Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Florida’s Bok Tower landmark enchants with beauty of music and secret gardens


Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it. ~ Edward W. Bok
Among the fragrant orange groves of Central Florida there’s a wonderful high-rise spot where carillon music filters through serene garden spaces; where visitors may wander among exquisite blooms,  gaze in reflecting pools at sky and trees, walk nature trails to the tune of singing birds and bells  — or simply sit in contemplation…‘and fill their souls with the quiet, the repose, the influence of the beautiful.’

This quiet place, rising above the bustle of modern-day Central Florida – the Bok Tower Gardens – is a national historic landmark. It’s a 250-acre sanctuary of pleasant gardens and signature 205-foot tower of pink and gray Georgia marble and coquina shell stone which houses a 60-bell carillon. The Bok sanctuary and Pinewood Estate was dedicated in 1929 by President Calvin Coolidge.

Known as the Singing Tower, this place held a magical spot in my memory. No, not because I’d been there; it was because I hadn’t been there. My only thread of connection with the Bok Singing Tower was a distant, but persistent memory — an image that would remain in my mind for decades – an image on one of those antique style post cards.

My grandparents wintered in the Bradenton area for many years. They’d always send home enticing post cards with pictures of orange groves or palm trees, or shells and ocean beaches or flamingos and cypress swamps. Once they sent a postcard of The Singing Tower.

“What is a singing tower? I’d wonder. Well, I tucked the image into my memory bank. “One day,” I vowed, “I’ll go visit this Singing Tower.”

Bok Tower  Reflecting Pool
Bok Tower Reflecting Pool
My family never traveled to Florida to visit my grandparents, like my other cousins did. After all, there were five of us; and that would be a major undertaking. One January, when I was in my teens, we finally planned to go; but then a cousin, who was my age, died suddenly. So the Florida trip died, too. Perhaps I wouldn’t have seen the Singing Tower; but somehow it remained on the backburner of my mind.

Do you hear the people sing? Go tell it on the mountain!


Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are and what we have are gifts to be received and shared.”  — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Do you hear what I hear? Carols of Christmas ringing into the New Year…

A song, a song, high above the tree, with a voice as big as the sea. Go tell it on the mountain….over the hills and everywhere.

A new song resonates carol-like with me during this Twelve Days of Christmas, while gliding into the New Year toward the celebration of Epiphany:

Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men. It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again. When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes. 

The days from Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, and the twelve days of Christmas are a naturally reflective time. Always the spirit of solstice is to usher in the light, making our own spirits brighter with ever longer daylight.

Moon of wintertime, ushering in the New Year
Moon of wintertime, ushering in the New Year
And, always this time casts its magic for me, as I imagine wonderful possibilities, in anticipation of the New Year. It’s a time of transformation. With each calendar day comes renewed hope for peace to break out across the planet. On Christmas Day we pray for peace for people everywhere…to see the star, to dance joyfully with the winter aurora, to find goodness and light in their dreams.

Christmas Day 2012 held its own magic. It was the first time my siblings and spouses had no other familial obligations. While we had a large family gathering planned the weekend after, on Christmas Day we discovered we were free – all but one brother who was flying in that day. We’d meet when he arrived.

The much anticipated movie, Les Misérables,was opening in theaters Christmas Day. We decided it would be fun to spend the afternoon together while waiting, experiencing some sibling togetherness and this amazing film.

Director Tom Hooper [The King’s Speech] set out to create a big screen version of the beloved musical Les Misérables, which told  Victor Hugo’s tragic 19th Century French tale of  redemption of prisoner Jean Valjean.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

'Writer’s pen’ works magic, creating unique bond for grandfather/ granddaughter author duo

There’s always a bit of magic in the writer’s pen. Michigan mystery writer Rich Baldwin discovered it long ago, when he began writing his series of mystery novels, starring the amiable detective Lou Searing, who also happens to be Baldwin’s alter ego.
Author Rich Baldwin with granddaughter Hannah Hoffmeister's novel, Ava. The poster is book cover for Rich's latest mystery, Murder at the Cherry Festival
Now 13 novels later, and just as many years, the magic of the writer’s pen seem to have sparked a love of writing and a similar novel quest in his granddaughter, Hannah Hoffmeister.

The magic, in this case, is that Hannah’s novel series depicts the fantasy world of 13-year-old Ava Popolis. Magical, too, is the fact that Hannah’s first novel in the Dream Ring Series was published when she was just 13 years old.

ies) begins on the heroine’s 13th birthday, when she learns that her mom is a witch.  As quickly as Ava celebrates turning 13, her world just as quickly turns upside down.  Ava’s mom informs her that she and best friend, Victoria, are both witches.  The two young teenagers must now go away to school on the far off planet Neptune.

Along come many adventures at the school for aspiring witches, including encounters with Widdiworm, an evil sorcerer. In Book One, Ava describes the fantastic tale of her first year at this other-worldly school.

Book Two, Widdiworm, finds Ava and Victoria back in school for their second year, facing more challenge and adventure due to the sorcerer Widdiworm. In Book Three in the series, Victoria, Ava’s challenge is to find Victoria, who is gone, and get her back. Training at the Battle School for Advanced Witches and Wizards, Ava comes up with a dangerous plan to rescue her best friend.
The writer’s bond between Rich Baldwin and Hannah Hoffmeister is evident, when Hannah notes in her acknowledgements for Ava, “Thank you Grandpa Baldwin, who has never left my side in my development as an author.”

If magic can ride moonbeams, then both grandfather and granddaughter are riding high. Hannah recently won second place in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards in the category of Years Best Book Written by Someone Under 18 Years of Age. 

Echoes of Appalachia: MSU Artist in Residence Elizabeth LaPrelle brings music of the mountains to Michigan

The gales of November may be whistling winter tunes in your ear, but there’s a perfect antidote.
Elizabeth LaPrelle (photo by Mike Melnyk)
Riding on the winds of Appalachia, the sweet sounds of Elizabeth LaPrelle’s mountain music -- ballads of the Blue Ridge -- are floating through the breeze in East Lansing, Michigan this week.
As artist in residence Nov. 12-18 at Michigan State University Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, the young singer will perform at several venues, including:
At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, November 14, A Conversation with Elizabeth LaPrelle in C303 Snyder-Phillips Hall:
“LaPrelle will give an afternoon talk about Crankies, or scrolls that she hand makes with her friend, Anna Roberts-Gevalt. They sew, papercut, or print the scrolls with  illustrations of stories and ballads. When a crank is turned as you sing or speak, the pictures advance with the narrative. LaPrelle will talk about the process of making Crankies, how the visuals aid in storytelling, and answer questions.”
At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 14, Elizabeth LaPrelle will perform in the RCAH Theater  for The Center for Poetry Fall Series.
Double your pleasure, when  Elizabeth will be joined by her mom, Sandy LaPrelle, at  two weekend concerts.   
Sandy and Elizabeth LaPrelle
At Noon Friday, November 16 a concert (Free) in the showroom at Elderly Instruments , 1100 North Washington, Lansing, MI
On 7 p.m on Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Hannah Community Center at 819 Abbot Rd. in East Lansing (suggested donation $10, $5/students) for an Evening of Appalachian Music and Poetry, a benefit concert.
On Sunday Nov. 18 - Elizabeth will conduct "A Musical Workshop" from 2-4 in room C-204 at Snyder Hall on the MSU campus.
It’s a rare opportunity to hear authentic mountain music, sung as it was a hundred years ago, with many familiar folk songs that have stood the test of time.
Here’s a blog I wrote after meeting Elizabeth and Sandy LaPrelle in 2008. The duo enjoy coming up to Michigan for the summertime Great Lakes Folk Festivals, held in East Lansing.

Songs of Appalachia: Elizabeth LaPrelle and the Crooked Road Revue bring mountain ballads to the Great Lakes Folk Festival
By Susan Parcheta (for MichiganCountry.com  2008 and livingstontalk.com, now archived at  thelivingstonpost.com)
Elizabeth LaPrelle sings ballads of The Blue Ridge

Imagine a pleasant  summertime journey…walking winding crooked roads,  exploring the nooks and crannies of the glorious Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia.
Think of music in the air…music that  travelers of the beautiful crooked roads might be singing. Songs like: Fly Around My Blue-Eyed Gal or  Over the River Charlie . Or maybe join in on a favorite childhood lullaby, Whole Heap A Little Horses, as you stroll along … or  Sweet Roseanne. Then pick up the pace a bit with Sail Away Ladies, Sail Away.
Think Appalachian mountain tunes…authentic to the sonorous voices of a hundred years ago.
Wind down that lovely road with  Elizabeth LaPrelle and the Crooked Road Revue, one of a select number of groups being highlighted at the East  Lansing, Michigan Great Lakes Folk Festival this weekend August 8-10.
Enjoy foot stompin’… banjo strummin’ … acapella singin’ in the traditional mountain way…the way the songs were sung in old-time mountain style. The Crooked Road Revue spans the generations, from 61-year old guitarist Wayne Henderson to 20-year-old LaPrelle.
As Henderson told Mike Hughes of the Lansing State Journal, “For a young person to sing those old songs so beautifully is really surprising.”
Old-time ballad singer Sheila Kay Adams says, “Anyone can learn the old ballads. There are numerous collections in libraries and books that are available on-line.”
“But,” she comments, in describing LaPrelle’s enchanting touch to the music, “Elizabeth is interested in the feel, the sound, the ornamentation of these songs. She is, in my opinion, one of maybe a handful of young singers able to capture the rhythm, the intensity, the breaks and sighs, that make this style of singing authentic.”
“The only problem I have while listening to Elizabeth,” she adds, “is that I’m always listening through tears. She reminds me so much of my older relatives – the same profound feeling for the ballad, yet with such a clear voice.”
Say’s Elizabeth ,  “I grew up surrounded with all kinds of music. We had lots of singing around the house, children’s songs, folk songs, ballads, popular songs, silly songs that we made up, anything that we wanted to do. My mother came from a musical family and was a little more serious about her singing. She loved singing with us, but she also performed with concert choruses and traditional groups.”
Elizabeth’s mom, Sandy, sometimes accompanies her daughter in concert. And, often, she’ll find herself being called up on the stage…like the time Elizabeth sang with Garrison Keeler when Prairie Home Companion radio show did a show in Virginia.
Elizabeth and Sandy carry on the legacy of the authentic mountain tunes. “At the time they were recorded,” Elizabeth explains, “most folks singing the old songs in the traditional way were very old, and the voices that could reputedly sing to be heard from ridge to ridge had lost some of their power. I try to sing ballads the way these folks and their ancestors might have sung when they were my age. I also try to sing with the emotion that I feel when I listen to the stories and poetry in the songs.”
“Right now I am balancing my performance schedule and my classes at the College of William and Mary,” she says. She manages a few concerts and appearances throughout the year.
Last year she traveled on the West coast tour with the Crooked Road Revue. This assembly of artists, organized by the National Council for the Traditional Arts, represents musicians from the real Crooked Road…a stretch of US Highway 58 winding 200 miles through the mountains and valleys of LaPrelle’s  home corner of Southwest Virginia.
In any case, there’s magic in the air there…musical magic from down the generations of rural Appalachia.  Elizabeth LaPrelle captures that tuneful mountain magic, now available on her CDs  Rain and Snow and Lizard in the Spring.
Listen awhile, and you’ll find yourself whooping it up along with her, as she  trips along with finger shappin’ Liza Up a Simmon Tree: You know, the one that goes….
Whoopty Liza pretty little gal.
Whoopty Liza Jane.
Whoopty Liza pretty little gal
A’ridin’ on that train.
Elizabeth LaPrelle at Old97Records.com
Clip of LaPrelle’s “East Virginia”
Elizabeth’s Great Lake Folk Festival Venue and Schedule
Elizabeth LaPrelle in her own words
New Notes and Links:
MSU Residential College of Arts and Humanities Center for Poetry Fall Series Elizabeth LaPrelle
A Conversation with Elizabeth LaPrelle  at MSU
Elizabeth LaPrelle website
Read all about the Crankies at Anna and Elizabeth’s website
My blogspace at The Livingston Post (Yesterday’s Coffee, Tomorrow’s Muse) with my original article about Elizabeth LaPrelle and the sweet songs from the Blue Ridge Mountains
For a beautiful article about Elizabeth and her music in the William &Mary AlumNews, read the words of  Alexandra Hart.
Author's Note: Elizabeth LaPrelle was interviewed by Noah Adams of National Public Radio on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012. It's a wonderful interview. Once you hear her sing the original mountain tunes of the Blue Ridge, the way they're meant to be sung, you'll be tapping your feet away and quite addicted to the beautiful music of Appalachia. 
NPR Interview: 'Elizabeth LaPrelle: Carrying On The Appalachian Tradition

(Published Nov. 13, 2012 in The Livingston Post)