wet earth

Poulenc Trio in Carmel

The first time I heard the music of Francis Poulenc, whose magical trio for bassoon, oboe and piano will be perfomed in Carmel this Saturday, what I heard was more than music.  I heard another way of being.  I was in my early 20s, attending graduate school in Santa Barbara, my schedule heavy with teaching and books and studying.  It was summer, and whenever I managed to find the time I would ride my bike to the Music Academy of the West, in Montecito, for their summer series of free recitals.  One afternoon, I sat in the small, elegant auditorium, tucked into the leafy campus next to the Pacific, and listened to unfamiliar sounds that were fresh and witty and above all free.  I’d never heard anything like it before.

I grew up in a house where classical music was our religion, and the three Bs—Bach, Beethoven and Brahms—were its gods.  These composers and their music are etched deep into my very being, and I’m grateful for my childhood steeped in music.  But what I heard in the music of Poulenc was an absence of certain qualities I associate with the Germanic—the rigid mindset, the obsession with discipline, the almost overwhelming element of drama.

In contrast, the music of Poulenc feels essentially spontaneous, unplanned, characterized by a deep vein of joy.  His compositional style is harmonically inventive, with original colors achieved through bold chromaticism that never overtakes the melody.  If the heavier German music of my childhood evoked furrowed brows and stormy emotions, here was music that described how I might aspire to live.

Even in the slower, more melancholy sections of his music, there is a rueful, philosophical quality of acceptance.  To my ears, the music says that yes, things don’t always work out, and that’s how it is sometimes.  Let’s go for a walk, have a glass of wine.  Life goes on.

Later, I learned that Poulenc, who was born in 1899, was not only gay but openly so.  In his thirties, after the death of several close friends, he turned more to the Catholic faith in which he’d been raised, but this did not conflict with his essential nature.  I am as sincere in my faith as I am in my sexuality, he once remarked.  In 1950, a critic described him as “a lover of life, mischievous, bon enfant, tender and impertinent, melancholy and serenely mystical.”  Poulenc once compared his music to a scene he’d observed which delighted him: a group of monks on a field, playing soccer.

I love the idea that we can be serious, and spiritual, and have all our emotions, and that we also get to cut loose and play.  Each time I hear Poulenc’s music, it is as if I discover afresh what I heard that first time in Santa Barbara, something true about my own essential nature, that of a boy who wants to put down his books and his worries and go outside and play.

Poulenc Trio, presented by Chamber Music Monterey Bay, Saturday, December 1, at 8:00 p.m., at Sunset Center, in Carmel.  The program also features works by Beethoven, Glinka, Shostakovich, and Previn.  Call (831) 625-2212 for tickets or information.

"Becoming Visible" Exhibit at Cherry Center

Some of the women stare directly at you.  Others turn away, or look down, their faces downcast.  Two of the women are looking up, their heads craning skyward, as if to connect to a more hopeful place where life will be better.  Each woman is different, her eyes, face, expression, and stance conveying her own unique story.  What these women have in common is that they are homeless.

The three photographers of “Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County,” a powerful, must-see exhibit at the Carl Cherry Center, in Carmel, use varying techniques and approaches to communicate something real about these women’s lives.  Ken Wanderman, working in color with a digital camera, offers charged glimpses of local homelessness, from the two women in “Bad News” who sit crouched on a log, their faces bent over in worry, to the older woman in “Sun” with glistening skin and closed eyes who opens her hands and arms to the sky in a gesture of surrender and turns her face upward, basking in the light, as a blur of seagull hovers above.

In two portraits by Lina Vital, who also works digitally in color, the women stare at the viewer with creased and reddened faces, their expressions a map of such raw feeling and pain it is hard to hold their gaze.  But holding their gaze is the least we can do, to witness and honor the stoicism, fatigue and sadness in “Charlene,” the fierce sorrow and grit in “Tasha.”  For people living in such desperate circumstances, sometimes just standing up is an act of courage.

Margo Duvall’s silver gelatin black-and-white portraits carry the deeper gravity of darkroom photography, the respectful weight of time spent in these women’s presence.  In “Maria,” a woman’s head is turning up as she points with a finger.  “Look!” she seems to be saying, as surprise and a kind of cheerful curiosity flit across her face.

But in “Maria at Ft. Ord,” the same woman stands, her back to the viewer, in a desolate landscape of ice plant and low, anonymous housing.  She is barefoot, her hands on her hips, a figure of loneliness and isolation.

In several of Duvall’s portraits, the women gaze at the viewer with a determination to smile; in lives so marked by loss, these women have not lost their kindness.

“Becoming Visible: The Face of Homeless Women in Monterey County,” at the Carl Cherry Center, at 4th and Guadeloupe, in Carmel, through December 14.

The Women of Whimsy, a Monterey-based improv troupe, will perform on Saturday, November 24, at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $15 and will benefit efforts to support local homeless women.

A Benefit Concert for Camila de la Llata

When Camila de la Llata, as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone, appeared on the stage of the Forest Theatre, in the 2011 production of “Once Upon A Mattress,” she dazzled the audience with her charm, humor, her beautiful singing voice and her willingness, channeling a young Carol Burnett, to be a goof.  Through whatever mysterious combination of pluck, genes, desire, determination and fortune, some people just have “it”—so much abundant talent and craft wedded to a sense of joy that people sit up at the edge of their seats and pay attention.  “This young woman is going to go far, in whatever path she chooses,” I thought to myself then.  “She’s the real thing.”

Every performer’s life has its hurdles, but de la Llata, who is 22, is now facing a very serious illness: last summer, she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.  Because of her specific genetic profile (she is bi-racial, with a Caucasian mother and a Latino father), she requires a bone marrow transplant from a donor with similar genetic markers in order to bring the disease into remission.  Now, when she should be enjoying her education and planning her future—de la Llata is a theater education and directing major at CSU Fullerton, an exhibition Latin and ballroom dancer, and a choreographer—she is fighting for a chance to survive.

An upcoming concert at the Golden Bough Theatre, in Carmel, held on two nights, gives the local community a chance to help.  The concert will feature the outsized creative talents of Grammy-nominated cellist Rushad Eggleston and his Mystery Band of Jick, three of the young men from Overtone, the South African a capella band mentored by Dina Eastwood, the exciting Mozzo Kush, a homegrown rock band from Pacific Grove (Tuesday 11/27 only), the popular A Band of Ninjas, Who’s Clayton, a group from Southern California whose members met in a tap dance class, and PacRep’s own Buddy Holly-inspired Twist and Shout Crew.  The evening will also feature several jazz and solo artists.

This concert is a powerful example of the arts community coming together to look after its own.  Music, dance, and theater can be a source of entertainment and diversion, but at its heart, art is about life.  Camila de la Llata has already touched many people in her young career.  I remember my acting teacher talking about the importance of “showing up” for a performance—being completely available, and open, and committed, and real.  Although I don’t know her personally, my sense is that de la Llata is the kind of person who shows up for everything she does.  Now she is in great need—and it’s time for us to show up for her.

Camila’s Cure Benefit Concert, Monday November 26 and Tuesday November 27, 7:00 p.m., at the Golden Bough Playhouse, Monte Verde Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, Carmel.  Admission $25, students $15.  Box office phone (831) 646-4213.  Donations and tickets may also be purchased via www.ticketguys.com.  A silent auction begins at 6:30, with wine and dessert available.

For more information about helping Camila, visit her page at the Be the Match Registry.