Mass made into Flamenco Style

While the combination of a Gypsy Mass and Flamenco was unknown to me until yesterday, it was the object of adoration at All Saint’s Parish in Beverly Hills on Sunday afternoon, June 21. Held in the chapel, the venue provided the perfect acoustics for Drew Croon’s Misa Gitana Andaluza.

I was among the guests who attended the melange of a performance that came from the collection of the late composer Drew Croon. Croon, an American from Los Feliz, spent his life composing in Europe. When he died in 2007, his sister, Doranne found his music boxed in an attic in France. She has made it her goal to bring it to the stage.

Fanny Ara, Doranne Cedillo, Kindra Scharich, Alex Conde

Last month, I was contacted by Doranne Croon Cedillo. We connected through Facebook and have a mutual friend in common. When we chatted I assumed she was in Los Angeles. Turns out, she makes her home in Denver. She told me her brother, Drew Croon had written a “Gypsy Mass” before he died at the age of 56, and that she was assembling a performance. It’s taken her seven years to find the right ensemble to perform his work. The first performance premiered in San Francisco in April and the second would be held in Beverly Hills. She asked if I would come.

The first part of the program featured the young guitarist, Taso Comanescu. From Los Angeles, When I heard his rendition of Recuerdos de la Alhambra, by Francisco Tarrega, I was fell into complete silence. It’s one of my favorite pieces because of it’s simplicity, where one watches the grace of the performer. Highly romantic and perhaps the most famous tremolo piece for classical guitar.

Next came Alex Conde, a classically trained pianist from Valencia, Spain. Born into a musical family, he has spent the last six years in San Francisco. Conde was trained as a classical pianist, but when he came to the United States to pursue his classical studies, he began to miss flamenco tremendously.

Seated in the second row, I watched his fingers and his movements. He’s got extraordinary musicianship and creativity and has great technique. I expect to hear more of him in the future. He also mentioned to the audience that artistically he was thinking of how to combine flamenco with jazz and the following evening he got a call by Croon Cedillo asking him to do just that. He played his own composition Barrio del Carmen (Alegrias) with such flexibility it made you want to get up and dance.

Fanny Ara, originally from the French Basque region hit the floor dancing. I loved watching her elegant body movements which included a concave pose, arms stretched upward with hands in a prayer pose, fingers spread in exclamation points and her feet gliding in circles. And alternating these movements with an attack of the floor.

And there was the mezzo-soprano, Kindra Scharich. I think her job was the most challenging and she did it superbly. Singing a Mass has to be complicated. The notes don’t come easily but she pulled it off beautifully. When she wasn’t singing, she clapped her hands at various volumes.

Being married to a classically trained singer, I recognize when you sing live, you realize yourself, and express the best you have inside at that moment. You interpret the composer’s intent to the best of your ability.

None of the musicians knew Croon or his music. Despite this, there was not an empty seat to be seen.

Who knew a Flamenco Mass could sound anywhere near this great?

The audience loved the concert and although when it ended, it wasn’t followed by “Otra! Otra! Otra!” I would venture most of the audience would be happy hearing another two hours of Drew Croon’s Gypsy Mass. They will have to settle for the CD set.

Good Intentions

The Fifth Agreement by Jose Ruiz, Janet Mills and Miguel Angel Ruiz is a fast, easy read with thought-provoking messages.  With that said, the first half is very similar to the Four Agreements, so I was re-reading material with different examples. I was waiting for the curtain to come up and for the fifth agreement to be revealed.

The fifth agreement is this…Be skeptical, but learn to listenDon’t believe yourself or anybody else.  Use the power of doubt to question everything you hear; Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind words, and you will understand the real message.

Very wise, indeed. What makes this a special book for both seekers and novice initiates are some of the messages that come toward the end of the book, that are inspiring, beautiful and unique in their simplicity.

“I believe that we come here with a mission, but our mission is not really to transcend anything.  The mission that you have, and the same mission is true for all of us, is to make yourself happy.  The “how” could be millions of different ways of doing what you love to do, but the mission of your life is to enjoy every single moment of your life.”

Are you living up to this ideal? Share your thoughts and ideas.

Here’s one way I enjoy life; I love music and as I have often remarked nothing can change my mood to happiness as fast as through the power of positive music that instantly uplifts:

Seduction is in the Art

I anticipated that I would love the book, Conquistadora, by Esmeralda Santiago, an epic with romance, that includes luscious scenery, family rivalry and through it all a head-strong young woman. And who doesn’t love a good heroine? But the reality of the story failed miserably to meet my expectations.

The beginning of the novel caught my attention with its focus on women in the Old World and their relationship with one another.  But then it becomes a Telenovela (soap-opera) about a young girl who has a lesbian experience at the convent and marries one of twins who have sex with each other, and with her, and one of whom is a sadist. And what was the point of all this sex?  It seemed trivial rather than enticing and I asked was the author trying to instill doubt so that when Ana gives birth, it’s unclear who the father is?

The story is set around Ana Cubillas, a young Spanish woman from Seville with dreams of a plantation in Puerto Rico. She meets the handsome twin brothers Ramon and Inocente, with whom she travels to the Caribbean. Once there she must fight social conventions, disease, and slave uprisings to keep her dream alive.

Not one of the characters earned my empathy. I didn’t feel Ana as a character was believable; she was more of a cliche and a stereotype. I love a character driven story but it seemed to me that the author was so deliberately trying to make these characters “real” that she forgot to make at least one of them likeable.

The plot and the characters were under-developed and lacking in depth. The prose was overdone, inflated and at times it seemed absurd.

I didn’t enjoy this book, perhaps my expectations were too high to be met. Nonetheless, don’t judge a book by it’s cover; by the way, this is one great but, it doesn’t detract from the fact that my disappointment stands.


A tribute to fairy Godmothers

My hunch is that most kids prefer younger adults. However, as a child, I did not. The perceptions I drew from elders influenced me.  I remember older neighbors and how I made it a point to befriend them. Whenever I watched Mrs. Flory watering her lawn I learned about the intrinsic value of nature. Sitting in the Irving’s living room snuggled into a big chair and being served liverwurst for the first time I was told about far-away lands.  Sipping lemonade with Mrs. Stokes while she fanned herself southern style I listened while she expressed why good manners were to be cultivated.  Inside the Bogue’s dining room I received an introduction to Jazz and the Big Bands.  And last there was my godmother, who lived in a big Victorian house that had all the trappings of another era; the enormous porch, a cast iron stove, the glass kitchen cabinets, a pond in the backyard, and the foot stool I had to step on to get into a high-rise four poster bed.

If any woman could be said to embody and to be confined to a 1930’s cinematic era, it would have been her. Although she wasn’t an actress, like the famous contemporaries of the time—Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Dolores Del Rio—she made a number of smart, savvy, sophisticated, moves that poured out of her during my childhood.  She was as much a part of that thirties sophisticated milieu as, say, the glamorous cast of The Women.

Today I remember her since it would have been her birthday.  But also, like the aforementioned actresses, she personified what was then an era of chic—a time of glamour, attractiveness and magnetic flair and she shopped at Bullocks Wilshire. But it wasn’t only her style I was attracted to; as a child she came across to me as gentle and patient, a people watcher—forever curious about everything around her.  In a soft-spoken sweet voice she questioned my ideas and increased my ability to symbolize pushing my intellect making me think long after I had given my answer.  And when I gave her responses she asked me for definitions.  It was done with effortless ease and in my eyes, no one set the trends and pushed the limits better than she did. She was the quintessential star of my day, and she set the style, the vogue, and the trends in her social circle.  She was dubbed, the  jewel in the crown.

Prima Donna

This morning I heard that October 5 is the most common of birthdays. It made me feel warm and fuzzy since it would have been my maternal Grandmother’s 108th birthday. She brought opera and books to my attention and was known for her skills as a raconteur, a Spanish-speaking Scheherazade. But we shared other similarities besides music, reading and writing.  My birthday follows hers by two weeks and as Libras we both have a quest for the unknown, have a need for beauty and harmony in our environment (or we can’t function) are slightly eccentric, revere nature, and dislike being told what to do. The list goes on. Naming our attributes made me think we shared similar obsessions.

In the novel, Old School by Tobias Wolff, the narrator in particular is obsessed. The narrator sees writing as a passport out of what he sees as the mediocrity that he’s been born into. He knows he can’t belong to the class that the people around him belong to, so writing is a way of transcending class altogether. This adds fire to his obsession.

I have noticed in my writing life I experience frustration when other things take me away from my writing. A ringing telephone and the thought of an interruption, such as lunch, or going to the bank make me antsy to get back to my desk.   My dream world is filled with edits and revisions over material I’ve written for the day.

Has writing become an obsession for you? Is writing the only thing you can think about? Do you continually dissect dialogue when having a conversation with family, friends, or co- workers? Do you use everyday events to churn into a story? Do you think about sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar before speaking during a conversation? Does a new idea for a story take control of your mind once it has been planted there?

As I see it, obsessing over writing is a blessing, it’s a gift to use. Passion produces obsession if you let writing guide you and take over.

April flowers, April showers

Today’s post not only honors deceased relatives, such as my uncle Ruben who would have celebrated a birthday today, but also celebrates those hale and hearty–specifically my mother, his sister and only remaining member of his immediate family.

My uncle passed away last July. I wrote and delivered a bi-lingual eulogy, and considered it an honor. Most of all, I was able to praise his dignity, intellect, and accomplishments and thereby give him something in return.

His corporeal absence doesn’t stop me from considering the sorts of gifts I’d like to bestow on him. For nostalgia’s sake, there would be the aftershave, and, uncle Ruben gleefully accepted my perennial gift as if it was the cleverest choice on earth.

There were many more gifts I could think of that would have pleased him, but his library was full of books and although we shared a common quest for esoteric material, my uncle was always rather hard to shop for. He didn’t just like anything. It wasn’t just disdain for all things pedestrian; a lot of popular gift items got lost on him. He went from suits to no longer wearing anything more elaborate than jeans and button down flannel shirts. Not even to his Masonic meetings. And this ruled out fancy ties.

Last year, on what we perceived might be his last birthday, after we ate the mango cake that I had brought along, my uncle, reached over to me, sated, impressed, touched, and, I can only hope, adequately loved said, “You’re a good niece, and a nice girl,” after draping a leaden arm over my shoulder.

With remains of cake before me, I was glad to have something to look at because I couldn’t look at him. It made me feel too influential and I hadn’t done anything to warrant his statement but to pay him an occasional visit. I was both embarrassed and touched by his remark and I didn’t know what to answer and to keep myself from choking up, “I’m glad you liked your cake, because your hard to shop for,” I returned.

We both smiled.