Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lake View Cemetery: 7 Mile Isle

One doesn't often think of a cemetery as a prime location for concerts, but that's what my girlfriend and I found ourselves taking in on a beautiful Tuesday evening.

For those who don't know, the nearly 300 acre Lake View Cemetery -- whose walls form an imposing presence along the North side of Mayfield Road from Little Italy well into Cleveland Heights (engineering factoid: Home to a concrete dam that was, at least for a while, the largest such structure East of the Mississippi) is a beautifully maintained facility and final home to a veritable who's who of notable Clevelanders -- ranging from the magnificent memorial to President James Garfield to Western Union founder Jeptha Wade to where, more recently, the ashes of American Splendor creator and cartoon writer Harvey Pekar were spread.

Although it's been a while since I've ventured in -- mildly paranoid about the possibility of getting locked within the campus's imposing gates* -- it is a beautiful and typically tranquil escape, where you're more likely to see joggers and dog walkers than mourners. Every once in a while I've noticed signs outside the main gate offering concerts but for various reasons have never ventured further.

On Monday, my girlfriend texted that there would be a concert on Tuesday and wondered if I would be interested. I was. We met up and walked to the cemetery, once inside the gates, shortly after the 7pm start, we let our ears -- and a few signs -- lead us to the music.

That trail ended at the lawn in front of the Garfield Memorial where the band 7 Mile Isle was offering music from a combination of steel drum, bass guitar, and drums, with a group of perhaps two dozen scattered across the lawn covering a wide range of ages. Something about the sweet sound of the steel drum has always seemed Summer-y to me, and Tuesday evening was a great fit for that sound.

After listening for a while we both succumbed to hunger and worked our way out of the cemetery and down the hill into Little Italy where we enjoyed couple slices of pizza before the sun started to quickly recede and I walked her home, and then made my way back up the hill to my house.

I've often thought that it would be wonderful to be able to walk a date home, and with my girlfriend's recent move to Little Italy made that possible or the first time.


*- Though a small sign adjacent to the gates offers "Locked In? Call the Cleveland Heights Police Department at 216-321-1234 and advised that you are locked inside the Lake View Cemetery main gate."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cleveland Museum of Art: Summer Solstice 2011 (Updated)

Last night marked the 3rd appearance of the Summer Solstice at the Cleveland Museum of Art -- while the last two were to celebrate the openings of the 1916 Building's lower-level galleries (2010) and East Wing galleries (2009), the 2011 Solstice was a festival without an associated reopening.

That didn't seem to dampen the mood one bit; predictably the event sold out well in advance of the 6:00, 7:30, and 10:00 pm start times. Featuring a variety of music and visual entertainment throughout the night, "Treasure Hunts" where attendees were challenged to find art in the galleries on the basis of small excerpts -- my date and I did reasonably well... but it helped that we have both spent plenty of time in the galleries before the solstice.

The Solistice is always an even that draws a wide swath of Cleveland -- beteween my date and myself we bumped into quite a few people we know from around Cleveland.

I'm already looking forward to the 2012 Solstice...

Update: It looks like photos from the event have started to hit Flickr including at least two where I and my date can be seen:
#1 (Right side of the frame, about half way up vertically)
#2 (Center foregound)
More photos of the event from that photographer: Here


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gustavo Dudamel: Let The Children Play

"Perhaps it is music that will save the world" -- Pablo Casals

I first heard of El Sistema when I was introduced to City Music Cleveland's mission at a house concert with the Linden Quartet last year... the name resurfaced when I found out that Cleveland Orchestra Violinist and Heights Arts house concert organizer Isabel Trautwein was taking a sabbatical from the orchestra for an El Sistema-related fellowship...

Via the Cleveland Young Arts Professionals Network I learned the documentary "Dudamel: Let The Children Play" would be making a one-night-only appearance at a local movie theater -- and despite still not being fully over my cold I made my way to Severance Town Center (not to be confused with Severance Hall) for tonight's screening.

The event kicked off with an impactful piece from the League of American Orchestras promoting the diversity and impact of the American Orchestra -- including snapshots from orchestras around the country, with a young child leaning over the Box Level railing at Severance Hall making a cameo (I did resist the urge to shout "Oh! That's Severance!")

The actual prelude for the main event was a short piece titled "Crescendo" -- and I would be lying through my teeth if I said that I had any understanding at all of that piece's purpose, other than as a thinly veiled promo for CNN En Espanol.

Thankfully, the main act, Dudamel: Let The Children Play, was far more inspiring. For those who don't know the name, Gustavo Dudamel has been credited with renewed public interest in both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and classical music in general since he took over the post as the former's Music Director -- other than that I didn't know much about Mr. Dudamel. One of the first things we learned tonight is that Mr. Dudamel is a product of El Sistema, starting with a trumpet but short arms leading him to the violin, and many years later to the world stage as perhaps the most respected conductor of this generation.

Disturbingly, at times, Let The Children Play treats Mr. Dudamel as a Deity which was a bit disturbing... but on sum it was an amazingly moving documentary on how El Sistema has grown and impacted the lives of millions of children in dozens of countries since its founding three decades ago.

Perhaps most moving was the fact that across languages, much of the film was subtitled with Spanish being the predominant (but not only) language -- cultures, from Singapore and Scotland to Bolivia and Venezuela -- socioeconomic backgrounds and education -- music transcends to form a common language and inspiration for the children featured: A common thread is that be it Los Angeles or Caracas the children who are members of El Sistema-inspired orchestras profess that they are free-er and more inspired participating in their Orchestra -- and learning the importance of collaboration and teamwork -- than they are in school.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights

Some of the more astute of you have noticed that I've been quite for the past week or two... last week I was in Orlando for a trade show -- after another run in with United caused me to arrive 6 hours later than originally scheduled -- and came down with one of the nastiest bugs I can ever remember having. (Though I did manage to make it into another picture at here look for the guy in the yellow shirt)

Anyway... I thought this temporary lull in the arts would be a good time to discuss a book I picked up along the way. Written by Bill Ivey, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman from 1998-2001, that book would be Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. It kind of jumped off the shelf at me while I was browsing the Nelson-Atkins Museum Gift Shop and knocked it out over the course of several flights zig-zagging the country.

If you've read this blog you know I'm passionate about the arts; I'm also fundamentally interested in the business and legal side of things and this book is a wonderful exploration on how both of those topics have generally served to stifle rather than enhance creative expression.

Mr. Ivey revolves the book around the concept of a "Cultural Bill of Rights"

1. The right to our Heritage--The right to explore music, literature, drama, painting, and dance that define both our nation's collective experience and our individual and community traditions.
2. The right to the prominent presence of artists in public life--Through their art and the incorporation of their voices and artistic visions into democratic debate.
3. The right to an artistic life--The right to the knowledge and skills needed to play a musical instrument, draw, dance, compose, design, or otherwise live a life of active creativity.
4. The right to be represented to the rest of the world by art that fairly and honestly communicates America's democratic values and ideals.
5. The right to know about and explore art of the highest quality and to the lasting truths embedded in those forms of expression that have survived, in many lands, throughout the ages.
6. The right to healthy arts enterprises that can take risks and invest in innovation while serving communities and the public interests (Page ix)

Corporate ownership of both Art and Culture forms the first topic of Mr. Ivey's dissertation -- and honestly, before reading Arts, Inc. I hadn't considered this point-- he relates his time as the director of the Country Music Hall of Fame where record companies were wholly oblivious to the cache of aural history in their vaults, an in some cases thoughtlessly destroyed archives as part of corporate records purging...and in other cases the archives were so poorly organized that invaluable recordings are found only by chance, relating the example of a lost Thelonous Monk recording found by pure chance in RCA's archives.

Related to corporate ownership is effect Copyright protection has on creative expression, intelligently raising the argument that the ever-increasing span of Copyright protection -- and the no effort required, automatic protection granted under current Copyright law, combined with the lack of a true, hard-and-fast, definition of "Fair Use" goes beyond adequately protecting the interests of the original artist to stifling the expression of artists that come later in time. He argues, and I'm inclined to agree that the public interest is best served by limiting the term of copyright and requiring some positive action on the part of the creator to preserve the copyright beyond the initial term. The implications of the statutory license for audio recordings, and costs of licensing material from historic events are broadly discussed. Throughout the book, he includes the licensing fee charged for each photograph in it's caption, with $250 being the most common cost.

On the non-profit side, Mr. Ivey observes that "[M]ost non-profit cultural organizations have simply never had the resources required to adequately manage historical materials generated by their own work. Often boxed in by restrictive union regulations, orchestras, opera and non-profit theatrical production companies have often found it difficult or impossible to legally memorialize their own work. [...] Consider that the New York Philharmonic generates fifteen hours of new recordings each week; multiply that total by the two hundred or so orchestras that archive their own work" (pp. 45-46) and museums and libraries challenges in collecting, and preserving cultural expression within their financial and curatorial limitations.

OK, so as it turns out, this post has only made it through the first section of the book with the remaining Cultural Bill of Rights topics following... but this is getting a bit on the long side. Perhaps (if any one is interested) I may summarize those later... or you can just order a copy from your local independent bookseller (Bill Ivey, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultureal Rights, University of California Press, paperback, ISBN 978-0-520-24112-1) it really was a quite compelling, if occassionally depressing look at the vast cultural history that we are silently discarding as a society.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

PlayhouseSquare: Next to Normal

On one of my trips to New York City last year I saw Next to Normal almost by accident; I chose it more or less by accident. Enjoyed the show, loved the music. But it wasn't until a week or two later that the actual significance of the show really hit me.

When I saw Next to Normal on PlayhouseSquare's 2010-11 season I was excited to have the opportunity to see the show again with that additional clarity -- and I've been looking forward to it all season. With all of my recent and upcoming travel, I've been more than a little afraid that I might miss the relatively quick stop (today through June 19th).

I invited my girlfriend to attend tonight's performance with me but I was intentionally vague about the subject matter. Before the performance we sat down for a quick bite -- she had a Chicken Salad with poppysead dressing, I had a Chicken Cesar with extra dressing -- at Acapella, just steps away from the Palace Theater's doors.

Like the New York playbill, the PlayhouseSquare program provides no synopsis, no schedule of musical numbers, no scene list. Simply the proclamation "There will be one fifteen-minute intermission". When the house lights came up for that intermission, the din in the house was nearly deafening; at the curtain call the standing ovation was nearly unanimous and instantaneous. During the performance, though, the audience was pinned to their seats - I think it was the quietest and most transfixed audience I've seen in a long time.

Next To Normal, with rocking songs ("I'm Alive" is one of my favorites) is a gripping yet entertaining look at mental health -- no, it's a lot more entertaining than it sounds -- and how the mother's (played by Cleveland native Alice Ripley, reprising her Broadway role*) delusions of long-dead son affect the family around her, the imprecise nature of mental health care, and the stresses of suburban, romantic, and educational life in general.

Heavy stuff, right? Had anything been off, book, lyrics, or pacing, it could have easily felt like an academic journal... but with music that moves, witty lyrics, and rapidly perfect pacing it's easy to enjoy. The audience has the choice to attend superficially and be simply entertained, or look more deeply into any of the facets of this fascinating multifaceted musical. Ethical, medical, pharmaceutical, love... there's a little bit of everything to consider.

The set and blocking is (virtually?) identical to the Broadway production placing a large, three-tiered structure with pixelated graphics with the band on the ends of the 2nd and 3rd floors and action regularly taking place on two or more of the levels simultaneously. My date and I were in H319 and 318 which was nearly perfect, though I think there would have been minor vertical sight line issues had we been much closer. Ms. Ripley's voice, that was the only "I can't quite put my finger on it" item that bugged me throughout the evening.

*- Though an understudy was in the role the evening I saw the production in New York.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

And My New Car Comes Home -- Yep, there's a picture.

This morning I walked from my house over to Motorcars Honda to meet with my salesperson, Rick Hammer, and take delivery of my new car, the 2011 Honda Accord Coupe in Belize Blue.

The process was quite painless and Rick was great at walking me through the car, showing me and around the dealership. I was slightly chagrined when I saw the rear of the car -- I had made it clear early in the process that I didn't want any dealer stickers, but there was one there. But it seems Rick and I both noticed the sticker at the same time, and without me saying anything he promptly removed it and the adhesive residue.

After getting the car home (and running an errand along the way), my new insurance agent came over to meet me and finalize the details of my policies. I had been insured with Allstate since moving to Cleveland, however, I thought their quote for adding the Accord was outrageously high, so I started shopping around.

Once I got wind of those rates, I started shopping around online. Liberty Mutual was on the low end of the pack, and Kristen Bonnin from Liberty Mutual's Painesville Office was the only real human who actually followed up with me and was fantastic at working with me through various scenerios (what if my limts are X? what if my deductable is Y? What if I do home and auto with you? What about just auto?) and was upfront but not pushy with advice. Particularly impressive, she was willing to come to Cleveland Heights this afternoon to meet in my home and sign the policies. Just in case you're shopping around you might want to give her a ring or email -- 440-392-9740 x54096 or kristen(dot)bonin(at)libertymutual(dot)com.


Friday, June 3, 2011

Lincoln in Kansas City (Missouri), Visit 3.

There's a T-shirt out there that proudly proclaims "Missouri Loves Company" -- what does that have to do with this post? Nothing. But it makes me chuckle.

I'm sitting in MCI -- the official airport code for Kansas City's "real" airport, and I think it originally was taken to stand for "Mid-Continent International" -- but all of the marketing materials brand it as "KCI". Sigh. The gentleman sitting to my right -- and one of perhaps 8 people in the 4-gate area Continental operates out of, proclaimed this "The most boring airport in the workd". Perhaps he's right -- a booming pre-recorded voice periodically announces "K-C-I is on the web! Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!" to no one -- the clerk at the snack stand adjacent to gate 67 closed up shop and disappeared. In her absence, there seems to be no food or drink available behind security -- and not much in front of security either.

Perhaps most telling, the discussion I had with the TSA representative while he was checking my boarding pass: "You're kind of early, you know that?" "Better early than late, right?" "Maybe other places, but here being two hours early is going to be two hours of sheer boredom."

Backing up, at the end of the day yesterday I had finished everything I needed to finish for this trip, my third to Kansas City's suburb of Olathe, and three of four trips originally planned. While the fourth trip is still on the books, there is some chatter that it may not need to happen. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I could use the frequent flyer miles and hotel points, but do I really want to up my hotel count -- already at 35 nights since January 1st -- if I don't have to?

Today I slept in. It felt good. The first time in a few weeks where I really didn't have to be anywhere or do anything. After packing and checking out of my hotel, I headed to Kansas City's Union Station... like most every large city in the train era--including Cleveland's Terminal Tower--Union Station is a glorious edifice of the romance of travel: Soaring ceilings, intricate detailing. Today, it still hosts Amtrak service in a quiet corner, as does a restaurant that ties to the memory of when Fred Harvey's chain of railroad eating places (credited with being the first chain restaurant) called Union Station its headquarters. Today it has been restored and is host to a variety of attractions, the one piquing my interest "KC Rail Experience".

The organization is somewhat lacking -- After purchasing my $7.00 ticket, and following the directions I was given I seemed to be a bit lost. I asked a volunteer where it was and her reply was that it was $7.00... "Where?" "You need a ticket, it costs $7.00" "Yes, but where is it?" eventually I figured out it was the door right behind her. As far as railroad museums go it's a bit light on just about everything -- pretty much limited to one example of each major category, and clearly targeted at the 10-and-under demographic, but it was still an interesting look at rail and specifically rail and Kansas City. In their collection and on display but not open is, according to the museum, one of only five observation cars known to be surviving in its original condition.

An accompanying model railroad exhibit is likewise a bit light--small (not even relatively small, as I had originally typed.) layouts with no attendants and trains running in circles, but it still reminded me of my youth at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in historic Balboa Park... for some reason I've been getting big on nostalgia lately, haven't I?

Back to the present time, after leaving Union Station I noticed a fairly nondescript building across the parking lot with a sign simply proclaiming "National Archives". Curious--and catching a glimpse of a "Free" sign--I walked over.

Along my walk my hand was hit by a dive-bombing bird... walking a little further (between a large parking garage and an even larger United States Postal Service building) I find a USPS employee strategically posting signs proclaiming:

Beware of Mocking Bird (Protected Species)
Bird has been seen "diving and hitting people"

So apparently I'm not the only one. Arriving at the building I was seeking, I'm greeted by another sign -- an impressive looking seal and the no-nonsense "NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION" tag line. I hesitate before pulling open the door, though not quite long enough to read the page-long, 10-point "GSA Guidelines for Behavior on Federal Property" posted by the door.

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be there. Archives intrigue me -- there's something about the unfiltered snapshot they provide that intrigues me; beyond that, makes me wonder what happened to the people who wrote and received each document, and so forth. At the KC Rail Experience, the part of my visit where I was the most intrigued was looking at the reproduction timetable pages--the prices, the fine print, the destinations.

But I've had this thought that The National Archives are the bastion of academics and professional researchers, with the general public not being generally welcome.

Pulling the door open and walking in, I tell the very friendly receptionist that I'm playing tourist and I have no idea what I should see -- or if I should even be there. She pointed me in the direction of their welcome center, offering an 11-minute film introducing the National Archives, and their exhibition hall (Currently home to an exhibit comparing Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee's lives before, during, and after the Civil war, and suggested that I stop by the Research Room where another staffer would be glad to show me around.

The exhibit was interesting, but perhaps most striking to me that Ulysses S. Grant arrived at that name not by birth, but rather a paperwork error at Westpoint. I guess changing the paperwork would have required too much effort! While I didn't make it into the Research Room -- where it looked like a number of people of all ages, shapes, and sized were engaged in research -- I was fascinated by the artifacts decorating the walls: Pictures used as evidence in Federal cases, a film rental contract, letters between a film distributor and the superintendent of an Indian School about film rentals, film advertising posters...

I was fascinated, and almost wished I had a topic within the National Archives at Kansas City's purview (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas) -- the staff were all quite welcoming and helpful, and it's now clear the general public is allowed -- I even picked up a decent collection of "how to use the National Archives"-type literature so I can be more prepared the next time I encounter one of these institutions in the wild!

Leaving the National Archives, I made my way back to the Nelson-Atkins Museum for a quick fly-through, and had lunch at the Grand Street Cafe. The burger was so/so (the bun was exceptionally dry and my Blue Cheese request had somehow morphed into Cheddar) but the Cesar salad I had with it was amazing.

I then returned the rental car and...that's where the draft of this post ended, since boarding for my flight home was called. Boarding the flight, though, I noticed a gentleman who looked very familiar. Almost too familiar. Arriving back in Cleveland, I found myself behind this gentleman on an escalator, and now being more positive...and it was indeed the Cleveland Museum of Art's director. We had a brief conversation walking to the airport exit.

And now I'm home. For a week.