Ulysses Grant: a Fluxkit Opera – In INDIANAPOLIS

Performing at the Indianapolis Fringe Festival:

Trombone Battle

show is under an hour….Concert Dates: August 13 (6p), 15 (6p), 16 (1:30p), 17 (9p), 21 (9pm) 22 (10:30pm)



Featuring Civil War songs, with texts by Grant and Gertrude Stein, this opera has action, design, and music, which are determined by playing a game designed by the composer. The result is musical theater featuring everything from Tango to Punk Rock. Bonus! – the audience helps re-enact civil war battles!

This opera is a result of the cast members playing a board game that decides text (either by U.S. Grant or Gertrude Stein), music (selected from Civil War Songs), Civil War Battles (fought with the audience) and “Grantecdotes” (anecdotes about U.S Grant aimed to surprise the viewer).

The game board is here: US Grant Game Board-2


The cast played the game in February, rehearsed in May (and August), and consists of professionals from New York to the West Coast. It’s a shockingly emotional piece, that wrestles with the horrors of the most seminal American war in a fresh way.  It also sheds a new light on a sincerely misunderstood president – one who served valiantly in the Mexican War as well as the Civil War, and in his two terms of presidency dealt with ostensibly the most torn-up mess this country has ever endured. The opera swings from ridiculous (U.S. Grant himself singing opera as “Ophelia”) to the extremely sincere (the last song of the piece is “Dixie”, set to a deeply thoughtful elegy from Gertrude Stein).  Nor does it pull any punches – Civil War statistics are displayed, descriptions of battle strategies are sung, and 8 Civil War battles are re-enacted as Generals Lee and Grant enlist audience members to join the fray.  Prepare to be moved, yes, to learn, sure, and definitely….to be entertained.  Audiences in New York, Washington, DC and Michigan have laughed, cried, and yes, fought their way through this work, which the composer describes as “possibly my weirdest piece, and my most accessible, all at the same time!”

January Concerts GALORE! What a month!

Naked Dance Record Release Party “Dark Matters”

- Jeremy Edwards (drums), Andrew Bishop (clarinets) and Stephen Rush (ahem) release VINYL and DVD of their Dark Matters Project involving music and visualization of Dark Energy!  Collaborators? YES! Jim Cogswell (visuals), Greg Tarlé, Brian Nord and Jason Eaton (physics researchers)  - 6 new pieces of music all designed to make you cry and see beauty!! They often swing too. Yes records/

January 23/Kerrytown Concert/8pm  Call ahead for tix if you like- there is VIP seating but mostly 10/5$


had enough?


Interior Castle (Symphony #2)

will be premiered by Ken Kiesler conducting the Grammy-Award winning University Symphony Orchestra in Hill Auditorium.  My homage to St. Theresa of Avila, the piece will be accompanied by beautiful and/or disturbing paintings by Vince Castagnacci – Penny Stamps Art School emeritus professor.

January 27/8pm/Hill Auditorium/free










Thursday-Friday, Aug. 14-15, Days 26-27

Independence Day in India!!!!

Well……”members” as we are called, are leaving.  Bit by bit the family that we so carefully nurtured and developed over the last month is being torn apart by “life” – also known as people going back to the US.  (Rushi is lingering one more week!).  It’s rough.  It’s hard to say good-bye, but then, it’s alot like having kids…sooner or later they DO grow up and leave…and as Bill Cosby says “Thats what’s supposed to happen! Just make sure you change the locks!”.

So…today we did have a very moving Independence Day, complete with flag unfurling in the Indian style, complete with Marigolds flying out of the flag!  We printed out (and rehearsed!) the National Anthem, written by India’s greatest poet – Tagore, and sang along with about 70-80 Indians.  I”m sure they found it inspiring (or weird) that we were singing – and singing well! We were bedecked with appropriate colors for the day – Orange and Green.  Stylish! Afterward…what is Independence Day without more speeches and a QUIZ! Fantastic.

The afternoon brought the sobering reality that some were leaving (Andrew and Noniko), so we huddled into a classroom and watched, with open hearts, the fantastic Ben Kingsley “Gandhi”.  Maybe my 8-9th time, but I cried like a baby.  It’s a tough movie – extremely violent – especially if you’re HERE, but important stuff all the way around…and a great way to end the program.

Poor Grace had a bad stomach thing and missed the concert last night, which was lovely and amazing.  Annick stole the show with a fast version of the local favorite Bhaghya Da Lakshmi, and Sam scared us all with a super-scary “Snake Dance” where she did the best Boa Constrictor impression I’ve ever seen.  What a talent!

We are tired, homesick and full of love and appreciation for India.  It’s truly “time to go”…and that’s a good thing, and a sad thing too.  Check in with this blog early next week…when I’ll finally add the photos you’ve been aching to see.  Send your complaints to WordPress!

Wednesday  - Day 25 – August 13

Today marked the end of our lessons.  Students dragged themselves sadly to their Guru’s homes.  Okay, they were driven again in hair-raising, life-threatening rides through utter insanity! We then muscled through the copious additional material thrown at us by the Gurus.  The voice students were given two additional Kritis (NOT baby pieces!!) just this week alone – extremely challenging material, and spitting Kannada and Sanskrit phrases out at the speed of light.  Truly truly impressive.

We ended the day with a spectacular treat that will make the previous groups jealous – a SAXOPHONE concert.  Saxophone is relatively new to Carnatic music (like, the last 30 years?!), and it is a strange and interesting fit.  Not the stretchy approach possible with the open-hole flute, violin or of course voice, but an interesting fit.  The violin “accompanist” was tricked out with an octave pedal (disturbing!) and the mrdangam (Jackfruit logdrum) player had a predisposition for pitch-changing making him sound often like a tabla player, instead of the South Indian drummer he was.  What a concert! What we think of as Christmas lights everywhere, English translations for the introduction (thank you!), lovely marble floors and a huge TREE growing in the middle of the temple….a fantastic end to our concert-going this year.

Tuesday - Day 24, August 12, 2014

Another incredible day – to say the least.  Lessons in the morning for everyone but Mrdangam (they have a busy teacher, who holds an economics post at U-M, University of Mysore!).  The afternoon held an incredibly gracious gathering of high tea at the home of wonderful Chandrakala, the eminently lovable staff worker who has accompanied us on many, many adventures.  We met her entire family (actually, Merilynne and I had Lakshmi Puja there last Friday), and enjoyed tea, coffee, Parli-G and other fantastic snacks.  There were many many smiles and laughs.  Kala showed all the women her beautiful saree’s.  And meeting “Kala’s” parents was a very special treat.

Then, something typical to India – going to a cultural event, and awaiting the unexpected.  How to wait for the unpredictable? How do YOU do it, dear reader?  When the main thing to do is “not to expect,” how to anticipate it?

Indeed…what was advertised in the paper (Star of Mysore!) as a 7pm Veena concert turned out to be a huge Ragavendra Festival (saint) with very very crowded, hot, noisy (VERY!) puja, including clanging pitched and un-pitched gongs, plus Nadaswarams and Tavvil.  Nothing that we had expected…but then….here we are.

After waiting 1:45 (that’s one hour and forty five minutes) on a hard concrete floor covered with dirt and street mess….one of the simply most sublime concerts I have ever heard commenced…and we could really only stay for 45 minutes.  Zen? Well…yes, actually.  QUITE.  “Good things come to those who wait?”  Also true!

As rare as the veena concerts are now, this was well worth the wait, but people are very very tired today, since we didn’t eat until 10pm and yoga, yes, is at 6am! Rise and…Shine? Our Sun Salutations were a tad cloudy this morning! On we go! Not much time left. Seize every moment!

Day 23-  August 11, Monday

We are “back at it”, taking lessons, thinking hard, and getting our “coconuts crushed” (a reference to a temple practice of smashing coconuts – symbols of our utter submission – “bhakti” – to God, or the crushing of the ego).  Lessons are coming fast and furious, 3 days in a row this week, then the performance on Thursday.  So much buildup and pressure – just as we are trying to “build ourselves up” for the return home, and the inevitable culture shock and detoxification (or often, re-toxification).

We were fortunate to hear “Balu” (Dr. R. Balasubramaniam), the President of SVYM, expound on Leadership and the Gita today.  Inasmuch as we may not think of ourselvees as leaders, we are rich Americans – affiliated with the University of Michigan, with the ironic subheading of “leaders and best” (what hubris!).  Nonetheless….most of us WILL be leaders in some way shape or form, and it’s good to probably accept that now, and figure out how to do it! Mindfulness was the key, according to Balu.  Being present to the moment, not burdened by fear (of the future) or guilt (over your past mistakes).  Uh….good luck!

The evening was special, too.  We finished watching the Swami Vivekananda movie – a not-so-greatly produced film about one of the most remarkable creatures to ever grace the planet.  I think the students grasped the many messages from this film, however poorly put together, and see the “forest for the trees.”  A coalescing of religious forces, a call to end fanaticism and boundaries, and a deeper commitment to the poor.  We should all heed his call (and some of our favorite people did, including Gandhi, Tagore, and MLK).

Days 21/22 August 9/10

Saturday/Sunday  -  Some of us gone to the beach, but some of us…..

All is well at the beach according to Tessa and Sunil – the owner of the hotel.  Ya Gotta Believe!  Meanwhile….back here in Mysore some tourism abounds.  Sam/Noniko/Merilynne and I went to the Royal Orchid Metropol for lunch.  Very very fancy.  The favorites? Unbelievably enough….Cauliflower Au Gratin and Ice Cream. It turns out the simple things are the ones that really do matter.  All that glamor for Cauliflower? yes.  In the afternoon our wonderful co-director here, Sindhu Suresh, gave us an amazing tour of the town’s most rare temples (some of which she hadn’t seen herself!).  We did puja at two of them ….including a very very old Shiva temple and a very old Indra temple (I’ve never seen an Indra Temple…quite amazing).  We all had some sort of out-of-body experiences at these temples, to be sure.  We got back INTO our bodies at one of the best Dhosa places in town.  Having a Masala Dhosa in Mysore? pure heaven.

We came up on Annick and Andrew coming back from “More” (basically the supermarket) with a few staples – as we rickshawed back to the hostel.  Soon we were greeted by many happy stories of the beach trip, including an amazing trip to a Temple that morning – complete with Male Bharata Natyam Dancing in the temple! A VERY rare treat!  More treats? Yes…Friendship Day (sort of…it is “brother day”) where we tied “Raksha’s” onto each others right arms, then ate an incredible toffee/chocolate cake mercifully provided by Merilynne!  The fun never really stops here…as you can clearly see.

Day 20-  August 8

Friday  -  Off to beautiful Kannur – and Lakshmi Puja

Today is an act of trust – sending 7 students off to a resort on a beach in India.  It’s gorgeous, I’m in phone contact for emergencies (dear God!), and they SHOULD be having a blast.  Let’s hope…and we’ll know soon.

Meanwhile….it’s Lakshmi Puja day, and our good friend Chandrakala (the assistant to Sindhu- our ground co-ordinator here in India and the director of VIIS) invited us to her home to celebrate Lakshmi puja.  Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth.  As luck would have it, I had two pieces ready to sing – and nothing weirder than a big white professor from the USA singing Kannada Kritis (classical S. Indian music) in your living room in India – believe me.  Me as exotic.  How does that fit – as a “WASP” – it is rare to feel exotic…certainly in the US.  Here…I’m really an oddity.  Chanrakala’s family was there, her son Hashah and her husband who’s name I never quite could say (sorry!).  And her mother was there too, horridly ill, but graceful and sweet nonetheless.  On we went, chanting mantras, eating many, many sweets (including sweet chapati and ghee, yummy, think glazed donuts, sort of….or Sopapillas?).  The entire neighborhood packed in to do puja there in “Chandi’s” living room – and to see me sing.  They sang along with the locally written, and locally languaged (Kannada) “Bhaghada Lakshmi” (think how popular “Fur Elise” is in the States/Europe and you have a good idea how well-known this tune is).  It’s written by Purandarasa (15thc. composer from this state-Karnatika), and in Kannada (Local language), and FOR the Lakshmi Puja.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I’ve never done anything more appropriate liturgically…with maybe one weird exception- Cage’s 4’33″ for Good Friday (the service requires intense silence for the Postlude).  There you have it…possibly the most surreal blog ever, but welcome to India – the invention of Surrealism must have happened here – long long long before Celine and Salvador Dali.

Was finally able to upload these, but no idea why some are sideways and upside down.  My mom suggested that maybe it’s because we are on the other side of the world and we are feeling a little topsy-turvy?


Neighbors at Lakshmi Puja listening to the Kriti

Neighbors at Lakshmi Puja listening to the Kriti

Kala's famiy

I've seen families of 4 or 5 on a scooter, but this is a first.

I’ve seen families of 4 or 5 on a scooter, but this is a first.

I really enjoyed the big birds this time.

I really enjoyed the big birds this time.

And of course the orangutan put on a show for us!

And of course the orangutan put on a show for us!

With Sindhu Suresh, the VIIS director.

With Sindhu Suresh, the VIIS director.

Lakshmi Puja, done only by women, with Chandrakala

Lakshmi Puja, done only by women, with Chandrakala

Chandrakala's family and her Puja room

Chandrakala’s family and her Puja room