Ten days, no blog

That’s almost a record, I think. But I have a good excuse. We were in Birmingham visiting my family, and hanging out a little bit with King Pen and WonderGirl. It was hard to leave. Very hard. A lot of people can’t wait to leave their hometown once they grow up. Not me. I love my hometown. I loved it as a child. I loved it even more as a college student. I still love it. A whole lot. I knew kids in high school who talked about “leaving this little town” and going to someplace like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or even just to Atlanta. A lot of them did. I never had those feelings.

For me, Birmingham was/is just the right size (although it has grown a great deal since my childhood). It was big enough to afford us lots of cultural opportunities, but small enough that getting around was not a nightmare. I went to my first recital at age five. It was a Baroque chamber music recital at the First Christian Church in downtown Birmingham. At age six, I went to the ballet for the first time. By the time I was ten, I had been to the symphony many, many times and had seen an opera (“Porgy and Bess” performed by Southern Regional Opera). I brought back my old ticket stubs with me this time. I saw “Annie” in 1980 (I was 12) and “Evita” in 1981 (at 13). In my teenage and college years, I was a part of a P.D.Q. Bach concert conducted by Peter Schickele (I have his autograph somewhere in a box), saw the Manhattan Transfer and the Swingle Singers two times each, saw Bobby McFerrin (before “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”), Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” (in 1985), Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Jerome Hines, Ray Charles, Steve and Eydie (don’t laugh–they put on a great show!), Gallagher (OK, you can laugh at that one), “Cats”, “Les Miserables”, the B-52’s, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Spyro Gyra, Wynton Marsalis, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, countless string quartets and trios from all over Europe (who performed as a part of the Birmingham Music Club), and many, many more.

I performed in the chorus for Beethoven’s Ninth and Poulenc’s Gloria with the Alabama Symphony. I have sung Falke in Die Fledermaus, and Major General Stanley and the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (in two separate productions, of course). As a part of the Birmingham Savoyards, I sang in Trial By Jury and the little-performed, three-man operetta, Cox and Box (It’s the story of two men who share a flat and don’t know it:  one works days and the other works nights.  I can’t tell you if I was Cox or Box, but tenor Randall Richardson–also my former voice teacher–was the other character, whichever one I was not.  Chipper Janes sang the role of our landlord.). I sang with the Lee Scott Singers for eight years, making many recordings.

All in Birmingham.

It is so obvious, when we go back to Birmingham and visit, that culture is just an everyday part of life. You don’t have to go looking for it: it’s everywhere. Part of that is because you’ve got UAB, Samford, and Birmingham-Southern all in the same town, with UA just a stone’s throw away in Tuscaloosa and Montevallo just down the road too, and each of these schools has an outstanding music department/school of music, plus outstanding drama as well. Add to that the Alabama School of Fine Arts downtown and more world-class church organists and church choirs than any town of any size should be allowed to have, and you get the picture.

(Most people don’t realize this, but Alabama was the first state to have a public television network. Every other state’s public television network is modeled after APT. Public radio went on the air very early in Birmingham, too. WBHM is one of the oldest, and finest, public radio stations in the country.)

I miss the hillly landscape, a lot. I’ve gone on and on before about the restarants I miss, particularly the barbecue places. I miss Five Points South, the Alabama Theatre (and I will not watch “Gone With the Wind” anywhere else!), Vulcan, Burt and Kurt, Rick and Bubba, Parisian, Milo’s, Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, Grapico, and Pete’s Famous on 4th Avenue. I miss Step Sing, City Stages, and the Greek Festival at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross. I miss James Spann and Brenda Ladun on TV, and I even miss (dare I say it?) Paul Finebaum in the paper. I miss the PAPER, for crying out loud! It’s not one of those Gannett clones, and it actually has CONTENT.

But mostly it’s the music I miss. I miss working with Lee Scott terribly. I miss singing in the most acoustically perfect choir loft I’ve ever been in before or since (Mountain Brook Presbyterian). I miss ASO concerts (mostly Amerigo Marino: Paul Polivnick not so much). Choral Evensong at Cathedral Church of the Advent and IPC. Christmas Eve at the Advent and/or St. Mary’s-on-the-Highlands. The Choir at Temple Emanu-El at the High Holy Days.

I want my children to have access to the kinds of opportunities that I had. Note to self: work on that.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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24 Responses to Ten days, no blog

  1. Mark says:

    REV was the talk of the production of Pirates when he was the Major General. He actually stole the show.

    People sort’ve are shocked when I explain the amount of cultural opportunities in Birmingham. It may just be because I was a college student, and up for anything but there was always something to do in Birmingham.

  2. Mark says:

    Here is a site that might interest you. It even has pictures what it was like when you attended Howard. hehe


  3. DerOrgelMeister says:

    I had no idea you were so well-travelled, musically! Well, I had some idea. But the scope of it…wow. That’s quite the resume, right there.

    A Wagner opera? Goodness…and several G&S productions. Quite quite impressive.

    *thumbs up*

  4. Greetings, former Birmingham resident and possible choir person. My search tools found your blog this morning (you used the words UAB and choir in the same blog) and I just read your wonderful post on our city.

    I liked it so much that I posted a portion of it on my site:


    I couldn’t tell from my brief examination of your blog if you were still a choir conductor but I did see that you got your MM in Choral Conducting from USM.

    Please visit us on your next trip to Birmingham. Our choir rehearses every day of the fall and spring semesters and we’d love to host you–our building is right next to the Alys Stephens Center.


    philip l. copeland

  5. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Oh yeah? Well I saw Olivia Newton-John in the “Let’s Get Physical” tour.

  6. PaulB says:

    “UA is a stone’s throw away”– yeah, I’d like to stone it. War Eagle.

    Sheesh– I represent the less cultured aspects of the family. I could regale you of trips I made to Legion Field, movies I saw at Cinema City (or as Jim Head called it, “Enema City”– he’s now a gynacologist), 6 year olds I taught to swim at the Shades Valley YMCA, and sacking groceries at Western Supermarket in East Lake.

    I need to get out more.

  7. Nathan, Um yeah, he has an undergrad in music and a masters of conducting as well. He knows what he’s talking about.

    Vrouw, what I want to know is do/did you have the outfit too? You were NOT a true Newton-John fan unless you at least had the headband.

  8. RevJATB says:

    Die Fledermaus is an operetta by Johann Strauss, not a Wagner opera.

  9. RevJATB says:

    And I did see several movies at “Enema City” too, including “Superman: The Movie” with Christopher Reeve. I also remember the not-so-long-lived “Super Cellar” at said establishment.

    I did not sack groceries at Western as my brother did, but we do share a past career as janitor at Raffield Drugs in Center Point. (I wonder what happened to all those Bobby Sherman coloring books Mr. Raffield still had on the shelves as late as 1984?)

  10. Barbara says:

    I was able to see both “Porgy and Bess” and Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at the Bregenzer Festspiele on the Seebuehne. It was truly amazing.

  11. shelbybark says:

    Hello, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog. I had noticed just yesterday the links to St. Matthews’ and Lee Scott’s web sites on the JKPCA web site. My family attended St. Matthews for a couple years, and we enjoyed getting to know Lee Scott while we were there. We also care a great deal for Roger Salter and his family. We are members of a PCA church in Tuscaloosa, where we live, but miss the time we spent at St. Matthews.

  12. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Ixnay on the Eadbandhay. I went with a passle of nurses from Swedish Medical Center in Denver who were the fans. “Just along for the ride.” Some of the concerts I actually sought out during those years were Willie Nelson, Elton John, Quarterflash & YeeeeHaw! Jooooohn Denver! at Red Rocks, the most spectacular venue ever; Bruce Springsteen & (yes) Mikah Jatson. Ooh. And the Pretenders.
    But I digress. I have developed a love of central Abalama, also, because of y’all, and our Tuscaloosa friends. Say, I bet a young lady with a passion for the dramatic and/or musical arts would do well to look into the above-mentiuoned institutions of higher learning.

  13. RevJATB says:

    Yes indeedy she would, Vrouw.

    Last I heard, Vrouw, Quarterflash was doing the state fair circuit. Sad, isn’t it? Mark saw Pat Benatar at a county fair in VA a few years ago. Called me on his cell phone from the concert, in fact!

    Barbara, I saw Fidelio as a Samford student. We had taken an opera on the road and were in Louisville, KY, and saw their opera company perform Fidelio.

    So did they do Porgy and Bess in German or in English? How would you do “I got plenty o’ nuthin'” in German?

  14. RevJATB says:

    Vrouw, if you can admit to having seen Michael, I can admit to having seen Whitney. And (to make matters worse), the opening act for Whitney was Kenny G.! Whitney was on a rotating stage the whole time, since the concert was at the BJCC Colisseum (now called the Arena), so there were people seated all around her. It didn’t seem to bother her: I guess she’s used to feeling like the room is spinning all the time.

    It was fun to watch Whitney try to dance. Kim Coles did a spot-on rendition of Whitney’s dancing inablities on “In Living Colour” in a sketch called “Rhythmless Nation.” I wonder if it’s on YouTube . . .

  15. RevJATB says:

    Philip and shelbybark,

    Welcome, and thanks for your comments!

    Philip, as a high school senior (that would have been in 1984) I sang with one of the UAB choirs. Chamber Singers, maybe? Fred Stroup was the director at the time. I remember we did Haydn’s Theresienmesse and several very interesting 20th century pieces, none of which I can name for you now. (Hey! It was a long time ago.)

    No I’m not currently conducting, but you’re right, I got my MM under Bill Weinert at USM (before he went to Eastman). My undergrad is in voice, from Samford (I was a student of Randall Richardson), where I was in University Chorale and Minnesingers with Tim Banks, the A Cappella Choir with Gene Black, and the VocalLeague with Bill Bugg (who was also my church choir director at Mtn. Brook Presbyterian).

    I would love to come to a rehearsal, and I’ll definitely take you up on the invitation. Thanks!

  16. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Hey, shelbybark, say hello to pdrinkard for me!

  17. Barbara says:

    Porgy and Bess was in German. I never picked up on all the different dialects and accents until I came to the U.S. and was able to see undubbed (if that is a word) versions of tv shows and movies we would watch in Germany all the time, such as The Cosby Show or Gone With the Wind. They all “speak” proper, High German!

  18. shelbybark, unless there is another PCA church in Tuscaloosa, that would be Riverwood Pres, right? My uncle was at that church for many years before he headed off to the PCA offices in Atlanta. I know the church well. Although I’m sure it has changed since I was last there myself. OH, and for his new readers, I’m his other half (the better one, of course. hahahahaha).

  19. shelbybark says:

    @Vrouw_Jonker – Will do. Wow, it’s a small, small world.

    @the SmockLady – That’s the one we’re members of. There’s actually one other one in town. Is your uncle John Robertson? We’ve attended Riverwood since my wife was at the UA and joined right after we got married in 1997, so we know the Robertsons. The church has seen many changes over the years we’ve been a part of it.

  20. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Plus, I enjoyed listening to Rick and Bubba recently on a nationally syndicated talk radio show. Another reason to envy Birminghamovians.

  21. shelbybark, I didn’t realize that there was another in town. And, yes, John is my mother’s brother. Glad to know you know them – they are people definitely worth knowing. They are very special.

  22. the opoponax says:

    wow. i’m imagining All in the Family in High German, and wow. actually, any Norman Lear show in any highfalutin’ German dialect would make for brilliant 20th century social commentary…

  23. Sara says:

    wait, ack! that’s me!

  24. RevJATB says:

    What show were R&B on, Vrouw? Was is Sean Hannity? He has been on their show many times, so that would be my first guess.

    R&B’s radio show is syndicated across the South. We listened to it in H’burg on KZ94.3. Alas, no stations in LA carry them. Some people have written to XM trying to get them to carry the show, but so far no luck.

    You can check out their web site and listen to their program live online by going to http://www.rickandbubba.com

    Of course it’s hard to listen to a webcast in the car, which was the main place I listened to them in the mornings. (They are on from 6-10 central time.)

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