Monday, April 23, 2012

Dave Bennett plays the clarinet yes....but piano and drums too

Dave Bennett

review by Janet I. Martineau
OK, just about everyone living in Saginaw County knows that a downstate guy named Dave Bennett plays a mean clarinet. He actually channels Benny Goodman.
He’s nearly 28 now .... cut his teeth at age 14 with Saginaw’s own New Reformation Band; a regular these days at Spencer’s.
But on Sunday, at the Temple Theatre for the Saginaw Valley Concert Association series, he proved himself a heck of a pianist, drummer and singer as well. ( And a good master of ceremonies too, with just the right amount of banter and information between songs.)
It was an all Goodman show -- a “Dave Bennett: Benny Goodman Tribute” by title. But the music was all over the map -- boogie woogie, jazz, George Gershwin, the Beatles, Goodman standards and some less familiar. And number of players ranged from a full sextet to a more intimate trio.
Bennett is gracious towards his five-member band -- allowing most of them lengthy riffs within a number. Especially drummer Peter Siers, pianist Tad Weed (who toured with Paul Anka for 11 years) and vibraphonist Jim Cooper.
Which brings us to Bennett at the piano and drums.
“Benny’s Bounce” was played with four hands and one foot -- Bennett and Weed seated at the too-short piano bench pounding the keys boogie woogie style, changing places twice without missing a note, and with Bennett adding his right foot to the four hands at one point. It brought cheers.
Then came “Sing, Sing, Sing” at the end. Bennett was sorta walking up to or near each band member as he played a solo segment. Except when he walked up to Siers, Bennett picked up his own set of drumsticks, stayed standing and with Siers played an absolutely delicious drum duet/duel on one drum set. It was INCREDIBLE musicianship.  Breathtaking.
As for the singing, it came with the ballad “St. James Infirmary Blues,” one of the trio entries with just Bennett, the pianist and the upright bass.
“Running Wild” found Bennett playing his clarinet faster and faster. Who can ever get tired of hearing the smooth “Moonglow” or “Stardust.” “I Got Rhythm” -- it was the somewhere amid all the sidetracks. 
And the Beatles, you ask. Bennett said Goodman was a big Beatles fan back in the 1960s. And “Yesterday” sounds just lovely on clarinet.
Bennett and crew leave the soul well fed.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

SBSO's 'A Night at the Movies' brasstacular

review by Janet I. Martineau
John Williams (center) amid some famous beings
It was a brasstacular Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra  concert on Saturday night at the Temple Theatre. One that found maestro Brett Mitchell in a playful mood -- sporting horn-rimmed glasses after intermission and then popping the buttons on his dress shirt to reveal a Superman T-shirt underneath.
“I can’t believe I just did that,” he said, noting his parents were in the balcony. “I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”
But not to worry. It was a purely pops “A Night at the Movies” concert featuring the music of Juilliard-trained composer John Williams in honor of his 80th birthday. And is was clear quickly on that Mitchell and the audience are major Williams and movie fans.
We use the word brasstacular because much of the composer’s music is brass heavy, and intensive, and wow did that beefed up section of the orchestra shine. For the most part the music was big and bold and cinematic. But there were softer more symphonic moments to savor as well.
Either way, close your eyes and within just a few notes...Darth Vader and Yoda were there. A shark and dinosaurs. Superman and J.F.K. A bicycle-riding Extra-Terrestrial and cowboys like John Wayne. The 1984 Summer Olympics and NBC Nightly News. And heroes named Indiana Jones and Oskar Schindler.
And always, quips from Mitchell. “I wish I could win an Oscar for writing just two notes,” he said after the Theme from “Jaws.” There there was his apology for giving away maybe too many of the plot developments in the “Star Wars”  Suite for Orchestra “but it’s been 32 years (since they were released) so if you have not seen them, then that’s your problem.”
Kidding aside, however, there is nothing like hearing this music played LIVE by a top-notch symphonic orchestra. Richness and color and nuances were everywhere from the percussion section to the violins.
The subtle and steady trumpet work of Mark Flegg and drums served Theme from “J.F.K” so very well. Concertmaster Sonia Lee got a standing ovation for her solo work on Theme From Schindler’s List” -- and we wondered if it was for her playing prowess or for the sheer emotional impact still of that movie, or perhaps both. Princess Leia’s Theme from “Star Wars” featured a trio of excellent solo work from a French horn, flute and violin.
It’s been awhile since a pops concert at SBSO. This one was a real keeper -- played in a facility that showed many of those movies back in their day and written by one of the movie world’s most prolific and gifted composers (five Oscars, 42 nominations, more than once competing against himself, from 1967 to 2011).
But gosh, we really wanted to hear those familiar notes from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Mr. Mitchell. And maybe a hint of “Harry Potter.” Oh well.

Rest in peace Titanic: Reflections written 100 years later at the precise time

commentary by Janet I. Martineau
It is 11:45pm on April 14, 2012.
At this time, on this April day, 100 years ago, the 882-foot-long Titanic had just struck an iceberg 800 miles from the nearest land and, before the night was though, this unsinkable beauty, on its maiden voyage from Europe to America, would break in two and sink to the bottom of the ocean. 
Some 2,220 passengers and crew were onboard. 705 survived. 1,500 perished. Only 328 bodies were recovered. Do the math. That means nearly 1,200 went down with the ship.
So on this night, at this time, I have decided to write a story about Titanic in honor of the ship and its passengers and post it on the Internet for posterity;  writing it at the very time 100 years ago the ship began its desperate struggle. I suspect by the time I finish writing it, the ship will have sunk. That is how quickly it perished. Less than three hours. Llike New York City’s World Trade Center twin towers did on 9/11.
Titanic is the stuff of legend now, countless movies and books and touring exhibits and television specials. And it has thoroughly fascinated me for as long as I can remember.
A model of the Titanic,  owned by Floyd Andrick
In fact, during an April 12 “Tales of the Titanic” presentation at the Midland Center for the Arts, each person attending received a R.M.S Titanic Boarding Pass with a passenger’s name handwritten on it.
Mrs. Quigg Baxter mine read, and for the rest of the evening my overly dramatic roll-playing mind wondered who she was. And did she survive.
At the end of the presentation, in the lobby were lists saying who survived and who did not.
Mrs. Quigg Baxter, that list informed, was a first class passenger who died. As did a Mr. Quigg Baxter.
I was devastated. I drove home in a funk. This is how my life has gone. I sometimes get a little too connected to let’s pretend stuff and begin to believe it is real.
But more later about Mrs. Quigg Baxter. 
The 100th anniversary of Titanic  began, for me, by attending the 3D re-release of James Cameron’s 1997 movie “Titanic” on April 5. I had seen the original release five times back there in 1997; totally swept up in its mixture of real footage of the Titanic in its resting place with an overly romantic fictional story about a first class girl and a third class boy who met and fell in love on that passage.
Never one much for 3D, this one captured my attention. What would it feel like as it began sinking. I was nuts with anticipation.
Turns out the sinking part of the 3D was not impressive. But the 3D treatment in visiting the real wreckage was breathtaking as were the scenes aboard the ship as it sailed. Its staircase, its luxury suites, it massive engines and boiler room, its outside decks looked so real I began to think I was really onboard and living it.
And at the other end of things, the 3D was so real it choked the senses. That was when the ship had sunk and one lifeboat returned to try and find survivors. All it found were dead bodies bobbing in the water; frozen to death. That image in 3D, of hundreds of bodies bobbing, was incredibly too real.
On April 8 and 9, National Geographic Channel aired two anniversary specials. In one, Cameron and other experts used modern-day technology and knowledge to track how Titanic died. Turns out Cameron very accurate in his movie. In the second special, Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic wreckage in 1985, expressed his concern that too many explorers are visiting the ship and destroying it.
It is, after all, the graveyard of some 1,200 people -- although their physical bodies are no longer there.
Which brings us to the April 12 “Tales of Titanic” event at the Midland Center for the Arts.
It was presented by Floyd Andrick, a 64-year-old Midland resident who likewise is a Titanic fanatic. He has an impressive collection of Titanic memorabilia and, over the years, interviewed 14  survivors.  Survivors who, many of them, lived into their 90s and 100s -- as if having cheated death they somehow took full advantage of life.
Andrick was a font of knowledge in his presentation.
Newspaper headlines, from Andrick collection
Among his nuggets:
-- It took 10,000 men 3 years to build and outfit Titanic.
-- Titanic provided luxuries  most of its passengers did not have on land. Things like flush toilets, telephones, restaurant meals.
-- Its four smokestacks were so large “you could drive a train engine through one” and its three propellors were made of bronze.
-- When the iceberg was sighted, the order from the bridge to stop all three propellors and put two in reverse doomed it to scrape the side of the iceberg and leave the 280-foot fatal gash on its right side. 

An order to keep the left propeller going would have spared the hit.
And doing nothing at all, but hitting the iceberg head on with the pointed  bow of the ship, said Andrick, might have cost 30 or so lives of those in that area. But it would not have sunk the ship.
-- They later found which iceberg Titanic hit....the ship left behind red paint.
-- Most lifeboats had room for 65 people. One after another was lowered with far fewer on it.  28 in one, 12 in another.
-- There were 2,220 people on board but only room for 1,170 in its lifeboats. A ship only eight miles away, and thus capable of rescuing many before the ship sank, had turned off its radio communication for the night. “Some good came of this tragedy,” said Andrick. “The Coast Guard was formed as was the International Ice Patrol, ships were from then on required to have enough lifeboat capacity for all the people on board, and 24-hour radio communication became the law.”
Andrick also chilled bones with two anecdotes.
Titanic sunk, as we have said, in 1912.
In 1898 an author named Morgan Roberston wrote a fictional novel titled “Futility” in which the world’s large ship, 800 feet long and unsinkable  with four smokestacks and three bronze propellors, 3,000 passengers and crew, hit an iceberg on its right-hand  side on an April night during its maiden voyage and sunk with a great loss of life due to a shortage of lifeboats.  He named the ship The Titan.
And one of passengers Andrick interviewed was  Eva Hart, who was 7 at the time (and lived to 1996 and age 91) and recounted hoe her mother  Esther had a bad feeling about the voyage, pleaded with her husband that they not sail on it, commented she would never make it to America.
Floyd Andrick with a photo of the Hart family
Turns out, Andrick said, Esther and Eva survived but husband/father Benjamin did not. At 1:45 pm....nearly the time it is now as I continue writing...she and her mother were lowered into boat 14 as Benjamin said, “I’ll see you at breakfast.”
Esther and Eva went on several ships after  that “but her mother never again had any bad feelings about sailing on one.”
Makes one wonder, does it not. Was this all destiny at work?
Which brings us to Mrs. Quigg Baxter.
Midland messed that one up. There was no Mrs. Quigg Baxter on board Titanic. Mr. Quigg Baxter was, a 24-year-old unmarried hockey player from Montreal returning home in first class with his mother (Mrs. James Baxter)  and his married sister from a European trip. Great fun, since I am of French Canadian ancestry.
Turns out, young Mr. Quigg had met cabaret performer Bertha Antonine Mayne in Brussels....she with a checkered past...and they had become lovers. He had booked her on Titanic in her own first class stateroom, under a fake name. She, mom and sis survived -- thanks to some help from the famed Unsinkable Molly Brown -- but the millionaire hockey player did not. His body was never found.
After the sinking Bertha stayed in Montreal with Baxter family for several months, returned to Europe, resumed her singing career in Paris....and never married. She died in 1962.
That is the stuff of Titanic. 2,220 human interest stories. This one pretty wild. It is why our interest remains on this 100th anniversary.
And I have just looked at the clock. It is 2:23am on April 15, 2012. Titanic sunk four minutes ago 100 years ago....and those bodies are bobbing in the icy water.
Rest in peace Titanic. Rest in peace.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

'The Laramie Project' one of Midland's finest shows ever

review by Janet I. Martineau
“We are like this...we are like this.”
That line uttered by one of the characters in the Midland Center Stage production of “The Laramie Project,” quite frankly, led to a lousy night of sleep for me on Friday night after seeing the show at the Midland Center for the Arts.
It rattles me still at mid-day Saturday in writing this review.
Matthew Shepard
But first a word about the production.
“The Laramie Project” is, simply put, is one of the most strongly directed and superbly acted plays in the history of the Midland Center for the Arts -- and we have seen most of them since the facility opened 40 years ago.
Granted the play itself is a gem of writing and with intense emotions. But director Keeley Stanley-Bohn and her ensemble cast of 16 playing nearly 90 characters deliver a performance of it that makes time stand still. 
Friday night’s audience was whisper quiet, did not bolt during its long running time, and a goodly number stayed for the talk-back with the cast -- baring, often quite eloquently, their souls about the show’s theme and Midland. That, folks, is a show that connects.
For those unfamiliar with it, the play is based on a series of 400 interviews with the residents of Laramie, Wyo., after the hate crime beating death of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old HOMOSEXUAL college student. 
All of the people depicted are real, and their comments from the interviews distilled here are numbing, insightful, funny, hateful, compassionate......
The murder took place in 1998 and the play debuted in 2000. What left me sleepless was that in those 14 years since the event we have not progressed as much as we may have thought.
One of the lines in the play goes “Waco, Jasper, Lararmie” -- all the names of towns having to deal with horrific human rights incidents. And this year we now add Sanford to it -- the Florida town in the crosshairs with an innocent black teen-ager gunned down by an overly zealous neighborhood watch worker.
The “we are like this” line in the play is uttered by a scarf-wearing Islamic woman -- and we all know about how that has evolved since 9/11.
And one of the characters is the Westboro Baptist Church hate-monger minister Fred Phelps -- who back in 1998 in Laramie spewed his venom and was surrounded by winged angels blocking him yet who today is still at work disrupting the funerals of servicemen killed in action.
“We are like this. We are like this.”
And despite the play’s overwhelming presence of positive people from the Laramie population, we cannot get past the fact that not that much has changed.
But back to the Midland production
This is an ensemble performance, and every single one of its 16 members nails it. No easy task with all those multiple roles. A few lines here, next person, a few lines there.
Paul Viele is at one moment a sympathetic, kindly soft-spoken priest and the next minute the spewing Phelps, with a kinda goofy limo driver in between. Chris Krause is a funny, antsy bartender who wishes he had done more and later one of the bone-chilling killers. Larry Levy is a judge, a gay man and Matthew’s heart-broken father.
In a flash, they and the others in the cast switch personalities and voice patterns. And in each of those personalities are wonderful nuances and shadings and inflections. They pause in speaking sometimes, as normal people do rather than actors. Their voices break with emotion. Their eyes flash and get teary. Their bodies tense and then slump. Sometimes they whisper and other times they bellow (and in Viele’s case, he also mimes Phelps, no words coming out but his face contorting in horrific hate as he mouths words).
When it came to specific characters, Gabriel Klotz broke our heart as the bicyclist who found Matthew and cannot get it out of his mind. Frances Martinez rattled the soul as the cop first on the scene where Matthew was murdered. Also connecting were Sonja Roden as an angry and frightened lesbian college professor, Daniel Kettler  as the hospital administrator with his press conferences, Cheryl Levy as a doctor describing Shepard’s wounds, Bill Anderson as a detective barely keeping himself in check when interviewing one of the killers.
God what a cast filled with standout performances.
And through it all Stanley-Bohn, on a sparse set, creates human vignette after vignette that sticks in the mind.
“The Laramie Project” runs through Sunday.  For a show capturing the very essence of humanity and inhumanity in one small town nothing beats it.
Because “we are like this.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

SVSU's 'Little Shop of Horrors' features a dynamic duo as Audrey II

review by Janet I. Martineau
As utterly goofy as it is, there is also something utterly charming about the musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” a spoof of the sci-fi genre.
And the currently running production of it at Saginaw Valley State University is no exception to that legacy.
Although director Ric Roberts does not have an especially strong cast in the vocals department, it is strong in the acting end and its direction and choreography.
Randall Manetta is so over the top fun as the Elvis-like sadistic dentist we’re sorry he is killed and eaten by the big bad plant early on. Caitlin Walsh, Carly Anderson and Portia Brown have delightful attitude as the “Greek” chorus in a variety of mini-roles. Blake Mazure is spot on on the Jewish skid row flower shop owner. And Cameron Thorp has a thankless job as the silent wino who slumbers and drinks in the skid row street scenes, always in character.
Roberts keeps the show moving right along, and through several directorial decisions (we assume) maintains its 1960s aura/camp movie style beyond just the obvious. At least we are crediting him with that concept behind some of the set mechanics that are, by today’s standards, amateurish.
But the biggest praise goes to the David Ryan/Rusty Myers team as the Audrey II plant. Ryan is the exception on the vocals. He is tremendous as Audrey II -- soulful, sarcastic, desperately hungry, demanding, singing with all the conviction in the world. And Myers, probably cooking  inside that big plant puppet, makes the toothy creature seem all too real. We about lost it when he wiggled his tendrils in anticipation as Pod No. 3.
As for the two lead characters  (Zach Bauer as Seymour and Lexee Longwell as his lady love Audrey)...well, how do we say this.....Bauer by nature is just not quite short and nerdy enough nor Longwell ditzy bombshell  enough. There is only so much you can do with costumes, makeup and line delivery when physically an actor does not fill the bill (unless the actor is Meryl Streep).
This is not to criticize their performance...they did make us laugh. But we never 100 percent believed in their characters.
Jerry Dennis has created another fine set with lots of details to enjoy and Elise Shannon’s costumes add greatly to the atmosphere as well. On a negative note, the Audrey II plant is a little on the skimpy side on how it continues growing from other productions we have seen or read about.
Bravo too on the opening and ending, which pays homage to the 1960 Roger Corman film which started this whole crazy show in motion.
“Little Shop” continues through Sunday.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 All Area Arts Awards nominees include music festival leader, book read quartet and cleaning company that helps spread the word

by Janet I. Martineau
A poetry festival, an author of Christian books and the organizer behind the annual Saginaw on Stage concert are among the nominees for the 2012 All Area Arts Awards, announced today by the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission.
The winners will be revealed on Thursday, May 3, during awards ceremonies and dinner at TheDowEvent Center, 303 Johnson.
Now in their 23th year, the awards honor arts organizations, businesses, volunteers and civic leaders whose efforts on behalf of the arts have enhanced the quality of life in Saginaw County.
Bill Koepke at Saginaw on Stage
Added this year is a new Great Lakes Bay Regional Arts Award, which will be presented annually to a person or organization whose vision is to encourage a thriving arts environment in the Great Lakes Bay Region. 
Larry Preston of Tri-Star Trust Bank is its first recipient for his work as a driving force behind the Great Lakes Bay Arts & Entertainment Alliance and many other arts-related efforts promoting regionalism. He  is currently a member of the Board of Directors of ArtServe Michigan, the leading advocate for arts and cultural communities statewide, in addition to sitting on the boards of numerous local, regional and state organizations. 
This year’s nominees for the Saginaw County portion of the All Area Arts Awards are:
Mike and Sarah Jury –  Mike was on the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra search committee for conductor Brett Mitchell and sings with the Saginaw Choral Society, Sarah is a board member at the Castle Museum. And both have a long list of other board member and volunteer service. In addition, their Jury Foundation provides support for nearly every cultural endeavor in the area.
William Koepke, Jr. – For the past nine years, Koepke has served as the event organizer of the Rotary Club of Saginaw’s Saginaw on Stage Music concert. It has grown from a one-stage event at the Temple Theatre to 30 music groups performing on five stages at Apple Mountain in Freeland with dinner and a silent auction added on.  Proceeds from the event benefit local charities and charitable projects. 
Saginaw Township Community Education Organizers Colleen Carty, Linda Perry, Christine Tiderington and Catherine Kerns – Since 2002, this quartet has created a series of communitywide book reads dealing with such social issues as keeping hope alive amid tragedy, internet safety, biracial families, bullying and community gardens. Each read, in turn, has given rise to  added events, including the Saginaw Township Community Gardens, a jazz concert at the Temple and a panel of criminal justice leaders talking about internet safety. The four organizers are currently in the midst of  a bullying read involving 21 middle schools in Saginaw, Midland and Bay counties.
Linda Perry, Chris Tiderington at a bullying book read event
Mick McArt – Mick is the  publisher and author of the “Tales of Wordishure” and other Christian books for children. His professional career is in multimedia design but he spends his spare time as chair of a Christian art show and other creative endeavors. 
Charles McNair – Charles taught instrumental music before and after hours at Potter and Morley Elementary Schools, also using his time and financial resources to acquire instruments and the music needed to continue the program. Several of his former students became music teachers. Today Charles is actively involved in the Saginaw African Cultural Festival, now celebrating its 44th year.
Sue White – As an entertainment writer for The Saginaw News for more than 27 years, Sue covers the work of up and coming local artists who might have been overlooked as well as established local and national artists.
Theodore Roethke Poetry & Arts Festival at SVSU – The Roethke poetry prize has been awarded since 1968, but has grown in recent years to become a five-day festival celebrating the life and work of Saginaw native and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Theodore Roethke. The festival awards a $10,000 national poetry prize and features such events as a poetry slam, poems set to music in concert, wine tasting paired with poetry readings, a “Haunts of Roethke” tour around Saginaw and other events in Saginaw, Midland and Bay counties.
Absolute! Building Maintenance – Located in  downtown Saginaw, Absolute! Building Maintenance supports the arts community and numerous non-profit organizations throughout Saginaw and the region with generous sponsorships and underwriting. The business and its employees also provide pro bono services to many area projects and events, including PRIDE’s Friday Night Live and Holidays in the Heart of the City. And they help spread the word about the area’s cultural activities by distributing promotional materials from local arts organizations to businesses they work in. 
Catholic Federal Credit Union – Catholic Federal provided volunteers and financial support to  PRIDE, Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, Temple Theatre, Saginaw Art Museum and many other organizations. 
Morley Companies, Inc. – Since 1862, Morley Companies has supported a d sponsored activities that benefit the quality of life in Saginaw and the region, including the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum.
The May 3 awards banquet begins at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’ oeuvres and music by Brush Street followed by dinner and the announcement of the winners. After dinner, Brush Street featuring Julie Mulady will perform original selections from Mike Brush’s new book, “Words: A Collection of Lyrics.”
The event is open to the public. Tickets are  $40 per person. Call  (989) 759-1363, ext. 223 for more information or to purchase tickets. 
Patron sponsors of the event are  Absolute! Building Maintenance, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, Hausbeck Pickle Company, HealthPlus of Michigan, David and Audrey Lewis, St. Mary’s of Michigan, W.L. Case & Company and Wildfire Credit Union. 

Former bully bringing his story to Saginaw, Midland and Bay City

by Janet I. Martineau
During the past month, more than 3,000 students in 21 Saginaw, Midland and Bay County middle schools have collectively buried their noses in the award-winning book “Touching Spirit Bear.”
On Tuesday through Thursday, April 17-19, they will hear its author, Ben Mikaelsen, speak about his life as both bully and bullied and how it gave rise to his novel  addressing this national issue which makes headlines just about every day.
And on each of those three dates as well, parents, grandparents and students not reached by the Great Lakes Bay Great Read project are invited to hear Mikaelsen during evening programs in the three counties.
“The evening programs also include performances by student groups, a drawing for an iPad 2,  and free copies of Mikaelsen ‘s sequel, ‘Ghost of Spirit Bear,’” says Steve Elliott, the director of Saginaw Township Community Education, one of four sponsors of the tri-county anti-bullying outreach.
The evening programs are:
* April 17, at Bullock Creek High School Auditorium, 1420 S. Badour in Midland. Opening the evening is an excerpt from the high school’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” musical.

* April 18, at Bay City Handy Middle School Auditorium, 601 Blend St. Opening the program are The Red Road Singers, a Native American drumming, singing, dancing group that is a part of the district’s Indian Education Program.

* April 19, at White Pine Middle School Auditorium, 505 N. Center in Saginaw Township. Opening the evening is the school’s girls rap group SEMK.

Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the free programs begins at 7 p.m. Copies of Mikaelsen’s book will be for sale, and he will autograph them after each program.
In addition to Saginaw Township Community Education, the other partners in the project are Saginaw Valley State University, Creative 360 in Midland and the Bay City Public Schools. 

Funded by $45,000 raised through foundation grants and other donations, the  participating schools received free copies of the books and transportation costs to hear Mikaelsen speak during the daytime student assemblies.
The teachers also attended a free in-service workshop at SVSU, with sessions on how to use the book in their classrooms and strategies for dealing with bullies.
And during the month of May, several of the schools will take a second expenses-paid field trip to Midland’s John Pratt Mosaic House -- one man’s unusual response to a lifetime of being bullied -- and then receive supplies to make their own mosaics.
Sarah MacLachlan, a teacher at  Bullock Creek Middle School in Midland, says the  entire 8th grade there, some 140 students, is reading the “Touching Spirit Bear” book and that the school’s student council and Lancer Leaders will make the trip to the Pratt house.
“The Lancer Leaders are a group of students specially selected to help improve the social and emotional climate of our school by learning more about bullying, teamwork, self-esteem,” says MacLachlan.
 “I'm hoping they and the  student council will return from the Pratt House with a greater understanding of the importance of being open-minded and creative in their own lives and in how they treat others. This is a small group of students, but their words and actions can influence everyone around them.”
Ben Mikaelsen
As for her students reading the book, she reports  several of them read into it ahead of her planned schedule,  have passed her in the hall and exclaimed how much they love the book, and that she ordered copies of the sequel because her students wanted to read more.
“I joined this  project because I had read the book and considered teaching it because it has a strong message,” says MacLachlan. “Bullying is a topic that can't be ignored, and the bully’s transformation throughout the book provides lots of opportunities for my students to think about how they treat themselves and each other. Plus, I've never had the chance to take my students to hear an author speak.
“We will definitely keep using this book at our school for many years to come.”
Over at Thompson Middle School in the city of Saginaw, literacy lead teacher Debbie Crevia says every student and staff member, including the support staff, is reading the book. “That’s 630 students and 75 staff members, and a CD of the book also is being played through our PA system. There is a great deal of excitement over it.”
Like MacLachlan’s students, the Thompson Middle students are requesting the sequel as well, says Crevia.
“The discussions taking place between students/staff, students/students and staff/staff is impressive,” she says, “Many are learning to be open-minded communicators and their reflections demonstrate their insight into the book.”
Crevia says Thompson Middle was planning to use “Touching Spirit Bear” next year for a schoolwide read but amended its plans when the Great Lakes Bay Great Read offer was received with its free books and chance to hear the author. Three Thompson classrooms are also visiting the Pratt house.
“We are also implementing a program called Hero in the Hallway, which is an anti-bullying/positive behavior intervention program, in conjunction with the book.  This program teaches students to stand up for others and gives students another means of reporting things that are concerning them.  It provides information on what is and is not bullying and gives teachers the opportunity to reward students who stand up for others.” 
What Crevia says she likes about the project is that it “exposes students to the message presented in the book and helps them deal with their own issues in better ways.  And it  fosters an interest in reading and inquiry, which so many of our students have lost, through a high interest, relevant story. We are allowing students the time to read and discuss without a lot of ‘work’ associated with it. We have tried to foster a ‘book club’ atmosphere by promoting discussion after the day’s reading.”   
As for the Mikaelsen books, in “Touching Spirit Bear”  Cole and Peter, bully and victim, heal and reconcile on a remote island in Alaska.  Through the use of a system called Circle of Justice, based on Native American tradition, both boys learn to deal with anger, hatred and resentment.
In “Ghost of Spirit Bear,” they are faced with applying what they learned on the island at  their urban high school,  where bullying and violence is rampant.  Can they use the tools they learned on the island to make a difference at their school as the  sequel takes them  full circle, from the city to the island and then back again to their real life. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Banff Mountain Film Festival features horses, cats, Colorado River and tree climbers

by Janet I. Martineau
Even after nine years of helping host the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour’s stop in Midand, Chippewa Nature  Center’s Dennis Pilaske says he never fails to end up amazed and thoroughly entertained. 
"Chasing Water"
“This year I’m especially excited about seeing ‘Chasing Water,’ a film about Pete McBride, who grew up on a ranch in Western Colorado, on the Colorado River,” says Pilaske, the director of interpretation at Chippewa. 

“He followed the water from his family’s ranch to find its terminus.  I love stories that try to connect your spot on the map to a greater whole. 

“As with other years we still have adrenaline-filled films with kayaking, rock climbing and ice climbing. 

"There are also some exciting stories that focus on enjoying the outdoors if you’re a youngster (‘Reel Rock: Origins – Obe & Ashima’) or a more seasoned adventurer (‘Ski Bums Never Die’). 

“And the longest film of the night is ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan: The Last Frontier.’  It follows Australian Tim Cope, a team of horses and his dog on a trek from Mongolia to Hungary, retracing the footsteps of warrior/nomad Genghis Khan. The images are amazing and the scope of the adventure so massive it’s sure to excite viewers.”

Nine films are on the roster this year, showing at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at Bullock Creek High School, 1420 Badour Road. Tickets are $12 at the door..
"On the Trail of Genghis Khan"
Showing are; 
-- “On Assignment: Jimmy Chin” (6 minutes). Jimmy Chin, a passionate athlete who has melded climbing and photography, believes that “the most honest photos happen when both the subject and the photographer are just in the moment, and the rest of the world has just fallen away.”
-- “Ski Bums Never Die”  (4 minutes).  A look an an unusual and inspiring band of senior skiers in the Kootenay region of British Columbia.
-- “Blue Obsession”  (8 minutes). The beautiful and ever-changing icefalls of Alaskan glaciers provide a stunning setting for some unusual ice climbing adventures.
-- “Seasons: Winter” (4 minutes). Paddler Brian Ward discovers an unexpected and new-found love for water, in its frozen and expanded form/
-- “On the Trail of Genghis Khan: The Last Frontier” (46 minutes). Cope’s  trip took three years and included the crossing of the Carpathian Mountains, visiting parts of the world rarely seen, places on the cusp of modern life yet proud of nomadic traditions. 
-- Reel Rock: Origins – Obe & Ashima “ (23 minutes). Nine-year-old Ashima Shiraishi from New York City takes the bouldering world by storm. Guided by her coach, former bouldering star Obe Carrion, this tiny master is crushing competitions and raising the bar for her peers. 
A trip to the bouldering mecca of Hueco Tanks provides a glimpse of the past for Obe and the start of amazing new adventures for Ashima.
-- “ Treeverse”  (16 minutes). Two intrepid tree climbers embark on a five-day  pioneering one-kilometer transect through the forest canopy.
-- “Chasing Water” (18 minutes). In 2008, after a life spent visiting other countries to tell stories as a National Geographic photojournalist, McBride decided to follow the water from his family’s ranch to see where it ends up. 

-- “C.A.R.C.A.” (8 minutes). The story of one man's quest to revolutionize the world of animal avalanche rescue. The letters stand for Canadian Avalanche Rescue Cat Association and the documentary purports to show the training and use of domestic cats in avalanche rescue procedures. Might be a spoof....or maybe the real thing.

National 'Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives' conversation headed to Zauel Library

by Janet I. Martineau
Starting this weekend, Saginaw Township’s Zauel Library, 3100 N. Center, is going Greek.
It is one of 100 public libraries, arts centers, theaters and museums across the United States participating in a National Endowment for the Humanities program titled Ancient  Greeks/Modern Lives: A National Conversation. 

Through readings, lectures, workshops and performances, the series of free programs seeks to inspire people to read, see and think about classical literature and realize how it continues to influence modern-day American cultural life.
More than 40 scholars are participating in the program as well as members of the Aquila Theater, which tours classical plays across the U.S. 

In Saginaw, Wayne State University professor Jaclyn Dudek will become a familiar face as she leads four of the planned Saturday afternoon “War Is War” lecture programs at Zauel.
They are:
* 2pm April 14, “Theater of War: Culture, Myth and Drama of Ancient Greece,” discussing Homer’s “Iliad,” Jonathan Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam” and poems by Wilfred Owen.
* 2pm April 28, “Shame and Honor: The Shattering of Normal,” discussing  Sophocles’ “Ajax” and Shay’s “Achilles in Vietnam.”
* 2pm May 12, “Winning the War But Losing the Mission,” discussing the 1983 movie “Agamemnon,” directed by Peter Hall. 

 2pm May 19, “Homecoming: The Return of the Warrior,” discussing Homer’s “Odyssey,” the documentary “Lioness”  about women in combat and Shay’s “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming.”
Each session runs 90 minutes.
And on Tuesday, April 24, members of the Aquila Theater will visit Zauel for a pair of programs. At 5:30pm they will offer an hour-long mask acting workshop and at 7pm staged readings of scenes from Greek drama.
Jaclyn Dudek
Following the 90-minute staged reading, Dudek will  lead a town-hall style discussion, encouraging audience members to share their impressions and experiences and discuss how to watch and appreciate Greek theater.
At Wayne State, Dudek teaches Etymology of English Words From Greek and Latin, Introduction to the Humanities and Introduction to Mythology. Other work includes literary translation of Greek and Latin texts, ancient theatrical staging and practice, and illustrating collections of ethnic and historical costumes.
“Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives” is the brainchild of Peter Meineck, who teaches classics at New York University and is the founder/artistic director of the Aquila Theater.
A former British Royal Marine in Britain, he told the Wall Street Journal he fell in love with Greek theater when he went to college and a professor linked his military service with Greek war heroes.
Since then, he said, he has been dedicated to proving that Greek literature “isn’t rarified and dusty; it still speaks to us today.”
Founded in 1991, his Aquila Theater performs classical theater off Broadway and through tours and educational programs to more than 70 underserved U.S. towns and cities each year.
Saginaw is only one of two Michigan cities participating in the three-year “Ancient Greeks/Modern Lives” odyssey across the United States; the other being Grand Rapids.
The lectures and mask acting workshop at Zauel has limited participation. Call 799-2771 to reserve a spot.
For more information, reading materials, podcasts and videos, log on to

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Horizons Town Talk speaker gives tips on 'living in a house in a garden'

by Janet I. Martineau
Everyone’s house just got bigger, and busier,  at the Horizons Town Talk program Tuesday at Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw Township.
Garden designer Gordon Hayward came bearing a simple message: “I want to help you live in a house in a garden.”  
Garden vistas should beckon from inside the house and outside it, he stressed over and over -- and on all four sides of the house and its angles and outback  too. The two spaces should become one. Home owners and their visitors need to “get into gardens and not just walk past them.”
And while he showed slides of elegant and admittedly expensive transformations he has overseen in his career, Hayward also gave hope to the less wealthy. “My lecture is not designed to depress you but to give you a new way to think about your place. There are always alternatives to money -- and maintenance.”
Garden designer Gordon Hayward signs one of his books.
Sure, most of us cannot afford the large mid-lawn landscape pool seen in one picture. “But what about using that same rectangle space, fill it with landscape gravel/stones, edge it and then  place potted plants all over it.”
Hailing from New England, Hayward says he is practical about things and sometimes the smallest explorations of garden principals can result in stunning changes in the relationships between gardens and homes.
Garden along BOTH paths leading up to the front door,  not just one as is so typical, he said, and broaden out the area by the front door 6 to 10 feet.
In plotting that front-of-house garden, extend the garden out as wide as the house is high “so you see the garden, not the lawn,” from both inside and outside. “And fragrance is a wonderful thing around the front doors, especially lavender. It engages the senses.”
Entrance gardens also should have “lots of prepositions,” said the former high school English teacher, “and every one is an experience as you and visitors leave cars and traffic behind and enter a more private, softer, intimate landscape. There is  big movement these days to make our houses feel more private.”
Hayward stressed he is a big fan of fences, benches, evergreens, boxwood borders, trees, shrubs, grasses and an arbor or  trellis to create those  garden preposition areas. 
He also noted that “gardens are for people, not plants,” so make sure there are places for people to settle or to enjoy an emotional moment. Keep in mind, too, “that the southwest corner of a house warms up two weeks before anyplace else, so try to create a sitting area there.”
And don’t forget to garden with winter in mind. “Crab apple trees hold fruit, and thus interest, all winter. Explore things that stay vertical all winter.”
He also urged people to let their own personalities show.  “Follow your own nose and not the ladies of the garden club. Yes, I know it takes nerve to break the mold of the neighborhood, but do it.
“Express who you are to other people, particularly in your entrance garden. Use garden ornaments that hint of the life inside  (like a cast iron dog). Even bring your area’s history into the landscape, if possible.”
And sometimes, too, ignore trends. “We also have gone curving mad in our garden design. Straight lines are OK. Near the house you can make the lines parallel, and as you move away from the house then start your curves. Or maybe create four quadrants rather than straight beds.”
And then with a chuckle, Hayward said, “And here is a cutting edge design idea. Get the stuff cleared out of the garage and put your car in there to get ride of this big chrome thing that just destroys your home/garden entrance.”
Hayward then moved to the sides and of the house and its back.
“Look down the  side of your house from way back at the back end and take advantage of that space by bringing it alive -- in particular breaking the view of traffic from the front part. Create little rooms. Reduce the lawn to a path.”
At the back, “create a path leading up to the back door or terrance. Surround decks and terraces with plants. Plant trees to keep it cool in the summer.”
He urged one and all to “stand with your back to the back door, see what stops your eye and then transform it into a garden vista with the use of a trellis, a tree, a bench, an arbor. Create anchor views to hold the atmosphere. It is also amazing how little structures create much interest -- like a gazebo.”
And as a final piece of advice, the tall, lanky Hayward told homeowners to “pick which is the most important window in your house and then extend it and its room outside, so they become one exclusive view” with nothing else invading that space. “Create an inside outside.”
Hayward has written nine bools and more than 50 articles for Horticulture magazine and Fine Gardening magazine.