Monday, December 31, 2012

Saginaw-set "American Poet" novel among 20 Michigan Notable Books

Vande Zande reading from his novel at the Roethke House

story and photos by Janet I. Martineau

A Midland author and the Saginaw-based Friends of Theodore Roethke received a late -- but wonderfully notable -- Christmas present over the weekend.

“American Poet -- A Novel “ penned by Jeff Vande Zande, a professor of English at Delta College, was announced Sunday as one of the 20 Michigan Notable Books 2013 chosen by the Library of Michigan -- out of 200 nominees.

Its fictional storyline revolves around a young poet’s effort to save Pulitzer-winning poet Roethke’s real-life boyhood home at 1805 Gratiot, which is owned and operated by the Friends group.

“This is great news for Jeff and for the Roethke House,” says Annie Ransford, the president of the Friends of Roethke board. “His novel helps save the house in fiction and now in reality too.

“I think we are most fortunate to have such a fine writer represent Saginaw's writing house. I enjoy the mix of prose and poetry Vande Zande's writing showcases, and that his first-class novel honors a first class poet.”

Vande Zande concurs, and says he will use this honor to “talk about the Roethke house. Not only does it play a role in this fictional novel but it has implications on the real world too.

“I wrote it with the goal of bringing attention to the house, and now that attention will.increase.”

With a chuckle he recalls driving past the house a number of times and getting an odd mental image of a kid up on its roof with a bullhorn in his hands and wondering why that kid was up there.

“Now I realize the kid was trying to save the house” ... and that eventually flowed into Vande Zande’s  155-page novel, published in February by Bottom Dog Press. He even wrote some of it at the house during an overnight stay.

Cover of the novel
And since its release “party” in March -- at the Roehke House -- Vande Zande has donated $3 of its $18 price to the Friends group during several of its events. That sum he says, stands at $500 so far.

As for the Michigan Notable Books organization, at the end of each year it releases its list of 20 notable books published in that year; books that spotlight stories from the Great Lakes State or which were written by Michigan-connected authors. A committee of librarians, reviewers, booksellers and authors select the books. 

Then in the following year (which is why Zande Vande is on the list of 2013 winners) the authors collectively visit 50 libraries around the state to talk about their books and careers.

Other winners in the 2013 list include include pitcher Jim Abbott's biography and a biography about the state’s first governor, a study of the Kirtland’s Warbler bird,  short stories set in Northern Michigan, poetry about the nuances of daily relationships, the wild “Summer of ’68,” an illustrated volume on amphibians and reptiles, and photo books featuring Detroit's historic places of worship and Michigan's historic railroad stations.

In its release, the Notable Books committee said of Vande Zande’s “American Poet”: Saginaw is the setting for this short novel, a coming-of-age story of a young poet returning home after graduating from college. Vande Zande's story circles from documenting the survival of a failed relationship, finding beauty and value in a broken city, locating common ground with an aging father and orchestrating a plan to save the Theodore Roethke House.

A quote on the back cover of the book, by Gina Myers, says in part: “Vande Zande has written a love poem for the city of Saginaw, and, by extension, a love poem for Flint, Gary, Cleveland, or any forgotten city in the Rust Belt.”

Vande Zande, a native of Marquette who has taught creative writing and screenplay writing at Delta since 1999, has published three novels, two collections of short stories and one book of poetry so far.

“All of my novels are set in Michigan. It is the landscape I am most familiar with, and I want to reflect landscape in what I write. Michigan surely is a rich place for writers -- the bridge, wilderness, Upper Peninsula, cities, cars.

“I am really excited by this honor, humbled and blown away by it.”

He and the Friends group have known the book was in contention for the notable list since September -- when a member of the selection panel came to the Roethke house during a premiere showing of a film short taken from a chapter in the book, which Vande Zande and fellow Delta professor wrote and filmed.

“I have held my breath since and tried not to think about it.”

Earlier “American Poet” won Saginaw Valley State University's  Stuart and Vernice Gross Award given to authors.

As for Roethke, he was born in Saginaw in 1908 and died of a heart attack, at  age 55, in 1963. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Saginaw Township.

He wrote nine books of poetry and received the Pulitizer in 1953, for “The Waking.” The son of a greenhouse owner, many of his poems reflect the natural world. And since the home was occupied by his sister all of her life, many of his poems were written in 1905 Gratiot during his visits there.

Today Roethke’s works appear in nearly all of the world’s textbooks and anthologies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saginaw Choral Society concert soothed the pain of audience members

review and photoby Janet I. Martineau

It was inevitable, could even feel the tension...

....Mentioning the Connecticut school massacre at the Saginaw Choral Society’s “A World of Carols 2” concert Saturday afternoon at the Temple Theatre.

And it so it was artistic director/conductor Glen Thomas Rideout almost immediately offered a few soft spoken, halting, comforting words that addressed not only Connecticut but also the deaths of young people closer to home; the complexities of our world today. They were not overt; rather somewhat veiled. But there was no doubt.

He would revisit the issue again when, after the performance of “We are....(One),” he asked for 28 seconds of silence -- one for each of the victims, as well as the killer in what was a gutsy but healing move.

And then, toward the end of the program, came the performance of an arrangement juxtaposing the 1600s hymn “Lo, How a Rose,” sung softly primarily by the women of the choir, with the 1979 pop tune “The Rose” sung solo by soprano Hayley Honsinger.

It was, of course, programmed and rehearsed long before the events of Dec. 14. But if ever a composition was more sorely needed on this day.....its words, its symbolism, its exquisite presentation, its brilliance of linking the two pieces.

At its conclusion the audience erupted in cheers and more than a few noses were heard blowing.

And at the end of the evening, Rideout again alluded to the painful place this nation finds itself in and spoke again in calming, halting words.

Talk about rising to the occasion, this young conductor, and starting the healing process, though music, on the huge holes in our hearts.

The evening was filled with musical magic -- Rideout’s powerful baritone involved in several of the works, his arrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy” giving pianist Carl Angelo some jazzy riffs as the accompanist, harpist Deborah Gabrion playing both softly and with intensity as one of but four instrumental accompanists used sparingly, and the trio of Cindy Humphreys, Betty Mayer and Mike Weiss (in particular Humphreys) soaring above the choir on “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.

Shakespeare was there -- providing the words for John Rutter’s “Blow, blow thou winter wind.” And performing Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo” and  two selections from Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” nearly nonstop created an intriguing  seamless flow of two very different works.

Humor played a role as well. The male vocal sextet Ah Tempo! quickly dispatched all  those “Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts in “The Twelve Days After Christmas,” in “Ding-a Ding-a Ding” the choir made like tricky bells accompanied by mugging from Rideout, and the whole placed moved and grooved with the South African folk song “Babethandaza.”

“Twelve Days After,” by the way, was performed right after the tear-inspiring “Rose” piece in a deliberate yanking of emotional chains!

The second half found Rideout also sporting red pants, which fit right in with the color scheme of the stage setting.

Beautiful and uplifting concert on one of the nation’s most painful days.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra's Christmas concert takes some fun chances

review by janet i. martrineau

A Gregorian chant ...Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” ....Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”....

What, you might ask, do they have to do with Christmas.

Well, nothing...but everything.

Back in 1990, American composer Craig Courtney put a new spin on that tired old “Twelve Days of Christmas” with a ditty called “A Musicological Journey Through Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Words are the same, but the music is from 12 different eras, settings. composers; from the 6th Century to the 19th. Ballet. Opera. A march and a madrigal. Viennese waltz. And played to perfection Tuesday night during the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s “A Classical Christmas Returns” concert at the Temple Theater.

A wild piece to conduct and play, methinks, given its 12 musical styles in 11 minutes. Me also thinks the SBSO has performed this before under a different conductor. But no never mind. It is a pure delight.

In the fact entire sold-out concert conducted by Brett Mitchell was pure delight -- and mostly from the lesser heard fare on the program.’

Pieces  like Frederick Delius’ “Sleigh Ride,” the poetic and soothing “This Christmastide” by Donald Fraser,” “The Snowman Overture” written by movie composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold when he was only 11, and even in its own way the strange strings-only “December” by Michael Torke, seeking to capture a Midwestern storm of rain turned to snow.

Bravo maestro Mitchell for finding new musical presents to play in Saginaw....and the gutsy stretching of the boundaries with Bizet’s rousing “L’Ariesienne Suite No. 2: Farandole.” Fantastically played, and linked to the fact the suite opens with a theme based on the Christmas carol “March of the Kings.”

The vocal power of the evening came from The Center Stage Chorale and Bella Voce Singers from the Midland Center for the Arts as well as bass-baritone Eric Hoy Tucker from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. The choral groups were involved in the entire second half of the program and did not wear out their welcome. Tucker’s rich voice joined them and the orchestra in “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a piece celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. (Outstanding opening cello work by Sabrina Lackey on “Fantasia,” by the way.)

Bravo also to whomever stepped outside the box on the stage decorations. No fewer than three people stopped by me at intermission to complain about it, grinches they be. I found it refreshing and innovative.

Five deciduous trees, from little to large, on loan from Kluck’s, bereft of their leaves. No lights strung upon them, no colorful balls, no garland. Just five bare trees --- but with just their limb shapes to gaze upon, a delight to see how different kinds of trees have different shapes. The longer I gazed upon them -- and their casting shadows from the colorful projections on the stage backdrop -- the more relaxed and at peace I became, enhanced also by the music.

Added to that, the conductor’s stand was lined with six faux candle containers, adding to the simplicity of the setting.....and maybe, just maybe, making a comment that may have been what the baby Jesus saw but that we have lost sight of.

OK, getting too sentimental here.

Bottom line, it was a delightful concert.

Ah Tempo! singers, Saginaw Elite Big Band perform to benefit The Food Pantry

story and photoby janet i. martineau

A vocal sextet and a 13-piece big band are joining forces to help stock a church’s food pantry.

Ah Tempo! and the Saginaw Elite Big Band celebrate the Christmas season in a 7:30pm “Holiday Magic” concert Friday (Dec. 7) at First Presbyterian Church, 121 S. Harrison.
The members of Ah Tempo1

All those attending are  asked to bring canned goods for The Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church. 

Admission for adults is $10, a portion of which will go to The Food Pantry. Students are admitted free with a canned good.

The Food Pantry at First Presbyterian Church is stocked by several area churches.  Community members who demonstrate a need may receive seven days of groceries through it.

Ah Tempo! will sing  "Silent Night," "Mary, Did You Know?" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  and a humorous "The Twelve Days After Christmas."

Saginaw Elite Big Band will play "Christmas Time is Here," "Feliz Navidad," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and a beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night."

The two groups will also join together for "Frosty the Snowman," "Let it Snow" and "Sleigh Ride." And Charlie Rood of WSGW will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Ah Tempo! has been performing together since 2009.  All six are members of the Saginaw Choral Society with their daytime occupations including a fastener salesman, psychology consultant, realtor, insurance litigator and photo processing machine repairman.

Saginaw Elite Big Band has been playing together for about one year, but its professional musicians are veterans of local concert,theater, variety and swing/ballroom dance bands that have performed around the Great Lakes Bay region for 25 years or more. Some members also have national credits, performing with touring Broadway shows and performing with the likes of the Drifters, Coasters, Mavellettes, Supremes, Marcels, Platters and Otis Williams' Temptations. 

Among their daytime jobs are school band directors and teachers, information technology, fireman and  church organist/pianist.

This is the first time these two groups have performed together.  

“Like so many Ah Tempo! ideas, this was collaborative,” says Betty Mayer, the director and accompanist for the group. “The guys were discussing programming a Christmas concert and tying it into a community service for the Saginaw community. 

“Since Ah Tempo! often practices at First Presbyterian it made sense to do something to help there. And the wife of Ah Tempo tenor Dave Stine is a very active volunteer with The Food Pantry and she said they would be grateful for any assistance available, so the link was made.”

As for the big band's participation, Mayer teaches at White Pine Middle School with Matt Wicke, one of the organizers of Saginaw Elite Big Band.  

“When we were both performing at Saginaw on Stage this past spring, we took time to listen to each other," says Mayer, and from that Ah Tempo! issued the invite to participate in "Holiday Magic."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reindeer Man bringing new brood to his 20th year as a Hollyday Fair vendor

David J. Miller and some of his reindeer 

story and photos

 by janet i. martineau

For 19 years now, herds of leftover reindeer have literally flown out the door during the annual Hollyday Fair at the Andersen Enrichment Center.

Most likely the critters will do so again at the 20th event, running 10am to 4pm Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 120 Ezra Rust in Saginaw. They tend to attract buyers who purchase them in groups of three to five in varying sizes.

“I estimate I have created almost 10,000 reindeer since I started making them in 1984, at first just for family and neighbors,” says artist/woodworker David J. Miller of Thomas Township. 

He  calls them “leftover” reindeer because Andersen’s Hollyday Fair is  the last stop of what was once a large circuit he and wife Linda made to Yuletide bazaars around the state.

His reindeer stand from 5 inches tall to 5 feet, and just about every height in between; are as light as a feather to a beefy 75 pounds; cost from $3 to $75 (and discounted at  Andersen).

Their bodies come from cottonwood and ash trees Miller harvests with a chain saw during September, in a woodsy/swampy 60-acre track whose owner grants him permission to “hunt”  there. 

And in his work shop he spends October and into November cutting the collected wood to size and shape with band and table saws as well as other tools like a drill press or a drill for structure support and holes for the antler pieces.

“I am to the point I can almost make them in my sleep. Frankly it takes longer to collect the wood than to make them. I can make 10 of the 12-inch  ones or one of the big ones in 90 minutes. 

“Another stickler is the antlers. It can take me two to three days to get the antlers together on each reindeer; finding two pieces that are similar looking for the two sides of the head.”

Adds wife Linda, “He talks to them when he is working on them.”

Miller, a retired art teacher in the Swan Valley school system, says he used to  make 500 to 600 reindeer during the high point of their bazaar travels -- 10-12 of them in Fenton, Detroit, Mount Peasant, Saline, Chesaning, Bay City. Last year he produced just 200 -- sold just in Fenton and at Andersen. 

Why the decrease in productivity? The 63-year-old cites customer saturation, the arrival of grandchildren competing for his time and, frankly, a concern that the  wooded lot where he gets his material is running out of fodder. “Two shows are enough after all these years.”

Two of the critters in his front yard
Miller began his reindeer career when wife Linda saw some at a bazaar and asked him create a version for their house. And from that it just grew and grew.

Why, he is asked, are they so popular. “I think because they are very rustic, organic, made entirely of wood. That all ages seem to like them. And the fact you can put them inside or outside. 

"We put a Christmas bow on them, but people could change the bows to fit the season so they become deer rather than reindeer.”

Wife Linda has another theory. She thinks it is the way he crafts their heads and tails and other features, noting that since 1984 they have seen few attempted copycats. 

“His features on them are unique,” she says. “And not as easy to do as people might think.”

Over the years customers have sent pictures of his reindeer in their new homes. “We have pictures of kids on them; cats sleeping on them,” he says.
Close-up of the tail detail

Miller also has made furniture, a fireplace and a wine cabinet for their home; a manger scene for someone else. 

This time of year, a couple of his reindeer are climbing up a ladder to the roof of their home while another two are in a clump of ornamental grasses on the front lawn. 

“The neighbors sometimes pick on them,” says Linda with a roll of her eyes.

Hollyday Fair features an art fair of vendors selling sculpted snow people, recycled and upgraded plates and dishes, fiber art, socks and mittens, knitted sweaters and scarves, handmade soaps, purses, paintings and decorative pillows as well as  a baked goods sale, fresh holly, a silent auction and a luncheon served from 11am to 1:30pm. 

Admission is free. The cost of the lunch (soup, sandwich, cookie) is $6.

 Proceeds support the activities of the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission -- student art exhibitions, youth theatre workshops, Art @ the Andersen exhibitions, All Area Arts Awards, ARTifacts newsletter and artist residences.