Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Man Who Invented Coffee

Those who know me know that there is one and only vendor from whom I will buy coffee beans. That vendor is George Howell (

There are few vintners who choose grapes with as much care as George chooses beans for his coffees. I just had to see his roasting plant!

About a year ago, my wife and I were picking apples in a town not far from Acton. I just couldn't be so close to the company without visiting. We stopped there, I walked in, and there I was at a reception desk, with a few small cubicles in the background. It looked more like a mom-and-pop insurance company than an internationally respected coffee company. Though I could see the door that led to the spacious roasting area, I quickly surmised that the facility was not like Ben & Jerry's. You can't just walk in and get a tour of the place. I left disheartened.

A year passed. One day, I was excited to see the Internet announcement that George Howell was having an open house, limited to 50 attendees. I couldn't get on the phone fast enough to make my reservation!

Yesterday was the long-awaited open house. Family constraints prevented me from attending the whole thing. The portion that I attended, however, was mesmerizing. George knows coffee beans the way Verdi knew notes. He has knowledge, passion, and that particular calmness found only in someone who knows his or her field better than anyone else.

All of George's coffees are single-origin coffees – meaning that when you buy a bag of his coffee, all the beans in that bag are from one location. But that is only the beginning. The rigorous, multi-step selection process by which individual beans are accepted or rejected is sans pareil in the world. But George does not rest on that laurel. After all, when coffee is transported from a cool mountaintop to a 100-degree port to a 55-degree hull of a ship, the flavor will be comprised before the beans even reach our shore – unless, of course, you have George Howell's associates packaging those beans and monitoring their freshness at every juncture. There's no other way to say it: George Howell makes the best coffee in the world.

After the open house I met George, shook his hand, and felt like I had just met Mickey Mantle.

Today I had coffee on my mind. I went to make an espresso and suddenly realized: I was out of regular beans! Where could I get some in a hurry? I remembered that in nearby Newtonville, there was a cafe that George recently purchased, called Taste Coffee House ( I called them up. A girl answered. I asked her which dark roasts they had in stock. "One minute, George is right here." Pause. Then at the other end I hear, "This is George Howell." My speech went from allegretto to vivacissimo. Within five minutes Jeanette, the baby, and I were in the car headed to Newtonville.

And there was The Man, sitting at the counter, drinking an espresso macchiato. I said to the girl, "I'll have what he's having." I greeted George, and we chatted about ... well, coffee. I spoke with disdain about a certain large competitor that, George informs me, is opening one new store a day in China. Growth at the expense of quality. Or as George unforgettably put it: "If you cover the whole world, you're flat as a pancake."

I'm a musician, and to me, music is the most important thing in the world. But maybe it isn't the most important thing. Maybe it's not important at all. And maybe coffee's not important. But when you're in the presence of George Howell, there is not a fiber inside you that does not feel that coffee is the most important thing in the world. He doesn't try to sell it. He is it.

Related post: "Caffe'!" (

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Virginia Zeani: My Favorite Soprano Turns 85

On Thursday, October 21st, one of the greatest sopranos of the 1950s and '60s, Virginia Zeani, celebrates her 85th birthday.

When I sought an interview from Virginia Zeani for my book, The Twilight of Belcanto, I didn't really imagine I would get one. After all, why would the woman who created the main role in Poulenc's Dialogue of the Carmelites, the woman who was one of La Scala's greatest successes of the 1950s and '60s, have time to talk to me? Well, talk to me she did. What I thought would be one telephone interview turned into six. I subsequently visited her in West Palm Beach. And she never treated me with a milligram of condescension. She spoke to me with a respect, as a professional and as a friend, that I scarcely deserved. (In Italian – our conversations vacillated between Italian and English – she went so far as to use the Lei form with me! This didn't seem possible!)

Maybe the following story will give a sense of how much Madame Zeani has meant to me. About five years ago, I was talking to members of the church choir that I was directing. I spoke of Richard Tucker. One of the paid soloists, an opera major at a prestigious school in Boston, said, “Tucker? Who was Tucker?” I then spoke of Zinka Milanov. Another soloist of the same credentials said, “Well, I don't know the old-time singers that well.” “Old-time” singers?! If she was “old-time,” how could I even talk about the singers I really cared about: Battistini, Caruso, Ponselle, Gigli, Tagliavini, Pertile?

Enter Virginia Zeani, who actually studied with Pertile, who actually sang with Gigli and Tagliavini! Her career lasted long enough to sing with Pavarotti and Domingo when those guys were still young and at the height of their powers. She could speak intelligently about Pertile or Pavarotti or anyone in between, because this wasn't a topic that she read about in school – she lived it. She sang with these greats. And they were fully aware of her greatness, as well. No less than Richard Bonynge said that the most beautiful soprano voices he ever heard, apart from his wife Joan Sutherland, were Kirsten Flagstad, Virginia Zeani, and Renata Tebaldi.”1

I really can't explain to you why I, who was born in 1971 and who was educated in the public schools of Revere, Massachusetts, felt drawn to the technique and musicality of the singers on the scratchy 78 records. If I could explain it, you would then know how healing it was to be able to discuss these artists with a woman who understood that technique, and who used it herself. In Romania, she studied with Lydia Lipkowska2, a famous Russian soprano and a court singer to the Czar of Russia3. Lipkowska sang with Caruso. From there, Zeani went to Italy (March, 1947) to study with one of the great vocal technicians of the time, and one of my idols, Aureliano Pertile.

I apologize if this tribute comes across as being very personal, with many repetitions of the words “I” and “me.” However, I cannot overestimate the fulfillment and, indeed, healing that I received from Madame Zeani. For if it was difficult to find contemporaries with whom to talk about Tucker, with whom could I talk about Pertile? With Madame Zeani I could talk about him.

I could also talk about the great conductor, Tullio Serafin, who asked Zeani to replace Callas in a production of I Puritani. That evening in January of 1952 was Zeani's Florentine début and her first performance in an important Italian house. That same night, her dear teacher Pertile was on his deathbed. The dying maestro said to a mutual friend, “I am happy for her; now will begin her great career.”4 And it was at that very performance that she first met the greatest singer-actor among post-Chaliapin bassos. His name was Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. She would later marry him.

I could also talk about Italy's greatest vocal coaches of the 1950s: at La Scala, Antonio Narducci, Edoardo Fornarini, Leopoldo Gennai, Antonio Tonino; at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome5, Enrico Piazza, Vincenzo Marini, and the great Luigi Ricci.6

I could also talk about the cast of Giulio Cesare at Madame Zeani's La Scala début on 10 December 1956. Cesare was Rossi-Lemeni. Tolomeo was Mario Petri. Sesto was Franco Corelli. Curio was Plinio Clabassi. Nireno was Ferruccio Mazzoli. Cornelia was Giulietta Simionato. Achillas was Antonio Cassinelli (who later married Maria Chiara).

I could also talk about Alfredo Kraus. “I was very good friends of Alfredo Kraus. … He was a special one. You know, I heard him at his début. And we spoke only one month before he died [in 1999. His début was in] 1956, in Cairo. And I was there.7 … We were good friends, he and his wife and I. … Rosa died two years before him. During our last conversation, he said that he didn’t know how he would ever get over Rosa’s death. I knew exactly what he felt. After Nicola died, I thought, 'How will I ever get over it?' … We sang probably 200 performances together, in Lucia, in Puritani, in Manon, in, what else, Sonnambula, in — my God! — in Traviata — loads of Traviatas.”8

I could also talk about Gigli and Pertile. And believe me: there are few things in life I enjoy more than talking about Gigli and Pertile. But how often can I talk with someone who actually worked with them? “I had my début in L’Elisir d’Amore with Gigli in 1950, in Cairo. I was 24, and he was [60]. … And he had a very big belly, and at the end of the opera he had to embrace me, no? Because in L’Elisir d’Amore Nemorino embraces Adina. And Gigli said to me, “Cara mia, sai che cosa ci divide? Quaranta chili e quarant’anni! Senza quelli, ti potrei abbracciare con molta più facilità.” [My dear, do you know what separates us? Forty kilos and forty years! Without them, I could embrace you much more easily.”] … [Gigli] was a very nice man and very full of spirit, full of, how can I say, sense of humor. … Gigli and Pertile were, in a way, like Pavarotti and Domingo. … Different vocalities. [But] both of them went directly to the heart. The voice is only an instrument. But you have to give to this voice the heart. The tears. The joy. The poetry. They are everything, you know. It’s what makes the singer. The great singers, they were very few. If someone has a voice, many people think, 'Wow, great voice.' But if that’s all it is … I didn’t sing for the money. I didn’t sing for the glory. I sang because I loved what I did. … You know, Gigli was the maestro of caressing the sound. It was a caressing voice, a velvet voice, but at the same time based on the words. ...

Pertile was humble. Was nice. Was delicate. In the lessons I never heard him saying something negative about anybody. Sometimes he had the tenors who came there and said, 'Maestro! Look what a high note I have!' And he would say, 'Yes, but you have to have something leading up to the high note.'”9

“I first got to know Gigli’s singing when I was a child in Bucharest, listening to his recordings. I began studying voice at age twelve-and-a-half. My love was divided between the records of Gigli and those of Pertile.”10

“The purity of [Gigli's] sound is absolutely without equal. … You see, his passaggio is perfect, never forced; he maintains the sound in the same position from the beginning to the end, with the intensity of the vibrato and the diminuendos.... The high notes and low notes are in the same position, with intensity and big legato. This is the science of singing. I’m sorry to say, today the science is lost. They try to sing opera like in a musical. No, I’m sorry, I don’t accept it. ... You see the simplicity that he uses in the sound, not forcing and not diminuendo but with a great sadness in the sound. So colorful. His voice loves and caresses everyone around him. Nobody else could have done these things, maybe only Pertile but in a different sense. … [Gigli's] phrasing is unique. It originates from the heart and is guided by the sustaining of a miraculous breath. … It is incredible to hear singers like Aureliano Pertile and Beniamino Gigli, who — in different ways, with different voices — imbued so much emotion into their singing. Later there was the splendid Corelli, whom I will never forget hearing in Adriana. Everyone was in love with him. But the manner, the agility, the color, the flexibility of the sound of Gigli — they are difficult to find in another singer. … [T]he Gigli that I knew in person [in 1950 was] still brilliant, still full of enthusiasm, even if the breath wasn’t always perfect in those years. I suffer, because I have these beautiful sounds in my memory, but I cannot transmit them to everybody. … How can you write a book about Beniamino Gigli? It is not a book about Gigli. It is a book about the history of singing. It’s a book about the maximum of love that people have for music.”11

Not long after my first conversation with Madame Zeani, I realized that there was almost no limit to the amount of great singers from the past about whom we could talk about. Equally voluminous would be a discussion of all the great students whom Zeani nurtured since joining the faculty of Indiana University in 1980. (I believe she holds the record for the most Met Competition winners and finalists by one teacher.) Here is where we get into the territory of Zeani's incredible generosity and warmth. She is more than a voice professor to her students – she is mother hen, friend, adviser, consoler, encourager, muse. “[W]hen the students come to me … I bring out the maximum that they can do. I would like that everybody is 1,000 times better than me. You know, the students who study with me, they know what is the Belcanto, they know what kind of vocalises to do, they know in which voices to believe, because I teach these things.”12

Madame Zeani made an interesting observation about the students of today. As compared with the living conditions of the struggling student of the 1930s and '40s, today's students don't have to “suffer” nearly as much. “Not that I wish suffering upon them,” Zeani was quick to explain.13 However, the suffering of the singers of past, somehow, comes through in their singing. This, according to Zeani, is what is missing in the singing of today.

I like to contrast the following two quotes, because they seem to describe two completely different people – the first perhaps some famous star that certainly you would never meet in person, the second perhaps some beloved aunt.

Who before [Virginia Zeani] succeeded in offering a more complete interpretation [of Violetta in La Traviata]? At least in my opinion, neither Caniglia nor Cigna on the one hand, nor Dal Monte nor Pagliughi on the other — besides the fact that physically, Zeani dominated [the competition] as the most seductive interpreter of Traviata that was ever seen on our Italian stages.” – Davide Annachini14

A sweeter, kinder person never existed.” – Charles Handelman15

So which was she? Was she one of the 20th century's finest belcantisti, the greatest Violetta of her time, or of all time? Or was she a friend who counseled me after my divorce, whom I could call anytime I wanted, who – like a close family member – could be depended on for sweetness and for total candor, both in great quantity?

She was both.


1 Opera News, September 1999

2 Lipkowska’s name is sometimes spelled Lipkovska or Lipkovskaya. The reference books cannot agree on her dates; she was born in either 1880 or 1882 and died in either 1955 or 1958.

3 It must have been the last czar, Nicholas II, who reigned from 1894 to 1917 and was murdered in 1918.

4 Bruno Tosi, Pertile: Una Voce, Un Mito (Venice, 1985), pp. 179f.

5 Ms. Zeani was prima donna assoluta there for nearly a quarter-century.

6 Luigi Ricci (1893-1981) worked with Puccini for eight years and with Mascagni for thirty-four while an Assistant Conductor at the Teatro Reale (now called the Teatro dell’Opera) in Rome. Other composers with whom he was associated included Respighi, Giordano, Zandonai, Henze, and Pizzetti. Among the many great conductors with whom he worked were Marinuzzi, Gui, Panizza, Serafin, and De Sábata. He was coach, accompanist, and close friend to Beniamino Gigli. Ricci authored two books (Puccini Interprete da Se Stesso and 34 Anni con Pietro Mascagni). He collaborated on the musical direction of forty-two films and numerous recordings with RCA. Starting at age 12 (!), Ricci accompanied the voice students of the legendary Antonio Cotogni (a favored baritone of Verdi). Young Ricci began taking meticulous notes on the 19th-century traditions that Cotogni passed on to him. Decades of continued note-taking resulted in the four-volume Variations, Cadenzas, and Traditions, a precious compilation – still in use – of the cadenzas of famous 19th-century singers, conductors, and composers.

7 The opera was Rigoletto.

8From the interview in L. Ciampa, The Twilight of Belcanto (hereafter “Twilight”)


10Ciampa, A Beniamino Gigli Commemoration (unpublished) (hereafter, “Gigli”)



13Conversation with the author (2006).

14 Davide Annachini, liner notes to Virginia Zeani, Vol. II (Bongiovanni, Il Mito dell’Opera, ASIN: B00009L1TR). English translation by L. Ciampa.

15 E-mail to the author (August, 2003)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mary B. Davenport (1919-2010)


Today, through a random Google search, I learned that more than nine months ago, the great contralto and teacher Mary Davenport passed away in Albuquerque. She died on my birthday, January 17. She was ten days shy of 91.

I am profoundly saddened by her loss. In her memory and honor, I quote in full my chapter on her from The Twilight of Belcanto.


"Sundays in Golders Green"

“It’s too easy to describe the singing of Mary Davenport as a miracle. God did indeed bestow a uniquely lovely timbre on her, the brightest and most golden of all deep contralto sounds, without a trace of what Kathleen Ferrier used to call the ‘goitrous hoot’ of the species.
“But that is not what has enabled Mary Davenport to preserve that timbre, unblemished, through more than four decades of singing, preserve the perfect evenness of scale, the clarity of the sound's definition, the absolute steadiness of tone — some of Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody sounded as if an angel had granted a pipe organ the ability to sing legato and phrase poetry with feeling. That is technique and discipline.”
Richard Dyer (Boston Globe, 12 April 1986, p. 20)

Like Patricia Craig, Mary Davenport was a teacher who had had a successful career on European and American stages as a singer. (It’s always refreshing when voice teachers actually sang somewhere!) In 2003 I telephoned the 84-year-old mezzosoprano, to whom I hadn’t spoken in several years. The voice I heard sent shivers down my spine. It was a young voice, shiny like silver, with not a soupçon of age. In pitch and clarity, this voice could have been 35, or 25. My wife also heard the voice on the machine and said, “How old did you say she was?”

This is no accident. Many singers have thought about healthy speech placement. Mary Davenport devoted her life to it.

Davenport was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1919. At age 19 she studied as an exchange student at the University of London. She studied voice with a very nice man at the Royal College of Music, with whom she also studied privately. The nice man’s name was Alberto García (1875-1946), the grandson of Manuel García II and great-nephew of Malibran and Viardot! Alberto was the last in the García singing legacy.

The teenager spent many Sundays with Mr. “Garsha” (as the Brits pronounced it) and his family in Golders Green (a section of London). Alberto spoke often of his famous aunts, grandfather, and of course their father, Manuel García the First (1775-1832). Manuel I was born in Seville. He was baptized “Manuel del Populo Vincente Rodriguez.” Manuel I’s opera troupe — including his three famous children — traveled to New York, and on 29 November 1825 gave the very first Italian opera ever to be heard on the soil of the New World. The work was Il Barbiere di Siviglia; the Almaviva was Manuel I, who had created the role. Due to a rival claque, this New World premiere was an utter fiasco. García attempted to salvage it by singing a Spanish song, accompanying himself on the guitar.

With particular fondness, Alberto remembered the 101st birthday gala for his father, Manuel II, held at Royal Albert Hall in 1906. Alberto told Mary that his father sang a song on the occasion (!). I wondered if such a thing could be true. Sure enough, García’s biographer confirmed that there was a 101st birthday gala on 17 March 1906 and that the old man sang a song. But he added a spinetingling detail: The song in question was Spanish, and García accompanied himself on guitar … exactly as his father had done 81 years previous. Could it have been the same song?

Davenport returned to America, where she studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Her teacher was one of the most famous soprani of the day, Elisabeth Schumann. Ms. Schumann taught mostly soprani and very few mezzisoprani; however, Mary was no ordinary student, and Schumann accepted her. Ms. Schumann was probably not one of those teachers who did much vocal or technical woodshedding (which Mary didn’t much need anyway). What she did have, Mary remembers, was an extraordinary musicality and musical mind. And she couldn’t have hurt Mary’s ease in the high register.

In New York, Davenport made a triumphant debut recital, which was reviewed on the front page of the New York World Telegram & Sun. A career in radio began in the ’40s, when she succeeded Eileen Farrell on the CBS program Invitation to Music. Davenport was accompanied by the CBS Symphony, conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann (1911-1975) was a famous film composer who wrote the scores for many Hitchcock films, as well as for Citizen Kane, etc.

Farrell and Davenport remained long-time friends, and when the latter was shopping for a new teacher, Farrell said, “Why not Mrs. Mac?” Mary was curious to try out “Mrs. Mac,” who had in Mary’s words “saved” Farrell. “Mrs. Mac” was Eleanor McClellan.

I remember clearly the story of Mary’s first lesson with McClellan, despite the decade that has elapsed since I heard it. Mary was in her 20s. McClellan was at least 90. Mary sang a piece; McClellan said nothing. She went up to Mary, touched her abdomen and said, “You’re holding. Let go.” For the next half-century, Mary kept that advice in her heart.

McClellan also stressed the speech aspect of singing and the huge importance of speaking correctly. Advice that also stuck.

Davenport went on to perform in opera (including many performances of The Medium), concert (appearances with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra), and recital. She enjoyed a successful operatic career in Germany and Switzerland, including thirteen seasons at Zurich’s beautiful opera house. Other operatic engagements in Europe included Barcelona but, unfortunately, did not include any Italian cities.

From there, Davenport returned to Massachusetts and joined the voice faculty of Boston University, where she would remain for 32 years. Gradually she devoted more time to teaching and less to performing. But she did sing with the most important orchestras in Boston, including the Boston Symphony (the first time in 1944, the last time thirty years later). A Mahler performance with Ben Zander’s Boston Philharmonic also remains in the concertgoer’s memory.
Though music critics generally limit their fraternization with musicians, the Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer was unable to conceal a well-justified fondness for Mary, as a musician and person.
Her tone fused brightness with depth, and long past the age when most singers retire, Davenport still commanded a tone that was large, steady, and glowing. What turned out to be her final local appearance was in Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody at Boston University in 1986, her voice still radiant and expressive, the legato technique recalling the golden age of singing. Her students in more recent years report that during lessons Davenport still rang out commandingly over a three-octave range. She was an imposing and elegant presence at concerts, and her unsparing views were never a secret because this was a voice that carried. (Boston Globe, June 20, 1997, p. D16)
Notice that Dyer used form of the word “command” twice in one paragraph. This was appropriate. There was something commanding about Mary. Yet despite her aristocratic upbringing, I always found her to be an affectionate, gentle person uninterested in keeping up false appearances. She just was someone who relished quality, in people and in things. If she had a clock, it was a beautiful clock. If she had a dress, it was one her seamstress made for her. Her library contained the best books, in the best editions. It was as if her stomach couldn’t quite take anything, or anyone, that didn’t exude quality.

As for her silvery mezzosoprano, Dyer’s description of it corroborates my memory exactly. It really was three octaves, low C to high C. I never heard the high C, but I heard many effortless B-flats. Every note in her range had the quality of being firm yet floating. In my earthly existence, I have never heard a singer with such an evenness from top to bottom. Almost stubbornly even. There was not even a vestige of a register break anywhere. And there were no fabricated tones. You never felt, “On that note she sounded like a soprano,” or “On that note she sounded like a contralto.” It was HER VOICE, round and beautiful, at every point in her range.

Never in my life did I meet a person so diametrically opposed to the pushing of the voice. She’d rather cut off her arm, one felt. On the other hand, Mary hardly needed to push. Her voice was so well-placed that she would talk barely above pianissimo, and you could hear her down the hall. Even on the phone the voice was magisterial. Her whole life and heart seemed completely dedicated to placing the vowels. This is why she could be heard without difficulty against an orchestra, why she still had a high Bb and C at age 75.

Mary recorded not a fraction of that which her talent warranted. She did record a major work with Jan Peerce and Martina Arroyo. And I wish I could say that the major work they recorded was Verdi’s Aïda or Trovatore or Requiem. Instead, it was Handel’s Judas Maccabeus. Yuck! I adore Handel, but that piddly little role of the Israelite woman barely gave a taste of what Mary could do.

[Footnote: But the tenor role was meaty, and Jan Peerce really wanted to do it. The recording sessions took place in Vienna. “We were in the control room,” Mary remembered, “and Peerce said to me, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ Peerce was very encouraging to young singers.” (Conversation with the author, October 2003).]

Other recordings which are not on CD include a L’Enfance du Christ recorded for Columbia, with Léopold Simoneau, Martial Singher, and Donald Gramm, conducted by Tom Scherman.

Perhaps Mary’s best recording — at least the one with which she herself is happiest — is the aforementioned Alto Rhapsody, performed at Boston University and conducted by Thomas Dunn. The singer was 67 years old. Though never released commercially, this recording would quickly become a collector’s item were it to be made available.

The major labels should have broken her door down and fought over who would get to record her in a corpus of Brahms and Mahler and Verdi and Duparc and repertoire in English. That they didn’t is to the eternal detriment of their discographies.

As a teacher, Mary was extremely gentle and empathetic — on a personal level. On a musical level she could be terrifying. She let nothing go by, sometimes stopping the student after every note. This was hard on some students, to say nothing of the piano accompanists! I loved every second of it. It sharpened my ears considerably. Often I felt as though I was the one receiving the lesson. I think that’s why Mary took to me; I exhibited some of the enthusiasm that ideally the students would have demonstrated.

It’s not for me to speak of Mary’s “method” or “technique.” Cedo maiori. But I’ll offer a few observations that made an impression on me.

Mary was not vague about what she wanted: She wanted five pure vowels, legate, and in all the languages. And believe me, her French sounded French, her German sounded German, and (as the critics pointed out) one couldn’t have hoped for more beautiful or understandable English.

Of the brilliant mental images that Mary conjured for her students, the two that I most vividly remember are the concept of “dropping in” to the note and that of letting the brain take care of pitch.

With “dropping in,” Mary had the students imagine that the sound was coming down into the placement from above, not up from the throat. Schipa, I later learned, gave similar advice; the tone, he said, should come down “from heaven.” And when Corelli spoke of the “curve” that the sound must make in the cavity, the concept was not dissimilar.

Of course there are two presumptions: (a) the vowels and posizione are correct, otherwise there’s nothing to drop into; and (b) the breathing is correct. Mary would say, “The breath is ready, and you coordinate it with the placement.” (Of course, to make the breath “ready” but not “held” requires study.)

The other notion, that of letting the brain, not the throat, worry about pitch, I felt was extremely useful. When the student thinks, “Oh my God, the high note is coming!” the throat tightens, the tongue tightens, everything tightens. But if the brain negotiates pitch on its own and the students worry more about posizione and breathing, whether it’s a low C or a high C, an easy emission and fluid legato become possible. Mary practiced what she preached: If you were deaf and looked at her when she sang, you could barely tell if she were singing a low note or a high one. That is contrary to what many teachers teach about making a huge opening, in order to “let the sound out.” However, there is no biological reason why a mouth has to be open wide in order for the voice to be heard. Audibility and oral aperture are not directly proportional. If they were, ventriloquism would be a physiological impossibility.

Without my knowing it at the time, Mary’s focus on the vowels was very much in the Italian Belcanto tradition. Like Vittorio Marciano, she spent a good part of the lesson purifying her students’ vowels. She didn’t talk so much about physically shaping the lips, and she avoided any mumbo-jumbo about the tongue. Mary was a firm believer that if you could hear the correct vowel, you could sing the correct vowel. Also like Vittorio, she sang a lot during the lessons. How happy were my ears!

We discussed old-time singers quite often. She’d talk about hearing recitals by Gigli and Tauber in London, or singing Aïda with Helge Roswaenge. “He was about sixty at the time,” Mary remembered. “Amneris, of course, comes on the stage right after Celeste Aïda. He sang the aria so beautifully that when I came on, I almost couldn’t sing.”

Mary’s memories go back even further. “When I was born,” she said, “Caruso was still alive.” She was two when he died, but even into her youth he was “still very much talked about.” She had contemporary knowledge about things that I know only from books. Caruso’s interpretation of La Juive … Lawrence Tibbett’s divorce … I know about those things because I read about them. She knew about them because she heard them being talked about! I know the old recordings as CD re-releases. She owned the original 78s. This was the privilege it was to work on a weekly basis with such legends as Iride Pilla and Mary Davenport. And Mary, who as recently as today was forming five beautiful vowels, is living proof that the twilight of Belcanto has not become night.

The above from The Twilight of Belcanto (Copyright © MMIV, MMV Leonardo A. Ciampa. All rights reserved.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Year Without Joe Maneri

Yesterday, August 24th, marked a sad anniversary: one year since the world was deprived of the life of Joe Maneri.

Joe left the world a more impoverished place and left a hole in my life that could be patched but never filled. But despite Joe's departure (or because of it? It would be like him to be pulling some strings Up There!), the riches that have appeared in my life this past year have been astonishing. Indeed, as I looked back, I had to stop and think, "Did all that really happen within 365 days?"

A year ago I was unemployed. Now I have two jobs, each one a "dream job" in a completely different way. MIT and Christ Lutheran Church in Natick, Massachusetts – two remarkable places with remarkable clergy and remarkable potential both to use the skills I already have and to stretch myself to develop new skills. I wasn't the first person in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church to note that denomination's knack for mystery and deceit where truth and honesty are instead appropriate. I prayed to find a job where (a) the boss was honest; and (b) I could use my gifts. I found not one but two such appointments. The hardest part has been to convince myself that I'm actually working, such has been my happiness in these two positions.

The relationships I have forged with people this past year have been equally remarkable. I have friends that I cannot believe I have known less than one year. They "get me" in a way that I've rarely been "gotten."

And then there's the small matter of a baby named Matteo Giovanni Ciampa. He is my third child, my wife's first. At 3.5 weeks of age, he at times behaves like an infant weeks, if not months, his senior. It's too early to tell if he will have a sense of humor, but if he goes in the direction of his two older brothers, I can soon expect hilarity in triplicate. (Sometime this past year, I asked my three-year-old, Federico, "Are you the best boy in the whole world?" He replied, "Flattery will get you nowhere.")

I telephoned Sonja Maneri on this sad anniversary. She shared with me a poem that has been helping her get through these difficult days:

by Emily Dickenson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Neither Joe nor Sonja have lived in vain. In fact, between them they have patched more breaking hearts and eased more pain than a squadron of theologians.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I keep hoping that in this Information Age, society's taste in music will improve. It has happened in other areas. 30 years ago, when you went to the average supermarket, it was almost impossible to find extra-virgin olive oil. Occasionally you could find Filippo Berio, a revolting liquid that I wouldn't use to grease a squeaky door. Today, most any supermarket boasts numerous brands of Italian and Greek olive oils, most of which are extra-virgin. The improvement in coffee — the topic of today's post — has been even more remarkable. 30 years ago, all the coffee came in those dreadful, cylindrical tin cans that increase the acidity in my stomach just by looking at them. And what were the "high end" brands then? Chock Full o' Nuts? Medaglia d'Oro? With such substances I would not contaminate my compost heap. Today, virtually all supermarkets carry fresh beans in numerous varieties, roasts, and flavors.

One of the key players in the coffee renaissance, without question, has been George Howell (see above photo). If the finest bottles of wine are made from grapes picked in only one location, why should fine coffee be any different? It was this discovery of single-origin coffee that led me to Terroir ( I was hooked instantly and, if I can possibly help it, I drink nothing else.

I was excited to discover that Mr. Howell has a blog, entitled George on Coffee ( His most recent entry, "Emerging from our acquired tastes," documents the renaissance in his own spirited, intelligent words. Now we can start to put a personality with the coffee. (It had to be an interesting person who would produce such a divine liquid.)

In particular, I was interested in Mr. Howell's comments to a reader about "dark roasts." The notion of "light roasts" vs. "dark roasts" is a topic in which Starbucks has done much to increase public awareness (which is a good thing), even though they sometimes conflagrate their beans beyond any human recognition (which is a bad thing). As Mr. Howell explains:

Whenever someone says they like strong coffee they are pretty much referring to darker roasts. I think this has to do with the greater immediate impact and mouthfeel a dark roast has when hot. The best dark roasts that I have had – and this is personal, I realize – are best hot. The colder they get the more the muddled notes and bitterness in the aftertaste.

Strength really has to do with extraction. One can make a light roast very strong using more coffee and less water – but at a certain point the greater acidity of a light roast creates an imbalance towards too much acidity.

Lighter roasts may seem “weak” when hot but gather full strength as the cup cools. Drinking becomes an act of discovering emerging nuances over the approx. 20 minutes of sipping the entire cup.
(From the blog George on Coffee)

Long live George Howell and the Terroir Coffee Company!

Related post: "The Man Who Invented Coffee" (

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Chopin Concerts (Boston, 9 Sept. - 14 Oct. 2010)

SEPT. 9 – OCT. 14, 2010
All Concerts 12:15-12:45 p.m.
Freewill offering

Prelude in B major
Prelude in B minor (“Raindrop”)
Mazurka in C minor
Polonaise in A major (“Military”)
Waltz in C# minor
Etude in E major
Ballade III in Ab major

Mazurka in A minor (“Cries & Whispers”)
Mazurka in Bb major
Mazurka in F# minor
Etude in Ab major (“Aeolian Harp”)
Polonaise in F# minor (“Tragic”)

Prelude in C minor
Waltz in A minor
Mazurka in D major
Mazurka in C# minor
Etude in Gb major (“Black-Key”)
Polonaise in Ab major (“Heroic”)

Prelude in A major
Prelude in E major
Fantaisie-Impromptu in C# minor
Mazurka in A minor
Mazurka in F# minor
Etude in C minor (“Revolutionary”)
Ballade I in G minor

Mazurka in F# minor
Mazurka in Ab major
Nocturne in C# minor
Nocturne in F minor
Ballade IV in F minor

Mazurka in G minor
Mazurka in C# minor
Etude in C# minor
Waltz in Db major (“Minute”)
Polonaise-Fantaisie in Ab major
Op. 28, No. 11
Op. 28, No. 6
Op. 30, No. 1
Op. 40, No. 1
Op. 64, No. 2
Op. 10, No. 3
Op. 47

Op. 17, No. 4
Op. 17, No. 1
Op. 59, No. 3
Op. 25, No. 1
Op. 44

Op. 28, No. 20
Op. 34, No. 2
Op. 33, No. 2
Op. 50, No. 3
Op. 10, No. 5
Op. 53

Op. 28, No. 7
Op. 28, No. 9
Op. 66
Op. 7, No. 2
Op. 7, No. 3
Op. 10, No. 12
Op. 23

Op. 6, No. 1
Op. 17, No. 3
Op. posth.
Op. 55, No. 1
Op. 52

Op. 24, No. 1
Op. 41, No. 1
Op. 10, No. 4
Op. 64, No. 1
Op. 61

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Matteo Giovanni Ciampa!

He was born at Newton-Wellesley Hospital on Friday, July 30 at 11:01 p.m. 9 lbs. 10 oz.! Baby, mother, and – for that matter – father are fine.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I'll never, no never, no never forsake


My Victorian-style "Postlude on Foundation" is now live.

Click below to hear a live recording from the Methuen Memorial Music Hall:

Click below to purchase the sheet music:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

O Shenandoah, I long to hear you

"Shenandoah" celebrates its first birthday tomorrow! Hard to believe it was a year ago that I composed and premiered this arrangement in lovely Salem, Virginia. I could hardly have imagined that six months later, it would be performed, in masterful fashion, at the MORMON TABERNACLE! (Click below for auditory proof of this assertion.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Barbara Allen!

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

From the website of Consortium Internationale Compositorum (CIC):

Ciampa follows his popular arrangement of “Shenandoah” with another folk song arrangement, this time of “Barbara Allen“. The tune was one of the most popular songs in 18th-century England.

Barbara Allen” is also in several moderan American hymnals, with the sacred text, “Accept, O Lord, the gifts we bring“. Ciampa’s lush arrangement was a hit at its 6 June 2010 premiere at the Methuen Memorial Music Hall. Its warmth and wide dynamic range are sure to make it a favorite chestnut among organists in concert and church.

Dopo il popolare arrangiamento di “Shenandoah” ecco un altro arrangiamento di Leonardo Ciampa, questa volta di “Barbara Allen“. Si tratta di una delle più popolari canzoni dell’Inghilterra del XVIII secolo.

Barbara Allen” si trova anche in alcuni innali americani, con il testo sacro “Accept, O Lord, the gifts we bring“. Il ricco arrangiamento di Ciampa è stato presentato il 6 giugno 2010 al Methuen Memorial Music Hall.

Buy the score

Audio clip recorded live, 6 June 2010 (private recording by Paul Raila) – HYMN FESTIVAL, Methuen Memorial Music Hall – Leonardo Ciampa, organist

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Remarkable Son

I have long been convinced that if Nino, age six, were someday to be a musician, he would seek to perform complete collections of pieces – the opera omnia of this composer or that.

He already owned the complete Wiggles videos; but, after all, way back then he was only five! The 14-volume collection of the Muppets’ greatest episodes is certainly more stimulating to this mature and curious mind!

Note, however, that seeing them all typed on a sheet of paper (courtesy of his step-mother) was not enough for him. Nor was he satisfied to mark the favorites of himself, his brother, father, mother, and step-mother. But it was important for him to note that Juliet Prowse was the very first episode (marked with a "1") and Roger Moore was the very last, which Nino knew was the 125th episode (though he didn't know how to write such a number, his attempt being "1025"!).

Your [Be]longings


I'm sure you agree that there is an oversaturation of "inspirational words" on the Internet. Our Junk Mail folders are filled with them. This, however, is real and was sent to me last Saturday by my dear friend and colleague, Doris Marion:

On the Orange Line yesterday, some letters had been scratched off one of the signs. So it said, PLEASE DO YOUR PART AND BE SURE TO TAKE YOUR "LONGINGS" WITH YOU UPON YOUR DEPARTURE.

I've been trying to keep this in mind.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Methuen Sound Clips!


My only regret from the glorious Methuen Hymnfest (June 6) is that it wasn't recorded – or so I believed. Imagine my surprise last week when my good friend Paul Raila handed me two surreptitiously recorded CDs, in excellent sound!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Greatest Moments of Singing XVI

The last post made me too depressed, so here's an entirely more lighthearted one!

Here is an approximate translation:

Vincenzella was weaving her dowry
Night and day at the loom
Making the spool fly:
Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu

As she toiled, the good lady,
She sang a song of love
in a voice that went straight to the heart.
And it went something like this:

Turì-turì-turò; Turì-turì-turò
No good trying to say no
No good trying to resist,
When a woman wants something,
with her eyes she makes you do it.

Finally the lady got married
To a dumb rich man in the village,
after a year, they made him baron
Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu

This dumb baron had to go to the country,
And left his wife to weave.
When he came home that evening
he found her singing like this:

Turì-turì-turò; Turì-turì-turò
No good trying to say no
No good trying to resist,
When a woman wants something,
with her eyes she makes you do it.

Suspicious, one night he returned home
an hour earlier, just to be safe.
But from behind the shutter he heard:
Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu, Tu-tu-tu

He took a matchbox, lit a match
and lit a candle.
He saw Vincenzella, his wife, with the fabric,
and he saw something else.
And she was singing like this:

Turì-turì-turò; Turì-turì-turò
No good trying to say no
No good trying to resist,
When a woman wants something,
with her eyes she makes you do it.

Greatest Moments of Singing XV

In my grandparents' and great-grandparents' generations, Toselli's Serenade was extremely popular. It's hard to imagine a most beautiful rendering than Gigli's 1926 recording.

Musica di Enrico Toselli / Parole di Alfredo Silvestri

Come un sogno d'or
scolpito è nel core
Il ricordo ancor di quell'amor
che non esiste più.

Fu la sua vision,
qual dolce sorriso
che più lieta fa,
col suo brillar, la nostra gioventù.

Ma fu molto breve in me
la dolcezza di quel ben
svanì quel bel sogno d'or
lasciando in me il dolor.

Cupo è l'avvenir,
sempre più tristi i dì,
la gioventù passata sarà,
rimpianto mi resta sol,
sì, rimpianto amaro e duol nel cor!

O raggio di sole
Sul mio cammino, ahimè, non brilli più
Mai più, mai più

Like a golden dream
sculpted in my heart,
the memory still of that love
that no longer exists

It was the vision of her,
that sweet smile
that makes our youth more pleasant
with its shine.

But it was very brief in me
the sweetness of that gift vanished,
that beautiful dream of love
leaving pain in me.

Dark is the future;
the days grow always sadder;
my youth will be over;
only regret remains to me,
yes, bitter regret and pain in my heart!

O sunbeam,
on my pathway, alas, you no longer shine,
never again, never again.

English translation © MMX Leonardo A. Ciampa. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Methuen Hymn Festival for Haiti Relief

Christ Lutheran Church in Natick, MA
The Rev. Rebecca J. Bourret, Pastor
Leonardo Ciampa, Music Director

invites you to lend your voices
to an unforgettable


A fundraiser to benefit
Lutheran Disaster Response
efforts in Haiti

Renowned organist
plays the Great Organ of Methuen

SUNDAY, JUNE 6, 2010, at 4 p.m.
Methuen Memorial Music Hall
192 Broadway (Route 28) in Methuen, MA

Tickets: $12 ($8 for seniors & students)

For tickets or other information, call
Christ Lutheran Church, (508) 315-3170 X4
or e-mail

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Greatest Moments of Singing XIV

The great Elisabeth Schwarzkopf captures all of the essential qualities of Schumann's immortal Lied. (Whose genius could equal that of Schumann? My God!)

Der Nussbaum

Es grünet ein Nussbaum vor dem Haus,
Duftig, luftig breitet er blättrig die Blätter aus.
Viel liebliche Blüten stehen dran;
Linde Winde kommen, sie herzlich zu umfahn.

Es flüstern je zwei zu zwei gepaart,
Neigend, beugend zierlich zum Kusse die Häuptchen zart.
Sie flüstern von einem Mägdlein,
Das dächte die Nächte und Tage lang, Wußte, ach! selber nicht was.

Sie flüstern - wer mag verstehn so gar leise Weis'? -
Flüstern von Bräut'gam und nächstem Jahr.
Das Mägdlein horchet, es rauscht im Baum;
Sehnend, wähnend sinkt es lächelnd in Schlaf und Traum.

Text: Julius Mosen (1803-1867)

The Walnut Tree

Green before the house a walnut stands.
spreading, fragrant, airy, its leafy branches.
Many lovely blossoms it bears;
gentle winds visit them with loving embrace.

Paired together, they whisper,
gracefully inclining delicate heads to kiss.
Whisper of a maiden who
night and day pondered, ah, and knew not what.

Whisper - who can understand so soft a song? -
of a husband-to-be, of next year.
Then maiden listens, the tree rustles;
yearning, hoping, she sinks, smiling, into sleep and dreams.

English translation © George Bird and Richard Stokes, The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder, pub. Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A purely legal question III

Much as I would like to, I cannot deny that I am a Catholic. And there is little or nothing in the Catholic theology that I take issue with. I have no qualm with the transsubstantiation, the devotion to Mary, or other theological tenets that are uniquely Catholic. Political tenets like Papal Infallibility are another matter. But after all, to break Canon Law is not a sin, and to find fault with the Catholic hierarchy is neither blasphemous nor heretical.

So on theological grounds, there is little or nothing I have ever said or written that makes me a bad Catholic. To point out that a pontiff is an imperfect human being is the only conclusion that a sane, rational human being can draw.

That will not stop the fanatics from declaring that anyone who criticizes a pope, cardinal, bishop, or priest is "evil" and that the "devil" is behind it. I suggest, instead, that the devil is behind the fanatics who defend or enable any child molester. As I have said: I am the father of two beautiful boys, with a third on the way. An organization that systematically enables child molestation is a corrupt organization. And any organization that does business in a land must follow the laws of that land. So we return, again, to the purely legal question: are these corporations, these archdioceses, going to follow or not going to follow the law?

The evidence is mounting that Cardinal Ratzinger absolutely, positively knew about these molesters. If there is a meeting about the reassignment of a molester-priest, and you are the chair of the meeting, I suggest that you knew about it. If you receive a letter about a priest who has plead no contest to molestations charges, and you respond to that letter, I suggest that you knew about it. To say otherwise defies all logic and intelligence. And the evidence will show that John Paul II knew some things, as well.

I knew an alleged child molester once. At the time, I honestly didn't know. I was in my late teens – 16, 17, 18 – and so the person in question had no interest whatsoever in me. (Sad to say, it was because I was much too old for him.) Though on occasion he would make statements that I thought were sort of strange, he was a musician, and I was a musician, and we talked incessantly about music, little else. I attended numerous of his concerts. He was a great and positive musical influence on me. To this day, many of my musical ideas and ideals more closely resemble his than they do that of my actual teachers. Then one day, I received a phone call that this man committed suicide. And rumors began to spread that the reason for the suicide was the threat of a lawsuit by a set of angry parents.

Undeterred (and a little rebellious by nature), I continued to sing the praises of this musician. Why not? As far as I knew, there was no sex act involved – only a slight indiscretion with, so I believed, one boy. Later, more rumors surfaced. I began to put the pieces together that, apparently, the indiscretion was not unique. Apparently, most every job he ever had ended with a similarly embarrassing incident. Never a lawsuit. Never an allegation (that I know of) of an actual sex act. But always an indiscretion.

I do not believe that this man, this very great musician, ever performed a sex act with a boy, or with anyone. He was not "that" dangerous. Still, as a parent, I implore other parents to be very aware of this psychological disease. And it is no longer a secret that said disease is rampant in the Catholic Church. If Ratzinger wants to "consider the good of the Universal Church" (to quote his aforementioned 1985 letter), he will be totally honest, with himself and with the world.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A purely legal question II

More evidence of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's extraordinary negligence in dealing with pedophile priests has surfaced, this time in the San Francisco Bay area.

In 1978, Fr. Stephen Kiesle, a teacher and priest at Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Union City, pleased no contest for tying up and molesting two boys. Three years later, in 1981, Kiesle made a formal request to the Vatican to be allowed to leave the priesthood. Four years later, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to His Eminence John Cummins, Bishop of Oakland, requesting more time to consider the matter. Kiesle is not defrocked ... is reassigned to other parishes ... molests more boys ... Church officials do nothing ... Same old, same old.

Here is a photo of Ratzinger's letter:

And here is the full text of the letter, as translated for The Associated Press by Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

Most Excellent Bishop

Having received your letter of September 13 of this year, regarding the matter of the removal from all priestly burdens pertaining to Rev. Stephen Miller Kiesle in your diocese, it is my duty to share with you the following:

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.

It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.

In the meantime your Excellency must not fail to provide the petitioner with as much paternal care as possible and in addition to explain to same the rationale of this court, which is accustomed to proceed keeping the common good especially before its eyes.

Let me take this occasion to convey sentiments of the highest regard always to you.

Your most Reverend Excellency

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

I repeat, then, the question I posed in my previous post on this topic: why is a corporation (in this case the Church) allowed to do business in a country (in this case America) whose laws it refuses to follow?

A lawyer friend of mine, a devout Catholic, responded to the question:

I've been thinking about your post [...], and bottom-line for me is that I am a hardcore advocate for non-profit compliance with the law, chiefly because (a) non-profits enjoy a number of benefits under law (let's just call them perks) and (b) non-profits have extraordinarily important and sensitive work on their hands. That compliance should extend to people who act on behalf of the non-profit, whether with explicit, implicit or cloaked authority (i.e., any form of agency) and non-profits should be punished accordingly for failing to reign violations of law in.

Cue in the Roman Catholic Church (acting, in the United States, in the form of several non-profits). Like tons of other non-profits across the country, it is riddled with scandal. Unlike many non-profits, the Roman Catholic Church has not been the object of its fair share of prosecutions (whether in the form of organizational investigations resulting in regulatory action or actual criminal prosecutions of people acting with agency on behalf of the organization) chiefly because many state regulators just haven't sharpened the teeth – for whatever reason. Compounded with the lack of an extradition treaty with the Vatican (not like that will happen; the U.S. doesn't even have one with China), the fact that religion is involved, constitutional issues, and that people have very STRONG interests vested for/against the Roman Catholic Church, prosecuting the Roman Catholic Church seems like a big mess – particularly since religion is involved. Allegedly, the Massachusetts' Attorney General's inquiries into the allegations of abuse concerning Diocese of Fall Rivers and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston's had "teeth", but as far as I'm concerned, the Massachusetts' AG's actions did nothing.

Here's the thing for me. I'm a Catholic and expect much from the religion with which I affiliate [...]. I'm also a lawyer with very strong feelings about the separation of church and state. However, I don't think that governmental "intermeddling" (i.e., investigations, for example) into alleged harms is an interference into the realm of church, chiefly, because the church has subjected itself to some form of state regulation – i.e., taking on a corporate form with the perks. Therefore, let the investigations and prosecutions come down. If the Roman Catholic Church (remember, individual corporate entities) don't cooperate, then take them down one by one with state action. Other national non-profits – The Boys' & Girls' Club, The American Red Cross, The United Healthcare Group – all had atrocious scandals associated with them. They were non-profits that were dealt with by the appropriate state actor accordingly. The Roman Catholic Church should be treated the same way. Let arrests for non-compliance with state and federal laws start today!

I agree with this position. If a Roman Catholic archdiocese in any given state protects a pedophile, either (a) said archdiocese faces the court of that state; or, (b) said archdiocese is stripped of its status as a non-profit corporation and is disallowed to do business in said state.

Now, some of the lawyers among you will say that the whole archdiocese, i.e., the whole corporation, should not be prosecuted; only individuals therein should be prosecuted, unless the whole corporation is shown to be in the business of molestation. My friends, the data suggests that pedophilia has been wide-spread enough, in terms of (a) number of priests; (b) number of church officials covering up the crimes; and (c) number of decades that this has been occurring, that, indeed, the Roman Catholic Church is in the pedophilia business.

As the father of two beautiful young boys, and another on the way, I urge you: do not let your children be in the presence of a Catholic priest, unsupervised, for any length of time and under any circumstances. This is not about theology anymore; whether or not Holy Communion is really a transsubstantiation or just symbolic does not seem very important anymore. This is about the lives of innocent children. May every criminal be prosecuted.

Translation of Ratzinger Letter: Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Photo of Ratzinger Letter: Kim Johnson / Associated Press.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jewish Wisdom

(I don't usually post stuff like this, but this was of an exceptionally high quality!)


A Jewish woman goes to see her Rabbi and asks, “Yankele and Yosele are both in love with me, who will be the lucky one?''

The wise old Rabbi answers: " Yankele will marry you. Yosele will be the lucky one.


If a married Jewish man is walking alone in a park and expresses an opinion without anybody hearing him, is he still wrong?


My father says, "Marry a girl who has the same belief as the family." I said, "Dad, why would I marry a girl who thinks I'm a schmuck?"


Jewish Marriage advice "Don't marry a beautiful person. They may leave you. Of course, an ugly person may leave you too. But who cares?"


Morris went to his rabbi for some needed advice. "Rabbi, tell me is it proper for one man to profit from another man's mistakes?"

"No Morris, a man should not profit from another's man mistakes" answered the rabbi.

"Are you sure Rabbi?"

"Of course, I'm sure, in fact I'm positive" exclaimed the Rabbi.

" Ok, Rabbi, if you are so sure, how about returning the two hundred dollars I gave you for marrying me to my wife?"


The Italian says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have wine."

The Frenchman says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have cognac."

The Russian says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have vodka."

The German says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have beer."

The Mexican says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have tequila."

The Jew says, "I'm tired and thirsty. I must have diabetes."


Jewish proverb: "A Jewish wife will forgive and forget, but she'll never forget what she forgave."

Greatest Moments of Singing XIII

Pure baritonal greatness! John Charles Thomas sings "Open Road," from Strauss's "Gypsy Baron" (1939).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A purely legal question

For several months now, I have wanted to write a post comparing the Roman Catholic Church to the Lutheran and Episcopal denominations, which in many ways were forms of "Reformed Catholicism."

I wanted to compare Vatican II's solutions to certain problems with Martin Luther's solutions to the very same problems, 500 years previous.

I wanted to write about Henry VIII's reasons for reforming the church, which went well beyond, "He wanted a divorce."

I wanted to write about both his and Luther's love of the sacraments and about their reverence for the best aspects of the Catholic liturgy.

I wanted to discuss the differences and – more interestingly – the similarities in the theologies of the Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal faiths.

I wanted to write about the benefits of running a church democratically without sacrificing the theology.

I maybe even would have gotten a little bold and written about the commonly held opinion that allowing female and married priests would, as a whole, produce a healthier crop of priests.

I wanted to write about all these things.

But I saw something in the paper today. Something disturbing.

And so now I have a new question. It is not a religious question, or a theological question, or a dogmatic question, or a spiritual question. It is nothing more and nothing less than a legal question.

Today – Thursday, March 25, 2010 – I looked at the news. And I read about the sex scandal in Wisconsin. And I read about Pope Benedict XVI's role in both keeping the matter away from the police and in putting the offending priest back in contact with minors.

When a similar issue came up with Cardinal Law, here in Boston, there was a straightforward legal course to be taken. You have a crime. You have an individual, in this case the Cardinal, who may or may not have borne some legal responsibility for said crime. You have a court proceeding to arrive at a verdict of either guilty or not guilty. Standard legal procedure in the United States or, indeed, most any modern nation.

This procedure never happened. Cardinal Law got sent to the Vatican, a state with whom the United States does not have an extradition policy. No trial.

Now, whether or not the Catholic Church decides to punish a wrongdoer or reward him – in this case, with a prestigious position at one of Rome's greatest churches – is its own business. Another alternative would have been to send him to a monastery in rural Wyoming, where in time he might have grown to understand the seriousness of his crime. (Hard to understand such things when you work in a patriarchal basilica and have 14 servants.) They made their choice. Fine. That is not my point here. My question is purely legal.

Here is my legal question:

I live in America. I have to follow American law. You live in America. You have to follow American law. Even if you don't live in America, if you bear responsibility for a crime that takes place here, you stand trial here and, if found guilty, will probably serve your sentence here – if the prosecutors are successful in physically bringing you here in the first place.

But here is an organization, the Roman Catholic Church. The organization is a non-profit corporation that receives and disburses money on our soil. The corporation has filled out the necessary paperwork so that it is allowed to conduct business on our soil. But members of this corporation – including the Cardinals and, sadly, now the Pope himself – have been implicated in crimes for which they cannot be prosecuted. If you think Cardinal Law was unprosecutable, how prosecutable is the Pope going to be?

Now the legal question:

Why is this corporation allowed to do business in the United States?

I'm actually dead serious. This isn't a hoax; it's an honest legal question that I have. Corporation X follows American laws. It is allowed to do business in America. Corporation Y breaks American laws but then shields itself from prosecution. It will thenceforth not be allowed to do business in America.

I would like to know, then, why this particular corporation is allowed to do business in a country whose laws it is not required to follow.

If there were ever a court hearing to determine if this corporation should be allowed or disallowed to transact business in the United States, I would hope that the prosecutors would request the corporation to explain the following phrase:

Huiusmodi causae secreto pontificio subiectæ sunt.

This sentence may be translated as:

"Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret."

The phrase appeared in the 2001 epistula, De Delictis Gravioribus ("On More Serious Crimes"). The author of this epistula was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later promoted to Pope Benedict XVI.

I will leave you this evening with a story, one of the saddest ones I ever heard.

A pastor with whom I once worked told me this story. It was about a friend of his. This friend was abused by a Catholic priest. Several decades passed. Finally, after holding in this secret for so many years, he found the courage – who knows how hard it was – to tell his mother what happened.

She slapped him across the face and exclaimed, "Don't ever let me hear you talk about a priest that way again!"

Thankfully, that generation of parents is dying off. The new generation is better educated and asks more questions. Questions might arise about the transubstantiation, or about original sin. The Catholic theologians can fend off those questions. But how will they fend off the legal questions? What will they do when these young Catholics start asking, "How can a corporation break our laws, evade prosecution, and still be allowed to conduct business here?" That is the legal question that I am now asking.