Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Reunion

Eli’s Heart

Krissy Porter and Eli Levin haven’t seen each other in over three years. They met as young teens, were separated, found their way back to each other as college students, wrote letters and made long-distance phone calls and arranged to meet again on Christmas Day in 1957. Eli’s diseased heart has been on both their minds … the heart that Krissy believes she broke. The hurt she wants to mend. So they each go Christmas shopping just before their reunion.

     Krissy had looked a long time for a gift for Eli. Clothing was out, because she knew his dad had very fine men’s shops and she was sure Eli lacked for nothing. She tried to think of a musical gift but couldn’t find anything she thought would be appropriate. She thought about baseball, but it was out of season, and anyway, she was sure he had all the souvenir books the Yankees had made available to their fans. Jewelry seemed to be her only option. She thought about an identification bracelet with an inscription, but most pianists she knew didn’t even like to wear a wristwatch when they played.
     Finally, she found it. She bought a long chain with heavy links, and she had a three-quarter-inch wide heavy sterling silver heart attached to it. She used all the money she’d made from her church job in November to buy it, but it was worth it. The heart was very simple, flat with no trim, and she had it engraved on both sides: “Krissy” on one side and “Eli” on the other. He could wear it under his clothing, and keep the heart close to his own. She was very happy with it.
     It was a heart that could never be broken.


     Eli had almost finished his packing. The last thing he put in his suitcase was Krissy’s gift. He was sure she’d like it. It was the easiest gift he’d ever bought for someone. Krissy had said in one of her letters, I’ve learned more about your heart. If I should be so fortunate that you give that heart to me, I will treat it with love and tenderness.
     He’d found a heart-shaped locket on a silver chain, and he had it inscribed Eli’s Heart.

Eli’s Heart is a love story filled with courage and music. It’s available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.  Here’s the link:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Great Light

The people that walked in darkness …

Throughout the Old and New Testaments this reference appears in various ways. To me, it implies that all of mankind toils through a lifetime of fear, tragedy, pain, and travail. We all come to the same end: this shell we inhabit stops functioning.

I don’t pretend to understand the vastness and the enormous mysteries of the universe, but after nearly seventy-eight years in my own shell I’ve come to my own understanding of a few things. I’m not saying I am right about any of this. It’s just what I’ve gleaned by observing life around me and events in the lives of those I love.

Whatever your belief system, I think it’s generally accepted that something momentous in the history of mankind occurred those generations ago in the part of the world we know as the Levant. A personage walked the earth for a time, touched the lives of those he came in contact with, made some of them better people. He died. In some way he was reborn and this belief caught fire, and one of the world’s great – albeit flawed, as it seems they all are – religions was born and flourishes still today, many hundreds of years later.

It seems to me the Creator of the universe gave a great gift to Its creation. The gift of hope. The belief that there is more than just this “little life, rounded with a sleep.” Perhaps we are not a shell that empties itself of life when it stops working. Perhaps we are spiritual beings, inhabiting a human body for a while to learn – and hopefully, to love. And after our body dies – as it must ─ we continue to something wonderful beyond our ability to imagine.

And knowing that would indeed be a cause for celebration.

A Great Light.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Remembering the Lost and Wounded


 Our local paper, The Pocono Record, runs a column on Sundays entitled “Yesterday” which provides a look into the past by means of news items from bygone days. One item which appeared yesterday was originally published on Saturday, Dec. 26, 1903:

• “For time past Robert Smith, of Sterling, and known in Barrett and Coolbaugh townships, a veteran of the sixties, has been acting queerly and at times was quite ‘off his base,’ so to speak, and on Saturday he was taken to Honesdale for examination so that the necessary papers could be executed and he could be taken to some asylum.”

Since one of the protagonists in the book I am currently at work on is bipolar, I found this an intriguing entry which made me pause and think about Mr. Robert Smith, apparently a veteran of the Civil War. Wounded, undoubtedly; perhaps not physically, but wounded in spirit. In need of help which he never received, because those wounds weren’t recognized in that long ago time.

“… so that the necessary papers could be executed and he could be taken to some asylum.” I remember the Tennessee Williams play from which was made a gripping film, Suddenly, Last Summer. I remember One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an extraordinary book made into an equally gripping film. Civil War veteran Robert Smith’s admission was quite probably to an asylum in that mold.

Those asylums were all shut down (Deinstitutionalization, it was called) some seventy years after Robert Smith’s admission to one. A mixed blessing. Many people who were still deeply disturbed were released into the general population. I’ve read it’s possible that as many as a third of the homeless people in this country are desperately in need of psychiatric help.

 I’ve been researching my w.i.p., working title Jamie’s Children, for over a year with help from my friend Dr. Andrew Rennekamp, a research Ph.D. at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Dr. Andrew is working towards finding alternative treatments for mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder. He’s helping me to understand my character Niall Logan, a sweet boy, a troubled young man, a man with a terrible disease he has to learn to live with. There is no cure.

Niall is always in my head. That’s part of being a writer … it’s not a nine to five gig. It’s always there. Yesterday morning I woke up at three a.m. and realized something vital about another character in the book, Niall’s steadfast girlfriend, Bonnie. Why she was so devoted to him. I knew it had to be more than that she was deeply in love with him.

Who knows where inspiration comes from? I like to think my characters tell me these things. And in a way, they do; they become completely real to me. Bonnie told me about a troubling experience she had with a high school friend who suffered from clinical depression. It came to a bad end. She never wanted that to happen to Niall.

Niall is fortunate in that his family has money, that he is loved, that he receives help in a facility where the professionals are competent and caring. But for every Niall Logan who has access to this kind of assistance … how many Robert Smiths are out there, who desperately need help they never receive? How many people with mental illnesses go undiagnosed, or untreated, or both?

So at this time of year, when families celebrate being together if they are able; I’m also thinking of those people who cannot, who for one reason or another are estranged from those they love. I’ve already learned a lot by working on this book. I also know that I will always do what I can to make people aware of mental illness; and bipolar disorder in particular.

It’s much more common than we know – or than we want to admit. More often, we still prefer to look the other way. It’s a lifelong battle. Those who fight it are courageous people who deserve our compassion, and even more, our respect.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

“A Long Time Ago in a Small Town Far Away”

Excerpt from More Fog, Please,Carousel Revisited”:

The theater world is filled with drama of all kinds. Sometimes we hear “It’s not life and death”' when a diva ─ a stressed actor or singer ─ protests too much. True enough.
Sometimes, though, life and death hover over the theater like a sudden black storm cloud on a sunny day. High school is too early, but life can hand us a difficult lesson at a young age. This was how I first came to know Carousel. To understand the 2013 production at East Stroudsburg, I need to explain what happened a long time ago in a small town far away.

In the fall of 1953, I was a junior in high school in my home town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and we received the exciting news that we would be performing this show – a real Broadway show! Not the operettas we’d done in the past. A serious show; a musical drama.
The show was performed in February of 1954. A close friend, Anita Barker, played the role of Julie Jordan. She had auditioned only days after burying both her parents, who had been shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law. Anita’s dedication and professionalism was a marvel for all of us involved with the production. I believe being cast as Julie helped her through a horrifically dark time in her life, and her performance was inspired and inspiring.

The [East Stroudsburg South High School, 2013] show was in March. On May 6, I was having lunch with Judy Lawler and whining about having the summer ahead of me and not much to do since Ragtime, two years earlier, had been my last summer show.
“Why don’t you write a book?”
I think I just stared at her. Might as well suggest I climb Mt. Everest, and I said pretty much exactly that. A book! Too daunting, too much, too … everything.
“Don’t think so big. Think of one event, one incident.”
Immediately I thought of Anita Barker and that Carousel production from 1954. I had told Judy the story before, and reminded her of it.
She nodded. “Then use that,” she said. “And try writing it in the first person.”
I went home and sat at the computer, and I spent many hours there over the next five months. The story had been there all along. I realized as I wrote what an impact Carousel ─ that Carousel in 1954 at Oak Ridge High School ─ had on my life. Reliving the show with these twenty-first century young men and women helped me to remember a great deal about that long-ago production.
And that’s how I came to write How I Grew Up in 2013, and followed up with two additional novels over the next two years. The show is almost a major character in the book because it was so important to my character “Melanie Stewart” at this traumatic time in her life. While I was writing about Anita, I also was writing a work of fiction, and Melanie became a person in her own right.
I gave her a leading man named Jamie Logan. I really liked my character Jamie Logan, a handsome boy with a good heart and a superb tenor voice, and I just wrote a book about him entitled You Are My Song. In between, I wrote a book about Melanie’s friend Krissy Porter and the young man who becomes her life, a brilliant pianist named Eli Levin who has a frightening congenital heart defect: hence, Eli’s Heart. All three have their beginnings in that Carousel production. So without it being my intent, I guess I wrote a trilogy.
But in writing How I Grew Up, I was able to talk about the rehearsals for the show and recapture the feeling of being part of a musical. There’s really nothing quite like it, and having been with the South kids so recently, I drew on the feelings I knew they had experienced.
Here’s a very brief excerpt. It’s a school day; it’s also opening night.

We all kind of went through the day as if we weren’t really there at all, but were waiting for our lives to start that evening. At lunch, everybody in the cast tried to sit with each other. We had a connection that nobody else could really understand. The cast was a group for the weeks that we rehearsed the show, especially that last week. For that brief time, there really were no other groups in our high school.
It was pointless for us to talk about anything except the show, because that was the only thing any of us were thinking about.

And if you’ve ever been in a high school show … you’ll understand exactly how these young performers felt.

How I Grew Up is available on Amazon, paperback $10.00 and Kindle $3.99.

It’s a good story! I’d love to share it with you.

  Carousel, South H.S., 2013

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two Things That Make a Difference

Passion and Humor

Recently, a young writer who has become a Facebook friend sent me an article about centenarians and to what they attributed their longevity. It was entertaining to read contradictory advice, such as: exercise faithfully; never exercise. Eat healthy, eat what you like. But as I stare seventy-eight in the face,  two of the items struck me that ring true: 1) find something you are passionate about and pursue it and 2) don’t stop laughing, especially at yourself.

I know I’m blessed with better health than many of my contemporaries, and I am thankful for that. However, I have to admit over the past couple of years I’ve been slowing down despite my best efforts. Being passionate about something has been the story of my life … first ballet, then opera, then musical theater. All of these require strength and agility. You'd be surprised how much energy it takes to direct a musical!

It makes me happier than I can say to have found this new passion for writing. In some ways, it is the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had – I’m creating, for the first time in my life. For me, it is a perfect time to have discovered how much I love to write. I have the time to devote to it. I’m lucky to have nimble fingers and an active mind and an overactive imagination!

I had lunch recently with a fellow writer and new friend who is a few years younger than I am. We spent over two hours talking about writing, and when we parted she made the comment: “You know, we’re really the same as we’ve always been, at least inside.” And she is right. Having a passion in your life keeps you young. You continue to look at life with wonder. You continue to learn and grow. You see possibilities and paths to pursue. (Notice what I did there? Who says alliteration is always bad?!)

We read often, “laughter is good for the soul,” and I agree completely. I think we grow up the first time we are able to laugh at ourselves: when we can look at ourselves honestly, and realize who we really are and accept and love that person, foibles and all. It’s vital to being able to deal with the passage of time. We have no control over that, but we can control how we look at the inevitability of growing older.

I have three longtime friends with whom I meet regularly for lunch. We’ve shared a great deal over many years, and our meals together are filled with laughter. I value these women; they are people to be treasured. We share a history … not just of things we have done together, but from watching the world around us change.

Here's some advice from this not yet centenarian: pursue your passion. Laugh a lot, especially at yourself. And listen to beautiful music whenever you have a chance … it is the best the universe offers us.

Now excuse me, because I have this book I’m working on and an inspiration just struck me …

The author in earlier times.

Please visit my website:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Reaping Rewards

Interview with Susan Jorstad, The Pocono Record

Writing, as we all know, is very much a solitary endeavor and the writer sometimes wonders if they are writing words that anyone else will ever read. It is immensely gratifying to have written a book that has garnered some attention ─ especially in my community ─ since it is about musical theater in this community; thirty-one years’ worth.

My recently released book “More Fog, Please” – 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals has been doing well on Amazon since it’s November 11 release, reaching the number one spot in its category of Theater Direction and Production for a time, and presently is number two. That is definitely a first for this indie author!

A recent interview by writer Susan Jorstad for The Pocono Record was a very encouraging experience as well. Susan was a thoughtful interviewer and made me sound articulate in her article. With her permission, I’m including excerpts in this blog post. She refers to herself as “PR” for Pocono Record in her questions.

(from The Pocono Record, Saturday, November 28, 2015)

PR: Your book, “More Fog, Please,” relives memorable moments from 30 of the 80 shows you directed.

JORDAN: This is a book about the people. You can’t put on a musical by yourself. For each chapter, I focus on a production and the people involved. It’s almost a collection of reminiscent short stories I worked with so many amazing, generous people over the years. When a show went up, I always felt by opening night, the show belongs to the cast. The cast has to take ownership, and that usually happened early in tech week, and I could spend my time with lights and sound. Every person involved with a show is vital. I always said to my cast, be sure to thank people for what they’ve done to make the show happen; you wouldn’t be out there performing if they hadn’t. My attitude was, ‘It’s your show and I’m glad I’m here to help.’

PR: How did you help your actors, especially those new to performing, to ‘get into character’?

JORDAN: The director has to have the original vision – to take script and music and think through it. What are the authors trying to tell us? And then help your cast make it come to life. I did a character study for every character.
For ‘Carousel,’ I started with Julie and realized it’s really her story, not Billy Bigelow’s. The whole thing is about her love for Billy; nothing could shake that love. She’s fragile but strong. There are amazing women characters in that show set in the 1870s. When you approach the show from the characters, Billy becomes more sympathetic and loveable to the audience.
I loved shows that had depth and characters that really had something to say, like ‘Carousel’ and ‘Secret Garden.’ I also like shows with wonderful scores, which required an above ordinary commitment from the kids… ‘Into the Woods’ (1997?), ‘Ragtime’ (Black Sheep production at Sherman Theater, 2013). Ragtime was tough subject matter, the beginning of the Industrial Age, racial tensions … and wonderfully written. (Ragtime) had a cast from seven different schools. They became so close, they knew what they were doing was incredibly powerful.

PR: You’ve also written a trilogy of fictional books, all highly rated on Amazon, all with a common theme of the value of music. Are those also based on real events?

JORDAN: In the first novel, “How I Grew Up,” the lead character is based on a close friend of mine from high school, a true story. The week before our ‘Carousel’ auditions, Anita’s estranged brother-in-law broke into her home and shot and killed both her parents. She auditioned only days after burying her parents, and played the role of Julie, a dramatic, emotional role. Her performance was an inspiration to everyone.
There’s a catharsis of becoming a character, to escape our personal lives. The experience opened my eyes to the power of creativity and especially of music. Being able to immerse herself into the role was an immense help to my friend. I watched her performance from the orchestra pit where I played harp.

PR: Why this nonfiction book now, and how are your friends and former cast and crew reacting?

JORDAN: Eric Mark, an actor and journalist, who was one of my readers and mentor for my first novel, said to me, ‘You need to write about your years directing.’ I’d thought about retiring after “Bye Bye Birdie,” but it wasn’t the right timing. I knew I’d be leaving after “Tom Sawyer”. I told the cast at the cast party that this was my swan song.

PR: Although you’ve retired from directing, you continue to give private voice lessons. What else do you have planned?

JORDAN: I am working on another novel, a sequel to “You Are My Song,” about a brother and sister who both have musical ability but who have very different journeys. I’ve been researching it for about a year because one of my characters suffers from bipolar disorder.
I’m thinking about a possible trip to the West Coast at some point. I’ve never been to San Francisco and I have friends living in the Bay area … friends from Oak Ridge, where I grew up.
And I’ll be the most supportive, delighted, entertained and enchanted member of the audience at the South High School show next spring. I may even sit near the front of the house.

Cover by Tristan Flanagan

Friday, November 20, 2015

"More Fog, Please"

My New Book

After many months, and much rewriting, editing, re-re-writing, re-re-re-writing, more editing, proofreading, and a great deal of joy and angst and everything in between (every author can relate!), “More Fog, Please” – 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals has been available for sale on Amazon for just over a week.

To my great delight, the book is doing well. People are buying it! People like it! I already have four five-star reviews, and for us independent authors, those reviews are like standing ovations (especially the five-star ones). If you’re interested you can click on the link below and read the nice things that have been said about the book. And maybe buy it? (Just an example of the shameless self-promotion we have to learn to do.)

Most of the reviewers comment on the humor in the book, which was also gratifying. I don’t think of myself as a very witty person, but I did have a ton of fun directing the shows I talk about. When I released it I selected “Theater>Direction and Production” as the category. I have no idea why, except that  the title alerts the reader to some fun, but Amazon also chose to put it in “Humor and Entertainment.” The ways of Amazon remain mysterious.

The book is about some of the shows I directed and the people who were involved. Theater is a team effort, and I had some great team members involved in those productions. Probably several thousand over those thirty-one years, and in the book I named a good many of them ─ but barely scratched the surface. Scrolling through my Facebook News Feed last night, I saw a photo that caught my attention – a former cast member, one of the “PLA Kids” I talk about frequently, stretched out on her sofa reading “More Fog, Please.”

I left her a comment, thanking her for buying it. Liz Groff Heuser became a “PLA Kid” with our 1993 production of Cinderella, and six years later she played a leading role in the 1999 Cinderella as Joy, one of the stepsisters. Her reply made my day, if not my week, because this is one big reason I wrote the book:

“This PLA Kid has seen 16 of your shows and performed in 13 (not counting Mouse Country!)! I could write my own book on how all of those experiences and people I met changed me. I recently showed my husband the VHS of Cinderella #3 since he had never seen me perform and now completely ‘gets’ my addiction to it. Thank you for writing this and sharing our world! My time under your direction will remain some of the best in my life!”

That’s what I wanted to do, share the world we made with our musicals. And it seems for at least one former PLA Kid I succeeded.

“More Fog, Please” – 31 Years Directing Community and High School Musicals

cover by Tristan Flanagan

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The CAROUSEL Trilogy

A Formal Announcement

When I began writing How I Grew Up in May of 2013, I had no thought about following with any other novels. But as I was preparing the book for publication the thought struck me: Krissy’s story was a compelling one and perhaps deserved a book of its own. And as I was finishing Eli’s Heart, I began to wonder about Jamie Logan and what would happen if he could pursue using that superb voice he had been given … hence, You Are My Song.

The books are all “stand alone” reads, but I made some small revisions to How I Grew Up and re-released the book as How I Grew Up (The Carousel Trilogy, Book One) and it is now available on Amazon, as are the other two.

The Carousel Trilogy
How I Grew Up
Eli’s Heart
You Are My Song
Susan Moore Jordan

Melanie Stewart, Krissy Porter, Jamie Logan
three high school friends connected
 by one life-changing event. Each with a story to tell.

How I Grew Up is Melanie’s story. On a February night in 1954, her estranged brother-in-law entered her home with a gun and started shooting. When he left, her mother lay dead, her father mortally wounded, and another brother-in-law critically injured. Less than two weeks later, Melanie auditioned for her high school’s musical production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. How she won the leading role of Julie Jordan and performed it brilliantly while her involvement in the show helped her begin to heal is a testament to the power of creativity in our lives.
Eli’s Heart is Krissy’s story. Just a few months prior to that Carousel production, for which she played harp in the orchestra, Krissy had met Eli Levin, a boy her own age born with two burdens: a prodigious musical gift and a frightening congenital heart condition. What seemed to be a budding romance between the brilliant young pianist and the girl he fell in love with during that summer was ended by the interference of his family. But Krissy and Eli managed to find their way back to each other some three years later. They married while still college students when they were both twenty. Their story is one of learning to live a full life despite the odds against them.
You Are My Song is the story of Melanie’s leading man in Carousel. Jamie Logan had a voice of unusual beauty and seemed destined to become a singer, but his high school sweetheart didn’t want him to sing. Their marriage ended after two years, shattering Jamie’s self-confidence. Jamie realized music was vital to his life and returned to college to study opera. With the encouragement of his teachers and his new love, Jamie found the inner strength to pursue a most difficult path, facing both professional and personal challenges along the way.

Books in The Carousel Trilogy -- How I Grew Up, Eli’s Heart, and You Are My Song by Susan Moore Jordan are available in paperback on,, and other online bookstores. The e-books are available on Kindle.
For more information about the author, please visit

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Eli Levin in His Own Words

Interview with the Pianist (July 1966)

SJ:       We’re here today interviewing pianist Eli Levin, who just returned from the Moscow Competition where he performed with American violinist Warren Anderson. Mr. Anderson won the coveted gold medal at that fiercely competitive event. Mr. Levin received a special medal from the judges in recognition of his extraordinary ability as a pianist and accompanist. Congratulations, Mr. Levin!

EL:      Thank you so much.

SJ:       Where is the medal now? We’d hoped we might see it today.

EL:      Well, actually, I gave it to my wife. She earned it as much as I did.

SJ:       Yes, I imagine being married to an accompanist who is as much in demand as you are can’t be easy. I’m sure you are away more than you’re home.

EL:      Yes, I am. Kristina knew what my professional plans were before we married and she has been unfailingly supportive. Once in a while she manages to arrange her schedule so she can take a short tour with us – Warren and me – and other times she has surprised me by showing up at a concert. She’s a busy lady in her own right as Personal Assistant to Maestro Aaron Rubin at the City Opera Company.

SJ:       When and where did you and Mrs. Levin meet?

EL:      We were both fifteen. I was visiting my sister Rachel, who lives in the town Krissy grew up in, and performed a recital there. I returned during the summer and I spent quite a bit of time at the Porters’ … Krissy’s parents’ … home. We didn’t see each other after that, but a few years later, when we were both in college, we were able to reconnect.

SJ:       Yes, I understand you married when you were both students at the Conservatory in Cincinnati.

EL:      Well, actually, I transferred to the school right after we were married, but we graduated together. I did my graduate study at the Juilliard School, so we moved to New York at that time.

SJ:       And began performing immediately after your graduation, I believe, and you’ve been playing almost non-stop ever since. Except for a detour for open heart surgery not long ago.

EL:      Yes, I was out of commission for a few months. But the surgery was successful and I’m busier than ever these days.

SJ:       May we talk about your heart condition?

EL:      Well … I never like to make a big deal of it. I was born with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. Children with the condition are often called “blue babies” because the defects in the heart – there are four – impede the flow of oxygen to the blood. I had a surgical procedure when I was nine which relieved the worst of the symptoms, but no actual repairs to the heart were done at that time.

SJ:       The Blalock-Taussig shunt, pioneering surgery done at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 1944, over twenty years ago. I believe until that procedure was performed there was little hope for children born with the condition, and they often did not survive childhood or live past their teens.

EL:      Well, as you see, I’m definitely past my teens. (laughter) It was after I had the procedure done that I started playing piano. I think my family was shocked when it became apparent I was good at it. Oh, and please don’t use the “P” word, I really dislike it.

SJ:       Yes, I was warned. But you were indeed a remarkably gifted young pianist, performing the difficult and demanding Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto at the age of sixteen with the New York Philharmonic, receiving rave reviews. It seemed you were headed for a career as a virtuoso. Yet you stated your wife knew that wasn’t what you wanted, even before you were married. What set your feet on the path you are following?

EL:      I’m sure it was a combination of influences and events. The first time I performed with another musician – I was a freshman in college – I enjoyed it far more than performing as a soloist. But it may have been even earlier; when I spent time with Krissy the summer we were teenagers. We often played piano duets. Part of that was because it gave me an excuse to sit close to her. Piano benches aren’t very large. (laughter)

SJ:       It’s been a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. Levin. Before we close, would you like to add a few words of encouragement to budding accompanists who might be listening?

EL:      Yes, I would. Play as often as you can with as many different singers and instrumentalists as you can, so you can begin to learn the vast literature you’ll be challenged with during your career. Listen to recordings. Attend live performances. Practice sight-reading, you never know when you might have to sight-read an entire recital. Don't ever be discouraged by the attitude you will sometimes encounter. What you do requires special skills. You’re unique. You are special. The music world could not do without outstanding pianists who choose to perform with other musicians. Wear the word “accompanist” with pride. And above all – practice, practice, practice!

SJ:       And you might become the next Eli Levin. Thank you, Mr. Levin, and best wishes for your continued success!

 Eli’s Heart is available on Amazon

 cover by Tristan Flanagan

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Good Music

My First Rock Concert EVER

I heard someone say once, “There are only two kinds of music. Good music and bad music.” And last night I sat through my first ever rock concert, and it was good music.

My background is classical, and that’s still my “genre” of choice. But recently I’ve been making an effort to get out of my box and learn more about other musical worlds: folk music in particular. A good friend, Missy Benefield, invited me to a rock concert by the Anderson Ponty Band at the Sherman Theater. “I think you’ll like their music,” she said. “It's classic rock. You’ll hear a variety of styles.”

The other drawing card was having a chance to say hello to an old friend, Glenn Kern, with whom I worked on a number of stage musicals not too long ago. Glenn is a sound designer and technician and is great at what he does. He has toured worldwide with an impressive list of performers. I had heard him talk about Jean-Luc Ponty, jazz violinist, a number of times. Last night I heard the man play.

Yes, it was loud, sometimes painfully so. Other times it was whispery and almost mystical. The six musicians on stage were all excellent performers and they worked well together. When Jean-Luc began to play his electric violin my jaw dropped, literally, and I sat open-mouthed listening to his virtuosity and showmanship. When I checked his credentials I see he began life as a violinist in a symphony orchestra in Europe and eventually found his way to something different. Now in his seventies, he plays with the energy of a much younger man and is, well, awesome.

The other principal in the group, Jon Anderson, I read was once the lead singer for YES, which meant nothing to me. But for a man in his seventies to sing the way he does is remarkable, and he sounded stronger at the end of the show than at the beginning. Amazing. A very high tenor. I had a chance to meet him the day before and he described himself as an “alto tenor.” We talked – believe it or not – about classical music. He’d recently been to a Sibelius festival. Sibelius as in the composer, not the notesetting program.  

What impressed me most was how they mixed up what they did. Every number was different. Some were what I expected, with a hard, driving beat and virtuoso playing from the bassist, guitarist, and remarkable keyboard player, along with Jean-Luc’s electric violin. The drummer was equally amazing and he had a huge drum set which he utilized more than once to its fullest capacity. Then we’d hear something with a haunting, almost Celtic sound. Then something with a little of a country sound to it. Missy said to me at one point … well, she kind of yelled it … “This reminds me of Pink Floyd.” I just smiled. Pink who?

As I listened, thoroughly enjoying the music I was hearing, the realization came to me that this was a class act … these were first-rate musicians who had put together a show well worth hearing, and they were performing it splendidly. I’m glad I went. I’ll buy the album when it comes out. And I’ll play it. Oh, and I didn’t even mention the light show. It was the icing on the cake.

The theater was pretty well packed, and I understand some people came from a distance to hear this group, so they obviously have had a following for probably decades. Many people were singing along with some of the songs they performed. Many of the songs were greeted with applause and yells of approval. It was not a rowdy crowd; but they sure had a great time.

So did I.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Violins and Violinists

Passing the Torch

One of my characters in Jamie’s Children, my work-in-progress, comments: “In the right hands, the violin can sing as beautifully as the human voice.”  A favorite college memory: hearing the legendary Jascha Heifetz perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. String players awe and amaze me. Mastering any string instrument has to be a challenge unlike any other, and I do love the sound of the violin. The Brahms concerto is one of my favorite pieces of music, and it plays an important role in the upcoming book.

I don’t recall when I first met violinist Chris Souza. I believe the first time I worked with him was, interestingly enough, in a musical theater production. In 2010 South High School performed The Secret Garden, which has a beautiful, lush, lyrical score which needs strings, and the school has no string program. Chris and a cellist with whom he frequently plays, Agnieska Rybska, agreed to join the high school instrumentalists and play for the show.

It was magical. The young musicians rose to the challenge of these two fine performers being in their midst; it was probably the best pit orchestra we ever had. The young men and women on stage also responded to the beautifully expressive and well-executed string sounds they were hearing, and the caliber of the show jumped several notches. It was an exceptional production.

When I was writing Eli’s Heart, I needed a violin and piano sonata that featured both instruments equally, and when I asked Chris for a suggestion he named Franck’s A Major Sonata, which I listened to and promptly fell in love with. The piece features prominently in the book, and last year when I held a “musical book signing” at the Pocono Community Theater … short readings from the book about specific pieces, followed by performances of those pieces … Chris and pianist Scott Besser played two movements from the Franck sonata. Hearing them was enormously gratifying. It was more than that; it was a thrill.

My current work in progress, Jamie’s Children, is about a brother and sister whose musical lives move in very different directions, and at very different times in their journey. Their father, Jamie Logan, is a world famous opera singer whose story is told in You Are My Song. Laura, Jamie’s firstborn, is discovered to be a violin prodigy at the tender age of four. Chris has been my “go-to”” person for learning more about Laura’s life and career. As a way to better understand what a child that age might have to experience when first beginning to play, Chris generously invited me to attend his studio classes one morning last week. It was an educational and delightful time.

Chris is as impressive a teacher as he is a violinist. I watched a few minutes of his “older” class (all these kids are home schooled and these were morning classes) and heard some nice playing. Then I watched him work with 5-year-olds who are just beginning. There were four little girls in this group but I believe Chris said two were missing.

I loved that one of the first things these children learn is respect for their instrument. They spent quite a bit of time learning to do a “concert bow” … how to hold the instrument and bow in one arm, keep the feet together, bowing to the audience, etc.  The kids were very attentive, partly because of Chris injecting humor into this part of the lesson. After he had shown them the proper way to do this, he had them close their eyes as he then demonstrated the wrong ways, one at a time, and had the kids tell him what he was doing wrong. It was a very effective teaching tool (and one I’ve used in audition workshops for aspiring musical theater performers).

At the beginning of the class they sat on mats and did rhythm exercises. Then after working on their concert bow, they worked on how to correctly hold the violin … they all seemed to have a good basic understanding of holding the bow … and did some open string exercises, and then were shown how to use the ring finger … the third finger … on the strings. As they played he moved among them, gently adjusting an elbow here, a bow arm there, checking hand positions.

He then had the children sit again and used some flash cards, again for practice with rhythm. When he asked them to stand, one child in the group said, “I’m sitting now.” And refused to stand, and her wise and wonderfully patient teacher ignored her and continued the lesson. Eventually she did get back on her feet.

Chris kept the class moving and I appreciated his soft-spoken and low-key approach with these munchkins. While I became very much aware of the amount of strength and coordination these young violinists would need to develop in order to play well, the kids were absorbing it a step at a time, and Chris made it fun for them.

At the end of the lesson they all took a final concert bow. They were a happy and excited group when they left, having experienced a joyful time with the violin. How great to witness a fine violinist passing on his passion for music and for his instrument to these fortunate children.

Chris Souza
photo by Tristan Flanagan

Friday, October 16, 2015

Who Is Jamie Logan?

You Are My Song

Jamie Logan, my book blurb reads, is from a small town in Tennessee, and is “a good-hearted young man with a superb tenor voice.” He gets off on the wrong track when he marries his high school sweetheart two years after they graduate; and two years later it’s apparent Sarah never wanted to be a wife. The year at this point in 1958, so here is Jamie, with an associate’s degree in business administration, running a car dealership because he thought that’s what his girl wanted.

Pretty depressing, to be twenty-two and feel that you’re a failure. Jamie has always wanted to be a father. His own family means the world to him: his father Jim, a good husband, father, and provider; his somewhat mystical mother Laurie, third generation Irish; his six-years-older sister Carol, her husband Larry Sweeny, her children, Jamie’s niece and nephew Anna and Steven, whom he doesn’t see nearly enough of since Carol’s family lives in Florida.

So where does he go from here? Devoted son, brother, uncle … and possessor of that splendid voice, which he used to its fullest in high school but hasn’t really used in four years. Jamie knows one thing: he can sing. He starts studying voice with his former high school choral director, now teaching in a private studio in Jamie’s home town.

When he hears a recording of the great tenor Giuseppe di Stefano singing an aria from Puccini’s opera Tosca, Jamie has a life-defining moment. This is what he wants to do – no, this is what he has to do. After a few months of study he auditions for the nearby state university’s opera program and is accepted. And that is his first step into a world that can be exciting, fulfilling, nerve-wracking, stressful, daunting, challenging in ways Jamie never anticipated.

His college teacher tells him he has more than an exceptional voice. He has what’s called “the whole package”: he’s a gifted musician and actor, learns quickly, is adept with languages. Oh, and he’s also an unusually good-looking young guy, a definite plus for a tenor, who usually plays the love interest in an opera.

His voice teacher also cautions him that it’s a tough business. While it can be rewarding almost beyond belief, it can also destroy people. It’s not for the faint of heart. Jamie’s not so sure he’s up for the challenge. He sees himself as a pretty simple guy who tries to get along with people, who sings because he loves to sing. Part of Jamie’s charm is his naïveté.

He battles with his self-doubts. Sarah divorcing him has almost destroyed his self-confidence. In Tennessee at the time, “no fault” divorce did not exist: there had to be a specific reason for the divorce. The only one that will work for them is for Jamie to declare he was impotent during the marriage. He agrees, to please Sarah one final time, but it’s a high price for him to pay.

He also has a rival who does his best to undermine Jamie and get him dismissed from the opera program. But two things happen: Jamie falls in love again, this time with a woman who will do whatever she can to help him succeed. And he sings in his first opera and it’s an experience like nothing he’s ever had. Despite everything that’s happened to this point, he wants to pursue the art he’s become passionate about. He has to do this. It’s why he’s alive.

And the rest of the story is in You Are My Song. There are obstacles in his path. There are also successes. There’s sorrow, but there’s also happiness. There are surprises.

But it’s all about this good-hearted boy from Tennessee who has this gift … he can sing.

You Are My Song on Amazon

Monday, October 12, 2015


About Jamie Logan, Tenor

    The nineteen-fifties. Elvis is wearing “Blue Suede Shoes.” Country music reigns supreme at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.
     But in a small Tennessee town Jamie Logan ─ a good-hearted young man with a superb tenor voice ─ stars in his high school’s musical theater production and begins an unlikely, almost magical journey that could take him to the pinnacle of the opera world.
   The path is far from simple. Jamie just wants to sing. He is ill-prepared for the jealousy, rivalry and politics he encounters on his way. Family crises and even a hate crime also sidetrack him and threaten to undermine his journey.
    But Jamie has a voice beautiful beyond belief ─ and the love of a woman who inspires him to believe in himself. His desire to sing becomes his reason for being. Will that be enough?

     I introduced Jamie Logan in How I Grew Up; he played opposite Melanie Stewart in their high school production of Carousel. I like my character Jamie. He has a naturally beautiful voice. He has innate musicianship and an ability to learn quickly, and no ego. He’s friendly, generous, outgoing, considerate. Oh, and unusually good-looking. He and Melanie have a strong connection, and they both wonder if they could be in love. But no, Jamie has a jealous girlfriend he later marries, and she doesn’t want him to sing.

     When You Are My Song begins, it’s four years after Jamie’s graduation from high school, and his marriage has failed. I had to laugh at my readers’ reaction to that; two of them commented they weren’t surprised to learn of Jamie’s and Sarah’s divorce. I wasn’t either. I wanted to see what would happen if I allowed Jamie to reconnect with his love of singing.
     The best singers don’t just perform. They share their souls with us. Because of the remarkable beauty of the tenor sound, we may feel he does that more intensely.

     Jamie eventually has the tools to pursue a career in opera, but when we first meet him he's a high school senior with a splendid voice and a good heart. Here’s his introduction to the reader in my first book, How I Grew Up, remembering the narrator is Melanie Stewart:

     Alice [Melanie’s sister] was right; Jamie was a very handsome boy. He had very dark hair, but fair skin and startlingly blue eyes. But it was more than that which made him so appealing; Jamie was someone everybody liked. He was friendly and kind, and always had a ready smile. Jamie had a truly beautiful tenor voice and he loved to sing, but he wasn’t conceited about it. When people complimented him on his singing, he always seemed a little surprised. He was just doing something he loved to do, and if people liked hearing him, well, that was great.

     That was Jamie at eighteen. My new book begins when he is twenty-two and follows him through the next seven years of his life, and Jamie goes through a lot in those seven years. You can order You Are My Song, as well as How I Grew Up and Eli’s Heart, in paperback or e-book format on Amazon. People who live here in the Poconos can purchase paperback copies of all my novels at a slightly discounted price at the Pocono Community Theater. I’ve loved writing these books. I hope you enjoy reading them.

You Are My Song,
Here's a link:

Cover by Tristan Flanagan