B A R R Y B R A K E . C O M













october - december


duane cottrell

tom fuller

jason young

sean mcmains

paul soupiset

bradford ohana
jason bradford



darth vader's motif

the problem with singers


skin care

little church boy


puffy, gounod, the liturgy...

pop and standards


rocks cry out

to sing with the understanding

unelected mullahs

charlie sheffield's birthday

love of logic

business corpses

tragedy of the uncommons

autonomic love affair

china, silver, & company

are you a feminist?



  S U N D A Y ,   D E C   1 6 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

...for casual holiday parties? the closeness and comfort of family and dear friends?

Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam She-hekheyanu Ve-kiymanu Ve-higgi'anu La-zzman Ha-zze


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  S U N D A Y ,   D E C   3 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

We're gearing up for Musician's December, a time when husbands and wives don't get to spend as much time together as they like (balanced out by Musician's Spring, when they get to go to, say, Panama, or Vienna, or Thailand, for a month at a time).

This time through, though, things are a bit easier because of Catherine's job. She quit her office and its poisonous atmosphere, and now will be doing field work for them, researching in courthouses across the state. So we get to be together much much more now, and, after a two-and-a-half year period of jet lag — going to bed at eleven and waking up at seven — we now have a more sane schedule that allows us to play gigs ungroggy.

Catherine and I hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner (in a house where it looks like we'll be staying for at least several more months, in keeping with the original plan). Our goal was to do all the traditional Thanksgiving stuff, but with a twist. Dressing, but with wine and cranberries and cashews; potatoes, but coated by lavender; carrots, but with apricots and onions; Green beans, but with ginger and orange butter; salad, but with whole wildflowers and mint. 'Twasn't perfect, but we had a wonderful time with a huge crew of family and friends.

I marvel that Catherine and I found each other: feeling the same way about how to spend money and time, and about the moral value of having one's own version of everything.


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  S U N D A Y ,   N O V   1 9 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

Seeing "Cats" again, as we did a few days ago, I was struck again by all the thoughts I'd had the first time around: it's not as awful as some of Weber's later stuff; mainly he's saved by T.S. Eliot's pitch-perfect, bouncy poetry; "Memory" is probably Weber's lasting contribution to the world of melody, simple and beautiful and not too cloying in the right hands; I'd love to hear some of this stuff done by real singers: Jessye Norman, perhaps, as Grizabella, and James Morris as Old Deuteronomy.

Liberated from the usual Broadway voice, some of that stuff is really cool. The other thought I had was that opera really needs to get kinetic. Time was that at least an hour of any given opera was solid ballet. Dance was taken very seriously in operas, even in Wagner. Now you're lucky if you get the hapless chorus to solemnly move about this way and that like a Presbyterian exercise class. How thrilling to see a full cast of "Carmen" really deliver in motion, or even to see "Magic Flute" blocked logically and with an eye toward the contribution of movement to a gesamtkunstwerk.

And, several decades into liturgical dance, where are we? Is the soil that barren, that nothing will grow there?


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  T H U R S D A Y ,   N O V   9 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

Well, we always knew that our time in the Rock House would be short. We even suspected it might be this short. We'll be moving out at the end of November, giving us just enough time to clean up after a lavish Thanksgiving feast.

We'll still have our housewarming party, too -- it'll be a farewell party as well. (Given the likely fate of the abandoned old house this winter, a fare-well wish is just that, alas.) Someone asked, "Why on earth would you have a party at a house you know you'll have to leave?"

Now that's a question from someone who has never had cancer.

You don't know how long you'll be in your house, either, friend. The whole lesson of mannah from heaven is that you have to get out there and gather it, and then try your durndest not to store it up for later.


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  M O N D A Y ,   O C T   3 0 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

Halloween as we know it is a rather recent American invention. This is well-documented, but some of the facts are still surprising. Number of candy-poisonings from 1958 to 1998? Um, zero. (One kid had cyanide Pixie sticks, but that was his dad's doing, trying to collect insurance. The rest are pure urban legend.) Year that the phrase "trick or treat" first appears in print? 1939? Can that be right? Yep. Witchcraft and other assorted claptrap? Not till the mid-twentieth century.

Meanwhile, there's All Saints' Day. It's entirely appropriate that on All Hallow's Eve eve I attended a celebration of one of those great old saints that populate your life. Martha Lyons died last week, and her funeral today was a time of grieving, mourning, gladness, gratefulness, and reunion.

I say reunion because it involved the Trinity diaspora. The dizzyingly huge church family I grew up in hasn't shrunk at all. It's just exploded into several dozen other church families, without losing any of its quiddity. Recently, we've had a couple of funerals that have brought us back into the same room together, and it's been gratifying to see that we who have gone the way of Paul and Barnabas, with anger and tears, have now continued going the way of Paul and Barnabas, embracing new opportunities and heading different directions, all the while cherishing deep family ties.

As for that remarkable moment that's just over the last hill, should we be angry that it's over, or glad that we had it to begin with?


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  S A T U R D A Y ,   O C T   2 8 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

I would like to know at what point the following shift occurred, and why. Before about 1990, someone would say, "That's OK with me." As of about 2000, it has been very common to hear someone say, "I'm OK with that."


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  F R I D A Y ,   O C T   2 7 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

What a week. Let's see: Catherine's car broke down forever, I injured my right hand (and have cancelled at least a few gigs), our house got fleas, the hard drive on my new computer died, barryland.com finally collapsed under the weight of thousands of spams per second, and Catherine resigned from her job.

Pardon me while I think about all that.


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  T U E S D A Y ,   O C T   1 7 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

It's interesting how quickly physical addictions happen. All my life I've slept alone, till two-and-a-half years ago. Yet, even though my habit of staying up late and sleeping till noon returns easily when I'm away from home, my habit of sleeping alone has been utterly obliterated. In less than a thousand nights, I've become so accustomed to Catherine's body next to mine that I ache for it when I'm away. I'll be spending the week at Baylor, as I do every semester. How will I survive?


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  F R I D A Y ,   O C T   1 3 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

It's no coincidence that the great strides females have made in recent centuries are mainly because of a conversation that's been happening in English. English is one of the few Indo-European languages not hampered by gender at every turn. People coming to it late in life say things like, "This language, she is so hard!"

Even so, English has its boy-girl difficulties, one being indefinite pronouns. People have gone into fits about it. Generally, most folks prefer to keep their pronouns sexed and sexist: "Whoever threw this thing away didn't know what he was doing." Academics go to acrobatic lengths to avoid it: "Whoever, uh, re-opportunized this thing didn't know what s/h(e) was doing." Smoother academics know how to avoid the whole issue altogether: "Whoever discarded this thing was uninformed."

If you are involved in any nonacademic organization, though, you wind up getting a good amount of entertainment from people who understand that they have to be nonsexist, but are a bit clumsy in the doing. Hence, this last Sunday, a minister, trying to direct the ceremony that would follow, ut tered a word I'd never heard: "Each deacon will then take communion themselve."


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  W E D N E S D A Y ,   O C T   1 1 ,   2 0 0 6 . 

This last Saturday, the family was helping Catherine and me move. I picked up the old Royal typewriter that I'd kept since my childhood and showed it to Kathy. It put me in mind of her practice of letting 2-year-old Kenton type away at an old computer keyboard while she was at work in her home office. This is exactly what I used to do with my great aunt Ruthie, and this was the typewriter she let me use.

That typewriter, that day, became my madeleine. I wept and heaved in my wife's arms. Catherine and I had been living in this duplex for two years, I alone for three years before that. My great aunt and great uncle built it in nineteen sixty-two, to live the rest of their days together, brother and sister. It was only a few feet from where I was standing that I'd sat in Ruthie's entry/office and played. And today, the Brake family would be leaving this place forever. The whole day I was teary-eyed, pondering what these stones mean.

It was like saying goodbye to Ruthie and Howard all over again. They'd died when I was a boy, and Mom and Dad were the age I am now. Small as I was, though, I remember so much so vividly. Often when I pulled into their driveway I remembered pulling in in Ruthie's old sky-blue Cadillac and finishing our ice cream cones and listening to some elevatorish version of "The Alley Cat" on her eight-track player. I remember sitting on Howard's couch, right where Rich sat just the other day playing with his nephew, having a very serious discussion about whether you could hold your breath with your mouth open. Howard was saying you couldn't, but I thought you could, just by closing your glottis. I showed him, and invited him to put his finger in my mouth to test for wind. He did, but his finger jittered over to the side of my mouth and that grossed him out. Somewhere out there in this vast universe, he still doesn't believe me.

They were bachelor and bachelorette. Ruthie had a years-long thing with a leathery old rancher named Carl, but never married him. Howard, as far as I know, never had a romantic attachment. Since a few years after he died I've used his wonderful old four-poster bed, so high you have to crawl up into it; solid as ever, it's the one Catherine and I still use. I remember when I first moved into his old place, putting my Bay Rum right where he'd kept his, moving his bed back to where he'd had it. I'd just broken up with a wonderful woman, continuing a pattern of rejecting seemingly perfect women one after another. I lay in that bed and wondered whether I would become my uncle Howard, smart and peculiar and fun and alone.

But things changed. Just a few months after I moved into that place, I met Catherine. How I wish Ruthie and Howard could have known her! She would know them so well, I think, having already met them through me. I've always felt, for some reason, that I'm their inheritor in a way others in my family aren't. Probably everyone feels that way: it's called personal fable. But there they sit in my memory, living a short distance off society's socioeconomic grid, spontaneous and traveled and poor-but-rich, and getting their hands into a little of everything. I'm conscious of the role they played in my life, and I've tried to play that role for my nieces and nephews.

I remember Howard's "mmmmMellum" as he answered his phone; I remember his favorite introduction to verbal paragraphs, the mock-pompous "Inasmuch as, considering the facts of the case..."; I remember Ruthie's love of Oriental art and design, and of beauty of all kinds; I remember her giving voice to the statues and figurines in her house (the old Chinese man said "Oong-chong, oong-chong, oong-chong-lo," linguistically and politically incorrect, but unforgettable in that rusty merry voice); I remember Howard's jaundiced complexion and his baggy old-man pants.

He was an award-winning horticulturist; she was the first woman in Texas to get a Master's degree. They were just about everything you'd want in an aunt and uncle: open-minded, always loving, eccentric, generous. They made one tiny corner of the world a better place. And for five years I lived with their ghosts. Farewell, Ruthie and Howard.


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september 06