Take A?Bow, 2013

Greetings, readers! I hope your holiday celebrations have brought happiness and good health your way, and that the new year, which begins in only a few days, will bring much which is positive, to your direction.

The last column of each year has traditionally been one of self-evaluation for our coverage of the past year. I have always believed that sincere self-evaluation leads to more successful work in the future, and teaches others how to best take advantage of the system being followed.

I think this examination is important enough that – although there isn’t room to discuss each and every piece of writing on this page, I can cover most of them this week, and will complete the coverage next week. I will also append the usual listing of our policies for publication on next week’s column.

In 2013, including this week’s column, we have written 112 separate pieces for publication in The Post-Journal and more than 50 for the Observer. To better understand them, I have divided them into 14 different categories, based upon the subject of the writing. No system is perfect, of course and sometimes one piece overlaps into two or even more categories. A visual artist shows his or her artwork at Jamestown Community College, for example. Still, it’s very interesting to me, to see what we’ve been able to do and what we’ve been unable to do, in the past year, and to plan ahead, to do better, if possible.

The categories, by the way are these: Pieces written about films and television – 12. Pieces on art galleries and visual art shows – six. Pieces written about the arts in Canada – three. Articles written about events in area churches – nine. I think it’s worth interrupting to point out, some people get quite upset on the last Saturday of each month, when we publish our policies for coverage, because they think we refuse to cover exhibits and performances with religious intent. Obviously, that isn’t true. We try to indicate that we are not able to evaluate the religious value of performances, only the artistic qualities. Perhaps God favors singing off pitch, for example. Far be it from us to make such an evaluation.

Columns about books – seven. Writings about events at Chautauqua Institution – 17. Writings about events in Fredonia, both at the State University and at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House – nine. Events at JCC scored four. Pieces about performances at the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown – four. Writings about the Community Music Project – three. Pieces about events in Buffalo – 12.

Writings about the events sponsored by the Jamestown Concert Association – six. Pieces about the James Prendergast Library – three. The last category I have titled ”oncers” for lack of a better title, because they are about subjects which have only attracted our attention on a single occasion.

I hope you’ll enjoy the look back:

FILMS AND TV

This category has many entries for two reasons: First, research has shown that more Americans interact more often and on a more powerful level with films and television, than with any other art form. Second, when we have a quiet week in Western New York, or when someone asks us to reserve a column for a certain date, and then fails to provide us with the information needed to write that column, we usually have to turn to films or television, which are always available.

In 2013, we wrote three tributes to individuals who made an unusually large and important contribution to the arts. Those would be Richard Griffiths, Roger Ebert, and Jean Stapleton. Those tributes were well-deserved, in our opinion.

Studio-made films which were evaluated included ”Bully,” which did a brilliant job of demonstrating the effect of bullying on young people’s lives. It is profoundly more than the ”Kids will be kids” attitude which many people adopt.

”Salinger,” a film we considered badly-flawed, but on an extremely significant subject was another in this category, as was ”The Butler,” which dealt with the history of the Civil Rights Movement as well as being an individual story, ”Les Miserables,” which is a musical adaptation of one of the great novels of western civilization, and ”Hyde Park on Hudson,” which dealt with American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the semi-private lifestyle which he tried to live when he got a few minutes away from his job as president.

Television features focused on the network-presented program ”Smash,” which strove to paint a picture of what goes into creating a new Broadway show, and ”The Newsroom,” which gave a peek behind the scenes of national networks and the way they present the news to us.

”Burton and Taylor,” was a televised biography of the later years in the lives of actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as presented by the British Broadcasting Company. Finally, just two weeks ago, we examined the NBC network’s first live broadcast of a musical show, in many decades: ”The Sound of Music.” The show itself is an American classic, and full of worthwhile content, but the public’s reaction to the show taught us quite a bit about ourselves.

VISUAL ARTS

In the visual arts, we examined an exhibit at the Adams Art Gallery, in Dunkirk, of paintings dealing with the environmental tragedy of Love Canal, by painter Tricia Butsky. In April, the Arts Council for Chautauqua County requested a review of an exhibit of paintings at their ”Third on Third” Gallery, by Westfield resident Audrey Kay Dowling.

In February, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute, in Jamestown, requested reviews of an exhibit of illustrations, rather than field guide paintings, by Peterson, himself. In July, the RTPI offered an exhibit of contest winners, in a competition titled ”America’s Parks Through the Beauty of Art.”

The most recent RTPI review was of their currently-displayed exhibition, ”Habitats,” a display of abstract expressions of the natural works by Cleveland-based artist Kim Zarney.

Finally, we did a piece on the recently-closed exhibit at the Weeks Gallery, on the campus of Jamestown Community College, titled ”Transmutations: Photographic Works by Carl Chiarenza.”

I freely admit that of all the arts, my training in visual arts has been the least extensive, but we are able to tell you what’s on exhibition and the background information which is available about the creator and his or her work, and we’re happy to be able to do that.

CANADA

Our good neighbor to the north, Canada, takes a much more pro-active approach to the arts than we do, with the result that, per-capita, they have far more and often more effective arts than we do in our own country.

We were sad that our responsibilities here in Chautauqua County made it impossible for us to visit the Luminato Festival, which turns Toronto into an absolute flood of arts in all imaginable genres, each June. I hope to find time for it, in 2014, and also at least one opportunity to visit Toronto’s excellent Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, to review the brilliant performances of the Canadian Opera Company, or the National Ballet of Canada, or one of the great many of other companies and individual performers who perform in the nearest major arts city, to our area.

This year, we wrote one column which explained what performances would be shown at the Stratford and Shaw festivals, and one column reviewing performances at each of those festivals.

Since we often say that we typically write about 200 performances per year, some readers get fired up when we describe having printed a few more than 100 articles. These two Canadian-oriented columns are excellent examples of single pieces which each contain six different reviews, which brings us up toward the higher number, as do the many other multiple publications.

CHURCH PERFORMANCES

In 2013, we wrote reviews of two performances at the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation’s Music Salon program. We did a review of the Living Christmas Tree at First Covenant Church. We reviewed the most recent performance by the Harmonic Brass quintet, from Germany, at Saints Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church.

The Bemus Point United Methodist Church sought coverage of their production of ”It’s a Wonderful Life,” based upon the classic film of the same name.

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church got both a pre-performance announcement of their productions of ”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” and ”Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” as well as a review of both performances. The first was the product of the Winged Ox Players, an organization within the church which specializes in theatrical performances, and the latter was performed by St. Luke’s Festival Choir, an ensemble incorporating both the church’s adult choir and volunteers from around the community, plus instrumentalists.

BOOKS

The great thing about writing on the subject of books is that a surprising number of people who either live locally or who have connections to our area who publish books of their own. In January of 2013, author E.R. Baxter III was reviewed for having written ”Niagara Digressions,” a history of the Niagara Falls area.

In February, ”Our Scandinavian Heritage,” assembled by Barbara Ann Hillman from stories submitted to her by members of the Nordin Club, recounted stories of how various people came to our area from places in Scandinavia.

In March, we did a column at the request of the Robert H. Jackson Center, about the book ”A Long Way Gone,” in which African native Ishmael Beah described his life as a child soldier, grabbed against his will by rebels in Sierra Leone, and forced to fight a war. Beah was contracted to speak at the Jackson Center about his book and his experience, but he canceled his engagement twice.

Julian R. McQuiston, a retired member of the faculty at the State University of Fredonia, has written a book on one of Fredonia’s best-known former residents, William B. Cushing. Although born in Wisconsin, Cushing was a hero in the U.S. Civil War, and went on to an extensive career as the commander of an American gunboat in China and Japan, in the late 19th Century. We reviewed that book just a week after Beah’s autobiography.

In July, we received a book written by representatives of different chapters of the American Association of University Women, including one from Jamestown and another from Fredonia. Titled ”Remarkable Women,” it was both interesting and topical for our readers.

In October, we reviewed another of the many biographies of Jamestown native Lucille Ball. Called ”Ball of Fire,” it was, perhaps one of the more evaluative and less fan-inspired of those many biographies.

In June, the only one of the book-related columns which didn’t have a specifically local angle was published, with the longest evaluation being of actor Diane Keaton’s autobiography, which she called ”Then Again.”

All of the five have multiple reviews within them, but I have chosen to describe only the first one, in each column.

FREDONIA

Nine events have drawn us to drive the sometimes-challenging route from Jamestown to Fredonia, five at the State University, and four at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House.

At the university, we reviewed ”Stop the World – I Want to Get Off,” ”The School for Scandal,” ”The Diary of Anne Frank,” and ”Moon Over Buffalo.” We also reviewed a recital by famed opera singer ”Dawn Upshaw,” who thrilled local audiences in April.

At the Opera House, we did two reviews of the three ”Bach & Beyond” concerts, which always light up the spring in the North County. We also reviewed performances by crooner Michael Civisca, and Live from the State of the Metropolitan Opera, Stravinsky’s ”The Nose.” I wish I could get up there more often – the quality of performances is always very good.

CHAUTAUQUA

Chautauqua Institution brings to our area some of the finest professional artists in the world. They always pose a challenge for this column, because just as you might have more fun at a football game featuring your local high school than you would at the Super Bowl, a newspaper has a responsibility to teach the difference in scope between those two competitions.

We did one column about the soon-to-open season at Chautauqua, and one look back at that season, when it had concluded. We did individual coverages of the performance of pianist Jon Nakamatsu, one by lecturer Ron Song Destro, a Jamestown native who has achieved the artistic directorship of the Oxford Shakespeare Company and one by composer Michael Colina, who presented a world premiere in the Amphitheater in August of 2013.

We did reviews of ”Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” ”Transit,” ”Clybourne Park,” ”Dark Radio” and ”Comedy of Errors,” all by the Chautauqua Theater Company. We did a pre-production interview with the cast of ”Cat.”

We did a pre-performance set of interviews and reviews of both productions of the Chautauqua Opera Company. Those were ”Peter Grimes” and ”Falstaff.”

In many ways, the artistic centerpiece of the 2013 season was the multiple-genre production called ”The Romeo and Juliet Project,” which involved the cooperation of the artistic directors of the theater company, the opera company, the vocal department of the school of music, the Chautauqua Dance Company,” and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Presenting Shakespeare’s famed love story in acting, singing, dancing and performance of an orchestra, is a world attention-grabbing event, and praise is earned by all involved, especially Vivienne Benesch, who was on point for the entire project. We did an advance series of interviews, and a review of the performance.

We would write more about dance at Chautauqua, if the company would agree, and we would continue to cover theater thoroughly, if we possibly can. We wish Chautauqua Opera would be able to grow back to its former scope, so we could do more about them, as well.

JCC

The local community college produced two productions on the stage of the Scharmann Theatre: ”Sylvia” and ”Anything Goes.” We did reviews of both of those, and we drove to Buffalo, to interview Westfield native Tim Newell, who did a one-night-only performance is his show ”Mr. Benny,” about famed comic Jack Benny. Sadly, that one performance was at the exact same day and time as another performance which asked first for review, so we couldn’t do that, for them.

We also did a farewell interview with Mike Kelley, who has been professor of music and coordinator of the Music Department for many years at the college. Mike has always been an energetic and enthusiastic presenter of the arts, and we were happy to do one more interview for the ages.

LBLTJ

Little Theatre has found that it suits their plans and schedules to do their publicity with other writers for the paper, so our coverage there, this year, has been only reviews of their performances. These have been ”Proof,” ”Guys on Ice,” ”Monty Python’s Spamalot” and ”Shrek.”

That list demonstrates a reaching out by the company to go beyond their traditional audience and to draw in other elements of our community, to enjoy the fine productions which they put on their stage. Let’s hope they continue to work in that direction, which I think is likely to work out very well for them, indeed.

CMP

The Community Music Project, which gives challenging opportunities to local singers and offers challenging performances for local audiences, has been reviewed in January, for the annual ”Twelfth Night” performance by the Chautauqua Chamber Singers,” in May, for the annual Spring Concert of the Chamber Singers and the Jamestown Choral Society, and in November, for the two organizations’ annual Memorial Day Performance. The project and its various elements are a major addition to our community.

JCA

The Concert Association brought six professional soloists or ensembles to set an example for our community, in 2013. These included Scottish guitarist Paul Galbraith, the Carpe Diem String Quartet, the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, pianist Marina Lomazov, and two performances by Symphoria, the former Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, one a pops concert and one of classical music.

The amount of work and energy donated to us by this all-volunteer organization deserves the community’s praise and thanks, as do the fine folks who work so hard and dig so deeply into their pockets to offer this rich and varied set of offerings.

Tune in next week, for the rest.