Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Service of a Perfect Evening Enhanced by Stellar Customer Service

Monday, March 11th, 2024

Great service turned a wonderful evening into a spectacular one.

It began with an excellent dinner at Fiorella’s, an enormous, popular restaurant across from Lincoln Center that’s hopping with happy patrons especially before performances. It nevertheless serves excellent food and provides professional, top-notch service.

Next we went to hear the Quartetto di Cremona at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in Alice Tully Hall. The two violinists, a cellist and violist chose to play pieces by Dmitri Shostakovich, Osvaldo Golijov and Franz Schubert.

The Italian town of Cremora, known for producing fine violins, is in Lombardy, on the Po River’s left bank, 85 miles from Milan. One of the violins played by the musicians, a Cremona, was made in 1640. The other instruments were made in different Italian cities and dated from 1680 to 1758. But I digress.

As Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8 began, I asked myself, “what tip did I leave the waiter?” followed by the realization that I’d not signed the check, that my credit card remained in the folder and my heart sank.

I dashed out of Alice Tully Hall during intermission and asked the guard to remember me and let me in again. He laughed and reassured me that there would be no problem.

I sprinted back to Fiorella’s, the host opened a drawer with a bunch of credit cards, and there was mine between an American Express Gold Card and a silver card of some sort. The host found the waiter who had the check, I added a tip—I was upset about this omission as well–and hurried back to Lincoln Center. The restaurant was clearly used to lamebrain customers like me and were not concerned that they had been stiffed.

At the end of the concert, after a standing ovation, we started to descend the stairs towards an exit when an usher rushed over to say that there would be one—maybe two—encores. If we left the auditorium, he said, we couldn’t get back in. The quartet’s choice of Puccini was divine. We were grateful to the proactive usher.

We learned something on the 68th Street crosstown bus where a bunch of us, who had exited Lincoln Center, started to speak. One woman kept referring to her “group.” We asked her “what group were you with?” She explained that she was an usher and that each usher is responsible for a portion of the concert hall. That explained why “our” usher raced down the stairs to inform us of the encore. She also told us why we enjoyed only one. “You didn’t clap vigorously enough!” She debunked what a coat check staffer told us—that there was only five minutes left according to union rules so it didn’t leave enough time for more music. She said, “They don’t know anything.”

Do you rejoice when perfect service enhances a flawless evening? Does it happen often?

Service of Reserving a Hard-to-Get Ticket

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

I think I now know a little about what it’s like to try to get a ticket to a Springsteen or Rhianna concert even though all I wanted was two timed tickets to the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” member preview at the Met Museum.

Usually, museum members get to choose from four consecutive days to visit an exhibition at their leisure before it opens to the public. We just show up.  For Lagerfeld, there were only two possible member-only days, a Tuesday and a Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

We learned about the drill a month ago in an email that notified members that timed tickets were required and couldn’t be ordered before noon on April 18.

I marked my calendar, was happy I remembered and then, even though my laptop and iPad were open to the notice, it took me 10 frantic minutes to find a hotlink to reserve a time. By then, I was number 783 in the virtual line and the estimated time to get to the front of it was over an hour. I was advised to look for the next email to confirm my spot and then to keep an eye out for another email that would return me to the line.

And, we were warned to take care, because the place in line would only be kept for a certain amount of time once the museum tagged the hopeful member. I forget how long I had to respond because I didn’t pay attention: I was keeping my eye on my email box.

All went well, I got the day and time I wanted or so I thought until the confirmation showed up with two times: One 10:00 a.m., at the top and the other, which was noon, the time I’d requested. [Photo below].

Once I read the fine print, I saw that the first time—10:00 a.m.–was when the exhibition opened. It was meaningless information on a ticket for noon entry. I wonder how many people won’t read the mouse type instructions and will be confused by the two times on their e-tickets. I predict that either there will be a crowd at 10:00 or the membership office will be inundated with calls.

I got it into my head that I would see this exhibition in preview just as music fans focus on acquiring concert tickets no matter what. I’m curious: Do most people have time to do this more than once or do they hire someone to do the ticket-acquiring for them or do they take days off from work?

Service of Rituals

Monday, October 17th, 2022

This doesn’t fit precisely in the “Little Things Mean A Lot” series on this blog nor is it just the same as the more recent Service of Rituals and Traditions, but it’s related. I thought I’d add some of my own to the ones readers sent and The New York Times published recently in “The Little Rituals That Keep Us Going.”

The Times article’s subhead went: “Reading Nancy Drew. Watching the birds every day. Counting yellow doors. Thousands of Times readers shared their wellness ‘non-negotiables.’” Dani Blum wrote the article.

Mine aren’t charming or creative however they give structure and happiness to my life.

My newest ritual is a quick game of Wordle. I came late to the game. At this writing I’ve played 57 times. I find I do best when I play early in the day.

WMNR’s classical music entertains me all day. I listen live through my laptop. Almost no talk.

I will miss the Australian drama, “A Place to Call Home,” that for 67 weeks made me look forward to Friday pm on PBS. A friend showed me where else I could watch the program if I had a conflict causing me to miss an episode.

I take advantage of long phone calls by watering or tending to plants. I have a bunch and now that they’ve moved indoors it’s easier to do.

I eat waffles or pancakes every Sunday morning.

Now that I work at home, I like to officially end the workday between 5:30 p.m. and 7:00 with a glass of wine and some cashew nuts. I’ve read that cashews are healthy—I ate peanuts before.

By 10:00 a.m., I’ve completed a list of chores as I used to when I left for an office. I don’t want to see an unmade bed or a dish in the sink after that.

To close the night, I like to watch an episode of a funny series on Netflix such as Seinfeld or Schitt’s Creek.

What are some of the rituals that keep you on track, make you happy and that you look forward to?

Service of the Child in All of Us

Monday, April 26th, 2021

Scott Simon, NPR, interviewed Sandra Boynton and Yo-Yo Ma on “Weekend Edition” this Saturday about their collaboration for toddlers: “Jungle Night,” printed on thick paperboard. It comes with a downloadable recording that in addition to narration features a variety of animal snore noises–made by instruments–and includes a lullaby, “Jungle Gymnopédie No. 1.” The music is a combination of Ma playing Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 backed by Ron Block on guitar, and Kevin MacLeod on drums.

During the interview Ma–and I quote loosely–said “I have the mind of a child. Every time I perform it has to be as though on a clean chalkboard; I start new every time. I’m not doing something because I did it yesterday.” He said his performances require a beginner’s mind and described a sandcastle at the beach that is different every day because the tide wipes out the previous one.

I imagine that a successful stage actor who plays the same role week after week must go about it similarly as did cookbook author/TV personality Julia Child. She worked on recipes countless times until she got them right nevertheless showed such joy and a feeling of discovery when she shared her tips on her TV show.

Many approach their creative jobs in the opposite way. A comment made by a former colleague, when I was at the intermediate level in the PR business, was a head scratcher. How the boss didn’t fire him when he was asked, “Why are you suggesting XYZ tactic for the client?” and he responded, “Because we’ve always done that,” was a mystery.  In another example, a client asked “why can’t we send out the same press release for each collection launch–just change the title?” The client wasn’t on the design side fortunately and would not have understood Ma.

Some of the best public speakers and many people others like having around share a youthful spirit and energy–a joie de vivre which has little to do with their age or lack of fame. A great aunt and my mother lived into their 90s. They were blessed with the spark. Neither were the slightest bit childish, nor is cellist Ma. There’s a difference.

Do you know people who approach their work and life with the freshness and enthusiasm of a child–often backed by study and hard work–resulting in magnificence? For what projects do you evoke the child that was in you?

Service of Masculine Stereotypes & How They Impact the Election

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

I suspect whatever your sexual orientation, you have an idea of masculine characteristics that appeal. Athlete? Tennis, football, hockey, soccer, basketball or golf fan? Opera, jazz, rock, hip hop, rap or country music lover? TV watcher or reader?

What about bravery?

Are you masculine if you’re macho, reckless, wild, shoot-from-the-hip, a womanizer and loud or empathetic, cautious, friendly, a family man, nurturing and mild-mannered? The candidates for President represent these characteristics, both easy to satirize or exaggerate which each has done in speeches, via commercials and amplified via spokespeople. Comedians have also had their way with the contenders.

I don’t recall thinking about masculinity regarding candidates in previous elections but today tolerance,  appreciation or intolerance of the various traits of these competitors will impact many a choice at the ballot box. You’re a real man if you don’t wear a mask or if you stick your finger in the eye of the pandemic and you’re a scaredy-cat if you wear one and are Covid-cautious.

We’ll know the answer to the country’s choice tomorrow or soon thereafter.

Are masculine stereotypes bunk? Do you agree that the styles and interpretations of being a “real man” impact voter choices about the 2020 candidates or are the issues paramount?

Service of When What Calms You is Out of Reach

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

Open for contemplation.

Congregants at synagogues, mosques, temples and churches, passionate sports fans and shoppers, movie and concert goers, bar hoppers, exercisers, museum and restaurant enthusiasts and travelers are up a creek these days. There are no religious services or sports competitions, and favorite roosts  that calm, uplift, cheer and/or distract are closed: movie houses, gyms, museums, concert halls, stores, bars and restaurants.

Even hugs are out.

I was looking at a favorite cooking show on TV yesterday but can’t find the ingredients so is there any point?

What do you substitute and how do you maintain your equilibrium when your favorite distractions and sources of solace are on hiatus? What do you look forward to? What’s an anxious person to do?

AKC Museum of the Dog NYC

Service of A First: Two Billboard Top 100 Songs Celebrate Christmas–What Does It Mean?

Friday, December 27th, 2019

Gary Trust reported that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” represent the first time the Billboard 100 had a twofer of Christmas songs at the top.

In “Mariah Carey No. 1, Brenda Lee No. 2 in Billboard Hot 100’s First-Ever ‘Christmas’ Double Up,‘” on Billboard.com, Trust went on to write that “a record-tying four seasonal songs rank in the Hot 100’s top 10, as Burl Ives’ ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’ climbs 10-6 for a new high and Bobby Helms’ ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ rolls 15-9.”

You can’t extrapolate with certainty the significance of this development but it’s fun to try. Are we becoming more traditional? Is music more accessible to people through their smartphones so they can easily add seasonal tunes to family gatherings? What are your favorite Christmas songs?

Service of Whatever Happened To….

Monday, September 17th, 2018

I just heard from musician Tyler Schuster’s dad, Bill, who updated me on what this enterprising young saxophone player has been up to since he appeared in a post here. It inspired me to also revisit a few other past posts.

Tyler’s music instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Michael Shults, PhD, drafted the original, “Service of Perseverance Set to Music: A Story That Makes My Heart Sing,” in March 2017.

Winning Musician

Tyler Schuster

Shults wrote about Tyler who “pushed harder and smarter when things got tough.” At the end he wrote: “Please join me in congratulating Tyler on his incredible progress and for embodying so many of the ideals we preach in music and any other discipline: toughness, hard work, self awareness, ambition and goal-setting. He’s worked very hard to get where he is and hopefully will have an influence on some future musicians.”

He’s already started. Bill Schuster wrote: “Tyler is student teaching music students grades 6-12 in Bloomer, Wis.  He will be graduating on December 22 with his Music, Instrumental and Music Teaching, Comprehensive Major – Bachelor of Music Education.

“He’s worked very hard and hopefully will have an influence on some future musicians.  He is playing in numerous bands and orchestras, including the Jazz Ensemble, which was named Best Undergraduate College Jazz Band by Downbeat Magazine in 2017 and in 2018, it won best Live Performance.

Schuster added that his son also won the Concerto Competition; the University’s Conducting Competition and was a member of the winning Quartet Competition. “As far as anyone can tell, Tyler is the only person to win all the competitions. He hopes to teach a few years and start his master’s degree in a couple of years.  He has his sights set on teaching at the collegiate level which will be a lot of work, but I’m sure not betting against him.  He loves to be challenged.” We’re rooting for Tyler too!

Commercials That Sound Like Nails on a Blackboard

The annoying giggling female customer in the 1-800-I-Got-Junk radio commercial is gone. I mentioned it in “Service of Irritating and Charming Commercials: Phony and Legitimate Laughs.” I wonder if stations got complaints and lost listeners because of it. Just this morning I heard a new rendition–this time a man giggled. I hear many other repeated commercials but none are as irksome.

The Last Straw

When I wrote “Service of the Last Straw, Bar None,” I couldn’t believe the big deal made over bars and restaurants that banned plastic straws to save the environment.

 I checked Google to see where Styrofoam is banned. I’m not impressed. Listed are: “New York City (and several other cities in New York); Takoma Park, MD.; Seattle, Washington; Washington DC.; Miami Beach, FL; Freeport, Maine; Portland, Maine and Nantucket (City & County), Mass.” And then there are clear plastic containers that hold fruits and veggies and plastic water bottles–have you checked your garbage? I grabbed just a few things in our home on Saturday [photo right]. Get rid of these plastic containers and now you’re talking.

Drip, Drip, Drip

Since I wrote “Service of Leaks” in May, there have been floods, from Omarosa’s book “Unhinged” and those filling the pages of Bob Woodward’s “Fear,” to the experience of the anonymous New York Times Op-Ed writer. What’s normal behavior these days?

I also ask:

  • Do you know other students who have won all the competitions in their track when at first just being good enough to compete in one seemed a stretch?
  • To grab attention, commercials often grate, but don’t you agree some go overboard?
  • Is it unprofitable for packaging companies to research workable alternatives to plastic and to retrofit their machinery accordingly with the goal of saving the environment? Must we be happy with banning straws?
  • Will the world look more kindly on whistleblowers as we become increasingly used to high profile leakers or are we in a phase brought on by the administration?

Service of Perseverance Set to Music: A Story That Makes My Heart Sing

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Tyler Schuster. Photo: Amanda Halak

Tyler Schuster. Photo: Amanda Halak

Once 19th century British philanthropist William Edward Hickson retired he focused on elementary education and popularized the proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” attributed to Thomas H. Palmer’s “Teacher’s Manual” and Frederick Marryat’s “The Children of the New Forest.”

The Facebook post that proud grandmother Judy Schuster sent family and friends–that I’ve copied below–is an inspirational testament to that adage. It’s about the perseverance and grit shown by her musician-grandson, Tyler Schuster, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire [UWEC]. In addition to showing the glorious result of determination and hopefully inspiring others, it says a lot about this young man who proves he will achieve just about anything he sets his mind to.

Kudos as well to Michael Shults, PhD, assistant professor of saxophone at UWEC, a dedicated and caring instructor and skilled, exemplary coach who wrote the post. I can’t think of many in any field who would take the time. Dr. Shults is also an award-winning musician and active jazz and concert saxophonist.

He wrote:

So – I love a good underdog story, and maybe you do too.

Tyler was part of the freshman class my first year at UWEC in 2014. Our first year of lessons was long on constructive criticism and, frankly, short on breakthroughs; a LOT of squeezing and not much juice.

Music education majors at UWEC take one credit, half hour lessons. They are practicing more than ever (which means programming vital foundational muscle memory) and ALL 18-year old saxophonists come in with bad habits. The crucial need to correct these early on, coupled with the time constraints, mean that the ratio of positive-to-constructive feedback I’m able to give in the early going can be a little lopsided. It’s not easy for either party, but it’s much more difficult to correct once that muscle memory is programmed in an imperfect way.

Tyler, in particular, had a lot of things to iron out with his saxophone playing. Lessons were tedious for both parties. But what I could see (and his excellent high school teacher Scott Johnson will attest that this has been present long before I entered the picture) was that Tyler’s instinct when things got tough was to push harder and smarter, instead of shying away from a challenge or being defeatist.

Fall 2015 was really difficult for Tyler as he failed to audition into the Wind Symphony or Symphony Band (I asked him this morning if I could share that publicly, and he said “Of course – that’s an important part of my journey”). It was a really hard dose of reality, I think, but as frustrating as it was, Tyler didn’t challenge the result or place blame. He just put on the hard hat and got in the shed.

I remember a year ago, not too long after that, Tyler sat down in my office and outlined three goals. He wanted to audition into Jazz Ensemble I, Wind Symphony, and, the most ambitious of the three, win the concerto competition and solo with one of the wind bands. At the time I believe Tyler was in Jazz III and, based on the audition results from the fall, would’ve had to leapfrog at least 10 players to audition into Wind Symphony. So – speculative, to say the least.

Then came the fall ensemble auditions. Jazz I: √

Tyler also moved up to playing a principal chair in the Symphony Band (just shy of Wind Symphony).

Then came spring ensemble auditions. Wind Symphony: √

That brings us to last night, when Tyler performed the first movement of the Creston Concerto in our annual wind band concerto competition.

You guessed it: √

Please join me in congratulating Tyler on his incredible progress and for embodying so many of the ideals we preach in music and any other discipline: toughness, hard work, self awareness, ambition, goal-setting, etc. etc. and join us in person or via livestream as he performs as featured soloist with the UWEC Symphony Band – the same ensemble he couldn’t quite make the cut for a year ago – on April 28th.

(But don’t get too comfortable, kid. You have technique juries this week. And a recital next month. And and and…)

Were you—or someone you know–lucky to have a professor, instructor or mentor like Dr. Shults? Do you know young men or women as determined as Tyler Schuster who ignore the odds, carry on and reach their goals?

 

Dr. Michael Shults. Photo: Clint Ashlock

Dr. Michael Shults. Photo: Clint Ashlock

Service of Making the Best

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out,” is credited to three-time All-American basketball player and coach John Wooden. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this great quote.

Patrick Donohue

Patrick Donohue

I first heard it at The Christopher Awards last week. If there is one person who took this quote to heart it’s Patrick Donohue who said it in accepting the James Keller Award, named after the organization’s founder. His daughter’s baby nurse shook the infant so violently that she destroyed 60 percent of the rear cortex of the child’s brain. That was 10 years ago. Since then Donohue founded a research initiative as well as the International Academy of Hope—iHope—the first school for kids with brain injuries like Sarah Jane’s and other brain-based disorders. It’s in NYC and he plans to expand to other US cities. 

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Carol Graham and Major General Mark Graham [retired] accepted Yochi Dreazan’s award. Dreazan was honored with a Christopher for his book, “Invisible Front.” The Grahams also illustrate the Wooden quote. The book is about how the Army treated the deaths of their sons. Jeff was hailed a hero after being killed while serving in Iraq and Kevin’s death, by suicide, was met with silence. Today the Grahams work to change the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], to erase the stigma that surrounds those with mental illness and to remind active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans and family members that seeking help is a sign of strength. This summer General Graham and associates plan to convert two call centers into one which will be supported with private funding: Vetss4Warriors.com @ 855-838-8255 and Vet2Vet Talk @ 855-838-7481. The keys to their crisis prevention telephone program: Trained peers counsel and advise callers, provide referrals and follow up with them.

Murray Liebowitz is the third example in this post. A stranger to us, we attended his memorial concert at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College last Sunday. A passionate music lover with a special appreciation for Gustav Mahler, Liebowitz paid for the concert–Mahler’s Symphony No. 9–so that it was free to the mourners as well as to the community. He made the arrangements with Bard president Leon Botstein before he died. Tributes in the program described Liebowitz as “modest,” “kind,” “direct,” “generous,” “loyal,” “disarmingly unpretentious,” “delightful,” and “warm.” But he wasn’t always successful. This Bard board member went bankrupt when his first business failed. His New Jersey egg farm thrived until supermarket chains put him out of business. He earned his fortune in his second career as a Florida real estate developer.

Botstein wrote in the program, “Murray Liebowitz was a true gentleman. He was a man who enjoyed enormous success in business but one who never let success in life go to his head. We live in an age where money and wealth appear to be valued above all other achievements. They stand uncontested as the proper measure of excellence. To be rich, it seems, means that one might actually be superior to others. This corrosive calculus is one in which Murray never believed. He was without arrogance.”

Many face personal tragedy, devastating business reversals—and even overwhelming success—and make the best of the way things work out. Can you share additional examples?

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