The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 10th anniversary concert of the Middleton Community Orchestra hit all the right notes – including a surprise of high beauty

October 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The MCO hit all the right notes. And there were many of them, both big and small.

But perhaps the biggest one was also the quietest one.

It came during the repetition section near the end of the heart-rending slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.

The Ear knows the piece and considers it one of the most perfect compositions ever written. But suddenly he heard the familiar work in a fresh way and with a new appreciation, thanks to the talented guest soloist J.J. Koh, who is principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The movement was going beautifully when suddenly, Koh (below) brought the dynamics down to almost a whisper. It felt prayer-like, so quiet was the sound. Yet it was completely audible. The tone was rich and the notes on pitch, even though Koh sounded as if he were barely breathing. It was a heart-stopping, breathtaking moment of high beauty.

It takes a virtuoso to play that softly and that solidly at the same time. And Koh was backed up with the same subtlety by the fine accompaniment provided by the scaled-down orchestra under conductor Steve Kurr.

The sublime result was nothing short of haunting, a musical moment that The Ear will remember and cherish as long as he lives.

And he wasn’t alone. A complete silence fell over the appreciative audience as Koh and the MCO were playing, and at intermission it was what everybody was talking about and wondering at. You just had to be there. It was the kind of musical experience that makes a live performance so engaging and unforgettable.

That moment of communion between soloist and ensemble by itself was enough to tell you how very much the MCO, which improves with each performance, has accomplished in its first decade.

There were other noteworthy moments too.

Of course tributes had to be paid.

So the evening started off with some brief background and introductory words from the co-founders and co-artistic directors Larry Bevic and Mindy Taranto (below).

Then Middleton Mayor Gurdip Brar (below) came on stage to read his official 10th anniversary proclamation and to urge people to applaud. He proved a jovial, good-natured cheerleader for the large audience of “good neighbors” that included many children.

When the music finally arrived, conductor Kurr (below) raised the curtain with his own original 14-minute episodic composition celebrating the “Good Neighbor City” of Middleton. It proved a fitting work for the occasion that evoked both the Midwestern harmonies of Aaron Copland and the brassy film scores of John Williams.

After intermission, the full 90-member MCO under Kurr returned and turned in a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony that did them all proud.

The tempo was energetic with a strong, constant pulse that didn’t falter. As usual, the string and wind sections proved outstanding – and still seem to get better each time.

But the real star this time was the brass, whose prominent part in the Dvorak symphony is hard to play. Playing consistently on pitch and expressively – they were clearly well-rehearsed — the brass boosted the whole performance and raised it to a new level. Which is exactly what the anniversary concert demanded and received.

The Ear wasn’t alone in being impressed.

A professional musician visiting from San Francisco said simply:  ”They are much better than our community orchestra.”

Is there better homage to pay to a 10th anniversary concert and to make listeners look forward to hearing more? If you aren’t going to MCO’s affordable and appealing concerts, you are only cheating yourself.

For more information about the complete season, including programs, performers, guest soloists and how to join or support the MCO, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

If you went, what did you think of the opening anniversary concert?

Leave your opinions and good wishes in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: UW countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf returns to sing on Sunday night with Chanticleer. Here’s how he got there with the right teacher, hard work, good luck and a push from mom. Part 2 of 2 

October 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday night, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Hamel Music Center, the a cappella singing group Chanticleer (below) will kick off the centennial anniversary celebration of the Concert Series at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Tickets are $45 for the public; $40 for faculty staff and Union members; and $10 for students. For more information about the performers and the “Trade Winds” program, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/chanticleer/

Among the 12 members of Chanticleer is Gerrod Pagenkopf, who is in his fifth year with the group as both a countertenor and the assistant music director.

For a biography of Pagenkopf, go to: https://www.chanticleer.org/gerrod-pagenkopf

Pagenkopf is a graduate of the UW-Madison. When he performed as a student, his high, clear countertenor voice was a new experience and made those of us who heard him sit bolt upright and take notice. “He is going places,” we said to each. And so he has.

But Pagenkopf’s story is not only about him. It is also about the rediscovery of countertenors, about the changing public acceptance of them, and about the challenges that young musicians often face in establishing a professional performing career.

So The Ear is offering a longer-than-usual, two-part interview with Pagenkopf (below).

Part 1 appeared yesterday. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/classical-music-uws-first-countertenor-gerrod-pagenkopf-returns-to-perform-on-sunday-night-as-a-member-of-the-acclaimed-choral-group-chanticleer-heres-how-he-got-from-here-to-there/

Here is Part 2:

Back when you were a student here, were you the only countertenor at the School of Music? How did you find out you were a countertenor and pursue that training?

As I recall, I was the only countertenor — certainly the only one studying in the voice department. I had been studying as a tenor with Ilona Kombrink (below, in photo by UW-Madison News Service) for a few semesters, and it just didn’t seem as easy as it was supposed to.

I didn’t sound like other tenors in my studio or on recordings. I remember that a famous countertenor had just come out with an album of Handel arias, and, upon hearing it, I thought to myself, “I can sing like that!”

I asked Professor Kombrink about it, and she told me to learn “Cara Sposa” from Handel’s “Rinaldo” over the summer. When I came back in the fall, if it sounded legitimate she agreed I could pursue countertenor singing.

I remember that first lesson of the fall. After I sang this Handel aria for her, she sat back and mused in her sage-like manner, “Yes, this must needs be.”

I never looked back. I think I was on the early edge of the re-emergence of countertenors. Certainly there were countertenors working professionally, but there weren’t that many. There weren’t any other countertenors in Houston when I went to grad school, and even when I moved to Boston, there were only a handful of working countertenors.

Since then, how has the treatment of countertenors changed in the academic and professional worlds?

By the time I left Boston a few years ago, you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a countertenor. We now see young countertenors winning major competitions and earning places in young artist programs around the country. The competition is fierce now.

I was lucky enough to be one of just a few fish in the pond, but now countertenors are everywhere—and a lot of them are really good! I also remember that there was a stigma so that it would be difficult to find a voice teacher who would teach countertenors.

A lot of pedagogy books by reputable technicians said that countertenors weren’t real — they just sing in falsetto, which isn’t a real voice. I was lucky that Professor Kombrink was willing to explore that with me. I think now that there are so many successful countertenors singing everywhere, I hope this antiquated view of the voice type has changed.

What would you like the public to know about the program you will perform here? Are you featured in certain pieces?

Our “Trade Winds” program explores several different aspects of the wayfaring sailor. They include Monteverdi madrigals about water and nature; a wonderful mass setting by a largely unknown century Portuguese composer, Filipe de Magalhaes; several charming folksongs from around the Pacific Rim; and even a few sea shanties.

It’s a varied program that includes repertoire from as early as the 15th century up to just a few months ago. One of Chanticleer’s missions is to further the art of live music through new compositions, and we’ve commissioned a fantastic young Chinese-American composer, Zhou Tian (below), to write a new multi-movement piece for us, entitled “Trade Winds,” from which our program also gets its title.

Lots of listeners are scared of “new music,” but Zhou has given us a gem. It’s easy to listen to, and I think listeners will instantly understand what it’s all about.

What are your plans for the future?

Personally, I can’t say that I have anything coming up. As wonderful as Chanticleer is, the job pretty much limits any amount of outside freelance work. (At the bottom, you can hear Chanticleer singing “Shenandoah,” its most popular YouTube video – and a piece with a prominent countertenor part — with well over 1.6 million hits.)

One of the truly fantastic parts of singing in Chanticleer (below, performing on stage) is all the places we travel to. We started off this season with a three-week tour of Europe, which was actually the ensemble’s third trip to Europe in 2019.

We love traveling around the U.S., and as I’ve said, traveling back to Madison is certainly the highlight for me. The Midwest is always a special place for us to sing, as several of our members are from this region.

We’re very excited to travel to Australia in June 2020. I think it’s Chanticleer’s first visit “Down Under.” We will also be going back to the studio in January to record a new album for release sometime later in 2020. We have lots of exciting events coming down the pipeline.

Is there something else you would like to say?

Prior to singing with Chanticleer, I had been living in Boston for almost eight years, pursuing professional singing as a freelance artist.

To make ends meet, I had been working at Starbucks, which I actually started doing when I still lived in Madison, and my gigging was getting lucrative enough that I eventually decided to take a leave of absence from slinging lattes.

While I was in Wisconsin on Christmas vacation, I received a message from Chanticleer’s music director, William Fred Scott, letting me know that there was an immediate vacancy in the ensemble, and would I be interested in singing for them.

I thought I was being spammed, so I didn’t respond, and continued to enjoy the bliss of spending the entirety of the holidays with my family.

When I eventually got back to Boston a few days later, another email arrived from Mr. Scott: “Did you get my email? We’d really like to hear from you.” Ok, how do I tell them I’m clearly NOT the countertenor they’re looking for?

Well, after much soul-searching, calling my mother (“Just do it!” she exclaimed), and figuring out the logistics of liquidating a one-bedroom apartment, I decided to run away and join the circus. It was a complete leap of faith, but I think I made the right decision.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Singing in Chanticleer was the first legitimate dream I remember having. Although my musical path took me in several other directions, that path eventually led me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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Classical music: The 16th annual all-day Wisconsin Flute Festival will be held this Saturday and will present a FREE public concert on Saturday afternoon

April 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The 16th annual Wisconsin Flute Festival will be held on this coming Saturday, April 6, at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon Street, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The Wisconsin Flute Festival brings together flutists and music lovers of all ages from Wisconsin, the greater Midwest, and across the country, for an engaging and educational day celebrating everything flute.

The festival includes: workshops; lectures; performances; junior, youth, and collegiate artist competitions; master classes and an extensive exhibit hall.

This year’s festival will feature guest artist Bonita Boyd (below in a photo by Kate Lemmon), an internationally renowned performer and Professor of Flute at the Eastman School of Music. (You can hear a sample of her teaching in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The festival will begin at 8 a.m. at the Pyle Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and will culminate in a FREE 90-minute public concert beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the bottom of Bascom Hill and a short walk from the Pyle Center.

The free evening concert will be performed by featured guest artist Bonita Boyd with Madison guitarist Christopher Allen (below).

Workshop topics will include yoga for flutists, orchestral audition preparation, recording techniques, a repair clinic, piccolo techniques, and more.

Participants will also have the opportunity to participate in an interactive session with low flutes including; alto flutes, bass flutes, and a contrabass flute, and take part in two flute choir reading sessions.

Performances during the day will feature an eclectic mix of music performed by professional and student flutists.

Festival attendees will hear music by composers from around the globe and from a variety of periods. Compositions by living composers will feature prominently in many of the recitals at the festival. Solo flute, flute and piano, flute quartet, and flute with mixed ensemble can be heard.

For flutists shopping for an instrument, music or accessories, companies from across the U.S. will be on-site in the Festival’s exhibit hall. Technicians will be also available to evaluate instruments and conduct minor repairs. Confirmed exhibitors include Burkart Flutes and Piccolos, Flute Specialists, Inc., Flute World, the Geoghegan Company, Heid Music and Verne Q. Powell Flutes.

Tickets range from $30 to $40 for festival participants. Tickets for non-flutist family members of participants (parents, siblings, etc.) are available for at a special rate of $7. Registration is now open and information is available online at https://wisconsinflutefestival.org. Tickets can also be purchased at the festival.

The evening concert, beginning at 5:30 p.m., will be held in Music Hall at the UW-Madison and is FREE and open to the public.

The program will include Mountain Songs by Robert Beaser, Histoire du Tango by Astor Piazzolla, Canyon Echoes by Katherine Hoover, Entr’acte by Jacques Ibert and Pièce en form de Habenera by Maurice Ravel.

The 2019 Flute Festival – which is a program of the Madison Flute Club — is sponsored by Heid Music. Major funding is provided by Verne Q. Powell Flutes, American Printing, Eric and Tobi Breisach, Distillery Marketing and Design, and Karl Sandelin – in memory of Joyce Sandelin.

Additional funding is provided by Audio for the Arts, Breisach Cordell PLLC, Dr. Danielle and Jeffrey Breisach, Madison Classical Guitar Society, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, and Jessica and Jim Yehle.

ABOUT THE MADISON FLUTE CLUB

The Madison Flute Club was founded in 2002 and currently presents over 20 concerts each year to an audience of more than 1,500 community members. The club involves, on average, 35 active adult members and over 30 youth from the surrounding area.

To advance and achieve its mission, the Madison Flute Club has undertaken several large projects and partnered with numerous organizations and events in Dane County. These projects include the commissioning and world premiere of a work for flute choir for Design MMoCA, successfully fundraising for a contrabass flute — the first such instrument in Wisconsin — and performing at the National Flute Association Convention.

Madison Flute Club ensembles and members have been featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s The Midday with Norman Gilliland, on WORT 89.9 FM in Madison and in the publication The Flutist Quarterly.

For more information about the Madison Flute Club, go to: http://www.madisonfluteclub.org


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Classical music: Superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax headline the 100th anniversary of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series next season

March 4, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following major announcement to post about the Wisconsin Union Theater, which The Ear calls “the Carnegie Hall of Madison” for its long and distinguished history of presenting great performing artists.

The Wisconsin Union Theater (below top, with Shannon Hall below bottom) is delighted to announce the schedule for its 100th Concert Series during 2019-20.

In this celebratory year, we introduce two exciting additions: A transformative gift by Kato Perlman establishes the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Series, ensuring the world’s best chamber ensembles continue to perform as a regular feature of the Concert Series.

Additionally, two Concert Series performances will take place in the Mead Witter School of Music’s new Hamel Music Center (below). We look forward to increased collaborations with the school of music.

The 100th anniversary series was curated by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee, with wife-and-husband advisors pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Tristan Cook), who are celebrated musicians and directors of several festivals of classical music and also serve as co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. (You can hear them performing music by Johann Sebastian Bach in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The first season of this distinguished series was in 1920-1921, and featured soprano May Peterson, violinist Fritz Kreisler and pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch.

Nineteen years later, in 1939-1940, the series moved to the newly opened Wisconsin Union Theater. The first season in the Wisconsin Union Theater featured bass singer Ezio Pinza, cellist Emanuel Feuermann, violinist Joseph Szigeti, pianist Robert Casadesus and, the highlight, contralto Marian Anderson.

Through these 99 years, numerous renowned, accomplished and prominent classical musicians have played in the series, the longest continuous classical series in the Midwest. Some made their debut here and continued returning as their fame rose.

See this article for an interview with former WUT director Michael Goldberg about the history of the series.

The schedule for the 100th Concert Series, including the inaugural David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Series, is:

Oct. 6 – A cappella choral group Chanticleer, Hamel Music Center. Program To Be Announced

Nov. 2 – Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), Shannon Hall. All-Beethoven program, including Piano Sonatas Nos. 1, 2 and 3.

Dec. 6 – The Kalichstein, Laredo and Robinson Piano Trio (below), Shannon Hall. “Canonic Etudes” by Robert Schumann; Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn; and Piano Trio in B-flat major “Archduke” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Jan. 25, 2020 – The Escher String Quartet (below), featuring David Finckel, Shannon Hall. Quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Fritz Kreisler and Franz Schubert.

March 5, 2020 – Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – featuring David Finckel, Wu Han, Paul Neubauer and Arnaud Sussman, Shannon Hall. Sonatine by Antonin Dvorak; Piano Quartet by Josef Suk; Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25, by Johannes Brahms.

March 7, 2020 – Wu Han with the UW Symphony Orchestra, Hamel Music Center. Program TBD.

March 28, 2020 – Violinist Gil Shaham (below) with pianist Akira Eguchi, Shannon Hall. Program TBD.

May 2, 2020 – Special Gala Concert with Renée Fleming (below). Shannon Hall. Mixed Recital.

All programs are subject to change.

Subscriptions will be available starting March 18, 2019. Subscribers benefits include: access to the best seats, 20% off the price of single tickets, no order fees, a free ticket to Wu Han’s performance with the UW Symphony Orchestra, and the opportunity to be first to purchase tickets to Renée Fleming’s 100th Anniversary Gala Concert.

Find more information about the series and the artists at www.uniontheater.wisc.edu. Subscriptions will be available on March 18 at www.artsticketing.wisc.edu.


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Classical music: Trio Celeste makes its Madison debut this Sunday afternoon playing music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Piazzolla. They give a FREE master class on Saturday afternoon

January 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a slow time of the year for classical music concerts, the winter intermission between fall and spring semesters. But The Ear received for the Salon Piano Series the following announcement to post:

“We caught this West Coast group on a rare Midwest tour. Trio Céleste (below) has firmly established itself as one of the most dynamic chamber music ensembles on the classical music scene today. They’ve wowed audiences worldwide with their “unfailingly stylish” (The Strad) and “flawless” (New York Concert Review) interpretations.

“The piano trio has firmly established itself as one of the most dynamic chamber music ensembles on the classical music scene today. This season’s highlights include recital debuts at the Chicago Cultural Center and New York’s Carnegie Hall, and the world premiere of Paul Dooley’s Concerto Grosso for Piano Trio and Strings.

“Winners of the prestigious Beverly Hills Auditions and the recipients of the 2017 Emerging Artist Award from Arts Orange County, the ensemble has performed hundreds of recitals worldwide.

“Their first album on the Navona label debuted at No. 5 on iTunes for “Best Seller New Release.” (You can see them recording the first album in the YouTube video at the bottom.)”

The program for Trio Celeste’s concert on this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 6, at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the far west side of Madison near West Towne Mall, will include:

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 (1882)

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G minor (1892)

Astor Piazzolla – Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (1965-1970)
(selections) arr. for piano trio by José Bragato

For more information, about the trio, go to: http://www.trioceleste.com

MASTER CLASS

On this Saturday, Jan. 5, at 4 p.m., Trio Céleste will teach a master class at Farley’s House of Pianos, where they will instruct students from Farley’s House of Pianos and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). This is a FREE event that the public is invited to observe.

The master class program will include portions of:

Joseph Haydn – String Quartet Op. 33, No. 3 “The Bird”

Klaus Badelt (arr. Larry Moore) – Theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean”

Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet Op. 18, No. 1

Edvard Grieg – String Quartet Op. 27, No. 1

The master classes for the 2018-19 season are supported by the law firm of Boardman & Clark LLP.

Tickets are $45 in advance (students $10) or $50 at the door. You can purchase tickets at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3499176

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

For more information, go to https://salonpianoseries.org

Service fees may apply. Tickets also for sale at Farley’s House of Pianos.
 Student tickets can only be purchased online and are not available the day of the event.


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