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  • Category Archives Street Performing
  • Stix

    Good things can become metaphors for a dark side when used excessively – sanitization and Disneyfication come to mind. And what object has more of a negative connotation than a puppet? Perhaps it is particularly offensive to Americans, a country founded on freedom and rebellion against unwanted CONTROL. No one likes to see a government or person accused of being a puppet or perhaps one of the Stepford Wives. Worse yet – the official term for an individual who controls a marionette is a manipulator.

    The soullessness of the human idol has lead to depictions of evil in TV and film, such as the murderous Talky Tina (Living Doll episode of the Twilight Zone) or in a number of films made about ventriloquist dummies, such as Magic or Devil Doll. There is something innately spooky about an inanimate doll or human form taking life, particularly when it wrenches itself free of control by humans. Now we have a soulless living doll or dummy, free to do its evil without a conscience. At one time, many believed that ventriloquists were in league with the devil.

    But all is not evil in the world of marionettes or puppets. In the 1980s, I saw an entire opera performed by Marionettes at Lincoln Center. And twice, I missed the highly acclaimed International Festival of Puppet Theater at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

    Whether Pinocchio, Howdy Doody, or the soft and benign world of the Muppets, these marionettes/puppets are part of American culture with positive images loved by children, as well as evidence that puppeteers can also bring a heart and soul into lifeless objects and create loving and lovable characters that can charm audiences.

    I recently met Ricky Syers performing in Washington Square Park. Perhaps partially owing to its difficulty, seeing skilled marionetteers perform on the streets of New York City is a rarity. I stopped to watch his show. I liked what I saw, as did his audience. Nothing evil, nothing eerie, just Ricky Syers in control of his creation brought to life as Stix :)

    Related Post: Fleas or Teased, Think Big

  • Meet the Artist

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    As a Christian proselytizer once said to his audience in Washington Square Park, saying it doesn’t make it so. And believing something, doesn’t make it so, either. This is why, in spite of intense belief in Santa Claus by millions of children around the world, a red-suited man does not fly through the air pulled by a team of reindeer. To believe otherwise is, for an adult, self-delusion. And so I thought it was with artists.
    Until quite recently, I had little patience and tolerance for those who defined themselves as ARTISTS, as if they were a different class of people who truly thought and saw things differently than the rest. To hear them speak, one would be led to believe that true artists were also more principled, i.e. they would not “sell out” but were true to their art. They would not pander to the almighty dollar like the lowly businessman.

    All of this, I thought, was pure, unadulterated crap. In my mind, these people were posers, caught up in the image of being an artist and all its hipness and coolness. People who had some interest and ability in drawing or painting, but were failures in their ability to do productive work, and hence, sought to justify their failure by playing victim in a world that does not value art and reward artists. They were unambitious and unskilled and hid behind the moniker of ARTIST in order to cloak the truth. And they were bitter.

    Meeting Philippe Petit in the 1970s did nothing initially to dispel my notions. In fact, his posture as an artist was much larger than anyone I had met. He had a serious attitude and was fiercely iconoclastic. However, the man had done things that made me begin to question what I believed about artists. Although he was not incredibly wealthy, it would have been very unfair to consider him unsuccessful or unambitious. His walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 spoke for itself. His reputation as one of the world’s quintessential street performers was legendary – I witnessed his weekly street shows in the 1970s in Washington Square Park.

    Over a period of decades I had the privilege of hearing Philippe speak on numerous occasions and getting to know him as a client. I began to observe more closely those individuals who considered themselves artists, some of them in my employ. I saw that many were neither posers nor particularly interested in the cachet or image of being an artist, but that they were genuine people and genuinely different. Most were much more visually oriented than others, noticing aesthetic nuances that others never saw. It was not a matter of training or focus to prove something; it appeared to be the way that they were wired.

    I also reexamined my own life and saw that although I had been steered towards study in mathematics, a subject that I had some natural gift for, creativity was never really acknowledged and only found an outlet within the bounds of product design. As I began writing for this website for the last seven years, I have become much more acutely aware of the creative process. My thinking has changed. I believe artists exist. Although I still do not understand precisely what makes great art great, I accept that artists are behind it. Sometimes, when my analytical side is in abeyance, I see myself more akin in spirit to artists than scientists.

    Recently, I was invited to see Philippe speak about his latest book, Why Knot?, in Bryant Park. I photographed and filmed the entire presentation, which you can see in 4 parts here. He spoke with unbridled passion and love for knot making. He demonstrated as the audience made knots with him, using a red cord that had been provided for any attendees who wanted to participate. As always, his enthusiasm was infectious. He is an artist. Of course, my saying it does not make it so, either, and not every self-proclaimed artist is one. So, go see for yourself. If you have the opportunity, attend one of Philippe’s talks. And although the phrase has been rendered a cliché by book marketers, in Philippe’s case, you really will Meet the Artist :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • You’re Not Gonna Find in Bristol

    ‘Tis a bit unfair, but among close friends, the town where I grew up, Bristol, CT, has become the butt of a private joke – a metaphor for all things boring, a place devoid of culture and nightlife. Whenever I see something particularly unusual, crowded (as I wrote in 212 and 2:12), or abuzz, I sometimes remark that it is certainly something you’re not gonna find in Bristol.
    In this town of 60,000, there is little to do but visit strip malls and eat fast food. My family never ate in Bristol, opting instead to travel for our infrequent restaurant outings. Although it does have a surprising number of claims to fame – Lake Compounce (the oldest amusement park in continuous operation in the US), national headquarters for ESPN, hos of Little League New England, a Clock Museum ( one of a very few museums in the United States dedicated solely to horology), the New England Carousel Museum, and the Otis Elevator Company test  tower – the largest in the United States. Nonetheless, these are things of little import on a day-to-day basis, and most residents will only partake of these places once or twice in a lifetime, if at all. But for culture or shopping quality merchandise, most residents will find themselves traveling. My high school English teacher, a rebel, advised us not to read the local paper, something he found tantamount to trash. He recommended that we leave Bristol altogether. There are staunch supporters of my hometown, I am sure. In my lifetime, I have seen Bristol alternately on lists of best and worst places to live in America. But I yearned to live in New York City and, in 1969, undeterred by my guidance counselor (as I wrote about in Jungle Lovers), I came to the big city.

    In the 7 years that I have written for the pages of this website, I have featured many unusual and remarkable people, places, and things – people such as Mark Birnbaum or pianist Colin Huggins, who performs with a baby grand in Washington Square Park. But, as typifies the New Yorker, I have become inured to the lunacy of a man assembling and disassembling a baby grand piano daily, hauling it many city blocks to and from storage, setting it up, and playing for hours, even in the most inhospitable weather. Most recently, Colin upped the ante considerably by performing during the winter months in frigid weather. Neither biting cold nor a slim audience deters him from his daily grind.

    As I traversed the park on the morning of Friday, February 15, the bar for novelty in New York City was raised again – a piano turner wearing roller blades was busy tuning Colin’s baby grand piano, with banks of snow as backdrop. It was decidedly a scene uniquely New York and certainly something You’re Not Gonna Find in Bristol :)

  • Whence She Came

    I once had the privilege of knowing and employing an individual who was intelligent, well-educated, talented, hard working, and a great human being. Apart from his day jobs, he was also an accomplished musician, from a musical family and married to a musician. This was a great privilege for me – I was able to ask a myriad of questions regarding music, which he was always happy to indulge.

    On one occasion, I asked the reasoning for male rock vocalists to often sing in falsetto or head voice. He answered that strong, high-pitched sounds are physically exciting. This applies to women as well as men, and the physiological reasons have actually been documented.*

    I have spent time in Washington Square Park for many years. Those who are regulars there will, from time to time, be rewarded with cameos and surprises by performing individuals and groups who come from all corners of the earth. On the evening of September 15, a newcomer caught my eyes and ears. She appeared to be quiet and shy, sitting with a group of musicians who were doing their rendition of Let It Be by the Beatles.

    At one point in the song, she was encouraged to solo (from about 1 min 10 seconds into the video). I am not an expert in the vocal ranges of sopranos, but her controlled and sustained high register was beautiful and astonishing. I can’t speak for the others, but I felt like an angel from high had come to rest for a moment and grace us with the voice of a nightingale.

    I know nothing about her other than her name was Margaret. She was given a rose for her efforts and went as mysteriously as she arrived. All that was left were notes on high. As she sang, beautiful and beatific, her fingers pointed skywards where angels reside, letting us know Whence She Came

    *When singers sing high and loud, the brain releases the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, causing a general increase in physiological arousal – higher heart rate, faster respiration, increased perspiration, and greater attentiveness.

    More musical cameos in Washington Square Park: Up Up We Go, Strike While the Music is Hot, Esai is Taken, Mzuri Sings, Only in New York

  • Babies, Flowers and Kittens

    I have endeavored to write intelligent, provocative, entertaining stories and take photos that illuminate life in New York City. I spend mornings slaving over my text and working in Photoshop tweaking images. My stories get decent readership and, here and there, occasionally cited. Some of my photos have been featured online or in print. A few have been purchased. At one level, the appreciation from readers is rewarding and fulfilling. However, the website has certainly not “gone viral,” and often, I am disappointed that more readers do not find it and share my enthusiasms.
    But one particular day, I needed to vent my frustration regarding a website I had learned of. I turned to my graphic artist, who had been supportive of New York Daily Photo from its inception, helping with graphics and giving me suggestions to attract more readers.

    The website was called Cute Overload. Before even visiting it, merely based on its name, I sensed that it was a clever idea and likely would be a roaring success. And it has been, now sporting 1.6 million visitors per month. And the content is provided by others. Images of cute things – puppies, kittens, children – dominate the site, and readers by the millions apparently have an insatiable appetite for such things and just cannot get enough of it.

    I discussed my discovery with my graphic artist and that no matter the quality of my site, there was no way I would attract even a fraction of the visitors that a site like Cute Overload would. And she summarized my dilemma well. Apart from sex, she said, people loved to see three things – babies, flowers, and kittens. The triumvirate of ultimate human appeal became a private joke around our office. She was right, of course. The masses want the benign, the adorable, the cuddly. They want the untainted, the innocent. And what is more innocent or untainted than babies, flowers or kittens?

    A somewhat lesser benefactor of one of the trinity is Alan Neil Moriarity, a street performer whom I met at night on 6th Avenue in the Village. Neil is very approachable and chatty. I spoke to him for quite some time and recorded some of our conversation and his playing. See the video below.

    Neil has numerous young cats which travel with him. One or two of the pride make home on his head and shoulders while he plays harmonica and chats passersby. In all honestly, those that stop appear to be more interested in fawning over his cats than listening to music.

    Having had numerous cats, I complemented Neil. Cats are not typically enamored to accompany an owner outdoors, much less sit on one’s head without trying to jump off and hide in the shadows. But these cats seemed extraordinarily attached to him, unusually calm, comfortable, and content. Neil says they really like to listen to him play music by the Doors. He told me that his cats have been life savers for him. I suggested that he needed more exposure and that in the future he might want to take his act to Washington Square Park, rather than work late night in dreary weather on a commercial strip. He seemed receptive to the idea. Perhaps he will find greater success if he works in at a better time and place, where he will learn the power and allure of Babies, Flowers and Kittens :)

    More cats: The Engine Room (Part 1 and Part 2), That Last Ball, Urban Mitts, Kitty

    More cuteness: Just Like Them, Buy Magnesium, Supercute!, The Last Taboo, Bubbles, Heart Warming


  • Mobility and Just Tricks for All

    New Yorkers enjoy the same passions as suburban and country folk – many activities, however, due to space and cost considerations, require resourcefulness, ingenuity, and hard work in order to find space, acquire permits and other bureaucratic hurdles. But the New Yorker is tough and tenacious and typically prevails.
    Here, to many’s surprise, you will find juggling, fire spinning, flying radio controlled jets (on a decommissioned airfield), surfing, rock climbing, birding, kayaking, trapeze classes, chess clubs, motorcycle clubs, skiing, tennis, land sailing, kite surfing, ice skating, horse racing, sailing, fishing, horseback riding, petanque – all within the confines of the city’s five boroughs.

    Finding venues and shoehorning activities in city spaces is not only a challenge, but often gives rise to a unique twist, brand, or flavor of the activity – New York Style.  Often, leveraging relationships and connections is necessary to obtaining space, as did the students of Pratt Institute to utilize their sports complex for a local juggling club.

    On Saturday and Sunday, I attended the 4th Annual NYC Unicycle Festival, a 3-day event which opened August 31 with the Brooklyn Unicycle Day, featuring a 13-mile unicycle ride across Brooklyn. The festival‘s main events took place on Governors Island on Saturday and Sunday. Activities included races, competitions, exhibitions, instruction, and a variety of unicycle sports including unicycle basketball and hockey. World-famous riders displayed their skills. The festival was produced by Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc., headed by Keith Nelson. I participated as a vendor of unicycles and juggling equipment.

    There is a beauty and simplicity in the unicycle. The one-wheel design is the ultimate in simplicity, and the fixed gear gives the ultimate control. Unicyclists can travel forwards, backwards, idle, spin, jump, climb stairs – virtually anything an individual can do on two legs. They are used by hobbyists, commuters, off road enthusiasts, and performers.

    Welcome to the universe of the unicyclist, where unity is the key – one wheel, one people. If they had their own creed, perhaps it would read something like this: I pledge allegiance to the Unicyclist’s Place in America, and to the Vehicle on which we stand, one Wheel under Body, indivisible, with Mobility and Just Tricks for All. :)

    See my complete photo gallery here.

  • Largesse of Spirit

    I was once accused by a friend during an argument of not having a “largesse of spirit.” This always bothered me, because what if it was true? I supposed there must likely be some truth to it, or else why would a generous person, which she was, say it?

    And so, although I am far from a philanthropist, I have endeavored, as much as my character has allowed, to start the process of payback for the good fortune that life has given me so far. This has become a problem for those who know me best, such as family members, who now wonder what is wrong with me, perhaps a bit resentful that they have been left out as beneficiaries in the past.

    In the parks and streets of New York City, one will find a largesse of spirit – acts of generosity by street performers – as a daily occurrence. Many work for free or crumbs, yet are happy to share their talents without resentment. Quite noble. And, of course, there is the desire by those who are enamored of their performances to take photos and videos. On rare occasion, problems arise, owing to misunderstandings regarding photography in a public space. The key here is whether or not the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. If in a public space, the answer is nearly always not (if a person is in their home in a bathroom, it would not be legal to take a photo from the street. In that case, the person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy).

    Certainly, a PERFORMER in a public park, particularly in New York City, would be quite unreasonable to have an expectation of privacy and demand that no one take photos or video. Yet that is how the guitarist in today’s photo spent his afternoon multitasking – playing while snarling, asking if onlookers were videotaping him and barking orders for all to STOP. If anyone persisted, his demand become more emphatic. Ironically, the band leader, Rasheed Richard Howard, who has always been gracious (and was the subject of one of my stories, Delivery) remained neutral as his guitarist became more belligerent and made reprimanding listeners part of his performance. Rasheed focused on playing and discouraged no one from recording his talents on the trumpet (or two). ‘Twas an awkward afternoon for a bandleader to have to endure an accompanist whose demands were uncharitable, embarrassing, and not legally enforceable.

    Although I understand the fear that recordings of a band may diminish the desire for music lovers to purchase their music or attend their shows in clubs, in reality, video and photos will do more to promote them then hurt them. Those seeking success as performers generally welcome exposure. The face and demeanor of the guitarist were enough to dissuade most from continuing. I imagine they were not clear about whether such a thing was permitted, and for those who were, why risk the ire of a performer so hostile? And who wants a recording of a man who could perhaps make the top ten list of those with no Largesse of Spirit :)

    Check out more New York City street performers here.

  • Tanglewood Anyone?

    The same teacher who was the subject of my story Cello Class was also the woman who warned me one spring that there she would NOT be giving lessons over the summer because she refused to spend summers in New York City. Anyone here on a full time basis sees ample evidence of a mass exodus of many residents during the summer months, with benefits to those willing to stick it out. Restaurants that typically require reservations now have empty tables, streets now have readily available parking spots, tickets are available for shows normally sold out.

    Of course, nothing comes without a price, and much as Vermont looks like paradise until one spends a winter there, New York City is quiet and easy during the summer for good reason. The relentless heat turns the city literally into a concrete jungle, now including steamy tropical weather, without any respite, save air-conditioned spaces.  Nearly everyone on foot finds themselves making pit stops in cool shops, many nearly vacant with unusually attentive salespeople who well understand your reason for visiting – after all, they are also likely thinking the same thing – why I am in New York City during the summer heat? In this jungle, one will not find fruit hanging from trees but instead will find the waste of such foods littering the streets, where walking becomes a slalom between shoppers and mountains of garbage. The season that so many love can be a living hell in New York. After all, the best thing about summer is being outdoors, the very thing near impossible to enjoy here most days here until evening, if that. There are no cool mountains to ascend and no refreshing ocean breezes.

    Summer music festivals, which combine the joys of the season outdoors with musical performance, can be found throughout the world. We do have such in the parks of New York – Central Park’s Summer Stage, Prospect Park’s Celebrate Brooklyn, Washington Square Park Music Festival, Tompkins Square Park Police Riot Concert, among the larger. There are also many many other music festivals as there are street fairs, parades, and a plethora of activities. The problem is that a blistering day makes these all but intolerable, and years of attending these makes one realize that although, as I have heard many a New Yorker extol, there are perks of summer festivities here, nonetheless, the environment leaves much to be desired. The seasoned New Yorker who has spent too many summers here begins to ruminate on where one would have, could have, and should have been, like Tanglewood.

    If you have been to an outdoor concert like Tanglewood in the Massachusetts Berkshire mountains, you know what I mean. Here, one can lie on a clean lawn with a candlelit picnic, perhaps with wine, while lying under a black sky popping with stars on a summer evening and the sounds of world-class musicians wafting over, accompanied by cool evening breezes. On the other hand, for many, the urban equivalent will be lying on the hard, filthy asphalt ground of a well-lit park, trying to listen to musicians who compete with others in a small space as well as deflecting crusties, the homeless, drug addicts, and miscreants of every persuasion. Fights occasionally break out between many of the disenfranchised, understandably frustrated by their lot in life, only exacerbated by the unabated summer heat and humidity which lingers all night. The occasional police vehicle arrives to settle the differences of those who would be pointless to arrest, while at other times, an ambulance arrive to collect the maimed who will only be repaired and released to replay the same violent scenarios at another time. Tanglewood Anyone?


  • Culture Fix

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I grew up in a town where, regardless of the fact that it has a population of 61,000, THEY ROLL UP THE STREETS AT NIGHT. Even on Saturday, it is like visiting a ghost town of the West. There is virtually nowhere to eat other than fast food and nothing to do except cruise the streets in despair. No wonder the youth of America is bored out of their minds in suburban USA and turn to drugs and sex. And no wonder that places like New York City became a mecca for those who crave culture in all its variants. I understand that there are many options out of the city and also an inner world to explore – I was an avid reader and also extremely active and social. However, there are limits to how much blood one can extract from a stone, and many of our suburbs are virtually devoid of cultural activities.

    So, in 1969, I, like many, made my way to a somewhat bigger town called New York City. Here, I found everything I had dreamed of and more. That young boy still lurks within, starry eyed and excitement bound, and, from time to time, I need a jolt of electric current and a culture fix. I rekindle those first moments when everything was ALIVE at any hour, day, or night and the feeling that anything is possible. Perhaps you even have a hankering to see a grown man dressed as a macaw, dancing about, while accompanied by a band called Moon Hooch, featuring a saxophonist with an enormous cardboard tube shoved into it.

    I took a walk recently to Union Square, where, regardless of season, time, or weather, you are guaranteed to see humans in all manner of activities. Steps from street level to the park on the south side of Union Square provide impromptu stadium seating and is one of the best spots in New York City for people watching. The square is surrounded by merchants and is one of the city’s major transportation hubs. Historically it has also been a major meeting ground, a place to see and be seen and ideal for those with a political agenda or need to bring a message to the masses. The place is abuzz with people and energy.

    It was here, on July 4th, 2012, at 12:17 AM that I found a grown man dancing in a macaw suit accompanied by a rock band. I was to learn that the performance was not spontaneous nor the product of birdbrains. It was a campaign on the part of Rock the Osa to raise awareness about the development threats facing Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, home to the area’s last virgin rainforest and “the most biologically intense place on earth.”  Marco Bollinger the Macaw and Eytan Elterman the Sea Turtle have nearly reached their target of $25,000 by dancing to produce the documentary project, 2.5 Percent, a film promoting conscious travel in Costa Rica.

    Moon Hooch is a Bushwick, Brooklyn, based band which has played regularly in the NYC subway system. The three band members, James Muschler, Mike Wilbur, and Wenzl McGowen, met at the New School, where they studied music. Moon Hooch plays cave, a style of house music. After only a year, they have produced an album, toured nationally, and worked for a TV company.

    As with everything else in New York City, things are often more than they seem. It’s where preconceived notions are best left in the checkroom. And all the better – it just means more opportunity for someone needing a Culture Fix :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Up Up We Go

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I was tipped off by a friend that I might want to hurry to see this group of musicians from New Orleans. He referred to them as a “crusty” band. They certainly have the signature attendant dog, and there is a vagabond character to the group which is hard to define in many ways. The group is a moving target with a non-specific stable of individual members. However, regardless of any nomadic similarities, Up Up We Go did not appear to me to embrace the hapless, nihilistic lifestyle of the crust punks.

    The core member of Up Up We Go is Salvatore Geloso, originally from Brooklyn, New York. His unique, impassioned style of delivery with highly animated facial expressions is what prompted my friend to bring them to my attention.

    My first encounter with them was in Washington Square Park. A full ensemble was playing with an acoustic upright bass, accordion, violin, guitar, and a saw. Salvatore plays guitar, kazoo, and provides the lead vocals. I have seen saw players before, but they always seemed to be more of a novelty or curiosity. Here, in Up Up We Go, the saw was truly used melodically, adding a wonderful musical element to the melange. I was entranced by the music and must say that this was one of the most entertaining music ensembles I have seen on the streets of New York City. Their music, original or that of fellow musicians, was very catchy – I have been listening to The Pony Song for over 3 weeks.

    Unfortunately, the group is hard to nail down, as they are not based in New York. Being the magnet that this city is means that this is a place where talent comes and goes. The group’s name is an apt metaphor for the vanishing act we will see soon. I hope it applies as well to future success for Salvatore and the band members of Up Up We Go :)

    More street performers in Washington Square Park: Strike While the Music is Hot, Sirens of Culture, Mzuri Sings, Crooks and Perverts, Curse of the Mouth Trumpet, Impossible, Catch Em If You Can, Sieve of Darwin, Tune Out, Tune Up, Tune In, Artiste Extraordinare, One-Man Band, New York State of Mind, Music Speaks for Itself

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Strike While the Music is Hot

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    As I stood late night in Washington Square Park, the very faint sounds of violins began wafting over me and friends. Had I heard perhaps Ashokan Farewell, the haunting melody chosen by Ken Burns as the musical theme for his award-winning Civil War film series? I spotted two violinists across the park plaza and walked briskly in their direction. Here, late at night, one must strike while the music is hot. There are no guarantees how long anyone has played or will continue to play. If you like what you hear, better run and enjoy.

    It was apparent that these were no ordinary musicians. I suspected that they were accomplished interlopers, on some mission in New York City, and, given some down time, had decided to grace us with their notes, as visitors are often apt to do. I was right, and I learned that the couple were a brother and sister who were in town to do a commercial recording gig. They had not played together in 20 years, so we were also privy to a family reunion.

    I arrived as they were completing a song, and I asked if they knew Ashokan Farewell. Of course, they replied, and that they had just played it a moment before. They were, however, quite happy to play it again. I recorded a video:

    I spoke to them and was surprised to learn that both were professional classically trained musicians and were in New York City only for some days for the recording session. They were leaving the next day. I learned their names, John and Rebecca Patek, and took their contact information. From John’s website:

    John began playing the violin when he was two years old and hasn’t stopped since. Born and raised in Mequon, Wisconsin (a suburb of Milwaukee), John learned the art of performance at a young age through his involvement with both the Milwaukee Youth Symphony and the Homestead High School Orchestra.

    John continues to perform actively in Switzerland, Italy and in the Midwestern United States. He also teaches several group and private lessons.

    Rebecca Patek, from Wisconsin, began studying violin since she was 2 years old when she saw Itzhak Perlman playing violin on Sesame Street. She grew up playing classical violin and at 10 was playing with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra. She became hooked on old time and bluegrass in middle school when her mom took her to a bluegrass jam at a local bar. Patek went on to study jazz violin and has won the Wisconsin state fiddle championship several times.

    From a recent correspondence with John:

    I was born in Milwaukee, WI in 1981 and grew up just north of Milwaukee in Thiensville, WI.

    I am lucky to be a musician.  I have my own private studio in Mequon, WI with about 15 students and I also teach at Milwaukee Montessori School. Currently I am a freelance musician based in Milwaukee but I was a member of the Madison symphony, I work as violinist with two different orchestras in Switzerland and am an active recording artist.  I have worked with television, film scores and various bands contributing violin and cello tracks.  I have worked quite a few non musical jobs but they only make me appreciate my life as violinist even more.  I suppose this is the story for so many musicians but whenever I get to play the violin in know I am one of the luckiest people in the world.

    I did my bachelors degree at the University of Wisconsin as a student of the late Vartan Manoogian, and did my masters degree at the Conservatory of Neuchatel in Switzerland studying under Stefan Muhmenthaler.

    I split my time between Milwaukee and Switzerland.  I have not lived anywhere else.  I have gotten to travel throughout Europe because of the violin touring with orchestras and studying.

    My Mom and Dad made sure that I had the best teachers, an amazing violin that I still play and was able to attend any summer festival i ever wanted. They love music and art and made sure that my sister and I were able to develop our talents and have a great time.  They took us to lessons before school, drove us across the summer camps across the country, to and from youth symphony rehearsals, got us on flights to Europe and made sure we practiced before we wasted time like we wanted to.

    Joan Rooney, one of my first violin teachers and Vartan and Stefan my teachers in College really made me realize how challenging and amazing playing the violin can be.  I have had great teachers in music and my other academic classes and I know that because of them I do a better job teaching.  I am able to combine all of their great guidance and ideas and share them with my students.  I only hope that I can inspire my students the way my great teachers inspired me.

    I was so glad to have made their acquaintance and heard some of their playing. On the streets of New York City, things are in flux, whimsical and temporal. To experiences those serendipitous pockets of joy, don’t deliberate, but Strike While the Music is Hot :)

    More music in Washington Square Park: Sirens of Culture, Mzuri Sings, Curse of the Mouth Trumpet, New York is Bluegrass Country, On the Road, Sieve of Darwin, Tune Out, Tune Up, Tune In, Delivery, Bluegrass Reunion, Fete de la Musique, New York State of Mind, Music Speaks for Itself

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Sirens of Culture

    One of the peculiar dilemmas of living in New York City is the compelling feeling that there is a world outside the city and simultaneously no desire to leave it. Often, particularly on a beautiful day, I have a strong desire to take a day trip and explore some rural hinterland to enjoy nature. Then, stepping out my door with a sincere intent to only briefly sample the city, I found myself shipwrecked again on the shores of Manhattan, having been lured by the Sirens of Culture. Often, I make it no further than steps from my home in Washington Square Park, a brewery of local and international talent.

    I sit in cognitive dissonance, torn by the desire to broaden my horizons yet trapped by a menagerie of entertainers, the like of which is to be found nowhere else. Part of me feels that there must be more to life than this plot of 10 acres that landscape architect George Vellonakis referred to as America’s Piazza. Not an exaggeration at all, the park is a meeting place for every imaginable type of individual from sociopaths, lunatics, misfits, geniuses, budding and established artists, painters, chess players, writers, photographers, intellects, local residents, and visitors. It is a place where the conversationalist can meet and engage in conversations on any subject imaginable, both privately or in forums.

    Here, one can find snake charmers, hucksters, drug dealers, professors, political activists, and vendors of products and ideas. Some come to sell their philosophies, but this can come at a price, as when Mennonites meet topless body painted women or when Missionaries Meet Their Match.

    However, the biggest draw here is the music, and with some luck, on a good day, one can find a virtual festival of professional talent. So it was that on Saturday and Sunday, I was lured in by the music of Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess. I found myself listening for hours along with a large steady crowd who found themselves so engaged that many resorted to Dancing in the Streets. From their website:

    Jessy Carolina & The Hot Mess is a New York City-based ensemble specializing in early American roots and jazz music from the late 1800′s to the 1930′s. The group features Jessy Carolina on vocals and washboard, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton on piano, banjo, and vocals, Jordan Hyde on guitar, Jay Sanford on bass, Mario J. Maggio on clarinet and saxophone, and Satoru Ohashi on trumpet and trombone.

    Jessy, who hails from Venezuela, grew up in North Dakota, and later moved to New York City, has a voice and singing style that ropes in passersby who find themselves entranced and engaged. The talent of all the members of the group is exceptional, and it comes as a huge treat to find such talent on the street – Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess has performed in a variety of venues, both in and out of the city. Catch ‘em when you can. I’ll see you in the parks and streets of New York City, lured by the Sirens of Culture :)

  • The Loneliest Number

    Is one still the loneliest number? New Yorkers should know best – I was shocked to learn that 50.6 % (27% nationally) of Manhattan households are occupied by a single individual. Of the 3,141 counties in the United States, New York County (Manhattan) is the leader in single-individual households. The marriage statistics also deviate from the norm: in Manhattan, 25.6% of households are married, whereas the national average is 49.7%.

    But, given the tenuous nature of relationships and the transient nature of the city, perhaps it should not have come as a surprise. And, the evidence is at my fingertips – on reflection, the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances are in single households.

    The first thought upon hearing such a statistic is that of LONELINESS. However, a number of books, articles, and research are doing much to dispel the idea that living alone means lonely. I have excerpted below parts of a 2008 New York Magazine article. I recommend the article – the comments alone provide a broad insight into the thinking and experience of many New Yorkers who live alone.

    Alone Together

    Manhattan is the capital of people living by themselves. But are New Yorkers lonelier? Far from it, say a new breed of loneliness researchers, who argue that urban alienation is largely a myth.

    “In our data,” adds Lisa Berkman, the Harvard epidemiologist who discovered the importance of social networks to heart patients, “friends substitute perfectly well for family.” This finding is important. It may be true that marriage prolongs life. But so, in Berkman’s view, does friendship—and considering how important friendship is to New Yorkers (home of Friends, after all), where so many of us live on our own, this finding is blissfully reassuring. In fact, Berkman has consistently found that living alone poses no health risk, whether she’s looking at 20,000 gas and electricity workers in France or a random sample of almost 7,000 men and women in Alameda, California, so long as her subjects have intimate ties of some kind as well as a variety of weaker ones. Those who are married but don’t have any civic ties or close friends or relatives, for instance, face greater health risks than those who live alone but have lots of friends and regularly volunteer at the local soup kitchen. “Any one connection doesn’t really protect you,” she says. “You need relationships that provide love and intimacy and you need relationships that help you feel like you’re participating in society in some way.”

    New York State is tied for the fifth-lowest divorce rate in the nation.  New York City’s suicide rate says something even more profound: New York State’s suicide rate is currently the third lowest in the nation.

    Many have made the same allegations about the Internet’s alienating effects, but this has also been challenged. Some see the Internet as analogous to a large city like New York with positive social impact:

    The idea that you’re isolated when you’re online is, to me, just wrong,” says Keith Hampton, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who did an extensive ethnography of “Netville,” a new, 100 percent wired community in suburban Toronto. “It’s an inherently social medium. What starts online moves offline, and what starts offline goes online.” Which explains why the people with whom you e-mail most frequently are your closest friends and romantic partners. “Online and offline life are inherently connected,” he says. “They’re not separate worlds.”

    New York, like the Internet, also offers a rich network of acquaintances, or what sociologists like to call “weak ties.” There are sociologists who will argue that weak ties are the bane of modern life. We are drowning in a sea of them, they’ll say—networking with colleagues rather than socializing with friends, corresponding online with lots of people we know only moderately well rather than catching up with our nearest and dearest on the phone.

    There is even evidence that weak ties simply make us feel better. According to Loneliness, the advice your mother gives you when you’re depressed—Get out of the damn house, would you?—turns out to be right. For most people, being in the simple presence of a friendly person helps us reregulate our behavior if we’re feeling depressed in our isolation. We are naturally wired not just to connect with them but to imitate them—which might be a good idea, if our impulses at that moment are self-destructive.

    Hampton says he views the Internet as the ultimate city, the last stop on the continuum of human connectedness. I’d argue that New York and the Internet are about the same …. what the Internet and New York have in common is that each environment facilitates interaction between individuals like no other, and both would be positively useless—would literally lose their raison d’être—if solitary individuals didn’t furiously interact in each. They show us, in trillions of invisible ways every day, that people are essentially nothing without one another. We may sometimes want to throttle our fellow travelers on the F train. We may on occasion curse our neighbors for playing music so loud it splits the floor. But living cheek-by-jowl is the necessary price we pay for our well-being. And anyway, who wants to ride the subway alone?

    Connectedness takes on many forms, both old and new, and in many places, whether online or in New York City. We can no longer make assumptions based strictly on number. One may no longer be the Loneliest Number :)

    Photo Note: I happened upon this trumpet player one rainy morning, playing alone in Washington Square Park, shielded from the rain under the arch. See him play in the video above.

    Related Posts: Guardian Angels, Lonely in a Crowded Room, Because It’s Not, The Last Taboo

  • Movie Star

    So many films and TV shows have portrayed New York City as the place where an individual can be discovered, get a big break into showbiz, and make it big, maybe even become a movie star. Of course it happens, but, like depictions of the wild West, the reality is far less glamorous, and shootouts on the streets of Laredo are rare. Making it in the performing arts is mostly a process of auditioning, waiting, and rejection. Who has the staying power for this lifestyle?

    Many months ago, I was chatting with Joe Rios, an acquaintance from Washington Square Park. At one juncture, I spoke of my experience with Ferris Butler and MNN Cable Access TV. I was surprised to learn that Joe was very involved with the network and was going through training at their facilities. As part of his advancement with the network, there are requirements, including production of a program.

    Talk turned to his personal project, a TV show on the musicians of Washington Square Park. He was looking for a moderator/host, someone who would conduct interviews with the musicians. He offered me the job – he said he had an instinct and implicit faith in me. I was flattered but was not nearly as confident as he was as to my ability to perform well. Nonetheless, I could not turn down the offer – it was just too exciting. I told him I had zero experience with this type of thing, but Joe was undaunted. I said I would give him 130%.

    There would be filming of musicians in the park playing, and I would conduct spot interviews. In October, there will be a panel discussion and music performances in a studio with a live audience, to be broadcast on public access cable and streamed on the Internet. The park footage will be used as field footage and will be shown during the studio airing.

    I had no idea if this project would really happen. There was talk from time to time, but talk is cheap and many talk of lifelong dreams with nary a step in that direction. One day, Joe showed me the paperwork: a formal project description, call sheets, names of the members of a professional and production camera crew, and a schedule with dates and times. Permits had been acquired. This was really going to happen.

    On Thursday, September 1st, the shooting began. This week, there will be more filming.
    Part of the decision to use me was based on the executive producer’s reading of this blog. I was not aware while talking to Joey that this was not just going to be aired on local access cable. It is also being shot as a film documentary and will be presented at film festivals and marketed. I was also told that the project had changed. It was now being filmed as seen through my eyes. There will be some filming done from my apartment which overlooks Washington Square Park.* This is an honor and opportunity beyond my wildest dreams. Time will tell if my work will be well received at all.

    It is the classic New York story. Pay your dues and work your craft with unflagging dedication. Be tenacious as hell. Then one day, with some luck, you will be at the right place at the right time, and next thing you know, you’re a Movie Star :)

    Photos courtesy of Sandy Hechtman.

    *Seasonal views from my window: Signs of Summer, Enchanted April, White By Design 2, Wood, Glass, Brass and Trees

    Posts overlooking Washington Square Park: Boxing Al Fresco, Urban Elephants and Hydraulic Tusks, We’ve Got Skiing Too, Meetings With Remarkable Men Part 1, Shifting Gears

    Related Posts: Do It in the Road, Sisterhood, I Am Legend, I Love New York

  • See It To Believe It

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Most people are too self-conscious or shy to dance publicly, or for that matter, even privately. But it’s healthy and on occasion, dancing can be seen on the streets and in the parks of New York City. Dancing’s cathartic release is the central theme to a very funny comedy sketch by Dane Cook.
    In the following excerpt, a man speaks to his male friends about dance clubs, women, and dancing:

    We don’t go there to dance. Women go there to dance. They get all ready and in the mirror with their friends.

    “I just need to go I just need to dance! I’m serious tonight – no guys! … I’ve had a rough week and I just need to just dance it out! I just wanna stand in a circle around our pocket books and shoes and just DANCE! DANCE!”

    You will never ever hear a guy say to one of his buddies – “Mike, Mike Mike ! Just listen buddy tonight bro, I gotta dance dude … I gotta DANCE!”

    That is certainly not the case with Zev. I first saw Zev some years ago for the first time while in Union Square, in the midst of a drumming circle. Everyone who has witnessed his vigorous, convulsive style of dancing is stupefied, often just staring in disbelief as he goes on and on, sometimes for HOURS. On the 15th of July, I caught Zev in Washington Square. I took a number of video clips spanning some of his time there. By nighttime, his face was red and flushed. I worried that that the man may suffer a stroke or heart attack. A counterpoint was provided by a woman, an extremely confident dancer who had style and knew how to move.

    A mutual friend learned a little about Zev. He was angry and displeased with life. I overheard him assert that Americans are not free. When asked where they were free, he replied, “nowhere.”

    Watch the short video to get a sample of Zev in action. Keep in mind he often keeps this up for hours. Perhaps there is no worry – his zombie-esque appearance and lack of any signs of pleasure may be a clue that he is no longer alive, only animated. See it to believe it.

    Related Posts: Float Master Part 2, Float Master Part 1, Wallflowers are Welcome, Mad as Hell Part 2, Mad as Hell Part 1, Dance Parade 2009, Silent Rave Part 2, Silent Rave Part 1, Dance Parade 2007

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

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