A rousing trip through the solar system, making a new friend — and finally getting to meet one for the first time

I had quite a day Sunday. After church and lunch with Kay, I traveled to Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (no jokes, please) and Neptune, in that order.

And somehow, I made it home by 5 p.m.

Before I embarked on my journey through our solar system, one I’d made once before (or was it twice?), I started chatting with a guy near me. He asked which planet I liked best, saying he bet he could guess. I told him I liked all of them, so it was a tough choice. He said his favorite was Jupiter – although he’d never made this trip in person – and I told him that would probably have to be mine too.

By the time he, several hundred other people and I returned from our trip two hours later, he told me how much Jupiter had moved him. I told him the more I experience Venus, the more I love it too.

Some of you may be completely thrown by this, but others probably have it figured out. We didn’t time-travel into the future and board a spacecraft that ferried us to those planets.

Courtesy of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and the late English composer Gustav Holst, we were treated to “The Planets,” the seven-movement suite that’s one of the most powerful, beautiful and moving pieces of classical music ever written.

At the conclusion of “The Planets,” the audience gave a standing ovation to the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and members of the Women of Voices of Fort Worth and Wesleyan Women’s Chorus of Texas Wesleyan University, who sang beautifully in the “Neptune” final movement.

And from this lover of the genre who feels like he’s barely scratched the surface of it in his 61 years, that assessment is saying something.

I became a classical music fan early in high school, after I’d been playing the clarinet since seventh grade. But I wasn’t introduced to this brilliant work until my friend Mark, whom I’d known since our freshman year at Conroe High, gave me an LP of “The Planets” for Christmas 1979 in my first year of college at Texas A&M, where he’d arrived a year ahead of me. I played the heck out of that record and many others, including “The Best of Bread” and my roommate Douglas’ favorite, Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall.”

“The Planets” is so magical and majestic, with so many intricate parts, that I feel like every time I hear it, I pick up something new. That was the case Sunday when the FWSO performed it flawlessly under the baton of former conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who left the orchestra in 2020 after 20 years. The final 50 minutes of the concert, after intermission, were devoted to “The Planets,” which Holst composed between 1914 and 1917.

Even though Kay isn’t a big fan of classical music, she’s come to several concerts with me over the years. Our two kids have, too, but that was when they were little, and there would be no dragging them to one now.

Since there were less than a handful of the cheapest seats ($25) left – and no two together – when I decided at the last minute to go, I went by myself. As it turned out, there were empty seats on either side of me, and I sat in the second row from the top on the right side of the mezzanine at the Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth.

The fellow I mentioned, David Ross, sat two seats to my left, and he was engaging company before the concert, at intermission and afterward. He’d lived in Dallas for years but recently moved to Gainesville north of Dallas and drove in for the concert. He’d not only never been to the Bass or seen the FWSO – he’d also never seen “The Planets” performed in person. Like me, that’s what he came for, but he also wanted to see the first piece on the program, Bach’s “Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor,” which I wasn’t familiar with.

The trumpeting angels on the north-facing side of the Bass Hall, which opened 24 years ago this month in downtown Fort Worth.

Now that I’ve heard “Passacaglia,” I can’t believe I hadn’t before. It’s enchanting and one I’ve already saved a couple of versions of on my laptop. Written for organ like Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue,” which most people are familiar with because of its association with Halloween and scary themes, several composers have done orchestrations of it. The one the FWSO performed was by Ottorino Respighi, best-known for his “Pines of Rome” and “Fountains of Rome.”

I learned that David, who plays organ and piano and was a music major at the University of Texas in the ‘70s but didn’t make a career of it, spent time decades ago singing with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra chorus.

Then, during the 20-minute intermission, I was stunned to find out that when he was working as an investment banker in New York in the late ‘70s, David befriended the famed American composer Samuel Barber – who wrote “Adagio for Strings,” among many others – and studied with him in his Fifth Avenue apartment. David even played on Barber’s grand piano, which belonged to Sergei Rachmaninoff, and I’m sure everyone knows who he is. I stood in amazement as David told me of his friendship with Barber.

We’re extremely lucky in North Texas to have two remarkable symphonies in the FWSO and the DSO. I’ve seen the DSO more than the FWSO in the past 15 years – even though, living in southwest Arlington it’s much more convenient to get to the Bass Hall, and the tickets are generally less expensive.

David gave me his email and we plan to stay in touch – and he hopes to follow me here and I hope to catch up with him on Quora, which I know zilch about.

As enjoyable as Sunday’s concert was, it was just one of my two uplifting outings the past two days.

Monday morning, I was eager to get together for breakfast with Karl Bowman, a friend I’ve known only since December 2020 – and only through Facebook and texts. We met when a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram colleague of mine and friend to both of us, Mitch Mitchell, passed away and Karl and I commented on a family post about him.

They’d met when Mitch interviewed Karl about his cousin Paul, who was murdered in 2008, his wife a suspect but never arrested. Mitch stayed in touch with Karl over the years. I worked with Mitch only for about a year at the S-T. Karl speaks of Mitch, who had a smile and a laugh for everyone, in the most reverent of terms.

Karl and I ended up exchanging messages and then became FB friends. We’ve kept in touch and then exchanged phone numbers a few months ago. Finally, we recently set up a breakfast date – and since we both live in Arlington, it was a cinch.

Karl Bowman and I had a wonderful visit and a tasty breakfast at First Watch on Cooper Street in South Arlington. I’d never been there, but I told Kay that I don’t know how we’ve missed this place for the several years it’s been around!

We had a great visit. I already knew what an interesting guy Karl is … but wow. Just meeting him in person and listening to him talk about his life – one he calls weird but I call interesting – was over 90 minutes enthusiastically well-spent. We needed to squeeze it in this week because he’s having left rotator cuff surgery in a week.

Karl has lots of stories to share – both from real life and from his dreams. He’s amazed me with his posts about his dreams, which he manages to wake up and take down in vivid and exact detail. And they are just so darn fascinating. As I told him, I’ve never known anyone who had such elaborate dreams AND who was able to remember them down to every minuscule fragment the way he can. At breakfast, he told me about memorable dreams he had years ago. I find that extraordinary.

For years, Karl, a guitarist, and some buddies had a band called The Gash that played venues around the Dallas area. From what he told me, they played an eclectic mix of music – rock and several others. His wife, Jenny, joined a later iteration of the band called The Spindizzies, singing vocals. They recorded a few CDs, made some music videos and, from what it sounds like, had an awesome time making music.

Karl also told me about how he and Jenny met: His band got a gig to play at a party for her birthday and they ended up hitting it off. They’ve been married 35 years and have a son and daughter, 33 and 31. How cool is that?

Speaking of music, Karl has a famous family connection – but, sadly, one who died of COVID-19 in March 2020, just as the pandemic began. Country music star Joe Diffie, who had five No. 1 songs and a slew of others that made the charts, was Karl’s cousin. I loved seeing that he wore a Joe Diffie shirt to our breakfast. Joe, an Oklahoma native, was just 61 when he died in Nashville.

Karl, who’s retired, spent 38 years working in the audiovisual world and is a man of many talents. Plus, he’s a loving dad, super-smart, kindhearted – and a longtime subscriber to The Dallas Morning News (whoop!), where I’ve worked for 22-plus years. I’m so glad we’re friends.

Like he said, although it took the death of a wonderful man – our friend Mitch – for fate to open the door to our friendship, it’s something to be grateful for. Of course, I’d rather Mitch were still with us, in which case I most certainly would never have known Karl.

More often than not, life unfolds in the most uncanny of ways, doesn’t it?


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