A Requiem for the Titanic and a Classical Musician

Titanic booksTitanic.

In the 105 years since its doomed trip across the Atlantic, just seeing the name dredges up morose terms: panic, death, drowning, hypothermia. Another word that always emerges in my mind is arrogance, which is illustrated by the razor sharp contrasts of the ship’s reputation from the day the keel was laid in Belfast to the day it sank below the black waters and tumbled 2.4 miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic.

Opulence to tragedy.

Leisure to chaos.

Unsinkable to death trap.

I’ve had a fascination with Titanic since the pitiful remains of the ship were found on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on 1985. I’ve accumulated a vast collection of books, watched movies and documentaries, and visited the traveling exhibits of relics pulled from the wreckage. I even touched a chunk of ice the same temperature as the water that awful night and shivered not from the cold, but from the horror of the reality.

Naturally, I was drawn to the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in April 2012. Its history came to life yet once again by a plethora of stories, including rehashing of survivors’ accounts (and debunking tall tales), and present-day events recognizing the milestone. I re-read many of the books I had collected. I even found a Titanic Twitter account which chronicled the trip in real time through the “experiences” of passengers and crew. On one hand, the unfolding Twitter story was interesting. On the other, it was creepy knowing the ending.

Titanic album_“The Titanic Requiem”

A story emerged from the entertainment industry that grabbed my attention and has never released its grip. A classical music creation, “The Titanic Requiem”, was being composed to coincide with the anniversary of the sinking. And the composers of what was being touted as a masterpiece were most unexpected: Robin Gibb and his son, RJ.

Yes, Robin Gibb as in the Bee Gees. The twin brother of Maurice and little brother of Barry. The group famous (or infamous) for the disco sound of “Saturday Night Fever” and 50 years of pop music.

Yet it’s evident that the potential for Robin’s first classical composition had always been there. The Bee Gees sold more than 220 million records worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists of all time. They wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists. Their albums in later years illustrated the musical range, maturity, and sophistication of their sound. Their music has been considered pop by most, but to me it was deeper due to the thought-provoking themes and lyrics.

A New Titanic Focus

Robinn GibbWhen I heard about “The Titanic Requiem” my interest in the Titanic was reborn with a different focus: the fragility of the composer. Robin had been battling major health problems during the creation of the masterpiece and was eventually diagnosed with colorectal cancer in November 2011. But he pressed on with RJ’s support.

“The Titanic Requiem” premiered on April 10, 2012, at the Westminster Central Hall in London, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the RSVP Voices choir. Robin was too sick to attend and RJ spoke on his behalf. He died on six weeks later, on May 20, of liver and kidney failure, complications of the cancer that left him skeletal at the end. He was 62.

A Final Message

I’ve watched part of the performance on the internet and listened to excepts on YouTube. In my opinion—and I know next to nothing about classical music—the 15-movement album is absolutely stunning in both the complexity of the music and the messages in the lyrics.

The movements range from majestic and soothing to mystical, and eventually building up to haunting. Titles chronicle the life of the ship and its occupants: “Triumph”, “Farewell (Immigrant Song)”, “Under the Stars”, “SOS”, “Distress”, “Salvation”, and “Reflections.” They’re a long way from “Night Fever” and “More than a Woman.”

I was almost overcome by the combination of goose bumps and a punch to the heart when Robin sang “Don’t Cry Alone.” The song poignantly and sorrowfully illustrated not just the human tragedy of the Titanic, but became Robin’s final message to his family, friends and fans.

But I did cry. I still tear up each time I listen to it.

Since discovering “The Titanic Requiem” I have come to see Robin through a different lens. I see him beyond the album covers, publicity photos, and concerts as a Bee Gee. And if you take a few minutes to listen to excerpts from “The Titanic Requiem”, you’ll understand why.

More about “The Titanic Requiem”

On the edge of extinction: The Clock

ClockThe clock above the sixth grade classroom doorway reads 3:21. Nine minutes and the bell will sound signaling the end of the school day and they can stop identifying irregular verbs. It’s Friday, which makes clock-watching doubly momentous.

Peeking up from their notebooks and books, the kids count down the minutes to the weekend. Each tick of the second hand brings freedom closer and closer.

3:26: The teacher glances at the clock and around the classroom, then shakes her head and says, “I can see your attention spans are glued to the clock so let’s call it a day.”

Books slam shut. Notebooks rustle. Backpacks are stuffed and zipped. Chatter escalates with plans for the weekend: the dance in the gym that night, Emma’s birthday party at the bowling alley Saturday, Vikings vs. Packers on Sunday.

3:29: The teacher flips her hand with a “Have a good weekend, but take at least an hour to study for Monday’s test. Now, get outta here.” Chairs scrap on the floor just as the bell sounds.

3:30 on the dot.

Clock Watchers

As you read that little story, did you remember sneaking peeks at the classroom clock as it moved at a snail’s pace? Did you “hear” the seconds tick off? Did you “see” the minute hand land smack-dab on the six as the bell rang? If you’re over 30, probably. Any younger than that and your eyes were focused on a rectangular digital display on your cell phone or iPad.

digital clockMy jaw dropped last week when I read about a study that showed just 1-in-10 Oklahoma City kids ages 6-12 own a watch. And only 1-in-5 know how to read it. More than 150 students took the time-telling survey, which featured 15 questions. Only 31 students passed. Only 15 earned perfect scores.

Say what?

Time in your hands, not on the wall

For today’s youth, the means to tell time is in their hand, not on their wrist or on the wall. Clocks have become passé, ignored—gulp—old-fashioned.

To refresh your memory (pay attention, kids), the clock is that round thing found on walls with numbers 1 through 12 spaced at equal intervals edging the inside of a circle. It has a long pointy stick (the hour), a short pointy stick (the minute), and a long yet narrow pointy stick (seconds) moving in a rhythm fast enough to watch. The numbers could be I through XII; 3, 6, 9, 12; or III, VI, IX, XII. There might be 60 little hash marks (minutes) spaced evenly apart. (Not hash TAGS!) But the time-sensitive principle is the same.

Just like reading books, telling time has gone digital. However, reading on a digital device such as a Kindle or iPad is the same as reading on paper. Letters make up words which make sentences, which make paragraphs, which make pages (or screen grabs).

Telling time on a clock is very different from digital. You have to interpret the placement of the three sticks as they travel around the clock, thus it takes a second (sorry, couldn’t resist) to determine the time. I admit digital is easier to read. One glance tells you it’s 12:10. And while some clocks can be read in the dark, digital clocks seem to be made for the dark.

Time Stands Still

So what’s the future of the boring, has-been clock?

Big BenHere in Minneapolis, should the $2.1 million to overhaul the clock tower atop City Hall be used to convert it to digital?

Can you imagine what London’s Big Ben clock would look like digitally?

What would the mouse run up in Hickory Dickery Dock?

And what about the sun dial?

Just some things to ponder as you change the digital clock on the microwave or climb on the step stool to change your 12 Birds of North America clock that hangs above the TV for Daylight Savings Time.

The shopping mall has fallen on hard, even haunting times

Have you seen the eerie photos of abandoned mallsmall that have been roaming the internet? (Cue the theme song to “The Twilight Zone.”) The black-and-white photos show dead plants under dingy skylights, creepy corridors with missing ceiling tiles, doorless stores, broken windows, electrical fixtures dangling from the rafters, and missing escalators. Dust and gloom hang in the air.

And I realize I’m one reason why the mall concept is struggling.

Shop til I drop

I used to love shopping at a mall. As a product of the 1970s, I grew up when the mall concept emerged. They offered merchandise we couldn’t get in small Iowa towns or too expensive if available in a small Main Street store. My family lived on a farm over 40 miles from the malls we frequented. Crossroads Center in Waterloo and College Square Mall in nearby Cedar Falls opened in 1969. Southbridge Mall in Mason City opened in 1973. We gravitated to the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area where the two malls were just a few miles apart for greater selection, and our aunt lived in Waterloo whom we would usually visit.

We considered a Saturday trip to the mall a big deal—an excursion. Dad would drive. Mom would discuss her list and what stores she wanted to visit. I’d be plotting what to beg for. My brother was more concerned where we’d have lunch. Once we arrived, Dad would find a bench in the atrium, strike up a conversation with some unsuspecting husband doing the same thing, and corral our shopping bags. If we played our cards right, our aunt would treat us at Bishop’s Buffet in Crossroads. (My first experience with French silk pie.)

After college and settling into my journalism career in north central Iowa, I ventured west and south to another Crossroads Mall, this time in Fort Dodge, and an outlet mall in Story City. Shopping with friends instead of my parents was liberating!

Birthplace of the mall

By the time I married and moved to the Twin Cities, the mall concept was in full bloom. Southdale, in the suburb of Edina, was the nation’s first indoor regional shopping center. It dwarfed the malls I was accustomed to, and exuded opulence. I lived just five miles from its sister mall, Rosedale, and became a frequent shopper there.

Then IT happened. The retail behemoth Mall of America redesigned the shopping concept when it opened in 1992. It’s a mere 25 minutes from home. Be still my quaking heart! Today is has over 400 stores, close to 12,000 employees, and 35 to 40 million visits yearly. For several years, I’d make trips there for my birthday in June, and Christmas shopping in December. We would take out-of-town family there to impress and overwhelm; give the granddaughters tickets to the amusement park. And always get lost.

My husband and I would go to Las Vegas occasionally where I explored the glitzy shopping world of the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian. I rarely walked out with anything as they were high-end malls. Thankfully Vegas had a healthy share of outlet malls away from the Strip that better suited my budget.

Fade to black

Then a few years ago, my shopping fervor faded away. Maybe it’s because I no longer fit the demographic of the younger shopper. Maybe it was being without a full-time job to afford the pleasures of shopping. Maybe it was the spike in rowdy youth being dropped off at the mall by their parents. Or maybe I just got bored roaming the cavernous yet swanky halls and searching for my car in the expansive parking lot.

Apparently I’m not the only one wandering away from malls, as the creepy images demonstrate. To shut out the retail grotesqueness, I close my eyes and fondly remember the shopping trips to Cedar Falls and Waterloo when the goal was more than shopping for school clothes, Sunday shoes, bath towels, bedding, pots and pans. Those trips were times of relaxed and simple family togetherness that can never be replicated. I miss that.







What are we known for?

A devotional in Our Daily Bread this week got me thinking (oh, oh). It was based on the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 and the brief stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and a host of others. The gist of the devotional was how do we want to be remembered? What do we want to be known for? What difference can we make in the lives of others? The questions prompted sobering reflection.

I’ve been known as a lot of things in my lifetime: nerdy high school student, small town newspaper editor, higher education PR writer, author. But I know that any notoriety I had at the time will eventually pass. Does anyone in Hampton, Iowa, remember me from when I was editor at the newspaper back in the early 90s? Probably not. In another 30 years, will anyone remember I wrote a Christian romance novel? Probably not.

On the flip side, several people remain strong in my memories and their impact in my life. A supervisor at work who took me under her wing and eventually became a dear, almost motherly friend. My patient grandmother—a piano teacher—who sat at my side for years out of love enduring my inept piano-playing. The friends who ardently pushed me to publish my novel when I lacked motivation.

After I’ve passed from this earth, I’d like to think a handful of people—especially family—will remember me as an obedient daughter, loving wife, and doting yet “cool” step-grandmother. For all I know a smattering of people will remember me as the little girl/lady with the unruly naturally curly hair.

I have more work to do here on earth, however, so I pray the Lord will continue to provide opportunities for me to make significant, positive differences in people’s lives. I pray that despite my imperfections, I’ll be known as a Child of God.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” – 1 John 3:2


Twitter, tweets and twains … er … trains (and a free e-book!)

CabooseI’ve been on the Twitter Train for seven years and until a couple of months ago, it was just a caboose. I followed mostly news sources, and rarely posted, liked or retweeted.

Then I published “Embracing Hope.” Social media is a vital marketing tool for authors so I waded deeper into the pool—or to continue the railroading theme—added an engine and a couple of rail cars, and picked up speed.

I started out earlier this year with about 30 followers, followed another 30, and had less than 200 tweets. I now have over 126 followers, follow over 300, and have posted over 530 tweets—the numbers increase daily. ** I’m intentional in “liking”, retweeting, acknowledging follows and retweets; posting my own tweets using links, hashtags, and photos; studying trends; and pursuing more followers.

And I’m about to derail as I keep adding rail cars but not enough engines. I’ve studied up on how to increase followers, maintain lists, and schedule tweets, only to be inundated with advice and recommendations, some contradictory. Perhaps once I get accustomed to the curves and angles of Twitter’s rail bed I can add engines so the train operates efficiently.

RR signEach time I follow someone, find out I’m being followed or post a tweet, one question keeps crossing my mind much like signs before a railroad crossing: How do people with thousands of followers, following thousands, and grinding out thousands of tweets, likes and RTs do it without losing their mind?

Social media virtual assistants, that’s how. The railroading version is a switch, which guides a train from one track to another—such as at a junction or where a spur branches off—when there are too many trains on the track.

I’m a long way from needing a switch. But my confidence got a wee boost a few days ago when I connected with someone who had smaller numbers. Boy, did I feel experienced! And I was intent to encourage her. But I bet she’ll surpass me quickly and need one of those switches. Oh, well, in the meantime, I’ll do my best riding the Cannonball trying not to derail.

TrainChallenge: If you can identify the Cannonball, email me at janellwoj@comcast.net by Wednesday, March 22, 2017, and if you’re right, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a free ebook of “Embracing Hope.”

** Disclaimer: I hear the giggles from seasoned Twitter moguls seeing my stats. But remember, you started at this level, too. 🙂

Fly, birdies, fly away

cardinal-nest-photoI don’t have children so I’m unfamiliar with what it’s like to push those I dearly love and have protected for years out of the nest. I don’t understand the apprehension, loneliness, and heartache parents experience when their kids set out on their own for college, careers, and marriage.

But then again, as an author, maybe I do. Last fall, I sent my three oldest kids—Drew, Allison and Chris—into the intimidating literary world. Tearfully (really!) I relinquished them to my publisher who prepped them and launched them on their way. I’ve had sleepless nights: Was it too soon? Had I done enough to ensure they’d survive on their own? Would they eventually achieve success, or run back home to hide in the basement?

I’ve become a possessive and restless mother lion wanting to protect her cubs from bad reviews, poor sales, and getting along in a jungle full of other cubs. They might be rebuffed, ridiculed, or worse yet, recycled!

I miss getting inside my kids’ brains to see what makes them tick, and being a part of their daily lives to share their joys and console them when they hurt. I no longer have the opportunity to shape their characters, find solutions to their problems, or offer them advice.

I had to spend a lot of time and energy disciplining one of my kids, Chris, so hopefully he’s learned something and will keep on the straight and narrow. The other two, Drew and Allison, have been through a lot of sadness and scary times, but I’ve seen their strength and know they will do well on their own. I’ve been relieved to hear early reports that all three are finding their way. Maybe all that work—a labor of love—is paying off. I look forward to see what they do with their futures.

Now I need to focus on the other kids. Ivy is the most mature, but then girls do mature faster than boys. Hannah and Nathan are dealing with baggage from previous relationships so I’m waiting for them to lighten their loads. Micah and Lindsey are the youngest and need special nurturing, which take time. And Renee is a twinkle in my eye who I know has great potential—once I figure out what that potential is.

So, yes, I feel like a parent who has let her birds leave the nest. The only thing I can do for my “triplets” is to keep praying that God will bless them and bless the people they meet along the way.


Of ice and men … and a free book

I never played hockey. No one in my immediate family played hockey. In fact, no one in my immediate family knows much about the game. But thanks to my husband and 24 years of going to college hockey games I can proudly admit that I LOVE hockey.

My favorite team is the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team. We’ve had season tickets for years, so our date nights from October-March are often to Mariucci Arena on the U of M campus. The arena might be a wee bit chilly, but that’s part of the charm. Once you get 9,000 warm bodies in the arena to cheer on a dozen players speeding up and down the ice you warm up.

The first games I saw confounded me. I never saw the puck. All I saw was a bunch of over-stuffed uniforms moving like ants whacking at the ice with sticks and ramming each other into the boards with resounding thuds. I only knew a goal was scored when the arena exploded in cheers and the players jumped on each other in celebration. I never understood the penalties. I never made out plays.

Slowly things began to change. I recognized player and coach names. I learned terms like checking, high-sticking, penalty-kill, power play, icing, hat trick. I knew that North Dakota was the enemy on the ice. And best of all, I saw plays taking shape on the ice and the puck going into the net as a result.

In 2002, I knew enohockey-frameugh about hockey to thoroughly appreciate the luck of the draw when we got tickets to the NCAA Frozen Four championship in St. Paul. When we applied to get the tickets we had no idea that the U of M team would be there. But not only did they get into the Frozen Four, they won the NCAA title. And we were there! (Proof is the framed display on the wall of our home office.)

Since then I’ve had a love affair with hockey. My family back in Iowa think it’s strange since I grew up cheering on high school football and basketball teams. But after living in Minnesota all these years, hockey fever was bound to catch up with me.

So why am I writing about hockey on my “Embracing Hope” blog? Because a couple of weeks ago an idea popped into my head as I sat in Mariucci Arena: A sequel about a hockey player and a fashion entrepreneur. If you’ve read “Embracing Hope” you might find one of the characters. If you haven’t read it yet, but want to figure it out, email me at janellwoj@comcast.net and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free copy of “Embracing Hope.” Deadline to enter is March 1.