Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Archive for August 2011

Under the hem of Irene

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As if being rattled by an earthquake wasn’t enough for one week..

The east coast is braced for another “historic” flex of Nature, that has the potential for inflicting damage..

The sky is already textured with an armada of clouds; dark, bruised, white, grim; the horizon is leaden, and the humidity is cloying..

..the wind scuttles in, and is picking up; later, even at 38 mph, it could cause damage in the region, and all along its progress ..–though certainly not as great as the damage that would come with greater wind strength, or gusts of 90 mph..

In any event, just under the hem of Irene, anticipation continues to call for preparation, without foolishness…

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

August 27, 2011 at 11:04 AM

Posted in Life

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..snippets of the series

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This concept, for a library music series, started with a presentation at the Deanwood Library, here in DC, of a session on “ragtime” –as Eubie Blake called it; he’d use that word all his life, unable to utter the term ‘jazz’ because of its unsavory connotations, which he learned from his days playing the keyboard at a bordello..

That program ran the thread of ragtime from Scott Joplin, through Blake, to the classical weave of George Gershwin, giving opportunity for diverse musical examples of syncopation, jive and passion, with Dana Scott on keyboard, playing Blake’s sassy Baltimore Rag, and then some of Gershwin’s swagger, from his piano Preludes.

The session offered opportunity to present a snippet from a different, earlier “American opera” effort by Gershwin: Blue Monday, where the composer’s grasp reached through Puccini, to pull in the stitching of jazz rhythms and uptown beats, in a short horror story of jealousy and consequence..

The session which followed looked at the blurring line between ‘opera’ and ‘musical theatre’, as American musicals, of the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s steered through the creative prisms of classical composers, were enriched by their language, and drew audiences to Broadway, who then grew accustomed to the kaleidoscopic orchestral extravagances and musical complexities –although, not always easily.

We started with Giacomo Puccini’s stretch at “operetta”, which resulted in his La Rondine, a work he termed as “..a light sentimental opera with touches of comedy –but it’s agreeable, easy to sing, with a little waltz music, and lively and fetching tunes –it’s a sort of reaction against the repulsive music of today.”  The sentiment was stated in 1914…!

Elisabeth Stevens, a dramatic soprano of incredible voice and personal style, offered the ‘hit aria’ from La Rondine; ‘che bel sogno..’

Dana Scott, accompanist; Elisabeth Stevens, soprano; music series, at Deanwood Library, July 2011

Kurt Weill was invoked then; the German composer, after moving to New York, met Ira Gershwin at a party, given by George Gershwin; the Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill collaboration resulted in one of Broadway’s most unique musical extravaganza’s – Lady In The Dark.

The baritone, John Gauthier, gave the Deanwood Library audience the flavor of Weil’s American angst, with the heartbreak of the ‘song’ Lonely House, from Street Scene..

And then we hit the stride of Leonard Bernstein, and his sculpting of the ‘blur’, in the blurred line that seemed to seam Broadway to opera; starting with an excerpt from Wonderful Town, and then moving into the work that showered the composer with the greatest amount of scathing critical sniping: Candide!

During pre-production rehearsals for Candide, Bernstein fought to keep his score together, as other members of the creative team called on him to cut out more and more of the sweeping, or what they considered to be “operatic”, passages of the work; Columbia Records initially declined to record the cast album, saying the score was too depressing and too difficult..

Now this true piece of musical American history has an irreproachable place in the repertory of both musical theaters, and opera houses.

But it was with West Side Story that Bernstein shattered the walls, with a searing musical theater drama that exemplified a mastery of orchestration, and a melodic musical language that easily stood on planks of ‘Broadway flair’, and ‘operatic pathos’..

We had students from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts offer an example from this work, with the Anita/Maria duet, A boy like that; Julia Braxton, sang Maria, and India Reynolds, sang Anita..

Julia Braxton, as Maria; India Reynolds, as Anita; music series, at Deanwood Library, July 2011

Their presentation so completely drew in the Deanwood audience, of day camp kids and community residents, that its heartrending conclusion was met with a full ovation!

It is a wonderful feeling, to create platform for professionals and students, and find partnerships that bring musical offerings of diversion and complexity to community audiences, allowing these singers to example a vocation not generally available for view across the wards of DC..

-..and watch, as their passion is witnessed by an enthusiastic and generous crowd, absolutely engaged, and lifted, through presentation of these abilities..

A moment’s pause..

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..to take in the fact that its past the middle of summer!

TV commercials have already turned to the ‘back to school’ tide, and offer exuberant examples of the full fall color palette..

kids in school back packs..

beaming, and ready for a return to the classroom!

..thinking that I’ve missed summer altogether, in this moment’s pause I realize that I’ve made a few summer discoveries –an author: Charles Ferguson; I’m a sucker for biographies on historical figures, and wandering through the DC second hand wonderland of Second Story Books, I happened across Naked To Mine Enemies, an epic breadth, describing the life, and context of the power of Thomas Wolsey, Chancellor of England, and Cardinal in the Roman church; instrument of Henry VIII, Wolsey’s sharp mind made him an unsavory model to the nobility of the time, and a turn in their hereditary affairs; Wolsey was a meteor, in social distinction, hurtling upwards from the ‘nothing’ birth of a commoner, to stand, unbowed, before all the greatest titles in the land, as advisor to the single greatest power in England.. a king, who used this relentless pick axe of intellect to crack the last walls, standing as restraint against his authority.. wars with France were out maneuvered by Wolsey; the ‘great matter’ of the king’s first marriage, and desire for divorce, was the wedge which split the issue of papal authority, and sovereign rule; Wolsey could not maneuver this outcome to his designs; the King did for himself, breaking with Rome to establish the church of England, with the monarch of England, perpetually, as its Head..

..the moral shudder, at the ravaging shifts in the concepts of power –man’s; God’s; people’s; ruler’s; economy- is particularly fascinating, explosive, and exploitative, in this period of Tudor times..

The book itself –a ‘real’ book (now the ‘treat’, as Kindle puts the texture of print into a realm of redundant pleasure), a 1958 printing, aged, and a little musty- lets me reminisce on my childhood uses of summer; new books, adventures of reading that created images and revelations to wallow and wander through, as deep daylight beat down hot, making the tarmac of the city, tacky and pliant at once..

..there would always be the discovery of some new music in summer as well –well, at least new to me..

This summer I’ve discovered Robert Aldridge, and his opera, Elmer Gantry..

Mid-century, American robust, full of eclectic references of various styles, although nothing of mimicry; a ‘big tent’ musical landscape at once unique, big boned, inflammatory, romantic and ominous, built as scaffolding through a sharp edged story of usury, idolatry, fanaticism, glory and religious carnage..

..unsettling that the core of the piece pulses with resonant zealotry, and the theater of current revival politics..

Absorbed in the opera, I forgot the film –itself a searing presentation of ‘old time religion’, greed and graft, portrayed by two actors of monumental talent and fearlessness: Jean Simmons and Burt Lancaster..

Listening to the opera.. I heard the poetry of the libretto, by Herschel Garfein, sculpted out of mid-fifties plain wit, mob sense, and fervent purposes..

The ending is incendiary, taunt, and the kind of coup de theatre that does justice to Broadway, and Sinclair Lewis.

..but in its meat, this Elmer Gantry is full of craft and inventive melody that is, indeed, propulsive, and effective Broadway.. leading me to consider that musical theater’s hope for that boulevard, is in its vein of things ‘operatic’..

-leading to a different slant on the argument, of ‘musical theater vs. opera’; another thing read and digested this summer, written in the New York Times by Anthony Tommasini: Opera? Musical? Please Respect The Difference

..and now I’m smiling..

-because this is summer.. having the time to rope one thought to another, follow one course, then slip into a diagonally opposing one, only to nap in between impulses, knowing that the sun will hang out longer, and the days’ ..duties ..will.. dawdle.. into..

whatever..

Searching Working Models

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The world gets smaller; shivers run round the globe in a matter of hours –whether economic, or tectonic.

There is also some sense of far reaching synchronicity; looking for it, in arts programming, is a way of discovering partners who might be far flung in proximity, but share ideological synergy; partners who aim to connect within local community needs, and create programs that are flexible, sustainable, and resonate with celebration of the local society.

Regardless of how distant such models are reaching out brings home commonality.

In Thurrock, in Essex -the Thames Gateway, the Royal Opera House has opened an education facility in local premises, and connected with the city’s need to platform its local resource heritage; the industrial park where the ROH education team works out of is home to several resource groups, whose products and skills interweave, and support mutual involvement.

The ROH schools program is in over 100 schools, in the region, and is expanding to move its resource net further afield.

Looking to connect with the community in Thurrock, and present relevance in its arts program, the ROH education team facilitated a workshop that plumbed the local oral history, and uncovered a story related to a local person and an incident in WWI. The children who participated in this workshop and journey into the lore of their community, fashioned an opera out of the story, with the guidance of the ROH education team, in collaboration with a composer, librettist and opera director.

The importance of this workshop is that it cements relationship; the elements of arts programming were brought into play in fashioning the opera, but the nugget for the work came from local oral history. The children who engaged in this process came away with relevant ‘tools’, and everyone shared in an enriched sense of community prestige.

To be able to platform a piece of local lore as the nugget of an arts endeavor, retrieved in an exercise of oral history, is an example of a synergistic structure for programming that will connect with every community, anywhere; this is the grain of commonality that can work to bring partners together, not only from diverse backgrounds, but from diverse regions, and offer an organic opportunity for arts programming.

…imagine the nuggets of stories, scattered through the communities of DC, deep in the oral history of its families.. waiting to be revealed, as works of art, and celebrated..

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

August 5, 2011 at 9:04 AM