Medieval Philosophy and Myron Bloom

OK, this is from waaaaaaaaaay back when I was in my 3rd year of studying with Mr. Bloom.

We’re in the middle of a lesson and he started prodding me about my beliefs.  Well, it started with me saying, “stop YELLING at me!!!  I’m right here, I can HEAR you just fine!!!” and him responding “I’m from a Russian Jewish family in BROOKLYN.  We talked to each other like this all the time!!!”  This boiled down to him poking around in my belief system.  Since I was raised with nothing… and not even baptized… I just told him that I had my own ideas.  He said, “well, it sounds like you should take some classes in religious PHILOSOPHY!”  I had already taken many religion courses out of interest only but I though, hey, what the hell, if it counts towards my degree, I’m all for it.

The following semester, there were a few classes available that I was actually interested in.  Unfortunately, the one I was most interested in was a graduate-level class – Medieval Philosophy.  The dean signed off on this so I was able to take the class.  Cool!

To make a long story short about the actual class, I loved it.  There was a ton of reading and individual analysis.  Since I didn’t come from a “pre-fixed” background, my instructor loved reading my papers and offered a lot of extra reading for me to help me grasp some of the concepts he was just glossing over in the classroom.

In the end, I aced the class and was seriously pushed by the department to change my major.  I kind of balked at that since philosophy vs music… well, actually, the music biz won in this argument.

After I was done with the class, I was in repertoire class with some colleagues.  Mr. Bloom decides that now is the time to ask what I learned in the class.  I responded in a general manner, stating that one of the teachings that I gleaned from St. Augustine was that “on free will, Augustine argues free will most certainly exists and argues that  people can choose to be good, or good will as he puts it, or chose evil.”

He listened, pondered that for a moment, and then asked, “well, what does that have to do with your music career?”

I thought about that for a moment and responded that “I think it means that I choose to listen to my horn teacher unless he’s being evil, but then I will listen to myself.”

He got quite a kick out of that.


Wicked good…

Hello, peeps.  I’ve been busy since the last post.  I’m working on several right now and this seemed to be the most complete.


Before Wicked hit NYC in 2003, I was lucky enough to be part of the crew that did the pre-Broadway engagement in San Francisco.  It had been a while since I’ve been involved in building a show from the ground up, and never did it at this scale.  Whoooo.  I remember (fondly, of course) running my ass off for the last BART to the East Bay near midnight when the show first clocked in at 3-hours +.  Good times!

Another thing I remember about April and May of 2003 was that it was unbelievably hot in SF.  Go figure!  It was in the 90s on a regular basis.  Now, that is HOT for the Bay Area.  I was totally confused.

I never did see The Making of Wicked on DVD but apparently the orchestra is in there.  There were still two horn parts at that time, so I played 2nd to the talented Mr. Swarts.  I just wonder if they caught one of my favorite conversations on the DVD…  we were rehearsing some part of the musical (I think it was No One Mourns the Wicked but I can’t remember) and the electric guitar just… wasn’t… quite… getting the right effects pedal going on.  One of the musical directors kept trying to describe the effect he was looking for…  about that time I looked at Glen and then looked at the director and we all said “Frank Zappa…  Catholic Girls!!!”  Now there’s some context for y0u.  I was laughing so hard I never remember what Glen said after but that just made the guitarist laugh even harder.  That was awesome.

I never saw what was happening right over my head until I actually saw the damn show in 2009 and it was totally different in terms of the musical numbers.  I think you can check those that were cut from the production inThe Yellow Brick Road Not TakenIn any case, it was nice to see what all that thumping overhead was all about by the time I actually saw the musical.  Especially with all the trap doors and special effects going on down in the pit when we were putting it together – it was surreal.  Oh, and don’t inhale the dry ice smoke.  It hurts.

Playing the horn…

So… it’s been a little while since I’ve been busy with work.  Sorry ’bout that.

I am, quite frankly, exhausted these days.  I think my RA is coming back and things aren’t going so well at the moment, but oh well.  Get over it and die of something else, right?  Gah.

OK, so on to the next story… and it’s a short one since I am tired.

Myron Bloom, another colleague (who wishes to remain anonymous) and I are participating in a coaching session with some other students.  Mr. Bloom referred to it as rep class, I called it boot camp.  The cool thing was that very class prepared me – more than my private lessons – to play any part in the horn section and GET IT…  meaning, I totally understood the four-part writing and how the section was really an interesting part of a lot of orchestral works from the days of Bach until now.  I won’t get into the specifics now since that is for a later date since I feel like I’ve been dragged through a knothole a few times just today… but I digress.

So my colleague and the class were working on the famous (or infamous) opening to Mahler 3.  Now, this was a rare treat to actually play horn parts in rep class, mind you.  I’m playing my favorite part – the 4th horn – and my colleague is playing 1st.  We’re apparently not getting it in the intro.  Mr. Bloom finally explodes with frustration, and yells, ” you have to be COMMITTED to play the horn!!!!!”  My buddy says, “well, after this session, I certainly will be!” 

Completely confounded, Mr. Bloom states, “what do you mean?  There is no one insane here!”  Little did he know… LOL.

I just find that extremely hilarious.  I’m probably the only one, but hell, it’s my blog and I can laugh like a maniac if I want to.  🙂

Don’t drink Scotch with Vince De Rosa before 3 PM

Oh hai, I’m back. 

Now, when I first came down to LA, Vince De Rosa was the first guy I played for.  I came to his house (gorgeous) in La Canada-Flintridge and he answered the door with Cheech the parrot barking like a Rottweiler in the background.  “Come on in” he said.  He squinted at me a little bit, and said… “you look very familiar.  Have you played for me before?”  “No,” I replied.  I mentioned that I had a relative that had played in LA in the 50’s, and left it at that.  He looked at me again and smiled, gesturing for me to come in.  I met Sally, his wife – what a sweetheart – and the famous Cheech.  I later taught Cheech how to “drop bombs” (or make a noise like that), but that is another story for another time.

So… I’m having a lesson. I play the usual.  Strauss, Mahler, Beethoven, blah blah blah blah blah blah.  He nods and tells me to keep playing, all the while looking at me like he knows something that I don’t.  About an hour into the lesson, he says, “AHA” and jumps out of his chair like someone poked him in the butt with a red-hot poker.  “I’ve got it!”  He says.  He started pulling LP after LP off the wall and started stacking them up.  He muttered a little bit and pulled out some photos as well.  I’m baffled, but I keep playing.

I finish playing the Bruckner 4 1st movement and wait for his comments.  He was like… “well, that’s very good.  Very good indeed.  But now I know why you look familiar.  Do you know Mary Close?”

Do I know Mary Close?  Well, I never knew her since she died before I was born, in 1956.  I was born 12 years later.  In any case, Mary Close (her 2nd married name) was my paternal grandmother.  I knew she was a helluva pianist, but all my Dad ever told me about her was that she played at the Hollywood Bowl a few times.  I didn’t know much more about her, and I had two pictures.  Aside from the hair (she had jet-black hair), we could have been twins.

Boy, was I in for an education. Big time.  I had no idea what was coming, so I was completely broadsided.

Vince went on to explain that he had worked with Mary in Hollywood and on Rodeo Drive in the nightclubs in the 40s and 50s with ALL the big names.  Johnny Mercer, Stan Kenton, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini, Johnny Richards… you name it, she played it.  She was also the pianist for the LA Phil – Hollywood Bowl orchestra for a while.  Now, that in and of itself is FREAKING amazing.  But the fact that she did this when women didn’t play a whole helluva lot with the big boys, well, it kind of threw me for a loop.  I was speechless.  He also *gave* me pictures from when she played at the Hollywood Bowl.  I had kind of looked (in a half-assed manner) for but hit too many roadblocks dealing with the archives there.  Plus, I didn’t know – at the time – if she had played with them that much at all.  I had hit the jackpot in more ways than one.  Great mentor… and a link to a relative that I didn’t have the first clue about in regards to her musical past.  Plus, I was looking under Mary Brizell Snyder, her *first* married name.  Never knew she remarried.

After all this was passed along to me – and I’m about into the “lesson” (ROFL) for about 4 hours, he says, “you look like you could use a drink.  I’m having one; do you like scotch?”

Does the Pope shit in the woods?  I had seen his scotch collection.  I mentioned to him that my buddy Steve Durnin had imbibed with him before and told him that I was a bit of a lightweight… so to go easy on me, please.  He said that was OK.  Then he poured me three FAT FINGERS of what had to be at least 200 year old scotch (no label) and insisted that I drink it.  He poured himself twice as much and we sat there, listening to music and drinking this fine single-malt, commenting on passages in the music from time-to-time.  I do recall that I made him snort and laugh.  I love to make people laugh.

So, I finished the scotch and passed out on his sofa.  When I woke up around 4 PM, he was taking a swim and Sally wanted to know what I wanted to eat for dinner.  I think I mumbled something to the effect of  “I’ll eat anything you want, but please… no more SCOTCH.”

Hee.  we had pasta and the bread I had made – that was the payment for my lesson.  I’d always bring him the olive oil/rosemary loaf that I’d make every week and he would never take money for a lesson.  He’d just eat my bread and smile.

What a guy.

Happy Halloween, Mr. Bloom.

Sorry blog-peeps.  I’ve been ill and whiney.  Didn’t want to post in that mood.  So, anyway…

It’s my first year at IU.  Well, Mr. Bloom seemed like an unapproachable person… partially because I grew up listening to the guy and now I was there studying with him.  But, he seemed to have a sense of humor… or so I hoped.

Halloween was drawing nigh.  Another Bloom student and I decided that we were going to “break in” to his studio and decorate it for Halloween, I’m not sure why… it just seemed like the thing to do at the time.  LOL.  Perhaps we thought, “wow, he’s kind of scary… maybe if we poke fun at him he won’t be *quite* so scary to us.”  Hee.  So we did.

We “borrowed” the key from the teaching assistant and WENT TO TOWN.  We cobwebbed the hell out of the place.  Carved pumpkins, hung up stuff…  My favorite was the giant hairy spider that we dangled over his desk… with an unfiltered Pall-Mall cigarette hanging out of its mouth.  Yes, in those days, Mr. Bloom still smoked; sometimes during our lessons.  It made a lot of his students furious but for some reason, that didn’t bug me.  I worried when he DIDN’T smoke during my lesson.  LOL.

The pièce de résistance was the plastic battle-axe.  We hung a sign on there.  If you’re a Bloom student, you’ll understand the sign.  “This is your fate if the lips are set late.”  ROFL.

The next day, me and my buddy were holding our breath.  No one really knew what we were up to, but since we had a rep as being miscreants… well…  we knew we were the prime suspects.  He LOVED IT.  He had his wife come in and take pictures.  I also think we started some kind of weird trend because his later students would decorate his studio for Halloween.  Go figure.

I’m not sure if that trend still continues, but when I saw him in 2007,  he still had the battle-axe…. and the sign.   Perfect.

Chainsaws as musical instruments.

I’m stuck at home with a sinus infection/head cold (and I am too embarrassed to go out smelling of Vick’s Vapo Rub), so I thought I’d pound out the latest blog.  Yeth, I will twy not to thype with a stuffed-up nothe accent, but no promithses. 

George Vosburgh.  Great trumpet player; Chicago Pro Musica won a Grammy for the recording he played on of Stravinsky’s  L’ Histoire Du Soldat.  When I was in graduate school at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, we delighted in giving him an extra-hard time in Orchestral Repertoire class.  Now, you understand that we all had (and still have) tremendous respect for Mr. V, but there was always something about him that made you want to back him into a corner and poke him with a stick just to see what he’d do.  Fortunately, he had a great sense of humor about this, and even though he acted exasperated, we knew he secretly loved being tortured in this manner.  So we just kept doing it.  What a vicious cycle, LOL.

Now, George is a guy who, well, doesn’t really know the meaning of the term “gray area.”    He’s got some pretty strong convictions and hell no, you aren’t going to talk him out of them.  One of them is his hatred of Monette trumpets.  I understand, truly I do.  I am not fond of them either.  Unfortunately, the other strong conviction is that the ONLY horn sound to have is the Chicago Symphony horn sound.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love a lot about the CSO.  One of my favorite horn players besides Bill is Dan Gingrich, who I consider to be one of the finest players in the world.  I think the reason I admire both so much is that they don’t really fit in a “style” box.  They just serve the music.  One of Bill’s teachers was Richard Mackey (super-nice guy too, played with him at Bill’s wedding and we had some beers, eh?), who played in Cleveland with Myron Bloom prior to joining the BSO.  Dan Gingrich is a Chicago guy, but his playing also does not fit inside a box IMHO.  Always loved his work with the Chicago Pro Musica and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.  Never met him… I just worship from afar.

However, I play a Kruspe-wrap and I LOVE the way I can blow the crap out of my horn and the sound gets bigger but not fuzzy.  Sure, I can put sizzle on the sound as I shhhhhwiiiing it to the back of the hall, but every time I tried to veer to the Geyer-wrap, well, it just didn’t feel natural to me.  The sound would stop (it seemed) about 5 feet behind me and turn into sounding like, well, not my idea of how a horn should sound.  WHITE NOISE!  Others can accomplish better results; I’m just not one of them.  I just can’t do it. Plus I grew up listening to Vince De Rosa, Mike Bloom, James Chambers, and Forrest Standley, so I had a distinctive idea of how I wanted to sound as an orchestral player.

So George and I were always butting heads over this.  Bill Caballero was always one to be of the “whatever works for you” school, and the freaking awesome PSO horn section is a mixed-bag in terms of equipment, and it WORKS.  INCREDIBLY WELL.  Bless you, Bill.  So I was like, well, bite me, George.  

So my point… and I do have one.  We’re working on  Bruckner 7.  I’m trying out some different bells on the 8D, one of which is yellow brass and I didn’t really care for it.  George is rabid about brass French Horns, Lewis horns in particular (well DUH).  I think he had already decided that he liked my brass bell before he heard me play on it.  Anyway, I didn’t care for it, it was kind of uneven-sounding and I suspect I may have been taco-shaped once and then repaired.  As I’m switching back to the nickel bell, George starts on his rant about the Chicago sound and blah blah blah blah blah. GAHHHH!  He ends his sentiments with a comment about 8Ds and how he doesn’t care for that “style” of playing as a whole.  Me and my colleague (another former Bloom student… well if there is such a thing as a FORMER Bloom student) look at each other and roll our eyes.  I mean, really.  Get over it and die of something else, OK?  OK. 

But no.  He has to continue his diatribe and says something to the effect of “well, I don’t know why anyone would play in that style on that horn.  It doesn’t blend with the rest of the brass section!”  I pointed out that the horn doesn’t exclusively play as a unit with the brass section.  We play well with others, too.  Hee.  In fact, there are times we just don’t need you at all, ha ha ha ha ha.  He’s getting really steamed by this point.  He continues his “Anti-8D style” rant and then we’d had enough and it was time for the proper response…  “Well Mr. Vosburgh, some of us prefer a singing sound as opposed to that of a chainsaw.”   

Needless to say… rep class was over.  Everyone was rolling.

P.S. Just for the record, both of my horns that I play now are brass… one Patterson conversion (the hotrod) and a Patterson Custom horn.  Kruspe-wraps, but brass.  Oh!  The colors!  The colors!  I luffs them!

So, I’m having trouble with the next post.  I’ve just got a lot to tell.  I’m still working on the “Why you don’t want Philip Myers to Eat Lunch During Your Horn Lesson” portion – and this is a good ‘un because I can perform during an earthquake FOR REAL.  I think next up is going to be another Myron Bloom story.  Those are shorter but oh-so-hilarious.  I don’t know if he has any idea how funny he really is.

Philip Myers, Bill Caballero, and the giant pecan pie.

OK, let me just start by saying that this is NOT a personal experience.  This is a story that was related to me by Bill C.  It made my day and every time I think of it, I still snort.  So I have to share.


Prior to being the principal (bitchen) horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Bill played principal horn in some other venues.  Hartford, Montreal, and Houston, if I remember correctly.  When he was on tour with Houston, they had a stop in NYC.  Now, Bill is one of these guys that I love for the reason that he is ALWAYS learning.  ALWAYS.  Phil Farkas was like that as well.  So Bill was thinking, hey, I’m in New York, I should play for Philip Myers, principal horn of the NY Philharmonic.  Excellent! 

I’m kind of hazy how they worked out the logistics, but Phil agreed to meet Bill in the lobby of what I am assuming is Avery Fisher Hall.  He then asked Bill to play something, and walked away from him, yelling…  “louder!  LOUDER!  LOOOOOUUUUDER!!!.”  He then rushed back to Bill and grabbed Bill’s horn out of his hands and blatted several noises out of it.  Shortly after, Phil left.  Bill’s like… “Huh?  What do I do?”  In any case, the ‘lesson’ or ‘coaching’ appeared to be over.  I’d be confused too.  So, Bill packs it up.  Since he’s not sure what he owes Phil for the lesson, he waits until he’s back in Houston to send him a big, giant, pecan pie from a famous resturant known for the SIZE of the pies.  I can’t remember which place, but it was biiiiiiiiiiiiig.

So, the long and short of it is, the next time Bill ran into Phil…  Phil was like, “Hey, hey hey hey!!!!  Caballero!  BILL!?”  Bill responds with a greeting of some sort, and Phil goes on to say, “hey, thanks for the pie!!!  I had it for BREAKFAST.”  Bill is (of course) flabbergasted but puts up a brave front.  He said… “for BREAKFAST?  Really?”  Phil responded, “YEAH!  You got a problem with that?”  Bill made a comment about how he couldn’t handle something like that because of the sugar factor, his teeth, something like that, and made a hasty retreat.  He’s a far better person than I am; I would have probably given myself a stroke over that.  Heeheeheehee!

Next up, there are a few things on the burner.  Either it will be chainsaws, George Vosburgh, and Monette trumpets, or it will be why you don’t want Philip Myers to eat lunch during your horn lesson.  Stay tuned.

The Bruckner 9th

When I was working in the Bury Ya (Bay Area) I got a call to play the Bruckner 9 Symphony with the Berkeley Symphony, Kent Nagano conducting.  Thanks Glen.  I was to play the 7th Horn spot, which also doubles on Wagner Tuba.  Now, in the best case scenario, the Wagner Tuba is easy to play, but a bitch to play in tune.  The design of the instrument was probably done by a tone-deaf predecessor to Rube Goldberg.  To make matters worse, the personnel manager at the time hired someone who had a “set” of Wagner Tubas (Tuben?  Tubii? I think I like “Tubes” the best) that worked better as lamps.  Don’t know.  All I know is that you could blow into the damn thing and there was no “there-there…”  meaning, well, no CENTER to any pitch that was played.  Good times, good times.  I was thinking of leaving it – anonymously – over at the ‘hookah bar’ that had just gone in down the street from the U to see what they’d do with it. 

Now, this ass-clown hired himself and these horns out simultaneously.  Not many would hire him otherwise one way or the other, or the horns/lamps/bongs.  Then we got to the dreaded SECTIONAL for the horn section.  Now, I wish I had the balls not to show up…  one of my least-favorite horn players in the world was running it.  Fortunately, Glen had plenty of balls for all of us and totally blew it off.  SWEET!  Anyway, we’re working on the third, an last (kinda) movement (there are sketches to the 4th, but the 3rd is called a “Farewell to Life” and it looks like Bruckner took this literally) and Dickhead listens to the four of us playing the tubes and wrinkles his, well, entire body like he’s smelled my kim-chi fridge.  I can’t blame him, though…  and when he tries to play my tube (that has to be a euphemism for SOMETHING), he’s like… “well, that’s not really working, is it?”  NO SHIT.  You don’t have to be a principal horn with a God complex in a major symphony orchestra to figure THAT out.  Dumbass.  Sheesh.  But, I digress.

So, anyway…

One of the players in the section gets a “line” on a set of tubas that was being retired from what was *I believe* the Dallas Symphony.  Could have been Houston.  Shit, it’s in Texas somewhere.  It’s gotta be better than what we have.  She buys them, and well, bless her soul.  She saved my sanity. These were some Alexander Tubes and man they were sweet to play after trying to blow air into an oblivious plumbing experiment for the last few days. 

So, we’re all ecstatic, except the ass-clown.  He stubbornly refused to play the Alexanders even after the conductor heard us play both sets and WHOLEHEARTEDLY, HANDS DOWN voted for the Alexanders… even though we had them for just a few days before the concert and had been wrestling with the lamps for a few weeks to no avail.  I have to say I really don’t like playing and seeing (and feeling) people flinch, so getting the Alexes was a grand thing.

So the moral of the story?  That’s simple.  Glen pretty much broke it down… “You can play these Wagner Tubas, or you can play the ones that suck.”  BRILLIANT.

…next up, we’ve got Philip Myers, Bill Caballero, and the giant pecan pie.

Glen Swarts, or things that need to be said.

Ok, well then.  Here we are.

Glen Swarts.  You may have heard of him, or not.  That doesn’t matter.  This man has been a HUGE catalyst for me in musical experiences in my adult life.  He is a composer, a (fucking awesome) horn player, a fretboard artiste, and.. well, fill in the blanks.  I can’t even begin. 

First and foremost, Glen is an awesome human being.  I’m not trying to put him in a light that suggests that he is a GOD.  He is a father, a good friend, and an awesome man.

When I left Pittsburgh after grad school in 1996, someone (I don’t remember who) recommended that I play for Glen.  I *was* a FAT girl.  Almost tipping the scales at 380 pounds, I went to play for this guy I knew nothing about.

Doing that changed the course of my life.  Glen didn’t care what I *looked* like.  Or if he did. I never knew.  Some of the most awesome musical experiences came out of playing in a section with him.  When he was on the road… and ironically, I was then WAY thinner…  I got to enjoy playing all the gigs that came into the SF musical theatre scene. 

Meanwhile, while Glen was on the road, he got to meet up with one of my favorite people/horn players/ musicians of ALL TIME – Bill Caballero, principal horn of the Pittsburgh Symphony.   That was seriously cool.  Thank you, Bill, for extending your welcome to Glen. I hope you both got to explore some good beers!  🙂  Pittsburgh’s got some good ‘uns.

As I said before, I have some fave musical memories that I experienced with Glen, and I’m glad I did.  I will go into more of that later. Whee!

The Brahms Horn Trio, Part I

OK…  I was lucky.  I got to play the Brahms Horn Trio ( E flat major, Op. 40) with a (now) well-known violinist when I was all of 19 years old.  Myron (Mike) Bloom started out as my coach, and then Josef Gingold took over after I tried Myron’s patience a few too many times.  I loved Mr. Gingold a lot because he would give Mike a really hard time about stuff in general.  I guess they were from the same neighborhood or something.

Anyway, during one rehearsal when I was still with Mr. Bloom, we’re playing the Adagio mesto portion.  Mr Gingold was “sitting in.”  I’m at the climax of the movement and Myron starts shouting, “No! No! NOOOO!  You almost had it, but now it’s gone, out the window, and into the abyss!!!!”  I ignored him (I secretly think he loved this about me) and completed the movement and went into the Allegro con brio as it was supposed to be.  We got done and played the recording back.  Mr. Gingold said, “so, Mike, what’s this about ‘into the abyss?'” Mr. Bloom said, “I must have been mistaken.  Please carry on.”

It made my day.