Monday, April 27, 2009

Prom 2009

It was prom weekend in Mt. Pleasant, and both Katherine and Robert went to the event.
This is no mean feat, considering it's "senior" prom, and neither of them are seniors.
Katherine was escorted by the Drummer - no problem. He's a senior.

But Robert and La Madamoiselle both are sophomores. That took some finagling.
Two of their senior friends in the band, Aaron and Mariah, arranged to be their official escorts.
Photos, dinner, dancing, bowling and breakfast - but no one stayed up to see the sun come up.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

26 Hours in New York: Reality

More than 30 years ago, I dated a woman who once casually said, "Oh, whenever I go to New York, I lose touch with reality." I believed it then, and I believe it now. The reality of the city is hard to grasp. Even standing on the 102nd floor observation platform of the Empire State Building at midnight, with the awesomeness of New York spread out below, it's impossible to begin to grasp.

The place is a concentration of dreams. Both physicists and social scientists talk about "critical masses" necessary to make certain things happen. The sheer concentration of people - one of the densest concentrations on the planet - produces many critical masses.

It is a place of sheer contradictions. The streets are mean and tough, but the music is beautiful and the art is unrivaled. The most regulated, socialist city in the country is the heart of capitalism for the world. The most Democratic city has a Republican mayor. The most crowded city is the place where people can feel most alone.

And it works its magic. The choir could have sung anywhere - in Atlanta or Los Angeles or Detroit. The Temple Theater in Saginaw has about as many seats as Carnegie Hall. The sound in the Mt. Pleasant High School Auditorium is almost as good.
But none of those places strike the same spark in the soul as the words "Carnegie Hall" and all that goes with that.
Reality is standing on that busy street in Astoria, Queens, at 7:30 on Monday morning, waiting for the M-60 bus to LaGuardia as the newspaper hawkers peddle the Daily News and A.M. New York, and everyone is cold and tired and not ready for Monday. Reality is noticing that the industrial parts of New York are just as battered as anywhere in Detroit. Reality is the screaming bag lady, the loose electrical plugs in the midtown hotel, the brokers, the geeks and the junkies.
Reality is the sheer extremes, the sheer range of everything, the exhilaration, the fatigue, the sense of living life to its fullest.
I fell asleep, overwhelmed, before the plane left the runway.

26 Hours in New York: The show

The sun was setting as we walked from the Columbus Circle station back to 57th Street, the hotel and Carnegie Hall.
It was almost showtime.

The show was to begin at 8:30 p.m. We were directed to the third tier - the balcony.

Talent, practice, hard work, rehearsal, dedication. The Mt. Pleasant Concert Choir members were easy to spot among the other choirs that comprised this year's National Youth Choir, even from the balcony, by the confidence with which they moved. And when the Youth Choir sang, and my daughter was in it, I felt the tears.

It was real.

26 Hours in New York: Crazy

I didn't notice the bag lady in the back of the subway car until I was already seated. That's when the, uh, distinctive scent wafted past.
She didn't want company. The madwoman made that clear, with cursing and yelling and twitching and general unhappiness.
There were about 10 of us in the car. As one, we calmly went out the door - we were still at the station - and moved to the next car.
Not a word was said.

26 Hours in New York: Grand Central Terminal

Few pieces of architecture provoke the kind of reaction produced by Grand Central Terminal, with its God's-eye astronomical ceiling, the crowds, the history. We changed subway trains here on the way back to the hotel. It's as awesome as the stories say.

Now serving only Metro North trains, it still carries itself as if all tracks in the country lead here.

26 Hours in New York: Mammon

Wall Street is a real street. It's narrow and old, but it's a symbol. Because that symbol of evil, capitalist excess and immorality, the New York Stock Exchange, is located there at the corner of Wall and New streets, it's also a target. Automatic barricades rise out of the street, and remain up most of the time, blocking out potential truck bombers and maniacs. Visitors on foot with cameras, however, are welcome.

Only members of the exchange and their invited guests may enter into the exchange, but surely, the street outside is a great place for a photo.

Especially for someone with an MBA. Capitalism lives! It's worth noting, that the Paris stock exchange was called La Bourse de Paris before it changed its name to the Euronext Paris in 2000. La Bourse en fran├žais translates literally to "the purse."

Did someone say "purse?" Oh my! A street vendor in front of Trinity Church! It's heaven on the streets of New York!

Of course, it's a designer knockoff, but Kissy Missy says it's beautiful. And it's big. I suspect there's more room in there than in the trunk of my Ford Escort.

26 Hours in New York: The Preacher

We headed for Wall Street - and we found Pastor Benny.
I'm still not quite sure how Pastor Benny latched onto Kissy Missy, but when I turned around, he was explaining how Jesus could save her immortal soul.
Pastor Benny had run a storefront church that had burned for five days in the wake of 9/11. But faith had kept him going.
Ordinarily, I will thank a street preacher for his time and his faith, but something about Pastor Benny's face drew me in. He has a face that says New York, a beautiful face.
His dogma is interesting - a mix of messianic Judaism, it appears, and evangelical Protestantism. He mentioned "66 books" of the Bible - the number of books in the Protestant canon, but talked about translations directly from Hebrew.
We met a small number of his followers in a deli - and promised to send him a photo.
And, of course, he wanted to know if we were saved. The answer: "As the Bible says, I am already saved (Rom. 8:24, Eph. 2:5–8), but I’m also being saved (1 Cor. 1:8, 2 Cor. 2:15, Phil. 2:12), and I have the hope that I will be saved (Rom. 5:9–10, 1 Cor. 3:12–15). Like the apostle Paul I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11–13)."

Friday, April 24, 2009

26 Hours in New York: Late afternoon

Nearly eight years after the attacks on New York and Washington, Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center, remains sacred ground, a blank spot in the New York skyline surrounded on the ground by other buildings that survived.
The debris from the Twin Towers has been gone for years, and the site is essentially a construction zone now.
But every day, hundreds of people come to visit, to gawk, to stand on the steps of Brooks Brothers or to climb to the second floor of the Burger King across the street, and remember that strange, horrifying day.

No one needs to explain what 9/11 means. As we walked by, a TV crew from Japan was shooting some sort of story. The story, clearly, is not done.

Flowers still decorate the fence outside the site. We gladly bought a magazine that carried the most iconic images of the day.
There's a sense of loss, a spirit that pervades the air. Others have written about it, and it's real.
The people, like us, who come from far away to see are not gawkers or tourists or ghouls. We are pilgrims, and whatever replaces the Twin Towers - as something inevitably will - must preserve that sense of place and spirit.

But it's New York, and commerce goes on. The choir's hotel was just a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero.
And Katherine says she had the best pizza she's ever had from Steve's, and other choir members raved about Charlys burgers - both located across the street from Ground Zero.

COMING UP: The preacher, the purse, and things get weird!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

26 Hours in New York - afternoon

The Village has its own character, but 50 years of Bohemian chic has left it gentrified and expensive.

But there's no doubt about the politics. We wandered around, absorbing the sense of the place, then found the Washington Square-NYU station and headed for the financial district.

The choir's hotel was located less than two blocks from Ground Zero, just down the block from the devastated DeutscheBank building, which is now being carefully taken down. On the sidewalk beneath the protective shield that keeps stuff from falling on pedestrians, we ran into Katherine and some other choir members.
They had a rehearsal coming up.

The National Youth Choir's director, Eph Ehly, is exuberant, outgoing, over-the-top, but he is "one of the most sought-after choral conductors/clinicians," according to the American Choral Directors Journal. He taught at the University of New Mexico, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Oklahoma, and more than 90 students have earned their doctorates under his supervision.
Katherine says he reminds of her Robin Williams.

The 2009 National Youth Choir comprises seven of the best prep choirs in the country, from California, Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland and Florida. Michigan boasts two of these choirs: the Fraser Singers from Fraser High School in Shelby Township, and the Mt. Pleasant High School Concert Choir.
In rehearsal, they sounded awesome:

The choir's job after rehearsal: Relax until the show. Our job: The adventure continues.

26 Hours in New York - late morning

After Times Square, it was back on the subway to 116th Street. Columbia University has been sending regular recruiting material to Robert, and he thought he might like to see what the neighborhood was like at Morningside Heights.
It's peaceful, a very big change from the bustle of midtown.
Columbia is New York's Ivy League school, very selective, a very, very long history. Lord help my checkbook and pray for financial aid. Robert felt right at home.

As do I. Is this where I finally get my doctorate? Is the J-school founded by Joseph Pulitzer, with the statute of Thomas Jefferson out front, my destiny?

But there's that other school in New York that heavily recruited Andrew, and now is sending its beautiful, enticing brochures to Robert: NYU. It's in Greenwich Village, and its Washington Square campus centers around that public space. It was about lunchtime when we arrived, so at Kissy Missy's urging, we at what turns out to be a campus hangout: the Washington Square Diner on Fourth Street at Sixth Avenue. Sitting at the counter was another New York Experience - the Village experience.
The buildings marked are NYU buildings. The neighborhood is upscale bohemian, as might be expected. Robert said he frankly preferred uptown. I couldn't help but think, however, that Andrew would feel right at home in the Village. But at about $40,000 a year for grad tuition, well, let's hope for a fellowship.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

26 Hours in New York - Morning

There was no way that Katherine would sing at Carnegie Hall without our being there. This, of course, involves a trip to New York. The plan: Catch a red-eye from Detroit, fly into Laguardia, and do some quick and dirty sightseeing in the hours before - and after - the concert. Part 1, red-eye: Not a bad way to fly on a Sunday morning. We arrived on time, and decided to take public transit into Midtown.

The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority has a great system for paying for bus and subway rides: The Metropass. A one-day pass costs $7.50, and gives you unlimited rides. We caught the M-60 bus from LaGuardia, which took us to the closest subway station in Astoria, Queens. The view is urban, busy, but the train came in a few minutes.

A taxi ride from LaGuardia would have cost at least $60, and taken about 30 minutes. It took us 20 minutes. Given we'd spent $22.50 for subway fare, we already were ahead.
We came out directly across from Carnegie Hall, right near our hotel. It was 9 a.m.

Sightseeing: First stop, Times Square. Even on a Sunday morning, it's busy, crazy ...

... garish, and just plain American.
Not for the last time, this thought struck me: If all someone knows about America is New York, the picture is very distorted. But leave New York out of the picture, and the image is just as distorted.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Choir members spent the day in rehearsal - I don't think they made it down to the GM Building for the CBS Early Show - even though I watched. The only music was from a much better known band.
Rehearsal: Katherine says the overall choir director reminds her of Robin Williams.
The city: Lots of walking, followed by lots of walking, then more working.
Kissy Missy, Bert and I fly out of DTW at Oh-Dark-20, watch the sun rise over Lake Erie, and connect with the choir before noon.
It's bedtime.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TV fizzles, IHOP sizzles

Today's planned appearance by the Mt. Pleasant High School Concert Choir to sing out a break on the CBS=TV "Early Show" didn't happen.
Details are still sketchy, but it looks as if the choir was still in New Jersey when the show was on the air. Plans now are to do the Saturday version of the show.
Breakfast was at an IHOP somewhere in Jersey. The choir, at last report, had made it into the city and was on its way to Central Park.
From Twitter: "I really like it here."

Into the Big Apple

So, how does dawn over New York, followed by an appearance on national television, sound?
That's what's scheduled for the Mt. Pleasant High School Concert Choir.
The choir was to perform at a prep school in St. Catharines, Ontario, last night, then see Niagara Falls.
A tweet from choir member kaymaysings92: "NIAGARA FALLS IS STUNNING!!"
But things got a little weird - the bus had some mechanical problems.
Our bus is broken," Katherine tweeted. "This always happens to me in foriegn countries. Europe and now Canada. How strange..."
But the bus got back on the road, the choir cleared customs around midnight and headed down the New York State Thruway toward New York.
The choir is scheduled to be on the plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue outside the "CBS Early Show," and there's a distinct possibility they'll be asked to sing out a break this morning - live, coast-to-coast, from the streets of New York.
The choir is scheduled to sing at Carnegie Hall Sunday night.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Practice, practice, practice

Katherine soon will see this view - the view from the stage at Carnegie Hall.
The Mt. Pleasant High School concert choir, in which Katherine sings alto, will perform as part of the National Choir Festival at Carnegie Hall in New York Sunday afternoon.
It still doesn't quite seem real, but it is.
The performance is Sunday night. Kissy Missy, Robert and I will be flying out Sunday morning to see the show.
"See you in New York," I told Katherine as I hugged her good-bye this morning. "Make me proud."
Follow the choir via Twitter; monitor hash code #MPNYC.