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Anything you need to know about dating a classical musician?

Our eye has been caught by an entertaining advice column written by the articulate girlfriend of a band member. You may read her wise words here.

Among six useful tips, Cassie Kohler urges would-be partners not to nag their musicians to cut rehearsal and attend to the relationship.

I have been wondering whether there is a generic guide for dating classical musicians. Would anyone care to offer six helpful hints?

Be as specific as you like. Tips for kissing an oboist especially appreciated.

I am sure we can find a small prize for the best list, drawn from deep experience.

cassie kohler


Cassie Kohler with her boyfriend Ryne Watts of the Hobosexuals. (c) Cassie Kohler. All rights reserved.


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  1. 1.Accept that he will not do anything in the household on a concert’s day ( his hands etc….)- you are lost if he is in an orchestra!!
    2.If he is a guitarist, enjoy that you can talk about nail care with him, he might know more than you!
    3. I heard rumors about oboe, trumpet, frenchhorn etc players and kissing- so if they don’t kiss you, don’t try it, they might just see their lips as working tool!
    4.If you are not a pro yourself, don’t talk about your piano lessons you suffered as a kid or any of your amateur experiences!
    5.Don’t sing along when he practises- including his mistakes!
    6.Don’t confess that you own a CD by David Garrett – and listen to it!

    Of course, every point also could be “she”! Then I would replace point 2 by: Don’t talk about the hotness of her collegues and that you like Yuya Wang’s stage dresses..

  2. Susan Bradley says:

    If it’s a bogstandard orchestral concert, no worries with kissing the day before. But if it’s something tricky, leave my chops alone! I hate having “kissing chops”: they don’t work !
    I have no idea why, but I’ve tested, retested and proved it time and again…

  3. If your sweetheart is a violinist, do not make the mistake of thinking that the red mark on his/her neck is a sign of infidelity (even if you’re quite certain you didn’t put it there yourself).

  4. I am going to extend the term “musician” to include “composer,” since that challenging condition is what I can readily address most accurately:

    Please don’t play recorded music in the house or car before asking Composer. Most composers have a sad and incurable affliction: a 24/7 radio playing inside their head. Anything you want to hear at any given moment is guaranteed to be in the wrong key or meter.

    Please do not tap. Anything. Anywhere. In any rhythm. Unless you wish to torture Composer. Same rule applies to random whistling.

    No wind chimes may be placed within a one mile radius of the house.

    Do not feel unloved or undesired when Composer occasionally bolts out of bed at 2:48 a.m. in order to capture A Brilliant Idea.

    Do not feel unloved or undesired when Composer occasionally fails to come to bed until 5:12 a.m. because s/he was hard at work capturing A Brilliant Idea.

    Do your very best to hide from Composer your complete, beloved collection of Kenny G, Yanni and Andrew Lloyd Webber discs. “Jesus Christ Superstar” is exempt. We love that one.

    When you pop in unannounced to your Composer Love Object’s home, and are greeted by someone in loose, ratty, pajama-like clothes sporting peanut butter smears, hair flying in directions that defy gravity, and the vacant, pale-but-possessed gaze of someone who has not showered in two days as they pursue A Brilliant Idea, please do your best to remember what your Composer Love Object is capable of looking [and, smelling] like when seated across from you on a date in a nice restaurant. Then, flee the premises as soon as possible so that the shock of this truly frightening contrast doesn’t give you a stroke.

    If you are very fortunate, you will benefit from your Composer’s procrastination techniques, as s/he will do almost anything to avoid delving into a new commission right away. The closer the delivery deadline, the shinier the kitchen faucet, the cleaner the baseboards, and the whiter the tub grout shall be. That is, if you are lucky and get one of the Composer Love Object Pro 3000 Deluxe models, who like to clean and organize while they stew on the music in their subconscious. If you are less lucky, you will receive the Composer Love Object Basic 1000 Standard model, who just lies on the couch all day in pursuit of A Brilliant Idea, and you are forced to vacuum around them.

    On behalf of my fellow composers, I hope this has been a helpful guide!

    • What Alex just said!

    • Absolutely brilliant, Alex. And right on the money (or shall I say, note).

    • Alex Shapiro has REALLY been incredibly accurate in her observations – another couple to add to hers:

      1. If your composer-partner starts complaining about his/her current project, do NOT ask why they’re doing this for a job/avocation if “they don’t enjoy” it. (has happened to me more than once) You will receive a minimum of an eye-roll, or could receive a barking.

      2. Silence from the composer on long car trips is not ignoring you, it is further pursuit of A Brilliant Idea.

    • I totally concur with Alex post. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And of course, I can’t let this opportunity pass without adding a few of my own. These are however, for those seeking a musical mate, not to include relatives or minors or relative minors for that matter.. Especially, relative minors. I, too will use the all-inclusive “musician” to include “composers” in that group since I, too am of that rare and very misunderstood breed.

      If your prospective mate is a brass player and kisses with a buzzing of lips, run for the hills. They are trying to play you. Trumpet players are always tooting their horn. French horn players are very insecure especially when they are playing the solo in Till Eulenspiegel that night. Trombonists slide from one relationship to another and tuba players… well let’s just say they HAVE to be full of hot air.

      If your prospective partner is of the woodwind persuasion, you have chosen a group that is difficult to reed. It will take some time and work to get them to warm up to the idea of a relationship but once you do, you will certainly reap the flutes of your labor assuming you don’t wind up with some overbearing bassoon.

      String players can be very frustrating. You may find yourself constantly bowing over backwards just for a little acknowledgment. Before you jump into a relationship, do a double-stop first to make sure you are able to handle multiple ledger lines. if you have a fear of heights, stick with viola players and cellists. If you’re going after a bass player, just make sure you have plenty of storage and are ready to give up your business class seat for coach.

      Percussion players are hit and miss. Most will have you just banging your head against the wall. They will try to snare you in their web and woo you with their chimes. Their heart beats to another drum. If you don’t take percussions, I have no tympathy for you.

      Keyboardists have magical fingers. At least on the keyboard. If they could encase them in glass and never use them for anything but, they would. So, if you are a touchy feely kind of person, make sure your prospective tickling of the ivories mate-to-be also extends to you as well. Back rubs with one’s feet loses something in the translation.

      If you find a composer to be your cup of tea, buy lots of tea and take up reading. As Alex pointed out, brilliant ideas make themselves known usually in the wee hours and it’s not as simple as getting up and writing it down. Once a brilliant idea gets transferred from head to paper, it will either spawn more brilliant ideas or said composer will spend the next 4-5 hours writing a symphony around it. We are used to working alone, being alone with ourselves and we’re fine with it. It takes someone very special to understand this and not interpret it as having to play second fiddle. Every piece has rests and that’s where you come in. Understanding this will inspire you both to cherish the few bars you will have to make your own music together. And inspiration to a composer is the champagne of the gods. Write on!!

      • @Gene says,”String players can be very frustrating. ”

        Nicely put

        As much as you might like their playing, keep earplugs on hand so that the riffs don’t make earworms in your head that hang on for days. On the other hand, you can get to know that area of the entire orchestral repertoire so that you can hear it in your head any time that you want. Imagine getting to hear Mahler bass parts, for example, practiced endlessly. And you can learn to appreciate the physical agility and strength that it takes to perform at a top level day after day.

    • Demetrius Spaneas says:

      To answer fellow composer Alex Shapiro, I truly resemble her remarks…however, I am one of those ComposerLove Object models who will cook infuriatingly rather than clean :)

    • I can’t tell you, Alex Shapiro, how much I appreciated reading your synopsis of the foibles of living with/dating a composer – as a composer it was like reading my own biography … though that probably shouldn’t make me smile as much as it is, that’s just the way things are.

      It’s never personal, when it comes to relationships – just remember – if you’re in a relationship with a musician – composers included – you’re in a relationship with someone who has spent the majority of their life becoming who they are: doctors train for 12 years to become specialists … musicians often start as children and train for upwards of twenty years – we have the longest apprenticeship of any profession, so, if it seems as though it’s hard to compete with the music, that’s because you can’t compete with it, it’s too much a part of the life of the musician. Find the part of life that is complimentary, that isn’t fully absorbed – and which needs the love of another – it is there and is needed – there’s a place in our hearts for others … really, there is. Don’t give up on us!

    • William Safford says:

      I have nothing to add to what you wrote about dating. However, I do want to say that I read your message while listening to “Deep.”

    • Speaking as a Composer Love Object Pro 3000 Deluxe model who has just unnecessarily clean all the ashes from her wood stove because 36 parts need to be prepped and published by tomorrow, I am extremely appreciative of all the comments here! It’s always reassuring to know one’s not alone in the nuthouse.

      (And William and Frank, as I recall, DEEP was indeed partly conjured in my head during a long, quiet car ride in which my partner at the time accurately commented that my presence in the passenger seat made for good ballast).

    • Whenever my kids catch me raking leaves in the yard, my son always says: “He’s not raking, he’s composing something….”

  5. -Don’t use the vacuum cleaner on your first day back from a tour if your cellist partner is trying to practice his or her part from Ein Heldenleben or solo from the Schumann 4th, or Webern’s Op. 11.

    -Easy on chickpea or babaganoush meze before a recital, whether you are performing and she (or he) will be in the audience, or visa versa.

    -Use discretion in critiquing each other’s playing, especially if one or the other are specialists of music from different periods or styles (i.e., you don’t know what you’re talking about, or, at least, if that’s what your misinformed partner thinks), except that if you are a man in a relationship with a woman, ignore the above rule and substitute a simpler one: that is, never ever criticize her playing, aesthetic sensibility, housekeeping……… or bad breath.

    There are many more rules of the road that might, but won’t be cited here, to spare others the silliness, or agony, or both.

  6. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    Lots of old jokes about this:

    - Flute or Brass players that would not kiss.

    - Tuba players that insist on keeping girlfriend on lap.

    - French Horn players that insist on…

    Happy New Year…

  7. Jordan Markham says:

    If you live with a singer, and while we are practicing we happen to make a mistake or crack, do not dare ask “what happened” or “what was that?!” Actually, don’t listen at all, while we practice! We do things while practicing that might make you want never to hear again.

  8. Musicians of the classical variety need time to practice. If you end up living together there will be anywhere from two to six hours that s/he will be spending with his or her instrument. Nobody likes a critic, but an occasional “you sound good” (said only when it is sincere, because we know when we don’t sound good) is in order once in a while (but not too often).

    Be prepared to go to a lot of concerts, and be prepared to talk about them afterwards. Be prepared to learn all the inns and outs of the instrument your boyfriend or girlfriend plays, along with the limits of the repertoire and the social problems s/he has interacting with members of other instrumental groups.

    Don’t expect that your interest in the kind of music you like will ever be equal to his or her interest in what he or she DOES. (And for the person on the classical music end of the relationship, let him or her “come around” to classical music. Eventually, with the right kind of gentle exposure, most people do.)

    This is most important for men dating (or living with) classical musicians who are women: the standard cultural unwritten rule is that women are “interrupt-able,” while the accepted cultural unwritten rule is that men shouldn’t be interrupted. This is bunk. Pure bunk. Women hate being interrupted as much as men do, but we tend to be nice about it in order to preserve harmony in a relationship. Don’t interrupt anyone who is practicing mid phrase. Wait until s/he breathes or stops before asking important questions like, “have you seen my keys?”

  9. Despite their superb sense of timing & rhythm, don’t ever expect a musician to be able to dance!

  10. Our marriage is a lucky one: I’m a singer (and former cellist), and he’s a garage rock drummer. Best of both worlds!

    The first rule of Clapping Club: YOU DO NOT CLAP BETWEEN MOVEMENTS IN CLAPPING CLUB. Just so we’re clear on that.

    Brush up on your math skills and buy a decent blazer. You WILL work a ticket table.

    If you are affiliated with a singer:
    –Make sure bottles with properly secure caps are around all the time. Everywhere. Especially in the car and anywhere near a bag with music in it.
    –Just get used to finding half-full bottles of water around. Everywhere. Especially in the car and anywhere near a bag with music in it.
    –It doesn’t matter how appreciative you are. Don’t ever watch us practice or make comments of any kind referring to said practice. EXCEPTION: if someone other than your partner wins a solo, it is acceptable to submit a post-concert comment such as “It was okay, I guess, but I really liked the way it sounded when you were practicing it before the audition. Their loss.”
    –Half the closet WILL be black. It doesn’t matter how many items of black clothing are in there; the appropriate one will either never be clean or does not exist (and hence must be purchased two hours before onstage warmups).
    –You know those noises that guinea pigs make? They’re called “wheeks.” Get used to hearing them emanate from your non-guinea pig partner at random junctures.
    –We know exactly how long it takes for us to get to our Sunday morning church jobs… on our own. Do not attempt to mess with that schedule and/or any associated assumptions. We don’t care that you didn’t shave. Just stay in bed.
    –Being able to pick your partner out of a choir is not actually a good thing, so for god’s sake don’t be gleeful about it, no matter how perfect we sounded.
    –What happens in the post-rehearsal complaint session STAYS in the post-rehearsal complaint session. When you finally meet a nice lady named Sheila who turns out to be that hateful soprano bitch who messes up her entrances RIGHT IN YOUR PARTNER’S GODDAMNED EAR ALL THE TIME, smile politely and say, “How nice to meet you.” Then shut up.

  11. Heh, heh, heh. Thanks, Alex for an amusing summary of the difficulties of being a composer! Try living in Mexico and trying to escape the ubiquitous salsa and cumbia music.

  12. Christian Atanasiu says:

    This list applies to professional musicians, specifically string players. Brass, Wind, and Percussion players are a different breed, and although most of this information may carry over, apply any and all of this advice AT YOUR OWN RISK!

    A Basic Guide to Dating and/or Living with a Professional String Player (or Other Musician)

    1) Do not expect the completion manual labor at any time. Furniture and appliances will be handled by paid movers or friends generous enough to lend a hand in return for both food and alcohol, never by said musician. Chores, home repairs, or simply menial tasks can and will be classified as “manual labor” should they seem unappealing to aforementioned musician.

    2) Do not expect to snuggle up in bed as soon as said musician arrives home following a performance. They will need at least 60-90 minutes of “winding down” time before they will be sufficiently relaxed. This applies whether you live 200 yards from the concert hall, or 200 miles. Decompression only begins following any and all travel required to return home ( wherever it is you hang your hat ).

    3) Do not expect primary attention status in the weeks preceding a major audition, concert, or other career-influencing event.These events are the result of many hours of hard work, and require a great degree of both preparation and confidence to successfully affront. (see rule 3, subsection a)

    3.a) Do not argue with or distract said musician from their preparations as “payback”, “neediness”, or “punishment” for their lack of attention. This cannot be overstated. All concerns, discussions, fights, or other such confrontations that may arise during this period should be put off until after said event. (see Rule 4, Subsection a)

    4) Do understand that you will be expected to keep track of and know colleagues and associates, as well as relevant gossip relating to the specific area/market in which said musician lives. This will be relevant both when being introduced to colleagues as a significant other ( a.k.a. being “in the know” ), and when said musician feels the need to gossip. The field is small, and you are expected to avoid potentially embarrassing situations involving friends or acquaintances of the person about whom gossip is being exchanged. (see Rule 4, Subsection a).

    4.a) When in doubt, remain silent.

    5) Do understand that inconvenience is part of the job. The busier and more successful aforementioned musician becomes, the less convenient his schedule will be. (see Rule 5, Subsections a, b )

    5.a) Said musician may spend weeks at a time touring. This is not a burden, but a mark of success (which may at times weigh heavily on both aforementioned musician and their significant other).
    5.b) Said musician may perform at inconvenient times. These will include weekday afternoons, weekend evenings, major holidays, and most times at which an [otherwise] gainfully employed person would otherwise be at home. The aforementioned musician’s schedule is based around the free time available to the vast majority of the population, both in regards to potential teaching and performance.

    6) Please understand that practice time and space is sacred. In addition to the inconvenient schedules mentioned in [Rule 5], said musician will need to constantly maintain his professional performance level through repetition of (often) unattractive noise. This may include, but is not limited to : scales, arpeggios, repeated notes, tonal and attack exercises, position changes, slides, screeches, howls, warbles, grunts, yowls, and assorted jibber-jabber. Music is only made for a small fraction of practice time. (see Rule 6, Subsection a)

    6.a) Should you be privileged ( and fortunate ) enough to witness the study of actual repertoire, understand that this involves the tedious repetition of “snippets” or “fragments” of music. Should you feel the need to comment about the practicing techniques or methodology employed, please once again refer to [Rule 4, Subsection a].

    Should you come upon a situation for which this guide has not prepared you, please refer to the failsafe mechanism of [Rule 4, Subsection a]

    Good Luck, and Godspeed!

  13. The only essential advice for anyone who may be contemplating kissing a female oboist: DON’T!

    • I’m a female oboist and like to be kissed!

    • Yes, but speaking of female oboists, it’s Important to remember here that Ariana Ghez, Principal Oboe of LAPhil, was named by Playboy as one of the 9 “sexiest babes in classical music” in their 2009 article “Too Hot to Handel”. Not a stellar piece of journalism, true, but she was the only wind player on the list.

      Also named were Netrebko, de Niese, Leila Jesofowicz, Janine Jansen, Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer and Anne-Sophie Mutter, who was heralded as a MILF.

      I think the article got so much flack that they finally took it down.

    • Hey now. You have a problem with kissing females who have supreme control over their lips?

  14. !. When your musician is with other musicians, they will talk, seemingly incessantly, about music. Even if the conversation starts out about something else, it will eventually be about performances, conductors, recordings, etc, etc. You won’t be able to control this.
    2, When your instrumentalist is with his/her colleagues, they will talk about their instrument — performers, makers, who plays what, etc. etc.
    3. Accept that he/she has odd eating habits before a performance. After the concert is the best time to eat.
    4. The house will have stacks of music everywhere.
    5. You will go to more concerts than movies.
    6. Do not wave your hands or tap your feet at concerts!

    • Be careful while listening to a CD together. Try to remain quiet, as otherewise you may be accused of things you couldn’t possibly anticipate, such as “you are singing the inner voices!” :-0

  15. Mezzo section leader/soloist here, married to bass who gets to “hide” in the choir:
    1. It is sweet when you ask if I’d like food, drink, shoes shined etc. while I’m getting ready. If you are calling out from 3 rooms or one floor away, do not expect an answer. If I forget and try to answer and you couldn’t understand, please don’t ask me to repeat.
    2. If I’m getting dressed for performance and you’re a lovely audience member, don’t ask what you should wear. I will forget to pack my extra pair of black hose that will certainly be needed that day.
    3. If I’m napping before singing, don’t ask if I need anything.
    4. If we drive together to rehearse/perform, I will be making odd or loud or high sounds in a small space. Opening the windows is not allowed – yep – not even then. Just don’t do it.
    5. Please don’t listen to phone messages in the room when I’m trying to find the damn wandering tonal center in the new acapella piece. Those people are never in the same key.
    6. Thank you for: a) not trying to rescue me when it sounds like I’m loudly drowning in the shower. b) 20+ years of weekly dates of driving 30 min. to town (see #4), sitting 20′ apart for 2 hours, and driving 30 min. back. These after-singing drinks now that we don’t have a babysitter/children to get back to are a lovely development.

  16. Well, it’s a proven fact Brass players are fantastic in bed, due mostly to their explosively well developed Embouchures.

    • Yes, but if you’re dating a horn player you might wonder why he keeps trying to put his hand up your dress while he’s kissing you.

  17. So if you love a musician you should behave like a deferential muse? Some of these requirements seem rather precious! How about a general principle of fair and mutual consideration?

    • @Johanna says, “So if you love a musician you should behave like a deferential muse? ”

      Absolutely, deferential at all times, otherwise you risk facing wrath. :-0

      Even if you yourself are a musician, do not take offense at being told how to dress in order to sit in the audience and listen (with rapturous appreciation of course) to them play. Don’t even take offense at flowers that have been dictated for you to wear in your hair. The ensemble may be intended to make a good impression on the Conductor and guest artists when you are brought to the Green Room afterward to meet them.

  18. How I laughed at all the comments, so true!!!
    I have written about the whole musician/relationship thing many times, a few insights here: The music, travel, creativity, that sort of thing.
    After many years together I can honestly say the only way to cope with living with a musician is to love what they do… Because they do it a lot!!

  19. Ranulph Leadbetter says:

    As a percussionist, we’re pretty easy going in relationships as long as there’s plenty of banging.

  20. Cellist married to Trumpet-Player/Composer/Conductor:

    Me: Please, please, please don’t enter the room and stand behind me, waiting for me to pause so that you can ask me a question while I’m practicing. I am not going to pause, except to curse when I mess up the fingering and/or bowing.

    As far as my husband goes, I’ve had to accept that no interpretation of a piece anywhere, at any time, by any other conductor is the correct interpretation of said piece of music, unless husband says so himself, in which case it is best not to disagree.

  21. richard hertz says:

    this actually makes musicians seem like terrible and high maintenance people to date.

    heaven forbid someone wants to keep work and life seperate. also – it seems like composers would be better off with japanese sex pillows, so that no one will do anything to bother them ever.

    • William Safford says:

      Well, there are high maintenance aspects to what we do.

      A year or two ago, I was carrying boxes at my parents’ house for them, when I pulled a muscle in my right hand.

      A week or two later, that muscle went into spasm in the middle of an audition. Scratch that audition. :-(

      I mentioned this to my cousin, a violinist. She told me never to do anything like that again before an audition, major concert, etc. She talked to me about the importance of protecting my body against anything that could impede my ability to perform.

      Live and learn.

  22. Cinde Campbell says:

    How about the classic conductor’s beg-off–”Before, they won’t. After, they can’t”. I found it to be true.

  23. Be good at making sandwiches.

  24. Chances are, music is more important to them than you are…and that’s how it always will be. Don’t ever take that personally and just accept it =p

    • William Safford says:

      The flip side: many people do not take music seriously as a profession or career, and do not take musicians and their efforts seriously, implicitly or explicitly.

      Would someone expect a doctor to blow off his appointments, or a police officer not to show up to work, or any professional to skip required professional development courses? Of course not.

      Yet some people may think nothing of asking a musician to skip practicing, blow off a rehearsal or concert, etc.

    • And heaven help you if you don’t always pay obeisance to their talent. You need even more help if they consider your gifts a threat to theirs. In that case, don’t even bother.

  25. Bill Berger says:

    Do not ever start any conversation with … “I know you don’t like this kind of music …”

  26. If a non-musician dates a musician/singer who’s actively rehearsing and performing, or a music journalist, the biggest adjustment for the non-m is the realization that it’s not 9-5 gig like the business world — our lives are 12-12 on average, with lots of schedule changes. To someone in the daily corporate world, the idea of someone working at night is a shock, then it becomes a bone of contention. I can only realistically date someone in the performing/creative arts because of this.

  27. 1-6) Please, be excited about 300-year-old obscure Italian operas. Or at least, you know, don’t laugh too hard.

  28. As an addendum to the above, dating a musical genius has additional hazards. It requires not wearing a watch at all.

  29. Barbara Maria Rathbone says:

    If you have a very liberal temperament, a permanently skewed circadian rhythm and do your own thing on your own, most of the time, you may just be fine. There will be a lot of washing-up and moving of heavy objects/furniture etc. If you are a parent, you are the nanny.

    If, when you hear the music everything is wonderful, wonderful; if it isn’t, you have found yourself in the First Circle.

  30. Sam McElroy says:

    Reading all of the above with much amusement, I can only conclude that I have struck it lucky! There is only one golden rule imposed on me by my rather musical partner: no hanky-panky on stage, when an audience is present.

  31. Diane Lipartito says:

    Yes, as someone said previously, don’t even bother to ask a musician why they are doing it if it doesn’t make them happy. That’s just silly. Likewise, DO NOT say, “if you are not feeling well” or “not up to it, just skip the rehearsal today.” How ridiculous is THAT ?

    If you are living with a bassoonist expect to find reed shavings, little pieces of brass wire and tiny scraps of sandpaper tracked all over the house. Assume something similar from an oboist, no doubt, but probably not as bad.

    And, constant reassurance. Be prepared to give it regularly and in large doses, particularly after an off night.

    Take advantage of the evening and day after an exceptionally good performance (in the musician’s mind only, of course). It will remind you why, after all the other stuff, you are still with this person and help you get through all the other evenings and days. Please remember to stock up.

  32. So many good comments!

    I trained my SO early on how to speak to a musician following a performance: “You sounded great except there was that one part…but don’t worry, nobody noticed.” Voila, instant musical expert and supportive partner.

    Now to train the children after getting this feedback on my opera chorus audition preparations: “Mommy, why are you SCREAMING?”

  33. It could be mentioned that when it comes to relationships, all sopranos are ‘dramatic” ones ;)

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