Photography as Art

More than most other art forms, photography is intensely personal. Especially when photographing people, it is said that the product belongs more to the subject than the artist. It is those subjects who spark photographer Nicole Gee’s passion. Since the late 1980s, Nicole has been developing her eye for great images. Her artistry began when she trained under John Hershey, a talented commercial photographer in San Francisco. “I love people,” she says. “And I get great joy from capturing images that show a person the way a loved one might see them.” With Gee, her artistry is selfless. She believes her gift is God-given, and she uses it to create a uniquely special product, taking great joy in delivering that to the person to whom it belongs.

To know Nicole Gee is to experience true grace in action. Her loving spirit is contagious and spills over into everyone and everything she photographs. “You have to have fun with it,” she says. “That’s when a person’s true personality comes out. That’s when you catch the twinkle in their eye, the natural tilt of their head, their genuine smile.” She makes her sessions fun and engaging by taking the skill of photography and turning it into her unique style of art. For Gee, it is a cooperative art—a shared endeavor full of meaning and significance. “There’s no better way to remember a time in your life than a photo. The setting, the expression; all of it says something, and it is my job to interpret that message and make it into something that will be cherished.” 

There are certain milestones in our lives that deserve professional attention:  Newborns (from the sweet little fingers and toes, chubby little legs and arms), senior graduation, engagement and weddings, family life, up to and including the wisdom in the wrinkled face of a beloved grandparent.

Catching those moments begins with an innate ability to “see” the right shot, but isn’t complete without the technical skill and training necessary to create a quality image. “I began in commercial photography, but my real passion grew from creating great images of my children as they grew. When my oldest, Dan, was about to graduate, I took him to his favorite places. We went to the Mission District for his favorite burrito and stopped to capture some images there, then we breezed over to North Beach, China Town, and the Bay Bridge for more camera fun. I put it all into an album, and we ended up treasuring it so much, my husband encouraged me to do the same for other families. That is how Nicole Gee Photography was born.”

For the first few years, Gee focused on photographing high school seniors. “For most people, graduation sneaks up, and our precious babies are ready to leave before we are ready to let go,” she says. “Don’t settle for a photographer who spends five minutes with your child. This is a pivotal moment when your child is in transition–almost an adult, but not quite. They are so full of hope and joy. Don’t settle for the yearbook photographer. Do it right.” “Right” for Gee, isn’t just a senior portrait. Gee offers family sessions free of charge for every senior session booked. She knows, firsthand, what a bittersweet time it is when a child prepares to leave home, so she gets the family together in a relaxed session that highlights their relationships: mother and son, father and daughter, siblings hugging and teasing. Gee knows those opportunities don’t come back; you have to seize the moments while you can. After all, what’s the first thing you grab when your home is on fire? The pictures! Memories of the people we love are the most valuable things we have.

Gee’s gift for loving the people she photographs uniquely qualifies her for her latest passion, “lifestyle photography.” Imagine a photographer coming to your home for a few hours on a Saturday morning, catching those mundane moments that one day end up meaning everything; kids in their pjs, reading stories, having breakfast and doing whatever your family does during this season in your lives. Leave the house the way it is, spend your morning as you always do, and let someone document it all. The enduring value of those images is immeasurable.

Photos are art. They are worthy of displaying when done correctly. In the digital age, we are swimming with images to the point of saturation (do we really need to preserve the memory of yesterday’s dinner?). Wouldn’t you prefer one great image to a thousand that are just “meh”? Somehow, we have fallen into a society that is all about quantity rather than quality. We want more, we want it immediately, and we want it for less. As a result, we’ve gotten used to mediocrity. We keep hundreds of photos on our phones or computers rather than a few exceptional ones on our walls. A good photo is valuable—it will be remembered, and passed on for generations.

It goes without saying that Gee believes it is well worth it to invest in professional artistic photography. “Your payoff is the relief that a moment in time will remain forever and the satisfaction that you or a loved one has been immortalized in a way that brings back that feeling of emotional connection. Think about the love between a husband and wife, the beginning weeks of a new life, the moment before a graduate leaves home, the twilight years of a parent… in my mind, there are few things more important to remember.” 

Gee specializes in capturing all of life’s transitional moments. She begins with an initial consultation where she and a client discuss ideas and formulate a plan. Whether it be a grad session, a social media profile pic or a business portrait, Gee offers it all. She even photographs pets. After the consultation, a session is planned. This typically takes one to two hours with time for fun and outfit changes. After two weeks, she meets with you again and helps choose the images you love. Nicole Gee Photography is a full service photography studio and all her images are artfully retouched.

There is a trend since the digital age to hire a photographer and expect to receive the digital files as part of the service. Gee believes this is a disservice. She feels instead that art needs to be enjoyed every day, not left on a cd that sits in your desk drawer. “Put them on your walls,” she says. “Put them in a photo album or in a memory box. This is the best kind of art—meaningful and personal. It should be displayed.” 

During the most meaningful events in life, when you want to freeze the moment and savor the experience, it’s a wise choice to invest in professional photography. Gee recommends making sure the photographer is certified with Professional Photographers of America. “The process of certification is hard,” she says. “The applicant must take a 90 minute test and submit 20 images to be judges for lighting, posing, and more. It is a strenuous process.” It is also a good idea to check a photographer’s website. “Does her style fit with yours? Does she have a variety of examples? Look ahead of time at what you’ll be getting, and see if you like it.”

Gee also suggests you keep in mind that you’ll be spending time with this person. “Are they friendly and professional on the phone? Do you feel like you’ll get along well?” There is more to it than owning a great camera – you need to know lighting, posing, color, composition, etc. Nicole should know. If you look up and read her recommendations/kudos/compliments, you’ll see the words “comfortable,” “creative,” “patient,” and “fun” appear over and over again. And if you look at the photos, you’ll see that indefinable quality; that mixture of precise lighting, professional poses and genuine fun that produces the kind of photo you can’t wait to put on the wall.

After all, it is not just a photo, it is a work of art.






We’ll Keep Shylock

Recently an article appeared in a local newspaper in which the author suggested that we should consider eliminating Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” from the literary canon of the great Bard’s plays.  The anti-Semitic portrait of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, established the reason for the removal, or at least, for ignoring the play.  Shylock’s character certainly is thoroughly despicable, angry, vengeful and full of vitriolic hatred.  He is also, however, the most interesting character in the play, with only Portia coming even close.

As a not very religious but committed cultural Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism first hand, I would like to oppose any attempt to “banish” Shylock or the play.  And as one who has acted, directed, produced, written, and studied theater, literature, and Shakespeare for over half a century, I would extend my opposition to any play, novel, short story or any other work of art, so long as it does not advocate or incite any violence or threats.    

Shylock is, no question, despicable.  Even in his famous and sympathetic speech:

“Hath not a Jew eyes?   Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons. . .”

He loses his appeal, however, on the final line.  After his empathetic comparisons of Jews and Christians, Shylock states that if a Jew wrongs a Christian the result is revenge. He then states:                  

“The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

Hardly a conciliatory ending to his appeal for equality. He follows the threat with his insistence on getting his “pound of flesh” because Antonio cannot repay the 3,000 ducats, both terms which were agreed to in the loan documents.

He gets some sympathy all right, but then twists it into the threat. At this point we might note that other Elizabethan authors and playwrights fashioned Jewish villains that make Shylock almost a lovable pussy cat. Christopher Marlowe’s Barabbas in “The Jew of Malta,” is a prime example, along with Thomas Dekker‘s “The Jew of Venice.”

In other Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Jewish money lenders “enjoy” such names as Gripe, Hornet, Bloodhound, Lucre, Moth, Perfidious Oldcraft, and Sir Tyrant Thrift. Those names make the characters hardly seem like people we would want to invite to dinner or go with to a ball game.

Earlier writings such as Chaucer’s “The Prioress Tale,” established the horrible stereotype, and Dickens continued it centuries later with his Fagin in “Oliver Twist.” 

Shakespeare based the play on an Italian play called “Il Pecorone” (“The Simpleton“) in which the evil money lender has no name. Gianneta, the merchant, has only about 2000 words, and the equivalent of Portia has her suitors not simply give her gifts to woo her to marriage, but they must sleep with her and if they do not please and satisfy her, they must forfeit their own fortunes and property. (Sorry, but no English version of “Il Pecorone” exists, at least not as of a few years ago when I did the research.)

Shylock is a stinker, no question, but banning him and the play poses the threat of a word I personally despise: censorship.  If we can censor a work because it offers a horrible example of a Jew, what is to prevent someone else from censoring another work because it offers too pleasant a picture of a Jew? Once that Pandora’s box has been opened, how do we close it?  We all know the answer to that question: it stays open.

The plays of August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as  countless others, might be censored by some as being too human a picture of African-Americans. How about a thoughtful and sometimes gentle Asian absolute monarch?  Goodbye “The King and I.” Will we also “banish” Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which gives an unnecessarily evil portrait of Richard, because the grandfather of Elizabeth I, Henry VII, killed Richard and usurped his throne?

Under no circumstances do we need clergy, lay people, government officials or anyone else deciding what adults can write, present, or read because once that snowball starts rolling downhill, it is not long before it becomes an avalanche. We need to remember the lessons taught to us in the 20th Century by people named Hitler and Stalin, not to mention our own American/un-American H. U. A. C.

In my totally fictional novel, By Any Other Name, I have an imaginary discussion between Christopher Marlow and the man who, in the novel, writes the plays attributed to Shakespeare. They discuss the images of Shylock and Barabbas. Marlowe, whose Jew was even more vile than Shylock, insists that the primary decision of depth of evil lies with the audience for whom the work was written. There can be no question that the Elizabethan or Jacobean audiences were vastly different from those of 21st Century America. Audience members in the 16th and early 17th Century had probably never even seen a Jew; Edward II banished all Jews from England in 1292.  It was not until the middle of the 1600s that some were allowed into England.

Will some go away from a production of “The Merchant” thinking and even saying aloud, “Yep, all the Jews are like that.”  Hopefully others will realize that it is a play written over four centuries ago and not a true reflection of life as we know it or a depiction of an entire culture.  It is a play; a work of art, not sociology.

Shakespeare himself had a narrow “religious” line to walk.  He came from a devout, involved Catholic family at a time when England still smarted from Henry VIII’s abandoning the Catholic Church and establishing the Anglican Church.  He dared not enter the conflicted world of religious strife in England within his plays. Jews made excellent villains, and the theater needs villains in order to contrast with the heroes.

Finally, I patently reject the suggestion to have panel discussions after the final curtain of “Merchant” or any other play, as the author of the article posited.  As Willy himself once said, The play’s the thing.”  We hope that audiences will find food for thought after “Merchant,” or any other play or novel. The play must, however, in the final analysis stand on its own as a work of art.

Because it is April, let’s all wish the Bard a happy birthday and commemorate the 453rd anniversary of his birth.  Not too many people still make us think, as well as entertain us, even after four centuries.

 HAPPY 453rd




It’s a Dog’s Life

I recently saw the movie, A Dog’s Purpose. It follows a dog as he is reincarnated as different breeds belonging to various owners. Over the course of several lifetimes, the dog’s existence intersects with that of a young boy who rescued him in 1962. Yes, it did make me cry, but that’s not the point. The thought of dog reincarnation got me to thinking. What if a human was reincarnated as a dog? Could we live the life and be content? Given the dogs I know, I’m pretty sure a dog’s life would be just fine by me.

We are a two dog household. Trudy is a 13 year old Terrier mix and Molly, soon to be five, is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. For those of you unfamiliar with dogs, they are a carnivorous domesticated mammal, also known as a canine, pooch, hound, or mutt. Trudy spends most of her time napping and Molly, being more active, spends her days running around the back yard barking at birds, the wind, squirrels, undetectable sounds or the subtle shift of the earth’s axis. She eats everything she encounters (i.e.; dried animal poop, dead lizards and discarded Kleenex), in addition to some gross stuff. In Dogville, life is pretty much a revolving cycle of eat, drink, lick, poop, sleep, repeat. That is the life.

The closest resemblance to a dog’s life that we humans can relate to is probably that of a rock star. I bet Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Pit Bull (see what I did there?) all spend their days much like Molly when they’re not in the studio or on the road touring.

If I was reincarnated as a dog, I could scratch myself, clean myself, pee and poop wherever I wanted, drink from the toilet, sniff human crotches, sniff my friend’s behinds (it’s like shaking hands), bark/howl/growl until my throat hurt and sleep, sleep, sleep. Did I also mention that dogs don’t get married? That’s right, they “hook-up.” I don’t judge them. In fact, I appreciate their animalistic approach to relationships. They take care of their primal instinct/physical urges and yet don’t feel the need to comply with the institution of marriage.

That’s not to say that if I were a dog I would forgo my fatherly duties. I would undoubtedly want to be there for the delivery of my litter and would stick around to help raise my pups, but that whole marriage thing just isn’t part of dog’s life. In this dog fantasy world, I would have a neighborhood full of female “dog friends with benefits.” That is until my owners took the responsible action of having me neutered. Oh, the shame. Come to think of it, once that happened, I would probably settle down with a nice Collie.

If I was a dog, I would like to be a German shepherd. Not because I’m of German decent. If human heritage was the determining factor in breed, I would be an Irish Setter/English Bulldog half-breed. German Shepherds are by nature, protective, strong, brave and intelligent. All of those qualities are admirable if you’re describing a dog or fraternity brother. Growing up, my family had a pure white German shepherd we named Snowy. I have so many good memories of times spent with that dog. Summer sleep outs in the back yard, playing fetch (him not me) at the park and long walks where we would talk about girls, baseball and girls. Snowy was deep, yet simplistic. He assessed everything he came into contact with as Friend, Foe or Food. I try and do the same in my line of work as a writer. Food is pretty easy to identify, however friend or foe can be tricky sometimes.

History is filled with famous dogs in every form of art, athletics and literature. The painting of dogs playing poker is a masterpiece. While dog fighting makes me sick, dog racing has been around since early Egyptian times. Racing the incredibly fast and agile Greyhounds is immensely popular while watching dachshunds (aka wiener dogs) is just delightfully amusing. Since 1974, there have been 62 movies, grossing over $2 billion dollars, with a dog as the central character. Dog actors, such as Lassie, Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin, Toto, Benji, Air Bud and the Shaggy D.A. haven’t won any Academy Award (yet), but they have made significant contributions to some wonderful movies.

There have been dogs on television going back 50 years, starting with Pete, Spanky’s Pit Bull on the Little Rascals, Tiger, a sheep dog who lived with the Brady Bunch, Buck, also a sheep dog who housed with the Bundy’s on Married with Children and finally Eddie, the cute little Jack Russell terrier on Frasier. Many of us can all recall commercial pitch dogs like Loren Green’s dog, Duke, chasing sticks for Alpo as well as The Taco Bell Chihuahua and Budweiser’s Spuds Mackenzie. There are also the always entertaining comic strip and cartoon dogs including Marmaduke, Scooby Doo, Under Dog, Lady and the Tramp, Clifford – The Big Red Dog, Bolt and, of course, Snoopy.

Finally, in literature, who could forget Shiloh, White Fang or Cujo?  However, to truly understand dogs, take the time to read the beautifully crafted book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. The story is told in the words/thoughts of Enzo, a Golden Retriever. If you ever wondered what a dog was thinking, this book provides you with an enlightening notion.

I’m not saying everything about a dog’s life is ideal. Dogs can’t get a job, pay bills, drive carpool, vote, invest for retirement, clean the house, “Tweet”, shop, mow the lawn or dance. Who am I kidding?  I don’t like to do any of those things. Dogs don’t need materialistic possessions or stressful responsibilities. Sure, they might bark from time to time, but that’s just to be heard and acknowledged. Similar to when I raise my voice (aka bark).

Given the possibility of reincarnation, maybe I should request to be a dog in my next life. Years from now, hopefully many years from now, I could see myself as a happy little mutt living with a nice family in the suburbs. My name might be Buddy or Champ and I’ll wag my tail, sit and even learn how to shake my paw. If someone will occasionally throw me a Frisbee and rub my belly this dog’s life would be good.

Sidebar: If you’re considering adding a dog to your family, visiting the local area animal shelters in hopes of finding a compatible canine is actually quite enjoyable. We found Trudy at the SPCA in Dublin. The SPCA has a beautiful facility, qualified staff, educational classes and a very nice collection of mature adult dogs. Our area also supports other organizations such as ARF and East Bay Animal Shelter. Adopted dogs are wonderful in large part due to their appreciative attitude having been given a second lease (or leash) on life. I suppose knowing that if you aren’t adopted you may be chasing Frisbees in Heaven makes rescue dogs inherently grateful.


The Three Bs

The famous three Bs of the music world are, undisputedly, Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Each of these unforgettable men were foremost in their respective periods of music history.

Baroque Period (1600-1750)

Near the end of the Baroque period, Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporary, Georg Frideric Handel, were bringing this period to a climatic, glorious conclusion. During this era the emphasis was on contrast and harmony rather than on polyphony—where two or more melodic lines are combined. This period saw a dynamic and expressive style that dominated music and art. Music during this era was characterized by its emotional appeal and by the energy and fluidness of its form. It had ornamented melodies, striking use of harmonics and strong rhythms.

The concerto form of music brought the stylistic contrast between the solo or small group against the larger group. After a period of predominately vocal music, instrumental music gained more attention by composers and new forms of writing for instruments became the norm.

Vocal music was mostly religious in content but secular music was gaining popularity. The music, written primarily for the church, was now for the princely courts of the aristocrats and then eventually for the general public. This was a huge change of practice and philosophy.

The chief vocal forms of the Baroque era are, opera, cantata and Oratorio. The instrumental forms were: fugue; toccata; overture; dance suite and theme and variations.

Johann Sabastian Bach (1685-1750)

Bach is the first “B” of these three great composers. Usually composers can be referred to by their last name, but not in this case. He came from a long line of musicians and his sons were also composers of note. Bach was born in Eisenach, Germany and lost his parents at the age of ten. He was raised by an older brother who was his first music instructor.

Considered a conservative, Bach was Lutheran and an intensely religious composer. After three years at the gymnasium (high school) in Luneburg, in Hanover, Germany, he began his professional life as a musician. Bach was an expert performer on organ and clavier (various keyboard instruments) and also the violin.

Bach was in the Ducal orchestra in Weimar and in the same year, 1703, he was organist in Arnstadt. During this time he married his cousin, Maria Barbara Bach. In 1708 he entered the service of the Thuringian courts. His job as a court musician in this period, was an employee who performed and created music upon request.

Bach held various posts as organist and chamber musician. In 1723 he settled in Leipzig as the director of music at Saint Thomas church and school; where he was in charge of choir boys and taught Latin. He married twice, as his first wife died in 1720. His new wife was Anna Magdalena Wicke, whom he married in 1721. Bach fathered 20 children between both wives, however, only nine survived to adulthood.

Bach became a master of polyphonic music, exemplified by his cannons and fugues; chorale cantata; the passions; masses; suites; concerto grosso and toccata. He was at the peak of the German baroque era. His religious music was nothing short of monumental. He excelled in the concerto grosso in the six Brandenburg Concerti. With the exception of opera,  all the other aspects of 17th and 18th Century musical idioms were brilliantly composed by Bach. His music was considered so superior it over shadowed the works of his contemporaries.

 Classic Period (1750-1827)

 This period of music is from the death of Bach to the death of Beethoven. This era saw the gradual decline of the social and political dominance of the court and the emergence of the middle class. Both the American and French Revolutions were fought during this period.

 The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ championed the ideas of J.J. Rousseau, who advocated a return to nature and proclaimed the rights of the common man. Music, at last, was made available to many different levels of society. The tumultuous climax of the baroque period was punctuated by the genius of both Bach and Handel. A new and vibrant era was just beginning with the advent of new composers. Vienna became the center of music in Western Europe during this period.

 Although the old style was still present alongside the new, interest in new forms and styles were taking hold, especially in the advancement of instrumental and secular music; replacing much of the religious music of the past. Music evolved from polyphony or polyphonic music to homophony or homophonic, meaning one voice or part with accompanying chords. Music took on a more simple style based on melody and harmonic structure, replacing the complexity of the Baroque counterpoint and polyphonic writing. The long arched melody of the late Baroque was replaced by short two and four measure phrases.

 Big changes occurred in instrumental music with the emergence of virtuoso writing for some instruments. Clarinets were added to the orchestra. The woodwind section was now complete, as were the strings, but the brass section was incomplete.

 The musical forms of the classic period became the foundation for much of the music of the 19th Century and beyond. The three phenomenal composers of this period were Haydn, (1732-1809) and Mozart, (1756-1791) who paved the way for our second “B,” Beethoven.

 Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)

 Beethoven was born in the Rhine town of Bonn, Germany. The Van in his name perhaps connotes some Flemish ancestry. His father, Johann Van Beethoven, was a tenor in the chapel choir of the Elector of Bonn.

 The musical talents of the young Beethoven were recognized by his father and he saw in Ludwig another boy wonder, like Mozart. His father was not a nice man and could see financial gain by exploiting his son. Young Beethoven was made to practice an inordinate length of time, to the detriment of his general education. He was abused and treated unkindly, thus he felt isolated and excluded from other worldly endeavors.

In 1787 his father took Ludwig to Vienna to play before Mozart. He had to return to Bonn because of his mother’s poor health. Beethoven did not return to Vienna until 1792, just after Mozart’s death.

Ludwig studied composition with Haydn; unfortunately the two men had temperamental problems and never hit it off. Beethoven completed his first of nine symphonies, in 1800. He became Vienna’s first successful free-lance composer and musician. Beethoven, unlike others, never held a court position after leaving Bonn.

Probably one of the worst things that can happen to a musician is deafness. In 1798, Beethoven began to experience ringing and humming in his ears. In 1802, in a fit of desperation he contemplated suicide, as his entire being was tormented and full of anguish. But even so, his musical output, over the next ten years, was nothing short of remarkable. By 1812, he completed symphonies two through eight; piano concertos; violin concerto and his opera, Fidelio, among other works. This output was extraordinary for a deaf composer and foretold some of the techniques of the future Romantic era.         

Beethoven broadened the range of personal emotional expression with his music. He was a master of form and expanded and developed the existing musical structures. A few of his last great works were:  The last piano sonatas; the Missa Solemnis and the monumental, Ninth Symphony, where he introduced choral parts in a symphony for the first time. His last works set the stage for the 19th Century and the Romantic period.

Romantic Period    

This period spanned roughly the entire 19th Century into the early 20th Century. Music differed from its predecessors of the Classic Period. It was more emotional and personal with a subjective or freer style. It went beyond traditional forms of structure and balance. The creation of new forms was prevalent and explored by many composers. Emphasis was placed on the ideal, the individual and the heroic,  as exemplified in Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (No. 3). There was a progressive spirit abounding among composers during this period.

The roots of the Romantic Period began in the late 18th Century, with Rousseau and others rebelling against the classic traditions; they wanted a return to simplicity and nature; with more emphasis on human instincts and feelings than on intellectual pursuits. The Romantics favored emotion over reason. They advocated free expression over the previous concept of restraint. This was a reaction to the aristocratic courts and was in favor of the middle class.

Program music came to the forefront during this period. This is instrumental music that relates a story or tale and often has descriptive titles. An excellent example of program music is the Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz.  

The range and power of the piano increased. Also many new forms of music are created; piano pieces; art songs; programmatic forms; romantic opera; tone poems and others. Improvements to wind instruments are prevalent and valves are added to French horns and trumpets. English horns, bass clarinets, tubas and harps are now accepted in the orchestra.

This was a ‘Golden Age’ for composers, as far as public acceptance and artistic freedom was concerned. Composers of this era are:  Carl Maria Von Weber; Franz Schubert; Hector Berlioz; Felix Mendelssohn; Robert Schumann; Frederic Chopin; Franz Liszt; Richard Wagner; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and many others.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

The third “B” was born in Hamburg, Germany, the son of a string bass player in the town orchestra. His father instructed him on violin, cello and French horn. At the age of seven he studied piano and became very proficient at the keyboard.

Brahms’ study of music theory emphasized the music of Bach and Beethoven. Up to the age of 20 he remained in Hamburg leading an unremarkable life. Brahms had a reputation as a pianist and a conductor. In 1862, he went to Vienna and conducted choruses. Around 1864, he devoted his energies to full-time composing.

Brahms was a devoted follower of Beethoven with regard to symphonies, concerti and chamber music. However, he used a newer harmonic vocabulary than Beethoven. One of the most famous and endearing works of Brahms is, the Ein Deutsches Requiem, (A German Requiem) of 1857-58. The requiem mass is a mass for the dead. Brahms’ requiem does not use the Latin text and therefore is not technically a church mass. It was written in commemoration of this mother’s death. Biblical references are used as the basis of the text. The original text is in German and was later translated into other languages.

Paramount among Brahms’ instrumental music are the four symphonies. Hans Von Bulow, the famous conductor and pianist, after hearing Brahms First Symphony and recalling Beethoven’s nine symphonies, called it Beethoven’s 10th!

In 1879 the University Breslau conferred on Brahms a doctor’s degree. As the diploma said “The foremost living German Master of the art of composition.” In appreciation for this honor he composed the Academic Festival Overture.

Brahms was a perfectionist and would make many tries before he would accept an idea as finished. He did not primarily use poems, stories or programs in his music, like many of his contemporaries. Brahms believed “Music for Music’s sake.”

Brahms never married, however, he was in love with Clara Schumann, widow of composer, Robert Schumann. The Schumann’s were probably the greatest single influence in Brahms life.

There you have it—a thumbnail sketch of three of the greatest musical geniuses that ever lived. How ironic that they were all German, and all pacesetters in their respective eras. They wrote some of the world’s greatest and memorable music that is still very popular today. What a gift to mankind these incredible composers left.

Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.





2017 Kia Niro: Crossover Value!

It seems that every automotive manufacturer is unveiling a new Crossover in their lineup, with Jaguar recently joining them. While it used to be the goal to have one crossover in your stable, now to be in the show you must have one in every size category. Even the junior mint sizes need to be fully equipped with all of the latest gadgets. One of the new entries in the subcompact field is the stunning, all-new, 2017 Kia Niro.

The Kia Niro began hitting dealerships in early 2017 and is available in five trim levels – FE, LX, EX, Touring, and a limited production Launch Edition.

The Niro FE, has a starting MSRP of $22,890 and 50-MPG (combined), and is equipped with an extensive list of standard features, including: 16-inch wheels, 6-way front seats, power windows, keyless entry, cruise control, 7-inch touchscreen display with rearview camera, UVO3 with Apple CarPlayTM3, Android AutoTM4 and a six-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls.

Next up is the $23,200 LX trim, which adds Smart Key with push button start, roof rails and LED rear combination lamps. Among the extras added to EX, priced at $25,700, are: heated combination cloth and leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel, LED daytime running lights, heated power folding mirrors, front fog lamps, and Blind Spot Detection (BSD) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Lane Change Assist (LCA) and driver assistance features.

The Launch Edition is available in Snow White Pearl or Aurora Black Pearl exterior colors. Drivers are offered an exclusive look via the unique Hyper Gray 18-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tires, unique metallic color grille, 10-way driver’s seat, 8-inch touchscreen navigation system, 8-speaker Harman Kardon® 6 premium audio—all for $28,000.

Touring trim, at $29,650, is equipped with an amazing array of additional features, including: power tilt/slide sunroof, front and rear park assist, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, 10-way power driver’s seat with memory and 8-speaker Harman Kardon® premium audio.

The Niro is a front-wheel drive crossover that provides 6.3 inches of ground clearance. Its SUV styling cues are in full force including simulated front and rear skid plates and gray plastic lower body and wheel arch trim. Thanks to the increased ground clearance, the driver and passenger do experience an elevated seating height–one of the trademarks of an SUV/Crossover.

The 2017 Niro is dressed with the sporty Kia grille and headlights that look like raised eyebrows. The outline of the body projects a shadow of a boxed figure with smoothed sporty edges.

One of the best features of the Niro in this time of rising gas prices and threats of a new 50-cent gas tax, is the combined 50 miles per gallon. The Niro was engineered from the ground up as a hybrid as it delivers the mpgs, and creates that green statement buzz.

The Niro combines an Atkinson-cycle, direct-injected 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor and lithium-polymer battery pack that generates 139 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque. It might not sound like much, however, that’s what it takes to get 50+ mpg. Honestly, it still had good get-up-and-go. The Niro bypasses the usual CVT in favor of a 6-speed dual clutch transmission with a Sport-Drive mode.

The interior was comfortable in its two-tone trim. Like most Kias, it was loaded with high-tech features including: push button start, front heated and cooled seats, navigation with an 8-inch screen, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smart phone integration, SiriusXM satellite radio and more. The stitching and trim around the air vents are colored in blue indicating a hybrid. The cargo space ranges from 19.4 cu-ft. to 54.5 cu-ft. with the second seats down.


Cool Features:

  • Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
  • Push-button start
  • Front heated and cooled seats

The 2017 Kia Niro is well-equipped with safety features including: dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, driver’s knee airbag, rollover sensor, ABS brakes with Brake Assist System, Electronic Stability Control, Hill-Start Assist Control, rear camera, blind spot detection and lane change assist available on EX-and-up trims, and more. Optional safety features are Forward Collision Warning system, Lane Departure Warning system, Smart Cruise Control, and Front and Rear Park Assist system.

In Summary – The 2017 Kia Niro is a fun little crossover that is only missing an AWD version. It is equipped with plenty of room, a fair amount of power, and solid steering and handling. The style is young, and cute with a touch of sophistication. Standard features and optional features mimic those on more upscale vehicles. Kia has introduced a test-worthy little crossover offering that’s worthy of your time.


2017 Kia Niro Touring


Base price:                  $29,650as driven: $30,545 (including destination & optional

Engine:                       1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor

Horsepower:             104hp @ 5,700 RPM and 43hp

Torque:                       109 @ 2,200 RPM

Transmission:            6-Speedautomatic

Drive:                          Front-wheel Drive

Seating:                       5-passenger

Turning circle:           17.4 feet

Cargo space:              19.4 cubic feet

Curb weight:              3,106 pounds

Fuel capacity:             11.9 gallons     

EPA mileage:              City 51/Hwy 46

Wheel Base:                 106.3 inches

Warranty:                    10 years/100,000-miles powertrain limited

Also consider:              Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke, Toyota   



Rejoice, World Class Poets of the East Bay

I am so happy to report that our first annual poetry contest was a terrific success. Even though the window for submissions was relatively brief, we received a good number of them—so many in fact, it was a challenge to rate them in the few days available to do so.  

Before I get to the punch line in announcing our winner, I would like to express my thanks to all of the poets that took the time to submit their work. I hope you all know that when it comes to artistic expression in any form—be it poetry, painting, photography, prose, music, or something else—ratings of any kind are always, purely subjective. It was obvious to everyone here at ALIVE that sincere, creative effort went into every poem we received, and we enjoyed reading each and every one, without exception.    

I must confess that our contest was the brainchild of the award-winning poet / writer / editor, Nadine Lockhart of Poetry Flash. Although we’ve received numerous, unsolicited submissions from poets over the years, it was Nadine’s enthusiastic, creative approach that motivated us to embrace the idea for this annual contest. We leaned heavily upon Nadine’s enormous knowledge and talent in judging the poems we received, and cannot thank her enough for all of the work she invested to help make this month’s ALIVE special.

Ironically, of the dozens of submissions that we received, it just so happens that one of the very first ones submitted was unanimously chosen as the winner of our contest. It is “Zephyr” by Ricardo Tavarez of Oakland. Congratulations, Ricardo!

In addition to Ricardo’s poem, we felt that two others deserved honorable mention: “Cesar Chavez,” by Juan R. Sequiera of Pleasant Hill, and “With Every Step I Take,” by Avotcja of Emeryville.

Thanks again to all of you who participated in our first poetry contest. We look forward to seeing more of your creative work next year!

Greenbar Distillery

Did you know that the distillery representing the world’s largest portfolio of organic, handcrafted spirits is located in Los Angeles? If not, then you probably don’t know about Greenbar Distillery.

Greenbar Distillery is a revelation. Using only organic produce to create their spirits, Greenbar strives to not only produce top shelf spirits, but also to affect the earth and the environment in a most positive manner. Their mission is to make the best possible spirits and to leave the world in “better shape than they found it.”

This dedication to the Earth is not something typically found in the spirits industry. But then Greenbar Distillery isn’t your typical company. When owners Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew, a husband and wife team, started the Greenbar Distillery in 2004, they made conventional spirits with conventional ingredients. But because of their passion for organic, sustainable produce, Melkon and Litty began to experiment with using organic produce to create their spirits and found that the flavors and quality vastly improved.

As with fine cuisine, the product is the sum of all parts and if those parts are organic, fresh, and delicious, that will be reflected in the end result. The spirits produced by Greenbar have nothing in common with mass-produced spirits with which you may be familiar.

Greenbar chooses organic for the fine quality and flavors it creates in the spirits, but also to keep America’s farmland free of synthetic and artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Greenbar’s lightweight bottles and recycled labels help reduce packaging waste and pollution. In addition, Greenbar plants one tree in the rainforests of Central America for every bottle they sell. Now there’s active participation in replenishing our natural resources!

While their work in sustainability is commendable, you may be wondering how Greenbar’s spirits stand up to a taste test. The answer is they stand up straight and tall. If you have the patience and stamina to taste through their entire line of vodka, gin, tequila, rum, whiskey, liqueurs, and bitters, you’ll learn for yourself how absolutely wonderful these spirits are. Be warned, you may never go back to the big brands. Why would you? Greenbar’s spirits are affordably priced and offer a purity of flavor rarely encountered.

A trend in spirits’ marketing these days is boasting about how many times a particular spirit has been distilled. Companies brag that their spirit is better and “more pure” than the rest by virtue of being double, triple or even quadruple distilled. The irony is that with each distillation, flavors and natural characteristics are lost. The product is stripped of its unique and defining features with each process. In the end, a vodka, whiskey, or rum could taste like absolutely nothing on the palate.  Why would that be a desired effect unless the base materials were of poor quality?

Greenbar distills its spirits only once: Just enough to produce the desired alcohol levels and just enough to retain all of the wonderful, natural characteristics of the high quality base ingredients. The added flavors in the products are created by macerating natural fruits and spices to capture their beautiful flavor, scent, and color.

The zest of two whole lemons is used in every bottle of tangy lemon vodka. The spiced rum uses five whole spices, citrus, and flowers to make a rum that is rich, flavorful, and balanced. The liqueurs and bitters are intense experiences of roots, herbs, flowers, and citrus. You have to try them for yourself. Indeed, these spirits are memorable and will keep you coming back for more.

Greenbar Distillery is located at 2459 East 8th Street, Los Angeles, 90021. Look for them at and (213) 375-3668. Greenbar Distillery offers tastings, tours, and group events. Their unique products can be purchased all over California at most fine wine and spirits shops.

The Ides of April

Chances are you’ve already filed your income tax returns…or, at least, handed over everything to your accountant. This is as good a reason as any to pamper yourself.

If you’re in a funk or simply feeling the financial pinch of tax time, a night on the town may not be in the cards. But here in California good food is always an affordable luxury, especially when you shop at the farmers’ market.

Spring is here, and the market is abloom.After months of little more than juicy citrus to satisfy our cravings for fresh fruit we revel in early strawberries, with armloads of bright flowers to lift our spirits. Also look for locally-grown asparagus, squeaky-fresh artichokes, crunchy peas, fava beans, crisp celery, and young beets.Spring is short but sweet, so shake off the seasonal doldrums and make the most of it.

Often without ever having tasted them, beets are scorned by kids and grown-ups alike. You’ll always find canned beets in lackluster salad bars, a jolt of color radiating from beneath the clear plastic sneeze-guard. A walk past the bussing station of any less-than-glamorous restaurant—where stacks of abandoned salad plates are dotted with slimy purple remnants; their shocking-pink juices bleeding into rivers of ersatz dressing—certainly does nothing to improve their image. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first thing to remember is that canned beets are about as sexy as canned peas.

Available year-round, the best tender young beets—no larger than a golf ball—are now piled high at the farmers’ market. Earthy, sweet, and delicious, with vitamin-packed greens that are not only edible, but downright tasty. For a change, try white or golden beets, or the candy-cane striped Chioggia variety. (But don’t expect miracles. The Chioggia variety cook to a uniform color.)

A salad made from “real” beets is a thing of beauty, whether served as a side dish or—accompanied by a loaf of crusty artisan bread–a light meal on a warm day.


–Large beets tend to have a woody texture. Look for small, firm beets with crisp green tops attached. Perky leaves indicate they have been freshly harvested.

–To store: Cut off the beet greens, leaving an inch or so of the stems attached, as the leaves tend to draw moisture from the roots. Refrigerate the greens for up to 2 days in an open plastic bag. The bulb-shaped beet roots, when stored unwashed in their own plastic bag, will last a week in the refrigerator.(Any longer, and their natural sugars convert to starch.) Scrub beets well just before cooking.

–Don’t get caught red-handed: Red beets bleed. Wimps like me wear thin latex gloves when working with them. For those who yearn for the more tactile approach, avoid unsightly stains by washing your hands, cutting board, and knife immediately after peeling and slicing. (If needed, scrub stubborn stains with coarse salt.)And wear an apron to avoid The Jackson Pollock Syndrome.

–Beets can be eaten raw: just peel and grate before adding to salads. (I once worked with an editor whose beet-loving husband regularly consumed them in their natural state, merrily eating them out-of-hand like an apple. But that’s a whole other story.)

–Cooked beets can be peeled and refrigerated in an airtight container for several days, so it’s smart to cook more than you’ll need for a single meal.

–For the best flavor and least mess, roast beets with their skins and “tails” (root ends) intact. See recipe for details.

–Beets are done when the tip of a sharp knife can be easily inserted and withdrawn from the center. When properly cooked, their skins will slip off easily, using a paper towel or your fingertips.


1/3 cup California walnut halves and pieces

2 bunches (8 to 10 beets total) small-to-medium beets—any variety—with greens attached

1/3 cup California walnut oil or olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon California red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (optional)*

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

About 2 ounces soft California goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the walnuts cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  1. Cut off leafy greens from the beets, leaving about 1 inch of the stems attached to the roots, and set aside. Scrub the beets under cold running water. Put the damp beets in a small baking dish, add a few tablespoons of water, and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until the beets are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 35 to 50 minutes, depending upon size.Set aside to cool.
  1. In a small jar, combine the oil, orange juice, vinegar, tarragon, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, about 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the mustard. Seal tightly and shake the jar until the vinaigrette is well blended. Taste, adding more salt or pepper as needed.
  1. When the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off the skin and cut the beets into 1/4-inch thick slices. Combine the beets and about half the vinaigrette in a bowl, tossing gently to coat. Cover and set aside to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or longer if refrigerated.
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the beet greens well and tear into large pieces. Add greens to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well and squeeze dry.
  1. To serve, toss beet greens with the remaining vinaigrette. Spread the greens on a small serving platter and top with the marinated beets. Scatter the walnuts and goat cheese over the top and serve at once. Serves 4 to 6.

*If you don’t have—or don’t like—fresh tarragon, just omit it, or substitute fresh parsley or chives. Don’t bother using dried tarragon. It can be nasty stuff.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!


The Value of Motivation

Motivation (the “M” word) comes in many different forms and is, oftentimes, disguised as a deep-seeded fear, insecurity or desire that we may or may not be aware of. Conversely, it may be nothing more than an innate drive to be the best you can be at a given sport, skill or discipline.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when people are not clear about their motivations to carry out a specific task the risk of mediocracy runs high. Especially if the task is daunting or seems somewhat out of reach, as can be the case with many endurance or ultra-endurance related goals. Further, when the dog days of training/work come around, some will be more likely to bow out of tough or long sessions because the motivation just isn’t there.

This is also where the idea of success comes into play. Too often in racing, success is correlated with a top spot on the podium or winning. While I would be remiss to say “winning” a race, event, or prize, is not success, I fear most athletes don’t take other successes into account when engaged in self-assessment. Therefore, I train each athlete as an individual. Learning what techniques and strategies best suit an individual will solicit much better results that are sustainable over time.

While many want to “just train,” the mechanism by which they do so will be different for most athletes. Training an individual athlete to meet their own goals within their own mentality, skill, and ability supersedes training an individual to a group. Sure, my squad does a lot of group work, but within that are the individual objectives that are the motivators for each, not a group norm. Working with athletes to stay inside themselves, stay married to the process and recognizing what their successes are and what they entail is not always easy for them or me. But, it gets the best results.

When an athlete becomes driven by a group mentality they begin to work outside themselves and will undoubtedly end up reaching too far toward an unattainable goal, or underachieving. Either way, they won’t get the best result and maximize their time and effort.

Triathlon/endurance sport is hard. Sprint distance, Ironman distance, 5k or 26.2 miles. Whatever the distance, it doesn’t matter. If you do it correctly, it hurts and takes work. However, if it were easy, the payoff would not be as impactful as it is. Triathlon is not three different sports. It is one sport consisting of many disciplines and should be treated and trained for as such.

As a coach, it’s my job to understand that each athlete has a different set of variables with which to work; whether physical gifts or limitations, life circumstances, job and family obligations, etc. The point is, there is no level playing field. Some are at a disadvantage; therefore, training must take these things into consideration to be effective and successful.

As you measure yourself, think objectively in terms of what qualifies as successful (or not). Consider some of the following: Does training/racing help alleviate stress in other areas of your life? Is the goal to become physically fit? Has the sport helped do this? Are you helping to set a positive example for your kids? Are you better today than you were yesterday?

I would argue that if you can answer yes to any of these, you are becoming quite successful. Perhaps, it is also worth noting just how successful you can become may depend upon the source of your motivation.




One Night with the King

In case you think I’m getting prematurely dotty, I willingly admit that I reviewed One Night with the King in early 2008.  For Judaism it is time for the Festival of Purim and for Christians, it is Easter.  It’s time to dust off my review, add to it and bring it to you again.

I am not Jewish but as a Christian, I have an admiration of the ancient religion and culture. It is simply, yet magnificently beautiful.

There is always turmoil in the Middle East and Israel seems to be a lightning rod.  To even begin to understand that turmoil you have to look back thousands of years; be a student of history.  Megilah of Esther, is an ancient scroll that recounts the heroics of Queen Esther in ancient Persia. If you don’t know who Esther was or about her pivotal role in history, you need to watch this movie.

You take one young orphan girl and one hunky king and you have the making of a luscious tale. This one is a true tale, chronicled by history. The life of Esther is one of the most inspiring Biblical accounts found in the Old Testament.  Much beloved by Jews, Christians and Persians alike, Esther is the story of deliverance for the Jewish people. 

One Night with the King has lavish costumes, giggling harems, a vast, ancient city, huge armies, black riders, and blood feuds. Yet, it is truly the story of a young woman, a Jew, living in exile in Susa, Persia, with her cousin in about 485 BC.

There is a back-story of a 400 year old feud between the Jews and the Agagites that intertwines throughout the movie. This is a part of the story I had never heard that helped me have a better understanding of this period in history. This is an intricately-woven story with intrigues, treachery and comeuppance a plenty, but you need to pay attention to the first few minutes because it sets the stage for the story.   

Esther, played by, Tiffany Dupont is fresh and beautiful and offsets King Xerxes (did I mention that he is hunky?) played by Luke Goss. There are stunning performances by screen legends, Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif and John Rhys-Davies that rounds out the cast nicely. 

Based on the best-selling novel “Hadassah: One Night with the King” by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen, this dramatic big-screen adaptation chronicles Esther’s (Hadassah) rise from peasant to queen, her courageous role in the redemption of her people from destruction and death, and her winning of the love of the most powerful man in the kingdom—by seeking his heart rather than the riches of his kingdom.

One Night with the King was shot entirely on location in Rajasthan—India’s very own land of kings. Digital vistas were added to this Indian castle to recreate the ancient capital, Persepolis. One Night with the King exudes exotic splendor.  I have yet to figure out what catches the attention of the “Academy” but in my humble opinion this movie should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for costume and set design.  The costumes alone are worth your time and money to rent this movie. Hope you have a big screen—this movie is majestic!  As always, I welcome your comments at