Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie

When I first started dating Aaron, somehow he found out that I really like ice cream. Sometimes he would buy a pint of Ben and Jerry's - usually Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, Peanut Butter Cup or Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough - and we'd eat the whole thing in one sitting! Although we do still occasionally get ice cream (Godiva Begian Dark Chocolate is a new favorite), we've tried to reign in our gluttony a bit.

But when Aaron came to visit me in Youngstown (yay!), we discovered a wonderful homemade ice cream parlor called Handel's (a good musical name). We revisited our traditional pint, and particularly enjoyed their Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie with swirls of real peanut butter.

Since we've lasted this long, Aaron, you must know I'm not just in it for the ice-cream!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Youngstown Treats

This weekend we played Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra in Youngstown, OH. The Beethoven is one of the only pieces written for piano trio (that's what we are) as concerto soloists with orchestra, so it's always a special treat for us to play it. It's definitely a rush to have an entire symphony orchestra behind you backing you up.

There were many special treats in store for us in Youngstown. First of all, somebody at the symphony clearly has a flair for the dramatic. We've already noted the limos that drove us around all weekend. When we arrived at the hall for the concert, all of the stage hands were decked out in 3 piece suits (black t-shirts and jeans is more the norm). The Symphony performs in an old Warner Brothers movie house turned gorgeous renovated theater, complete with lots of those old style dressing rooms with the make-up lights that heat the rooms to 100 degrees. (Call me a diva, but I've gotta say those bright, even lights on both sides sure beat standard issue restroom flourescents when you're trying to paint your face!)

It was also a very special treat to collaborate with the Youngstown Symphony and their conductor / music director, Isaiah Jackson. An example: the slow movement of the Beethoven starts with a gorgeous cello solo that sings, but in a personal, confiding sort of a way. (After Julie plays this solo, I'm often so moved it takes a big effort to refocus and make my next entrance.) It is very easy for the orchestral accompaniment to drown out this intimate melody, so in a rehearsal Isaiah wisely pulled out an old conductor trick: he walked out to the audience and asked the orchestra to play with Julie without his guidance. They did so beautifully, following and supporting her, and it was a wonderful example of how music with 40 performers can still be chamber music.

The most special treats during our trip to Youngstown were our very special guests. Because we had a couple of days off and then spent a couple of days rehearsing and performing with the orchestra, our stay in Youngstown was longer than usual... long enough for Donna's husband Kai Yu and Julie's boyfriend Aaron to fly out... YAY!!!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

33 Hours in NYC

2 spent on the M60 (public bus to LaGuardia airport)... 31 spent running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to see as many friends as possible and then eat, drink, shop, speedwalk the streets, and literally bump into millions of people until I felt thoroughly cosmopolitan again. Trips to the bank and post office, some quality time with my mound of snail mail, and quick refills to my little containers of vitamins, Q-tips, etc., and I was back on the plane to Youngstown, OH, where I woke up this morning completely disoriented, but happy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


So after we said goodbye to Ryan and our trusty mini-van at the Minneapolis airport earlier today, we flew into Cleveland. We were expecting a ride to Youngstown, OH from Cleveland but our mouths dropped open when our ride came in the form of a stretch limousine! Needless to say, we rolled up to the Holiday Inn in style! Cello Bruskin enjoyed the smooth ride on the floor of the limo next to the bar, while we looked in front of us at the lights behind the driver's divider...

Thanks, Ryan!

Look at Ryan, looking very serious in this teepee! Thanks so much for your wonderful help and time. Ryan is incredibly patient with the divas of Claremont Trio and I will always appreciate that! What I will remember most, however, are the good times and laughs we shared on the road, and I only hope we can do it again! We miss you already...

:-) and :-(

Today is the last day of our extended road trip. I'm a bit relieved (we now get two consecutive days off for the first time in a month!) but also sad because we have to say goodbye to Ryan.

Ryan, thank you so much! You're the man, and we're gonna miss you.

And since I'm sentimental and a sucker for sunsets, here's another. This one's from Marshall, MN.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You know you're not in New York anymore when...

3/4 of the customers at the grocery store pay with personal checks. (Apparently these people have yet to develop the compulsive need to earn a few extra frequent flier miles by using special credit cards.)

The checkout person at the grocery store asks a customer how his vacation was. (She really did... I heard this yesterday.)

Audience members approach the concessions table after our concert, look at our cd's, and ask if that's all we have. They are not looking for DVD's. They want tapes!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Greetings Traveler

Another unusual hotel sign... this one from the Country Inn and Suites in Watertown, SD.

Unusual Hotel Instructions

This is not something we see often in hotels in the Northeast...where is my gun?

Well, seems like I'll have to settle for cleaning my boots instead...

Hi Grandma :-)

I wanted to take this opportunity to say hi to one of our most loyal readers: my grandmother. I am willing to bet that Anna Bruskin in Arlington, MA is the only person who has read every single one of our blog posts in hard copy! (My parents, also some of our most loyal readers, print and deliver.)

The very first road trips I can remember are the family trips my parents and sisters and I used to take from our home in Cambridge, MA to West Hartford, CT where my grandparents then lived. I'll never forget my grandfather's clocks - literally hundreds of beautiful antiques that he wound almost reverently each day. 12 noon was a rather raucous moment at that house! My grandmother cooked and baked us the most wonderful meals... what I wouldn't do for some of her apple pancakes, meat pie and chocolate roll right now! Many of the first concerts Julie and I gave were for Grandma and Grandpa in their living room. We were very lucky to have such an appreciative (and forgiving) first audience.


Tonight we found a special surprise in our dressing room. Along with the regular bottled water and fruit, there was a small white box innocuously labelled "Widman's Candy Shop, Crookston, MN". Inside I discovered "chippers" - chocolate covered potato chips, and it was love at first bite!

Widman's is a local candy shop (their other store is in Fargo, ND) and all of the Crookston folks - from the gentleman who introduced our trio at the beginning of the concert to the pageturner - praised their confections!

Of the three of us in our trio, I definitely have the most uncontrollable sweet tooth, though I must say that Ryan likes his desserts too! I'm glad to have an ally, though I must report that he was not such a fan of the chippers - he pronounced them "weird" and prefers his Cold Stone Creamery shakes.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Into Minnesota

Yesterday we drove to Park Rapids, MN.

As Donna has mentioned before, one of the challenges of being a travelling pianist is learning to play on lots of different pianos... and piano benches. Pianists come in varying sizes, so often piano benches are adjustable.
Even when piano benches are not "adjustable", they can still be adjusted.

This tour has taught us a lot about American piano makers, most notably Baldwin and Mason & Hamlin, and last night Story & Clark.

After the concert, we bravely ventured out in search of food. (It was optimistic to expect to find something open at 9:30, even on a Saturday, and nobody wants to wander around much searching when it's 0 degrees.) We were pleasantly surprised by The West Forty. Their motto: "Not a half bad place to eat".

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Mendelssohn Noise

I like to believe that the music we play really does communicate in a way that all people can understand and appreciate, regardless of their knowledge about it (or lack thereof), context, background, age, first language etc. etc. I really do think there is something common and viscerally meaningful in it. And I'm not just referring to a shared impression that it is nice or enjoyable. I'm talking about real and specific emotional content that all people inately understand.

With my background in Neuroscience, I appreciate how incredibly far we are from being able to demonstrate my little theory scientifically. However, I'd like to offer some anecdotal evidence. I call it the Mendelssohn noise. It's a combination of a little sigh and the beginning of a chuckle. Just barely voiced... amused, satisfied. After a decent performance of a Mendelssohn scherzo, audiences everywhere do it. In unison! I'm quite sure it would be impossible to elicit the Mendelssohn noise with words alone, and it's hard to describe in words exactly what this noise means. However, whatever this meaning is, audiences of every sort in a vast range of places get IT out of Mendelssohn scherzos with incredible consistency.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Frozen Coke Bottles

It's so cold here that anything we leave in the Claremont-mobile overnight freezes solid! So this morning we ended up with frozen water, frozen Diet Coke, and even frozen wine! One of the Coke bottles actually exploded (I've seen that happen with the cans, but never the plastic bottles before!) Add to that icy toothpaste, and you start to get a feel for this kind of cold....;-)

Reading Material

When we're out of NPR range or television at the hotel starts to drive me batty (this usually takes about 3 minutes), I pull out one of the many books that weigh down my suitcase. So far I've read two that I'd highly recommend, even if you're not on a 5-week road trip!

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is a fun murder mystery with a twist...it's set in 1327 in an Italian monastery! Eco manages to weave Aristotelian philosophy and a fair amount of European history into his narrative which kept a history nerd like me turning pages for hours.

I brought Willa Cather's My Antonia because I knew we'd be driving through the farmlands of Nebraska where the story takes place. Amazing how we can blaze through 600 miles in a day when back when this story took place, getting from the farm into town could be a grueling trip, or just plain impossible when there was snow. Though the outline of this story is relatively simple, the characters are wonderful as are the descriptions of the land, it's perils, challenges and infinite rewards.

Pierre, -27, Walmart, Sunset

Tonight we played in Pierre, SD (pronounced "peer" - why didn't anyone tell us that when we learned our state capitals in 3rd grade? Incidentally, I also pronounced Boise, ID wrong until I visited. I'd always said "boy-zee", but the locals say "boy-see").

We're finally getting some real wintry weather. A little snow to keep the driving interesting (luckily Ryan is a Minnesota native and thus a pro at that stuff), but mostly just chilly temperatures. Overnight low with wind chill: -27. Ouch! And we perform in outfits like these. (See photo on right by Don Barnes from Little Rock, an easy-to-pronounce state capital.) You should see the collection of armwarmers (yup, like legwarmers, but for your arms) I use to help me warm up.

Last night we ate dinner at La Minestra, an excellent Italian restaurant here in town. http://www.laminestra.com/ This place was packed with locals (even on a Wednesday night), and the minute we walked through the door and breathed in pungent garlic, tomatoes, and oregano, we knew why.

Tonight, on the other hand, dinner got squeezed in between rehearsal and the concert, so we went to a Claremont favorite: Walmart. I'm not kidding. I know it's a ginormous socially irresponsible corporate monstrosity, but I have to admit a Walmart sighting elicits almost as much excitement in the Claremontmobile as a Cold Stone Creamery. There's just nothing like Walmart when it comes to finding most everything you could possibly want ... and much much more ... cheap cheap cheap. (Did you know many Walmarts stock live lobsters??) On a trip where the 4 of us constantly share a vehicle and rarely have extra time, it is really nice to be able to combine "I need contact solution", "I need yogurt", "I need Starbucks", "I need postcard stamps", "I need a highlighter", "I need dryer sheets", "I need a bathing suit", and "I need live lobsters" into a single stop.

On our way back to the concert venue, we caught sunset over the capital building.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Ear Update!

Ok, for all of those who are wondering, my ear is actually much better (see blog post titled Donna's Free Time)! Still using medication but my hearing is normal now, which makes performing a little less weird and frustrating!

Thanks to those who were concerned...


I'm No Nomad

I knew long before we embarked on this 5-week tour that it would make me homesick. I knew I would miss my friends, my family, my apartment, my local parks, my favorite restaurants, and many other specific people and things. I have definitely missed all of those people and things... a lot. But I have also missed something a bit more abstract that I hadn't really expected. I miss being settled. Anywhere. It's not about the place itself or the people or the things in it. It's simply the feeling of having a home base, my own personal space, somewhere to go back to.

During most of this trip, we've switched hotels, cities, and often states every single night. On the occasional day when we don't have a concert or when we've driven on to the next city after an evening concert, we have the rare luxury of staying somewhere two consecutive nights. It is these rare two-night stays that make me particularly aware of how much I miss feeling settled. On these occasions, I'm very consistent. After every two-night stay in one place, I miss that place, no matter how dingy or seedy the room, no matter how sleepy or generically commercial the area. There's nothing special about that Comfort Inn or Super 8 except the one extra night we spent there, the one extra night that was enough to make it feel very slightly more like home.

Corn Palace

I know I am a little behind, as we are now a couple of days away from Mitchell, SD, but one cannot go to Mitchell and not talk about the Corn Palace! This amazing building stands in the centre of Mitchell. This building is not actually made of corn but it is decorated by 12 varieties of corn! I didn't even know that many existed! No dyes are used to colour the corn so everything you see is natural (including husks).

Inside the building, there is a photo gallery of past corn palaces. They redecorate every year, and the current estimated cost is $130,000. I must say, the first few designs (early 1900's) were the most spectacular. Of special note is the Corn Palace of 1907 because the designers borrowed the Indian sign for "good luck" for the exterior of the building but this sign is now known as the swastika. It is unfortunate that a symbol of fortune and hope has been twisted into a sign of hatred and violence.

While we were in the building (there is a basketball arena there), there were signs for tickets for a performance by LeAnn Rimes. When will Claremont Trio play the Corn Palace???

Cow Capital of South Dakota

Today we drove on to Yankton, cow capital of South Dakota.

It was a two-concert day. In the afternoon we played an extra one for the warriors and warriorettes at the school in nearby Wakonda.

Many of the kids were curious what New York City is like. I'll admit I found it challenging to explain New York to people who've lived their entire lives out here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Pre-Concert Routine

Now that we're playing concerts almost every night, we've settled into a pre-concert routine that has it's quirks but seems to work for us.

We arrive at the venue between 4 and 4:30 and those who don't know us might think we'd just had a fight because we scatter to all corners of the hall (Donna on stage, Em and I in whatever other rooms we can find). But actually we're just warming up individually, giving Donna a chance to get used to the piano and giving everyone a chance to reconnect with their instruments after the hours in the car. After about 15-30 minutes, we reconvene onstage and rehearse for an hour or so, checking spots that have given us problems or trying some new ideas to spice things up.

By 6:15 Ryan arrives with some snacks (usually horribly healthy things like fruit, yogurt, and cottage cheese ;-) . It's hard to find healthy food on the road and we find that often a grocery store is the best option. Then we put on our dresses and make-up, a routine that gets old much faster than playing the concert itself. If I could do it in jeans, it'd be easy!

Donna usually meets with the page-turner during this time to talk them through the program and how it will go (last night we had a really nice page turner who is a nun in a Benedictine abbey in SD.) Ryan gives us a 2 minute warning at around 7:28, and then we're on!

Grammar Nerd

The misplaced modifier epidemic has spread across the nation.

A hotel sign: "No Smoking Rooms Available"

A common announcement in airports: "Ticketed passengers only allowed beyond the security checkpoint"

Advertised at a restaurant: "Large children's menu"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Look Who's Snowed in Now...

For months before we embarked on this lengthy February driving tour of the upper midwest, friends chided us about the weather we were going to encounter. We dutifully assembled extra boots, parkas, etc. and psyched ourselves up for some extreme conditions.

With a good hard knock on wood, however, I have to report that, aside from the time when we drove into the mountains specifically looking for snow to ski on, we've barely encountered an inch on our whole journey... while the folks back home in New York City:

Mount Rushmore

Today we had to drive a long way (from Hill City, SD to Huron, SD) and rehearse and play a concert, and we lost an hour (Mountain Time to Central Time), and we really wanted to see Mount Rushmore. So the Claremont Trio did an unusual thing... we got up early.

Last night we asked the hotel clerk what time Rushmore opened. "Well, you can see it any time. They don't put a sheet over it." Hmmm... but we wanted the full national monument experience, so we showed up 4 minutes after the gates officially opened and had the place completely to ourselves.
Mount Rushmore National Monument

Mount Rushmore is awesome. So vivid, especially in the early morning light, but also very natural, the way it grows out of the cliff. I've been loving our up-close-and-personal tour of the US, so I was happy to start the day off with some patriotic goose bumps.

We chatted up the gift shop attendant and heard some crazy stories about Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor himself, and the others who worked on the monument, many of whom hiked 4 miles up to the work site each day with 60 pounds of equipment! Apparently the drills they used in the initial stages of carving were so powerful that special techniques had to be devised in order for people to operate them without being thrown off the cliff by the kick-back.

Some people like to debate about who would be the most appropriate addition to the statue of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. A ranger assured us that such speculation is purely hypothetical. There is not enough useable granite to carve another face, even if anybody could agree on whose it should be.

Great as it is, Rushmore is not without its tacky commercial side...

4190 Bears!!!

As we checked into the Super 8 in Hill City, SD last night, we realized that the woman who checked us in has a very special distinction. Jackie Miley is a Guiness Book of World Records record holder for the largest collection of teddy bears in the world - 4190 bears, no two alike! She had a sampling of bears on display in the lobby, though the majority live in her apartment above the hotel.

This morning she was kind enough to take us upstairs and show us around - WOW! There were bears in every possible corner, on every shelf, all over the floor, hanging from the ceiling. Apparently when she was growing up she never had any bears at all and she just started the collection three years ago when she moved to town. That's quick work!

Here's Jackie with the very first bear of her collection.

Emily and I had a very large stuffed animal collection when we were kids including many bears (though clearly this collection is in a different league altogether!) My father named our very first teddy bears for us (we were infants at the time). The names he chose were Algernon and Ichabod and the story goes that if we'd been born boys instead of girls, we would have had those names instead of the bears! Good thing we were girls....;-)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fountains and Lions in Small Towns

In Newcastle, WY, we stayed at the Fountain Motor Inn, which turned out to be quite charming. Below, here I am, sprawled on top of a gigantic stuffed lion in the lobby of the Inn. There was a huge fountain in front of the Inn, but it was kinda cool how the water flowing over the edges of the fountain was frozen.

In the town, I apparently own a diner on Main Street. :) If you look carefully to the left of the diner sign, there is a flyer of...the Claremont Trio! Unfortunately, Donna's Diner was not open that day so we settled on the Old Mill Inn Restaurant for brunch. The menus were really fun, kind of like small newspapers and on the front, there was a great section on the bottom of the page -- check it out. :)

Procedural Reminders

For those of you who've joined us recently or who aren't so familiar with the blog format, I thought I'd post a few tips.

Recent Posts
To see recent posts, either scroll down in the main window or use the links on the blue side bar listed under "Previous Posts".

Older Posts
To see older posts, follow the links further down on the blue side bar under "Archives" and then scroll down in the main window.

Basic Questions
For quick reference, here are links to info on some basic questions:

What exactly is the Claremont Trio?
Tell me about this long tour you're on.
Who is Ryan?

We'd love to hear what you think of our blog and posts! To comment on our blog, click on the "comments" link at the bottom of any post. (These same links will allow you to read other people's comments.) Then type your comment into the box provided. If you choose to sign into www.blogger.com, your post will appear with your user name in the heading. If you do not wish to sign in, you can leave your comment by clicking the bullet next to "Anonymous". (You can still sign your name in the body of the message if you like.) Note: Comments will not appear on the blog immediately. We get to read them first :-)

From Colorado to Wyoming

These were some pics I took from the van while we travelled from Loveland to Newcastle. Some very beautiful, expansive scenery...

It's also very cold in Newcastle. :) I made use of my long johns today. And thank goodness for my Timberlands.