One day in 2006, I entered the search terms ["mr abraham" cello] on a Google search, hoping references to my father-in-law, cellist and cello teacher Robin Abraham, might appear. One item that did come up was the minutes of a meeting of a committee of educators in Kansas who had toured the studio of a sculptor named Eric Abraham (and elsewhere on the tour had listened to a performance by some string-instrument students). My first name is Eric; my wife's maiden name is Abraham: if when we married I had taken on her surname instead of the other way around, my name would now be Eric Abraham. Eric Abraham was born in New York City, in the Harlem section of Manhattan, to artistic parents who had met in NYC. My wife was born April Abraham in New York City, in the Harlem section of Manhattan, to artistic parents who had met in NYC. Eric Abraham studied at an arts institute (Kansas City Art Institute) in Kansas City and earned a degree in fine arts (visual arts) from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln; he lived in two small towns in Kansas (Waubansee and Lucas). My father, Henry Brahinsky, studied at an arts institute in Kansas City (KC Conservatory of Music, which was across the street from the Art Institute) and earned a degree in fine arts from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (in music [the music building was across the street from the art building]); he lived in two small towns in Kansas (Concordia and Marysville). I love pigs and passionately collect sculptures, trinkets, curios, etc. of pigs; I particularly seek out flying pigs. Eric Abraham was a sculptor whose signature item was flying pigs; his studio was called "The Flying Pig Studio." April's great-grandfather Samuel Abraham was a professional artistic painter. Eric Abraham was a professional artistic painter. Eric Abraham lived within a few miles east of US Highway 281 (in Lucas, Kansas). April and I live within a few miles east of US Highway 281 (in San Antonio, Texas).
In 1982, I was appointed concertmaster of the orchestra for Texas Opera Theater, a touring company based in Houston. On the way to the first rehearsal of that season, I went to dinner with a colleague, Avi Yosselevitch, who had been staying with me. We couldn't help noticing that part of the conversation at a neighboring table involved classical music performance and musical theatre, but we resisted the temptation to interrupt the other diners. . . . At the rehearsal that evening (which was not in the same part of the city as the restaurant), the assistant music director, Sue Marie Albert, was introduced to the orchestra. She was one of the ladies Avi and I had seen at the restaurant. . . . There was not a good opportunity to speak with her at that time, and it wasn't until well into the tour that Sue Marie and I had a chance to converse. It turned out that she and her companion had noticed Avi and me at the neighboring table that evening, mainly because they saw a violin case next to my chair. She recounted that her friend had jestingly remarked to her something like: "Looka violin. You think he's in your orchestra?" "Are you kidding?" Sue Marie had smirked. "He's probably the concertmaster!"
In the summer of 1997, I enrolled in an Independent Study course in mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio. At my first session with my two professors for the course, much time was spent filling out various forms for use by academic and administrative officials. . . . Appropriately, I had brought with me my (Pisces) horoscope for that day, as printed in the San Antonio Express-News. It read:
"Pisces (Feb. 19March 20). Independent work and study helps you stand out from the crowd. Strong relationships with smart people will get you through the rough spots, but make sure you have deals in writing."
I usually discard the fortunes that I get in fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants, but there was one I got in 1994 or so that I found amusing, so I kept it in a prominent spot on my kitchen counter. It read:
"You have a magnetic personality which will lead you to trouble."
In January of 1995, I met April Abraham, who would become my wife later that year. One of the first things I learned about her was that as a 3-year-old, in the only dramatic role of her life, she had played Cio Cio San's young child in an Aspen, Colorado, production of the Puccini opera Madama Butterfly. The name of her character: Trouble.
In 1985, I flew from San Antonio to Phoenix to audition for the Phoenix Symphony. When I got on the plane, I spotted Donna Poole, an old violinist friend from Houston days; she had boarded the plane earlier, in Houston, and was also going to the audition. Once we were in the air, I got up from my seat to visit with Donna. She introduced me to her friend in the next seat, Melissa Pierson, another hopeful auditionee. When we got to Phoenix, Melissa and Donna offered me a ride to the motel with the parents of a friend of Melissa's. Although dozens of violinists were staying in the motel, Donna and Melissa were assigned to a room immediately adjoining mine. As Melissa and I chatted, we found much in common. Via correspondence over a period of many months we became close friends. . . . In the fall of 1986, I began work as a violinist in the Virginia Symphony (in Norfolk). I found out that the only other symphony members in my immediate neighborhood were husband-and-wife violists Greg and Gail Barnes, so the three of us formed a carpool. I soon mentioned my good friend Melissa Pierson. Gail recognized the name, because Gail knew Melissa's sister, violist Davin Torre. Not only did Gail and Davin know each otherthey had been viola majors at the University of Michigan together. And they had lived in the same dorm. In the same room. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
In 1987, Melissa and I began a serious relationship; along the way we learned more and more trivial details about each other. Among them was this:
Melissa had grown up in Livonia, Michigan. In junior high her orchestra director was a man named Weldon Minnick. Some time not long thereafter, Mr. Minnick moved from Livonia to take a teaching job in Texas. Yes, I told her; I knew his name because his new job was as the orchestra director at Skyline High School in Dallas . . . my high school (although it was after I had graduated). . . . . . . . . . . . .
One of my symphony colleagues was Beth Stoppels (now Girko). Beth and Melissa got to be good friends in Jacksonville. They learned that they had both studied violin at the Eastman School of Music (Rochester NY), though not at the same time. Each had lived in an apartment in Rochester. They compared addresses. . . . It was the same apartment. . . . . . .
In 1988, Davin Pierson Torre, Melissa's sister, was appointed music director of the Flint (MI) Youth Symphony Orchestra. She took over the position from David Mairs, who had just been appointed to the artistic staff of the San Antonio Symphony, where he would eventually become Resident Conductor. As I was a member of the SA Symphony from 1989 to 1999, I worked with David dozens of times. After my departure from SAS, I played a number of seasons with the Mid-Texas Symphony under its music director, who was also no longer affiliated with SAS: David Mairs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Beth Stoppels Girko has had exactly three full-time orchestra positions: the Jacksonville Symphony, the Virginia Symphony, and the San Antonio Symphony. I have had exactly three full-time orchestra positions: the Jacksonville Symphony, the Virginia Symphony, and the San Antonio Symphony. (We were in Jacksonville at the same time and San Antonio at the same time, but in Virginia at different times.)
. . . Beth, who was originally from Michigan, was at one time acting principal second violin of the Virginia Symphony. She had a long-term relationship with Phil (Koch), who played oboe and English horn in the Virginia Symphony at one time and lived in Minnesota at one time. Beth now owns long-haired dachshunds, one of whom (Sieglinde) is named after a character in a Wagner opera. . . . When I was in the Virginia Symphony, Eloise Clark-McKenzie, who was originally from Michigan, was principal second violin. Her husband, Phil (McKenzie), played oboe and English horn in the Virginia Symphony; he had lived in Minnesota at one time. They owned a long-haired dachshund (Tristan), who was named after a character in a Wagner opera.
When we got internet service, my wife and I created screen names by the very common method of combining one's first initial with one's last name (April used her married surname, Brahinsky). The screen name that resulted for April exactly matched, for its first five letters, April's maiden name. She considers "abrahinsky" a perfect blend of her maiden and married names, which are, respectively, Abraham and Brahinsky.
I figured out that if one spells out the names (in English) of the ordinal forms of the first 100 counting numbers (first, second, third, and so on up to ninety-eighth, ninety-ninth, and one hundredth), then alphabetizes this list, then arranges the alphabetized list in columns of 26 (inspired by the fact that the alphabet has 26 letters [the fourth column is left short]), the words at the bottoms of the first, second, and third columns will be, respectively, first, second, and third.
In 1985, I attended a violin master class in San Antonio given by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. I went mainly to hear my friend and San Antonio Symphony colleague Debbie Torch play; afterwards I would not remember who else performed. As I would later learn, one of the other performers was Phyllis Nguyen, then a high-school violinist. . . . I met and befriended Phyllis some five or six years later when she worked several times as a substitute violinist in the San Antonio Symphony. . . . . . In 1995, I met pianist and piano teacher April Abraham, who would soon become my wife. I learned that April had been extremely close to the whole Nguyen family; she had spent much of the 1980s playing chamber music with them. In fact, she had been Phyllis's accompanist at that master class in 1985. . . . Through April I got to know the Nguyens better. One thing I learned was that Phyllis had married a physician, John Averyt, in 1993. John's mother, Claire Averyt, had already been known to April because Claire was active on the San Antonio piano-teaching scene. Through April I met Claire. . . . . . . .
In 2001 April and I were visiting my mother in Dallas. While we were going through piles of old papers and memorabilia, I ran across a very old program, from 1965. It was from a choir concert at Alex Sanger Elementary School in Dallas that my brother, then in sixth grade, had sung in (I actually remember hearing that concert, as a third grader). The program listed an accompanist for the choir, who (as it would turn out) was Sanger's class piano teacher. Her name was Claire Averyt.
The following is a description of a chain of events over a two-day period in 1991, exactly as I recorded them in a notebook at the time:
"On 7/28/91, I began reading The Falcon and the Snowman. Later that day, a friend from the SAS [San Antonio Symphony] visited. As we were driving around, we came to Jones-Maltsberger Rd. She commented, 'I never want to live on this street, because I wouldn't want to have to write "Jones-Maltsberger" in my return address all the time.' Her comment reminded me of when my brother used to joke years ago about what it would be like to be a cheerleader for California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo:
'Give me a C!'
'Give me an A!'
. . .
. . .
. . .
(20 minutes later)
'Give me an O!'
On 7/29, I read some more. The book discussed Chris Boyce's fascination with falcons and falconry. Then I encountered (only a couple of pages into that morning's reading) this paragraph, quoting his application to work at TRW:
"'"I am delaying my prelaw studies at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo," he wrote "for financial reasons and seek employment to correct this situation, determined to work until September 1976. I am also a licensed California falconer presently flying an Accipiter cooper."'
"I was pretty stunned at reading a reference to Cal Poly SLO the day after thinking about it, as it is not exactly a topic that crosses my mind frequently. Even while being stunned, I noted with interest the word 'Accipiter,' since it was not one I knew. I figured from context it was a type of falcon and thought no more of it. . . . A couple of hours later, another friend from SAS dropped by. He wanted to play 'Big Boggle' (a word game), so we did. A couple of games in, I made the word 'addle,' which he challenged. As I looked it up, one of the 'guide words' in the dictionary (last on a page and printed in boldface in the top margin) caught my eye: 'accipiter'! . . . We finished a few gameshe went home. I flipped on the TV and decided to watch a bit of The Beastmaster (which I had not seen before). A couple of minutes into my viewing was a scene of Marc Singer flying his falcon. . . . . . . . . "
. . . [Addendum:] A few days after I typed out this story, I got one of those junk e-mails where the body of the message consists of a random string of words. One of the words was accipiter.
The following is a description of a chain of events in 1994, exactly as I recorded them in a notebook at the time [N.B.: I was at that time a violinist in the San Antonio Symphony]:
"A few days ago (as I write this on 10/14/94), a local pianist brought by the violin parts for a quintet by Dohnanyi she wanted me to play. A day or two later, I began reading the next book in my pile, a biography of Jacqueline du Pré, the British cellist who had established herself as one of the world's greats in the 1960's and 70's, when her career was cut short by a diagnosis of M.S. when she was just 28. . . During the time I was reading the book, I first looked at the Dohnanyi music. Although it had been checked out of the Trinity U. library, it was still inscribed with the name of its previous owner: Philene Ware. I knew Philene: she was a free-lance cellist that lived in Dallas around 197980, and played a few jobs my dad contracted. At that time, my dad mentioned off-hand to her that I was looking for a violin. Well. . . it turns out that her husband had had a violin on order from the excellent contemporary maker Sergio Peresson, but her husband had just been killed in a car accident; she would be willing to have the order transferred to me. It was, and I now play on that violin! What had her husband's job been at the time of his death? A violinist in the San Antonio Symphony. . . . Too many coincidences? Well, there's one more. . . . A few months after the Peresson conversation & transaction took place, Philene was diagnosed as having M.S. . . . Oh, yesone more: late in her career, du Pré bought a Peresson cello."
On the way back to Texas from Florida on a car trip in 1999, April and I stopped for the night at a Red Roof Inn in Lafayette, Louisiana. When we checked in the desk clerk remarked that another party with the same last name was also staying there. We thought she was either mistaken, or, possibly, my uncle and aunt from Denver, who traveled a lot in those days, could have been there. The clerk got our permission and the other party's to give out our respective room numbers, and we met the couple, an elderly pair from Florida. Their last name was Brohinsky, but the gentleman's father had changed it from Brahinsky. The man, Hesh, was a nephew of the eminent early-20th-century Yiddish-language poet Mani-Leyb Brahinsky. . . We also established that Hesh had a cousin, Steve Robbins, who taught computer science at the University of Texas at San Antonio at the same time I was studying mathematics there, and who taught mathematics at MIT at the same time I was studying mathematics and computer science there.
While eating lunch at a cafe in Indianola, Iowa, in 1990, I was absently gazing at the pictures of various foods printed on the paper placemat. At the moment my eyes happened to be fixed on a picture of fried eggs, a song came over the Muzak with the lyrics: "One less bell to answer, one less egg to fry. . . ."
In 1968, as a seventh grader, I made friends with a boy, Jim King, who had just moved to Dallas from Illinois. He lived only a couple of blocks from me. At the end of that school year, his family moved again, to Austin, but, mainly attributable to a common interest in math, we began correspondingand that correspondence continues to this day (2006). . . . In a 1974 letter to me, Jim mentioned that his four-member high-school computer team in Austin had won a programming tournament; one of his colleagues was a neighbor and fellow math and science whiz named Matt Delevoryas. . . . In 1977, at the Meadowmount School of Music in New York State, I became friends, based in large part on shared interests in violin, word puzzles, science, and Texas, with a violinist from Houston named Debbie Moran. In 198081, Debbie was my stand partner in the Texas Opera Theater orchestra; at that time we became much closer friends. In a letter to Jim that year, I mentioned Debbie because she was my friend, but also because both Debbie and Jim were extremely interested and involved in astronomy, they had both attended the University of Texas at Austin (at the same time), and both had lived in southwest Houston. It turned out that Jim had lived only a couple of blocks from what would be Debbie's house, but he had moved away from Houston just months before she moved to Houston. . . . I fell out of touch with Debbie for quite a few years, but have re-established contact through e-mail. She still lives in Houstonnow with a long-term boyfriend with whom she shares interests in astronomy, word puzzles, and fencing. His name is Matt Delevoryas.
During the time I was preparing this list of coincidences (March 2006), I was surfing the web when, for no particular reason, I decided to look at the personal page for my favorite mathematics professor from my days at the University of Texas at San Antonio (199597), Walter ("Rich") Richardson. The first link I followed led to a page whereon Dr. Richardson listed his favorite restaurants (all in Austin). The restaurant whose name caught my eye (I don't know why) was Threadgill's (which until then was unfamiliar to me). I then felt compelled to look at the Threadgill's website, which I examined at some length, including downloading a pdf of its menu. As a vegetarian, I was pleased that they offered vegetable plates and that the ingredients of their vegetable dishes were described in detail on the menu. I told April about my "find" and that we should really consider going there next time we're in Austin. Why Threadgill's seemed to have me under such a spell that day, I don't know, but . . . that same evening I turned on the TV. The guide listed a biography of Janis Joplin on the Arts & Entertainment channel. Since I knew she had been born in Texas, I decided to watch at least the beginning of it. A few minutes in, the narrator told of how Miss Joplin left her native Port Arthur to attend college at the University of Texas at Austin, and how her friends urged her to show off her singing voice at local restaurants and bars, and how this led to her first gig as a professional singer. The restaurant where she debuted was pictured prominently on the screen. Its name: Threadgill's.
During the time I was preparing this list of coincidences (April 2006), I was browsing through the "Biographical Names" section of my dictionary. I looked at only a few names, and of those one in particular caught my eye: that of John Kenneth Galbraith. I noted with wonder that he was still living, as his birth year of 1908 would make him 97 or 98. I specifically thought that his death, when it came, would be an important news item, and it was inevitable that it would be relatively soon. . . . Not 5 minutes later, I signed onto America Online to check my e-mail. The welcome screen came on and listed four headlines under "Top News." The second was: "Renowned Economist Galbraith Dies of Natural Causes."
During the time I was preparing this list of coincidences (June 2006), I returned home from a performance as a musician at a wedding. My wife asked where the ceremony had been held. I told her that it was at St. Leo's Catholic Church. As a joke, she asked whether Leo LaFosse (a former concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony, by then deceased) had been there. "No," I answered, "but funny you should say that." . . . The groom's name was Nicholas La Fosse.
During the time I was preparing this list of coincidences (July 2006), I did a Google search for my late uncle Morris Shulik of Philadelphia. One of the first few hits contained this sentence:
"I can never say anything bad about the Philadelphia Orchestra again, considering that I've moved next door to Morris Shulik, one of the first violins."
The sentence was from a post by Jason Greshes on a bulletin board that was part of his own website. The website is devoted to the music of Gustav Mahler. Mahler is my favorite composer. The host for Mr. Greshes's website is the listserv of the University of Houston. UH is the college at which I earned both of my music degrees. . . . An e-mail from my aunt Helen, Morris's widow, confirmed that she and Morris knew Mr. Greshes well.
During the time I was preparing this list of coincidences (August 2006), I was involved in another project: downloading and printing out old stories of interest from the archives of the Dallas Morning News, the newspaper in my original hometown. One of the stories that appeared when I entered the keyword brahinsky was a feature from July 1954 about an upcoming chamber music concert at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in which my father, Henry Brahinsky, was playing. In the article, the other four musicians names were given; the bass players name, James Krummenacher, was unfamiliar to me, so I googled it on the off chance that he was still active in some capacity. The first link I followed indicated he was currently a member of the bass section of the Pittsburgh Symphony. The second link led to a column at violinist.com from January 2006, wherein it stated that Mr. Krummenacher would soon be retiring after 50 years in Pittsburgh, effective August 31, 2006: exactly five days after I read that 52-year-old article about him.
In 1940, a young violinist named Henry moved to Dallas. Henry had just completed a degree in violin at the University of Nebraska but was already an artist-level musician; indeed, within a very short time he would be appointed assistant concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. . . . When Henry first arrived he lived in a rented upstairs room in a South Dallas home. The lady next door taught private piano lessons in her home; Henry, in his musical sophistication, found the sounds emanating from the nearby piano studio amusing. With one exception: on Saturday mornings, he liked to sleep in, but he was invariably jolted from his rest at approximately the same time by the same wrong note in the same tune, evidently by the same recalcitrant student, week after week. Before long, he moved on, or the student quit. . . . In the ensuing ten years, Henry played with the Dallas Symphony, served in the Armed Forces in World War II, returned to the symphony, quit the symphony, started a private violin studio, became a public-school music teacher, and met, courted, and married a young local physician named Muriel. They settled into their new home together. Like every 1950 couple with any class, they had a baby grand piano. Muriel sat down and played a few notes. Henry let out a startled yelp. Muriel, panicky, stopped, wondering what emergency medical condition had stricken poor Henry. He was physically intact but visibly shaken as he gasped: Keep playing! Keep playing! Muriel, a bit shaken herself, continued, until suddenly Henry cried out: Thats it! Thats a wrong note!!!! Henrys new wife had been the girl who, ten years earlier, had repeatedly disturbed his Saturday morning reveries. . . . . . . . And of course, Muriel Silberman and Henry Brahinsky were my parents.
When I was a music student at the University of Houston, one of my best friends was Jan Lipscomb (now Thomas), a fellow violin major who, like me, began her studies in Houston in 1976. In one conversation, Jan and I came to realize that we had attended the same matinee performance of the musical Fiddler on the Roof about a year earlieron the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was a student at MIT at the time; Jan, who then lived in North Carolina, was visiting a friend, Sandy Ayres, who attended MIT. Although I didn't know Jan at that time, I knew Sandy (slightly), since she and I were both in the MIT Symphony Orchestra.
In another conversation with Jan Lipscomb, we learned that earlier that day, each of us, in our respective apartment kitchens, had dropped and broken a jar of pickles.
The following is a description of a chain of events over an eight-hour period in 2002, (almost) exactly as I recorded them in a notebook at the time:
"On 12/07/02, while sitting at the breakfast table in our home (which is situated in the attendance zone of San Antonio MacArthur HS), I read in the paper that the boys' basketball team from my own [high school] alma mater, Dallas Skyline HS, was playing in a tournament (the game was in progress at the very moment I was reading about it). The site of the game: [San Antonio] MacArthur HS. The opponent: [San Antonio] Roosevelt HS. . . . At 5:30 that evening I went to the concert of the [Texas Music Educators Association] Region XII orchestras in the auditorium of SA Roosevelt HS. I had one violin student in the top orchestra. She attends SA MacArthur HS."
On December 5, 2002, while in San Antonio, I wrote an e-mail to a friend, Debbie Moran. One paragraph of that e-mail contained the following text:
". . .You were probably in Midland during those years. . . . A few notable coincidences already, eh? . . . (Is that the Twilight Zone motif in the background?)"
Twelve days later, David Flores's sports column in the San Antonio Express-News contained the following text:
"Ross . . . listened to the Judson-Midland game as they returned to San Antonio from a tournament in, coincidentally, Midland. Is that the 'Twilight Zone' theme I hear playing?"
Between 2003 and 2006, I taught private violin lessons to three brothers in San Antonio. Their father allowed that he is not an accomplished musician but did study piano privately for a few years during his boyhood in Houston in the early 1960s from a nice lady named Mrs. Smith who lived on the corner and had a big harp in her living room. Knowing of the neighborhood where Dr. Ivy had lived, I asked, "Do you know if her first name was Louise?" Surprised, he responded that yes, he thought that was right: Louise Smith. I informed him that Louise was my wife's aunt, and the harp belonged to Sharon, my wife's first cousin.
In June 2007, I created an article for Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, on the subject of Hans Kreissig (18561929), the founder and music director of the original Dallas Symphony Orchestra in 1900. My reference source mentioned that before Kreissig came to the U.S. he toured Europe extensively with a great cornet virtuoso named Jules Levy, so I included that fact in my article. I checked to see whether an article on Levy already existed; one did, so I created a link to it from my Kreissig article. A little later, I checked to see when the Jules Levy article had been created. According to the time stamp, it was uploaded (for the first time) probably 5 to 10 minutes before I searched for it.
On New Year's Day of 1979, I turned on the TV at my parents' house in Dallas to watch the Cotton Bowl Parade. The opening theme music for the broadcast was an upbeat, march-like, vaguely old-fashioned-American-West-sounding tune that I could not identify, though it sounded maddeningly familiar. At breakfast I sang it to the rest of my family, and everyone agreed it sounded familiar, but no one knew exactly what it was. . . . Over the ensuing decades, that tune would pop into my head once every few years, but it wasn't until about 2005 that the mystery of its identity was solved. I was watching The Unsinkable Molly Brown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) when, suddenly, there it was on the soundtrack (the name of the individual song is "I Ain't Down Yet"). . . . In April of 2008, my wife and I were eating dinner at home in San Antonio when she mentioned that she wanted to watch the Fiesta Flambeau Parade on TV later. I asked her if she had always watched the Fiesta parades when she was growing up in San Antonio. "When I was growing up," I explained, "I always watched the Cotton Bowl parades." As I spoke, that Molly Brown tune started playing relentlessly in my head. We finished eating. I went into the bedroom, still humming that tune. I turned on the TV, and there was a marching band on parade. Playing "I Ain't Down Yet"? No, that would be too obvious. What happened was that the Fiesta parade broadcast went to a commercial break, so I decided to grab the remote and flip to TCM to see if a good movie was on. And one was: The Unsinkable Molly Brown. The first music I heard, a few seconds later, was "I Ain't Down Yet."
During a dinnertime conversation in October 2008, my wife happened to use the word unbeknownst. I remarked that although one occasionally hears unbeknownst, no one ever says beknownst; in fact, I was sure I had never encountered beknownst in my life. The following morning, I was reading an article in Wikipedia when I came across this sentence: "Remembering the fate of their niece Eggletina, who wandered away and never returned after (beknownst to her) her father had been seen and the big people had brought in a cat, Pod and Homily decide to warn Arrietty."
As a onetime member of the National Puzzlers' League, I often compose flats, which are puzzles in verse involving various sorts of wordplay. In February 2006, I wrote the following couplet:
"Anne Boleyn was false to me?
Fie! Let's see how she HEW WHEE!"
I wrote the flat as a "LETTER BANK (7, 12)," meaning that HEW is a cueword, or placeholder, for an English word with 7 letters, all different; and WHEE is a cueword for a 12-letter word using the same set of 7 letters but with repetitions allowed. . . . The solution is HEW = handles; WHEE = headlessness. With solution words substituted, the "couplet" (which clearly no longer rhymes or scans) reads:
"Anne Boleyn was false to me?
Fie! Let's see how she handles headlessness!"
I deliberately used the word fie, an archaic interjection expressing disgust or shame, but it occurred to me that someone reading the verse might wonder if I had intended the more common word fine, used in an ironic or sarcastic sense. Out of curiosity, I checked the dictionary (Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate) to see if the entry for "fine" mentioned that the word is sometimes used ironically. It didn't, but I did notice within the entry the following definition and example:
"7 — used as an intensive <the leader, in a fine frenzy, beheaded one of his wives — Brian Crozier>."
Woody Yenne and I grew up together in Dallas as next-door neighbors. Many years later, I had a full-time position as a musician in a symphony orchestra, playing violin in the San Antonio Symphony under Music Director Christopher Wilkins, and Woody had a full-time position as a musician in a symphony orchestra, playing trumpet in the Colorado Springs Symphony under Music Director Christopher Wilkins.
One morning in February 2009, moments after I viewed the lists of obituaries in The Dallas Morning News and the San Antonio Express-News online (as I do virtually every morning), the name "Perry Sandifer" popped into my head. Mr. Sandifer had been a Dallas/Fort Worth-area trombonist. I had never met him and had only vaguely heard of him, and even that was many years in the past. I had probably seen his name only a handful of times in my life, on rosters of musical engagements my father had played, probably in the 1960s, and had not thought of it since. Nevertheless, "Perry Sandifer" was suddenly, and for no apparent reason, front and center in my brain. I googled him and learned that he had died the previous Sunday, aged 98. I found his obituary, which had been published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram during the week that had just ended. I double-checked the Dallas obituaries I had just read a few minutes earlier to see if perhaps he had indeed been listed there: possibly I had seen the name without realizing it and it had registered subconsciously . . . but his name was not there.
In May 1974, in the corridor outside the auditorium in Dallas where my high-school graduation ceremony was about to take place, two female classmates simultaneously kissed me: one on each cheek. I have never known who one of the perpetrators was, but the other was Cindy Stanard (now Dankberg), a girl who had been in my English class. . . . As I was at that time a painfully shy individual regarding such matters, the very next kiss I experienced (possibly not counting pecks from older relatives) did not occur until about a year and a half later, when I was a sophomore at MIT in Massachusetts. It was my first "real" kissthat is, involving mutual participation and lasting more than a fraction of a second. The young lady was Mimi Fuhrman, an MIT freshman. . . . In 1984, I attended my high-school class's 10-year reunion and received at that time a directory of my erstwhile classmates. I wrote to Cindy (who had not attended the reunion), and that was the beginning of a long-term correspondence that has continued to the present. Cindy and her family have lived, for the past fifteen years or so, in Encinitas, California. . . . In February 2009, I decided to google Mimi, whom I had never seen nor heard of since I left MIT in 1976. She is a Ph.D.; following a career as a geophysicist and some years working for an educational testing service, she has opened a standardized test-preparation service . . . in Encinitas, Californiaa few blocks from Cindy's home.
When I attended MIT from 1974 to 1976, one of my suitemates, and a good friend, was Edwin Robert Meyer. . . . When I lived in Jacksonville, Florida, from 1987 to 1989, the zip code of my residence was 32256. . . . I joined facebook in 2008, and in April 2009 I searched for my old MIT friend Edwin Meyer. The search returned many Edwin Meyers but only one in the MIT network. However, there was not enough additional information displayed for me to establish definitely whether that profile was of the person I knew, so I messaged the owner of the profile and asked a few questions to try to determine whether he was in fact my former suitemate. The answer was no, but the Edwin on facebook said he had "run across the trail" of the other Edwin Meyer from MIT before, including having had the guy's lost wallet returned to him many years earlier. He said he knew that the other Edwin Meyer (actually Edwin Meyer, Jr.—whose father, Edwin Meyer, Sr., was also an MIT alum) lived in Florida. . . . I finally got the idea of looking in the directory at the MIT alumni website. It turned out that the Edwin Meyer I was seeking was neither the one on facebook nor either one of the Sr./Jr. pair from Florida—"my" Edwin lives in New Jersey. But the father and son in Florida, as it turned out, live together in Jacksonville, in zip code 32256.
One afternoon in May 2009, I was reading the Dallas Morning News in the living room of our home at the same time my wife, April, was teaching piano out in her studio. As I read the obituaries, I ran across a notice for June Brown Tighe. I had never heard of her, but her life story fascinated me: her ancestors had contributed to the foundings of Hempstead and Oak Cliff (towns in Texas) as well as Southern Methodist University; and June herself had been a fine pianist, a Juilliard graduate who had studied there with the great (San Antonio-born) pedagogue Olga Samaroff Stokowski. I was eager to tell April what I had read about Mrs. Tighe. When April came in for dinner, she told me that while she was teaching she had gotten a call inquiring as to whether we would consider hosting in our home a piano teacher, Louise Anderson, who would soon be in San Antonio for a couple of weeks to judge the National Guild of Piano Teachers auditions. April decided to go online and google Mrs. Anderson to see what she could find out. As she was logging on, I mentioned the Tighe obituary and read it to her. April had also not heard of Mrs. Tighe but was at least as fascinated as I by her story. Meanwhile, Google had returned some results on Mrs. Anderson. April followed the most promising looking link, which was to a 2003 monthly newsletter of the Dallas chapter of the music sorority Mu Phi Epsilon. She found a bit of information about Mrs. Anderson. Then she looked a few lines up on the same webpage at "Member News." The top item was about June Tighe.
Peggy Tisinger, a pianist from Houston, attended the Juilliard School of Music in New York in the 1940s. One of her closest friends there was Betty Ruth Robbins (later Tomfohrde), a pianist who was also from Houston. When Peggy married Robin Abraham in 1949, Betty Ruth played at their wedding. The Abrahams and Tomfohrdes would remain in touch, and much later, Peggy and Robin's daughter, April, would take some piano lessons from Betty Ruth. . . . One of my 7th-grade classmates (at S. S. Conner Elementary School in Dallas, 1968–1969) was Jim King. (Earlier on this page is a list of coincidences involving Jim, Debbie Moran, Matt Delevoryas, and me.) Cheryl Thurmond was also a 7th grader at Conner that year, though she was in another section—I knew her only slightly. . . . During the 1970s, a girl named Jo Beth Downum grew up in San Antonio. She was a very talented pianist who studied privately throughout her childhood with Peggy Abraham (at the Abrahams' home), during which time April and Jo Beth got to know each other well. . . . In 1978, I took Repertory Coaching during my music studies at the University of Houston; my private instructor in that course, who also accompanied my senior recital, was Betty Ruth Tomfohrde. In 1979, I finished a Master of Music degree there. . . . As described earlier on this page, Jim King and I have carried on a correspondence ever since 1969; in a letter from 1980, Jim mentioned that his apartment complex in Dallas had a new manager, and her name was Cheryl Clifford, née Thurmond. . . . During the 1980s, Jo Beth Downum completed a Master of Music degree at the University of Houston, where one of her piano teachers was Betty Ruth Tomfohrde. . . . In 1995, April Abraham and I married in San Antonio, with Betty Ruth in attendance (as well as Peggy Abraham and Jim King, among many others). . . . In 1996, my parents moved into a retirement home, 12 Oaks, in Dallas. They soon met and befriended Loel Camp, a young pianist who often played musical programs there. As my father was himself a retired musician, he and Loel played programs together at the home and also presented a monthly music trivia game together. . . . In 2001, my father died; my mother would eventually (in March 2007) move out of 12 Oaks to live with April and me in San Antonio. . . . In late 2008, I joined facebook, and in May 2009 I got a friend request from Cheryl Thurmond Clifford. Although I immediately recognized her name, I was a little surprised since I had not been close friends with her before—anyway, I accepted the request and went about examining her facebook profile. Memorial Day had just passed, and Cheryl's latest post was some words honoring an uncle, David Camp, who had died in World War II. Cheryl stated she was proud to be a member of the Camp family. I would not have made a connection, but a comment under Cheryl's post was from Loel Camp Bomgardner. . . . I wrote a facebook message at around 5:30 that evening to Cheryl, including a remark that someone my parents knew quite well, Loel, was evidently a relative of hers, and please give Loel my mother's regards. . . . The following morning, I received an e-mail, time-stamped 11:14 pm (the previous evening) from Loel apologizing for not having written to my mother in a long time. It seemed obvious to me that Cheryl had promptly passed along my mother's regards to Loel, and Loel had immediately responded, all within six hours. I friend-requested Loel, and she accepted. Meanwhile, looking over both Cheryl's and Loel's profiles, I determined that they were first cousins. While I was looking, I got a facebook post from Loel saying how strange it was that I had friended her cousin Cheryl the same day she (Loel) wrote an e-mail to my mother! I messaged Loel and asked whether she was saying that her e-mail was not a response to my mother's regards via Cheryl, and she confirmed that that was exactly what she was saying—she didn't even know Cheryl and I had communicated at all. Loel also requested in her post that I relay regards from one of her dearest friends, Beth Quillian, to April. Beth Quillian was formerly known as Jo Beth Downum.
In July 2009, after taking a month off from teaching violin lessons, I started making phone calls to my students in order to schedule lessons for the remainder of the summer. I called Juan Rivera, and after a couple of tries to find a mutually agreeable time we agreed on the following Tuesday at 7 pm. I looked at my date book, and said, "So—that's 7/7 at 7!" . . . About two hours later, my wife and I were watching a baseball game. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were batting against the Texas Rangers. April said, "Did they just say the batter's name is Juan Rivera? Isn't that your student's name?" I said, "Yeah! I just talked to him tonight! His lesson will be on 7/7 at 7!" At that moment, the Rangers' pitcher threw his next pitch to Juan Rivera, who hit a three-run home run to make the score 7–7.
Howard Dunn (a teacher at my high school) was born December 16, 1938, and moved to Dallas with his family as a boy. In the Dallas public schools, he distinguished himself as a top student and top musician, studying bassoon and composition. He graduated from Southern Methodist University. He taught at Richardson High School, Skyline High School, and Southern Methodist University, and also served on the faculty of Big "D" Music Camp at SMU. In the midst of a career as a professional musician and music educator, he died at the age of 52.
Sam Rhodes (my best childhood friend) was born December 16, 1956, and moved to Dallas with his family as a boy. In the Dallas public schools, he distinguished himself as a top student and top musician, studying bassoon and composition — the latter with Howard Dunn — at Skyline High School and Richardson High School, and he attended Big "D" Music Camp. He took some bassoon lessons at Southern Methodist University. In the midst of a career as a professional musician, he died at the age of 53.
Sue Erwin (my high school classmate) grew up in Dallas: a city on I-35, at that time the second largest city in Texas. She was a first violinist in her high school orchestra (Skyline HS) and went on to study violin at North Texas State University (now called the University of North Texas), which has a very large music department. NTSU (UNT) is in Denton, a city roughly an hour north on I-35 from Sue's hometown. She studied there with Robert Davidovici, a man who was at one time the concertmaster of the Fort Worth Symphony, a major orchestra in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. (Davidovici has long since departed, but Mr. [Philip] Lewis is now a major violin professor at that school.) Sue now free-lances as a violinist and teaches strings.
Sue is married. Her husband, Galindo Rodriguez, is a trumpet player who earned a graduate degree from NTSU, the same Texas university where Sue studied as an undergraduate. He became a professor of trumpet at Northwestern State University, a college that is in Natchitoches, a town near I-49 in Louisiana. Galindo is an active member of, and has held leadership positions in, the International Trumpet Guild.
Kristin Oppenheim (whose mother, a pianist, is a friend and colleague of my wife's) grew up in San Antonio: a city on I-35, now the second largest city in Texas. She was a first violinist in her high school orchestra (MacArthur HS) and went on to study violin at the University of Texas, which has a very large music department. UT is in Austin, a city roughly an hour north on I-35 from Kristin's hometown. She studied there with Leonard Posner, a man who was at one time the concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony, a major orchestra in the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex. (Posner has long since departed, but Mr. [Brian] Lewis is now a major violin professor at that school.) Kristin now free-lances as a violinist and teaches strings.
Kristin is married. Her husband, Gary Mortenson, is a trumpet player who earned a graduate degree from UT, the same Texas university where Kristin studied as an undergraduate. He became a professor of trumpet at the University of Louisiana - Lafayette, a college that is in Lafayette, a town near I-49 in Louisiana. Gary is an active member of, and has held leadership positions in, the International Trumpet Guild.
When April, my mother, and I stopped for lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Corsicana, Texas, during a road trip in May 2012, the fortune in the cookie I received with the meal read: "Soon wedding bells are in a family member's future." We then got back on the road and proceeded to our destination of Arp, Texas, for April's cousin's wedding that evening.
During a televised baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics that I watched in June 2012, a graphic appeared on the screen showing, from left to right, each team's totals of runs, hits, and errors. As I was looking at the line for Oakland, which read