Sunday, December 06, 2015


A relative few days following “Paris (November 13)”, "Mali (November 20),"  “Colorado Springs (November 27), ” and now it was “San Bernardino (December 2).”  My faith in humanity was at a very low ebb, I was physically beat after a long, hard string of days.  I had a toothache, and, all in all,  I surely didn’t feel like going out on that dark, cold night, not even for a master class by the world renown Stephen Hough in the brand-new and striking Galvin Hall on the banks of Lake Michigan on the Northwestern University campus.

I looked for one last excuse, e.g. repertory that didn’t interest.  Turns out, the pieces to be presented were among my very favorites.

And so I pushed myself out the door.  I joined another 100 or so of the musically curious in this metropolitan area of nearly 10 million who filled up about one-fourth of the new, intimate hall to hear an internationally-celebrated master hold forth on things artistic in a very unartistic, and unappealing world that is today the status quo.

And I’m glad I did.  I got a recharge.  I would guess most everyone did.  We surely needed it.

According to one bio sketch, British-born Stephen Hough is not just a piano giant.  His is one of just some 20 genuine polymaths on planet earth.  (The other “19” weren’t named, btw).  In any case, it is a fact that he was recipient of the MacArthur Grant (2001), a.k.a. the “Genius Grant” and inventor of an iPad app (on the Liszt Sonata).  On his own time, off the concert stage, he writes (The Bible As Prayer -- he converted to Roman Catholicism at 19, a move that vexed his Protestant grandmother), paints and exhibits, composes, conducts, tweets and blogs.

A fine profile of this unassuming genius may be found at:  (Excerpt:  “In a world in which neuroses are the norm, the 51-year-old is amazingly easygoing. I remember him once in an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago after a heavy-duty concert with Gustavo Dudamel. At the end of dinner, he walked over to the piano and began to improvise on the songs of Cole Porter. There are few (classical) pianists who could do this. Even fewer who would. It might have helped not having a Tiger Mother childhood like so many other musicians. His youth was healthily misspent.

“Crossroads at 6.30pm, then Emmerdale Farm, Coronation Street, World in Action, Love thy Neighbour, The Nine O’Clock News, Horizon...” he recites lovingly, running through the TV listings from the Eighties as if they were the names of old friends. “For about four years all I did was watch television. I suppose my parents should have stopped me.”)

It may be just this childhood lifestyle -- normal -- that allowed him the space to develop into genius-level interpreter vis-à-vis the roboplayers that Tiger Moms produce.  His style of playing may be described as insightful, free, and eminently creative.  In that, he is a bit of a throwback to an earlier generation -- the opposite of today’s crop of ‘machine learning’ and indistinguishable  keyboardists.

It was just this style and concept of music that he was trying to share with the three NU acolytes, a rather uneven trio.  To take what at least one of them was presenting -- a tangled and mushy mass of notes and sound -- and make it articulate, with breath (“how long can you wait here before pressing on?”), and inflection, humanity, art, and musical meaning.  And, in the case of the other two students, to take some real, bonafide heroic romantic pianism and elevate it to a yet higher level.  Something that Hough was well familiar with, as his pianism flies at that level continuously.

The works:  Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op. 16 (two movements), Liszt’s La Leggierezza from Three Concert Etudes, Chopin Ballade No. 3, and Medtner’s “Sonata Tragica.”

The stage was set with two pianos.  Hough sat next to his students, played and illustrated right on his own keyboard.  (Not all clinicians do, but all should.)  Some bon mots tossed out and some gauntlets thrown down along the way, amidst the technical talk of the eight shades of pedaling, melodic delineation, harmony and counterpoint:

  • PHRASING.  We can learn more from the phrasing of Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle than any classical player.
  • DEDICATION.  Josef Lhévinne practiced for 10 years on a particular double note etude before presenting it in public.  Would you be willing to do that on this piece?
  • EXPRESSION.  How much time can you take there?  Be vulgar.  Be in terrible taste.  Exaggerate.
  • FREEDOM.  Liszt was always improvising.  These notes on the page he was probably writing while on horseback or in a carriage.  They are an approximation.  Be free with it.
  • SOUND.  More shimmer here, more half-light there.
  • RUBATO.  Godowsky (profiled in Obscure Composers 2;  once the world’s greatest pianist, now obscure to all but a few like Hough, who has recorded some of his work) was asked how can you make two voices sound different?  He answered:  can’t play them at the same time, you must use rubato.
  • IMPROVISATION.  Chopin wrote four ballades, but improvised another 10.  People who heard him said the improvised ones were even more powerful, but they are lost to us now.  But we should retain a bit of the spirit of improvisation in all our playing.
  • Churchill would ask for his favorite, the Chopin Ballade No. 3, calling it the “one with the rocking horse in the middle.”

The next night Hough returned to Galvin for his own performance.

It had been a dark day, now it was a dark night, but Hough infused the hall for more than two hours with a countermeasure charge of oxygen, light, learning, humanity.  The jihadists had taken the day, but now art was taking back some of the night.

Postscript.  In the aftermath of the master class, we have been listening to Stephen Hough on Spotify.  His recording of the Hummel pianos concertos is not to be missed.   Johann Nepomuk Hummel is profiled along with 99 or so other little known composers in our new book, Obscure Composers 2.


John A. Sarkett is the author of Obscure Composers, Obscure Composers 2, Bach and Heaven:  The Promise of Afterlife in the Text of the Cantatas, Death in classical music:  making friends with the unfriendly, Extraordinary Comebacks: 201 Inspiring Stories of Courage, Triumph and Success, and a number of other titles to be found here and at Amazon. 

The Sports Bubble Is About to Pop - The Daily Beast

The Sports Bubble Is About to Pop - The Daily Beast

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Because inquity shall abound

San Bernadino, Colorado Springs, Paris....who is next......?
Bible students will recognize the title is a quote from Matthew 24, where Jesus outlines characteristics of the end times....

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Russia/Turkey Clash———Some Relevant History | David Stockman's Contra Corner

The Russia/Turkey Clash———Some Relevant History | David Stockman's Contra Corner

"Turkey is point-man for the odd coalition of stealthy ISIS backers that
includes the US, Saudi Arabia,  the UAE, Egypt,  France and Britain.
ISIS is their  weapon of choice against Shia Iran and its Syrian and
Lebanese allies and, very soon, Taliban in Afghanistan. Problem is,
they  back ISIS but can’t control its youthful members. The rabid  dog
they helped breed is now running around biting people."f

This explains why Obama does not forge a united effort to eradicate ISIS......

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How World War III became possible - Vox

How World War III became possible - Vox

I almost expect to read about the assassination of an Archdule Ferdinand some morning soon...... or was today's news "it"......and we just don't know it yet?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"Sila" by John Adams recalls Solo Tuba Ichigo Ichie

Some years ago, enroute to a concert at Northwestern University's Pick-Staiger concert hall, I encountered a scene that stuck in my memory.  On the huge lawn outside adjacent Regenstein Hall, smack in the middle, a solo tuba player sat, practicing, in the perfumed, sultry May air.
This solitary figure was going against the grain in so many ways:

  • on the lawn versus in a practice room
  • playing a big silver tuba, the unheralded member of the brass family vs. a piercing trumpet or stately french horn
  • waging its own war against the dying of the light, which could not be won, but not yielding to it nonetheless
  • and most dramatically:  utterly, completely alone, versus in a classical ensemble, where we would ordinarily find a tuba
The mental picture stuck with me.  It was equal parts serendipity, magic, and ichigo ichie -- (Japanese for one time, one meeting, i.e. an unrecurring encounter, an unrepeatable miracle).  I have never walked across a scene quite like it -- before, or since.  (Though while a student at Ohio State University I once came across a bagpiper playing underneath a bridge, but that's another story.)

But just now I have had an experience that put me in remembrance.  This past Friday night, Northwestern U. dedicated its new $117 million Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, eight years in the making.

It is a remarkable edifice, trapezoidal, leaning in, seemingly rushing forward into Lake Michigan as though some sort of musical starship that was utilizing the campus as a runway.  You can still get a lot for $117 million -- even today.  It features a 400-seat concert hall with a 50 ft. glass wall behind the stage, through which loom stunning views of Lake Michigan and Chicago city lights as backdrop.   Another 150-seat hall is for opera workshops.  The building adds some 55 practice rooms, and countless other analog and digital treasures to the music program of NU.

To 'consecrate' the house, on Sept. 25 and 26, 2015, 80 some musicians from the Bienen School of Music gave a Midwest premiere of Sila:  The Breath of the World by John Adams (noted critic Alex Ross calls him "one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century").  It took place on the lawn between the new concert hall and the lake.

Adams writes of it:  "The piece traverses sixteen harmonic clouds, grounded on the first 16 harmonics of a low B-flat.  All the other tones in the music fall "between the cracks" of the piano keyboard -- off the grid of 12-tone equal temperament."

There is no conductor.  Additionally, there is no melody, no rhythm, just these strange harmonics wafting ever skyward, for some 70 minutes, a more than ample 70 minutes, my guest said.

A work egalitarian to the core, audience members were encouraged via the printed program to walk around the players who were widely spread throughout the near football field size field and hear the presentation from different viewpoints.

How times have changed.  From one somewhat renegade tuba on the grass of his own taking to 80 highly organized musicians, strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, marimbas, vocalists etc.  Each one had a single black earbud.  Though there were no "conductors," something was being communicated and/or controlled from somewhere.  Or so it seemed.

Famous philanthropists, big buildings, knock-your-socks off, impressive-as-all-get-out architecture.  Such is the way of the world.  Things get bigger and bigger.  In my own neighborhood, right-sized beautiful family homes are torn down, seemingly every day, so that new family 'hotels' can take their place at a cost of three to four times.  This is progress, of course.  Of course, the deformation (to use David Stockman's term) of ZIRP helps enormously.

Nevertheless, Dr. Pangloss surely would have approved this best of all possible worlds,  where everything happens out of absolute necessity, and that everything happens for the best.  So, too, here.

We get it.  This is progress.

Yet in a world of declining interest in classical music, (see Slate feature) the geriatrification of the classical audience, when 500 musicians routinely try out for a single orchestral post, one has to wonder how many gigs it will take to pay for a Northwestern music degree, which at this writing runs as follows, straight off the web site:  Full-time Tuition;  Tuition is billed on the first invoice for each quarter;  $16,208/quarter (3 – 5 courses).  (That's nearly $200,000, just for tuition, for an NU music school degree.)  Then there's the minor matters of text books, lodging, --- food.  So.....times 1.5, 2, x?  Whatever the case, the number is pretty staggering.

How about the payback?  Ay, there's the rub.

Teaching a master class at Ravinia Steans Institute several years ago, Kiri Te Kanawa said the lack of potential for the payback was a serious moral issue, this business of training the next generation of musicians for jobs that simply don't exist.

She has cited the fabulously successful Met Opera HD Live! broadcasts, for example, for being not that helpful to the opera world in general.  Why patronize the local opera company when you can attend "The Met," "live" for a fraction of the cost?

From the UK Observor (she lives a good part of the time in London), we have this:  "There is little chance of building up a truly elite tradition of singing outside Europe, she (Ms. Te Kanawa) argues, because the opera houses in New Zealand and Australia mount only a few performances a year and are bedevilled with cash crises. "There are great, dedicated young singers coming up all over the world, and yet there is no space. No jobs, because there are only so many places at the top table," she said.

No jobs.

Instead of jobs we have free classical:  Spotify, Pandora, streaming and all the rest.  Is it any wonder that classical record sales are so small (sometimes measured in the scores or hundreds for major artists) when you have the entire catalog of recorded classical sound available to you at a mouse click -- for free!?!  Not just one recording of Fischer-Dieskau and Winterreise, all seven that he made through his lifetime.  Tons and tons of works, and renditions, impossible to consume in whole, by composers both immortal and obscure.  A cosmological and ever-expanding miracle.

This is the blessing and the curse.  This is the elephant in the room, the unspeakable taboo which cannot be named or spoken of:  the futility of it all.  Classical lovers used to spend thousands on recordings.  Now, those few that are left, spend ----- next to nothing.

No jobs for newcomers.

That same air of futility was evident in Adams' music;  Sila:  The Breath of the World, without rhythm, without melody.  Just floating harmonies.  Not really going anywhere, like to the tonic, in Haydn or Mozart or Beethoven.

As the performance ended, the prodigious and somber concentration on the part of the players gave way to smiles as they were approached by family members, friends, and well wishers.  The performance art piece thus ended, it was time for all to exhale.

Meanwhile, the suit-and-tie and high heel set who were moments before wobbling through the grass, through whose largesse this was all possible, retired through a side door into their magnificent namesake edifice for a private dinner while the players packed up their instruments to do it all over again the next night.

Postscript:  I played tennis yesterday with a good friend and noted physician.  His daughter, a talented musician, earned a M.M. in viola at the prestigious Indiana University School of Music.  I learned she just recently gave up the music business to re-tool as a journalist via the Georgetown Journalism school.  She is now a reporter for the Baltimore Sun.   Her musician husband is now attending engineering school.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We often wondered: How much does the Met make from HD Live! ?

Answer: $60 million

It nets an annual profit of $17 million to $18 million (roughly 12% of the Met’s total revenue). The series is seen in 2,000 theaters in 70 countries in 11 time zones.


Met: Live in HD Celebrates 10 Years | Variety

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Some meanings hidden behind the notes on the page:
To not give up is all we can do

Beethoven suffered from deafness and lead poisoning.
We attended the final installment of the 2015 Steans Institute for Piano and Strings at Ravinia.  It featured string quartets by Mozart, Bartok and Beethoven.

"Did you really like it?" my companion asked after it was over.  "I didn't hear anything, just notes."

I have had that experience, too, very recently, and it is frustrating.  Nothing is worse than being ensconsed in a concert hall, with glorious sounds pouring forth, but unable to receive or decode any of them because one is tired, or distracted or depressed or whatever.

Yesterday, however, on closing day as it were, I was able.  I didn't hear notes, per se, or even the melody-harmony-rhythm that makes up music, per se, but rather I experienced each personage behind their pen.

Perhaps it had been because I had earlier come across this quote from Virginia Woolf, and it was rolling around my subsconscious:  "How Shakespeare loathed humanity -- the putting on of clothes, the getting of children, the sordidity of the mouth and the belly!  This was now revealed to Septimus;  the message hidden in the beauty of words.  The secret signal which one generation passes, under disguise, to the next is loathing, hatred, despair.”  From Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

What did these three composers think of humanity, I wondered.

In Mozart, we have the quintessential Opera Man (in business centuries  before Adam Sandler created the comical character).  We have the creator of both Figaro, and Don Giovanni, the admirable, and the reprobate.  Mozart takes it all in, and says with a wry smile and perhaps a scatological invective (he was famous for that), 'for better or worse, this is humanity, God save us all.'

Bartók, the severely intellectual Hungarian, seems on the surface, not so optimistic about things.  In fact, his SQ No. 2, has a wonderful caprice in the middle movement, but movements one and three are dour, pessismistic, depressed.  For many, this is life, not television life, but the real life.  Bartók doesn't recoil from it, or whitewash it over.  Life as pain, suffering, tragedy unspeakable.  Much of his music takes this straight on (though his final and major work, Concerto for Orchestra, affirms life nonetheless.  In his own words: “except for the amusing second movement, the general character of the work represents a gradual transition from the harshness of the first movement and the solemnity of the death song in the third movement towards the affirmation of life in the final movement.”)

Beethoven, however, writing in his Op. 131, in his penultimate year, seemingly never wavers in his embrace for all that God is and has for us,  at least in his music, and all that humanity is or isn't and ever shall be.  Beethoven is the will, the volition, the comeback, the never give up that each one of us must have to some degree just to start the next day after getting knocked flat on our back the day before by things great and things small.

The mighty Beethoven, knocking on God's door, speaking for like-minded humanity, saying in effect, "Don't forget us, don't give up on us, because we don't give up on life.  We don't give up on you, Lord, even though you are hidden from us today, some day we shall see you face to face."

Beethoven once wrote that apart from music, everything in his life he had done had been done stupidly or badly.  Mighty Beethoven, deaf, wracked by lead poisoning, miserable from that condition much of his life, would not give up on his music, (thank God) and so left a legacy and blueprint and trust of the human will for every human who came after him. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tiger Woods -- a comeback in the making?

".....if he were to lift the Claret jug at St Andrews on Sunday afternoon it would represent one of the most extraordinary comebacks in sporting history."

 Tiger Woods back on the prowl as he talks up The Open | The Week UK

Monday, June 29, 2015

Beatrayed by Dre? - Bloomberg Business

Beatrayed by Dre? - Bloomberg Business

A remarkably complex and truly operatic business story.  A must read for students of human behavior.

My favorite line from the feature as reading through it I felt this was coming all along:  'The legal provisions at issue aren’t terribly esoteric, and Monster might have a stronger case against its own contract lawyers than it does
against Beats/Apple."

Unfortunately, bad lawyering can be nearly as painful as bad doctoring.  Choose your support team wisely, would be a message here, and maintain active control vs. passive disinterest and "trust."

Stuff happens.  Oh yeah.

I remember my high school law teacher told us:  "if there's ever anything you don't like in a contract, just cross it out...."  If the principal in this story had thought ahead, and done just that, this suit wouldn't exist.

Who wins here?  I'm pretty sure the lawyers will do pretty well......

Friday, June 26, 2015

Master class from a master: Leon Fleischer

Last night in tennis, my opponent, 47, estimated my age at 55.  That was eight years to the complimentary side.  Was he flattering me?  I don't know him well enough to be sure.  But what matters for me is that the needle moved in the right direction.  For that moment I was "beating the system."  Then it was back to reality as he dusted me off 6-1, 6-2, so that would have to be a main consolation of the evening.  That, and the fact that I won three games.  He is a terrific player;  I was lucky to get three.

My little age bump was nothing compared to yesterday's ingenue who presented a master class at Ravinia (June 25, 2015):  Leon Fleisher, who had the look and bearing of a man of 70 or 75, when in fact, he clocks in at 85.  He noted casually his first appearance at Ravinia was some 70 years earlier, when he appeared with an up-and-coming conductor by the name of Leonard Bernstein (who was an old hand as he had already been there once before).

Attending master classes has been a "strange hobby" of mine for years.  It's been a year since I wrote about one when I panned an equally famous soloist for her "master class in how not to give a master class."

This had everything the former didn't:  passion, wisdom, wit, a warm and humane engagement with both the student and audience, weight, gravity, insight and real how-to technique (versus the cop-out 'play it more beautifully', or 'play a more beautiful line,' yes, last year's clinician actually said that.  You can't make this stuff up.)

Leon Fleischer, on the other hand, urged his (two, just two) students (Julia Hámos, Sher Semmel) to find and express THE MEANING among the plethora of notes, here provided by Herr Schubert und Herr Beethoven.  He went further:  "when seeking maximum expression, don't be afraid to DISTORT time or dynamics."  Let the work breathe, listen to it!, make a statement, not just cascades of notes.

To get there, he gave myriad "inside piano" tips, e.g. pedal first here, create a different sound there, lighten the arms here, slide onto the key vs. attack there.  And so on and so on and so on it went.

From the micro to the macro, he discussed the meat of the piano repertory ("I am not a vegetarian"), i.e. French (sensual), Russian (subjective), and German (metaphysical).  (While we were developing the Obscure Composers Index™, we calculated 42% of all recorded music is German, in fact.)

The latter is music of contemplation, meditation, he said, militated against by our current absorption with smart phones.  ""Got your little thing here," as he went into a spot-on mime, touch, touch, swipe, swipe.  Knowing laughter ensued.  Guilty, your honor, the audience seemed to aver.

Most thought-provoking of all:  his explication of the philosophical underpinnings of the fugue of the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 31, Ab, Op. 110.  It begins with utter desolation, and somehow makes its way, on elbows and knees as it were, by sheer act of will, to a vision of what Fleischer called "the while light of heaven."

It does not appear that Fleischer is ready for any such fate just yet.  His passion for the music, for teaching, and for entertaining an adoring audience remains undimmed, as though he is preparing to embark on his next 70 years on the classical music circuit.  For him, the pursuit of artistic expression never ends, demands one's all, and in the case of the remarkable Leon Fleischer, keeps him perpetually youthful.

Postscript:  There are limits to these things after all.  After two intense hours of teaching, unbroken, he was given a microphone to take "questions and answers."  Growing ruminative, he demurred, instead saying he would leave the audience with three words from his recently (December 27, 2014) departed colleague "Klaus Frank," i.e., pianist Claude Frank.

"Procrastination saves time."

A bit of a Zen koan, as it were, for the audience to take with and solve on their own time.  What is a class, after all, even a master class, without "homework?"

John A. Sarkett is the author of Obscure Composers and Bach and Heaven:  The Promise of Afterlife in the Text of the Cantatas.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Truth Matters

Errors and Lies -

On Memorial Day, an essay:  "we were lied into war...."   So many dead, so many maimed.  The writer's conclusion:  "a crime."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Just a phase

‘Disaster Was My God,’ by Bruce Duffy - Review -

................artistic ambition may sometimes be, as the guidance counselors say, just a phase that troubled teens — even geniuses — go through.

On the strange life of the poet Artur Rimbaud.

A Yale Graduate Leaves a Trail of Ventures and Debts -

A Yale Graduate Leaves a Trail of Ventures and Debts -

Several investors, some of whom declined to speak on the record because
of continuing litigation, said they had been reassured by Mr. Newman’s
background and by favorable media coverage, including several articles
in The New York Times. Due diligence can be an afterthought for
investors in start-ups and independent movies, businesses in which
failure is not uncommon. And indeed few said they had looked into Mr.
Newman’s past by checking court records or lien filings before investing
in his projects...............

Friday, April 17, 2015

10 Steps to Make Each Day Exceptionally Productive


No matter what your job, in one way everyone's day is basically the same: We all have the same amount of time at our disposal.

That's why how you use your time makes all the difference -- whether you're bootstrapping a startup or running a billion-dollar company like Jim Whitehurst, the president and CEO of Red Hat, one of the largest and most successful providers of open-source software.

Here are Jim's tips for maximizing your time and improving your personal productivity:

1. Every Sunday night, map out your week. Sunday evenings, I sit down with my list of important objectives for the year and for each month. Those goals inform every week and help keep me on track. While long-range goals may not be urgent, they are definitely important. If you aren't careful, it's easy for "important" to get pushed aside by "urgent." Then I look at my calendar for the week. I know what times are blocked out by meetings, etc. Then I look at what I want to accomplish and slot those tasks onto my to-do list.

The key is to create structure and discipline for your week--otherwise you'll just let things come to you...and urgent will push aside important.

2. Actively block out task time. Everyone schedules meetings and appointments. Go a step further and block out time to complete specific tasks. Slot periods for "Write new proposal," or "Craft presentation," or "Review and approve marketing materials."

If you don't proactively block out that time, those tasks will slip. Or get interrupted. Or you'll lose focus. And important tasks won't actually get done.

3. Follow a realistic  to-do list. I used to create to-do lists, but I didn't assign times to each task. What happened? I always had more items on my to-do list than I could accomplish, and that turned it into a wish list, not a to-do list. If you have six hours of meetings scheduled today and eight hours worth of tasks, then those tasks won't get done.

Assigning realistic times forces you to prioritize. (I like Toodledo, but there are plenty of other tools you can use.) Assigning realistic times also helps you stay focused. When you know a task should only take 30 minutes, you'll be more aggressive in weeding out or ignoring distractions.

4. Default to 30-minute meetings. Whoever invented the one-hour default in calendar software wasted millions of people-hours. Most subjects can be handled in 30 minutes. Many can be handled in 15 minutes--especially if everyone who attends knows the meeting is only going to last 15 minutes.
Don't be a slave to calendar tool defaults. Only schedule an hour if you absolutely know you need it.

5. Stop multitasking. During a meeting--especially an hour-long meeting--it's tempting to take care of a few mindless tasks. (Who hasn't cleaned up their inbox during a meeting?) The problem is that such split focus makes those meetings less productive. Even though you're only doing mindless stuff, still--you're distracted. And that makes you less productive.

Multitasking is a personal-productivity killer. Don't try to do two things partly well. Do one thing really well.

6. Obsess over leveraging edge time. My biggest downtimes during the workday come when I drive to work, when I drive home, and when I'm in airports. So I focus really hard on how to use that time. I almost always schedule calls for my drive to work. It's easy: I take the kids to school and drop them off at a specific time; then I can do an 8:00 to 8:30 call. I typically don't schedule calls for the drive home so I can return calls, especially to people on the West Coast.

At the airport, I use Pocket, a browser plug-in that downloads articles. Loading up 10 articles ahead of time ensures I have plenty to read--plenty I want to read--while I'm waiting in the security line.
Look at your day. Identify the downtimes. Then schedule things you can do during that time. Call it edge time--because it really can build a productive edge.

7. Track your time. Once you start tracking your time (I use Toggl), you'll be amazed by how much time you spend doing stuff that isn't productive. You don't have to get hyper-specific. The info you log can be directional, not precise.

Tracking my time is something I just started to do recently. It's been an eye-opening experience--and one that has really helped me focus.

8. Be thoughtful about lunch. Your lunch can take an hour. Or 30 minutes. Or 10 minutes.
Whatever time it takes, be thoughtful about what you do. If you like to eat at your desk and keep chugging, fine. But if you benefit from using the break to recharge, lunch is one time where multitasking can be great: You can network, socialize, and help build your company's culture--but not if you're going out to lunch with the same people every day.

Pick two days a week to go out with people you don't know well. Or take a walk. Or do something personally productive. Say you take an hour for lunch each day; that's five hours a week. Be thoughtful about how you spend that time. You don't have to work, but you should make it work for you.

9. Protect your family time. Like you, I'm a bit of a workaholic. So I'm very thoughtful about my evenings. When I get home from work, it's family time: We have dinner as a family, we help our kids with their homework. I completely shut down. No phone, no email.

Generally speaking, we have two hours before the kids have to get ready for bed. During that time, I'm there. Then I can switch back on. I'm comfortable leaving work at 5 or 5:30 p.m. because at 8 or 9 o'clock, I know I will be able to re-engage with work.

Every family has peak times when they can best interact. If you don't proactively free up that time, you'll slip back into work stuff. Either be working or be home with your family. That means no phones at the table, no texts. Don't just be there, be with your family.

10. Start every day right. I exercise first thing in the morning because exercise is energizing. (Research also shows that moderate aerobic exercise can improve your mood for up to 12 hours, too.)
I get up early and run. Then I cool off while I read the newspaper and am downstairs before my kids so I can eat breakfast with them. Not only will you get an energy boost, efficiency in the morning sets the stage for the rest of your day. Start your day productively and your entire day will be more productive, too.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

His wife got him out of a Turkish prison

I once read a pithy description of a prospective ideal spouse:  "I would like to marry someone," the interviewee said, "who could get me out of a Turkish prison, if need be."

Not sexy, stylish, hot, funny, cute and all the other Hollywoodisms that may come to mind.  Just:  "get me out of a Turkish prison."

The thought was superb.  It stuck in my mind as a great metaphor.

Turns out it can be more than a figure of speech:  for this couple, profiled in the Chicago Tribune, it was real life.  Must read.

Monday, February 23, 2015

He was the king's favorite

At the same time J.S. Bach was an obscure church musician and teacher.

Now Bach has surpassed Handel (see The Obscure Composers Index™), but today is G.F.'s birthday, and worth reconsidering his story and extreme creative powers....he was a real force of nature, but quite human, just the same.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Really Bad Week For The Supplements Industry

A Really Bad Week For The Supplements Industry

Ground houseplant?

Thanks to Raika C. Sarkett for this pointer....

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Smoke-Free Carmen

by Denis Dutton

The Auckland Opera received complaints for its most recent production of Carmen when its advertising posters showed offensive cleavage. In deciding to withdraw the posters, the general manager of Auckland Opera sensibly explained, “It behooved us to find a more imaginative way to sell our product than just to resort to blatant sexist imagery.” In the new ads Carmen had a completely covered chest.

Auckland Opera has taken a step in the right direction of providing a more wholesome, nonsexist Carmen. It is regrettable, however, that other productions continue to promote inappropriate role models and behavioral messages regarding gender relations, animal rights issues, and tobacco consumption. Admittedly, some of these problems are incorrectly dealt with in Prosper Mérimée’s original story. Yet a few minor changes would enable audiences to enjoy the beautiful music of the opera without being exposed to offensive and outdated stereotypes.

Herewith, a Carmen for our time:

The first scene takes place in a square in Seville. Young factory workers spill into the street for their morning break of fresh fruit. One of them, the dark Gypsy Carmen, sings a lovely habanera, reminding us that love occurs between all genders, races, and body types. Before returning to the factory, Carmen throws a rose to the Basque soldier, Don José. A fight breaks out between two of the young persons in the factory, and while trying to instruct them on the futility of violence, Carmen is arrested. Don José is ordered to guard her, but she convinces him to allow her to escape, explaining that they are all victims of patriarchal oppression.

The second act opens in the smoke-free environment of a vegetarian restaurant. Carmen and ethnically-diverse friends are enjoying whole-meal buns and spring water when they are interrupted by the wicked Escamillo, a rich and famous bullfighter. Escamillo sings an aria in praise of wine, cigars, thick steaks, and women. This disgusts the young people, although Carmen is strangely attracted to the bullfighter. Don José arrives and, alone at last, he and Carmen vow to live together. They will respect the importance of protected sex and acknowledge each other's unique cultural identity. Don José will do the ironing.

The third act opens in a wild place in the mountains. Carmen, Don José and other members of the Animal Liberation Collective are plotting to end the exploitation of bulls. Don José is enraged when Carmen nobly volunteers to seduce Escamillo, so exhausting him that he will be unable effectively to fight in the bullring. Carmen patiently explains that the lives of many bulls, and the contentedness of cows, is at stake. Escamillo enters and begins a duel with Don José, but the Collective intervenes, insisting that the two men find viable nonviolent means to settle their dispute. The jealous Don José must seek anger-management counseling.

The final scene returns to Seville. Escamillo’s colorful procession enters the bullring. A disheveled Don José confronts Carmen. He is suffering from low self-esteem. Counseling has only made his anger worse, recovering repressed childhood memories of satanic rituals, where he was forced to drink blood, eat babies, and smoke cheap, unfiltered cigarettes. Acknowledging his trauma, Carmen insists he begin the healing process by getting a bath and a shave. The two lovers embrace and sing a lovely aria, detailing plans to offer workshops in cultural identity and empowerment. The bull wins.

******* “The Smoke-Free Carmen” is part of a larger project to update and refresh classic operas for a sophisticated, postmodern audience. Other chapters include “Rigoletto, the Story of a Person with Disabilities” and “The Ring of the Nibelung: Breaking the Cycle of Abuse.”

To which we say:  "Bravo" Denis Dutton:, who left us too soon, and thanks to Carl Grapentine, WFMT, for the on air presentation of same, and who thankfully is still with us.....and whose birthday it is today....happy birthday!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Unknown authors don't sell; name brand authors do

When J.K Rowling, the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series, released her new book in 2013, The Cuckoo’s Calling, the book only sold 1,500 copies in its first four months.


Not when you realize that she released it under the unknown pseudonym
of Robert Galbraith. But once Rowling was identified as the true author,
sales of the book skyrocketed, pushing 225,000 copies sold in a single month.

Author branding is critically important in today’s increasingly digital
publishing world. Although new authors face bigger challenges, even
established authors are realizing they must build and mobilize a fan
base with more direct approaches, including giving away books for free.

So what are authors doing to reach new fans and build their brand? It
turns out the list is quite large and really benefits book lovers. But
the two biggest benefits are direct access and cost savings.

Direct Access to Authors

Many authors maintain blogs, email lists, Facebook pages, and Twitter
accounts for loyal followers to keep up with their latest news and
releases. Using these channels, authors communicate with fans, listen to
feedback, and even offer special contests.

In addition to authors’ own social pages, readers are connecting through third party
social sites. Goodreads, the largest reading community, recently
launched an “Ask the Author” feature where readers can ask questions

Joe Finder, one of the participating authors, said,
“The Internet has made writers incredibly accessible to readers
directly, and Goodreads members are a particularly passionate and
engaged group of readers. ‘Ask the Author’ seems to be a good way to
bring authors in contact with readers.”

Flash Sales Save Readers Money

Limited-time book deals have become a go-to tactic, even for bestselling authors. Our daily email alert has featured free and discounted ebooks from authors such as Dan Brown, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts.


In a recent article, branding expert David Vinjamuri called flash sales a “powerful tool” for authors looking to build a following. Many
authors, for example, will discount the first book in a series to get
readers hooked. Additionally, authors may discount older bestselling
titles to prime the pump for a new release.

“I think limited-time price promotions — mine are often 24 hours —  are a
fabulous way to help gain visibility for my books,” Bella Andre, an
independent, bestselling romance author who has used BookBub’s service a
half dozen times over the past year, said in a recent interview.

BookBub subscriber Mona Estrada from Stockton, CA, regularly takes advantage of
flash sales from her favorite authors. “I actually download several
books a week,” said Estrada. “I’ve saved approximately $40 or more each
month using BookBub.”

Readers Take Advantage
Years ago, shopping for books meant going into your local bookstore, speaking
with an employee, and getting recommendations for books on the shelves.
But it’s a different world now. The rise of ebooks and digital
marketing has given people more power than ever, and smart readers know
how to take advantage.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

From their own numbers: Verify Fidelity mutual fund return? I couldn’t and neither could Fidelity phone staff

We set out to do something we thought would be very, very simple:  verify the 6.64% annual return in the current (January, 2015) Fidelity shareholders update, just received in the mail.

The impetus?

The numbers in my personal spreadsheet didn’t add up, so I thought I’d “dig a little deeper.”  To put it mildly, I was surprised that Fidelity customer assistance couldn’t do it either.

Here are the numbers:

Close 10/31/2013
Close 10/31/2014

Capital gaine


Total return
%age return, i.e. 2014 close + dist/2013 close, or (24.93+2.066)/25.41

Reported return in Fidelity lit.


Obviously, there was something wrong in my math, and surely Fidelity could easily straighten me out, and “reconcile” the account.

Turns out not.  I was gobsmacked.  While we are sorting this out, (and the possibility exists that I am still just “missing something” that I should be able to spot but can’t;  if you can see it, please post a response) here is the full transcript of our “talk”:


System: Thank you for contacting Fidelity Investments. All interactions are subject to recordkeeping and monitoring. Chat representatives of Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC are unable to accept any trading requests to buy, sell or exchange securities, nor do they provide legal, tax or investment advice.

ME: Initial Question/Comment: Question: reading your current shareholder update. For FWWFX, stating a gain of 6.64% from Oct 31 2103 to same date 2014. I reviewed, got decline in those dates from 25.41 to 24.93. Loss of 1.9% or so. Please advise.

System: FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE has joined this session!

System: Connected. Your Reference Number for this chat is 5750466.

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: Hello, thank you for contacting us, John. How are you today?

ME: Good, thanks.

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: I'm glad to hear you're well. I've not reviewed that fund, but are your calculations taking into account capital gains distributions and dividends paid out during that time?

ME: Prices taken straight off yahoo. Are distributions :"separate"?

ME: I guess they might be.

ME: How much were dist. in that period, then, we'll re do the math.

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: Yes. The historical prices reported do not include any distributions, which are subtracted from the value of the fund upon distribution, so it's possible that the value of the fund may be lower while still technically calculated with a gain.

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: You can review the distribution history here:

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: The performance figures reported on account for all distributions in addition to market movement during the periods listed.


ME: I now get 6.2%

ME: Still off by .44%. Can you resolve?

ME: I added 24.93 + .087+ 1.979 to get 26.996

ME: Div by 24.93 Oct 31 2014 price

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: I'm afraid I cannot. I'm not an analyst and I'm not familiar with the exactly calculations are figured. It's possible that the fund's expenses are being figured as well.

ME: k tx

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: I can assure you that the data presented on is provided by properly licensed analysts and is correct.

ME: Can you have someone email me the manner in which the 6.64% FWWFX return was calc, e.g. an analyst?

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: Our analysts are not able to communicate directly with clients.

ME: A shareholder should be able to see how the return was calculated.

ME: You are asking me to take this on faith.

ME: We are .44% off.

ME: No one there can tell me?

ME: How you figured the return on one of your major funds?

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: You are welcome to review the fund's prospectus online if you like.

ME: I have your report in my hand.

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: The figures presented on are regularly reviewed and re-calculated with new data and are correct.

ME: Lots of words, not much clear explanation on the return.

ME: If they are correct, should be easy to verify.

ME: You have heard the phrase, "trust, but verify?"

ME: Can I talk to a super?

FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE: Certainly. Just a moment.

 System: NAME WITHHELD has joined this session!

 System: FIDELITY REPRESENTATIVE has left this session!

ME: Hi: Seeking explanation of FWWFX return ---- price, div and cap gains on how FIDELITY figured 6.64% return FWWFX. Price Oct 31 2013 was 25.41, Oct 31 2014 was 24.93, plus div .087 plus cap gain 1.979 gives me 6.2% , not 6.64% as published. Put me straight....

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Hello, my is (withheld) and I am a supervisor in the Electronic Response department. Would you mind if I take a moment to review your chat so far?

ME: No problem, take your time...

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Thank you for your patience. I am happy to help to the best of my ability. We do not have all of the details of everything that is factored into that calculation, but I can see if I am able to duplicate that figure.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Give me a few minutes to run through the historical data for FWWFX.

ME: thanks

ME: Appreciated

ME: brb in 5 min ok?

ME: Don't hang up on me ok?

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: That's fine. I will post my findings and wait until you return.

ME: Thank you, brb.

ME: Back.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I am still reviewing the performance figures. It may be just a few minutes longer.

ME: Take your time, I appreciate your assistance.

ME: Would like to get this right.

ME: Prob. I am just missing something.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I have been running a few different figures to try to replicate that return %. I was looking at the change between 10/31/13 and 10/31/14 and also 11/1/13 to 10/31/14. The numbers are close, but I am not able to get that exact number.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: The report mentions that those figures are based on the fiscal year ending on 10/14/14, but it never mentions the specific dates that are used in the calculation.

ME: In your booklet, it says "periods ended Oct 31, 2014. I don't see Oct. 14

ME: In your booklet, it says "periods ended Oct 31, 2014." I don't see Oct. 14

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I'm sorry, that was a typo.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I meant to write 10/31/14.

ME: No problem.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I am assuming this would be 11/1/13 through 10/31/14, but that part is not made clear in the Investor's report. Going on that assumption, I took the difference between the prices on those dates, which would be -$0.46, and factored in the total distributions for the year ($2.066), to get a total difference of $1.606.

ME: OK. Did you figure a return? Or should I?

ME: We are getting the same dist., i.e. 2.066.

ME: Are we agree that we go from Oct 31 to Oct 31, 2013, to 2014/

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Based on the basic calculation for return, we should just divide $1.606 by the starting price, $25.39 on 11/1/13, which gives us 6.325%.

ME: Are we agree that we go from Oct 31 to Oct 31, 2013, to 2014?

ME: OK, at 6.325% still falls short of the reported 6.64%, it would appear.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I would imagine it would be 11/1/13 to 10/31/14. I did also run the numbers from 10/31/13 to 10/31/14 and did not find a match with the 6.64%.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: My conclusion is that there is some other factor that is slightly altering the figure, and that is likely just a difference in the pricing dates that were used for the fiscal year.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I apologize that I am unable to provide more information. Our analysts do not provide us with anything outside of the same documents that are presented to our clients.

ME: So, for a "civilian" like myself, there is no relatively easy way to verify Fidelity returns?

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Unfortunately we do not have any further access to all of the variables that were used in the calculation. The numbers go through a long process of cross-checking by different internal groups for accuracy.

ME: And no one at Fidelity who can provide same?

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: There are individuals in the fund management group who have access to all of the details, but they have not made them publicly available and the group is not accessible to front line representatives.

ME: Thanks for trying, I do appreciate the effort, but must admit I am somewhat disappointed and disconcerted that such a seemingly simple thing as "fact checking" is not able to be done here.

ME: Bye.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: I am sorry I wasn't able to provide you with the solution you were looking for. I will submit feedback to our Fund Management group to suggest adding specific dates for the fiscal year calculations.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Please let us know if you need any assistance in the future. Have a good rest of the day.

ME: Yes, if I may say, I think there are many pages of fine print in the shareholder update, but perhaps, from my vantage, ask mgt. to add a simple, short explanation, plain to see, on how the annual return was calculated.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: That is a great suggestion. I will add that to the feedback that I am entering now.

ME: e.g. X + Y + Z DIVIDED BY A = RETURN. Just real simple.

ME: Then footnote as necessary until the cows come home.

ME: There is presently no easy, online way to verify your returns.

ME: Have a nice week.

FIDELITY SUPERVISOR: Thank you. You too!

System: NAME WITHHELD has left this session!

System: The session has ended!