A Double-Hitter at the Duplex

Monday night, Sept 29, I gave myself the musical gift of seeing two cabaret events at the Duplex Theater on Christopher Street. The first was another monthly night of Scott Alan’s Monday Nights New Voices, featuring the Guest Composer Adam Gwon. The second was the New York Theater Barn’s monthly fundraising cabaret, which featured the two-woman musical group Band Practice and the songs of composer Daniel Maté.

MONDAY NIGHTS NEW VOICES

I’ll tackle MNNV first. For those who don’t know this monthly event, or who haven’t read my blog post about last month’s event (shame on you), Monday Night’s New Voices is produced by Scott Alan and is designed to highlight a special guest composer for the night. A small group of talented but relatively unknown singers get up and (hosted by a new guest host each event) take the stage with their own musical selection. For the second half of the show, the guest composer him or herself gets up to play the piano and introduce his or her songs, while the singers come up and sing them. It is a brilliant way for both new composers and new singers to be introduced into the cabaret world, get exposure, network and publicize themselves.

Last night, the host of the evening was Megan McGinnis, who recently stared as Éponine in the Broadway revival of Les Misérables. Barbara Anselmi once again music directed the first half. The new voices were Jamie Cepero, Matt DeAngelis, Demi Fragale, Jake Glassman (all of only 16 years old!) and Molly Hager.

All the singers in this part of the night were excellent. Top-notch vocal prowess all around. And, while listening to Adam Gwon’s original music & lyrics, I couldn’t help comparing him at times to Stephen Sondheim (in syncopation and lyrics) and Jason Robert Brown (real life concepts and ideas set to song).

That short hour – which blazed by so fast – was just another reminder of why I love song and cabaret and discovering new music, and why I hope to be able to sing myself at the next MNNV showcase.

I had one hour to wait until the next event. I congratulated the MNNV crowd and talked a bit with a British student/current tourist who knew people involved with the London version of the MNNV monicker. I think, however, they’re calling it the Sunday Nights New Voices. Scott Alan is a part of the whole phenomenon as well.

NEW YORK THEATER BARN FUNDRAISER

My friend Reed Prescott is the Events Coordinator for NYTB, so his plate was full that night. I was seated and the first half of the evening started.

Two women came on stage, the “band” members of the band Band Practice. These ladies, Sara Curtin and Caroline Beck, write their own music as well as perform covers. They play guitar, violin, ukulele, and what I think was a mandolin of some sort. They switched between instruments effortlessly. Their voices complimented each other gracefully – both have a songbird quality to their vocals, both were able to go into a heavy alto and rise to a high beautiful soprano with ease. They alternated lead & harmonies and had obvious friendship together. I was amazed to learn that this was their first performance together, having only put the band together two months ago!

Their music was very folksy in nature, but the original lyrics of their songs ranged from old and quaint to modern bitter-speak. Their folksy personalities (Caroline gave a great explanation of how her Mother bought an iPhone just to be able to watch her daughter perform on YouTube, which she believed to be a huge network a la ABC/NBC) matched their singing. I suggested they send their information in to Garrison Keillor & Prarie Home Companion (and it’s good timing, because Garrison is reading parts of his book, Liberty, at the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center tonight).

I COME IN PEACE: the songs of Daniel Maté

The next half of the show turned itself over to Daniel Maté, a singer/songwriter who dedicated the evening in memory of his grandfather Andór Maté, who would have been 98 years old that night. Music direction and accompaniment was by Christopher D. Littlefield. Daniel sang several songs himself, while featured singers were Will Aronson, Danny Gardner, Brandon J. Ellis, Tina Lear, Carey McCray, and Mary Ann Schaub.

From the get-go, you could tell that there was a lot of intelligence and modern fire behind his songwriting. The first song (“I Come In Peace”) told the story of a Canadian traveler hoping to ingratiate himself into the United States via a Border Patrolman, and having to feel he must do a medley of Canadian-written songs to prove himself Canadian. Another was sung through the voice of a 10-year old boy who didn’t understand why his father objected to his choice of dressing up as a suicide bomber for Hallowe’en (“Ali Abu Jeffrey’s Great Escape”). One got us into the mind of a bar-hopping guy out to grab some tail (“Kissing Women Left & Right”) while another delved into the mind of one yearning to meet that successful, popular, confident version of himself (“Parallel Universe Me”).

This all felt very personal work, an extension or perhaps explanation of the things going on in Maté’s mind. Some songs were painfully funny explorations of relationships (“I Don’t Think of You,” “Three Sisters”), and others (like “I Love To Start Shit With You”) were just wonderful excuses to utilize many twists of the English language. I appreciated his work for the danger they invoked – it’s exceptional to put one’s neck out by commenting on modern giant panic-inducing buttons like suicide bombings and living in a paranoid society, and then be able to combine it with humor and intelligence. Then jump to a love song. Then back again to a heady conversation about a mind overstimulated with thought (“You Make My Brain Work Right”). But he makes all his songs act-able and not too heady for the average audience listener to imbibe (audially-speaking). His work challenges audience participatory thought (a blessing and a curse – just ask Stephen Sondheim) and a lot of digestion after.

Count me in as a fan.

Click the above programs to read the full song list

A Sobering Moment…and a Question

A sobering but beautiful street memorial chained to a lamppost at the corner of 40th Ave & Broadway

Franco Scorcia
72 Years Old
Killed By Car
December 6, 2007
Rest In Peace

Dig the snazzy Fashion District trash bags. I live in Washington Heights – why don’t we get designer trash bags like the Fashion District? HMMMmmmmmmm?

The New Concerts at Tudor City Greens

On Wednesday, September 24th, my husband and I braved through the UN crowds and Police barricades to to go the latest installment of the New Concerts at Tudor City Greens. It’s a lovely public park spot on the East side, within walking distance from Grand Central Station and the UN plaza itself (it’s called Tudor City Place). Raissa Katona Bennett hosted the evening of top-caliber Broadway and Cabaret singers, under the music direction and piano stylings of David Caldwell. It was sponsored by Cibo, on 41st street @ 2nd avenue, where we had after show drinks and appetizers. VocalEase lended them the sound equipment, which helped since there was a large crowd and some wind to contend with. It was produced in association with MAC, the Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs.

The singers were: Raissa Katona Bennett (who sang from Phantom of the Opera), Hector Coris (sang from his upcoming comedy revue What’s The Point?), Richard Cramer (who sweetly sang a song about the flowers, wearing a bee outfit), Jenna Esposito (singing from her CD “13 Men…And Me!”, Eric Michael Gillett (proving himself yet again to be a powerful crooner), Rosemary Loar (reprising her role as Grisabella by singing “Memory”), Maria Moncada (spiced things up with “Perfidia” in both languages), Catherine Overfelt (blues-ed it up and provided co-host energies), & Darren Williams (wowed us with both comedic and heartfelt pieces). We had a treat at the end when Raissa and Rosemary sang a duet of “I Will Never Leave You” from Side Show. I’m chagrined I didn’t write down or remember all the great songs sung, but I always feel it a bit rude to be scribbling things down during a performance…

In any case, I plan on being there for the upcoming event on October 22nd. And look forward to future posts about some of the singers in the above lists and their upcoming shows as well.

Vocal Ease: Songs from the Heart – a great cause!

I’m reading a book right now about the functions of the brain (will blog about it soon) and it reiterates the healing properties of music to the human psyche/soul/synapses, however you wish to put it.

While at the New Concerts at Tudor City Greens last Wednesday, I picked up a flier for a volunteer performing company called “VocalEase.” It seems they are a singing organization for hospitals, nursing homes, and senior centers. Music, but especially live music, has been known to improve morale amongst those who are sick, elderly, depressed, and otherwise experiencing physical and mental pain. Just to have someone come in and sing for an hour is incredibly good for the mental stimulation and healing process of an injured child or lonely senior citizen.

I remember performing as a 14-year-old for my grandma’s senior center, broadly singing into a microphone while cheesy karaoke tracks (they were awful during that time) blared from a boombox. I guess I was doing at that time what VocalEase does now!

It claims to have “a rotating roster of more than 80 performers, most with professional experience in cabaret, musical theater and jazz.” Might be something for me and any professional singers (or truly, anyone who likes to sing) to donate their time at.

Info: (212) 579-5386
www.vocaleaseinc.org

People I Will Mourn in the Future

Not to be too morose, but in learning of Paul Newman’s passing this past weekend (his greatness transcended generational lines; both my mom and myself appreciated his work, although my mom probably swooned over his baby blue eyes more in her youth), I began to think about those people in today’s headlines who I will miss once they are gone. Whether this is tomorrow due to a tragic accident or years and years from now when I’m in my old age — doesn’t matter. These are the people (brainstormed in an hour while watching television) that mattered to me at one point in my life. Inspiration, entertainment, political, I just had a crush on him, whatever…and it’ll be interesting to read this in 10, 20, 30 year’s time to see what names are enduring and which have been thrown into the “oh I liked him/her but…” pile.

Of course I don’t include immediate friends and family members – I will of course mourn them. But they’ve promised not to die on me, so I’ve got that covered.

Barak Obama
Barbara Streisand
Bill & Hillary Clinton
Calvin Remsberg
Cloris Leachman
Debbie Reynolds
Jon Stewart
Mandy Patinkin
Nelson Mandela
Patrick Stewart
Patti Lupone
Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr
Peter Jackson
Renee Fleming
Scott Bakula
Simon Pegg
Stephen Colbert
Stephen Hawking
Stephen King
Stephen Sondehim
The Cast of Monty Python (the rest of them)
The Cast of MST3K

Didn’t realize I liked so many Stephens out there… 🙂 I will add to this list as I see fit.

-Sierra

** UPDATE **
My mom has informed me “I still swoon over the Newman of Hud with as much sensual vigor as I did in my youth.” Huzzah, Mom!

Husband (ThePete)’s Blog Linked on CSPAN.org

My honey’s blog has been mentioned a few times by CSPAN & on air by Leslie Bradshaw of CSPAN2. He recently posted his review of the first Presidential debate of 2008, and CSPAN deemed it fit to post on their website. Enjoy!

Times Square Becomes Public Screening Room for Renee Fleming & The Metropolitan Opera

The above video was taken by myself in the middle of Times Square last night. After going to the Algonquin Hotel for some good open mic work (I sang “And I Will Follow,” this time dedicating it to husband Pete since he followed me and my dream to New York with uncertain sacrifice on his part), we walked through 42nd and Broadway to see the final act of the Metropolitan Opera’s Gala Opening celebration. Renee Fleming, one of my opera inspirations, was the diva of the night, starring in three different selections: “Act II of Verdi’s La Traviata, and continues with Act III of Massenet’s Manon, and the final scene of Richard Strauss’s one act opera, Capriccio” (broadwayworld.com) It was being broadcast simultaneously on the huge screens of Times Square itself. The center of the square had been cut off from traffic by barricades, and about 200 folding chairs (with an aisle through the center) were placed for an audience. My husband took a picture showing the seats packed as he walked through on the way to the Algonquin Hotel; when we arrived around 9:30, many audience members had left and the cold had arrived. There were also camera rigs, reporters (or broadcast hosts to the event), and huge speakers set up around the area.

We arrived during the second intermission, and waited for 15 minutes as the set was re-struck and dressed for the third part of the evening. It was (as it always is to me) fascinating to watch the backstage of the opera set being attacked by guys in black with headsets and drill guns. We saw the wooden facade of the set and the stage manager or an equal standing center, obviously giving out orders. The camera then cut to Martha Stewart in a lobby area of the Lincoln Center, dressed in gold and giving host Susan Graham the recipe for some champagne and orange cognac drink. Boring! Unless I can afford all those ingredients (well, I could afford the orange peel twist), I don’t care…get to Renee!!! We also watched a preview of the upcoming opera Doctor Atomic but the audio was cut off from us in the audience, so I’m not sure what the opera sounds like. The sets look impressive, though.

Finally, after some live reporting from the aisle of our audience in Times Square, we watched the conductor (James Levine) walk from backstage to his place in the orchestra pit. Renee then sang what was practically a one-woman one-act show (she shared the stage with Michael Devlin as the Major-Domo). Dressed in a gorgeous dress-and-coat combination designed by John Jalliano and sporting a simple shoulder-length straight-cut hairstyle, Renee Fleming looked gorgeous. She owned herself onstage, being sexy and voluptuous, yet simple and real in her acting choices. She is definitely an actress-singer, hitting the notes beautifully but having many, many real moments of thought behind each lyric. She isn’t an over-the-top opera singer with little behind each high note; instead, she truly lives each moment as it is happening and makes it believable. It was a marvel to watch, and I’m going to have to get the footage of what she did with the earlier two pieces and study her techniques.

Man, it’s just a reminder that I want to do my own opera work – my voice teacher in Los Angeles & I talked briefly on getting two one-woman one-act opera pieces together, and after I put my own work on them I might make a special trip back to LA to work on them for a special engagement.

Photos of what it looked like in Times Square last night:

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory – New York & Family History

Today, it suddenly dawned on me that I finally had the time here in New York to go to the location where a moment in history (both for the United States and for my personal family) occurred.

It’s now called the Brown Building, but in 1911 it was the Asch Building, located at 23-29 Washington Place – cross street Greene Street. There, 146 employees of the Triange Shirtwaist Factory lost their lives in a horrendous fire. Many safety precautions of the building were revealed to be inadequate, and too many lives were lost jumping out of windows unequipped with fire escapes. It was because of this great loss of life (an incredible amount in 1911, although it still pales in comparison to the 3,000 + of the World Trader Center) that labor unions fought for better employee safety practices, fire and building inspections, and anti-child-labor laws to become in effect.

Where does my family come into this? My great-grandmother, Gertrude Rapp (my grandmother’s mother on my father’s side) was a forelady on the ninth floor of the building. She is listed amongst the survivor/witnesses as Gussie Rapp. Family lore stated that she survived when she was asked to go across the street by her boss on a sandwhich run, or perhaps just an errand. Family lore also has her witnessing the death of her good friend as she jumped from the 9th floor to the ground below. However, the cornell.edu website claims that “According to her testimony at the trial, she was not actually present at the time of the fire but had left work early.” In any case, the timing of her exit from the building was heaven-sent…leaving the 9th floor (the floor that experienced the brunt of the fire’s deadly damage), she escaped any danger of the fire. Gertrude (nicknamed “Babe,” later took the married last name of “Lubar”) told her family later that she did watch her best friend jump to her death. I have a suspicion she either returned to the building when she heard news of the fire and was a witness to it. Or she could have been lying to either her family or the trial (either would be understandable, given the circumstances).
My mom claims that she “did come to this country from Russia, (I think) all by herself in steerage at the age of 13 (I believe.)” Huh…the cornell website lists her and says she “Lived at 604 East 10th St.” Cool! Must check out if that location still exists.

Love you, Great Grandma Babe. Didn’t know you, but glad you survived!

The Phenomenon Called Twitter

Those who scroll down this blog and notice the “Latest Update from Twitter” section and don’t know what the bleep Twitter is, read on. Those who already know what Twitter is, follow me already!

Twitter is a social networking tool that utilizes microblogging – statements of opinion, fact, or links that are alloted only 140 characters at a time. Anyone who knows my public username (“siskita”) can read all the posts I make to twitter (done typically via a computer, but some twitter using their mobile phones or smart phones). One can send direct messages to one another which are private, or tag each of their ‘twits’ (= a twitter message) in a way that the public knows who you are talking to.

You can “follow” others and in exchange be “followed” by other people. When you follow someone, all of their twits are visible to you in a long list from your homepage once you log in. When someone follows you, your twits are visible to them. You can also block people if you don’t like them viewing your twits, and seeing as there are a lot of “spam” users out there with only money-making purposes in mind, that’s often an option.

I follow some people who I admire on a creative level. John Hodgman (“hodgman” on Twitter) of Daily Show/writing/PC commercial fame, John Cleese (“JohnCleese”) of Monty Python fame, Bill Corbett (“BillCorbett”) & Kevin Murphy (“kwmurphy”) & Rifftrax (“rifftrax”) of Mystery Science Theater fame, Peter Sagal (“petersagal”) host of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and Rob Long (“rcbl”) writer & “Martini Shot” podcaster. The really crazy thing is watching some of them having twitter conversations with each other.

I follow my direct friends and their creations, among them my husband (“thepete”), my sister (“lisarein”), my friend Grae’s movie podcast (“popcornmafia”), singer friend John (“johntorresmusic”) and friends Alejandro (“biomix’) and Tim (“timtoon”).

I follow for professional reasons (“broadwaybullet” podcast for musical theater and “ActorNation” as a networking tool) and to get news (“CNNbrk,” “BreakingNewsOn”). I also get snippets of encouragement, information, and understanding about health on a daily basis (“ediets,” “skinnyjeans,” and “healthydiets”).

Lastly, there’s the laugh factor. “Baby_Obama” gets me now with his (her?) twits on the current campaign trail, “DarthVader” enjoys sending out Empirical commands to his followers, and “Momku” offers up a mother-themed haiku as a comedic break from the day.

The only big issues with Twitter are that sometimes the white “Fail Whale” pops up at login to tell us that the Twitter servers are over capacity, but that often susses itself out within a short amount of time. Sometimes I must re-think my twits to a shortened alottment of characters (which, in all fairness, is a pretty good habit to get into). And I must use either is.gd or tinyurl.com to abbreviate some long links.

During the DNC and RNC of recent 2008, my husband and I twittered through the speeches and added #DNC08 and #RNC08 to each of our twits. That made our twits searchable via outside hub websites (for example rnc08.c-span.org and dnc08.c-span.org). Because of this, my husband’s blog was even mentioned on C-Span2 by Leslie Bradshaw (“Leslieann44”) who specializes in “new media, online advocacy, and brand management” and works as Public Affairs Community Manager for New Media Strategies and JESS3.

Twitter, in all its simplicity, has tapped into a certain brain function that appreciates brevity, linked information, and the focus of online personality. As a twitterer, you have to be aware of the public nature of each twit (unless sent as a direct message) and have a clear understanding of how you control your online personae (real or made up). It is a place of entertainment, gossip, information, opinion and communal discussion. And it’s quite easy to learn (I’m talking to you, old timers!).

Twit away!

Grace Notes Singer’s Soiree


Thursday, September 18th, I went for the first time to Don’t Tell Mama’s on West 46th Street to see a monthly “soiree” showcase, hosted by Grace Cosgrove. Don Rebic music directed/played piano, Steve Doyle played the upright bass, and Eric Michael Gillett directed.

The Singer’s Soiree is produced by Grace to create, as she puts it, “an on-going lab for top-notch singers. It is a place for great singers to perform, try out new material, and expand their audiences. Each show also introduces a newcomer.”

I hope to be the next newcomer, or at least be on the waitlist as the next newcomer.

Thursday’s performance featured Grace herself, singing “Embraceable You” and ‘Tis Autumn” to bookend the night. The wonderful and inspirational Margaret Wright sang “The Shape of Things,” “Fifty Percent,” and “Bye Bye Blues” and blew me away. I swear, when I grow up I want to be just like Margaret – beautiful, energetic, and still singing with power and passion and grace. Next, La Tanya Hall brought us some samples of songs she will be singing in her upcoming act September, 29 2008 at Feinstein’s at the Regency. Reading up on her biography, I was sooooo impressed with the number of jazz & rock greats she’s sung with. She sang inspired “Fever” and “The Nearness of You,” and I could tell the lyrics came out of her with thought and passion.

Jay Rogers…wow…he took a moment to come out from behind the bar to sing two funny songs, written by Keith Thompson, that defy description. Let’s just say they were witty, very naughty, and complimented Mr. Rogers’ zany humor perfectly. Next, John Koprowski sang a Hollywood Medley of “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” “Picture Postcards from L.A.” and “Celluloid Heroes.” Maybe it was his heartfelt singing, maybe it was the rum & coke, or maybe it was because I just left Los Angeles, but something in his medley made me a bit emotional.

KT Sullivan then took the stage. Oh man is this woman is quite a find. She first sang a Blues Medley, then a humorous song I once knew (but obviously forgotten – June Allyson sang it in “‘Til the Clouds Roll By”) called “Cleopatterer.” She ended her trio of songs with a touching, and soprano-ranged, version of “Old Man River.” KT has a very honest sense of herself. Not too much and not too little, she certainly knows how to *act* her way through a song and not let a moment go by. Luckily, she has a series of performances starting on September 23rd and going until October 11th at the Algonquin Hotel, singing a tribute to Jerome Kern entitled “All The Things You Are.”

The “Newcomer” of the night was next, Amanda Peters, who sang “The Woman in the Moon” and a sultry, sexy version of “Summertime.” She might be a “newcomer,” but she certainly held her own onstage and brought a youthful, vibrant vibe onstage as she belted her work out. Next, Cynthia Crane – the self-proclaimed “Saloon Chantreuse” – brought her spunky self onstage. I want to steal from this woman, I swear. She sang a great comedy song, “Jose Cuervo,” and then a heartfelt “I Wonder What Became of Me” by H. Arlen & J. Mercer. She has a number of CD’s out, which I’m sure will pass through my hands one of these days.

I look forward to the next Singer’s Soiree, and I’m happy there are producers out there like Grace who truly want to create an environment where good, solid work can flourish. Of course, I gave Grace my information, and hopefully a time will come when I can blog about my turn to be introduced as the “Newcomer” at Grace Notes Singer’s Soiree.

-Sierra

p.s. Oh and I spoke to Eric Michael Gillett afterward about possibly directing my re-vamp of my cabaret act. We will tawk over cawfee about the possibilities soon…TBA.