A San Francisco native, I was once asked if I was a natural-born citizen of the United States. “No,” I replied, “I was born Caesarian.” I began playing violin in junior high school, and sometime thereafter decided music would be my calling, much to the dismay of my mother, who had visions of M.D. after my name.
My early and insatiable appetite for listening to records and my regular attendance at San Francisco Symphony and Opera performances resulted in my familiarity with practically the whole range of the standard repertoire by the time I was in high school. By then I had heard and seen just about everything and everyone who was anyone in the concert and opera worlds. An equal passion for devouring composer biographies and books on general music topics gave me a fairly broad understanding of the history of music in Western culture.
This dual knowledge gave me a leg up on my classmates once I entered university and decided to major in music; for much to my surprise I found that many declared music majors were mainly performance oriented and woefully ignorant of the literature and of music history. I even recall correcting one of my professors who was giving a lecture on Italian opera. Tosca, he averred, immolates herself on a funeral pyre. Raising my hand, I respectfully interrupted him to suggest that it was Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung who goes up in flames; Tosca throws herself down from the roof. Thus it was that I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music history, theory, and composition from SFSU. Though I also played violin in and conducted a number of semi-professional and community orchestras—one of them, the San Francisco Doctor’s Orchestra, which I’m fond of saying eventually folded due to malpractice—I soon discovered to my own dismay that a career as a professional musician was not in my future since it meant having to practice—a lot more than I was willing to. So, as they say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”
Supporting myself for a couple of years teaching music in the public schools, I concluded there would never be enough money in it to support my extravagant lifestyle, on top of which I really didn’t like having to discipline unruly adolescents. So I sold my soul for money by joining the swelling ranks of computer geeks. A 25-year career in mainframe applications programming has been good to me. It has allowed me to pursue my musical interests as an avocation, and provided me with the means to amass sizeable collections, first of LPs and open-reel tapes, and then CDs.
With a recent move from the Bay Area north, I’ve had to downsize my audio system. Previously, I was bi-amping a pair of Martin-Logan Monolith speakers with Threshold Amps. Parting with the ML’s was one of the hardest things I ever had to do; but now, given the dimensions of my listening space, I’m more than satisfied with my B&W 801s, Rotel RX1050 receiver, and Denon DVD 3910 player. While some may recoil in horror at the idea, I do much of my serious listening through headphones, since I find that it allows me to listen more closely and without extraneous distractions. For this purpose, I have Stax SRS-3010 electrostatic “earspeakers” and DRM-310 head-amp—not for those who don’t appreciate electrostatic drivers and/or for those who can’t see spending that kind of money on headphones. Since I also continue to trot out LPs from a still respectable vinyl collection, I have a Music Hall MMF 5SE turntable fitted with a Goldring G1022 cartridge, admittedly not the most esoteric or expensive turntable on the market, but a good, solid performer and not one that looks like a piece of Dadaist sculpture. Finally, I’ve hung on to my good-sized collection of prerecorded, four-track reel-to-reel tapes, which includes almost the entire catalog of the long kaput Barclay-Crocker. To play them, I have an aging but still in-good-working-order Akai GX370D. Though none of this adds up to a high-end audiophile system with $300-per-meter interconnect cables, it’s hardly your all-in-one Wal-Mart shelf-box special either; and given my current living space, it’s capable of achieving a quite high level of performance.
Writing for Fanfare these past few years has finally allowed me to put some of my education and musical training to use, and for that I am grateful to Publisher and Editor Joel Flegler, and to all of you loyal readers.