Author: DJB

The Importance of Being Interesting

Writer, editor, writing coach, France aficionado, and family friend Janet Hulstrand produced a delightful little book earlier this year entitled Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love You. Having just finished this advice manual for travelers and others interested in living more successfully with the French, I found Janet’s take on how to understand these sometimes curious, somewhat frustrating, occasionally mystifying, but always interesting people to be delightful, informative, and useful all at once. I also found that Janet had—either on purpose or unwittingly, I’m not sure which—captured some wonderful life lessons from her observations about the country she’s now observed and come to love as a visitor and resident for some 40 years. The book is written as if you are sitting by the fireplace with a wonderful French wine and a good friend who is giving you a crash course before you venture out on your first trip to France. Janet’s writing is clear and, as one reviewer put it, “breezy and digestible.” She begins with five essential tips for “even …

Saturday Music: Robin Bullock

‘Tis the season to begin thinking about finding and supporting some excellent holiday music. When you tire of the endless, dreary Christmas muzak, I suggest you set up a winter solstice playlist or take in a concert by Robin Bullock to alleviate your pain. For years I’ve been a regular at Bullock’s Celtic Holiday Concert sponsored by the Institute of Musical Traditions, and I’ll be there again next week for the 2019 performance. Set for Monday, December 9th at St. Mark’s in Rockville, the concert also includes, besides Bullock, the world-class folk instrumentalist Ken Kolodner on fiddle and hammered dulcimer, along with U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion Elke Baker. Bullock is a master of the acoustic guitar, cittern, and mandolin, where he blends “…the ancient melodies of the Celtic lands, their vigorous American descendants, and the masterworks of the Baroque and Renaissance eras into one powerful musical vision. The 17th-century harp tunes of legendary Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan, the spirited jigs and reels of rural Ireland, the haunting ballads of the southern Appalachians and the …

Remembering the Innocents

Last evening a sold-out Georgetown crowd was treated to a sumptuous musical feast of the season by the English-based VOCES8 ensemble. The “impeccable quality of tone and balance” that has been recognized by Gramophone and many others was on full display in the splendid acoustics of historic St. John’s Episcopal Church. The program was varied, reaching back to the music of Tómas Luis de Victoria, Michael Praetorius, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and Benjamin Britten, while also reaching forward to contemporary composers Jonathan Rathbone, Jonathan Dove, and David Pickthall, among others. For me, the evening’s highlight was the moving Philip Stopford setting of the Coventry Carol, the traditional English carol dating from the 16th century. Stopford’s Lully, Lulla, Lullay—filmed by VOCES8 earlier this year in St. Stephen’s Walbrook Church, London—is as haunting and beautiful on film as it was in the live performance last evening. Soprano Eleonore Cockerham’s soft, clear, yet ethereal voice is a treasure. The subject of the carol—the massacre of the innocent male children of Bethlehem by King Herod’s army following the birth …

Is it Too Early for a “Best of the Century” Book List?

This century is not quite 20 years old and yet we’re already seeing a “100 Best Books of the 21st Century” list from The Guardian. I’m more than okay with that. Anticipating the Politics and Prose Holiday Member Sale and assorted bookstore sales events across the country this weekend, I thought that—like me—you may enjoy a peak at books others are recommending before you rush out to make your purchases. I love lists of recommended books. Summer reading lists? Bring ’em on. The “Not Your Summer Reading List” is okay as well. If you are the President of the United States (well, a former one anyway), I want to see what you are reading. The same goes for famous writers. I love these lists because I believe in the power of the written word. I pick up fresh insights from seeing what others are reading. Writer Cheryl Strayed said she was seven years old when she understood that, as Margaret Atwood wrote in her poem Spelling, “a word after a word after a word is …

Facing Life’s Worries

We all have our phobias and fears. For much of my life, that personal horror was stage fright. I’m surprised when people tell me they have never experienced the sensation of walking to a podium or settling in with their musical instrument and, suddenly, being gripped by a paralyzing fear. That dread just came naturally to me. Stage fright—or performance anxiety, as it is also known—is a condition that affects many people who have to talk for a living or want to perform for others. I’ve experienced it in both speaking publicly—say, for television interviews—and in playing music in any space other than my living room. If you don’t address your fears, the feeling saps your confidence and energy in ways that seem to make poor performance a self-fulfilling prophecy. With work and experience, I overcame at least a part of my anxiety through the years and came to enjoy public speaking and conversation. A little bit of online research will turn up 21.5 million results (I Googled it) around ways to combat stage fright. …

The Chosen One

Quick quiz: Which recent news story generated the following online comments? God must have a wicked sense of humor. God also chose to use locusts, plague, and floods in the past to make a point. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the whole “omniscient” thing. God set this up as a test for the American people. Are we as smart, honest and ethical as God hopes we are? The answer of course, was many, many people did not pass that test. God is really disappointed and pretty well flabbergasted that the test went so spectacularly wrong. After the break: God sues Rick Perry for slander. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8. Perhaps Rick Perry didn’t read that far in his Bible. Asked for a response, God said “oops.” Does God have a return address? The smart glasses. They do nothing. If you guessed that these comments were in response to recent news reports of outgoing Energy Secretary Rick …

Saturday Music: Molly Tuttle

Roots music. The name suggests an adherence to tradition and a reverence for the elders. While there is much truth in that characterization, roots genres such as old time, blues, bluegrass and Americana are continually refreshed with exciting and talented young performers. These are musicians who show a mastery of the traditional styles that goes well beyond their years while also probing the opportunities beyond the traditions. Thinking of musicians I have long admired, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Alison Krauss, and Bryan Sutton all were—at one point—young bluegrass whippersnappers who pushed those boundaries and set new standards of excellence. Heck, Chris Thile—at the ripe old age of 38 who has been playing like, forever, and is the host of public radio’s Live From Here—long ago graduated from the amazing kid mandolinist stage of his life to being just the amazingly talented musician who has unbelievable chops and musical ears. Thankfully, gifted young roots music performers keep turning up. People like Molly Tuttle, the exceptionally talented 26-year-old guitar flatpicker who has recently released a debut …