Merci, Maestro Christophe Chagnard

On Monday, March 23, 2015 the Tacoma News Tribune printed an article I wrote about my memories of working with Christophe Chagnard of the Northwest Sinfonietta.  I am posting the text of the article below.  If you’d like to see the article in the TNT’s online version, click here.  

christophe

Maestro Christophe Chagnard

Last month Christophe Chagnard conducted his final performance with the Northwest Sinfonietta, a chamber orchestra he co-founded 24 years ago.  The Sinfonietta will continue performing, led by visiting conductors, but Christophe’s adieu was a significant moment.  I was there in the Rialto Theater that night.  As Mozart’s music filled the auditorium, I thought back on my own experiences with the Sinfonietta:  planning and laughing and scheduling with Christophe, being paid in concert tickets for writing a book, keeping children out of the way of violin bows.  I am grateful to Christophe, not only for his artistry but for allowing me and a bunch of kids to share in it.

I was an elementary music teacher and spare-time writer in 2005 when the Sinfonietta decided to produce a children’s book.  A board member called me to ask if I’d consider writing a story about orchestra music.  I would work with a committee that included Christophe.  I thought about it.  Music and writing—what was there not to like?  And if these people had a vision for sharing music with children, then we were on the same side.

I had never worked with an orchestra conductor before, especially a French one, and at first I felt a little daunted.  Christophe seemed dubious about my first draft of the book.  I revised it.  The second draft, he acknowledged, was “much improved.”  The final proofs, enhanced by Todd Larsen’s lively illustrations and graphic artist Scott Warfield’s vibrant color layout, were beautiful.  Christophe and I both gave the nod, and The Orchestra in the Living Room went to press.  It became a gift to music lovers and music learners.

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That was not the end of the project.  In 2007 and 2008 the Sinfonietta produced The Orchestra in the Living Room as a children’s play.  I rewrote the story as a stage script, and Christophe selected music for some of the Sinfonietta members to play.  For the cast, we turned mainly to . . . my students.

I have to hand it to Christophe: he is willing to take risks.  Fourth and fifth graders are prone to colds, stage fright and unpredictability.  The first year of the play, we learned by trial and error.  The second year we were joined by an excellent director, Liz Jacobsen.  Liz brought a new level of zest and visual appeal to the play—but it meant shaking things up a bit.  The children were walking among the musicians, holding umbrellas over them and dashing across the stage.

“The musicians are concerned about poking the children with their bows,” Christophe told Liz and me.

So we made room for the children and the bows.  Not all adults are willing to make room, physically and mentally, for youngsters; but the musicians were good sports, and they were part of an orchestra that valued children’s musical growth.  Soon the musicians were smiling at the students in rehearsal, talking with them and remarking among themselves that these were good kids.

Those performances were seven and eight years ago, and I remain grateful for what my students experienced.  As orchestra music swirled around them, they discovered they liked Mozart and Bartok.  They stood on professional stages at Pantages and the Rialto, quelled their nerves and SPOKE UP.  They felt the glare of the stage lights and heard a real audience applaud them.  They were on a first-name basis with a maestro, and the maestro was part of the fun.

Last month after Christophe’s last Tacoma concert, the Sinfonietta hosted a farewell party for him in the lobby of Pantages.  There it was announced that the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation has established the Christophe Chagnard Scholarship Fund to assist young music students.  Music will be passed between generations in Christophe’s name.  It’s an honor he richly deserves.

Maestro Christophe Chagnard, for your 24 years of beautiful work, merci. 

 

New Ways With an Old Craft: The Fiber Art of Flóra Carlile-Kovács

In recent years as I’ve practiced the art of writing, I’ve found it significant to hear from other artists—not only writers, but musicians and visual artists as well—about the creative process.  All of us are affected by our own experiences, by the places we’ve lived, by flora--flower flora--scarfpeople we’ve known, and by the traditions of our own homeland.  But an artist draws on these influences imaginatively and creates something new.  I recently talked with a talented fiber artist who does that.  Flóra Carlile-Kovács, who is Hungarian, works with the old craft of felting.  Her artwork is a new take on an old beauty.

I met Flóra a few months ago through the Hungarian American Association of Washington. Not much more than a year ago Flóra moved to Seattle from Hungary with her husband Christopher, who is American, and their daughter Virág and son Vince.  She moved her artistic practice here as well.  It was a brave step. To be a practicing artist in a place where you know gallery owners and art vendors is challenging enough; to do it in a place where you don’t can be overwhelming.  But Flóra has persevered in the work she loves, and she is finding a niche here.

Flóra describes her creations as wearable art.  Using an amazing integration of color and texture, she creates hats, scarves, dresses, blouses, vests, handbags, slippers, coin purses, and ornaments such as flowers for the hair.  The felting process begins with unspun wool fibers.  Usually Flóra dyes the wool herself in pots outside her studio.  Using an ancient textile process combining wool fibers, water, soap and vigorous kneading, she creates a durable, unwoven material called felt.  In her West Seattle studio I watched her make a scarf by massaging wet, soapy woolen strands into silk fabric.  The woolen lines will stay there, bound to the silk through the

Felting: Flora massages wool into a silk scarf

Felting: Flora massages wool into a silk scarf

felting process.  Flóra showed me some dresses, blouses and vests that she had made, all without seams; the joints are made by felting.  Hats are made by shaping the felt over a form.  Flóra adds ornamentation not by sewing or pinning, but by working other colors and other pieces into the fabric and by manipulating and stretching it.  The process reminds me of sculpting clay.

 Flóra learned felting in Hungary, first through classes and then by experimenting on her own.  A gallery noticed the quality of her work and began selling it, and her success spread.  She participated in exhibitions in Hungary, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic and was featured in a Hungarian magazine.  She also appeared on Hungarian TV when one of her dresses won an award in a huge competition at Buda Castle. (See video.) 

Her work is part of a tradition that in Hungary is called applied arts: the individual production of beautiful, useful objects.  There were several artisans in Flóra’s family, and she has a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and patience involved in the applied arts.  The rhythm of her work involves dyeing, design, layout, rolling, kneading, finishing/shaping, and ironing.  She has to think long-term for a project, and she enjoys every stage.flora--boy in felted robe

The applied arts emphasis on usefulness is part of what inspires Flóra’s designs.  For example, some of her hats have a spiral pattern stretched into the fabric.  The idea for this came from her own need to put up her thick hair: the spiral suggests the swirl of a hair bun, and the stretched addition provides a little more room for tucking upswept hair.  But in addition to ideas coming from the use of the object, very often the inspiration for a design comes from the lines, shades, patterns and textures of the material itself. flora--hat

 Flóra’s transition to the Northwest, starting anew in a completely different corner of the world, has certainly had its challenges.  But she has been encouraged by people’s interest in her work, and her clientele is growing.  She has been selling her work at art fairs and festivals and will also be participating in Christmas shows.  Her studio is part of the West Seattle Art Walk on the second Thursday of every month, 6-9 p.m.  She has also begun teaching felting workshops titled Felted Art in Everyday Use in her studio and has been asked to teach in Portland and on Whidbey Island.

It’s inspiring to see how she has brought her art across the globe.  She has carried on with it even when the pathway hasn’t been very clear, and she’s done it beautifully.  That’s dedication.  That’s art.

To see Flóra Carlile-Kovács’s work or make purchases, please visit her website: http://www.Floranemez.eu/ or Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Floranemez