The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today brings the release of an impressive CD of clarinet duos and trios with UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi and his clarinetist son Amitai Vardi

July 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is when another outstanding recording by UW-Madison cellist Uri Vardi gets released by Delos Records.

The recording, which features clarinet trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms and clarinet-cello duos by contemporary composer Jan Radzynski, has all the makings of another winner.

For one, the repertoire is a fine mix of the late Classical style (Beethoven), the  late Romantic style (Brahms) and modernistic nationalism (Radzynski).

It is, of course, a family affair, as  you can read about here in a story about the premiere of the Concerto Duos by Radzynski:

http://news.wisc.edu/music-deepens-connection-for-father-son-performers/

The Ear also finds the playing first-rate and the sound engineering exemplary.

None of that should come as a surprise. You may recall that last year Vardi (below) and his colleague UW-Madison violin professor David Perry, along with pianist Paulina Zamora, released a recording of the three piano trios by Brahms. It was acclaimed by no less than Gramophone magazine. Here is a link to that review:

https://reader.exacteditions.com/issues/49269/page/3

The title of the new CD is Soulmates, and it seems fitting in so many ways that crisscross in many directions.

Here are notes from the educator and performer Uri Vardi:

“The title refers to friendship between composer and performer, as Jenny Kallick highlights in her liner notes.

“For his clarinet trio, Beethoven put to work the manners of a musical style that embraced the outward charm and lively sociability associated with the music of friends, interjecting his soon-to-be famous dramatic flashes only occasionally.

“Jan Radzynski (below) began his association with me in Israel, where the Vardi family from Hungary and Radzynski family from Poland first overlapped.

“Meeting once again during graduate studies at Yale School of Music, our friendship has been enriched by Jan’s project as an esteemed composer with multiple cultural ties to Poland, Israel, the US and Jewish tradition, and by my commitment as celebrated teacher and performer to collaborations across musical boundaries. Jointly, we have found ways to embrace the complexities of their origins and diaspora.

“The duo’s dedication to the entire Vardi family signals this deep connection.

“Nearly a century had passed before Brahms (below top) wrote for this same combination. Had it not been for his newly-blossomed musical friendship with clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (below bottom, 1856-1907), a star performer in the Hofkapelle Orchestra at Saxe-Meiningen, the composer might have held to his recently announced plans to retire.

“On a more personal level, I admire composer Jan Radzynski’s music. I was moved by his gift to my son Amitai (below) — who teaches clarinet at Kent State University in Ohio — and me, and the rest of our family, of the Concert Duos. He presented the work to us in 2004, and we premiered it that same year.

“Brahms is the composer who influences me on the deepest level. Following the release of my previous CD by Delos, I was eager to record the fourth Brahms trio involving the cello, and was looking for an opportunity to add it to the other three trios.

“It is the greatest joy for me to play chamber music with my son. I was happy that both he, and my colleague and friend, pianist Arnon Erez (below), were ready to embark with me on the journey of performing and recording the three compositions on this CD.

“The UW Arts Institute awarded me the Emily Mead Baldwin Award, which helped me financially in releasing this CD. The recordings were done at the Jerusalem Music Center in Israel (which gave us their wonderful facilities free of charge).

“Sound engineer Victor Fonarov, who recorded this CD and started editing it, passed away before the completion of the work. So we decided to dedicate the album to his memory.

“Here is a promotional video, with a SoundCloud clip of the Beethoven work, for the recording:

https://delosmusic.com/recording/soulmates-cello-clarinet-piano/

“And you can hear an excerpt from Radzynski’s Duos in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Interested readers can also purchase the album directly from Uri Vardi at: uvardi@wisc.edu”

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Classical music: Maestro Andrew Sewell has been named the new music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California while retaining his longtime post as music director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

June 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra‘s longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below) has been named the new music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California.

The news comes in between the end of a critically acclaimed and very successful Masterworks season in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and the start of the upcoming and always popular summer Concerts on the Square on Wednesday evenings from June 29 through Aug. 2.

Sewell, who was born and trained in New Zealand, has been an American citizen for the past 10 years. He led the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for 10 years and the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, and he also guest conducts in Hong Kong and many other cities in the U.S. and abroad.

Asked if the move means there will be guest conductors for the WCO, Sewell told The Ear:

“I will be conducting all concerts this year. The schedules for both orchestras work surprisingly well together.

“The situation is not unlike the first 10 years of my tenure in Madison when I was music director of the Wichita Symphony concurrently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I’ll share my time between both communities.” 

For more about Sewell’s impressive and extensive background, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/about/andrew-sewell/

Here is a statement from the WCO:

“When Maestro Sewell raises his baton at Concerts on the Square this month, he will also be embarking on a new position as music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony. (At bottom, he seen conducting the San Luis Obispo Symphony.)

“Fans of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra need not worry, though, as he will retain his position and residence here in Madison. 

“We’re very proud of Andrew and what he has accomplished here in Madison, around the nation and abroad” said Mark Cantrell, CEO of the WCO. “This appointment reinforces what we already know about Andrew, that he is an exciting and impressive director and musician.

“We’re fortunate to retain him here as music director, and we look forward to many more years of him behind the baton with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. We wish him the best of luck in San Luis Obispo.”

For more about this story, use the following links:

Here is a WCO posting about the news:

Global Search Yields Symphony’s Ninth Conductor

And here is a newspaper story with many details about Sewell and his plans for the new position, including where he will live, as well as his plans for sharing repertoire and guest soloists:

SLO Symphony has a new director


Classical music: Percussion quartet Clocks in Motion gives world premieres of two works by UW-Madison composers Laura Schwendinger and Joseph Koykkar this Friday night

November 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Performing world premieres of new compositions by Laura Schwendinger and Joseph Koykkar, Madison’s premiere percussion quartet, Clocks in Motion (below, in a photo by Strom Strandell) will present an evening of experimental new music at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on this Friday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Clocks in Motion 2016 BW CR Strom Strandell

The Atrium Auditorium at 900 University Bay Drive is a stunning piece of architecture (below in a photo by Zane Williams) attached to the historic Meeting House designed by the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright and will provide a wonderful setting for this concert.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Included in this program is the first-ever performance of a new composition, Aviary, by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below). Schwendinger’s composition, written for the members of Clocks in Motion plus piano, is a sound tapestry of imaginary bird songs.

Laura Schwendinger 2

Clocks in Motion will also premiere a new composition by composer Joseph Koykkar (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) entitled Time in Transcendence. Written specifically for Clocks in Motion, Koykkar makes use of the group’s hand-made microtonal percussion instruments and a myriad of drums and keyboard instruments.

joseph-koykkar-use-cr-katrin-talbot

Clocks in Motion will also perform “Workers Union” by Louis Andriessen, Mallet Quartet by Steve Reich and “Gravity” by Marc Mellitus. (You can hear Clocks in Motion perform “Gravity” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This event is supported by Dane Arts.

Admission is $15 for the general public, $5 for Students with valid ID. Cash or credit cards are accepted.

BACKGROUND

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com) and “the most exciting addition to Madison’s classical music scene” (Isthmus), Clocks in Motion is a percussion quartet that performs new music, builds many of its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

clocks_ID_assets

Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion is quickly becoming a major artistic force in today’s contemporary music scene. Among its many recent and upcoming engagements, the group served as performers at the Interlochen Arts Academy (Michigan), The Stone (New York), The Overture Center for the Arts, Casper College (Wyoming), University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University (Ohio), The University of North Carolina-Pembroke and The Ewell Concert Series (Virginia).

Clocks in Motion members are Matthew Coley, Kyle Flens, Sean Kleve and Andrew Veit.

Find out more at www.clocksinmotionpercussion.com


Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will mark its 15th anniversary this Friday night and Sunday afternoon with the “German Requiem” by Brahms and the world premiere of a new work commissioned from Andrew Rindfleisch

August 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) will mark its 15th anniversary with two performances this coming weekend of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms and the world premiere of a work by the contemporary American composer Andrew Rindfleisch.

These performances mark the first time the vocal group will be joined by an orchestra.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble 2015

Performances are in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus this Friday, Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m.

Soloists are soprano Sarah Brailey (below top) and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom).

Sarah Brailey headshot

Paul Rowe headshot

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 with a student ID. Children under 6 under should not attend. More information can be found at www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

The Ear asked Scott P MacPherson (below), formerly of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now the director of choral activities at Kent State University in Ohio, to talk about the anniversary and concert. MacPherson is the founder and artistic director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Scott MacPherson headshot BW 2016

MacPherson writes:

“We are excited to announce that the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is celebrating it’s 15th Anniversary with two performances of Johannes Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) with soloists and professional musicians for the 45-piece orchestra.

“Additionally, IVE marks this significant milestone by presenting the world premiere of the Song of Jubilation, by Andrew Rindfliesch, the native Wisconsin composer’s first choral-orchestral piece.

“Started in 2002, the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is Madison’s “temporary” choir—it gathers some of the region’s finest singers every summer for two intensive weeks of rehearsal (below) culminating in two performances on the first weekend of August.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing 2016

“IVE started up as a summer group of dedicated singers who wanted to perform great choral music together. Many charter members sang under the direction of Robert Fountain in the Concert Choir or with me and the UW Madrigal Singers or Chamber Singers when I was on the UW faculty in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The group has grown from about 35 in its first year to averaging over 60 singers each year. This summer, I have expanded the choir to 115 singers in order to meet the musical and vocal demands of the Brahms German Requiem. (You can hear one of the most popular movements, “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place,” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the beginning, IVE has served the Madison choral community with excellent performances of a varied and demanding repertoire, from Renaissance and Baroque motets to part songs and motets of the 19th century to choral works either unaccompanied or with piano or organ accompaniment in the 20th century to music by living composers of our time.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and Scott MacPherson rehearsing

“A few years ago, I suggested to the IVE board that we commemorate our 15th anniversary in 2016 by performing a completely different repertoire than our usual fare.

“The Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem immediately came to mind—there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this would be the right piece to commemorate this milestone. A favorite for the singers and audiences alike, the music of Brahms has frequently been highlighted on IVE’s programs over the years.

“Also, IVE has never before collaborated with an orchestra for an entire concert, although in 2008 we prepared Coronation Anthem No. 2 by George Frideric Handel for Concerts on the Square with Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra). Performing the German Requiem, arguably Brahms’s finest work, symbolizes the “pinnacle achievement” for many choirs.

I also approached my dear friend composer Andrew Rindflebisch (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as professor of music and heads the composition program at Cleveland State University, about sharing in our celebration by writing a choral-orchestral piece especially for IVE.

I asked Andy for a brief piece to serve as an opener for the Brahms. Song of Jubilation is a fanfare, a short celebratory anthem of power and beauty. Since it specifically introduces the Brahms, Rindfleisch uses nearly the same instrumentation and even selected one of the texts from the Requiem for his new composition. We are honored and privileged to present the world premiere of this fine work.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

Brahms (below) was likely inspired to write his Requiem by the death of his mother in 1865 and possibly also by losing his dear friend Robert Schumann a decade earlier.

In contrast to the Roman Catholic Requiem or Mass for the Dead, which places a great deal of emphasis on the hoped-for salvation of the deceased, Brahms chose a path unheard of in his time: he selected biblical texts in his native German language mostly with themes of consoling the living, comfort in the time of loss, hope, and even a sense of joy for the bereaved for his Requiem.

brahms3

The resulting 7-movement work quickly became an enduring statement of universal consolation, a “Human” Requiem as Brahms once called it. We hope that not only our dedicated audience members over the years will come and be moved by this incredible music, but that many more new audience members will be there as well.


Classical music: The percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion performs music by Steve Reich and John Cage in Spring Green on Monday night

July 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Performing on a variety of percussion instruments, the experimental quartet Clocks in Motion (below, in 2015) is the featured performer at the next Rural Musicians Forum concert.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The concert will be held on this coming Monday night, July 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hillside Theater (below) on the Taliesin estate, south of Spring Green at 6604 Highway 23.

taliesin_hillside2

The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series. For additional information and driving directions, see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

Clocks in Motion is known for engaging performances of the classic repertoire for percussion quartets presented alongside new compositions and rarely heard works.

Featured in this performance are the great masterworks “Mallet Quartet” and “Drumming, Part I” by Steve Reich (below). In addition to these classic compositions, Clocks in Motion will perform their commissioned work by Marc Mellits, “Gravity.” (You can hear “Mallet Quartet” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Steve Reich

The quartet will also perform Moldavian folk music for hammered dulcimer, experimental music by John Cage (below), and a not-to-be-missed theatrical work for wooden spoons on lunch trays.

John Cage and cat

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com) and “the most exciting addition to Madison’s classical music scene” (Isthmus), Clocks in Motion is a percussion quartet that performs new music, builds many of its own instruments and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

The current mebers of Clocks in Motion (below from left, in a photo by Strom Strandell) are Sean Kleve, Kyle Flens, Matt Coley and Garrett Mandelow.

Clocks in Motion 2016 BW CR Strom Strandell

Formed in 2011 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Clocks in Motion is quickly becoming a major artistic force in today’s contemporary music scene.

Among its many recent and upcoming engagements, the group served as performers at the Interlochen Arts Academy (Michigan), The Overture Center for the Arts (Wisconsin), Casper College (Wyoming), University of Michigan (Michigan), Baldwin Wallace University (Ohio), The University of North Carolina-Pembroke (North Carolina) and The Ewell Concert Series (Virginia).

The concert is made possible in part through a grant from the Spring Green Art Fair and an anonymous gift to Clocks in Motion.


Classical music: Five alumni composers return to UW-Madison for two FREE concerts of their work this Thursday and Friday nights. On Tuesday night, UW trombonist Mark Hetzler and friends premiere four new works.

November 2, 2015
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ALERT: On Tuesday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall, UW-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler with be joined by Anthony DiSanza, drums/percussion; Vincent Fuh, piano; Ben Ferris, bass; Tom Ross-percussion; Garrett Mendelow, percussion.

Mark Hetzler and friends present a FREE concert titled “Mile of Ledges” with the premiere of four new works. Two new compositions (Falling and Mile of Ledges) by Mark Hetzler will feature lyrical and technical trombone passages, soulful and spirited piano writing, complex percussion playing and a heavy dose of electronics. In addition, the group will showcase new music by UW-Madison alum Ben Davis (his $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ for quartet and electronics) and Seattle composer David P. Jones (a chamber work for trombone, piano, bass and two percussionists).

Read a Wisconsin State Journal about Mark Hetzler. Download PDF here.

By Jacob Stockinger

If The Ear recalls correctly, alumni who return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are generally performers or scholars.

All the more reason, then, to celebrate this week’s major UW event, which was organized by UW-Madison composer and teacher Stephen Dembski (below). It features five composers who trained at the UW-Madison and who are now out in the world practicing their art and teaching it to others.

Steve Dembski's class

Steve Dembski’s class

Dembski writes:

This week, the UW-Madison School of Music will welcome back five graduates of the composition studio who have developed creative, multi-dimensional careers in a range of fields: acoustic and electronic composition, musicology, theory, audio production, conducting, education, concert management and administration, performance, and other fields as well.

The two-day event is intended to show the breadth of talent at UW-Madison as well as demonstrating that music students focus on much more than performance as a way to shape successful careers.

The composers include: Jeffrey Stadelman (below), who is now associate professor of music composition at the University at Buffalo.

jefffey stadelman

Paula Matthusen (below, BM, 2001), who is assistant professor of music at Wesleyan University.

paula matthusen

William Rhoads (below, BM, 1996), who is vice-president of marketing and communications for Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City.

William Rhoads

Andrew Rindfleisch (below, BM, 1987), who is a full-time composer living in Ohio. (You can hear his introspective and microtonal work “For Clarinet Alone” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

Kevin Ernste (below, BM, 1997), who is professor of composition at Cornell University.

kevin ernste

The UW-Madison School of Music will present two FREE concerts of their music, performed by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Anderson), the UW Wind Ensemble, and other faculty members and students.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2013 Michael Anderson

The FREE concerts are on this Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall; and on this Friday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. There will be workshops and colloquia yet to be announced.

For complete composer biographies, along with comments about their works, and more information about the two-day event, visit this site:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/10/08/uw-madison-composers-return/


Classical music Q&A: Scott MacPherson, founder and conductor of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and a UW-Madison alumnus, talks about the two performances of Mahler, Bach, Brahms and other composers coming up this weekend on Friday, Aug. 2, and Sunday, Aug. 4.

July 29, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Call it The Rite of Summer.

Every August for the past 11 years, University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus Scott MacPherson travels from his job and home in Ohio, where he teaches at Kent State University, to come to Madison to direct and conduct intensive rehearsals and two concerts by the virtuosic Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below in a photo by Jim Pippitt).

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This summer’s concerts, mostly a cappella although some pieces have organ accompaniment, are coming up this weekend on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Especially noteworthy is how the group emphasizes talent with local and regional ties -– the singers, the conductor, even the instrumentals and the composers. Many are alumni of the University of Wisconsin-School of Music.

For more information, visit the home website of the IVE:

http://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

Scott MacPherson (below, in a photo by Beate Gersch; unless otherwise noted, photos of the choir are by Portrait Independence Photography) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Scott MacPherson older BW

What do you want to tell the public about the isthmus Vocal Ensemble in general? How has it evolved and changed over its history and since its founding?

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble was founded in 2002 as a chamber choir of about 35 voices. It was originally intended to perform one concert in Madison each August, but our audience following has grown such that we now give two performances each year, both on the first weekend August.

The concerts this summer will take place at Luther Memorial Church (below top) at 1021 University Ave. on Friday night, August 2, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday afternoon, August 4, at 3 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church (below bottom) on Segoe Road and Mineral Point Road.

luther memorial church madison

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

The choir grew over its first decade to about 55-60 singers and is made up singers from all walks of life, from career musicians and home makers, to professionals in various disciplines and everything in between; all with the same goal—to perform choral music at the highest level.

A community choir of great flexibility with singers from Madison and surrounding areas, the choir specializes in music of all epochs and genres, from Renaissance madrigals and motets, to cutting edge works by living composers.  We gather in Madison for a couple weeks of intense rehearsals and two concerts.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

What is the program this summer and what do you want to say about individual works and composers? I understand there is a special Mahler arrangement that is intriguing.

I have nicknamed this year’s program after the famous phrase by the late Ed Sullivan: “The Really Big Show!”  The focus of the program is on works for double choir.

At the center of the program is a transcription of one of the “Rueckert-Lieder” by Gustav Mahler (below) — “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” — written for 16 separate voice parts by Clytus Gottwald in 1982.  Originally for solo voice and orchestra, Gottwald’s transcription amazingly captures the ambience and color palette of Mahler’s piece.  The work splits each of the usual choral voices into four parts.  For this reason, I have enlarged the choir to 70 voices this summer.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble women

Preceding the Mahler are three sets of pieces for double choir:  Sweelinck’s epic setting of Psalm 150, “Or soit loué l’Eternel”; Johann Sebastoan Bach’s (attributed) motet, “Ich lasse dich nicht”; and Johannes Brahms’s Op. 109 motets, “Fest- und Gedenksprüche.”

The second half of the program features organist Kathrine Handford (below), from the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, in two English choral works for organ and chorus.  In honor of the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s centennial birthday, we will perform his “Hymn to St. Peter” for organ, choir, and soprano solo.  We will also sing Grayston Ives’ “Canticle of Brother Sun,”a setting of the poem by St. Francis of Assisi.

Kathrine Handford

Closing the concert will be a setting of “O Vos omnes” by UW-Madison alumna and member of the Minneapolis-based Rose Ensemble, Linda Kachelmeier (below top) and a contemporary piece by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume (below bottom).  “Twa tanbou,” sung in the original Haitian Creole language, tells the story of three drums in a discussion of which one makes the best sound.

Linda Kachelmeier

Sydney Guillaume

What kind of shape in the IVE in right now and what are its future plans? Concerts? Recordings? Other events?

IVE is proud to have made two CD recordings in its history.  “The Choral Music of Andrew Rindfleisch” was recorded in 2004 and released in 2006 and features approximately half of the choral output of this amazing composer (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as Professor of Composition at Cleveland State University.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

In 2011, IVE released a live recording of their 2010 summer concert: “An Isthmus Christmas.”

Our highest achievement came in February 2012 when we sang a coveted performance at the North Central American Choral Directors Conference, held in Madison.  Hundreds of choral conductors and singers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas attended our concert, which really put IVE “on the map” outside of Madison.

Here is a sample of our singing, a YouTube video of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performing Josef Rheinberger’s “Evening Song” at Luther Memorial Church on Aug. 3, 2012:


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