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Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
KSO blogger Andy
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I haven’t mentioned this in the blog even though it was revealed in September, but you surely must have heard that Maestro Lucas Richman has decided to step down as Music Director of the KSO. There has been a lot to write about, and it didn’t seem appropriate to include this news as a mere side item to a subject on which I was writing. In better words than I can summon, here is Lucas in a press release video talking about his announcement.

The KSO has been fortunate to have Lucas Richman as its seventh Music Director for these last eleven years. I have found the maestro to be a winning combination of personable, knowledgeable and approachable. During his tenure here the orchestra has thrived in new areas, such as Music and Wellness and dramatic collaborations. The orchestra's budget has been in the black for six consecutive years, almost unheard of in these times and in this field. Concurrent with that has been his own personal successes in the commercial music realm. The GRAMMY award he won a couple years back is now accompanied by acknowledgment for his contribution to Golden Globe-winning film Behind the Candelabra, the Liberace biopic that premiered on May 21, 2013 at the Cannes Film Festival, then on HBO five days later.

Lucas was in LA some time in 2012 when this film was being made, and was asked to step in for Marvin Hamlisch conducting parts of the score to this film. Marvin was ill, and passed shortly thereafter. Lucas conducted what would've been Marvin's last appearance, and therefore is in the credits for his involvement. Here is Lucas’ account of the experience in the studio, and his words to the Pittsburgh Symphony audience at a Pops concert there in September of 2012 where he stepped in– again–  for the late Marvin Hamlisch.


At the beginning of August in 2012, I was in Los Angeles to lead the 15th installment of my BMI seminar, Conducting for the Film Composer.  We had also scheduled the first live performance of Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project on August 3rd with an orchestra and chorus made up of incredible professional musicians who were all donating their services in order to raise over $120,000 for Haiti relief.  I received a phone call on the morning of August 2nd (the one rehearsal for the concert was to be held that evening) from my dear friend, David Low, who asked if I could get myself to Warner Bros. studio in order to conduct a whole day of recording sessions.  It turned out that the sessions were for the pre-records on an HBO film entitled, Behind the Candelabra, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.  Marvin Hamlisch had done the arrangements and had even written a new song for the movie—but he was in the hospital and was unable to lead the sessions.  Pianist Randy Kerber was featured in these recordings reproducing, with incredible facility and dexterity, many of the original tunes as recorded and played by Liberace.  Later on, during the film’s shooting, Michael Douglas, as Liberace, would pretend to be playing the piano to these pre-recorded tracks.  Coincidentally, Marvin had also been one of the 25 contributing composers to the musical woven thread that had become Symphony of Hope, so my day and evening was touched by Marvin’s musical magic.

At the end of the day’s sessions (before I ran downtown for rehearsal), I asked the film’s music supervisor if he would pass on our best wishes to Marvin for a speedy recovery.  He had said, of course, that he would be happy to do that but, as these things go, he ultimately was unable to deliver the message.  Unbeknownst to all of us, I had just inadvertently conducted the last recording session that Marvin, himself, was ever scheduled to do—because, sadly, he passed away over the weekend.  At the time, I was unaware of this until the following Tuesday when, back in Knoxville, I received a phone call from Bob Moir, Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  He informed me of Marvin’s passing and asked if I would do them the honor of stepping in for Marvin that September in order to open the PSO’s Pops season on four concerts with Matthew Morrison (from the T.V. show, Glee).

The following are the remarks I said to the audience on that weekend in September, as we were all still reeling from the aftershocks of Marvin’s passing:

Good afternoon and welcome to the PNC Pops with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  I’m Lucas Richman and I’ve got some very big shoes to fill—a huge void created by the tragic loss of our dear friend, Marvin Hamlisch.  I had the honor of conducting for him several times when he would be at the piano playing music from his various projects, such as his first film, The Swimmer.  The stage set-up you see here has affectionately become known as the “Marvin position” because of the many musical moments over the years that he led from this very piano.  We miss you Marvin.

Marvin was already a well-known award-winning composer, songwriter and musician when he came to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.  But this was where he began as a principal pops conductor, a post he maintained and loved for 17 seasons with the PSO.  Marvin may have been a New Yorker, but he often said that Pittsburgh was his second home because he loved this city, this wonderful orchestra, the people here and, you, the audience.  I think that Marvin touched more people with his music than even he realized because everyone here seems to have a story about him.  When I was being brought here the other day from the airport, the driver told me about a time when he was in a restaurant and, when he went to the Men’s room, he realized that Marvin Hamlisch was there.  The driver knew that it might be uncomfortable to shake hands at that point but, somehow, he wanted to let Marvin know how much he appreciated his music.  So, as the two men were standing there, facing the wall, the driver cleared his throat…and began to sing.  “Memories, like the corners of my mind,” to which Marvin responded (as only Marvin could), “Thank you, sir…that’s one memory I will never forget.”
5 months ago | |
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The KSO will be performing on the Night With the Arts in Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sunday Jan. 19th at 6:00 p.m. at the Bijou. This annually presented event will diverge from its usual concert format and feature a drama of conversion entitled The Greatness Within, written by Sherineta Morrison. The orchestra will partly be in a supporting role for the actors of Ms Morrison's Sché Productions, the company presenting the drama. TGW is sprinkled with classic soul numbers such as Lean on Me, Billie Holiday’s timeless God Bless the Child, and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

Also incorporated into the drama will be Åse’s Death from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, and the first movement of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons, with Associate Concertmaster Gordon Tsai as soloist, and interpretive dance by Brittany Woodfin. The Celebration Choir under the direction of Aaron Staples will add their unique gospel touch with some classic spirituals.

And now for something completely different, the KSO’s new “Q Series” will take a trip out west to the American Piano Gallery, 11651 Parkside Dr, Farragut, for another eclectic chamber music program, Thursday night at 7 p.m. The Woodwind Quintet will present music of John R. Barrows, Irving Fine, (Maryville native) Jennifer Higdon, and Endre Szervánszky, after which the Principal String Quartet will finish with Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Joining in the Higdon and Schumann will be pianist Emi Kagawa.

Both of these concerts are FREE OF CHARGE and show off the musicians of the KSO in non-traditional ways. Hope to see you at one or both.
6 months ago | |
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This week we are pleased to host guest conductor Sean Newhouse for our Masterworks production, “Strauss for the New Year.” Two works by Johann Strauss II bookend the program, with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A and Tchaikovsky’s Suite from The Sleeping Beauty as the major offerings.

Maestro Newhouse is one of the new breed of sought-after conductors, a product of the Eastman School, the Cleveland Institute, Tanglewood, and Aspen. I admire his focus, his energy, and his ability to feel at home with an orchestra that he essentially knows nothing about.

If you don’t watch the Vienna Philharmonic on TV on New Year’s Day, you are missing one of the great “feel-good” classical experiences. The city that embodies the spirit of the waltz fields a team of happy, smiling virtuosi playing in a style and spirit through which you can almost taste the champagne. Other orchestras who do broadcasts on that holiday never quite match the VPO’s joie de vivre. We will definitely be channeling that spirit via Maestro Newhouse.

As awesome as Strauss’ waltzes are, I feel the need to put in a good word for Tchaikovsky as a waltz composer. The Russian Waltz is a different animal than the Viennese Waltz; a more straightforward and meaty affair. Whereas Strauss goes for lilt and charm eight bars at a time, Tchaikovsky’s waltzes (usually from ballet tableaux) have long, arching phrases that drive to robust conclusions. As examples, recall the three waltzes from the Nutcracker and the ones featured in the suites from Swan Lake and (this week) Sleeping Beauty. On our concerts this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre, the Sleeping Beauty waltz will be immediately followed by Strauss’ Emperor Waltz, allowing for a very interesting comparison of the two styles.
6 months ago | |
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Well, winter sure is here. Pipes, noses, and school buses are freezing all around us. One man, concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz, is determined to warm things up with a pair of performances at Remedy Coffee in the Old City, this Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7. Gabe and pianist Kevin Class will be collaborating on three French hens– er, works; Chausson’s Poème, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, and Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor, with violist Katy Gawne and cellist yours truly joining in the Fauré.

The Chausson and the Saint-Saëns works are the two most well-known short French works for violin and orchestra (orchestra = Kevin Class). Both works are technically demanding and brilliantly colorful. Chausson’s work, from 1896, is steeped in the impressionistic musical language that swept through France in the late 19th and early 20th century. Although the Saint-Saëns work is from 1863, somewhat before the onset of impressionism, Saint-Saëns is often falsely grandfathered in with the impressionists solely because of his Frenchness. People of a certain age will notice that the theme of the Rondo closely resembles the old Andy Williams hit I Will Wait for You.

A noteworthy segue to the concert’s finale is that Fauré studied composition with Saint-Saëns, and succeeded him as organist at the Église de la Madeleine. This was no mean feat, considering Franz Liszt had called Saint-Saëns “the greatest organist in the world.” Fauré’s music, like Chausson’s, is impressionistic, but whereas Chausson, Ravel, Debussy, and many other impressionists can often sound confusingly similar and (I hate to use this term for music that is 100 years old) “modern,” Fauré’s unique musical language still has its feet in the Romantic era.

I have been looking forward to the Fauré since the last time I played it. The “goose-bump factor” is very high throughout for me, with so many patiently unfolding melodies, warm harmonies, and surprise endings. The second movement (of four) Scherzo is absolutely charming and impish; if we were in Maine, we would have to describe it as “cunning.” The third movement Adagio, in contrast, is a rich, somber funeral march cut from the same cloth as his Élégie for cello.

Stay warm... and Vive la France!
6 months ago | |
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Phew! My Christmas trip ended yesterday as I was able to fly out of a snowy Manchester, NH airport, connect at a dry and snow-free Philadelphia airport and land at a snowy McGhee-Tyson Field. I had the distinct (?) honor of driving in snow in both New Hampshire and Tennessee in the same day. It was great to see family, play in the snow, and ring in the new year in frigid Portland, Maine with a very good old friend who used to live in Knoxville. Now, of course, it is time to hit the ground running, with a busier-than-ever January offering SEVEN different performances with wildly varied content. 
The first concerts, less than a week away, will be at Remedy Coffee in the Old City next Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7:00. Concertmaster Gabe Lefkowitz and friends will perform an all-French program, with two timeless solo violin works (Chausson’s Poème and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso) followed by a staple of the piano quartet literature, Fauré’s C-minor piano quartet. Saturday night the KSO will host the music of ABBA as performed by Arrival at the Civic Auditorium.
Our January Masterworks series on January 16 and 17 at the Tennessee Theatre will call to mind New Year’s Waltzin’ Eve in Vienna with guest conductor Sean Newhouse leading us through music by Tchaikovsky (Sleeping Beauty Suite), a Mozart piano concerto (K. 488 in A, with guest pianist Louis Schwizgebel), and a selection of Strauss waltzes and his Overture to Die Fledermaus. That Sunday, the 19th, the FREE concert in Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Will take place at the Bijou Theatre at 6:00, featuring fine local gospel voices.
Carrying on without a comma, the new Q Series featuring the Woodwind Quintet and the Principal String Quartet will occur at American Piano Gallery in Turkey Creek, on Thursday January 23. The Principal Quartet’s offering will be Schumann’s timeless Piano Quintet, op. 44, with pianist Emi Kagawa. I regret that I don’t at this writing know the Woodwind Quintet’s repertoire, but one of them is going to “send me an owl” with that information. 
Are we done yet? Heck no! On Sunday the 26th at the Bijou, the Chamber Classics series will resume with an all-Mozart show, featuring principal flutist Ebonee Thomas as soloist in Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G. January’s last performance will be a new venture, again in the Old City, as the Principal Quartet will be featured at Boyd’s Jig and Reel in a special event called “Scotch and Strings,” with Gabe Lefkowitz emceeing.
We knew that this season’s Clayton Holiday Concerts were something special, but only when the smoke cleared did we know just how special. A Facebook post by the KSO’s Director of Finance, Mike Greiner, alerted me to the fact that this year’s Claytons were the “highest-selling single-ticket event in the KSO’s history.” I was a little concerned beforehand, since the News-Sentinel write-up for these concerts was not on page 1 of their Living section like usual, but way inside on page 6. My concerns were obviously unfounded. Again, thanks to the community for such wonderful support!
6 months ago | |
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I have to put in my two cents worth here, that this year’s Clayton Holiday Concerts are truly unforgettable. A wide variety of acts are interacting very intricately, and the pacing is captivating. When the Scottish Medley sequence on the first half ends (with a reel called Christmas Eve that isn’t listed on the program), it is just thrilling to know that a diverse collection of musicians and dancers such as us know exactly when that final downbeat is. The music keeps us on our toes and I dare say it makes you tap yours.

Four Leaf Peat with the KSO and Knoxville Choral Society
The bagpipe is as iconic an instrument as there can be. We are blessed to share the stage with Tracy Wilson, a gifted piper who teaches music at Dandridge Elementary School. Come to find out, he is related to Terry Wilson, music director at First United Methodist Church in Maryville! I remember playing First church’s Christmas services my first year in town here. As I recall, since I was new in town, I got a little lost and a railroad crossing caused me to just barely squeak in in time that Sunday. They also were VERY forthcoming with refreshments, and that became a deciding factor in later years on choosing which Christmas gigs to bring our children to. Lol.

Tracy Wilson (left) with Knoxville Pipes and Drums members
Another lol-worthy situation has occurred, wherein I have written up a dancer who is not actually involved with the performances we are doing. The link to the Maryville Daily Times article from my last post was certainly interesting reading, but not exactly relevant. We have on the stage with us an award-winning Highland dancer, Knoxville’s own Claire Macmillan. She is nationally ranked in her field of specialty, much as Tracy Wilson is in his.

Claire Macmillan
An interesting collaboration from October has reappeared, as the Hannukah Fantasy once again teams Lucas Richman with pianist Jeffrey Biegel as co-arrangers. Mr. Biegel, as you remember, was the soloist in the premiere of Lucas’ piano concerto. Maestro Richman also has his hand in other arrangements, such as the Singalong and the music for Santa’s entrance. A really giant tip of the hat should go to Warren Clark, who arranged a great deal of the Celtic music we are reading off of this weekend. There are very few venues for which Warren has not arranged something. Ijams Park, Martin Luther King Birthday concert, Pops, runouts; he can create a soundscape out of the barest minimum of sources in a believable, readable, and sometimes humorous way.

I understand that the concerts were virtually sold out! We are very grateful with the response and are overjoyed to create memories for so many people. Have a cheery and safe holiday, Y’all!
7 months ago | |
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This weekend brings the twenty-somethingth annual Clayton Holiday Concerts to the Civic Auditorium! I believe the inaugural Clayton was my first season here, but now I’ve even lost track of that tally. Okay, twenty-eighth, says my abacus. This year’s shows will be given a Highlands treatment, with appearances by local specialists in all things Celtic. Go! Contemporary Dance Works, Boyd’s Jig and Reel house band Four Leaf Peat, Knoxville Pipes and Drums, and the Knoxville Choral Society will all “throw down” this Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3:00.

Go! Contemporary Dance Works has appeared with the KSO on numerous occasions, and you will be seeing dancers who are veterans of previous years’ Nutcrackers. It will be a treat to have fine ballet grace the Civic stage for the second time in three weeks. A quick stroll down Google Lane found this article in Maryville’s Daily Times about one Go! dancer’s experiences. The article isn’t about these concerts per se, but it’s still a very honest and engaging look into the ballet life.

Four Leaf Peat is the band you are most likely to want to hear if you are walking in the Old City craving a jig or a strathspey. Winners of the Del Rio Days’ Band Contest, the Peat have recently been seen at The Square Room, the Laurel Theatre, and Tennessee Shines, and they opened for Jean Redpath at the Rugby Village Festival in May. Their drummer, Jason Herrera, is also known to us Symphony players through his work as wigmaster for the Knoxville Opera Co. It’s always nice to see his smiling face at work!

I can’t picture a Clayton concert without the Knoxville Choral Society. I’m listening to them right now on their website. They have mellowed like fine wine under the watchful ear of Eric “Doc” Thorson, and the young artists’ competition that they endow is one of the essential young musicians’ contests in East Tennessee. Knoxville Pipes and Drums will bring it all home with the timeless sound of Celtic bagpiperie. You, the audience, will be featured in the singalong, and maybe... just maybe, tuba player Sande MacMorran will wear a kilt...
7 months ago | |
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As our Nutcracker run reaches the halfway mark for 2013, it bears mentioning that one of our players, 2nd trumpet Marc Simpson, has a daughter in the ballet! 13-year-old Julie Ann dances a soldier and a sugar-plum attendant in three different scenes, and has danced with Amy Morton Vaughan’s Appalachian Ballet Company for several years now. It is a source of great pride to create performing art with one’s child; it’s a pity, though, that the orchestra’s presence below the stage prevents seeing the action. Julie Ann’s eldest sister Valerie also danced in the Nutcracker in the late 90's. I am wracking my brain trying to remember if their have been other KSO players with children dancing the Nutcracker and have asked around; it may be that the Simpsons are unique in their participation. Anyone who knows otherwise should chime in, please!

In the pit for the Nutcracker this year there are several new players; bassoonists Aaron Apaza and Garrett McQueen, principal trumpet Chase Hawkins, and French horns Gray Ferris and Sean Donovan. Their assimilation into the sound of the orchestra has been quite seamless, and the new personalities within their individual sounds lend a new dimension to the characters to whom they link on stage. The remaining performances will be in Maryville at the Clayton Center for the Arts.

Another new feature of the Nutcracker this year is the presence of new parts to play from! If there were any bumps in the road to preparing the ballet this year, it was the correcting of some wrong notes, which inevitably get printed in a new edition, although the old edition was frighteningly inaccurate. I’ve been told that wrong notes in some editions are printed intentionally, so as to allow copyright extensions (I’m not totally clear on that). In any case, some of the old parts got recycled into parts to use on “run-outs” (like the one the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra is playing at the Athens City Middle School at 7:30 tomorrow night). I’ve included some artwork from these old parts. There have been some accomplished doodlers who have left their mark over the years during the inevitable downtime that occurs during rehearsals...

This rendition of former Concertmaster Marc Zelmanovich was done by a violist who has since left town...

My stand partner, a native of Turkey, explains the difference between the name for his homeland and what his family has just eaten for Thanksgiving...

I have often wondered if there were numbers to call for help with other works by Tchaikovsky...

This is the piccolo part from which Cynthia D'Andrea has been playing since who knows when. The drawing of Kilroy was done when she was hired (?) to play, at age 13, for a production done by WATE.

7 months ago | |
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I’m learning a lot about Christmas carols tonight. For one thing, I had simply no idea that the most popular setting (but by no means the only one) of In the Bleak Midwinter is by Gustav Holst! A setting by Holst’s countryman Harold Darke is lavish and pristine all at once.

Their settings of English poet Christina Rossetti’s text are equaled by that of Katherine Kennicott Davis, no doubt, as Ms Davis is the composer of The Little Drummer Boy. It sure is fun to play that with Mannheim Steamroller, I tell you what. I couldn’t find her setting of Midwinter on Youtube, but I know some choral directors who might steer me towards one; stay tuned and I'll see what I can find. I’m curious about it because it is SSA; the tessitura, or range, is higher than a standard choral scoring. (SSA is soprano-soprano-alto, for those unfamiliar with choral music lingo, as opposed to SATB, for instance). She studied at Wellesley College in Boston, and also with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, I earnestly HOPE I don’t need to tell you how many composers studied with Madame Boulanger... Copland, Carter, Piazzolla, Menotti...

Later in her life, Ms Davis taught at the Shady Hill School for Girls in Philadelphia, but she probably missed by a few years late the organist Lewis Redner. Mr. Redner played at several churches in Philadelphia and dealt in real estate. In his spare time, somehow, he came up with the tune for O Little Town of Bethlehem, somehow hooking up with that carol’s lyricist, Phillips Brooks.  A great-grandson of the founder of the Phillips Academy in Andover, MA. Mr. Brooks was a Rector in the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and is known for having introduced Christianity to Helen Keller during his tenure in Boston. The name of the tune for O Little Town is St. Louis. The irony here is that Katherine Kennicott Davis’ birthplace is... St. Louis, MO.

It is likely that one or more of the afore-mentioned was at least aware of an event that occurred in 1906. The first music to be broadcast on the air, from an AM “station” near Washington, DC, included a solo violin/voice performance of O Holy Night by Canadian-born Reginald Fessenden. It was on Christmas Eve,1906. 20 years before my father’s birthday, to give you some perspective. O Holy Night was written by Adolphe Adam, a Frenchman who studied composition against his father’s wishes in the 18-teens with Ferdinand Hérold, the composer of Zampa. (Here is a link to the overture to that opera). Nadia Boulanger’s father also studied with Hérold. Yikes.

Wow, now I get why people go into academia. You can’t make this stuff up.
7 months ago | |
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We at the Blogger household are having a fine Thanksgiving, hosting my in-laws, Mary and Tom Gover from Minneapolis. The last thing they expected to see in Knoxville was snow. With sons Thomas and Richard home for the short week, there is a lot of catching up to do. Yesterday was, as a matter of tradition, taken up with turkey roasting and total kitchen engagement. My contribution through the day was to fry some green tomatoes for breakfast, (yes, they were from our garden), bake a pecan pie, and prepare broccoli tonkatsu (broccoli with sautéd onion and pecan in applesauce and tamari). Everything came out great, especially the pie..... nom nom nom...

Facebook seems to have taken a detour down Quiz Street. I try to avoid such diversions, as I tend to not disconnect from them easily. As a measurement of musical nerdhood, this “checklist” quiz of composers you’ve heard covers a lot of the early-music ground, but many present-day composers are left off. Sure, I’ll grant that Leonin and Perotin are legitimate, important composers, but mon dieu, how could you not include John Williams? Georges Enescu? Emil Reznicek? Lee Hoiby? Furthermore, who is this Barbara Strozzi with her wardrobe malfunction? My score of 201 rated me at “kinda nerdy,” but I could think of at least a dozen composers which weren’t on the list, which would boost me up in to the “nerdissimo” category, by this website’s measure.

Below are some musical moments for which to be thankful.

Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, turned 110 on Wednesday. Her vitality and vigor in this video, as well as her story, is simply amazing to watch.

The Toccata from Charles Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5 in f for organ is one of the most grandiose and joyous musical compositions PERIOD. Someone with a lot of free time has committed to performing the piece on the electric guitar.

I picked up an LP at a junk store last week by “Mrs. Miller.” I had heard about her, but not been experienced. It led me to further research, and lo and behold, there is a video of she and Jimmy Durante singing one of Jimmy’s signature tunes...

What would Thanksgiving be without a 2-part “invention” by Red Green, the patron saint of handymen...

Happy Thanksgiving! And Happy Hannukah! From the whole KSO family.
7 months ago | |
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