Tuesday, November 03, 2015

On Teaching Ukulele

(Recent Letter to my Ukulele Champion)

Miss Heidi —

Yesterday, I was feeling rather uncertain. Paradoxically, it was from a Baby Duck’s awe of your Mama Duck experience, your expertise, charm and charisma. Let’s just say our chat gave me lots things to go “huh” about.

BUT, then …

After wrestling particularly with two things I gleaned from our Skype — the circle activities and students playing w/o music (both of which kind of terrified me in some way that’s hard to explain) — I took a breath and made a plan for my Middle Schoolers and we met yesterday.

And it was my favorite class I’ve thus far had.

Oh, Heidi — it was so GREAT. First we played my staple warmup, the Lime in the Coconut as a "strum-tap” exercise, and then I paused melodramatically and proclaimed “this is getting too easy for you guys. Let’s get in a circle.” And you know what? They were … excited! I didn’t expect that. It was a small group, 5 kids, and we were knee-to-knee. Then I had everybody pass their ukuleles one person to the left and we did the reach-over strum-tap, and they LOVED IT. And we were close to each other and I felt like we were a group for the first time. THEN I had them do Surfin USA the same way. THEN we did the counterpoint vocal (“inside-outside USA”) “normally” but staying in the circle, knee-to-knee. Then I made them do both vocal parts AND do the reach-over strum (hilarious). Then we did some of “Psycho Killer.” And no music was involved. I’d warmed up the projector, but it was simply forgotten. By me and them. 

And as a crescendo, I taught them to play the main riff of Kashmir w/o music, which I’ve been threatening/promising/fantasizing about doing. And they DID it and they just looooved it. I’m including a handout I made for them to take home, for you to enjoy.

THANK YOU, Heidi. Everytime, thank you.

Today I have my grade school kids, who are my biggest challenge. I’ve got 15 of them. I want to do some circle things with them, probably easier things… maybe Some kind of thing centered around She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain or Jump Down, Turn Around. 

Hope you’re great and this makes you feel ever better about the magic you inspire. :-)


Saturday, September 26, 2015

New Alchemy


At the opening of "New Alchemy," the Lexington Camera Club's first group show in 43 years. The original "club" produced several internationally famous art photographers, most notably Ralph Eugene Meatyard, as well as Robert May and Van Deren Coke. Meatyard's death in 1973 effectively cast a pall over further activities, leading to a long dormancy. I helped Guy Mendes (my friend, extraordinary photographer, writer, and all-around person, as well as the principal surviving alum of that original incarnation) "restart" the LCC two years ago. And we're 30 strong now. The show is at the Wilson Fine Art Gallery at Georgetown College for the coming month and is an official part of the Louisville Photo Biennial, which is just icing on the cake. 

I'm pretty proud — it's the first time my photography has ever hung in a proper gallery, to say nothing the awesome talents with whom I'm sharing the walls. It's a remarkable show if you're looking for some amazing photography in a beautiful gallery.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ukulele Day

Today is the day. After months of preparation, and endless mentoring and encouragement by so many champions, today I begin a new chapter in my life that's kind of a dream come true: Today I begin work as a part-time instructor at The Lexington School, teaching Ukulele to classes of 3-5 & 6-8 graders (as well as private lessons and a plucky group of very adept teachers and administrators).

I've been honored to work as a graphic designer, writer, and photographer for TLS for over a decade and am thrilled and full of anticipation to continue and expand my affiliation with this amazing school, and to bring the joy of ukulele (and the joy of music creation, by sneaky association) to young minds and hands and ears.

Thank you, Universe, for this opportunity, and particular thanks to those many generous souls who have helped me get to Today. "Put me in, Coach — I'm ready to play."

Monday, June 22, 2015

Love & Mercy

Wow, The Beach Boys​' Brian Wilson​ finally lauded, cared for, and treasured in movie form. Love & Mercy​ is what some fans (ME) have been waiting for: a completely gripping testament to one pop music's greatest and most troubled geniuses. It's at the The Kentucky Theater​  through Tuesday only. REALLY REALLY GOOD, for anybody. For music nerds and Wilson fans — ok, again, ME, at least: totally mesmerizing. The detail, the references… the love and care, I guess. SO GLAD. I feel like, if you love Brian Wilson, you've patiently waited for somebody (including HIM) to "get it right." Love & Mercy gets it right.

Love & Mercy web site.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Ukulele World Congress VII Changed My Life, I'm Pretty Sure.

I come home from Ukulele World Congress with a feeling of glow inside, such a remarkable thing it was. I haven't experienced that vivid strain of friendliness outside of Burning Man.

We camped. We won. This was a comeback, since Lucy and I tried camping, oh, about 9 years ago. (And that's how well it went: It was nine years ago.) Thanks to a village of loaners, we had the kind of fun we wanted to have camping or "glamping" as some like to say. For our family of 3, I took 4 air mattresses. We used three of them. (Couldn't afford to screw up the sleeping arrangements.)

My girls, drinking in the night-time vibes.
(photo by Paul Curry)
It's okay to feel like you don't know how to camp if you're in the company of those with a zeal for it. That's always been my preference and this trip was a grateful return to that: Paul with his fried corn, his endless generosity, his impossibly friendly ease; Jonathan with his punch, his impish selection in songs — we're brothers in both ways; Tracey and that goat cheese, her stories — a more game girl there surely has never been; Plum and her boys and that tent — always funny somehow without saying a word, funny by gesture, by implication. Jeff, who traveled three hours to play "Hooked on a Feeling" and who is skyrocketing up through the ranks of Libby Lee's favorite play buddies.

We made new friends — real friends like Brenna — and lots of new acquaintances who will likely become real friends. We played in creeks. We didn't wear shoes. Libby Lee stayed up until 1am or later and then would simply knock off, without any kind of protest or storm. Just… Lights out. Seeing her joy at tromping around those adjacent grassy fields, leading the way, saying "let's find Harrison," or "let's go see the people playing ukuleles." I'm pretty sure she came back making up more songs than ever before. To arrange for her to see gifted players and singers — on stage or from one foot away — is essential fathering. Mission accomplished. If I can infect her with a love of music and the seed that she can play and sing, then mission fucking accomplished.

UWC was that incredible balance.

A celebratory passion for not just ukulele, but the playing of music by normal folks. Yes, there were mesmerizing singers, voices that reminded me that some people have awe-inspiring natural gifts that others of us will never have. But just as importantly, there was the spirit — the insistence — that you, too, can sing and play. We can ALL sing. And that I treasure probably more. I think now about the verb "to play" where music is concerned, and how I saw this weekend, that it means the same thing as it does when Libby Lee says "Do you want to play?" It's the same. And when I got on stage by myself or with my Lexingtones friends (and hopefully next year with friends who possibly I met minutes earlier — I'm already cooking up ideas. Watch out, Laura Lindahl and Jennifer Lane), we're playing — we're all playing. Including the audience. Ukuleles and voices and ears are just the mediums. We are, all of us, playing. It's kind of all I want in this world. It's the only thing that really feels right and isn't confusing or complicated.
Friday Night, 2:30am: Miley Cyrus, comin' right up! (Photo by Bob Colladay)

My Ukulele World Congress VII performances

FRIDAY: My first time on stage is with the UWC line-up of my home group, The Lexingtones. We play Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon" and "We're Gonna Be Friends" by the White Stripes. There's lots of harmony singing, which I think I enjoy even more than playing ukulele. Singing feels so good. It feels so physically good. And this line-up seems to do pretty well with improvised harmony. Or at least that's how I choose to hear it. The audience gives us hearty applause, at least because everybody gets hearty applause at UWC (and maybe because we're awesome). It's part of the culture and it feels good. Everybody should be applauded. We'd all feel better as humans, I think. (I went to something once where anybody could stand and ask for a round of applause. I can't remember the occasion, but it's a great idea.) Now we move forward several hours into the witching hour. Many go to bed. Not me.

Because, very late, I realize that I'm unexpectedly, serendipitously, deliriously the Main Stage CLOSING ACT at 2:30am. I feel wildly excited about this because I know that — despite having shaken some hands and met some people — I'm basically unknown here. And potential of this thrills the performer in me.

After an hour of strolling around alone, and strumming in the darkness, trying to choose the perfect songs, I think I've got it: First, a party song — Miley Cyrus's "We Can't Stop" and then a pretty song, Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love," because it's a beautiful starry night, and the full moon is rising above the trees. It's breathtakingly beautiful out here on this night.

"I got ta boogie…"
Soon, I'm introduced and get on stage and throw out a few friendly barbs ("You people… you're exactly who I was expecting to find here.") Then I play Miley — "It's our party, we can do what we want! It's our party, we can say what we want!" — and people go nuts, singing, dancing, delirious in the night. After that, they're mine.

After this reception, I know I have to toss out "Satellite." I don't have the enchanted pipes that some have here and right now they don't want "pretty," they want "party." So I go into Alicia Bridges' 70s hit "I Love The Nightlife (Disco 'Round)," and it slays. As I leave the stage, several UWC mainstays grab me, with playful incredulousness (and inebriation) and lovingly scream in my face:

"Who ARE you?!!!!" 
Which was exactly the reception I was dreaming of. 

That I was lucky enough to get to deliver this kind of shot to these people — many of my new and future friends, I have no doubt — fills me with a buzz of intense gratitude. I get hugs, backslaps, handshakes on the way to my camp to collapse in the tent, next to my slumbering wife and daughter, who I'm pretty sure have had a great day. They came here either having never camped (my daughter) or having had a not-so-great time in the distant past (Lucy).

Hard to top this for solo debut at UWC. Will FOREVER be a treasured memory. For the rest of the Congress, I've got new friends everywhere. I thought only a handful of people were in front of the stage, but over and over people grab me and say: "you were great last night! You're a natural entertainer." I cannot overstate how great this makes me feel. I try to say thank you and mean it every time anybody compliments me. It's good for the soul to say "thank you."

SATURDAY: The Lexingtones play The Ronettes' "Be My Baby," (my group arrangement, in which the participants have kindly allowed me to assign them parts and generally boss them through a couple of rehearsals) and "Hooked On A Feeling," the cultish 70s hit that gets a resurgence every so often, and to which Paul Curry (KY's real true ambassador to UWC, let's note) has loved and dedicated himself (and us) to. The big, all-ages early evening audience enjoys "Be My Baby" and SaraBeth belts it out like Ronnie. The rest of us try to keep up with harmony and backup vocals. Some people play my alternate voicings, and Jeff slaps out the percussion part on his ukulele (with his signature "flip move," expertly flipping the ukulele after each iteration of the percussion cadence. Love you, Jeff – I have this purist strain in me that loves the prospect of just ukuleles when arranging).

Then when we start "Hooked On A Feeling" with the signature chant of "Ooga-Cha-Ka! Ooga-Ooga!" people go bananas, and close in on the front of the stage so they can sing and dance along. When we're finished, they cheer — no less than cheer. Immediately after we play, it's time for the hilarious challenging-to-orchestrate group photo, and while adept photog Colin attempts to maneuver the happy hundreds into a camera frame, many in the group start spontaneously chanting "Ooga-Cha-Ka! Ooga-Ooga!" Looks like we played a hit.

The Swiftest.
And then, much later, I've got one more trick to pull out of the KY sleeve — and I cannot BELIEVE that I haven't been beaten to the punch on this. After rehearsing it in a variety of combinations and ultimately deciding it would be "overplayed" at UWC, we revive the intent to play "Shake It Off" which is a pop diamond as far as I'm concerned. On stage, I announce to the audience how ukulele has helped me "get in touch with my inner teenage girl, and how I've found at least two other middle-aged paunchy white guys who share this sentiment." Then Jonathan Piercy, Paul Curry and I take the stage as The Taylor Swifters (or The Taylor Swiffers. Or The Taylor Swiftests — I couldn't make up my mind) and blast through "Shake It Off," complete with an acapella singalong and, well, it slays. Why, here's a video of us!

The next day, I'm again praised around UWC for such inspired silliness, again told I'm a natural performer (and a tiny voice inside me whispers "no you're not" but I tell that voice to STFU). I'm even asked for a command performance of Shake It Off at a camp I happen to be bopping by. Libby Lee just sits down on the ground, and watches as more singing and dancing ensue and Matty Daniels jumps in to duet. Beautiful, delirious, delightful. I love it here. 

I could go on. And on. Dozens of new friends and hundreds of inspirations later, I've found a new family wing. We'll leave it there, for now. ❤️��❤️��

Friday, May 29, 2015

Regarding Ray Boy

A recollection by my Aunt Sharlot on my maternal grandfather, Ray Walton: 

"Taking a shower this A.M. I was thinking about going to Ryan's final HS sporting event tonite.  He pole vaults at EVV Central in Regionals.  I've never been to Central ever but it was my dad's HS.  He was an outstanding football player there. That made me think of other things he did that I have never shared with you kids.

He was 5'9", weighed 150 lbs. He swam, played baseball, bowled, fished, hunted, boated, water skied, gardened (loved his flowers), played cards, sang, and whistled like NObody else. 

Above all else he was the kindest and most gentle man you could ever want to meet.  I wish you had had a chance to meet him.

With a family history of heart disease,  his 2nd heart attack took him at age 50....while water skiing on the Ohio on the 4th of July!!!
❤ My love to you all.  ��

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Seaside 2015

Pretty great week at Seaside, especially in light of the Wintry weather in KY. Here's an album on Flickr documenting the frolics. Also? It was Bill's birthday!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Review/Rebuttal for Cabaret

A REVIEW OF Kentucky Conservatory Theatre's Production of CABARET!

Monday night I saw a really remarkable production of Cabaret! and I spent the next day thinking and reveling about it… and then puzzling and scowling over a misguided pan of it by the Herald-Leader’s contributing theater critic Tedrin Blair Lindsey.

I’ve seen Cabaret before, on stage and screen. It’s a masterpiece — a charming, gender-bending, song-and-dance-filled, poignant, shocking, provocative, horrifying masterpiece. Moreover — seeing Kentucky Conservatory Theatre’s production premiere is precisely what reminded me of these things because despite what Mr. Lindsey claims, the cast, crew, dancers and musicians absolutely owned it.

Which is why I’m left scratching my head over Tedrin Blair Lindsey’s misguided review of the show, which I think was the same show I saw, but I took away none — zero — of his complaints, digs or claims. In fact, I was absolutely captivated by the production, and the rest of the room seemed pretty captivated, too. We’re all entitled to our opinions, so … “Put down the knitting, the book and the broom,” here’s an audience member review to at least provide an alternate perspective to Mr. Lindsey’s sour take on it.

I’m not going to beef (too much) directly with the reviewer, and instead let me tell you why it was not “flawed,” as he said, but rather: GREAT.

First things first: I don’t know the producer. I don’t know the choreographer. I know one person in the cast. I might say I have no stake in this, but I DO — in the sense that I treasure Lexington as a creative community and as the chosen home for many gifted individuals and organizations. So, with that out of the way: What I saw on opening night was a triumph of space, movement, technology, voice — in short, it was great theater, which is exactly what I plunked down $35 to see. And community theater at that.

Because of KCT’s production, I’ve been thinking about Cabaret all day, both as a play (a “musical” if you must), a choreography (most famously in the movie version by Bob Fosse, which Mr. Lindsey seems kind of inappropriately concerned with, considering that KCT is neither making a movie nor trying to recreate one) and a repertory piece that towers high in the American stage canon. The reason I was thinking about Cabaret all day, not surprisingly is because Kentucky Conservatory Theatre (and their creative partners Blackbird Dance Theatre, let’s certainly not forget) did such an astounding job of presenting the dazzling, lacerating shards and facets contained in Cabaret, from first laugh to final stupefied silence … or tears, in many eyes, mine included.

As far as I’m concerned, talking about Cabaret as a venerable work of American theater and talking about the KCT’s production of it are the same thing, because that’s how much KCT got it and that’s how much they passed it on to the audience, at least at my table. And I didn’t see any less rapt faces when I looked around the room throughout the evening. It was riveting. It was funny, provocative, and exhilarating, and then it was sad, tragic and finally horrifying. It was all these things together because it was Cabaret, through and through.

Mr. Lindsey suggested that “Director Wesley Nelson and choreographer Jenny Fitzpatrick … have boldly re-imagined this familiar show.” That’s a brutal, backhanded compliment in a deeply demeaning review, and I couldn’t disagree more. This isn’t Broadway, and it’s not Bob Fosse’s movie. It’s Cabaret, the play, which takes place in a nightclub. Which we, the audience, are in. Having dinner, in fact (a tasty German-themed meal, kudos on that, too, to the Grand Reserve wait staff). So, “re-imagined?” Bah. The staging of Cabaret is simple and obvious. A play that revolves around a nightclub that is staged … in a nightclub. And Nelson and Fitzpatrick staged their production brilliantly but in a completely “familiar” way. Kudos for economy and creativity to them both.

I don’t think Cabaret is easy to pull off but I think that KCT succeeds not just adequately but astoundingly, and that’s where I must take enormous issue with Mr. Lindsey and his claim of it being “deeply flawed.”

It’s gender bending and it’s tawdry and it’s so much fun. Ms. Fitzpatrick’s turn as Sally Bowles displayed the famous character as maybe the original “hot mess,” (as the kids are wont to say, almost 50 years later). It’s about human connection and that is plainly seen by the performances turned in by Rick Wayman and Jesse V. Coffey as Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider, as their September romance moves from sweet and strangely innocent to star-crossed and doomed. Coffey’s rendition of “What Would You Do?” had me crying in my gin. How could anybody not see that as great? This is why I keep saying “misguided.”

And misguided in the extreme is Mr. Lindsey’s beef with the gender of the Emcee. How could somebody presuming to critique (community) theatre not understand that the emcee of Cabaret can be a male or a female — that the very murkiness of gender is what makes the emcee the soul and conscience of the story? To be distracted because Robbie Morgan (who slays in the role, btw) isn’t Joel Gray is inexplicably shortsighted. To claim that Morgan wasn’t captivating makes me wonder if we saw the same show.

To become hung up on the dialects of Germans and Brits … why? I can’t think of anything less significant to the core of Cabaret. What a waste of time to point that out. It was certainly nothing I noticed. It's like saying Bob Dylan is a bad singer.

Why not talk, instead about the commendable job that KCT’s Cabaret so incredibly tickled and jiggled (fondled, even) the audience into accepting that we’re all just people — people trying to be happy and to live with the madness of the world. And then once that’s accomplished in act one, the second act comes along to stomp and burn it all down. And why do I think this? Because, again, KCT did such a spectacular job of helping my brain and heart along to see this dichotomy, the charm, the horror. By choosing to stage Cabaret. By brilliantly transforming a party rental hall into a seedy dark-cornered nightclub.

To dis KCT’s production of Cabaret is to not really understand Cabaret, I think. Because KCT knocked it out of the park, from the first jaunty horn riff to the final stage door (the stark antithesis of the one in The Sound of Music). I was delighted by the evening that KCT made for me last night. And that’s why I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

If you’re looking to laugh and love life — and very possibly cry, I can’t recommend Kentucky Conservatory Theater’s production of Cabaret highly enough. As the Emcee says — “In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful!” (At least, in the first act)

My final note to Mr. Lindsey: Take it easy on community theater. This isn’t New York, but maybe you’d like to review Broadway shows with the kind of sharp pen you used to lacerate Cabaret. If so, I wish you luck getting that gig. You’ll likely be at the end of a long line, possibly filled with more observant — and kinder — critics than yourself.

Until you land that big city gig, I’d ask that you keep scale in proportion please, sir. These are people with day jobs and a passion — people who work hard to support that passion; and we get to share it for a precious couple of hours. They may not always be great at it, but, from the table where I sat, the cast and crew of Kentucky Conservatory Theater’s Cabaret also happened to be pretty damned GREAT at it. Maybe you were seated behind a column. I can find no other explanation for your misguided words.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Oh My Mighty Strawberry Head

The closest thing I've ever had to a viral video hit. Over 1100 views on Facebook and counting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Birthday pumpkins

Pick your favorite punkin! I vote Libby Lee. Good times on my birthday with My girls.