The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: How did Baroque composer Telemann get overshadowed and why is he being rediscovered? Trevor Stephenson talks about his all-Telemann concerts this weekend

October 2, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Bach Musicians (MBM) will give two performances of a concert devoted exclusively to the music of Baroque composer Georg Philip Telemann (below).

The performances are: Saturday night, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, where MBM will be artists-in-residence this season; the second performance is on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 6, at 3:30 p.m. at the Holy Wisdom Monastery, 4200 County Road M, in Middleton.

Tickets are $35 in advance and are available at the Willy Street Coop East and West, and at Orange Tree Imports. Tickets at the door are $38 for the general public; $35 for seniors; and $10 for student rush tickets that go on sale 30 minutes before each lecture. The lectures take place 45 minutes before the performance, at 7:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m, respectively.

Why focus on the music of Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)?

Trevor Stephenson, the founder and director of the Madison Bach Musicians, talks about it in an email Q&A with The Ear:

Why does Telemann, who was so respected in his day, seem to get far less play, fewer performances and less mentioning today than his contemporaries Bach, Vivaldi and Handel?

Telemann was born in 1681 — three years after Vivaldi and four years before Bach and Handel. He was astonishingly prolific and it is estimated that he wrote more than Bach and Handel combined.

On top of this, he was very highly respected and was widely published and performed during his life. Remember, it was Telemann — not Bach — whom the Leipzig council wanted to hire for the music director position in 1723. But Telemann was enjoying his wonderful new post in Hamburg—a thriving port city — and was not about to go back to landlocked Leipzig where he had spent his student days.

At any rate, after the 18th century had passed and its music became somewhat marginalized, in the early 19th century it was Bach’s music, not Telemann’s, that suddenly re-emerged.

Bach’s tremendous emotional depth, contrapuntal mastery and ability to control large-scale forms in an almost heroic way spoke with greater urgency to the Romantic sensibility than did Telemann’s elegant craftsmanship. Indeed, 19th-century Bach scholars often mean-spiritedly used Telemann as a foil for Bach.

Telemann’s music nevertheless received a modicum of performances in the early 20th century, but in the 1980s and 1990s, as the Early Music movement really got rolling—and the level of period-instrument performance increased—it became apparent that Telemann’s music really was hot stuff!

Now his music is enjoying a wonderful and well-deserved revival.

What are the appealing and admirable qualities you see in Telemann’s music? Are there any drawbacks to his compositions?

Telemann had a wonderful sense of melodic invention — probably music’s analog to an artist’s ability to draw — and his tunes seem to flow out effortlessly. And although his output was opulent, he had an uncanny sense of form and how much weight – duration — any given musical scene could bear.

He also was a masterful musical polyglot, able to jump back and forth easily between Italian, French and German musical idioms; and like Bach, he was also adept at integrating them into a unified style—this integration of national styles was a frequently acknowledged goal of 18th-century composers.

Telemann’s limitations are apparent when he is juxtaposed with Handel, who could dramatically really take the roof off and who could also find the inner essence of the human voice, and Bach who, like Shakespeare, through a near alchemy of sound and meaning could consistently define and further what it means to be human.

How and why did you put this program together? What unifies it and what would you like the public to know about it?

Madison Bach Musicians’ concertmaster and assistant artistic director Kangwon Kim (below left with Emily Dupere) did the heavy lifting in putting together this wonderful program of Telemann’s chamber music. MBM will present three of Telemann’s programmatic or story works, one church cantata and three purely instrumental selections.

With narration and graphics, we’ll walk you through how he cleverly depicts scenes from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726, below), which had been in print only two years when Telemann wrote his topical Gulliver Suite in 1728. Telemann loved ludicrous irony, like the tiny Lilliputians dancing a heavy chaconne—which Telemann notates in a hilarious, confounding mass of 64th and 128th notes. And then there’s the Brobdingnagian giants doing their rendition of a light-footed gigue, rendered in loopy, cumbersome whole notes!

We’ll also present the marvelous Suite Burlesque based upon Cervantes’ Don Quixote (below): Quixote’s love for Dulcinea, his jousting with windmills, and how a crowd mocks Quixote’s faithful, world-weary servant Sancho Panza.

To top it off, guest artist mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below) will sing the droll and sweetly amusing cantata about the demise — brought about by the cat! — of a favorite and very artistic canary. Osowski will also sing the church cantata Weicht, ihr Sünden, bleibt dahinten (Yield, You Sins, and Stay Behind Me). Telemann wrote more than 1,000 church cantatas.

The concert includes non-programmatic works for string band: the dramatic and Corelli-esque Sonata à 6 in F minor for two violins, two violas, cello and continuo; and the sparkling Sinfonia Spirituosa (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom). I will also perform some fascinating Fantasy miniatures for solo harpsichord, and will give a pre-concert lecture at both events.

For more information about the program, the performers and tickets, go to: www.madisonbachmusicians.org


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Classical music: Meet UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon who performs with the Willy Street Chamber Players on Friday night

July 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Who is Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill)?

This week, he is the bassoonist who will perform Franz Danzi’s Quartet for Bassoon and Strings in D minor, Op. 40, No. 2 (ca. 1820), this coming Friday night, July 19, with the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below), who will also be joined by pianist Jason Kutz and violist Sharon Tenhundfeld..

(The concert is at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The program includes: the Allegretto for Piano Trio by Ludwig van Beethoven (1812); “Dark Wood” by American composer Jennifer Higdon (2001); and the rarely heard String Quartet No. 1  (1948) by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Admission is $15.)

A native of France, Vallon is one of the busiest musicians in Madison. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where he also performs individually, with faculty and student colleagues, and as a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet. He also frequently performs and conducts Baroque music with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Vallon attended the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prizes in bassoon and chamber music, and also earned a philosopher degree at the Sorbonne or University of Paris.

A versatile musician, Vallon played with famed avant-garde French composer Pierre Boulez and for more than 20 years was the principal bassoon of the well-known Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. He has also performed with major modern orchestras and conductors as well as with many period-instrument groups.

He gives master classes worldwide and also composes.

For a more extended and detailed biography, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/marc-vallon/

Vallon recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

What drew you to the bassoon (below) over, say, the piano or singing, over strings, brass or other woodwinds?

I played the piano as young kid but was not very interested in the mechanics of it, even if I had a strong passion for music. It was the day that my piano teacher brought to my lesson a friend of his to do a bassoon demo that I found the right medium for my passion.

I started practicing like a maniac and knew by the age of 14 that I was going to be a professional bassoonist.

What would you like the public to know about the bassoon, perhaps about the challenges of playing it and about the repertoire for it?

The bassoon does not offer more challenges than other wind instruments, but it is safe to say that an absolute perfectionist person should probably not play it.

It is an instrument capable of true beauties, yet it has its own character. You don’t conquer it, you work with it like you would work with a wonderful but temperamental colleague.

Bassoonists sometimes complain that our solo repertoire is not as rich in masterpieces as the clarinet’s or the flute’s. True, but in its 350 years of existence, the bassoon has amassed enough wonderful music to keep us busy for several lifetimes.

What would you like to tell the public about the specific Bassoon Quartet by Franz Danzi that you will perform, and about Danzi and his music in general?

The bassoon and strings quartet became popular in the last decades of the 18th century, a trend that lasted well into the Romantic era.

Sadly, many of these quartets are basically show-off pieces for the bassoonist while the strings players have to suffer through some often very dull accompaniment parts.

I like this one by Danzi (below) because it features the strings on the same musical level as the bassoon, creating an enjoyable musical conversation rather than a cocky bassoon monologue. (You can hear that musical conversation in the opening movement of the Bassoon Quartet by Danzi in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

As a performer and conductor, you are well–known for championing baroque music as well as modern and contemporary music. Do you have a preference? Do they feed each other in your experience?

What I always have enjoyed about playing contemporary music is the possibility to work with living composers because I often realized how flexible they are with their own music and how much they like the performer’s input. They’re often ready to compromise and veer away from the strict notation.

The approach when playing composers from the past is actually very similar in the sense that we have to remember how approximate music notation is. Baroque composers are not here anymore obviously, but the 17th and 18th centuries sources tell us clearly how much flexibility we, modern performers, have in our approach to their music.

When it comes to music pre-1800, we basically have a sketch on our music stands. I always want to remember this. (Below is a manuscript page of a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Do you have big projects coming up next season?

Always! I am putting together a contemporary program on March 27 in our new concert hall on campus. It is called ”Opening Statements” and will feature early works from major 20th-century composers.

On period instruments, I have Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and more Bach on my calendar.

Is there something else you would like to say?

A big Thank You to you, Jake, for being such a relentless and informed advocate of the Madison musical scene!


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Classical music: Today is Memorial Day – a good time to remember the civilian dead as well as the military dead. The Ear likes Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin.” What music would you listen to to mark the holiday?

May 27, 2019
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2019, when the nation honors the men and women who died in military service. The Ear would like to see much more attention and remembrance paid to the huge number of civilians — much higher than military personnel and soldiers — who have died in wars and military service, whose lives weren’t given but taken.

In fact, why not establish and celebrate a separate holiday to honor civilian deaths in war? Perhaps it would help to know the detailed history and background of the holiday, since it is not as straightforward or modern as you might expect:

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

What piece of classical music would you listen to in order to mark the holiday?

There is a lot to choose from.

The Ear especially likes “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by the early 20th-century French composer Maurice Ravel. It is a “tombeau” – a metaphorical “tomb” or “grave” used by the French to mean paying homage to the dead – in two senses.

Its neo-Classical or neo-Baroque style recalls the 18th-century world of French composers and harpsichordists including Jean-Philippe Rameau and Francois Couperin. But in a second sense, Ravel (below, in 1910) dedicated each of the six movements to a friend – in one case, two brothers — who had died during World War I. So part of its appeal is that it is a very personal statement of grief.

Here is more detailed background about the piece:

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

The work was orchestrated later, which added sonic color but cut out two movements. The Ear prefers the original piano version, which seems a little more percussive, austere and straightforward — less pretty but more beautiful, and more in keeping with the holiday by evoking sentiment without sentimentality.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it in a live performance by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.

But there are lots of other works to choose from by many composers: John Adams (“The Wound Dresser” after poetry of Walt Whitman); Samuel Barber (Adagio for Strings); Ludwig van Beethoven (slow movements of Symphonies 3 and 7, and of the Piano Sonata Op. 26); Johannes Brahms (“A German Requiem”); Benjamin Britten (War Requiem);  Frederic Chopin (Funeral March from Sonata No. 2, polonaises, preludes and the “Revolutionary” Etude); Aaron Copland (“Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Letter From Home”); Edward Elgar (“Nimrod” from “Enigma Variations”); Gabriel Faure (Requiem and Elegy for cello); Franz Joseph Haydn (“Mass in Time of War”); Paul Hindemith (“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d – A Requiem for Those We Love”);  Charles Ives (Variations on “America” and “Decoration Day”); Henry Purcell (“When I Am Laid in Earth”); John Philip Sousa (“Honored Dead” March); Ralph Vaughan Williams (Symphony No. 3 “Pastoral”); and many others, including Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a list from the British radio station Classical FM:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/memorial/remembrance-day-music/war-requiem-britten/

Here is a list of patriotic music from Nashville Public Radio:

https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/classical-music-remembrance-and-loss-memorial-day-playlist#stream/0

Here is another list from an American source:

http://midamerica-music.com/blog/five-classical-works-memorial-day/

Here are more sound samples from NPR:

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104341851

And here is another one from Northwest Public Radio:

https://www.nwpb.org/2015/05/22/memorial-day-music-commemorate-celebrate/

What do you think of a holiday commemorating civilian deaths in war?

What favorite piece of classical music would you play and listen to as you mark Memorial Day?

Let us know, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This week brings three period-instrument concerts — two of them FREE — of early music from the Baroque and Classical eras including works by Bach, Telemann and Haydn

April 23, 2019
3 Comments

CORRECTION: The concert listed below by Sonata à Quattro on Thursday night at Oakwood Village West, near West Towne Mall, is at 7 p.m. — NOT at 8 as erroneously first listed here. The Ear regrets the error.

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By Jacob Stockinger

This week features three concerts of music from the Baroque and early Classical eras that should attract the attention of early music enthusiasts.

WEDNESDAY

This Wednesday, April 24, is the penultimate FREE Just Bach concert of the semester. It takes place at 1 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue.

This month’s program, featuring the baroque flute, presents the program that was canceled because of the blizzard in January.

First on the program is the Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038, for flute, violin and continuo, a gorgeous example of baroque chamber music.

Following that comes the Orchestral Suite No. 2, BWV 1067, for flute, strings and harpsichord, really a mini flute concerto.

The program ends with Cantata 173 “Erhoehtes Fleisch und Blut” (Exalted Flesh and Blood), scored for two flutes, strings and continuo, joined by a quartet of vocal soloists: UW-Madison soprano Julia Rottmayer; mezzo-soprano Cheryl Bensman-Rowe; tenor Wesley Dunnagan; and UW-Madison bass-baritone Paul Rowe.

The orchestra of baroque period-instrument specialists, led by concertmaster Kangwon Kim, will include traverse flutists Linda Pereksta and Monica Steger.

The last Just Bach concert of this semester is May 29. For more information, go to: https://justbach.org

THURSDAY

On Thursday night, April 25, at 7 p.m. — NOT 8 as mistakenly listed here at first –at Oakwood Village West, 6209 Mineral Point Road, the Madison group Sonata à Quattro (below) will repeat the Good Friday program it performed last week at a church in Waukesha.

The one-hour concert – featuring “The Seven Last Words of Christ” by Franz Joseph Haydn — is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. (You can sample the first part of the Haydn work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Commissioned by the southern Spanish episcopal city of Cadiz, this piece was originally scored for orchestra, but it enjoyed such an immediate, widespread acclaim, that the publication in 1787 also included arrangements for string quartet, and for piano. In nine movements beginning with an Introduction, Haydn sets the phrases, from “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” to “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” concluding with one final movement depicting an earthquake.

Performers for this program are:  Kangwon Kim, Nathan Giglierano, Marika Fischer Hoyt and Charlie Rasmussen. Modern string instruments will be used, but played with period bows.

The period-instrument ensemble Sonata à Quattro was formed in 2017 as Ensemble-In-Residence for Bach Around The Clock, the annual music festival in Madison.

The ensemble’s name refers to baroque chamber music scored for three melody lines plus continuo. The more-familiar trio sonata format, which enjoyed great popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries, employs a continuo with only two melody instruments, typically treble instruments like violins or flutes. 

In contrast, a typical sonata à quattro piece includes a middle voice, frequently a viola, in addition to the two treble instruments and continuo; this scoring has a fuller, richer sonority, and can be seen as a precursor to the string quartet. For more information, go to: https://www.facebook.com/sonataaquattro/

SATURDAY

On Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, the veteran Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) will perform a concert of baroque chamber music.

Tickets are at the door only: $20 for the public, $10 students.

Performers are: Brett Lipshutz, traverse flute; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Monica Steger, traverse; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

The program is:

Johann Baptist Wendling – Trio for two flutes and bass

Johann Pachelbel – Variations on “Werde Munter, mein Gemuethe” (Be Happy, My Soul)

Friedrich Haftmann Graf – Sonata or Trio in D major for two German flutes and basso continuo

Daniel Purcell – Sonata in F Major for recorder

INTERMISSION

Georg Philipp Telemann – Trio for recorder, flute,and basso continuo TWV 42:e6

Franz Anton Hoffmeister – Duo for two flutes, Opus 20, No. 1

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier – Trio Sonata, Op. 37, No. 5

Telemann – Trietto Methodicho (Methodical Sonata) No 1. TWV 42: G2

After the concert, a reception will be held at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor.

For more information, go to: https://wisconsinbaroque.weebly.com


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Classical music: This Saturday night brings concerts by the Festival Choir of Madison and a harpsichord rededication recital by Trevor Stephenson

November 2, 2018
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received announcements for the following two events that will place on Saturday night:

FESTIVAL CHOIR OF MADISON

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will present the first concert of the season — “Angels and Demons” — on this Saturday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

The choir and artistic director, Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov (below), will take listeners on a Dante-inspired journey — from the Inferno in “The Divine Comedy” through Purgatory all the way to Paradise — as interpreted by composers Karl Jenkins, Zdenek Lukas, Gyorgy Orban, Alfred Schnittke, Joseph Rheinberger, Rodion Schedrin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Marteen Spruijt. (Sorry, but there has been no word on specific works to be performed.)

Guest pianist Kyle Johnson, organist Ted Reinke, percussionist James McKenzie and a string ensemble will accompany the choir throughout the journey.

Concert admission, with general seating, is $10 for students, $15 for senior citizens, and $20 for adults, with tickets available at the door the day of the concert. Tickets can also be purchased online at: https://www.festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/2018/11/3/angels-and-demons

The Festival Choir of Madison is an auditioned, mixed-voice volunteer choir of over 50 experienced singers. It performs thematic concerts of artistically challenging choral music from around the world for listeners who enjoy traditional, modern and eclectic works, and for singers who enjoy developing their talents with others.

To learn more about the organization and see upcoming concerts, go to: www.festivalchoirmadison.org

HARPSICHORD AT IMMANUEL LUTHERAN CHURCH

On this Saturday night, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, there will be a harpsichord rededication celebration and concert.

The appearance and musicality of this renovated double-mansuel. French 18th-century instrument at Immanuel Lutheran have recently been restored and upgraded under the exceptional guidance and expertise of Trevor Stephenson (below bottom), artistic director and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians.

Immanuel is excited to share the instrument (below) with the Madison community by presenting Stephenson in a rededication harpsichord concert. (Composers on the program include Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. No program of specific works has been provided.)

A pre-concert interactive lecture discussing the instrument and rebuilding process will precede the concert starting at 6:30 p.m.

A freewill offering is appreciated at the concert.

A brief reception will follow, and all are welcome.


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