Publisher's Pick: Gala highlights the language of love — with a twist

When a popular holiday lands near my Wednesday column publication date, I am relieved and thrilled. The holiday theme frees me from the dreaded weekly quest for a relevant column topic, and it's great fun to be able to connect the holiday to a community happening or event that inspires a column.

Call me "One Lucky Guy" this week.

Last Saturday, I attended the annual Valentine gala benefit for Choral Arts Ensemble, billed as "the greatest date night in Rochester." I won't dispute that claim.

"A Singing Valentine" was an evening of romance in the air, a delicious candlelit dinner, a myriad of artful hearts dangling from the ceiling, handsomely dressed couples enjoying a concert of love songs and poetry. Many of the women wore valentine red. Who doesn't admire a woman in a red dress?

Sheryl and I were seated with a convivial group of romantics, including Allie and Andy Good, Carol and Peter Carryer, and Vikki and Bruce Wolff. Andy was the emcee urging folks to have a good time and to bid up-and-often on a wondrous array of silent auction items to benefit the ensemble.


Music and lyrics

The music, sung either a cappella or with grand piano accompanists, was as grand as you would expect. Yet, it was the touch of poetry woven throughout the tapestry of the program that inspired and amused. Seldom is poetry recited publicly and as effectively as within this concert.

Rick Kvam is the beloved founder and artistic director of Choral Arts Ensemble. His talent to deliver several poetic recitations from memory and interpreted with passion is enviable. Others from the ensemble also shared in recitations between musical selections.

I have to confess it was tenor Andrew Johnsrud who stole the poetic show. Andrew delivered the Ogden Nash poem, "To My Valentine" with bemused and charming aplomb, and ended kneeling before his wife, Jessica, to recite the last verse.

Ogden Nash? I had not thought of one of America's most accomplished writers of light verse for a very, very long time. Nash (1902-1971) applied his love of language to poems, stories and lyrics. A "versifier" who invented and misspelled words to create unexpected rhymes, Nash's fables on human foibles delight, inspire and enlighten.

How could I forget the author of the classic "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker"? Or the obtusely amusing, "If called by a panther, don't anther"?

In hearing "To My Valentine," I at once adored this poem. It goes directly against all of the usual rules of Valentine's Day sentiments. Instead of utilizing the pleasant and sweet notions we often associate with love, Nash relates the verses to things one would consider "unpleasant notions." Yet, Nash spins the unpleasantries in such a way as to still get the meaning of love across.

"To My Valentine" is cited as a first-rate, mud-in-the-face twist on the standard love poem. I must offer it here for your hoped-for enjoyment:


More than a catbird hates a cat,

Or a criminal hates a clue,

Or the Axis hates the United States,

That's how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,

And more than a grapefruit squirts,

I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,

And more than a toothache hurts.


As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,

Or a juggler hates a shove,

As a hostess detests unexpected guests,

That's how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,

And more than the subway jerks,

I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,

And more than a hangnail irks.


(At this point of his recitation, Andrew knelt before Jessica.)

I swear to you by the stars above,

And below, if such there be,

As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,

That's how much you're loved by me.

— Ogden Nash

Not just for Valentine's Day

The Choral Arts Ensemble is not yet done with love. The next concert, "Love and Other Tempests," is performed twice over the weekend of March 9-10 at Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester.


The concert features selections from Brahms and Minnesota composer Dominick Argento, as well as several shorter works, both light-hearted and dramatic, from Renaissance madrigals to Broadway love songs.

For more information about the upcoming Choral Arts Ensemble concert series, go to and search by keywords "Choral Arts Ensemble."

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