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 🙂

Golden Jubilee

I present this blog post feeling equal parts of dread and gratitude. And since I can’t ignore it even if I tried I’ll just mention that this Sunday, July 22, is a significant day for me. It will mark my 50th orbit around the sun .. and boy am I exhausted! 😆 Yeah it’s my birthday and it’s the big 5-0. Half a century folks. Yay!! I made it!! Of course, even us super cool Gen Xers had to get old eventually. Remember us? The forgotten ‘middle child’ wedged between the Baby Boomers and the Millenials, both of whom outnumber us by huge margins. I’ve been obsessively listening to 80s music lately and it’s no mystery why. So many memories.

In lieu of tedious profound thoughts and deep life reflections inspired by my ‘milestone’ birthday, I’m just going to wish you all a wonderful weekend and continued summer fun of vacations, travels, recreation, explorations, and whatever else you’re all enjoying. Meet me right back here in a few days. Grace and peace, dear friends. I’ll see you on the other side of fifty …

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, On the Road to the Temple of Ceres:

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. 🙂

Olivia Paris Music 🎵

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “music … will help dissolve your perplexities .. and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” For the past few Decembers on this blog I’ve published a post on Christmas music. We had a lot of fun with last year’s post sharing favorites and some lesser known recordings. This year, my holiday Music Monday post is far more meaningful than the previous ones, and I’m thrilled to share it with all of you.

My 15 year old niece Olivia has been writing and recording her own music. That’s right. She’s a fledgling songwriter. To her family and friends it comes as no surprise, as Olivia has been a fine musician and marvelous singer ever since she was a little girl. Her innate talent was already on full display at her 5th grade talent show. But Olivia is a teenager now, and a budding young woman, which means she has things to say. And when women have things to say through music, the world, rightly, listens.

I could go on and on about my darling niece; her wicked sense of humor, her kindness and honesty, her intrinsic understanding of truth and authenticity. A born-and-bred city girl, she is worldly beyond her years, but valiantly resists the cynicism that afflicts much of her generation. With our family struggling through some very strained times, Olivia’s spirit and her music have kept alive that ‘fountain of joy’ that Bonhoeffer spoke of.

This is Olivia’s holiday single, Hold You Close, just released today! With her father producing this and all her tracks, Olivia’s musical future is full of wondrous possibilities. She is on Instagram at @oliviaparismusic and on Apple Music. I’m so proud of you sweetheart! 🙂 🙂

A Note of Thanks

To those of you who reached out to me with expressions of support and concern after my “Ashes” post, you have my deepest gratitude. I’m incredibly touched by your kindness! You’ve been kinder to me than my family has been these past couple of years. So again, thank you – for the recommendations of Keranique and other products for hair loss, for sharing your own personal ordeals with family strife, and for assuring me that I don’t deserve to be taken for granted by people who are supposed to love me. These communications really, really help. During difficult times we all seek sources of strength wherever we can find them. My friends, my blog readers, my church, and my art modeling work make for a fine support system. Oh and Jessie the cat! She’s done her share by bringing me smiles and purrs on a daily basis 🙂

I’m getting out of town for the day on Saturday for a much needed change of atmosphere. But I’ll see you all right back here very soon. I wish you all grace and peace …

My portrait in red chalk by Livia Mosanu, created at the New York Academy of Art, summer 2017: