Children of the Arts

When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.

Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.

Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.

Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.

Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:

“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”

For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.

Happy 11th Birthday Museworthy!!

Here we are again, friends. Observing another “blogaversary” for this little modeling/drawing/painting/sculpture/music/animals/museums/NYC online journal called Museworthy. We reached the ten year mark last year, and that was extra special of course. But it’s all special to me. Meaningful in a way that is both a comfort and an enrichment. It’s an opportunity for me to connect with you, my wonderful readers, and share various incarnations of art, life, and beauty, both visual and verbal. I’ll repeat what I always write on this annual post, and that is a heartfelt thank you for your visits here, whether they be regular or sporadic, and for your emails, comments, contributions, and friendships. It all means a great deal to me. And to you ‘quiet’ visitors who subscribe and read, I know you’re out there. I see you and I thank you. Blessings to all …

So Fred Hatt and I did it again with our yearly photoshoot, this time at my house instead of Fred’s studio. He loved the natural north light of the bay window and felt strongly that we should take some shots there. We agreed on using this one for the blog. I like it because it’s a little strange, with the eye, the hair and the hands on the wall.

Perhaps because I turned 50 years old this year I’ve been plunging heavily into nostalgia these past few months, recalling the music, the trends, and the cultural and historical watersheds that I and my fellow Gen Xers lived through as children of the 80s. We had no Internet, no smart phones, no Netflix, no 24 hour cable news, no social media, and definitely no blogs! But as the ‘bridge’ between the postwar era and the digital age, my generation learned how to adapt and fend for ourselves; the latchkey kids weaned on MTV and afterschool specials, having the shit scared out of us by the AIDS crisis and Three Mile Island and the ‘War on Drugs’. We managed to come out on the other side as free thinkers, improvisors, and entrepreneurs, with a dose of slackerdom mixed in. Winging it into adulthood. Cynical but not nihilistic. Finding our way to rewarding, productive lives if we could. Art modeling came to my rescue after years of Gen X-style wandering. Better late than never! Where we go – where we ALL go – from here is anybody’s guess.

Which brings me to our music selection for today. In addition to the blogaversary, today is also a Music Monday, and the song I chose very much reflects both my personal mindset these days and the indelible song memories of my youth. In my junior year of high school one of the coolest bands ever, Talking Heads, released their album Little Creatures. I bought it and played it as soon as I could and had a blast. This is the video for the song “And She Was” and I hope you listen and enjoy its catchy, cheerful, imaginative vibe. The video is great fun, kind of like a surrealism mixed media artwork. Many days lately I feel like the girl in the song, ‘floating above it’. Other days I pray for the strength to float above it. Here’s David Byrne and Talking Heads.

With love and gratitude, Claudia 🙂

The Day Aretha Died

With only an hour of relaxation time before I had to go work, I placed my beach blanket on the grass of my local park and sprawled out. Breathe in the fresh air, sip some cold water, and hopefully read one more chapter in my book; that was the plan for my precious 60 minutes of pre-modeling leisure time. Within minutes, the sound of that voice – Aretha Franklin’s voice – began soaring through the park, pumped through a sound system. Some of the greatest songs ever being sung by one of the greatest singers ever – first ‘Chain of Fools’, then ‘Baby I Love You’, then ‘Dr Feelgood’, then ‘Think’. Where was it coming from? Several yards away from me, where the Hip to Hip Theater Company was starting to set up for their production of Shakespeare’s King Lear in the park that night. The news of Aretha Franklin’s death had broken just that morning, and the actors and the crew decided to pay homage to Aretha as they unloaded their equipment, lighting, wardrobe, and stage sets. I took this picture:

That voice, oh that voice, permeated our Queens park and it sounded absolutely phenomenal. Out in the open air. On a beautiful afternoon. And it wasn’t long before some of the company members started dancing around and bopping to the music, as theater people will do 🙂

I’ve been a huge fan of Aretha Franklin since as long as I can remember. I was a twelve year old girl holding a hairbrush as a microphone and singing along with “Natural Woman” in front of the mirror in my bedroom. Those were the years before Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and Adele, and all the female vocalists who followed in Aretha’s footsteps.

This is the Queen of Soul covering the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” in Amsterdam, 1968, the year I was born. You can skip ahead to around 2:40 when Aretha is announced and makes her way to the stage, and then proceeds to bring the house down while getting pelted with flowers. She’s exciting, joyful, full of lady swagger. Sit your ass down Mick Jagger. SIT. DOWN. This is Music Monday with Ms Franklin. RIP.

Love, From Modena

“People think I’m disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion.
There is a great difference.”
Luciano Pavarotti

His mother worked in a cigar factory. His father was a baker. And the north central Italian city of Modena was the place where he was born in 1935. Seventy-one years later, after touring the world, touching millions, popularizing the art of opera like no one else, and reaching the highest heights of fame, Pavarotti would die in Modena, his birthplace, a contented man. Mighty medieval province of Modena. It is the sports car capital of the world – Italy’s “Motor City” – with Maserati, Lamborghini, and Ferrari calling the town home. Enzo Ferrari himself was born and raised in Modena. And then there’s the balsamic vinegar, which the artisans of Modena have been fermenting for hundreds of years. Sexy sports cars and balsamic vinegar are great of course, but Modena, Italy will forever hold as its most esteemed legacy, giving to the world the greatest tenor who ever lived.

The orange stucco rooftops of Modena:

A couple of weeks ago, I posed for open life drawing at the National Art League in Queens, a modeling gig I’ve been doing for over a decade. We turned on WQXR classical radio, as we often do, as a musical accompaniment. During my second 20 minute set, the transcendent voice of Pavarotti surged out of the speakers, and my eyes began to well up with tears. My reaction was not just the emotional response to his magnificent voice, although that certainly played a part. It was more than that. It elicited complex, painful feelings in me about what’s been going on in my life, namely familial relationships and revelations about those relationships that I still can’t fully accept or process. My mother no longer contacts me. She has, incredibly, removed herself from the sphere of my life and has, instead, decided to consign all her motherly love, loyalty, and attention over to her son. Her manipulative, self-serving son. He has brainwashed her, and it’s been distressing to witness over these past several months. It’s as if my mother has forgotten that she has TWO children, and whatever genuine, loving bonds used to exist in this dysfunctional family are now circling the drain.

Pavarotti’s voice is affecting not just because of its raw power, but also because of its purity, and by purity I mean love; the love that propels it through melody and dramatic arcs, in recording after recording, and live performance after live performance. Pavarotti stated many times in interviews that his sheer love of singing and desire to spread joy through music are what animated him. As I posed that night at the National Art League and my emotions stirred and tears dropped from eyes, I became intensely aware of the moment – where I was and what I was doing. It too was about love. I was modeling. Engaged in the livelihood that breathed new life into me 13 years ago and that I love with every fiber of my being. I was also in the presence of friends that I love, specifically my longtime friend Paul who was monitor for the session that night. Paul has shown me, in ways I won’t go into, what a thoroughly decent, upstanding, and genuine person he is. It’s an honor to know him. He is full of love.

At the Opera by Georges Jules Victor Clairin, 1900. I had to post this not just for the opera theme but, girl, those gloves! Rocking the whole outfit 🙂

Pavarotti’s quote about devotion strikes a chord with me in that it distills achievement, success, happiness, gratification  – whatever you want to call it – into a kind of simplicity.  And simplicity shouldn’t be a bad word. Relationships between people function best when the essence of their connection is solidly simple. How often do we hear of a break up because things “got complicated”? Or that someone felt the need to abandon a career because things “got complicated”? Devotion is love, and once love grasps us in its arms, our vision, purpose, and dedication become clearer. I don’t love art modeling because I’m good at it. I’m good at it because I love it. As a child of a working class family in Modena, Pavarotti could have become a small farmer, shoemaker, or vinegar fermenter. Those are all fine vocations. But his love steered him to singing, and it’s wholly evident in his voice. The love that once existed in my family has become tragically compromised – and made complicated – by one toxic person wielding his self-interest like a weapon. If only the simplicity of love had been upheld, and fought for, and acted upon free of bias, we wouldn’t be in this situation. But here we are.

In February of 1972, a 36 year old Pavarotti secured his place in opera immortality when he performed the aria “Ah! Mes amis, quell jour de fête!” from Donizetti’s comic opera La Fille du Regiment at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The aria contains a near impossible nine high C’s, which Pavarotti executed with inspired, love-drenched gusto. With devotion, if you will. The crowd went wild, and the young tenor was summoned back onstage for a record 17 curtain calls. Let’s listen to Pavarotti singing that aria for our Music Monday. It is not a live recording of that momentous night in 1972, but Pavarotti’s love and devotion are in full force. You can skip ahead to around 4:40 to get to the magic 🙂

Alphabet City with Fred

Today is the birthday of my very dear friend Fred Hatt. Happy Birthday Fred!!!! 🙂 Fred and I are both celebrating significant birthdays this year: 60 for him, 50 for me (July). So to commemorate our milestone decades we plan to prolong the party through the summer and deal with aging in the best possible way; by having fun, appreciating each other, and enjoying the big city we both call home.

Last Thursday night Fred and I attended an event in the East Village; “I Ching Alchemy” sculptures and video projection show by our mutual friend Lili White. It was held outdoors in Le Petit Versailles Garden between Avenue A and B – the section of downtown Manhattan known as ‘Alphabet City’. Nobody is better at converting dumpy urban lots into community gardens than East Villagers. They have a gift for it. The space of the Petit Versailles garden was, decades ago, an auto chop shop. Now it’s flower beds, trees, little rock-lined paths, pottery shards, empty picture frames, glass balls, mirrors, ribbons, strings of skull head lights, Tibetan figurines, loose tiles, and any quirky found object that occupies a spot. A busted ceramic urn? Stick it in there. It’s a garden folks, East Village style. The residents down there are fiercely civic-minded, and they will take care of things themselves if the city ignores them. Actually, they prefer it that way. And if raising rents force some thrift shop or vinyl record store out of business they have a collective meltdown 😆

Hanging out with Fred means seeing him suddenly whip out his camera to snap a photo. Nothing escapes this man’s eye! He spotted the shadow shapes that formed on the brick face of the building, just around dusk. With the warm glow of the light strings it created an interesting vision. So I took a photo myself:

The 1958 baby and the 1968 baby 🙂 Fred and I, selfie in the garden. My brilliant, beautiful best buddy whose friendship I value beyond words. The very first friend I made as an artist’s model.

Drawing of me by Fred from 2015. Created at Figureworks Gallery in Brooklyn:

It’s not a Music Monday but we’ll have a Music Tuesday instead! As Lili’s video installation projected onto the side of the building, a fantastic old song accompanied her images. A great choice that truly reflected the spirit of the evening. Please enjoy “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, a classic R&B song from 1975. Buoyant, catchy, uplifting, meaningful. So good. You’ll be up and dancing by the end. 🙂

Cantrix

Portrait commissions may have allowed John Singer Sargent to make a name for himself, but we know that he eventually grew tired of that work despite being in great demand as a portraitist for upper crust aristocrats. If you do a Google Image Search of John Singer Sargent you’re bombarded with painting after painting of affluent men and women posing stiffly in their elegant clothes, gazing straight at the viewer, their airs of superiority wafting off the canvases.

Recently I came across a Sargent portrait that stood out from the others and I suspected that it wasn’t a commissioned work. After a few minutes of research I discovered that it was, in fact, not a commission. Sargent created it purely from the inspiration he felt from the subject, not because he was contracted to do so. She was Mabel Batten, born Mabel Veronica Hatch in Great Britain in 1856. Like most of Sargent’s circle, Mabel was a member of the high society class but she was also an accomplished mezzo-soprano, composer, trained musician and patroness of the arts. Sargent painted this portrait depicting her in the euphoric throes of singing, with eyes closed, mouth open, and those trademark Sargent painterly brushstrokes on the dress. Mabel is in a full blown musical trance here:

And no that’s not some sloppy cropping on my part. Sargent deliberately cut off the arms in an ingenious composition choice which creates greater intimacy and intensity. Also, I like the gesture of her left hand on her hip. Nice touch.

This Music Monday post continues with more female songstress exultation. The word ‘cantrix’, by the way, means a female singer, as my Latin language obsession pokes through from time to time. I posted back in December about my niece Olivia’s original music and I’m thrilled to report that she continues to kick ass 🙂 Her latest single is Sapphire and I would be honored if my readers had a listen to this outstanding song. Really, it’s outstanding! This girl is on a roll. Ms Mabel would love this, and you will too. Here’s Olivia Paris:

New Year Notes

:typing blog post wearing four layers, gloves, ski mask, long johns, while guzzling piping hot coffee directly out of the pot:

Hello gang, and Happy New Year! And also brrrrrr! So 2018 is starting with a deep freeze across the country, with headlines that read “Cold Night Shelters to Open in Central Florida”. Excuse me, what? There’s snow falling in Tallahassee and some ominous thing called a ‘bomb cyclone’ poised to hit us here on the east coast. Sounds delightful o_O

If only single digit temperatures actually inspired the cool, stylish elegance of this lithograph, ‘Winter’, by Art Nouveau master Alphonse Mucha. Nice robe!


I hope you all had a joyous New Year’s Eve celebration, however you chose to spend it. I used to go out on New Year’s Eve but not anymore. I prefer to stay home and have unwittingly established what has now become my own New Year’s Eve ‘tradition’; listening to WQXR’s Classical Countdown. I enjoy it so much! The final number one spot belongs, always, to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which really is the ideal piece of music to bring you to the stroke of midnight. Exultant, profound, triumphant, brimming with passion. Pure genius. It is orchestral fireworks, if you will.

When the Ninth Symphony concludes at midnight, Beethoven continues when WQXR plays his arrangement of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Beethoven was a genius but a genius who, like everyone else, still had to make a living. He supplemented his income composing popular music for his day and doing arrangements of Scottish, English, and Welsh folk songs on commission. The recording WQXR played on New Year’s Eve was Beethoven’s arrangement performed by The New York Vocal Arts Ensemble. And it’s lovely. Beautiful voices with Beethoven’s musical artistry. For those who are interested, this is the album -> Beethoven: Folk Song Arrangements

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Happy New Year everyone! Keep warm, stay safe, and I’ll see you back here very soon 🙂