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.

Play review: Murder in Triplicate

Of course, April wouldn’t be complete without my annual visit to Candlelight Theatre. This local play company that performs inside the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is a real gem. Resident playwright James Trofatter, along with Donna Wing (the creative director of the troupe), wrote three more engaging murder vignettes for this spring production. Trofatter and Wing shared in the directing responsibilities too.

Candlelight Theatre usually performs either a single play that takes place throughout the house or three shorter plays performed in different rooms of the house. In either case, the audience rotates through the house to see the different scenes or plays. Murder in Triplicate was the latter case: three plays performed in various rooms (the dining room, the master bedroom, and the back parlor).

I started out in the dining room with the performance of The Photograph Album. I recognized John West, Heather Wing, and James Trofatter immediately. The story, set in 1927, was engaging. A sister and brother were involved in a yearly ritual: looking through a family photo album in hopes of uncovering some long buried secret that would explain why their parents died in a murder-suicide. Twists and turns and unnatural manipulations of a photo revealed unknown family secrets.

Next, my group was led up the front stairs to the master bedroom, where Benjamin Harrison died in 1901. As we waited for the bell to toll, to signal the three plays to begin (the plays all start and end at roughly the same time…there must be an art to writing and performing plays of similar lengths), I felt my ears prick up in canine-like curiosity.

One of the actresses was sitting in a chair covered with a crazy quilt—once again showing how the troupe makes good use of their Victorian surrounding. (Crazy quilts were a brief fad of upper class wealthy women in the late 1800s—and this play was set in 1898.) Then I noticed that the bedspread on the Harrison bed was a crazy quilt. I did not remember seeing that before.

I asked our room hostess about it; the one on the chair was a prop but the one on the bed was original. As we filed out of the room, I peered at the quilt but not long enough to gain any satisfaction. I noticed signatures in the scraps of clothes used to make the quilt and a fan shape—a nod to the Orientalism of the time. The hostess later explained that the Site rotates the spreads on the bed. (So maybe I didn’t notice it before because it wasn’t there…or it was before I knew about crazy quilts.)

In this second play, The Companion, I recognized Sue Beecher, always a delight to see perform. I did not recognize Tim Long or Laura Kuhn from previous performances, but all were excellent. As usual, things in the play weren’t always what they seem. Sue played a grouchy invalid wife, Tim her loving and devoted husband, and Laura her nurse accused of murdering a previous patient.

During intermission, we were shepherded down to the basement for a biobreak. The basement is lined with photos, which to my amazement seemed to be different than earlier visits. Photos ranged from those of Harrison’s grandfather (William Henry), Benjamin Harrison himself with other generals in the Civil War, himself as a staunch upright patriarch, and one of Lincoln as a young attorney and counselor at law (as written on the photograph).

The third play, Betsy, took place in the back parlor. I immediately recognized Ellis Hall, Donna Wing, and Ken Eder. Often a ham on rye, this time Ken played a maniacal lawyer. Set in 1925, this play centered on a pair of newlyweds who married after a brief romance. The wife slowly learns from the lawyer the twisted family circumstances that she married into. Again, nothing is quite as it seems.

When Candlelight Theatre productions are three separate plays rather than one long one, the cast gathers in the front hallway to greet the audience as they leave. First up was James Trofatter whom I thanked for all of the plays that he has written and I have enjoyed. He seemed a bit taken aback (which made me wonder how many people are regular attendees—his reaction suggested that I might be an odd duck).

As I worked my way down the line of actors, the tables turned. Donna Wing expressed that she was happy to see me, that she recognized me from previous productions. It was my turn to be a bit taken aback. Of course, in the setting of a historical home where the actors perform a mere inches from the audience (and on occasion include the audience), it shouldn’t be surprising that the audience registers with the actors. Her noticing my attendance at production after production caught me a bit off guard but added to the delight of the evening.

Murder in Triplicate runs for another weekend. But if you cannot make it, any of their productions would be fantastic to see. (Be sure to stop by the house for a tour too.) Candlelight Theatre used to perform just spring and fall productions, but in recent years expanded to include more productions. Next up is in July—The Trial of Nancy Clem—a previous production perhaps (Cold Blooded) but this time being performed at the nearby beautifully restored Indiana Landmarks Center.

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.

The Holly & The Ivy, 2016

I returned to the Indiana Landmark Center again this December to enjoy their annual holiday concert. The entrance was packed with people waiting for the doors to the hall to open. As I waited to enter the beautiful concert venue (an old Methodist sanctuary), I saw a familiar—but out of place—face. A woman I knew from my hometown was also here to enjoy the concert!

Many of the same people from the same church in Anderson returned to perform. The emcee and singer Rick Vale, the organist and pianist Randall Frieling, and trombonist John Huntoon were back. New faces included soprano Diana Huntoon (John’s wife) and pianist Phoenix Park-Kim.

Like last year, the air of the concert was one of festive silliness. Banter between the performers showed their true nature. The audience joined in the fun through active participation in the Twelve Days of Christmas. The trombonist gave some audience members pictures of each of the twelve days to hold up as we sung—and he played—through the song. As the designated audience members held up their pictures, they had to sing and/or act out the picture. Hilarity ensued.

The concert was not just fun and games. Musical talent was on display with serious Christmas songs, singing duets, and piano duets. (Phoenix and Randall played some amazing numbers together on the same grand piano.) The Circle City Ringers, an auditioned bronze-level community handbell ensemble, was back again this year, ringing in several songs.

A few pieces from last year made it into this year’s concert, but for the most part the selections were new and ranged from classical (a piano duet of The Nutcracker) to classic Christmas (an organ and handbell version of O Come, All Ye Faithful) to the whimsical (a singing duet of The Twelve Days After Christmas).

Probably my favorite bits were the piano duets of Phoenix and Randall. They were hams as they simultaneously elicited beautiful music from the same piano—he at the keys on the low end and she at the keys on the high end.

I can’t wait to see them play together again—or to hear any of the other performers. I’m looking forward to enjoying the general silliness that ensues during the concert next year—silliness between the performers and between the performers and the audience.