Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hats off to my hero!

     Peaking in the office door as I arrived at the paper the other night, I saw our computer fixer ace, Production Manager Bob Bennett, hunched over my work station diligently slaving away trying to rectify the technological issue of the day.

     It was a bit like seeing the Grim Reaper waiting for me, because I knew this was anything but good news.

    One of the worst parts of my job is making that occasional late night call to the poor guy after he has left following a full day's work and then some, asking him with my best whiny voice to please come back and save us from the disgrace of having no paper on the stands in the morning. I'm sure he doesn't appreciate receiving that call as much as I appreciate hearing him -- even begrudgingly -- agree to come in, so here's some big, you-saved-our-butts-again kudos to our king of the keyboard, our sultan of systems, our guru of gigabyte: Mr. Bob Bennett. Take a bow, buddy!

     Now get back to fixing that computer so we can get the paper to the press people ...  

Monday, October 11, 2010

A musical Pied Piper visits VVS

     Probably the best part of writing a blog is being able to share some of the emotions felt behind the scenes during the production of stories that appear in the paper. Regular readers will know I'm no stranger to the concert scene, but I have to admit this particular musical event probably touched me more than any other -- and that includes my own performances. And I think the more than 600 people who came out that evening would agree, because I've never seen such a warm feeling of affection between an audience and a performer.

     Students at the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School heard a nightmarish tale on Oct. 9, 2010 of an inner-city Chicago school where there was no music curriculum and how a sole teacher who took the initiative to introduce her guitar playing and singing as an educational tool in class was soon driven out -- not only from the building but from the profession as well.

     But that didn't stop singer/songwriter Katie Quick from inspiring and educating students as she visited the Verona, N.Y. school that night. She released her first CD "Be the Change" on May 1, 2009, moved from Chicago to Nashville six months ago, and took her trip to VVS as part of her first-ever tour of northeastern United States. There, Katie had the young people plus faculty and community members falling quickly for her upbeat and catchy county music and fun stories in between songs.

 (Rising Nashville star Katie Quick plays songs from her independently released CD "Be the Change" plus some new tunes during her concert Oct. 9, 2010 at the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School. Some 600 new fans instantly fell in love with her that night.)

     Katie came out for a special concert that Saturday evening, sponsored by the school's Music Boosters as a token of their gratitude for the community's support. The event was also the kickoff to the Hearts For Hope Project, a collaboration between the students in the VVS entertainment industry class and the KEYS Program, a musical outreach for children with cancer that will produce a special therapeutic CD of music for those kids. 

     Before the concert, Katie met with students to share some of the tales behind her rise to fame. And don't think she wasn't just as big a star as anyone the kids hear regularly on the radio; I doubt any singer could have impressed the people that evening like Katie did. 

(Katie shares some of the stories of her music career with VVS students during a question and answer session before her concert.)

     She told them of that school where she was a 6th grade teacher -- the place where music was not allowed. 

     "You guys are extremely lucky to have your music programs," she said, reminding them to appreciate what VVS and their music teachers had to offer them because not every kid out there has the same opportunities of instrument lessons, bands and chorus groups in the schools. And I have to admit, as a VVS graduate and musician myself, I was just as impressed by her words as the kids were. We all need a little reminder now and then of how good we have it, and that we should be thankful. Where would I be without a music curriculum in school? Definitely wishing I had a teacher like Miss Quick to bring in her guitar and sing to us!

      And no, her name is not a takeoff of a synonymly-named fellow country singer -- Katie said she had the surname Quick a good 10 years before Taylor was Swift.

      She told the mostly-teenaged audience how she released her CD by herself; Katie is unsigned so she has no record label and no manager, doing all chores from writing to recording to marketing herself. This means she has nobody telling her what to do and what not to do, when she can talk to fans, and how long she can mingle with them after a concert. She certainly proved that at VVS -- Katie stayed after the show until every single member of the audience was happy with a hug, autograph, or their own copy of her CD.

      "I like being an independent artist," she said. "You have total control over every aspect of your career."

(VVS seniors Paige Brown, Adam Chandler and Aeshley Detor share a fun moment with Katie after her concert.)

(How cool is this? Katie takes the time to hear Aeshley play an original composition of her own on the piano, offering some professional encouragement for the teen's musical endeavors.)

     Katie reminisced about the first time she went to a concert -- a Celine Dion show while she was in 7th grade, she said -- and how she would actually become envious watching performers ply their craft. While her friends would be dancing and enjoying the music, Katie stood back feeling what she called "a really strange jealousy" towards them. 

     "I said, 'I can do that.' I really had a burning desire to perform," she said.

     She started dancing in front of a mirror, singing into a hairbrush, and was coerced into the role of Jan in her school's production of "Grease" -- a part that included a song of her own. On stage for that performance, Katie suddenly knew she was in the right place because "it felt like home," she explained to the teens.   

(KEYS volunteer Donna Mucks duets with Katie on her hit "Fingertips." VVS 8th-grader Molly Blehar also sang on Katie's song "Home" during the concert. Next time I want to perform "Lonely Stage" with her, because that's what it'll be when everyone runs when they hear me sing.)

     Other than some time in the high school choir and some vocal technique lessons she admits now she doesn't really remember, Katie had no formal training. She didn't take guitar or songwriting instruction, she told them; she just had a driving desire that has now taken her to Nashville in pursuit of her dreams.

     "If you want something bad enough you can make it happen," Katie said. "If you want to get up there and sing, just do it."

     Her parents were big supporters, and she said it made them happy that she was doing what made her happy.   
     "I just feel really blessed and lucky that I grew up in a family that was supportive," she said.

     Katie admitted that at this stage in her career she hasn't yet made her fortune, but she's happier than ever because she is doing what she loves -- making music and touring the country bringing her songs to new fans and friends. And there are several hundred new Verona-area fans who can't wait to have her back.

(Hey, this is my blog so I don't have to keep a professional detachment -- I am just as smitten with Katie as everybody else. And I love her CD so trust me and go out and buy a copy or five. If we still ran the Open Mike Top 10 she'd be number one with a bullet.)

    For more info on the concert, check out:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A special day with some special folks

    It was one of the days I look forward to the most during the year as Heritage Farm -- a working farm in Eaton, N.Y. that provides a variety of services to the mentally and physically challenged -- brought back their annual Fall Festival on Sept. 26. For the third time, I was tapped to serve as their Master of Ceremonies, one of my favorite duties where I get the chance to laud the accomplishments of all of my friends at the farm for all of their successes in the many activities offered there.

(That's me with my high-tech emcee headset; photo by my assistant Samantha!)

    Following an inspirational welcome by Heritage Farm Executive Director Jim Simmons and Madison County Mental Health Department Director Dr. Jim Yonai, it was time for the kickoff to the full day of festivities -- and what better way to start the show than with a 45-minute musical performance by the farm's own Music Group. Jim is the leader of the band, singing and playing guitar with myself as bassist, but the real spotlight falls on our special needs compadres. There is no such thing as a bad day any time we get together. It doesn't matter what's going on out there in the real world -- when we play our music during weekly jams at the farm or out "on tour" it's a wonderful time. They always treat me like a rock star myself, when in truth it is themselves who are the real stars.

(That's Walter Koennecke, Betsy DuFeur, Mellie Putnam, Kristen Stosal, and Kayla Jones from left in the front row, with myself, Jeremiah Werden, and Jim Simmons on the stage behind them. Another photo by Samantha!)

     The Festival took on a more somber mood after our set, as the farm's Programming Director Mark Piersall offered a heartfelt tribute to one of our friends who had passed away this year. Scott Mylles of Oneida, N.Y. was one of the very first participants at Heritage Farm and "just a good old boy, never meanin' no harm ..." as Mark quoted the old Dukes of Hazard theme song. A memorial was dedicated to Scott in the garden next to the farmhouse, with his parents Linda and Kevin Bailey standing nearby.

(Mark Piersall, wearing his Dukes of Hazard shirt especially for the occasion, recalls the good times with our late buddy Scott Mylles) 

     Heritage Farm staff members Kelsey Brady and Zachary Collins -- who lead the Music Group on days when Jim is not available -- gave a sweet acoustic set of folky tunes, followed by some savory songs courtesy of the quartet Williams Road. The Madison Cortland ARC Wind Dancers then took the stage for their interpretive dances to "Colors of the Wind" and "Supertrooper."

(Jeremiah Werden, left, plays double duty by also joining Kelsey Brady and husband-to-be Zachary Collins during their set at the Fall Festival) 

(Williams Road played some fiddle-driven acoustic folk music at the Festival, fitting perfectly with the rural countryside setting of Heritage Farm)

(Another shining example of the accomplishments possible for special needs individuals, the Madison Cortland ARC Wind Dancers performed two musical numbers for their appreciative audience)

     Magician Jim Okey then thrilled the crowd with some slight-of-hand, and even brought up a special guest victim  volunteer from the audience for a trick -- or was it really magic?

(Magician Jim Okey does his stuff with audience member Nick Ambs)

     Of course, a farm wouldn't be a farm without animals, so the young and young-at-heart were invited over to the petting zoo to meet some of the farm's residents.

(Heritage Farm Senior Site Supervisor Christine Fuess, left, introduces Samantha to a new furry friend.)

     Heritage Farm celebrated their 25th year in service to the special needs residents of the Madison County area this year, and their outreach has grown steadily since their early days. Now offering everything from day and residential habilitation to supportive employment, respite, and even religious services, the farm gives well-rounded and invaluable experience to more than 100 participants. They have a gift shop where they sell the crafts made by participants, and an art room where colorful works of artistry are created. Those pieces travel to exhibitions all over the area, and were seen at the farm during the Fall Festival.

(Festival visitors peruse the artwork created by the talented participants of Heritage Farm) 

     The public is always welcome to come out a visit the farm. They are located at 3599 State Route 46 in Eaton, N.Y., just south of Stockbridge and north of the Route 20 intersection. For more information on any Heritage Farm offering or to arrange a tour, call (315) 893-1889 or log on to their website at www.heritagefarminc.org.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Library Open House celebrates memory of Dorman, Throop

     This Saturday, the Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library in Sherrill, N.Y. will dedicate their newly renovated children’s room in memory of former board of trustees President Kathy Dorman and the brightly colored mural adorning the staircase leading down to that room in memory of former library staff member Sandra Throop, but the occasion will not be a melancholy time of regret for their passing.

     This will be the chance to rejoice in all the women offered to the people of the Sherrill area, promised current library board President Marge Tornatore.

     “We don’t want this to be a eulogy for Kathy or Sandy, but a celebration of the work they did with the children of our community,” Tornatore explained. “They were both teachers and they both spent their lives reaching out to others.”

     Library Director Bonnie Unsworth said the renovation project was budgeted at $26,000 and paid for through a grant for $15,000 from the Sherrill-based Gorman Foundation, along with bequests in the memory of Dorman and Throop -- who both passed away last year -- and money from the library's endowment fund. Dorman herself was a major player in the writing of the grant submitted to the Gorman Foundation, Unsworth noted, when the project was begun in 2007.

     "We are so excited to dedicate the room to her because this was her vision," Unsworth said.

     The “Kathy’s Kids Corner” children’s room now features kid-sized shelving and cozy areas to sit and read. There is a new carpet, and a story hour rug arriving shortly. The lighting is bright, posters decorate the wall, and there is a CD player for the youngsters to listen to while reading their favorite books.

(Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library Director Bonnie Unsworth, left, and Board of Trustees President Marge Tornatore pose in the library's recently renovated children's room on Oct. 4, 2010)

      The project is not complete, however. Books will be available through the Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton for purchase at the Open House and left there in the children’s room. Their Wish List includes a large corkboard and a new computer for the kids to use, Unsworth added.

     Unsworth said the dedication to Dorman is fitting because of her never-ending commitment to making the community a better place.

     “Kathy was a teacher, a library lover, and a book worm who really connected with the kids and young adults in the community,” she said.

     Throop was one of those people who quickly became a friend to everyone she met, Tornatore explained.

     “She was a great people person. If you didn’t know her when you arrived at the library, you certainly did by the time you left that day,” she said. “If you were looking for a suggestion for a book to read, she could quickly come up with a list of 10 or more, and they would all be dead on to your interests.”

     Dorman was retired from the Durhamville Elementary School, while Throop retired from the Stockbridge Valley Central School, both in Central New York. The women didn’t know each other before they met at the library, and soon became friends, even attending the same book reading group.

     Library Aide and artist Emily Swift created the colorful mural along the side of the stairs. She admitted she never actually met Throop, but she came to know her as she painted the homage to the former library staffer. Swift said she submitted her design when she heard the library was looking for a mural that could be a tribute to Throop, and her creation was chosen by the Throop family as the closest representation of her likings.

     “I think they liked the whimsical and playful side of it,” Swift said. “The family saw what I had designed and saw the stars and said that she loved astrology … I really got to know a lot about her as I created the mural.”

(Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library Aide Emily Swift puts some finishing touches on the mural she created down the library staircase in memory of former staff member Sandra Throop on Oct. 4, 2010)

     There will be a private gathering for the families of Dorman and Throop for an hour preceding the Open House, and the public is invited to come out to the library Oct. 9, 2010 at 11 a.m. for the official dedication and refreshments. The Sherrill-Kenwood Free Library is located at 543 Sherrill Rd. in Sherrill, N.Y. For more information, call (315) 363-5980 or visit their website at: www.midyork.org/sherrill.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Like father, like daughter

     We started a Clown Ministry at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Verona, N.Y. a few years back, and for some reason one of the first congregation members approached to don the colorful garb and fluorescent hair was myself. Our goal was to reach out to the young and young-at-heart members of the church with a fun message, performing skits during children's sermons and Sunday School Rally Days, and even ended up heading out to neighboring communities to bring some of the religion-themed clown fun on the road.

     A fellow congregation member, Paula Bishop, was also involved in the Relay for Life American Cancer Society fundraiser, on a team called Carol's Blocks in honor of her late friend Carol White. Paula saw the clowns and figured we could also help her cause as well, so she's drafted us several times to do face painting to help raise money for the ACS.

    When she recently called looking for a volunteer for the annual Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Community Day festivities, it became an occasion of not only outreach for a good cause, but a great bonding experience for Gabrielle and myself as I convinced her it would be fun to become her own clown character.

(That's Gabby in the process of becoming Gibbers the Gabby Clown)

     A shopping trip to Wal-Mart found some outrageous Halloween-oriented clownish clothes, and with the application of a little bit of makeup Gabrielle was gone and Gibbers the Gabby Clown was there in her place. She worked most of the 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. event on Oct. 3, 2010, painting faces for a buck -- for the Relay for Life, of course -- and seemed to really get into her all-new clown persona.

(That's Gibbers with little sister Hannah)

     So now we had this great afternoon of fun camaraderie to share, meeting with folks from all over the Central New York area to give them a glimpse of a totally different side of our personalities -- or is it really so different after all?


(So tell me -- does Gabby look more like her mom or her dad?)