Time to return to the land of the Roman god Janus - he who had one face which looked forward and one which looked back.
Last week, all the way back in the old year, we looked back at the Critical Eye during 2008. We examined what we had covered for 10 of the 13 arbitrary groups we had made, and we promised to complete the remaining three groups, then to take a tentative look forward.
Community Music Project
Chautauqua Institution, with its well-known bell tower, was host to another season of arts-related events in 2008.
This year, we wrote three columns about the activities of the Community Music Project. These included an interview with Gerald Thomas Gray, who conducted a concert on May 2 by the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, one of the several fine arts organizations which operate under the umbrella of CMP. On Oct. 25, we interviewed yet another conductor of the Chamber Singers - this time Rebecca Ryan - in advance of the Nov. 2 concert which she conducted. Our third examination of the group's activities was printed Sept. 6, when we did an interview with Dr. Lorna Lutz Heyge, founder of an internationally celebrated program for making music part of children's lives, called Musik Garten. Heyge's several days of lecturing and teaching were sponsored by the Children's Music Studio, part of the CMP organization.
We wrote four reviews of concerts by members of the group. These included the Chamber Singers' traditional Twelfth Night Concert in early January, and the "Haydn-Seek" Concert in March by the Jamestown Choral Society, joined by the Zion Covenant Chancel Choir and the Choir of Jamestown Community College.
Also, we reviewed the 30th anniversary concert performed by the Chamber Singers at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and a moving memorial concert performed jointly by the Chamber Singers and Chorale Society at Zion Covenant Church.
The CMP shows every sign of being healthy and active, and has been an important part of our local arts scene throughout the past year and into the future.
The Choral Society seems to be thriving under the leadership of Brian Bogey. After fairly long periods under the direction of Lee Spear and Roland Martin, the Chamber Singers have sought out two different conductors for their most recent concerts, and both were effective performances. I would suspect that it would be to the group's advantage to settle on a single director.
Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown.
In 2008, the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown had quite a good year of productions. I have five reviews on file from the past year: "Lend Me a Tenor," "Visiting Mr. Green," "Into the Woods," "Hello Dolly" and "A Christmas Story."
Of these five, "Visiting Mr. Green" stood out above the others for topicality, originality and artistry. None of them was in any way a poor production. The holiday production included a really fine performance by Deacon Pierce, as part of a well-chosen and directed cast.
In many ways, running a successful theater company is similar to raising a child. A good parent wants his child to be happy to have the things he wants, while at the same time he wants the child to do what is right, and test his mettle and reach out for as much success in life as possible.
A theater company wants to give its audience things to make it entertained and happy, yet if it doesn't occasionally challenge and inspire the audience, it's like the parent who feeds his child a whole cake for dinner. It isn't healthy and it doesn't bode for long life.
This year, LBLTJ had four successes and a meaningful reach, and that's good news for community theater.
No fewer than 14 columns in the past year were written about single subjects. There are also 11 reviews of one-shot performances and exhibitions.
I need to confess to a major blunder on my own part in this area of coverage. In July, Helga Hulse gave a concert of music created for two pianists with a colleague. It was a benefit for the Chautauqua Youth Orchestra. Hulse is a pillar of our artistic community, and a person for whom I hold the highest regard. She asked that the performance be reviewed, and I made a firm commitment to do so. But, I didn't.
As usual, in such circumstances, there is a reason, but not an excuse: I spent the entire evening before the concert preparing "Winks" for the column I was preparing to write. The disadvantage of needing to write my columns so far in advance is that I must say "today" when I really mean "a week from today." When something is about to happen the day after I write, I must write about "last Sunday."
To stop me giving the wrong date for an event, I always take a piece of paper and write on it the date on which my writing will appear in print. Right now, the page says "Today is Saturday, Jan. 3," although, in truth, it's still 2008 as I press the keys.
On July 11, when Mrs. Hulse gave her performance, I woke up with the date July 18 wedged firmly into my brain, and I went through the entire day following July 18's schedule. And, therefore, I missed the performance, for which I humbly apologize.
Returning to single-subject columns, I wrote two of a personal nature. Each year since I started in 1980, I have written the last column of March on the subject of how artists and arts organizations can get the most publicity in this newspaper, and on my thoughts on the subject of being a critic. The last Saturday before Christmas usually finds me up to my neck in personal responsibilities, while the individuals and organizations that create the arts in our area are on holiday. This year, I made up a series of holiday-related quizzes, which drew a number of favorable comments from readers.
I count six columns written about individuals in Chautauqua County who are creators of art in one form or another.
April 26, we wrote a column through the help of AIDS Community Services of Western New York, about the artistry of late Jamestown resident Robert Pavey. Pavey was a professional dancer and visual artist. He created a large number of carnival masks, which he donated to ACS to be auctioned as part of their "Dining Out for Life" fundraiser. It was a pleasure to share the background of the artist, the nature of his art, and the important fundraiser which was so generously supported by restaurants around our area and which did so much good for so many people.
May 10, we did an interview with area native Tom Andalora, who was offering a summer workshop for area adults interested in the theater and who hadn't accepted that artistic deathtrap idea that they already know all they need to know about performing. Nobody knows everything they need to know - nobody. The workshop was scheduled for the Reg Lenna Civic Center, sponsored by the Arts Council for Chautauqua County, although it regrettably didn't attract enough registrations.
James Beal, an area native who has enjoyed a diverse and most respectable career as an operatic and theatrical tenor, was the subject of our May 24 column. Beal is still singing, having enriched a production at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown and several concerts by the Jamestown Choral Society, and being a valued soloist with the choir of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, in addition to serving as singing teacher to a number of local musicians.
In my life, I've had the good fortune to have taught classes in England, France, Germany, and Latvia, in addition to more than 30 years in American public schools. Contrary to the generally accepted slander of American education, I found my students in Chautauqua County to compare quite well to those European students, with one very important exception.
European culture teaches people, both young and old, that learning is a good thing, that they should do it if they can, and that it is not only acceptable but admirable if they learn. American culture teaches people of all ages, but especially young people, that if they succeed in school, they are "goodie two-shoes," that it's perfectly acceptable for them to make no effort at learning, and that if they do learn, they are not "cool" and will pay a social price for it. Beal is a good example of someone from Jamestown who reached out for more and became a headliner in the opera houses of Europe as a result.
Few people in our area have more accurate and intensive memories of our history than Sam Paladino. On May 31, we printed an interview with Paladino regarding days when Jamestown was home to no fewer than 13 performing theater companies, when fine pianos were manufactured in Brooklyn Square, and when Lucille Ball was an artsy teenager working at Celoron's giant amusement park. The Arts Council for Chautauqua County presented a whole evening of Sam's views of what had made Jamestown better and what has left it poorer, scripted by its director, David Schein, and we were glad to help promote the event.
Our final column on an individual was with television weatherman Mike Randall. He performed in costume as author Mark Twain at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown as a benefit for the James Prendergast Library Assn. Randall isn't a local, but his performance was for one of the very best causes in our area and we were glad to give an assist toward a filled auditorium.
Sept. 20, we were happy to share the programs scheduled for the 2008-09 series of presentations by the Reg Lenna Civic Center. It's pleasing to note that the Reg long ago stopped seeing itself as a competitor with other local organizations, and has sought out areas including gospel, jazz and hip hop, for which there is much area interest and no other area provider.
Speaking of the Reg, on March 1 we gave a bump to Public Broadcasting and, we hope, one to the Civic Center-based Drama Enrichment Program, by writing a feature about the broadcast of the recent Manhattan production of Stephen Sondheim's "Company." Actor and singer Keith Buterbaugh, who performed a major role in the broadcast, has served as teacher and role model for many of our young people who have participated in that program.
The Civic Center and Arts Council for Chautauqua County aren't the same thing, but they share many of the same employees and volunteers. On March 8, we shared plans for an award ceremony for volunteers throughout the county, sponsored by the Arts Council. The column was a call for readers to nominate someone who had devoted unusual time and energy to the arts.
Three of the remaining columns dealt in some way with the Struthers Library Theatre in nearby Warren. On April 12, we did an interview by phone with pretty Paige Faure, who was on a tour bus as part of the professional touring company which presented the recent Broadway musical "Little Women" on the Library Theatre Stage.
Oct. 11, we told the history of the Library Theatre, and tried to encourage readers to support the 125th Anniversary Gala. The theater has been remodeled and structurally improved, largely by local volunteers, and is a worthy source of community pride.
That leaves our Dec. 6 column, which was split between a discussion of two art exhibits. "From Left to Right" was an exhibit in Ohio of the works of Mayville native Andrew Lundberg. The second was a preview of the exhibit available throughout December in the temporary gallery at the James Prendergast Public Library: the photography of Lakewood resident Otto Knoll.
Two presenting artists in the library's gallery requested reviews in 2008. On May 19, we reviewed the photography of Bob Gibbon in our traditional review format, while the Knoll exhibit was reviewed in the context of a column.
Jamestown was the hometown of Lucille Ball, and we wrote two reviews about the area's celebrations relating to her. Television personality Wilmer Valderrama was featured on May 25. The next day, we reviewed a talent contest, hosted by soap opera star Melody Thomas Scott.
The wonderful Felix Piano Trio from Olean performed during the summer at Christ First United Methodist Church and we were pleased to share their great talents with the community.
In the spring, composer and performing artist Mari Kimura performed with the Chautauqua Region Youth Symphony at the Civic Center, and introduced orchestra and audience to the latest in the music field.
"The Living Christmas Tree" is always a pleasure to attend, as it was this year. Perhaps the most unexpected and delightful holiday performance was the one-man adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," performed by local radio personality Lee John. It was a deeply personal and inspiring, yet humorous and entertaining view, of the famous Mr. Scrooge.
I'm sure there are readers who see no value in lists, while others will be pleased to note how very much has happened in and near our community in a single year. I hope you've enjoyed that perspective.
Arts in 2009
Based upon the economic news flooding the nation and the world, it looks as though we will have some tough years ahead of us. Organizations which struggle for life, even in prosperous times, often shrivel and die during recessions.
The ironic truth, of course, is that a decade ago, when we were paying down the national debt and enjoying growing prosperity, nobody invented a wonderful new source of wealth and prosperity. We simply decided to use what we had differently.
Now, when the news is filled with banks and businesses that threaten to close their doors and send thousands, if not millions, of people out to feed and house their families without benefit of a paycheck, no element of wealth has vanished. The wealth is still here, and we have to find it and put it to positive use for our survival and advancement. In coming months, we need to make intelligent decisions about what we will support and what we cannot support, for now.
In all cultures, but especially in our own, there are people who are fast to demand that we throw the arts and education into the fire in times of hardship. Those areas will have to share in the society's sacrifices, of course, but we need to be especially careful what we sacrifice and how.
We may have to surrender some of our cultural richness, and we may need cheering up in face of grave problems more often than we need confrontation with our own values and behaviors, but we need to put aside self-indulgence and move with intelligence.
Perhaps our local arts organizations will need to share talents and facilities. That's better than going head-to-head, than having some of them fail. Perhaps they will need to scale back and re-think their plans. Certainly it is better that they make those decisions while they are still in control of their own fate.
There are always people who decide that we need a strong person to seize the steering wheel in a time of crisis. It's an idea which didn't work too well for Germany in the 1930s, though, did it?
I often hear people complain that there is nothing to do in Jamestown, yet I've just written two entire pages on things which I've done, here or nearby, in the past year. I wonder what we'll be looking back upon when Janus is with us again in 2010.