Six Songs of Myself

Something fun while trudging through the quagmire of mid fall semester, The Guardian UK covers “Six Songs of Me: Just why music matters so much to us …” and yours truly just couldn’t resist playing along.
Below are the six songs that have given meaning to life. Have a go and maybe create your own play list.

Check out my playlist here.

What was the first song you ever bought?

  • On the cassette tape, Michael Jackson’s Thriller with “Human Nature” on repeat. 

What song always gets you dancing?

  •   I can’t lie on this one, 2pac’s “How Do U Want It?”

What song takes you back to your childhood?

What is your perfect love song?

  • Tom & Elis, “Aguas de Marco” played for our reception.

What song would you want at your funeral?

  • Morrissey, “Sing Your Life” (Tried to find a Smiths songs but they’re all horribly inappropriate)

Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.

  • The Smiths “Stretch Out and Wait” All time, hands down, absolute favorite.

Tour of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House

Inside the War Memorial Opera House
Inside the War Memorial Opera House

The San Francisco War Memorial Opera House gives monthly guided tours for a small fee of 25 clams per person. On these tours, visitors get a sneak peek at the current production as a work-in-progress, and, we’ve heard from several sources, that, depending on the docent, you get to see different parts of the house, meaning each tour is uniquely different. Here’s a quick rundown from our visit on October 2, 2010 when the house was preparing for Verdi’s Aida:

The Lobby

  • The light fixtures were made in Oakland.
  • The marble, on the walls, columns, and stairwell is from Tennessee.

The House

  • The stage extends 84 feet back.
  • Center stage, there was a small desk with a table light plugged into an extension cord where one of the staff. oversaw the crew. The desk was covered with binders full of paperwork.
  • 72 pipes hold the drapes (curtain).
  • A lot of the sets and scenery from past productions are housed in a separate warehouse.
  • The original design of the house was supposed to incorporate pipe organs though not a lot of operas require pipe organs.
  • Crew can run a bridge from orchestra to stage to move instruments and equipment.
  • There’s a catwalk to the chandelier to change lighting.
  • All the gold on the fixtures is gold leaf.
  • The orchestra pit has a moveable floor to transport pianos and harps.
  • The house also has a wind machine, which is turned by hand.
  • The curtains are made of silk and have a historical significance. So any remodeling or renovation needs to go through strict policies.
  • The curtains weigh 3,000 lbs.

Production Crew

  • Another crew member stands in the middle of the stage calling scene numbers.
  • All crew members have walkie talkies, two-way radios.
  • The prompter has to speak seven different languages only twenty people in the country who can do this. They have a nook behind the stage.
  • There are three video monitors on everybody acting.
  • Can’t really see the maestro.
  • Monitors are available for performers as well so they can see their maestro.
  • Supertitles are controlled by computer.
  • Lighting is all cued in advance.
  • The crew needs to synchronize everything, lighting and supertitles, with a principal to match whether she sings slow or fast.

Behind the Stage

  • The green room is at the back entrance, where guests can leave notes for talent.
  • Credentials only sign in front of green room.
  • Console monitor has three screens
  • Women’s principal dressing room has a full bathroom, a piano, a fan, a hair dryer, and is fully stocked with honey, curlers, makeup brushes, and bottles of rubbing alcohol everywhere.
  • Women are on one side of the stage and men on the other.
  • Clothes and wardrobe is equipped from across the stage.
  • In the women’s dressing room, the dresser is piled high with hair product, cotton, tea cups, bobby pins and safety pins.
  • Music stands are tucked everywhere behind the stage.
  • Lockers in the hallway.
  • Under stage is the rest of the cast’s dressing rooms and one level below is for supernumeries.
  • Gated audio equipment that is locked with warning signs all over it, including this sign: “LAPDANCE”, which stands for “Line Access Panel Digital Audio Network Control Enclosure. Death to those who arrange equipment.”
  • Black cables running everywhere.
  • Need to climb up to the prompter’s roost, where there’s a chair, monitor, libretto, a fan up there.
  • Prompters are there for hours, which can get claustrophobic.
  • Notices are posted to the walls every place that has main traffic so the cast and crew get updated notices.
  • They also receive text messages for updates.
  • Sub-basement where supernumeries change, the extras all have one shared room.
  • Call sheets are posted everywhere along with a schedule of productions.
  • Ladders also clutter the backstage.
  • There’s a lounge for wardrobe and makeup with posters of past productions.
  • The chorus has their own quiet room where there’s no food allowed.
  • Practice rooms are sound proof. No private lessons are allowed.
  • One of the rehearsal rooms is equipped with a computer that can simulate the performance environment, so the singer knows what she may sound like in huge halls, resound back, know how to project voice. Need to keep the architectural integrity of the house.
  • The music library holds all the music for all instruments.
  • Everyone has to have proper music on their stand.
  • There’s also a musical dictionary.
  • Musicians better not have the wrong score sheet, so for every rehearsal and performance, the staff need to have the correct number of copies. Someone has to keep all of this straight.


  • All wardrobe for the next show is fitted well in advance, so the costumers need all measurements up front.
  • The rest of the costumes are stored at 9th and Howard.
  • Everything is labeled with names to it.
  • Clothes basket, laundry room.
  • Again, monitors are everywhere.
  • Everything gets laundered for the next day.
  • Plastic sheets with the costume changes listed inside of them along with times/cues as well as instructions on how to wear and fix makeup.
  • All costumes are in alphabetical order and order of changes.
  • The laundry room is packed with dryers, steamers and magnets are on all the appliances.
  • Six days a week the laundry room is busy.
  • The San Francisco chorus live here, so they’re always working.
  • International guests can sometimes stink up the clothes because they don’t use perfume.
  • 25 piles of laundry on average are cleaned a day.
  • With Aida, there’s 500 lbs of laundry.
  • Whatever is worn next to skin has to get washed.
  • Each cast member gets three towels as well: a hand, face, and wash cloth which also has to get washed.
  • Each cast has different colors for chorus, principals, but the towels are not monogrammed.
  • Most other opera houses don’t provide towels.
  • We also supply water for our maestros, which is a bonus.
  • Rolling carts above.
  • 6 months out of the year the ballet shares the facility.
  • Spend $3,000 on soap.
  • Run the machines three to four times a day.
  • Costs $75 for dry cleaning per costume.
  • Costumes that come from other productions smell differently because different companies use different detergents.
  • Cotton can get ripe pretty quickly.
  • The launderers also need to clean during dress rehearsals.
  • Vodka spritz can take away smells, just vodka, cheap vodka and water in a spray bottle saves the day.
  • One of the singers always comes and smells bad. The staff feels like they have to wear a gas mask.
  • 28 dressers are employed because it takes about 500 people to put on a show.
  • The laundry room is equipped with a dinosaur of a PC.


  • Nametag with each assigned costume.
  • Each cast member has their own drawers for each person
  • The makeup room has a bulletin board and map.
  • Make up and wigs, provide drawings on how the eyes should be made up.
  • Everyone is assigned a makeup box for economic reasons.
  • Everyone does their own makeup, but then someone comes around to touch them up.
  • Principals are the only ones who get makeup artists. Big bottles of makeup remover in the makeup room.
  • Charts for each hair scene.
  • All the wigs are made of human hair though sometimes have to use yak hair for gray hair.
  • Wigs are hand-tied and hand-knitted.
  • There are 2,000 wigs housed at the SF Opera house to fit different time periods.
  • There’s a monitor in almost every room to keep check on the cues.
  • A cabinet at each chair.

More visits and more tidbits on the SF opera are forthcoming. Stop by and see what new discoveries have been made.

Finally, just for kicks, here’s the beautiful aria, “O Mia Patria” sung by Leontyne Price from Aida:

Mantones de Manila at La Pena Cultural Center

An installment of the five part series “Enlaces” exploring the Spanish, Indigenous, Arabic, and African influences in the music and dance of the Americas, on February 20 at La Pena Cultural Cultural Center in Berkeley, “Manton de Manila” showcased the beautiful embroidered silk shawls introduced across the globe by the Spanish.

María de la Rosa & Rudy Figueroa – Mexican Dance
Parangal Dance Company – Philippine Folk Dance
Theresa Calpotura-Classical Guitar
Asociación Cultural Kanchis – Peruvian Dance
De Rompe y Raja – Afro-Peruvian Cultural Association
Javier Trujillo – Peruvian Guitar
Virginia Iglesias – Flamenco Dance
Jorge Liceaga – Spanish Guitar
Edwin Lozada – Poetry
Paul Flores – Narrator
Exhibition of Mantones de Manila – Courtesy of Edwin Lozada (Carayan Press)

Curated by Edwin Lozada, editor of Field of Mirrors and member of PAWA Inc., Lozada owns an impressive collection of mantones de manila that span from 1820 to present time, gathered from all over the world. The show traced the history of these embroidered shawls back to Canton, China, purchased by the Spanish in Manila, which starting from 1571 through 1811 served as an integral port to the Galleon Trade. The popularity of these shawls spread to Mexico, Peru, and Spain, just to name a few countries. Weaving song and dance while chronicling the shawl’s diaspora, we start first in Veracruz, Mexico.

Unfortunately, no videos or photographs were allowed by the audience, but to get a feel for the similar threads that run throughout these cultures across the globe, here are some samplings from other sources. The first performance was Mexico’s National Dance, the Jarabe Tapatio:

After the dance, the dancers told the story of La China Poblana who was neither from China or Puebla but may have been a Mughal Princess named Mirrha taken captive by the Spaniards and brought to Puebla where she was bought by a wealthy Dona and Don and christened Catarina de San Juan. She’d fashion the most beautiful embroidered skirts that glittered and shimmered, and wear them when she went to the market. The ladies of Puebla soon adopted her style, and the skirt spread across Mexico. For more on Mirrha’s history check out Stitches in Time.

Image from Yucatan Living

The evening’s performance then transported us to the port that made the embroidered shawl so famous. From Manila, “El Paseo”:

We also learned of Saint Martin de Porres (1579-1639) the Black Saint or La Santa Negra, the first saint of the Americas. Born illegitimately from a Spanish nobleman and a young, former black slave, he grew up poor but learned the medical arts at the age of ten and was already devoted to taking care of the sick. Porres later joined the Dominican Order and led a life committed to charity.

Image from Novena

In honor of the Saint of Peru, two dancers performed La Marinera:

The dancing ended with a rousing and riveting flamenco from Andalusia Spain:

And the rest of night belonged to the mantones themselves. Spanning from 1820 to 1940 (?), the later the shawl was made the more elaborate the embroidery and the longer the fringe, each one more beautiful than the next. From striking reds, gorgeous greens, vibrant blues and purple, the mantones de manila are marvelous creations made more unique and more lovely by the many different cultures that have stylized this shawl and called it their own. This show made me wonderfully proud to be a Chicapina.,%20trampol%C3%ADn%20hacia%20Oriente/Bordados%20y%20mantones%20de%20Manila.jpg

Image from Museo Oriental, Valledolid

For more information check out “Truth about the manton de Manila” by Bea Zobel Jr. on and watch for Lozada’s much anticipated book on the history and influence of the manton de manila.


Enlaces (Connections That Bind Us) El Mantón de Manila presented by La Peña Cultural Center in collaboration with Gabriela Shiroma (CulturARTE), Carayan Press, PAWA, Inc., Community Music Center-San Francisco

Its not a small world after all?

Covering the flip side to “world music” The Guardian’s Tony Naylor in his “Is Ethno-techno exploiting world music?”reports some musicians love the freedom this genre grants and others think that freedom is a shameful lie:

Matias Aguayo, however, is less enthusiastic. Born in Chile, raised in Germany, now resident in Buenos Aires, the electro maverick concedes that it may be a matter of taste – “and, in most cases, putting samples of traditional songs on a techno beat is in very bad taste” – but he rejects any deeper reading of this “ethno-minimal” trend. To him, such music is cheap “exoticism”, in a colonial tradition. Where you, in La Mezcla, might hear a joyful intermingling of ideas, he hears a Western techno producer imposing order: “It doesn’t seem very ‘free’ to me. Adding a few congas and a ‘Latino’ vocal does not reflect a willingness to learn from other cultures.”

Such musical references feed into the idea of techno as this fluid global community, but Aguayo is scathing: “Maybe for techno’s easyJet set it’s a small world. But ask young musicians in Santiago or Buenos Aires how easy it is to move around. It’s naive, in a brutal way, to say that we’re all world citizens.”

Think on that next time you’re whooping it up to La Mezcla.

Read the article.

1982 “Fresh Air” Interview with John Cage

Terry Gross brings out the wacky genius of John Cage and features a sampling of Cage’s composition. Cage emphasizes “making new” and living a virginal life. What’s most interesting about Cage’s philosophy is his insistence to discard and disregard relationships. He firmly believes in letting the thing in itself stand alone, which is summarily antithetical to the “only connect” aesthetic. The particular is the predominate focus and to relate or connect induces paralysis.

“Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies”

The Dionysian Impulse” from Harper’s Magazine Online, July 25, 2009:

Then came Friedrich Nietzsche. Today he’s known for Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil more than his other writings. But his very first book–composed by a 27-year-old university professor, which differs sharply in style from the later writings–actually presents some of Nietzsche’s most radical and novel thinking. And it gives a central role to music. He calls it The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music and that precisely describes his thesis. He puts forward the idea that the heyday of classic Athenian drama, the age of Aeschylus and Sophocles, was a logical development from Greek traditions of music, song and dance. He breaks this tradition into two tendencies, the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The Apollonian follows Schopenhauer’s principle of individuation, it stresses the gentle reign of reason and intellect, pushing life to a somewhat unnatural ordering. The Dionysian is its exact opposite–it is governed by emotions and particularly passions, sometimes whipped to a self-destructive frenzy of excess. The Dionysian suppresses his intellect to live as one with nature, and wine plays an essential role in his cult. In the quoted passage, Nietzsche looks at the exuberance of the Dionysian spirit and he traces it through history. It is, he says a sort of springtime’s awakening (incidentally, this is the line from which the German-American playwright Frank Wedekind takes the title of his important play–in which youthful sexuality faces the suppression of a rigidly Apollonian school system). The age of Aeschylus marks an important synthesis between these Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies–a synthesis that dissolved with the rise of Euripides and Socrates, with their elevation of the Apollonian over the Dionysian. But Nietzsche understands the totality of European intellectual and artistic tradition as the product of interaction between the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies–the greater the friction between them, the greater the art which results…Read more


Bacchus by Caravaggio (1596)

The Music Instinct | PBS

“If string theory is correct, at the heart of matter is music.”

The Music Instinct | PBS

PBS produces yet another brilliant series on the science of song.

Shared via AddThis

The Contest: The Winners of the MI Contest, “Noise Reinvented”


The Music Instinct: Science and Song is a production of THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG – one of America’s most prolific and respected public media providers.

Researchers and scientists from a variety of fields are using groundbreaking techniques that reveal startling new connections between music and the human mind, the body and the universe. Together with an array of musicians from rock and rap to jazz and classical, they are putting music under the microscope.

“The brain is teaching us about music and music is teaching us about the brain,” says Levitin.” Music allows us to understand better how the brain organizes information in the world. There are a lot of different factors that go into our emotional appreciation of music [like] the memories we have of a particular song that we heard at a particular time in our lives.”

Harper’s Magazine is on a roll

More greatness from Harper’s Magazine, “Plato’s World” published Sunday, June 6, 2009.

In Plato’s day, the world itself seemed boundless beyond comprehension, its resources inexhaustible, and the dangers and wonders of nature were a test for human knowledge. With the passage of time, humanity has grown much more conscious of the finite nature of the earth and its resources. And with time, Plato’s conceptualization of the earth as a living creature has also become a more appealing model–it pointed the way to discovery of the ecological systems by which the world breathed, moved, transformed and regenerated itself. Today humanity approaches final mastery of the world–but what does this mean for the world-soul and for humanity’s ultimate survival in its terrestrial setting?

Evocations of Panthea

Harpers’ Magazine
does it again with a wonderful commingling of Emerson and Beethoven contemplating the world-soul.

In The Dial of July 1841, close to the time of this poem’s composition, Emerson writes: “Music is the aspiration, the yearnings of the heart to the Infinite. It is the prayer of faith, which has no fear, no weakness in it. It delivers us from our actual bondage; it buoys us up above our accidents, and wafts us on waves of melody to the heart’s ideal home.” He has been to a concert performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sixth symphony, the Pastoral. “Whoever has studied the Pastoral Symphony… will feel the difference between music which flows from an inward feeling of nature, from a common consciousness (as it were) with nature, and the music which only copies, from without, her single features. These pieces bring all summer sensations over you, but they do not let you identify a note or a passage as standing for a stream, or a bird. They do not say; look at this or that, now imagine nightingales, now thunder, now mountains, and now sunspots chasing shadows; but they make you feel as you would if you were lying on a grassy slope in a summer’s afternoon, with the melancholy leisure of a shepherd swain, and these things all around you without your noticing them.”

Read more at “Emerson’s World Soul” | Harper’s Magazine | 7, June 2009