Category Archives: Arts

Bassick Band Needs Music Men (And Women)

In Westport, our schools’ stellar music program is a given.

Just a few miles away in Bridgeport, it’s a gift.

Bassick High School struggles with the basics. Recently, administrators found enough money to hire a band leader. Jon Garcia is eager to teach students, who are just as eager to learn.

But they can’t play without instruments. The band closet was almost empty.

Bassick High School band director Jon Garcia.

When Westonite Martha Deegan heard about the situation, she called a meeting with her Sky’s the Limit Foundation board of directors. They voted to take on the project.

They ask area residents with instruments languishing in closets, attics and basements — in other words, plenty of Westporters — to donate them to the Bassick marching band.

The foundation will clean them, and replace cork, pads and valves — whatever is needed to get the instruments in working order.

It would be great, Martha says, to get donations to buy new ones. But that’s expensive: a new tuba costs up to $7,000. So they’re concentrating on used, semi-forgotten but desperately needed instruments.

She has a personal desire to provide saxophones: Her father played sax with Stan Kenton and the Paul Whiteman Orchestrsa, back in the day at Cedar Point, Ohio.

Martha will pick up any instruments — anywhere in Connecticut. She’ll also reimburse shipping costs from out of state.

She’s off to a great start. A lawyer friend called, and offered an accordion, violin, sax, conga drum and cymbals from foreclosed houses that are being cleaned out.

Donations have already begun: trombones, trumpets, woodwinds, keyboards, euphoniums, electric guitars, and a clarinet, banjo and grand piano (!) from Westporters, and a flute from a Weston family.

Local residents involved include Dr. Jennifer Baum Gruen, opera singer Lucia Palmieri, “What Up Westport” founder Marcy Sansolo, Sue Connors, Shirley Hwang, Sue Daly and Kristana Esslinger.

Bassick High School band members.

Norwalk’s AAA Band Rentals shop — owned by Weston resident Mike Spremulli — has offered to recondition (free!) all donations.

Members of the “Bassick Big Band” will play at Barnes & Noble on Saturday, November 9 (3 to 5 p.m.). They’ll accept contributions (of money and/or instruments). The store will donate a portion of its profits from sheet music and music books to the school’s program.

Still needed:

  • 4 flutes
  • 1 obe
  • 1 clarinet
  • 4 alto saxophones
  • 3 tenor saxophones
  • 1 baritone saxophone
  • 5 trumpets
  • 2 French horns
  • 5 trombones
  • 2 baritone euphoniums
  • 1 tuba
  • 1 concert bass drum
  • 1 concert snare drum
  • 1 pair of crash cymbals
  • 1 timables
  • 1 pair of congas
  • 1 pair of bongos
  • 2 electric bass guitars
  • 1 electric guitar

“The Good Book teaches us to ‘make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the lands,'” Martha says. “This is my holiday wish and mitzvah for the Bassick High School marching band.”

(To donate, email marthadeegan@rocketmail.com)

 

ADL Raises Voices, Inspires A “Show Of Unity”

For decades, the ADL has helped Westport.

Now it’s time for us to return the favor.

The organization — the Connecticut chapter of what was originally called the Anti-Defamation League — has:

  • Offered anti-bias training programs for teachers, students, parents and community members
  • Provided Holocaust education
  • Responded to anti-Semitic and other hate incidents
  • Sponsored Police Chief Foti Koskinas for a special course on extremist and terrorist threats, for senior-level law enforcement personnel
  • Helped begin the Kool to be Kind initiative
  • Worked with Staples High School staff on the new “Connections” program
  • Brought former neo-Nazi Frank Meeink, and ex-Westboro Baptist Church members Megan and Grace Phelps-Roper here
  • Worked with every synagogue in town on the interactive “Words to Action” program, for students from middle school through college.

“We will always be there for our community,” says ADL Connecticut director Steve Ginsburg, a Westport resident. “Now, we’re bringing the community together with a ‘show of unity.'”

It will be quite a show. “ADL Voices” is a major fundraiser, on Saturday, November 9 (Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport, 8 p.m.).

Trombone Shorty — the New Orleans-based jazz, funk, R&B, hip hop, pop and rock trombone, trumpet, organ and tuba player — will star.

Trombone Shorty

Award-winning gospel artist Pastor Marcia Fountain will solo. David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Shaffer emcees. Westporter Sarah Green serves as artistic director.

The Voices Choir — a talented, diverse group of musicians, singers and dancers from across Fairfield County — will perform, along with the Pivot Ministries Choir from Bridgeport.

Students from Staples High School, the Bridgeport public schools and Neighborhood Studios will sing, along with those from Fairfield Prep, Fairfield University, Keys Bridgeport and the Manhattan School of Music, and various church and synagogue choirs.

Westport Academy of Dance’s senior company introduces a piece specially choreographed for the event.

Other Westporters involved include the Staples Service League of Boys; ADL board member and event chair Claudia Cohen, along with many volunteers.

It’s truly be a “unifying” night. The fundraising benefit and community gathering is designed to “bring people together, foster dialogue and build mutual respect,” Ginsburg says.

It will also be very entertaining, quite inspirational, and tons of fun.

(For more information, including tickets and sponsorship opportunities, click here. Major sponsors include Bercham Moses LLP, Norwalk Hospital and Terex.)

Meandering On The Saugatuck

Bistro du Soleil — the French-Mediterranean restaurant in the old post office on Riverside Avenue — has a loyal following. But it does not get enough attention, either for its food or the ever-changing art on its walls.

This Sunday (November 3, 4 to 7 p.m.), there’s a reception for Westport photographer Tom Kretsch’s photos of the Saugatuck River — the water that runs directly behind the restaurant.

His new exhibit is called “River Take Me Along.” Tom writes:

“The River that Flows Out” is the translation of the word Saugatuck. The Paugusset Indians gave this 23-mile river, with its origins in Danbury, its name.

This treasure of a resource served first as a place of early settlements by Native Americans. Later, settlers farmed along its banks. In the 19th century it was a large shipping port, with warehouses nestled by the edge.

Saugatuck River (Photo/Tom Kretsch)

Today this winding river, flowing through the heart of our community, serves as a wondrous resource for physical and spiritual reflection. From the fishermaen who cast their lines off the Cribari swing bridge to those who fly fish up stream, from the rowers who ply its waters both solo and in team sculls, to the many who simply stop and pause to sit on a bench by the library, the Saugatuck River holds a place in the hearts and souls of many Westporters.

Living close to its banks for 45 years sparked my interest to capture the many magical moods of this flowing body of water. Its ancient path that winds its way, sacred and slow, through woods, ponds, reservoirs and finally into Long Island Sound has provided me a palette to create my impressions of its spirit and soul.

From vantage points on a kayak floating slowly down the stream, to walking along its wooded banks, to standing on a bridge on a misty morning, the river can truly “take our breath away,” as Dar Williams sings eloquently in “The Hudson.”

Saugatuck in the mist. (Photo/Tom Kretsch)

In my series of images I have tried to create both impressionistic and realistic photographs of this ever-changing body of water. I hope the work will speak to you, and draw you into the beauty and spirit of the river.

I hope too it makes you pause and appreciate what a great natural resource this river is for all of us.

Perhaps it will inspire you to take time to explore the Saugatuck’s many nooks and crannies, or simply pause on a quiet summer evening, an early misty morning fog or deep in the fall foliage season to gaze at this gift we have been given.

My journey on this water is always evolving. I continue to look for those moments that speak to me; to capture the many hidden treasures it holds, and that can only be captured in the light that breathes life into our treasure, the Saugatuck River.

(The reception this Sunday is free, and open to the public. Tom Kretsch’s exhibit runs through December 28.)

Lynsey Addario And Maternal Mortality: The NPR Interview

NPR is an auditory medium. But its website complements its radio features. A few days ago, that site featured some stunning photos.

They were taken by Lynsey Addario. The Staples High School graduate has spent the past decade — in addition to covering life in Afghanistan and the plight of Syrian refugees, for publications like the New York Times, National Geographic and Time magazine — documenting the brutal reality of maternal mortality.

Every 2 minutes around the world, a woman dies in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes. Since 2009, Addario has photographed overcrowded hospitals, bloody delivery room floors and midwives in training.

An overcrowded maternity ward in India. (Photo/Lynsey Addario, courtesy of NPR)

She’s done it thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. Known popularly as a “Genius Grant,” the no-strings $625,000 award can be used however the recipient sees fit.

Addario has pursued a subject that is not “sexy.” It’s one many editors, readers — even male photojournalism colleagues — don’t understand.

In the NPR interview, Addario talks about a formative experience: watching a woman in Sierra Leone hemorrhage and die.

She describes the intimacy of her photos; her own experience becoming a mother while documenting maternal mortality, and the reality that childbirth is not a Hallmark card.

It’s a fascinating story. Thanks to NPR, it is seen — as well as heard.

(Click here for the full interview. Hat tip: Dick Lowenstein)

The aftermath of a stillbirth in a Somali hospital. The woman survived, thanks to skilled midwives. (Photo/Lynsey Addario, courtesy of NPR)

Pic Of The Day #920

Art thrives, at the most visible corner in downtown Westport.

A pop-up gallery — with the clever name of Pop’TArt — just opened at 1 Main Street. That’s the juncture of the Post Road, opposite Anthropologie.

Curator/director Jennifer Ruger Haviland relocated from Southampton, for the current show. Artists — who work in oil, photographs, and wood and metal sculpture — include Miggs Burroughs, Mark Yurkiw, Robert Braczyk, Betsey Fowler, Joe Sorge, Monica Bernier and Jim Velgoti.

Below, Haviland welcomes art lovers to the warm, inviting space. It runs through the end of the month. The next show — “Words Matter” — opens November 1.

TEA Talk Sunday: Breaking Barriers Through Arts

Everyone knows about TED Talks.

But here in Westport, we’ve got TEA Talks.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee and Westport Library’s 8th annual TEA — that’s Thinkers, Educators, Artists — event is set for this Sunday (October 27, 2 p.m., Town Hall).

The topic is timely and relevant: “Breaking Barriers Through the Arts.”

Music, visual arts, performance and poetry artists will share personal stories of breaking boundaries through their work, in 3 20-minute conversations and performances.

There are special appearances by Westport poet laureate Diane Lowman and internationally renowned pianist Frederic Chiu — a local resident — plus an audience Q-and-A, and the presentation of a Horizon Award to a young area artist of note.

Noah Fox

Noah Fox is the winner of that Horizon Award. The 2009 Staples High School graduate — he went by Noah Steinman then — studied photography at Staples, and studio art, art history and queer theory at Oberlin College; earned an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; worked as education manager at the Westport Arts Center, and now serves as coordinator of academic and public programs at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

He’s made a name with a unique project: “transforming” educational books that are “alarmingly misogynistic, homophobic and racist.” Fox paints, draws, sculpts and uses collages to gouge out the books, and “reclaim” them. He “sheds light on the oppressive foundations of American culture, while exposing the ways in which these systems and rhetoric persist today.”

Fox will be joined on the TEA stage by:

  • Illustrator Ann Chernow of Westport, whose works evoke the images of female cinematic figures of the 1930s and ’40s
  • Westport conceptual artist and sculptor Jeanine Esposito, who co-founded Beechwood Arts salon, and now brings innovation to libraries, universities and non-profits
  • Westport director, producer, dramatic coloratura and private voice teacher Wendy Morgan-Hunter
  • Ecuadorean-born violinist, educator and social entrepreneur Angelica Durrell
  • Groundbreaking classical and jazz singer, inspirational teacher, body builder and nutrition specialist Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson.

The TEA Talk is free, and open to the public. A reception follows immediately afterward. Registration is encouraged; click here.

“Stand By Me”: Royal Wedding Choir Comes To Westport

You — and the world — watched in awe as the Kingdom Choir sang “Stand By Me” at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.

They’ll sing it again, next month.

In Westport.

The British gospel group — whose stirring rendition of the Ben E. King classic led to a record deal with Sony — comes to Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Saturday, November 2 (5 p.m.).

They’re on their first-ever North American tour. But mostly — since arriving in September — they’re playing big venues, like Hollywood Bowl.

They’ve booked only 2 intimate church venues. One was in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The other is Westport.

Christ & Holy Trinity director of music Michael Burnette is very excited. He replied “yes!” the moment he got an email from a booking agent, asking about interest.

The Kingdom Choir will sing a mixture of gospel, spiritual and pop tunes, Burdette says. They provide “a message of hope, and a brighter tomorrow.”

The choir’s debut CD is called “Stand By Me: 15 Songs of Love, Hope and Inspiration.”

In 2018, they inspired the royal couple, and the world.

Soon, they’ll do the same on Church Lane.

(Tickets are $65 for preferred seating, $50 for general adult, $15 for children 18 and under, and $115 for a family ticket. To order or for more information, click here or call 203-227-0827.)

Water, Water Everywhere …

As Westport prepares for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms tonight — with  coastal flooding and shoreline impacts from midnight through 4 a.m. — alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti forwarded this text:

His only comment: “Kinda ironic.”

Molly Jong-Fast: Political Tweeter Talks Trump

Molly Jong-Fast knows she doesn’t know everything.

So she sticks to writing about what she knows.

Like women’s issues. The absurdity of the Trump administration. The fact that Republicans can’t quite figure out when life begins (conception? Or after children are ripped from their families at ICE detention facilities?).

And nepotism.

“I come from a famous family,” she says. “I know it well.”

Jonathan Fast, Erica Jong and Molly Jong-Fast.

Her mother and father were novelists. (You may have heard of them: Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast.)

Her paternal grandfather — Howard Fast — was a noted writer too. He became a political figure when he was jailed for refusing to name names in the McCarthy Era.

Jong-Fast’s in-laws are politically active too. Stewart and Connie Greenfield have spent decades working for — and running for office as — Democrats in Westport.

Erica Jong and Jonathan Fast lived in Manhattan and Weston. Molly went to pre-school and kindergarten here. She attended Singing Oaks Day Camp, and rode horses there. Her roots in this area are deep.

Which is why her appearance this Sunday (October 20, 2:30 p.m., Westport Library) is a bit of a homecoming.

The event is the Democratic Women of Westport’s Fall Forum. The title: “How We Can Use Social Media to Beat Trump.”

Molly Jong-Fast

Jong-Fast is no newcomer to the topic. She is a social media veteran. She has over 300,000 Twitter followers (and has tweeted 169,000 times). She’s active on Instagram and other sites, and is a regular contributor to the Daily Beast, Playboy and The Bulwark.

Her bona fides include Tucker Carlson calling her “not super smart.” But she has been skewered by Democrats too: Marianne Williamson once called Molly’s mother to complain.

Jong-Fast began her writing career as a novelist. Her satirical bent found an outlet after the 2016 election.

“Because I’m dyslexic, my brain has always been a bit off,” she says. “In English class, I’d always give the wrong answer to what a book was about.”

However, she notes, “that helps me make connections that are not always the usual ones. They’re not necessarily right or better. But they’re different.”

Her talk on Sunday will build on a theme she’s tweeted and written about often: the need for ordinary citizens to be “the public editor,” calling out disinformation wherever it appears.

But isn’t social media just an echo chamber? Whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, don’t we all listen only to the people we agree with politically?

Not necessarily, Jong-Fast says. “Every Democrat has a cousin who watches Fox News. You have to find that person, and engage with them.”

She worries about the state of our nation. “How do you get the white nationalism genie back in the bottle?” she wonders. “And misogyny, discrimination, the judiciary — it’s a disaster.”

However, she says, “the Democrats won the House in the mid-terms. Polling shows more and more people interested in impeachment. And the younger generation is awesome.”

Tweet that!

(Sunday’s event with Molly Jong-Fast is free, but space is limited. Click here to reserve a seat.)

Scott Weinstein’s Jeff

Every Westporter knows the Tonys. The award — named for Antoinette Perry — is given in a number of categories, for excellence in Broadway theater.

You may not know the Jeffs. Honoring Joseph Jefferson, they’re the Tonys’ Chicago counterpart.

Scott Weinstein knows Jeff Awards. The 2006 Staples High School graduate has already earned 2 of them. On October 21, he’s up for a third.

Like so many alums in the theater world, Weinstein gained broad experience through Staples Players. He acted in “Urintetown,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Cabaret” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

He directed in the One-Act Festival, and was a master carpenter on tech.

At Northwestern University, Weinstein majored in theater and minored in political science. He acted and directed, in everything from “Noises Off” to Shakespeare.

Gradually — because “I was never a good enough actor for the director in my brain” — he focused on directing.

Scott Weinstein, at work.

It’s not an easy profession. “There’s a lot of hustle,” Weinstein notes. “You’re always working on 3 or 4 projects at once.”

He’s been fortunate to work consistently — and on shows he is passionate about.

Right out of college, he started a company called Buzz 22 with friends. It developed new work — “a very Chicago thing to do,” he notes. One of their shows was produced at Steppenwolf.

Weinstein was hired as resident director for the first national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” He handled the Chicago and Las Vegas productions, and one for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

He currently splits time between Chicago and New York. Right now he’s developing new plays, including a musical comedy about surviving the Dark Ages. (Hey, you never know…). He’s also working on a re-imagining of “South Pacific” for the Finger Lakes Music Festival.

Everything he does today has its roots at Staples, Weinstein says. That’s where he learned “the vocabulary for talking about theater, and telling stories.” Most fellow theater majors did not enter Northwestern with those backgrounds in acting, directing and set building, he says.

Whether he is developing new musicals or devising a modern take on a classic, Weinstein believes that “music is timeless. It connects us.”

He is excited about theater today. “Amazing new voices are pushing things in exciting new directions. Boundaries are expanding. It’s more representative of what we are, and what our country looks like.

“I get to work with great collaborators, and brilliant writers. I’m glad that theaters trust me to do bold takes.”

Last week, Weinstein returned to his alma mater. He spoke with David Roth’s theater classes about his career after Players, and life as a director.

Scott Weinstein (6th from right, back row) next to Staples Players director David Roth. They’re surrounded by current students — including future actors, directors and tech crew professionals. (Photo/Kerry Long)

“It was surreal,” he says of his visit. “I have such vivid memories of the Black Box, hearing professionals talk to us.”

Ahead for Weinstein: directing “Something Rotten” and “Grease” in Chicago, and “Million Dollar Quartet” in Phoenix.

Plus, of course, that Jeff Awards ceremony. He’s been nominated for “Noises Off,” at the Windy City Playhouse.

Encore!