Dale Warland Singers

Another concert I wish I’d attended.  Dale Warland’s retiring, and the Dale Warland Singers sang their last concert yesterday in the Cities.

Courtesy of A Capella News

A couple years back, I bought the DWS recording of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb.  I’d sung the piece in high school; Tom Kasdorf is partial to Britten, and our choir was up to the technical challenge.  In TK’s first rehearsal he introduced us to Christopher Smart‘s  Cat Jeoffry, who’s been following me around ever since. 

When the Warland Singers recording arrived, I picked it up at the post office on my way to work and popped the CD into the player on my desk.  Suddenly, a bit over a minute into the performance, a vision of Dale, in a rehearsal on Macalester’s stage, dancing and chattering the complex rhythms of Britten’s second movement:

Let Nimrod, the mighty hunter….

It was probably our second rehearsal.  We’d stumbled badly on a run-through, and Warland was isolating the technical problems.  We worked on the rhythms for a time, added the words when he was confident we’d mastered the counts, and finally fit the music to the section.  I’d forgotten I’d sung this at Mac.  But I’d not forgotten Dale’s teaching methods.

Best wishes, Dale.  Hope the new career goes as well as the Singers.

Ars Nova

Oh, to have been in Boulder last weekend….

[Thomas Edward] Morgan, artistic director of Ars Nova, masterfully conducted the hushed phrasings of the integrated folk influences and traditional chants of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the rich, resounding acoustics of the cathedral, the lambent songs of praise enveloped the audience in a wash of celestial sounds.

The Denver Post/via A Capella News

In January of 1982, while I was busily putting the finishing touches on my B.A. coursework, Tom Morgan was producing and directing Godspell as a for-credit academic project. I ate lunch with Tom and his crew pretty regularly, and Tom kept me up to date on the production’s status. Most likely I told him about Andrew Carnegie, since the steel industry’s early days were dominating my afternoons and evenings–or about Tommy Thompson, whose half-awake music-making–the course was American Folk Music–helped (en)lighten my mornings.  The need to actually finish the Carnegie paper on deadline prevented me from attending Tom’s production, a decision I regretted then, and regret now.

Tom graduated a couple years after me, then moved to Colorado for grad school. He’d send an occasional note to report on his life and share what he’d heard from mutual friends.  Not sure how we lost touch, but it’s probably time to renew the friendship.

Yes, Drill Sergeant!

AnAmericanSoldier‘s Drill Sergeant Rob offered an obituary for Pat Tillman yesterday. It’s both a fine essay and an excellent example of the strengths of this writer.

My drill sergeant, Charley Tucker, discovered in late June of 1969 that he’d be shepherding a platoon whose members nearly all had a couple years of college, which made for an unusual cycle. We knew within minutes he had some respect for a college education, as he put the group’s college grads in the platoon’s leadership slots. But it was also pretty clear that Fort Knox wasn’t going to be much like college. Fifth Platoon developed into something a little odd–bookish, well-disciplined, but not especially fit–and we learned to help each other through the training. My memories of the cycle were that it wasn’t so much difficult as relentless; the pressure never let up, though the emphasis changed from week to week. It helped a lot that I was reasonably fit, and accustomed to long hikes. It didn’t help that I was only barely competent with a rifle. It was clear to us that, at least from Charley, the pettiness and meanness were part of the course work, not part of the personality.

Two bad memories from that summer:

  • Another drill sergeant inflicted a fifty-pushup punishment on me because I didn’t recognize my name one morning. He’d twisted it badly out of shape, and it just plain slipped by me that he was trying to get my attention. Since arguing with drill sergeants about this sort of thing is pointless, I did the pushups. I trust Charley gave him hell later.
  • I was one of the few people in the entire country who worked on July 20, 1969. Even most of Fort Knox got to watch the moon landing. I still haven’t forgiven whoever decided I’d spend the day pretending to guard the post. I’m quite certain the real guards had access to televisions.

I read Sergeant Rob because he’s thoughtful, says interesting things about his job, and says interesting things about the world. Rob’s occasional cheap shot is more than made up for by the thoughtful commentary. That I don’t always agree is, well, sort of the point.

The TechNomad

Steven K. Roberts is a person I might have been. We even look kind of alike. He grew up a nomad; I grew up a bureaucrat….

Compuserve’s forums had little rooms off in the corner where folks could scribble down profiles of who they were and what interested them. (Perhaps they still do; it’s been a long time since I checked.) I was wandering around the Model 100 Special Interest Group one day and found a note in the member profiles inquiring whether anyone had any experience with or interest in carrying a Model 100 on a bicycle. Since my laptop rode my bike to work every morning, and regularly travelled between Lansing and Kalamazoo, I figured I was the target audience and dropped the member a line.

That was my original encounter with Steve Roberts. Steve replied with a chatty and enthusiastic note explaining what he was up to. It was immediately apparent that we were really talking about different things, but Steve’s ambition to live a connected life on a bicycle was and remains one of my life’s roads not taken. We traded a few notes, even after he hit the road, but this was essentially a casual contact.

Over the next few years it was pretty hard for me not to notice Steve’s project. He supported himself partly by writing articles about the trip, so friends would discover him in whatever magazine they read and bring him to my attention–and I’d say “Yeah, I knew Steve when….”

Looked Steve up on a whim last night. He now writes blog-like notes (with photos) daily, and a real blog as well. Steve’s still the same guy–tinkerer, promoter, enthusiast–I remember from twenty years ago, but now he’s building a Microship and planning a long cruise. (But first a shakedown voyage.)

Actually, he’s building two. It takes a really odd sort of confidence to build a boat for a woman who hasn’t yet arrived. Looks like she has. Steve’s life works for him. As does mine for me.

Tom & Becky, without Suzanne

There was a couple at a nearby table who were loud enough you couldn’t ignore them, and bizarre enough you wanted to know what would happen next.

Becky and Tom were friends from their college days, attractive, about thirty now and married to other partners.  He’d come to town on business, and invited his old friend to dinner; we gathered from the conversation that they got together a couple times a year under pretty much these circumstances.  Their conversation, while basically just the chit-chat of old friends, broadcast the tensions of a decade of missed opportunities.

Tom called home.  “Suzanne, I’m running late; stopped to have dinner with Becky and we’re waiting for the bill.”  Suzanne apparently didn’t take this well.  Becky borrowed the phone, and started to explain:  “Hi, Suzanne….”  Suzanne hung up on her.

  • “You’re in trouble, and I just made it worse.  Call her back and apologize.”
  • “Nope.  I’m just out with a friend.  A college friend.  A business friend.”
  • “You really ought to call her.”
  • “She’s the one who was rude.  She owes you an apology.”
  • “You really ought to call her.”
  • “I’m taking a stand about this.  She doesn’t have any right to be like this.”

About this time their server’s shift ended; he stopped by to pass the torch to his successor, Jane.  He opined that Tom would be wise to call Suzanne back, and told a story about a tiff with his (ex)girlfriend.

Evidently there’d been a similar row the last time Tom & Becky had dined together.  Becky, to her credit, was quite concerned about Tom’s relationship with his wife, and the impact her friendship was having on Tom’s family.  Over the next half hour, it became clear that Tom was technically right that he and Becky had “never done anything wrong” (even when both were single, evidently).  It also became real clear that Suzanne was right to believe that the technicality was, well, just a technicality.  These folks are lovers in thought, if not deed.

Tom flagged down Jane, and asked for another drink.  Jane counted up Tom’s tab, said “Seven drinks are enough,” and cut them off.  They asked for the bill they’d been waiting for when Tom called Suzanne, paid up, and left.

Dunno where Tom slept.


Turns out I don’t think the laptop makes a satisfactory PDA, despite its obvious advantages and excellent form factor, so I bought a Palm Tungsten E the other day and have been whipping it into shape.  It’s a pretty slick device.

A bit of history:  I was an early-adopter for laptop computers–bought a Radio Shack Model 100 within days of the product announcement and have usually owned something portable ever since.  Despite that history, I wasn’t much interested in Newton or the original Palm Pilot; instead, I bought an early NEC MobilePro 700 (notice the keyboard) in 1998.  While this was a pretty primitive PDA, NEC did many things right with this design and I really liked it.  Unfortunately, the screen died a few days after the warranty ended and NEC was unable/unwilling to repair it.  Left with only $1,000 options, I spent the money on an HP 620LX (essentially an early version of the keyboard Jornada line).  This machine was very similar to the MobilePro, with a much better screen and an improved WinCE operating system–but had a decidedly inferior keyboard.  I still own this handheld PC, but the touchscreen no longer works well.

I picked up a Palm M100 in January of 2001 pretty much on a whim.  I knew the HP’s screen was failing, and I’d grown weary of shelling out $1,000 every time my PDA died, so I decided to see if I could live with Graffiti on the now-commoditized Palm platform.  It only took a few days to convince me; the Palm’s been running my life ever since.

Except for the past three months.  Mostly that’s because I wanted to test whether the Mac could handle the scheduler job–it can, but a smaller solution is preferable, and I’m not particularly fond of Apple’s iCal (it’s pretty, but the interface is clumsy and insufficiently customizable).  The other, and sufficient, reason for abandoning the M100 was that it can’t talk to the PowerBook–despite the abundance of ports on the laptop’s left side, my old Palm expects a serial connector.

The new Palm’s a lot like the old Palm, of course, only faster, with much more memory, and with a far prettier display.  I prefer the original Graffiti, but that’s clearly a personal preference thing.  (I do wish they’d made it user-selectable, rather than making the new version recognize some-but-not-all of the old characters.)  The interface tweaks, though minor, are important; I particularly like being able to store meeting locations in an explicit field, that the Palm remembers those meeting places for reuse, and that I’m now able to define a repeating ToDo reminder (a Thru Date would help, though.)

Good machine.  If it holds up (I’ve read the reviews), I’m going to like it.

Correction 4/6/04: The ToDo does have a Thru date setting, if you choose the custom repeat.

Bill Hurd: fifty yards, real fast

Stumbled across this profile of former Notre Dame sprinter Bill Hurd while looking for something else this morning.

When I was running track in high school, we’d occasionally attend off-season, open track meets as members of the Kalamazoo Track Club rather than representatives of our school.  In winter, those would be indoor meets at the local universities–I remember meets at Western & Eastern Michigan, I think at Michigan State, and (definitely on my sixteenth birthday) at Yost Field House at the University of Michigan.  These were long days on the bleachers, mostly, except when we were actually competing.  We’d keep our eyes on the events, of course, and root on our friends and teammates.

Occasionally something remarkable would happen.  I once saw Notre Dame freshman Bill Hurd win a fifty yard dash final, against excellent college competition, by several yards.  Think about that.  Absolutely amazing.

A handful of notes:

  • Yes, we still measured our events in yards when I was running.  We used stop watches for timing, too.  But we were aware of meters, and had encountered electronic timers.
  • Fifty yards and out the door.  Short sprints are indoor events, and it’s pretty common for the runway to end at a padded wall.
  • Winning a short sprint’s a special skill, but raw speed helps a whole lot.
  • Bill Hurd’s had a more interesting life than most of us.  Glad I looked it up.
  • Yost Field House still stands, but it’s become something quite different.
  • Western Michigan’s Read Field House also still stands but has been rebuilt twice since I knew the place.  The really ugly shell’s the only remnant of the original facility.
  • Western’s discontinuing their Track and XC programs as a result of Michigan’s budget cuts.  In my gut, that irritates me more than the pay cuts and furlough days.  Save WMU Track!
  • The Kalamazoo Runners trace their history to the Mall City Pacers in, say, 1967, who became the Kalamazoo Track Club at a later date.  Our mid-sixties KTC was basically a convenience for the local high school coaches, but it was inevitable that something else would evolve from that.  The succession might or might not be direct–frankly, I no longer remember, since I wasn’t really involved–but there’s some continuity.  I recall Jim Giachino and Ron Nehring running an endurance event as KTC members in what was likely 1966.
  • Strangely but true: This comment was provoked by a discussion about Mickey Mantle on the Society for American Baseball Research‘s mailing list, SABR-L.
  • Frankly, enough of this is from memory that I’d not depend on it without checking other sources.

Memories of Suite Judy Blue Eyes

Bought a copy of the original CS&N album from iTunes yesterday, and am listening at work.  Suddenly it’s 1970, and I’m back at Fort HuachucaAmazing.

The Army had trained more DSTE operators than there were empty slots, so we were TDPFO in the desert, waiting for the installation teams to build the places we’d work.  We had some notion of the pending construction, and we were being permitted to “bid” on specific stations.  (That worked like this:  As each installation was completed, the TDPFO GI who’d been longest at Huachuca was asked if he wanted to go there; they worked down the seniority list until the slots were filled.  If this method didn’t fill the staff, the most senior folks “won” the assignment, regardless of preference.  Getting what you wanted had some risks, and involved balancing what you knew about construction progress with your actual wishes, but it worked out well for most of us.  In my case, London came up the day after I accepted an assignment to the San Francisco area.  I might have lived a different life.)  (No regrets, he wistfully claims.)

I spent three months at Huachuca, which was pretty typical.  Many of the folks I attended DSTE classes with ended up in either LA or Seattle, in the same command as my SF assignment, and several of us moved together to Pleiku at the end of the year.

A Short History of the Action Team

Theme, and variations….

First AT

Jack, then the director of our central office, had a large organization to run with a limited personal staff–a secretary, a couple analysts, and a handful of middle managers. In order to improve his flexibility, he created an analyst group, called it the Action Team, and charged the new division to see beyond the day-to-day tasks and help build the department’s future.

While there were personnel changes over time, the staff was remarkably stable for nearly a decade and a half: Rick was usually the manager, and his staff included Penny, Henri, Billy, Don, and Denise. Robby joined late, but was an integral member from his first day on the team; Sadie, too, was a member for a while. This strong-willed, vocal, and exceptionally talented group had all been recruited from within the department, and had a mix of experience in the field and the central office.

Karen and I, both refugees from a major reorganization, joined this team late in its career. My bureau had been abolished, and my job with it. Karen had been reassigned from a secretarial job when her boss (Jack, as it happens) retired. The existing staff had worked with both of us in our earlier roles, and helped us find our feet. Eventually, we figured out that the survival trick was to build ourselves a niche and become indispensable to the organization. Rick, a radically hands-off manager, depended on us to keep ourselves busy when he didn’t have something he needed addressed.

About half the job was fire-fighting, as Rick warned me when I joined the group. Depending on the emergency’s circumstances, we might or might not have useful expertise; we were expected to make good decisions regardless. The job’s other half was projects, sometimes in lead roles, others in support. On its best days, First AT was an exciting place. Even in dull times we were working on interesting stuff. The headstrong staff was always interesting, though not always comfortable to work with.

Due to circumstance and organizational history, First AT had astonishing organizational clout. Generally speaking, our recommendations had the power of mandate. While I, personally, have considerable organizational influence today, I and my current colleagues have far less effective authority. Different times, different managers, different analysts….

The wear and tear eventually got to everyone, and the staff suddenly scattered. Denise had already left to become a senior staffer in another bureau. Management moved Rick to a less stressful position. Penny accepted an IT position. Don retired. Sadie, Robby, and Henri joined another manager’s personal team. Billy was offered a testing lead on the mainframe programming group.

Karen and I inherited Action Team’s responsibilities, and a new manager.

Second AT

Robbyn inherited us. The first months were quite hectic; a pretty typical week, for me, had eight or ten meetings on nearly as many topics, which freed Karen to restructure a program involving institutional customers. Meantime, our still-new management team was taking the opportunity to reconsider their support staff needs. After several months, management let Robbyn recruit a new Action Team staff. She hired a surprising crew; it included a very young branch manager (Alice), a (blond) secretary with an unearned reputation for ditzyness (Becki), a typist clerk with an interesting work history but only a couple years of state employment (Chase), a mild-mannered investigator (Tyler), a loud and opinionated unit supervisor (Cheryl), and a fine clerk who’d been afflicted with an unappreciative supervisor (Mindy). Everyone in the building knew these staffers; except for Mindy, none were thought to be interesting talents. Karen and I, both recently new to the section, were tasked with helping Robbyn teach these folks what analysts do, and how we fit into the overall structure.

There were some changes. Robbyn was quite emphatic that the niche specialties had to go, and that teams would be assigned to work most projects. Management, meantime, had cut back our authority: We were downgraded from division to section, we were explicitly enjoined to work through management on all projects, and we were required to secure approvals for tasks we’d formerly done on our own authority. While these changes partly reflected the reality of an inexperienced analyst staff, it was also clear that the new managers wanted more control of the decision-making process.

Robbyn’s a great boss for a team of self-starters. She has a high tolerance for noise, and isn’t really particular about methods; she balances this by insisting on excellent status reports and acceptable performance. She’s got terrific team-building skills, and a talent for matching skills to projects. She knows when to challenge her staff, and when to back off and let things ride. The result can look chaotic, but Robbyn’s at the center, aware of the issues, and in control. Unmistakably in control. The result was a less brilliant AT than the original, but cohesive and very capable group with an array of complementary talents.

We were just learning what we could do when Janet, who had little tolerance for disorder, was made Robbyn’s boss.

Second AT lasted about two years. Mindy left first, to take the next step in a career which suddenly turned meteoric. Alice found a useful vacancy and transferred; her responsibilities followed her. Robbyn retired, returned to graduate school, and began a second career. Becki was accepted for a special training program and found a place on our mainframe programming team. Chase moved to a job which reproduced the responsibilities I’d had before I joined Action Team, and Karen found refuge on a friend’s staff. Cheryl and Tyler went to work for Mindy, who’d been promoted yet again. Only I remained….

Third AT

Tricia spent a long career on our field staff, and had become the manager assigned to shape up field offices which had gone bad. Eventually the stress got to her, and she sought out a central office position. Tricia’s first job in our building was in Joan’s chain of command, where Trish quickly developed a reputation for being argumentative, abrasive, and willing to make decisions with too little input. When Robbyn left, Tricia applied for her job and became our boss. (That didn’t slow the exodus, as you’ve seen.) While Tricia and I had disagreements, we’d worked well together and I rather liked her. Figuring that someone had to take responsibility for continuity, I stayed with the unit. (Robbyn took note of the dragon in the next office, and told me I was brave. Perhaps insane.)

Tricia’s Action Team was, well, different. She interviewed dozens of people to fill the vacancies; in the end, she hired one true outsider (Barry, who came to us from EDS); two from other agencies (Red and Laura), and two more from within our agency (Tania and Val). We soon added two folks (Michelle and Annie) who were no longer welcome in their previous jobs; both were (and are) bright and articulate folks who were available partly by circumstance and partly because they can be exasperating. The last piece in the mix was Jean, once our very capable secretary, promoted to an analyst position on merit. Throw in a couple student assistants and you’ve got a fairly large staff.

With little to do. Between our inexperienced staff and our difficult management, the managers of the operational sections were more comfortable assigning projects we’d “normally” have worked to their own staff, which they expanded to cover that need. I was certainly busy, with three carry-over projects from Robbyn’s time; we assigned part of one of those to Barry, and Red replaced me on another, where he earned departmental recognition. The others eventually joined other projects, and AT recovered some credibility.

Then we got moved, to another bureau and to another building. A departmental reorganization, a key promotion, and internal politics resulted in bureau-level swap of our staff for a similar staff–we moved to a support role for the field offices. Within weeks, I was arranging to escape. Between the disagreeable managers and the new responsibilities, there wasn’t much reason to stay.

Shortly after I escaped, Jean left to seek a different life. Of all of us, she found the stress filled environment most painful.

Third Action Team lasted less than three years. Janet retired, and Tricia soon followed. Rather than replace the section’s managers, they assigned the staff elsewhere….

AT Successors: goes around, comes around

Barry, Tania, and Laura continue to support the field offices; when AT expired, they were already working closely with another unit and their reassignment was a foregone conclusion. Michelle returned to something like her previous job, as a rearranged management team in that bureau worked in her favor. Red, Annie, Val, and one of the students joined the department’s project management team; while they’re no longer in Action Team, they’re doing AT work.

Me? I’m at Denise’s old desk, in Action Team’s original workspace–which is again filled with analysts who fight fires and manage projects. Alice is here, too, and I have regular contacts with Chase, who’s still doing my old job. Christine, Margie, and Randi round out the crew. They no longer call us AT–indeed, we now report to five different managers–but we share the workload, cover meetings for each other, and are clearly AT’s successor, doing the things Rick expected of Penny, Billy, Denise, Henri, Don, and Robby. And our bosses all report to another guy named Jack….

Margaret remembers that for me

My brother dropped me a line the other day; asked if I wanted to hear Anne Hills at the Ten Pound Fiddle.  That’s what we did tonight.

Anne first appeared in my life when the Boarshead Theater hosted Bob Gibson‘s The Courtship of Carl Sandburg, nearly 20 years ago.  A few weeks later I took a friend to see her at the Fiddle; a few weeks after that I took my family to see her at Kalamazoo’s Celery City Music Hall.  We’ve seen her regularly since.

Late in tonight’s show, Anne sang The Dutchman, which is Michael Smith‘s contribution to the short list of truly great songs.  It’s about growing old, and love, and memory.  I took this note’s title from The Dutchman’s refrain.

Anne’s encore was David Roth’s Manuel Garcia, a song about cancer, and families, and love, and support.  I really needed that; thanks, Anne.