Category Archives: Where we live…..

Life in Florida and New England

Opera comes to Punta Gorda!!!! Hallelujah.

Gulfshore Opera comes to Punta Gorda

 On a rainy Saturday evening, while very few people were watching, something really remarkable happened in Punta Gorda. A brand new southwest Florida opera company graced the Charlotte Performing Arts Center and made some music lovers very, very happy.

 The company’s inaugural season opener was Viva Verdi!, a concert with full orchestra, full chorus and 5 soloists transforming our hometown hall into what could have easily been Avery Fisher in the middle of New York City.  In fact, Maestro Paul Nadler, the company’s conductor, has a Metropolitan Opera pedigree. And, a quick glance at the program revealed impressive resumes for everyone – San Diego Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Boston Lyric, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall, many international theatres, as well as respected Florida companies in Naples, Sarasota, and Palm Beach. 

 From the moment Maestro Nadler and the soloists took the stage, the air began to crackle with electricity. These people had the air of confidence that only training and experience provides. This was going to be good.

 The evening opened with The Chorus of the Gypsies from Il Trovatore, followed by Stride la Vampa sung by the beautiful young Ola Rafalo who rocked everyone’s world with a glorious full mezzo soprano voice that was a complete surprise. Thomas Cannon and Michael Wade Lee followed with powerful familiar arias proving that, to a person, this company is world class.

 For the Rigoletto offerings, Wade Lee thrilled us with La Donna e Mobile, conveying all the wit and spectacular high notes we could ask for. Soprano Julie-Anne Hamula joined the ensemble, singing the beloved Caro Nome, plus two duets and a quartet with Rafalo, Wade Lee and Cannon (would have liked to have heard even more of his divine baritone). It was glorious. I was there with Regina Buckley, Executive Director of the Charlotte Symphony and a classically trained singer herself. We just kept looking at each other with wide eyes and huge smiles saying ‘wow’.

 During intermission, we chatted with Ken Barber and some other Symphony fans, pretty excited about what we had just experienced.  I think we were all ‘blown away’. We didn’t know what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect this.

 The second half of the program included spine tingling selections from Verdi’s Requiem, where the chorus was able to pull out all the stops in Dies Irae, as well as some of the big highlights of La Traviata. Everything was extraordinary. But, for me, the showstopper was Stephanie Pearce (the founder of the company) singing Pace Mio Dio from La Forza del Destino.  I was spellbound, probably with my mouth open during the whole thing, hardly breathing. I realized halfway through that I had begun to cry. She was simply magnificent.

 I know that not everyone loves opera as I do. My life in Manhattan was rich with music, and I lived right around the corner from the Met, where I held season subscriptions and grabbed student desk rehearsal tickets for $5 as often as I could.  So, yes, I’m an opera junkie. The manifestation of opera at this level, right here in my backyard, feels like special delivery direct from heaven. 

 For those opera lovers in our community who were not there on Saturday, I am so sad you missed this.  For those who are not quite sure about opera, this company is coming for you! They want you in their audience. The ticket prices are reasonable. They travel to various locations to make the performances available. They provide lovely visual projections evoking the locale and setting of each opera performed, and there are English translations of everything being sung in a foreign language. The soloists are beautiful, charming, funny and talented. Oh, they are talented!

 This performance was worthy of a sold out house and I truly hope the next time Gulfshore Opera is in town, they will have that. What a gift to our community this is!

Feature photo by Ivan Seligman 


August, Sweet August

Her days roll out leisurely, as though intentionally slowing down – as Billy Joel says “These are the days to hold on to, ’cause we won’t although we’ll want to.”  In New England, the short smack of heat and humidity is long gone. Already, the evenings are cool, though the days are still filled with warm sunshine framing picnics, bike rides and sailing outside the harbor.  Growing up here, I recall a growing sadness in August – because summer was soon coming to an end, because school would be starting again, because this little season was far too brief.

Now, of course, I have the luxury of enjoying the freshness of New England summers and leaving behind the heavy Florida air.  Then when it gets too chilly for my capris, I hit the road for the tropics.  I know there are lots of folks who anticipate the beauty of Autumn color and the subsequent challenge of snow and ice.  Those hardy souls are the skiers and the snowboarders, ice skaters and sledders or just those with a strong internal furnace the enables them to face a bracing wind and smile.

After spending my life enduring the drama of northern seasonal changes, I am more than happy looking forward to a January sitting outside at my favorite cafe, sipping wine and having dinner.  Perhaps I’ve used up all my New England hardiness.

I’m always surprised that the summer goes by so quickly.  I don’t know why.  In July, the annual trek to Florida feels far away.  But, here we are in August, and my mind has already begun to plan – where to stop on the way south, what to bring.  Emails are coming with the flurry of fall schedules – chorale rehearsals, Symphony, Yoga.  All the things I love so much about my life in our Florida home.

So, I no longer feel sad in August. I’ve come to enjoy the formidable pause in the action, as people go on vacations, businesses lull. Today has been all about listening to the leaves in the backyard, the birds chattering away, Boo announcing every squirrel and chipmunk.  There’s an occasional flurry of action in the harbor – a big motorcycle ride earlier today on Front Street.  Sounded like the Hells Angels, but I know it wasn’t.  Some charity ride.  Mostly it’s the sound of the leaves.  A neighbor is playing ball with his young kids.  Another is walking the dog  with her niece here for her annual visit.

hydrangeaBlackeyed susansOur yellow umbrella is open on the front patio table.  The blue Hydrangeas are showing their stuff. The Blackeyed Susans sway in the breeze and I detect a tinge of red already on the Flaming Bush.  All of our potted plants are exuberant. Tonight will be another Super Moon.  It’s lovely and clear, so people will be gathering down by the harbor, over on Lighthouse Road, or maybe sitting on their boats in the marina to see the spectacle.

It’s August and everyone knows how precious these days are. So, we slow down and stretch them out as best we can.


Featured image “SuperMoon” by J Michael Sullivan

Let Freedom Ring!

Let Freedom Ring!
Fourth of July debut concert of 
Bion Cantorum

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

(Published in part, Florida Weekly Newspaper, June 2014)

Bion Cantorum is a new choral group in Charlotte County, with an unusual name. Bion (pronounced beeyon) is a Japanese word which translates “sweet voice” or “beautiful sound”and was contributed to be part of the group’s name by Francis Wada, Board Member and Director at Large, and a well loved and respected musical figure here in Florida.  Cantorum , Latin meaning “singers”, was added by the group’s Artistic Director Roy Engler, also familiar to local audiences as Director of the Suncoast Chorale for many years.

Last year, local businessman and Baritone John Pappa, after his own experiences with outstanding choral organizations, was inspired to start something new right here in Charlotte County: a small Chamber Chorale dedicated to serious music. He knew Roy Engler, who had the skills, musicianship and temperament to get the job done.  He knew Angela Navarro, a fine Music Teacher in the Charlotte County Public School System, who had been the accompanist for the Charlotte Chorale.  He knew singers who were hungry for a challenge.  And, finally, he had been working with the Charlotte Cultural Center for years and felt a cooperative venture was a natural fit.

Bringing it all together with a stellar board of directors, this was a great opportunity to build something special for local audiences and this spring, Bion Cantorum was born!

Here it is the middle of June, the core of the group has been recruited and they are deeply involved in rehearsals for the debut concert, Let Freedom Ring!, on the 4th of July.  The program is diverse, with its centerpiece The Testament of Freedom by Randall Thompson.  A significant work, this is a setting of four passages from the writings of Thomas Jefferson which lay the emotional groundwork for the Revolution.

Additionally, in the celebratory mood of the holiday, there will be a glorious arrangement of America the Beautiful, a rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic guaranteed to produce spine tingles and goosebumps, a rendition of Dixie that will make you weep, a remarkable Aaron Copland homage to our country’s trademark sense of brotherhood and love of the land and there is so much more! The repertoire expresses Roy’s eclectic taste in music and his skill in putting together a concert that offers old favorites alongside pieces you may have never heard before, but that are destined to become new favorites.  “I have a really long list of music I would love to perform”, Roy remarks wistfully.

I asked Roy why he decided to dive in and start something new with Bion Cantorum.  He said it was “the promise of being able to work on good music and sing it well”.  He was particularly interested in working with a small group  – under 30 – for many reasons. He remarked, “You know, most choral music is written for a smaller group. Working with a smaller group, you can do more material, you know the voices you have to work with and what you’re able to do.”  The decision to establish standards for singers, and base membership on auditions was also important to him.  Whether a singer has an extensive resume or has sung in a church choir, Roy looks for ability to read music, have a good ‘ear’ and a commitment to learning.  Less time spent on mechanics, fixing basic issues and learning notes means more time for “making music”.

For serious singers, this is thrilling. Roy’s education and experience are steeped in vocal and choral music and it is a joy to work with a director whose specialty is the human voice.  Of course, knowing the instrument and how to create sound is just the beginning  – “making music” involves telling a story, drama, pulling at the heartstrings, surprise, intrigue, suspense, the human experience. Drawing that from a musician is what makes an Artistic Director, whether of a Symphony Orchestra or a Chorus, inspire performers and bring audiences to their feet.

making soundroyangela







After spending time with the singers and Roy, if I had to choose a word to capture the group mentality, I would say “passion”.  “I’m here because I want to make beautiful music”. I heard this expressed again and again from the group members.  It is this passion for the music. There is no other reason to be here.


Jean Finks, Board Member and Alto, shared with me, “There is something magical when you are part of an  ensemble and it approaches an ideal sound.  It happens so rarely…sometimes you are part of a group led by somebody charismatic.” She told me she has been singing for a long, long time (pretty much all her life). She admires Roy’s capable direction, and hopes Bion will provide her the opportunity to work on the complex literature she longs for. “I was intrigued by the audition requirements”! The standards do suggest a commitment to taking on some challenges!theteam

Ray Byron, the group’s Treasurer and a Baritone is a man of very few spoken words. As I talked with several others about their own experience and what brought them to Bion Cantorum, he stood on the side line, shaking his head that he had nothing to say.  Then, as we were finishing, he came over to me and showed me a quote he likes to think about: “improve your self-esteem with your voice and bring out the emotions of the recipients”.  The he added his own personal philosophy, “You know, I don’t always like the music in an upcoming program, but I remind myself that someone in the audience may love it, so I give it my best and hope it will make someone happy.  That makes me happy”.

Regina Buckley, who is Executive Director of The Charlotte Symphony and a Soprano told me, “I joined primarily because Roy Engler was going to direct.”  Regina is a classically trained singer and, like many others, is partial to directors who have a depth of understanding of vocal production and literature.  Regina had sung with Roy in Wada’s final concert when the Symphony performed Beethoven’s 9th.  “I was impressed with his style.”


So am I. Roy’s ‘style’ is inspirational.  His technical knowledge of vocal production is impressive, but it is his ability to convey the spirit of the music – the text, the harmonic construction, the mood, the composer’s intention – that makes me sit up and take notice. This is more than something one learns in conservatory, this is the gift that builds a loyal group who are there for the same reason he is – to “work on good music and sing it well”.

If rehearsals are an indication, the debut concert should be very exciting.  Another gem in Charlotte County’s portfolio of artistic offerings!

Separation Anxiety

Yes, it’s that time of year again. So soon. You know it’s coming, still its arrival is a surprise. Always a surprise.

I’m talking about – of course – the departure of the “Snow Birds”.  Those happy, bronzed, bright, energetic, ever fun loving seasonal companions from New England, the MidWest, the MidAtlantic, Deep South, Canada, or overseas.  The folks we see at the Dog Park every afternoon, ride bikes with, join for concerts, classes, boat parades, myriad clubs, sit outside with on balmy evenings, share wine and Bam Bam shrimp. We volunteer together, paint and pot, boat and eat ice cream. In other words, our partners in living one heck of a good life down here in Southwest Florida. Some are here most of the year.  Some we only get to keep for a few months.  But they share one thing in common:  they all leave for the summer.  All too aware of this, I have been nursing a case of Separation Anxiety.

Around now, little by little, this welcome throng that brought such life to us in the Fall and Winter, pack up and drive or fly away.  Off they go to visit friends we don’t know, to lives we don’t share, to families we’ve only heard stories about. They will hug grandchildren who will appear to have grown by leaps and bounds. They will talk about all the things they did in Florida.  They will listen – in person now – to tales of icy winds and mountains of snow and how hard it is to imagine sitting outside, sipping wine, watching the Christmas tree lighting ceremony and how absurd it is to ‘complain’ about being chilly and needing a SWEATER.

By mid May, almost everyone will have gone.  In the past, I would have been among them. This year, however, I’ll be staying at home in Punta Gorda a bit longer, still involved in projects and commitments.  Although I love this, very soon I know will be missing my playmates, looking for Facebook postings of them and their lives back ‘up north’, happy they are there, sad they’re not here. Of course, I have plans for my own summer – back to the South Shore of Boston, the little cottage in the harbor, familiar faces, rocky beaches, much colder air than I have become to prefer.  I’ll visit with people who have been part of my life for years, catching up on what has happened and how much has changed.  Warmed by seeing friends I love. A little nostalgic for the lives we once shared.

I struggle with the transition, I suppose. The Birds’ migration, the staying behind.

To soothe my anxiety, I turn to the comfort of the “Flamingos”, the ones who don’t leave!  The full-timers. Some are graduated SnowBirds, who decided at some point that going back and forth between two residences was annoying, or just too expensive, or for whom the gravitational pull of Southwest Florida overcame them and they firmly planted their roots.  It is for these lucky few that Punta Gorda opens up in the summer. Reservations are not required for restaurants. High strung northerners no longer run them off the road. The aisles at Publix are finally navigable.  It is for their eyes that the inland storm clouds dance with lightning. For them, the sultry evening breezes encourage a late night stroll in Laishley Park.  It is the Flamingos who will sustain me, until I too leave them to their quiet space.

Yet, as sure as the breeze blows through the palms, soon the annual migration will begin again. The happy Buddha statue on Bal Harbor will bear his banner “Welcome Back, Birds”.  The classes at The Yoga Sanctuary will double. You’ll need to bring your own chair to the Tiki Bar.  And I, with a big fat smile on my face, will be driving down Marion Avenue, between all those beautiful Palm Trees, the muraled buildings, historic homes, the magnificent Peace River, and then up the driveway to home, where I will await the arrival of my Charlotte Symphony season tickets and all my friends once again.


Home again…

The old saying “you can’t go home again” is not quite accurate.  You can go to a place that used to be home, though it will never mean that again, to dust off that old box of memories, even as we wince a bit at the associated pain.  I’ve done my share of dusting off those memories over my adult life, pain and all.  And, I admit that every time circumstances have brought me to Western Massachusetts, there is a sense of dread that old slideshow will start clicking away in my head…..the vivid images, the sadness, the loss, the stuff I left behind such a long, long time ago. So, it was a surprise to myself that, on this very dismal Sunday afternoon after Christmas, I scooped up my camera and headed into West Springifield.

Coming over the Agawam bridge and heading into downtown, my first stop was Park Avenue Elementary School.  The building is still there, no longer a school.  The playground where we went out for recess and where the Duncan yo-yo guy came to demonstrate how to work the gadget is now a parking lot.  Can you imagine an open playground where a stranger could approach children during recess?  There was no one outside, no cars in the lot.  Still looked amazingly the same and I could see myself standing in line at the GIRLS entrance, waiting to come in for class.

Park Avenue SchoolChurch Street

So often I’ve told the story about how far I walked to elementary school – how that would be impossible today, in the cloud of paranoia that grips our country.  I got to wondering if my idea of how far I actually walked really was far,  Since it was very cold and raining even harder, I decided to drive – turns out the distance was a little over 1/2 mile.  Down a fairly major street, rounding the corner flanked by what once was the Strathmore Paper Company and a small cemetery, past the house  that had been graced by enormous forsythia bushes (the owner let me cut them in the spring) and all the other houses where I went trick or treating, to our house at the end of Church Street.  I walked that route for 5 years.  All by myself.  Every school day. From my front door to Miss Fucilla in the first grade, on to Mr. Quigley in the fifth grade. Nothing significant ever happened en route, except for the time I peed in my little panties and was so embarrassed I practically ran home.

When we reached 6th grade, my whole class was shipped off to the old high school building a little further up the street, across the town common.  It was empty because a brand new high school had been opened.  Since we were the first year of post-war baby boomers, the Junior High School couldn’t handle the size of our class.  So we were all sent to this old historic building named after the first principal of the school – William A. Cowing.  We went back to the same building for ninth grade too, because the brand new high school couldn’t handle our numbers either.

I drove up to the new high school later in the afternoon and sat in the car looking at the heavy wide doors in front of the building.  Inside the entrance is the big, state of the art (in the day) auditorium and theatre with a stage apron that could be raised at the touch of a button.  It was very classy and I spent many, many hours on that stage in talent shows and chorus performances led by the formidable Miss Ruth Phelps – to this day, my ideal choral conductor even though she was quirky and tough as nails.  Wore the same outfit every day – a grey skirt and powder blue blouse.  For performances, a purple jacket dress.  I always wondered if she had multiples of those uniforms.  She was brilliant and strange.  I came to think those two qualities were inseparable.

It was coming out of a choir rehearsal one November afternoon that Bruce Oney walked through those same big entry doors and told me that President Kennedy had been shot.  He had seen it on TV at home and came back to school to tell whoever he found.  I was the first recipient of his awful news. I couldn’t believe it –  of course.  My memories of that afternoon are fragmented.  Walking to Spanish Club, all of us sitting in our chairs, numb.  The teacher – wish I could remember his name – was from Spain.  He said that he understood we were not used to ‘this kind of thing’ in the United States and we should all just go home.  Imagine a time when we were not used to this kind of thing.

Outside, sitting in my rental car, in the pouring almost freezing rain, I noticed that the drive up to the school was now named after our principal Robert Shields.  We’ve lived long enough for him to be memorialized, just like old Mr. Cowing.  This year will be our 50th class reunion, which will be ‘honored’ by our ‘brand new’ high school being torn down, replaced by a bigger, better version.

The weather did not improve during my tour – all photos were taken from the car, with the window rolled down and rain dripping down inside the door.  I visited The First Congregational Church where I went to Sunday School, sang in every choir, was part of the youth Pilgrim Fellowship, went to Saturday night bean suppers with my parents and my grandmother, had my first questions about my faith, got married, baptized my boy.  I remember Dr. Frasier Keirstead when he first became our pastor – showing up at his first bean supper in a red flannel shirt and causing a real ruffle!  Len Warner, our youth leader so loved by all the teens.  My mother and grandmother baking pies in the big community kitchen for our church tent at the Eastern States Exposition.  What a huge part of my life was lived at that church!  I could see us all standing out front, in our maroon robes with the white satin stoles, holding our Pilgrim Hymnals and waiting to walk down the aisles singing away “When Morning Guilds the Skies”.


In the center of town, the Majestic Theater is also still there – only now it’s a live stage theater!  I love that.  When I was small, it was a movie house and I remember the lobby, ticket office,  the matron who made sure we all minded our manners.  I remember so well because my parents would drop me off on every Saturday morning with 50 cents. Two feature films, cartoons and a serial later, with popcorn and candy included, I emerged.  Every Saturday.  What a deal.


I drove through old neighborhoods – on the lookout for my friends’ houses.  Would I recognize them?  Sure.  Turning down each street, my eyes went right to where Ann lived and I remembered her finished basement, where her father had built an elevated run for their cat Peaches all around the room.  A few blocks over was Elisa’s house with all the lovely things from Germany.  The Dolans, the Moriartys, the Wymans, the Johnsons.  The cast of my childhood.  My grandmother’s house is barely recognizable because the beautiful hills across the street are now filled with streets and homes.  The woods behind the house also gone.  My cousins and I would walk though those woods to find the brook.  In the summer, we’d take off our shoes and wade.  We might as well have been in the middle of Montana.  It was a wild place.  A natural place.  Not any more.

On my way out of town, I drove past the Church Street house again and down Main Street to a favorite old destination Pudgie’s Variety where I would roller-skate in to buy a loaf of Wonder Bread for 21 cents. The owner would say ‘what do you think this is, the Rialto?’  I would smile because he said that to me every time. There was a soda fountain and a big penny candy display.  It’s now an international food store.

I was one of those kids who left my hometown pretty early, attracted by the big city and anxious to move away from the tragedy of my broken family, into the open arms of a great big wonderful world filled with promise.  We get older; so much happens.  We get so busy with work, children, our own efforts to build something better than we had.  Through the years, and in some cases, hours of therapy, we can box up all that baggage we’ve carried from childhood.  I was pretty darned good at that.  And I have built an exciting, adventuresome, wonderful life that was unimaginable for me as I walked that 1/2 mile plus between Church Street and Park Avenue Elementary.

But, on this cold, rainy Sunday afternoon after Christmas, cruising around West Springfield, I was finally able to see what had been covered up for such a long, long time – that this little town in Western Massachusetts had been a gift – a trove of riches – a foundation for the life I created. Learning ballet at Hall Studios, fearlessly riding my bike everywhere, skating over cracked sidewalks, taking the Street Railway Bus across the bridge to shop at Forbes and Wallace or visit my aunt Sophie who ran the candy counter at Steiger’s.  Sledding in the winter, skating at the reservoir in the beautiful skirt my mother made me so I could pretend I was Sonja Henie, summer shows at Storrowton Music Circus, the magic of Rainbow Girls at the Masonic Temple. Friends.  Music.  Hot fudge sundaes at Friendly’s.  The Monkey House at Forest Park.  So much that was good.  So much that is part of who I am today.

I am grateful for being able to see my growing up years though new eyes – a ViewFinder, with images shifting as I click through, one by one.  Those pictures were always there for me to look at, but it has taken me decades to heal from the painful, unhealed wounds, the devastating losses that eclipsed them.  I am grateful that rainy Sunday afternoon helped me pull out the good box of memories – the one that has been tied with a lovely pink bow and and stored all those years, waiting for me to open.


This is the season of remembering. We long for the wide eyed children we once were, for the innocence of play outdoors until Mother called us in for supper. For gifts wrapped and left mysteriously under a fragrant tree. It is though we recall images from a beloved movie that plays out for us at this time of year. The snow scene figures my mother and I arranged on our dining room credenza, her famous ambrosia salad in the bowl that was used only for that purpose. My grandmother playing carols on the organ, everyone singing. Sledding down the hill across the street, bundled against a cold I really didn’t feel.
All these things and people are gone now, yet are permanently secure in the part of me that is still that child.I know that time has worked its magic, shining a soft glow on the happy moments, while gently blurring the painful ones. I also know that I continue to create new experiences – there are new family members, new friends. I am the grandmother now; what memories my grandchildren will carry is anyone’s guess.
Christmas does not hold the same import that it once did for me. That is a fact, though I continue to revere the meaning and the hope it represents. I continue to love the stories, the music, the liveliness of the holiday. Sometimes it brings out the very best of humanity. Sometimes it is magical for me- if only for a moment. But, always – always – Christmas is about remembering.

The Art


In our small circle of acquaintances here in Southwest Florida, we are rather myopic.  Everywhere we go, it seems that retailers, restaurants, cultural events are hyperaware of our demographic category: retirees who have money to spend and time up for grabs.

I love this.  I get special rates and discounts.  I get to hear the soundtrack of my life piped through every loudspeaker in every public space.  Shop people are extremely accepting of me carrying my little dog in places I would not be able to take her, if I were back up north.  There are folks ready to help me if I happen to need a bag toted out to my car.  There are about a million things to do each day – classes to take, art shows, festivals, gallery walks, bike trails, boats to ride on, great fishing, gorgeous beaches, nature parks.  Oh yes.  It is pretty darned special for those of us who have worked hard all our adult lives and are lapping up all the goodies available to fill our days in relative comfort and fulfillment.

What we do not see much of is KIDS.  Honestly, I had heard years ago that there just weren’t that many KIDS around here.  Seemed true.  I didn’t see them… least, in any number.

Then.  My love of music and devotion to our wonderful Charlotte Symphony Orchestra opened a door to a world I didn’t know existed.  Because our new Maestro – Raffaele Ponti – made it clear from the get-go that he wanted an educational initiative, this year the CSO created an outreach program aimed at school age children and I asked “Can I help?”  Hint:  do NOT ask that question in Punta Gorda unless you are prepared to dive in!

Now, during “Symphony Week” – the week before the monthly CSO concert – I have the privilege of accompanying Maestro Ponti to two elementary schools where he works with the teachers to conduct a music/art class.  He introduces the music, talks a bit about the composer and invites the kids to create art while they listen to the music.  He’s been using Beethoven’s Fifth and Stravinsky’s Firebird to prepare them for the special Youth Concert in May, when those works will be performed.  The music begins with a resounding DA DA DA DAAAAA.  Dot Dot Dot Line.  Ah, Beethoven!  And the kids begin to draw, paint, mark, dab, whatever they have for tools on the blank paper in front of them.  It’s crazy good!  Everyone is exhilarated.

Then, on Saturday, during the rehearsal for this week’s concert, there are kids who participate in  what we call “Musical Chairs” – they sit in an instrumental section of their interest while the Maestro works the rehearsal.  What a trip!  Sitting on the stage with professional musicians, a brilliant conductor – as music is brought from practice to performance level.  I would have LOVED that when I was a kid.

So, back to the premise that there are no (few) kids in our area.  There are THOUSANDS!!!  The public school system boasts music and art programs and teachers (wow, are they dedicated) who show up every day to open up the world for their charges.   Now, I have the opportunity to share in their experience and have my own world broadened in the deal.  That’s what I call a win/win.

Click the link below to see a video of our Friday morning classes with Maestro.

Maestro school visitswith the kidsmaestroCSO rehearsal

Little Lizard – yes, I know the photo is a frog!

Little Lizard

by Sherry Campbell Bechtold
from a series of short stories about life in Southwest Florida

On my way to bed the other night, I caught a whisper of movement in my peripheral vision.  The little lizard had averted my step – he noticed me milliseconds before I noticed him.  As though he could feel my eyes looking directly on him, he darted under Boo’s puppy crate.  It was fast, but I got a good look.  Couldn’t have been more than an inch long.  His body was almost clear – as though someone had sketched him but hadn’t colored in yet.  Maybe be had just been born.  Amazing how he knows how to survive already.  Instinct.

But, what was he doing all the way in here anyway?  Where were his parents , his nest mates?  Somehow he must have slipped in a crack under the screen door on the lanai.  The sliders had been open all day.  He took a wrong turn and now was on our carpet, under the crate.  I hate it when that happens.  Left inside, he would die. I knew that from experience with lizard corpses. The chances of my finding him and returning him to a more natural environment were impossible.  I had to accept that this was to be his fate – destined not to live beyond infancy.  Destined to starve and dehydrate on my carpet.  Or tucked inside the crate – to be found a few days from now by Boo.

He didn’t know there was someone – outside of his world, on another planet for all he knew – who cared whether he lived or died.  His instinct – so remarkably acute – directed him to avoid any contact with aliens.  In most cases, this instinct would serve him well.  But not this time.  This time, he had encountered a being who would have saved him.  How could he know?
It was a sad outcome.  One that could have been avoided.  Made me feel terrible.

But, wait! There are times when what appears to be inevitable actually is not.  There are times when you are given another chance.  And, so it was with the little lizard.  Moments after I had given him Last Rites, Boo strolled into the room, heading toward the cool tiles of the bathroom floor.  Again in my apparently keen peripheral vision, I see her stop, nose to the floor and then a quick retreat.  Fleetingly, I see the transparent body so full of life, as he darts under the closet door.  Cautiously I open the door and he flashes under a shoe.  Why is he not understanding that I am here to help?

I move shoes – ever so carefully – and he leaps (he can leap!) onto the top of a black camera case.   He seems to now at this tender age that camouflage is  salvation for his kind.

I have another moment to observe the lost baby.  Frankly, his visual physicality belies his extraordinary capabilities.  Miniscule feet frame his gel body.  There are definitely eyes – though they are only slightly less transparent than the rest of him.  Maybe these are the first sensory equipment that develop.  It would explain how he detects alien movements, though one has to wonder how he could have mistakenly found his way into the house.  He is still.  Does he think Boo and I can’t see him?  Does he believe he has morphed into the color of the camera case and disappeared?  Instinct.  His most developed feature.

Slowly, gently I, his alien friend – that he has no name for – lift his vehicle and carry him back to his native land.  The foliage outside the door is dark but he knows where he is.  He knows this is home.  He leaps – again, he leaps! And lands incredibly on a leaf, then disappears into the humid night.

Relieved, knowing that I will sleep better knowing he is back where he belongs, that I have diverted a tiny tragedy, that I have made a difference to something, I head back to the house.

He is out there, somewhere.  Did he find his family or is he now on his own?  Too soon left to fend for himself, left to eke out a living without mentorship, without the nurturing of a parent?  Perhaps this will make him strong and independent.  Perhaps he will live longer than most of his brothers.  Perhaps he will become a legend, a super hero among reptiles, averting danger at every turn, refusing to be a meal for the black snakes that live under the lanai, or the frog that waits on the arm of the Adirondack chair.

Steven Tyler as Elvis

Halloween at the Store!

“Halloween came, with swarms of costumed kids and their parents visiting the Store for Trick or Treat, cider and donuts on the porch. Lots of photos. Cute babies. Giggling children. ”  from My Life at the Marshfield Hills General Store, a collection of short stories by Sherry Campbell Bechtold

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Halloween was always a pretty big deal in our neighborhood….because it WAS a neighborhood.  Our first year in the Hils, we decorated, stocked up with bowls full of goodies and ran out of candy by sunset. Bob had to scurry over to CVS in Scituate for reinforcement.  Lesson learned, over the years, we prepared mightily for the event – particularly as younger families moved in.

Back then, I was so preoccupied with career and commuting, most of the folks who showed up at our door were almost complete strangers…even the famous ones that I may have recognized if they hadn’t been in cognito.  Steven Tyler, his wife Theresa and the two kids were regulars from Day One. Much later, when we owned the Store and hosted Trick or Treat there, the Talarico (Steven’s actual name) family was always a big hit.  The last year that I remember them showing up together, he walked in the door dressed as Elvis.  I said “Wow, you’re dressed as MY rock ‘n roll idol!”  And, Theresa, right behind him replied “Mine too.”  I don’t think he heard that.  Or maybe he did and just chose to ignore.

The Store Halloweens were the best.  I always played “War of the Worlds” on the CD player, dimmed the lights, opened the front door, set out the refreshments and candy in big bowls so the kids could make their own choices.  Patty dressed up as a witch. She had the most believable cackle!  Made my flesh crawl.  EVERYONE stopped in – sometimes to get warm and always to visit, laugh, take photos.  Did I mention it was wonderful?  It was.  Think I miss it all?  I do.

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  Listen to the 1938 Broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS:

67th September

This is my 67th September. Always a month of change, mourning the loss of summer, tasting the reality of the coming cold. Like most Americans, I am programmed for a new ‘start’ this month, and memories easily arise – a new teacher, finding my classrooms, a skirt my mother made for me, a fresh blue sweater. In the Northeast where I’ve spent most of my life, September’s cool breezes bring energy and enthusiasm back, waking everyone from heat induced lethargy. We say we’re sad that summer is over, but in our hearts, we’re glad to get back “to business”, to feel recharged. In New England, work and purpose are part of our DNA and this season feels right to us. We are at home in it.

Even though I will not be here to witness the magnificent changes autumn brings or the bracing winter winds that reinforce our hardiness, my programming is deeply imbedded and I find myself thinking about what I will accomplish this ‘winter’. At present, I am merely courting ideas, but once re-situated in my Florida home, I am quite certain one or two will take root and I will be on to something new. It’s who I am, after all.