Arts & Culture

October 31, 2009

Small Box, a new opera set in a death row visiting room, will have its world premiere in Bloomington next month. The opera will be performed for one night only on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m. at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

With music by Herman Whitfield III and a libretto by Bruce L. Pearson, the one-act, hour-long opera takes a serious look at the death penalty without arguing either for or against.

"The opera," Pearson said in a phone interview, "offers a fairly typical cross-section of those who find their way to death row." With Small Box he hopes to "make people think by presenting a realistic view of prison life." The raw material, Pearson said, "is from getting to know the guys on the row."


September 19, 2009

Music and culture critic Jessica Hopper -- consultant for the revered public radio show, This American Life and whose work is regularly featured in publications such as SPIN and LA Weekly -- indulged a diverse Boxcar Books audience on Aug. 28 with readings from her new book The Girls' Guide to Rocking.

A meaty manual on creating, recording and performing music, The Girls' Guide to Rocking is garnering across-the-board praise for its painstaking nuts-and-bolts approach to music and for its expediency to anyone -- not just the adolescent girls it targets -- interested in making it.

Though written in direct, accessible language, the book is impressive in its breadth and scope, and Hopper, a musician herself since age 15, explained that in writing it she drew from her own experiences. "I wrote this book on how to start a band and play and pursue your own interest in music, and a lot of it is culled from my own experiences from being a teenager in a band and growing up as a girl in a band."


September 5, 2009

The most insightful observation I've ever heard about the artist's life came from Alice Weaver, the legendary creator/proprietor of the Ferguson House in Nashville and one of the great characters I've known. The catalyst for her proclamation was my wife Judy's reaction to tourists viewing her artwork.

Among many other talents, Judy was an abstract painter. And in the fall of 1977, we opened a shop called Creations in Alice's Antique Alley, where we sold Judy's paintings, weavings and assorted creations, my photographs, our hand-made Colombian imports and a variety of other arts and crafts. Our next-door neighbor was The Paint Box, where saw blades painted with rural scenes sold all day long, day after day after day. The common refrain heard outside our adjoining doors: "Oh hon, look'it the saws!" Inside our shop: "Anybody could do that."

Nashville tourists were a little more accepting of photography as art in the late 1970s, but only marginally so. And despite our grasp of the culture we were involved with, reality was difficult to accept, even if we did get our share of positive reinforcement. Alice swept our bruised egos aside with a wave of her hand. "It doesn't matter whether people love or hate your work," she advised. "It's when they respond to it like it was skimmed milk that you're in trouble."


August 22, 2009

Craig Brenner & the Crawdads
Live to Love
Craig Brenner

Bloomington’s own Craig Brenner & the Crawdads have just issued a new CD that romps with boogie, blues, jazz, R&B and even country in a delightful potpourri of 10 original songs. Craig Brenner, leader of the group and composer, lyricist and arranger of all 10 original numbers on the new CD, Live to Love, is an exemplar of what can happen when formal musical training meets deep-inside soulfulness and creativity.

Brenner graduated from Florida Southern College in 1970, then studied jazz piano with Wally Cirillo in Miami. He attended the justly renowned Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington from 1976 to 1980, where he studied piano, composition and improvisation, then undertook additional study through a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, studying boogie-woogie and stride piano under Bob Seeley and blues piano under Big Joe Duskin.


August 22, 2009

Moving to the country at age 23 drew me away from my roots and, simultaneously, deeper into them. My immediate family couldn't fathom why anyone would choose to live in an old "shack" on a narrow, twisty "highway" 15 minutes from town. But my first visual memory of rugged, verdant, Indiana topography is gazing upward from the back porch of one of my mother's relatives in the hills and hollers near Clinton. Her cousin was postmaster at Shepardsville for decades.

Besides, my grandma had lived in Brown County before moving to the country 10 miles east of Indianapolis, where she raised my mother and, along with my aunt and uncle, still lived in the fall of 1974. My fondest childhood memories are from the summers I spent there with my cousins picking jaw-stabbing sour apples off the trees (much to Grandma Scott's chagrin -- "Eat 'em off the ground!") and climbing trees and playing army along the trails in the one-acre patch of woods across the street.

My urban upbringing notwithstanding, I felt at home in that rickety little five-room house with a forest edge and trailhead just 30 feet from my kitchen door. When the trees were bare, motorists on State Road 446 caught their first view of Lake Monroe over my tin roof, the same one I saw out my kitchen window. They still do, though the house was replaced by a manufactured home post-Blizzard of '78, after we moved out.


August 8, 2009

Gay teens -- gay males, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people -- are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. For all youths, those aged 16-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual teens. Young gay people in grades 7-12 are twice as likely as straight young people to plan suicide and four times more likely to make a suicide attempt that requires medical care.

Growing up gay is very, very difficult for most people. As Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America reports, gay teenagers are at high risk of developing mental illness because of the "hatred and prejudice that surround them, not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation." That is the crisis referred to in the book's title.


August 8, 2009

I have a trove of memories from the times I spent with Hilario Martinez in Colombia, the most vivid among them his reaction when I told him of news reports in 1975 that said some Americans were eating dog food. We were in a Chinese restaurant in Bogota, and the image so contradicted Hilario's preconceived notion of America as the land of plenty that he put his hands over his ears and shook his head "No!" while hunched over his plate slurping a spaghetti noodle.

Hilario lived in the Barrio Simon Bolivar in the steaming coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia, where I met him a year before and made him a partner in my nascent importing business. He had a wife, Teresa, and six kids, ranging in age from 18 to 7. He drove a 28-year-old bus and earned about 200 pesos a day -- $6 American -- and spent as much time under the bus making repairs as he did in the seat driving, maybe more. Six bucks was nothing, even by mid-1970s economic standards. It was enough to buy two wall hangings, wholesale.

The Martinez home had concrete floors, lawn chairs for furniture and three beds -- the oldest son Marcos had his own, the three girls shared, and mom and dad slept with the two little boys on the other. All of the roads in the barrio were dirt, with ruts in places that resembled four-wheel trails in the Jackson County woods. The windows were shuttered, with no glass or screen. The mosquitoes were god-awful.


July 25, 2009

As Paula Ionescu explains the themes behind her paintings on display at City Hall, she can’t help but smile. Her art utilizes the colors of spring, the time of the year she enjoys most. One of her pieces, “Daffodil,” depicts her favorite flower. But as vibrant as her paintings are, Ionescu hasn’t always been in such good spirits.

Her paintings are the result of art therapy sessions held by Centerstone, an organization that provides mental health and addiction services to more than 18,000 Indiana residents annually. Ionescu says the paintings, which are being displayed as part of this year’s Centerstone “Art of Mental Health” exhibition, have aided in coping with depression. She is not the only person who has found relief in the unconventional sessions.

Shallus Quillen, another Centerstone artist, says the sessions have helped reduce her anxiety. Quillen, who engaged self-destructive activities, says the Centerstone art sessions are the only effective form of therapy she has found. Becoming involved with the sessions has been “the best thing ever,” because it has given her an alternative to self-harm. “It’s easier to paint than hurt myself,” she says.


July 25, 2009

Editor's Note: "The Blues of Poetry" will be an occasional theme pursued in "Blues and More" columns, which will explore poetry set to music, and poetry inspired by music. Future topics will include the ragtime and blues poetry of award-winning Indiana poet Jared Carter; the poetic musings inspired by music of another Indiana poet Richard Pflum; a look at the highly lyrical and poetic songwriting of Canadian Paul Reddick; and the CD of Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf reading his poetry to musical accompaniment featuring Bloomington jazz pianist Monika Herzig.

***

Joseph Kerschbaum, spoken original poems
Josh Johnson, musical composition, guitars, keyboards, bass, with J.B. Murray, drums
Our Voices Sound Like Silence
Kerschbaum and Johnson

The CD Our Voices Sound Like Silence is best looked at as an interlocking poetic oratorio in 11 movements, each part contributing to an interlocking, complete composition in words and music. Thus is Our Voices Sound Like Silence embraced both in its totality as a composition and through each one of its 11 separate, complementary parts. These parts are: the eight original poems of Joseph Kerschbaum, which he reads over a musical backdrop composed by Josh Johnson, with Johnson playing multiple instruments accompanied by drummer J.B. Murray; and the three strictly musical interludes that begin, end, and form a bridge between the two thematic groups of Kerschbaum's readings that comprise four poems each. Structured, yet flowing freely, as a river within the boundaries of its banks, is this composition in word and music that forms the totality of this CD.


July 25, 2009

My first trip to Colombia was actually pretty ridiculous. Travel was never a priority in my family, and by 1974 I had only been out of the country twice -- camping in Canada and breaking for spring in Negril, Jamaica. The only Spanish my partner Ayres and I knew were leftover snippets from introductory Español in high school and college.

What little I had learned about Colombia didn't recommend it as a travel destination, either. I knew it was desperately poor and hopelessly corrupt. Tony the Dope Dealer had told me that one of his associates had gone there on vacation -- "He wasn't doing any deals." -- and had been thrown in prison and shaken down for thousands of dollars. And I assumed that an importing business from Colombia would raise some authorities' brows, given the country's status as an emerging world drug capital in 1974.

The primary plus I had gleaned about the place was that artisans there hand-wove cotton wall hangings and other arts and crafts that were cheap and marketable to home decorator-type Americans. Another was that Colombia truly was a foreign culture, something I had wanted to experience since I read my first National Geographic. It was Third World, and it did, after all, have the Andes Mountains, not to mention a port on the Amazon River. So, when Ayres told me just days before we were to depart that he had no money, my response was a forceful, "No way. We're going."

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