Walk For Hunger 2007

I’m kicking off my fund raising drive for this year’s Walk for Hunger. I just sent this email to my family and friends and think maybe I can get some more support through the blogosphere.

“On Sunday, May 6, I will be participating in Project Bread’s 39th Walk for Hunger. This will be the fourth consecutive year Susan and I are doing the walk. I’m hoping that you will support me!

I feeel that poverty is the most important issue we’re facing today and participating in this walk is one way I can help hungry people in Massachusetts. The Walk for Hunger is one of America’s oldest fund-raising walks and one of the only walks that focus on social issues.
The money that I raise by walking as much as I can of the 20-mile route will directly help hungry people. (Funds raised through the Walk support more than 400 emergency food programs in 136 communities in Massachusetts.) Money from the Walk sponsors programs like The Wednesday Night Supper Club where once a week homeless people are served a warm sit-down meal as well as the Greater Boston Food Bank where food discarded from supermarkets is salvaged to help stock food pantries that supply food to hungry families.

Visit my personal Walk Webpage to learn more. You can donate online or if you prefer to send a check, send me an email (liammail at verizon dot net) and I can let you know where to send it. Also, if you want to join in the Walk you may sign up online. We’d love to have you walk with us.

Thank you for considering sponsoring me, and for your support of hungry people!

Thank you!

Concert Review: Gyuto Monks Tibetan Tantric Choir

In my days as a college radio DJ at WCWM-FM I hosted a world music show called “Move Over Francis Bacon.” Not that I knew much about music of different countries and cultures (how I would love to have had the internet back then), but I did enjoy digging through the WCWM record collection and making new discoveries. One of my favorites for their unique sound are the Gyuto Monks. Practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism and now in exile in northern India, the monks of the Gyuto Tantric University perform a unique multiphonic chanting in which each monk sings not a single not but an entire chord.

Western musicians such as Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead became aware of the Gyoto Monks and over the past couple of decades the monks have made several tours of the United States. This of course raises questions about why music intended for religious ritual is performed on stage. The Dalai Lama has a good response to that which is printed in the program:

“Some people may ask ‘Why are they performing publicly what should be esoteric rites?’ Perhaps these people feel that secret teachings should not be turned into a theatrical spectacle. But they need not be concerned. The secret interior path and its processes are things which the ordinary eye cannot perceive.”

I would add that you’re not likely to hear any complaints of a performance of say a Christian oratorio by Handel at Symphony Hall.

Last night I had the opportunity to hear the chants of the Gyuto Monks for the first time at their performance at Harvard’s Sanders Theater courtesy of World Music/Crash Arts, one of the best concert series in the Boston area. The monks took the stage quietly and sat in a v-formation before a picture of the Dalai Lama and other liturgical arts. They wore their simple saffron robes but for the various tantric practices they put on cloaks and hats with beautiful patterns, all with deliberate mindfullness.

One of my first realizations is the preconceptions I have of Buddhist monks are a bit off. I figured them to be masters of discipline, unaffected by the discomforts of life. Yet I noticed several monks shifting in their seats, scratching their noses, and adjusting their tassles as they chanted. One monk on the end of the row who appeared to be the youngest had a lot of difficulty with keeping his cloaks from slipping off his shoulders. This was all rather comforting to me although I still expect it would be difficult to be a monk with restless legs syndrome.

In the first half of the program the monks chanted their deep, long notes. At several moments they picked up and cradled bells in their hands, but did not ring them. When they finally did ring their bells it created a dramatic moment from a simple action. In the second half of the program, the monks brought several instruments on stage with them including cymbals, drums, and short and long horns. The special assistant monk who sat outside the V-formation (whom Susan called the Sacristan) always made sure to step around the long horns and not over them when he came forward to make offerings.

Now I do confess that this performance may have been a bit much for me and it was so soothing I nodded off a couple of times. Still it was a remarkable experience and one I’m glad to be priveliged to enjoy. At the end of the show the vice-abbot answered questions with the help of a younger monk who knows some English. I was particularly touched by the vice-abbot noticing the love that Americans offer to their pets and asking that we extend this love to all human beings as well. A point well made and for that he got a round of applause (although it did feel odd, almost disrespectful to applaud at this performance).

Movie Review: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

While Susan & I were babysiting for Jordan, Craig brought up the DVD for the documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The premise of this documentary is the flock of wild parrots that live in the North Beach section of San Francisco and is the best bird-related film I’ve seen since Winged Migration. At the heart of the movie is Mark Bittner, a man who feeds the birds daily, cares for the sick and injured, and acts as an educator and advocate on their behalf. At first I was a bit discouraged, hoping for more parrots and less Mark, but then I warmed up to him. Bittner is compared with St. Francis, but I see him more as a Jane Goodall of urban parrots. He names the birds, learns their behavior, and observes flock dynamics.

The film introduces us to several parrots. My favorites include Mingus, the only parrot who actually want’s to stay in Bittner’s house and dances when Bittner plays guitar. Connor, the only Blue-Crowned Conure among a flock majorly made up of Cherry-headed Conures, is in many ways the feature bird of the film. His isolation and loneliness is heart-tugging and makes you wish you kind find a nice female parrot of his species to release in San Francisco. Connor is also something of the avian equivalent of Bittner who is an outsider among humans and also without a mate (at one point of the film Bittner says he won’t cut his hair until he has a girlfriend).

The movie also is a tribute to San Francisco capturing the beauty of the city, especially the tree lined steps of Telegraph Hill where Bittner lives and feeds the flock. A humorous bit collects interviews with several local characters offering their own theories and urban legends of how the flock came to San Francisco. The film comes to a conclusion with tear-inducing heartbreak as well as a surprise life change for Bittner. This was a good film and I feel bad that Craig & I had the Friday sillies and giggled about several potential double entendres. On the other hand, the geeky guy who tries to pick a fight with Bittner at the start of the film deserved some ridicule. The DVD includes extra clips and an update on Bittner and the flock (which you may also read about at Bittner’s website linked above).

As a result of watching this movie Susan and I talked a bit about invasive species. I learned for the first time that starlings are not indigenous to the United States! Now I know from experience that a starling can invade one’s house and nest in one’s dryer vent, but I would never have guessed from the vast flocks of Wild Starlings of Winter Hill that they are not native to our land. I did a web search and learned from this Cornell website that all European Starlings in North America are descendants of 100 birds released in New York City’s Central Park by people who wanted to populate the park with all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays! Now that’s just crazy stuff.