We take a point of personal privilege today, and in doing so also take a blessed, momentary respite from the woes that is Trump.
I’m mentioned in the past my cousin Diana Leviton Gondek, who’s a very talented artist back in Chicago. (Actually, she’s a very talented artist wherever she is…) I’ve noted her getting a commission from the City of Chicago to make several large, wonderful horse sculptures to honor fallen Chicago police officers that were placed around the city, including the lobby outside the mayor’s office, when Rahm Emanuel was His Honor.
She also was commissioned to design the 50th anniversary poster for the Special Olympics (which I never knew until then began in Chicago). And just received a grant from the State of Illinois.
I bring up these few items of many to make clear it’s not just my bias saying what a very talented artist she is. But rather my honesty…
Diana is now involved with a project on behalf of epilepsy, the Hidden Truths Project, which is dedicated to engaging and empowering those with epilepsy through the arts. (Founded in 2012, they've raised over $500,000 for epilepsy research. You can read more about the organization here.) And on behalf of that, she was interviewed by the local CBS television station that did a piece on the exhibit.
You’ll see her with a painting she had in the show – her new style is one I particularly like. And happily, she sold it, and proceeds will go to the charity. You can see more of her work here.
And so, using Squatter's Rights on my own website, here's the two-minute video.
After the July 4 shooting massacre in Highland Park, I wrote a couple of article about my close overlap with the place, growing up next door in Glencoe. My dad’s medical office was in Highland Park, his hospital was there, my first real job was in Highland Park, as was my mother’s favorite grocery store, and much more.
I know two people on the Highland Park City Council, including my long-time friend Tony Blumberg, whose family lived down the block in Glencoe but later moved to Highland Park, and was a camper at Camp Nebagamon when I was a counselor at the summer camp. I’d been in touch with Tony, asking about plans Highland Park had for the 4th of July this year, and what he said they came up with seemed very respectful and moving for the occasion – including commissioning a piece of music to be played at a memorial, a walk down last year’s parade route and flying drones at night over Lake Michigan, instead of fireworks.
Tony sent me a link to the music piece, “Repair the World” composed by Stacy Garrop. It was written as a piano trio, though she transposed it for string quartet (which is how the piece was played at the ceremonies by members of the Highland Park Strings), as well as an arrangement for solo piano, performed here by Susan Merdinger.
It's been a very long time since I posted a video of the quartet of four German women who perform their unique brand of classical music as Salut Salon, so I felt I should finally rectify that.
This is an impressively fun, short piece they call "Akrobatik. It comes a bit of Verdi's "The Four Seasons," some Mozart, other classical tidbits, and a dazzling touch of "Mack the Knife."
I’ve had a few Gerard Hoffnung references and pieces here lately, and in one of them I mentioned how he was sort of a precursor (or even likely an inspiration) to Peter Schickele -- pronounced Shick-uh-lee. And I realized that many people probably don't know him either -- though I suspect more will, since he’s much more recent and had many successful albums and even performed live with symphony orchestras for years.
He joking went by “Prof. Peter Schickele,” whose career was supposedly dedicated to the work of P.D.Q. Bach, the fictitious illegitimate son of J.S. Bach. (Schickele’s reasoning was that Bach has so many legitimate children, what’s one more?)
Though it helps to have an understanding of classical music to get his humor in full, what’s more important is to haven an appreciation of it. (The latter is my category…) Like Hoffnung, would often use using odd objects as musical instruments in his “discovered” pieces by P.D.Q. Bach.
Like Hoffnung, too, not everyone will Schickele/P.D.Q. Bach, because their work is focused on a specific area, that being classical music. As such, they’re sort of in the vein, as well, of Victor Borge or even closer to the joyous Anna Russell who toured for decades, most famously given comedy “lectures” on things like “How to Write a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta” and analyzing Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Though Borge and Russell were more “traditional-ish” comedians.
If you don’t know Schickele’s work – but even if you do -- I will toss in what is easly my favorite of his works – and probably his most popular – Beethoven’s 5th Symphony presented like the broadcast of a football game, “Orchestra vs. conductor,” complete with referee, play-by-play announcer and color analyst.
I’m going to provide two separate links to it, for reasons I’ll explain. This first is the version he made for his album, P.D.Q. Bach On the Air. It’s wonderful.
Schickele would also perform this in concert, which I saw once. (A friend worked for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and invited me to the rehearsal of it…) This is a video of the piece , which in some ways in a lot more fun than the album version, since it has the visuals – like all the orchestra members with numbers on their backs, cheerleaders, a penalty box, and many other bits thrown in that you couldn’t possibly do on a record -- but I think the comic timing on the album is significantly better. (But also, this in-concert video starts late and leaves out the introduction that sets the piece up.) However, I’m going to post it for those who prefer to watch it performed. BUT -- if you do decide to watch the live concert video, I’d still suggest listening to the album introduction up to the point of when the announcers call out, “And they’re off!!” – and then switch over to the in-concert video. The intro is only about a minute, but it helps, I think.) For that matter, I found that it’s fun even watching them both. The album version is impeccable for the timing and performance – but watching the concert version afterwards adds a lot of visual fun.
Yesterday, in my tribute to Kukla, Fran and Ollie on their 75th anniversary, I wrote that I would be posting today the full, glorious episode when the Kuklapolitans present their version of The Mikado. Initially, I wrote that unfortunately I was mistaken -- I thought I had the full show, but it's only about two minutes. Although joyous ones.
As it turns out, however, the full show does exist! O huzzah. I thought I had come across, but when I looked at my notes, I only had that two-minute clip. But thanks to reader Ken Kahn, he found the completely episode of The Mikado," and I've changed the video below to it.
The rest of the article holds.
No single episode of Kukla, Fran and Ollie gives a full sense of the different levels of the show. But this video gives an idea of it.
And an idea of the range of the Kuklapolitan Players, and of Burr Tillstrom's unearthly skill with characters and voices. Madame Ophelia Ooglepuss, being the dowager protector of All Things Fine Art among the Kuklapolitans, would regularly try to organize everyone and put on some light opera production once a year, and more often than not it would be an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan. And that's what we have here, The Mikado.
What the video also shows is Fran Allison’s sweetness and total, pure belief in the puppets. Yet as sweet as she was, she would easily get perturbed with the others when called for. (Which was not uncommon...) And it also gives an idea of Burr Tillstrom at his most lunatic and artistic. Keep in mind, as you watch this, that he's handling both puppets: singing and dancing both characters, while ad-libbing the dialogue for the full show, of course. Not to mention holding his arms up for a half-hour.) In fact, much as there appears to be a happy accident in the song "Three Little Maids from School," upon having watched repeated viewings of it I’m pretty convinced that it was all impressively planned. Moreover, remember that for years, they did this for a half-hour every day, five days a week. There was another half-hour show the very next day. And after that. And...
By the way, it's also worth noting the laughter of the audience. The show didn't always have an audience, usually if you heard laughing it was from the crew members cracking up, since much of the show was ad-libbed. But occasionally there were small audiences. The reason I bring it up here, though, is because what stands out is that the laughter isn't the sound of little kids at all, but rather adults. Much as Kukla, Fran and Olllie was a children's puppet show, it was as much for adults, at least those with a sense of the whimsical.
I spoke to a friend who went to a TV Academy tribute to Burr Tillstrom on the show's 50th anniversary in 1997 (I was in Chicago at the time -- and went to the exhibit at the Chicago History Museum), where he said they played this episode in its entirety. The auditorium was full, with probably 1,000 people there, and as these adults watched this barebones, black-and-white puppet show almost 50 years after it was made in the early days of television, he said the place was filled with laughter.
This, in small part explains why. It starts quietly, with a five-minute introduction by Col. Crackie to it all (including a brief tour of the studio and cast & crew participating) -- and then slowly builds through the songs and a wonderfully, if weirdly interpolated commercial. Until they make it through.
If you didn't see Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on Museums. Now, you might think that there isn't much controversial about museums (other than parking fees), the point of the story here is antiquities in their collections that may have been stolen from other cultures. He focuses on the British Museum, though it expands from that. The story is longer than usual, but very interesting through out. And pretty funny, as well. There's also a fun finale, so stick around for that.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor