Introducing Children to the Arts

~posted by Renee Beale, KMFA announcer

We were out last night to see the performance of Fame at TexARTS, a theatre academy here in Austin, whose mission is to bring theatre, music, dance, and visual arts training to Austin’s youth. As an acting coach myself, I am always pleased to see showcases of new talent cropping up, but what struck me the most was how important it is. In today’s distracting (and dare I say insular) world of emailing, iPods, texting, facebook, twitter, television, video games and more, the list at times seems endless and overwhelming; I was not only watching a performance of Fame, I was watching young people interacting with each other physically, live and in person, making contact and making a connection; a healthy dose of synergistic energies between audience and performer. What a concept! I was also watching young people tap into their creativity using the fourth wall; that imaginary place where the audience resides that actors bring to life on stage. The youth on that stage, aged 14 through 17, are the future of the cultural arts. And even though some of them might never grace the stage of the Long Center, or Broadway or even off-Broadway, they will go on to grace the audience seats in myriad cultural venues here and throughout cities across the United States.

As I write, Darci Kistler is making her final performance on the stage of the New York City Ballet. She is the last student of George Balanchine and her retirement marks the end of an era. As a former New Yorker, I am very grateful for all the wonderful artistic mediums offered here in Austin, but opera, ballet, theatre, and symphonies across the country are struggling to find new audiences and in a down economy, new challenges lie ahead. As I sat there and watched the play last night, I couldn’t help but think those challenges were being met.

“Keep it alive. Introduce a child to the arts.”

~ posted by Renee Beale, KMFA announcer

Renee with Matt, who starred as Jack in "Fame"

KMFA on the Road: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Yeoman of the Guard”

~posted by Carmel O’Donovan, KMFA announcer

If you have not yet had a chance to enjoy the current production of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Austin, I suggest that you make all haste to do so!

Their current production is “Yeoman of the Guard,” and it runs until  this Sunday June 20th at Travis High School Performing Arts Center.  Jules Brandon (my fellow KMFA announcer) and I had a wonderful evening at the show and were given a warm welcome by the performers — we were even allowed backstage to take photographs!

As a relatively recent emigre from London, I confess I was curious and perhaps (dare I admit it — a foreigner in Texas like me?) a little suspicious of any production, from the truly British stable of Gilbert and Sullivan, outside of those fair islands. In fact the evening is a complete joy from start to finish. The facility at Travis High School is wonderful — comfortable seats, great acoustics, not too big, not too small — the perfect ambiance. The orchestra set the standard and it was high … of particular note for me was the wonderful percussionist. She played with panache and enthusiasm and made me yearn for the sense of rhythm so sadly lacking from my own makeup. The curtain rose: the set was wonderful. Simple but impressive. The performance checked all of my boxes: great voices and acting, authentic costumes, engaging and intriguing story line with humor and pathos closely mixed.

The “deal breaker” for me was of course going to be those English Accents  (don’t get me wrong… while I still love Mary Poppins and indeed Dick Van Dyke, I have never really recovered from his Cockney accent). Truthfully, whether in spoken word or in song they were great! My favorite has to be the “Head Jailer and Assistant Tormentor” — so wonderfully accurate in his West Country accent and just so funny!

From start to finish this is a high-quality production with a mix of intrigue, wit and the archetypal dodgy British puns. It is wonderful! I can’t wait for the next one!

~posted by Carmel O’Donovan, KMFA announcer

Duruflé’s shimmering, evanescent Requiem

Last week, Dianne got a chance to see a performance of the Conspirare Symphonic Choir, with Victoria Bach Festival Chorus , June 5, 2010.  “Dynamic Convergence” — including Duruflé’s  Requiem, Cantos Sagrados (Sacred Songs) by James MacMillan, and Brahms’ Geistliches Lied.

Featuring Craig Hella Johnson and Company of Voices, with Judith and Gerre Hancock (organists), Keely Rhodes (mezzo soprano), and David Farwig (baritone)

~posted by Dianne Donovan, KMFA announcer and host of Classical Austin

I’m always thrilled to listen to the Conspirare choir perform, and it was especially exciting to have the opportunity to hear The Conspirare Symphonic Choir joined by The Victoria Bach Festival Chorus sing Maurice Duruflé’s shimmering, evanescent Requiem.  Accompanied by Judith and Gerre Hancock, and led by Craig Hella Johnson, the large ensemble combined precision and artistry in executing Duruflé’s rich harmonies and ethereal textures. The Brahms piece was equally lovely.

I was not familiar with the MacMillan piece and it came as a lovely surprise (in the first half of the program). The contemporary Scottish composer’s “Sacred Songs” were inspired by poems about political repression in Latin America, the first of which, MacMillan set in a strikingly dark and agitated manner. Although the texts for all three songs contain a stark realism, MacMillan changes the textures in each song, sometimes layering the latin text with English, and creating beautiful sonorities with overlapping voices, eventually elevating the listener to a state of grace even in these stories of horrific turmoil. This is a challenging, emotional work and the ensemble delivered it beautifully.

If you missed this concert, the good news is that Conspirare has one more concert in Austin this season. They will be performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s masterpiece, Mass in B minor, this Sunday, June 13th, at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. (Click here for more information.)

Dianne Donovan is KMFA’s midday announcer and host/producer of Classical Austin. You can listen to a new episode of Classical Austin every Wednesday at 8pm, on Classical 89.5, KMFA-FM.

A visit to the KMFA Radio Tower

~ posted by Angelica Davila, KMFA summer Programming Intern

On Wednesday, my third day on the job, KMFA technical guru Phil Pollack took Adrianne Williams and me (we’re the new KMFA interns) to tour the radio station’s broadcast tower. We’d all seen them from afar—the red and white latticed structures somewhere out in the hilly distance—but today Phil would take us up close and personal.

View of the tower from the car

We all piled into a hot car and braved the sunshine as we headed out to the wilds of Westlake Hills. After maybe half an hour of winding roads and great views, we arrived. Standing outside a grey block of a building, we were right at the foot of our tower, towering over us at about 1100 feet. Around us were several other structures, belonging to various T.V. and radio stations, with their cables stretching out into the foothills and their lights blinking above us.

1100 feet of tower

Inside the building, an A/C unit roared loudly while copper pipes and metal coils ran all along the ceiling. Front and center was our KMFA control center. Neatly separated into 4 large metal boxes, the transmitters blinked continuously while Phil explained each knob and button. We had two transmitters: the main and the auxiliary, as well as what we  dubbed the “miscellaneous rack,” which contained all the communication equipment connecting this far-off building to our downtown studio. The rest of the boxes, resembling large metal cabinets, contained the power supply that keeps us up and running.

Sarah, Adrianne, Phil, and Angelica

Behind the KMFA transmitters were others belonging to the various stations we shared the tower with, each with a slightly different set up. We peeked briefly at each cluster of boxes, sizing up the “competition,” and exited out the back door.

We were now behind the building and directly in front of our tower. Ignoring the high-voltage warnings, we marched up to its foot and tried to catch a glimpse of its very tip, squinting and stumbling back a little with every new attempt. We laughed and shuddered at the idea of climbing it, and then took a moment to soak in the view.

Adrianne reminds us to be careful around the tower

It was so peaceful and beautiful…but also very hot, so, with a little more knowledge rattling around in our brains, we hopped back in our cars and headed back to town.

~posted by Angelica Davila, KMFA summer Programming Intern