Provencio Herb

Robert Provencio, seen here in 2015, has retired as director as Masterworks Chorale.

High up on the list, near the top of the things to like about Bakersfield is Robert Provencio, who until recently was music director of the Bakersfield Master Chorale.

Nobody could tell a story like Robert (I’m not trying to make him sound dead). He could tell you the same story 10 times, and he did, and every time he told it was like brand-new and fresh-out-of-the-storytelling box. He relished telling the stories as much as choir members liked hearing them.

Sense of humor? Yes, and it usually involved the sopranos either in the setup or the punchline. There is something inherently funny about the sopranos that dovetails with their inherent importance to a choir’s overall sound.

Robert loves music and he wants you to love it as much whether you are a singer or a member of the audience.

When news came that he was “laying down his baton due to health reasons” (he will continue to administer the music ministry at First Presbyterian and teach his online classes at CSUB), it made me think of singer Tom Waits’ reaction to the death of artist and musician Captain Beefheart several years ago.

He told the Los Angeles Times: “He was like the scout on a wagon train. He was the one who goes ahead and shows the way. He was a demanding bandleader ... He drew in the air with a burnt stick. He described the indescribable. He’s an underground stream and a big yellow blimp.

“ ... He was a rememberer. He was the only one who thought to bring matches. The high water mark.”

Not all of it fits, but enough does. Thanks, Robert.

A slice of life

Readers responded to the column on the joys of white bread:

“Not only Wonder Bread but do you remember Langendorf??? I've found a treasure in 'Artisan Bread' from the 99 Cent store,” wrote Janeen Smith. “It's delicious, thick slices, absolutely not healthy I suspect, and only, you guessed it — .99!

"We are Easties so we go to the store on Mt. Vernon and stock up. Some are always in the freezer for emergencies. Try it and let me know what you think.”

Kent Jones wrote," I agree with your conclusion on Dave’s Killer Bread. My family history has been different 'healthy' loaves, but you can’t eliminate white bread from your pantry.

"My daughter refused to eat the healthy bread. She kept us grounded with the occasional white toast, which was the Oroweat country buttermilk. A few months ago I made her switch to Dave’s and we never looked back.”

Judy writes that her “Grandma Nettie made the best white bread ever. When we would go to her apartment she would always make my sister and me toast from her homemade white bread. She had an old fashioned open-the-door toaster and would put in nice thick slices. Slathered with butter, sitting in her tiny, neat kitchen. The best!"

Bird news

The Kern Audubon Society sent an email recently saying that the American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) had been named the bird of the week (collectively they are known as a ladle of dippers). I was happy to hear that not because I had heard of the bird or knew anything about it, but the name itself — American dipper — had an upbeat, fun-to-say sound to it.

Repeat after me: American dipper. Tell me you didn’t just get a lift.

Song recommendation of the week

Like everybody else I knew Johnny Paycheck through “Take This Job and Shove It” but an even more compelling song is “I’m the Only Hell (Mama Ever Raised).”

It shows how dynamic Paycheck’s voice was in the same way that Freddie Mercury of Queen’s was.

Listen to this clip

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or (661) 395-7279.

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