East of Las Vegas. West of Lake Mead. North of the Hoover Dam.

A Day in Valley of Fire State Park.




We start our tour of the Valley of Fire in and amongst the Beehives, wonderfully fabulous red rock formations, sculpted by the wind and the (occasional) rain over thousands of years.





It looks like some fabulously alien metropolis.





Valley of Fire, burning burning

I’m at the point of no returning

Valley of Fire, rock formations

Caught in a landslide of creation





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A Scenic Drive West of Las Vegas

Ed and I flew into Las Vegas last weekend.  It’ll be our base for a week (more on that later) as we plan a tour of the Great American West, or as much of it as we can manage.  I’ve never been to this perhaps grandest part of this great country, and I’ve always wanted to.  So this is the year that particular dream is being fulfilled.

That’s why my first post of this series of Twofisted Touristing chronicles will start with a desert park, not the glitz of Las Vegas lying just a few miles to the east of Red Rock Canyon.

It is natural wonders these posts will be mostly about after all.





Just a hop, skip, and a 20 minute drive from the part of Las Vegas where whatever happens happens to stay, is the scenic drive that takes you on an easy access loop past some of the main attractions of Red Canyon National Conservation Area.   The view above is from the visitor center.




Below, a hiker on one of the many hiking trails through the desert and into the mountains.



The visitor center has humming bird feeders, which attracted this little fellow with the bright red neck:



The view of Las Vegas from the park.



First stop on the scenic route road: Calico I.



I would guess these are the rocks that give Red Rock Canyon its name.



This formation looks a bit like a giant turtle.



Let me see how well I remember what I learned at the visitor center.  These rocks were formed from primordial sand dunes, which themselves formed after the primordial ocean, that once covered these parts with water, disappeared.

The darker red rock is from a more recent geological age, the lighter rock is older.



The lines in the rock are various levels of sand before they petrified into stone.







At the visitor center we were reminded to leave no trash (Ed found himself picking up glass and other items fellow travelers had discarded), and to “leave the park better than we found it.”

Which brings me to these four whimsical stone sculptures (peace sign, heart, smiley faces) previous visitors created.  Is that leaving the place better than they found it?


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Dial M for Macabre


Todd Maki, the sound engineer on our short film “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” surprised me this morning with an email with no subject heading and merely “just for fun” written in the body of the message.  Attached was the following video clip, which he titled “Todd’s New Ringtone”:



The clip is from early in the film, quoting a line from the third paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe’s text.  Todd had some fun replacing the cello music originally accompanying the narrator with a cheery “ding”.

Maybe I should ask my VFX guy Austin Lepri to add a starlight twinkle to my eye, like in those old detergent commercials.

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Some views out the window on our flight home from Wisconsin will accompany this music quiz (as ever the answers are tucked within the tags below).




Sky Music Query #1: Who sings this song called “Big Sky”?






Sky Music Query #2: Who sings this song called “The Big Sky”?




Remember the days when pop artists released 12 inch vinyl extended versions of their hits?  Well I do, because I’m old that way, and here is the 12 inch version, the “Meteorological Mix”, of “The Big Sky”:




“That cloud looks like cumulus castellus.”

“That cloud is nothing but trouble.”

“That cloud looks like … hmmm… one of those …”

“That cloud looks like snow.”

“No it doesn’t!”

“This cloud ought to be removed immediately!”




Sky Music Query #3: Of course I will include a song called “Sky Fits Heaven”.  You probably can easily identify the singer.  Can you also name the album it’s from?






Ed arguably spent the flight more productively than I:



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The Sound of Recovery Music


Not your childhood van Trapps…


The same friend who treated us to the SCA benefit performance “Snow White and the Seven Hos” invited us to see that show’s impresario Michael Roth’s latest romp “The Sound of Recovery Music”.  Once again a beloved classic musical would be lovingly, trashily repurposed as a hysterical inspirational parody polemic about overcoming one’s addictions.

We meet our heroine Maria twirling on a mountaintop singing “The hills are alive with recovery music”.  It turns out this novitiate is a sex addict, immediately illustrated by a tryst with a hunky shirtless goatherd.

A sextet of nuns, some played by men in drag, discuss how does one solve this problem with Maria:

“I’d like to say a word on her behalf:

Maria …

would fuck a giraffe!”




Mother Superior sends Maria to the home of Captain van Smack, where she is to be a temporary governess to the Captain’s seven children, all of whom have addictions of their own.  Friedrich has a meth problem (in addition to being an insatiable power bottom), Brigitte has a gambling addiction, Louise a food addiction, Kurt is a pothead, and so on.  While the diverse cast of adults playing the children were only a few years out of adolescence, Gretl, the youngest van Smack child, was played by a gnarly 60something in drag.

The children struggle gamely and uproariously with their various addictions.  Soon we see Liesl singing with boyfriend Rolf about their sobriety journey: “You’ve got six days, going on seven days…”.  (The actor playing Friedrich also played Rolf, which makes sense since both Rolf and Friedrich are both so obviously homosexual in the original movie; as I said to Ed when we later watched Liesl dance with her brother in the movie: the dear girl is fated to dance only with blond gay boys).

Maria bonds with the kids through cheerful songs that aid sobriety and recovery.  When they struggle with their addictions, she rallies them by singing about having memories or waking up without mysterious bruises in “these are the joys that recovery brings” (although there is a dark part of me that wants to remember this song rewrite as focusing on “those are a few of my triggering things”).  And, rather than teaching them, say, the names of musical notes, as another governess might, Maria teaches mnemonic melodic phrases about the 12 steps (“One, you quit, you say that’s it…”).



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Oh How I Love Our Japanese Red Maple In The Sunshine



Includes the “Red” music quiz

All answers, as ever here at Notes from a Composer, are tucked inside the tags below.






Red Music Query #1:

We all remember Prince’s  “Purple Rain”.  Which pop/rock legend sings “Red Rain”?










Red Music Query #2:

This is the title track from the classic movie “The Red Violin”.  Who is its Oscar winning composer?

(PS: Read/hear more about “The Red Violin” in The Sighing Strings of Cinema.)






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Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor



The New Colossus

by Emma Lazarus



Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;



Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand



A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame


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11 Hours of Pride NYC – Watching and Marching – a Photo Diary




11:30am – Ed and I perched ourselves at 17th Street and 5th avenue to await the start of the 50th NYC Pride march at noon.  At 3pm we were scheduled to assemble with the Quaker contingent to join the march.  That alone told us it would be a particularly long Pride march this year, not surprising since it is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern Gay Rights movement and the yearly Pride marches on the last day of June.

But this Pride march, and our part in it, would last even longer than expected, much longer.








The march begins.  As is traditional, the “Dykes on Bikes” roll by first.









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WALLPAPER FROM HELL – Tell-Tale Shoot Diary #5


Spoiler alert!

This post may give away some Tell-Tale movie musicabre design secrets!


Why suddenly a spoiler alert?  I have been blabbing about the main plot points of “The Tell-Tale Heart – a  musicabre” in several posts already, why suddenly get all precious with a spoiler alert?




Well, the other posts talked about plot points that are well known to anybody who read or possibly even heard of the original Edgar Allan Poe story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.  But today I am going to share some crucial set design tidbits.  And the set design, particular the wallpaper this post focuses on, may reveal aspects of our short film that have more to do with our cinematic storytelling concept than the Poe plot.  And though I will try to be a little cagey in what I reveal and how, not give all away but try to keep a certain amount of mystery alive, it won’t take too much effort to read between the lines, or among the photos, how the set design might have been utilized as a story telling device.




Above is the back of our set, in the theater space we turned into our film studio for a week.

And below is the wallpaper our set designer Nicholas Callais found.  It would have to ultimately fulfill multiple functions.




Most obviously, it would be the wallpaper of the old man’s bedroom.  You might remember from Edgar Allan Poe’s story, how the infamous murder of “The Tell-Tale Heart” takes place in an old man’s bedroom.

Below you can see the bedroom dressed with furniture and framed pictures.  And film equipment.  And an overturned mattress on the floor indicating which particular scene is being shot …



“The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” is in color.  But the flashbacks to the time of the murder are seen in black and white.  Here is a screen shot that shows how nicely the gold thread of the wallpaper reflects light.

We also see me as the narrator washing my hands in a big bucker of water.  Why would I be doing that…?




Here we are shooting the shot you see above.  That’s Nicholas to my right, and D.P. Jason Chua and Assistant Cameraman Harry Walker behind the camera.



If you look closely at the pictures on the bedroom wall, you can see a certain special someone making an appearance…



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And so the daily LGBTQ movie shout out commences:






Call that blog post by its name here.



That Queer Movie blog post is its own country here.



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Lily Song Query 1: Who is the classic Hollywood star here singing about Lily Marlene?

(As ever with these quizzes, the answers can be found tucked in the tags below)




Tiger Song Query 1: Name the boxing movie that gave us this feline sensory organ (yea, I know, too easy):

Link to the video




Lily Song Query 2: Who is the pop diva singing this song called “Lily”, and on what album named after a classic dance movie/fairy tale?




Tiger Song Query #2: This song is from an album actually called “Tiger Lily”.  Name the song and the artist:



(These tiger lilies, by the way, are just outside our front stoop in Park Slope, Brooklyn)

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WE WILL SURVIVE – again and again

A Pride Month Special Look at “I Will Survive” and Some of its Many Covers

with particular ruminations on what we will survive, or not




The Original – Gloria Gaynor


If one were to choose one song to stand as the anthem for the modern LGBTQ movement – and for the purposes of this post I’ll sidestep the question whether any one song can really fairly take that mantle –  Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” would surely be the obvious choice.  The 1970’s divalicious disco anthem of defiance and self-worth may literally be about telling a feckless ex-lover to “walk out the door”, but with lines like “I have all my life to live, and I have all my love to give”, “I Will Survive” has always also stood for a maligned minority standing up for themselves, to live, to love, and to survive, sentiments that have only deepened with time, from Gay Liberation to the AIDS crisis to Marriage Equality and on.

The above recording is the original, or at least as close to the original as I’ve recently found.  Back in 1993, before Itunes, I couldn’t find the original in Tower Records, only an “updated” version I purchased on a disco compilation cd in order to include this essential number for Ed and my wedding music cassette (remember mix tapes, that tangible limited edition forerunner of playlists?).  This remix, posted below, was very much influenced by the recent success of Madonna’s “Vogue” (you can hear it in those piano riffs):

The “Vogue” – inflected 1990’s Remix – Gloria Gaynor


We will survive … Bishop Torbin, Pride Flag burners, the Administration’s assault on transgender healthcare and right to serve, and all the verbal, physical, social and political gay bashing that is still out there even after all the exponential progress for the LGBTQ community in recent years.  They are still trying to turn the clock back, and the fight is still very much on, but we will survive… we will thrive.





funkynashvilleThe original Gloria Gaynor record reigns supreme.  But my personal favorite cover is also the version that is the most different from the original.  Recorded by the Danish trio Funky Nashville, it is very, well, funky and Nashville, replete with a spaghetti western electric guitar taking on the original’s famous string obligatos.  It especially earns its Gay Pride of Place through its prominent inclusion in the German Gay soccer comedy “Männer Wie Wir” (“Guys and Balls”).


The Out West Version for Men – Funky Nashville



Another personal favorite is The Puppini Sisters doing what the Andrews Sisters would have done to “I Will Survive” if they had recorded 1970s disco standards, and had a wicked, winking sense of humor.  I especially love their classical vocal take on those famous disco string obligatos.




The Andrews Sisters Revival – The Puppini Sisters


ScottBradleeAnd while we’re listening to jazzy stylings, we better include Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox take, with Sara Niemitz slaying the vocals and the brass section hot-jazzing those obligatos.  Their studio recording is slick, but the live version is smokin’:


Jazz Hot Cover – Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox featuring Sara Niemitz


We will survive … Trump.  If we rid ourselves of him and his minions in/by 2020.  Otherwise, well, we’ll probably still survive him, but American Democracy may not survive.  Along with the toll of immigrant children dead in detention centers, citizens murdered by emboldened white supremacist terrorism, unregulated guns, diminished health care access, the inevitable escalating outrages of Trumpian fascism. 

As Pete Buttigieg, one of so many excellent choices running for president on the Democratic side, said, this next round is not merely about winning an election, it is about winning an era.  Will we in the U.S. – and in the world – usher in a new era where we turn away from division and deviousness and destruction?  Or will we succumb to the antidemocratic, kleptocratic, fearful, hateful, truth rotting disease Trump exemplifies?

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The Belligerent Homophobe Who Ruined Rocketman For Us


Taran Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman


The three or four loud sneezes that erupted behind us during the 20 minutes of previews were a warning shot that all would not turn out alright for us during this screening of “Rocketman” in midtown Manhattan.

But the sneezing would not reoccur, in part because the offender would evidently fall asleep before the movie even began.  Unfortunately sleeping would be the only thing this man did that would not be offensive to the rest of us in the movie theater, in ever escalating fashion.

The first thing to go wrong was the sound of an alarm that added itself to the sound mix early on in the movie, during the second song, a tender ballad no less. It was an odd old fashioned alarm sound, an electronic arpeggio that made me think of pagers or pioneering digital watches.  Too modern though for the 1960/1970s era soundtrack we were trying to attend to on the screen.  It took us half a minute or so to realize those repeated electronic arpeggios were not part of the movie.  They must be someone’s odd ring tone, but no one was reaching into their pockets or purse to hastily silence the offending instrument.

The source of the sound was in the middle seat of the row directly behind me, yet separated by a horizontal aisle creating about 14 feet space between me and the big and tall, middle aged, thin haired white guy with his chin on his chest and his eyes closed.


I turned my head away from the screen I would have preferred to keep my rapt attention on, and searched for the source of the odd alarm.  And saw that several heads of patrons in the rows raked up behind the horizontal aisle were looking about for the source of the irritant too.  Once pinpointed, someone quietly whispered to the source to turn off the alarm but there was no response.  I finally said, loud enough to be heard by those close enough to the droopy headed guy: “He’s asleep.  Wake him.”  I turned back to the screen, already perturbed by how much I had missed looking away and how much the alarm sound was messing with the movie.  Behind me I heard someone determinedly waking up the keeper of the alarm.  That eventually did the trick.  It still took alarmingly long for consciousness and recognition and grumbling to segue into rustling in some bag or pocket to find and turn off the electronically arpeggioing device, but it finally was done.

Now we’d be OK, right?  Far from it.


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The Knight Marries the Prince

Jason and Bertram

Jason and Bertram


A Kindergarten Original Blesses a Quaker Wedding


Friday morning I heard a wedding song I realized I would have to sing that night at an actual wedding.  Class K-1 at the Brooklyn Children’s School was the third kindergarten class that week to perform their original fairy tale opera, one that concludes with a wedding song as the knight marries the princess.

That scenario is a fairly popular ending for kindergarten created original fairy tale operas.  5 year olds favor conclusions where a princess marries a knight or prince, or at least one where all involved (giants, witches, unicorns, cats …) become friends.  If the conclusion was a bit standard, this time around the getting there was at least pretty unusual, with the princess unwittingly drinking a magic potion that turned her into a dragon, which the knight tries to kill because he thinks the dragon ate the princess (for whom he had been harboring a secret crush).

When all’s well that ends well, the children sang the following song:


I am going to marry the knight

I am going to marry the princess

I am going to marry you

I love you

I really love you

I am going to kiss you on the lips

I’m going to kiss your lips

I’m going to kiss your nose

I’m going to kiss your cheek

I am going to marry the knight

I am going to marry the princess

I am going to marry you

I love you


I told the children I was going to a wedding tonight, and there was a good chance I would be singing their song for the couple.



Stain glass art in the Riverside Church tower

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Pink Splendor and Banging Dramatics on the Esplanade


The end of April the Brooklyn Botanic Garden holds the Sakura Matsuri Festival, scheduled to coincide with the spectacular blossoming of the cherry trees on the Garden’s Esplanade.  Nature holding to its own designs, peak bloom doesn’t always coincide with the weekend the Garden estimates way in advance to be the most likely days of cherry blossom outburst.  The last two years, for example, the festival ended up taking place a week early, with only the beginning of pink buds peeking through on the cherry branches.




This year the timing turned out perfectly.  A riot of cherry blossoms enveloped the throngs of people swarming the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Esplanade, enjoying the sights, the stands, and the performances on the two stages.




Many acts were featured during the two day festival.  I took videos of Taiko Masala, “traditional taiko drumming and martial arts, Brooklyn-style”.   The ethnically diverse group of men and women presented classic taiko music as well as their own modern compositions.  I will share these interspersed with an array of cherry blossom festival pictures.  Enjoy.




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450 DEGREES OF MORTAL TERROR – Tell-Tale Shoot Diary #4




Presently I heard a slight groan
And I knew
It was the groan of mortal terror
It was not a groan of pain or of grief
Oh no
It was the low stifled sound
That arises from the bottom of the soul
When overcharged with awe

I knew the sound well
Many a night, just at midnight
When all the world slept
It had welled up from my own bosom
With its dreadful echo
The terrors that distracted me

I say I knew it well
I knew what the old man felt
And pitied him
Although I chuckled at heart














Those lines are from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”, adapted word for word into lyric form when set to be sung, accompanied by three cellos, for my theatrical adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“.

This is the moment the narrator recalls standing in the dark doorway of his soon-to-be murder victim’s bedroom, holding perfectly still after said victim cried out “Who’s there?!”.

TTG-1It is part of a longer section in the short story, where Poe allows the narrator to ruminate on terrors in the dark before describing the murder to come.  The narration eerily extends that breathless moment before the protagonist charges into the room and puts an end to the old man and his vulture eye.  I call the musical piece I composed for this section “The Groan of Mortal Terror”.

“The Groan of Mortal Terror” on stage is an extended aria, a musical soliloquy in frozen time; the protagonist describing what is going on in the minds of two characters in the dark, in a silent stand off, keeping perfectly still.  How to translate that cinematically?

I decided to plunge into the mind of the narrator, surrounded by darkness, seated on a stool like in an interrogation, but speaking to and seeing only the surrounding dark.  The camera, or the viewing audience, slowly encircles him, constantly adjusting perspective in a slow orbit, the movement adding visual tension and lyricism while dramatically highlighting this singular moment in the story.

The camera travels a full circle and a quarter around the narrator, starting at his right profile and ending fully in front after a complete orbit.  Thus not 360 but “450 degrees of Mortal Terror”.

Below are my story board pictures illustrating what I had in mind for this scene:





And here is a picture of the shot being executed on set.  The crew had to construct a circular track on which a dolly with the camera could be carefully moved to encircle me on the stool.  This took a fair amount of practice and trial and error to get the timing just as Jason Chua, the director of photography, and I wanted it:




Below is a video of us shooting one of the takes.

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