Wednesday, December 25, 2013

On to Painting

Back in September at the launching point of these Notes I mentioned that the Dogtown poems and paintings of Marsden Hartley propelled me to get to know Halibut Point, and that I would start with the camera "while other aesthetic capabilities took their time to surface." You have accompanied me as I set out to write. Now, on to painting.

During the fall I enrolled in an art class with Carla Mattioli at the Rockport Senior Center. We explored watercolors and pastel drawing. Here are a few of my paintings. Carla's next session starts January 7. I've signed up again. Come join the fun!
Carla started each class with an evocative reading. From The Way of Chinese Painting by Mai-mai Sze: "The rocks are the roots of the clouds."

This phrase brought out other insights for Carla. Combining dissimilar elements such as clouds and rocks can strengthen the essential portrayal of each. In combination the clouds become more ethereal and the rocks become more massive.
Carla emphasizes that the road to creativity lies in repetition. "You only get freer as you practice more. Rooting - the rocks - is the practice; clouds are the flow that opens up from the discipline."

Carla structures the class in a sequence of earth, water, air, and warmth. She de-emphasizes 'motif,' or subject matter. She has found this approach a relief to many people who are reticent about trying to reproduce scenes. Her primary focus is on awakening to color.

I found the quality of warmth especially fascinating, a choice to be pursued in relation to its opposite, coolness, each available to convey a mood and to contrast with the other. I've begun to notice its function in writing also. It's there for all the arts, for movement, as well as for other relationships.

More than anything, painting takes a lot of looking. When it gets too intense or frustrating I have to remember to breathe, take a walk, be grateful. After all, it's magic. Life appears on the page.
"The class is a place to have your self-confidence increased. We develop positive feedback in looking at each other's work. I've seen students enjoy art more, their seeing of Nature shifting, creating more, which is a great joy." - Carla Mattioli

Monday, December 16, 2013


As I was experiencing openings to singing this fall I happened to meet the founding principal of a public school where singing two hours every day anchors the learning curriculum. The kids - and faculty - center on the very instrument that as a senior I'm just coming to enjoy.  

Voice Charter School emerged in Long Island City adjacent to Queensbridge, the largest public housing project in the country. This neighbor lays claim to being the home of Hip-Hop music. For principal Franklin Headley, a major appeal of his workplace is diversity.
While he was working as an adjunct professor at Columbia University in the millennial year 2000 Frank read an article in the New York Times about a program placing people without teaching experience directly in schools, after a few weeks training. He shifted careers to a fourth grade classroom in the South Bronx and fell in love with the kids. There he began a journey in educational reform resonating with a book he still refers to, Kant's The Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785).
Franklin Headley with teachers
Three years later Frank joined New Leaders for New Schools, a national program recruiting people to become principals in high needs areas. He became the assistant principal of an elementary school in Queens. While there he met a group of people at Saint Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan who wanted to start a Choir School. Together they persisted through the intricacies of visualization and bureaucracy to establish the Voice Charter School in 2008 with Kindergarten and First Grade. They've added one grade a year since, toward their eventual complement of Eight. The student body has grown to 540 children who come to school in uniform from 8:00am to 4:30pm every day, which allows extra time for the music program without sacrificing the other subjects.

 In a recent telephone conversation Frank expanded on some of his experiences: 

"Some kids who come to us don't know how to hold a book. They don't know how to open it, they don't understand the concept that when you turn the page there are new ideas, or that there's some continuity of ideas that carry across the pages. We think that singing helps a lot with the fluidity of language."

"They discover a personal instrument, their voice....It's amazing to see them on stage. When you see them every day, what their struggles are, and to see them get up there and sing in a professional manner, really having mastered some material, it's pretty neat....By second grade they're singing harmony. That means that not only are they mastering control of their own body, and their breathing, it means also they've got to listen to others."


"I think that we want most importantly - it's in our mission statement - it's just one word - and that word is 'choice.' We want them to grow up to be people who truly have choice in their lives. And you get choice by having a lot of tools, right?"

Saturday, December 7, 2013


The first time I heard a Carolina wren sparked a long, personal curiosity about voice, particularly when I finally saw that the creature producing such tremendous sound was only 3 inches tall. 
Carolina Wren
(Google Image)
That spritely bird made projection and pitch seem effortless. In my life, at least since elementary school, pleasant singing seemed inaccessible.

Over the years some encouraging glimpses came my way about the natural gift of singing. Remember the scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy (the Coke bottle movie) when African villagers harmonize spontaneously at the doors of their huts, voices as bright as their dress? They seemed to find their way into song by birthright, a universal potential cultivated in their culture. It flowed like a conversation close to the heart.

Another memorable film celebrated music rising freely out of daily living in our own country – Say Amen, Somebody, a documentary on the origins of Gospel singing in households and churches, formalized by Reverend Thomas Dorsey.

I heard Lou Harrison say in a radio interview that his symphonic compositions sought to emulate the sublime qualities of the human voice. He reversed my previous hierarchy of instruments, to give voice primacy.

I wanted to sing. This year the right teacher* came along to deconstruct various blocks and light the way. She advised that “the joy pathway is less familiar for you, but the more times you take it, the more established it becomes….Befriend the feeling of vulnerability.”

About the same time Theatre in the Pines director Nan Webber announced “We’re doing Cabaret in September. You’ll be playing Herr Schultz, and you’re going to sing.”

My musical d├ębut included three solo/duets in the fabulous acoustics of the Shalin Liu Performance Center. Since Herr Schultz is more a dramatic than melodic role it was a satisfying beginning.

I discovered how perfectly a good song can lend itself to emotion. Seldom as an actor have I experienced a character’s core more fully than through the avenue of these songs, a release into the channel of breath and recognition.

In a follow-up opportunity I joined the Cape Ann Symphony Singers in rehearsal for their holiday concert last weekend. I learned that I am a baritone. My voice coach recorded a piano accompaniment for practice and confidence. Choral artist Wendy Betts shaped sixty-two of us into an inspired program.

On the wall a quotation from Plato pointed to our reward: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

Just before we filed on stage Wendy reminded us to listen to the voices to either side of us, and sing to the tops of our heads. A full orchestra was poised to accompany us with its wealth of sound. The director raised his baton. The “pinch me” moment flowed into performance.

We concluded our program with “Believe”, from the movie Polar Express:
Believe in what your heart is saying,
Hear the melody that’s playing.
There’s no time to waste,
There’s so much to celebrate.

The next day as time approached to don my tuxedo for the matinee, this Carolina wren appeared outside the window.

*Isabella Bates, Voice Coach
(978) 526-1443

Monday, December 2, 2013

Turkey Gravy

Dear Readers,

I enjoyed a fine blog banquet of responses to the last posting. Here follows a selection of affirmation and argument.

[That was an] amusing thought that the Rockport turkeys consider the mailman their subordinate (not so funny to the mailman though.)…A few years ago, after stopping for a quick lunch at the tea place in Rockport (on 127A), I was unable to leave there for about half an hour, as a group of turkeys charged me every time I tried to approach my car on the driver's side (maybe they saw their reflections in the car door and thought I was going after their flock.) I finally had to sneak slowly toward the rear of the car from the other side of the parking lot, then quickly sprint to the passenger's side, jump in, and slam the door before they saw me.  I just made it, and climbed over the stick shift to the driver's side.
…Barbara D.

By definition, as a hunter Dave Sartwell underestimates the complexity of the sentient beings he enjoys killing. Turkeys are often VERY smart. Here is just one example. Females bring up the brood. They OFTEN team up with other females and plan complex protection strategies.   One day in my backyard, poking about for food, there were two females; each with 6-7 chicks. The woman next door let her dog out! The mother closest to the dog started to flap and limp toward the dog looking confused and hurt. The dog hunched down, designing his strike. Meanwhile, the second female was gathering ALL the chicks, hurriedly, and moving them into the woods. Just as the dog lifted from his rear legs to pounce…the limping female took to the air. Dazzling!
…Lois B.

Elana’s rooftop