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Scared Cat Drawing by Deborah Henson-ConantThe flight home from Atlanta night-before-last got pretty choppy, and we had one of those pithy pilots who just says, “everyone get to your seats” instead of something comforting like, “Well, folks, we’ll be going through a little band of turbulence as we descend into Boston, so I’d like you to just buckle in and … blah blah blah.”

OK, I’m not always a really calm flyer anyway (though I no longer scream out loud, causing people in the front of the plane to turn around and say, “Whatever you do, please just don’t throw up”). However, I do occassionally ask the person next to me to hold my hand.

Last night was one of those flights, probably more to do with my caffeine intake than the turbulence, though both were on the way-higher-than-average level.

I’d scoped out the situation in advance:

On my right, across the aisle, was a guy who I knew had once been a basketball player,and whose wife – further to my right – was also a basketball player and a jewelry designer. They both looked pretty calm, but they were across the aisle and my general rule is to only request across-the-aisle hand-holding if nobody is sitting next to me (or if, as has happened, the person next to me has already indicated their own anxiety level is way beyond mine – usually via a mime-activity of some sort).

To my left was a young man in a uniform, who was really happy because he was headed home on leave. He hadn’t actually been in battle conditions, but he’d been in training and he looked pretty sturdy.

When the turbulence hit, about an hour out of Boston, I weathered it OK for awhile, but it moved into hand-holding territory.

So … hmmm … a guy who protects people for a living, in a comforting uniform with insignias on it is to my left, and an ex-basketball player and his wife are way across the aisle on my right. It should be a pretty simple choice.

BUT … I have reason to believe (bring in the ominous low musical underscoring) … that the enlisted man has … (big timpani roll) … a cold.

So … I reach across the aisle, startling the ex-basketball player, who, it turns out is not the hand-holding kind, but who assures me there’s a lot of turbulence (which is oddly reassuring).

And we make it safely to the ground.

So someone explain this to me, someone who studies the human psyche: I’m so anxious about this flight that I’ll reach across the aisle to invade a stranger’s personal space — but I will not reach to the guy next to me – a guy whose profession is protecting people – because I think has a cold.

Am I really more afraid of a cold than a plane crash? If I don’t really think the plane is going to crash, why am I responding with such physical anxiety?

Why do I feel afraid of the turbulence but act afraid of the cold?

And while we’re at it, how come the taxi credit-card screens in Boston only allow you the option to give 20%, 25% or 30% tip? Do they know that the quotient of our math skills, multiplied by our laziness … no, never mind, I can’t even figure out how to end that sentence. I’ll just go for the answer about fear.



When I asked our host of last Tuesday’s Workshop, Betsy Chapman, what to expect in Boyertown, PA – and a little bit about Marianne, the owner of the beautiful Inn we’d be staying in, Betsy sent me this email. While I was there, I took these photos.

Marianne Deery is the Mayor of Boyertown, the town I live in.

Here in Boyertown we have Bear Fever – our mascot, the Boyertown Bear can be found all around town in various guises – a Doctor Bear in front of the medical center, a laywer Bear in front of Borough Hall, a dentist bear – you get the idea.  These Bears were all created by a coalition of businesses, students, and townspeople to bring collaborative public art to our town.

Boyertown is “A Special Kind of Place” – a town of 4,000 residents that boasts its own Farmer’s Market, has a Museum of Historic Vehicles that is recognized for it’s excellent collection by the Smithsonian, a fabulous 1912 restored theater for movies and live performances, Studio B, a non-profit art gallery, and a main street of locally owned businesses that make it hard to want to shop anywhere else!

Tattoo Parlor Bear

We have an important place in the history of theater as well – in 1908 a fire in the Rhoades Opera House killed 171 people, and wiped out whole families.  That fire caused many of the fire-safety laws to be written that are still in effect.

Note that all doors in theater open out, remain unlocked during performances, and have panic bars.  Many exits are required, not just one door.  Curtains must be fire-resistent.  Exit signs are clearly marked and lighted.  Fire extinguishers are in prominent places, etc.,etc., etc.  All thanks to a fire in our little town.

As for Mayor Marianne?  Besides being renowned for her baking, it is an open secret that her favorite duties as mayor are tapping the first keg of beer at our annual Oktoberfest, and performing wedding ceremonies.  Not necessarily in that order!

The Bear in the Inn

So … you like bears?  Get thee to Boyertown!

I’m usually happy that my current phone is a Dumb-Phone, and that all it can do it send and receive phone calls – and I have a FlipCam that I use to capture video.  But on the road last week from Seattle to Eugene, I discovered my FlipCam was on the fritz and my phone … well, it was just a phone.

Here’s how I described the situation to the radio announcer who played a pivotal role:

From: Deborah Henson-Conant
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 11:20 PM
To: Christa Wessel / On-air Host & Producer of “Played in Oregon” /
Subject: Bassoon and Plastic Streamer

After a performance with the Tacoma Symphony on Sunday, I drove to Portland, spent the night and headed out early this morning for a masterclass at U of O. I ended up behind a truck carrying plastic-bound crates. The plastic had come loose, was trailing in the air behind the truck, and waving, eddying like crazy.

I was listening to your program. The bassoon piece came on, and suddenly the bassoon and the plastic streamer became one. I swear, each ornament in the music was reflected in that ribbon of plastic. Breathtaking leaps. Trills. Everything. It was one of the most thrilling music-and-dance experiences of my life.

And my flipcam batteries were dead.

Someday I’ll try to re-enact it on stage. It was the performance of a lifetime.

Thank you! I’ll never forget it!

Deborah Henson-Conant /

The worst part was having to deal with my frustration that I couldn’t catch this incredible performance and share it. I finally gave myself a good talking to: “Look,” I said, “your batteries were dead. That’s the way it was. You’ll never get that video, so you’re going to have to figure out another way to recreate the experience.”

“Aaaggh!  But it was so perfect!  The roadway, the sounds from the car, the bassoon on the radio, the incredible plastic streamer!!!!  It’s gone forever!  This incredible piece of art!!! I’m the only one who saw it! Aaaaagh!!”

That’s when I hit on the idea for a Bassoon-and-Streamer piece, a re-enactment of the roadway reverie. I can see it all now! Hand percussion and gentle pizzicato for the rain, wet finger on drumhead for the squeak of the windshield wipers, low rumbles from the basses and deep bass bissbigliando from orchestral harp for the roadway noises.  The bassoon begins, in Baroque style, as I wave a streamer of white silk … aaahhhh…. we’d almost get it!  Close enough.

So the next time I play with the Tacoma Symphony, expect that to show up on the program!

By the way, the piece was Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in Bb Major, the bassoonist was Klaus Thunemann, the host Christa Wessel of, the highway was Route 5, my rental car was from Enterprise and the truck with the plastic-covered boxes was a medium-sized white Toyota.*

Bassoon Concerto /

The fateful Bassoon Concerto

*OK, I made that part up.  I’m a girl**, of course I have no idea what kind of truck it was.

**Don’t take that amiss.  It doesn’t really have anything to do with my gender.  I’m just using that as a convenient excuse.

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