Saturday, December 9, 2017

An Open Letter to South Euclid City Council

Last night, while perusing Facebook, I was confronted by one of the most offensive, distorted political screeds I’ve ever seen

As someone with whom I’ve spoken before, I know you’re too intelligent to fall for this nonsense.   

The article (which, of course, shows no specific author) claims that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people and their advocates are bullying people of faith into accepting LGBT people.  Excuse me?  Is there an epidemic of LGBT people beating up on Catholics, on Protestants, Jews, Muslims, or members of any faith?  Was Matthew Shepherd killed because of his faith?  The article goes on to claim that members of the LGBT community and those who advocate for equality are in favor of a “demonic gender ideology” that stems from a “deadly impulse” and “ideological colonialism.” 

Then there’s the image at the top of their page.   It was obviously included to inflame rather than to illuminate.  Does this look like anyone you know in South Euclid?  It shouldn’t, because the picture itself was taken in New York City.  For someone to use a photo from a New York event (where people tend to go over the top) as an example of life here in South Euclid is profoundly dishonest.  If you want to see a typical South Euclid couple, I invite you to look at the most recent issue of South Euclid magazine (image attached).  Standing next to Councilman Marty Gelfand are my husband Daniel and myself. My husband is originally from Puerto Rico and works as a medical technologist at a South Euclid facility.  I grew up in South Euclid and Lyndhurst, graduated from Brush High School in 1985, and have worked at Progressive Insurance for the past 13 years.  Both Daniel and I are productive, taxpaying residents of South Euclid.  I am pointing out these facts, which you probably already know, for the following reason:

At the October 9th Council meeting, a contingent of people spoke against passage of Ordinance 12-17.  The Sun Messenger reporter gave a cursory rundown of the event.  I attended both the Council and Committee of the Whole meetings.  I carefully noted where these people stated they were from and with which group they were associated.  Nearly every person who spoke against the Ordinance was either tied to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church or to the Lyceum school, which is located on the church’s property.  Many of the speakers were not South Euclid residents/taxpayers – from as far away as North Royalton, Newberry Township, and Concord.  In other words, this was a carefully coordinated flash-mob intended to sway council into believing that they represent the majority.  I doubt a true South Euclid majority, or even a majority of religious people would agree with them.  Indeed, I spoke with several Catholic members of my family, and they were appalled to learn of this group’s action. 

I spoke briefly at the council meeting, abandoning my prepared remarks and speaking from the heart.  As the time for commenting at council meetings is limited, I’d like to address a few of the other comments point by point (my responses are underlined):

Someone at the Committee of the Whole meeting brought up the case concerning the cake baking facility currently before the Supreme Court – in which the bakery is being sued for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple’s wedding.   If the Court rules in favor of the couple, then the law will already be on the books in South Euclid and can be enforced.  If the court rules in favor of the bakery, then that portion of the law will simply not apply.  However, if the Ordinance is not passed and the Court rules in favor of the couple, then Council will have to go back to the drawing board and address that in a future Ordinance.

Luke Macik stated that religious organizations need to be free to hire/reject applicants based on religious principles.   Ordinance 12-17 has an exemption for religious organizations.

Mark Langley stated that the Ordinance is unnecessary because there is no evidence of anti-LGBT discrimination in South Euclid.  Do we need to wait until someone is killed by a drunk driver to outlaw driving while intoxicated?

Jeanette Flood of Lakewood stated the Ordinance was telling businesses who they could hire.  The Ordinance does not tell people who they can hire.  It merely states that employers cannot discriminate based on certain criteria, as does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which has been upheld numerous times by the United States Supreme Court.

Molly Monaco stated she was fearful that perverts would use the Ordinance as cover to enter public bathrooms/changing rooms and prey on children.  No one in South Euclid’s LGBT community wants children to be placed in danger.  But let’s be realistic.  Child endangerment is against the law and will remain so if the Ordinance is passed.  Other communities have passed similar Ordinances with no increase in the type of incidents Ms. Monaco imagines.  It is well known that those who prey on children are most often members or friends of the child’s family.  Does Ms. Monaco, or any of the others who raised this issue, really believe that Transgender people have gone to the trouble and expense of hormones, multiple surgeries, dealing with the bureaucracy to have their identity forms updated, not to mention the emotional trauma of telling their families – all for the thrill of using another restroom?  All to prey on children?  That’s a hurtful insult to my Transgender friends.  

Michael Rodriguez of Newberry Township stated the law is not necessary as Ohio is an Employee at Will state in which someone can be hired or fired at any time.  While Ohio is an Employee at Will state, if a fired or non-hired Employee can prove in a court of law that they were discriminated against due to their race, religion, or several other criteria, they are entitled to recompense.  South Euclid should add Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to that criteria.

Christy Raynor of Lyndhurst stated that if the Ordinance is passed people would move out of South Euclid, as people have already moved to West Geauga.  Here is where I put my cards on the table.  Ms. Raynor is correct that certain people have left South Euclid for West Geauga – as well as Lake County.  We all know why these people moved: Because over the past three decades South Euclid has become more diverse and there are those who are uncomfortable with ethnic, religious, and other forms of diversity.  Frankly, if these are the types of people who panic when an African-American or other minority family moves next door, then South Euclid is better off without those who’ve abandoned our community.  Good riddance.

Martin Joyce of North Royalton stated that Catholic Christians have certain religious tenets they must follow and that passage of the Ordinance will prevent them from honoring those tenets.  Throughout history, religion has been used to justify the most egregious behavior, from slavery, to sexual exploitation, to genocide.  Even today, there are “honor killings” in which a family member can be killed for trying to make their own religious choice, for refusing to be sold into marriage, or for being gay.  In several nations, being gay is a “death penalty” offense – including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Nigeria.  Freedom of religion does not give one the right to break the just laws of this country or this community – and there are already adequate exemptions in the Ordinance.

The article to which I have linked, as well as other articles that can be found online, including one from a group called “C-Fam” that compared LGBT people to NAZI’s, are examples of how low some people will stoop to prevent another group of people from obtaining their just rights. 

I hope you will see through the smokescreen this group is trying to create, and support Ordinance 12-17.

Respectfully Yours,

Hank Drake

This is not a South Euclid gay couple

This is. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

DJT vs. FDR's corpse

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Copland, Paulus, & Tchaikovsky at Severance

Giancarlo Guerrero returned to Severance Hall this weekend for a concert which mixed the familiar and unfamiliar.  Dan was out of town visiting family, so I was a solo attendee.  Owing to my continuing recovery from surgery, I was tempted to pass my ticket on to a friend – despite some discomfort, I’m glad I went.

The concert began with a work that has become not only familiar, but maligned by some as “Pops concert” material: Aaron Copland’s El Salon Mexico.  Guerrero eschewed garish colors in favor of an approach that balanced the work’s bracing rhythms with Copland’s skillful orchestration – each of the repeated chords toward the end of the piece was played with precisely the same tonal value – with each section sounding perfectly balanced from my seat in Row W.  In my estimation, the performance was far superior to Copland’s own recording.

The Norton Memorial Organ.

The unfamiliar consisted of Stephen Paulus’ Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra.  This weekend marked the first time the work, composed in 2004, had been presented at Severance.  Despite clearly being a work of the post-modern era, the Concerto is somewhat traditionally structured and resolutely tonal.   It’s always a pleasure to hear Severance Hall’s Norton Memorial Organ – the restoration of which was one of the key factors in Severance’s extensive renovation at the turn of the century.  This was especially the case last night, as Paul Jacobs’ performance was a hallmark of musical virtuosity, where thrilling technical acumen never distracted from the musical argument.  His physical demeanor during the performance was modest – focusing the audience’s attention on the auditory splendor of the music.  Well, with one exception: an extended section for foot pedals only, where the audience craned their necks to view Jacobs’ footwork.  Not that Jacobs was showing off, merely that his hands were placed on the bench while his feet did the work.  Guerrero was a cordial and sympathetic collaborator.  The crowd leaped to its feet for a standing ovation, and Jacobs was brought back for an encore: the Prelude from the Violin Partita in E major, BWV 1006 – presumably in Jacobs’ own arrangement.  I hope Mr. Jacobs’ is invited to Severance again.  Oerhaps the orchestra can be persuaded to present the Poulenc Concerto?

Following intermission the audience was treated to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony – one of that composer’s most frequently abused works.  It’s all too common for conductors to tear the work’s structure into shreds for the sake of dramatic effect.  A certain former Musical Director of the Cleveland Orchestra was particularly guilty in this regard.  Not so Guerrero.   Every moment of the Symphony, from the opening brass fanfare to the final crashing coda was placed in context.  The performance lacked the sentimentality which is too often poured all over Tchaikovsky interpretation like chocolate syrup.  This is not to say the performance was lacking in emotion: Frank Rosenwein’s melting oboe solo in the second movement was particularly striking.  The third movement was a delight, as the string pizzicatos which dominate the movement were perfectly balanced, with beautifully gauged crescendos and decrescendos, and never sounded garish – which is too often the case. 

The concert was preceded by one of the finest pre-concert talks I’ve witnessed, “Fateful Encounters”, hosted by Meaghan Heinrich.  Her engaging presentation traced how Copland was able to capture the flavor of Mexican folk music, without blindly imitating it; how Paulus’s skillful orchestration melded the orchestra and organ; and the structural underpinnings of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.    Remarkably, she gave the entire presentation from memory.  I certainly hope to hear her again.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Hernia Experience

My doctor told me it was coming.  Back in February, as I prepared to cross the threshold of 50 years, my doctor performed my annual physical – which included the inevitable “turn your head and cough” test.  He mentioned that there was a weak spot and that I might develop a hernia within the next year.  I had already noticed that spending more than 30 minutes on the elliptical machine would lead to a bit of soreness that would generally pass after a day.  Then, around summer, the soreness began to linger for two days, then a week, then finally refused to subside.  So, last month, I scheduled an appointment with Doctor Carneval, a specialist who confirmed my suspicions, ordering a CAT scan to be sure: an inguinal hernia.  Surgery was required.  I was provided with a time and date for the procedure and instructions for preparation – no food for 12 hours before the procedure, no liquids for two hours before arrival. 

At 9:00AM Monday, November 13th, I arrived at Euclid Hospital for my first ever experience with surgery under general anesthesia.  Dan was kind enough to take the day off and acted as my chaperone.  Before I continue, I wish to point out that Euclid Hospital is a Cleveland Clinic facility and I was absolutely thrilled with their professionalism and commitment to quality from the first interaction to the last.  In fact, this has been the case with all of my interactions with Cleveland Clinic over the past year – which have been numerous.

After check-in, Dan & I headed to a pre-op room where I undressed and we chilled watching lame mid-morning TV while staff occasionally stopped by to get me ready – including one person who signed his name on my right hip to verify that the incision would be on the right side, a nurse who prepped my hand with the IV for the anesthetic, and finally the surgeon.  Prior to taking any action, each person asked me to verify my date of birth.  As a Quality Assurance Analyst whose motto is “Trust, but verify”, I appreciated this extra step.  One person asked about power of attorney and I advised that Daniel is my husband and has full authority to “pull my plug” if it comes to that.  Finally I was wheeled to the operating room, noting the cliché of seeing the overhead corridor lights rush by in cinema hospital scenes.  After I arrived in the room, which was painted in white, I noted that in the old days operating rooms were colored “easy-eye Green” because it was the photonegative of blood red, and thought to relieve surgeons’ eyes.  When I’m nervous, I tend to babble, and we chatted for another moment.  Then all was suddenly black and I was being told the operation was over and vaguely felt a breathing tube being removed from my throat.  I have no memory of going under.  None the “count back from 20” one sees in hospital TV shows.  One moment I was being prepped, the next, it was all over.

I was wheeled into recovery and I groggily asked the nurse what time it was.  2:00pm.  I felt no pain.  There was little sensation at all, and I found myself unable to scratch my nose – I could lift my hands only about an inch off the mattress.  The nurse advised me to breathe deeply to help flush the anesthesia out of my system – and I raised my eyes to look at the monitor and see if I was taking in as much air as she wanted.  I saw another nurse walk by with a Mr. Coffee style container and complain that someone burned the coffee.  My response, “What, Cleveland Clinic is too cheap to buy you a Keurig?” drew laughter from the nurses. 

I normally have a reliable internal clock, and it seemed like I spent about 20 minutes in recovery.  In fact, I was there for two hours.  Then I was wheeled into another post-op room where Dan was allowed to join me.  By now, it was dark outside and the ward was emptying out.    The check-out nurse provided me with two prescriptions: Hydrocodone, for the pain, and a laxative to counteract side-effects from the Hydrocodone.  Then she asked, “Are you in any pain?  Do you need a Percocet?”  I replied that a Percocet seemed like a good idea.  Then she said to me, winking, “you’re a pretty big guy, I’ll give you two.”   This was most helpful, as we soon discovered our local CVS was encountering a computer issue and was unable to fill my prescription for several hours. 

Dan drove me home slowly, being careful to avoid the numerous potholes on East 185th Street.  The rest of the evening was a Percocet haze, but I vaguely remember deciding to sleep on the recliner rather than in bed – which I continued to do peacefully for the next nine days.

Tuesday, the pain was excruciating, despite the Hydrocodone.  I found myself needing to take the maximum dose (one every six hours), which I generally avoid due to addiction problems in my family.  Still, there was intense soreness when sitting still, with a hot stabbing pain when I stood or sat.  I eventually learned to alleviate this by using my arms to push myself up from a chair or as a brace when sitting down.  Wednesday was a bit less intense, which left me able to move about a bit more and take a  much needed shower.  It was during this time that I also noticed some major bruising in the incision area.  The bruises seemed to migrate over the following week, with one appearing on my right love handle, several inches from the incision.  (During my follow up appointment on Tuesday the 21st, Doctor Carneval advised this was a normal occurrence.)

By Friday, I had a serious case of cabin fever and, with some difficulty, I got into my CR-V  for a short drive to the post office and CVS.  I was out of the house for no more than an hour but it was quite refreshing.  Over the weekend, I ramped up my activity: Saturday, Dan & I went to World Market and to see the Cleveland Orchestra – but I had to leave the concert at intermission as the swelling had made my dress trousers uncomfortably snug.  Sunday, we braved the crowds at Costco and went out for a late lunch.

On Monday, I returned to work – silently thanking Progressive for their casual dress code as I walked around with my shirt untucked.  The following day, I saw the doctor for the follow up where I was given a timeline to return to unrestricted activities.  As of this morning, I am no longer taking meds and mostly pain free.   

Friday, November 17, 2017

Paul Badura-Skoda plays Schubert

I've been stuck at home recovering from hernia surgery (about which I will write later), which has given me time to catch up on listening to new acquisitions to my CD collection.  Here's my latest review, of Sony's reissue of Paul Badura-Skoda's Schubert cycle. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Ashkenazy and Ax at Severance

This weekend saw the return of two artists with whom I’m separately familiar.  In December of 1990, I saw Vladimir Ashkenazy in recital in Boston.  Around the same time, I saw Emanuel Ax in recital.  But this weekend marked the first time I’d seen them perform together, and my first time seeing Ashkenazy as conductor.  In addition to their joint performance in Cleveland this weekend, both will be featured in separate interviews on Zsolt Bognár's Living the Classical Life, which were taped earlier this week. 

Dan and I like to get to Severance Hall early so we can settle into our seats well before the starting time.  A few members of the orchestra were already on stage, including Ashkenazy himself, who was animatedly conversing with one of the violists.  It must have been an amusing conversation as both were smiling and laughing.  Ashkenazy’s combination of rock solid musical credentials, willingness to work hard, yet always maintaining a pleasant and warm demeanor is no doubt part of the reasons he’s not only one of the most successful musicians in Classical music, but one of the most highly regarded, personally.  The conductor returned backstage as the hall began to fill, the lights dimmed, and the orchestra tuned.

Ashkenazy strode on stage with a brisk yet easy gait that belied his 80 years, and the program began with Edward Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, Op. 20 – a work with which I am largely unfamiliar.  From the first notes, Ashkenazy’s unobtrusive mastery in conducting was apparent.  He carefully balanced each section of the orchestra (the string section was reduced) so that each strand of music was transparent.  In particular, the long lined melody of the central Larghetto movement unfolded beautifully.

As part of the orchestra’s 100th anniversary season, management has decided to occasionally use decades-old program notes in their books.  This weekend’s book featured notes about Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto by George H. L. Smith from 1941 – with a disclaimer that these notes represented standard musical opinion back in the day.  Audiences who heard Sergei Rachmaninoff perform this concerto (the first time it was presented at Severance) read these very notes.  Reading them I was astonished how much musical opinion in the United States has advanced.  The notes claim, among other things, that Beethoven’s first two piano concertos are devoid of original ideas and are merely Beethoven’s recreations of the a musical form perfected by Mozart.  This is simply tosh.  The terseness of Beethoven’s musical ideas, his orchestration, the way the rhythmic motif dominates the entire opening movement are entirely Beethovenian – and the virtuosity of his piano writing goes beyond anything Mozart ever dreamed of.   

Emanuel Ax was soloist in the concerto, and he brought the virtuosic spirit of the young Beethoven to the work, but also a sense of scale that was appropriate to the period.  Witnessing Ax’s rendition of the first movement cadenza, it was easy to imagine how Viennese audiences were set on their ears by the young Beethoven’s playing.  Yet the performance wasn’t all about Ax, and the spirit of communicativeness and sense of joy in making music with the conductor and orchestra were ever present.  One can tell that Ashkenazy and Ax genuinely enjoy performing together. 

Ax gifted the audience with an encore, Schubert's A-flat major Impromptu D. 935, No. 2, in a feathery performance, sans repeats.

Following intermission, the audience was treated to an ideal rendition of Elgar’s Enigma Variations.  Despite the work’s relative popularity, this is the first time I’d heard it in concert.  From the first bars, it was apparent that Ashkenazy was determined to avoid the pitfalls heard in too many European recordings of this work, which tend to sound soggy and foggy.  As with the Serenade, each section was transparently balanced.   As is well known, each Variation on Elgar’s original theme is based upon someone in his life, from his wife, to his best friend, to a neighbor’s bulldog.  In the score, each variation is headed with a name or set of initials, which has allowed researchers to determine which Variation belongs to whom – except in the case of the 13th variation, which is headed by “***”, and probably was written in memory of an early amour.  The recipient of each Variation is beautifully characterized.  But what’s most interesting to me is that the most moving variation is reserved not for Elgar’s early love or even his wife, but for his best friend.  The “Nimrod” Variation, which is often used for funerals and other state events in Britain, has become as well known on its own as the 18th Variation of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody.  It occurred to me that the Variation is more than a portrait of a friend, but a meditation on Platonic friendship, which is a kind of love in and of itself.  Last night’s rendition marked only second time in my life that I’ve been moved to tears by a concert.

Emotional connection.  That’s what music making is all about.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rudolf Serkin's complete Columbia recordings

Sony has reissued Rudolf Serkin's complete recordings for Columbia, at 75 CDs quite a substantial box.  I listened to every one of them while writing my review, which can be accessed by clicking here.