Celebrity Death Watch: The celebrity deaths I want to note for May include Dr. Joyce Brothers (newspaper psychologist and boxing trivia maven), Andrew Greeley (Catholic priest and author), and Jean Stapleton (actress, best known as Edith Bunker). But the one that stands out the most for me is that of Billie Sol Estes. Unless you are a fan of the Chad Mitchell Trio, the name may not mean much to you, but the short version is that he was convicted of fraud for a scheme involving mortgages on non-existent fertilizer tanks. As the song goes,"“Here’s to the greatest biggest embezzler of all." (By the way, this isn’t just me. My mother made a point of mentioning his death when I called her after getting back from my vacation and we sang, "Hey Billie Billie, Hey Billie Billie Sol" together. That may be proof of a congenital basis for earworms.)
Non-celebrity Death Watch: Ralph Chatham is gone. I’m somewhat at a loss for what to say. Ralph was a storyteller and organizer / promoter of storytelling events, retired naval submarine officer, and physicist. He spent a couple of years at DARPA and worked on things like the Grand Challenge (involving autonomous vehicles) and training tools for language learning. He told Jack tales, personal stories, and literary stories. He shared my fondness for Saki and Gilbert and Sullivan and narrative poetry. I carpooled with Ralph and his widow, Margaret, to many an event and he was always full of wide-ranging conversation. His death was not a surprise as he had been diagnosed with brain cancer about a year ago, but it is still a huge loss to our community. I am honored to have called him friend.
The Yeoman of the Guard: The first weekend in May featured a trip up to Delaware to see The Ardensingers’ production of The Yeoman of the Guard. The significance of this is that I have now seen every extant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta live, which is a life list item. (The "extant" qualifier is there because of Thespis which is mostly lost, though there are sporadic attempts to recreate it.) Anyway, the production was fun. I thought Jay Anstee was good as Colonel Fairfax, but Jeffrey Grant stole the show as Wilfred Shadbolt. I also want to note Mary Punshon as Elsie Maynard. My favorite song from this show remains "A man who would woo a fair maid."
By the way, I stayed up that way (well, a bit further south) overnight and stopped in at Delaware Park for dinner and a bit of gambling. It was amazingly crowded. I’d have thought that the spread of casino gambling to Maryland would have an impact, but it didn’t appear to.
Maryland Sheep and Wool: Part of the reason for staying overnight in Delaware was to make it more direct to stop off at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival on Sunday morning. As I have probably explained before, this is the largest fiber festival in the Eastern United States and is something of a cross between a county fair and the world’s largest yarn store. I was trying to stick to just buying things I needed for a couple of specific projects but a couple of other things (e.g. a book of patterns for knitted dinosaurs) jumped into my bags. Afterwards, I stopped off at knitting group and showed off my purchases.
Washington Jewish Music Festival: I made it to two shows at this year’s WJMF. The first was Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars Klezmer Bhangra Extravaganza. This featured Deep Singh on percussion and vocalist Manu Narayan, along with the klezmer band. The mash-up of Yiddish and Indian traditions (with a hefty dose of jazz thrown in) worked amazingly well. My only complaint is that the set-up at the Jewish Community Center had nowhere to dance.
The second show was a Broadway sing-along. Joshua Morgan led things at the piano, with Bayla Whitten and Will Gartshore as song leaders. I was disappointed for two reasons. The first was that I thought Morgan did too much shtick. Shut up about how much of the audience you’ve slept with, stop the rambling stories about your horrible auditions, and let everybody enjoy singing! The other issue was some dubious choices of songs. Many of the selections were fine and obvious (e.g. "If I Were a Rich Man") but there were several that were chosen without much thought of their singability by amateurs. I found it particularly egregious to choose "Children Will Listen" as one of the Sondheim selections. "Comedy Tonight" would be a much better choice. Not that the event was a complete flop, but I’d give it a B-minus. Since the premise is one you would think would be an easy A for me, that’s a significant miss.
Ballet – The Sun Also Rises: This was the final show of my Washington Ballet season subscription. An adaptation of a Hemingway novel seemed an unlikely choice for a ballet, but it turned out to be my favorite of the season. (Well, maybe tied with Dracula.) The score (by Billy Novick) suited the story and Septime Webre’s choreography meshed with the music and atmosphere and scenery. I expected the Pamplona scene to be visually exciting (and it was, with added video). That the rest of the ballet worked as well as it did was both a surprise and a delight.
I should also note that prior to this season, I would have said I favor going to ballet programs that consist of a few one act ballets. But it has been the full-length ballets (both from the Washington Ballet and other companies) that I’ve enjoyed and the mixed repertory programs I’ve found unsatisfying. It appears that I need to rethink my strategy.
Story Swap: I know I went to a story swap. I know it was a small group, possibly because of weather. I have to admit I don’t remember anything else specific about it.
Pro Musica Hebraica: I go to this series largely to support the idea of presenting Jewish classical music. The spring concert featured the Apollo Ensemble performing Jewish baroque music from Italy and Amsterdam. If you are at all knowledgeable about the subject, you are already muttering something about Salamone de Rossi, who is pretty much considered the first major Jewish composer. There were also pieces by Marco Uccellini, Giacobo Basevi Cervetto and M. Mani, as well as by non-Jewish composers (notably Lidarti and Handel) touching on Jewish themes. Many of the pieces were rescued from fragments in the Etz Chayim library of Amsterdam and much of the appeal of the evening (and of the series) was getting to hear rarities. I continue to question what (if anything) makes much of this work identifiably Jewish, but I suspect the answer is similar to the one Howard Schwartz gives regarding Jewish stories. To wit, a story is Jewish if it is told (or written) by a Jew, involves Jewish times (e.g. holidays) or places (all stories set in Jerusalem are Jewish until proven otherwise) or has some other Jewish connection. That still leaves me puzzled over Bernstein’s Mass, but so be it. Getting back to the concert at hand, I should also note that I particularly appreciate the extensive notes by Professor James Loeffler of the University of Virginia.
Vacation: And then I flew off on a trip to Singapore (with a side trip to Melaka, Malaysia), Australia (Perth for OzFest, followed by taking the Indian Pacific Railroad to Adelaide) and Hong Kong / Macau. I accomplished another life list item by drinking a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel. It was very pricy (SGD30 ish with the service charge) and decidedly not worth it.
Which brings me to June and other things I need to catch up about later.