Ground Hog Day, 2002


Scene:  Admissions Waiting Room of a hospital.  Johnny, age 7, is walking around making friends while his parents are standing in line at the desk.  Naturally, he heads for the prettiest girl there, 8-year old Mary.

Johnny: Hi, I’m Johnny.  What’s your name?

Mary: Hello, Johnny.  I’m Mary. Are you going into medical or surgical?

Johnny:  I don’t know.  What’s the  difference?

Mary:    If you’re sick when you get here, they put you in medical. In surgical you get sick after you get here.


Dear Friends-and-Relations,

As of last September 5, that playlet had a special significance for us.  Thea was in the Medical wing of Stanford Hospital starting to recover from some intestinal blood clots, and I was in the Surgical Wing getting used to my brand new hip.  Our daughter Lisa and her family were running back and forth between the two wings bringing us good cheer and news of each other.  Numerous friends from the UU church, from the West Bay Opera Guild, and from Tan Plaza stopped by or called to tell us to get out of this place so they could visit us both at once.

GHD page num 2We will skip rapidly over the next five months (believe me, you don’t want to know the details – or those of the months before September, either) and report that we are sufficiently recovered to be looking forward to going to Hawaii in a few days along with Lisa and her family and our transplanted New York granddaughter Myriam.

This will be our first trip since last April when we had a whirlwind tour of Tennessee, Washington DC, and Philadelphia to see our son Phil T. and his family, to enjoy a meeting of USNC/TAM in which I was not the Secretary and visit dear friends in Washington, to spend a wonderful evening with two of my former students at Brooklyn Poly back in the mid 1950’s (you know you are getting old when your students start retiring), and to visit some of Thea’s cousins whom we hadn’t seen in almost half a century.

And we have more trips and lots of operas planned for the rest of this year, knock on wood.  I hope to get back into travelogue mode in 2003.

Meanwhile, since we haven’t been anywhere, here are a few of the thoughts and musings that occurred to me right here in Palo Alto.


Coffee, coffee, coffee,
Coffee, oh so mighty.
Early in the morning
Our pulse wakes up to thee.
Coffee, coffee, coffee,
Black and strong and tasty;
Or with cream and sugar,
Blessed Trinity.
(Adapted from the April First service at our Unitarian church – what would
my Baptist great-grandfather  the Reverend Marvin Growe Hodge think!)

The sermon on Sunday April 1 was by Darcey Lane, our Minister of Religious Education,  Appropriately, it was about honoring the Fool, “an ancient archetype who has certain wisdom in myth or in Shakespearean drama.”

I can relate to that.

In a separate article in our Bulletin, Darcey also said that “certain songs or hymns have a resonance with a part of our identity  .  .  .   In an upcoming sermon, I will be looking at “Music and Identity.”  If there are hymns, songs, sonatas that are part of who you are  .  .  .   please write me a note letting me know.”

The juxtaposition of those two challenges was more than I could resist!
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“No, NO, NO !”  Director William Fiedler (half-brother of the famed Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops Orchestra) shouted. “You are just mouthing the words.  Sing them with feeling!”It was the summer of 1942 and I was in my final year at Antioch College.  My studies had not kept me from being a member of the Chorus and from also having an active social life.  Said social life was focusing more and more on Miss Thea Drell who was also a member of the Chorus.

On this beautiful summer evening we were rehearsing the Brahm’s Love Waltzes.  Our director was not happy with the way we were doing it.

“These are love songs,” Mr. Fiedler continued.  “Put some emotion into your singing.  Sing them with feeling!”  He pointed at me but his voice was directed to the whole Chorus.  “Sing them the way he is looking at her!”

Darcy’s April Fool sermon reminded me of that long-ago- incident.  I was the Fool.  And being the Fool, I realize now, helped the group, since we did, indeed, sing them better the next time through.  But at the time, I enjoyed being the Fool.  I reveled in it.  I wanted the whole world to know how I felt about Thea.  O. K. so the thirty-plus members of the Chorus at a small Ohio college isn’t the whole world, but it was a start.

I suppose I am still being the Fool for sharing with you this episode from my foolish youth.  But, as Jack Point says in Yeomen of the Guard:

“Winnow all my folly, folly, folly and you’ll find
A grain or two of truth among the chaff.”

And you know something?  Sixty years later I still feel the same way about her.

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“My name is Samuel Hall, Samuel Hall
My name is Samuel Hall, Samuel Hall
Oh my name is Samuel Hall,
And I hate you one and all
Aye, I hate you one and all
God .. damn .. your ..eyes.

“I have always been a generally happy person, but there are rare occasions when I feel temporarily down in the dumps.

When this happens I try to go for a solitary walk where no one can hear me, and I start singing.  In keeping with my black mood, I start with “Samuel Hall.”  Years ago I had a wonderful 78 album of Carl Sandburg songs, and I do my best to imitate my memory  of his rendition.  He really put feeling into the words, sometimes almost speaking them rather than singing, and freely varying the tempo.  In some verses the final line, “God damn your eyes,” comes out in a venomous whisper.

Usually singing all the verses once is enough, but if my mood is sufficiently black, I may sing it two or even three times.

Eventually I realize that I don’t really want to damn anyone’s eyes, and I start singing various tragic ballads such as “Abdul the Bulbul Ameer,” “Frankie and Johnnie,” or “Clementine”.

With each song my mood lightens, and now I am ready to move on to more cheerful ballads such as “A Capital Ship”, “The Road to Mandalay,” or “Short’nin’ Bread.”  Then come some of the popular songs of the 30’s: “Stardust”, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” “In the Still of the Night,” “The Music Goes Down and Around”, to name just a few.  Would  you believe that I still know the words to most of them?

By now I am my usual optimistic self, and I’m ready for the finale.  The body of my “concert” may vary from one time to another, but it always begins with “Samuel Hall” and it always ends with all three verses of “Oh what a Beautiful Morning” from “Oklahoma.”

And so, as I  return homeward,

“I’ve got a beautiful feelin’,
Everything’s  goin’ my wa – ay,
Oh. what a beautiful day!”

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And may you, too, have many beautiful days
during the coming year.