From time to time professional music critics ask for press seats to 405 Shrader concerts. We respond that there are no press seats, and that writing reviews and reading reviews is not what 405 Shrader is about.

However Haight resident and intrepid chronicler Jack Smith had heard about 405 Shrader concerts. So he became a Fellow and attended the entire Spring 2017 season. He never asked about the appropriateness of writing about our concerts. Here are his impressions.

A Neighborhood Concert

by Jack Smith

I went to a neighborhood concert.

It was held inside a small, and by appearance, deserted storefront with blinds drawn.

First Impressions

I met someone at the front door (Michael Milenski) who asked my name. I said, “Jack” and he said, “You’re Jack Smith!” I thought, “How could he possibly know my name?” (I had made a reservation but hadn’t everyone?)

Inside about fifty people were crammed into a small space and sitting on folding chairs.

Loretta was there. She was wearing makeup and a nice scarf. This was no ordinary social event. It was something more important.

Catholic Guilt

A person recognized me. It was a woman from the Saint Agnes book club. She immediately started apologizing (to me!) for not reading last month’s book. The book had the unexciting title ‘Diary of a Country Priest’ and was written in 1936!

I told her I didn’t think anyone read that book, except myself, and that I only read it because I was stuck on a commuter train with it for five hours.

She mentioned another woman who said she did.

I said I don’t think she read it. The woman returned a wise smile.

When I had mentioned the ending of the book at the book club, no one seemed to remember it, including the woman who said she read the book.

The woman said she wants to watch the movie based on the book that I had loaned out. I paid 60 dollars for that hard-to-find DVD because I didn’t think I was going to read the book!

I said, “Watching the (1951 black-and-white and subtitled) movie will make up for not reading the book!” (I was thinking in terms of doing penance.)

The Music

The music was introduced by the piano player as one of the greatest pieces of music of the 20th Century (‘Quartet for the End of Time’ by Olivier Messiaen).

He said it was written and first performed in a German prisoner-of-war camp during WWII!

I asked, “Was it a concentration camp?”

It was not a concentration camp and the composer was not Jewish, or we probably wouldn’t have this ‘greatest piece of music’ like we probably wouldn’t have ‘the theory of relativity’ if Einstein had been captured under similar circumstances.

The composer survived the war and lived a good life afterwards.

The Performance

The performance took place in a small crowded setting with blinds drawn. It was so crowded, people could have reached out and touched the performers.

The closed blinds, the crowding, and the starkness of the room made it seem like this was something illegal.

I could easily believe the music was composed in a prison because it was mournful.

The piano player seemed to be the leader of the band (Trinity Alps Chamber Players) because the other musicians would occasionally look in his direction for their cues.


After the concert, in what seemed like no time at all, the folding chairs were all stacked against the walls and a long rectangular table set up in the center of the room with enough food to feed four times as many people as were present, and there was just as much wine and champagne at another smaller table (which I will christen the bar).

This happened with such speed that it was probably a ritual that had been performed many times before. I believe these concerts have been going on for seven years.

Even with all the chairs folded and leaning against the walls, there was standing room only – probably because the food table took up extra space.

The fire department would likely be interested in this, but fortunately the fire department can’t be everywhere.

The Social Hour

People started socializing. Everyone seemed to know each other.

A woman (Ellen Milenski) came over to me and said, “Hi Jack.’

I asked how she knew my name! She said her husband mouthed it to her silently when I came in while pointing to me. He must have been the one I met at the door.

I guess it’s unusual for a new person to come to these concerts. I had also become a ‘fellow,’ paying 50 dollars in yearly dues for the privilege – I thought you had to be a fellow in order to make a reservation.

The woman said the concerts attract exceptional musical talent because musicians like to play in small places to an appreciative audience. She said that some musicians especially want to play the piano that’s here because it is an exceptionally good one. I looked at the piano.

She said that you can seem to hear a familiar piece of music ‘as if for the first time’ when performed in a small setting.

The Location of the Concert

Now that I knew about the concert venue, I wondered if I would be able to find it again (405 Shrader Street). It seems pretty unlikely that something like this should even exist. I was thinking about ‘The Magic Theatre’ in Hermann Hesse’s novel ‘The Steppenwolf’ because there seemed to be similarities.

I thought about how the night had begun with strangeness. How a stranger knew my name and a woman apologized to me for not reading a book!

In ‘The Steppenwolf’ Harry Haller notices ‘The Magic Theatre’ on a side street in his home town on a strange night, but he doesn’t go in. He wonders how he could not have noticed it before and resolves go back another time. (I hadn’t noticed this place before and it’s been here seven years!) Over the next several days and months he looks for it again but he can’t find it. Then on another strange night it just appears again!

In the Magic Theatre Harry Haller discovers what he had not learned about himself. At this concert, I discovered what I had not learned about music, probably what Stravinsky was trying to get across in ‘Rite of Spring.’ I heard ‘Rite of Spring’ in my head differently for the first time.

The Audience

During the social hour, I looked around and only recognized two people. I looked at each person present. The person who told me about the concert (Loretta, no surprise here) was there, and the person I knew from the Saint Agnes book club was also there.

Everyone seemed to be from the neighborhood, yet I recognized only two people!

A man told me he had lived in the neighborhood for years and had only met his neighbor, who lived across the street from him also for years, for the first time at these concerts!

Is attending these concerts (like going to The Magic Theatre) a ‘rite of passage’?

The Price of Admission

During the social hour, the man I had met at the door said, “Now it’s time for the important thing!”

He pulled on a string and an empty paint can fell off a ledge above the door and hung suspended from the ceiling.

People started putting money in the can.

The advertised price of admission was ‘a voluntary only’ 20 dollars, but I can’t believe everyone didn’t make the voluntary contribution, due to the composition of the audience. You can tell by looking at someone if they are going to pay.

If fifty people put twenty dollars in the can, that is only one thousand dollars. There were four musicians and rent has to be paid. The musicians were basically playing for free. I thought about all that time practicing.

The Next Concert

This concert venue is one of San Francisco’s best kept secrets, and hopefully not something like Hermann Hesse’s ‘Magic Theatre,’ because I would like to be able to find it again next week.

The Second Concert

405 Shrader Street may be more like the Magic Theatre than I realized. Apparently, going there can also result in an altered state of consciousness!

The concert venue this time seemed completely different, yet I suspect nothing had changed.

I remembered it being stark with no decorations and fifty people in the audience, packed so closely together that people in the front row could reach out and touch the performers.

I remembered it was dark.

I remembered wishing I was in a tee shirt because it was so warm.

This time I noticed there was a four-foot empty space between the performers and the audience.

I counted only 35 people in the audience and no empty chairs, probably the same number of chairs (and by inference people) that were there the last time.

There were also four modern art paintings hanging on the walls. The place wasn’t stark.

And the lights were on for the entire performance.

It wasn’t too warm and almost everyone was wearing a coat.

I looked around.

I had balcony seating this time (eight inches above floor level on a platform by the window).

I noticed a message printed in large letters on the wall, “Here begins a treatise, how death comes to summon everyone . . .”

Most people in the audience were between 75 and 85. I am only 69 and hopefully too young to be summoned.

The age of people in the audience contrasted with the age of the performers (‘One Found Sound Wind Quintet’) who were in their late twenties or early thirties. Because of their youth, they probably laughed at the message on the wall.

I noticed there were a lot of couples. Women outlive men by this age, but that did not seem to be the case here – people here had found a way to cheat death.

There was another strange thing about this group. Wives tended to be sitting to the left of their husbands in almost every instance, like the convention of queens sitting to the left of kings on the throne.

I wondered if I was being too observant, or if the devil is in the details.

Attending just two of these concerts is not going to be enough to figure out what’s going on here.

The Third Concert

[Jack did not attend the third concert.]

The Fourth Concert

I can usually tell by the way things begin if something strange is about to happen. There is usually a warning.

The Wine Glasses

I poured myself a glass of wine.

The wine glass resembled the little glasses used in Catholic churches to hold prayer candles.

I wondered if the glasses were carefully selected, and a symbol to the initiated.

I wondered if 405 Shrader is like a church, a temple to music.


Michael was impatient for the concert to begin. It seemed he needed it to start immediately.

He kept asking what time it was. Someone said it was two minutes till seven. I looked at my i-phone (more accurate). I said it was four minutes till seven and showed Michael the i-phone display. This disappointed him. It was obvious he preferred it to be two minutes till seven.

One minute before seven, Michael locked the front door and began his introduction to the concert.

He was immediately interrupted by someone pounding on the door.

Michael let the person in because it wasn’t seven yet. He pointed to an empty chair for him to sit in which was in the corner of the room.

I said out loud, “You have to sit in the corner because you’re late!” (He wasn’t actually late). Someone laughed.

The First Musical Piece

(Or Sermon)

In his last correspondence to me Michael said, “Now next you’ve got to write about the music itself, only the music.”

Michael introduced the first musical piece (‘Piano Variations’ by Aaron Copland) as being as hard as nails to perform. He said when Leonard Bernstein used to play it, he would give people two minutes to leave before he started because it is usually performed badly.

I’m not sure what ‘as hard as nails’ means, but you could describe listening to the piece as like listening to nails being driven in with a hammer, because the pianist hammered the music out on the keyboard. I was surprised he didn’t break out into a sweat (and he was wearing long sleeves).

I didn’t realize a piano could sound so loud.

The piece seemed to indicate something bad was about to happen.

I overheard a woman telling the pianist afterwards that listening to the piece was like visiting a murder scene for her.

The man who came ‘late’ was probably also feeling a sense of dread from the music because he said later he remembered he had forgotten to lock his car in his haste to be on time. He probably felt the music was directed at him, the way people sometimes think sermons in a church are directed at them.

The Second Piece

The second piece was by Ludwig van Beethoven (‘Eroica Variations’).

I thought it was the best piece of the night, maybe because it seemed mathematical. I felt I could predict where it was going.

I noticed the pianist (Lino Rivera) was playing the piece without looking at a score. He wasn’t turning pages with his hand.

Because of the complexity of the piece, and the length of the piece, I began to wonder if the pianist was a genius savant with an uncanny memory, or if he was simply working out the piece in his head as he played it, the way I’ve seen scientists fill blackboards with equations that follow logically from a first equation.

As in a dream, I was back in in an upper division physics class at UC Berkeley, where a professor was doing just that with an equation before a room full of astonished students, myself among them. It was 1970 . . . .

An Interruption

At the conclusion of the second piece, the man who came in ‘late’ asked Michael to let him out because he wanted to check on his car. Michael opened the front door and another man waiting outside shot in like an escaping cat. All Michael had to do was open the door a crack for the man to shot in.

Are people that enthusiastic to hear these concerts?

Michael pointed to a chair for the man to sit in.

It seemed there was going to be a pause while the man who left checked on his car.

The pianist asked if he was coming back.

Michael said yes, but to start playing anyway because the man could listen outside the door. The empty chair Michael directed the new person to was the man’s seat who left, so there was no place for him to sit anyway if he did come back inside.

The Last Piece

The final piece (‘Variations on “Mayn Yingele” My Little Son’ by Frederic Rzewski) was the one most talked about by everyone afterwards.

The pianist played the piano in a way I have never heard a piano played before.

The piano sounded like an electronically amplified beehive.

It seemed the piano was in danger of melting from vibration.

After the concert, I asked Ellen, Michael’s wife, if she was worried the piano might catch on fire – she said she was only worried a string might break.

I touched the body of the piano and the strings after the concert, to see how warm they were. They were cold.

Loretta wondered if this piece is available on CD. I said probably not because I don’t think anyone else could play it.

Ellen asked the pianist how he did it (she is herself a great pianist according to Loretta). He tried to explain with his hands.


After the concert, Michael unlocked the front door and the man who left to check on his car came inside. He had been listening to the last piece from outside the door, just as Michael had said he would.

Michael pulled on a string and the empty paint can for donations fell off the ledge over the front door, missing Ellen’s head by inches.

Someone said to her, “That was close. Weren’t you scared?” She said, “I’m used to it.” Michael and Ellen sit at the same place every concert, near the front door.

Michael is taking a chance with the can, because behind every great man is a great woman.


At refreshment time, I was once again amazed at the quality of the hors d’oeuvres. There were even truffles.

A Conversation with the Pianist

I asked the pianist how he was able to play the Beethoven piece, which went on for almost a half hour, without using a score.

He said it just takes practice.

I asked how much practice.

He said about 30 hours.

I would have thought much, much more (if it were even possible).

Loretta said it’s like remembering lines in a play. She said, when acting in a play, if you don’t remember the lines, you improvise.

The pianist said that’s what he does, and that no two live performances are the same.

I suspected something like this.

I even tried to check my suspicions out during the performance at great personal risk (Michael was sitting nearby).

I got out my i-phone and used the ‘Shazam’ app to see if it could identify the piece.

I did this only once, because I thought that by looking at my i-phone during the performance, it might seem like I was bored, and I wasn’t.

The app should have identified the piece (because it’s a Beethoven piece), but it didn’t.

This is what you would expect if there were improvisations.

Summing Up

And so ends another concert at 405 Shrader, San Francisco’s own version of Hermann Hesse’s ‘The Magic Theatre.’

The Fifth Concert

The concerts at 405 Shrader Street are so strange that it seems I should record the account of the fifth concert backwards - beginning at the end.

At the End

At the end of the concert, people brought out refreshments, and they began to lay them on a table.

Since the refreshment table at the last few concerts was something to behold, I decided to wait a few minutes before leaving, although I wasn’t planning on eating anything.

A woman placed a bowl filled with round food items on the table.

They looked like date balls.

The woman laid a note in the bowl which said, “Shark Meatballs”!

I had to try one of these.

I stuck a toothpick in one. It was ‘gamey’ the way people describe the difference of buffalo from beef.

Another person tried a meatball and the woman said, “Put some sauce on it! There’s nothing wrong with the sauce!”

“Nothing wrong with the sauce”? Why did she say that? I’ve come to expect the unusual at these concerts and to pay close attention to details.

I tried one with sauce. It was delicious both ways.

The Piano

I never noticed before how large the grand piano is, but that is probably because I lacked the proper perspective. The pianist provided the proper perspective, because she was petite.

Sitting at the piano, she gave the appearance of being on a behemoth, and by her playing, in full control of it. At the end of the concert, she received a standing ovation.

I wondered if she felt a sense of power playing (and in full control of) such a large piano.

The Pianist

The pianist (Monica Chew) is a beautiful woman. You would want to be seated in front for this performance (if you were a young man).

I noticed several older men (seated in front) closed their eyes during the performance to better concentrate on the music.

This is in keeping with what Michael had told me to do when writing about the concerts. He said, “Write about the music itself, only the music.”

I couldn’t see whether Michael (sitting in front) closed his eyes during the concert, but I didn’t. (Sorry Michael, I’m still a young man - I’m only 69.)

The Music

The high point of the concert came at the beginning when the pianist played the Andante of Five Preludes, Op. 18 by Alexander Scriabin. There would be several other andantes that night, even an andante cantabile!

The Andante of Five Preludes was so good that I lost no time in listening to it again on YouTube when I got home.

The End at the Beginning

And so ends this piece at the beginning, with the Andante of Five Preludes!

The Sixth Concert

I looked at my watch. I was six minutes early.

Michael said I was the last person on the list of attendees who hadn’t already arrived.

I happen to know how important that is to Michael.

It means he can start the concert early, if only by a few minutes, and start listening to the music!

My Fate

There was just one spot left to sit in. Had I come earlier, I would have had to decide where to sit, exercising freewill. By arriving last, fate decided that for me.

The guy next to me said we had the best seats in the house. It was front row, within touching distance of the musicians, facing the violinists.

The guy said he had determined where the best seats were by attending the concert earlier in the day, and that he wanted to sit in the best seats for the second performance.

These were the best seats for several reasons.

They were so close to the performers that you could hear the music as the musicians heard it, which is different than how the audience hears it. I could hear the hollow wooden boxes of the violins, viola, and cello vibrating separately from the strings.

There was also another dimension to the performance that you could only fully experience from our seats, which was a shadow concert being played out on the floor. Three bright lights on the ceiling, pointed directly at the performers, cast shadows of their movements on the floor. It was like watching a Walt Disney animation of the music.

The Performers

(Working Men)

The four performers (‘The Jupiter Ensemble’) were middle-aged men. All previous performers at 405 Shrader had been very young.

In appearance, the musicians seemed like construction workers to me (three of the four) and played music as a hobby (but they could really play).

If they were construction workers, and if I were to try to guess each one’s specialty, I would guess the stocky built one to be a plumber (he was Russian, played the violin, and wore a Losif Andriasov tee shirt). He appeared to have twice the strength of the other musicians, and his musical notes were the loudest and most purposefully played.

The skinny musician with a trimmed mustache and beard looked like an electrician to me. He played second string violin.

The musician with a thoughtful demur resembled a college professor and played the viola - I would guess he was a general contractor.

The fourth musician looked like a professional musician and played the cello. He had the same kind of hair that Paderewski had of which Edward McDowell said, “Some call it hair. I call it pianism.”

The Music

To me this was a Tchaikovsky concert because of the longest and best piece.

But I suspect several people present would nominate the encore, a score by Josif Andriasov, as the best piece. One woman (Denise) said that she was going straight home after the concert (two blocks) to get money to buy a CD from the musicians with that piece on it.

The Tchaikovsky piece (String Quartet #2 in F, Op. 22) was written at the height of his powers, shortly after ‘Swan Lake,’ and a musician said it was one of Tchaikovsky’s own favorite pieces.

The beautiful melodies in the first movement of String Quartet #2, carried by the violins, clearly identify the piece as by Tchaikovsky.

After the Concert

After the concert, the woman who was leaving to get money for a CD, said it was stifling warm during the concert, and asked why I didn’t wear just a tee shirt, as I had said I was going to.

I said it was my fate (not a bad thing this time) to sit next to the best dressed man present, and that it would have been inappropriate to take off my long sleeved shirt there.

To indicate the well-dressed man, I said, “He’s the one wearing the two colored shoes.” She said she noticed the shoes when she came in.

I said he probably comes all the way from Marin County for the concerts, and she laughed. (I have heard that someone actually does come all the way from Marin County.)

The Seventh Concert

It's a Strange, Strange World

Michael asked why it took so long for me to discover 405 Shrader Street, since I lived only a few blocks away. I thought I had made that very clear in my first piece about the concerts, or did he think I was kidding with the comparison of 405 Shrader Street to ‘The Magic Theater’?

I asked Michael if he believed in karma, and he stopped asking why it took so long for me to discover 405 Shrader Street. It’s a strange world we live in.

It's a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack. What prophetic lyrics from 1968. This is song that actually charted in the USA has a poignant message about . . .. (See Attachments)

Two People I Attended the Concert With

A man was seated to my right, and I said to him, “There are a lot of young people here tonight.”

A woman to my left overheard this and said, “What do you mean by young?”

I looked at her and said, “You.”

She took this as a complement. Sometimes the obvious needs stating.

The Woman

I asked the woman if she played a musical instrument.

She said she played the violin. (I believe her husband also played the trombone).

I have heard that the violin is the most difficult musical instrument to play of them all, and I have heard sad stories of children missing out on valuable playtime, because mothers would make them practice long hours.

I asked the woman if she learned to play the violin as a little girl.

She said she started playing at eleven.

I asked if it was torture, since she was eleven.

She said no, that she liked playing the violin.

So much for stereotypes.

Doctors of Music

Two brothers were this night’s performers (Irrera Brothers). They looked alike and had matching beards and matching eye glass frames.

The program notes referred to them as doctors of music. I took this to mean they had PhDs in music from a university. The program notes also stated that they had played at Carnegie Hall. It doesn’t get any better than this.

One brother played the violin and the other the piano. It seemed they could read each other’s mind because their playing meshed perfectly, particularly on the first piece, Chaconne in G minor by Tomaso Antonio Vitali (probably their signature piece and available on CD from them, along with the last piece they played).

The Best Seat in the House

Once again, I had the best seat in the house (probably due to karma). I could watch the pianist from two directions simultaneously, because the underside of the piano’s open cover had been polished so perfectly it was like a mirror, and using it as a mirror I could look straight down towards the keyboard, as well as straight ahead.

The Music

The pianist and the violinist played without restraint. Notes were pounded out on the piano and the violin’s strings were stroked with ferocity. You could probably hear the music from across the street, although the doors and windows were closed.

The final piece (Bow Shock by Russell Scarbrough) is worthy of special mention. It was written just for the ‘doctors of music,’ and they gave the world premiere of it at Carnegie Hall in 2013!

And so ended another evening at 405 Shrader Street.


"Master Jack" 4 Jacks and a Jill at

The Eighth Concert

I didn’t think there was a classical music concert Michael didn’t like, but at the beginning of this concert, Michael said he was bored by a concert the night before.

Michael saying this was the first thing that stood out at the concert.

I wondered if it was the evening’s leitmotif, which ‘would’ occur at the beginning.

The Marimba

An instrument I had never seen before (a marimba) was set up in the room. It was about the size of a piano and looked ‘experimental’ (risky). This reinforced my suspicions about the leitmotif.

It had large wooden bars across the top and hollow vertical tubes underneath. It sounded something like a pipe organ.

It is played similar to the way drums are played but with two mallets in each hand, not just one. This requires a fantastic degree of dexterity.

The First Set

The first set consisted of two short pieces on the marimba (‘The Juggler’ and ‘Play of Triads’ from ‘Six Etudes’ by Peter Klatzow). They were like warmup pieces because the best was yet to come.

The Second Set

In the second set the marimba was accompanied by the cello. The cello playing was fantastic (by Saul Richmnond-Rakerd). The marimba seemed like background music to the cello.

For some reason, the music (‘Mariel’ by Osvaldo Golijov) reminded me of the music played at FDR’s funeral (Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’).

As it would turn out, the music was written in memory of someone that had died unexpectedly in a car accident.

The Third Set

In the third set the music took off.

A Bach piece was played, modified for the marimba (‘Partita in D minor’ for solo violin).

Bach pieces can be very, very complex and it’s risky to play them from memory.

The musician (Tim Dent) played from memory!

About ten minutes into the piece, the musician shouted, “Aargh! Aargh!” as if in pain. He played a little longer and then shouted, “Aargh! Aargh!” again and stopped playing altogether.

The musician had lost his way. Perhaps he initially played just one note wrong and, a Bach piece being like the progression of logical steps in the solution of a mathematical equation, the note had a cascading effect.

(If it was a single note that did all this, I wonder what note it was.)

The musician stopped playing and referred to the score, thoroughly embarrassed (perhaps even a little suicidal).

It happened a second time, complete with “Aargh! Aargh!”

Getting lost (twice) made it seem I was right about the leitmotif.

The Completion of the Set

But after the second mistake, the musician recovered and finished strong.

He did so well (judging from the standing ovation at the end) that he will probably be invited back.

The third set was overall very, very satisfying, and not disaster.

It seemed fate had been cheated.

Cheating fate is going to be a hard act to follow.

A Similar Performance

I was reminded of Patti Smith’s performance of ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Going Fall’ at Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize ceremony, millions of people watching. She forgot the words to the song she was singing and had to start over. (She said she was overcome with emotion by living the song as she sang it.)

This should have been disastrous, but the performance made the song even more famous after going viral on the Internet.

(See Attachments for soloist Patti Smith performing a moving rendition of Bob Dylans 'A Hard Rain's A-Going Fall' — now if somebody would just do the same thing for Bob Dylan’s ‘Desolation Row.’)


After the concert, a person in the audience asked the musician to play just one note on the marimba. He struck a wooden bar with a mallet one time. Someone shouted out “A3!” He struck a different wooden bar. Another person shouted “D2!” The audience at these concerts is very sophisticated! I suppose, if I knocked with my knuckles on the wooden table in front of me, someone in that audience would be able to tell me what note it was.

When the musician finished answering questions I came forward to touch the wooden bars of the marimba, because they were made of rosewood. Different wood has a different feel.

Someone else was also touching the rosewood bars, an older man.

He said he knows of people who save up their whole lives to buy a marimba.

I said, “Really?”

He said, “Well, their whole lives up to age thirty.”

I said, “If they bought one, how could they afford to get it tuned.”

The musician had said only two people in California know how to tune a marimba. He has to ship his to Arcadia to get it tuned. Tuning involves shaving off wood from the underside of the bars. I wondered, “What if you shave off too much?”

Final Remarks

I didn’t want to leave without saying something to the musician, if only to acknowledge his presence.

I said, in reference to his dexterity with the mallets, “I bet you’re good with chopsticks.”

He said, “I’m OK.”

I said, “You’re probably better than the Japanese.”

He said, “Yes!”


Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall at the 2016 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall. Copyright ...

The Ninth Concert

Before the concert, I was sure about one thing, there wouldn’t be a grand piano because it would fall through the floor.

The concert was to be held in a 150-year-old wooden shack (a shrimp drying room) over the ocean. The shack had a leaking tin roof and half-inch gaps between the outside wall board, with hundreds of knot holes in them, allowing the wind and the rain to blow through.

Michael said he had selected this spot because of its ‘perfect’ acoustics. He should know because for twenty years he was the director of the Long Beach Opera.

He said it had been a dream of his to hold a concert here ever since he saw the place years ago.

Is Michael crazy?

Someone (Ed) had made all this possible because he had become a fellow at 405 Shrader Street, and he just happened to be in charge of the site.

Ed said he lives nearby in San Rafael.

So, Ed and his wife are the ones rumored to come all the way from Marin County to attend the concerts at 405 Shrader Street in San Francisco. I wasn’t sure the rumor was true.

I said to Ed, “Do you come to every concert?”

Ed said, “Yes!”

The Grand Piano

There was a grand piano! Or, at least I thought there was.

I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I checked to make sure. Because of its shape, it was definitely a grand piano and not a lighter, rectangular one.

I walked over to it.

The ‘piano’ was a harpsichord. I had been fooled.

Once again I was completely disoriented by these concerts.

The musician that owned the harpsichord said it weighed only 135 pounds.

The Program

The program was mostly Vivaldi harpsichord music accompanied by the cello (Sonata for cello in G minor, Sonata for cello in A minor, and Sonata for cello in B-flat major).

Michael had decided, probably years ago when he first laid eyes on this place, that it would be perfect for 350-year-old Baroque chamber music (Vivaldi, etc.).

My introduction to Vivaldi occurred when I was a teenager and when classical music was referred to as ‘longhaired music’ (before the Beatles) – probably because several conductors had long hair.

In high school, I had the habit of listening to KPFK-FM late at night, and at 2 AM every night, KPFK signed off by playing the same music score every time. Listening to it over and over was addictive. Sometimes I would stay up late just to listen to it. It was Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto for Diverse Instruments.’ (See Attachments)

Vivaldi, known as "The Red Priest" because of the color of his hair. No wonder his music is so joyous--he was obliged to work as a music teacher at an all gi...

Besides Vivaldi, there were two other pieces of 350-year-old chamber music that were played only on the harpsichord (Toccata Settima by Michelangelo Rossi and Cento Partite sopra Passacagli by Girolamo Frescobaldi).

Listening to the music, I had the distinct impression I was 350 years in the past. Perhaps I had been hypnotized by the repetitious sound of the waves under the shack.

I felt I was in a small room with royalty, the way this music was probably originally intended to be performed.

The Musical Instruments

This concert can never be repeated.

It would have been symbolic of the musicians (Eric Anderson, Baroque cello and Derek Tam, harpsichord) to set their instruments on fire at the end of the concert (like Jimmy Hendrix did with his guitars).

The concert can’t be repeated because no two days are alike. The outside elements, the sound of the waves, the birds, and the wind infused themselves into the room as the music was played.

The cello is also one of a kind. No other cello like it exists. It was custom made to the musician’s specifications (so he could play both modern and classical music with it, and so it would also fit his hand perfectly).

The harpsichord was a ‘French’ harpsichord. There are also German and Italian harpsichords, and probably a lot more.

Vivaldi was Italian.

Someone asked, “Should Vivaldi only be played on an Italian harpsichord?”

The answer is no, because the French harpsichord was perfect for the concert.

China Camp

There were three aspects to the concert.

The music was just one aspect.

There was the aspect of China Camp itself.

I had seen pictures of nearby Sausalito when it was a whaling town, and yet I couldn’t imagine how it would have seemed in real life.

China Camp, with its cluster of old buildings, was like the pictures of Sausalito, but in real life.

After the concert, I told someone about China Camp and they said, “I didn’t think that world still existed anyway in the Bay Area.”

The surrounding area was picturesque. There were strange rock formations, pebble beaches with lots of sea shells, a San Francisco Bay island I had never seen before, and strange vegetation including trees near the water with what looked like petrified bark (made of stone) that were still alive (had green leaves).

The Food at the Concert

The third aspect of the concert was dinner

The food that people brought to this concert was stunning. This group tends to bring homemade dishes and not store-bought items. Dinner was a twenty course meal of main dishes.

Someone asked me (Doerte) if I was going to write about the dinner the way I had written about dinner at Michael’s. I said, “I can’t write about this dinner like that. There’s too much food here. It would wear me out!”

But I will mention some of the highlights. There was quiche made with spinach, kale, and artichoke hearts (kale was the secret ingredient, and why it was so good, according to the preparer), crab salad which didn’t skimp on crab meat, baked eggplant with a special sauce, perfectly cooked fava beans, roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed vegetables, and exotic cheeses.

Someone said, “It’s like a Roman banquet!”

I said, “I’m looking for someone to peal me a grape.”

Another person said, “Where’s the shrimp?”

I said, “Why would someone bring shrimp to a shrimp fishing site?”

There was even a bartender, a young woman, who said it was worth bartending just to have dinner here.

Final Thoughts

This concert was probably the grand final of the season (and Michael is not crazy).

I will attempt to imagine what comes next.

If these concerts are like a supper, there have been eight appetizers and the main course.

Left to go is dessert and an after dinner drink.


Vivaldi Concerto for Diverse Instruments at

The Tenth Concert

Ellen was missing! She had accompanied Michael to every single 405 Shrader Street concert, and for the first time she was missing.

My guest (Norm Goldblatt, a former PhD physics professor at a New York City university) said, “Maybe she sacrificed her seat for me.”

I had asked Michael if Norm could attend at the last minute, and Michael said he could because there had been a cancellation.

Maybe there wasn’t a cancellation.

Michael walked around the room pointing his finger here and there. To me, it seemed he was mentally trying to figure out if everyone had arrived.

But this was not so apparent to Norm.

When Michael got to Norm, Norm said, “Why is he pointing at me? Is it because his wife gave up her seat for me?”

Ellen showed up at the last minute.

A dramatic last-minute entry was probably planned because Ellen was going to be a performer at this concert.

The Program

We looked at the program.

Norm said, “It’s all Bach. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

Norm was right. The best music played this season would be played tonight.

Our Seats

We had arrived 20 minutes early, yet we were too late to get seats in front.

We sat in back behind the piano.

This allowed me to observe Eileen’s hands as she played the piano.

Her fingers were nimble and her hands young.

You could not tell her age from her hands, like you can with most women.

We were so close to the piano that I could see handwritten notes in pencil on the music score.

I asked Norm if he read music.

He said he did.

I said, “Then you can tell if Ellen makes a mistake!”


Norm has an uncanny ability to charm women.

When we sat down at our seats, I intentionally let him have the seat next to a French woman who collects art (Monique), and I sat on the end.

As expected, the woman took an immediate interest in Norm and started talking to him. She talked to him for a long time after the concert too.


Norm asked me if Michael played a musical instrument.

I said, “Of course he does. He can do anything. He was the director of the Long Beach Opera for twenty years.”

Ellen, just inches away from us at the piano, overheard this and said, “Michael doesn’t play a musical instrument, but he tinkers around.”

The First Piece

The first piece was a Bach piano solo played by Ellen (‘Prelude and Fugue in E minor, No. 12 from Book 1 of the Well-Tempered-Clavier').

When I heard Ellen play the piece, I thought, “She can really play.” This was an understatement.

In Michael’s introductory remarks, he said there are 24 preludes and fugues to the Bach piece Ellen was going to play.

Ellen said there are 48.

Michael said the last 24 don’t count because they were composed twenty years later and belong to Book 2!

Norm said, “I can tell they are married.”

(After the concert, in his closing remarks, Michael said he is accepting donations for hanging the piano – i.e., tuning it. Ellen said, “It’s hanging the hammers, not hanging the piano!”)

The Second Piece

The second piece was a Bach violin solo (‘Chaconne in D minor for solo violin’) played by Alisa Rose.

Michael introduced the piece as a pillar of violin music. Then he said it’s a pillar of Western Civilization.

The Third Piece

After the violin solo, Ellen sat down again at the piano.

She played the same violin piece transcribed for solo piano.

This may have been the best live piano performance I have ever heard.

She played the piece from memory.

Norm said, “I can’t even remember where my car keys are anymore.”


There were two encore performances.

Ellen played Bach’s ‘Awake, the Voice is Calling Us’ (Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme). It had nice melodies.

Alisa played an original piece ‘she herself’ had composed.

Risky Behavior

During the violin piece, I noticed Norm looking at his cell phone.

I thought, “If Michael sees that . . . .”

Norm said later he was taking a picture of the violin’s shadow on the floor.

Norm notices little details like I do.

Norm and Ellen

After the concert, Norm and Ellen talked about the music. Their conversation was out of my depth. Norm was once a classical music disk jockey (on an FM radio station in New Your City).

I overheard Norm tell Ellen that it was incredible she was able to perform the ‘Chaconne’ solo on one piano. He said Eugene Ormandy used an entire orchestra to do it.

I Shouldn't Have Been Surprised

Outside 405 Shrader, someone pulled up in a car and rolled down their window.

They said, “Hi Jack. Hi Norm.”

It was someone we knew from work!

Work is fifty miles away in Santa Clara!

I thought, “What are the odds of a meeting like this occurring by chance?”

I am used to strange things happening at Michael’s concerts, but I was still caught by surprise.

The first time I attended a concert at 405 Shrader Street, the experience was so strange that I saw similarities between it and Hermann Hesse’s ‘Magic Theater’ (described in ‘The Steppenwolf’)

A Life Changing Event

The seventh season is now over and there should be a return to normal reality, but maybe not. Now that I think about it, meeting the person from work occurred ‘after’ the concert was over and ‘outside.’

Perhaps I have attended one too many concerts at 405 Shrader Street.