A Sorcerer Takes the Stage

A renaissance

Is a renaissance about to begin at the Renaissance? Octavio Mas-Arocas opens the season as music director of the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Jeff Sprang Photography, courtesy of the Mansfield Symphony.)

A review/commentary by Mark Sebastian Jordan

Last Saturday saw the beginning of a new era at the Mansfield Symphony and, I hope, in Mansfield itself. But before I comment on that, let me offer full disclosure: Not only do I give pre-concert talks for this orchestra, I was on the committee that selected its new music director, Octavio Más-Arocas. Beyond that, however, I want to caution that the thoughts expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the Mansfield Symphony, the Renaissance Theater, or any other organization.

The music director search committee met many times as we waded through almost a hundred applications for the position. Those who habitually run down Mansfield may be surprised to hear that statistic, but the fact is inescapable that Mansfield has an extraordinary orchestra for a community of this size. It was formed back when this town had an industrial base and the wealth that came with it. The money is scarce today, but passionate dedication has kept alive an ensemble that has a fine regional reputation because it is staffed by players from all over the state, many of them professors, independent teachers, or advanced students.

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Young Composer Featured at Academy

A concert preview by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

The music of the brilliant young area musician Wyatt Boggs will be featured in a concert Thursday Evening at the Richland Academy of the Arts in downtown Mansfield. At 17, Boggs is navigating just as packed a schedule as the editors of this blog, so we’re postponing a full interview until later this summer (early August is our target), but this event is too good to not preview. Boggs channels his restless energy into music of an often brooding intensity, often cut by jazzy wit. No question about it: he’s the real thing.

Wyatt Boggs 1I had the brief opportunity to pause in my schedule of work, writing workshops, poetry readings, and concert reviews to hear part of a rehearsal for the upcoming show. The Richland Academy of the Arts is hosting this week an honors band made up of student musicians from around the area, and they are working on premiering a set of original works by Boggs. And based on what I heard (and saw in the other scores the composer showed me), we’re witnessing the emergence of a vital new voice in the arts.

Wyatt Boggs 2The works being premiered are Galactic Fanfare, which arises from a questioning gesture into a glorious blaze; Pets, a playful suite of mischievous portraits; Pandora’s Box, a fascinating conceptual piece that unleashes extended instrumental techniques and strange dissonances; Prometheus, commissioned for the concert, which combines rich chords and otherwise sparse textures; and Rage, a dark, hypnotic work that adds synthesizer to the full band.

The concert will take place Thursday at 6:00 pm at the Richland Academy of the Arts, 75 N Walnut St, Mansfield, but will be preceded by music from the Euterpe Jazz Band, in which Boggs also performs.

Steps in the Journey: “Strangers on the Earth” at the Cleveland International Film Festival

A film review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

Life is onward.

As I drove from my home in rural Lucas, Ohio, to the Cleveland International Film Festival to see Strangers on the Earth, Tuesday, April 4th, I received a text that I had just become an uncle (well, actually, great-uncle) again. My niece Michelle, the closest thing this crusty bachelor will ever have to a daughter, had just given birth to her first baby, a son named Javier. A new life beginning a journey.

On the return trip a few hours later, I received another message: My beloved friend Kimberly Orsborn had passed away in hospice care. She steered me to the newspaper job that gave me a port in the storm in 2007 when I was transitioning out of the corporate world and into the creative world. In 2009, Kim left that small-town rag and began life as a free-lance writer. That same year, she was diagnosed with a malignant, fast-moving breast cancer. The doctors gave her months. She made it eight years.

Kim beat the odds to live many more seasons because she kept moving, kept doing, kept finding ways around the fog of “chemo-brain.” Before she was done, she said that cancer had ended up being one of the great gifts of her life, something that made her stop and relish every moment of her existence, before continuing on, more aware of her surroundings than before. It deepened her journey.

SOTE the way

El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the pilgrimage path featured in the documentary “Strangers on the Earth,” presented this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. (Photos by Kayla Arend courtesy of Fisterra Productions.)

So, a film about a journey is a good forum for savoring the life in us and around us. But how many feet can walk a road before it becomes a stampede? Strangers on the Earth is a film by Tristan Cook about the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago de Compostela in the Galicia region of northern Spain. Dedicated to the Christian Saint James (who is said to be buried in Compostela), the way actually co-opted an older Celtic sacred pathway and Roman trading route running from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
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When Swing Was King

After the February 18 Mansfield Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert

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Carl Topilow and the MSO

Carl Topilow, in red coat with red clarinet, leads the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra with his knees and shoulders, bobbing on the podium to the music as he plays along. The conductor leans with a sidelong glance to the drummer and, as one, the group moves toward the end of the piece, finishing on one blue note of a dime. Tonight, at the MSO’s “When Swing Was King” pops concert, Topilow is not Topilow. He’s Benny Goodman, he’s Artie Shaw. He and his bright  red clarinet lead a big band and it’s 1944 and the audience is young again.

At the introduction to each song the crowd murmurs appreciatively. Next to me my grandmother hums along. Everyone of a certain age has a memory that corresponds with each song. A piece of their youth, of the early years with their spouse, of their time serving their country.

The songs Topilow picks range from Gershwin excerpts to Glen Miller to an entire patriotic piece fitted around a bugle solo. Before I had thought of swing as swing, but now I begin to think of the complete range of sweet to sultry to stars and stripes.

The sweet songs inspire my grandmother to turn to me and tell me memories of her courtship with my grandfather. She uses the word courtship, and it occurs to me that I’ve only ever heard this word from someone of her generation, and also that I’ve never been courted. Stardust, Moonlight Serenade, Night & Day — a sweetness and innocence that I cannot fathom, but desperately want to know. Continue reading

A Voice of Survival and Regeneration: A Review of “40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses”

40; Hopscotchin’ Carcasses by Chico’s Brother

                    A review by Mark Sebastian Jordan.

You wanna hear America right now?

It ain’t some chest-thumping, dumbed-down recycled-classic-rock with a yella-dog-in-a-pickup-truck-with-a-red-hatted-good-ol-bubba making Merica meth again. It ain’t the scratchy skirl of a Scottish fiddle playing a weathered tune, it ain’t the trip-skittle of hard bop, not the altered states of a Mahler mind-field, not The Beatles, no Nirvana, and it sure as fuck ain’t the latest auto-tuned non-entity sliding across the charts of lucre.

You wanna hear America right now? This is it. Folk ‘n’ urban, sweet as candy, and ready to cut you. Chico’s Brother, harmonious and alienating, narrative and nonsense, avant-ghetto, is the expression of Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, resident of Mansfield, Ohio, and elsewhere. He’s a stew of ethnic and cultural storms, rich in voice, startlingly open and maddeningly elusive, like everything and like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

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Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz is Chico’s Brother, the prince of Midwestern avant-ghetto. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pfahler.)

 

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes

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Jackboots and Sinful Fishes: The Prophecies of Mahler’s Resurrection.

I love all music, but I’m a classical music nut. I’m also a bit like a vegan mentioning eating habits: if the subject comes up, people soon find my favorite composer is Gustav Mahler. I first heard his music when I was twelve and exploring the classics via a stack of old vinyl records my mom picked up for me at Goodwill.

I was hooked on the classics by my elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Lumadue, who one day played Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 in our weekly class. The dark rich colors, pulsing rhythms, and delicious tang of that music perked up my attention so much, I came in after class and asked to listen to it again. Before long, I was exploring her record collection instead of going out to recess, looking up the composers of this strange and wonderful music in encyclopedias. This wildly varying, unpredictable art form immediately struck me as being more like life, more like nature than anything playing on the radio I was forced to endure on the school bus every day. I found a better world. And I found who I was with that music. Many things create a person, but I could not have been the person I am without classical music.

But the big bomb didn’t drop until I was working my way through my stack of records and found a piece of music by some guy I’d never heard of. Gustav Mahler, born 1860, died 1911. It was an excerpt from his Symphony No. 1 on a sampler of recordings by the great German conductor Bruno Walter. I loved the record’s other contents, Beethoven, Brahms, Johann Strauss and such, but who was this Mahler guy? Mrs. Lumadue never mentioned him. Continue reading

We Stand With Standing Rock

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In late July, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating their concern that a pipeline slated to be built encroached upon ancestral lands.


It’s a five dollar donation to get in the doors of the Standing Rock Solidarity Benefit show, to be enveloped in the warmth, the glow, the murmur of conversations cut frequently by loud laughter. It looks like someone’s family reunion with folding chairs and cheap plastic table cloths, a buffet set-up with six donated Two Cousin’s Gut Buster pizzas and cheap booze. As the place slowly fills with people, the room becomes a beacon in the cold night, a bright light in a row of dim buildings, a convention of friends new and old, setting the stage for solidarity.


September 4th, Dakota Access begins clearing ground for the pipeline, bulldozing over sacred sites and burials. Protesters are attacked by dogs and pepper sprayed.


It took just under two weeks for Aurelio Villa Luna Diaz, Mark Sebastian Jordan, Kathy Fetzer-Goodwin to bring this event into the public eye, being touted in the local papers and drawing over a hundred contributors and participants. It even received threats, though none came to fruition. The K.E. McCarthy building was donated as a space for the show and by door time, all money spent on food, drink, and entrance would be sent to the Oceti Sakowin Camp.

Mark Jordan opens the show as MC and performer and along with Jason Kauffman, Lucas Hargis, and Nate Weiland presents a spoken word piece (Pronouncement: An Invocation for the Standing Rock Benefit Concert). He repeats the question: “who speaks?” over the murmur of the settling audience and we listen, and finally erupt into applause on his final call-to-arms, that “We speak!”

This becomes the theme of the show, the different voices no longer silenced, but calling for an end to injustice. This is a shout for self-expression and for claiming a space in the land.

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