Brian Groner has been music director of the Fox Valley Symphony since 1995. From time to time he will share his thoughts with you right here in his blog.

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Bug Karma
Mar. 18, 2012

As I waded through rather nasty rush hour traffic on Thursday I had a small but very persistent visitor in my car with me. As I came up behind yet another line of stopped traffic I got dive bombed inside my car by what I first thought was a large bee. I prepared myself to get stung as I focused on the traffic ahead. After three more passes at my torso I noticed that the uninvited guest in my Subaru was not a bee after all but a very large firefly (or some bug which looked just like it).

I rolled down all the windows in an attempt to lure it outside into the fine weather. After not seeing it for a couple of minutes I rolled the windows up, confident that it had made its escape. I again focused on the ugly, irritating traffic.

Wham!! It dived into me again. Apparently my gesture of good will (by giving it access to freedom) went unnoticed. This time I rolled down only the driver’s window and, when it made its next assault, I guided it through the opening as gracefully as I could while maintaining control over the car.

I watched it fly forward for just a few feet and then saw two large seagulls dive across the road in the direction of the bug. Since the bug immediately disappeared from view I can probably assume that I witnessed nature’s way (the food chain) in action. I harbored no ill will toward the persistent bug but felt deep down that it probably got what it deserved.

Transmission in the back
Feb. 18, 2012

We went to the Chicago Auto Show the other day. It was a lot of fun. I had not attended it for a couple of years and there were many interesting things to see. One car which stood out was the Fiat 500 Abarth. It is a tiny little package of fun with a small, but high torque, engine pushing a car that weighs no more than 2200 pounds.

I have to admit something. When I sat in the car and saw the way the shift lever emerged from the dashboard I remembered that this setup was much like the Alfa Romeo Spider. The Alfa that I owned, and now miss, was not the Spider but was the GTV6 model (two more seats, more power than the Spider and near perfect road manners).

As we drove home I remembered one of my favorite things to do in that car. After entering an off ramp I could keep the steering wheel in one spot (slightly turned) and adjust the angle of the car by using just the accelerator. The car had a little natural understeer but could be prompted into any amount of oversteer one wanted by applying the throttle. It sounded great! Vroom, Vroom.............Sigh.

White Castle???
Feb. 15, 2012

For the last several weeks each time I drove out of my neighborhood I saw an interesting sign at the White Castle just a couple of blocks from my house. The sign read “Make Your Valentines Reservations Today”. Does that strike anyone else as a totally non-romantic way to spend Valentine’s Day?

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am just too snooty, please remember that I do indeed like “sliders”. I simply prefer the meal that Teresa made (sesame noodles with thinly sliced marinated steak, Asian red cabbage slaw with a nice bottle of Ed Meade Zinfandel from Ciapusci Vineyards). For dessert, to go with some heart shaped brownies, we had a bit of my own Chocolate Raspberry Port.

There are times when you crave a burger (slider) from White Castle. Yesterday was not one of those times.

I Hope
Jan. 24, 2012

Teresa and I stopped at a fast food restaurant the other day. We just needed a quick snack so that we could finish our errands without our stomachs growling.

After ordering our food and sitting down at a small table a young man, probably around 20 or 21, came toward me and asked if he could speak with me a moment. Of course I said yes. He explained that he was in need of money so that he could get a place to sleep and buy some food for his wife who was in another corner of the restaurant. I have heard a lot of stories from people asking for money and I decided to talk to him to see what his situation was.

We ended up talking for about 15 minutes. His wife came over to talk to us as well. She was a very nice young woman with shiny eyes and a glowing smile. They have been married since last April, were both out of work and looking for work, and they had slept on the bench in the nearby bus stop the night before. He discussed how they had gotten into their current situation. He told me about his involvement (as a 14 year old) with a group of friends who simply stopped going to school and started using drugs. After several years of that he found the strength to stop using but never found his way back into school. He admitted that he could barely read. He talked about the responsibility he felt to his wife and his hope of getting into the Job Corps, a place where they both would acquire work place skills and help him start the process of getting his GED. When he showed me the Job Corps application I saw the many forms of identification necessary (including an original copy of his birth certificate) which would be difficult for him to obtain, having no means of transportation and little access to a computer.

Something he said sticks in my brain. He mentioned how he was touched that we had stopped and talked, letting our food grow cold, letting the two of them share their story with us. Apparently it doesn’t happen very often. They were appreciative, kind people and had high hopes for their future.

I was glad to have had a moment to speak with them and sincerely hope that they can overcome their current challenges and build a future for themselves. I hope that the Job Corps stays in place long enough to help them. And I hope that the little cash that I had with me helped them through a cold and difficult day.

Identity Crisis
Jan. 22, 2012

My wonderful sister Nancy sent me a computer disc recently. The disc had a number of files which pertained to our genealogy. She has spent a great deal of time on this project over the course of several decades.

There were a number of things which struck me as I scanned through the names of hundreds of long departed relatives. First of all, it seems that the more correct spelling of my last name may be Kroner after all. Apparently Ellis Island employees were not hired based on their spelling ability.

Secondly, the names Robert de Bruce, Robert de Bruce Jr, and Robert de Bruce Sr (and all of the alternative spellings) turn up on my Father’s family tree 30 or so generations ago. Until seeing this I had no urge to see the movie “Braveheart” but now feel absolutely compelled to do so.

There was another interesting item. It seems that one of my Scottish tribal ancestors on my father’s side ambushed and killed one of the Scottish tribal ancestors on my Mother’s side. Hmm…..

And so, as I cook dinner this evening I will pretend that there is a Duke or Sir preceding my name. By the way, after you look up Robert de Bruce go ahead and do an internet search for Duke Groner.

Ace of Cakes
Dec. 10, 2011

Teresa and I attended a holiday party this past weekend. It was the annual holiday potluck for a group that we had recently joined, Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond (http:/​/​ It was an interesting group of people and the party was held in an exceptionally beautiful mid-century modern home in a south suburb.

Shortly before we left the party someone brought in an amazing dessert. I knew that I was in the presence of wonderful, creative people when this party guest brought in a cake which duplicated a Mies van der Rohe house. It was placed on the table with great care. The “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” filled the air as the smart phones came out from a dozen pockets to archive the moment.

Pretty cool, eh?

Third time lucky?
Nov. 21, 2011

Driving to last week’s FVS board meeting was interesting. I heard something hit one of my tires and then the bottom of my car as I drove north on I-294. I listened for a bit and kept tabs on how the car felt for a while. It seemed Ok and so I forged ahead. I stopped at the O’Hare Oasis to put in gasoline and discovered that I had in fact hit something which had damaged my left side tires.

The driver’s side front was low and the rear was almost flat. As I called for assistance another vehicle which had been in the same lane as I had came in and filled their tires, letting me know that they had hit something which had caused a blow out, and they were now checking the inflation of the spare which was now on the car. Over the course of the next 20 minutes a total of 6 cars came in to refill their low tires. I did not make it to the board meeting.

Last night I drove the same patch of highway as I delivered one of my daughter’s friends to O’Hare airport. I watched in amazement as a round metal ring (about 30 inches in diameter, with some taffy colored fabric attached to one side) rolled across the right three lanes and swiftly became an unavoidable object which I hit very hard with the right front corner of my car. As soon as I struck it I looked in my mirror and saw it sliding down the road leaving a trail of sparks. I was again lucky. It took some paint off of my bumper (no big deal) and shattered the driving light. I am happy that it did not damage the tires on the right side.

I will be driving this same stretch of road again tonight. Wish me luck.

Current Crisis
Nov. 9, 2011

During this morning’s drive the talk on the radio was, as it has been for days, all about the Greek debt crisis and its impact on the Global economy.

When I talked to Teresa last night she told me that at one of her orchestra’s afternoon rehearsals, the new General Manager of the Lyric Opera of Chicago eloquently described a different sort of current Global crisis. It is not a crisis about money or food, stock prices or interest rates. He spoke of a global crisis in Culture and the Arts.

To describe the crisis in culture it might be best to start with some thoughts about what it is that the arts do for us. The list of possible responses is long and diverse. The arts stimulate and educate. The arts offer non-violent exposure to other styles of living and ways of communication. The arts offer up a diversion, a diversion which allows us a glimpse into someone else’s world for a short while. After our exposure to art we gain greater clarity of thought, and that in turn fuels a more creative response to the problems of our own daily existence.

Artists and art lovers seek excellence. But, artistic excellence cannot be measured with a stop watch. It cannot be measured with a micrometer or yardstick. It is an excellence which is judged by each of us in unique ways, allowing for differences in experience and background to form the basis of our personal judgments of quality.

Our crisis of culture includes a lack of arts education. As my mentor Julius Stulberg once said “If you put a violin or a clarinet in the hands of a young person there is no longer room for a gun.” His statement changed my life and is one of the reasons that I chose to do what I do. Musical instruction can change lives and change communities. We have heard countless times that music improves math scores – great. We have also heard that listening to music helps us to more easily learn another language – great. But there is far more to it than that, something more fundamental and far less measurable. Helping others to more clearly see and more deeply hear what is beautiful is invaluable. After all, the seeing and the hearing is a great part of what makes us human and helps us recognize the humanity of others. And yes, even recognizing the humanity of others who may not agree with us at the moment.

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