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Blaise Liffick: Musician is attuned to life's diversity

Sunday News

Published: Jul 20, 2008
00:02 EST





Blaise W. Liffick was born into a family whose values included an acceptance of diversity and an appreciation for music.



Blaise Liffick was at the ready with Silent Witness PA when Lancaster Pride 2008 debuted last month in Buchanan Park.

Jack Leonard, Sunday News


"Folks with differences were no big deal to us," he says.

Music, however, was a big deal. His father was a professional square dance caller, his mother was a square dancer, and music was an integral part of their family's life.

And it remains so for Liffick.

He and his wife, Alanna Berger, are musicians with the Arcona Reel Band, an American Celtic group. The couple also performs and records as a duo called Clannamore. They have performed at musical festivals and other events including the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.

Tolerance remains important to Liffick, too.

A computer science professor at Millersville University, Liffick, 55, is the faculty adviser to that school's gay-straight alliance. His office is a designated "safe zone" for students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

He and his wife also run Silent Witness PA, a volunteer group dedicated to providing a nonconfrontational buffer between anti-gay protesters and those attending pride festivals and other gay cultural events, such as last month's Lancaster Pride 2008.

Silent Witness volunteers carry oversized, rainbow-hued umbrellas that provide a literal shield  between event-goers and protesters. The umbrellas work as a metaphor, too: The rainbow is a symbol of the gay community, and under the Silent Witness umbrellas, Berger explains, "are both gays and straights."

Silent Witness has trained more than 600 volunteers to be nonconfrontational peacekeepers. The organization has volunteered at dozens of events in this state and others.

Liffick's children aren't gay. Neither is he. But he still feels he has a stake in protecting those who are gay from those who are homophobic.

"This is a straight problem, a problem created by straight people," he says. "I feel a certain moral obligation to make it right."

Bachelor's degree in computer science from Purdue University; master's degree in computer science from the University of Pittsburgh, and doctoral degree in computer and information science from Temple University.

Wife, Alanna Berger. Children: Alex, 29; Laura, 29; Karyn, 28; Chava, 28; Wendy, 27. We're a blended family. We used to call them "The Brady Bunch From Hell." They're actually good friends now.

How I became a musician:
I grew up in the era of folk music in the 1960s, and I took piano lessons as a kid. I had a little bit of talent, but switched to the guitar ... I performed a little in the '60s, but put it away for 20 years. When Alanna and I got together, we discovered a mutual love of folk music, which became a big part of our courting.

Why I play Celtic music:
I've got a Celtic heritage ... and I've just always had a great appreciation for Irish musicians.

Favorite place in Ireland:
The Cliffs of Moher were spectacular. Doolin (in County Clare) was a lot of fun. But I had a lot of kicks in Dublin. I crashed a seisiun (a traditional Irish music session) in Dublin.

Favorite musical instrument:
It depends on what I'm in the mood for. I enjoy messing around with the pennywhistle. I don't know if it's just because it's such an uncomplicated instrument. The mandolin's fun, too.

Favorite musical artist:
James Galway, in part because he's got a foot in both classical music and Irish folk.

Favorite TV guilty pleasure:
We're big "Star Trek" fans  that, and "Xena: Warrior Princess." We used to watch a lot of "Xena."

Why I'm a Trekkie:
The ethics of it appealed to me a great deal, from a philosophical perspective. ... There was a nuance to everything. I just enjoyed that there were a lot of layers to peel away. And the original "Star Trek" shows were very subversive.

What I could say to a Klingon:
K'pla. That means "success." How's that?

What Renaissance fairs and "Star Trek" have in common:
It's escapism, there's no question about that. The Renaissance fairs are nowhere near the reality of what it was like back then. It's pretty tame. ... We used to say that the Renaissance fair is to history what Cocoa Puffs are to good nutrition.

How I feel about legalizing gay marriage:
I'm 100 percent for it. ... Everybody's entitled to happiness. Everybody deserves the same rights.

Why I am committed to Silent Witness:
I'm standing up for my beliefs and standing up for an oppressed minority.

Last movie I watched:
"Crash." We're doing some anti-racism stuff for church.

My hope for the world:
I think that we have got to begin working together in community much more seriously, not only to promote peace, but to protect our planet. We are absolutely killing it.

My biggest fear:
It's that we won't figure out how to do it, and we'll continue to bicker about petty things.

What I believe in:
I believe very strongly in the power of peace. I cannot understand the pervasiveness of hate in the world. It's absolutely beyond my comprehension. The world would be a better place if everybody could just be tolerant and accept difference.

Suzanne Cassidy is a staff writer for the Sunday News. Her e-mail address is