Posts Tagged ‘American culture’

Celebrate Jazz in New England

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Fourth of July WreathMay 28th is International Jazz Day. This uniquely American musical form was born in New Orleans, but thrives all over the world. From the beginning of the 20th century, African American communities in the Southern United States merged a variety of West African and European musical traditions. A pop cultural form, it set itself apart with its use of syncopation, improvisation, and polyrhythms as well as “blue notes,” pitches sung slightly flat for effect, and “swung notes,” notes played with unequal rhythm.

Jazz has evolved over the years and spun off a number of popular varieties including, ragtime, big band, swing, dixieland, bebob, fusion, latin, funk, and hip-hop.

This summer, celebrate Americana at its best with a live Jazz performance. For a listing of New England Jazz venues and performances, check out New England Traditional Jazz Plus.

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Who is Barbara Pierce?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

President's PrintBarbara Pierce was born in Flushing, New York. She was raised in the suburban town of Rye, New York. She was the third child of Marvin Pierce (1893–1969), who later became president of McCall Corporation, the publisher of the popular women’s magazines Redbook and McCall’s. Her ancestor Thomas Pierce, an early New England colonist, was also an ancestor of Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States. She is a direct descendant, great great granddaughter, of James Pierce, Jr. who was a fourth cousin of President Franklin Pierce.

Barbara attended Rye Country Day School and later boarding school at Ashley Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. She was very athletic and enjoyed swimming, tennis, and bike riding.

One year, when at home visiting with her family, Barbara attended a prep school Christmas dance at a club in Greenwich, Connecticut. At this dance, when she was only 16 years old, she met her future husband, who was then a senior at the boarding school Phillips Academy Andover. There was an immediate mutual attraction and they began writing to each other. She went as his date to his senior prom. In 1943, at age 18, she became engaged. While she attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, Barbara’s fiancé went off to World War II as a Navy bomber pilot. He named three of his planes after her: Barbara, Barbara II, and Barbara III. Barbara went to work during the summers, first at a Lord & Taylor department store in Greenwich, Connecticut, then at a nuts and bolts factory that provided supplies for the U.S. war effort. While at Smith College, she made the freshman soccer team and served as captain. Two weeks after her fiancé’s return on leave on January 6, 1945, Barbara left college and married him at the First Presbyterian Church in Rye, New York.

Uncle SamFor the first eight months of their marriage, Barbara and her husband moved around the Eastern United States, to places including Michigan, Maryland, and Virginia, as her husband’s Navy squadron training required his presence at bases in such states. When the war ended, Barbara’s husband was accepted to Yale. Barbara moved with him to New Haven, Connecticut where she worked at the college campus store until giving birth to her first child in July of 1946. After Barbara’s husband graduated from Yale, he moved the family Odessa, Texas and entered the oil business. They then moved to Los Angeles, where he became a drilling-bit salesman and moved to numerous locations in the southern California area. Indeed, Barbara and her husband would move some twenty-nine times during their marriage. They returned to Texas, settling in Midland in 1950.

While her husband was often away on business, Barbara’s life was confined to the traditional responsibilities of motherhood and housekeeping, as well as some civic activities including teaching Sunday school and volunteering for the local theater company, YMCA, United Way, and hospital. Nevertheless, even her role as mother would have later public impact. The death of their two-year old daughter, Robin, from leukemia in October 1953 was a tragedy for the family, but it would lead her to support numerous leukemia and cancer research and treatment programs. When her son, Neil, was diagnosed as dyslexic, she began a lifelong interest in reading and literacy issues.

In 1959, the family moved to Houston, Texas. Three years later, Barbara’s husband was elected Republican Party chairman of Harris County. In 1964, Barbara participated in her first political campaign, an effort to elect her husband as U.S. Senator from Texas. Her husband lost that first race, but was elected to Congress in 1966, and again two years later, giving Barbara her first introduction to the life of a political spouse in Washington. She became active in various charities and Republican women’s activities. President Richard Nixon named Barbara’s husband Ambassador to the United Nations, giving Barbara the opportunity to begin a lifetime of friendships and acquaintances among international political leaders. In 1974, Gerald Ford named Barbara’s husband as head of the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing, China. It was a brief period of time when Barbara could enjoy time with her husband while he was on assignment, the couple often bicycling to explore the city. It was in marked contrast to his next assignment, head of the Central Intelligence Agency, a post he held until 1977. For Barbara and her husband, this was only the beginning.

So, who is Barbara Pierce? Why, Barbara Bush, of course!

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Support Your Local Opera – Opera in New England

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

The Road Home PrintFrom Canadian native Ben Heppner at the Olympic Ceremonies, to a national Honda commercial, opera’s making a roaring comeback. And why not? Opera has amazing music, both orchestral and vocal, beautiful costumes and sets, sometimes ballet or other dance—and drama, drama, drama! With the advances in surtitle technology, plus pre-performance lectures, and opera plots and snippets available on the internet, opera is more accessible than ever. So where can you see it near you? Here are some companies you may or may not know about.

PORTopera: When Portland, Maine’s State Theater became available, the opera company was born and made its debut with Bizet’s “Carmen.” The production was an instant success both with critics and audiences. In 1996, the company produced Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the State with an ever-greater acclaim. The 1996 season also introduced PORTopera’s Young Artists Program—an educational endeavor to help the careers of emerging young singers.

In 1997, PORTopera moved to the newly renovated Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The Young Artists Program was expanded to include six operatic recital programs in other parts of the state. This year, the company is presenting “Hansel and Gretel”; the opera based on the children’s tale on July 29 and 31, 2010.

Opera North: Graduates from the Opera North Young Artists Program have gone on to perform at The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Boston Lyric Opera, and throughout America. Each year, 20-25 singers and 5-10 coaches, conductors and assistant directors are selected from a highly competitive national application pool to bring New Hampshire and eastern Vermont the best opera possible. This season they present two very popular pieces: “La Bohème” and “Don Giovanni.”

Chair Family PrintOpera North stays active during the off-season as well. The winter series, Always ON Sundays, presents informal talks on opera topics at private homes. Young Artists also perform at a myriad of venues throughout Vermont and New Hampshire introducing children, teens and adults to opera.

And speaking of Vermont, there is still music to be had at the Enosburg Opera House! July 29-31, 2010 the Opera House will present John Cassel’s “Green Mountain Lucky,” including highly talented Vermont musicians and singers. A musical story about Vermont! Come see music and history at Enosburg Falls.

In August, the Opera Theater of Connecticut will present Verdi’s “La Traviata.” The Andrews Memorial Theater in Clinton, CT is relatively small, barely 500 seats. This provides an incredibly intimate setting for their presentations, an event rare in the larger halls in which most operas are performed. The stage has technical limits, not so severe as to hamper a full production, but definite enough that the company’s production values center on the true heart of opera, the voices and the music.

Opera Providence in Rhode Island is offering a Sunday “Opera in the Park” series at Hopkins Park, at the intersection of Branch Avenue & Charles Street. On July 25th, 2010, they will present a program entitled “Diva, Diva, Diva!” These concerts are casual and fun and provide a light introduction to opera.

In Worcester, MA, the Worcester County Light Opera Company is presenting a children’s musical theater workshop production of “WOW” (“World of Wonders”). Blasting off in August. In addition to the summer musical theater workshops for children, WCLOC also has four in-house productions at the “Clubhouse”; they round out the annual theatrical season by producing a “Broadway-Style” musical. From comedy to tragedy, classical to contemporary, musical to non-musical, WCLOC produces a wide array of theatrical works. WCLOC has also produced new plays written by local playwrights.

Anytime is a good time for opera – check one out near you!

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