Category Archives: Samson

2015 in review

At the Church of Saint Nicholas, Mala Strana, Prague. 17 July 2015
At the Church of Saint Nicholas, Mala Strana, Prague. 17 July 2015

Dear friends around the world,

The year 2015 is drawing to a close, and I find myself taking stock of the preceding 12 months.

This has been a momentous year in our world.  I lament the hate and xenophobia that spews forth from many of our elected leaders.  I grieve for those who flee their own countries, and who live in fear in their own cities, even as I urge local officials and national elected officers to take positive, love-filled actions.

Closer to home, I rejoice in little acts, such as a colleague organizing a concert for peace last week, and the various collections of food and household needs that allow me to share the riches of everyday life.

The year 2015 is my first in three years with no broken bones, so I rejoice further!

Beth, Pop, Karen, JC. 10 June 2015.
Beth, Pop, Karen, JC. 10 June 2015.

I think of family.  Both nieces reached milestones this year, with Kristen graduating from college with her nursing degree, and Anna graduating high school and starting college here in Saint Louis.  My father turned 80 this year; we shared a quiet family celebration, as were his wishes.  Sisters Karen and Beth and their families continue to live in the Kansas City area.

imageI think of creativity.  Jimmy Stevens premiered my setting of “Storypeople Songs” in April.  I received a couple of awards for music directing in musical theatre, with nods from both the Saint Louis Theatre Critics Circle and the Riverfront Times.   My students just go from strength to strength, and I delight in their successes too.  Various writing projects and composing projects are coming to conclusion, with hopes that the next year may see some publications too.

At Bob Chamberlin’s retirement party.

I think of school.  Now in my eighth year at Webster University, I continue to love and cherish the rigors, challenges, and opportunities of the day job. I made full Professor this year, starting Fall 2015 at the new rank. We hired a new colleague this year and sent a 42-year member of the faculty off into retirement.  We have two more searches underway right now.  Our students continue to amaze me.  My own students continue to provide me both joy and challenge, and I grow through my interaction with them. We added two new performance programs this semester, with another on the way. Our holiday concert is available to view!

At the Parthenon in Athens, September 2015.
At the Parthenon in Athens, September 2015.

I think of travel.  This summer was filled with away days.  A friend and I vacationed in three European capitals (Amsterdam, where we stayed five nights in a canal boat!; Berlin; and Prague, in an apartment overlooking the river and the Charles Bridge). That trip included a day visit to Antwerp, Belgium; one to Potsdam, Germany, where I visited the site of the Potsdam Conference; and a sober away-day in Terezin to see the Czech concentration camp.  I returned to Europe a few weeks later to engage in some Webster University work in two more capitals (Athens and Vienna), but not before having a couple of idyllic vacation days on the island of Hydra, of the Greek Peloponnesian coast.  Meanwhile, this year included a couple of trips to New York City, to Chicago, and long weekends in Las Vegas and Helena (both of the latter trips to see students in shows).  I also hit Interlochen, Michigan; Bourbonnais, Illinois; the Lake of the Ozarks; and Lincoln, Nebraska — all for various things related to work and service.

IMG_1780I think of companions.  A few days after returning from Europe in September, I made a difficult decision about my beloved Samson. His daily lot was confusion and distress as he suffered from canine dementia.  He died in my arms on September 28, slipping away peacefully as I sang to him and thanked him for being my loyal friend. We’d been together for nearly seven years; he had been with me in this home for all but one month that I’ve lived at 25 Lawn Place.  IMG_8917After publicly proclaiming I’d wait a while until another furry friend shows up, I adopted Augustus Rex, a miniature Schnauzer, on October 31.  This little four-year-old rescue dog has brought new joy and very different energy to my life, and I think I to his.  He’s certainly getting me outdoors more often!

The new office.
The new office.

I think of my home.  This little house in the City of Saint Louis continues to be a delightful place to live and love and be peaceful.  I undertook some remodeling this year, and now have a home office and study where I can relax and feel at home. The former home library is now the guest room, and I have a proper wood-floor, leather wing chair, memento-covered-wall home office.  Conversely, I am also reminded of the darker side of urban living, as a recent nighttime burglary attests.  Thanks be to god for alarm systems and God-winks that caused me to have my housekeys upstairs with me that night!

IMG_9081-0December is a full month of music, but every month is!  This month alone includes concerts at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and at Webster.  A performance of The Nutcracker by the Missouri Ballet.  A holiday cabaret performed by colleagues at the Tavern of Fine Arts.  Lessons & Carols at a local Episcopal church.  (A screening of Star Wars four days before Christmas.)  A jazz event at school, and a student composer’s final concert as well.  And then Christmas Eve at my home parish of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, where I will conduct my own setting of “The Oxen” with the choir.  I am rich in music and art!

Christ Church Cathedral, Saint Louis.

As I write today, Morton Lauridsen’s setting of “O magnum mysterium” is on the stereo.  Oh, how great this mystery, that animals should witness this virgin birth as Christ comes to earth.  This mystery continues to confound and thrill.  And our world needs now, as much as ever, the light of Christ — of true Christ-like teaching of love, acceptance, forgiveness, charity — to break through the gloom, in glorious brightness of day, in truth and passionate commitment to caring for others . . . to healing our world . . . to loving our neighbors as ourselves.

May Christmastide 2015 lead us into a glorious new year.


An oldie

But a goodie!

A Dog’s Purpose (from a 6-year-old).

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker ‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The Six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Live simply.

Love generously.

Care deeply.

Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.

Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.

Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.

Take naps.

Stretch before rising.

Run, romp, and play daily.

Thrive on attention and let people touch you.

Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.

On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.

On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.

When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.

Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.

Be loyal.

Never pretend to be something you’re not.

If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.

When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.


A weekend

Fall Break has commenced.  I celebrated on Friday evening by seeing DOGFIGHT at Stray Dog Theatre; by going to Soulard Market on Saturday morning; by teaching three hours of voice lessons that afternoon; and by catching New Line Theatre’s HEATHERS again on Saturday evening.

The house is closed up, and the heat is on. This is after I spent an ungodly amount on a furnace repair on Thursday.

At least one group of critters seems pleased that this little house no longer has a dog: the squirrels are partying in the back yard in a way I’ve never seen here.  They must know that danger is no longer lurking a bark away.

And I’ve started looking at dogs again.  I doubt I’ll have a new furball before Christmas, but one never knows.

Fall Break includes a couple of days of work, plus a couple of days in Lee’s Summit, and Amtrak trips both directions.  I have, as usual, packed a pile of things from the office, but curriculum matters are foremost on my agenda this week.

After a few days of eating on the chili I made on Wednesday, last evening’s freshmade, home-cooked dinner was chicken with lemon-caper sauce, and a medley of green and yellow beans and new potatoes with butter and black pepper.  Dinner was divinely yummy!


One foot

Putting one foot in front of the other.  That’s what this week has felt like.

I was not expecting this underlying  . . . and unaccustomed . . . layer of sadness that is permeating my days right now.

But we go on.  People carry on.

I went to Soulard Market on Saturday and returned with white grapes, green beans, strawberries, new potatoes, cantaloupe, some limes, and a four-pound brisket that will serve me well this week.  Plus 30 pounds of Jonathan apples that will need to be worked up on Sunday and Monday.

And I taught my usual contingent of lessons this week as well, save for two illness no-shows on Saturday.

Friday night grin between performances.
Friday night grin between performances.

We opened Heathers at New Line Theatre this week.  Opening night on Friday was a sold-out thrill.  I arrived late because I spent the first part of the evening at Webster University for the first choral concert of the year — a stunning performance by three of our choirs.

Speaking of Heathers, this show is incredibly complex, multi-layered, and really quite beautiful.  I’m so glad to have been associated with it.

The sympathy cards started arriving today.  I burst into tears again.

Sam had been with me all but one of the months that I’ve lived in this house.  The shadows are everywhere.

As I have read further this week, I am convinced beyond doubt that Samson had canine dementia.  The behavior changes are all consistent with many of the markers of that illness.  Release was the right loving final act, no matter how sorrowful for those of us who loved him so.


A word

Samson the Fearless, except in storms.
Samson the Fearless, except in storms.

Thanks to a colleague for a word from Samson, now beyond sight but firm in memory:

I was your friend.

I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures

To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,

I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours.

~excerpted from “The House Dog’s Grave,” by Jeffers

Acts of kindness

I shall attempt to write this without breaking into another sobbing jag . . . .

The past three days have been filled with touching, quiet, meaningful — and truly moving — acts of kindness.

Some years ago, I wrote a letter to someone whose dog has died.  That dog, Rufus, had lived publicly for more than a decade in a writer’s regular newspaper column.  When the dog died, thousands mourned him.

I wrote at that time “He was, by extension, our dog too.”

Samson was clearly a like canine for many.  I know that my colleagues at school, and my students, enjoyed seeing him and loving on him during his at-first frequent, and more recently less frequent visits to campus.  I also know that many people I don’t often see knew Sam through this blog.  He had become, in some way, a pet for many.

The outpouring of support for me, and of love for the both of us, has truly given me strength to deal with the fraught emotion and the sadness.  I’m so very grateful to so many individuals, and to the universal good.

A message last evening reminded me that I gave Sam the ultimate loving last gift — freedom from his infirmities, and a hug and whispered words of love until his last breath.  I needed that reminder.

Sam now lives in memory (and plenty of photos).  He filled many hearts.  And I think we filled his.

I’m going to close this chapter on blog (at least I think I’m going to), because the time is right for me to grieve, but to keep moving as well.

But first, some parting photos of my sweet and much-loved companion: