Category Archives: Variety Children’s Chorus

2019 in pictures

And now abide (according to these photos):  family, faith, friends, travel, MUSIC, Circus Harmony, Variety, cooking, Auggie, the garden, and Webster University.  That pretty much sums it up.

2019 holiday letter

December 2019

Dear friends and family around the world:

The Christmas tree is decorated.  Candles are lit.  The house is increasingly scented with the warm spices of the holiday season.

And while all is not well in the world, all is calm here on Lawn Place.

I began the year on sabbatical, and now end the year in a frantic rush to finish a major accreditation report at the office.  The private studio has exploded in a lovely and fulfilling way.  My circus composing is going well. And I am loving working with the Variety kids.  Fulfilling is indeed the watchword.

As I near 60 years old, I’ve made some decisions about what the next few years are going to entail.  More on this as it unfolds and becomes real.  The great news here is that I’m figuring out how my contributions to my profession and community are maturing, strengthening, and broadening, and that makes me very happy indeed.

Virginia the Landlady, JC, Dean Peter Sargent

So changes are coming, and are present as well.  Peter Sargent retired in July after being the only fine arts dean Webster has ever had, and I now have a new boss.  Sadly, Peter died just a few weeks ago.  His death has left me in a well of grief for a father-figure and mentor I loved deeply.

One of the realizations this year: my life is enriched by a web of acquaintances of various degrees of closeness, without whom life would be infinitely less interesting and connected.  The New York Times earlier this year posted an article about how people with a robust group of acquaintances are generally happier.  Circus Harmony and Variety has helped me fill some of these gaps.  The brief conversations with parents of my private students add to connection as well.  And I’m grateful!

Travel this year included not one but two trips to Morocco. I enjoyed the first trip so much I grabbed my friend Kevin and went back again a few months later.  I’ve had some Chicago time, two trips to Washington, D.C., several NYC trips, and a bit of time in Lee’s Summit.

We are all getting a bit older.  My sisters and I are all in our 50s.  Karen is a grandmother twice-over now.  Beth has only one of her three children still in public schools.  JoAnne, our father’s widow, is now in a care center, and her home (the one she shared with Pop until his death) is now on the sales block.  Change is a constant.

With my sisters.

I’ve taken numerous cooking classes this year.  Sourdough bread has been a favorite, with a starter I’ve somehow kept alive.  A cooking class in Tangier was a delight too.

The Variety Chorus finished our Spring season with a performance with Sting in April! And my circus music was hit in January.

I’ve seen a TON of shows this year!

And this summer I said ‘see you later’ to three much-loved students:

Students fill my life with joy!

I had two incredible meals this year, one in Tangier, the other at a Cuban place in DC:

And finally, some of the circus kids have become my adopted family here in Saint Louis.  The Bailey brothers helped me celebrate my birthday this year, and their family has become a fixed point for me.

This holiday season is a time of darkness and expectation, light and hope.  May the light be victorious, and may we all enjoy blessings during this season.


Perfect evening

A perfect evening in many ways . . . that’s my thought at 10.30 p.m. Thursday.

I led the Variety Children’s Choruses this evening in a holiday concert, featuring my colleagues Debby Lennon and Ben Nordstrom as well, with Carolbeth True at the piano.

This was a joyous evening!  The kids sang beautifully, with Webster student John Tengowski as my right hand and collaborative pianist.  Hugs and happiness were the end result. Santa’s visit helped too.

One walks on air when working with these kids.  They are a joy indeed.

Thank you, Katie Anderson Pfeil!
Thank you, Katie Schneider Miller!
Credit: Katie Anderson Pfeil
Credit: Katie Anderson Pfeil

Then I came home, put on my jammies, paid bills, made some toasted pecans, answered school emails, and got to work on Circus Harmony music.  And poured a vodka tonic.

Purgatory, and other ramblings

I do believe with my whole heart that there exists a ‘driving purgatory.’  And that purgatory has a special place reserved for people who drive 55 miles per hour, hanging out in the center left lane on a four-lane freeway.

And for those who don’t signal when turning, a special puragatory.

And for those who frigging don’t know how to use the yield sign at I-64 and Kingshighway, eternal purgation!

The Circus Harmony music is all fitting together nicely. The director and producer stopped by my home on Monday evening (after I arrived home from Variety Chorus), and I played tunes for them from the cache of things I’ve been scribbling.  I think we are all on the same chart now, and that makes me very happy.  This is going to be a fun show to compose.

I ordered holiday gifts on Monday for my colleagues at work: their own individual copy of Mapping Your Academic Career.  This book by Gary Burge was instrumental in awakening me to the career shifts and focuses that I see playing out in myself and others.  I think it high time that my colleagues each have a copy.

The new computer at work is finally up and running.

Speaking of Variety, the holiday show is Thursday, December 12 at 7.30 p.m. at The Sheldon.

We ran all the music on Monday evening this week, and find that we have a ways to go with memorization.  But these kids are brilliant, and we shall get there!

And this public service reminder:


Seems like

A commence-sabbatical gift from a student.

Ken in Kansas wrote about my sabbatical the other “Seems like it’s been a good one.”

My response: “You know me.  Not nearly enough of the planned work accomplished, but I’ve been happily occupied.  Still too many books to read, too many musical ideas swimming around my head that need to get on paper, too many journals stacked up.  And too much stuff in the house that I had intended to tidy and purge.

“But YES.”

And then I start thinking.

In the last year, trips to Austria and Sweden and Italy and Russia and Spain and Morocco and Canada.  GOOD LORD!

My official statement about sabbatical projects: “engage in professional development and personal enrichment and creative activities.”

In the last five months:

  • music director/composer for Circus Harmony
  • Variety Children’s Charity chorus conductor (prepping now for a concert with Sting)
  • two NASM-related trips to Washington, D.C.
  • a handful of cooking classes at Kitchen Conservatory and Missouri Botanical Garden
  • successfully kept/keeping sourdough starter alive
  • two trips to Chicago
  • Thanksgiving in NYC
  • and three more NYC trips, with shows including The Prom, The Choirboy, Superhero, Kiss Me Kate, and Merrily We Roll Along
  • major curriculum revisions signed, sealed, delivered at Webster
  • NASM HEADS report finished at Webster
  • talk and dinner with Jamie Bernstein, daughter of Leonard Bernstein
  • pandas at the National Zoo!
  • two house-party singing performances with Dr. Ruth Price
  • lyrics written for a new super-song based on my visit to Saint Andrew’s Church, Tangier
  • visits to the Saint Louis Art Museum, Campbell House, the Missouri Botanical Garden
  • all sorts of new pairs of spectacles
  • service on the Faculty Research Grants committee at Webster
  • advocacy consulting with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
  • Crossroads Hospice volunteer training
  • several books read . . . .
  • lots of new music learned and ready to be taught
  • hundreds of voice lessons at home
  • taxes finished and filed
  • Vienna curriculum meeting in NYC, and follow-up report and planning
  • three senior voice students coached and managed through college musical theatre auditions
  • shepherded four high school students to top ratings at District solo/ensemble contest
  • lunches with alumni and friends
  • successfully passed an annual physical
  • got scolded by my dental technician
  • worshipped at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, St. Mary the Virgin Times Square, St. James Cathedral Chicago, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral Kansas City, and Washington National Cathedral
  • blogged daily, and wrote in my journal almost daily
  • lived and loved and left, and am single again.

This is not a bad list at all!  Professional development?  Yup.  Personal enrichment and creativity?  You bet!!

While I was removed from the daily scrum at Webster, I never truly left the fray.  As I said to a friend the other day, “my role and duties at Webster pervade who I am at this point in my life.  I can’t talk away from thinking about the bigger picture, and all that entails.”  And I don’t mind that all.

But I am indeed grateful for some time away from the scrum!

Some photos from sabbatical:

2018: key events

As I drove back home from home this past week (by which I mean returning to Saint Louis from my childhood hometown of Lee’s Summit), I started thinking about some seminal events in 2018. Truly life-changing events . . . or at least events that can help define a year.

Here are six.

Uncle Jim and Aunt Margaret, Grandma Carter, Mom and Dad

Uncle Jim dies. My father died in December 2017, and his brother James Carter died in June 2018. Uncle Jim’s death means that the last of my parents’ siblings are gone. With my parents also gone, I am now the eldest. I’m not expecting to die any time soon, but the past few months have been filled with a slowly-dawning realization that my sisters and I, and our cousins, are now the generation that cooks the holiday meal, that leads the mourning at a funeral, That teaches the young, that carries the torch in many ways yet to be revealed. And like it or not, the next set of deaths will be in this generation of Carter and Blocher cousins, all of us in our 50s. God willing, the reality is a few decades away. The thought, though, is sobering.

Yufei. Disclaimer: I’m still negotiating emotion and affection and attraction and distance and . . . .

But something has changed in me, and I’m feeling a love I haven’t before. Yufei found me in New York City nearly two years ago, and to answer the Gershwin question “how long has this been going on?,” I’d propose that we date this relationship from early June this year, when I was in New York City for a week to see shows and have some holiday.

He makes me very happy. The world is different place with him.

Messing Award. For Summer 2018, I received Webster University’s Messing Award for an international project that promises to bring change in curriculum. My project dealt with music curriculum at our Vienna campus. Spending three weeks and a day in Vienna was a dream come true for me, and whet my appetite for even more time there if I can swing it some day. I had opportunity for a weekend side trip to Florence. And I walked and walked and walked and saw art and ate loads of pastry and drank some good beer and some fine Prosecco. July was a good month! The project reached a successful completion, and is now in implementation stage.

Living abroad, even for a few weeks, helps open eyes to a wider world. This certainly was the case with me.

Niagara Falls. I was not prepared for the soul-clamoring experience of taking the Maid of the Mist into the horseshoe of the Canadian falls.

At the time, I wrote

The stunning, overwhelming, terrible, heart-cramping beauty of Niagara Falls rendered me speechless today as we sailed into the mist of the Horseshoe Falls.

My face was wet from the spray, and from the tears I was shedding.

Nature is so powerful, so glorious, and so awe-filling.

Since that time, I have described this event to others as one that altered my view of nature, and thus of life. In some ineffable way, my experience on that boat changed me.

Here’s video.

Variety Children’s Choirs. One of my projects this year is conductor of the Variety Club Children’s Choruses. We had our first concert earlier this month. The kids sang their hearts out. I’m eager to resume rehearsals in two weeks’ time.

Working with these kids, many of them without guile and eager to be part of something, has been a heart-warming experience. Their hugs are so genuine, and their pure joy helps me to feel the same thing. I’m glad to be giving back a bit!

Christmas Eve. I felt curiously sad on Christmas Eve (this is the first Christmas season without my father, and Yufei and I were apart this year and feeling it), and then arriving at church, quite disconnected from what had been my faith community for many years.

I came face-to-face with the reality of “you can never go home again.” This may have been the first time I truly experienced the strangeness of not being rooted in the place that rooted me.

I wrote to Yufei the next day:

You cannot go home again.  
And expect it to be the same.
Intellectually, I get this. 
No problem.
Affectively? OUCH.

You can almost always return to home, the place.  But you can never return to home, the actuality.  It’s gone.  It was gone the day you left home.  

And for me, now 25 years after I became Episcopalian, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral is the place home, but not the actual.  The actual is in me.  So too with Lee’s Summit.  The house in which I grew up is long gone from the family. The house my parents bought when I started college was never home, and the town has changed too.  My parents are now gone. The nieces and nephews are aging, and two have their own families now.

What I felt more keenly last evening at Cathedral was the change in the people.  The folks who made up my faith community, my choral family of choice — they are gone or retired.  This is nature of the cycle of life.  The actual no longer exists.

From a site I read last evening while having a glass of post-midnight bubbly: “We’ll all just have to carry Home, the Actuality, around in us, until our own blood stops pumping.  And the Home, the Actuality, will have some new and just-as-unrecoverable shape: whatever Home is, it’s not something out there to return to.  It’s something inside, to which we can all return (or not) as we want, as often as we want.”

The year 2018

Greetings to friends and family around the world. I write on the day of the winter solstice, and note with sadness that this world seems particularly darker than it did a year ago. I pray for light and truth to again be kindled in the hearts of those who lead, and who alone can set to the tone for this world.

May it be so.

Even with the death of my father in the waning days of 2017, my own 2018 has been significantly brighter than national and international news might allow!

Winter. A solo cabaret act. Loads of teaching and concert-going and the robust time of the year at the office. A quiet winter without any significant travel except for a quick trip to Naples, Florida to see Spencer go on as Prince Chulalongkorn in The King and I.

Spring. Begins with a trip to Moscow to discuss collaborations. Attend a concert in Tchaikowsky Hall. Tourist for full, long day in Moscow. Holy Week in London, with services at St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey. My former student sings Gerontius at King’s College Cambridge. Wrap up the school year with a sizable graduating class. Pack up and finish work on my father’s estate. A week in NYC, and confirmation of a budding relationship. Solo/ensemble contest brings solid results. Senior recitals with three voice students. Attend the Tony Awards. Celebrated the completion of 10 years at Webster University.

Summer. Begins with a week in Lincoln at a conference. Then to Vienna on the Messing Faculty Award for three weeks of research and curriculum development. Side trips to Stockholm and Florence. Allergies abound in Vienna! Wept copious tears at the sight of Michelangelo’s David. Start the new school year with days of meetings, and a robust new-student class. Yufei visits Saint Louis. Start work with Variety Children’s Choruses as the new conductor. Celebrate my 57th birthday with a day of museum visits in Vienna, and a screening of The Third Man at a kino.

Autumn. Auggie turns 8. Sabbatical begins in mid-October. Accept a gig with Circus Harmony as composer and music director for the big January show. Start traveling immediately. Chicago with Yufei. Toronto and Niagara Falls with my nephew Luke. Washington, D.C. (pandas!!) and NYC with Yufei. Chicago again. And Christmas at home in Lee’s Summit with my sisters. Attend multiple Circus Harmony classes and practices. Conduct a holiday concert with the Variety Children’s Choruses. Attend Joffrey Ballet and Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Over the course of the year I’ve witnessed powerful live concert performances. Viewed some of the world’s greatest artworks. Learned more about cooking. Kept up the slow renovations on a 100+ year-old home. Enjoyed some stunning meals (Stockholm, Vienna, Chicago, NYC all were gastro-delight locations). Worshipped in grand and beautiful spaces. Composed some decent music. Shot loads and loads of photos (I’m starting to understand light much better). Whipped up homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade. Taken various architectural tours. Read more books than the year before, and also a big chunk of the Bible. Extended my cufflink-buying spree with a dozen new pairs. Imparted lessons about singing, and about life, with students. Loved on my dog. Caught up with friends in far-flung places. Bought more new eyeglasses. Fallen in love.

Not a bad year indeed.

May 2019 bring us comfort and joy and challenges that we can together address.

Variety Children’s Choruses

The Variety Children’s Choruses go live tomorrow night with a holiday concert at the Sheldon.

I get to don my tuxedo and have some fun leading these wonderful singers in some holiday cheer!

We are joined by the Junior League Larks, and by the Gateway Ringers.  I’m told someone special may make an appearance too.

I’m hoping to see friends in the audience!

Variety Children’s Chorus

My public service project this school is leadership of the Variety Children’s Chorus, serving disabled students through an educational musical experience.

We have now had our third rehearsal with each of the two choirs.

And I’m smitten with these kids.

Our theme song this year is “If the world only knew” by Scott Evan Davis. On Thursday evening this week, three new students joined us, and after we rehearsed this song, one of them hugged the music and said “I love this. It’s everything I want to say.”

And I was smitten again.

Later, in the rehearsal with the younger kids, Jeremy Jacobs (Webster student who is assistant director) started playing the intro to “On a wonderful day like today” even before the music was in their hands. The kids jumped right in and started singing with gusto. In fact, they sang better without the music in front of them!

And I was smitten again.

No matter how tired I am on Thursday afternoon (and boy, was I tired today), these kids bring energy and light and joy.

Our first concert is December 13 at the Sheldon!