Also known as “Dave Gets Deep,” this section includes reflections on art, life, and the human condition.

Twitter post reading, Every year the day I get the “testimonial” interviews back from the videographers takes me by surprise.  It’s been a few weeks, by then, since the frenzy of preparations for DMGS3 reached its zenith and quickly subsided and I crashed into bed with a huge, relieved sigh of “DONE!” and fell deeply asleep with a smile of gratitude on my face.  So to have this reminder of the day arrive in my inbox is a pleasant surprise in itself.  And to watch what my students have to say about their work with me is always both humbling and gratifying.

And then today, coincidentally, after the videos arrived, a Twitter screenshot started making the rounds of social media today with the following characteristically concise message:

2005: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.
2010: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.
2015: Study STEM. The Humanities are worthless.

The tweet just underscored for me a common thread that I saw in my students’ testimonials, and that I had earlier reflected on as I was preparing the program book for this year’s event.  Here’s what I said in my introduction to that book:

Some people work every day to make the world a better place.  Doctors and lawyers, novelists and journalists, ministers and folks who run non-profit service agencies. They cure disease and feed the hungry and promote intelligent discourse in a world that badly needs it.  The things they accomplish every week are enviably important.

Me?  I teach music.  I tell pianists to curl their fingers more and loosen their wrists.  I tell singers to raise their soft palates and engage their abs.  If you get stuck focusing on the “what” and the “how” of music-making, it can seem… unimportant.

That’s why today is such an important day for me.

Today is about the “why.”  Today I get to be present as my students—the finger-curlers and wrist-looseners and soft-palate-raisers and ab-engagers—bravely put themselves before a group of strangers, and they make them feel things.

How often are policy decisions made based on cold-facts profit-and-loss statements?  Heartless laws written—and compassionate laws blocked—because the people they impact are safely ensconced in statistics, stereotypes, and anonymity?  What would our world look like if our society valued and prioritized the universal humanness of delighted laughter and sympathetic tears… of contented sighs and compassionate groans… the universal humanness of feeling?

The folks who make music for you today may never end up at Carnegie or on Broadway.  They may spend their days as mathematicians or chemists, office workers or executives.  Their careers may not have anything to do with music.  But as long as they continue to practice and model the courage it takes to feel, and they help others to do the same, I believe to my core that every day of their lives, they will make the world a better place.

I am so proud of the feelings my students discover during their work, and evoke in others.  It’s a tremendous honor to be present when students expand their boundaries of vulnerability and summon the courage to reveal their deep-seated human-ness, whether it’s in the safe privacy of the lesson studio or in the public space of the stage.  Artists are brave, brave people, and their bravery is the best kind: the artist’s bravery is the kind that, rather than threatening or insisting or boasting, invites the rest of the world to join in, to take a risk, and to be brave together.

Honestly, I think that kind of bravery is the only hope our world has right now.

So, what brave art have you made today?

After last year’s Christmas post, one could be forgiven for responding to this news with a bit of (good-natured, I’d hope) ribbing, but:

I’ve just written a new Christmas song.

The world, you see, is full of un-beautiful stuff right now.  And while I do still firmly believe that the contemporary American approach to Christmas is largely a manifestation of—if not even a source of—that stuff, I also think that the heart of the Christmas story points us toward truths that are beautiful—that that story can serve as an antitoxin, if you will, for what is poisoning our society today.

Sometimes I just need reminders to practice seeking beauty in unexpected places, I guess.  So here’s my latest attempt.  Take it to heart, if you like.  (And if you really love it, you can purchase print music for this piece.)

“The Kind of Christmas”

A quiet time with ones you love,
without a thought for what’s beneath the tree….
It’s dark outside. The earth is cold.
But in this house, you’re safe with family.
Around the room you see all your favorite faces,
though they don’t all resemble your own.
And in the still of this silent night,
you know for more than sure you’re not alone.

Bundled up in mismatched clothes,
and singing songs whose words you don’t quite know….
Nothing here is perfect, but
there’s no place else on earth you’d rather go.
The fairy tales about angels, kings, and shepherds
fill those younger than you with delight.
And somehow the tale of that little town
works magic on your jaded heart tonight.

Immanuel: Even here, even now, you’re not alone.
Not a place, but a presence, makes this home.
And though sometimes you forget,
Immanuel: Something greater than the lies you’ve heard is true.
You have a home no matter what you do.
And you know it, too.
That’s the kind of Christmas I wish for you.

You share a glance, a bashful smile,
and yesterday’s regrets dissolve away.
Wounded pride and hurtful words,
they matter less than family today.
You start to see the full value of forgiveness,
and you promise to do, or to try.
And with those words, you find, in the bleak midwinter,
that the stars all shine brighter in the sky.

Immanuel: Even here, even now, you’re not alone.
Not a place, but a presence, makes this home.
And though sometimes you forget,
Immanuel: Something greater than the lies you’ve told is true.
You have a home no matter what you do.
And you know it, too.
That’s the kind of Christmas—
a holy kind of Christmas—
that’s the kind of Christmas I wish for you.

Senior yearbook photo, Dickinson College, 1993. Who’d’a thunk?

I am not good at holidays. I lack that (honorable, healthy, and near-universal) human characteristic that motivates people to schedule time off, to pause from daily routines, and to take special note of historical events on their anniversaries. So National Coming Out Day takes me by surprise when it rolls around on October 11 of each year.

In my (half-hearted) defense, I “came out,” at least in my own mind, on May 8, 1993 at a concert I’d put together just after graduating from college. When one plans such an event (at least when “one” is I), one tends to have “once-and-done” expectations of the fête. So when I realized that today was “the day,” I jokingly posted a three-word announcement on Facebook:

“Psst. I’m gay.”

Most of the comments were of the sort I expected:

  • “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?” (from my sister)
  • “What the HELL?” (from my very sarcastic, very aware seminary advisor, a specialist in apocalyptic literature and staunch ally to LGBTQ causes)
  • “Does your husband know?” (from a friend with whom we just had dinner recently)

When people who know me well take “the gay thing” as an unsurprising part of who I am, the tongue-in-cheek responses are understandable. And it might seem… odd… that when just about anyone who knows me as more than an in-passing acquaintance knows that I’m married to a man, I feel a need to keep “coming out” publicly on October 11 each year.

Why bother, really? What’s the point? There are a few possibilities:

One possibility is that I crave ego-fueling, plain & simple. As with many of my public posts, my “I’m gay” post was intended at first to bring a chuckle. But scrolling through the comments has been, frankly, deeply meaningful to me. There’s something profoundly affirming to see so many expressions of solidarity and support, especially at a time in history when LGBT existence is losing its grip as a “socially acceptable identity” (and if you’re not sure what that means, count yourself lucky).

I can also hope that part of me is seeking practice at being brave. The other day I read a post by Robin Sokoloff that blew my socks off. To read about the no-effs-given bravery of a woman who’d had enough of male privilege… of society’s blind-eye, head-down, don’t-interfere acceptance of atrocious, violent, inhuman sexism… put me, quite frankly, in my place. I’m embarrassed to say that I saw myself in the pasta-focused onlookers in her story, and that my presence at that scene would probably not have made a difference. And it’s no wonder, really—I still feel my body tensing with fight-or-flight preparations when I use the phrase “my husband” with a new acquaintance for the first time. As an educated, English-fluent, currently physically enabled cis white male of comfortable socioeconomic status, I have a lot of privilege cards to play, and I want to be better at making waves when it’s called for, and better at recognizing immediately when it is called for.

But I think, most of all, I make offhand, off-the-cuff, (apparently) effortless “coming-out” gestures because I remember being a closeted teenager, and I’ve known plenty of closeted adults, and, in a nutshell, the closet is deadly. Trying to hide, to minimize, to excise a part of one’s identity leads to crippling self-hatred and deep, painful shame. But at least as bad as the damage we do to ourselves are the consequences to others of the poor choices we make when we’re hiding in closets, whether we’re trying to prove to others (or ourselves) that we’re “not really like this,” or whether we’re turning our backs on our values and our wisdom, and seeking outlets for desires we’ve been locking inside like a pressure cooker.

Someday, I trust, a gay kid will be able to say the words “I’m gay” for the first time without fearing that his family will disown him, that his faith community will try to “cure” him, that his employer will find a reason to terminate him, or that his government will demote him to a less-respected class of citizen. We’re not there yet. But I know that, even now, even in the midst of all the… stuff… that’s going on in America right now, no one needs to feel alone.

You are not alone.

Psst. I’m gay.

Resources you may find useful

  • The Trevor Project, a lifeline of phone, chat, and TXT resources for LGBT youth considering suicide
  • GLSEN (pronounced “glisten”), a national organization that works to improve an education system that too frequently allows its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students to be bullied, discriminated against, or fall through the cracks
  • LGBT Center of Central PA
  • PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians And Gays)

I wrote the following as an “open-ish” letter to the cast of a high-school show I music-directed back in 2014, and originally shared it with them as a post to the cast Facebook group, on the day of the “Apollo Awards,” a local fundraiser event that mimics the Tony Awards, but for high-school musicals.  Seems like every year at this time (and sometimes at other times) I feel an urge to revisit these words.  So, to anyone who’s found a calling in “show biz”:

Well, folks, today’s the day.  By the time you call it a night tonight you’ll know whether our work together is officially “Apollo-Award-winning,” or… or not.

It would be an overstatement of my noble indifference for me to say I don’t care about tonight’s results.  I do care, though not by much, and not because I hope we “win.”  The “not by much” part is a symptom of the wisdom that experience brings: I’ve “won” awards and competitions with work I was dissatisfied with, and some of my best work has “lost” recognition I felt sure it deserved.  (And I have a feeling I’m not alone in that.)  The “I do care” part is because I know how tempting it is—not “especially,” but certainly at your age—to base your sense of self-worth on the opinions others express.  And I’ve known people whose artistic souls have been crushed by others’ failure to appreciate their gifts.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with looking to others for affirmation.  A big part of growing up is deciding whose opinion should matter to you, and whose shouldn’t.  (And the most important part of that process, IMHO, is realizing how much smaller that first group is than the second.)  We define those groups—and re-define them—slowly and carefully and often painfully, as we realize that seeking “this” person’s approval has tended to bring us exhaustion or frustration or even pain, and that “that” person has continued to offer us affirmation and encouragement and loving challenge even when their opinions felt irrelevant or outdated or unwanted.  Defining those groups is something you never ever finish with, and it’s a task only you can do for yourself.  So it might seem like only an arrogant jerk would offer someone else advice on that process.

But I, as you know, am just exactly that kind of arrogant jerk, so here’s my take on it:

The “Apollos” judges don’t belong in that first group.

If we take home “best in” every category tonight, it doesn’t mean our show was better than we thought it was.  It doesn’t mean we told the story better than we thought we had.  And it doesn’t mean we didn’t make the mistakes we thought we made, or that we couldn’t have done better.

And if our show isn’t named for a single award, it won’t mean that our pride in our work was misplaced.  It won’t mean that we didn’t overcome the challenges of cancelled rehearsals and condensed timelines.  And it won’t mean that there weren’t moments—I saw them on your faces—when you couldn’t believe art that powerful could come out of your bodies and voices and souls.

So here’s my challenge to you: decide NOW whether our production was worth the time and heart you put into it.  Decide NOW whether you’re proud of the work you and your teammates did.  Decide NOW whether we did good work together.  And then, before the judges even open their mouths, decide who else on the planet has a right to try to change your mind about any of that.

When you get the hang of that, you’ll be an artist.

Which is really just another word for a whole human being.

Let it fly, my friends.

With gratitude and respect,


Dr. Seuss's There are so many things I hate about Christmas, that I struggle to list them in order of hatedness.  Granted, I can name three or four things I hate about Christmas at a moment’s notice, any day of the year, but when I really sit down to focus my un-charitability toward the holiday?  Hoo boy.  Look out.  Consider:

I hate Late-October Christmas, in which jacks-o-lantern are chased away by (or in many cases share porches and storefronts with) Christmas decorations, as though we fear we won’t survive the 54 days between the bucket of Baby Ruths and Smarties we scored from our neighbors, and the sack of trinkets we expect to receive from family, friends, and an inexplicably jolly elf with unnerving home invasion skills.

I hate Aircraft-Diversion Christmas, the holiday mocked by Chevy Chase movies but misguidedly imitated by so many, in which the light pollution of competitive gaudiness and flair renders invisible the tranquil beauty of stars in the winter sky.

I hate Cookie Christmas, in which we prepare ridiculous quantities of labor-intensive, horrifyingly sweet, unjustifiably gaudy confections and distribute them to friends and family, all while patting our slightly-less-svelte-than-we-wish-they-were bellies and chuckling demurely, “oh, no, I really couldn’t.”

I hate Santa Christmas, by which children are indoctrinated to associate material wealth with good behavior—as though the Koch brothers were the kind of people we want our children to grow up to be—and by which kids learn early on that the people who teach us wrong from right clearly don’t have a clue how the world actually works.

I hate Suddenly Religious Christmas, which pretends that December 24 is a more important day for spiritual community than, say, September 10, and accepts rote recitation of mythology in place of authentic, disciplined relationship with transcendence.

I hate “It’s-The-Thought-That-Counts” Christmas, that condescendingly self-righteous holiday that serves not to liberate its participants from blatant consumerism, but rather to justify their perceived need to purchase self-worth by wasting money on unnecessary, unwanted gewgaws that, in a slightly less imperfect world, would hit the dustbin along with the wrapping paper, saving the recipient the awkward “It-Was-A-Gift” period during which they are socially bound to pretend they appreciated the gesture.

I even hate “Merry Christmas,” as a phrase.   For musicians and religious professionals and retailers and medical professionals and so many others in service positions, December is the busiest, most stressful time of the year.  Generally, if I can make it through a day in December without cursing anyone out I call it a success.  “Full of cheerfulness or gaiety? Joyous in disposition?” Take that and lump it, and just let me go home and lock the door and be alone with hubby and the cats until January, thankyouverymuch.

And I hate—heaven help me, I hate so excruciatingly, rage-inducingly much—Retail Christmas. The jingle bells that underscore every commercial for the last 25% of the year… the countless (but expensive) things “’tis the season” for… the way one can’t shop even for everyday necessities like groceries without suggestions that one really should be spending more money than one had planned to.  How I loathe Retail Christmas, to which the American economy is inextricably yoked, on whose under-the-wire profits solo business owners and megacorp execs alike depend, and at whose altar so many of the other things I hate about Christmas bow!

But most most most of all, I hate “Real-Meaning-Of” Christmas: the insidious ways our culture tries to convinces us that we’re wrong to question any of it—that if we speak out against mindless tradition, compulsory pleasantries, or consumerism, we’re committing a mortal sin against the Holy of Holies.

Kids, cover your ears.


I mean, pardon my French and all, but this is something about which I feel quite strongly.  And I feel strongly about it because (don’t tell anyone) I really, really need Christmas.  But I need a different kind of Christmas than the one that I drown in for far too many weeks every winter.

I need the kind of Christmas that finds divine, world-redeeming purpose in a child born out of wedlock to a political refugee and her fiancé.

I need the kind of God who would surrender omnipotence and omniscience to fully understand the hungers and fears and uncertainties of humanness.

I need the kind of good news that is delivered late at night to dirty, exhausted, hard-working tradespeople, because the folks whose power was handed down to them find it threatening, and collude to silence it.

So every year I climb on my high horse, put on my Grinch face, update my non-gift wishlist, take lots and lots and lots of deep breaths, and start counting down the days until January.  Not because I have a right to claim my own kind of Christmas—though I do—but because I have a feeling I’m not alone.

What kind of Christmas do you need?