Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I volunteered to stay behind to allow others to leave early at 2:30 today. Headquarters says that the office needs to be covered until 5:00 p.m. I contend that means the front office upstairs, but our new Assistant Port Director claims it means the Entry Branch as well -- even though we shut our doors, won't accept any clocked-in documents, and don't answer the phone after 4:30. So I texted Adam K to meet me a little later than we had planned. Oh well, it gave me a chance to get caught up with some other things.

In any case, this minor inconvenience didn't begin to compare with New Year's Eve my Senior year at Yale. I had planned to meet some friends in Times Square in New York... and this was pre-renovation Times Square...pretty grungy as I recall. Of course, this was way before cell phones. Somehow we missed connections, and I found myself alone in Times Square in a downpour without an umbrella. After wandering around interminably, I eventually headed over to Port Authority, only to learn that the last bus had already departed for Ridgewood, New Jersey. I was planning to visit my sister Julie and brother-in-law Tom Martin in Wyckoff, next door to Ridgewood. The ticket office was closed, so I sat down on a bench on the platform and tried to sleep. No sooner had I done so than a policeman roused me awake. It was not permitted to sleep on the bench without a ticket. "But the ticket office is closed, sir." "No matter, you're not allowed to sleep without a ticket." It's amazing I didn't get bronchitis.

Anyway, I hope you are having, or will have had a more exciting New Year's Eve this year! Again best wishes for 2009!

GOODBYE 2008 and WELCOME 2009!


Tonight my friend Adam K and I will have an early dinner at Garcon, one of our favorite French restaurants in my neighborhood. We probably won't see midnight, but no doubt I'll be awakened by the fireworks, or more likely fire crackers.

What a year it's been... with the meltdown of the stock market, collapse of housing and mortgages... general economic uncertainty. It makes me grateful to have a government job! And who, one year ago, would have predicted the election of Barack Obama? At least now there's a chance for intelligent and creative approaches to the myriad problems we face both here at home and around the world. To quote Lynn Cheney (of all people): "The adults are in charge again!" Onward to the inauguration!

So my best wishes for a healthy, prosperous, invigorating, creative and peaceful 2009!

We three R's: Rupert, Rose and Rob

Monday, December 29, 2008


Although there's not room in the heading, it looks as though I should add another category for this blog: DOGS........ or at least Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

My handsome Cavaliers, dear Rose and Prince Rupert, are ten years old today. No matter how you figure it, in doggie years they are now older than I am!

I first met them the day of my Mother's memorial service ten years ago this coming March. After Mother died three days before her birthday, I returned to San Francisco. Then Dennis and I went back for her memorial service a few weeks later.

Before leaving, I leafed through the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club yearbook and pointed out to Dennis a black and white photo of a beautiful black and tan cavalier. "That's just the kind of black and tan I'd like to have." Her name was Polly. Then I noticed that the breeder lived in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, about eighteen miles from Harrisburg, my hometown. Dillsburg was where my Mother played golf at a public golf club. (Mother loved golf, but was always careful with her expenses.)

So after the big memorial service at Grace Church, when Chanticleer sang the Biebl Ave Maria as a prelude before the service, and before their flight from Middletown 45 minutes later (more about that in March) and the symbolic interment on the hillside cemetary in Woolrich (Mother had donated her body for research, so we initially buried only a lock of her hair ... and three golf balls) Dennis and I drove back from my Mother's family's Hunting Camp and visited Mary Louise Gregg at her home and kennel, Stellar Cavaliers, in Dillsburg.

Cynthia had already given Dennis India Pudding and I was looking for an assertive dog, who could stand up to her. My introduction to Rupert was observing him bite the tail of his sister Celine. I thought: "That's the little guy for me!" There was a Titanic movie theme to that litter. Rupert's real name is "Stellar Coeur de Leon." And Rose is "Stellar Coeur de la Mer" -- the name of the blue diamond in the movie. So of course, Celine was appropriate as well!

Eight weeks or so later my Prince Rupert (named for Prince Rupert of the Rhine, nephew of Charles I during the English Civil War, and commander of the Cavalier cavalry --- a somewhat fitting name for a Cavalier dog, I thought) flew cross country to Sacramento with a friend of Mary Louise's and the judge for a Sacramento dog show.

Debbie Cornue drove Dennis, me and India Pudding to meet him at the Sacramento airport. Dennis never let me forget that I caused us to drive twenty miles out of our way, because I wrongly assumed there would be clearly marked signs to the airport on the highway to the California State Capital.

Rupert acts as though he owns his sister at times. In a way he does. A few years later, Rupert went back to Dillsburg to become a daddy, and the fee for his services was his sister Rose!

Again, my Christmas miracle this year is the survival of my precious Rose. The vet didn't discover the peach pit blockage for six days. Mary Louise Gregg tells me that most dogs with a similar blockage don't survive unless surgery is performed before the third day. Dear Rose has an amazing desire to live... and her wonderful appetite has completely returned. I am so grateful! Because of that I've included an extra picture of Rose. Don't worry, Rupert. You're still my guy!

(Oh by the way, the photo of Polly in the yearbook was their Aunt, who went to Mary Louise's ex-husband in their divorce settlement.)

Friday, December 26, 2008


My good friend LyleRichardson was not feeling well, and... we decided to take a rain check on our Boxing Day engagement.

So I went to see the new Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie about the miscarried assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler, on 20 July 1944. (My first partner Gary Murakami was born a year later on 20 July 1945, about two weeks before Hiroshima.)

The film is quite good, and fairly accurate from what I could tell. It was fascinating to see the reconstruction of the Berghof.

At the very end of the movie as they described the fates of various principals, I was startled to learn that the wife of Claus von Stauffenberg, Elisabeth Magdalena (Nina) Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, survived the war and died on 2 April 2006... the same day as Dennis! She was 92, he, only 55.


Three years ago today-- Boxing Day, December 26, 2005-- Dennis and I went to another movie, Heath Ledger's Casanova, filmed just before or after Brokeback Mountain, and released about the same time. I thought that was to protect his image. We went to see it primarily because it was filmed in Venice. It was the last movie Dennis saw in a theatre and it was only a few weeks before we left for Carnevale in Venezia. Dennis unfortunately bit down on an uncracked popcorn kernel and broke a tooth.

After seeing Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker in his final film, the Batman movie The Dark Knight, I'm convinced that the role contributed to his early death. He got into the part so deeply that it affected him psychologically with terrible consequences. Because of that it's difficult for me to watch him in the film.

Bronze bust of Claus von Stauffenberg:wikimedia/

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Ten Days of Newton

By Olivia Judson * (From

Some years ago, the evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins pointed out to me that Sir Isaac Newton, the founder of modern physics and mathematics, and arguably the greatest scientist of all time, was born on Christmas Day, and that therefore Newton’s Birthday could be an alternative, if somewhat nerdy, excuse for a winter holiday.

Think of the merchandise! Newton is said to have discovered the phenomenon of gravity by watching apples fall in an orchard. (His insight came after pondering why they always fall down, rather than upwards or sideways.) Newton’s Birthday cards could feature the great man discovering gravity by watching a Christmas decoration fall from a tree. (This is a little anachronistic — Christmas trees didn’t come to England until later — but I don’t think we should let that get in the way.)

All very jolly — but then, ’tis the season. Yet things are not so simple. It turns out that the date of Newton’s birthday is a little contentious. Newton was born in England on Christmas Day 1642 according to the Julian calendar — the calendar in use in England at the time. But by the 1640s, much of the rest of Europe was using the Gregorian calendar (the one in general use today); according to this calendar, Newton was born on Jan. 4, 1643.

Rather than bickering about whether Dec. 25 or Jan. 4 is the better date to observe Newton’s Birthday, I think we should embrace the discrepancy and have an extended festival. After all, the festival of Christmas properly continues for a further 12 days, until the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. So the festival of Newton could begin on Christmas Day and then continue for an extra 10 days, representing the interval between the calendars.

The reason the interval became necessary is that the Earth, inconveniently, does not orbit the sun in an exact number of days. Instead, the Earth’s orbit is 365 days and a bit. The “bit” is just under a quarter of a day.

It wasn’t always thus. Some 530 million years ago, when animals like the trilobites were skittering around, days had less time. Back then, a day was only 21 hours, and a year was about 420 days. In another 500 million years, perhaps a day will be 27 hours, and a year fewer than 300 days. Because of the friction exerted by the moon, the Earth is slowing down. Indeed, already the days are a tiny bit longer than they were 100 years ago.

Because the orbit isn’t an exact number of days, our calendars get out of sync with the seasons unless we correct for the fractional day. The Julian calendar, which was put in place by Julius Caesar in 45 B.C., was the Romans’ best effort at making a systematic correction. Before that, the Roman calendar gave 355 days to the basic year, and every other year was supposed to include an extra month of 22 or 23 days.

But over a period of 24 years, that gave too many days; so in some years, the extra month was supposed to be skipped. This didn’t always happen. By the time the Julian calendar was introduced, the Roman calendar was so far out of sync with the seasons that the year before the first Julian year had to include a massive correction; that year, referred to as “the last year of confusion,” was 445 days. Talk about a long year.

The Julian calendar, which is broadly similar to the one we have now, divided the year into 365 days and a quarter. To implement this practically, three out of four years were given 365 days, and the fourth, 366. But this still wasn’t precise enough: by the 16th century, the calendar had fallen 10 days out of sync with the solar year. By introducing a couple of extra fiddles to do with leap years at the ends of centuries, the Gregorian calendar fixed that. Again, however, changing calendars meant introducing a one-off correction to bring the dates back in line with the seasons. Rather than having a year with an extra 90 days like the Romans, Europeans “lost” 10 days as the calendar skipped forward. Hence the interval between the contending dates of Newton’s Birthday.

It’s strangely suitable that the length of the festival should be due to human efforts to describe the orbit of our planet. For planetary orbits were the subject of one of Newton’s key works, “De Motu Corporum in Gyrum,” (”On the Motion of Bodies in an Orbit”), which he sent to the astronomer Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame) in November of 1684. The proofs and insights contained here were revolutionary, and allowed the calculation of the orbit of any object, from planet to comet or asteroid, moving through a gravitational field.

Shortly after sending “Motion” to Halley, Newton began work on the treatise for which he is most famous, “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (”Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”) usually known simply as the Principia. This is where, among many other insights and discoveries, he articulated his three laws of motion, which students still learn in high school physics. He explained that gravity causes tides, and that the gravitational force of Jupiter perturbs the orbit of Saturn. The basis of many of his insights rested in a kind of mathematics he had invented as a private tool for himself years before: calculus.

Newton was not merely a thinker of abstract and complex thoughts, however. He had a gift with mechanical objects. As a child, he built a miniature working model of a windmill. As an adult, he built the first reflecting telescope.

He was also an experimenter. For example, his experiments with prisms showed that white light is composed of light of other colors. Although it had been known before Newton that shining a beam of sunlight through a prism would produce a rainbow, no one knew why: it was as though the prism created colors. Newton discovered the real reason: light is composed of different wavelengths that are refracted differently by the glass of the prism. The prism doesn’t create colors, it reveals them.

Physics was only one of his interests. He was deeply religious, though a heretic — he did not believe in the Holy Trinity — and he wrote more about religion than he did about physics, mathematics or his other great interest, alchemy. Though he never managed to turn base metal into gold in an experiment, later in life he became Warden of the Mint — the man in charge of making the country’s money. Here, he oversaw the production of gold and silver coins, and ensured that they were made more exactly than they had ever been made before. He also went after counterfeiters, several of whom were hanged.

Newton does not seem to have been a pleasant man. He feuded with several of his professional colleagues, most famously Robert Hooke and Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz; he was reclusive and secretive and seems to have formed few lasting friendships. But he was also a genius, and his work laid the foundations of our modern understanding of the world. He is a man to celebrate.
In honor of Newton’s Birthday festival, I therefore propose the following song, to be sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” For brevity, I include only the final verse. All together now!

On the tenth day of Newton,My true love gave to me,Ten drops of genius,Nine silver co-oins,Eight circling planets,Seven shades of li-ight,Six counterfeiters,Cal-Cu-Lus!Four telescopes,Three Laws of Motion,Two awful feuds,And the discovery of gravity!
Happy Newton, everybody!

Olivia Judson drew her account of the Roman calendars from the entry on “calendar” in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. For days having been shorter when the trilobites were about, see Ravilious, K. “Wind-up.” New Scientist: 23 November 2002. The details of Newton’s discoveries and life can be found in any biography; she drew on two, Berlinski, D. 2001. “Newton’s Gift.” Duckworth; and Gleick, J. 2003. “Isaac Newton.” Fourth Estate.
* Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist, is the author of “Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex,” which was made into a three-part television program. Ms. Judson has been a reporter for The Economist and has written for a number of other publications, including Nature, The Financial Times, The Atlantic and Natural History. She is a research fellow in biology at Imperial College London.

Sir Isaac Newton in an engraving from 1760 by James McArdell. (Library of Congress)


They let us out from work at 2:30 yesterday afternoon, so I was able to sing the 4:00 service of Lessons and Carols with a 3:00 p.m. rehearsal call before taking Adam to dinner last night. 

The Midnight Mass was full to the brim. Dean Alan Jones-- about to retire next month-- is somewhat still the consummate showman. To illustrate his point that Christmas represents dreaming and expectant longing, he had a boy from the choir sing White Christmas somewhere in the nave or possibly from the rear gallery, while artificial snow fell on the high altar from the crossing. It was reminiscent of the Easter Vigil poppy fall, when heat from the many candles surrounding the high altar causes paper poppies left over from Veterans' Day to rise and drift down like isolated autumn leaves. Whenever I go, it's the high point of the Easter Vigil for me. 

The new bishop is still a creative composer when singing the liturgy. I doubt that he'll ever be able to change. He just doesn't hear it. At least, he speaks very well. 

I'm up only to feed my dogs, then back to bed, before returning to Grace Cathedral for a 10:00 a.m. rehearsal and 11:00 service. 

To think that Dennis and I used to celebrate Christmas after the Midnight Mass with champagne, oysters, cold lamb chops, grilled asperagus, and a special dessert, then open our presents, play with the dogs, and go back to bed before rising for the morning service! We were a lot younger then!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Sometime in the late autumn of 1972— when I stayed at home in Harrisburg, Central Pennsylvania to help my parents get re-settled after the flood of Hurricane Agnes– my father's friend and older assistant pastor, Wallace J. Cummings died. I don't recall the exact circumstances of his death, but I do remember his funeral.

Following my reflexive, spontaneous remarks from the pulpit the Sunday after Christmas 1969— a traumatic time in my life— when during a student-led service I said that I hadn't been sure about my faith in God since I had been a child, but appreciated all the support I had recently been given— Pastor Cummings informed Dad that I had told a different story when I had given a talk, concerning young people's doubts about religious faith, to the Men's Bible Class at Hart's diner in Paxtang two years before.

I clearly recall that talk, and remember how I very carefully phrased and characterized my remarks as "not necessarily my own." In fact, they mostly were. But I had learned the lawyer's – or politicians trick— of plausible deniability.

At Wallace Cummings' funeral, the Grace Church Chancel Choir sang a chorus from the Du Bois "Seven last Words", a traditional Good Friday anthem at Grace Church. Most of the choir was in tears, and could barely make it through the piece. For some reason, I was strangely unaffected.

But the Sunday afternoon before Christmas, when we sang the same chorus—from the rear gallery below the marvelous Tiffany Ascension window—as part of the annual Christmas pageant, I had a delayed reaction, I guess, and blubbered throughout the entire piece.

Later that week, we had choir rehearsal in the Robert Lee George Chapel— for the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. My father's organist, Robert Clippinger, had been there for years. He was a superb musician with impeccable technique. He never made finger errors. His entire family –wife, two sons, and a daughter, who had made extraordinary efforts to be there— and his entire choir – were at the rehearsal. Half way through a "Halleluia" from a Bach Christmas Cantata, Dr. Clippinger had a cerebral hemorrhage. He started to make mistakes, again, something he had never done in my memory. I was sitting behind him. I couldn't see his face, but he kept on playing. With almost super-human effort, he finished that piece. Then he toppled over—never to regain consciousness. He died two days later. For all practical purposes he died at the rehearsal. Think about it: an organist with his family and choir at Christmas rehearsing Bach. It doesn't get much better than that.


Today, December 24 – Christmas Eve— is my friend Adam Kozlowski’s Name Day. Evidently it’s a big deal in Central Europe. So for the third year in a row, I’m taking him to dinner tonight. Afterwards I’ll sing the Christmas Eve service at Grace Cathedral. Have a happy Christmas! I certainly have with the miraculous recovery of my sweet, dear Rose! Fortunately my neighbors Ben and Susan will dog sit Rose today and tonight while I'm at dinner with Adam and at the Christmas Eve service.                    

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Close Encounter with a PEACH PIT

While I was singing my fifth Christmas concert at Grace Cathedral, dear Rose was having surgery. The vet was able to reach me two minutes before I would have been unavailable for two and a half hours. I gave her verbal authorization to go ahead with the surgery. 

It turned out that my vacuum cleaner Rose had swallowed a peach pit, of all things! (I always encourage her to take a stuffed animal toy on walks to prevent her from picking up garbage on the street.) She must have found the peach pit in the back yard last Monday morning before I went to work. It probably fell out of someone's garbage bag on the way to the trash containers. 

Since India had died suddenly on my nephew Sheridan's birthday four years ago, I considered the possibility that Rose's last day might by on my Dad, Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr's birthday. Fortunately that unhappy symmetry was not in the cards.

This whole episode has been an expensive adventure. Fortunately, I have pet health insurance thanks to Dennis' insistence, so I'll be able to recover something. More importantly, my dear Rose should make a full recovery after several more days in the SPCA hospital! The vet suggested getting a muzzle for her. I may have to use one occasionally. 

What a relief!! Mary Louise in Pennsylvania nearly cried when I told her the news. Szilard in Budapest and Martin in Bratislava will be as happy as my good friend Adam Kozlowski. (Rose seems to have a lot of Central European do I.) 

So a very happy Fourth Sunday of Advent. It certainly is for me and dear Rose!!

Not Yet Out of the Woods


My joy at Rose's release from the hospital the other day may have been premature. Rose still had no interest in eating. I tried baby food and she took a few licks, but not enough to sustain her. So I took her back to the SPCA yesterday morning. 

Just before the Chanticleer concert last night, I received a buzz on my cell phone with a message from the vet, who asked me to call her back this morning. I already have, and am now waiting for her return call after her morning rounds. It seems that the new untrasound and xrays showed some blockage in Rose's stomach, and surgery may be an option. 

I forwarded the sad picture above to my friend Szilard on holiday in Budapest. Soon I got a response with his great concern. Isn't modern communication amazing? Now to hear from the vet a few blocks away.


The vet recommends barium treatment, and then possibly exploratory surgery. I'll know more later in the day. Rose has friends all over the States and in Hungary keeping her in their thoughts.

SHERRY BELL~~ (Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr.) ~~ One Hundred Years Old Today!

How difficult to Dad, Sherry Bell, the Rev. Dr. Sheridan Watson Bell, Jr., was born one hundred years ago today!! Dad was the youngest of four children, as am I, so my paternal grandfather, Sheridan Watson Bell, Sr., whom I never knew, was born during the American Civil War!!

Sherry Bell was a loving man of conviction, warmth, generosity, passion, impulse, flamboyance, gusto, humor, spontaneity, balance, dedication, support, vocal gifts, drama, wise counsel, compassion and faith: a pastor of people, rather than a great preacher, though occasionally a speaker of profound ideas and natural eloquence. I’m lucky and so very proud that he was my Father.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Tonight after my fourth Christmas Concert at Grace Cathedral, I'm taking my cousin Clae to the Chanticleer Christmas at St. Ignatius. (That's directly across from the University of San Francisco School of Law, where I attended for a semester back in the late 80's.)

I remember the first Christmas concerts Chanticleer performed as part of the Renaissance Christmas at St. Mary's Cathedral. That's where we sang our concert before heading to the International Fortnight Music Festival in Bruges in July 1981, and when Robert Shaw made his famous (at least to Chanticleer) quote: "One of the most beautiful [musical] experiences of my life." He originally omitted 'musical' but requested that we insert it when we asked to use the quotation.

The picture shows last year's group-- the same guys I went with to Vienna, Prague, and Budapest in February 2008.

After the Chanticleer concert tonight I'm going to a late party. So it's a good thing I don't have a morning service to sing before the Grace Cathedral concert tomorrow afternoon. Debbie Cornue and Adam K are coming with friends to the concert on my Dad's 100th birthday.


The Chanticleer concert was excellent. Clae really enjoyed it. I hold them to an incredibly high standard, however, and found that two of their sopranos had a tendency to overcompensate and go sharp in their upper registers. Even so it was a very pleasing concert. I do have a quibble with their claim that it was the thirtieth year for Chanticleer Christmas at St. Ignatius. As I mentioned above, for the first few years, Chanticleer was one of several groups performing in a Renaissance Christmas at St. Mary's Cathedral. So I believe last night was the 28th concert at St. Ignatius.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Christmas came early for me this year. My precious girl, a ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel-- dear Rose-- has come home from the vet hospital, and it looks as though she'll be around for awhile. After all, her tenth birthday is coming up the week after next.

I had been very pessimistic yesterday morning, and didn't expect her to survive. My friend Adam K was much more optimistic and gave me great encouragement, as did her breeder, Mary Louise Gregg, back in Pennsylvania. The photo shows my sad Rose in the vet's examining room at the SPCA yesterday afternoon. Her black and tan brother Rupert from the same litter is extremely happy to have his sister home again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SHERRY BELL (Sheridan Watson Bell, III)

Today is the birthday of my brother Sherry (Sheridan Watson Bell, III). I guess he’s sixty-seven! Wow! (I graduated from the Mercersburg Academy in 1967…he in grandfather Rich in 1902.) Sherry was born just after Pearl Harbor. As a result my Dad enlisted in the Navy as a chaplain. Part of the time he was stationed in Miami. A couple of years later— at least when Sherry was able to talk – Julie said that they were on their way to Miami. Sherry quickly asserted: “It’s not your Ami, it’s Daddy’s Ami!”

At lunch today I’m singing a noontime concert with the Schola Cantorum San Francisco at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral on California Street. I’ll think of my brother Sherry and wish him well as he begins his new year.


5:00 p.m. I've just returned from the SPCA hospital. Dear Rose is not at all well. She hasn't been able to hold down any food for two days. Furthermore, she's not interested in eating anything. That's a first! They're keeping her overnight. I'll know more about her situation tomorrow. 

The concert at Old St. Mary's was quite good. Fellow alto Clifton, who's been busy with several other commitments, sight read most of the concert. At times he seemed better prepared than I -- but I guess I was preoccupied with dear Rose.


And how could I nearly forget? Today also is Ludwig van Beethoven's  238th birthday!

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I've just returned from treating myself to a New York steak dinner at The Liberties, an Irish pub a block away on Guerrero and 22nd Street. (That's where my brother Sherry and I had dinner the night after Dennis died.) I did save some steak for my Cavaliers dear Rose and Prince Rupert.

Because the Schola performed only in the second half of the program tonight, I was able to sing the third Christmas concert at Grace this afternoon, after all. Adam Cole, a guest bass in the Schola and regular at Grace, was able to give me a ride to Marin in the heavy rain after the Grace Cathedral concert.

I was in tears for much of tonight. Melody Moore, a vibrant and lusciously warm soprano, a 2007 Adler Fellow and former Merola Opera program participant, sang a solo version of Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. The Schola has sung an SATB version of it several times. I happen to like it; but a few "Scholites" have expressed their reservations, so we probably won't sing it again in the near future. Melody sang it with string accompaniment and it worked beautifully.

After the performance last night, I told Melody that about two years ago I lost my partner of more than twenty years and that her singing the Lauridsen caused me to weep. She looked me in the eyes and said: "Well then, tomorrow I will sing it for you."

Tonight before the second half, she made a point of finding me to ask Dennis' name and said that she would think of him as she sang. My eyes were watery through the entire piece. Later she sang several selections in a commissioned International Holiday Medley by Clarice Assad. I told Melody that I smiled through my tears during her singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Melody Moore is a lovely, energetic, delightfully expressive, exceptionally gracious, and very talented soprano. She leaves for London on Boxing Day, December 26th, and will be singing Mimi in La Boheme with the English National Opera in March. She will be splendid!

The whole experience with the NCCO, New Century Chamber Orchestra, was a very positive one. The concerts were fun and very well received. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a New Yorker from the upper West Side, is the the new principal violinist and music director. She wrote in her blog that she's now bi-coastal. Despite having the flu for most of this week, she's a real powerhouse. I particularly enjoyed singing the Buxtehude Das neugeborne Kindelein with the chamber orchestra, and hope we can work with them again sometime.


Melody Moore, a 2007 Adler Fellow and former Merola Opera Program participant, is one of America’s exciting new talents. She has been engaged by both Los Angeles Opera and San Francisco Opera as the Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro. She returned to Los Angeles this season for their productions of Der Zwerg, and Der Zerbrochene Krug and to San Francisco for La Rondine, and debuted with Opera Cleveland as Mimi in La Boheme This season will see her in San Francisco for La Boheme as Mimi, New Orleans Opera as Manon Lescaut, Orlando Opera in the title role in Suor Angelica, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra as Donna Anna, and a notable debut in London as Mimi in Jonathan Miller’s new production for the English National Opera.

Elsewhere, Ms. Moore has performed Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni at Lincoln Theatre in Napa Valley, the title role in Suor Angelica for the Opera Theatre and Musical Festival of Lucca, Italy, and the Governess in Britten's The Turn of the Screw in Napa Valley most notably.

A graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she performed for them the role of Candace Whitcomb in Stephen Paulus’s The Village Singer and received the Norman Treigle and Andrew White Awards.

Notable conductors with whom she has worked include Kent Nagano, Donald Runnicles, and Roy Goodman. Stage Directors for productions in which she has participated include Ian Judge, John Copley and Ron Daniels.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Today is a very full day! I sing a Christmas Concert with the Choir of Men and Boys and pick-up orchestra at Grace Cathedral at 3:00 p.m. and then sing a different Christmas Concert with Schola Cantorum SF and the New Century Chamber Orchestra at Herbst Theatre next to the Opera House at 8:00 p.m. The Schola sings only in the second half of the concert, so we’ll rehearse for our Tuesday lunchtime program during the first half.

Before that I’m going to a friend’s art show opening. And I’m invited to three other parties today. Obviously, I won’t be able to do it all. In any case, this is a short posting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Tonight I had dinner with my friend Daniel Gallisa and his fiancée Kitty at NOPA (North of the Panhandle) the trendy restaurant in an old bank where she works on Divisadero. I met Daniel through his former girl friend Michelle, a beautiful person and soprano, with whom I sing in the Schola Cantorum San Francisco. Daniel is a really good singer too, an alto like me. He used to sing with the Schola and in the Aviary Chorus at the Bohemian Club.

Daniel is a Harvard grad and sang with the Harvard Krokodilos— probably their best a cappella group— and toured the world with them including Tokyo, Istanbul and Venice. He works in advertising in San Francisco.

I called Daniel a few weeks ago to sub for me at Grace Cathedral for one of the upcoming Christmas Concerts. He wasn't able to do it, but we agreed to get together for dinner. He told me his great news about Kitty, but asked me to keep it to myself until he had a chance to tell Michelle, who was on holiday in Japan. Dennis had always hoped Michelle and Daniel would get hitched. Fortunately, they are still good friends. I saw Michelle the Sunday before last at a Schola photo shoot and learned that she already knew. So with Daniel and Kitty’s permission, I am now broadcasting their news to the world— or at least to the few people who read my blog.

Aren’t they a handsome couple? The photo above was taken at Baker Beach moments after Kitty accepted Daniel’s proposal.

I gave Daniel Dennis’ beloved Bianchi racing bike. He called it ‘Aida Bianchi,’ since its color is Celeste Blue— as in “Celeste Aida,” courtesy of Giuseppe Verdi. Daniel said it was great to have such a classic! Damn, I remember when it was brand new!! How carefully Dennis cleaned and waxed the chains. He was so particular in choosing the various components. He particularly loved Campagnola products. Dennis made great friends with Earl and the staff at Seal Rock Bicycle Shop (now out of business) on Geary Avenue beyond the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

One Christmas, Earl called me to ask if I would go in with him and the staff to buy a present for Dennis. It’s a gold-plated Campagnola cork screw. It is really gorgeous and very effective. Dennis was embarrassed to get it. But when we were in Vicenza in 1987, he was relieved to see the chrome version for sale in several hardware stores. At least the cork screw itself was not excessive (though it is massive and very beautiful).


Photo: Christian Cebrian

Last night I had, and tomorrow will have, a rehearsal with the Schola for upcoming concerts later this week with the New Century Chamber Orchestra.

Founded in 1998 by Director Emeritus John Renke, Schola Cantorum San Francisco (SCHOLASF) has caught the attention of audiences and critics in and beyond the Bay Area for its purity of sound, careful tuning, and fine blend of voices. Especially known for its interpretations of Renaissance polyphony, the group is equally at home in a broad range of choral styles, from Gregorian chant to contemporary works. The resident liturgical choir at the National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi until 2005, the ensemble was reorganized in that year as an independent, non-profit arts organization.

SCHOLASF now offers its treasured gift of music for liturgies, concerts, and private events, as well as educational and community outreach programs, throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The choir’s first two CDs, Pilgrimage: Music from the National Shrine of Saint Francis and This Christmas Night, have been critically acclaimed internationally, garnering praise for a sound "equal to the best of the mixed-voice choirs in Great Britain." Now available, Schola Live!, SCHOLASF's third release and first live recording, features selections drawn from concerts recorded throughout the 2006-2007 season.

Dr. Paul Flight, our new director, is a noted choral conductor and singer. A former member of such distinguished ensembles as The Waverly Consort, Pomerium Musices, and the New York Collegium, he brings a wealth of expertise to the direction of the Schola Cantorum San Francisco.

Celebrate the Holidays
Schola SF with New Century Chamber Orchestra

Thursday, December 11, 2008 8:00 p.m.

St. John's Presbyterian Church
2727 College Avenue
Berkeley CA 94705


Friday, December 12, 2008 8:00 p.m.

First United Methodist Church
625 Hamilton Avenue
Palo Alto CA 94301


Saturday, December 13, 2008 8:00 p.m.

Herbst Theatre
401 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco CA 94102


Sunday, December 14, 2008 5:00 p.m.

Osher Marin Jewish Community Center
200 N. San Pedro Road
San Rafael CA 94903


Christmas in the City
Schola Cantorum SF

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 12:30 p.m.

Noontime Concerts
Old Saint Mary's Cathedral
660 California Street
San Francisco CA 94108


(My friend Mary Ellen -- now in New York -- frequently begins her day
by listening to selections from SCHOLA LIVE!)

Monday, December 8, 2008


Monday and Tuesday I'll be singing at Christmas Lunches with my jazz vocal quintet FULL HOUSE. We originally had two Jacks and three Aces (if you're kind). We've been singing for about eighteen years, though we've been fairly inactive for the past five. Jack Rogers, our founder and principal arranger, retired and moved away from the area. He's the short guy in the photo from a few years back. I'm on the far left with the mic in my face, then Gene, T. Jack, Jack and Alex. 

Jack has been replaced with John Kelley, so I guess we still have two Jacks. I'll show a picture of John Kelley another time. * He's a substantial guy in more ways than one. All five of us are busy with other musical commitments, but it's fun to get together once in a while and revive our quintet. We're really pretty good -- particularly our blend and intonation. That's very important to me. And Jack's arrangements are fabulous!

*  I just remembered that it's John Kelley's birthday today.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Yesterday I drove to Aptos near Santa Cruz with my cousin Clae Styron to go to a holiday party at my cousin Jim Wylie’s and his lady friend, Nancy Leis, a retired professor of anthropology, whom he met in South Africa about a year and a half ago.

Of course, we brought my cavaliers Rose and Rupert along for the ride. Last year it was raining and they wore their Barbour coats Dennis had bought for them. (They also have yellow slickers.) But this year the weather was very pleasant, though chilly in San Francisco. Had I known it was going to be so warm in Aptos (in the low 80’s) I wouldn’t have taken them. But I hitched them to the circular firehouse staircase on the patio in the shade and they had a great time.

Jim’s wife, Marge, died tragically three years ago, the month before Dennis and I went to Venice for the last time together. She was run over by a truck at a gas station in Bend, Oregon on their return from visiting their two children over Christmas and New Year’s. She had just gotten out of the car to use the rest room, when a truck came around the corner and knocked her down. She suffered severe head injuries and died a few days later.

The last time I saw her was on election night 2004, the night before Jim and Marge’s 50th wedding anniversary. They took Clae, Dennis and me to dinner at an Italian restaurant near St. Francis of Assisi Church. We had a special service that night, which they attended before taking us to dinner. Dennis, Clae, my nephew Sheridan, and I went to her funeral before leaving for Italy. Dennis did not look at all well at the funeral or the reception. I have some moody shots of him at the church reception in Aptos. Yet he still looked elegant and dashing in his grey chalk-stripe Brooks Brothers suit.

On Saturday we were the first to arrive. With Jim Wiley, we had one cousin from three of the four Bell families. I hadn’t remembered how many first cousins there had been. It turns out, fourteen. Jim is the oldest surviving (since Martha and Virginia are gone) and I have always been the youngest cousin on the Bell side.

And I think I was the youngest person at the open house again this year at Jim and Nancy’s. She moved from Michigan last year. Nancy Leis is a petite, delightful woman and I’m very happy for Jim. They both seem very active. Jim still flies his plane. James Renwick Wiley IV is twenty years and a month older than I – seventy-nine! – and in great shape. He swims several laps for about forty-five minutes each morning in his indoor lap pool (the only part of his house to survive the 1989 earthquake.) Jim’s 80th birthday is coming up next March 17th.

I didn’t get any photos of Jim or Nancy. But at the end of the party, Jim recited the poem The Owl and the Pussycat, so I’ve included an illustration of that.


Today, December 7, is Pearl Harbor Day. Because of that, a good friend, and perhaps first partner, was born in a detention camp in Topaz, Utah. 

On September 1, 1976, a bearded Japanese-American man, whom I had seen on occasion, wrote his name and phone number on the back of a fellow Sloane’s employee’s business card, and left it for me. That’s how I met Gary Murakami. He later told me he had been loaded, or he wouldn’t have been so bold. I hadn’t noticed. September 1st was Mother and Dad’s 39th wedding anniversary.

We started seeing each other. And for several years, I spent more time at Gary’s place on Pierce Street than at home on 23rd. Several times I offered to move, so that we could find a place together. But he hesitated. Gary said he could never live with me. Later, I learned that was because of a dependence problem. He thought he could disguise it, if we didn’t live together. But we virtually lived at his place—a tiny studio with a bath and kitchen. It was very elegant – in a modern, Japanese fashion. Gary was a wonderful cook, and a beautiful man. He had had several lung operations as a teenager, and had matching scars from his nipples, under the arms to his back. He called them his angel wings. His lungs were atrophying, and would eventually have killed him. I think that added to his anxiety, and contributed to his alcohol dependence.

When I first met Gary I wrote:












He said yes-- for almost five years. But Gary was always extremely moody on Pearl Harbor Day.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


My Mother’s family, the Rich’s, would get together for the first two weeks in August at Zavikon, my grandfather Baba's summer house in Canada, and have a family dinner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on a Saturday - two or three weeks before Christmas. I guess Harrisburg was a more central location for relatives coming from Washington, Lancaster, and Woolrich --and later South Carolina and Chicago.


We generally had an afternoon dinner in a large banquet room on the second floor of the Hotel Harrisburger across the street from the State Capitol grounds. We cousins loved to run up and down the large staircase, which led to the banquet room. (Later the management tried to maximize floor space by eliminating the staircase; but they only succeeded in ruining one of the best features of the hotel and hastening to bring about its demise.)


The hotel had a fine English restaurant called the Pickwick Tavern, one of the few really good restaurants in town. The aunts and uncles would generally meet there for cocktails before dinner. Grandfather Rich never allowed any wine at his table.


We all sat at one large table— probably several put together—covered with white linen tablecloths, and Mother's colorful holiday tablecloths on top. My Dad’s friend, Helen Heisey, usually completed the decorations, incorporating Mother's several silver candlesticks, and made holly floral arrangements. After Baba's second marriage to Pattie Wideman, the table accommodated almost thirty people. There was a small poinsettia at each place setting, and a silver dollar underneath each person's salad plate or first course.


Two uncles sat at opposite ends of the table to carve the turkeys.  Dad always got a kick out of using his electric carving knife.


After dinner, Baba insisted that all the cousins perform. Scottie Kurtz would play the accordion. David Staats would recite a poem. Everybody did something.  Then Baba dispensed the silver dollars.


We Bell's all played music – Cynthia on the violin; Julie, the flute; Sherry, the clarinet; and I, the 'cello. Sometimes we'd play duets or trios, and I'd accompany everybody with Christmas carols on the piano. The other cousins thought the Bells were show-offs. But we sure raked in those silver dollars!


 (And these were genuine silver dollars – not sandwiched copper.) Sometimes I left with more than fifteen or twenty. But I don't have them today. I gave some away as birthday presents. But most, I just spent – primarily on candy. I remember buying one hundred pieces of licorice at a corner grocery for a silver dollar.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Grace Cathedral Choir Christmas Concerts


Continuing a tradition of sixty one years,
Grace Cathedral presents this annual holiday series
with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys,
accompanied by full orchestra
and our world famous Aeolian-Skinner organ.
The program will include sacred Christmas masterpieces,
classical Yuletide songs, and sing-along carols.
The Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys
is modeled after the 500-year-old tradition of English choirs
and one of only a few of its kind in North America.
Amid the soaring arches and luminous stained glass
of gothic Grace Cathedral,
the choir's sound is truly timeless.
Join generations of families and friends
who attend year after year, some traveling great distances
to enjoy this very special event.
Celebrate the holiday with glorious music in a glorious space!
Dates and Times

                             Sunday,     December   7,   3:00 pm
                             Saturday,  December 13,   3:00 pm
                             Sunday,     December 14,   3:00 pm
                             Saturday,  December 20,  3:00 pm 
                             Sunday,      December 21    3:00 pm
                             Monday,    December 22,   7:00 pm
I will be performing in all concerts
Except for Sunday, December 14
(Schola Cantorum SF concert conflict)

In Memorium: Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART

January 27, 1756, Salzburg ~ December 5, 1791, Vienna


I received an email late Saturday that Fenno Heath, Conductor Emeritus of the Yale Glee Club, died on Friday December 5 about the time I was rehearsing with the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys and orchestra for our upcoming Christmas Concerts. I went on a tour of Latin America with Fenno forty years ago last summer! I last saw Fenno at the Spizzwink Reunion four and a half years ago. When I shared with him how John Mihaly, a drop-out Yale Divinity student, had been the actual founder of Chanticleer, Fenno related how John had been influenced by the Kings Singers, who were artists-in-residence at Yale during John's time in New Haven. (More about the founding of Chanticleer in February.)

Titian in the Frari (Venezia)