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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Millay Colony for the Arts Residency Part 2

Well finally,I have some time to finish what I started this past September...sharing my residency experience at the Millay Colony for the Arts from August 2011. I know, quite a bit of time has passed, and lots of exciting things have been going on, but I have a little breather right now, so here we go!
The photo to the left is the main house of the Millay Colony for the Arts, where the shared kitchen, living room, library, offices, dark room, laundry room and 2 artists studios (one of which I was in) are located. If you're interested, here are the rest of the photos of the Millay Colony Ground.

I really liked my studio! It was big and airy, with a back door that opened up to the woods. In the mornings I would sit outside and listened to the birds, having that morning coffee and some reading. During the day, it was nice and cool (along with the aid of a box fan), and there was a couch for more reading or nap taking! At night, I would go outside with star maps in hand and study the constellations. One night was particularly exciting...I had been improvising with and transcribing the audio files from NASA's Voyager, and decided I needed to rest my ears for a little bit so I stepped out into the darkness, looked up at the sky, and whoosh!...came this streaming bit of cosmic material thru the sky that looked like a huge ball of fire with a huge tail of fire behind it. To me it looked as big as a Mac Truck! I related the story to the astrophysicist Charles Liu, who told me that bit of cosmic material was probably the size of a strawberry, or maybe as big as a small cantaloupe. imagine that! Here you can see the photos of the Millay Studio.
 There were 2 places I would go for walks during the day, the Millay Poetry Trail and the Millay Estate grounds. When I walked the poetry trail, I was mainly interested in recording Hermit Thrushes. There was one day when I heard them as I walked off the road onto the trail, and as I pulled out my recorder and walked deeper into the woods, they had disappeared. Drats, I thought! However, I decided to sing to them, and after a few minutes, they started singing back to me. Wow, I had never had that happen before, that was thrilling! If you walked off of the trail, circled back a little bit, you would come across this...

Vincent's Gin Bottle Pile
Vincent is what Edna St Vincent Millay preferred to be called, and her pile of gin bottles and other old cans were in an area off of the trail. It was like being on a scavenger hunt, walking over tiny streams of water, ducking under branches, at times sinking into mud...and then...there they were. They have been there since before the 1950's. The folks who maintain the estate have left them there for the rest of us to hunt down.

The photo to the left is Vincent's writing cabin, just a few yards from the main house. Inside is a desk and a small bed. It's very small and very austere, and I imagine it was probably her favorite place to be. You can see more photos of the estate grounds here.

 Austerlitz, NY, where the colony is located, not far from Chatham, is a beautiful area, nestled in the BeBe State Forest, about 15 minutes from Tanglewood, with lots of artists hidden down winding roads or sometimes right on the main highway.
I thought the location was perfect for exploring, meeting interesting people, hearing music, seeing art, and having some wonderful food in town. I was there for 3 1/2 weeks, and spent most of the time working, but would take a day every week to explore the area. I kept a record of all the places I visited and there were 14 new places that I went to. That seems like a lot, but many of these places were only 15 minutes away...Hudson NY, and Athens, NY being the furthest I traveled to the south, (about 40 -60 minutes)and New Lebanon being the furthest I traveled to the north (about 25 minutes).

I went to the Hudson Music Festival to hear the young guitarist, and son of one of my colleagues at the New School, Jesse Statman, do a solo set, and then to the Hudson Jazz Workshop, to hear another New School colleague and great jazz pianist, Armen Donelian, along with saxophonist and co-leader Marc Mommaas, the wonderful guitarist and New School colleague Vic Juris, and the workshop participants. It's also where I met John Sergenian, who told me about the big band charts of Jaki Byard...which our big band will now be performing June 13th at Trumpets Jazz Club in Montclair. I called Susan Brink about the workshop event, and she came down to film it which you can see here. The photo above is of BeBe State Forest...the colony is on the other side of the mountain that I am standing on (behind me).

 Tanglewood! Heard the incredible pianist Ursula Oppens one morning and then went back to the New Music Festival and ran into one of my fellow MacDowell Colony composers, Andrew Norman, whose piece "drip blip sparkle spin glint glide glow float flop chop pop shatter splash" 
was being performed that evening-what a nice surprise!

 Going into Chatham was always a nice little break in the day, especially on the weekends. It's not very big, but there are some interesting used book stores, places to eat, a movie theater, a very cool store called "American Pie" which had everything from fanciful kitchen doodads, to cards, journals, clothing, jewelry, toys, and CANDY!...the kind we used to buy back in the day when it was a penny or a nickle a piece (you know that's not the price now ;-).

 I met 2 really interesting sculptors. The first one being Roy Kanwit, and his Taconic Sculpture Park & Gallery.  When you drive up the Taconic parkway, just before you get to the Chatham exit, you can see some of his sculpture up on the hill to your right. I followed the signs to his place and was met by his wife, who is from IOWA! So we sat down and had a little get to know each other session in the shade of the trees, and soon after Roy appeared. I was the only one around so I was able to spend a little time with them and lots of time roaming the grounds. You can see more of that here.
 His sculptures are either marble, or steel and cement, like this on in the photo on the right. That one is so big, that there's a huge ladder behind the head so that he can go up and make repairs. His marble work is beautiful, and walking around the grounds I was surrounded by mythic images and felt transported to another time.

This jem was found by my dear friend Dennis Connors, who came up to do some filming one day...the Circle Museum...about 15 minutes down the road from the colony. I hadn't traveled south on Rt 22, so I didn't know it existed until Dennis (who was traveling north on Rt 22) asked me about it. I went over a couple of times to check out the sculptures and talk with the artist Bijan.

Bijan is originally from Iran, and came to the states in the early 70's...to the Bronx. He told me he would build his sculptures on the street, and then the police would come and tear them down. So he decided to move upstate, found this house on the side of RT 22 with several acres and began creating his sculpture park. His sculptures are mostly based on "circles" from scrap metal, iron, and a very big turbine. He also has paintings in the main house. If you ever find yourself on Rt 22, going north of Hillsdale or south of Austerlitz...stop and in and have a chat with Bijan. There are more photos here.

Another place I visited,also only 15 minutes away, was the Norman Rockwell Museum. My father was a big fan of Norman's and I have several framed prints of Norman's paintings that hung in my parents house. The photo on the left is a of Norman's painting "Do Unto Others"...just beautiful. it sits in his studio, which originally was in Stockbridge, Mass, only a few minutes away...and moved to the grounds of the museum. If you have never been there, I highly recommend going. You will see all of his paintings, his covers for the Saturday Evening Post, and other exhibitions as well. The day I went, with friend Susan in tow, was the same day of the earthquake that was centered near Washington, DC and felt up and down the east coast. Susan and I didn't feel it at the museum, but the artists at the colony said they did. You can see more photos here.

The residency was wonderful, I got a lot of work done on my birdsongs, sketched a new movement for my big band piece "Music of the Spheres", got lots of practicing in on the piano, and enjoyed the surroundings. Besides the "cosmic event" that I witnessed one night, and the Hermit Thrush singing to me, there was one other special moment....I had been working on one of my birdsongs called "Dancing with the Sparrows', and decided to rest for a moment and listen to my bird/piano improvs from MacDowell on my bed. I put on the headphones, laid down, and as soon as the sparrows started singing on the recording, a sparrow flew up into my bedroom windowsill, and seemed to be listening in and leaning along side of the screen.Tthe sparrow flew away as soon as I got up to take a look, but as I walked away, I saw out of the corner of my eye, the sparrow was slowly walking/hopping back to the window.....

Once again, i would like to thank the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation for naming me a Creative Fellow at the Millay Arts Colony, and making this residency possible, and all of the great staff at the Millay Arts Colony, Calliope and especially chef Donna!

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