Monday, January 19, 2015

Grand Rapids Symphony Night ~ 1/10/15

Our pre-concert dinner is usually at Bull's Head Tavern, due mainly to its convenient location to DeVos Performance Hall. And lucky for us, the food and service is also wonderful.
We had an awkward encounter with this guy, who at the time of our entrance was standing behind his chair and wasn't budging an inch to let us get by. Some of his friends snickered and still he didn't have a clue. He was with two long tables of baseball cap-wearing folk there for some convention at Amway. 
Good thing Tony Soprano wasn't there :-)
The symphony was warming up, and once again, we had a Guest Conductor as the symphony continues its search for its next Music Director.
The amazing, Joshua Weilerstein energetically walked out and proceeded to brief the audience on each of the three selections of the evening, and we loved it. The first piece (12 minutes), Iscariot by Christopher Rouse, started out in lush beauty but quickly moved into less pleasing dissonance. With the title of the piece taken from Judas Iscariot in the New Testament, I guess that makes sense. Quickly it was time to change the stage, bring out the piano, and tune the orchestra for the arrival of the renown Stephen Hough!
As Weilerstein described in his introduction, Dvorak's Concerto for Piano in G minor is rarely heard live because, according to Stephen Hough, it was composed by a violinist for a pianist with 10 thumbs. The piece is incredibly difficult but so beautiful to hear, with piano and orchestra exquisitely blended. Unfortunately, after the conclusion of each movement the audience members applauded. But they made it up to Hough by applauding enough after the conclusion to bring him back for an encore. He announced what it was before he began to play but I didn't catch it. It wasn't listed in the Friday night review but I don't think that audience gave him enough of an ovation to bring him back. So later that night I put the question out on twitter to @grsymphony @artswriter and #stephenhough (I couldn't find Stephen specifically on twitter). And who should respond but the great man himself.
After the intermission, Weilerstein conducted Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3, "Scottish." This time the audience respected the movements, and joyful and lyrical were both the composition and the conductor. We hope Joshua Weilerstein is a contender for the Music Director position and were so honored to have Stephen Hough here in Grand Rapids.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Griffins Hockey ~ 1/9/15

Friday night found us at a Griffins Hockey game at the Van Andel Arena, the first hockey game for me since I watched my son play pee wee hockey 25 years ago. Being in the D Zone, we had food and drinks brought to us - score! We've been in the Van Andel for concerts and it was difficult to recognize the place tonight.
Kathy and I crashed this men's outing, mainly to protest the last women's "adventure," which was an overnight shopping trip :-(
We didn't know much about the game but learned from our friends sitting behind us and mostly from our new friend sitting next to us, Mason. Here he is with his beer tower :-)
After getting a bit of flack from our friends in the back about asking how many periods there are in a game, Kathy complained to the recently-returned Mason about our treatment and asked if any game questions would bother him. And on cue he says "only if you ask me how many periods there are in a game" - ha! He also taught us his favorite catcalls: "Break his face!" and "Put him on the board!" Good stuff.

We discovered that there are two breaks (don't call it half-time or intermission) that last 20 minutes. During the first we were entertained by the Grand Rapids Drum Line (in 80s dressup) and a t-shirt shooting Griffins Mascot. During the second break, the mascot was shooting t-shirts out of his hotdog, and the crowd participated in a puck throwing contest.
The game started out promising but the Griffins lost, 2-1. It's a good thing the score was hanging above us because we didn't notice that Charlotte had scored until we looked up. Our excuse? It's hard to see way down to the other end :-)
From 6-8, beer and hotdogs are $2.00 each ~ unfortunately it was Bud Light beer but hey, it's better than Bud. And the people were a blast. It was a big, friendly party. Phones were everywhere, of course, for taking pictures or reading emails or facebook posts :-)
Here was an almost-fight, stopped too soon according to Mason. "That's the problem with the refs. They break it up too soon. Fights are the meat and potatoes of hockey. You can't have just veggies." Alrighty.
Here is a one minute video of the evening, in which you can hear Mason chanting "Let's Go Griffins!" It was a fun night and we'll be happy to attend a game again, this time knowing how many periods there are. And just so you know ~ the mythological griffin has the body, legs, and tail of a lion, and the head, wings and front talons of an eagle.The griffin was considered the king of all creatures and was known for guarding treasure. May the griffin's spirit imbue this hockey team to better guard its goal, which at one point came completely loose from its moorings. "Let's Go Griffins!"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Kwanzaa Concert, St Mary's Temple of Peace Church, 1106 Sheldon ~ 12/27/14

Kwanzaa has been around since 1965, a fact which may surprise many people. It did us.  When we were offered free tickets to a Saturday night performance we jumped at the chance to experience something new. The evening ended up being more entertainment than education but entertaining it was. It started about ten minutes late, and here we are waiting for things to commence.
The drummers looked like they were ready to roll but the leaders seemed a bit unsure of what was supposed to happen next (this happened a few times during the evening). Suddenly the drumming began, and it was loud and impressive. They were incredibly in sync with each other the entire night, stopping together (with one exception on one number) precisely at the conclusion of each piece.
The drummers are a multigenerational group known as the Kuungana African Drum & Dance Company, headquartered in Flint.  The group was founded by, and is led by, Kevin Collins, better known as "Baba."  He took center stage to greet us and to continue the program with a libation ceremony.
Here are some younger members of the troop, playing in perfect precision with their elders or raptly listening.
The West Michigan Jewels of Africa Traditional Dance Troop energetically danced to the drums and were led by the group's founder, Jewellynne Richardson, who introduced herself as "Momma Jewel." Besides her amazing dance moves, this woman had vocals like nobody's business.
Each dance was carefully choreographed and the group did fairly well at staying together. And there was no slow dancing. Our still photos are woefully inadequate but the video compilation caught more of this group in action.

This dancer was great but obviously did not check his pants beforehand because he had to keep hiking them up to avoid having them at his ankles.
More young drummers made an appearance (also in the above video). And at one point the very youngest wandered back and forth on the stage dragging a small drum ~ it was a great family/audience moment :-)

There was a brief intermission after about an hour and we were encouraged to shop at the vendor tables located in the foyer. There were some African made arts and crafts and other just miscellaneous "fashion jewelry." When we returned, the dancers had changed clothes and proceeded to move through the other Kwanzaa principles. And about 45 minute later the show was over. Both Baba and Momma Jewel walked out into the audience to greet and meet people afterward. And we took a few last photos ~ the table holding a decorative mat (mkeka), a candleholder (kinara), first fruits, and the communal cup. Just before the concert ended, Momma Jewel and Baba remembered the cup and shared a sip. I was a little worried that they were going to pass it through the audience but thankfully that didn't happen :-)
There's much more to learn about Kwanzaa, including the fascinating story of how it got its spelling, and you can get a 4 minute lesson from this video from

(Photos by John Gruizenga, Kathy Gruizenga, & Helen Van Essendelft)