Loud and Powerful: Joanna Hoffman

The Poetry At 1600 Feet series has given me the chance to work with people I’ve looked up to for a while now; one of them being the incredible Joanna Hoffman. In this interview, we talk about her slam career, inspiration, and the opportunity for people from the back row to get up front and shout it out.

I know the exact moment I was hooked on spoken word poetry. Did you have a specific moment that made it click for you, or maybe a certain poem, or person?

I started writing poems when I was in middle school, and in high school I became the Editor in Chief of my school’s Literary Magazine. During that time, I was really into Ani DiFranco and she had a few spoken word pieces on her CD’s. One that stood out to me was “My IQ” from her album “Not a Pretty Girl”. Also around the same time, I watched the movie “Slam” and was completely in awe of the poets in the film (Saul Williams, Beau Sia, DJ Renegade, and Sonja Sohn, who later went on to star in The Wire). I had never heard of slam poetry before, and was really struck by the idea that there was a space for shy, unathletic kids like me, who loved writing, to be loud and powerful. When I got to college, I immediately sought out open mic nights in Baltimore and started performing regularly. One night, the host suggested I check out Baltimore’s weekly poetry slam. I had an amazing night, and also loved the people I met there and how incredibly warm, welcoming and supportive they were. That’s when I was hooked.

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What made you want to teach (workshops) as well as perform?

I think that both performing and teaching are about finding a human connection. To be effective as a performer, I need to be accessible, relatable, and authentic. Personally, after I had been slamming for about fifteen (!!) years, I felt like I was more than ready to step back from the stage and dedicate my time and energy to supporting poets who are new to it. I found that the qualities that make an effective performer also make an effective educator. Also, I love talking about poems and writing and creative processes, and feel fortunate that there are people who want to listen to what I have to say about all that!

Are you influenced by any other mediums?

I’m definitely influenced by all kinds of mediums. I’m inspired by storytelling in all of its forms, and the power that comes from connecting to someone else’s experience. I’ve found that in the music of Janet Jackson and Neko Case and Beyoncé and so many others, in novels and painting and graffiti and really any way that someone puts their passion into expression.

How does your experience in the LGBT+ community affect your work?

My writing is a reflection of my life experiences, and that includes realizing I was a lesbian, coming out to my friends and family and coworkers (a process that never ends, really), working out my internal homophobia, navigating through the murkiness/awkwardness of gay bars and online dating and crushing on emotionally unavailable women, recovering from heartbreak, and falling in love. But that’s just my experience, as an individual, and as a middle-class white cisgender gay woman living in Brooklyn. I recognize the uniqueness of my experience in that way, and also the universality of it in the sense of having shame about who you are, learning to accept yourself, being part of a marginalized group, and of course the love/dating stuff. I think accessibility is important in writing and performing, and I hope to connect with people who are very different than I am along with people who aren’t.

Can you give any advice for aspiring writers?

My advice for writers of any level is to read as much as possible. Read poetry that pushes the boundaries of what you usually write about and how you usually write about it. If you never write form poems, read some sonnets. If you’ve never written about nature, read some nature poems. If there are topics you’re scared to write about, read poetry on those topics and also examine why it is you’ve thought of these topics as off-limits. And go beyond poetry– read novels and memoirs and short fiction and nonfiction. While you’re at it, go beyond reading and check out some photography and music and visual art. When I’m experiencing serious writers block, it inspires me to see how other people express themselves creatively.

If you had three wishes, what would they be?

  1. An end to all violence, including physical, sexual, mental and emotional violence, and systemic violence against marginalized communities.
  2. For all people to extend compassion beyond those in our immediate circles.
  3. To have all, or at least most of the people I love living much closer to me.

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Did you know that you share a name with one of the women who helped create the first Mac computer?

I sure do, and I wonder sometimes if she knows she shares a name with a lesbian Jewish poet living in Brooklyn.

Be sure to come see Joanna on Saturday, September 5th in the Piano Performance Museum (workshop at 5:30PM, performance and open mic at 7PM).

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Guest Blog: Victoria Rinaldi on The Nutcracker

Whether you are dressed in a party dress, as a mouse, or an angel, the excitement
of standing in the wings, listening for your cue as the beautiful Tchaikovsky score from Nutcracker plays is an experience that will never leave you. For many, myself included, the Christmas season simply cannot begin until I Vic Pic3hear that music in a rehearsal studio.

My first exposure to the Nutcracker began at eight, as a young ballet student, when I was taken to the National Ballet in Washington DC to audition for one of the children’s roles. Through my career I worked my way up from soldier, to snowflake, to flower soloist and finally Sugar Plum Fairy, appearing in productions large and small all over the country. I have seen firsthand the magic this beloved classic casts on all involved. So, it is with great pleasure and excitement I endeavor to recreate this experience for our community on December 12th and 13th at the Orpheum Theater in Tannersville with the help of the Catskill Mountain Foundation and The Valentina Kozlova Dance Conservatory of New York.

The Nutcracker is full of wonderful dances and performing opportunities. The 1st act snow scene and the major dancing roles in the 2nd act will be performed by exquisite dancers from Kozlova’s Dance Conservatory Performance Project and will be based on the Bolshoi Ballet version that Valentina danced before her defection to the United States. World famous choreographer, Margo Sappington will play the role of Auntie Drosselmeyer. The starring roles of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince will be filled by accomplished local dance students.

But we are on the hunt for boys, girls, men and women for Fritz, (Clara’s younger brother) Clara’s friends, party parents, mice, soldiers, angels and Mother Ginger’s children to complete the cast. If you have some dance experience GREAT. If you don’t THAT’S GREAT TOO! The cast should expect to rehearse at least one a week, be able to follow music and direction and be ready to HAVE FUN. If performing is not your thing… don’t worry, you can still be a part of the show. We need volunteers to help with angel wings and mice tails!

Auditions for the Nutcracker will be at the Red Barn in Hunter, NY on Oct. 3. And don’t let the word audition scare you off, it’s not a big deal! So, see you there!

Behind The Mask: Thomas Cooley

Behind the mask of Acis: tenor Thomas Cooley. His performances have received rave reviews around the world, and now he’s coming to the Catskills!

What are you putting into this project, and what are taking away from it?

Thomas Cooley headshot credit Paul Foster-WilliamsAs the shepherd Acis, who loves the nymph Galatea, my job is to express the depth of that love in an honest, clear and non-sentimental way. The lovers should evoke feelings of love within the listeners, and there should be a sense of loss when the monster Polyphemus hurls a rock through the air and kills me.

What about this project do you look forward to?

Acis and Galatea is one of my favorite pieces by my personal favorite composer. Handel was a genius at setting texts in an honest, emotional, truthful way, especially when we consider that he was often writing music for languages which were not his mother tongue. I have sung this work a number of times in various forms, but I am really looking forward to doing an Acis with a truly Baroque ensemble. Singing this music is a gift, for which I am ever thankful, and I am excited to share this piece with the audience.

What about a mask or masquerade is appealing to you?

I have never done a true opera in a mask, so that will be a new experience for me. Having a mask to play with will be interesting on many levels. In one way, it will make us all more like “avatars”, which is indeed the point of a masquerade. In some ways, it may help to keep the story, which is not a complicated one at all, extremely clear and precise.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

As ever in my singing, I hope to connect to the audience through the emotional substance of the text and with my interpretation of that. The world of nymphs and shepherds which Handel’s music provides, creates a mythical, romantic, delicious experience and I cannot wait to share that with the audience.

Reserve your seats (through our ticketing website, or by calling the reservation line at 518-263-2063) for Acis and Galatea on September 6th at 7:30PM in the Orpheum!

Behind The Mask: Andrew Appel

Next in line for the Behind The Mask interviews, Musical Director Andrew Appel!

What are you putting into this project, and what are taking away from it?

I have the very happy responsibility of selecting almost everyone who will take part in this production.  I’ve chosen the singers because they move me the most, and I feel that each one of them has so much to add to his or her role in the opera.  I’ve chosen each one of the instrumentalists and have performed many times with each.  They are always an inspiration to me.  I’ve asked Stephen Hamilton to direct.  I love his work on the legitimate stage; this is his first operatic effort.  Carlos Fittante is one of our country’s finest Baroque dancers and he is bringing a group who can match his grace.  Finally Joyce Kozloff, one of my favorite contemporary artists, is designing our masks for the opera.  What a THRILL!

Appel_PressI have known Acis and Galatea for many decades and have performed it with the Four Nations Ensemble and with other ensembles many times.  It is a masterwork.  At its lightest and most charming, and at its most melancholy or tragic, it is a work of genius.  And so I bring to this an understanding of how much we can do to make the music and words come to life.  But I can assure you, everyone in the cast and crew understand this as well.

As a performer, I hope that this most recent effort at Acis will be my best, nourished by past performances and improved by a maturity and great understanding.  More than that, I hope to walk away from a theater filled with people who will begin a relationship with the work, and love Handel for the life affirming genius he is.

What about this project do you look forward to?

I look forward to every singer opening his or her mouth and introducing me to this old friend of an opera again.  I also look forward to the first time working with a few colleagues and learning from them as we carve out our performance.  This will be the first time I serve as musical director for a fully staged production.  We have some good ideas and concepts and I look forward to working them out.

What about a mask or masquerade is appealing to you?

In the Baroque, dancers always wore masks.  Singers did not.  Parties were so often masquerades allowing people to act in a less controlled fashion.  The mask was a major player in Venice and Paris in the time of our music.  Stephen Hamilton and I thought of ways in which the masks will serve to transport our singers into the fictional story and also to underline when they are being honest and vulnerable and when theatrical and playful.  The masks are serving as catalysts to the exploration of the work!aaseated200large

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

If you ask any artist this, they will say…beauty and truth.  That’s it…beauty and truth with joy!

Reserve your seats (through our ticketing website, or by calling the reservation line at 518-263-2063) for Acis and Galatea on September 6th at 7:30PM in the Orpheum!

Poet, Student, Intern – Me!

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The most serious, dapper-est of selfies.

This summer, I’m curating the Poetry at 1600 Feet series for CMF. Carolyn asked me to do it since she knows I’m a writer myself, and later insisted that I be a featured poet. I was shocked, but of course immediately agreed. I do a lot of marketing and social media work for the Foundation, so I’m always doing interviews and articles; naturally it follows that I would do something similar to promote the series. Then again, if I’m the subject, who would interview me? My awesome mentor Carolyn jumped in once again, told me to do a self-interview, and, well. You be the judge of how that went.

How did you get into poetry and art?

Honestly, I have no idea. Art classes are required in school when you’re younger, so maybe that kind of stuck with me. My art teacher in Selden Middle School, Ms. Hughes I think was her name, was awesome. I always went to the art room during lunch to help her with projects. As for poetry, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t writing something. I used to write really, really bad songs in Elementary school. Unfortunately I remember those quite vividly.

What introduced you to spoken word?

I can tell you exactly how this one happened: Selden [Middle School] had a club run by the English teachers, called “Who I Am.” It was an after school club that was basically for self expression; people would be drawing, playing instruments, writing poetry, anything creative. At the end of each meeting we could present whatever we had been working on, and lots of us wrote poetry. Ruth O’Shea was my English teacher and co-founder of the club, and she said to us one day, “You guys should think more about how you’re presenting. You’re performing your poetry, not just reading it.” She sent us home on a mission to look up Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make,” and from the moment I watched that video, I was done for. That poem was put up online eight years ago, and people still talk about it. That teacher, that club, and that poem, those three things changed my life. That was the first place I felt I truly belonged, and it inspired me to create a similar club in Gilboa-Conesville High School.

Where do you find inspiration?

Literally everywhere – give me an idea, a sentence, a picture, or a word, and I’ll usually want to write about it. I make connections in very different ways than most people do, I think. There’s beauty and poetry and art in everything, and I find it sad that sometimes people struggle to see that. You just have to look deeper. For example, I used to drink hot chocolate or tea every morning before getting on the bus. My dad woke up way earlier than me, so he would put the water on the stove so I didn’t have to wait for it to boil. I could just get up and make my tea. I don’t think many people would see the incredible amount of love I see in that, because by looking a little deeper I’ve also found that my dad will never, ever say no if you ask him for a grilled cheese sandwich. Dad shows his love through food. There are so many little things that people do that are heartfelt and beautiful. There are little things about your surroundings, too: I love driving down Warren Street in Hudson at dusk, because the sun is going down, the streetlights come on, people are milling about. Something about that really moves me, and other people just see the stoplight turning green. I’m also really inspired by the people close to me, and their experiences. I write about my friends a lot.

so i will remain the mysterious girl

An example of “Flarf”

Are you exclusively a poet?

I’m sort of a widespread artist, I just like to do anything creative in general. I mainly write poetry, but sometimes I’ll write music or songs. I take a lot of pictures to make into Flarf, which I like to think of as a form of Alternative Literature…but you’ll have to come to my workshop to learn about that! I draw on my returned homework assignments all the time. That being said, I don’t think doodling is a widely recognized artform, but it should be.

Is this how you’ll make a living?

Yes and no. This is my passion, but I’ve always wanted to tangibly help people, so I really want to be in the NYPD. A lot of people think I’m crazy for it. “You want to be a cop in the city? Do you know how dangerous that is?” I know that it’s dangerous, but it’s necessary. I love the concept of community policing and foot patrol, and that’s huge in New York. I dont’ want to fight crime, I want to stop it before it starts. I also love the city itself; it’s filled to the brim with art and music and everything I’m passionate about. Right now I’m almost done with an Associates degree in criminal justice, and the plan is to transfer after graduation and get a bachelor’s in criminology. Hopefully when I transfer I’ll be able to minor in theatre.

Do you have a catchphrase, or a motto?

My catch phrase is probably “I got you.” My motto is pretty simple; “You do you.” So basically you do you, and I’ll do me, and we’ll all be alright. Just coexist. People are so judgemental sometimes, we just need to learn to let people do what makes them happy if they’re not hurting anyone.

What would you say to young poets like yourself?

Don’t ever stop. Read all different kinds of poetry. Read novels. Don’t get discouraged. Go to opening receptions at art galleries (lots of times they have free food, and the art is great, too). Go to slams. Experience as much as possible. Beware of closed minds. You are your own limitations; you are the box. Look into yourself, think outside of yourself. Don’t ever restrict yourself creatively. Be true to your box.

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photo by Jo Arroyo

Sometimes people can be really condescending towards our generation, so always remember that you are a person, too. You are just as important as anyone and you are capable of so much. Keep on going, no matter what you do with your work. You just have to keep going, and growing, and learning.

On August 8th I’ll be hosting a workshop and performance, as the next featured poet in the Poetry At 1600 Feet series. Come on down and learn about Flarf, listen to some poetry, and even perform your own piece. Call 518-263-2030 or email uhaldem@catskillmtn.org to reserve a seat (walk-ins are fine, too) or for more info. See you there!

Beware the Trains

 

Interview with David Slutzky, whose exhibit, BEWARE OF THE TRAINS, is on view at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery & Bookstore in Hunter Village through Aug. 31, 2015.

 The other day I told a friend that David Slutzky was having an exhibit of his train drawings at the Kaaterskill Gallery. Oh, she said, is that the guy in the black hat? Do you get that a lot?

Yes I’ve been wearing the hat for so long that people don’t recognize me when I don’t wear it.

 How did you come to start drawing trains? What was the attraction?

I started drawing trains when I wanted a record of my trains and some of the trains that I’ve seen in my travels. The attraction of trains to me is I find them fascinating in the time they have been around and the history they have created. For me it started in 1983 when I wanted to see the Forth Bridge in Scotland, the sheer size of that great bridge was overwhelming.

 You’re a photographer and sculptor as well. Care to weigh in on that? Such as, do you express different feelings in your photographs than you do in your sculptures?

I will answer this question in a different way. I’m a snowmaker who loves to be creative in the Arts and grew up around Big Machinery and see them as works of art from drawing and painting them and using parts in sculptures. From being a two dimension artist in drawing, painting and photography to work in the third dimension as in sculpturing helps one see more, much more in what you are looking at.

 You worked on a giant bluestone sculpture of Rip Van Winkle at the top of Hunter Mountain with Lexington sculptor Kevin Van Hentenryck some years ago. The inspiration for the sculpture was yours though. Why did you take on that project?

We are in the land of Rip Van Winkle and I thought it would be appropriate to have a sculpture of” Rip” waking up with one of the greatest views in the Catskill’s from Hunter Mountain. Most people only see a sculpture when it’s a finish piece of work, I wanted people to see a work in process and see how a sculpture is made. It was to be a 5 year project that took 14 years to complete, along the way many people had the unique experience of seeing Kevin, me and 2 Caspers working on “Rip”.Every once in a while someone will stop me and say” My parents brought me to Hunter Mountain as a kid and I saw “Rip: being worked on by you and Kevin, I tell them Kevin was the sculptor and I was his helper.

I’ve seen your photographs of snowmaking and other large machinery and they are fabulous! What inspiration do you find in these large mechanical objects?

In growing up in the construction and ski business I feel very comfortable around big machinery and snowmaking and to show off different sides of these unique business.

 Were you formally trained as an artist?

Not until I went to art school and by that time I was too entrenched in my own style for teachers too change me. I have a B F A from the University of Pennsylvania and attended The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia

 When you’re not creating art, you’re creating snow, am I right? Is there any difference in the creative process when creating one or the other?

I think when someone creates something and loves what they are doing the creative process takes over and the end creation is for the world to see and enjoy……

 If there’s one question you wish I would have asked, what it is? And would you answer it for us?

The one question I would have liked you to ask me is what is the future of the mountain top art community and who is trying to help it grow and who is not…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind The Mask: Joyce Kozloff

Next up, artist Joyce Kozloff!

What is your part in this project, and what are you taking away from it?

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A mask (before Joyce makes a masterpiece of it!)

During 2004-2006, I created 72 carnival masks, one element in a large installation at the Venetian Arsenale. On each mask, I painted an early map of an island somewhere in the world. The project, “Voyages,” explored European global expansion and colonization during the Age of Discovery (the Renaissance). At the end, I did not expect (or desire) to ever make another mask! But Andy Appel, a friend, asked me to paint the masks for his production of the opera “Acis and Galatea” – and I always follow and support my friends and colleagues.

I have never made props or sets for a theatrical production, so this is a challenge: exploring the characters and expressing them through their faces. Since my sensibility is decorative rather than figurative, this could lead to new complexities and physiognomies.

What about this project do you look forward to?

I’m curious how the masks will evolve, as I’m stepping into unknown territory. And excited about how they will look – first placed on white, stationery statues, and then on moving, singing bodies! I hope they will further the drama and intensity of the plot.

What about a mask or masquerade is appealing to you?

They create an alternate persona, a mystery which is often frightening. Groups like the Guerrilla Girls have used masks to maintain their anonymity, but also to add some humor and fun to a serious political discourse. They exist in almost every culture; the impulse to lose oneself and change identity during festivals and carnivals, times of revelry, is part of being human.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

I hope the masks will contribute emotionally and aesthetically to the opera, that they will add nuance and subtlety to the characters, that they will raise questions rather than solve predictable problems. I’d like to add visual layers of new content onto the libretto’s story.

Acis and Galatea will be performed on September 6th at 7:30PM in the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center. Call our ticket line (518-263-2063) or go to our ticketing website to reserve your seats today!

Behind The Mask: Carlos Fittante

The Catskill Mountain Foundation, Prattsville Art Center, Zadock Pratt Museum, and Greene county Council on the Arts organizations have come together to put on American Masquerade, a multi-disciplinary project spanning an entire year, with exciting presentations from each organization. A major contribution from CMF will be Acis and Galatea, a baroque opera by Handel, featuring live music, dance, and opera from some of the best soloists the US has to offer. So, is it enough to simply put on an opera? Of course not! Each artist has a different perspective on the performance, and we aim to show you all of them.

Ballet Santa Barbara, Fall Repertory dress rehearsal November 10, 2006, Marjorie Luke Theatre

Carlos Fittante at Marjorie Luke Theatre

First up is Carlos Fittante, from BALAM Dance Theatre.

What is your part in this project, and what are you taking away from it?

As the artistic director of BALAM Dance Theatre (BALAM), I am combining my extensive experience as a Baroque dance specialist and choreographer with my recent inquiries into Contemporary Performance Practice. Guided by the vision of the directorial team of Andrew Appel and Steven Hamilton, my new Baroque choreography for Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea will use Improvised Scores, ideas from Somatic Studies, and Authentic Movement. I hope this combination of ornamented beauty and physical vitality will please our audience in the Catskill Mountain area.

From this project, I have the satisfaction of bringing Baroque dance to a new audience and fulfilling BALAM’s mission to entertain and inspire diverse communities at the grassroots level.

What about this project do you look forward to?

As in all new projects I work on, I look forward to performance!  There is something magical that happens in the performance experience which cannot be replicated in rehearsal.  I think it has to do with the presence of the audience.  There is an unspoken understanding between audience and artist who come together as a community to embark on a journey as co-creators.  The energy and feeling of the audience provides the vibrational field in which the characters live.

Caroline Copeland & Carlos Fittante in Boston Early Music Fetivals Niobe Photo Andre Constantini

Caroline Copeland & Carlos Fittante

What about a mask or masquerade is appealing to you?

I love masks and think they create a portal for the imagination.  The mask is a fascinating paradox, as it both conceals and reveals.  The audience is able to fill in the blanks when viewing a masked performer, but there is also an air of mystery.  Who or what is before our eyes?  In Bali, the masked dancer presents a sophisticated symbol where an inanimate object becomes animate.  This for the Balinese affirms the essential relationship between spirit and body.

What do you hope to accomplish with this project?

I hope to introduce a new audience to the magnificent music, dance, and singing of Handel and the Baroque period.

Acis and Galatea will be performed on September 6th at 7:30PM in the Orpheum Film & Performing Arts Center. Call our ticket line (518-263-2063) or go to our ticketing website to reserve your seats today!

Breaking Through The Spam

2015 WATERSHED MONTH POSTER 4 2015I had a wonderful time talking to Bobby Janiszewski about history, nature, and his part in the annual celebration of the Schoharie Watershed. You can tell someone is passionate about something by the way that they talk about it, and his words made it clear that our local environment is close to his heart. In curating “The Watershed: A Stream of Life,” [which was held at the Catskill Mountain Foundation’s Hunter Village Square throughout the month of May in partnership with CMF’s Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery and Greene County Soil & Water] Bobby has created a way for our community to heal, connect, and thrive.

Tell me everything there is to know about “A Stream of Life,” like I have no idea what any of it is.

There’s a reason that the reservoir is where it is. If you were to look at a weather map of New York and divide it up as to where it rains the most, and where it rains the least, you would find that it rains the most here. That’s why it’s called “greene” county [Greene County is actually named after Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene], that’s why it’s got a reservoir, and a dam, because you collect more water by placing that not in the desert, but where it rains! That’s why it’s so much greener out here. All of this relates to the watershed. We’re about to get somewhere around three weeks worth of rain, snowmelt from Windham mountain, Batavia Kill goes right to Prattsville and flows into the Schoharie, and that goes into the dam. That’s how we get all our water. Each year, a series of events celebrates May as Watershed month. One of those events is this art exhibit, both digital photography and rendered art by the school districts that make up the watershed region. Those include Hunter-Tannersville, Windham-Ashland-Jewett, and Gilboa-Conesville, out of the Schoharie reservoir itself. The watershed is a place we all call home; a place of outstanding beauty and fantastic water. I always get a giggle out of the notion that some multimillionaire living on Central Park South turns their tap on, and out comes the water from my backyard! The watershed is an important asset for us but not only us. Throughout this broad region, including all of New York City, we have much to celebrate.

This all started the year after the hurricanes and storms of 2011 wrecked places like Windham, Prattsville, and Hunter. All along the mountaintop, community after community was devastated by floods and landslides; that’s a very negative thing about the streams and the waterfalls and everything else that makes up the watershed. The dam overflowed, the Schoharie overflowed, Batavia Kill overflowed. With tremendous effort people recovered, and recovery is still going on. After that negative experience with water, we thought it was fitting to point to the positives, so the first exhibition occurred one year later in 2012. This is a celebration of the watershed, and we like to think of it as part of the recovery – not only the recovery effort, but the mental recovery from the pain of that year.

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Photograph by Jeffrey Vining from WAJ, featured in this year’s exhibit

I involved the schools right from the get go. From the beginning it has been a student based amateur digital photo and art exhibit hosted here at the Catskill Mountain Foundation, thanks to the generosity of Peter and Sara Finn, and with the extraordinary help of Carolyn Bennett and the rest of the staff here. I’m a volunteer. I describe myself as a chronic volunteer, I can’t help myself. I got waylaid, shanghai’d, and dragooned into this effort by the head of the local watershed office, Michelle Yost. She asked me to help out because she knew I had an interest in digital photography; I’m by no means a photographer, I’m just a retired teacher living up here because it’s gorgeous. She got me involved and asked me to coordinate this, so I coordinate, I cajole, persuade, pick up, drop off, construct, lay out, curate, all by myself. Except for one day when my wife takes off work and helps me put up the show.

At the start of year one, I said “how am I going to get amateur photography, how do I do this in a couple of months?” Well, being a retired teacher, my first thought would be the schools. So I started with the schools, and sure enough I found some interest – not a lot, but there was some. It was a burden, and of course no one had ever heard of me. “Bob who? I’ve never heard of you. Why are you calling me? What are you, a stalker?” I had to break through the spam files, and break through the mystery messages, and make the rounds to introduce myself, the concept, and what we were doing. In 2012, from the three school districts, we had 42 submissions. In 2013 we had 54 submissions. Last year we had 72 submissions, and this year we have 94. It has more than doubled in participation, interest, press coverage; we were even a featured stop in the I Love New York tourism campaign last year, this exhibit!

WATERSHED STUDENT EXHIBIT 5 2014004

Display of Bobby’s personal collection of cameras, featured each year

It’s a month long exhibit, so we open here at the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery on the first of May for the beginning of watershed month, and close on June first. The teachers involved are Ritamary Vining and Grace Patschke from Hunter-Tannersville, Brent Jones and Daniel Yolen from Windham-Ashland-Jewett, and Kristin Tompkins from Gilboa-Conesville, and all of the pieces come through them. There’s no winner and no loser, it’s only about getting the school kids thinking about the environment, the watershed, the place they live, and the beauty that surrounds us, and you’ll see that depicted in their work. We have a reception Saturday in the restaurant and the Executive Director for the Center of Photography in Woodstock will be there, and Francis X. Driscoll, a professional photographer who has worked for National Geographic and has shows all over will be there. He and I have done workshops in Hunter and Windham by request of the teachers, and this year for the first time I added something new: students who participate in this exhibition, if they wish to, can attend one of two summer workshops hosted by the Center for Photography in Woodstock. They’re week long workshops, and they’re tuition based, but if they participate in this exhibition we’ll pay for their tuition.

Every year something new is added, and every  year we draw more people in. But the point of it is education about everything around us, and one way to celebrate that is through this display. At the end when the pieces are returned, every student will get a beautiful certificate of excellence recognizing their participation. Think about it from the kids’ point of view: something they did is hanging in an art gallery. It’s a big deal for some, and for a handful it may very well be the one time in their life that they’re going to shine, and that time is during this exhibit.

It seems like this is really about connecting the community and their environment.

I grew up in Hudson County New Jersey, right across the river from New York City. I could almost hit the Statue of Liberty with a rock from where I lived, yet until I was in my twenties, I never once visited the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building, nothing. It was like no big deal. I’m sure that kids who are raised here and grew up here feel the same: this is like any other place, ugly trees, damn snow and cold, and whatever. They don’t understand where they are.

2014 WATERSHED EXHIBIT 1

Bobby (left) with a student artist, featured in the 2014 show, and the artist’s family

I actually talked to someone who’s lived around here their entire life, and I said, “aren’t those mountains beautiful?” They said, “I hate mountains, they’re just little lumps out there.” I was shocked! I said, “Did you just call the Catskill mountains little lumps?”

See, you tend to not appreciate things that are very familiar to you, or appreciate their uniqueness. You could even find quotes about that in the Bible, or in Shakespeare, about how your own neighbors don’t appreciate how brilliant you are. Then if you land in New York City and you’re a dress designer, people say “Oh God, look how pretty!” Meanwhile your neighbors are back home saying, “What? Maureen? Get the hell outta here.” By the way of using a quote: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” When you’re in the middle of something you tend to disregard it, it’s like nothing, everyday stuff.

A glimpse into history, narrated by Bobby: Our environment, our surroundings, the Catskill forest preserve, the watershed; this place is so gorgeous that 150 years ago, the Hudson River school of landscape art was launched by the beauty that surrounds us every day. The artists that launched that – Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, Asher Durand, others – they came up by steamboat from New York City, Fulton’s steamboat, get off at Catskill, take a horse and buggy up to Palenville, went to those little boarding houses that are right at the bottom of the hill not far from the light, and stayed there. You know why? PALENVILLE-145-600x450Because it only cost 75 cents a night. Those hotels up the hill, these hotels were a buck and a quarter. That was too much! So they would hike in from the bottom along the Kaaterskill, and little by little they worked their way up to these vistas, the Kaaterskill falls, places that are reasonably well known to people who live here now, but then it was an astounding discovery to them. People think that artists of the day would sit with their oils and paint the scene, but that never happened. They pencil sketched it, took it back to their studios in New York and painted it based off of that sketch.

I love telling this story. After they had all these paintings their art show would be in New York City, not here. Just picture a movie theater; ever notice how movie theaters have a stage? Just like in an auditorium there are stairs on both sides? Well that goes back to this. In those days, the artist would set up all his displays behind the curtain. When the art show began the curtain would go up, and people would get out of their seats after they paid to get in, and go up onto the stairs to browse around, and come down the other set of stairs. Anyone who wanted to buy a painting could then see the artist before they left the room. At that time there was French art, and German art, and British art, and Spanish art, but there was no such thing as American art; we were like the trash heap of Europe. No culture at all, ruffians, lived in woods, wore animal skins! So these here were sick and tired of getting trumped by Europeans, so when they discovered such beauty up here they thought, this is our opportunity. If we see that the New York audience is blown away by this stuff, then they’ll be blown away in London, Madrid, Berlin, everywhere else. The questions that always arose when they did shows were where is that?!? Can I go there? How do I get there? The very first wave of tourism started from that, when people said I want to go see this waterfall for myself…

2015 WATERSHED EXHIBIT WAJ JONES creek taras 2

Photograph featured in this year’s show by another WAJ student

All of those people are long gone, but what’s left behind are the very places they painted.

An Interview With Steve Katz

Singer/songwriter Steve Katz, of Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Blues Project will perform at this year’s CMF Benefit, on Saturday, July 11th at 6PM at the Orpheum. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to him about his life, music, and some recent projects.

You recently wrote a book; how different was that from your other projects and experiences?

It’s just another artform, so it was different in that it was sort of like writing a bunch of lyrics that didn’t rhyme. Other than that it was pretty much the same; it was a fun thing to do. Just like when you write a song, you have an empty canvas, and it’s the same when you pick up your typewriter or laptop. It’s an empty word processing page, and you begin somewhere.

Obviously you’re a successful musician with a pretty exemplary career, but what would you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Winning Grammy awards – we won Album of the Year in 1970 – and I think the nicest thing about it was the award was handed to us by Louie Armstrong which was a real thrill. There have been so many things in my career that have been lucky for me, and we worked hard to get them, but there have been so many great things. We played Woodstock, and with The Blues Project I played the Monterey Pop Festival, which was a real highlight. I got to shake hands with Otis Redding, and I had hot dogs backstage with Jimi Hendrix. It was a fun time.

What influenced you as a songwriter and composer?SteveKatzMemoir

I think a lot of it was the freedom that the sixties afforded us, because we were all experimenting. We were all getting stoned, we were kids, and we were trying out different guitar tunings and different ways to play our instruments. We were writing songs that were a synthesis of the things we liked: country blues, bluegrass, old time music. There’s a synthesis of folk music and rock and roll. Between that and the politics of the time, that really gave us a freedom to create that I don’t think has been recreated since.

Was it difficult to keep the ball rolling with the band after Al Kooper, Randy Brecker, and Jerry Weiss left?

It was difficult to keep it rolling because we didn’t know if the record company would support us after Al left, but we got David Clayton-Thomas to be our lead singer, and Columbia records came up to hear us. They loved it, so we did our second album, which had all the hits on it.

How did it feel to beat The Beatles for a Grammy?

You know, I didn’t even think about that until people brought it up a couple of years ago. I didn’t even remember that until recently.

Really?

I don’t think we felt that we beat out anybody, we were just happy to be recognized for what we did. But as far as beating anybody, I didn’t see it that way at all. Now when I look back, it’s pretty incredible. Still, if you put the music together The Beatles were The Beatles. Abbey Road is a great album, you can’t deny it. I don’t know why we won over The Beatles. I don’t see music as a talent contest or anything like that; Abbey Road is a classic record.

What is it about BS&T that’s allowed it to remain relevant for so long? Forty years is quite a long time in the music industry, and they’re still touring.

I don’t think it is relevant. They shouldn’t be touring, actually. There’s no originals in the band. I don’t mind it if they call it the BS&T tribute band, but they don’t. So they’re sort of lying to their audiences and taking their money, which is okay, except they’re taking a lot of money and presenting something that really isn’t what it was. I’m not happy about it, and I know some of the other original members aren’t happy about it. Basically that’s kept the name alive, but I think it’s taken away from the respect that we could’ve had over the years.

Let’s talk a little more about you. You started a small business with your wife; what was that about, and is it still up and running?

Yes it is. While I was the Managing Director at Green Linnet records, which was a little celtic label back in the early nineties, my wife was just getting her ceramic art business going. We did a flyer that we sent out to different galleries, and the response was incredible. Alison said to me, “you gotta help me with this.” I stayed at home in our studio and worked at Green Linnet for a year as a consultant; meanwhile we were doing lots of wholesale shows, selling to galleries, and upgrading our business. That was fun because it wasn’t like being in a band, I had my own business. It was a lot of fun.

Do you think you like that home life more, or do you miss the on-the-road band life?

Well, we did build a large arts studio on our property. The things that we’re doing now, like workshops, are much better than taking our booth on the road and setting it up for shows, that’s why I’m happier going back to playing music. If it was a choice of sitting in a booth at an art show or playing in front of an audience, I’d definitely want to play in front of an audience. That’s why it’s been a very happy time for me the past couple of years.

Speaking of performing, do you like being on stage better, or do you like the behind the scenes work of producing more?

Oh, I like both of them. Performing and producing are both creative things, and I do like both. I think I probably enjoy playing and relating to audiences more. I like the smaller audiences. In BS&T we had thousands of people coming to see us, and it was fun, but it wasn’t very intimate. Now my book is sort of a mirror of my performances and vice versa, they’re both in chronological order. I just enjoy doing it, I like looking back on my career and playing the songs I played throughout the years and doing it acoustically. I’m having a lot of fun.

While you were producing you worked a lot with irish music and irish tradition, what do you like so much about that?

I was producing a band called Horslips around the late seventies and they turned me on to a lot of irish music. I felt it was a kind of roots music that was the equal of blues or old time music in this country. In fact a lot of the old time music from here was based on irish and celtic folk music. I just love that kind of rootsy feel, so I was drawn to it and the musicians, and that feel that probably nobody’s ever heard of to this day. There are some great musicians out there playing celtic music. For me as a musician it was fun to work with them.Steve-KatzBW

You said that no one’s really heard of that feel. In that light, what do you think of popular music today? Do you think anyone’s achieved that again?

That’s true. I would love to see what the next thing is gonna be, the next important thing. I guess the next big thing has been in rap and hip hop, and stuff like that. It’s not something that I particularly enjoy but it’s still just as valid, and it’s just as much a social movement as the blues were in the thirties. At this point in my life I like to look back on all the recordings that are accessible to me from this century. I mentioned Louie Armstrong before; I haven’t listened to everything that he did. I haven’t listened to so many things, groups in rock and roll, or classical. I like to go back and find new things that have already been recorded. I’m not really interested in newer things because I don’t think anyone’s doing anything that’s really exciting to me.

What is your favorite song?

I guess the first movement from Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto is on the top of that list. My favorite things done by John Coltrane, oh I could go on and on! It’s a very tough question because I have so many favorite songs.

I know it’s a tough question, that’s why I like asking it.

That’s good, that’s actually a good question. Give me about six months and I’ll be able to answer it. I might even find the one! At least once a week I’m listening to my ipod in the car, or my record collection, and I say wow, this is the best song ever recorded. And then it changes the week after, so it’s very hard to answer that question.

Do you think there’s a difference in how songs are recorded now compared to vinyl, cd’s, etc.?

I’m kind of glad to see that they got rid of vinyl, because the vinyl was very poor in the seventies when I was working for a record company and doing most of my production. What I used to do as a producer was put the ballads on the ends of the sides, because the grooves are compressed. With a track with heavy bass, or metal, like heavy guitars, you have a problem where the needle could actually jump off the track or give you distortion at least. So I don’t know what this whole thing about vinyl is, unless it’s so incredible. I try to listen to a cd, especially since I like classical music so much. Then I don’t have to hear the pops and crackles. I’m a real advocate of cd’s.

That’s interesting, because now they’re making vinyls again with popular music. I guess it’s the specific sound, or maybe it’s nostalgic, but for some reason it’s almost coming back.

Everybody uses the word warmth; vinyl is warmer. I produced an album in LA where the guy who did the mastering said “here, tap your foot to this.” We recorded this track both on tape and digitally. He said, “I bet you don’t tap your foot to the digital recording.” I thought he was crazy, and when he played both of them back I confirmed he was crazy, because I was tapping my foot to both of them! It depends on people’s tastes. If you’re an audiophile lunatic then I guess vinyl is a wonderful thing, and the thing I do miss about vinyl is the album covers. But I certainly don’t miss the distortion, and the crackles and pops.

That makes sense.

But I don’t like mp3’s either, I have to say that. There is a difference. I love cd’s. Cd’s were difficult because of the range of dynamics, and earlier engineers didn’t know how to handle that, so the sounds were kind of all over the place. They finally got that tamed, but it took a while.

What don’t you like about mp3’s?

They’re compressed. One of the things a as a producer that I regret doing was compressing instruments. You had to compress some things for them to fit on the track , or compress a whole track when you master, and mp3’s are compressed at a lower quality. The problem is that people aren’t listening through large speakers, They’re listening through headphones and tiny speakers. If you listen through large speakers the way I grew up and love doing, you hear a difference. You can hear the compression, and it’s just not fun.

Wow, I never realized that.

Yes, mp3’s are made for people with smaller speakers, that listen to their music smaller. That’s very disappointing to me. How many people have large sound systems now? Very few.

stevekatzYou seem to be sort of humble about your guitar playing; opting out as the washboard player in the Even Dozen Jug Band and playing harmonica in some BS&T songs.

Right, you answered the question. I was humble about it. I was brought up playing acoustic guitar, and that’s what I did for a couple of years before I picked up an electric instrument, and that’s what I’ve gone back to now. I was never a great electric guitar player, I was a rhythm guitar player. When I listen to people like Derek Trucks, who is just amazing, I can’t consider myself a very good guitar player. There are people out there that are really amazing. I think because I was able to sing and write songs and play harmonica, I never thought of myself as just a guitar player.

So you kind of took on a multi-faceted approach to being a band member.

Well with the jug band, either I was in or I was out because there were too many guitar players, so I picked up the washboard. It was different with BS&T and The Blues Project. In BS&T the guitar was an ensemble instrument, and that’s how some of the guys saw it because they were jazz guys. In live performance I did a lot of soloing, but not on the records.

BS&T has that signature combination of jazz and rock, and I know in jazz there are a lot of technical nuances that people might not pick up on if they don’t know a lot about the genre. In reference to that, in your opinion, are there any songs that were kind of underrated? Songs that maybe weren’t as popular but were really well done musically and technically?

I liked a few of the songs that we did on our fourth album. One called “John The Baptist” is a great track. I think the whole fourth album is very underrated because that’s when people weren’t even listening to it anymore. We did an excellent job with the Isley Brothers song, “Rock Me For A Little While.” It was downhill from there, but for different reasons. I think my favorite is “John The Baptist.”

What’s your opinion on cover songs versus originals?

It depends on the person. I mean, if somebody’s not really talented and they do a cover song, then it sucks. I’ve heard people do over songs that are incredible; there are people who do just covers. If you take someone like Emmylou Harris, who does mostly other people’s songs, she does an amazing job. There are very few originals that can compare with what people like that can do to a song, the way they interpret it. You can go back to Frank Sinatra – he was covering a lot of songs and making them his own. That’s what happens. If an artist can cover a song and make it their own, then it’s better than the original.

Can you tell me about some parts of your life that people may not know about?

No, I won’t.

You won’t?

I’m kidding! I’m just kidding. I think I put everything in my book. I don’t think I really held back too much. I talk about a period when I did some drugs but it wasn’t that much, and I talk about the women that I’ve been with and stuff like that, and problems I’ve had with my family. Aside from that I’m not holding anything back.

So you’re a pretty cut and dry guy.

I’m a big mouth.

A big mouth! Well.

I’ve had a pretty good life you know, I’ve been very, very lucky. I have no secrets.

Steve Katz will present an acoustic evening of story and song, with special guest Greg Dayton, at the CMF Benefit, Satuday, July 11th, at 6 PM at the Orpheum, 6050 Main Street, in the Village of Tannersville. Tickets start at $125 and include the performance, plus a plentiful buffet of delicious hors d’oeuvres. For tickets or more information, please visit www.catskillmtn.org.