Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thank you, Forward!

On behalf of the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus, thanks to the Forward newspaper for raving about our CD. Buy it now. It makes a great holiday gift! Read on.



Fri. Dec 08, 2006

Does your sister really need another set of scented candles? Doesn’t your father have enough ties? Forget the old standbys! Here’s a collection of brand-new finds that should satisfy even the most persnickety of relations...

New Sounds

“Zingt! A Celebration of Yiddish Choral Music” is a new CD that includes first-time choral recordings of old and new Yiddish tunes. Performed by the Jewish People’s Philharmonic Chorus under the baton of Binyumen Schaechter, the album features guest soloists Joel Caplan and Steve Sterner as well as pianists Elizabeth Rodgers and Mitchell Vines.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Six really great minutes!

This is a great time of year to lighten up and capture a little bit of joy for yourself. Better than a mass consumer gift, I offer you a gift of quality time.
Joel, who was just breaking into showbiz at the time, was the teenage son of Mickey Katz, also renowned as the Yiddish Spike Jones.
A big shout out to Google videos for this clip, and to Google for helping me find this picture of whiz kid Joel in 0.6 seconds (thanks,



Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Toronto: 1231
Just the facts, man


I am seeded 65th and am not expected to do too well against this impressive field. A couple of the right kind of victories will send me over the top. However, a loss against someone seeded below me might crush me.

Game One: Yvonne Lobo, 42nd seed
After a sad little VAW I change tiles twice. Yvonne bingos with JOINTERS for 98 points, and the score is 120 to 166, Yvonne's favour. I find CARDIA for 20 points (not my best play, but my shout-out to my live games trainer Aldo Cardia and a prayer to the tile gods). I change tiles twice and manage to squeak out GOAlIES for 71 points, extending CARDIA to CARDIAE. Final score: 417-271. My first win.

Game Two: Trey Wright, 8th seed
What can I say? It was a perfect game for this talented concert pianist. He had left me limping after scoring with OPIOIDS, FLAnERIE, REMANDS and PHONETIC. The best I could manage was QADI for 34 points. But it was a fun game and a real pleasure to meet this one-time national champion. After twelve plays per side, the score is 272-554. I'm 1-1. Je ne regrette rien!

Game Three: Rachel Matlow, 88th seed
Sixteen whopping moves on my part in this game against the daughter of my Grade Six English teacher. No bingos, just little leaps forward: YAUPS, INION, CUIF, WEDGIE and so forth. Rachel makes QuIT for 44 points and then QuIT for 36 on her next turn. for Final score: 331-292. I'm 2-1.

Game Four: Joel Sherman, 13th seed
I'm nervous and excited to be playing the famous Joel Sherman. We have never played together, although I've known Joel for a few years from his role as club director in New York City. I've always liked him and now that we are facing off, I get to watch and make notes to myself. I am playing like an imbecile, although I manage to hold my own for awhile there. By the seventh play there is a beautiful opening on the board at 15H, where a lone E tempts me. On my rack is EEIRSV?. I am wearing my clock down. I am confused and cloudy. I have been studying new words dangerously close to tournament time and now I am really baffled. The clock is ticking down. I am seeing a blend of DEVISEES and REVISALS, but time is of the essence, so I lay down REVISEEs* across the E. Joel holds the play, does an internal calculation and quickly challenges it off. Joel took a bit of time and then thoughtfully blocked that sweet spot with TIRL right above it. I spent the rest of the game pissing my good tiles away, watching my score wane as his waxed, and struggling to shorten the cumulative gap. No bingos this game. Final score: 249-368. I'm 2-2.

Game Five: Steve Pellinen, 25th seed
I open with TREATY for 26, and Steve flies out of the gate with FLEURY for 24. On his next move, he lays down SALINIFY* and I promptly challenge it off, then exchange seven tiles. He makes ZIGS and CULEX, and then bingos with INDOwED for 82 points, raising him up to 229 to my 153. I find ENCAGES and then UNSATED. Too little too late. Final score: 387-394. I'm 2-3.
Game Six: Ross Brown, 91st seed
Ross opens with HANGED and I find WANGLING immediately. He questions my JERRID but lets it stay on the board. In his ninth move he finds TOLERATE for 66 and I counter with EASIEsT for 77. Final score: 452-317. I'm 3-3.

Game Seven: Carolyn Easter, 39th seed
My last game of the day. Lucky thirteen. That's how many plays per side we managed in this game. In our opening volley I make QI to which she counters with IF, and it's off to the races. Two moves later I bingo with TREPANS for 72 points. Meanwhile Carolyn is making small plays, treading water. After I see TOOTERS for 64, I am feeling confident. I lay down DIGGER and ATMAN and then another bingo, WEIRDED, for 82 points. I've broken away and am heading toward victory. In our last volleys I unload EX for 39 points and JAILED for 22. Score is now 393 to 327 and I am contemplating my end game. I check the tracking. I see that Carolyn is holding a V, a C and an L. I am happy happy happy. And then she blows my mind with VESICLE, to bingo out, which fetches her 101 points plus 16 from me. I stand up and give her a big hug. That was amazing. I am so impressed! Final score: 393-454. I'm 3-4.

At the end of the first day I am 3-4. I've lost all the games that I was expected to lose in this tournament and I've won a game I was expected to lose. Not bad at all. That will garner me a few rating points.


Game Eight: Sid Lashley, 61st seed
Sid opens with MOLE and I come back with WINK for 27, PARITY for 30 and DANGLE for 24, giving me the lead. Then I lay down EARNERs for 68 points, and later, IONIsED for 63. After 14 plays for me, the final score is 379-322. I'm 4-4.

Game Nine: Geoffrey Newman, 81st seed
My opponent opens with ERODERS for 68 points. I am trailing and making little plays like AUREOLE, MAX and FILER, dumping stuff and building some points. Then I hit on FOLIAGE for 76, and now we have us a game. Geoffrey comes back with INEDITA for 82 points, and I am still throwing back small but strong punches. I bingo with SUNRIsE, then play FEZES and QAT to assure my victory against this young up-and-comer. He's very good. Final score: 440-380. I'm 5-4.

Game Ten: Geoff Gibson, 75th seed
Sometimes you feel the game going the wrong way and you can do nothing to stop the bleeding. This was one of those games. With Geoff seeded lower than me I was pretty confident that I would find the way to pull this off. Especially when he played URAEI and then its anagram, AUREI. I played QUODS for 50 points and then it started. He bingoed with REINDEER, bungoed with GROOMED and then two plays later, after his ZAG for 43, he bingoed with ELATIONS for 70. I ask tournament director John Chew to consider the fact that Geoff should be rated higher because of his recent stellar performance in another tournament. I am pleading my case not to let Geoff wipe out my progress so far. John says, "I'll put that on my list of things to do," and writes it down on a long sheet of paper with many scribblings. Final score: 279-460. I'm 5-5.

Game Eleven: Lisa Odom, 16th seed
My third expert. I'm quite thrilled about this! And with my record so far, I can afford the bloodletting and still come out ahead. I open with OIDIA. Lisa makes HOGTIE for 22, and then I play JEEZ for 31 while she counters with FUTZED for 38. I play TWeAK for 45 and then AUROREAN for 76. Score's now 176-130 and I'm feeling pretty good. Two plays later, Lisa plunks down SIDEWALK for 89 and we are neck in neck until nearly the end when I challenge PECH. She makes 45 points and takes a decisive lead. Final score: 363-404. I'm 5-6.

Game Twelve: Robin Pollock Daniel, 4th seed
Yet another formidable expert opponent. I so badly want to find the big words; the impressive words; the words I've been studying. I open with FIND and Robin counters with GRANA. I make BATMAN for 20 and she zings me with ZA for 46. I get the J and start to giggle: All I can find is a spot for 28 points to play JO. I can forget about making any interesting plays to show off my new word knowledge. Now sitting with two blanks on my rack, it takes me an eternity to find ETERniTY for 70 points, and then Robin comes back with VENDORS two plays later. She plays a lovely YOGINI through some stuff on the board. I get WARTS for 34, and then we spill out little words, setting me back and Robin way forward until the final score is 318-423. I'm 5-7.

I rethink my tournament. I have two byes as we all do in this particular tournament. This makes me technically at 7-7, so I am okay. I'm even money. But it's time to get serious and start taking control. I've played all the experts I can handle and have learned something valuable with each of those losses. It's been such a cool ride.

Game Thirteen: Mark Gooley, 54th seed
We are dancing the dance. Mark bingos with RETUNiNG for 70 points. I am unafraid. Then I spot the convergence of opportunity and knowledge: There is AERATED on my rack and
an orphan D on the board. I make DEAERATE. Mark challenges and I get another shot at the bag, making ORBY for 30. I have the draw and the opportunity and the board is wide open. Final score: 365-308. I'm 8-7.

At the end of the second day, I am holding my own. There are two pages posted with the updated standings. Instinctively I look at the second page and do not see my name. I did not realize that I had made it onto the first page. It is humbling and I have to be very careful not to rest on these transient laurels.


Game Fourteen: Anna Miransky, 64th seed
I need this win. I need this win because I am nervous about any more losses. Anna is seeded one directly above me. At the rate I've been going, I should be able to knock her out. But in thirteen moves I will not find the way. I do, however, play CAISSON for a disappointing 64 points, rather than any of its more familiar anagrams, hopeful that Anna will challenge. She looks, ponders, and moves on. Meantime, she plays OUTWEAR for 69 and then ENTREaT for 68. I play JAW; she plays CROUP. It is over. Final score: 352-384. I am 8-8.

Game Fifteen: Sinni Vijayakumar, 19th seed
We are in the final game before the final King of the Hill round. I can feel the tension. I come out swinging with PAX for 32, then COITAL for 33 and then JELLY for 46. I'm an animal. Sinni lays down FOLIAGES for 65. Then I pull out ORDAINED for 70. We are running neck in neck. I play MEWED, BIRDY, AMAZES, GNU and then Sinni plays GUNWALE through something for 20 points. He is ahead by 20 points. I am tasting it. I need it. I will make it happen. I look on my rack and see the play that will bring me there. I play SOUTANE for 69 points. Heading into the final round, it is mine. Final score: 394-345. I am 9-8.

King of the Hill: Abraham Thomas, 38th seed
Abraham opens with POCK and I feel myself a bit light-headed, looking at his play for a second, but then plunking down ZIP for 34 points. He counters with XIS for 39 and then I see uNWASHED for 78. I find CLAVE for 28 points and then FEEB. He is pondering this word. That can only mean one thing: I have studied the new word list and know my way around it. Abraham tries STROBING* and I challenge it off. Then later, KIRTLING* and off it goes, too. I play STORAGE for 70 points, then PRAY for 36. It is clear that I have the draw and the composure. Abraham's clock is dangerously low and falling. I unload junk as we near the end, making OIL, ILIAD, QUIN for 13 points and RID. And it is done. Final score: 403-361. I am 10-8.

Despite 20 bingos for and 21 against, I have a shiny new rating of 1231. No money, but I'm very satisfied.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Holy Scrabble, Batman!
Prelude to a tournament

I close my eyes and it is two weeks ago or probably more by now, but it is a clear memory. A Tuesday night. I am recoving from a cold which was made worse by a 12-hour plane ride, climate and time zone change. Suddenly I am sweating profusely and sleeping all day. I am jet lagged and trying to keep North American hours because I have a Scrabble tournament in Toronto coming up, and I'll be damned if all the studying I did on that eliptical machine is going to waste now that I am in Tel Aviv.

Tuesday. I take a cab from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and visit Lori, who is on the mend after breast cancer took one breast and several lymph nodes. So how is my childhood friend?

"My parents survived the Holocaust. How can I complain?"

That's how she is. And so I schlep around after her as we go from her fabulous bakery/restaurant La Cuisine in Talpiyot, carpooling the young'uns and going to the mall to exchange a few things before heading to see her mum, back to her apartment and then to a great new burger joint in the German Colony. We are caught up. We have had two meals during the course of the day (and I've sampled some of her delicious delicacies) and things are the way they have always been for us.

Back in the burger shack we are sucking the sauce off the barbecue chicken wings and still gabbing when I realize that it's late and I'm probably going to miss the first Scrabble match-up of the Sam Orbaum club. It's drizzling and Jerusalem is cold cold cold on this night. Winter-like. People tool around in heavy coats, hats and scarves. Cars are skidding on the winding paths that pass for thoroughfares. Not a good night to cross, even at a crosswalk.

We venture out and in no time Lori drops me at Scrabble. I race up the stairs and there it is -- the land that time forgot: the Sam Orbaum Scrabble club. At least sixty people sitting at their boards, dropping words down, hitting timers and recording plays. It's an important night: qualifiers for an upcoming tournament.

And just as in the region's politics and religions, there is a rift in Israel's anglo Scrabble society concerning which is the appropriate word list to use. Jerusalem plays the North American TWL while Tel Aviv favours SOWPODS, which is used outside North America. This night there is a tension in the air. There are so many new words since the new TWL list came out last March. Every bad play or challenge can be blamed on the new word list. Who will survive and see the Finals? Who by AGGADAH; who by KEFFIYAH. Who shall survive the cut; who shall go down with FEEB and DEF. In this city that is holy to three major monotheistic religions it's all up to the tile gods tonight.

I get in two games and win them both. The club director opts to have a piece of me while simultaneously playing someone else. This happens at the Jerusalem club. I don't feel I have the director's full attention when I open with YILL and he challenges. A new word, perhaps? No. A short while later I make room for DOOMY and again he challenges my play. New, nu? No. I had an unfair advantage because we three were Canadians, all talking about things Toronto, Guelph and Hamilton. Maybe we were not really focused on the game. But hey, I will take my wins.

The bummer of the night was that my friend Wendy Orbaum did not win any of her games and thus was not going to qualify in the upcoming tournament. Heartbreak! I gave her several boxes of Lori's cookies so that she and her three daughters could console themselves at home. In coming days I would receive an email from Wendy, who described the cookies at ACGIMORS (you figure that one out), and she wished me a good tournament in Toronto.

It was still drizzling and chilly when I caught a cab back to Tel Aviv. But when I arrived at the hotel on the beachfront by midnight, it was warm and balmy out.

Several hours later, Marty drove me to the airport, and I was on a Continental flight from the Holy Land to Newark.

I am now in the plane with several of Marty's colleagues and friends. Next to me a resident of Dallas named Mario with whom I would snooze and bond over the next twelve hours. A wonderful travel companion.

Mario's family came to the States from the West Bank after the intifada and now have established ten successful hispanic supermarkets in Texas. We talked about the Palestinian and Israeli situation and then our banter turned to the political situation in the States. After those ten minutes were over, we mostly gabbed about parenthood, music, marriage and life in general. He watched some Arab-language movies on his laptop and I worked my word lists.

It was a day flight and the territory we covered was beautiful -- desert regions that soon turned to Greece and its idyllic islands, hilly Turkey, frosty mountains in Italy, verdant Eastern Europe, a greyer Western Europe, bucolic Ireland, Iceland, rugged Labrador, Maine and then nothing but cloud cover for hours to come after being spoiled by perfectly clear skies until now. With around half an hour left to landing we realized we were in a holding pattern over the Catskills. The pilot came on a few times to update us and people were a bit uneasy about not being able to land right away.

But things really got uncomfortable when the pilot came back on and announced with regret in his voice that due to heavy headwinds we had to stop for a refuelling in Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY: It was the safe thing to do. Some of us know that this is a ten-minute flight to Newark. But others were really freaked out by this news. I was okay until I realized that the booze had been locked up and stowed away.

Not only did we need fuel but the wings needed oil. That's another maintenance crew and another truck. Poor Mario was going to miss his connection back to Texas.

Nonetheless, an hour behind schedule we landed in Newark and was I ever happy to touch down and grab my luggage. It was only around 6:30 p.m. but my body thought it was after midnight. I stepped outside and waited for the cab. The night air was more humid and heavier than I'd felt for a few days, but it was also a bit milder. Thirteen hours of plane air expelled from my lungs. I went home in a daze and slept with my windows wide open. I received a voice mail from Mario that he had taken a later flight and was okay. That's all I recall, other than I might have let my daughters tend to me a little bit.

The next morning the sky looked threatening. I knew I had to get Miriam ready for our car at 3:30 p.m. which would get us back to Newark and to our Toronto-bound plane for our 5:15 flight. She had her stuff ready and I had thought through what I was going to bring.

I did my usual domestic goddess drudgery: I drove Yona to school and then cooked all kinds of goodies for the weekend. We have a houseguest -- an actor from Toronto who is opening in a New York City production soon. And Marty would be back by then, too.

There was no point in wearing clean clothes. I threw on my plane clothes. I'd clean up when I got to Toronto.

Meantime, I made a banana bread, veal stew, and sauteed chicken livers in carmelized onions. A little olive oil and flour never hurt sweat pants and a tee shirt. Just in time to pick up Miriam from school and finish packing. Meantime, the sky has gone from grey to bitter angry. Tumultuous clouds are racing across the sky like sheep from a hungry wolf. The trees are swaying and the wind is swirling the leaves into mini-tornados.

We have a one-hour delay. This is our reprieve to get our stuff packed up just right for the trip. Because at this point we are in denial. We know this flight will go and that the minute we take off we will be up and out of this storm.

At the airport we discover that there is a two-hour delay. There is practically no line at security and it is eerily quiet. We stroll down to the end of the terminal, to the Presidents Club for a snack. Hordes of agitated, disappointed and angry people crowd at the gates. But inside the club it's quite different. The bartenders look very happy. Their tip jars are full of greenbacks and some foreign currency, too. It's festive. The board is flashing with delays and cancellations. There are audible thunderstorms outside. It clears; then there is fog as the night turns the sky black. We see limited numbers of planes taking off and landing outside the club. But no one is really paying attention in here.

The airline representatives are processing everyone as quickly as they can. One man who missed his trans-Atlantic flight is being rerouted through Minnesota. A Calgarian is heading back home and cancelling a business trip to Orange County. On the other hand, the TO flight is apparently still a go. We can probably make the last flight out if the storm clears.

Meantime we grab a seat and friendly up to a gent from Edinburgh. Miriam is fascinated by all things Scottish and the two of them are engrossed in conversation about everything from film to mankind. His name is Ged and he is a neighbour of J.K. Rowling. Ged plies me with two glasses of chablis from the Continental Cellars and Miriam is drinking soft drinks, eating little packets of cheese and an apple. She goes off to work on her sketchbook, and Ged and I talk about life events. The recent loss of our mothers (we are the same age). Kids. Divorce. Disjointed lives. Travel. The joy of meeting new people. The joy of finding happiness again. Hours pass and Ged's flight is ready to leave. We say our good byes. He hands us his business card and invites us to call him when we come to Scotland for the Fringe Festival, which apparently we have been coaxed into doing, thanks to the chablis. A big, full frontal hug and kiss from our new old friend and he disappears.

Meantime a group of five guys in their mid-forties have gravitated into our area. They are showing off pictures of their kids and wives to each other. We soon learn that they were eavesdropping in on our conversation with Ged. They are high school buddies from New Jersey -- now scattered -- who get together every year and have an ingathering of exiles. This year they are off to Dublin to see churches, do some sight seeing, drink some real Irish beer. But mostly they are going to Dublin to see Bruce Springsteen.

I carefully looked them over. We told them that I was going to Toronto to play Scrabble. Miriam rolled her eyes, but the redhead from the west coast was fascinated. A pregnant pause as I contemplate my next move and reach into my carry-on for my board and tiles. I utter:

"Hey, hundred bucks -- all of you against me. I'll take you all on. Say, twenty bucks each. How about it?"

Miriam was dumbstruck and more than a little embarrassed. The guys all looked at each other and gave that "why the heck not" look.

"Just let me check the board first and see what's going on with our flight."

While they refuelled their beer steins I hopped over to see that our flight had been removed from the board. Nine o'clock and we were cancelled. I checked at the desk. Cancelled, indeed, and more bad news: We were placed on a flight at 8:30 p.m. the next night. That would give me seven forfeits in my tournament. Completely, utterly unacceptable!!

I stood and tried to make the gentleman behind the counter understand that I knew, from much personal experience, that the morning flight would be wide open, but he was not open to listening. I was royally pissed and now I was sweating again, the last gasp of my cold. The smell of fried onions wafted from my clothes.

"I want a refund."

Done. I called the tournament director and left a message informing him that I was cancelling. I called my friends in Toronto and told them not to come out to the airport to get me.

Five minutes later, I realized the error of my way. Why the hell would I refund my trip and cancel my tournament? Did I not study enough? Was I not ready? I'd been through a refuelling, a bad cold and twenty-four hours in the air, no change of clothing, and now this?

I gathered my wits and went back to the counter. The man was gone and there was a new person at the desk. I pled my case and asked her to reinstate my ticket and wipe out the whole refund incident. I explained that I needed to be in Toronto by the morning. She was masterful in making it happen. Of course, as I had suspected, the morning flight was wide open.

"Just make sure you show up, because that plane will have your luggage on it and will not leave without you," she warned.

We said our sad good byes to our new friends who were a bit disappointed. Next, what to do? Go home for a few hours and come back at 5 a.m.? All the hotels were sold out. We cabbed back home and got up at 4:30 a.m. The weather behaved. I threw on the sweats and we headed out to the airport where we changed our seats up to the bulkhead.

A completely uneventful flight. We dozed off and then suddenly, we were on the ground in Toronto.

All I wanted to do was to get our stuff, race up to my friend's house for a quick shower and to burn my clothes outside in a pire. At the luggage carousel Miriam noticed a bad thing: The only ones waiting for luggage were those who were bumped from the night before. The smell of fried onions followed me to the baggage counter where we all filled out claim forms. We were assured that the luggage would be on the next plane and might even be airborne as we were standing there. Fine. Let's go. Clock is running down.

Within minutes my friend arrived with the car and I drove her to work, then continued to Earl Bales Park in North York where I arrived with scant minutes before my first game at 10:30 a.m. I was finally here. Phew. Deep breaths. An air of anticipation. Miriam sat around and waited for my best friend to come by and rescue her from this den of nerds. But meantime she got to see some of the Scrabblers from the circuit and it was not totally unpleasant for her.

I will save the Scrabble commentary for another post.

Let me just say that after a day of fighting hard in the tournament and struggling to keep my head up, we raced up to Thornhill to my girlfriend's. I forgot that I was jet lagged; that I smelled like a goat; that the luggage still had not arrived; that it was my girlfriend's birthday and I wanted to fete her. But the road to hell is paved with good intention. I would party with the best of them tonight, I thought.

By 8:30 p.m., after a good shower, I was really getting pissed. The luggage was somewhere in Toronto being dropped off to us weary travelers wherever we were. My friend's husband gave me some sweats to wear. I looked like a wooly bear and could not fit into my jacket. One last time I eased myself into my sweats, now smelling like the collision of stale McDonald's french fry oil and a sulfur plant disaster, and borrowed a tank top from my friend. We were about to head to the store when I realized something, and I told everyone to stand back: I was going to call Continental's lost luggage claims department.

Because I am a gamer, I will not reveal to you my method (you will have to find your own), however, I will inform you that by 8:45 p.m. Continental was springing for a lost clothing compensation spree for Miriam and me. It started at Old Navy and ended at the Loblaws Super Store. So you know we are good sports and did not take advantage. Three pairs of slacks; one blouse; one sweater; two sports bras. Total: Somewhere around $150, US funds, not including taxes.

With Miriam at a friend's in the neighbourhood for the night, there was still a birthday to celebrate. Donning my new jeans and sweater, I dozed off in the chair during the big outing with my best friend. Underwhelmed by my festive spirit, she took me home and went back to the bar while I dragged my sorry bones into bed and crashed hard. At around 1 a.m. I heard the doorbell: Bing bong. Continental calling, luggage in hand.

For the most part I decided to do the right thing and only wear my new duds for the next couple of days, out of principal.

Next: How the games went.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Here's some info about a very interesting program on Dec. 3 in Connecticut. I am a proud "rookie" alto with the Jewish People's Philharmonic Chorus, and we will be featured at this event. Please come by, enjoy a fabulous musical event...and say hello!
- Lynda

The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, CT, presents
A Yiddish Choral Festival
Binyumen Schaechter, Conductor,
and 11-year old Yiddish performer,
Reyna Schaechter
Sunday, December 3, 2006
The Emanuel Synagogue, 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, CT 06117

For all who love Yiddish music! For all who love Choral music!For all who love to listen! For all who love to sing! If you will be in New England or East New York State that Sunday, you won't want to miss this event!

This exciting Yiddish Choral Festival, to be held at the Emanuel Synagogue, will include a pair of workshops/sing-alongs led by Binyumen Schaechter and a rehearsal of 2-3 pieces to be shared by all participating choral groups. We will conclude with a choral performance featuring the JPPC, conducted by Schaechter, and featuring child soloists Reyna Schaechter and Arun Viswanath.

Binyumen Schaechter is an award-winning composer of musicals, revue songs and cabaret songs which have been performed in theaters and cabarets everywhere. His music has been sung by many famous singers, featured on PBS, ABC and NBC and recorded on a bunch of CDs.

You may have also seen him in the show and video Too Jewish?, in which he was Avi Hoffman's pianist, backup-singer and straight man.The JPPC is an excellent Yiddish chorus whose recent performance venues include Lincoln Center and Shea Stadium (singing "America the Beautiful" in Yiddish before the Mets game).

The Chorus just released their acclaimed first CD this year, ZINGT! A CELEBRATION OF YIDDISH CHORAL MUSIC,

The concert performance will be open to the public and serve as a fundraiser for the Emanuel. Come learn about Yiddish music and/or come to the concert in the afternoon. This day will have something for everyone!

For more information contact Cantor Sanford Cohn
or at 860-236-1275.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rawhide - Skaggs, Statman, Cherryholmes

Check out Andy Statman on mandolin in this excellent video. He is the mando's answer to Mattisyahu and has been there since Beit, as in, The Beginning!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Scrabble Natterings*

Yesterday was a beautiful Indian summer day. Crisp in the morning, and then the sun poured out and melted itself all over my back as I winded my way to Washington Square Park. It took an hour and a half to travel the relatively short distance. There was a lot of waiting involved. I did not make the "Spanish bus" in time and when I got to 175th Street, I stood on the platform with a small crowd since some trains were not running. But that's gamble of public transportation in the big city. It's a gamble -- just like Scrabble.

And what a perfect segue to today's topic.

Washington Square Park has been in a lull for the Scrabble players. It has atrophied since the renovation of the park and the advent of the new word list. I'm new -- I've only been making my occasional appearance for the past four years. But I like knowing it's there, with all its history and cameraderie. I am uneasy about what the future holds for our little corner.

Scrabble hit paydirt a few years ago with Stefan Fatsis's book, Word Freak. There were a few ambitious documentaries about Scrabble that followed. We were introduced to several of the top players, all of whom are charismatic, quirky, always present at the tournaments and very approachable. Even ESPN joined in the chorus. We heard the players' personal stories, learned how they find those amazing plays and also got to see their immense word knowledge in action. Meantime, the Park was alive with curious spectators, tourists with cameras and those who wanted to step up to a table and challenge a Parkie to a game. It had an undeniable celebrity.

After much anticipation (and trepidation) the new blue-covered Tournament Word List was published last March. The race was on to memorize more than 3,000 new words, including the ground-breaking QI and ZA : Now we can place these awkward tiles in a two-letter configuration for 60-plus points.

We have been blessed with the likes of TECH, EMAIL, GAYDAR, MUSKOX, LOOKIST and my personal favourite, ZUZIM, an archaic currency referred to in Passover HAGGADOT, which anagrams to the newly acceptable AGGADOTH. I have been using my time at the gym to study the new words.

The active retirees and seniors who make up a critical mass of tournament players are not thrilled having to climb a steeper mountain. Who wants to learn new words when most people are still learning the old ones? This lament that can be heard throughout the Scrabble clubs in North America. Scrabble has been a moving target. I've heard people say that they are going back to chess or cards rather than learn the words.

I would suggest a check-off box on tournament forms for interested parties -- particularly at the bottom division -- to play the old list with others who share their preference. I'll bet that would bring a few players back. I know I'll get some mail about that, but there ya go.

As for the Park -- There were only four of us at two boards. I had a great time playing Diane F. in three games. Visiting from Texas and currently the 18th top Scrabbler in North America, Avi Moss dropped by and kibitzed our game, spotting an eight-letter medical term that I could not get down, nor did I know. The results of the last game are in the picture at the top of this post. Can you spot any new words? I went out with ReRUN to claim the game by a point or two, despite Diane's three bingos in a beautiful and very fun game.

What a blessing -- good weather, good friends and a board. Let's revive the Park!

By the way.....

For you living room players, please note that there is also a new word list with a red cover that you can purchase at most book stores, too. The difference is mainly the handful of naughty words that your mummies and daddies would be upset with if they saw them on your boards.

*Natterings is a phony. But it does anagram nicely to ASTRINGENT and INTEGRANTS.

Friday, September 29, 2006

The music lives on in New Orleans

I want to give a big shout out to the "pfista" who posted this video of the French Quarter to It features members of the Jackson Square Players.

The band made our trip to New Orleans very memorable just a few months before Katrina. I had the privilege to jam with them in the Square. Could not believe my dumb luck that they wanted me to join them for a few songs!!

I hope this vid clip inspires you to plan a trip to the place where the human spirit endures.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Orleans Rising!

Rob Espino of the New Orleans Potholes Brass Band writes:

I don't know if you caught the game Monday night, but I played on stage with Green Day and U2. You can see me on stage with them. Here's the ESPN pre game show from Monday night in case ya missed it.

To see the video, click here. Way to go, Rob. Wow!

Way to go, Saints! Read all about it!


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Here's a poem by Yona. I'm so proud of her! I want to give credit to the Teaneck Community Charter School for inspiring her to greater heights!

The Aftermath
by yona mcgraw 7/8-1

how quickly 5 years have fled,
how much our hearts have bled,
so many lives were lost,
at such an extreme cost,
too many innocent people perished,
but are still forever cherished,
the buildings had collapsed early in the day,
it took almost a year for the distruction to be cleaned away,
such an aweful time in out past,
though it wasn't the first, it was hopefully the last,
it left our flags half staf,
and our country divided in half,
of all the great things, this we have the least,
it's the most important; we like to call it peace,
after the tradgety, we tried to pull together,
to help heal the trauma, though some were wounded forever,
why can't we stop the war,
they keep piling up more and more,
the influence was set by the men of yesterday,
and by the current generation, so now the youth must pay,
instead of violence, this is an important decision to make,
to go with peace, for you see, to go without is to make a big mistake.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Reclaiming Poland

Marty and I just returned from our whirwind trip in which we started out in Poland, went to the Baltics and Israel, and then returned to Poland to round out our visit there.

It was a very personal, spiritual reclamation for me, and also a reconciliation that needed to happen in order for me to honour the memory of my family in the place where we had lived for 900 years or more.

Mum and I had always wanted to go to her hometown Lodz together, but alas, she became ill, and it was not to be. So, along with all my personal baggage, this was an homage to my late mum, who kept a detailed and very moving memoir of her childhood years, which were spent in Lodz. I had never been to her part of the world where she spent her childhood whereas my kids know every inch of Toronto and how I lived my life as a kid. So I had a big empty spot that badly needed to be filled.

We visited every one of my mother's homes up until December, 1939, when Mum went to Siberia with her brother. I would say that the second generation of us Lodzers are somewhat fortunate in that most of the city has been preserved just as it always has been. In fact, some of the original restaurants and places of business are still operational. It's almost like I was walking in her world.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel on Piotrkowska Street, which still has an air of its former grandeur -- my mother's aunt who visited from Berlin used to go there to use the toilet since there was no indoor plumbing in my mother's family's apartment in Baluty. The marble interior and the restaurant have been preserved as have many of the brass signs and woodwork. With the exception of my mother, who was born in Lodz (Dad was from Konskie), everyone was wiped out and so I had no connection to any of them other than through my mother's stories and her written memoirs. Now I was able to run my hand along the same marble handrail that was used by her aunt, and see the cinemas that Mum frequented, sample her favourite ice cream, see the bandshell at Park Helenow where the Chor Dana once performed, and even walk around the same lake that she remembered so fondly at the park. Its paddle boats are long gone, and Chor Dana is silent, but what an indescribable feeling to walk where Mum walked as a young girl.

We walked to Plac Wolnoci and headed toward the old Jewish area of Baluty. There's a "new" statue (erected 1960) of Tadeusz Kosciusko to replace the one that was destroyed by the Nazis in 1939, as described by my mother: She chillingly recalled a Nazi soldier posing for a picture on that very site, laughing, arm around his girl, his jackbooted foot on the dynamited statue's head.

I was able to see and photograph all of my mother's homes from her childhood, including Stary Rynek 1, which overlooks the once-crowded, lively marketplace. Mum was born into an attic apartment overlooking the square.

We saw her old school on Wierzbowa Street, and storefronts that she had described, such as the deli at Stary Rynek 1, which is now a souvenier and folk art store. We bought a keychain for Yona there and kept the receipt as a souvenier.

Despite the graffiti and neglect, it felt really good to come to Lodz and "reclaim" it for my family as the origin of our family's history. Based on my mother's colourful description of the city streets, it seems that Lodz is empty and lonely for a more innocent time. Our visit was appreciated by the local businesses and the hotel. I felt very uplifted as I wandered around the old neighbourhood -- as though the dear departed souls knew that we had not forgotten them.

I soon learned that the state of neglect is something that is a holdover from the Communist era, which can be felt throughout Poland, and particularly in the poorer metropolitan areas such as Lodz. Buildings are dingy and run down (some are abandoned), streetcars are outdated and thunder through the streets with no shock absorbers. They are known to run off the tracks and tip over. If you're driving, get out of the way when you hear them. They are not real clear on right of way at intersections either.

After a good bit of walking, we found what was left of Jakuba Street, which is where my mother was placed by the Jewish komitat when she came back to Lodz. It was the best they could offer. The remnant is a row of tenement cabins behind some more recent buildings. It seems that today they serve as worksheds. That was the worst to see, and to imagine that, after surviving six years in Siberia and the decimation of her entire family, this was her hero's welcome.

The local Jewish community, headed by Hazzan Symcha Keller, was welcoming and warm. The community is housed in the original Jewish community building which dates back to 1840 and can be found at the gmina at 18 Pomorska Street.

Coincidentally we arrived in Lodz on Tisha B'Av -- a day of mourning on the Jewish calendar which commemorates destruction of two temples as well as Krystalnacht. We were invited to have dinner with the community members before nightfall, and then we went to prayers in the gmina synagogue that night. Services were led by Symcha, who chanted a haunting Lodzer melody of Eichah (Lamentations) that he learned from an elderly hasidic cantor who had remained in Lodz, now deceased.

I'm sure some of you know that Symcha and his staff are a great resource for finding Jewish geneological records.

During the course of that day I learned that the city of Lodz would be hosting a group of children from the northern Israeli town of Nahariya who were coming to get some relief from their shell-shocked city. I contacted the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and fed them the story. I posted it here with the blessing of the JTA.

The rest of our stay was spent talking with people and getting a feel for the city and the country. We were hosted by friends -- she is Lodz-born and bred married to a Canadian. They returned to Lodz together this year to take care of her elderly mother who never left the city except for imprisonment in Auschwitz. She has been slowing down, and when her annual trip to Toronto became too difficult for her to manage, the couple decided to pack up and come to Lodz to take care of her. I had the very rare opportunity to spend time with her and get to hear about what life was like from someone who never left.

Overall, it was a good feeling to "come home" to Lodz and get to know and understand the city and its people. It is a complicated place which on one hand has preserved the Jewish ghetto area for its occasional interested groups and meanderers like me.

On the other hand, it boasts the Manufaktura, a huge, world-class shopping mall in the old textile mill area. It was there that "Di Kinder Fun Lodzer Ghetto / Dzieci z lodzkiego getta," a moving musical commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the ghetto by Andrzej Krauze, was recorded. I was also impressed to hear that Lodz Mayor Jerzy Kropiwnicki is an outspoken advocate on behalf of Jewish causes and a good friend of the Jewish community. Even better -- he is popular with the electorate.

My advice to anyone of Polish origin -- whether Jewish, Roma, Catholic or otherwise -- is to visit Poland if you've never been there. It is full of history -- some of it your own. You will learn a lot about yourself in the process. And to boot -- by western standards it's a very inexpensive holiday that will not break your bank book.

A few tips when reclaiming Lodz:

Eat!! Polish food of the farmers is delicious and familiar! It is a cornucopia of grains, dairy and meat products (and veggies such as cabbage, potatoes, pickles plus fresh seasonal fruits and veggies) perfect for cold weather eating. Rye bread is a must! Younger Jewish Americans will recognize many of the dishes as fairly typical of their grandparents' fare.

For a taste of the aristocracy, have coffee and dessert at the Klub Spadkobiercow upstairs at Piotrkowska 77. It has been a fine dining establishment since the end of the 19th century and its decor has been impeccably preserved. Ask the management about the history of this restaurant, which emerged as part of the industrial age in Lodz. You will not be disappointed. Your Eastern European ancestors probably dined here, perhaps during a business trip while staying across the street at the Grand Hotel.

When you are absolutely tired of paying dirt-cheap prices in the mom and pop shops along the main drag, then you are ready to come to the brand-spanking new Manufaktura to browse the stores, watch the people and feel what it's like to wander around in a expansive indoor shopping mall on the site of the historic textile mills of Lodz. There is also a museum on premises. Don't be surprised at this time of year if you hear live music from a big stage near the children's rides and amusement area where you will notice signs that advertise "Lodz Stok" -- the Polish pronunciation is Woodstock...get it?

If you are Jewish, or suspect that you may have Jewish relatives that no one told you about, then give props to the old Jewish community of Lodz, check out the numerous museums and visit the old cemeteries. You might want to read this article from 2000, in which a university professor comes to Lodz and expresses the overwhelming sentiments along his road to reconciliation. And then you can come by the Jewish gmina at 18 Pomorska Street and join the local community for Shabbat, or just come say hello at the kosher Cafe Tuwim, also located at the 18 Pomorska Street complex.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A little good news from abroad

Dear Friends,

Greetings from our incredible trek through Poland. I don't have much time to write, but I did want to share with you an article that has an air of good news and reconciliation on the part of the Jewish community. I was in Lodz when I heard about a group of kids who were coming from northern Israel for some "r&r" in Poland. I immediately contacted the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York City and suggested that it would make a good story. I hope you find it uplifting as I did. I am optimistic that it is a positive step toward many other such positive stories about Poland from the Jewish community. Incidentally, this story ran throughout the world in Jewish community newspapers. I sent it out to a number of my friends -- Jewish and also Kresy-Siberia -- and got tremendous response. A good thing.

Off to Krakow on Wednesday and love to all,

Besieged by Hezbollah rockets, Israeli kids find shelter in — Poland
By Dinah Spritzer

PRAGUE, Aug. 8 (JTA) — Even a decade ago, almost no one could have predicted that Poland, of all places, would serve as a refuge for Israeli children.

But a country that some Jews still think of as ground zero for European anti-Semitism is among the first in Central and Eastern Europe to sponsor a free getaway for young Israelis who were spending most of their time this summer in bomb shelters as Hezbollah sends rocket salvoes into the Jewish state.

Jerzy Kropiwnicki, mayor of Lodz — once home to the second-largest Jewish population in Europe — decided his city would pay for 15 teens from the northern Israeli city of Nahariya to escape to Lodz.

Starting Sunday, the young Israelis embarked on an 18-day vacation in Poland, to include sightseeing, educational programs and Jewish community visits.

“We want them at least to forget for a little while about what is happening in Israel,” said Jarek Nowak, a member of the Lodz City Council who played a key role in organizing the trip.

In an afterthought that belies the city government’s well-known affinity for Israel, Nowak added, “This is the least we can do. If we can’t solve the situation they are in, at least we can give them a little rest to comfort them.”

He said the Israelis, ages 12-16, were from poor and single-parent, mostly Sephardi families.

Their home city, which chose the children to participate in the visit, has been hit particularly hard by Hezbollah rockets.

Israel’s ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, who met the children when they arrived at Warsaw airport, said he wasn’t surprised by the Lodz mayor’s initiative.

“He has been involved in Jewish issues for some time, including the annual commemoration of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto,” Peleg said.

“Our embassy is providing logistical help for the young peoples’ trip, but the credit goes to the city,” he said. “The mayor’s gesture warmed our hearts.”

In a phone interview, Nowak said the teens so far were infatuated with Poland and the reception they have received.

“They’re so excited. For all of them, it’s their first trip on an airplane, their first trip outside the country,” he said.

The program includes horseback riding, kayaking, painting classes and photo classes; tours of Warsaw, the Warsaw Ghetto monument and Lublin; visits to the Jewish communities of Wroclaw and Lodz; and Shabbat dinners.

“We will offer them some Holocaust education as well, but not until the end of the trip when perhaps they can focus more,” Nowak said.

One of the group’s two Israeli guides, Dima, said they were having the time of their lives, though they were constantly worried abut friends and family back home.
“They can’t believe how green Poland is,” he said. “But what I think they like most are the shops.”

Symcha Keller, cantor of Lodz and chairman of its 300-member Jewish community, said the teens were dining at the community headquarters and that he was honored to help organize the itinerary.

“For the first time, the mayor of a city in Poland, in this case of Lodz, is helping people from Israel,” he said. “It’s very beautiful that we Poles can give something to Israel.”

Lodz is paying for the children’s daily kosher meals. Accommodation at hotels, arranged by the Lodz Jewish community, has been provided free of charge. LOT Airlines paid for most of their flights, while the Polish president’s office took care of the remaining amount.

“Once the Polish media started to cover the visit we started getting calls from hotels, restaurants, businesspeople, asking how they could help,” Nowak said.

The publicity also resulted in the mayors of Wroclaw and Lublin contacting Peleg and suggesting that they too would like to host Israeli children desperate to escape Hezbollah’s wrath.

Nowak likes to think of his city’s reaching out to the Israeli teens as yet another step in its effort to honor the city’s Jewish heritage. On the eve of World War II, Jews made up 34 percent of Lodz’s population.

“When the mayor, a Catholic nationalist, was elected four years ago, the city was known as the most anti-Semitic in Poland. It was covered in anti-Semitic graffiti, which was really about a rivalry between two soccer teams, and the people had some very negative attitudes towards Jews,” he recalls.

Everyone in Jewish circles agrees that Kropiwnicki has changed Lodz’s image. In 2004, he organized a yearlong, 60th anniversary commemoration of the Lodz Ghetto’s liquidation with hundreds of events. The final ceremony included the participation of 10,000 locals.

“Kropiwnicki wants what happened to the Jews to be taught in schools, and believes that as witnesses of the Holocaust we all have an obligation to the victims,” Nowak said.

Last year, the city erected a monument on the spot where nearly all of Lodz’s 223,000 Jews were deported to their deaths by the Nazis. But now, much of Lodz and Poland, where sentiments are pro-Israeli, is occupied with young Israelis who are very much alive, Nowak said.

Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, said he was impressed with Lodz’s example.
“It’s an important sign from the country of Poland, taking in these kids,” he said. “Sitting in a bomb shelter is no way to spend your summer vacation.”

Schudrich hopes the efforts of the Lodz municipal government might change some people’s ideas about Poland.

“There are lots of things that shouldn’t happen in this country and we hear about them,” he said. “We should also take notice of the good.”

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Thank you, Careers TV!
and more...

I wanted to publicly thank Caroline Smith and CHUM TV for giving me this wonderful plug with a phenomenal segment on Mamapalooza. Caroline was so terrific and so professional. I had no idea that our homespun conversation and her single-woman taping would amount to such a fabulous, poignant segment about those of us who choose a different path. It was terrific to hear Miriam and other kids boasting about their mothers!

All in all, what a great experience to work with Caroline and learn more about her. If anyone should be featured on Careers TV, it is certainly Caroline Smith!

I've been quiet, I know. I'm in the cave, but I'm not hibernating.

I'm preparing some new material to perform in four weeks aboard the Seabourne while we cruise the Baltics. I am still diligently working on the production of my mother's memoirs, Be Decent. It's killer stuff.

Scrabble-wise...I don't know how to say this, but I'm kind of jealous of those who have been able to participate in the recent Scrabble tournaments. But I'm also a bit relieved to have a hiatus from word study. It's a conflict, for sure. I miss my Scrabble family. I've commiserated on this "note" with Toronto's own Fern Lindzon, the phenomenal jazz pianist with the great vocals, who packs a travel Scrabble in her car at all times. It's very hard to learn random and seemingly isolated words when you are rehearsing clumps of words or melodies. Yes, of course we study lists of similar patterned words, but somehow learning poetry and music is something else again, taking a lot of discipline, focus and energy. One has to make choices.

So I am working on telling my mother's story while working up a good set of all the songs she loved and grew up with. Yet they are also so familiar to me, too. I must have sung these songs a few generations ago, when I inhabited a different body and lived in a different place. All this esoteric stuff had better pay off onstage with a decent performance, I tell ya.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

More celebration -- sweet and solemn

Thank you, Gd, for granting me health and ability to have lived another year and to see my girls off to camp for another summer.

Here we are, in Toronto. Tonight we continue the celebration of Marty's milestone birthday after having spent many happy hours in the car listening to his newly-loaded, shiny, black iPod. We will get out the guitars, piano and accordion and sing songs in at least three languages tonight. I can't wait for the festivities to begin. Marty was so ecstatic with his gift. I can see that it has awakened him to the individual's Technology-given right to the world of sound/music/thought choice in a world of "music-by-the-pound," to quote my genius music buddy Allan Watsky.

Tomorrow, we have a sad celebration -- my mother's unveiling. We will be reading from Mum's memoirs about the war years, "Be Decent." These were the last words her mother ever said to her before she kissed my mother and sent her off to whatever unknown fate would await her toward the east of Poland. The unveiling begins at 11 a.m. at the Mount Sinai cemetery on Wilson Avenue. Afterward we will host an informal reading of the memoirs and allow for Mum's good friends to share their thoughts and feelings.

Then I will be feeling the absence of my mother as I put the kids on the bus and say good bye for the summer. We used to do this together. It is painfully empty to do it without her now.

Time to tune up the guitar and get ready for tonight.

A great big "EHLLO!" to my Scrabble family who are at Annette's tournament in Albany this weekend. May the Tile Gods be with you! I look forward to reading about it on ISC later.

And Romuald, not only will I be thinking about you tomorrow, but I am thinking about you now, too. Thanks for sharing your stories with me. My mother and you would have gotten on so well. You believe the same things the same way. You are both so strong and possessed of such incredible tenacity and spirit. I am so sorry you did not get a chance to meet.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

HaPpY bIrThDaY mArTy!!!!

JUNE 22, 2006 -- Okay, are you ready? Because you are probably going to read this when you're at work. It's better if you follow the directions when you get home.

And please don't be alarmed by the fact that the GuitarGirl Army is out there, watching. ;->

I'm kinda spoiling your surprise, but I don't think you'll mind too much.

Open your document file. There is a folder in there called LODZ. Click on that folder. What do you see? You see iTunes, right? Of course you do. Open the iTunes program and take a look in the library. All of your favourite tunes are already loaded up for you. Now, if you'll check your podcast directory, I've already signed you up for one of my favourites (Kol Cambridge) and as you read this, with your iTunes open on the desktop, you will be able to see that your latest podcast is being downloaded right now.

Incidentally, I chose the LODZ folder in which to hide the iTunes because I knew you'd never go in there unless I was around. Oh, and by the way, now that the secret is out, you can restore the iTunes in your startup files. I took it out, of course. Because I knew you'd wonder about it if you saw it. And I did not want to spoil the surprise that way: I wanted to spoil it this way. :)

So the surprise is not over yet. Looky looky here....

Lovely, isn't it? We may make you chase all over the house to find it. (tee hee!)

Okay, okay, we won't. Just tell us when you can't stand it anymore and we'll be sure to find it and give it to you. I know it's around here somewhere. But they're making them so small these days. Darn my memory. I know it's in a good place...

And since we're going for the full disclosure here -- thanks to your meticulous bookkeeping, I did not put this sleek and life-altering toy on the credit card or use a cheque to buy it. I knew that you'd detect it right away.

You'll have to ask Someone You Know Very Well But Who Is Not A Blood Relative to tell you how we pulled this one off.

Honey, we hope you have the best birthday of your life so far, and may it be the worst one ever...may they only get better and better with each passing year.

With love from me and the whole family....


Friday, June 16, 2006

New Orleans Potholes Brass Band Update!

BILOXI, MS -- My favourite N.O. fonkified brass band frontman, sousaphonist and bandleader Rob Espino, is working hard at helping the clean-up effort on the beaches in the aftermath of Katrina.

Here's my hot tip: Do yourself a favour and check out an amazing piece of music. Buy the new Potholes CD at and help support a great band!


Sunday, May 14, 2006


Thank you, Toronto, for making our first-ever Mamapalooza a runaway success! Watch for pictures and recap in days to come.

After we finish exhaling, we will turn the page and start planning Mamapalooza 2007.


Saturday, May 13, 2006


She rocks, she rolls, she's, uh, your mom?

With titles like 'I Hate My (expletive) Family,' Mom rock gets some credibility

Special to The Globe and Mail

MAY 13, 2006 -- Rock music has been about many things. Sex, politics, more beer. But "self empowerment"? Never. Until that is, the birth of "mom rock." As a genre, mom rock is very much about such things: empowerment, self- expression, creative voices of mothers. Still, it's a remarkably earnest-free zone. Its bands have names like HRT, Housewives on Prozac, the Mydols and Placenta, and their song titles run to the wackily domestic -- Eat Your Damn Spaghetti, Born to Iron or Pick Up Your Socks.

Although hounding kids to clean up and eat their meals when served is a preoccupation of parents everywhere, the majority of mom rockers hail from the suburbs. Some even embrace the image. Take for example the Mydols, whose slogan is "rockin' soccer moms." Others send it up -- mom-rocker Lynda Kraar does a countrified number called Suburban White in a White Suburban, satirizing the clichés of privileged suburban motherhood. And like all bands recently hatched in garages and family rooms, mom-rockers tend to the jam-band sound of the freshly initiated, whether they're punky, pop or hard rockin.' The music is usually wildly enthusiastic, often giddily amateurish, and occasionally quite good.

Mom rock became a bona fide movement courtesy of Mamapalooza, an event first held in New York in 2002, a gathering of musicians, comedians, and spoken-word artists -- all of whom were mothers. Today, Family Circle magazine sponsors Mamapalooza, which takes place in 30 locales. Its inaugural Canadian incarnation on Sunday -- Mother's Day -- will be held at Toronto's Lula Lounge. Joy Rose, Mamapalooza's founder and lead singer of Housewives on Prozac, says Mamapalooza strives to create "a safe, generous experience where artists of all backgrounds can freely express themselves and feel supported."

Of course, pre-Mamapalooza there already were rockers who happened to be moms, without the benefits of organized support. It's difficult to imagine, say, Chrissie Hynde (front woman of the Pretenders, now into her 50s and the mother of two daughters) fretting about whether she was having a safe experience when she'd rip into Bad Boys Get Spanked. Hynde, and the pitifully few like her, have never been part of any movement, unless you count their automatic status as a visible minority.

For mom rock to matter, musically, it would have to create more Chrissie Hyndes, more Bonnie Raitts and Annie Lennoxes -- something that hasn't happened to date. Instead, it's possible to view mom rock as potentially undermining the legacy of women who actually made it in the boys 'n' guitars world on their musical strengths. The sassy jokiness that is one of the charms of mom rock bands is also what makes it all too easy to dismiss the music they make. That's a reality that some mom rockers, such as HRT, (who count AC/DC and the Rolling Stones as primary influences), admit is worrisome. HRT guitarist Marlane Pinkowitz says the "gimmick angle" is a double-edged sword.

"In one way, mom rock does represent what we are about," she says, "because we are moms who rock. We certainly started out that way. But as we grow musically we are playing less on the fact that we are moms who rock and more on being women -- and a band -- that rocks hard and rocks good."

HRT, who wisecrack that as they get older their acronym can double for hip-replacement therapy, don't consider their music a hobby, and steer away from cutesy song titles, writing numbers like I Hate My Fucking Family instead. But musically speaking they're newbies -- only one of the group's members had played before the mom-rock movement inspired them to form a band.

This isn't the case with all mom rockers though. Kraar, one of the organizers of the Canadian incarnation of Mamapalooza, and author of the blog, Guitargirls Digital Diary, had a band in Toronto in the 1980s called Lynda Marks and the Marksmen, who performed gigs at such venerable establishments as Grossmans and the Isabella. For her, taking up music again in her forties, as a mother of two, is a return to one of her passions.

"A lot of people give it up and stop and never revisit it again, and say, yeah, well mummy had a rock band when she was much younger, but not since you guys were here, because you're more important," Kraar says. "Playing rock now is a way of saying, you know what? Mommy's still a rock 'n' roll babe."

Mommy may be a rock 'n' roll babe, but beneath the black velvet jacket is also usually a woman who's making a statement about the status quo views of motherhood. Or, as Kraar puts it, "The minute you take on the decision to drive car pool, you lose your status in the outside world."

For these women, mom rock is partly a way of reclaiming status -- on new terms. But societal perceptions of the role of motherhood (particularly the suburban, "stay-at-home" ilk) aside, the question remains: What kind of status does mom rock give women in the rest of the musical world? So far, not much. There are exceptions, of course, for example the Mydols, whose recording Born to Iron is nominated in the Detroit music awards.

But perhaps for bands who choose to identify themselves as mom rock bands, it ultimately won't matter -- not if as a genre it continues as one-part music, one-part empowerment, two-parts a rockin' good time -- a successful recipe, as long as there are mothers who want to get on stage, brandish their axe, and still drive the kid to the soccer game the next day.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


NOW MAY 11 - 17, 2006 VOL. 25 NO. 37

T.O. Music Notes

Upcoming, Mamapalooza, Lula Lounge, May 14

If you're only thinking roses and chocolates when it comes to Mother's Day, Mamapalooza wants to change that. The brainchild of expat New Jersey-based Lynda Kraar (previously Lynda Marks), the daytime event hits the Lula Lounge May 14, bringing together local musicians eager to honour moms. On the hefty bill, among others, are Choirgirlz , Lenore, the Mad Housewives and the all-women Yiddish swing outfit the Sisters of Sheynville.

The Sisters, led by Lenka Lichtenberg and Isabel Fryszberg , started out as a near tribute band to the 30s group the Barry Sisters, but are now peppering their shtick-laden set with original material.

Lichtenberg, a mother of three, says she'll be bringing the kids to the gig, though it's not as if they've never heard her play.

"They know the material a little too well," the ebullient Lichtenberg admits. "We've been doing most of our rehearsing at our house. But I can't imagine a better way to celebrate Mother's Day -- with music and with the family."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Back to Ginger White's Scrabble tournament
for a 9-game marathon

NEWSFLASH!! Sunday, May 7 -- Ginger informs me that I actually WON First Place. Ginger writes:

"While compiling the validation for the NSA I discovered that really YOU and not Bob Kerr won - the total point spread for you was 929 and for Bob 837."

So my story is a BIT outdated, but the plays and facts about the wins -- other than the cume -- remains the on.....

Saturday, May 6, 2006 -- I took the trip this beautiful day to join my Scrabble friends at Ginger’s Scrabble tournament at the Adria Conference Center in Queens, NY.

(The picture of me with Ember Nelson has nothing to do with Bayside. It's from Albany in the fall, but Ember sent it to me and I have wanted to post it forever. I love this woman. She is a great Scrabbler, too.)

By dinnertime, after playing Scrabble since 9:30 a.m., my record in Division C was 8-1. My nearest opponent, Bob Kerr, also went 8-1. We were neck-in-neck, but he beat me by 40 points in cumulative spread, landing me in Second Place. This seems to be a pattern with me. I have to play up into the higher division. That will break me out of the glass ceiling of this division and jack up my national rating a bit.

Finally: My winnings of $62 are being donated to the American Technion Society in memory of our dear, cherished friend, Jay Yoskowitz, who tragically and suddenly left this world this past Tuesday. A light-hearted conversation with Jay's son and wife at the shiva house about their love of Scrabble led me to pledge that I'd do my best at the tournament in his memory. When I got home tonight, I called them first. They said that this donation would always be special to them. I did it "for the family."


OUREBIS (challenged)
COALIEsT (challenged)


TATsOIS (challenged)


DOJOS – 50
KUDZU – 38
FAZE – 40
OPERA – 32
BEIGEs – 33
AZO – 38
MAQUI – 36
FIGS – 36
QUIN – 30
JIMP – 30
HM – 30
FRAZzLED – 112 (highest word in my division)


(scores are listed as me v. opponent)

Holding ALO?TIC, I missed COITALLY, LOCALIST, LOCALITE, LOCALITY and TEOCALLI through an L, and COALPITS and TROPICAL through a P before finally placing COALIeST. That play was challenged.

Bernie plunked down the brash BOATY* to open and I ignored it. I wanted to see if his strategy was to play phonies. So when TATsOIS came down on the board, I immediately challenged. Guess what, tho: It’s new. "DUH!" I haven’t studied the new word list up to the T’s yet. Ouch. I laid down OUTGIVE and as I counted it up I realized I was jammed by a G on the board. (GOUTGIVE*? Don't think so!) So I played VOGUE and then VERVE in my next two turns. It was too late in the game to throw the Vs back.

With a K on the board, I had KNOTLESS, and wrote it in the margin, even though I was not totally sure about it. Instead, I blew one of my esses for 18 pts. with STOKE before bingoing with LEANERS.

The board was jammed and the northwest quadrant was blocked by V and C plays. Hence, I could neither get down ALUNItES nor INSULAtE.

SUE GABLE 422-295
Due to a board that was listing to the lee with no possible S/D/R/E hooks, I watched the parade of bingos on my rack, including RAVINED/INVADER, AVODIRE/AVOIDER, ROARING, TALLIES/TAILLES, OUTPACES and INOSITE.

BOB KERR 411-399
I never had a chance to get ROGUISH down, and instead played HOURIS before bingoing on the next turn with INGRATE , which ended at A14. A move that would drive us both nuts, with each of us waiting for that final S to be drawn from the bag. Bob played HEMATINE and I did a double take, anticipating HEMATITE (a hematine is a synthetic hematite). I held it in my momentary haze and let it stand (after the game, I realized I knew the word, which also works as HAEMATINE, HEMATIN and HAEMATIN/ANTHEMIA). After catching up with FAZE for 40 on the next turn, and it being so near the end with no S in sight, I finally couldn't take it anymore and shut down that threatening open A15 spot with ARB, ending at B15.

If only RESTAIN* was good. I would have hit the jackpot, including a double in two directions. However, STEARIN was the best I could eke out of the nine possible anagrams in that rack. I managed to bingo out with sNEAKIER.

In my only losing game, I sat with DISINTER/INDITERS/NITRIDES while Lee Lichtenstein leapt around the board with JULEP for 52, AX for 52 plus other nice pointy plays including the swank STYLIsT, which was the point of no return in our game.

Final Standing (unrevised):

Kerr, Bob 8 837
Kraar, Lynda 8 797
Lichtenstein, Lee 6 390
McMahon, Bernie 6 379
Snyder, Simon 5 292
Kasny, Raymond 4 206
Wancel, Linda 4 -300
Kirshenbaum, Sandy 3 -673
Gable, Sue 1 -476
Lichtenstein, Frances 0 -1595

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mamapalooza Madness in Manhattan!

Dear Friends,
Come on out and bring the family to Mamapalooza 2006! We are going to rock the joint again this year. This is your chance to support the best Mom rockers around! Scroll down for the link our MySpace site for the event. Looking forward to seeing you in Manhattan, Toronto.....OR BOTH!!!




95 Stanton Street {between Orchard & Ludlow}, NYC
7-11pm 212.995.1652

Featuring the talented MOMS

Pucker Cat Guthrie
Kathleen Pemble & Upstate
Lisa Martin Jen Chapin
Alison Byers Lisa Lipkin
Ruth Greenwood Ritsu
Elizabeth Schwartz Carol Lester
Lynda Kraar Catherine Moon Lisa Roma

Sunday, April 30, 2006

also from the Toronto Star....

Live or online
Musical mothers are at the microphone around town:

Open stage Mondays at Freetimes Café, 320 College St. at Spadina Ave. First Monday of the month hosted by Laura Fernandez (laurafernandez Signup at 7p.m., show starts at 8 p.m.

Girls Night Out Jazz Jam, Wednesdays, 8 p.m. to midnight, Ten Feet Tall, 1381 Danforth Ave. at Greenwood Ave.

Open stage at Fat Albert's, Steelworkers Union Hall, 25 Cecil St., Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.

Open mike hosted by Maria Kasstan at The Lakeview Lunch, 1132 Dundas St. W. at Ossington, Thursdays, 8:30 p.m.

House gig hosted by Sandi Marie Porter (sandi, first Friday of the month, Grossman's Tavern, 379 Spadina Ave., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Laura Fernandez jams with featured guests at Loons, 416 Roncesvalles Ave., Fridays 9 p.m.

For more about Mamapalooza performers, visit, click on "All About Mama" and "All Rockin' Moms."

Other websites include:

Choir Girlz (Debbie Fleming, Mary Ellen Moore and Dorothy McDonall)

Marianne Girard

Sandi Marie

Lynda Marks Kraar

Heather Katz

Laura Fernandez

Lynn Harrison

Mad Housewives

Zoe Chilco

The Sisters of Shaynville

Monday, April 17, 2006

“Every culture has its way of passing on wisdom of its mature women,” says Maria Kasstan, right, host of an open mike at The Lakeview Lunch, on Dundas St. W., every Thursday. She’s joined by poet Fran McCann, who will also perform at Mamapalooza. Photo by KEITH BEATY / TORONTO STAR


Baby, they rock

Moms who make the truth about life worthy of song put it all together for Mamapalooza on Mother's Day

Apr. 15, 2006. 10:10 AM

I broke in my shoes on the mommy-track
Bein' everything to everyone.
I've been a doctor, a teacher, accountant and a chef
Psychiatrist and super-mom!
-- "Nothin' in the World (That This Old Girl Can't Do)" by Debbie Fleming

Debbie Fleming knows all about being "everything to everyone." After all, she is a mother. But she forgot to mention one other role when she wrote that song — professional musician. Because while Fleming was a single mom raising two kids in Toronto, she was also eking out a living singing advertising jingles (Diet Pepsi, Pizza Nova, Suzy Shier), writing songs, and performing rock, jazz, country and R'n'B, not to mention being in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.

"I wasn't one of those mothers who got down on the floor and coloured with them or baked cookies," says Fleming, now a 62-year-old grandmother who still writes, records and performs. Instead, she became living proof that the juggling act of motherhood is fertile ground for the creative musical mind.

Listen carefully and you can hear a growing chorus of mothers out there. Melodies, harmonies, poetry. Strumming guitars, plucking banjos, stomping a beat. Crooning ballads and belting out rock tunes. They do country and punk and jazz and choral. They go solo, sing in garage bands, or a capella.

And this year on Mother's Day, you can listen to them for a whole afternoon as women join forces to celebrate motherhood and music at Canada's first Mamapalooza festival. The event, presented by promoter Gary Topp, will be held at Lula Lounge in downtown Toronto on May 14.

"It's an opportunity en masse to say to people, `Here we are, we have great music, come listen!'" says Mary Ellen Moore, who sings with Fleming in the bluegrass trio Choir Girlz, which is among the 31 Canadian performers on the roster.

Remember Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" from 1972? Well at Mamapalooza it'll be "Militant Mom." And "The Tooth Fairy Forgot," "The Vacuum Cleaner Tango" and "The Bad Parent's Song."

Mamapalooza, which began four years ago in New York City and spread across the U.S., is coming to Canada largely because of Lynda Kraar, who grew up in Toronto and is now a suburban mom and rock chick living in New Jersey.

She performed in the New York festival last year and was sure that if it came to Canada, "moms who rock" would come out of the woodwork. They have.

Kraar says it's a great way for mama musicians to support each other, get to know each other and encourage all those other ones strumming away at their kitchen tables to get out and make some noise.

"My daughters' jaws dropped to the floor to see older women doing this amazing thing and being really great at this. It's a real shock to the kids," she explains on the phone between interruptions to co-ordinate picking up her teenager from drama and razzing the 12-year-old for not eating her lunch.

Mamapalooza was founded by Joy Rose, who, with her six-mom group Housewives on Prozac, sings such songs as "Pee Alone" and "Fuzzy Slippers." In Britain, punk bands like The Mothers wail out tunes like "The Nit Song" (yes, it's a lesson on why your kids shouldn't trade baseball caps).

Many of the performers at the Canadian show seem to take a more subtle approach, with acoustic guitars and more of a folksy pop sound.

Like Toronto singer-songwriter Lynn Harrison. The 42-year-old mother of two school-age kids was a "closet musician" from the age of 12 and eventually became a television writer. Then, something about being a mother inspired her to go public.

The day Harrison's eldest started JK in 1998, she wrote the poignant "First Day of School." The next day she grabbed her guitar, marched into a café in her Riverdale neighbourhood and announced, "I'd like to do a gig." After she played for the owner, she recalls, "he said, `I really like your music but do you have anything that isn't about kids?'"

Harrison laughs. Almost eight years, three CDs and countless gigs later, sure, she sings about all kinds of things. But it's often her songs about everyday life, her kids and her house that people most appreciate.

She's sharing her story around a table of other Mamapalooza performers during an open stage night at a Toronto restaurant.

Some musicians, like Sandi Marie Porter, keep blazing on through childrearing. Porter, now 52, used to drag her kids off to every festival they were allowed to attend. "I recorded with babies on my hip."

Laura Fernandez, 45, had written music since childhood but put it on the shelf for a career as an illustrator. After a decade, it came bursting out, shaped and matured by motherhood, she says. She's been performing and recording ever since. "It was like I had lost myself for a long time and then I found myself."

Ilana Waldston, 43, of Toronto had done some musical theatre before her two kids were born. Two years ago, someone asked her, "What's the one thing you've always wanted to do that you've never done?"

She thought about it. Then she hired a voice coach, took a course on the art of cabaret and worked on her patter. Now she has regular gigs singing "comedic cabaret with a jazz sensibility." To Maria Kasstan, a veteran performer who sang protest songs and did the Yorkville coffee houses before life got overtaken by raising four kids, the Mamapalooza movement celebrates something fundamental.

"Every culture has its way of passing on wisdom of its mature women," says Kasstan, 56, who has three grandkids. Her husband of 25 years died 18 months ago and returning to the music scene was a way to get through her grief. "I think it's actually the only reason I'm still alive." Kasstan is small and gentle. But she plays a mean guitar and has an edge in her voice when she belts out "The Bad Parent's Song."

"I think a lot of people try to live up to an unrealistic ideal with their kids, and some of us never did figure that out," she says of the song's origins.

Being identified as mothers can be a mixed blessing. Especially when you're a musician in your own right. Because who needs to be pigeon-holed?

"Does anybody care how many kids Mick Jagger has?" quips Kasstan. Adds Waldston, "Does anybody even know?"

Never mind the whole ageism thing that permeates the mainstream music industry. "Nobody says you're too old, but it's there," says Marianne Girard of Newmarket, who put her music on hold while she raised three kids on her own. "It doesn't matter that I sing better and I write better than I ever have."

She says events like Mamapalooza are important to the many other women out there who need inspiration. "We're soldiers. We really have to blaze the trail."

As Harrison points out: "Just because you're not famous doesn't mean you're not good."

For more information about Mamapalooza on May 14, visit or call 416-588-0307. Tickets $15, $5 for kids under 10. Doors open at noon, show starts at 1 p.m.