Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Midsummer Night's Dream—at A Castle

Playing the French horn has provided me with some interesting opportunities, and with my horn in my hands, I have found myself doing things I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise—performing on stage with an orchestra, for one, playing with a community band, for another. I have played at a wedding, performed a solo at a fund-raising luncheon and been part of a pit orchestra for a couple of high school musicals; and outside of playing, I have been involved in organizing events around the orchestra.

Last week, my horn and I were part of one of the most memorable experiences—we were part of the band accompanying a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Mt. Union University in Alliance created a new annual event, Shakespeare At the Castle, because oddly, Alliance has a castle. In the early 1900s, a man named William Morgan, owner of Morgan Engineering Company, built what amounts to a castle on his 50 acres, with the architect traveling to Europe to study the construction styles and designs of actual castles. The family didn't live in it long before Morgan died, and the thing was sold to the Elks Lodge. It was eventually sold again and restored and is now owned by the public school system, which uses it as an administration building.

A smart guy at the university decided the castle would make the perfect setting for Shakespeare productions, the building's owners agreed, and the first play was performed last week with seating on the lawn and the production happening on the balcony/patio. My horn and I took our seat with the band, conducted by Conductor Eric who also wrote the music.

This is the view from where I sat:

I have enjoyed A Midsummer Night's Dream since my English major days in high school, and I used to walk around with an antique pocket edition that looked just like this:

I had it with me when my best friend died my senior year, and I began memorizing portions as a way to work through my grief. The only section that stuck was Puck's epilogue—"If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended..." etcetera. Most of that has faded in my memory now, but I can't hear those lines without recalling the circumstances in which I first learned them.

I have seen this play at community productions in Chicago and once at Regent's Park in London (with one of the characters playing a horn as a prop, actually), but this production on the lawn of this castle with this horn player mostly handling her part was my all-time favorite.

I left the experience completely loving the behind-the-scenes atmosphere of the theater and being a part of such an event, everything from the first laugh from the eager-to-please audience to the their final applause to the sawdust on the floor that traveled home with me, stuck to the bottom of my horn case. I didn't mind that torrential rain drove us indoors to a small theater in town or that I hauled music stands in the back of my car or that a power outage had the players delivering lines in the absolute dark.

I tend to eat up every experience as if it were my first and last at once, and this one was a full meal. "So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, and Robin shall restore amends."

Monday, June 09, 2014

Country Again

Pardon me while I fold up the sheets I have had draped over the furniture here these last few months, and please excuse the dust hanging in strings from the light fixtures. Blogville is a ghost town, and my plot on the corner of it has been pretty ghosty as well.

Well, here we are with our feet up and gin and tonics all around, so let’s get started. My orchestra performed a concert this past Saturday night, and the experience was thrilling enough for me to make a trip here to tell you all about it.

Every two years, we put on a show, like Rooney and Garland, but instead of Babes in Arms, we put on a country show, and we do it partly for money because it’s guaranteed to sell the house, or at least nearly. This isn’t to say we play country music begrudgingly or condescendingly. Members of this orchestra love a good symphony as much as anybody, but we don’t mind getting together on stage with other kinds of music on our stands. This season, we have played swing, contemporary American, and a choral piece based on poems by Robert Frost, for example, and there was only a minimal amount of grumbling. You can’t put sixty or so people in one place without some complaining no matter what you do.

Anyway, about this country business—we have a couple of regular guests we invite, Elizabeth Langford-Estes and her husband Jon Estes (you can look them up). Liz is originally from Small Town, but they now live in Nashville where they have some amount of success as professional musicians. Liz is an award-winning fiddler and sings, and Jon plays everything else, basically. This year, we also brought in some local talent, Reb Robinson, Jacob Stockdale and Rick Troyer who puts together a small country band for us he calls the Onenightstandband. Our apologies to Rick for listing him as Rick Yoder in the program. We don't really believe the names Troyer and Yoder are interchangeable (you'd have to live near Amishworld to understand the mixup.)

And we flew in a special guest, Rich Travers, a piano player from Massachusetts who, from what I can tell, can play any damned song put in front of him. I may never play the piano again, after hearing him handle the keys with such ease and expertise.

If I were to tell you about every single song we played, you’d nod off or start checking your email and kicking at the fringe on the rug, so I’ll just hit the highlights, at least the moments that highlighted this concert of me.

We kicked the whole thing off with everyone on stage to play "Mountain Music," and hearing the full hall applaud so enthusiastically and even hoot a little (you don’t typically get that with a symphony), I knew this was going to be exhilarating. I have written in the past that playing before half a house isn't so bad because we really just play for ourselves anyway, but I may be lying. Having so many people seated on two levels cheer and clap in your direction makes all the difference.

After a few tunes played by the guests, all really well received, the orchestra came in again to play with Reb singing a couple of her original tunes and the classic "Crazy," which Reb sang with the depth I appreciated so much when hearing Patsy Cline. She didn’t impersonate Cline, though, because she didn’t need to, with her own style worth hearing. I have a soft spot for Patsy Cline, and “Crazy” in particular, and when I hear it, I always go back to an evening in a barbecue joint outside of Atlanta when my brother-in-law used up all our quarters on the Cline songs in the jukebox because he knew his Yankee family would enjoy them.

At some point, Jacob, the fiddler performed his set, playing and singing, and I’m telling you, that boy is so adorable, you would all want to eat him up with a spoon. But he plays the fiddle like a full-grown man with enough life experience to draw awe from an audience. And he and Liz played a few tunes together, including “Ashokan Farewell.” 

We opened the second half with an arrangement of “Shenendoah” that starts with a soft horn line and ends with the horns popping veins with the kind of volume you can feel in your chest, like when you’re standing on the street corner for a parade, and the base drums march by. And I have to say, from the standpoint of a participant, that was my favorite moment. 

As a listener, though, being witness to so much going on without horn parts, I’m not sure I could claim one particular favorite tune. I generally enjoy hearing and watching music performed with remarkable skill, and there was that enough to marvel at for days. And I was personally pleased I didn’t miss my pitch on a single note. I got tripped up with some exacting articulation, but in general I’d give myself a nice pat on the back for not being my usual neurotic self on stage.

Country music isn’t my preference, I’ll admit, and I will choose just about any other genre when given a choice. But this is the music of my childhood, and when I sit on stage for this event, I go straight back to my roots in my appreciation for these tunes. This is the music my father and his brothers played on their front porch in Alabama, with each boy handling a different instrument. This is the music I heard coming from the kitchen radio when I was a little girl, as my father rose before dawn to pack his carpenter-sized lunch and would listen to Grand Ole Opry as he tapped his work boots on the Linoleum. And this is the music I was taught around our piano, singing alto with my mother out of yellowed gospel song books the family had saved since their tent-meeting days in the '30s and '40s.

I’ll probably not listen to country music tomorrow when I turn on the radio or iTunes, but I'm still floating from quite a dopamine boost from Saturday's event, and I’ll look forward to putting on this show again in two years.

Here is a video of Reb singing one of her original tunes (courtesy of one of her friends):

Saturday, February 01, 2014

What Comes from Jamaica

Pardon me while I dust off this place that has been collecting cobwebs strung from the chipped plaster and rotting woodwork. 

I had intended to write in December and to talk about my orchestra's delightful Christmas concert. I was going to write about a performance by the Canton Symphony, too, and about going to Atlanta to see my family for the holiday. I did none of that, obviously. Well, then I was going to write about how Husband, the girls and I flew to Jamaica the day after Christmas for a five-day rest-up at the Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort and Spa, complete with pictures and restaurant reviews, but I didn't do any of that either. But I'll tell you this much—while the trip to Jamaica was overall a success, I came home with a souvenir I wouldn't give you ten cents for.

As I mentioned, we stayed at a resort, an all-inclusive kind of place with a massive pool, a lovely beach, a spa and lots of restaurants. We stayed on the property for all but one day when we took a trip up into the mountains for a waterfall excursion. We didn't go to the one everyone seems to be familiar with but to a smaller place that was supposed to be a little less challenging. Not having been to the other one, I can't say if it was or wasn't, but it was something I could handle without too much trouble, and the lunch that was included, prepared at a small ramshackle camp with chickens and ducks afoot, was delicious.

Mostly we staked out our spot on the beach and planned our day around meals and the occasional spa visit.

Well, on our last full day there, two days after the falls visit, I woke up with a touch of an intestinal issue, if you know what I mean. It plagued me into the next day, about the time we had to board the plane for home when it subsided enough so that I could travel. Back home, we unpacked and dived into piles of laundry when this virus or bacteria or what have you evolved into something that gave me a high fever, chills and vomiting for a day or so. For about 24 hours, I only got out of bed to hurl.

When that portion of this situation subsided, I was left with a lingering fever and abdominal pain that was uncomfortable but not excruciating. It wasn't enough to send me to the hospital, but it was enough to make me feel like laying down all day long. By the next Monday, a full week after this thing began, I still had a fever and pain, so I went to a stat care place, thinking I had some intestinal bug. And I'll admit I thought I might even have a parasite from the waterfall water I accidentally swallowed, and I kind of got a kick out of the idea. It seems like an interesting story to tell.

It wasn't so interesting, it turns out, because what I had was gall stones, and I was sent home with instructions to go to the emergency room if my symptoms worsened. That night they did worsen, with increased pain and a temperature of 103. So, husband took me to the ER. The staff there dismissed the gall stones, and after a CT scan, two ultrasounds and two pelvic exams at 3:00 in the morning, it was decided I had an ovarian cyst, or possibly an infected appendix. The two things are so close to each other in the female anatomy that it was difficult to decide which. Then the doctors decided it wasn't a cyst but an abscess about the size of a silver dollar. It's likely caused by the bacteria that made me sick initially—it traveled until it found a crevice to camp out in and to reek havoc from.

I spent the rest of the week in the hospital on antibiotics, and an ultrasound on that last day proved the abscess had not shrunk but may have even grown. I was sent home to take two very strong antibiotics for two weeks. I took the things as responsibly as possible, but I have to say there were days I wanted to chuck the things and let this abscess—Rosemary's Baby, I began calling it—take over. Those drugs caused such fatigue, as did the infection, and light headedness that I could barely finish sentences, couldn't drive, couldn't walk the dog, could barely even play with the dog. Husband did the cooking, and I did the laying down on the couch and watching movies.

Finally, after I finished the drugs, and with no fever and not much pain to speak of, a follow-up visit to the doctor left me with instructions to get back to my normal life. I still have this abscess, which occasionally reminds me of itself with twinges and mild pain, and I'll soon have an ultrasound to determine the size of it, but it looks like I might be on the other side of this infection, this souvenir from Jamaica that I'd rather not have. Five days on the beach led to four weeks of being sick. Not much of a fair trade, I say.

So, vacation in Jamaica. I have some nice memories from the trip, so I'll try to focus on those. Here are a few photos:
The daughters waiting for a table at one of the hotel restaurants.

View from our spot on the beach.
The lobby of our cute villa.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Walking Trails Price Park Edition

In an effort to get to know our new town as thoroughly as possible, Baxter and I paid a visit to Price Park today. It's a nice park on Maple Street with everything a park should have—a playground, a duck pond with the most aggressive ducks!, fishing, baseball, tennis, basketball, and picnic shelters. In the summer, the Canton Community Band performs there, and I have had the pleasure of playing with them a few times. But now that I live here, I can check out the entire 18 acres of Price Park.

The place also has a walking path, and that was the main purpose of our visit today. It's one mile long and was created in honor of Earl. L. Stockert, a local man who was an avid hiker, according to his obituary, and thus the marker at the beginning of the trail, "dedicated to his footprints through time":

When we arrived at the park, I looked for a no-pets sign among all the other signs about park hours and how you shouldn't swim in the duck pond, and no skateboarding. Seeing none, the dog and I went ahead on this cement path painted green. It mostly looks like this:

It's a cold day today, so there was no one else on the path except for an elderly woman who was sitting beside it on one of those walkers that converts into a seat. The park is filled with trees and benches donated by local businesses or by individuals in honor of deceased loved ones, and each monument has a plaque. The grounds are well maintained and nicely planned so that you aren't just walking in a circle. You're walking around things and over things like bridge that crosses a sweet, little creek.

I swear to you, it wasn't until we reached the far end of this path that I saw the first "no dogs" sign. Not just no dogs, but no dogs within 15 feet of the path. But what were we to do so far from the car? We kept walking and passed at least two other no-dogs signs, and I realized I would not be returning here for a walk with the dog.

I could go back without Baxter, I suppose, but the back side of this path is home to a large flock of Canada geese, and let me tell you a fact about those big birds you may not have heard—each one of them poops up to three pounds a day. And I believe each one of those Price Park geese poops directly on the walking path. Getting through the mess was like walking on hot coals, or how I would imagine that experience to be.

So, Price Park is lovely, and the play ground is nice, and the summer band concerts are a treat. But I will not be returning for a walk with or without the dog. I just thought you should know, in case you're looking for a walking path in North Canton, Ohio, too.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Art Day—Shadow Box Edition

As I mentioned, it's craft day here. It's been craft day for a few days in a row, actually, and all that craftiness has yielded three shadow boxes displaying pages from old text books. Among the old books on my shelves, I realized I had a nice collection of family books—my mother's fourth-grade math book and her science book from some year after that, and my grandmother's fifth-grade English book. My grandmother was married in 1920, so backtrack from there; and my mother was in the fourth grade in 1935.

I started by laying out the raw materials—shadow boxes from JoAnns craft store, some tiny paperclips  and glue dots from the same store and the loose pages cut from the books:

Beginning with the math book, I came up with a way to present the pages, folded loosely and glued at the end, and I laid them out on the board from the frame. It took several tries and lots of reorganizing, but I finally got what I wanted. I added some fun things—I chose some photos from the book, scanned them in and printed them on vintage looking paper and then clipped them to add interest. I also printed photos of my mother and grandmother to make these things more personal.

And voila—art.

Here is the math box with a photo of my mother and her older brother, Clifton. It was winter, and a freak snow blanketed the ground of their farm in Alabama, so the two put on their swimsuits and had someone take a photo of them. Why? Who knows.

Here is the science box with a photo of my mother and her younger sister, Sybel. This one also features a scrap from one of the book pages on which my mother wrote, "If you get married and you have twins, don't come to me for safety pins." That was just too choice to leave out.

And here is my grandmother's English box. In the top righthand corner, I featured a photo from the book of children looking wide-eyed through a toy store window, and the caption reads "The Promised Land." Sweet, right?

So, projects done, and I'm not sure what to do with all of these extra pages. I have asked my sisters to allow me to make more boxes for them.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Modern English Circa 1906

It's craft time at Scout's house, and I'm taking part old school books. I have my mother's fourth-grade math book and her science book from an elementary year—these would have been used in the 1930s—and I have my grandmother's English book from her fifth grade—it's copyrighted 1906, and it looks like this:

The pages of all of these books are cracking, and the spines and covers are wearing thin, so I have decided to take them apart and reassemble them into shadow boxes. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm using as inspiration a vague memory of a large shadow box I saw at a home decor store back in the spring. This massive thing was filled with crumbled sheets of old books, or maybe they were folded or maybe they were rolled. Either way, they made an interesting display.

I'll show you the results a little bit later, but for now, let's talk about the kinds of things kids learned in English class at the beginning of the 1900s. My grandmother was a little girl in rural Alabama not far from the Tennessee River (not far from the town where I was born, in fact). Here she is, in the front as the youngest of her siblings.

When she was in school, veterans of the Civil War were abundant, and signs of Reconstruction were evident if you looked close enough. She was aware that the KKK marched at night, and she was growing up before cars and electricity, but according to her memoirs and stories, my Memaw's childhood was a pleasant one. In reading through her English book, I wonder how much of her bliss could be attributed to her pleasant education.

Besides the grammar, the punctuation and the rules of sentence structure, her little book is filled with delightful tales and exercises in learning. Children were encouraged to write letters as follows:

1. Write a note that you would be willing to put under your mother's plate before breakfast on her birthday. Tell her how much you love her, and how truly you wish to grow up to be what she wishes you to become.

2. Write a note expressing your Christmas greetings to your grandparents. The note is to go with a present.

3. Write a note to be sent with some flowers to your Aunt Emily who has been very ill, but she is getting better.

Etc. through to 8. You are invited to a children's party. Write that it will give you pleasure to go. Thanks for the invitation.

Was this not a completely different time? My grandmother checked off this list as if she had written all the notes.

As a reading exercise, the children were given a story about General Robert E. Lee and then asked details about it. The story goes this way:

General Lee was once a passenger in a crowded railway train. Presently an aged woman, poorly dressed and carrying a heavy basket, boarded the train. She walked from one car to another without finding a seat, and no one offered her one. At last she came to the place where General Lee was sitting. He rose at once. Lifting his hat politely, he said, "Madam, pray take this seat." In an instant a dozen men offered to give their seats to the General, but he refused them all, saying, "If there was no seat for this lady, there is none for me."

And here is my favorite as an exercise in silent reading, a story I have never heard before:

Do you know where Egypt is? Have you ever seen a picture of that grim monster, the Sphinx? She was the most famous riddle-maker in the world. Half-lion and half-woman, she sat speechless except when there fell from her cruel lips this question, "What is that animal which walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three at night?" Woe to the person who had no correct answer to give her! The Sphinx at him alive. One day a very wise man came her way. The Sphinx asked him the usual question. She was already thinking what a fine tidbit he would make, when, to her surprise, he gave the right answer! "Man," he said. "When he is a child, he crawls on hands and feet; that is the morning of life; when he becomes a man, he walks erect on two feet; that is the noon of his life; when he is old, he leans on a cane, and that is the evening of life." It made the Sphinx so angry to have her riddle guessed that she killed herself, and so the world was rid of a terrible monster.

What an education my grandmother had, with this book of poetry, pictures of paintings, character sketches and wild tales of the Sphinx, so far removed from her small world in Alabama. I have never been one to long for the Good Old Days because I think those days are fiction, but I do hope our current fifth graders find inspiration in their English books, stories and fanciful words that make their minds wander to a place on the map far from home, tales that make them daydream about ancient monuments, ideas they wouldn't hear inside the small confines of their own home.

Now, let's see if I can do this great little book justice.