The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 34th annual summer Concerts on the Square start this Wednesday night and will feature a lot of classical music

June 25, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Maestro Andrew Sewell usually makes sure the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra programs a fair amount of classical music for its annual summer Concerts on the Square (below).

The FREE popular outdoor concerts — billed as “The Biggest Picnic of  Summer” — usually draw up to at least 20,000 people for each performance on the King Street corner of the State Capitol.

They start this Wednesday night at 7 p.m. – blankets can go down at 3 p.m. — and run for six consecutive Wednesday nights through Aug. 1.

But this year Sewell (below) seems especially generous with the classical fare he is serving up. In fact, four of the six concerts are all classical – a much higher percentage than in most past years, if The Ear recalls correctly.

For the complete lineup of the concerts – and to compare this year’s offerings with those of past years — go to the website: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Then you can click on “More Info” for each individual concert date to get the full program and information about the performers.You can also find what you need to know about following rules, parking, reserving tables, listening etiquette, volunteering, donating and support, and finding menus for food providers.

For this opening concert “Carnival” on Wednesday, the WCO will showcase 18-year-old Kenosha high school senior Matthew Udry (below), a cellist who won this year’s Young Artist Concerto Competition. Udry will perform the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Also on the all-Slavic program are two Czech compositions:  the “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Three Dances” from the opera “The Bartered Bride” by Bedrich Smetana.

An all-Russian concert is slated for July 11 with another student cellist, Miriam K. Smith (below top), and the Middleton High School Choir (below bottom). The program includes the Concert Waltz No. 2 by Alexander Glazunov, the “Rococo” Variations by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Intermezzo and Women’s Dance by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The July 25 concert features the up-and-coming guitarist Colin Davin (below) in a programs of Spanish and Hispanic music including Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia: Four Dances,” and Roberto Sierra’s “Fandango.”

Finally, on Aug. 1, baritone Jubilant Sykes (below) is featured in a program that includes: the Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1 by Johan Halvorsen; songs by Augusta Holmes; and the Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak.

Of course other programs include pops and rock music, plus patriotic music for the Fourth of July concert — only fitting for the occasion.

But The Ear still thinks the classical fare is generous and noteworthy.

Of course, loud chitchat, eating and other neighborly noise could interfere with your ability to listen closely to the music.

But Andrew Sewell and the WCO still deserve a big shout out!

Bravo, all!

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Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: The “Air” for strings by the American composer Arthur Foote

June 23, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard quite a lot of music — mostly orchestral music and chamber music — by the American composer Arthur Foote before.

It was okay — perfectly acceptable, accessible and listenable if not always memorable.

But this time was different.

As often happens, it occurred on Wisconsin Public Radio.

That is where I heard the “Air” from Foote’s “Serenade for Strings” in E Major, Op. 25.

The music proved beautiful, relaxing and even restorative. You know it’s good when it is hard not to listen.

Foote (1853-1937, below in 1930) is generally considered to be the first American composer trained entirely in the United States. He was a member of “The Boston Six,” also called the Second New England School and the New England Classicists, a group that included Amy Beach and Edward MacDowell.

Here is a link to Foote’s biographical entry on Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Foote

And here is an entry about The Boston Six:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_New_England_School

The Ear doesn’t recall hearing the Air or the entire Serenade by Arthur Foote performed live in Madison, although it seems like perfect fare especially for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, but also possibly for the Middleton Community Orchestra, or even a University of Wisconsin-Madison group or the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Anyway at the bottom – for your listening pleasure, as they say — is a YouTube video of the Air that proved so appealing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QE5VDFBOhtU

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Superb music-making offset awkward acting and dancing in a concert that the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society gave last weekend. This summer’s last BDDS concerts are tonight, Saturday and Sunday 

June 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, published belatedly but in time for this weekend’s upcoming closing concerts – two performances each of two programs — of the current summer season by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

It is a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

Performance photos were taken by Dick Ainsworth for BDDS.

By John W. Barker

One of the two programs of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s second weekend this season was held in the Overture Center’s Playhouse last Saturday night.

The associations of its three works with war were somewhat strained, most of all for Robert Schumann’s Three Romances, Op. 94. They were composed in 1849 for the options of oboe and violin or clarinet with piano.

On this occasion they were presented in a transcription for bassoon, made by the performer, Adrian Morejon (below). He played these brief and lovely pieces beautifully, but I confess I would have liked them more if one of the stipulated, higher-range instruments had been used.

The first major work was from the contemporary American composer Kevin Puts (below), called Einstein on Mercer Street. It is a kind of cantata, a half-hour in length, cast in five sections, each beginning with spoken words but moving to singing.

The text, whose origins were not made clear, purports to represent the thinking of Albert Einstein in his last years in Princeton, N.J., as he contemplates his place in science and in the creation of the atomic bomb.

The vocal part was written for baritone Timothy Jones (below center), who performed it this time, delivering it with confident eloquence. To tell the truth, though, a lot of his words, spoken and sung, did not come through clearly, at least for where I sat.

Though the vocal writing goes through one ear and out the other, there is a lot of very pleasant melodic music in the score, and it occurred to me that, with a little tightening, the work could nicely be left just to the instrumental ensemble (violin, cello, flute, clarinet, trumpet, percussion and piano), the vocal part dispensed with — heresy, of course.

The second half of the program was devoted to the classic work of 1918, L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), originally with a French text by the Swiss writer Charles Ferdinand Ramuz, and with brilliant music, in the style of blues, jazz and ragtime by Igor Stravinsky.

The spoken text, in a rhymed English translation, calls for three actors: a narrator, a Soldier and the Devil. Jones was quite good as the narrator, but well enough could not be left alone.

With utter arbitrariness, the character of the Soldier was turned into the soldierette “Josie,” so that the Prince he woos and wins becomes a “Princess.”

This absurdity was absolutely pointless, save, perhaps, to allow the two co-directors of the festival, Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes (below) to play soldierette and the Devil against each other. In hilarious costumes, the two did well enough, Sykes especially, but the gender change grated all the way through the piece.

And there was another problem. The work was not only written for actors and musicians, but also with dancers in mind. No choreography survives, and the use of dancers in performances of the work is patchy.

Here we had hip-hop dancer Blake Washington introduced during the Three Dances movement as the recovering “Prince,” with a lot of spastic shivering and shaking that suggested more of painful decomposition than recovery.

The stars of the piece, however, were the seven outstanding instrumentalists: violinist Axel Strauss; David Scholl, double bass; Alan Kay, clarinet; Morejon, bassoon; Matt Onstad, trumpet; Dylan Chmura-Moore, trombone; and Anthony di Sanza, percussion. With truly superb playing, they upheld the high standards of the musicians that the BDDS brings us.

For more information about BDDS’ closing concerts this weekend – featuring guest soprano and critically acclaimed UW-Madison alumna Emily Birsan and music by Mozart, Schumann, Saint-Saens, Fauré, Ravel, Prokofiev, Barber and other composers in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green tonight, Saturday and Sunday, go to: http://bachdancing.org/concerts/festival-concerts/


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Classical music: Today is the summer solstice. Here is information about the solstice plus 20 pieces of classical music to mark the coming of summer

June 21, 2018
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ALERT: Today is the fifth annual Make Music Madison. More than 300 FREE outdoor performances will be featured at some 100 venues. For information about artists, kinds of music, places and times, go to: http://www.makemusicmadison.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thursday, June 21, 2018.

The summer solstice arrives in Wisconsin early today at 5:07 a.m. Central Daylight Time.

If you want to know more about the summer solstice, here are two stories from NBC and The Washington Post with some interesting information you might not know:

https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/what-summer-solstice-ncna884991

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2018/06/20/summer-solstice-is-thursday-5-things-to-know-about-the-longest-day-of-the-year/?utm_term=.049d0675f182

Quite a few composers and works of classical music celebrate the coming of summer.

Twenty of the best-known are featured on a blog at the famous classical radio station WQXR FM in New York City. Here is a link:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/20-summertime-classical-pieces-maximum-chill/

The blog posting features many terrific sound samples, including such well-known works as “Summer” section from “The Four Seasons” violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi.

Still, some of the titles – including the famous Overture to “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn – are not accompanied by sound.

That includes one of The Ear’s favorites, “Knoxville, Summer 1915” by the American composer Samuel Barber with words by the journalist and documentarian James Agee.

Here it is, in a much-praised recording by soprano Dawn Upshaw, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Here’s hoping summer is better in this part of the country than spring was, what with record cold in April and record rainfall in May that seems to be continuing with disastrous flooding in June.

Happy Summer, all.


Classical music: The fifth FREE citywide annual Make Music Madison – featuring 300 concerts at 100 venues — takes place all day tomorrow

June 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow – Thursday, June 21, 2018 — is the Summer Solstice.

That means summer arrives.

That makes it the longest day and shortest night of the year.

And that also makes it the day when the fifth annual Make Music Madison will take place. The FREE citywide festival of outdoor music-making will go on all day.

According to the official website, there will be more than 300 concerts at more than 100 venues.

The website also has a very well-organized listing of concerts, artists and venues. It features a very user-friendly search engine – called a Filter Map — where you can check out the events by genre of music, name of the performers and the venue. It also includes rain accommodations, and given the weather this week, that could come in handy.

Here is a link to the complete listings:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/2018/locations/

Here is a link to the website, which has a fascinating and impressive overview and also a gallery of photos from last year’s event:

http://www.makemusicmadison.org

Of course the majority of the music that will be played by both amateurs and professionals, both individuals and groups, will be non-classical: jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock and roll, folk, world, musical theater, early music, blues, Celtic, funk, gospel and many more.

But from what The Ear sees there are about 25 noteworthy classical offerings too. They include music for guitar, organ, brass, strings, cello, flute and piano, including a public piano that will be at the UW-Madison’s Alumni Park from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Other venues include churches and libraries, schools and shopping malls, parks and businesses.

Here is a more detailed list of classical offerings with artists as well as venues (you can hear a vocal group from 2015 in the YouTube video at the bottom):

http://www.makemusicmadison.org/listings/2018/artists?artist_name=&genre=Classical

Happy Listening!

If you go, leave a message about your reaction and how well it went in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky has died at 87

June 19, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This past Saturday, the great Soviet and Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky (below) died at 87.

A friend of the blog said to The Ear, “He certainly deserves a mention.”

The Friend is right. Indeed he does.

In fact, Rozhdestvensky he deserves more than a mention.

The Ear isn’t sure why the West generally knows the names of Russian instrumentalists – pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, cellist (later turned conductor) Mstislav Rostropovich – more than its knows the names of conductors.

Perhaps it has to do with infrequent touring and the priority in using non-Russian conductors by major recording labels.

But as far as Russian conductors go, Gennady Rozhdestvensky was the last of The Great Four that The Ear recalls.

The other three were: Kirill Kondrashin, who conducted Van Cliburn in his victory concerts in Moscow and New York City and died at 67 in 1986; Yevgeny Mvrinsky, who died at 84 in 1988; and Yevgeny Svetlanov, who died at 73 in 2002.

Rozhdestvensky (below, conducting in his young years) was particularly well-known for his championing the music of his compatriot Dmitri Shostakovich both in his homeland and in the West.

(You can hear some of his interpretation of music by Shostakovich, which many considered definitive and revelatory, in the YouTube video of the electrifying finale of the well-known Symphony No. 5 at the bottom.)

Here is his entry in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gennady_Rozhdestvensky

Here is the obituary by The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/17/obituaries/gennady-rozhdestvensky-russian-conductor-dies-at-87.html

Here is the obituary by the BBC:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44505749

And here is an obituary by The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jun/17/gennady-rozhdestvensky-obituary

Do you ever hear Gennady Rozhdestvensky live?

Do you have any comment about him?

Please leave it the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What should — and shouldn’t — the #MeToo movement mean for women in the opera world?

June 16, 2018
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It is clear now that just about all aspects of life and culture in the United States are being affected more and more by the #MeToo movement that seeks to expose, punish, correct and prevent sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual abuse and gender inequality in general.

But what does that mean specifically for the notoriously patriarchal and misogynistic opera world – meaning for the operas themselves and their themes, plots, characters and composers as well as for the people who put them on?

How, for example, should one now think of “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? (The womanizing Don Juan is seen below in a production of “Don Giovanni” by the Metropolitan Opera.)

A recent discussion on National Public Radio (NPR) covered many dimensions of the problem, and The Ear found what was said fascinating although he didn’t agree with everything.

One Italian production went so far as to change the ending of a famous and popular opera – Bizet’s “Carmen” — in order to redeem the doomed heroine.

That seems excessive to The Ear, something that recalls the 17th-century writer Nahum Tate who rewrote the tragedy “King Lear” by Shakespeare to give it a happy ending. (You can hear the original ending of “Carmen” in the YouTube video at the bottom. The 2009 production by the Metropolitan Opera features Roberto Alagna and Elina Garanca.)

It brings up the question: How far should one go in imposing contemporary values on the past? And does rejecting an artist also mean rejecting that artist’s work?

Read the edited transcript or listen to the entire 8-minute discussion for yourself. Besides the female host (Lulu Garcia-Navarro), three women – two singers (Aleks Romano and Leah Hawkins) and one administrator (Kim Witman) – ask questions and give their opinions and thoughts.

Here is a link to the story that was posted on the NPR blog “Deceptive Cadence”:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/05/27/614470629/my-voice-should-be-heard-metoo-and-the-women-of-opera

Then decide what you think you would like to see done to address the concerns of the #MeToo movement in the opera world, and what is allowed and not allowed to you.

And let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The first-rate and listener-friendly Willy Street Chamber Players announce their five impressive July concerts – three with admission and two for FREE — as both subscription and single tickets go on sale

June 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) remains one of The Ear’s favorite chamber music ensembles, which his why he named it “Musicians of the Year” in 2016.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

Nothing has changed, although some programs hold more appeal than others, as you would expect for anyone.

What’s not to like about the Willys?

The Willys emphasize friendliness and informality, putting a premium on accessible communication with the audience. You never get that snobby or exclusive feeling that some classical music concerts exude.

The price is right — $15 for each concert, $40 for the series of three — plus a FREE community concerts at the Goodman Center (below) and another FREE community concert at the Union Terrace.

The playing is always first-rate by both group members and guest artists. Many of both groups are local and come from the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music or play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and other groups.

The programming is always inventive and eclectic. The music the Willys play includes both old and new works, familiar and unfamiliar composers, classic and contemporary music.

The Friday night concerts start at 6 p.m. and  last 60 to 90 minutes, giving you plenty of time to do something else to kick off the weekend. (See the YouTube video by Paul Baker at there bottom.) 

True to their name, at the post-concert receptions the Willys serve snacks that promote businesses on the east side. And trust The Ear, the food is very good. 

Here is a link to the new season, the group’s third:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

And here is a link to the Willys’ outstanding, informative and well organized website where you can find much more, including the full programs; the names of the core players; how to order tickets; how to donate and support The Willys; the names and location of the food providers; the rave reviews by several critics; favorite east side restaurants; frequently asked questions; and more (don’t ignore the heading FAQ on the home page).

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

You can order season tickets and, if you go to the home page and look at each concert under Summer Series, individual tickets. You can also click on the box “Tickets Available.”

It all starts Friday, July 6, at 6 p.m. in the usually well attended Immanuel Lutheran Church (below), 1021 Spaight Street.

The Ear can hardly wait.


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Classical music: The impressive second weekend of four concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society adds elements of theater and dance to chamber music

June 14, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The second weekend of the three-weekend summer series of concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society features two performances each of two programs.

The programs in this 27th season with its “Toy Stories” theme – “Play-Do(h)” and “GI Joe” – will be performed at The Playhouse (below) of the Overture Center on Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday performances are at the Hillside Theater (below) at Taliesin, at the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green, at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m.

Each program introduces elements of drama, using a narrator, and of dance.

The works include “The Kitchen Revue” by Bohuslav Martinu and “The Masked Ball” by Francis Poulenc as well as “Einstein on Mercer Street” by American composer Kevin Puts and “The Solder’s Tale” by Igor Stravinsky. (You can hear the first part of the Stravinsky work — “The Soldier’s March”  — with Jeremy Irons narrating and the composer conducting in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The baritone singer is Timothy Jones (below top), a longtime favorite of BDDS audiences, and Milwaukee-based hip-hop dancer and choreographer Blake Washington (below bottom), who is returning for his second season with BDDS.

Here is a link to the introduction and complete schedule to the entire summer season, including a FREE concert of “American Haiku: for violin and cello this coming Wednesday night:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/classical-music-this-weekend-kicks-of-the-27th-season-of-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-concerts-with-the-theme-of-musical-works-as-toys-to-be-played-with-for-serious-fun/

Also included this weekend are various works for bassoon, flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, double bass and percussion by Alexandre Tansman; Georg Philipp Telemann, Gabriel Pierné and Robert Schumann.

A bonus to notice: This year for the first time, at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin, Enos Farms is offering picnic dinners that can be ordered, then picked up and eaten outside or in the Taliesin dining room. For food reservations, go to Tickets at http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: Can the annual Handel Aria Competition be improved? Here are two modest proposals from a fan. What do you think?

June 13, 2018
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a guest posting by George Savage, a blog follower who is a self-described musical amateur. In his youth he sang in choirs and had a bit solo part of Morales in his college production of Bizet’s Carmen. Then, a long musical hiatus until his 60th birthday celebration, when he sang Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” black hat in hand, knees on floor.

Most of his adult life was spent teaching literature and composition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, specializing in the American Renaissance. To the extent he has stayed connected to the world of music, it is through his daughter Kelly Savage, who has a D.M.A in harpsichord from Stony Brook University and now teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

By George Savage

As my bio indicates, I am a musical amateur, meaning simply that I am a lover (French amateur) of music. For the past three years, I have had this love rekindled through the annual Handel Aria Competition in Madison, Wisconsin.

The vocal quality has consistently been high — especially this year! — and it is fun to vote for the Audience Favorite, even when the judges disagree with your assessment.

(Editor’s note: This year the Audience Favorite was mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger, below top, while the three judges awarded First Prize to soprano Suzanne Karpov, below bottom. Here is a link to story about all the winners: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/classical-music-here-are-the-winners-of-friday-nights-sixth-annual-handel-aria-competition/).

My heartfelt congratulations go to Dean and Carol “Orange” Schroeder (below) for establishing this annual competition in 2013 and for the many supporters who have made this competition a success.

I have two modest proposals, though, for improvement, one minor and one major.

A minor proposal: Unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of opera — and I know that some people reading this have that knowledge — you will not know the context of the arias.

I propose that the program notes contain a brief context for each of the arias. Alternatively, the singers – below are the seven finalists this year — could introduce their songs with a similar brief context.

A major proposal: As I listened this year to Handel piece after Handel piece after Handel piece, I wondered: “Could there be some variation?”

I started to think of other festivals that started with a single-artist focus but then gradually expanded, such as the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, or, closer to home, the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Both summer theater venues began with a single focus – Shaw and Shakespeare — but then evolved while at the same time staying true to their precipitating muse.

There is still lots of Shaw at the Shaw festival and lots of Shakespeare at APT. The same is true of the Carmel Bach Festival, which started with Bach but now has expanded to include many other forms of classical music. The same holds true for the famous Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City, which continues to expand its repertoire beyond Mozart.

In that spirit, I wonder if the singers at the Handel Competition, back up by the period-instrument Madison Bach Musicians, could in future events sing two selections — the first an aria by Handel and the second a non-Handel Baroque aria of the singer’s choice.

I think many singers would welcome the expanded repertoire and the audience would appreciate the added variety. The judging would be murkier, but it would be a good kind of murky.

I hope these proposals will engender a discussion: Should the competition be tweaked, or should it stay the same?

Your thoughts on these two proposals would be appreciated as well as other suggestions of your own.


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