Sunday, May 25, 2014

A story that needs to be told again and again

Falsettos at Villagers Theatre, NJ – May 2014

The show is closed. It was a wonderful (albeit altogether too short) run. And it is still lingering with me, not just because of the music (brilliant in my opinion) and not just because of the cast that worked on this production (even more brilliant!). It is a story that needs to be told over again – not just as some historical piece (the time portrayed in the show is 1979-1981) nor as some oddity written by the same guy who wrote Spelling Bee. Rather, it must be told again and again because we’ve not gotten it yet.

A recent history too soon forgotten

The time is at the very beginning of the AIDS Crisis … 1981 being the first year the Center’s for Disease Control published reports of men dying. Those of us around during that time remember those days very well – a time that was frightening, unsure, and frustrating. I firmly believe that it was a dark time in our nation’s history; and we still have yet to truly acknowledge the appalling response (or lack of it!) during that time … from the top all the way down. Our political leaders were silent and willfully ignorant; our institutions didn’t have any sense of urgency in finding out what the hell was happening; and even our esteemed scientists seemed to be more in it as a way to gain notoriety than to pursue discovery of its cause and ultimate treatment. Sure, there were charitable organizations and individuals who were generous, kind, diligent, and caring. But our society looked the other way. And we still have yet to come to grips with that recent history.

It’s something that has been relegated to “old history” … a time that we’d rather not own up to. But it was only 33 years ago. That’s not so ancient; that’s not so long ago!

We don’t engage in conversations about that time; and we certainly don’t include any of this in our history books. We are still turning away from this.

Individuals struggling, reconciling, coping, and questioning

What makes Falsettos such a moving show is that it is about individuals during this time. These are characters who struggle with questions of family, friendship, love, life, and death. They are fully realized individuals. We discover who they are and what their hopes and dreams and frustrations are entirely through song, since the show is completely through-sung. The characters are not iconic figures – they don’t represent entire groups or communities – like in other pieces of theater. They are not politically charged. Their motivations and struggles are entirely individual. And that makes them immediately relatable to an audience.

Their struggles and questions become our struggles and questions. We have had broken relationships. We ask ourselves the questions about what it takes for us to truly love someone. Well … those questions are all asked in Falsettos. They are difficult questions – ones that we deal with for a lifetime!

And since the characters themselves are individuals muddling through all of this, it poses these questions to us as individuals. We relate to Marvin as he asks, “What would I do?” … As he reflects on the circumstances that led him to this point, we’re being asked to reflect on our own responses to events. What, indeed, would I do? What should I have done? Perhaps that’s why it’s such a challenging show.

It’s about family, friendship, and love

When I was asked, “What is Falsettos about?” my reply has been … It’s about a group – a community – of people who tackle the big questions of family, friendship, life, death, and love. Whether they are gay or straight is not so much the issue – all of the characters are exploring what it means to love someone and to be a family. That Marvin divorces his wife in order to live with his boyfriend is just the catalyst that gets the story going.

And Falsettos doesn’t varnish over any of the characters’ flaws. Each of them are selfish, unforgiving, and petty. Each of them do not realize how poorly they’ve treated others. And yet each character realizes the need to grow in generosity, self-giving, and forgiveness. They realize that who they are is more a matter of their relationships with each other more than what they do. Their success is measured by who they love and care for rather than what they accumulate.

And we still don’t get it

Falsettos is some 22-years ago. And we’ve still not yet grasped it. We are embroiled in arguments over what constitutes a family. We still willingly and willfully place people in the margins of society. We turn away.

A former artistic director of a company for whom I worked once told me, “Theater is not just important. It’s essential because it has the ability like nothing else to wake us up.”

What is it going to take to get us out of the complacent dream that we happily and unthinkingly live in? After all, as one of the characters in Falsettos says: “We’re a teeny-tiny band.” And we, like them, are part of a community, a family. And Marvin asks, “It’s about time, don’t you think?”


I am so grateful to have been a part of this production; and am even more grateful to have worked on such a powerful, witty, meaningful, and important show.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Falsettos at Villagers Theatre – a tale of families, love, and friends

I am so proud and honored to be a part of the production of FALSETTOS, which opened on May 9, 2014 at Villagers Theatre.

We’re ending our first weekend … And you have one more weekend to come see this show (May 16-18). I know that every music director trumpets how wonderful his cast is … Well … THIS CAST is a veritable who’s who in New Jersey community theater.  Visit the site link above to see who are in the cast and production teams.


Here is a photo from our final dress rehearsal of this AAA+ cast. (Click to embiggen)


In 1992, Frank Rich published an essay titled, “Discovering Family Values at ‘Falsettos’.” In it he opines about his dilemma of having to decide which Broadway musical to take his two children (12 and 8 years old) to a family musical. He says that his options were The Secret Garden, Les Miserables, Guys and Dolls, or Cats. But he decided – in his words:

All things considered, I decided that the wholesome choice would be “Falsettos,” the William Finn musical in which the hero, Marvin, sings in his first number of his overwhelming desire to be part of a “tight-knit family … a group that harmonizes.”  … Though “Falsettos” offers such traditional tableaux as a Little League baseball game and a bar mitzvah, it is set in an America where, as one song has it, “the rules keep changing” and “families aren’t what they were.”

“Falsettos” is indeed a show about families. I’ve always characterized it as a domestic comedy that tackles the concerns of family, love, friendship, life, and death. It asks some very profound questions – questions that are at the center of our struggles as a human family. Indeed the families portrayed in Falsettos are a microcosm of families we all encounter. And it’s a struggle we still contend with 22 years after Mr. Rich concluded his essay:

Will a show like “Falsettos,” or a dozen like it, sow tolerance, especially at a time when an exclusionary definition of “family values” is being wielded like a club in a divisive political campaign? I have my doubts. My children do not.

We’re still facing this struggle of ‘what is a family?’ all these years after Frank Rich wrote these words.

Theater tells our story as humans, and theater has the ability to transform – to engage our spirit, to challenge us, and to move us.

May Falsettos – and this production of which I’m proud to be a part be a means to engage, challenge, and move us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

And we begin FALSETTOS rehearsals

This is one show I couldn’t wait to start working on! I’ve been wanting to do this show for a number of year – probably ever since I saw the Broadway Tour production back in the 90’s. And now I have the opportunity to do this – and with an A+ rocking-awesome cast.

Rehearsal night #1

Actors playing Marvin and Whizzer … learned “Thrill of First Love,” “The Chess Game” (probably one of the most difficult songs in the show if only because of the constant ‘swapping’ as the characters argue – oh! and that it’s in this chicken scratch!),


Also learned “Raquetball 1,” “Raquetball 2,” and the first part of “Unlikely Lovers.” And also did “Tight Knit Family.” Wow! That was a lot for the first night – and it went so well (which is what happens when you have a cast like this one!)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

From the trenches – Musical audition guidelines (a short list)

Here’s a list of guidelines for those preparing and attending auditions for musical theater. It’s not comprehensive, but it should give you a good start to be successful. Here it goes:

In general

  • Read the audition notice thoroughly and follow all of its instructions. The information is there for a reason – you don’t need to know why, just make sure you understand and follow them. If you don’t understand what the notice requires, then ask well in advance of the audition … Send an email or inquire (again, follow the instructions on who and how to contact)
  • Arrive early and be prepared to wait. Bring a book, snacks, water, etc.
  • Warm yourself up vocally before coming into the audition room. And don’t be a jerk by warming up loudly in the common room with everyone else. Respect others’ space and process.
  • Have materials ready and easily accessible – do not ask for copies made of anything. You should have it all with you and on hand.
  • Do as you are asked when you check in. There is a reason why you’re asked for information – you don’t need to know the reason … just follow all instructions.
  • Remember that your audition begins when you enter the building and ends when you leave. Assume that you are ALWAYS being evaluated.

Check your attitude! Stage Managers and those who sign you in are often asked to make notes of people who are ditzy or scattered or who are uncooperative and pains in the neck – yes! they will make notes (in code) on your audition form even before you see the director, musical director, and others in the audition room.

What to wear

  • Wear clothing that is simple, professional, and comfortable
  • Do not dress in character, do not use props, do not use costume accessories – unless the audition notice requests it. Your interpretation of a character may not match that of the director or production.
  • Wear clothes that show you off best – remember, you want the audition to be about your talent and not about an outlandish outfit or some visible body part
  • Always bring clothes and shoes you can move in – in case there is a dance component to the audition. Hopefully the audition notice will indicate whether dance or movement will be required … but just be on the safe side … bring something to change into.

It is completely acceptable to change into comfortable clothes for a dance audition. In most cases you will be asked to sing first. Then you will be asked to learn a dance combination. So, wear clothes for the singing audition first. It is perfectly fine to then ask or say that you would like to change into other clothes for the dance audition – in fact, this shows that you are prepared and professional.

Your music

  • It should be in a binder (3-ring) preferably in non-glare plastic protective sheets. Nothing should be paper-clipped or stapled!
  • Only sing a song you know well and have prepared – done your homework on! You want to be confident … choosing a song that afternoon before the evening’s audition is a sure-fire way to mess up, and you’ll only have yourself to blame.
  • Unless asked in the audition notice, do not sing a song from the show. Find a song that is similar in style musically and for character – a song by the same composer works well.
  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK on the song! Prepare 16 bars or 32 bars of the song that will showcase your voice, your emotional range, etc. There is a very real possibility that you won’t be given an opportunity to sing the entire song. The auditioners may stop you in the middle of a song. They’ve heard enough. Best to start with a strong section in the song.
  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK by hiring or asking a pianist to play the song as it is written in the sheet music. You can record it and then practice with that over and over again. Do not rely on your voice teacher’s playing the song … voice teachers (some, not all) will not always play exactly what’s written in the music. Your teacher might simplify or might focus more on the melody line to help you. Unless you’re going to bring your voice teacher to play for you, you want to make sure you know precisely how the music will sound when played by an accompanist. (Some accompanists will ask for some payment – it’s usually not much and it would be worth the investment to ensure you are comfortable and confident during your audition)
  • Prepare the sheet music with clear instructions and markings – where to start, where to stop, where there are fermatas, etc. Short, simple, clear markings!
  • Make sure all pages have ALL of the music (for both the left and right hands) … you’d be surprised how many copies have the bottom or the top of the page cutoff when copies were made. You don’t want the accompanist to just stop playing or to guess at what’s there!

What are some tips and guidelines you’d add to this list?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Please please please use a binder!! – Musical auditions basics

It’s that time of year when Spring musicals are having auditions. And we pianists and music directors are tasked with playing for each singer that comes in. I’ve written about the audition process here, here, and here. And I’ve mentioned that you should use a 3-ring binder with glare-proof, plastic protective sheets.

There’s been a thread on some social sites where an actor – at least I’m assuming it’s an actor – proposes that the music be mounted on heavy cardstock. The thought is that the music will not slip off the piano’s ledge and that the pianist won’t have any pages to turn.

As much as I appreciate an actor wanting to be helpful, I still prefer the use of a 3-ring binder …

You cannot predict the size of the ledges on an upright piano. Many of them have small ledges that can only accommodate two pages side-by-side in the first place. So even with mounting your music on heavy cardstock I’ll still have to shuffle pages in the middle of playing for your audition.

Even with cardstock, the pages can still fall off the piano’s ledge.

No – please please please use a binder!

Turning a page is something we pianists are VERY used to – we do it all the time … It’s not a big deal at all to turn a page in a binder … really! not a big deal.

So please use a binder. It’s so much easier for the pianist and you will be confident that your music will not fall down, get mixed up, or be shuffled in the wrong order. That way you can concentrate on the important part of the audition – showing yourself off in the best light.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Conducting a community theater musical can be more difficult than professional theater

So, I’m getting ready to conduct my next project at a local community theater. This weekend we’ll have our sitzprobe, which will be the first time the full orchestra and cast come together to play through and sing the entire show. When I’ve mentioned my work in community theater I sometimes get a response that includes some small amount of disdain – as if to say that it must be easy or that it doesn’t have high standards or some other such nonsense. Well, let me say right here and now, “Conducting a community theater musical is difficult and more difficult than professional work.”

Conducting AND playing – an interesting combo

There have only been two times when I was just conducting the pit orchestra. All other times I am conducting while playing at the same time. So I’m at the keyboard playing and playing and playing … and nodding at the other musicians – sometimes rather large head nods – to indicate tempo or entrances or cut offs or to let them know the actor just jumped 10 measures or the actor has returned to a previous section of the song due to a memory lapse or some other thing that needs to be communicated. In fact, one of the musicians I’ve worked with for some time now tells me that the name of my book should be titled, “Head Nods and ESP.”

Behind … always behind – the actors never/seldom see me

In most professional theaters, where’s the orchestra pit? Yeah – somewhere in front of the stage. Or at least the conductor is in front of the actors. Well, that would be a welcomed relief in community theater. Most of the time the orchestra is located behind the actors … perhaps even behind the set. Hell! Sometimes the orchestra is in a completely different room! There are monitors (audio and video) to help, but the simple fact that the actors and orchestra are in different locations or just can’t see each other … well, let’s just say that everyone has to work extra hard to stay together. And because we rely on technology to stay connected …

When technology goes wrong

Relying on technology – audio and video monitors mostly controlled by a sound operator – presents a whole ‘nother set of challenges … particularly when the tech itself acts up. In a recent performance of a show, the lead actor’s microphone just went dead right before the start of a song. And this one song ordinarily is difficult with many sections as a vamp and starting and stopping … UGH! Of all the times for the tech to go kerflooey! And the only thing to do (short of stopping the show) was to play the song and hope for the best.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

It’s not about fun nor fulfillment. It’s about life

Awhile ago a friend shared this reflection:

I just read an article on advocacy for music education and it kept saying how music is fun and magical. Is music really magical and fun? Fulfilling, yes. Rewarding, yes. I don't know how I feel about labeling the practice and performance of music as strictly fun. Fun should be a part of the equation of course, but is it the whole thing? I don't think it can be. Saying music is magical and fun and makes you feel special and it feels like butterflies are in you is a poor reason to keep music in the schools. Doesn't the idea of hard work feeling good also sound good? Why isn't that a top point instead of "the magic of music"? Who knows, I certainly don't know for sure.

And there are unicorns and white-winged Tinkerbells flitting about making everything oh … so … magical … and … fun! Um … right …

Is the study of music fun? Should it be?
Should we even be using the word “fun” at all?
No, it’s not fun nor should we use that word.

At least not in the way the culture seems to interpret fun – and in the way that article implies, which equates fun with frivolity or with some sense of surface happiness that’s fleeting at best.

Rather, music can be hard work. Very hard work at times. It’s that oft-repeated joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” One spends many hours playing a particular passage … working on the technical requirements to play that phrase of music … refining the technique so that it sounds as intended and desired. And then one moves on to practice the next passage in the music. Practice, practice more, repeat. Have I ever wanted to throw my hands up, walk away, and “be done with it?” Absolutely! Is this rigor difficult and sometimes painful? You bet! Is it fun? No … and yes.

It’s clearly not fun because it can be tedious, frustrating, even deflating when I just don’t feel like I’m going to get that passage correct. EVER! That surely isn’t fun. And yet there is fun in the process, the striving, in that hard work. There is fun in that failure … not because I have confidence that at some point in the future I’m going to “get it right.” No, there is fun in the difficulty itself. But this is not the fun of magic and frivolity. A better word might be, then, joy – real joy in the sacrifice of practicing and practicing and failing and practicing some more. There is joy in hard work. And make no mistake – music is hard work (yes, I know I mentioned that before, but it’s worth repeating) … Joyously hard work! Satisfying hard work! It’s exactly like life itself.

The more we seek mere contentment in the trivial or frivolous – we’re only approaching the surface. That’s fleeting. It’s grotesquely temporary and ultimately unsatisfying. There’s no joy in that.

Music is never merely surface. Although it is ephemeral, it’s never fleeting. I may never able to replicate that exact same thrill I had in a performance (I wouldn’t expect to be able to), yet I’ve been moved in some way – my spirit has been touched, or perhaps I’ve gained a new or different insight or perspective. That is transformative. It’s not fleeting – its impact has been and will continue to be felt. That’s a lasting joy.

I’m not surprised, unfortunately, that the article’s approach is to present music as “fun and magical.” Saddened, but not surprised. Schools are not meant to create thinking individuals, nor do they consider their mission to be one of transforming people’s lives. Schools don’t value the real power of the imagination – they do much to squash it, in fact. Schooling is all about basic, competent conformity. It’s all about falsely boosting self-esteem and giving out ribbons and trophies for showing up. And so long as little Johnny and Jane can read at an 8th grade level, if they’re lucky, then society can pat itself on its back. Our little cherubs all feel just-so-good about themselves.

So it doesn’t surprise me that music is wrapped into that same false fairytale. It’s something that makes you feel just-so-good deep down inside. Little Johnny squeaks like hell on his clarinet, but isn’t he having fun?!? Little Jane is playing a painfully slow, out of rhythm passage on the piano and managing to hit a whole lotta wrong notes. But isn’t she just so precious up there on the stage? And at the end of the concert EVERYONE gets a little trophy just because they’re so special.

There is value in having Johnny and Jane playing in a recital. It does take real courage to get up in front of an audience to play a piece of music. It take guts to keep playing and to recover after making a mistake. And yet, that’s exactly what we must do. We have to work through our mistakes and keep going … Hey! That’s like life! Duh!
Did I work hard enough, practice correctly and enough?
What should I do to get better?
Who can help me as a teacher or coach to get through this and to improve?
Again, this is life!

I study and play music not because it makes me all fuzzy and warm … it doesn’t bring butterflies with little magic rainbows. I make music because I can’t imagine for one second not doing it.

Music education is a transformative opportunity for our children. It’s filled with all kinds of life lessons – real lessons about hard work, sacrifice, courage, and joy. Music … indeed art itself saves lives. It allows us to create the world we want to have. If our children can imagine it, then they can be empowered to bring it to life. That’s not magical. That’s very real – dangerously real. Perhaps too dangerous a reality for the numbskull who wrote that article and for those who subscribe to its premise of pretty, fun, magical, niceness.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Making music with amazing artists – The World Goes ‘Round ends

And so my latest project comes to an end. They all end … some end more brightly than others … some end with a sigh of relief … and others end with a wish that they didn’t. What happens when there are five insanely talented actors/singers with six even more insanely talented musicians in a band? Well … THIS!


What a treat to have the opportunity – the blessing – to make some incredible music with these artists. The songs, from a variety of Kander & Ebb shows, all shine with their incisive and often witty lyrics … and that music!

The songs seem to be simple on their surface, but when you dig into them you realize how filled they are with depth and irony and tenderness and lyricism and intensity. They are not ‘simple’ songs. Each are complete stories; and they offer very real challenges to the singers and to the orchestra playing the arrangements.

The World Goes 'Round cast singing the title song from Cabaret

And so, I celebrate the end of this show – with a tinge of sadness … this cast and this band has a firm place in my heart, to be sure. All of them are artists (with a capital A!) and this one was a joy when we were performing.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My office (well sorta …)

Second performance of The World Goes ‘Round at Playhouse22, and I walk into my “office” for the evening.

Click to embiggen

It’s a band of six (keys, reed, trumpet, trombone, bass, and drums) and we’re perched on a 6’ tall platform onstage.

Friday, September 20, 2013

And we open tonight

At Playhouse22, we open the musical revue “The World Goes ‘Round”

I’ve been very blessed to be a part of this project and to have the opportunity to work with such a great cast and production team.

If you’re in the central NJ area – be sure to check it out during the next three weeks.

THE WORLD GOES 'ROUNDget thisTHE WORLD GOES 'ROUNDPinned by Rory ChalcraftOnto All the world's a stage

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sitzprobe Sunday

Today’s the day – after many weeks of rehearsal with the cast we are moving forward with bringing in the orchestra today. It’s the first time the cast and the orchestra will be together. And I can’t wait.

It’s called a sitzprobe – which I am told by Wikipedia is German in origin (the word that is) and has the Italian equivalent of prova all'italiana.

To my mind, a sitzprobe is the first rehearsal where the cast and orchestra are together … the goal being to coordinate both so as to be ready for performances.

The cast (indeed all of the production staff – the director and choreographer especially) and I, as music director, have been working … learning the songs, figuring out the dance music, getting the timing right, marking entrances, exits, and vamps … This for several weeks. The orchestra members have had their music for awhile; and I’ve been communicating with them via email or social media letting them know what the cuts and changes are along with particular notes about tempos, phrasing, etc.

Now we all come together to play through and sing the show. … no costumes, no props, no set changes, no lighting cues, no dialogue – just the music and songs. This is the time when the cast can be re-energized … after all, rehearsal after rehearsal can take its toll. Now we get a bit of an ‘umph’ as we hear everything come together. And I know that opening night isn’t too far away after the sitzprobe.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who do you think you are?

Subtitle: Getting back into my own family history research

I have to admit one of the TV shows I really enjoy is TLC’s Who Do You Think You Are? (I’m so glad TLC picked it up after NBC cancelled it way-back-when!).

I’ve had an interest in family history and genealogy – having a father who was a master storyteller and who recounted all the family stories and legends probably sparked my curiosity and interest. Boy! He sure could tell ‘em! I can remember many nights hearing about family history and lore. So, ‘thanks, Dad’ for planting that seed.

And back a number of years I began some genealogy research. I was hooked! It’s a mystery story, a detective novel, and a very personal perspective on US history all rolled into one. And there’s something to be said for knowing from whom I came … what was the mettle that helped my ancestors move forward through their lives … what might be those familial characteristics (beyond hair and eye color) that we’ve inherited and embraced?

Yet this takes time – time I just don’t have in much supply.

So I have left my research on the shelves at home – gathering a bit of dust. But no more! I am determined to tackle my family’s history bit-by-bit … even if it’s just a hour per week – not much, I know, but better than nothing.

So, now I’m looking to update information and to double check sources and be a bit more thorough than I had been in the past.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The homes of St Elizabeth Ann Seton

We walked the grounds … what an amazingly beautiful day with tons of sunshine, but very little humidity! There are three key places to visit – places that figure prominently in the life of Mother Seton. The first one is the “stone house” which was the very first residence … a brief history of the building and the community is available via audio when you reach the house.
This was originally a small, one-story house. The building had some additions made through the years to accommodate the growing community.

The stone house Elizabeth Ann Seton - Stone House

We weren’t able to go inside the stone house – but we could learn about its history as well as look inside its windows. We can see that the original rooms were indeed quite small.

Interior of the stone house Interior of the stone house

The next place was the “white house” (so named for rather obvious reasons), which served as the primary residence, chapel, and school for Mother Seton’s community.

Elizabeth Ann Seton - facade of the white house

For this we were greeted by a guide who walked us through the first floor rooms and gave use some wonderful insight into the life of Mother Seton and those who worked and served here.
The piano (left photo below) was in fact owned by Mother Seton as a young woman and she kept it her entire life. The rest of the room (right photo below) was set up much as a classroom much as it may have been during Mother Seton’s life.

Piano owned by St Elizabeth Ann Seton White house interior

Across the hall from this first room we came to the chapel (left photo below) where the community prayed and attended mass. There’s a small brass plaque on the very right-side of the communion rail where Mother Seton received Holy Communion. The crucifixion scene (right photo below) was a personal object owned by Mother Seton. It hangs over the fireplace of the room in which she died at age 46.

Chapel inside the white house Mantel piece in the white house

This is the room in which Mother Seton died. The room is adjacent to the chapel. The crucifixion scene above the mantle is indeed something Mother Seton owned … All the rest is replica or copies of furniture from that time.

White house interior

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Last day – St Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine & Basilica

We decided to spend our last full day by taking a daytrip to Emmitsburg to visit and tour the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Basilica. This is on the grounds of her home from 1809 to her death at age 46.
We started at the Visitor Center – here’s a statue of Mother Seton just outside the center.

Entrance to the visitor center of St Elizabeth Ann Seton Basilica

The center has a museum that recounts her life and legacy … and it shows a 15-minute film. The museum includes copies of St Elizabeth Ann Seton’s own letters as well as several of her own personal items.
For example, here is Mother Seton’s own writing desk and chairs that she used while here in Emmitsburg.

Elizabeth Ann Seton's desk and chairs

The Shrine Basilica is atop the visitor center. It is filled with images of the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity, Stations of the Cross, and stained glass imagery of Mary as she is known by her various titles from the Litany of Loreto.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lies in the right-side shrine. (She was originally buried in the central cemetery, then was moved into a mortuary chapel on the cemetery grounds … and finally was brought here to her shrine when she was canonized.)

Basilica of St Elizabeth Ann Seton

After touring the museum and spending time in the Basilica, we headed to the grounds to see the homes – one is called the stone house and the other is called the white house – and the mortuary chapel in the original cemetery.

Friday, August 23, 2013

More from the Community Bridge

So, the day was a bit drizzly … but we still had a bit of a wander through Frederick. Here are some more paintings from the Community Bridge.


Remember, the cool thing about this bridge is that it’s ALL PAINTED! No engraving or etching … and no stonework at all. The stone facade is all painted; and inside many of the stone panels are hidden images …

(See the full set of photos, which includes more from the Community Bridge as well as other sites during our trip) 















Day 7 – a rainy day in Frederick with a little bit of walking

So the day was a bit of a washout with a passing rain … we decided to change some plans as a result.

A slow start to the day and then we headed back to Frederick for lunch and a little bit of a walking tour in the drizzle – and stopping in some stores as well.

Lunch was, again, at Quynn’s Attic – a great little restaurant/pub that offers some great atmosphere and some amazing food. This is definitely one of our favorite eateries in Frederick; and we’d recommend it to anyone and everyone!

After lunch, we ambled to the Barbara Fritchie house.



A friend of Francis Scott Key, the source of local legend and quite the character, an 1863 poem reputes her having waved an American flag while General Stonewall Jackson and his men marched through Frederick in 1862 … as a way to perhaps antagonize them?

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.
A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;
The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word;
"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.....”

Apparently in 1943, so the plaque on the building says, Winston Churchill passed this way with FDR, and Mr. Churchill recited the entire Barbara Fritchie poem from memory.

She is buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Day 6 – the Battle that saved Washington DC

Today we stayed nearby … we had a bit of a late start to our day – but, hey! it’s our vacation so that’s perfectly fine.

Near Frederick is the Monocacy National Battlefield, which is a small national park commemorating the July 9, 1864 battle.


This was the third ‘invasion’ into Maryland by Confederate forces (the other two that led to the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg). It’s referred to as the “Battle that saved Washington” because, although it was a Union defeat, the Confederate forces were delayed in their march to Washington allowing for the Union to better setup and arrange the defenses around Washington DC. Had this battle not occurred it would be very likely that the Confederate forces could have captured the capital city.

The Visitor Center is located near the first line of battle where the Confederate forces set up one of their artillery units … Here’s a canon just outside of the museum; and take a look at these canon and mortar shells … imagine having a bunch of these raining down on you.

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The Union forces were commanded by General Lew Wallace. The visitor center museum includes his frock coat, vest, shoulder boards, along with other items from the General.

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And what was General Wallace’s other claim to fame?
He wrote Ben Hur

After the museum at the visitor center, we took a car audio tour of the battlefield itself.

Map picture

The battlefield includes several farm buildings and homes from that period. Here is the third stop of the auto tour – the Worthington Home. The building is closed … all buildings are closed to the public … but you can walk its grounds and its veranda. The Worthington family witnessed the battle on that day. This was the site of the Confederate cavalry crossing the Monocacy River … the Confederate forces were being held by Union forces along the major crossing of the river. The Confederate, then, had to find another location to cross the river … winding up pretty much in the Worthington’s back yard.


View more photos in the Flickr set

Day 5 – just relaxing with family

We made a decision that this vacation was not going to be devoted just to site seeing and activity … We’ve done that before. This vacation was going to be one of relaxation as much as possible along with taking in the sites as we wanted.

So, after a full day in Washington DC seeing sites, we decided to take the next day at a slow pace … to just visit with family and hang out, as it were.

We spent the entire day with my mom visiting my sister, niece, and nephew.

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A fun time – and relaxing time – was had by all! Our batteries recharged, we are able to tackle the rest of our week.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 4 – Lincoln and more Lincoln

The WWII memorial was the first half of the day. The second half was devoted to things Lincoln, starting with the Lincoln Memorial itself. … and yes, we walked the length of the mall to get there from the WWII memorial, which is challenging in the August heat and humidity that’s typical of Washington DC.

Since my brother-in-law and his family recently came from Illinois – the “land of Lincoln” – the children were already up on a bunch of history and were eager to see more stuff about our 16th President.
(By the way … the children are all homeschooled and each of them can tell you the names of all the US Presidents in order! Rather impressive)

We arrived at the Lincoln Monument … the kids were all excited to see “what’s on the back of our pennies”


We looked and walked around and took some photos and then made our way toward Constitution Ave where there was a small outdoor cafe – because we all needed to sit down for awhile with some water and a little snack.


After the Lincoln Monument, we headed over to 10th Street to visit Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House. But first …. we all needed to eat lunch.

After chowing down at the Hard Rock Cafe, we took the tour of the Ford Theater museum, which is located in the downstairs area of the building, and then proceeded upstairs to see the presidential box.

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One of the cool things was seeing my niece and nephews working on the junior ranger program booklets.

After Ford’s Theater we went across the street to the Peterson House, which is where President Lincoln died. This is the front parlor of the house … the first room when you enter it. These rooms are kept much as they were at that time in 1865.
The front parlor was where Mary Lincoln spent most of her time waiting, as she was inconsolable when she was with the President.


The second room was set up to conduct the interviews of individuals that evening. Again, it is set up just as it had been used that evening in April.


And the back room was where they laid the President as he died. The actual bed is in Chicago – so this is an exact replica.


The room is much smaller than you’d think … and so the various engravings, sketches, and paintings of that night (there was no photograph taken) would seem to be rather incorrect … there really was no way for everyone to have fit into this tiny room all at the same time. They probably took turns.

But one thing for sure … it was quite moving and a little chilling to be at the location.

Best line of the day from my son. “I had a good time walking around with my cousins because they asked such great questions and it gave me a chance to see things through their eyes.”