If I Lived at the North Pole

Bless Santa’s heart for choosing such an obscure location for his world headquarters, but he’s got to have a few neighbors who don’t work for him at the North Pole. There’s probably a Farmers Insurance agent, a cop and fireman, maybe even a CVS store manager. If somehow I ended up living in the neighborhood, I might also be a bit concerned about my Wi-Fi connectivity for Skype, my Dish satellite reception to watch my programs, our access to a Peet’s Coffee and how far away is the nearest Crunch Fitness facility?

If I lived at the North Pole, I would get a job at Santa’s factory. Tyler H., Age 6

If I lived at the North Pole, I would run away. Colton M., Age 8

Similar to the civic courting Amazon has recently received (238 proposals) for their second headquarters site, the Economic Development Department at the North Pole City Hall must have put together one heck of an impressive economic incentive package when swaying Santa from his previous location. There must also have been perks galore from the North Pole Chamber of Commerce and the North Pole Owner’s Association, because why else would you choose such a challenging place to set up shop…a work shop? Employee retention could be one reason, perhaps the only reason. I don’t mean to be politically incorrect, but where else does a large population of elves reside? In the big picture, it does make sense to locate close to your employee base and unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think there’s a big magical elf population in Texas, Nevada or Michigan, just to name a few of the other potential suitors for Santa’s Apple-like campus.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would visit Santa every day and I would give him presents to give to the kids. Justin L., Age 6

If I lived at the North Pole, I would find Santa and build ice sculptures.  Lucus T., Age 7.

If I lived the North Pole, I would go see Santa and help him make presents. Caden R., Age 9.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would help the elves make toys and then help deliver them and then I would do it again the next year and the next year and the next year. Ava A., Age 5

If I lived at the North Pole, I would find Santa’s castle and ask him to make me an elf. Maddox G., Age 7

I’ve been enjoying some pleasant late fall weather the last few weeks of November. Chilly mornings, comfortable afternoons and cool evenings are indicative of this time of year. Some (me) say autumn is the nicest time of year to visit the greater Bay Area. Rumor has it that Santa and Mrs. Clause were seen in Walnut Creek around Thanksgiving. Granted we don’t get to experience the delightful seasonal weather changes of places such as the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, or the East Coast, but we get more variety than the North Pole. Can you imagine spending 365 days a year living at the North Pole? Well, 350 days given two weeks for vacation and one very busy workday of travel. I think the term “white-out” was conceived in the North Pole when a local mommy went to pick up the kids from school and couldn’t find the school because it was covered in snow.

The North Pole is located in the middle of the Arctic Ocean amid waters that are almost permanently covered with constantly shifting sea ice. Winter temperatures at the North Pole can range from about −50 to −13 °C (−58 to 9 °F), averaging around −31 °C (−24 °F) and summer temperatures (June, July, and August) average around the freezing point (0 °C (32 °F). I could be wrong, although I rarely am, but I doubt there’s a lot of variation in the temperature during the spring or fall.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would freeze to death, Grayson G., Age 9

If I lived at the North Pole, I would build a fire every day. Pierce B., Age 6

It’s said, home is where the heart is, but wouldn’t my heart be mighty cold at such a desolate snow-centric location? Housing might be inexpensive, however can you imaging what my PG&E bill would run every month? I doubt solar is an option. It must be murder (6-9 month wait) to get an appointment with a furnace and insulation contractor.

If I lived at the North Pole, I would make an igloo house. Caleb S., Age 8

If I lived at the North Pole, I would make friends with the animals and the Elves, Zoe O., Age 7

On the positive side, my sock and sweater collection would undoubtedly be impressive. I like socks, but sweaters make me look a little bulky. By bulky, I mean that visually I appear to weigh about 350 lbs. in a nice cardigan. If I grew a white beard and wore a red sweater, the big man might have a doppelganger roaming the streets of the Pole.

If I’m getting technical, and I do like to get technical, the North Pole, also known as the Geographic North Pole or Terrestrial North Pole, is defined as the point in the Northern Hemisphere where the Earth’s axis of rotation meets its surface. The South Pole on the other hand, lies on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole. Now I don’t know if the North Pole and South Pole relationship is quiet as contentious as North and South Korea or North and South Dakota, but for the purpose of this article I’m going to assume it’s all cool between the two Poles. See what I did there? “All cool,” get it? That said, there’s got to be a little Santa envy coming from the south. There’s no real government faction that rules the South Pole, largely because there’s no indigenous peoples and no one lives there permanently, but somewhere there’s a lonely scientist in a remote South Pole artic research station pissed off because he can’t hang with Santa and the elves at the local sports bar like his northern counter-part.

Should we one day look to downsize and relocate, the North Pole will not likely be one of our potential senior community destinations, I really like Bend, Oregon personally, however, I will keep an open mind. It will ultimately depend on where our kids end up settling and if that turns out to be the North Pole than anything is possible.

Have a happy holiday season.

The Nutcracker

            One of the most popular, endearing and delightful things to do during the Christmas season, is attend a performance of Peter Ilitch Tchaikovsky’s classic Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. It is so popular it has become a traditional family outing for many devoted families and fans alike. In some cities it has become an annual affair not to be missed. Ballet companies around the country have this ballet in their yearly repertory.

            Alexander Dumas Pere’s adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story, was the impetus for Tchaikovsky’s setting. The Nutcracker is known as a Christmas ballet; as the story revolves around a German girl named Clara on Christmas Eve. She experiences a coming of age awakening. This encompasses an awareness of the world and visions of romantic love, beyond her own experience.

            The ballet is a fairy tale setting in two acts based on a family celebration on Christmas Eve. It was commissioned in 1891 by the director of Moscow’s Imperial Theatre, Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Tchaikovsky worked on it off and on and it was premiered in December, 1892, at the Imperial Mariisky Theatre in Saint Petersburg. The first performance outside of Russia occurred in England in 1934; almost 40 years after its premier in Russia. It wasn’t until 1944 that the United States premier of The Nutcracker was performed by the San Francisco Ballet Company. 

            Before the first performance in Russia, Tchaikovsky did something unique and unusual. He made a selection of eight of the pieces in the ballet and called it, The Nutcracker Suite, OP.71a. Traditionally, a suite is a collection of short movements, usually contrasting dances with a pause between each one, played as one piece. This suite was meant for concert performance, not ballet; first performed in March, 1892, with Tchaikovsky conducting.

            The suite was so popular and famous, it was featured in the Disney film production of Fantasia. This suite is not the complete ballet. The eight selections of the suite are: Miniature Overture; Marche; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance (Trepak); Arabian Dance; Chinese Dance; Reed Flutes and Waltz of the Flowers.

            In the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Tchaikovsky uses the celesta; an instrument consisting of steel bars that are struck by hammers controlled by a keyboard. It has a unique, relatively soft sound that is very appealing. This dance has become very noteworthy because of the inclusion of the celesta.

            Tchaikovsky was born in Votinsk, Russia and died in Saint Petersburg. He was not born into a musical family; nevertheless he showed early talent for music. In early adulthood, age 19, he was a clerk in the ministry of justice.

Tchaikovsky did not plan a professional career in music. When he was 21 he began a serious study of music. At 23 he gave up his clerkship to devote himself 100 percent to a music career. His friend and colleague, Anton Rubinstein, whose brother, Nikolai, founded the Moscow Conservatory, hired Tchaikovsky in 1865 as a professor of harmony.  He was not particularly happy teaching at the conservatory.

             Around 1876 he had an unusual relationship with a generous benefactor, Madam Nadejva von Meck. She offered an annual stipend to him with a very strange stipulation—that they never meet—they communicated only through correspondence. This gift was enough to sustane him financially; as a result, he left the conservatory and was totally free to compose music. This allowance lasted for 13 years.

            Tchaikovsky has been described as a romantic composer of Russian temperament. His music is largely based on Western European traditions mixed with some elements of his own temperament and Russian nationalistic traits. Generally, his music was considered as Russian as his nationalistic Russian contemporaries. His melodies are broad and sweeping and he occasionally used folk tunes, as in the 4th Symphony and 1812 Overture. He is known for sensational climaxes and violent contrasts of mood. His understanding of symphonic form was considered utterly masterful. Personally, Tchaikovsky was morbidly sensitive, very creative with bouts of depression and had an unhappy temperament.

            His orchestration is characterized by strong, heavy brass and sometimes, use of string basses for somber melancholy effects. He wrote brilliant solo parts for various instruments. He also wrote rapid changes of texture (light texture uses fewer instruments, heavy texture uses many instruments) for the various sections of the orchestra, resulting in sharply contrasted independent groups.

              Performances of his music are intended to be very emotional.  Notable compositions are: six symphonies; The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty ballets; Overture Fantasia; Romeo and Juliet; Piano Concerto No.1; Violin Concerto; Chamber Music; March Slav; 1812 Overture; Capriccio Italien and eight operas.

            Tchaikovsky’s gift for melody and inspired orchestration, plus the drama, excitement and emotional intensity of his music makes him one of the most popular of all composers. He was one of the first Russian composers to win world-wide fame. He conducted his works in major cities of Europe; and also conducted at the 1891 opening of Carnegie Hall in New York City. Tchaikovsky was honored by Emperor Alexander III in 1894 and awarded a lifetime pension.

            One of his best known compositions is the Piano Concerto No.1. It premiered in Boston in 1875 and was an extremely popular favorite with the American public. It was so popular that Freddie Martin used it as his theme song for his band. 

            Due to Tchaikovsky’s popularity, it is no surprise that two of the most famous ballets ever written–Swan Lake and The Nutcracker– became  tremendous successes. What a legacy Tchaikovsky left for all to enjoy.

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s annual Christmas Concert, Sunday, December, 10, 2017, 3:00 p.m. San Ramon Valley High School, Danville, CA. Free concert and parking. New venue for this performance. Please submit your questions and comments to banddirector01@comcast.net. Visit our website at www.danvilleband.org for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band. 











The Great Wave

     Courageous immigrants to America from the early1900s came vibrantly to life recently in Walnut Creek. Okay, not the actual immigrants. But they were powerfully portrayed in the world premiere of an original musical poem-play on immigration titled The Great Wave.

     Walnut Creek writer Judith Nielsen authored the play. It was staged by the Francis in the Schools program for an audience of Contra Costa County educators and civic leaders to introduce them to the program’s free offerings. Francis in the Schools creates festive day-long enrichment outings for children from impoverished areas aimed at giving them “a day of joy” and building their self-esteem.

Educational benefit

    Terry Hogan Johnson, Program Director, says, “We hope to present this play for schools where children can benefit from learning of the experiences of immigrants who entered America via Ellis Island, and who may be new immigrants themselves.”

     An excellent cast of Bay Area actors volunteered to present The Great Wave because it dramatizes the dreams, sacrifices, and struggles of immigrants and honors their courage and determination in inspiring ways.

     Johnson tells educators, “The message of inclusiveness in The Great Wave is a perfect teaching vehicle for children. It can help those challenged with similar issues of assimilation and integration. And it can inspire them by celebrating the enormous contributions these earlier immigrants then made to America.”

A professional production

     The play’s author, Judith Nielsen, has written for the Discovery Channel, National Geographic Television, PBS, ABC, CBS, and Lucas Films. Janice Erlendson directed this performance. Erlendson is a former ACT (American Conservatory Theater) actress who has directed numerous Bay Area productions, and who has taught acting and directing at UC Berkeley.

     The Great Wave was initially performed by students at the Meher Schools in Lafayette. This was its premiere performance with an adult cast.

The immigrants’ story

     The play opens with the unveiling of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor in 1886, exactly 131 years from the date of this performance. The audience then joins the immigrants on their long journey to freedom, including their departure from their homeland and their poignant farewell to loved ones they will never see again. We share the rigors of the ship voyage across the Atlantic in steerage class, the immigrants’ first sighting of the Statue of Liberty, and the physical, mental, and legal examinations they endure at Ellis Island.

     Throughout, it is the “spirit” of Lady Liberty that beckons, guides, and encourages them. The play ends with a lively tribute to the ideas and inventions of immigrants who have completely transformed our country and the world.

The story behind the story

     Neilsen reveals, “Behind the individual stories of the immigrants themselves is the larger story of The Great Wave – the rich and unique destiny of America to blend the world’s races and nationalities into one united humanity, possible only in the United States of America. It is a play designed to awaken us to the highest and truest meaning of the American motto: ‘E pluribus unum’ – out of many, one.”


     Educators in Contra Costa County interested in their school taking part in a Francis in the Schools program are invited to email: terry@francisintheschools.org