Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

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

..moments of Billie

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..so many changes in 2015; too many. Each, significant.

..but all are part of a fabric of affirmation: these lights mattered; these stories continue; the wit and spark and warmth of easing folks forward remains the ripple  they wished for us to ride.. till, thereby, we leave our own.

Many stories to share will come in reflection of time spent in her company, but, for the moment ..a few moments of Billie Allen-Henderson, theatre godmother, mentor, comrade, insouciant bon vivant, sassy witness, and edifying headlight..

 

Billie! at Cakewalk premiere, Philly 2006

Billie! at CAKEWALK premiere, Philly 2006

 

Billie on Billie – reminiscing..

Tom & Billie Allen-Henderson/BLUES premiere, at the Duke Ellington School, DC, 2014

Billie Allen-Henderson (and me)/BLUES premiere, at the Duke Ellington School, DC, 2014

 

Billie speaks of Marian Anderson.. 

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

January 4, 2016 at 9:24 AM

Kennedy Center Millennium Stage: Washington National Opera preview of APPOMATTOX

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..ahead of the current production premiere of Philip Glass‘s opera APPOMATTOX, I was asked by Washington National Opera to sculpt a thread of narrative to give some context to music, and resonant issues of civil war/civil rights.

 
The result was an entirely collaborative effort with WNO’s music Administrator, Ken Weiss, participation by Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, and Greg Watkins, as the event’s Narrator, in a program of readings and song, presented on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

 
The evening’s performance was streamed live by the Kennedy Center.

Cedar Hill

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..it was in 2010 when I was first at Cedar Hill having created an enrichment program for Washington National Opera, in collaboration with DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities. That presentation was called Black Women In Opera Celebrate Black Women In Community.

On October 24 2015 there is to be another gathering at Cedar Hill, with new partners and ongoing collaborators. This event is an original enrichment for Stanford in Washington, and is being shared as programming enrichment with Stanford in New York; to be creating for these two constituencies of students is a marvel for me, as well as an incredible opportunity for facilitating connection to DC history, as well as threads of a national, historical narrative, through the life of the last resident owner of Cedar Hill, Frederick Douglass.

Several skeins of education weave through this event, by way of Douglass.

In November 2015 WNO is mounting a production of Philip Glass’ opera Appomattox. Though its initial incarnation was premiered in 2007 with the San Francisco Opera, there was work to be done on the piece and the Washington National Opera commissioned Glass to re-visit it. It is this reimagined creation which will receive its premiere in DC.

With this unique event I found myself in a position to pull several threads of opportunity into one tapestry; SIW has kept to a track of offering enrichment programming on issues and paradigms of diversity. In seeking to further expand their students’ view into contextualizing conversations on race, civil liberty, and our nation’s gripping tatter, into the harrowing march of civil war, the fact of the opera and the site of Cedar Hill became cause of a mutual exposition.

Cedar Hill was Frederick Douglass’ house and acknowledged home from 1877 to 1895. Here he would often have evenings of song performed in his parlor with the windows opened wide, so that his community could enjoy the music too. This was a purposeful exchange of society, as it was meant to offer opportunity to singers and musicians of color, so that all could see that music, in itself, held no barriers, but was available to be performed for anyone who would take it up.

Douglass, a man of exacting proportions of intellect and endeavor, by the late 1800’s was very widely traveled and accustomed to a wide variety of music; he shared knowledge easily, and with a deliberate taste for assortment.

Salon opportunities of socializing at his home included the music of spirituals as well as ‘parlor songs’ -a term for the American response to the fashion of European ‘art songs’, and performed by singers in the intimate settings of recitals, or salons.

Here are some selections of spirituals, and ‘parlor songs’ that might have had moment on Cedar Hill.

 

 All God’s Chillum Got Wings -Spiritual

Ain’t That Good News -Spiritual

Think On Me -composed (1850’s) by Alicia Ann Scott

 

Douglass would have heard original “art songs” in his traveling through Europe, and during the period of 1885 – 1887 he would have come across the songs of Johannes Brahms who was contemporary to this time, prolific and well known as a composer of the German art song called “lied”..

 

Sommerabend – composed (1885) by Johannes Brahms

 

At twilight the summer evening lies

Over green fields and forest;

Golden moon in the blue sky

Shines down, hazy, fragrantly refreshing.

By the brook chirps the cricket,

And the waters are stirring,

And the wanderer hears a ripple

And a breathing in the stillness.

Yonder, alone, by the brook,

The beautiful mermaid is bathing;

Arm and neck, white and lovely,

Shimmer in the moonlight.

 

Though not heard on Cedar Hill, Charles Ives is an American composer creating at the beginning of the 20th century. He took the many models of Europe, but sieved the form through American folk music and American ethnic rhythms into a style of classical interpretation that spoke of American origins and ‘soundscapes’.

Ives utilized the model of ‘art song’ to inform a growing musical language, reaching into atonality.

 

Afterglow –composed (1922) by Charles Ives

 

Moving forward into the musical landscape of American composer Philip Glass ..

Appomattox presents us with many of the characters of the civil war period, but central to this narrative is the character of Frederick Douglass. In its entirety  the opera skews time and weaves a tale that presents dynamics of power, with issues of civil liberty, through an assortment of historical characters that include President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, as well as President Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Philip Glass’ musical idiom is essentially referred to as “minimalism”, in that his use of orchestration and rhythmic dynamics are spare and utilized to accentuate and articulate patterns of speech and sketch specific emotion.

At first fully embracing this style of idiom, Glass, as he progressed from enfant terrible, to eminence grise, emended his identity to that of “being a composer of music with repetitive structures”.

These are some samples of Glass’ music.

The piece, Dance, was created in 1979, and was a work done in collaboration with Lucinda Childs (choreographer) and Sol LeWitt (artist); it was premiered in Amsterdam, then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

 

Dance 8 – composed (1979) by Philip Glass

 

Moving closer to composition of Appomattox, Glass’ Symphony No.8 was written in 2006.

 

Symphony No.8  – 1st movement (partial) -composed (2006) by Philip Glass

During the program at Cedar Hill on the 24th October, along with a selection of parlor songs performed by local performing artists, there will be selections from Appomattox presented as well.

..in seeking to create this full program I have revisited a great deal of Douglass’ writings and speeches..

These are two which resonate with the wide dynamics of compassion and Abolitionist fire that was embodied within the man..

 

Douglass the Abolitionist; content of ‘July 4th’ speech (1852)

 

Douglass as Statesman; giving the oration at the unveiling of the Freedmen’s Monument, in Lincoln Park (1876)

Creating Unique Programming

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Creating. Unique. Programming.

…set against one another each of those words can wreck havoc in that they speak to something without precedent; something out of the ordinary; something, yet to be in an index table for “standard”.

One of the perks for being my age is that creating unique programming falls well into my paradigm of permissions I’ve embraced as ..well, as being my age.

It also comes while walking a fine line between ‘hubris’, ‘experience’ and ‘facilitation’.

That’s the other thing at my age: I’ve come to embrace all the gray in the dynamic needed to successfully engage the imagination of others, and move an idea across a threshold that often is sighted as cause for trepidation and anxiety – that “step” off the footpath, onto untrammeled concepts and terrain.. where “successful” comes proportionate to ones availability to being ‘unsure’, if not down right vulnerable.

If I am strong enough to appear foolish, I can encourage others to be less afraid of moments of awkwardness and ‘different’. At least, that’s the condition I use when shaping the grid to lead an expedition into something unique ..because going to such a place requires trust, beyond courage and bravery and an open mind; trust – that, sometimes, being willing to appear foolish is the right way to be strong.. and as dividend: learn something new; or at the least, glean what there is to be discovered along the way there..

I know this might thread as a rambling metaphorical falneur ..or ‘high falootin’ intellectual babbly-gook’ – but it is in the process of being able to find ways to articulate the, as yet, ‘unexpressed’, that discoveries are identified, and given concept; and given speech; and shaped, through words, to be offered as the solid steps into an unknown.

______________

Concepts need words of great sensitivity, and should be robust in their expressiveness, as each word, one against another, etches the ‘new found’, and goes a long way to desensitizing, delineating, defining the breadth of a unique thing..

But this process –this contextualization is not about purging “unique” of its qualities, to make that word an easy one.

It is about articulating the dimensions; it is about – exploring.

Explorers are intrepid; they are willing to dare; this does not mean they do so without fear.

Fear when stepping into the unknown is a healthy caution; it is a form of respect – and in this is a glimmer of the ‘multifacetness’ of language, as the very word “fear” usually halts any step – as it is a word that usually resonates with “fight or flight”..

But an intrepid explorer knows that fear informs fortitude – this leaves them on their toes; it courses energy into every fiber of their awareness to press them to gently search, or touch the boundaries of where they stand, discerning what is ahead, what is solid, what is unique, what is new, and what needs other articulation for mapping.

Once back in lands where a population awaits news of adventure, explorers are deemed “brave”, having survived their discoveries.

..but for the explorer.. when alone, in that place of discovery, trying to inch a foot, one step ahead of another.. – is “brave” the word they use in speaking to themselves, standing on the uncertain ground of “new”..?

I imagine them all tensile energy ..teasing out their awareness’s ahead of their body ..using their eyes ..their ears ..their previous experiences, their full senses to ‘echo image’ the defining contours of the ‘new’ that is before them.. – and relishing the fear which guides them forward to establish new as worthy.

__________________

Creating

Unique

Programming

is a platform for exploration that perhaps begins at a ‘given’, or at something ‘known’, but leads, ultimately, each of us, to somewhere new.

The next year is shaping up full of expeditions, and foolish, I search along to lead.

 

 

 

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

August 10, 2015 at 6:57 AM

Portraits Alive! Summer 2015

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..an amazing program continues at the National Portrait Gallery, here in DC -and wonderfully enough, I was brought back as a facilitator this summer.

A very talented group of students grappled to find meaning deep behind the ‘portrait plaques’, and in the character of their chosen sitter – inevitably meaning a journey of their own in discovering the dynamic complexities of ‘success’, and empowerment.

 

…time stopped

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..’creating’ family is a process we all come to at some point to form the sustainable and nurturing relationships that embolden us to reach into our dreams, and manifest exceptional events..

The circumstance of making this occur connects friends in a tighter bond of interrelationships, that deepens through listening and advising –and, on occasion, allowing for not being heard, and not being understood; but always, ever, with undeterred support, engagement, embrace and ..a gravitational commitment to being ..family.

I have had the amazing chance of many re-invigorations and course changes in the journey of getting to 58 years old; not always pretty, but each notch of a year has always shown me how important it is to celebrate those who share the travel with me..

The years since 2001, when I returned from London to DC, have been threaded through, and bound in the particular clasp of a couple –Kristian Fauchald & Len Hirsch– who were not only engaged patrons in my specific efforts to establish a unique artistic voice, but were the kernel upon which a tight group of us, and a whole swath of community and intellect and even frivolousness, combined to establish holiday convocations of a full throated family of immense accomplishment, compassion, wit, and support.

..but, for a tighter few of us, in between those holiday dinners, chez Len & Kristian, where the door was always open, there were quiet evenings of dropping in and speaking about projects, parents, aging, fears, music, science, television, theatre, Norway, Europe, bio-diversity, marine biology discoveries, Polychaete’s, politics, civil rights, same sex marriage, cultural bias, classism, an eroding planet eco-system, the diminishment of dialogue to a snide snip called ‘txt’ –then Twitter.. – all satisfyingly impromptu, either settled at the dining room table, or in the living room’s ‘mid century’ chairs of dubious comfort, against an even more distracting color palette, and amongst the chaotic hangings and clutter of an avid inquisitiveness in art, artisan artifacts, tribal masks, piquant camp, and the talented products of a hobby in stained glass work.. a room accentuated by two modest photos of singular historic content and coalition ..Len in both – one with President Obama at the signing of the act repealing DOMA – and one, with Len, beaming pride, and standing close between a childhood friend, and a recent Supreme Court Justice..

It is not too small a thing to say that the home Len & Kristian made (originally on Q street, NW, and then, in the last 7 years, at 11th & M streets, NW) was a fulcrum, a place at the very pinch of the dynamism of the times, always fielding hot discourse of content, of politics, passion, science and vision..

I learned much, and have had the gift of sharing the learning; now, in the short span of 12 weeks, I have been taught something else.. as, in sequence in this period of time, stopped –first Kristian, then Len..

It is a hard thing to move through the loss of one; it is an inexpressible realization, to face the empty chairs of two..

-and yet, an image remains to facilitate even this.

Grand as the dinner may have been, stunning or ebulliently corrosive as the meal’s discourse may have served up – by a certain point in time in the evening, after desert but still in the midst of acute speculations- Kristian’s body clock and temperament would instigate his rise from the table –and with a genial nuanced shrug of ‘enough, enough’, and a gleam in his glance –Kristian’s move would signal something far more intimate than “let’s move on”..

..it was that special moment, that family signal (between two ends of the table – two men who had shared a partnered, then maried life of more than 32 years), that articulate subtlety, understood en famille, that digestion needed its moment, and that the reins of debate needed to yield..

Kristian would be up, and off to another part of the room, at ease to have the conversations roll on at table, or fracture to more comfortable corners of the flat –or, even to exit..

And we, the tighter knit of us, attuned to the tempos family share, would smile between us.. and, saited, slip out of the evening, into the night, homewards, full of the chatter and conversations, and new known things..

 

I feel this right now..

I am after dinner ..finding my way home, savoring all that had passed..

 

Len & Kristian, at Belgo in teh Strand, London, in 2004 ..coming to seeing a workshop presentation of my work, "Cakewalk"

Kristian (l) & Len (r), at Belgo in the Strand, London, in 2004 ..there to see a workshop presentation of my play, “Cakewalk”

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

July 18, 2015 at 10:37 AM

Creating DCPL original programming content/”Inspiring The Me I Want To Be: Marian Anderson!”

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..it is a privilege at any time to be asked to create original program content – but especially exciting when it is programming that not only has opportunity to be utilized for education enrichment, but to reach to new audiences.

This past November Carmen Boston, Children’s Programs and Partnerships Coordinator, MLK Memorial Library, DC Public Library reached out to wonder if I would be available to create an enrichment program, of original content, that had the elasticity to be utilized during Black History Month, as well as Women’s History month – and in this case, be resonant with a book DCPL were highlighting, entitled When Marian Sang, by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Brian Selznick.

I was excited to do so, and determined that the opportunity was present to identify Marian Anderson as the individual to create a narrative around who would facilitate the full parameter of the DCPL request.

Youth Collections Coordinator Wendy Lukehart was also at an initial meeting, to further identify the reading materials, and exhibition opportunities for branch librarians’ use.

For my part in creating this original program content, I wanted to be certain it could also establish a ‘portal entry’ that might remain available to link in with further enrichment programming, and so identified a ‘platform’ for DCPL use that became identified as: Inspiring The Me I Want To Be: Marian Anderson!

The many experiences of this consummate recitalist, and extraordinary African American opera singer, are ones that speak not only to the endeavor to reach a dream, but also how to address challenges of culture and racism through education, while maintaining an impregnable dignity with fortitude, and a deep commitment to the journey.

Sculpting this was a rich opportunity to weave a narrative through styles of music – from spirituals –

Marian Anderson sings “Roll, Jord’n Roll”

..to German lieder, and opera -as well as detail the many key moments of Ms Anderson’s career, while being aware that this presentation had to be accessible for a wide range of ages, and school grades.

During February the presentation was given at the Benning Road branch of DCPL, to an audience of 95 school children, grades 2 – 4; while at the Rosedale branch, it was presented to an audience of young adults.

Portion of exhibition reading material displayed at Benning Road branch presentation/DCPL, FEB. 2015

Carmen Boston at Benning Road branch presentation/DCPL, FEB. 2015

In March, the final presentation was given in the main hall of the MLK Memorial Library, and was attended by families and adults.

But for this presentation I was able to enhance the experience, working with one of my colleagues, Anamer Castrello, who is not only a wonderful Teaching Artist but also an opera singer of warmth and exciting musicianship.

For this program Anamer and I identified a roster of song to include lieder, spirituals, and presentation of “Re dell’abisso, affrettati..”, an aria from Verdi’s opera un ballo in maschera, that the character Ulrica sings, which was the role identified for Marian Anderson’s debut at the Metropolitan Opera, in 1955.

 

With the MLK event Anamer was also able to have her mother in the audience; never underestimate how precious it is to be able to share your talent to an audience, knowing that your family is present, and beaming with pride!

The event was a very special opportunity, and was enjoyed by all who were able to attend.

I will hope that DCPL will continue with programming engagement, through this portal of Inspiring The Me I Want To Be!

 

..my theatre godmother Billie Allen-Henderson, speaks of Marian Anderson ..and context..

Written by tomminteroffthestoop

April 5, 2015 at 10:24 AM

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