The Holly & The Ivy, 2018

Attending the Indiana Landmarks holiday concert has become a tradition for me. Enjoying wonderfully talented musicians and singers in a beautiful setting—what’s not to like?

Doors were scheduled to open at 7pm. Come early to get your preferred seat, they advertised!

They lied. Well, sort of.

I showed up at 6:45 and the auditorium was already half full. Huh. Doors must have opened at 6:30 or even 6:15, I thought. Mental note to come even earlier next year. (Usually I arrive early enough to park in their lot and walk through the neighborhood to enjoy the historic buildings.)

As usual, the concert did not disappoint. The program listed many of the same people. Some new performers. Other performers from past years were missing. (The trombone player who hams it up was noticeably absent though his soprano singing wife performed.)

Mark Herman who normally plays the organ through the silent Halloween films joined the roster this year. Two other singers who are choral directors in the Indiana school system filled in for Rick Vale, the usual co-host who was missing due to a cold. (Kayla Shoemaker and Jennie Swick were great additions with their beautiful voices!)

Randall Frieling and Rick Vale usually co-host with friendly comedic banter between them. With Rick absent, Randall was forced to ham it up on his own, which he did a very good job of.

The Circle City Ringers were back with many familiar faces in its ranks. Their bells are a delight to hear—even they mixed it up with a song that involved choreographed tapping of sticks and stomping (…which earned playful ribbing from Randall).

Phoenix Park-Kim and Randall performed a couple duets on the piano. They are always amazing. Listening to Phoenix play solo is a true joy too.

The 1892 organ was put to good use with Mark’s and Randall’s playful competition of church vs. theatre organ playing. (I haven’t really considered the difference before. Organ music is organ music, right? Well, no.) Mark even coaxed the organ into imitating a train for an adaption of Santa Claus is Coming to Town (on a train rather than a sleigh.)

One thing I realized as a listened to the performers and watched them sing and play was how much they enjoyed what they were doing. Most of them had smiles coming from deep inside. They truly enjoyed what they were doing. And I truly enjoy performances where performers are carried away by their own enjoyment of performing.

The attendees of these annual Indiana Landmarks holiday concerts are truly blessed. The musicians and singers who perform actually perform around the country and the world. Herman plays globally and Frieling has played in such venues as Carnegie Hall. (I noticed the Frieling is now listed as associated with a Florida church rather than his previous Anderson church.) Thankfully they all find their way back to Indy.

Judging by the crowd, I am not the only one who appreciates their talents. I would encourage you to join us next year, but I don’t want the concert to become too popular. Best to keep it a secret than to spread the news of world-renown performers appearing in our Indiana neck of the woods for a holiday concert.

The Holly & The Ivy, 2017

I returned to the Indiana Landmark Center for the annual holiday concert. This year I arrived a bit later than normal (but still a few minutes before the doors to the auditorium were set to open). The foyer was packed with more and more people streaming in—to the point that they couldn’t close the doors to keep out the winter cold.

This year I spied another familiar face, or rather a familiar face spied me (a woman from a Meetup I attend). To my disappointment, she was long gone once I emerged from the concert.

The concert this year contained some elements of continuity from previous years as well as some new elements. The Circle City Ringers were back—a handbell choir that is a delight to hear and watch. Performers switch back and forth between multiple bells, either ringing them or hitting them with mallets.

Phoenix and Randall were back, playing a couple piano duets together. I was blessed to sit on the side of the auditorium that allowed me to see their handwork as their hands wove back and forth in between the others’ hands.

The Huntoons were also back, John playing the trombone and Diana singing solos and lending her soprano voice to accompany others. John played several numbers, including You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch—kind of dueling duet with Randall on the organ. I realized that his rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas with audience participation was missing this year.

A new addition was the Indianapolis Arts Chorale under the direction of Casey Hayes. The chorale sang several songs on their own but also accompanied other performers. The silliest of their numbers was the Forgotten Hanukkah Carols, where a bubbe introduces a CD for sale featuring several well-known Jewish carols.

Of course, Rick Vale, the emcee who is a total ham on rye, was back to lead the crew as well as sing some solos. (To be fair, most of the performers in the concert are total hams. They all seem to know each other and greatly enjoy each other’s company.)

As usual, the concert included a sing-a-long of several carols. This year concert closed with Joy to the World performed by Phoenix on the piano, Randall on the organ, the Circle City Ringers, and the Indianapolis Arts Chorale all performing.

Silent Halloween at the Indiana Landmarks Center (2017)

Nosferatu?! Nosferatu?! The famous 1922 silent film? Count me in.

I originally saw this movie years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. A graduate school colleague played in a band that composed an original score for Nosferatu. Each year M played their original composition as the silent film was shown at a local venue. This time I would be hearing Mark Herman accompany the film on an organ, the traditional musical instrument for silent films.

And Sammy Terry, the iconic horror film host in Central Indiana, was back. He posed for photos with fans and emceed the event. The audience was entertained with his standard guillotine act.

The participants in the scream contest were amazing this year. The winner was a man. My favorite? The woman who when asked by Sammy Terry to describe a favorite horror movie or recent horror experience replied, “The night that Trump won.” (As you can imagine, in a state where two-thirds of voters voted for Trump, her response didn’t go over so well. But it did delight several of us in the audience.)

Sammy Terry also hosted the costume contest. This year’s theme, keeping with the film, was vampires. Awards were given for best traditional vampire, best creative vampire, and best couple vampire. Of course, not everyone came dressed as a vampire. The winner of the traditional category left me perplexed; I don’t know what she was but she was not a traditional vampire. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what the creative vampire winner was either, but it was a cool costume. (A steampunk plague doctor perhaps?)

One thing was new this year: live streaming on Facebook. A cameraman followed the action on the stage and in the audience. At the end of the evening, Sammy Terry announced that 10,000 people watched their inaugural living streaming.

As usual, Mark was happy to be back playing in Indiana. (He lives in California but is from Indiana.) And also as usual, the audience loved him.

The movie Nosferatu was, of course, delightful. It was creepy but, like other silent films, some things did not age well and produced laughter instead of horror. The scenes of Count Orlok walking down empty town streets with his coffin tucked under his arm elicited laughter—the scene was so absurd. The creepiest bits were when the camera showed his shadow walking up the stairs to Ellen’s bedroom. The tall slender form of the vampire with long fingers and nails cast a frightful sight: shadow on the stairs.

The movie was well attended. I sat in my usual spot wondering if my companions would show up this year. (Three years ago I struck up conversations with people sitting by me. Each year since then we have sat in the same spot.) Alas, they didn’t show up and I was left thinking that perhaps they had other engagements this year—until Dave stopped by to say hello. They had arrived late and found seating elsewhere. And then at intermission I looked for his daughter, only to turn around and see that she sought me out too.

Indiana Landmark’s tradition of Silent Halloween (now in its fifth year) is an awesome way to celebrate the season—Sammy Terry, Mark Herman, and silent horror films. Oh yes, and if you are lucky, you may encounter acquaintances made and renewed during previous Silent Halloweens.

Cabaret Poe

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned about Cabaret Poe last year from a woman at the Indiana Landmark Center’s Silent Halloween. I was intrigued.

The show is a combination of recitation, spoken word, singing, dancing, and jokes—all surrounding Edgar Allan Poe’s works. The production has an air of the macabre sprinkled with humor in action and word. Three actors dress in Victorian-era-inspired clothing. (I kept thinking of steampunk. Hard to describe but you know it when you see it.) A fourth actor dresses all in black, as a dark, foreboding presence in the background. For some pieces, musicians play from behind the stage.

The show I attended was sold out and the audience, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed itself. (To my surprise, about 30 minutes into the two-hour+ show, a family got up and left.) At various times, the actors mingled in the audience and interacted with attendees.

During a recitation of different bits of Poe’s poems, an actor picked out different women in the audience to approach as the object of the poem he was reciting. And wouldn’t you know it, he wandered over to me, picked up my hand, and started to recite a poem about a beloved.

Eulaile, he entreated me.

I dwelt alone
In a world of moan,
And my soul was a stagnant tide
Till the fair and gentle Eulalie became my blushing bride —
Till the yellow-haired young Eulalie became my smiling bride.

When he reached “yellow-haired”, he paused and looked askance at me. (My hair is dark brown.) I tilted my head and raised my eyebrows, as if to say, “Yeah, well, sorry about that. Whatcha gonna do?” (Clearly, he had picked me because I did NOT have yellow hair. I was part of the joke.)

The troupe covered dozens and dozens of Poe’s works, and their performance mediums were varied. I realized in hindsight that I should have re-familiarized myself with Poe’s works from my youth and made my acquaintance with the rest of his oeuvres before I went to Cabaret Poe. Ah, hindsight. I had forgotten how truly dark Poe was. Perfect for the Halloween season.

Cabaret Poe, an Indianapolis original production by local playwright and composer Ben Asaykwee, is in its 9th season. If you cannot catch it this year, look for it next year. In the meantime, reread Poe as preparation to seeing Cabaret Poe or in celebration of the shorter days, the chill in the air, and the anniversary of Poe’s death (October 7, 1849).

Movie review: De-Lovely (2004)

Cole Porter. His was a name I knew when I stumbled into the Cole Porter room at the Indiana Historical Society a few years ago. I wandered around the room, looking at the photos and listening to a performer sing his songs.

That was the extent of my Cole Porter knowledge, which I felt was extremely lacking. I had this image of Porter as one of those early twentieth century artists who spent time in Europe living the high life. (He was.)

De-Lovely helped round out and deepen my understanding of who Cole Porter was. The movie covers Cole Porter’s life with his wife Linda. The vehicle that it uses to highlight the man, his songs, and his relationships is a bit unusual. (It threw me a little bit at first.)

Cole is essentially watching his life—at least the section of his life lived with Linda—play out on stage before him. (Kind of like seeing your life flash before your eyes. I guess in the case of someone who wrote songs for musicals, you see your life flashed on stage.) All of the scenes that played out and the people in them were presumably important in his life.

The movie is song after song after song, whether in a musical or Cole singing at a social event or composing the music. In between are important moments in his life surrounding his wife Linda. The two had an unconventional marriage, clearly devoted to each other. Linda seemed to be a muse of sorts. She believed in his talents, encouraged him, and fought for his career—introducing him to Irving Berlin and battling doctors who wanted to amputate his legs after a horse riding accident. Cole was devoted to Linda but with an explicit pre-marriage understanding, continued to have relationships with men.

De-Lovely reveals the joys but also the sense of tragedy that touched Cole and Linda Porter. Life was full of happiness and music, curtailed a bit by the 1937 tragedy that took the use of his legs. But it all seemed to come crashing down after Linda died (1954) and he lost one of his legs (1958). Then music stopped—six years before his death. That must have been an excruciating six years for him.

Kevin Kline does a delightful job as Cole, engaging in boyish banter, playing the piano, and singing Cole’s songs. (Incidentally, Kline studied theater at Indiana University—a Hoosier-educated actor playing a Hoosier artist.) Ashley Judd plays his ravishing wife, Linda. The two of them have an easy rapport on screen.

De-Lovely uses stage and song as an unusual vehicle to show Cole’s life with Linda. In the process you are exposed to his songs of early twentieth century musicals.