Monday, November 1, 2010

From Blog to Blog, Musically Speaking

(I pretty much wrote this article myself, with a few tweaks from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Manager of Publications...he told me he had to excise all the "personality of my conversational style", and so removed some lighthearted remarks I had included. Oh, well, still great to be asked and to have the recognition for the organization that sucks the life out of me on a daily basis. JUST KIDDING!)

Here's a link to the actual DSO blog post, though I've copied all but the photos below.

DSO Guild: Fun Insights for Music Lovers

Meet Nicole LeBlanc, president of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Guild. With these questions-and-answers, LeBlanc introduces the DSO Guild and talks about its membership, social events and support for Performance Preludes, the DSO’s entertaining and informative pre-concert programs. She explains how the Guild lets music lovers meet and hear from DSO conductors and guest artists, and talks about her appreciation for the DSO and its programs.

Who can join the DSO Guild?

DSO Guild members love classical music and love to meet the instrumentalists, composers and conductors who bring that music to life at the Meyerson Symphony Center each week. We are individuals from all backgrounds, men and women of all ages, working and retired, music aficionados all. We are dedicated to deepening our knowledge and appreciation of music. We get to know each other at our member events, making smart new friends and new musical discoveries at the same time.

How is the DSO Guild related to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra?

Since 1968, the DSO Guild has fulfilled its mission of supporting, promoting and funding the adult music education efforts of the DSO. We further that mission by conducting ten Guild meetings during the season, holding an annual fundraising gala dinner and by fully underwriting the DSO’s free pre-concert Performance Preludes series.

What the heck is a Performance Prelude?

Performance Preludes are informative, educational and entertaining lectures, held one hour prior to each DSO classical series concert. Performance Preludes are FREE to all ticketholders. The lectures, which take place in Horchow Hall on the lower level of the Meyerson, last approximately 45 minutes. The presentations are given by some of the most accomplished music scholars in the area and usually include audio-visual components. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you’ll get out in plenty of time to find your seat. Click here for the schedule

What’s special to you personally about the DSO and the DSO Guild?

My world is filled with music of all kinds (from Bartok to Broadway and Baaba Maal to Bollywood) but clearly I do have a special love for classical music. One of the first things on our agenda when my husband Bill and I moved to Dallas in 1992 was to investigate how we could attend Dallas Symphony concerts. Unfortunately for us, the entire season was sold out by subscription! We were placed on a waiting list and we haven’t let our subscription lapse since 1993.

I am an intensely curious person by nature, always seeking more knowledge about the things that interest me—so from the first DSO Guild event I attended in 2005, I was completely hooked. I was so comfortable getting to know the members, almost as though I had discovered a secret society of my own geeky kind--other music and arts lovers who felt just as I did about the fellowship and enrichment opportunities offered by the Guild. There is no other group like it! I genuinely look forward to every one of our meetings and hope to remain involved for many years to come.

What are Guild member events like?

The Guild usually holds ten events throughout the DSO season. Luncheon meetings are held at elegant clubs like the Petroleum Club, Lakewood Country Club and The Tower Club. Evening events take place in some of the most beautiful homes in Dallas and feature wine and hors d’oeuvres. The guest artists at our events are the noted and noteworthy instrumentalists, composers and conductors who are sharing their musical gifts with the DSO at the time.

Past guest artists have included conductors Jaap van Zweden, Andrew Litton and Marin Alsop; composers Jennifer Higdon (winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Music) and Steven Stucky (August 4, 1964, to be performed by the DSO at Carnegie Hall in May); and stellar soloists such as pianist Steven Hough, violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. Although our events are both elegant and educational, lighthearted fun and camaraderie permeate every gathering, thanks to our common love of music. Each meeting seems more enjoyable than the last – they are anything but boring!

What’s going on at the Guild this season?

Thus far in fall 2010, we have been treated to a presentation and duets by DSO principal oboist Erin Hannigan and associate principal bassoonist Scott Walzel; a Q & A with talented and charming violinist Nicola Benedetti; and an intimate evening with cellist Lynn Harrell, who brought his instrument and played it in the unique and spectacular surroundings of a 1910 church-turned-residence where our event was held.

On Wednesday (Nov. 3), Guild members will spend the evening at the high-rise tower The House in Victory Park, site of the Dallas City Living Tour sponsored by our sister support group the Dallas Symphony Orchestra League. We’ll have wine and hors d’oeuvres and hear a presentation by dynamic conductor Alondra de la Parra, who will be leading the DSO in a program of Latin Masterworks Nov. 4-7 at the Meyerson.

In January, we’ll enjoy a luncheon with composer Poul Ruders, who is writing Symphony No. 4, An Organ Symphony, a world premiere organ concerto for the DSO and its principal organist Mary Preston, who will also join us. That will be followed in early February by an evening meeting featuring composer Stewart Copeland, drummer of famed rock trio The Police. Copeland, too, is working on a world premiere, Gamelan D’Drum, for the DSO and D’Drum, a percussion ensemble featuring several members of the DSO’s percussion section. Also in the works is an early-March luncheon meeting with conductor Gunther Herbig who will conduct Mozart and Dvorak with the DSO March 3-6. We’ll also have three more exciting events that are still under wraps.

Is that all that’s going on the DSO Guild?

Why, no. We have just confirmed that local favorite and international piano sensation Olga Kern will perform at our annual Spring Gala on April 3. Kern will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of her winning the Gold Medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Since that time, she has gone on to great acclaim as both recitalist and concert pianist, but has always maintained a special relationship with the Metroplex because it was in Fort Worth that her glamorous, globetrotting career was launched. Our gala is an intimate affair - a cocktail reception and sumptuous dinner in elegant surroundings, followed by a private recital by Kern! Proceeds from the gala help underwrite the Performance Preludes lectures.

Can I join the DSO Guild?

Yes! All are welcome! Memberships are available at a five-event level for $235 and ten-event level for $395. Non-members are also welcome to attend our regular events for $55 before stated RSVP deadlines, $75 after. Non-members and guests are also invited to the Dallas Symphony Guild Spring Gala with Olga Kern, with pricing to be determined. Sponsorships are also available. For more information on the DSO Guild, its events or its gala, please visit our website at, email us at or call 214-821-2428. We look forward to meeting you and sharing our mutual love of music and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grand Teton & Yellowstone NPs, part 2

We followed the eastern side of the Grand Loop road as we entered Yellowstone, because this was the easiest day to visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and later in the day would be a good time to drive through the Hayden Valley in hopes of seeing wildlife. We stopped off for a lovely lunch at the Lake Hotel, took in a thermal feature preview at Mud Volcano, then continued on to take in various overlooks of the striking Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, with both the upper and lower falls. As we made our way through the Hayden valley, we indeed got caught in a bison jam as I had expected...and finally we made it to our Mammoth Hot Springs cabins. This area was the original HQ of the cavalry when it ran the park in the 19th c., and it has its own historic vibe as an encampment/visitor hub. The current hotel and cabin buildings were erected in the 1930's.

While we were based at Mammoth, we had several interesting animal adventures. The first was a horseback ride from the Roosevelt Corral, through the scenic hills of the northeast part of the park. Unfortunately, when a hat blew off the head of the person in front of me on the trail, it spooked the living daylights out of my horse...who then freaked out and threw me! Apparently my flying through the air was "graceful" and I landed with a thud on my rear, surviving with only a few (but impressive) bruises and a sprained (and maybe cracked) pinky finger. While "nursing" my finger with a glass of wine that evening on the front porch of our cabin, I spied a cinnamon black bear sow and her two cubs scampering around on the hill behind the next row of cabins. I grabbed the super-binocs and checked them out as they started to descend. A ranger magically appeared in a vehicle, drove up a gravel road on the hill, bonked the horn or siren and scared the bears back into the treeline. The cubs were surely cute, but I guess they were just about getting close enough to the cabins to become a danger (the sow, anyway, probably not the cubs).

The next morning, we had what many would consider the wildlife highlight of the trip, one I had been looking forward to for months: wolf spotting. This required a 5:30am departure from Mammoth and four people chose not to come (their loss!). But the lighter load meant my father could just ride with me and not drive the second van, a nice break for him. We ventured out to the Slough Creek area, where the newly-designated Lamar Canyon pack had been lately seen. We were not disappointed! We were treated to an amazing display of natural wolf behavior by the seven pack members we saw, several adults and a passel of playful pups. They alternately tore up and consumed the carcass of some animal that they had stored behind a rock outcropping, and when they weren't busy eating, they were quite the frolicking family, both adults and pups running around, jumping on rocks, rolling around wrestling each other. We watched them for at least an hour with extremely powerful Nikon spotting scopes I had rented for the occasion, and everyone who went found it to be a memorable morning, to say the least. For me, it's made even more precious because the wolves are too far away to shoot with anything resembling a normal camera, so you have to capture and hold the pictures in your mind.

After regrouping and checking out, we meandered along the western side of the Grand Loop, stopping at the National Park Ranger Museum at Norris, and then at the Norris Geyser Basin. We arrived at Old Faithful Inn and soon went to join the Geyser Discovery Stroll. Typically, this ranger walk follows an informal path though the Upper Geyser Basin. But a particular geyser erupted as the walk began, and that geyser may indicate an impending eruption of the high-pressure, charming Beehive geyser.

So the ranger changed course, leading us up onto Geyser Hill instead, ad we were lucky enough to see Beehive blow its top. It's one thing to see Old Faithful go off repeatedly and on a schedule, but another thing entirely to see a geyser erupt when it only does so once or twice a day. As they say, timing is everything. We saw about five geysers erupt during that 90-minute stroll, worth the effort we had made to get to Old Faithful Inn with time to catch the stroll.

After dinner, we all met up on the OFI balcony to start our stargazing. Happily, our little crew decided to walk down towards the Upper Geyser basin, where there were no lights nearby to interfere with our night vision adjustment. We lay on the paved path with our blankets and among us we spotted around ten Perseid meteors streaking across the northeastern night sky. Unfortunately, a cold front was making its way through the region, and the sky clouded over after a bit. We played twenty questions to pass the time, and eventually gave up on our big night of stargazing in favor of our beds. It was cold enough that night for snow flurries, and the Inn even turned the heaters on.

We slept in that morning and later followed the Fairy Falls trail to the special off-trail detour one can take to get a bird's eye view of Grand Prismatic Spring--a view which is impossible from the official park boardwalks around the spring, but one which is seen in every book and postcard collection nonetheless. After a short uphill scramble, the Mon Voyage group members appreciated immediately the small effort required to yield such a big payoff! Some folks continued all the way to the charming Fairy Falls, while the rest of us enjoyed a picnic lunch down the road. The afternoon was spent exploring numerous other thermal features like Fountain paint Pots, with an early return to the inn. Dinner at the Obsidian Dining Room (next door at the OF Snow Lodge) was excellent, as always, and we had a delightful chat with the chef after dinner.

Our last day we traveled east, stopping to engage in another close elk encounter...the afternoon was spent near the lake again, this time with lunch at the Lake Lodge cafeteria, followed by a beautiful scenic cruise on Lake Yellowstone. On our way out we made a farewell thermal pass at West Thumb Geyser Basin. It's not the most impressive height-wise, but the thermal features are deep and display a riot of colors, and you can't beat the scenery of those sights right along the shoreline of the lake.We spent our last night in the charming town of Jackson, in order to be near the airport for the early morning departure flights. As dawn broke and I drove myself from the airport back to the Cowboy Village Resort for a day of rest and one more night in the Hole, I spied one last creature that I had failed to spot on my first trip...two trumpeter swans gliding across the blushing sky.

Now that this trip is finding its place in the group's collective memory, I am starting to think about the next Mon Voyage Small Group destination. After ten days communing with nature, I may feel the need for an oenophile adventure!

Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, part 1

I have just returned from the first "official" Mon Voyage Small Group Trip, whereby I returned to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks after a five-year absence and with a dozen other people in tow. DH Bill was scheduled to be my escort/sidekick but due to illness he was unable to travel, and my father Louie graciously stepped in to assist me. Accompanying us were Joan & Harvey, Karen, Jeanie, Shirley & Ricardo, Jill & Tom with daughters Emma & Anna, and my trusty cousin Sara.

We arrived in Grand Teton NP on Saturday afternoon at Jackson Hole Municipal Airport, and went about getting settled and organized after making the obligatory stop in Moose to stock up at Dornan's grocery/deli, and more importantly, its handy-dandy and very decent wine shop. We checked into Jackson Lake Lodge cottage units and immediately set about enjoying our little patio with a cocktail and a view. Most of us had dinner together that first night at the Mural Room, and enjoyed the sunset vista of Mount Moran. Almost everywhere you go in the park, you are treated to magnificent views.

During our days in GTNP, we explored the peaceful, scenic Swan Lake/Heron Pond loop hike as well as the uphill ranger-led Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point hike on the west side of Jenny Lake. (You've got to get there early to get one of 25 tokens if you want to accompany the ranger--we were first in line, because we needed 13!)
One morning we took a breakfast cruise on Jackson Lake, which included a hot western food spread on Elk Island, again with a dazzling view of the Tetons and Mount Moran to make everything taste even better. We rode a replica pontoon ferry across the Snake River, and repeatedly ate fresh trout farmed in it. Animal sightings included an injured moose ensconced just outside the lodge, a beaver, plenty of bison down in the Antelope Flats area...but the best was following some scuttlebutt up to the northern border of the park, where we were "treated" to a grizzly bear roaming around and eating in the ravine next to the roadside where we parked, and then finally deciding to cross the road about twenty or thirty feet from our car. We had not seen a grizzly on our first trip here in 2005, so this was an exciting sighting for me!

We had excellent food at the Mural Room and Pioneer Grill at JLL, and fine views at Signal Mtn Lodge Trapper Grill, but the highlight was our lunch at Jenny Lake Lodge. I think we all cleaned our plates that day!

On the fourth day we packed up and headed north to neighboring Yellowstone National Park, which is our oldest NP and dates to 1872! Both parks have interesting histories, and I recommend Ken Burns' PBS series on the National Parks for the backstory on how each was created.

Cajun Mardi Gras, at long last was the first but definitely unofficial Mon Voyage Small Group Trip. I coordinated a small group of friends and relatives to go to Cajun Mardi Gras in February and les bons temps, they definitely rolled! I must have had a six-month hangover because I have failed to post anything about that trip. Better late than never, n'est-ce pas?! We were two aunts, an uncle, a cousin, a few friends of said cousin and of an aunt, plus Bill and yours truly.

We started the festivities by attending super-parade Endymion in New Orleans. With the Saints fresh off their Super Bowl victory, Mardi Gras had turned into Lombardi Gras, and I was not going to be so close to New Orleans without dropping in for a quick visit. The owner of the the Saints, Tom Benson, was the Grand Marshal of the parade, and he brought along with him his daughter Rita (GM), coaches, staff, and a bunch of popular Saints players. Every other parade watcher was garbed in a Saints shirt, and two girls were sporting pig snouts and wings, 'cause pigs flew when the Saints won the Super Bowl!

The next few days were passed cavorting around different towns on the Cajun prairie of South Central Louisiana, from Church Point to Eunice to Mamou to Basile and more. Each town has its own Mardi Gras traditions, variations on a theme. Riders in traditional costumes depart early in the morning, making a circuit around the local homes and farms, collecting the ingredients for a community gumbo (including chasing live chickens). This custom, an ancient European begging and masking tradition, dates at least to the middle ages. If you miss the departure, how do you find them? Just look for the trail of empty beer cans and horse manure. Later in the day--or in some towns, all day long--there's great Cajun music being performed for street dances, because in addition to chasing chickens and drinking, music and dancing are key elements of the celebrations. If you catch the riders while they are out on their run, don't be surprised if one of them starts dancing with you--there's usually a band wagon at the end of the horse assembly.

The whole affair is decidedly unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and must be experienced to be understood. Dr. Barry Ancelet gave an excellent presentation on Cajun Mardi Gras, which only added to one's enjoyment of the trip. Enjoy these few pictures, and if you want to undertake the adventure yourself someday, I can take care of that for you...