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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Time for another Notes from a Composer music quiz!  Today’s theme: Flowers!


Flower Music Query #1: We’ll start easy.  You’ve heard this classical piece before.  Maybe even know it’s called the Flower Duet.  Do you know the name of the Opera it’s from?

(As always, the answers to the quiz can be found in the tags at the bottom of the post)




Ed is the green thumb responsible for the riot of flowers each spring in our little Brooklyn backyard.




I am the shutterbug repeatedly pulling out my my camera phone, treating our flowers like supermodels at a fashion shoot.





Flower Music Query #2: OK, you gotta answer this one before you listen, because otherwise it’s just too easy.  Which ballet gave us this Waltz of the Flowers (it’s still too easy):




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Up Close and Personal with the Maine Monument

Maine 000


The other day I was walking 35 blocks from the Upper West Side to Midtown, when I lingered at the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle to take some up close and personal pics of its statues.


Maine 1


The Maine Monument was dedicated in 1913.  As its official website explains:

“The Maine Monument commemorates the 260 American sailors who perished on February 15th, 1898 when the USS Maine exploded while in harbor in Havana, Cuba. Though the cause of the explosion remains unknown, many (including popular New York City newspapers) blamed Spain for the attack.

The event was a catalyst that accelerated a diplomatic impasse between the United States and Spain, and the United States Congress declared war on Spain on April 25th, 1898. The war would last 8 months.”


Maine 2


It’s not hard to draw parallels to a nation riling cataclysm and ensuing war almost exactly one hundred years later in our own recent historical backyard.

Only we know who caused that cataclysm which took the lives of over tenfold more than were lost on the Maine.

And we also know one country that had nothing to do with that monstrous offense.  Yet guilt was associated and lies were ginned up and we went to war with that country, a war that lasted far far longer than eight months.

A war whose aftermath still plagues us and the world.


Maine 3

Maine 4

Maine 5

Maine 6

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Introducing the New Headshots

Danny Ashkenasi-Headshot 1


A few weeks ago I shared my head shot bloopers with you, those moments during my head shot photo shoot that went rather wrong, amusingly so.

Today I share the final versions of my actual new head shots.  The pictures that got chosen out of the shoot to represent me professionally as an actor.  Above you see my bearded headshot, below the clean shaven alternative.


Danny Ashkenasi-Headshot 2


Those two got the full retouching and color processing work from the photographer.  Below are two alternative headshots, which got just the retouching work; again there is one bearded and one clean shaven version:

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THE DAY I MURDERED MY HUSBAND – Tell-Tale Shoot Diary #3



Welcome back to the “Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre” film shoot diary, and the day I murdered my husband.  Repeatedly.  Take after take after take.




Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” centers on a “very very dreadfully nervous (but why will you say that I am mad?)” man recalling how he murdered his housemate.  I musically adapted and performed the piece on stage years ago, and now am producing a short film of the “musicabre”.

Our movie had a six day shoot.  The first set-ups focused on the “flashback” shots of the narrator’s nightly stalking of his sleeping housemate: slowly opening the door, looking in, casting a thin ray of light onto the old man’s closed eye.  It is the pale blue “vulture eye” of the old man that disturbs the narrator so much he resolves to kill to rid himself of it.

I cast my husband Ed as the old man.  Which means I cast my husband as the murder victim.




Above you can see photographs of the camera monitors during the filming of me as the narrator opening the door and very slowly moving my head into the bedroom.  The monitors show the image in black and white, because that is how the flashback shots will be seen in the final film.

Early during the second day of our shoot we shot the murder; when the narrator, after accidentally awakening the old man during the eighth nightly stalking visit, sees the old man’s vulture eye wide open in terror, and rushes into the room for the assault.  Below you can see me getting ready for action.





And this here is my husband in the bed looking at me adoringly, before we shot the murder sequence.

His character would have no good reason to look at me so trustingly.



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Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris


4/15/19 – 4:40pm EDT

I am watching with horror and sadness the incredible destruction by fire of Paris’ iconic Notre Dame cathedral.

In grief and helplessness I decided to go through the pictures I took when Ed and I visited Notre Dame last August.  I had been creating blog posts based on our Paris trip, and planned to eventually create one focusing on Notre Dame too.

But it wasn’t going to be my next blog post.  And I surely wish I didn’t post it under such distressing circumstances.

These photos will start outside the cathedral, enjoying its front facade as we enter the church, followed by a tour all around inside the cathedral, more details from the front of the church, then a walk around the south side, and a return approach from the north at night.

May these photos be a memory tour of what now, from the horrible reports coming in, appears to be greatly lost.













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