Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas After Christmas

My family, like many others, is scattered all over the map, and usually meets for Christmas after Christmas. This year, my sister invited everyone (we're talking 22 people) to her house, whereupon she surprised Mr. Husband and I with an amazing wreath she crafted out of 80 vintage ornaments. Lordy! The care and creativity that went into it is nothing short of astonishing. (Incidentally, both she and my other sister have a wonderful blog. Find it here!)

I minute I opened the wrapping and gasped, I knew it would look great on a the huge mirror frame that I have waiting to be gessoed and gilded in the basement. It's been down there for more than a year, and I hoped to have it finished for this Christmas season. Well, that didn't happen, of course. Next year is another matter, of course, and this wreath is encouragement to get on the ball! 

My sister also gave me two 1930's pink ornaments to compliment the handful that I already. Hard to find, they are handblown and sculpted with gentle indentations (you can find them by clicking on the label below). They'll take their place in garland on the mantel next year.

For me, Christmas has everything to do with music making, family, and bringing light into the darkness. 

This kind of wreath brings all those associations together, with its visual music, rhythm and meaning that creates a circle where nothing—and no one—is left out.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Here is the little door

Here is the little door,
lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more,
but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold.
Gold that was never bought or sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about His head;
All for the child that stirs not in His sleep,
But holy slumber hold with ass and sheep.

Bend low about His bed,
For each He has a gift;
See how His eyes awake,
Lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, He gives a keen-edged sword.
(Defend with it thy little Lord!)
For incense, smoke of battle red,
Myrrh for the honored happy dead;
Gifts for His children, terrible and sweet;
Touched by such tiny hands,
and Oh such tiny feet.

Poem by Frances Chesterton, Music by Herbert Howells

The poem was written by the wife of G. K. Chesterton, the English author, and sent as a Christmas greeting to Herbert Howells, who used it as the basis for an anthem which has become rather famous in Anglican church music. Written during WWI, it is reflective of a time when a whole generation of men were lost in battle. Listen to Howell's setting here. I'll be singing it in church this morning. 

The red door itself? No, it's not in the country, but rather, in the heart of Manhattan, on 6th Avenue and 20th Street. Originally the Church of the Holy Communion, the building was deconsecrated and sold, and became the infamous Limelight disco before turning into a shopping mall—an ignominious end to lovely building, I read last week that it will now become a David Barton gym. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spanish Red

Actually, the red carpet is English, and sat under my mother's dining table until earlier this year, when she sold her house and moved to a smaller cottage. I've always loved it, and it came to me with a few other things, one of them being the table, which is Spanish, and is quite old. My father found it in Valencia, and used it as a desk, as am I. Sitting in a corner of the bedroom, it holds a Mac desktop that talks to the shiny new office chair. The latter has a runner thrown over it. It's Spanish too, and once had its place on the desk. I threw it over the chair when moving things about, thought it looked interesting, and snapped a photo. Talismans of the past, the runner, table and carpet hold many memories, one of them being Marqués de Riscal, which was my father's favorite Spanish wine. I'd bring him a couple bottles when I would see him on New Year's Day—his birthday.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Red & Green

The Aesthetic Period frame is decked with pine garland and 1930's red ornaments in the tiny lobby of the Brownstone where Mr. Husband and I live, as a result of having a few extra feet left over from decorating the mantel in our apartment. I wired the garland to the sconces on either side so it wouldn't fall off, and was going to leave it at that when I heard the assembled parts yell out for a bit of glam. So out came the red ornaments! Three seemed like plenty, and I left it at that. Simple. The mirror is placed above a shelf that I put over a narrow radiator to hold morning papers and packages, which, of course, has been appreciated this Holiday Season. I like the mirror's "wheat" pattern, which is echoed in the pine nettles. The sconces are from Rejuvenation Lighting.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lincoln Center at Dusk

I snapped this photo after leaving the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts on December 5th, seeing that the "blue hour" at its peak. The New York Philharmonic is on the left, the "former State Theater" is in the middle (sorry, I can't type its current name), and the Metropolitan Opera is on the right. The library and and the Vivian Beaumont Theater are behind me. The Two Towers (hard to see perhaps) that make up the Time Warner building loom in the distance at Columbus Circle. 

I'm damn lucky to be living in New York, and even more lucky to have worked at Lincoln Center for more than 20 years with New York City Opera. The library, of course, has been a huge deal in my life. When I started research into historical vocal pedagogy (that's my bag, don't you know) eons ago, I hardly knew what I was doing. Little did I know back then that I would write a book, and be working on a second tome. But that's what happens when you follow your curiosity. 

Stepping out onto the plaza after a productive day and seeing this view is heaven. Sheer heaven. Can't tell you how good it makes me feel. There is no place like home (click heels, Dorothy). 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Central Park Snow

Manhattan experienced its second snow storm of the season a few days ago, and wanting to capture its glory, I went to Central Park—just steps away from the apartment—and found Sheep Meadow aglow with fairy lights amidst snowy beauty. I feel so fortunate to have had Central Park as my backyard for the last twenty years, never tiring of the changing seasons and the vibrant life within the Park itself. The night I was standing there snapping a few photos, you could hear the soft hum of the City, wrapping the senses like a warm blanket. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

An Early Christmas: Little Augury & Howard (Santa) Slatkin

Courtesy of Little Augury 

If you could see me now, you'd observe the silly grin on my face. It's been plastered there for a couple of hours now, after learning that I had won Howard Slatkin's splendid encomium to maximalism—Fifth Avenue Style—in a contest given by Patricia Gaye Tapp at her excellent blog Little Augury. The contest entailed recounting a favorite Christmas memory. Here was mine: 

One favorite Holiday memory is spending Christmas in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 11. My father worked for US Steel, and was transferred there for some months before my mother and my 4 siblings could join him. When we arrived shortly before Christmas, giddy with excitement, my mother found a 4 foot tree, stood it up in a bucket of oranges in our hotel room, whereupon we decorated it with chocolate gold coins while drinking champagne. It was a wild, crazy wonderful start to the next three years. Of course, I didn't want to come back. 

When Little Augury informed me that I was one of five winners, I practically feel off my chair! You see, I looked at Mr. Slatkin's book at Rizzoli Books a few weeks ago, and put it on my list of things for Santa to bring for Christmas. Little did I know that he would show up early! 

My heartfelt thanks to the lucky Patricia Gaye Tapp (who has been to Santa's apartment), Howard Slatkin (who's generosity is greatly appreciated), as well as congratulations to my four literary comrades—Cindy aka Peony, MJH Design Arts, Meredith Parker and Pat. 

Lord knows, I needed a little Christmas, and it's here! Don't be alarmed if you see me sailing on till morning and into the New Year. 

Wishing You and Yours a Wonderful Holiday Season! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Garland

Oh, I'm such a big spender this year, plopping down 18 bucks for garland (a dollar a foot), and another 20 for a pot of narcissus. 

Since there isn't really room for a tree in the apartment, this is a good as it gets, though I am thinking of putting a small tree in the pot were the narcissus are now blooming like mad. They'll be done in a few days, with another two weeks to go. Then again, I may just spring (ha) for another pot of bulbs.

Yes, those are jingle bells on the mantel in front of Paderewski. They find their way there every year, and have been put into service during parties, though we are not planning on having one with a lot of people this year—just friends for dinner, one or two at a time. 

There aren't any cards to be placed on the mantel yet, the slow trickle of greetings not having commenced. Of course, with the ubiquity of online communication, one wonders how much life the tradition has left in it. Are you sending cards this year? I'm guilty myself of sending Holiday greetings digitally, reserving cards to family and a handful of friends, which, come to think of it, may be as it should be. 

Egyptian purple ornaments, gilt pine cones (made them myself a couple years ago), pink ornaments from the 30's and 50's (which talk to the pink velvet ottoman), gold ribbon and faux berry branches—that's the sum of it. I think I did pretty good with that 18 bucks at the Korean deli. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


Sweet fragrance fills the air while I breakfast on tea and oranges. I think of Spring, longer days, shorter nights, and of the decorations to be put on the mantel for the Holidays. Keep it simple, says the Narcissus. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Ghost of Christmas Past

Taken in 2007, when I had just found Victorian molding for Chinoiserie pelmets at the 26th Street Flea Market, and stashed it on top of the newly-built bookcases; the cards, garland, multiple mirrors, china, flowers and candles on the mantel—flanked by Victorian gilt & walnut frames, making for a very layered Christmas. The frames are hung in the closet now (we'll see how long that lasts), while the molding was turned into pelmets in the bedroom. The cushion on the sofa has found a new home, and the fireplace is still non-working, even though I had it restored with new firebrick and damper. Being five floors from the roof, however, and the firebox being designed for gas originally, it doesn't draw properly. What to do? Install an extractor fan on the chimney stack. Of course, that hasn't happened yet! However, the angel is still hanging above the mantel. Made by my father from barn board from my grandmother's farm, he reminds me of Christmas' with my family in Western Pennsylvania—long Winters with epic snow drifts, and one particular Christmas spent in a hotel in Bilbao, Spain, when I was 11, when my mother found a small tree and stood it up in a bucket of oranges. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013


I stopped in twice in the last month at a small standing-room-only-cafe to grab a cappuccino on the go—the best I've had in a long while outside of Italy—and admired this antique newspaper rack. God. I thought. My dad would love it. Me too: I love the way the wood is warped and smooth to the touch, and the brass hardware has a golden patina.  

It is currently in residence at a clothing shop that has it's own cafe on the ground floor. Shame on me that I can't remember the name of the place (I was not shopping), but you can find it on 5th Avenue on the West side of the street between 21st and 22nd Street. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Leaning towards the light

I told myself that I wouldn't post anything remotely "Christmas-y" until well into December, but here it, the last last day of November, and I have uploaded a new "header" which screams jingle bells. What gives? Darkness, for one thing: I want light long into the night, be it the gleam of of old ornaments in candlelight, even if it is from an old photograph. Light upon light, it provides a touchstone to all that is important: family and friends, and love that crosses time and space.  

The photo in this post was taken three years ago, as was the header which appears above. I went all out that year (at least for me), crafting a heavy garland of magnolia leaves in which I intertwined my grandmother's antique pink ornaments from the 1930's with gilt pinecones (we're talking gold spray paint, ok?). What will I do this year? The jury is out, but I am leaning towards a slimmed down version of this arrangement. A party is in the works for the second week of December, which presents an excellent opportunity for creativity. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Snow in Spoleto

Image via Facebook

No, I am not in Spoleto, Italy right now. But I wish I was, if only to see this beautiful view of the Duomo, surrounded by snow. I've only been there during the summer, attending Umbrian Serenades, a truly fabulous choral and cultural program founded by Paulo Faustini. I've been blessed with being a member of Umbrian Serenades for the past three years, each time singing a concert on the porch of the Duomo (there are three other concerts each year in stunning spaces), which has beautiful acoustics, the sound ringing out into the piazza. It's a very special place, and a very special program. I can't wait to return this summer! 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Macklowe Gallery

My buddy Steve was in town last week we had an adventure while walking up Madison after venturing into Bloomingdales. 

We walked past a store which had three Tiffany lamps displayed in the window which caught our eye. Steve and I stopped and starting talking about my mother's sale at Sotheby's this past summer, when—all of a sudden—a handsome man on the other side of the glass good-naturedly waved us in.   

Upon entering, handsome man and I knew we had met before, and before I could figure out where, he said: "We met in the elevator at Sotheby's!" And indeed we had! He had been most enthusiastic about my mother's lamps, and here we were standing in his beautiful gallery.  

Presto, chango— Benjamin Macklowe of Macklowe Gallery invited us downstairs to view his Tiffany lamps. A more gracious gentleman you will not meet. Of course, the first lamp that caught my eye was a prism lamp very similar to the one my mother sold at Sotheby's. 

Mr. Macklowe has a stunning collection of  Tiffany lamps, which comprises the heart of the gallery's business. They are beautifully displayed against a background of gilt wallpaper which brings out the gorgeous coloring of Tiffany's glass. My iPhone photos really don't do them justice!  

There was a time when Tiffany glass was considered old fashioned, a view which I have come to see as misguided and uniformed. The great beauty of the these lamps can work in maximalist and minimalist interiors as long as everything else in the space respects their level of craftsmanship which is unsurpassed.

For me, these lamps are like going to the opera. They are emotional, unabashedly extroverted and full of vibrant color—all the things you want in a great opera singer. 

And like any great piece of music, these lamps tell a story and well as have a story. I have only to reflect on how my father acquired his own Tiffany lamps back in the 60's, when you could find them for a pittance of their current worth. 

One had been stored in a coal cellar, and arrived home pitch black, only to reveal its brilliant coloring upon cleaning, while another was acquired after being the odd man out at a estate sale. It was the only thing left when my father arrived! No one wanted it. 

How times have changed. Now Tiffany's lamps are highly prized, and I consider myself very fortunate to have lived with them most of my life. Their aesthetic defines my childhood, life as a musician, and memories of my father. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Central Park Fall Foliage

I took these photos on the way home from the East Side last week, capturing three flaming trees just south of the Bethesda Terrace. Everyone was snapping away, and I joined them too, pointing my dinky iPhone up into the fiery furnace. Burn, baby, burn! 

Dinky iPhone, CameraBag App, Lolo Setting

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Halloween Approaches

Halloween is a big deal on my block here in Gotham on the Upper West Side. The whole street from Broadway to Central Park West is closed off. 

Cars are removed, Brownstone entrances are decorated, and then thousands of kids (I do not exaggerate) show up to Trick or Treat.

The tradition was started around 30 years ago, by the Gwen Verdon—a Broadway baby like no other—as a counterpoint to the Halloween Parade in the Village. I'd see her from time to time, red hair aflame, usually working towards her building on the corner of Central Park West where Celeste Holm also lived.

Since the tradition began, there are more single family houses, which have been re-converted back to their original design after being broken up into rooming houses during the Great Depression. One in particular goes all out every year with a professional set of ghouls and goblins. They even had Spiderman rappelling down the building one year, which caused quite a scene. 

Prizes are given by the Block Association for best decoration and costume, and I am proud to say that Mr. Husband's Dracula won a few years ago. He's so good at it (the little ones really are terrified) that the neighbors start asking about his appearance weeks in advance. 

With inordinate warmish weather this Fall, this Halloween promises to be a big one, if only because  Halloween was cancelled (for the first time ever) last year as a result of Hurricane Sandy. 

Time to get your Ghoul on! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

saying goodbye to an old friend

We are told that life is change, which is certainly true when I consider the process set in motion when we reconfigured our closets—the subject of my last post. Now I am in the process of selling an Empire dresser and an Victorian writing desk which you see here. 

I bought the desk from a shop on West 79th that is still there. Overpriced, but very much beloved; the desk held court in the bedroom for more than a decade. After bringing home a gorgeous antique Spanish table from my father's estate, I knew it was time the desk found a new home. 

So today, after taking out the contents, I set up a tripod and took a few photographs: marveling at the burled maple and walnut that made my heart sing when I first saw it. Now it is gracing the pages of Craig's List. Goodbye old friend. I've loved every moment we're shared together. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Gentleman's Dressing Room

Apartment living in Gotham often means having very little or no closet space. We're lucky to have two that stand back to back, in what was once the hallway on the parlor floor of a single family Brownstone that now has 10 apartments. The smaller closet is at the bottom of a flight of stairs leading from the front door—which is an unusual feature of the apartment. The larger one—which is captured in the three photos in this post—is right behind it, and faces the bedroom. The latter has a beautiful antique Empire dresser that takes up far too much space in a narrow room. 

I'd long thought about how to reconfigure the larger closet to accommodate the contents of the dresser, but wasn't sure how to pull it off. When I saw a photo that was posted by ArchitectDesign, I knew what to do. A short subway ride later, I was standing in the Container Store on 6th Avenue, talking to a lovely lady who designed a solution. Thirty minutes and $800 later, I was the proud owner of a new closet system consisting of 5 shelves, 5 drawers, two hanging rods with shelves, valet rod, shoe rack, hamper, tie rack, and thirty-five cedar hangers. Did I want someone to put it in for me? Nope. I did that myself after the materials arrived. Installing the system wasn't hard at all, though one does have to have the right equipment: a drill, level, hammer and lots of patience. 

The small space contains a non-working heating standard (pipe) which is nestled to the immediate right. (which you can't see in the photos). Why it was put there is any one's guess, though I believe it existed before the building was converted to apartments in the 1930's. There is also evidence of the original baseboard molding along the wall, which was quite tall. I left things as they were, along with the original floor, only giving the walls a fresh coat of paint, the same "cameo white" that is used throughout the apartment, adding only a 19th century gilt frame with a bevelled mirror, and gentleman in two small gilt/walnut frames. 

I was really surprised—even shocked—at the result. I was able to put everything from the large Empire dresser into the closet, after reconfiguring what went where: shirts are now folded on shelves along with towels and linens, pants and suits hang on rods, underwear and shorts are in drawers, while belts hang on antique brass hooks next to the non-working standard. The closet door, which once held an ironing board which folded down, how contains nearly all of our shoes. 

Best investment I have ever made. The dresser is now looking for a good home, and I couldn't be happier, since precious space in the bedroom will now be opened up. 

Thank you, ArchitectDesign! 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

my mother's house

My mother called today to tell me that her house in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (the one I grew up in as a teenager) was being sold: the closing would take place in a couple weeks. So strange to see it go after all these years—a little more than a year after my father's death. Not unexpected, the scattering of memory meant making quite a few trips and bringing back all manner of things to Manhattan—including an incredible deco crystal lamp on a gilded base, a beautiful 1880's carpet, an 18th century Spanish table my father used as a desk, slabs of marble and antique shutters and doors. But that's just stuff. 

So much memory in a house which is now passing to another family. Memories yet to be made: it is the cycle of life. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Days of Wine & Roses

Victorian opaline vase with brass trim, roses from the small garden in front of the Brownstone, and a glass of red wine. The vase came from an antique shop on Columbus Avenue that has since been turned into a hair salon. In fact, there is only one antique shop left on the upper west side—John Koch Antiques on west 84th street. The roses will bloom until late November, perhaps even into December: one vine has even reached Christmas.  More wine, more roses, if you please. More days of ineffable fragrance.