Walter Bitner

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Three Days in London


Trafalgar Square (click images to enlarge)

Warning: long, self-indulgent travelogue and photo essay

Not entirely Off Topic

Last week I traveled to the United Kingdom to attend the Association of British Orchestras annual conference, held this year in Cardiff, Wales. I was very fortunate to be able to arrive a few days early so I could spend some time in London.

It was my first visit to the U.K., and I packed as much into it as I could. I logged 46,699 steps in those three days in London, exceeded the fare cap on my Oyster card each day with trips on buses and the Underground, saw places and relics for the first time that have lived in my imagination since I was a child, and was reunited with old friends I haven’t seen for decades. It was thrilling.


2017: What Kind of Blog Is This?

Off The Podium Reflections, Statistics, and Top Ten Posts

In what is becoming an annual tradition, here I review my experience writing Off The Podium over the course of the year and share some statistics. We will also see if I have learned anything and I will attempt to describe what this blog – which sometimes goes off in unexpected directions – is all about.

2017 was a very full year, packed with many significant events and activities. Off The Podium continues to provide a great means to share the activities of the department of Education & Community Engagement at the Nashville Symphony with the world. It also remains a productive format that has inspired me to continue to develop my writing on the topics of Music and Education – these features of Off The Podium reach thousands of readers all over the world and  have brought me into contact with many musicians and educators I would otherwise have had no opportunity to meet or correspond with.

Thank you everyone for your continued encouragement and support.


Peaking at Totality


Total Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2016, Nashville, Tennessee ~ photo by Isa Bitner (click photos to enlarge)



It’s a once in a lifetime event. A total solar eclipse passed over Nashville today, and the city’s population reportedly doubled briefly as approximately a million people arrived in the area from out of town to witness it. Parties were scheduled all over town, with commercial opportunities galore as eager consumers snapped up eclipse glasses, eclipse t-shirts, beer brewed especially for the eclipse, cocktails crafted for the eclipse, eclipse mugs and growlers and tote bags and ball caps and smart phone apps. Experts across the country shared astronomic data and compiled essential playlists. The Atlantic reprinted Annie Dillard’s superlative 1982 essay Total Eclipse.


How to Make a Difficult Decision




The Internal Decision Method

Have you ever had to make a tough decision?

This is a technique I have used to make difficult and important decisions for about 15 years now. This article belongs in the Sage Advice category, which I have not yet set up here on Off The Podium.

I won’t guarantee that this technique will work for everyone, however I have used it successfully many times when making important decisions about plans and changes regarding my career, education, and other aspects of both my professional and my personal life.

This is not a technique for making decisions that must be acted on immediately, under duress. This is a method for making momentous decisions that will impact your life and the lives of those around you significantly, for which you have a cushion of time –  days, weeks, or months – to come to a decision.


Walter’s Caesar Salad




Saturday night Caesar

This article is about the noble Caesar Salad, and how to make it my way. If you like romaine, garlic, and lemon, read on.

Caesar Salad has been around nearly a hundred years now. It was invented by an Italian chef named Caesar Cardini although if and when he did so is has been the subject of argument among his family and those who worked in his restaurants. Many have said it dates back to the 1920s.

I don’t remember exactly when I first started making it at home, but it was sometime in the 1990s. It was around that time that I came across my grandfather’s recipe for “Walt’s Caesar Salad” in the Bitner family cookbook.


100 Years of Jack Vance




Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Today is the birthday of the American writer Jack Vance (1916 – 2013). If Jack were still with us he’d be 100 years old today: it’s his Centennial! Jack’s books have given me countless hours of amusement, wonder, and escape over the last four decades, since I first found The Dying Earth on a paperback rack at a local drug store in Camillus, New York. I paid $1.75 for the slender volume of loosely connected stories, took it home, and was miraculously transported to the strange far-future fantasy inhabited by Turjan of Miir and Pandelume, the lovely but unfortunate T’sais, Guyal of Sfere – and of course, Chun the Unavoidable. The next week I returned to the drug store and found The Eyes of the Overworld, and trudged with Cugel and Firx across a strange and outlandish world, often laughing at Cugel’s intrepid antics or cringing at his relentless scheming. I was hooked. Jack’s stories were an unfailing source of delight and as I got older his characters became a part of my interior world, with whom I could find respite at times from the stress and pressures of my daily life.


Saying Goodbye To 12 South Dharma Center


the zendo (meditation hall) at 12 South Dharma Center, Nashville

the zendo (meditation hall) at 12 South Dharma Center, Nashville



After 8 years, Nashville’s unique and only ecumenical Buddhist center is closing its doors.

This weekend the three local Buddhist meditation groups who share 12 South Dharma Center are moving out of the second floor suite of rooms on hip & trendy 12 South Avenue they have occupied since June 2008. Nashville will no longer have a dedicated space where those interested in Buddhism and meditation can choose from several groups to sit with or experienced practitioners to receive instruction from 6 days a week.

It’s been great while it lasted.


Dreaming of Middle Earth

this is what my first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings looked like

my original boxed set fell apart decades ago, but this is what my first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings looked like

OFFTOPIC2When I was a child growing up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, there was a boxed set of books on a shelf in my parents’ study. The cardboard box contained four paperbacks and was decorated with strange symbols and the word TOLKIEN on a field of gold. The entire package was shrink-wrapped and had never been opened, and it sat there there for a long time – weeks or months, I guess, maybe even a year or two – sitting on the shelf with the other books next to it, quietly minding its own business and waiting for me. Sometimes I would pass by it and notice it, read the titles and wonder what it was, what was TOLKIEN, and what was a hobbit, anyway?


My Top 21 Science Fiction Novels of All Time





Introducing Off Topic: because one cannot live on Music and Education alone.

After more than a year of writing Off The Podium, I decided to let out the leash a little and allow myself to write about something else, from time to time. This blog will continue to primarily feature my writings on Music and Education! But once in a while it’s good to change it up.

So now for something completely different: my carefully curated list of My Top 21 Science Fiction Novels of All Time. If this is not your thing, just move along. This is not the post you’re looking for!