My Uncle Bob was the youngest of my father’s siblings.

Because he was in a difficult marriage in the South, there were decades when his West Coast siblings and nephews did not see him.

In World War II, Bob was a Marine, and that was some comfort to me as I went to USMC boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.. Following completion of my initial training, I visited Bob and his family in North Carolina. It was the last I saw of him for another two decades.

Following his wife’s death, Bob married a high school friend and moved to Lopez Island, in the San Juans of Puget Sound. My father regained a brother. As a consequence of Bob’s late-in-life romance, I gained a new set of cousins who also had a tie to Coos Bay.

We were the guests of one of those cousins – Bill Scherer – on Lopez over the weekend. Of the San Juan Islands, Lopez is one of the quietest. The island culture has its humorous moments.

Bill’s wife Miguel has written two books. I suggested she has a good change-of-life story in their preparations to sell the sailboat on which she and Bill have lived for decades.

Being in their house and with other cousins – George and Mary Scherer of Wenatchee – was a reminder of the many ways that Bob and June’s autumnal romance gave us new possibilities.

***

Taking criticism is an essential life skill. Taking it in public is also a requirement of certain jobs.

Peter Gelb showed us the wrong way, last week. Brian Kellow – who gave Gelb a measure of pain – was in Astoria last week. Kellow grew up in Tillamook. He spoke to Columbia Forum regarding his new biography of the film critic Pauline Kael.

In a May column in Opera News magazine, Kellow noted what he heard Metropolitan Opera audiences saying. Kellow specifically wrote of a trend that bothers me as well – when technology gets in the way of the story and song of opera.

As general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Gelb was not amused at this critique. He banned Opera News from publishing criticism of the Met’s productions. There was such an outcry that within a day, Gelb reversed his position.

As a whole, the opera audience is highly informed and opinionated. Telling the ticket-buying public it couldn’t read criticism of his productions in the nation’s largest circulation classical music magazine didn’t wash.

***

Artistic criticism can influence the bottom line of success or failure. It also can sway the culture. That’s why totalitarian despots pay so much attention to the arts. One of the most fascinating articles Opera News has carried was a recapitulation of which German composers and conductors sustained Hitler’s regime and which ones fled for America.

Simon Sebag Montefiore in his Stalin biography The Court of the Red Tsar depicts the Russian dictator’s visits to the concert hall and opera house. If Stalin left in the middle of a performance, a composer knew he had fallen out of favor. In the week following the ill-fated moment, a review would appear in one of the party’s cultural journals. While not signed, the article was written by Stalin.

— S.A.F.

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