Things Of Mine (2015Sep30)


Wednesday, September 30, 2015                                              12:49 PM

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Mysterium of acts and emotions, my life has no finals or finishes, no borders or separation of any kind—we are all one, and the end of life is no end but a great adventure, sprinkled liberally with fairy dust. Imaginarium of deeds and words, my mind has no limits other than that it cannot see itself without the mirror of the universe—I resemble other lives, I copy other chemistries, yet I am unique only insofar as I am not anything else. Orrery of the pan-dimensional, my mathematics are the unreal ideal of the real—a symbolic blueprint of the breath I take and the light I see. Adventure-world of the fantastic, my imagination is a land of wishes fulfilled only to end in sleep, disasters averted by wishes alone, and love unconquerable.

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Words are these. Ideas are powerful only in specificity. Action and reaction create an interlocking cosmos—the past forces the present into the future like white rapids, in patterns of chaos and maelstroms of meaning. Tragedy punctuates. Bliss evaporates. Dreams abide. Love is the mainspring and touch is the grail. Age is gaining wisdom, losing strength—youth is the beginning that cannot see the end. Regret is the dried husk of actions unthought of. Bliss is the bright victory of thoughts acted upon.

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Ancestors are the roots of time—children the buds—my present self is but a bridge from one to the other. If love isn’t the answer, then there is no question. Meanings will serve, but truth is lasting.

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No News Is Good News (2015Sep29)


Tuesday, September 29, 2015                                          12:19 PM

I’m exhausted—and no wonder. The pope, the speaker, the UN, refugees, drought in California, water on Mars, a super blood moon, the new Daily Show once again precedes the Colbert show… is it just me or is the world turning twice as fast these days? Have you noticed a lot of news shows start their segments with, “Well, there’s a lot to cover tonight…”? That used to signify a ‘busy’ news day—now it’s just what they always say.

My personal life, away from the TV, isn’t quite as busy. But I did just post a big Brahms performance I’ve been working on for months—and I just found out today is my son’s 27th birthday! (I wish Claire had told me before I said to him, “Good Morning”—like it was any other day…) We had our daughter and her husband here for a visit from California last week. Claire just passed her big OT qualification test—a culmination of years of study for her OT Master’s Degree—and a sign that she will soon be job-hunting. But first she has to do jury duty in NYC—we were relieved she was only called downtown last week for Thursday morning—commuting right through the pope’s visit to ground zero—that would have been a hassle. I’ve got a road-test next week that will re-instate my driver license, if I pass it—Spencer just passed his a few weeks ago. So, okay, maybe I am busy.

As they say, it beats the alternative. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, on watch to tip the delivery man when he gets here with birthday lunch Chinese take-out. Tuesday is new movies day On Demand—Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”—so there’s even a good movie in my ‘cart’. Time to catch my breath, I think.

Patton was right—“Americans love to fight”—but I think he oversimplified it, thinking in bellicose terms. Our Revolutionary War was a declaration of our willingness to fight when we encountered unfairness. “Live Free or Die” seems overly familiar and trite to us today but it was a formula for suicide in the centuries before the Declaration—when the greatest prior advance in social justice had been the allowance that a person owned their own soul at death—“Free Doom”. Somewhat less ambitious, wouldn’t you say?

And after the revolution, when Texas was willing to enter the Union rather than submit to Spanish imperialism, we fought for them. Then the majority of Americans decided to fight against slavery—give or take a week-long Civil War historians conference on the ‘root causes’. It was unfair—and we were willing to fight over it. In both World Wars, we entered on the losing side—fighting unfairness. The internal struggles over racial equality, gender equality, and the rights of the sick, disabled, LGBT—all fights over unfairness. You show me an injustice and I’m ready to start swinging—why? Because I’m American, that’s why. I really would rather die than live in unfairness.

There are always those who don’t get the central premise—as early as Hamilton’s arguments with Jefferson over Federalist versus Republican, there were those who sought out the ‘easy win’—people who felt that leaving the mother country was simply a chance to be an England of our own, with a monarchy and all that implies. They wanted Washington to be “President for Life” and be addressed as ‘your majesty’—but Washington said ‘no’, like an American. Hence he is known as the Father of our Country not just because he fought the war, but also kept the peace as an American would and always will.

Today we have many people who don’t get the central premise—they think America’s greatness resides in its wealth and power—its shock and awe. Nonsense—childish nonsense. The unbelievable success of our country comes not from any material richness or military prowess—it comes from our ambition to fight for the truth. Yankee ingenuity has been finding new shortcuts towards a better future since the founding. Freedom of speech has made our democracy into the strongest of ties between a government and its people of any country on Earth. Open minds and open commerce have exploded into a global community of digital thinking, space exploration, genetic manipulation, super-sonic travel, and on and on.

Our greatest threat is the explosive variety of our success—the ‘easy wins’ float around like fish in a crowded barrel—the opportunities to exploit our success by working either in lieu of the American spirit (through hyper-capitalism) or in direct opposition to it (through extremist bible-thumping and xenophobic exclusion) are more numerous, and get better media coverage, than the real goals of true Americans.

The enemies of America seek to reinstate unfairness through new pathways—income inequality, religious division, jingoism, and denying the existence of intractable racial injustice—and all their arguments are based on fear and hatred, with a big dollop of laziness and greed to top it off. They make me tired—traitors in our own land. Fight the power!

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There—I had to get that off my chest. I always get self-righteous after watching a documentary. I just watched “Standing In the Shadows of Motown—The Funk Brothers”—about all the great studio musicians whose uncredited artistry was behind hundreds of number one hits—hits that I remember from my childhood as the ‘product’ of the lead singers and groups whose names are so familiar to us all today. A handful of men in a Chicago basement would be responsible for over a decade of a multi-million-dollar music industry, without so much as a credit on the dustjacket. That kind of unfairness burns my chaps and it always will. Why? ‘Cause I’m a ‘Murican, that’s why.

Brahms Day   (2015Sep26)


Saturday, September 26, 2015                                          12:34 PM

Finally, I’ve reached the point where I’m willing to share my progress on the Brahms Opus 117. Here are some details about this special trio of piano intermezzi I’ve pieced together (mostly from Wikipedia.org):

Johannes Brahms

Three Intermezzi

Op. 117

(first published in 1892)

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The book is originally Claire’s (she’ll still play a bit now and then—still better than me—oh, well) so you can see I had the benefit of practice notes left in her margins by the great piano teacher and performer, Muriel Brooks, who taught Claire for years—and even gave me the only ten lessons I ever had. Old Ms. Brooks is notable for the host of young Westchester piano students she helped shepherd towards musical enlightenment—most of us not so cooperative, as you may imagine. Some of Claire’s fingering is also marked in pencil which made things much easier for me.

  1. in Eb major – Andante moderato

 

“Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.”

—(Schottisch. Aus Herders Volksliedern)

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[Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.]

[(Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!

It breaks my heart to see you weep.)]

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This first intermezzo, so like a lullaby, has such sonorous harmonies, such profound base lines, and so soaring and angelic a recapitulation in the finale that I find it almost too exciting to play. While this is considered a fairly simple piece to perform, as you can hear—even a single wrong note can mar the entire work.

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  1. in Bb minor – Andante non troppo e con molto espressione

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This second piece, my favorite, demands the most of what I lack—an alacrity with the keyboard—though I’ve tried many times, I can never give it the lilting simplicity it requires. This is as close as I can get, so far.

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  1. in C# minor – Andante con moto

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This last, longest, and most difficult of the three is something of a voyage—there are changes of mood, of key, and of texture—it begins with a troll-like dirge but the middle section is the most gymnastic and fragile keyboard sheet-music I’ve ever seen.

I first heard this work on an LP included in a Time-Life boxed set entitled “The Romantic Era” back in the early 1970s. Something about these three intermezzi has led me to listen to this piece again and again—I am haunted by its beauty. In some sense, each of the three is a variation on an old Scotch lullaby. In some papers there is also a tantalizing utterance of Brahms about “cradle songs of my sorrows”, which has often been associated with the set. I always found these pieces too dramatic to be lullabies, with the exception of the first, which does share tones of the famous Brahms’ Lullaby—but who am I to argue with music historians?

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And now, a note in defense of my posting these to the public:

Music belongs to us all. Sure, there are those who excel at performance or composition—and I’m the last person who’d ever disrespect their tremendous talent and skill—but again, music is for everybody. As Judy Garland once sang, “If you feel like singing, sing. (If you can’t sing good, sing soft).” And my version of ‘singing soft’ is to post my piano-playing recordings on YouTube, where other people can listen to them, ignore them, or even complain about them—and I don’t disagree with the complainers. I’m not a gifted musician—I never will be—but I’m in love with music, with the piano, with the music of the great composers.

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And aren’t we all on different levels of ability or skill in just about every endeavor? Isn’t there always someone better, or smarter, or quicker? Even if that isn’t always true, it is true for all of us except one—and that one only in one area of expertise. But we don’t sit about, waiting for only the best to do the things we are not ‘best’ at—we all do what we can, as best we can, at whatever moves us.

Classical music seems exotic to us—so we think of virtuosi as almost sacred (which in some ways they are) and exempt ourselves from attempting what they have already done, better than we ever could. I say no—I say music is for everyone. Listen to the greats—but let yourself sing as well—or play an instrument, or write a song—you have every right—in some ways, you even have a responsibility to have creativity and self-expression be a part of your life.

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When we absent ourselves from the arts we atrophy the most aspirational aspects of our personalities—we are less than we can be, when we eschew the arts—just as we are ignorant when we eschew the sciences, for lack of being ‘geniuses’. In practicing piano, I have always heeded an early piece of advice: Always work on the parts that are the most difficult for you. And I’ve broadened this to include my whole life—for those of us with slender talents, it is just as important, perhaps more so, to make an effort towards creativity; for those of us with trouble learning, it is just as important to read something new, to learn, however slowly, new things. I don’t see adulthood as an end-point, but as a higher level of development towards a better self, an advanced stage of the learning and growing that we sometimes assume is the role of schoolchildren—and ends with childhood.

Plus, I like to share my stuff with my friends and relations who love me and support my meager efforts—just because I made them. And YouTube is free. So there it is—the great Brahms Project—but understand that I hope to post a much better performance next year, or the year after that.

Years ago, I often named my improvs ‘post-Bach’, ‘post-Haydn’, etc.—because I felt that the composers whom I had just sight-read had inspired me somewhat in the improv immediately afterward. But that naming convention led to too many duplicate titles, so I began making up names instead, for mnemonic purposes. Today, however, I return to this convention, in honor of Brahms.

Ho Ho Ho (2015Sep25)


Friday, September 25, 2015                                              11:06 AM

Christmas come three months early—that’s a way of looking at it. This whole weekend, barring the unforeseen, is shaping up to have all the spirit of the holiday season—and without the concomitant burden of family gatherings and gift-giving. Applauded at our seat of government, at the site of the 9/11 memorial, and at the UN General Assembly—cheered by luminous throngs along every byway—striking in the dignity he brings to humility and compassion—the pope has hit this country like a love bomb.

Speaker Boehner resigns his post for the good of the Congress, of his party, and of the nation—and hopes to avert a government shutdown by passing a clean bill with bi-partisan support before he steps down. Even if the forces bringing him to this decision hadn’t been inexorably in play before the pope’s visit, the speaker still had two choices—fight it out or fall on his sword for the common good—and the decision to announce the latter choice the day after meeting with Francis tempts us to imagine a connection between these two events.

Presidents Obama and Xiaoping announced agreement on a new carbon-emissions reduction proposal—and as the two largest producer-nations of carbon dioxide, et. al., their almost too-good-to-be-true willingness to cooperate in trying to lessen human-source impact on climate gives us hope that the oil-barons of the world (and co.) will not succeed in destroying us all. Xi Xiaoping’s appearance provided a marked contrast to the pope—all self-control and internalization of feeling—a man weighed down perhaps by the impossibility of being overly humanist while holding the reins of three billion kinda-hungry people—and a government that is more than a match for America when it comes to corruption.

It’s enough to make a person giddy—I can’t even watch the normal news stories about Volkswagen, or Trump, or other bummers—they ruin the mood. My only concern is the pope’s health—his itinerary makes me tired just to hear. But I’m not too worried—when I was boy, our grandmother took my little brother and I to Washington D.C. for a week (this was before Disney World). We spent days trudging from the Capitol to the Washington Memorial to the Lincoln Memorial to the White House to the Smithsonian to the Library of Congress to Mt Vernon to the Iwo Jima statue—our young legs were exhausted, but my old gramma trooped along like Patton, unstoppable and untiring.

And just think—I don’t have to have my relatives to dinner, I don’t have to buy you a present and you don’t need to get me anything—why, it’s better than Christmas. But there’s still plenty of singing (I loved the NY Children’s Choir’s performance of “Let there Be Peace on Earth” at the UN earlier) and, more importantly, my favorite part of December 25th is the spirit in the air—and there’s so much of that right now I can hardly stand it. Merry Christmas everybody!

Atheist Applauds Pope (2015Sep24)


Thursday, September 24, 2015                                        3:36 PM

I join in the celebration of light and compassion that the papal visit has become—as an atheist, I can applaud his words and actions without necessarily dropping the ‘lapsed’ from my childhood Catholicism. I enjoy the wild excitement of the people lining the streets to be blessed or touched or kissed by the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair. It’s not like some other world figure or celebrity—the crowds just want to see him, to be near him—and he returns their affection. It’s a beautiful thing—says Capt. Obvious.

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I truly don’t know what to do with my feelings—just as this head of the Church of Rome is almost a Humanist in comparison to his predecessors, this is the first time in my memory that people are in the streets celebrating the truly important things—compassion, forgiveness, charity, acceptance—without looking for something, wanting something or someone. It is very paradoxical for a man who, as a boy, found all the authoritarianism and close-minded-ness that seemed to be the real evil in the world, in the Catholic church. I guess one thing you can say for a vast authoritarian institution—in the hands of a proper leader, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, like some many things, finds its true self and flourishes.

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All illustrations are from the Papal Archives

I suggest we make the carrying of toddlers from rope line to papal vehicle (approx. 50 yards) and back again an Olympic event—those guys make it look easy—and some of those toddlers were big enough to walk themselves—did you see it? Amazing. Like they were ‘baby-boys’ at the US Open or something.

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The only sour note in this whole celebration is the rogue Republican—you don’t hear the Democrats whining about the many ways in which Catholicism departs from their platform—they just celebrate the commonalities, like good hosts. But GOP pols have become so knee-jerk about climate change and protecting big business that they just have to attack any other opinions—let the whole world disagree (which we mostly do).

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Francis has no beef with them—he’s just being a Catholic—out loud. Better not let Ben Carson hear him—Catholics are at least as crazy as Muslims—just ask the Irish. Next thing you know we’ll have to put an asterisk beside JFK’s name. Will someone please read the Constitution to Ben Carson—article 6 – “…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

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So hail Pop Francis! Or as the Italians say—‘Poppa’. Someone needs to say to the fat cats, “You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.”—but who among us has the moral authority? Not me, bub. But he does—and he’s making some people deservedly uncomfortable. Let criticism of Pope Francis be our shibboleth—by their words shall ye know them.

And while we’re about ‘knowing them’, let me say that Volkswagen has recently been caught installing emissions devices that only operate when the sensor tells them they’re hooked-up to a testing device! The rest of the time, all their 8 million customers were driving around in illegal, over-polluting cars. Without their knowledge, they had been duped into being pawns in a fraudulent conspiracy. Why anyone would ever buy a Volkswagen again is beyond me—we forgave them for having been Nazis, but this is just too much.

For those of you who think I’m easily swayed—well, that’s true—but my point is that I celebrate the effect that Pope Francis’ visit is having on the country, particularly on Washington. That doesn’t mean that I support Catholicism—Pope Francis is wisely focused on the best his faith has to offer—it has other aspects whose details I take exception to. But leadership counts for almost as much as dogma—what Francis emphasizes will become the emphasis of his followers, regardless of the fine print. And that should be celebrated.

Here are some papal tiaras:

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Strong Baby   (2015Sep22)


Tuesday, September 22, 2015                                          6:48 PM

Last night started out good—I’ve become a fan of The Big Bang Theory and it had a season premiere last night—they’re pretty funny. I enjoy the comfort of an established sitcom with a toolkit of running gags and themes—all expositions, settings, and character intros have long since been made and the thing just chugs along—funny, funny, funny.

Had a big meal (Bear makes a mean chicken) maybe too big—I felt like I had to have some coffee. But then I watched TV until 2:30 and my eyes still refused to droop. I didn’t sleep at all last night—I was reading a couple of great sci-fi books—“Appleseed” by John Clute is a book I bought about ten years ago but forgot to read; and “Nexus” by Ramez Naam, which I finished at about  6:30 am—fortunately it’s only the first book of a trilogy, so there’s more. But no more coffee at night for me!

Now here’s a bit of lyric for all you strong babies out there:

Strong Baby

Hard muscle—lean cut—on a stri-king frail.

A hard look—a straight shot—makes my ego bail.

When she looks like a tank made o’doves

I could almost cry.

Talks like the drill sarge o’love—

I could nearly die.

Strong women—make me crazy.

Wo-o-ork it out—don’t be lazy.

Watch those ‘ceps pop—makes me dizzy.

Dat can’t be a woman—is she?

My god—that’s a lot of power.

Think it’s time for my cold shower.

Awe me with that rock of muscle

Tell me I can lose that tussle—please!

Baby—please—it’s too much—

Thoughts so hot they make me blush.

I’m a man with a plan but

A strong, fit woman there’s no man that is better than.

When you tell me I got-to-be nice

Then it’s understood—

No need to-tell-me the same thing twice

You know I’ll be good.

Strong women—make me crazy.

Work all day—make men look lazy.

Legs like trunks of trees of satin,

Eyes the light from stars get fat in,

Smell so sweet it makes me twitchy

And that voice so low and witchy.

Stand there like a tower of power.

Going strong from hour to hour.

Beauty—brains—and all that muscle

Tell me I can lose that tussle—please!

We poor men—fit and strong is supposed to be our thing. When we find strong women attractive, it’s confusing and a little embarrassing—but there’s no better make-up than muscle tone, nothing more youthful than a proud bearing. It’s funny—we talk about over-idealizing one standard of beauty—but that’s just the suits that make corporate decisions about magazine covers and such. For all our fixation on women, we men find attractive a myriad of flavors—tall women, short women, small women, big women, full-figured or skinny, any color hair, any color skin, librarians, firewomen, GI Janes, and nurses.

I find the spirit of a woman shows in her face and bearing—no matter what her outer appearance. You can see a person’s personality, male or female, and I find myself attracted to the spirit rather than the package—I think we all do.

Dy’ever have one of those days where you feel like instead of reaching a peak, you feel off the cliff? With health issues like mine, I often watch myself become more and more energized from day to day—recovering from whatever circumstance blew out my reserves of strength, like bad news or car trouble or just a crazy day. Each day I feel more like myself, more capable, containing more potential to get something done—and today was going to be one of those peak days where I really made a splash in a video, or in writing, or something. Or so it seemed, leading up to it. But today, phht!—nada, nothing, goose-eggs, zippo, kaput. I might as well go back to bed.

Wednesday, September 23rd,  2015                                           10:31 PM

I saw “Pitch Perfect 2” on VOD yesterday—it was okay, but “Pitch Perfect” was one of those movies that caught lightning in a bottle—beyond the premise, the characters, the songs—there was pacing, introspection, coming-of-age notes were hit—it was a perfect movie, in some ways. “Pitch Perfect 2”, I’m sad to report, was more like an extended episode of Glee guest-starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson. It was so busy hitting all the old themes and adding new material, that it never gelled into a movie. It wasn’t terrible—the songs were nice, Rebel is funny, and I’ve got an age-inappropriate ‘thing’ for Anna Kendrick, so it was watchable, but a let-down, still.

I’m too old for Glee—they sing contemporary songs and mash-ups—which I enjoy, but for me a sing-along uses songs my parents, and even my grandparents, used to sing. If I was a little more dexterous I’d get a job playing karaoke back-up piano—when you’re no virtuoso, it’s great to have voices drowning out the piano-playing. In today’s video of 1940s Song Covers, I even try to sing along myself—but that doesn’t help so much, since it distracts me from the playing—and I’m no Andreas Bocelli, either. I left in a brief interruption, where I’m begging my son to sing along with me—and he, being kinda shy, pretends to have a sore throat—someday I’ll catch him in the right mood.

This second video is more song covers—I would have called it Part II, but these songs aren’t from the 1940s—more like the 1930s thru the 1960s. I guess I just felt like singing today.

And here we have another ‘stitched-together’ improv that is really three different segments from among my cover recordings, when I stopped to take improv-breaks.

I’m running into some confusion lately—my improved piano-playing ability makes me very happy, and I enjoy posting new recordings of pieces that I’ve posted before, but much more listen-able. But even today’s posts, which came out pretty fair—I was tempted to not post them and wait for a better take. I also consider playing pieces many times over before posting a recording—something I am doing now with the Brahms Opus 117. Trouble is, even in my new condition, even when I’ve rehearsed a piece, I’ll still spaz out or stumble over a chord; I’ll still have pages to turn; I’ll still get folks wandering through my recording studio (our living room, that is). So perfection ain’t gonna happen—I post what I get and I hope for better in the future. But it is confusing sometimes. I would like to become a real boy (said Pinocchio the wooden pianist).

Jonathan Kruk — Legendary (2015Sep23)


My old friend, Jon Kruk, has been telling stories to schoolchildren for decades. His premiere ouvre, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is a great favorite here in Westchester, where Washington Irving originally set the tale–and Jon’s lively re-telling verges on a one-man re-enactment. Below I share with all my readers his latest email:

Hi My Friends –

My headless horseman gallops live!  If, you support me in the chase.

One sleet-gripped November evening, a couple for years ago, Andrea, my film-making wife, galvanized a crew of film makers to gather in 17th century Old Dutch Church.  We got an audience of fans to fill the ancient setting of the “The Legend.” Jim Keyes pulled out all the stops on the grand pipe organ.  They filmed me performing with passion and panache, my signature story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Here’s the two minute trailer.

Now, we need to your help producing and getting the out film; “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a solo performance by Jonathan Kruk, Master Storyteller.”   Here’s the full story, in just three hundred in fifty words,a trailer and a pitch (two and four minutes each)

Please click below.  https://www.gofundme.com/kz2xzwfw

And here’s the website with everything Jonathan and headless horseman.

http://www.jonathankruk.wix.com/legendofsleepyhollow

This film captures the drama and vitality of my retelling.  Please jump in and help me catch my dream of reaching new audiences.

Thanks very much  –

Your Storyteller

Jonathan

Storyteller Jonathan Kruk, M.A.ed.
www.jonathankruk.com
1.800.578.4859

Author – Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley
“Best Storyteller in the Hudson Valley”
Good Citizenship Medal – The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Silver Medal – Parents’ Choice & N.A.P.P.A.
“Barkface & Rootnose” Parents Choice Approved
“Once Upon the HudsonThe Hudson River Ramblers Parents Choice Recommendation
“Revolution on the River” – The Hudson River Ramblers – “Best CD in the Hudson Valley”
The Rainbow Dragon, Rip Van Winkle, Halloween Tales!