Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hallelujah Chorus sung by hundreds surprises shoppers in San

Now For Something Different

What are these unsuspecting folks, just grabbing a burger or a taco at the local food court of the Santa Rosa mall to sustain themselves before launching back into frenetic Christmas shopping, about to experience?

My post on Dec. 2nd (scroll back a little ways), dealt with the disappointment of a dream interrupted. Sometimes in life, we’re lucky enough to have what we refer to in therapy as a corrective experience. I had one of those.

Like many great ideas that catch on and spread like wildfire, someone posted a “flash-mob” (a pre-arranged, but impromptu-appearing gathering of a bunch of people for a particular reason—sort of like guerrilla theater back in the 60ies) on YouTube of Handel’s Messiah. These folks gathered at a mall and broke into song to the delight and astonishment of shoppers milling about.

Michael, a local DJ in Santa Rosa figured if the east coast can do it, surely we--out here on the west coast--can pull it off. Word spread through various choirs throughout the city; it spilled over to random singers in the community. We were told not to refer to it as a “flash-mob” for obvious mall security reasons, and began referring to it as Project Messiah. It was a well-guarded secret that couldn’t be contained due to the enthusiasm it created. Word spread, and spread. It leaked to Facebook. “Just show up at the food court at the mall at 2:20; don’t ask me why,” was a common buzz phrase about town.

I dug into my music file and extracted the Hallelujah score. I carried it, along with a huge amount of excitement, to the Monday rehearsal preceding the big event. We reached the last page, the last stanza, the last measure, and—what? No highest note? Surely there must be a mistake. I didn’t miss anything the first time around? At all? What a revelation, and how strange to feel let down by something I didn’t miss.

Regardless, the rehearsal sent the hundred-plus singers gathered in the music room sky high. It was amazing, and promised to be even more amazing when we (and others who would join us) appeared interspersed amongst the crowd of shoppers and munchers to sing one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever composed.

Saturday afternoon around 2pm, familiar faces appeared in the mall, hanging out, trying to look casual. Many of us, myself included, just don't "do" mall. That much energy in one place makes my teeth itch. We glanced at each other, gave quick nods of recognition or conspiracy, or a brief smile as we melted into the crowd. My friend Trudy was among the throng and agreed to video the event. I’m sure the food court has never housed so many people milling about, not eating.

It was wonderful when, on cue, we all burst into song! Even without that elusive last note from the past, this was a highlight of my holiday. The very best to you and yours as this Christmas season unfolds.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Never Say Never

As a therapist, I often discourage my clients from using global-type words, like never, always, no one, everyone—as in no one has ever liked me; I’ll never be any good at anything; everyone thinks I’m incompetent, etc. It sets off a chain reaction of futility and hopelessness. And, it’s usually not even accurate. I mean, surely someone in all your years on the planet, has liked you; you must have, at one time, been good at something; and most likely not everyone you know thinks you’re completely incompetent. Really, why tell yourself things like that?

There is one exception, however. I’m NEVER going to make another dessert as long as I live—never. I’ve had it. I can’t do it; I never could; I’m lousy at it. And I defy anyone who knows me to think of an exception to those claims.

Let me walk you through my day. Actually, it started a couple weeks ago with an on-line search for tortes—something yummy for the holidays. I found it: a layered caramel, chocolate torte lightly sprinkled with sea salt and topped with dollops of Chantilly whipped cream, sprinkled with a special chai spice blend. Does that send chills down your spine, or what?

I priced out torte pans at Williams-Sonoma and other fancy-schmancy places, and decided just to borrow one from my friend, Trudy. I mean, how many times a year do I make tortes? Never before. Oops, there’s that word again.

My writer’s group has been on sort of an extended holiday season hiatus; with so many distractions, no one has had much time to write. Two months had gone by without meeting. One member had reached his tolerance peak, and suggested we have a combined Chanukah and Christmas potluck meeting. Ah, a perfect opportunity to try out this new recipe.

What was I thinking? Had brain fog settled in like the marine layer that drifts inland from the ocean, obscuring my memory of all desserts past? Somewhere in the far reaches of my awareness, I heard a small voice saying, “at least don’t attempt the crust—they make perfectly fine pie crusts now that you could use.” Okay, I could cheat a little. The recipe is pretty complex and will demand most of my attention. No use worrying about how a lousy pie crust will turn out.

I assembled all the ingredients, the measuring spoons and cups, the various sized pans and plates that I would need. I fought my way through the mental cobwebs that seem to string themselves across my mind whenever I try to follow a recipe (or directions on how to assemble something, or program something).

Meticulously, I measured out just the right amount of sugar and water. I cooked it just until it began to turn caramel colored, as the directions said. I added the cream ever so slowly, whisking to blend it just so, and added in just the right amount of sea salt before setting it aside.

The ready-made pie crust had baked the appropriate amount of time and was golden brown. When it was cool, I oh-so-carefully poured the caramel layer onto the crust, and put it immediately in the refrigerator to “set.”

Twenty minutes later, I checked my creation. Not only had it not “set,” it had leaked out through a crack in the crust and was pooling onto the refrigerator shelf. This did not bode well. I shut the refrigerator door. Maybe another five or ten minutes and it will be firm? At least not ALL of it had leaked out. Perhaps the crack had sort of plugged itself up with gelatinous filling.

Ten more minutes, and I peeked again. Okay, it was sort of firm; maybe firm enough to gently add the next layer of heavy cream infused with chocolate malt Ovaltine and melted bittersweet dark chocolate bits. This layer was gloriously rich, shiny, luscious. I slid the partially filled crust carefully from the shelf, and mopped up the sugary goop that had oozed out.

V-e-r-y carefully, I began to drizzle and spread the chocolate on top of the caramel layer. Every now and then, I had to stop and breathe. The next step was to return the whole thing to the fridge for another half hour to continue setting up. The chocolate was mostly staying on top of the bottom layer, but threatened to overflow the edge of the crust. I was so focused on not tilting the torte, that I caught my sleeve on the handle of the saucepan in the sink.

Have you ever had the experience of a moment when time just stops? It just plain stands still in honor, or horror, of whatever irreversible thing is about to happen. The whole torte, in slow motion, began to slide off the plate and into the sink. In my attempt to intervene in fate, I over corrected, causing the torte to break in half. One half landed in the sink in chunks and blobs, the other sort of landed on the counter and spread in an ever-widening circle of slushy caramel and chocolate. A piece of crust fell onto the floor, as if to make a point, and crumbled into granules that defied retrieval.

Well, what can you do? Cry, scream, throw things? I thought about those as viable options. I checked the clock. Still enough time to bicycle up to the bakery and pick up some dessert. I cleaned up the mess, hopped on my bike, and arrived at the bakery counter all without shedding a tear. There in the glass case were four mini-chocolate espresso tortes with wells in the middle that just begged to be filled with that chai-flavored Chantilly whipped cream that I hadn’t yet dropped or ruined—or made.

Come on—whipped cream? How hard can that be?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I did that once...

So, I notice I haven’t written anything for a couple weeks now. I had something—honest I did—but it’s gotten lost in wherever one thinks one saves things then finds out there’s nothing there. I've replaced it with a video of Handel’s Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus—the sing-along version.

I did that once many years ago, the sing-along Messiah, and it was amazing. I picked up my many-paged sheet music a month in advance, studied it a bar or two at a time, following along my part as best I could. I was stupefied at the way the music wove in and out between the parts. They don’t call those guys the Great Composers for nothing.

We gathered in a large sanctuary, the several hundred of us who were to sing this piece together. There was much anticipatory anxiety, clearing of throats, rustling of papers, sipping of water, and even a few vocal exercises around and about—the kind where you make bubble sounds with your lips. I was wedged I between a teenage girl in a Santa hat and an elderly woman sporting a festive Christmas tree pin on her blue woolen coat. I found myself distracted by the pin—if you pull on a little chain, which she did as a nervous tic, tiny lights on the tree would twinkle. I took a deep breath and reassured myself that if a kid and an old woman with a funny pin can do this, surely I can make it through to the end. I found out later that the “kid” was a musical prodigy and the old woman had been an annual participant in this sing-along for as far back as it had been sung.

There was a whole orchestra on stage warming up, flipping through their music, setting up stands, stretching. Stretching—that should have been a clue as to what we were getting into. Behind the orchestra was a choir of maybe sixty who tried not to fidget once they found their spots on the risers. The orchestra finished tuning up, the lights blinked to signal the audience that we were about to move together into this musical experience. There was a collective inhale as the conductor stepped smartly onto the stage, took his position in front of the orchestra, turned and bowed to us. I suppressed the urge to bow back and instead, joined in a round of applause for what was sure to be a riveting experience.

The baton was raised, the music began, my finger lay ready just under my first note. Just at the moment I didn’t think I could contain myself any longer, the choir, the hundreds of people around me, and I burst forth in song. It was so explosive, my knees threatened to buckle and I lost my place for a few bars. I glanced at the kid and the old woman to relocate myself on the musical score; they, too, were following along with their finger. Page after page we filled the auditorium with joyful noise. My heart pounded with anticipation as I waited for that really high note at the end—you know the one if you’ve ever sung this piece of music. Could I? Should I even try? My finger kept moving through the music. Occasionally, I’d stop singing so I could hear what was happening around me, but my finger tracked the notes like a hound dog on the scent. It was powerful, magnificent; we rose and fell like the waves of the ocean. I fully expected sparks to shoot out of the end of the conductor’s baton, or the heavens to open up, or something even more magnificent to happen.

We were getting closer to the end. That impossible note beckoned me like a seductress with a dark sense of humor, daring me to push beyond my comfort level. Yes! I was going to go for it. “Ha-lle—lu…” (here it comes, the last note) “Cough, cough, hack, cough,” the woman next to me wheezed into her fist. I turned my head to see if she was all right as the final and highest note was sung out “…jah!” And I missed it.