How the South Won the Civil War unmasks the American paradox

By Ande Jacobson

Professor Heather Cox Richardson, a prominent professor of American history at Boston College, has gained notoriety in the last several months as the author of a popular series entitled “Letters from an American” which appear on her website as well as on her professional Facebook page on a nightly basis. She began writing these letters in early November 2019 in response to numerous questions she received trying to make sense of the political events of the day. In these letters she provides a nightly roundup of the day’s political news, and along the way, she provides lessons delving the depths of American history to show where many of these ideas and tactics originated. On April 1, 2020 (after she was well into her nightly series), her latest book, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America, was released. In this book, she describes what she refers to as the American paradox. This paradox is based on the principle that throughout American history, equality depended on inequality. She shows how this paradox started before the founding of the country and ripples throughout our nation’s history driving much of the division we see in American society today. Continue reading

My magical musical journey: Part 2 – high school acceleration

By Ande Jacobson

This piece of the journey picks up where part 1 left off, the summer before my freshman year of high school. Leaving junior high behind, there was a lot ahead, and that summer was an eventful one. Normally, the incoming freshman class didn’t start band rehearsals until school commenced in the fall, but this particular summer was different. The band had been invited to participate in a massive summer parade as part of the Lions Club International conference in San Francisco, so there was no time to lose. The high school’s band was an award winning organization known throughout the western region as a top notch marching band. Their strength wasn’t in the drum corps style of marching or field shows. They thrived on military-style street marching competitions where everything, including standing inspections of the uniforms, hair length, musical interpretation, and marching precision was scored. My class, as incoming freshman, had a lot to learn in short order. Continue reading

My magical musical journey: Part 1 – the beginning

By Ande Jacobson

My earlier commentary, Why care about classical music?, got me thinking back to my musical roots. As mentioned in that article, years ago, my ex-husband had asked me if I hadn’t had my early exposure to music at home, would I have still developed such an affinity for it. At that time, though it surprised him, I told him that there was no way to know for sure. Still, music has always been the one constant source of comfort throughout my life. It hasn’t always taken exactly the same form, but it has always affected me deeply, and it has been central to who I am no matter my endeavor. That said, I wanted to further explore my personal musical journey through a series of essays, and this is the first (chronologically at least) in that story.

As that famous Hammerstein lyric states:

“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

I can’t begin my own story without starting with my parents. No, I’m not referring to the obvious fact that without them, I wouldn’t physically exist. I am instead observing that they gave me my first concentrated exposure to music. From the very first days at home, a few things happened. Continue reading

My first pit experience

By Ande Jacobson

Last fall, I had the privilege of both music directing an exciting community production of Urinetown, and mentoring a very promising young musician through his first pit experience. It’s one thing to watch a production unfold from the podium, keeping track of all the various things that a music director must, but it is quite another to watch the show develop through a young musician’s eyes, particularly one who is new to the pit perspective. This was an adult community theater production, and this young keyboard player was the only kid in the pit. Everyone else in our mighty little orchestra was an experienced adult player. Continue reading

A World Without Religion

By Ande Jacobson

Alex and Rowan Jeffries shared much in life. Being fraternal twins, that sharing started with their birthday. They didn’t share a room growing up, as their parents didn’t think that it proper for a girl and a boy to do so long term. From the time they were out of their cribs, they enjoyed their own bedrooms, independent sanctuaries to pursue their private thoughts wherever those took them. Even though they didn’t share a room growing up, they were very close. Now in their late 40s and well-established in their careers in academia with full professorships in their respective fields at the same university, Alex in biochemistry and Rowan in music, they shared a house. The twins lost their parents in an unfortunate accident when they were finishing up their graduate studies. Since then, they had relied on one another as their only remaining family. Neither Alex nor Rowan had ever been married. They each had broad circles of friends, but neither had time nor interest to seriously pursue any romantic entanglements. They lived in an expensive area, and while neither felt comfortable taking on the cost and burdens of home ownership alone, together they had no qualms. And of course they still had their own rooms. Their house started with four bedrooms including only one master suite. They’d converted a second bedroom into another master bedroom suite by building onto the house a bit to enlarge the closets and add a private bathroom, so in the end, they each had their own suite. One of the remaining bedrooms was their shared office, and the last was their guest room for those rare occasions when they had a visitor or two staying with them. They also had a number of musical instruments including a baby grand piano and an electric piano in their living room. Although only Rowan pursued music as a career, they both grew up playing the piano as well as a few other instruments each, and their parents had instilled in them the attitude that a house was not a home without a piano, so they kept that tradition alive. Continue reading

‘The Will Rogers Follies’ has staying power

Will Rogers from 1922 / Photo Credit: Google Images

By Ande Jacobson

Sometimes a show touches you in ways that you don’t really expect going in. My recent run of The Will Rogers Follies was such a show. I wrote a previous commentary/promotional article chronicling the journey to opening from the pit’s perspective, and the music was both challenging and very rewarding to play, but the show became so much more than any one piece of the production. The run finished several weeks ago. Still, the story continues to linger in my mind as I contemplate how things could be if more people held attitudes like Will Rogers. The show is a musical with book by Peter Stone, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and opened on Broadway in May 1991. The story, told by the title character, takes a biographical look at the life and times of Will Rogers via musical acts, conversations, and monologues that contain many quotes from Rogers’ actual speeches and writings. Rogers was known as an entertainer and humorist, but more than that, he was a keen observer of people. He had an almost unheard of talent for poking fun, even at controversial subjects, without offending anyone. He’s also very well-known for stating that he never met a man he didn’t like. Continue reading

FMT presents a breathtaking new look at ‘Cinderella’

By Ande Jacobson

This summer, Foothill Music Theatre (FMT) is presenting the South Bay premiere of an exciting, fresh look at an old rags-to-riches story with its production of Cinderella. It’s still a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical adaptation of the French story, Cendrillon, ou la Petite Pantoufle de Verre, with all of the beloved songs. This 2013 revision finally took the show to Broadway for the first time and includes a modernized book by Douglas Carter Beane to go along with an updated orchestration. The show retains all of the charm and family-friendliness of the original television and Disney animated presentations while the latest changes make it more relevant to 21st century audiences. Continue reading

Playing to live vs. living to play

By Ande Jacobson

In December 2012, I wrote an article about the role of the pit musician in musical theatre. That article was written from a musician’s point of view and focused on the physical environment; equipment; training; mindset of performers who worked in the shadows; versatility that was required of pit musicians; and only mentioned compensation as a cursory aside. This article takes a closer look at the differences between pit musicians who live to play as opposed to those who play to live and discusses the challenges community theaters face with respect to pit musicians. Continue reading

‘The Will Rogers Follies’ pit chronicles in getting to opening

By Ande Jacobson

West Valley Light Opera (affectionately known as WVLO) is presenting a spectacle chronicling the life and times of Will Rogers in its production of The Will Rogers Follies. The show opens on 22 June 2019 and runs through 20 July 2019 at the Saratoga Civic Theater. Will Rogers’ personality comes through in this stage adaptation highlighting the more memorable aspects of his life. Rogers was known for offering his observations from his many travels, and while he poked fun at various controversial topics along the way, he did so gently, offending no one and appealing to people from all walks of life. This production is full of folksy charm, the color and glitz of The Ziegfeld Follies, and of course a smattering of rope tricks. Continue reading

The ‘Shrek’ pit chronicles

By Ande Jacobson

Shrek the Musical is one of those shows that people seem to either love or hate. The story started as a book by William Steig in 1990, became a DreamWorks Animation film in 2001, and finally in December 2008 opened on Broadway as the aforementioned musical. A video of the Broadway production was later released in 2013 on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a digital download. It’s also one of those shows that keeps popping up around the country and around the world in various productions at all levels. Because it features a large cast and is very family friendly, it is a frequent favorite among youth theaters. It also continues to attract adult community theaters and even regional professional companies. Given its ubiquity, one would expect this show to be a perennial crowd favorite, and yet, within the theater community, it evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative. Continue reading