Live fire, live music offer true sensation


I HAD almost forgotten the glories of a good fire until the other evening, when the temperature dropped into the 40s and rain hammered the tin roof of a remote hunting lodge in Western Maryland. Our host got a flame going and, in no time, there was a loud, familiar crackle in the stone fireplace and a warm, familiar atmosphere in the room. The glow, the smell and the sound of the fire made me feel as though I'd been to the lodge 100 times before. I watched the logs burn until I fell asleep.

Revelation: If you move too fast, you miss simple pleasures.

Sometimes, when I've been away from the concert hall too long -- and too long dependent on recordings and a bad car radio for classical music -- I forget the glories of a live performance. You can lose your appreciation for that in no time.

If you've been on hiatus from classical music -- or any music, for that matter -- performed well, your next encounter can seem like your first. The actual making of music awakens a part of your soul the way no CD can.

Tuesday night in the Lyric Opera House, I was surprised to get a rush from what will seem to professional musicians and critics an unremarkable moment -- orchestra work before dress rehearsal for the Baltimore Opera Company's production of "Don Giovanni." The orchestra's string section ran through some of Mozart's great phrases for music director Christian Badea. With a curling sweep of his hands, Badea led the violinists, cellists and bass players through the introduction of a second-act aria, then he cut them off. He spoke to them, making points about entrances and volume, then raised his hands again. This time, they played long enough for the winds to join them, and though I heard only a three-minute excerpt -- without the singing for which the music was written -- I felt something inside me soar.

Mozart is seductive, of course. But that's not It.

Sensation is It. There's no substitute for sensation, the author Clifford Stoll says. No substitute for being there when the maestro's hands move the hands that move bows across strings, or when great singers breathe life into 200-year-old songs. Each moment, each note is unique. Nothing beats being there, when music lives -- for the millionth time or the first, or for the first in too long a time.

Crab-free for a year

TJI reader Mat Lam took up my challenge to abstain from eating Maryland blue crabs in recognition of the crustacean's struggle in the Chesapeake Bay.

"This is a first for me, in 41 years of life," Lam wrote after going crab-free for a year. "It has been rough. I often thought of trading in my Marlboro cigarettes and Busch beer for just one taste of a crab -- plucking the legs off, tasting the mustard, sucking in the pearly white meat inside, spitting out shell, burning my lips on Old Bay. The mere thought of it all makes me want to floor it up to Don's Crabs for a dozen No. 1's."

Lam wants to know if I stayed true blue on my self-imposed boycott.

I did, brother. Haven't indulged in 14 months.

Meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the crab population continues to decline. So do underwater grasses -- a 30 percent loss in Tangier Sound alone -- which provide vital habitat. I think I'll keep the crab mallets in the drawer for a while.

Take a cue from 'Blair Witch'

Halloween recommendation for the young and the fearless: A "Blair Witch Project" camping trip to the Maryland woods. Get two friends, some camping gear, a tent, a couple of video cameras, flannel shirts and a watch cap or two. Then, head off for a camping area -- avoid Patapsco Valley State Park, where some "Blair Witch" scenes were shot; you'll probably run into a lot of park rangers -- and set up camp. Stay overnight, if you dare. If you're the one who organizes the trip, arrange for another set of friends to spook the camp at night. You'll be expecting it, but your fellow campers won't. That could lead to some great video. And remember: Wobble works. The more you wobble the camera while you're shooting scenes, the better. ... Maryland state parks have many Halloween activities planned, including haunted hayrides, ghost stories and a night hike to find owls. For information about events and overnight camping, call 1-800-830-3974, or hit the Department of Natural Resources Web site at

Melanie Griffith sighting

TJI reader Amy Griffith -- no relation to Melanie -- gets a prize for being the first to report seeing the actress, who's in town for John Waters' latest production. Amy spotted Melanie G., husband Antonio Banderas and Waters outside the Charles Theater Sunday afternoon. "All were oblivious to those who stood around and stared," Amy says, "but to those who approached, they were very gracious. I saw one or two people receive a hug from [Melanie], who seemed sweet and down to earth." Amy gets a scratch-and-sniff Odorama card from Waters' "Polyester." is the e-mail address for Rodricks. Contact him at 410-332-6166, or write to This Just In, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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