Nana

I have often written posts about my parents, known here as Nana and Paco. I’m sad to tell you that Nana passed away last week. After months of declining health due to congestive heart failure, she had a few days of rapid decline and died peacefully with my older sister with her and the rest of the family able to gather quickly for some final time together with her.

Over these last few days, my sisters have been staying at Paco’s apartment and taking care of him, while my spouse B and I have been tending to preparations for the funeral, which will take place mid-week.

We are very fortunate that this week is a week off for my son-in-law L, who was able to fly here from London to be with daughter E, granddaughter ABC, and all of us.

I admit that my mind has been richoting from one subject to another. Now that the funeral plans are all in place, I’m hoping I can calm my mind a bit, but it remains to be seen.

With so much happening, I’m not online very much, so I may not be able to keep up with responding to comments. Please know that I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that you send on behalf of Nana and our family.

In peace,
Joanne

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Moses Hogan concert

Amazingly enough, I got to attend another concert this past weekend with my daughter T at Trinity Church where we heard the St. John Passion in April. This was also a concert with the Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and Trinity Church Choir, along with Tabernacle United Methodist Choir and members of the Binghamton High School Choir. They were joined by countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and pianist Pej Reitz for “A Moses Hogan Celebration.”

Moses Hogan (1957-2003) was a multifaceted musician who is most well known for his stunning arrangements of Negro spirituals and most of the program was given to performances of these arrangements. Derek Lee Ragin met Moses Hogan at Oberlin College Conservatory and, while pursuing a career in opera, also performed and recorded with the Moses Hogan Chorale and Moses Hogan Singers. Also, Moses’ younger sister, Dr. Ava Hogan-Chapman, and her daughter were in attendance. It was wonderful to have people who knew him so well there to tell us more about him, and, of course, to hear Derek Lee Ragin sing.

I had sung a couple of Moses Hogan arrangements and had heard a number of them when E and T were singing in high school and college choirs. These tended to be the more up-tempo songs such as “Elijah Rock” and “Ride on, King Jesus”. While I loved hearing these familiar arrangements in the concert, I was especially moved by some of the pieces that were unfamiliar to me.

Among these was “His Light Still Shines”, a choral medley in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece is a blend of narrative and spirituals. Sharon Ball offered very powerful narration in alternation with the choral pieces. I knew Sharon Ball as the retired director of the Broome County Arts Council and as a candidate for New York State Senate in our district. I hadn’t realized that earlier in her career she had been a broadcast journalist, professional singer, and White House staffer in the Carter administration. She brought all of these skills together to speak so clearly and movingly about Dr. King’s work and legacy. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination; it saddens me that we still have so far to go in social justice and peacemaking in the United States all these decades later.

The piece, though, that had both T and me on the verge of tears was “There’s a Man Goin’ Round”, which is a piece about the death of a parent. With my mom in hospice care and the recent death of my college roommate’s mother, that piece was especially meaningful and heart-rending.

It’s a testament to the power of the spirituals, born as they were under the weight of slavery, oppression, and suffering, that they transcend and bring hope, even in difficult times centuries later.

87

Nana's 87th birthday
Lily of the valley, with Paco’s card to Nana and birthday card made by artist-friend Jim

Today is my mom’s 87th birthday.

Because her heart failure symptoms cause her to be sleepy a lot of the time, it is difficult to predict when she might be alert, so we keep celebrations ad hoc and catch bits of time with her as circumstances allow.

This morning, I picked her a few lilies of the valley from our (rapidly spreading out of control) patch. The original pips came from the yard of my childhood home in Massachusetts and from the yard of B’s home in Vermont, only a few miles apart. Lily of the valley is the birth flower for May and I have often picked some for Nana’s birthday. Our spring this year has been chilly and damp, so they have just begun to bloom with only the very bottom bells open, but I picked some regardless and will bring a few more when they open more fully.

On my way up to the skilled nursing unit of my parents’ senior living community, I swung by Wegman’s grocery store and picked up an individual size fruit tart. Nana would often buy large ones for special occasions, so I thought she might enjoy a little one for her birthday. I was pleased that, though small, there was a nice variety of fresh fruit over the custard, a large halved strawberry, a piece each of pineapple and kiwi, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberry. Nana was quite sleepy this morning, so I put it in the refrigerator with her name on it so she can enjoy it later today, or tomorrow or the next day, depending how she is feeling.

I brought her a card, too, which had bleeding hearts, which are also in bloom now, on the front. She has lots of cards from family and friends, including a packet of cards from people at her church.

A bit later in the morning, my daughters E and T and granddaughter ABC arrived. Despite ABC’s careening about the room, giggles, and squeals, Nana slept a good share of the time that she was there, but there were times that she was awake for kisses and a bit of lunch, some of which she generously shared with Ada. Her lunch tray arrived with a bonus, a large vanilla cupcake with white frosting and decorations. Nana decided to send it home with us instead of eating it herself. After all, she does have a fruit tart waiting for her, as well as some coffee ice cream sent over by a friend. When she is ready for one or the other of them, Paco will hop on his scooter and fetch them from the leisure room refrigerator. Of course, Paco got some kisses from ABC, too.

Both of my sisters called while I was there. My older sister just returned home from a few days of visiting and my younger sister and her family will arrive for a short visit this weekend. The main reason for the trip is my niece’s commencement ceremony in Cortland. She will be a newly minted teacher, with a job as a kindergarten teacher and a master’s program in New York City all lined up. Woo hoo!

B and I made another quick trip up for a visit in the evening, bringing another card that had inadvertently been left at home in the morning and some of Nana’s favorite toiletries.

We were grateful that we were able to celebrate Nana’s 87th birthday with her, or, as Paco says, the beginning of her 88th year. Last year, we celebrated her birthday at our local hospice residence. We didn’t think that we would be granted another whole year with Nana.

We all love that we have had this time with her.

another farewell concert

Two years ago, I wrote about the final concert with the long-time director of the Binghamton University Chorus.

Last Sunday, we sang in the final concert of another faculty member, Timothy Perry, who had conducted the orchestra and various other instrumental ensembles and taught clarinet for the past 33 years. Members from University Chorus, Harpur Chorale, the Southern Tier Singers’ Collective, and VOCI combined to sing Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Dr. Perry had conducted a performance of it fifteen years ago with the University Symphony and Chorus with soloists Professors Mary Burgess and Timothy LeFebrve, who joined us again for this performance.

The University Symphony Orchestra, along with some members of the Binghamton Community Orchestra which Dr. Perry also conducts, and all the singers wanted to make his last concert a memorable one.

And we succeeded.

The singers, most of whom were prepared for the concert by Binghamton University Professor Dr. William Culverhouse, worked very hard to develop uniform and precise diction  while also attending to all the musical elements that Vaughn Williams had incorporated into the score. The singers were in so many different ensembles that we only were able to rehearse together in the final week, but we had been so thoroughly prepared by Dr. Culverhouse that things fell into place without too much angst. (I realize that sounds a bit strange, but anyone who has ever had to perform with only limited rehearsal time for all the players and singers together knows how daunting it can be when all the different groups finally get together.)

It was very important to us that the audience could understand the text, which is a plea for peace, something that the whole world needed when Vaughn Williams wrote the piece in the aftermath of The Great War and in fear of what would soon become an even larger-scale war. We feel that same need for peace in our current world.

The bulk of the text is from the United States poet, Walt Whitman. This year is the bicentennial of his birth. Whitman spent a lot of time during the American Civil War visiting the wounded of both sides of the conflict in the hospitals in Washington, DC. He wrote extensively about the war and its human toll in the free verse style of poetry. Because he was an early champion of free verse in the United States and because that is the style of poetry I most often use in my own work, I consider Walt Whitman to be one of my important poetic forebears. It was important to us that the audience could readily understand what we were saying and I’m happy to report that they did indeed understand us.

Because of Dr. Culverhouse’s meticulous attention to detail, we were able to really express the text and the music to the audience and to follow Dr. Perry’s nuanced interpretation to make the performance truly memorable, one of the peak experiences of my decades of choral singing. We knew from our own internal sense and from the enthusiastic and extended standing ovation from the audience that we had really communicated what we had hoped to them.

At the reception after the concert, I was able to speak with Dr. Perry a bit. He was very pleased with the performance and told me that some of his favorite concerts that he had conducted in Binghamton were collaborations between his Symphony and University Chorus. He also told me that he appreciated seeing some familiar faces in the chorus, as a number of us were members of University Chorus even before he arrived on campus.

It was a poignant moment for me. For my first 35 years with University Chorus, we met and sang a concert every semester. In these last two years, we have only met one semester in the academic year and have become an adjunct group to the Harpur Chorale, the main student choral ensemble. There were understandable reasons for this, but it still saddens me not to have a place to sing every semester.

University Chorus was accustomed to finding out at our spring concert what the plans were for the next academic year. Given that there will be a brand new conductor of the University Symphony next year, the scheduling is being left open until that person has arrived and gotten the lay of the land. It’s possible that University Chorus may not meet at all in the 2019-2020 academic year. It’s even possible that we may not fit into the evolving music department and cease to exist. Or that it may become so selective that I won’t make it through the audition.

If this concert was my last, I’m thankful that it was so meaningful and memorable. In giving Dr. Perry a beautiful gift for his final concert, we also gave a gift to ourselves.

new pennies

Yesterday, my groceries came to some dollars and 51 cents.

(Wow, that sounds like the start of the most boring blog post ever.)

I was very happy, though, because my change included four, shiny 2019 pennies!

(Which also sounds pretty odd…)

For my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, I gave them a heart-shaped box, personalized with their names and wedding date. Inside, I placed a penny from each year that they were married, starting with 1954. Every year, for their anniversary, I add the penny for that year.

It used to be easy to find them, but, with fewer people using cash, it has taken longer to find the new year’s coins. Recently, I’ve had my older sister who lives near the Washington DC mint look for me or my college roommate who lives near the Denver mint.

This year, Nana and Paco’s 65th anniversary arrived without a new penny.

That is why I was so pleased to finally find one.

Today, I added it to their box. I told Paco that I had placed it there. I haven’t had a chance to tell Nana. She was having a day where she wasn’t alert enough for conversation, even though I was in her room in skilled nursing for hours.

Maybe, I will be able to tell her tomorrow…

after the report

Nana is dozing in her recliner, so I thought I would try to do a quick post on my reactions so far to the redacted release of the Mueller report. With everything going on in my family life, I haven’t been able to read all 400+ pages, but have seen excerpts and analysis from lawyers and investigative/legal reporters, which I have found very helpful.

As longtime readers may recall, I was very concerned about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even before the voting took place, so volume one of the report, which details the Russian attacks, is chilling. It reveals how extensive the attack was, confirming that it reached millions of potential voters, some of whom were targeted with particular posts or ads because of where they lived, their race, and other personal factors. It also deals with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other campaign systems with release of materials to the public, as well as attempts to hack voting systems.

I am very concerned that Congress has not done enough to help the FBI and the states and localities identify potential weaknesses, especially in technology systems, and rectify them for the 2020 race, which has already started with many candidates declaring their intent to run in the party primaries. We need to be prepared for both similar attacks and for different kinds of attacks from Russia and from other countries. This should not be a partisan issue at all; people across the political spectrum should all be committed to protecting our national security and our freedoms.

The second part of the report is about possible obstruction of justice by the President. It makes it clear that no charges were filed because it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Mueller also made it clear that he could not gather all the evidence needed, as the President and several other key figures were not able to be interviewed by the investigators. However, the report lays out details of possible counts of obstruction, which could be taken up by Congress as part of their investigations (which could lead to the filing of impeachment charges) or which could be charged by the courts after Trump leaves office. The statute of limitations for most of the actions taken by the president is five years, so if he leaves office during his first term or fails to win a second term, court charges could be brought for obstruction of justice.

The question of whether the House of Representatives will move toward impeachment is open. It’s complicated by the fact that the Mueller investigation was focused on Russian interference, but there are investigations on-going in other areas, among them illegal campaign contributions, emoluments, and financial crimes. Trump is trying to block them by ignoring subpoenas, not providing records, and not allowing even former staff to testify to Congress. It’s plausible that this could cause additional impeachment charges of obstruction for not cooperating with a Congressional investigation.

Additionally, people have to be aware that the standards for impeachment are different than they are for court trials. For example, one of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was lying to the American people. There isn’t a specific law against this, but it is considered a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the Constitutional impeachment criteria.

Some people say that Congress should just wait until the 2020 election, but I disagree. I’m afraid if these things aren’t investigated, with impeachment charges filed if found appropriate, it will look as though anyone who is elected president can get away with breaking laws and ethical codes for four years without consequence.

That is a terrible message to send. We, the People of the United States, deserve better.