Sunday, April 27, 2008

Drop All for Carolina Chocolate Drops

With the energy of old tent revivalists, Carolina Chocolate Drops brought audiences to their feet this weekend at Merlefest. Even though they are from my hometown of Greensboro, I had not heard them before yesterday at Merlefest 2008. My wife and I stood in the rain with others outside their too small tent venue. But who cares, the energy, talent, and joy they gave off spread like sunshine over every isle and then outside the tent where it warmed those of us with rain soaked souls. I left the festival dancing in the mud and rain thanks to them and other inspiring groups like The Wilders, The Bearfoots, Donna the Buffalo, and the Lovell Sisters.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are single handedly saving a part of Americana that deserves new life; the black string band. Drop what you are doing the next time they come to your community and go see them. Until then enjoy this video from the recent European tour. (They are also featured in the Movie The Great Debaters, and will appear on the Grand Old Oprey in June, 2008.)

Click on the headline here to go to their website.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Take an afternoon off from work and go see this movie!

The new documentary "Young @ Heart" is a must see. It's the story of a group of seniors who take on modern Rock 'n Roll hits to heartwarming affect. Take a moment to view this you tube video of their version of Cold Play's Fix You. As someone with a loved one on oxygen I cannot express the impact. Take a mental health afternoon and go see the whole movie.

Bob Seven and Ambulance Ready to Respond

Check out this video on North Carolina artist Bob Seven and his Emerge-N-See Ambulance Installation.

Friday, April 18, 2008

From the Invisible 5 Website:

Invisible-5 is a self-guided critical audio tour along Interstate 5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It uses the format of a museum audio tour to guide the listener along the highway landscape.
Invisible-5 investigates the stories of people and communities fighting for environmental justice along the I-5 corridor, through oral histories, field recordings, found sound, recorded music, and archival audio documents. The project also traces natural, social, and economic histories along the route.
The tour follows I-5 between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with additional routing via I-580/I-880 to San Francisco. Sites along the tour, which can be driven in either direction, include Livermore, Crows Landing, Kesterson NWR, Kettleman City, and Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

El Systema Changing the World through Music

Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra

El Systema takes poor kids from the slums of Venezuela and trains them as classical musicians. You may have heard about this program like I did on 60 Minutes on Sunday April 13th, 2008. Here is an article on the program as well. I have long felt art could help save the world. Here is a country saving their easily lost youth (Could we save ours?) through music that "takes them to a different world" in more ways than one. This is a movement we as educators in the USA could learn much from. They have so much participation they are makeing their own instruments. Here are some inspiring facts: 800,000 children have been through the program, $80 million dollars from 8 Venezuelan governments has been spent towards helping these kids. Their National Youth Orchestra (they have hundreds of others) travels world wide. Check out this You Tube on Gustavo Dudamel (one of the program's super stars) and the Simon Bolivar youth orchestra. I am so glad I am a teacher and will be dreaming and instituting ways to light the same fuze in my students as El Systema.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Look on the sunny side.......

This Table of Honor to Hispanic Immigration is available for installation on request.

This past Sunday I attended a conference on the effects of policy changes on Undocumented Immigrants and came away convinced that our nation is drifting head long into another mistaken reaction (Iraq was the first) that makes villains of Hispanics and Latino regardless of their status. I have seen "immigrant" come to mean the same thing as "illegal alien" in my own church. I have heard of local law enforcement racial profiling and fishing for "illegal aliens" at road blocks and in diners and in schools ("Gee thanks Mr. SRO for catching that dirty illegal alien!") and listened to politicians, Democratic and Republican, jump on the "What part of illegal do you not understand" band wagon for the sake of votes. I have neighbors who have attacked and robbed Hispanics without fear or prosecution, know of police that decline response based on status. I see Hispanics that are suffering mental illness and stress and read of attempted suicide rates unacceptable in a humane world. I have watch the national news focus on the most divisive and simplistic aspects of undocumented immigration and I AM MAD about it all.

Rather than simply rage on I have created a " Table of Honor to Mexican / Latino Immigration" to remind us that their are good people hidden behind these labels we so easily apply to dismiss so many of our neighbors.

Anyone can donate an item in honor of a loved one or friend from Latin America- regardless of their status; citizen, legal immigrant, or illegal. Flowers, letters, pictures have already been given. This table has appeared in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. It was disassembled without my permission in the latter two communities.

Searching for the brighter side of human nature is an idea that cannot be disassembled- at least in my home and at this table.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Sleep Through the Static Gets My Vote as Best Anti-War Song

Jack Johnson's new album Sleep through the Static is excellent. The best song on the album is by the same name. (Click here to hear it on You Tube.) A roller coaster ride of words and ideas, this song points at our and Bush's war making mistakes without being shrill or obvious. A thinking person's song you'll find yourself trying to sing along while simultaneously thinking "Damn right, Damn right." Here are a few lines:

Who needs sleep when we've got love?
Who needs keys when we've got clubs?
Who needs please when we've got guns?
Who needs peace when we've gone above
But beyond where we should have gone?
We went beyond where we should have gone

Check out this Youtube to hear Jack talk about his album.

Be sure to catch the Peace Seminar, TIME TO BREAK THE SILENCE: SOUTHERN CHURCHES AND WAR on Saturday, April 5th, at New Garden Friends Meeting in Greensboro, NC.

Altarpiece Inspired by AIDS and Art History

Keiskamma Altarpiece

Beauty and hope cannot be beaten. Whether it is the plagues of Medieval Europe or the AIDS Pandemic of today, death cannot overcome the vessel of hope and beauty; art. In fact, art making is one of humanity's core responses to the realization of death. The Keiskamma Altarpiece is a wonderful example. A work created by over 120 South Africans, mostly women, who live in the AIDS decimated community of Hamburg, South Africa, this work of art standing 13 feet high and 22 feet wide. The multi-layered altarpiece takes its form from Grunewlad's Isenheim Altarpiece. Itself an earlier example of triumph of the human spirit over adversity as it was commissioned in the 1500's by the order of Saint Anthony in Alsace for hospice patients dying from ergot poisoning.

The Keiskamma Altarpiece was instigated by Dr. Carol Hofmeyr, a South African doctor and artist. The Keiskamma Altarpiece is a must see while it is still touring the US. It is currently in Chicago. See their website for more images and tour information. source: April 2008, Art in America

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Worth Crying Over?

I have struggled over what to say about these photoshoped photographs by Jill Greenburg, aka the Manipulator. A student of mine suffering the loss of a loved one by their own hand showed me these images as a potential influence on her painting. They are deeply affecting- at least for this old sap of a father. I cannot view them without hearing my own children wailing over some insult or injury to their small selves.

The question I struggled with was over their value. Beyond a striking image, how do these pictures "make the world a better place"? When in doubt, I usually do some research and often find some background information that helps. In this case it did not help. (Jill's political based reason for making them seem trivial in comparison to the overarchingly universal, timeless quality of these images- as does the process she underwent to make them, however conceptually uncomfortable.) My answer came rather from a colleague of mine who teaches psychology. When he saw these photos for the first time he commented that these were children in need of adults to protect them. He then shared a figure on the number of children that die at the hands of parents every year in the US.

Want to guess the number?

It is 1,000/year. (On tonight's news the CDC reports that over 905,000 infants are victums of neglect. That's 1 in 50 infants. )

At that point I saw the value of Jill's series. It is not for their beauty, but for the content they deliver at a gut punching level- that children feel deeply and profoundly, and suffer in our midst. The feelings in their faces are also our own, unfiltered. How can these pictures help? By reminding us that many, many children suffer at the hands of adults. What child is born ready for prison? They are molded into such -by adults. A friend of my son's said once "There would be no racism if all the old folks were all dead." True-but considering that I am an old folk in his eyes I prefer work like this that remind us of the suffering that should, that must, be addressed. It's a situation worth crying over -then fixing.

(Go to Jill Greenburg's website and select the "End Times" series to view more from this series.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


My mother has a fear of dead birds, she has over the years found them on her porch preceeding the death of more than one loved one. A similar dread fills me when I see Amy Steins work. Growing up, I could sleep with my window open and hear a chorus of insects singing in the forest just beyond my suburban home. Today, those woods are more suburb and the singing has stopped. Amy Stein most likely grew up similarly.

She has made this series Domesticated showing that border between man and nature. Unlike the fertile zones that nature often creates when one environment transitions into another, our man made zone often bears only road kill, broken necked birds, and fear filled animals fleeing across perfect lawns and concret. Amy memoralizes those moments we all experience but only fleetingly as we see deers just past our headlights or navigate over road kill.