It’s Just Plain Old.


The following is a criticism about Gregorian chant I heard recently:

“Chant is just history. It’s just plain old.”

So is Beethoven.
So is Michelangelo.
So is the Bible.
So is Jesus.
…actually, so is everything in the Catholic Church!

Gregorian chant was born from the very first Christians who lived with Jesus and celebrated his resurrection. When Catholics sing Gregorian chant, they are singing music which comes directly from the very first Christians. Is there more fitting music for Catholics? Is there a more appropriate musical mode to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, other than the music born from the tradition of those who actually witnessed the events?

Chant is where the Catholic Church gets something absolutely right. We may only truly understand the present and the future through the past. That is why every Mass includes Jesus’ words from the Last Supper. Why every Mass has Scripture. Why the Catholic Church has its tradition, and its Tradition (with a capital T).

If there is one strength the Catholic Church has above all other groups, organizations, and denominations, it is this: it’s just plain old.

And chant…well. It’s just plain old too.

Reflections on Valentinus Day

Valentinus was a Roman priest who performed Christian marriage ceremonies. Wait a second: yeah, those two don’t mix. So, the Emperor of the Moment (Claudius II), threw him in prison. (Christians in prison was all the rage in 269 A.D.) Claudius and Valentinus became buddies, and sent each other heart-themed cards once a year via secret messenger boys in togas. Debate continues as to whether crimson or flamingo pink was Claudius’s favorite color. However, scholarship is certain that emperor preferred the cute hearts with the long tails.

One day, Valentinus tried to convert Claudius. Not his smoothest move, but it became a memorable one. Claudius being Claudius (that is, a generally nice guy just ever so rarely prone to tyranny and bloodshed), he had his buddy Valentinus clubbed and stoned. That didn’t quite do the trick, so he had him beheaded.

Valentinus is the patron saint against fainting, of bee keepers, the plague, and epilepsy. Oh, and affianced couples and happy marriages.

“Sometimes the old ways are best.”


“Sometimes the old ways are the best.” – Eve (Skyfall)

In the Catholic Church’s Holy Week before 1965, there existed a liturgy of penitential majesty and sorrow. In this Good Friday service (called Tenebrae), lamentations are proclaimed, Psalms of a desparate people are sung, and the words by John Chrysostom (349 – 407) deliver a hits-you-in-the-gut reflection on Christ. Passages from St. Augustine are also read or sung.

The Tenebrae service occurs in darkness. The church is lit by only a few candles, each slowly extinguished as the many pieces of haunting music are sung, until only one flame remains. Its light, too, is eventually dimmed.

For centuries, the greatest composers around the world were drawn to set the texts of Tenebrae to music. And of course! How compelling it is for a composer, to have at their finger tips a set of texts that contain a breathless drama in every line.

Here is a stunning piece of Tenebrae music, composed by T. L. Victoria, which has been sung in churches around the world for centuries, the Eram quasi agnus innocens:

This piece represents maybe 1/30 of the service…! Can you imagine a church whose walls flicker with the light of just a dozen candles, slowly being extinguished, as the words of Christ on the cross are sung in the most haunting, arresting, beautiful arrangements? Music like this, reverberating in the church, for hours.

The Miserere mei, Deus is one of the crown jewels of the Renaissance, and one of the most often performed pieces of sacred music in history. This piece would never have been composed, if Tenebrae had not existed:

Today, unfortunately, Tenebrae as an ordered, laid-out, there’s-a-way-to-do-this-thing service was done away with in Vatican II. What an incredible loss! Most churches now sing a few hymns (drawn from the Protestant Germanic tradition) on Good Friday, and that’s it. That is a fine thing to do. But at the same time, it is sobering to realize how much beauty has been lost to the past. There are dozens and dozens of Tenebrae pieces, set by the most talented and inspired composers. However, no modern composer is drawn to Tenebrae today, or has been for decades, because it is almost never done in its full form.

There are indeed many practices that are best left in the past. But sometimes, the old ways are the best.

Love of Nature

The closer a person is to nature, the more compassionate, understanding, and thoughtfully he acts. Love of nature so easily translates into love and appreciation of your fellow man.


IBM The Latest To Try To Fix Email

→ IBM The Latest To Try To Fix Email

Mailbox came out a year ago, and introduced new tools for managing email that easily halved the time I spend in my inbox. Google just released Inbox a few weeks ago, their all-new Gmail app (which takes its cues mostly from Mailbox). So now IBM wants to fix email.

Tech is amazing, in what it can do to increase efficiency in our lives. But. How many of us use email, mobile phones, to do lists, and various apps for productivity…and still spend 4 hours a day glued to a screen? Is that really productivity? Is that true efficiency, freeing us up for better things in life?

I don’t think we need more tech to “productivity-ize” our lives. I think we need less.

Earlier this year, I decided to solve my own e-mail overload. I was fielding 75 to 200 email messages a day. I now subscribe to nothing (no newsletters, no deal websites, zilch). I reply to extremely few emails. I have committed to the principle that I do not need to be instantly available to everybody (meaning ignoring email every night and weekend). And I refuse to spend more than 40 minutes a day (tallied through a whole day) working through my inbox.

Email overload is likely more about humans being addicted to the dopamine that gets released from staring at glowing screens mixed with the infinite flow of new information, than it is about lack of software features.

The problem wasn’t ever the tech. It was me!

My answer is to do less. Get away from the inbox, and invest in real life (people, relationships, service, art, creativity, food!). I’m happier, do more fulfilling things with my time, and no longer experience the tyranny of the inbox.

Sorry, IBM. I could have saved you a few $100,000 in R&D.


Robin Williams 1951-2014


We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” – John Keating, Dead Poets Society (1989)

Rest in peace, Robin Williams.

Hiker sings opera to scare off mountain lion

Hiker sings opera to scare off mountain lion

Finally, she decided to try something different.

“I don’t know why, I just started singing opera really loud,” Koestonsky said. “It kind of put its ears down and just kept looking at me, and it sort of backed away. [...] “We’re glad this turned out to be nothing more than a frightening experience for the hiker,” Masters said in a press release.

And apparently a frightening experience for the lion.

The Met’s labour dispute: a symptom of a company in crisis

The Met’s labour dispute: a symptom of a company in crisis

Brilliant write-up by Jason Farago on the Metropolitan Opera and its ills:

“The sung story will last as long as humans do. Whether our current opera house model will survive will depend, I believe, on how successfully opera houses attract new artists to create work that speaks as eloquently to the traditions as to present-day audiences.” It’s an open question, however, whether the Met can do so. It certainly cannot while the stage door is padlocked.

Stuck between powerful unions and disrespected leadership, what’s a company with an annual $325 million budget to do?

Farago sums it up nicely: “If the Met’s audience is dying, that is the effect, not the cause, of its woes.”

A Silly Career Expense for Singers

OPERA America (a non-profit dedicated to serving the opera community in America) is pleased to announce a new expense…. I mean, program: Career Blueprints.

If you are a singer, soloist, or freelance musician, you have not even left the bench until you have:

  1. gorgeous headshots
  2. a studio recording
  3. a pipeline of feedback from (real-world working) casting and general directors
  4. a knock-out résumé and narrative biography
  5. a website that says “Damn, you’re good at what you do.”
  6. an ever-increasing skill set when it comes to personal branding, audition techniques, and a deep understanding of the crazy, changing business that is professional music.

So this is exactly what the CAREER BLUEPRINTS FOR SINGERS program offers: all 6 of those items, in one fat $700+ bundle! Experts will massage your career materials into a firm foundation, compelling and attractive to future employers. How marvelous, that in one place, at one time, and in one swoop, you can emerge with the engine built to power your Career Rocket!

This program is exciting!

You do not need it.

If today were 1980, it would be invaluable. Today, however, you have the internet.

When I was 14, I accidentally started my first business

One afternoon, my friend Richard asked me if I could create a new website for his friend’s business. At the time, I knew about 10 lines of code. But I said yes anyways. We set a day to discuss the project over dinner, 5 days away. Every day, for 5 days, I turned to Google (which was a young startup at the time!). I searched for hours and hours on everything I could get my hands on: website design, coding, contracts, negotiation… When I finally met Richard and his friend over steak and potatoes, I negotiated a 6 month contract. But at the time: I had no clue how to actually make a website.

I spent 3 months learning how to design and code websites, and another 3 months actually making the website. The site launched to rave reviews, a host of referral contracts, and an 11 year run as the face of their company.

All because I was too stupid to know my limits!

You don’t know how to get great headshots, to create a compelling website, to write an incredible cover letter, to get feedback. The truth: this is between you, your determination, and the search bar! The internet is a fountain spewing more knowledge than you could hope to absorb in 1,000 lifetimes! Do you need to pay $700 for knowledge and consulting? Sometimes, absolutely! In this case? Unequivocally no.

There are six aspects to the OPERA America CAREER BLUEPRINT program. My advice? Set aside 6 days and do it yourself: how about August 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6? Invest 2 hours each day researching and learning everything you can about one of those topics. On August 7, set future dates within the month of August when you will execute on each those goals.

Hard? No. Difficult to turn off Facebook, follow through, and do the work? Yes.

I support OPERA America, without reserve. We need them. But more than any program or company, I support you, the individual artist. You must learn to support yourself whenever possible.

You don’t need to spend $700, plus flight and a hotel, for skills waiting to be picked up on the internet. Everything offered in this OPERA America program is taught be world class experts. For free. On the internet.

It often pays to be too stupid to know your own limits. Get a little stupid. Get online. Get learning.