Sunday, May 17, 2015

Breathing Room

Not your everyday concert, and you probably had to be there to believe it because seeing or reading about it isn't enough.
The performance of "Sila: The Breath of the World" that took place in  three disparate sites in  Washington recently was a communal event, bringing audiences and musicians together in more ways than one. Composer John Luther Adams, a Pulitzer-prize winner (the accolade always necessary to quote), had been commissioned by both New York's Lincoln Center and the Washington Performing Arts Society to present an outdoor hour-long piece involving singers, brass players, percussionists and strings. It was as much a meditative exercise as, well, music of a kind far different from the norm. The  U.S. Air Force Band did the honors in Washington, minus singers, though a few 'civilians' of assorted stripes wearing plain white shirts and dark trousers were included. Band members turned out in summer gear: short sleeves, long blue trousers, insignia on their sleeves. Saturday afternoon's event - scheduled originally for the Thomas Jefferson Memorial - was moved at the last minute under threat of storms to a second floor open area at the Museum of American History that featured a balcony where a host of musicians stood with blue horns and various  woodwind and brass instruments.
 Two tubas were on the floor below next to a wild array of percussion and strings.  Everybody was in motion, or appeared to be. At one point,  violinists pulled bows across metal bars. Other violinists strolled among the onlookers engaged in the action.. Onlookers walked freely among  musicians engrossed in a complicated computerized score. What appeared to be a spontaneous outpouring of sounds in various registers was actually a carefully calculated score. Each performer was wired to receive instructions about what they should do and how long. Most audience members stood watching in amazement - the ones who weren't seated on the floor with their eyes closed in serene repose. Adams himself sat to one side in a folding chair, hardly moving at all, until the finale signaled by a gradual elimination of instrumental sound, leaving only  public noise in the museum corridors.
"It makes a nice change from John Philip Sousa," remarked one of the band's cellists. i

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tiny Free Library Gets Tagged

 Darren DeStephano of Washington, DC,  has been charming  passersby this year with an esoteric  collection of books left in a handmade wooden  structure next to the sidewalk outside his Capitol Hill home. It sits atop a heavy  post like a birdhouse with a squeaky  glass door, its flat roof an assemblage of green plants.  The interior is a spontaneous library of sorts, filled  serendipitously and often with a raft of reading material available  for free with the understanding that 'you take one, you leave one.'
 His creation is part of a trend, one of several so-called original little free libraries  around town - and around the world, according to the website that has taken the trend to heart and turned it into a cause.  Its heart worthy mission being to redistribute books  to people in need.  In May a Little Free Library Big Book Access Campaign was on Kickstarter soliciting $50,000 in funds.
Alas for noble deeds, however worthwhile.   Ingenuity does not always square with city rules for "Beautification of Tree Spaces." Mr. deStephano  one day found a note posted in his name on official stationery attached to the door. John Thomas,  associate director of the D.C. Urban Forestry Commission wasn't pleased with this bit of folk art; he considered it a transgressor on public ground, defacing the area around and under the young tree growing beside it. He judged it "Not in compliance with the D.C. Municipal Regulation Chapter I, Title 24, Section 109." What constitutes a better more useful urban tree box is anyone's guess but it certainly does not include candy wrappers, empty bottles and assorted other detritus that ill-mannered citizens often toss into those weed-infested lots.
Mr. Thomas suggested moving the library behind "the back edge of the sidewalk in the parking dimension of your property. This will not require a permit." Parking dimension? Is that another rule we need to know about to live civilly in the city? Does that mean Mr. deStefano can apply for a permit to keep the library in its present position?
The result was a petition of redress by the community. Signatures and email addresses to 'Save Your  Library" filled sheets of paper inside in protest, next to works by William Golding, Machiavelli, Alexander McCall Smith, J.D. Salinger, and others, as well as  old copies of National Geographic and a 2015 calendar labeled a Consumer Guide to Pasture Based Meats and Dairy.
The public had spoken. No further word  from Mr. Thomas. The structure was still in place in mid-July.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Heavenly Venue for the Arts

So you thought you knew Washington's National Cathedral... but did you see the life-size statues of  Lincoln and Washington in black and white respectively, near side entrance doors, with appropriate symbolic stories in stained glass high above the door?

See a tiny piece of the moon in a very contemporary styled glass window? Fnd the gargoyle of Darth Vader from "Star Wars" among the many stone faces carved by hand throughout? Know that the organ has - truly - 10,000 pipes (ever try to find them all?)?  Estimate that the bell tower  weighs 9000 tons? That all the limestone used comes from Indiana? Learn that the only president buried in the Episcopal Cathedral was a Presbyterian - Woodrow Wilson - whose grandson Francis Sayre ( born in the White House) became one of the institution's longest serving Deans?

Among the many arts on show throughout are priceless examples of wrought iron done by American master blacksmiths,  whose work -  especially gates of great individuality -  are of astounding skill and delicacy? (Among them is the "Good Shepherd" gate by Albert Paley, a very contemporary sculptural piece on the lower level. ) The metal work finally is being honored in a lavishly illustrated book on sale in the Cathedral shop as well as in the National Building Museum. One of the  authors is Barry Bem, a volunteer guide  who wears a gold tie with a delicate design representing the iron and metal work that he proudly shows off to visitors.

Needlepoint  also is found in abundance, including a wall-size needlepoint tapestry illustrating the seals of all 50 American states. The variety of handiwork on the kneeling cushions (" kneelers"), includes one done by Great Britain's Queen Mother in homage to America's role abroad in World War II.  Don't expect Mr. Bem to show it to you, since one, this like some other prized possessions, are hidden away in what he refers to as 'the Cathedral collection."

This stone palace is not just a place for prayer...