Esperanza Spalding will be in Falmouth on October 4 to perform at JazzFest Falmouth, a week-long celebration of jazz, culminating is a 10-hour concert on Saturday at Marina Park on Falmouth Harbor. Esperanza is a virtuoso string bass player and a very talented and original singer, composer, and improvisor. She performed in Falmouth last November, and those in the audience were wowed by her beautiful voice and creative scat-style singing, as well as by her graceful and powerful control of the bass. And she is only 23, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and one of its youngest faculty members.
She had begun her studies at Berklee at 17, with a full scholarship, and began teaching there when she was only 20. She also taught herself the violin when she was 4 or 5, apparently thinking it was a small cello–she had been inspired by Yo-Yo Ma’s appearance on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Since her November performance here, her career has really started to take off. When she was on the David Letterman show, Dave said she was “the coolest person” they ever had on the show.
She is very cool, and I am looking forward to seeing her perform. For now, though, here is a link to a Youtube video about her:
and her performance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show (I couldn’t find the Letterman appearance):
There are four local cello concerts coming up (one featuring two cellists) this month. A bonanza for cellists and non-cellists alike. Everyone loves the cello, or at least that is what they tell me when I mention that I play. I usually smile and agree that good cello playing is wonderful.
Once, though, as I was wandering through an art fair with a cello/case on my back, I just said, “thanks.” The cello-lover said, “I didn’t necessarily mean you, personally.” (He hadn’t yet heard me play, but it was a little disconcerting, nevertheless.)
If you also love the sound of the cello, you may want to attend one or more of these events:
Bo Ericsson and Elizabeth Schultze, husband-and-wife cellists, will play at the Cape Cod Conservatory in West Barnstable on September 19 at 5:30 PM.
Empty School Bus Syndrome
For the first time in 17 years, we have no children in school. No trips for school or college supplies. No tuition payments, no $120 textbooks. I loved school, but my kids didn’t take to it. I don’t miss the arguing over homework, of course, but I do kind of feel there is something missing this year (besides the kids themselves, who are off in Rhode Island and Georgia).
Fortunately, for me, there are lots of opportunities around to take classes or join in on discussions of all sorts. It’s a good year to discuss politics, to get a better handle on some of the many issues that divide and unite our country. Besides the ever-changing kaleidoscope of Sarah Palin revelations, of course, which is occupying most of my free brain cells just now. I am fascinated by the flipflop of liberal and conservative view on this issue: Phyllis Schlafly, who has long been an outspoken foe of women’s rights, thinks Palin is the best person for the job of VP. I who have worked in small ways for women’s rights, think Palin should stay in Alaska, and take care of her special needs baby, and be there for her daughters. Family values apparently has multiple definitions.
As I write this, self-described Democrat Joe Lieberman is speaking at the Republican National Convention about what a good president Bill Clinton was, and the Republicans are applauding Clinton. It’s hard to keep up. I’m turning to Comedy Central for now.
Lift Your Spirits!
Everyone should see and hear the African Children’s Choir sing! Seeing them is not just entertainment; it is a rejuvenating experience. These amazing and energetic kids transmitted their joy and vitality to us, from the moment they danced onstage last night to the rhythm of their drums.
One of the concert organizers introduced them by saying, “Don’t be stiff New Englanders! Don’t feel the need to stay in your seats when they sing.” We were a little stiff–there was no dancing in the aisles, but everyone was smiling, applauding, and cheering wildly. We were deeply moved by these kids and by their music, much of which was spiritual in nature.
As powerful as their music is the story behind the choir. These children, only 7 to 10 years old, have suffered much trauma in their young lives. Most have lost one or both parents to AIDS or other diseases, or warfare in their country, Uganda. Most have lived in poverty that we can scarcely imagine. The African Children’s Choir gives these kids a chance at life. Once they are selected and serve in the choir for a year, performing throughout the U.S., they are given free education through college, and over the 24-year history of the choir, children have grown up to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, and, yes, sometimes, musicians. The money they earn touring throughout the U.S. not only pays for their educations, but also for thousands more children in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Ghana, Sudan, Nigeria, and Kenya.
The choir was organized by Ray Barnett, who was trying to raise money to help children in Uganda. People were becoming numb to all the requests for aid and all the photos of starving African children. He met a small boy who sang despite his hardships, and realized that music could truly be healing–not only to the children and the people who heard the singing, but it could help raise money. And, even more importantly, the choir could show the world the true potential and spirit of the children of Africa.
It’s a wonderful idea. And it seems to be working well. There are actually several African Children’s Choirs at any one time, one performing on the east coast, one on the west coast, and one in Canada. The more the better. A regular dose of these kids would lift a lot of spirits!
Falmouth Harbor Sunset
Some of Cape Cod’s best entertainment is free.
Henry Winkler and the Pops
Henry Winkler, fondly known as “Fonzie” from “Happy Days,” at least among a certain age group, is a warm and wonderful person, as those the many who have encountered him on his recent trip to the Cape, can attest. He visited Sandwich High School last Friday to promote his Hank Zipzer book series: autobiographical stories about a boy who struggles with learning disabilities. Winkler, who has dyslexia and had trouble with schoolwork, triumphed because of his undaunted comic spirit and resourcefulness, characteristics shared by Hank. I didn’t attend the Sandwich event, but heard Winkler was lots of fun, reading from his books, and staying overtime to autograph hundreds of books.
Last Sunday, Winkler appeared as the celebrity conductor for the Boston Pop’s Pops by the Sea concert in Hyannis. He conducted John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March” at the sold-out concert; 15,000 people attended.
Henry Winker poses with the band Tripping Lily. Monica Rizzio presented Winkler with a copy of the band’s latest CD. Tripping Lily performed on Sunday as part of the pre-concert activities. Also performing were the Turner Avenue Quartet from Falmouth. David McTiernan, who plays with the quartet, also played piano during the VIP reception.
I met Henry Winkler at the VIP Reception and Benefit Auction for the Pops on the Saturday evening before the concert. He was friendly and funny, and he seemed genuinely interested in talking to people and patiently posing for one photo after another, even though he barely had a taste of his clam chowder or any of the many other exotic and exquisite hors d’oeuvres offered under the tent on the main stage, as the rain poured down all around us.
I had bought one of his books that afternoon, at Eight Cousins bookstore in Falmouth. I picked The Curtain Went Up, My Pants Fell Down because it was about Hank’s experiences in the school play. Hank’s grades are bad (Henry was in the bottom 3 % of his class, academically), and his father does not want him to waste time in the school play, “Anna and the King of Siam,” when he should be studying. He makes a deal with his dad that he can be in the play if he gets at B+ on his next math test. With the help of a smart fellow student, a girl he has previously disliked, as his peer tutor, Hank manages to get a B on the test. A B is an outstanding grade for Hank, who is more familiar with Ds, but his stern father forces him to withdraw from the play, even though he has the lead role.
I told Henry that I was reading the book and he seemed so genuinely pleased. We talked about the stories, which were based on his own experiences, and he told me that many of the people in the books were based on real characters in his life, and that his father really was that strict.
Starstruck, I forgot that I actually had the book with me until a few minutes later. I wondered whether I should bother him for an autograph (no one else seemed to have any of the books or be asking for an autograph). Encouraged by a friend, I approached him again with the book, and he seemed delighted to sign it, putting his chowder aside once again. Obviously, these books are very important to him, representing a victory over his own dyslexia and giving hope to kids with learning problems.
Winkler turned down initial requests that he write children’s books. He never wanted to be a writer; writing was just too difficult, and it remains challenging for him. Dyslexia never goes away; you just find ways of coping. One of Winkler’s ways of coping was by writing the series with a partner, Lin Oliver, who did the physical writing, while Winkler told stories about his life.
Later, during the auction, Winkler read from one of his books and his enthusiasm was infectious, his reading dynamic and expressive; his whole heart was in it. In the selection, Hank was struggling with spelling. Asked why he was hitting himself on the head, he said, “I think that the words are holding onto my brain. I am trying to knock them into my mouth.”
The passage was funny and insightful. Having read one of the books, I would highly recommend them, and not only for kids with learning disabilities, but for anyone who enjoys humorous books about growing up and coping with daily life. All sorts of kids and adults populate these books: brainy kids, bullies, good pals, rigid teachers, understanding teachers, and strict parents. Winkler told us his parents used to call him “stupid.” How wrong they were.
Winkler helped during the auction too, taking over from the professional auctioneer when his-and-hers Harley Motorcycle jackets came up for bid. Knowing that the VIPs weren’t exactly the leather motorcycle jacket-wearing type, Winkler, whose own leather jacket from his Fonz days now resides at the Smithsonian, beguiled and cajoled the audience, pushing the bids up by offering to autograph the jackets, until they finally sold for $1,700.
His big contribution came a little later when he auctioned off a set of autographed Hank Zipzer books and the opportunity to have a character in a future Zipzer book named after the winner. Bidding opened at $500, offered by Monica Rizzio of the band Tripping Lily, who wanted the character to be named Tripping Lily. It quickly rose, as Winkler charmed and coaxed the bidders, asking their names so he could personally them to bid higher, and keeping the audience laughing. Bidding finally closed at $5,000, just as one of the other bidders was prepared to go higher. Winkler resolved the problem by offering two identical prizes, bringing in a total of $10,000.
Another of the big auctions of the evening was a hand-made Nantucket basket, which sold for $2,600. Even the auctioneer was surprised at how high the bidding was going, saying at one point, “This is a lot of money for something that will sit by the toilet and hold Sports Illustrated.” He later suggested it should go in the guest room, asking, “What the hell is in this basket?” When the bidding finally ended, the auctioneer announced that the basket-maker, who was at the auction, would make a second basket to that the two highest bidders could both receive a basket. “You should have mentioned that earlier!” said one of the winners.
The big item of the evening, the Pops by the Sea painting, “Sea Notes,” by John Friedman, was auctioned off for $13,000, and two signed lithographs went for $500 each. The painting is a beach scene, showing eighth notes floating among the clouds.
Other items included four box seats at the Red Sox-Toronto Blue Jays game on August 17 for $1100, tickets to the Tony Bennett concert at the Melody Tent for $900, a lithography of Edward Kennedy’s boat Mya, to be signed by Senator Kennedy himself, for $2,300.
All told, the auction brought in $42,800 (by my calculations, which do not include numerous $100 contributions) for the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. The audience had been advised to “bid with reckless abandon; this is not about saving a few dollars, this is about philanthropy.” The bidders had the right spirit. And a good time was had by all.
At the end of the auction, the Arts Foundation thanked the 507 volunteers involved in the Pops by the Sea, and Maestro Winkler was presented with his own conductor’s baton for the next day’s performance. He expressed his thanks, saying “I figure a chicken could conduct them.”
Perhaps, but we would all much rather have Henry Winkler do it.
Rising Star: David McTiernan provided piano music during the reception. He is shown here with his parents Judy and Paul McTiernan. David attends New York University; the family lives in Falmouth.
Just back from the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York (just north of the Catskill Mountains). It was hot, it was rainy, it was crowded, and there was a lot of hiking up and down the hill to the stage area, but there was lots of music and fun, and a good time was had by all.
It was a little disorienting setting up camp (4,000 campers camp on-site) on a level surface, after three years (for me) camping on a hillside at the former Grey Fox location. Having a flat surface to sleep on where your air mattress and you won’t slide into a crumpled heap during the night allows you to sleep through even the most determined all-night jam session.
View of part of the camping area from the side of the stage. Click for larger picture.
Grey Fox is a four-day event for people of all ages. There were infants, there were people in their 80s and there was everyone in between. They share a love of bluegrass, and most of them also play, some taking out their instruments as soon as they set up camp and fiddling all night long. The official performances start Thursday on the main stage. The bands play all kinds of bluegrass music: traditional, country, jazzy, improvisational, progressive, alternative, newgrass, gospel, you-name-it, to an vast audience who have arranged their folding chairs on the hillside.
Another view of the audience and stage.
Meanwhile, other performers entertain in the dance tent and the masters tent, my favorite tent, where the crowds are smaller and the performers talk about their music and answer questions, as well as share their music. There is a tent for those who want to learn to play and to play with others, and there is a family tent for the kids, which circus-style entertainment and other activities during the day, and movies at night. There is also a four-day Bluegrass Academy for Kids where this year 100 kids participated in classes in singing and playing various instruments, led by Brian Wicklund and taught by many fine bluegrass players/teachers.
I bring instruments to the Bluegrass Academy from Johnson String Instruments of Cape Cod: violins, violas, cellos, to give the kids an opportunity to try different instruments during an “instrument petting zoo.” It seems a little like taking coals to Newcastle, in they most people who attend bring one or more instruments. Jam sessions are a big part of the festival.
But there are banjo players who want to try the cello, and guitar players who want to try the fiddle, and people curious about the viola, so the instrument petting zoo is usually pretty busy, and I enjoy giving kids (and often their parents) a chance to play a new instrument. This year, we had a very fine young cellist come to try out our cello; he skillfully played Bach as well as bluegrass and improvisational jazz, and it was a joy to listen.
The Bluegrass Academy kids perform on Sunday afternoon, after most people have left. Usually I leave Sunday morning too. (It was a six-hour drive for me this year, though MapQuest claimed I could do it in four hours and 15 minutes, they did not take into account the heavy traffic, and my need to stop occasionally). This year, though, I arrived at Grey Fox late, about 7:30 Friday night, missing almost two days of music, so I decided to stay through Sunday to hear more.
Sunday turned out to be a great day. First, I joined the Town Hall meeting, where campers talked about ways to improve the festival, particularly relating to the new site. People were thoughtful and creative, a great group. Then, I trudged up the hill to the main stage to watch a group called Kindling Stone, who did a little bluegrass, a little religious music, and a couple of Shape Note (Sacred Harp) songs, which were perfect on a Sunday morning in the mountains.
They were followed by Missy Raines, who sings and plays the upright string bass, and her band, the New Hip, who played great improvisational jazzy bluegrass.
The best was yet to come, though: the kids from the Bluegrass Academy. Their parents were hootin’ and hollerin’ of course, but so were people like me, who appreciated what these kids (elementary school to junior high school age, generally) had learned in only a couple of days and how well they played together. I was delighted to see four cellists in the group, and like others in the audience, happy to see the tradition of this vibrant music continuing on through another generation.
The senior Bluegrass Academy players.
All 100 players and their teachers on stage.
Young @ Heart
Young @ Heart is a chorus in Northampton, Massachusetts, as well as a movie about the chorus, its challenges and successes. Two things make this chorus different from any other: the average age of the participants is 80, and they sing songs you wouldn’t expect them to want to listen to, let alone sing, with enthusiasm and good spirits, songs like “Fix You” by Cold Play, “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth, the Clash, “I Want to Be Sedated,” by the Ramones, and more.
When the movie starts, many of the senior singers express a preference for classical music and opera. You have to wonder whether they are being forced to sing crazy rock music so people will laugh at them. In many of the early rehearsals, directed by the chorus leader, Bob Cilman, singers are expressing their dismay at music like “Schizophrenia,” and you start to feel a little uncomfortable about the whole thing. Maybe if they could sing opera and songs from the 30s and 40s, they would be happier. They would be just another old folks chorus (not that there are that many of them), though; they wouldn’t be going on world tours or be the subject of a movie.
Watching the rehearsals is a little painful. Singers are not in tune, or in time, and some are asleep. They do not learn quickly. You want Bob to give their solo to someone else who can handle it. You want them to sing something easier. You want them to drop this facade and sing the songs they know and love.
But as the move continues, you realize that singing and being in this group of singers, is vitally important to each and every singer. While they may plug their ears with cotton when loud rock music is played, they seem genuinely interested in broadening their musical horizons and giving their own expression to classic and contemporary rock music. Yes, it is still funny to see and hear old people sing “I Feel Good!,” but you are also convinced that they do feel good, and that music is why they feel so good. As one chorus member says, “music does a lot for your whole body. All the chorus members share a love of music with their good friends in the chorus, and they enjoy the thrill of making their audiences feel good too.
As the movie progresses, you get to know some of the individual singers, and some turn out to be very good singers. You mourn the loss of two members along with them, members who die while the group is preparing for a big concert. Members are united in their feeling that if (or when) they were to die, they would want the others to continue. The show must go on, and it does.
The movie contains several excerpts from Young@Heart performances, as well as three very well-done music videos. It is all lots of fun to watch, and the concert and video singing is very impressive. The members do finally remember their words, and they come in when they are supposed to, even though they couldn’t do it the day before.
Bob Cilman, who has led this group for 25 years, can be a stern taskmaster, though he is also quite sensitive to the frailty of his singers. He has witnessed deaths of many chorus members over the years, and, thanks to him, the show does go on, and it is a great inspiration.
Young@Heart is currently playing at the Regal Nickelodeon 5, 742 Nathan Ellis Highway (Route 151), in North Falmouth.
Growing an Orchestra
A small group of musicians at a recent gathering of the Falmouth Chamber Players, left to right, Hilde Maingay (violin), Laura Tutino (violin), Joyce Gindra (oboe), Fritz Sonnichsen (violin), Grant Mallett (violin), and behind him: Kate Housman (French horn), Jonathan Neufeld (viola). In front are Wendy Gabriel, Mary Sholkovitz (her arm only), and me (out of camera range) all on cello.
Ever since I took up the cello nine years ago, I have joined in discussions about what fun it would be to have an amateur orchestra in Falmouth, and those discussions no doubt precede my awareness of them. I was a member, for a semester, of a string ensemble at the Cape Cod Conservatory in West Barnstable. That was fun, but it was a long trip, and work tended to interfere with my attendance at rehearsals. And the end-of-semester concert was in Chatham. I also played flute in Falmouth Town Band for nine years, an energetic group of 100 or more musicians of all ages, under the direction of Lin Whitehead. I enjoyed that too, but I began to worry that my hearing was being compromised by sitting directly in front of a dozen trumpets every week.
Besides, I couldn’t play cello in Town Band. Clearly, we needed an orchestra. It seemed like a lot of work, to get an orchestra going, despite the plenitude of instrumentalists in and around town. There didn’t seem to be an available rehearsal space, a conductor, or available sheet music. Then, one day, pianist-oboist-singer Joyce Gindra and her neighbor Carol Knox, cellist-organist, got together for some piano/cello duets. In the course of their practicing, they thought, “wouldn’t it be nice to have more people, an ensemble, or maybe an orchestra?”
They both knew several musicians, and those musicians knew other musicians, and, in no time at all, there were about three dozen people (about nine of whom are cellists) interested in playing in the orchestra. Hilde Maingay found a place for the group to practice at Alchemy Farm in Hatchville, others located sheet music, and Joyce talked to John Yankee (who leads the Falmouth Chorale and the Greater Falmouth Mostly All-Male Chorus) about conducting the group.
The group, which calls itself the Falmouth Chamber Players, will meet three times in July (the last three Mondays of the month) to try out music and get to know each other better, before starting the season in the fall. Members value the group not only for the opportunity to play together in a chamber orchestra, but also for the chance to meet up with musicians with similar interests to play together on a continuing basis or for special occasions.
We met recently at Hilde’s house and played through some string quartets and quintets, doubling and tripling parts, as necessary. We had a wonderful time, and I was impressed by how good the individual players are and how musical they sound as a group. I am looking forward to the July sessions.
Amateur or professional musicians, young and old, who are interested in playing with the group should contact Joyce Gindra at jgindra at att dot net.
It’s Drawing Day
June 7 is international Drawing Day, so pick up a pencil and draw! There is a website to coordinate the Internet aspect of this event at DrawingDay. According to the site, Drawing Day is “a worldwide drawing event encouraging everyone to drop everything and draw for the sake of art.” The goal is to “create 1 million drawings online this day and boost online art communities.” The site provides links to online drawing communities and instructions for how to get your art online.
Whether you draw on the back of an envelope, online, or with traditional drawing media, it’s a great idea to express your creativity with a drawing, today, or any day.