Passim, end of 2009

December 27, 2009


VACATION: We realized that many times we can have as good of a vacation staying home and pretending we are “on vacation.” Avoid doing the stuff we always do at home. Treat it differently than you usually do. “It’s all in the mind y’know, huh huh, yeah” said Ringo’s cartoon character many years ago.

But sometimes, it’s good to just good to get out of town. It almost doesn’t matter where you go, as long as it’s out of the city limits. We ALL need to do that as often as we can. Day trips and overnights can be amazingly refreshing.

CHRISTMAS: We stopped doing the present-thing years ago and have spread the spirit throughout the year. Because I don’t do any Xmas shopping I was able to avoid all the Xmas music in malls. This year we visited Angus and Thom who played Christmas music all day. It was piped in courtesy of the Mormon Church who owns the SF classical music station. It was actually really nice. All played by the out-of-work classical musicians in some city playing smart arrangements of Christmas music for classical ensembles: string trios, piano quartet, quasi Baroque concertos and so on.

I wish Christmas were celebrated every five years–so that it might be special again for us older, jaded types. A friend pointed out that the national economy would have an even larger financial breakdown than the one we just experienced if we eliminated Xmas presents. So just remember the corporate feel-good slogan that everyone has embraced: “Giving is better than receiving!” You see, this point of view guarantees sales, whereas one has no control over what one receives. As my dear friend Del dramatically proclaims from time to time: BUY! BUY! BUY!

I know: I’m a Scrooge.

And then tonight I heard Howard talking about the beautiful scarves he bought for his sisters and realized that giving IS a good thing. And, I guess, focusing it during one period of the year is good for the economy–and we can use all the good-for-our-economy that we can get.

My family started a tradition of “soul presents,” presents that, although not necessarily expensive, are thoughtful and reflect something about the inner nature of the person receiving the present.

There is a downside of a life of receiving presents for holidays, birthdays, tchotchke’s from travels, and other inherited goodies: one ends up with tons of STUFF. Some of us love being surrounded by our stuff, others feel smothered by it. As I learned from two close friends who died this year, it’s a good idea to give your stuff away, if you can, as you see your end approaching.

GENEALOGY: As a break from my life, I started working on our family tree via As my Chinese friends pointed out to me, it is the eldest son’s responsibility to do so, so I’m doing it.

The first thing I realized is that it really doesn’t matter what famous person is in your family tree in terms of their influence on you. There are so many ancestors, they ALL potentially influence you.

I took a nap last week after doing genealogy for three days in a row. I had a little dream that all my sperms were different potential-people in our family tree. And my mates eggs were also potential-people; so that every person born was a mix of those two people. Each of the sperms had different faces; some with mustaches and big cartoon-like faces. They swam around and would flash these funny smiles as they swam around. The eggs had big eyelashes and big smiles, each with a different look. I woke up and cracked up laughing. I realized I needed a break.

ENNEAGRAM: Daniel and I took the Jungian Enneagram test on It also gave us our Meyers-Briggs test. Funny thing: when we first met many years ago, we had different results. For the past six years our results have been the same: ENFJ.

I turns out that I’m a type-Nine in the Enneagram world: the peacemaker. One of the downsides of being a 9 is that we avoid conflict. I think I learned that lesson in my last relationship, so I hope that that trait is not still lurking. Moral? Ya need to learn to fight.

WHAT SHALL I COMPOSE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE? I’ve come to the conclusion that the best advice for a composer of modern classical music who wants to be famous is to compose orchestral music. Today, this is the measure of success for composers in our society. Once that fame is achieved, he is free to compose operas (whether they have any ability to write for the voice or not), chamber music, films, and anything else the commissioner might imagine.

The day of charming pianists who play for wealthy patrons is over. Rarely do composers become well-known by writing choral music or chamber music.

So, as I have just turned 57, I ask myself: what shall I compose for the rest of my life? If I want to be more famous, I need to do a better job of writing fabulous orchestral music. But the truth be known, I prefer writing for the voice, and I write great tunes. So, with that I ask myself: Why not compose three or four more huge operas before I die? In that I haven’t earned by Great-Orchestral-Composer badge, I would need someone to give me a chance, or a break. That IS possible. The other less-ambitious goal would be to write songs for the rest of my life. Hmm, sounds good. Who needs fame anyway?

FAITH: Finally, here is a touching video about a dog and a family who had hope, or faith that their new rescued and deformed dog could get along in the world.
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[Photo by RB of Angel Island from Belvedere, CA]

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