Monday, July 19, 2010


If we are fortunate enough, we find or are found by special people who help us along on our journey. I wish to acknowledge my very special people...

* * *

When in prep school in Bronxville NY, I wanted desperately to study the organ, but the powers that be refused me. So, after doing my research, I rode the train into Manhattan, took the subway uptown, walked into the Church of the Heavenly Rest, and said to Charles Dodsley Walker "teach me".

And for almost four years, every other week, we had a lesson filled wih challenge, imagination, and lots of creative music making. None of this "do what I say because I said it" bumf. Listen, challenge, think, explore, listen.

Thank you, Charles. I'm still listening...

* * *

After I graduated from Westminster Choir Collge, and had worked for one or two organ builders, I found myself unemployed. A friend said I should call this fellow who went around voicing organs. And so I made contact with Allan Van Zoeren, which led to five years of going around and voicing organs and learning. Allan was a true master of the American/Dutch neo-classic style. His organs were clean and clear, precisely balanced, and never screamed.

I asked him early on how I could learn about tonal matters. He replied: "When you hear a stop that you like, go find out why you like it. Look at the pipes, measure them. Listen to them. They will tell you. And if you hear a stop that you truly dislike, go find out why..."

Thank you, Allan. I am still finding out why...

* * *

I had heard about him when I younger, and his name was Walter then. Switched On Bach was his entree to fame. Then I heard that he was really she: "Walter" had been a way to "make it" in what then was a man's world. The image stuck with me and I secretly admired her. I actually wrote to her once, and she actually responded.

When I decided to reveal my true self, I thought of her audacity and it helped to sustain me.

Thank you, Wendy Carlos, for your inspiration and courage. I still draw on your example every day...

* * *

Without these special people I would not be what I am today.

I hope I can do for someone what each of you have done for me.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Beaches are awry with no sound of music

It was recently published in Charleston's newpaper that the neighboring municipality of Sullivan's Island has enacted an ordinance to ban all sorts of noise . . . including singing? Yes, Virginia, no Singing in the Rain. Or in the Sun. Or in your home or office.

Knock Knock

"Yes, Officer?"

"I'm sorry to have to do this, Reverend, but I have to give you a ticket for all the noise you permitted to occur in your church last night. Let's see: loud singing, ringing of small bells, other loud and disturbing noises in the parking lot. And those loud bells in the tower at midnight. . . "

"But Officer. It was Christmas Eve Midnight Mass."

"Sorry, Reverend. See you in Court."

The report in the Post and Courier says:

"Sullivans Island Town Council approved an ordinance last week that added singing, whistling, hooting and hollering on public streets to a list of possible disturbing noises.

"Sullivans Island code already prohibits crying, calling, shouting, whistling, rattling, using a bell, gong, clapper, horn or hammer, drum or making about any other loud noise imaginable."

And the public comments have already started . . .

"I guess getting vocal during sex is outlawed also? "

"LOL!! Hey- when you jump into the ocean, you BETTER NOT MAKE A SPLASH! Don't allow the water to ripple and please don't ever talk out loud during the remaining open hours. We don't want to wake up the town council while they sleep in session."

And what will happen if the Spoleto Festival decides to have an event onthe Island? Will they take Westminster Choir away in handcuffs? And what about singing teachers? Will they be run out of town on a Grand Staff feathered with hemidemisemiquavers?

The mind boggles. What ever became of common courtesy, much less common sense? As usual, the irresponsible and unthinking few cause trouble for the rest of us.

". . . I'll know that I'm on the street where you live!"

"Hey, Bubba, you can't sing that there here . . . You have the right to remain silent . . . "

Just my thoughts...


The Charleston Lawyer's Chorus, which usually contributes an excerpt from the rock opera "Runaround? Sue!" has decided to stand mute...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Transition - One Year down and a Lifetime to go . . .

My dear readers:

It has been a little more than a year since I stood up in front of my Westminster Choir College classmates at our 40th reunion, and stated: "Well, there have been a few changes..."

Little did I realise at that time that the changes were only beginning...

First of all, for those of you who are new to these ramblings, transition is not a matter of what clothing one wears, or how one walks and talks, or even of what's been added or subtracted...

It is more a change in one's thinking, for women and men are not just from different planets, they are from different universes. It is a change in how one best reflects one's soul.

One woman who went through mid-life transition and lived to tell her tale likened it to a tornado. One day, without warning (even if you have been thinking about it for years), you wake up with sirens screaming in your head. This is The Day. You are ready for it.

Or so you think...

And then your whole world collapses as the Transition Twister tears apart your life, everything you have held dear for 30, 40, 50 years, and deposits it in itsy-bitsy little pieces in your front yard. Your friends desert you. Your enemies spread evil stories about you. You may lose your job, and you certainly lose may of your civil Rights. If you are especially unfortunate, you lose your family.

But wait! While you are surveying the aftermath, you notice that something is changed. Something is different in a big way. The air is now still, but breathtakingly fresh. It is clean and crystalline, as God intended it to be. What has happened?

For once in your life, in a way not granted to many people, you are at a point where you can start over totally free of other people's notions. You can remake yourself as you would have yourself be, not as someone else demands. It is an awesome prospect, with even more awesome responsibilities; for as of this day, you are become the only one responsible. You can't blame your kid brother, or Aunt Sally, or mean old Cousin Saunders. You can't say anymore "But that's what my parents taught me."

That day is your re-birth day and the first day of your new life, and you have to make the best of it because once you take that fateful step out the front door, you cannot ever go back.

I have had many bad experiences within this year, but the good experiences outweigh them. Let me tell you about just a few of them. Naturally, no names are divulged, as that won't do anyone any good


- There is the church I have served for more than 30 years. When I told the Music Director, he said "I don't know about this. How on earth am I going to explain to my 85 year old Life Deacon that our organbuilder is now she instead of he?" Whatever he told the man must have worked, as I am still on board there.

- There is the church I served for 20 years. When told of my transition by the Music Director, the Rector, I am told, said: "It's time we had a new organ technician. Do it immediately." End of story.

- There is the man with whom I had been personal friends for more than 10 years who, when I told him, said "Well, you can't come here any longer. What will the neighbors think if I start entertaining a woman in the afternoons while my wife is at work?"

- There is the church where the Senior Minister advised me that a woman on the office staff complained about my using the Ladies Room. She wanted me to use the Men's Room "where I belonged..." Sez me: "And what if her husband and I happen to exit the Men's Room at about the same time?" She hasn't complained again...

- Then there is the client who, after receiving my Transition Letter, invited me into his office and fired me on the spot. And then he laughed and said that by my announcement of transgender status I am no longer eligible for protection against discrimination under Federal Statutes and he is going to take the opportunity to get rid of me.

And yes, he can legally do that. Illegal aliens have more legal protections against discrimination than I do. { an inclusive ENDA}

- And there is the minister who used to be my client who won't even reply to my request to become a friend on Facebook.

I have learned now that the key phrase coming from a man, especially over the phone, is "I'll have to think about this..." And you KNOW that the second after he puts the phone down all thought of the matter had passed into oblivion, never to be raised up again.

- There is the ladyfriend who, after being told over an afternoon glass of Chardonnay, gave me a big hug, and said "This calls for champagne..."

- And then there is the Organist with whom I had worked for more than 10 years who now looks straight through me when I explain a technical problem and each time says "I will have to get a second opinion." As if I had suddenly become less than competent... And I am not even a blond...

- And furthermore, there is the man I have known for a while whose eyes keep straying downward to my chest while we are talking, He never used to do that before... Oh, and, by the way, the answer is "Yes."

- And there was the female TSA agent at the airport who looked at my boarding pass, then at my driver's license (with its photo of me with my very long hair and its big, annoying "M"), then at the boarding pass and again at the license...handed them back to me, said thank you, MA'AM and gave me a big thumbs-up.


Each day has been a challenge. Each day has been an opportunity to discover the great richness of diversity in and on God's Earth. Each day has offered unimaginable blessings along with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

They say that when you transition, you find out who your true friends really are. I have many fine friends, and thank God each day for them. I hope that when the time comes, I can support them as freely and as well as they have supported me.

Where do I go from here?

Well, writing more in my blog for one. Composing more music for two. And taking more time to be with my friends.

There is one special lady who always has a tag line at the bottom of her emails, my favorite of which is:

"If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it"

I look forward to whatever God brings me to in this next year, knowing that I will be cared for by God and my friends.



Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I had an experience yesterday which brought me up face to face not only with my mortality, but with my immortality. And yours, too...

The days' work having been finished, I was lurking through the virtual halls of the Facebook site. The Omnipotent FB Server had recommended that I friend a person, so I clicked on his photo to browse his profile. The words "Ephesus SDA Church" jumped out at me. I had installed an organ in the very same church. And we are talking ancient history here, folks. This was wayback in about 1975. Why, that makes me almost as old as god. Not as wise, though...

So I quickly recounted this connexion and hit Send. Within minutes, comes a return email from one Lawrence S. granting me the beneficience of Friend status (Hail! Omnipotent Server), and telling me how he as a 12 year old boy stood on the curb watching a crew unload his church's new pipe organ console.

Then it hit me. Hey, wait a minute. I am sitting at my desk with an email originating in year 2010 from a man in California recounting his exprience of watching ME unload an organ console on the streets of Harlem in the 1970s...well, who would'a thought...

Aside from a few prescient authors, who of us could have foretold, of a hot summer's day in 1975, that something called a computer would have become such a pervasive force in our individual lives less than 50 years hence, thereby assuring each of us our ubiquitous 15 minutes of fame whilst simultaneously confirming the fragility of those moments....

Has the Internet affected your life today? More than you know. More than any of us knows or could have imagined just a short 40 or so years ago...and in another galaxy far, far away...


Sunday, April 4, 2010


Alec Wyton once described the two professional certificates awarded by the American Guild of Organists as being the AAGO (Also a good organist) and the FAGO (Formerly a good organist)...

I never got that far. I was just a BPO (Basic Parish Organist)....

Likewise with flying little airplanes. If you are instrument rated you get to fly IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), and if not, you fly VFR (Visual Flight Rules)...

Again, I went back to the basics and flew SOP (Seat of Pants)...

I loved doing both things. Thy each had their moments...

There is little else like leading a large congregation in a familliar hymn, frantically grabbing for any stop or coupler that ain't already on and wishing for the miraculous appearance of a Chamade Trompette while the people are singing for all they are worth and threatening to sonically obliterate you...

There is not quite anything like sitting at the end of the runway, running the throttle up to its limit while you are standing on the brakes and the airplane is quivering like a wet spaniel. Then you pop the brakes, pull back on the yoke, and suddenly you are on your back going almost straight up at only 4 or 5 knots above your rated stall speed...

What a rush! Both give one a great FOP (Feeling of Power)...

I haven't played for a congregation nor flown an aircraft (unless you count riding in the back on Delta) in close to ten years. Mercifully, I don't remember the last time I did either, which is perhaps just as well...

In both cases, I had no choice because of my physical condition, but perhaps God was telling me it was time to move on before I crashed a perfectly good airplane or got fired for playing the hymns too fast...

I did learn something from both experiences: The trick to aging gracefully is to move on to other pursuits while they will still remark "So soon?"

Easter Blessings to y'all...


Saturday, January 16, 2010


"I am a graduate of Westminster Choir College in Princeton NJ."

I say that to people who ask me where I went to college with fierce pride, the sense of which is founded in a special community of people who have gone before and come after. The long red line... each of whom has heard the sound.

The first time I trod upon the bricks of the Quad, I heard it. It is that sussurrus of music which pervades the campus. It comes from the practise rooms, the classrooms, and the Playhouse. It comes from the Chapel in the wee hours of the morning. Little did I know then, that it would color my life almost continuously for four very short years. Little did I know that the memory of it would always be in the corner of my mind, coloring my entire life even to this day.

Westminster is not just a place; it is a state of mind. It is song and more song. You cant sing in a choir with other people every day for four years withut a special bond forming. That bond is exemplified in the tradition of singing the Peter Lutkin "Benediction" at the conclusion of Choir College events and concerts.

It has been said that when Greek meets Greek, they open a restaurant. Well, whenever WCC alum meets WCC alum, they sing the Lutkin. Or as the late Lee Hastings Bristol remarked, "The Lutkin is the closest thing the Choir College will ever have to a 'fight song'..."

It is arguably not the greatest piece of music in the world, and to others it may even seem a bit mawkish; but to a Choir College person it is very special. You learn it as a Freshman at the first meeting of the Chapel Choir. You sing it at every possible occasion during your time at the College. You teach it to the choirs of your student church. And finally, in the great fane of the Princeton University Chapel, after your friends have asked "Whom shall we send?" and you have answered "Here am I, Lord, send me", it is sung lovingly to you - a final Benediction until you meet again.

From time to time over the forty-plus years since that day in the "U Chapel" when the Lutkin was sung to me and the members of my graduating class, I have myself felt drawn to that magical few acres of ground we call the Choir College. When I heed that call, without fail I come away refreshed and hopeful, renewed in spirit. Yet I know that the time is coming - not too soon, I hope - when I will not be able to make that pilgrimage except in my mind.

The late General Douglas McArthur spoke of such a time to the assembled students of West Point, his beloved Alma Mater, and with a few emendations I quote:

"The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished - tone and tints. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. I listen then, but with thirsty ear, for the witching melody of faint anthems, of far voices united in song.

"In my dreams I hear again the crash of the Missa Solemnis, the rattle of Carmina Burana, the strange, mournful mutter of the Brahms Requiem. But in the evening of my memory I come back to Princeton. Always there echoes and re-echoes: 'The Lord bless you and keep you...'

"Someday I will sing that final Benediction with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the bar, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Choir, and the Choir, and the Choir.