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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Larry Murante

Through Jerry Libstaff’s “Words & Music” I met a wonderful singer/songwriter by the name of, Larry Murante.  I wrote about him, here in the ‘hood, a couple of years ago, loving his album with the title song, Point of Entry.  Now, I’m a tough critic on lyrics, but when I hear that little simple something extra, baby…you got me!  In Point of Entry, Larry advises, “If you give the world a point of entry…it’ll give back to you…” one of those sweet wee lines that says so much, catching your ear, mind, and heart with all its possibilities.  Everyone usually writes about going into the world, but he writes about letting the world come into us.  A tiny difference in perspective creates these endless choices for the listener, inside an action we can think about.  Behavior Modification 101---the only behavior we can change, is our own---and here we are invited to open our soul doors to the world, not for judgment, but for the gifts this life brings.

Getting to know Larry, I found this to be his gentle mantra, and I was pleased to be let in by him as a friend, albeit mostly online.  There’s something to be said for friendships on computers, especially for writers.  What is a songwriter, if not poet blended with musician, for an easy point of entry with their audience?  Let him in, and he gives back to you, for sure.  I believe it was serendipitous that Larry was born in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, also home of Martin guitars; both of them being sweet conduits of music in the world.  Those of us who live around this beautiful Salish Sea can be glad and grateful he chose to live in Seattle, performing locally, between touring.

Mr. Murante and I share a belief in the voice as instrument, working many different genres, both choosing to study with professional opera singers for a number of years, to learn performance strength, control, and longevity.  It always surprises me when performers, who spend money and time on guitar lessons, never think to work for that same kind of control, that same understanding of their instrument within.  Larry’s voice can rasp closely around an emotion in one phrase, and let go with an open, fluid vibrato in the next.  It comes from his Chi, the root of our sound, and it comes from his heart, an open point of entry for the world.

Last November I sent some lyrics I wrote, to Larry.  If you’ve read many of my blogs, you’ll see that I’m fond of watching the sky from our Aerie on Joe’s Bay, constant kinetic art that it is, fantastic and free to all who would just lift nose from grindstone of the moment.  It gives me a peace I wanted to share with this harried, in-debt world, so I wrote “Little Patch of Sky.”  The only problem was, I didn’t like the melody I had and, like a bad jingle, it stuck in my head.  I asked him if he might have a melody, should he like the lyrics.  Larry did and, by the end of that very day, sent me a demo Mp3.  I was thrilled with his melody.  He wrote to me about singing it as an opening number for a show.  When the song came to an end, Larry looked straight up.  The audience broke out in “thunderous applause,” he wrote.  Hand out cigars…our song lives!

Have I piqued your interest?  Well now, this Saturday evening, 7pm, March 3rd The Blend Wine Shop and Watermark Writers is bringing Larry Murante to our own Key Center, yes!  I’d love to hear him sing our song live, to open the show, and then hear more of his own.  I know you’d have a wonderful time with my respected colleague, my treasured friend.  Come on down to K.C. neighbours, and let’s have us a time!  Seating space is limited, so I would advise calling to make reservations… (253) 778-6559 or (253) 884-9688  


Sunday, February 26, 2012

A New Writer, Sara Paretsky, In My Life

V.I. Warshawsky, the heroine of many thrillers by Sara Paretsky, has got my attention. I just finished reading Paretsky's wonderful mystery, "Body Work." It got me through many, cold nights.
And Warshawsky's reflection on her own life reached way down deep into my soul where I have to live with so many actions and presentations I have done... always trying to be honest, often wondering who I think I am to even presume I had the right to encourage and guide others in the way my calling permits me to do. Here is Warshawki's take on how she touches other people's lives:"Likesal's claim I seem to put myself on a plane above everyone else. It's not that. I don't. I thikn I'm driven more by despair, even, than confidence, especially the despair of seeing so much misery around me. And then I leap into action and make it worse."
Those words touched me in some places I seldom go. I have decided that I am going to read more of Sara Paretsky's work.
Let me know if you have read some of her novels and what you think about them. Check out Sara Paretsky on You Tube:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Prospect Puget Sound's Small Museums to Discover Our Rich Heritages

Above: Visitors contemplate the unfolding richness and impact of contributions made by fellow citizens of African-American ancestry at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. All photos here and below copyright 2012 by Mizu M. Sugimura.

It's well and good to be aware of and show off the big boys and girls such as Seattle Art Museum, Washington State History Museum, Museum of Flight, Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum and so forth to family and out-of-town guests short on time.

However, there's no excuse for local residents to hastily omit from our lists the many often overlooked smaller gems in our local cultural crowns on account they are run often smaller in size and often located just off the well-beaten paths.

Here's my own short list of favorites in which reflect only a fine sliver of the rich collections and community resources available to area residents and their families : Asia Pacific Cultural Center, Fife Historical Society, Federal Way Historical Society, White River Valley Museum, Northwest African American Museum, Burke Memorial Museum, Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Exhibit, Frye Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery and Japanese American Community Center of Washington.

Yes sirree! We all shortchange ourselves when we settle only for glitz and glamour, because the numbers of people who get a chance at rising to those elevated levels gets increasingly narrow as you climb the ladder. What we as larger communities forget is that by failing to give proper time and thoughtful reflection to those in our midst, we unconsciously relegate their significance as well as our own. Maybe this is why we are having difficulty behaving civilly in groups and our leaders can't get along in public. Hmmmmn.

More than ever, the time to give some long due respect and attention to ordinary people like ourselves who have put the effort of taking care of their families, communities and nation in order every day of their lives - many more than not who've never put on any uniform. And the place to see them, share their stories and reflect on your own is not reading People magazine or any of those other colorful supermarket tabloids waiting for the barber, stylist or doctor to finish with their prior appointment!

Above: African-American artist Xenobia Bailey's exhibit at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle includes this exciting take on the idea of what makes a hat or traditional headdress!

The place you can connect these rare gemstones is not 24/7 hours in the middle of a bustling downtown, or in the most upscale and trendy neighborhoods where people go only to be seen. Take a page rather from a veteran old-fashioned prospector who might take a walk every so often in the more quiet, obscure areas of the land because they know from experience diligence pays its own reward.

Above: Visitors briefly converse in the spacious main lobby at the award-winning Wink Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience a community-based museum in the heart of Seattle's International District. The historical building formerly served as a headquarters for many of the area's early immigrants among others as a rooming house and nurturing a number of small independent businesses.

Your new found treasure may be open only 2-3 days a week, only during the school year, or only when volunteers are available. It could be as close as down the street, or across town tucked into a tiny storefront or reincarnated in the quiet hallways of a mothballed or even abandoned school. Most of us overlook the everyday facts in front of us, but truth be told discoveries can be made every day.

Above: The life and history of the multi-ethnic communities that pioneered the city of Fife in Pierce County is explored and celebrated several days a week at the Fife Historical Museum.

Above: A lovely hat worn by an ancestor of today's fashionable Fife citizens on display at the Fife Historical Museum.

Above: The Fife Historical Museum is situated in a quiet residential neighborhood off the major highways and ideally recalls a vision of the farming area's pastoral agricultural heritage.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Nickel: Cheering For Gay Marriage Bill Passing In Washington State

Until the passage of the McCarren-Walter Act in 1952 three years prior to my birth my immigrant Japanese grandparents who had arrived in the early 1900's were not allowed to become American citizens because laws had been passed in the United States to specifically exclude Asians. 

Laws had been passed in individual states to prohibit Japanese from attending local schools, buying homes and property, and marrying outside their race because their fellow citizens (among others some who freely admitted to be practicing adherents of the Christian faith) including some here in the State of Washington decided it should be perfectly legal to exclude people like my grandparents. Even the threat of such laws had the effect of often forcing them into separate, schools, communities, and in some cases - segregated graveyards.

It's clear to see that the very same shameful wellspring of injustice and intolerance has been uncovered once again and the hateful stream of water is spread in outgoing waves by countrymen and women whose limited understanding of equality under the law does not yet extend to anyone whose perspectives lie outside of their own.

In the past citizens of the same mold shut the back door in front of my grandparents. During World War II they shut the door in the face of my parents - then two American-born and raised teenagers. Today they want to shut the door in front of same sex couples who wish to be married.

A few years over six decades ago my relatives spent several formative years of their lives contemplating the future thanks to the hospitality of such fellow citizens - enjoying free food, housing and views of the barbed wire fences around the inland desert US government internment camps where they had been herded by armed members of the military. Meanwhile the philosophical ancestors of today's equal marriage opponents happily snoozed in their own beds, surrounded by loved ones in the peace, warmth and comfort of their own abodes justifiably confident that their own personal freedoms, United States citizenship rights and Constitutional protections were defended and preserved.

Would they sleep so soundly if they by an accident of birth were Japanese-American during that era and had been as mine transported by the wisk of a wand into the US interment camps to serve a regrettable sentence as human wartime collateral damage? Would they rest easy having to bear that uncertainty of fate the rest of their lives? Would they wish for the same blessing upon their children and grandchildren?

Would they advocate so unequivocally as Christians that marriage is only limited to men and women if they should wake up tomorrow morning and find the good Lord transformed them into the body of someone happily identifying as gay or lesbian and be then surrounded for eternity by the love of good people such as they are today?

As I see it a salute is in order for Governor Christine Gregoire and the Washington State Legislature. America is truly alive and well. And it would be a complete sham for the rest of US to settle for anything but.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Words & Music, Season III: An Interview with Jerry Libstaff

Jerry Libstaff

The first time I was formally introduced to Jerry Libstaff, he was interviewing Mark Runions (pianist) and me, as representatives of our band, Jazz Musette.  His article would appear in the following month’s Key Peninsula News.  Jerry was a great fan of our band and, as we talked, I found him to be tremendously supportive of other artists, in every genre…especially when it came to our young, budding artists.  The three of us spent a delightful afternoon on my back deck, overlooking Joe’s Bay, six years ago now.

Mr. Libstaff has served Key Peninsula well; a year as Vice President of Two Waters Arts Alliance, in 2004, a year as President of TWAA, in 2005, during which time he wrote monthly Art articles for the Key Pen News.  I remember being part of a music event he organized, Jazz Musette sharing the bill with Tacoma’s own Vicci Martinez.  He was far from done.

In past posts I’ve written many times about “Words & Music,” covering every house concert of the first season.  It was amazing to see the crème de la crème of Folk Music, in a most beautiful house, at the mouth of Dutcher’s Cove, less than fifteen minutes from my house.  Each singer-songwriter was paired with a wordsmith, be it poetry, novels, or both.  In every audience were people who had come from out of state, even out of country, great fans of each performer.

Love's reflection
As Jerry says, “For a small donation, our guests have the opportunity to see world-class authors and singer-songwriters, and watch artists work during the event.  Guests aren’t separated from the artists by a stage, they’re even able to meet and talk with them.  It’s better than a back-stage pass.  We also provide food and beverages, for the same donation.”

Erm…providing food and beverages does not begin to describe the spread of canapés, sushi, fresh fruit, wine, coffee, mineral water and, oh yes, chocolate, chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate cookies…oh my, the spread!

Jerry, and his dynamo wife, Pamela, make perfect hosts, welcoming everyone into their home as cherished guests, only asking for donations to Jerry’s “Young Writers” program  (more on that in a moment) which is at the heart of their house concerts.  It was Pamela’s dream, to be able to gather good folks in their salon, for music, poetry, and author’s readings.  I love to see her smile, from the back of the kitchen, as she watches artists and audience enter conversations, smiles again, watching people gather around Tweed Meyer’s paintings of both artist and performance. When she's able to join the show, she adds a dimension all her own.

Tweed Meyer
House concerts are a brilliant way for minstrels (oh yes, so has it ever been) to make a living, touring and selling their CD’s.  They’re also wonderful for raising money, so badly needed for artistic programs to continue, for the next generation of writers and performers.  I’ll keep saying this until I drop…growing brains need the Arts, to create language between left and right brains.  Children need this process, to push both intellect and imagination.  Hidden, here on the Key, behind the expensive, waterfront homes, are families in need, with their children especially in need of help, activities, and hope in those growing brains.

I asked Jerry, what the focus was, for the Young Writer’s program he established in 2006.

“We pair [young writers] with successful, published authors, to show them they can have a future as a writer.  It’s a free event for teens. The workshops offer kids a role model, as well as inspiration and instruction.  All of our programs accept donations, specifically to help present these workshops. To date we have worked with nearly 100 local teens to provide them confidence to write. It's always wonderful when the kids come into the program as strangers and go home as friends, with something in common.”

 What made Jerry and Pam decide to create this series of House Concerts as fundraisers?

“When Pam and I left the busy East Side, for the serene life of the Key Peninsula, we left behind access to many of the arts and artists we knew and loved.  The act of attending a concert changed, from an evening that involved a ten of fifteen minute commute, to one of more than two hours in each direction.”

Pam's wish
“We reached out to the art world of Key Peninsula, to both enjoy it, as well as provide that quick access for our neighbors.  Still, the prospect of experiencing world-class entertainment was often hours away.  We decided to bring it home.  Pam suggested we call our concert series “Words & Music” so we could include the written word with songwriters.  Our first program involved eight visual artists as well.”

How does Jerry find the authors and singers…and where do these artists come from?

“In the beginning, we were fortunate to find two East Coast singer-songwriters, who were touring the country.  Both appeared here in the Northwest during different months, and they agreed to perform at our house.  As we went forward, we contacted several of our favorite singers, and asked to present them.  One took four years of requests, and another took two.  At this time, however, we’re fortunate enough to have singers contact us.  It’s a dream come true.”

“We have had singers from across the country, up and down the East Coast, Austin Texas, Tennessee, Colorado, California and, of course, Washington State.  We’ve presented a classical guitarist from Britton, and entertainers from Canada.  Also, we’ve had guests fly here from New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Texas.  Some have driven from B.C., Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and California, to attend Word & Music.  Not quite the fifteen minute commute!”

Ari Hest
This season’s Words & Music begins on February 18th, with New York singer-songwriter Ari Hest, just returned from a tour in Germany.  Mr. Hest has a dozen albums to his credit, a wonderful performer.  Washington poet, Jane Alynn, will read from her works.  Ms. Alynn is an award-winning writer, with several books.  Sounds like a wonderful way to kick off “Words & Music” for Season III

If you would like more information, to make reservations for seating, or to get on “Words & Music” mailing list, write to Jerry, at this address.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fife's Agricultural Heritage A Highlight of Area's Dacca Park

Train whistles calling as they pass along tracks near the suburban Pierce county enclave of Fife, WA are familiar sounds to most area residents as they go about their daily lives.

Not surprisingly a bona fide train engine, caboose and full-sized barn are part of the popular park complex which also includes the City of Fife Historical Museum at Dacca Park. Located blocks away from the bustling lanes of traffic on I-5 and Highway 18, Dacca Park is a quiet and calming bit of paradise where South Sound residents and their families can enjoy the outdoors, delve into local history and check out the mode of transportation that originally made the settlement and growth of this rapidly expanding community possible.

Dacca Park is located at 2820 54th Avenue East. Facilities also include four fields for sofball and baseball, a basketball court, sand volleyball court, big toy and track.

Below: Engine and caboose display at Fife's Dacca Park. All photos copyright 2012 by Mizu M. Sugimura.