Category Archives: Lexington-Today

A Marvelous Party

“I have been to a marvelous party.”

Thus wrote/sang/chanted Noel Coward in 1938 and I lived it last Saturday night.

The “marvelous party” was “Encore”, ostensibly a fund-raiser for OperaLex to raise money to support the Opera Program at the University of Kentucky.

What it was, in practice, was a resounding celebration of much that is special about living in the Bluegrass.

To begin with, it was Keeneland, in May; intoxicatingly green, lush, and bursting with life…or at least the assurance of life after Derby.

Then there was the 1938 Rolls Royce convertible just inside the entrance. Is that what it takes to get a good parking space?

Then there was the wine-tasting (thank you Liquor Barn) and the mingling of Lexington’s arts supporters with the singers/students/nascent citizens of the UK Opera program. Seeing Houston Tyrrell (you’ll see him next in GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING) discussing the merits of a box of stunning South American red wines with Ben Kaufmann (you saw him in last year’s GRAND NIGHT) was jarring. I’m not completely convinced of who was advising whom, but the entertainment value…priceless.

And then the dining room; it was a palace of glassware, auguring well for the meal to come.

From the stage, Jenna Day came back from her home in Los Angeles to guide us through the evening and share her passion for this program and these students. She introduced Dr. Everett McCorvey and Dr. Tedrin Lindsey.

The spirit in the room got higher and higher;

  • Tedrin’s program for the evening included selections from the past season; LA TRAVIATA, SHOWBOAT, and BOUNCE the basketball opera.
  • Cameron Mills’ and Rex Chapman’s delight for being in the room was obvious and incandescent.
  • The passion and the talent of the singers could not be resisted.
  • Tshegofatso Clement Baloyi broke everyone’s heart with his “Ole Man River”
  • Michael Preacely and Taylor Comstock delivered world-class performances and inspiring personal stories.
  • Jessica Bayne defined class for us all.
  • Emilia Bustle charmingly explained to us that “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” isn’t what a girl supposes.

These young people come to the University of Kentucky to sing and learn to sing and learn to teach others to sing. Tell me again how Lexington, and Kentucky, and the planet is not made better by that. They are with us for two, three, four, five years. They and Lexington are made better by their time here. It is a kind of gardening of talent, and scholarship, and citizenship. Saturday’s Encore event was a kind of harvesting and renewing of that gardening.

Next year, I propose we measure the height of every participant as they enter the event, and again as they leave. I’m convinced that everyone is two inches taller for having been there.

Get It Right

There was an OperaLex Board meeting tonight.

We meet in the Schmidt Vocal Arts Center at the University of Kentucky, which is also where this year’s cast of It’s a Grand Night for Singing rehearses. After my meeting, I slipped in to watch and listen to a bit of their rehearsal.

These are early rehearsals, devoted to learning the music before the choreographer comes in next week.

Dr. Everett McCorvey was conducting the rehearsal. Two evenings ago, Dr. McCorvey was awarded UK’s highest academic award by the president of the university. Tonight he’s guiding about 30 young singers through the intricacies of the Great American Popular Songbook. The passion and the pride is the same for each night – his and the young singers. It’s the same passion and pride he’s brought to this production and these singers every year since 1993. I’ve witnessed it myself every year.

Dr. McCorvey took a moment to explain to the cast that the geezer that just sneaked in was harmless. One lady in the alto section mentioned that in the second year of Grand Night, I had sung “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” to her daughter, and that her daughter was now 29. There’s a special place in Purgatory for people like her.

They were working on “Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity.

Everett stopped the rehearsal to point out that in measure 89 (of several hundred measures), the staccato was on the first beat only. The rest of the measure was rhythmically smooth. He then ran the passage three times to emphasize the rhythm and get it right.

Get it right.

One measure out of hundreds – get it right.

Not just on a solo when everyone is watching you, but in a chorus, perhaps in the background – get it right.

Not just when it matters – it always matters – if you know what “right” is, get it right.

Not just in loud places, not just in quiet places, not just in public, not just in private, not just in the Schmidt Center, not just in Lexington, not just in Washington, not just today…

…everyday…

…it always matters.

If you know what “right” is, get it right.

That’s what the arts can teach us…and I fear we are in sore need of that teaching these days.

The Clan Assembles

Unbeknownst to Lexington, a Clan assembles for an evening of mayhem.

The South is renowned and mostly disowned for its Klan. Dividing and judging people by the shades of their skin…foolishness. Politically and physically acting on that foolishness…shameful. We know better.

Dividing and judging people for what’s going on voluntarily in their bedrooms…foolishness.

Dividing and judging people……foolishness.

We have important and glorious things to do with our days and we need the talents of everyone to do them. Could we please keep our eye on the ball here?

But…

…this is not that kind of clan.

Instead of the KKK, one could call this group, the CCC (Classical Cinema Clan).

One could.

In the interest of full disclosure, one should reveal that “Classical” refers to the age of the members rather than the quality of the films. This octet has amassed over 500 years on this planet. I can’t accurately speak to their whereabouts before then, though I harbor suspicions.

One would assume that in 500+ years, some wisdom would have also been amassed and perhaps it has, but that’s not what this assemblage is about. No, the CCC is probably about as foolish as the KKK, but much more benign. Their foolishness is much more centered on good pizza and happily bad movies than lynching and gerrymandering. Their rants tend to be more about the uselessness of ubiquitous standing ovations rather than Hillary’s emails or Stormy’s career choices.

While I personally believe our country is diminished by the hijinks of the KKK, I can’t honestly assert that Lexington is in any way enhanced by the activities of the CCC. Who is made better by our devouring (inhaling?) of an “Ultimate Warrior” from Puccini’s Smiling Teeth or a “Hudson” from Big City Pizza, followed by a double-feature of War Gods of Babylon and Carry on Cleo?

Well…of course WE are…but the pleasures are ephemeral at best and the digestive dreams that ensue rival those of Dickens’ Scrooge.

Be that as it may, no damage is done by the CCC. No animals are harmed – in fact, Chloe the wonder pup and the only female in the group, scores big from “pizza bones” slipped to her clumsily and surreptitiously by the easily charmed clansmen.

We assemble in the kitchen, munching on beer cheese and chips, drinking wine, bourbon, beer, and herbal tea, filling the time until the pizza arrives with stirring accounts of various physical ailments (500+ years, remember?). That sounds deadly and it is but it doesn’t last long. The discussion morphs quickly into passionate descriptions of current projects of the clansmen. Here, I should point out this group is comprised of a painter, a director, an attorney, a writer, an actor, a teacher, a critic, and a junesboy…all occupations that our current governor would consider useless. The members of the group always have something going on; a script, a play, a showing, a concert… And every one of this group has performed on stage. Thus, there is always much to discuss.

The Writer has just finished a new play and, not being averse to a little self-promotion, offers; “Richard III got a bum rap.”

The Lawyer; “So…you’re sayin’ Shakespeare was puttin’ out fake news?”

The Teacher; “Maybe he’s a victim of the Deep State.”

The Actor; “Oh yeah. I got yer Deep State right here.”

The Critic snorts and giggles ominously.

The Director; “I remember one day in Montana I drove 836 miles to watch some Udder Pagans play baseball and do some unmentionable things to local cows. I remember thinkin’ that Montana was a Big State and perhaps an Odd State, but I never remember thinkin’ it was a Deep State…and I don’t think I ever met anyone named Dick there.”

This was met with a significant pause as we pondered all the images and possibilities sparked by that pronouncement.

Finally the painter summed it all up; “What kind of pizza did you order and what are we watchin’ tonight? Any pulchritude on deck?”

Junesboy answered; “I ordered copious pizza – the best kind. As for the flicks, I thought we’d start out with some old trailers, followed by an old local commercial featuring The Actor talkin’ ‘bout a rubber ducky, and then move on to the Ed Wood rarity; Devil’s Night Orgy.”

The Painter replied; “I’m very happy.”

Broken Things

I’m old enough now to have been several things. Over the last six decades, I’ve been a library clerk, a husband, a retail store manager, a stepfather, a student, an advertising manager, a wine consultant, a friend, a singer in musical theatre, a husband again, a Frisbee artiste, a party planner, a government relations director, a voracious reader, the president of a chain of liquor stores, a book collector, a singer in a rock-n-roll band (the whitest soul-singer you’ve ever seen), and……an actor/storyteller.

I’ve been pretty good at some of these things. Others? Well…I still throw a decent Frisbee.

During the “ugly hour” (thank you, David Bromberg for that troubling concept) of looking in the morning mirror, the person I most often see is that last listed; actor/storyteller. It feels like I have consumed a huge chunk of my life by instantly pondering in every situation; “How am I gonna tell other people about this?”

Storytelling and acting…it’s my comfortable place.

So…

It is my comfortable pleasure to mention that I am rehearsing a play.

christians

Athens West Theatre’s production of The Christians by Lucas Hnath will open on Friday the Thirteenth (QUEL HORREURS!) in April at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center. I invite you to come.

I am currently spending my evenings rehearsing a gripping and relevant script with a literate and incisive director and a cast whose passion humbles me.

It’s a real good time.

What enhances the rehearsal process are the spaces in which we are rehearsing.

We rehearse in various rooms at a private school in Lexington. One night we may be in the school’s cafeteria, the next in the school’s music room, the next in the school’s theatre office. The spaces are warm and clean and neat. Everything works. Everything points to civility and creativity. Their hygienic competency inspires us to leave the spaces as pristine as we find them. That’s their message to us; “Work. Create. Dream. Respect those that follow.”

I have worked in rehearsal spaces (and theatres themselves) where we tried to create an Antarctic setting in the basement of a downtown building that was thermostat-challenged in January (I assure you imagining the cold was no problem at all), where we rehearsed Sam Shepard and Sherlock Holmes in a building that shook with every passing car and the dust hovered in the air looking for a parking spot in our lungs, where water fountains spewed burnt-siena-tinged fluids, where traffic saluted our presence with their horns, where rain and heat and barking dogs (sometimes simultaneously) ruled.

I’m here to tell you our storytelling efforts were not improved in these environments.

It reminds me of a Christmas I witnessed where a six-year-old boy received a bonanza of presents. Every complicated gizmo advertised on TV that holiday season was unwrapped Christmas morning. He was thrilled and overwhelmed…for a day. By the next day, every toy and gizmo’s charms had faded. The six-year-old with six-year-old motor skills had compromised every item in some way. He sat in his play space pitifully surrounded by things that did not work. They were all broken…in some way……by him.

Surrounded by broken things.

What good can possibly come from that?

I’m thrilled and made envious by the bubble created by the private school. I wanted to play with all the guitars and drums. I wanted to share their meals and thrill to their daily discoveries. The message to these students is clear; “We don’t expect you to merely survive. We expect you to thrive. We expect you to make things better.”

But outside the bubble…?

What about the broken things elsewhere?

Bridges, water slides, county water systems, sinking cities, neighbors sinking into substance abuse…

We are surrounded by broken things.

We are not improved by the messages those broken things impart.

We must fix the broken things for everyone.

It’s not dramatic…or sexy…or rapid. I’m old and may not see the harvest of such a sowing, but I know it’s the better path and I’ll sleep better and tell a better story if we’re heading in a better direction.

Work.

Create.

Dream.

Respect those that follow.

These are not hard questions.

Hoops and High Notes

I have listened to or watched University of Kentucky basketball ever since eventual mayor of Lexington Scotty Baesler was the “sixth man” on an early 60’s Adolph Rupp-coached team. My mom and dad and I would sit around our yellow linoleum-topped kitchen table in North Lexington listening to the radio broadcast. Mom would keep score on the pad of paper we used when people came over to play cards, and dad would cuss and slap the table. I kept score in my head and memorized my dad’s vocabulary for later practice when I was alone in bed.

It was a real good time.

Cotton Nash was a god to me until Dan Issel came along. Mr. Issel was a god to me until Jack Givens came along. Then Kenny Walker. Then the Unforgettables. Then Jamal Mashburn. Then Antoine Walker. Then John Wall. Then Anthony Davis. Then……Wenyen Gabriel?

Fifty-plus years of watching the same dribbling, running, screening, and shooting on the same hardwood floors — why?

Why keep watching?

Because of Wenyen Gabriel.

Because, at any moment, a young person could have a transcendent moment in their life and by watching, you could be a vicarious participant in that moment.

Especially now, with daily political news being so unrelentingly grim and disgusting, I feel a renewed resurgence of hope and possibility for fixing things. To see a young person succeed beyond the expectations of today’s alarm clock, to see them rejoice in that unexpected success, to see them exult in simply being young and capable, is enough to keep me progressing, persisting, and resisting.

It’s just a game.

I know that.

The meanings I impose on that game are mine – perhaps the foolish dreams of an unrepentant hippie of the 70’s. I would not want my priorities to intrude on today’s young people, but I will gladly accept the inspirational intrusions of today’s young people on my priorities.

That said…

Tomorrow, Sunday, March 10, at the Singletary Center there will be a gathering of 26 singers from around the world competing for scholarships to be part of the nationally-admired University of Kentucky Opera Program. This will be the next wave of remarkable performers to shape Lexington’s vocal music experience. These will be the singers we will hear throughout Central Kentucky in our churches, and schools, and public concerts, and operas, and musicals, and recitals, and national anthem renditions, during the next few years until they mature and grace the planet with their talent.

It will be a magical day, a day of hope and inspiration, a day every bit as startling as Wenyen Gabriel’s 7-for-7 from 3-point range.

It will be a real good time.

Curling Collectibles

I collected baseball cards when I was a kid. Some of them were sacrificed early (Donn Clendenon, Marv Throneberry…) and attached to the spokes of my bike to change my whirring wheels to WHIR-R-R-R-RING wheels. But others were precious; Pete Rose’s rookie card, Roberto Clemente, Mickey Mantle, Warren Spahn, Fritz Brickell…treasures all.

So…

Curling.

Which curling cards would be the gems?

Well…this tyro would be seeking the cards of Nina Roth (US Ladies’ icy assassin), Switzerland’s Benoit Schwartz, John Schuster and Tyler George (the passion and the skill of the US Men), and the sultry Russian, Anastasia Bryzgalova (because…well…damn).

And…

AND the entire South Korean Ladies squad. They gave themselves English marketing names based on what they had for breakfast. Ya gotta root for a team with players named; Pancake, Sunny, Steak, and Annie (a brand of yogurt).

Curling…cool…before cool was cool.

Grandpa Vonn

I know little of Lindsey Vonn’s late grandpa, only the few minutes NBC featured before tonight’s event.

Maybe he was a member of the NRA. Maybe he taught Sunday school. Maybe he voted for Trump. Maybe he liked anchovies. I just don’t know.

I know he served our country in Korea building roads and lived in Wisconsin cornfields building ski trails for his kids and grand-kids. And I know he compiled reams of scrapbooks about his granddaughter. And I know that he could barely speak of the immense pride he felt watching his granddaughter ski.

Last night, I spent a few minutes with a friend and new grandmother. I saw for myself the beginnings of that same grand-parental pride.

Grandpa Vonn’s pride contributed to giving us a planet-enhancing young lady and I fully expect my friend’s pride will give us a planet-enhancing young man.

I know little of Grandpa Vonn, but I think I know enough to add another hero to my world.

We are different.

All of us are different.

There are those (people and parties and clubs and networks……and now it seems…countries) among us that profit by shining a harsh light on those differences – pitting us against each other.

We might be closer to our best self if we take their harsh light and turn it back upon them, exposing and blinding them…yes…blinding them while we focus another light on those same differences; a celebratory light that entertains and inspires.

So…this gray-haired geezer guy who detests cold and snow will thrill tonight watching the blond and impossibly young Ms. Vonn slide down a snowy hill, and will hold my breath as Nathan Chen does quad after quad on ice (quel horreur!) and Yuzuru Hanyu demonstrates precisely what a wonderful world it can be.

Vive la difference!

Olympic Thoughts in the Bluegrass

Olympic thoughts for my friends in Frankfort.

Arirang.

Korea’s historic anthem.

Very cool and mightily moving.

But…

In Kentucky, we have artists as well, and they have things to say.

We have Jean Ritchie…and Zoey Speaks…and Dwight Yoakum…and Everett McCorvey.

We have Michael Shannon…and Ashley Judd…and Joe Montgomery…and Jennifer Lawrence.

We have Frank X. Walker… Robert Penn Warren …Charles Edward Pogue…and George Ella Lyon.

We have storytellers…and stories…and dreams…and hopes……and more than a few suggestions.

Throw them away, ignore them if you will. Discard them, and discard a path to success – a path to wonder.

Yes, it’s useful and good to pursue and master the employable skills of today.

But why?

In the theatre, we consider the whence, the whither, and the why; whence have we come, whither are we going, and why are we making the journey. These questions match up remarkably with Kentucky’s historic place in the life-arc of our nation. Great questions and great possibilities have flowed through Kentucky, why should today be different?

…only if we continue to choose to be small…

The arts can provide the “why”.

There is a saying;

“If you have two pennies, spend one for bread and one for wine; the bread so you can live, and the wine so you will want to.”

The arts are the second penny.

Spend it.

How Deep Does It Go?

Let’s assume for a moment that Russia at least attempted to determine the result of the US presidential election. Can we all accept that assumption?

If not, would those of you who cannot accept that assumption, simply absent yourselves from this pondering? I’m not looking to change your vote or remove your guns, but frankly, I can’t do business with you anymore.

That was an uncivil request.

I apologize.

But I’m moving on.

Let’s assume for a moment that Russia at least attempted to determine the result of the US presidential election. If so, then other assumptions present themselves as possible;

  1. They tried but had no affect (are we OK with that?), or
  2. They were successful by swaying voters’ opinions (ARE WE OK WITH THAT?), or
  3. They were successful by actually changing votes in our voting mechanism (good grief!).
  4. Assumptions “2” and “3” (…crickets…).

I don’t know which of those assumptions, if any, is true. But I know they are all important and scary. Yet the current occupant of the White House and much of our Congress (bicameral and bipartisan) don’t seem terribly perturbed by these possibilities.

Why is that?

By the way, if you don’t know the terms “bicameral” and “bipartisan”, please look them up. Yes, you are entitled to your informed opinion. Informed…informed…INFORMED……that’s sorta important and useful. It’s a good thing to actually know what you’re talking about. It’s not “fake” or “elite”, it’s useful.

If any of the assumptions above are true, what makes us think this was their first try?

Does it seem logical that their first attempt to affect US elections was the US presidency? Wouldn’t you wanna practice first before you took on the big game? Wouldn’t you wanna see what you could do in say…Wisconsin or…Kentucky…or Utah, before you took a shot at Washington?

Maybe the un-urgency of the response to this cyber-attack has something to do with the culpability of the responders……in various buildings in Washington.

In business, when I was confused or uncertain about the people keeping an eye on business, I changed the eyes.

It usually opened mine.

Jes’ sayin’.

Part-Time Jobs?

Caught by surprise last November, I withdrew into stunned silence; afraid and ashamed and angry.

The anger faded. It will do no me no good. I will resist every unfair, greedy, and unwise effort I can identify, but I have always done that – it’s a reflexive urge taught to me by my Southern Baptist Sunday School childhood – nothing’s changed as far as that’s concerned.

I was afraid of what the results’ results would be.

I was ashamed of my own surprise and fear of my neighbors’ choice.

Why didn’t I know?

What have I missed?

What should I have done?

I will do better.

I will listen harder.

I will seek a better and more useful understanding.

I will act on what I learn.

I will…because I want to be a good neighbor.

But, (isn’t there always a “but”?) …so must others.

I have no answers, but I have glimmers of a suggestion.

If I have lost connection with my neighbors, so have my political representatives…and how could they have not? They must solicit campaign funds 24/7/365. They must run campaigns to retain their offices for six to twenty-four months (President Trump has already declared his re-election campaign’s beginning for 2020). They serve in legislative sessions for months at a time every year. They have homes in Washington and regular living quarters in Frankfort. They are full-time governors and lawmakers elsewhere, away from me, all while they’re supposed to be representing me and Janie on Providence Road.

That was not what was intended by our founding fathers.

George Washington was president, but he also went home to run his farm. He had to listen to and represent his neighbors. The same was essentially true for all elective officials.

I would suggest considering a move back to those conditions.

Rather than point fingers at how little time the Senate and the House of Representatives spend in session in Washington, perhaps we should reduce the length of campaigns and legislative sessions (and the participants’ pay).

Send them home to local concerns.

Perhaps we should rescind the expansion of the Kentucky legislature from bi-yearly sessions to yearly sessions. Have we really been improved by having the legislature meet every year?

Send them home to local concerns.

Make all of them part-time lawmakers and full-time neighbors.

Just a thought…