced by Electric Opera Company and Classical Revolution PDX.
Arranged by Bobby Ray and Adam Goodwin. Musical direction by

When/Where: Friday, August 19th, 8:00 pm – Minors OK when accompanied
by a parent or guardian
The Alberta Rose Theater 3000 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR (503) 719-6055

Why: To bring the joy of Classical Music to those who might not
experience it otherwise, and to share a new lens through which to view
a timeless favorite.

Tickets: $8 at the door or purchased online at

Mattie Kaiser
Executive Director | Classical Revolution PDX

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Filmusik and Federale rock the house with 'The Grand Duel'

Filmusik, Portland's homegrown musical idea whose name expresses exactly what it does, delivered another bang-up performance with the live-soundtrack rendition of 'The Grand Duel,' a spaghetti western of the best (worst?) kind Thursday night at the Hollywood Theater.

Federale, a local band who specializes in the dramatic music of the kind found in this genre, performed a live version of the soundtrack. The main theme is probably better known to most audiences from its appropriation by Quentin Tarantino for the soundtrack to 'Kill Bill Vol. 1.' The iconic harmonium melody, doubled at various times by soprano or trumpet, was accompanied by a perfect high lonesome whistle from one of the band members (and quite an excellent display of whistling prowess it was.) After all, what's spaghetti western music without the whistling?

The performance gave you everything you want from this genre, in which, let's face it, the music is much better than the film. And much more intense from being live and in your face. The film itself was a delicious, laughable bit of nonsense, full of hyperbole, melodrama, gratuitous nudity, stereotypes, and hatchet-faced Europeans with bad teeth somehow trying to pass themselves off as Americans, replete with oompa-loompa-cum-John-Boehner tans. Starring the iconic Lee Van Cleef as a sheriff out to save an innocent man from hanging and bent on revenge agains the cruel Patriarch, this film needed great music to save it from itself.

Federale betrayed a keen understanding of the musical needs of this genre, from gritty verismo atmospherics in which inglorious death is all around, to sinister carefully layered mood music, full of atonalism and sound-effects that also showcased the droning surf-rock origin behind much of the guitar work.

Another worthwhile endeavor from Galen Huckins and Filmusik, the final performance takes place tonight at 8 pm at the Hollywood Theater.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upcoming Filmusik Madness: The Grand Duel

Filmusik, the unique brainchild of Portland composer Galen Huckins that combines classic cinema with all manner of live performance elements, including live original soundtracks, voice dubbing and sound effects, is at it again this upcoming week with their new project The Grand Duel.

A spaghetti western starring the inimitable Lee Van Cleef, this film marks Filmusik's first collaboration with Federale, a local alternative band who just happens to specialize in writing and performing music that, in their own words, "recapture[s] the haunting, violent atmosphere illustrated in such classic films as A Fistful of Dollars." With their ranchero-style horns and the intensely powerful soprano of Maria Karlin, Federale, besides being an extremely talented ensemble that knows exactly how to achieve their musical goals, is a plain old-fashioned kick in the pants. Marvelously fun, Filmusik and Federale are a natural fit for each other, and for this enterprise Federale composed an entirely new soundtrack and will be on hand to perform for all three shows. The showings are Thursday July 28th, Friday the 29th and Saturday the 30th at the Hollywood Theater at 8pm.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CD Review: Hideki Yamaya, 'The Mandolino in 18th- Century Italy'

Portland-based plucked strings expert Hideki Yamaya recently released a CD entitled The Mandolino in 18th-Century Italy, performing with lutenist John Schneiderman. The recording is of the Dalla Casa Manuscript, a mid-18th century compilation of mandolino music by amateur musician Filippo Dalla Casa.

The mandolino in this recording is very different from the modern mandolin; it is small and downright dainty, strung with nylon strings and plucked with fingers instead of a plectrum. The instrument has a delicate tone--the upper registers can be tinny and affect the pitch, which is off-putting at first but actually grows endearing as the music plays on, and the unique timbre becomes a joy to hear.

A peppery, virtuosic little sonata by Antonio Tinazzoli (1650-1730) opens the CD, barrelling forward in one whirlwind movement, showcasing the range of the instrument. The rest of the CD is very much in the galante style, with sonatas/concertos by Giuseppe Vaccari and Ludovico Fontanelli (1682-1748). Yamaya’s accurate and judicious ornamentation can’t be easy to effect on this feathery instrument. The compositions themselves are delightful, warm and fetching; Yamaya’s enthusiasm for playing these gems is obvious and infectious. His own variations on the menuet themes by an anonymous composer are virtuosic, and in one of these variations the mandolin switches to accompaniment and the lute takes the solo; other than that the lute is continuo throughout. The final Giga of the closing Vaccari concerto is particularly enjoyable, featuring surprising, modern-feeling syncopations.

This release is authentic and satisfying; samples of the work can be found here.