Sunday, April 19, 2009

Shel Silverstein

At this time of year I introduce poetry to my kindergartners. We read poetry, begin to think like poets, and write poetry. It is one of my favorite units. You would be amazed at some of the poems these children write. They could rival some of the most famous poets. One of the poets that I am not tremendously wild about, but share his work with my class, is Shel Silverstein. Personally I enjoy his children's picture books much more than most of his poetry. His sense of humor doesn't always appeal to me. I carefully select a number of his poems to read aloud and offer the children the opportunity to read others from several of his poetry books.

On a completely different note but connected is this, I always seem to pull an old song from the back of my mind at the oddest of times. I'm not even sure what times trigger the vague notion of this song from my childhood. I can't even get the words of the song or the exact tune; it all seems to be on the fringe of my memories. Here is what I know: this song reminds me of my dad (Did he like the song?), Louisiana, swamp, swampy woman, voodoo, witches, and snakes. Weird huh?

How are Shel Silverstein and a childhood song related?

Well first I began to research Shel Silverstein to determine his ethnic background. As this is my blog, I'm going to be very direct here. The photo of Shel Silverstein on the back of his book The Giving Tree makes him look like a bald black man or maybe a Cuban, he has a Castro-esque look to him. I began to ask people if Silverstein was black. No one seemed to know and when I pointed out the Giving Tree photos they would agree that he did look black. Of course his ethnicity does not matter but it became this great mystery to me. Who is Shel Silverstein?

It seems that Mr. Silverstein was a very private person and allowed very little information to be published about himself. Most sites, articles, and literate all state that he was fiercely protective of his private life. Here is what is know. Shel Silverstein was born in Chicago on Sept. 25th in the year 1930 or 1932. Their is admitted conflicting information about the year of his birth. He served in the military. He had been married, divorced and was the father of a daughter. Recently I found an article that said he had a son and daughter. He died of a heart attack in Key West, FL May 10, 1999 where he had a residence. Oh, yea back to the ethnic origins. One of all the many sources I found stated that he was Jewish. So that mystery was solved for me. I could see where he looked like he was of Jewish descent. But it opened the door to much more fascinating pieces of information.

It seems Mr. Silverstein had never considered a career as an author of children's literature. He was a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine. He was encourage by his publisher to begin writing for children. Silverstein was also a screenwriter, composer and lyricist. He performed with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. I somewhat remember Dr. Hook and continued to delve into the musical side of Shel Silverstein. Well it turns out he wrote A Boy Name Sue that Johnny Cash recorded and made famous. Along the way Shel Silverstein also collaborated with Bobby Bare and they had an award winning song, Marie Laveau. My song!!! This was the song in my head!!

I googled Bobby Bare. Amazon provided album covers and tidbits of his songs. Yes, I recognized at least one of the album covers. I think my parent's had a 8-track of this one (probably still have it somewhere). I found Marie Laveau and listened to the bit they had and it sure seemed like my song. I then pulled up Song Lyrics and hunted for the song. As I read the lyrics I knew I had found my song. Guess what?! A link took me to a U-Tube performance of Bobby Bare singing Marie Laveau.

Now, I still can't figure out what is so great about this Marie Laveau song. Although I love that name, it kind of trips off your tongue. Maybe the poetry/story of it catches my fancy. I just know that it doesn't seem like my kind of music especially since I don't particularly care for country music. But I am still drawn to that song. I play it every once in a while and just kind of smile as I listen to it.

Isn't it strange that one obsessive quest would give me answers to this bizarre memory. Wow!! May all your searches yield interesting results.

P.S. I have another song piece in my head. It is from the 1990's, has something to do with driving away, I get the sense of two kids or two people turning back and looking out the back window of the car as it drives away. Drives away is key, looking back, and gold (like gold coins/money). It has a catchy tune that on the fringe of that brain of mine. I always think that it has something to do with Kid Rock, and a fish song that I thought was recorded by Kid Rock, but it doesn't. I haven't found the answer to this one. Not yet!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Circus Is Coming

Well the circus came and went last weekend. We had a school-wide performance on Thursday afternoon. This is the circus dress rehearsal. Then the public performances were Friday and Sunday.

Mimi participated in three acts. Two of the three included performing at great heights. An amazing feat since she is scared of heights. Her poi performance (the only non-height act) which involves hand rhythm movements using objects like ribbons and balls on a string was an act that she has performed in for several years. She did not participate in adagio, a part gymnastic and dance act. She said that now that she is no longer a little one, she would have to lift and swing other kids (instead of being the one lifted and swung)and she didn't want to do that. She didn't participate in the acrodance (dance routine) because she was going to be a show clown. The practice for these activities were at the same time. It turned out that a bunch of younger boys were going to be clowns too and she didn't want to work with them. She found her niche and did plenty. She was partnered with two of her best school friends and had a lot of fun.

T-Man once again volunteered to help with the circus. He alternated between chess club practice and circus practice. Both circus and chess practice were on the same day of the week. T-Man was one of three high school students who helped out this year. Most of the helpers are college circus performers. T-Man and his friend have proven themselves as experts in globes and cylinders, acts they performed in during their elementary years. For the last two years they have choreographed the globes and cylinders acts.

Once again it was a busy weekend. Doug and I helped with concessions and entertained a couple of Mimi's dance friends who came to see her perform. I also took four hundred pictures over the three days of performances. The digital camera technology is fantastic. You can come home immediately download and edit pictures and in my case get a plan for taking more photos. I was able to move around to different areas of the gym to get photos and focus on specific acts. I have spared my family the viewing pleasure of my best 300+ photos. I only added photos of my two circus members to our family photo site. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

T-Man's Accomplishments

T-Man joined the chess team this year. He played for several years at the elementary school and did not play his Freshman year of high school. During the chess season they would play a varsity team and a J.V. group. The J.V. group were individual kids that were not playing on the varsity team. T-Man mostly played in the J.V. category.

In January T-Man's high school chess team went to a large competitive chess tournament, Illini Classic. For this tournament they split the kids into two teams representing their high school, Team A and Team B. T-bone competed with Team-B as this team has lesser rating than Team A. Interestingly enough, and much to the chagrin of Team A, Team B earned second place in the tournament with Team A placing third. Team B members earned the metal in the box of T-Man's hand and the trophy in his other hand. T-Man got to keep the trophy from this tournament because all the other kids received a 2nd place in the league metal. T-Man did not get one because they only sent a certain number and coach was one short. So coach gave T-Man the trophy that Team B won. T-Man was more than pleased with this. He scored big time.

The kids had a very good season finishing 2nd place in their league. They headed to state (the same weekend Mimi and I were at her dance competition) and finished in a five-way tie for second place. The tie breaker procedures left them finishing in sixth place, the last members of the tie. This was still great considering that they compete against some large Chicago schools with longstanding winning traditions. The kids and coaches were also pleased that in state the beat IMSA, the Illinois Math and Science Academy School. Unfortunately one of T-Man's team's best players is going to IMSA in the fall so they are not too optimistic that they will beat this school next year.

The metal around T-Man's neck is the award the team received at state. He amassed some serious metal from this season's play and I think that will carry him into next year's season.

Mimi's Accomplishments

Right after the holidays Mimi began "training" for an International Dance Scholarship Competition. She would compete with a contemporary piece and a classical ballet piece. We began by searching for some contemporary music that Mimi would like and with which teacher could choreograph. Of the eight or so choices Mimi and her teacher selected the song Pana by Malo. For the classical pience Mimi's teacher selected an excerpt from the ballet The Talisman (Schnietzhoeffer/Drigo/Petipa) for her to dance.

This led to some very serious dance lessons. Mimi spent Tuesday - Sunday at the studio learning her dance pieces. During non-competition preparation time Mimi does not dance on Wednesdays so that she can go to her religious education class. The last couple of weeks we allowed her to skip her religious classes so she could continue her competition training and get home at a reasonable time to complete homework, shower, and go to bed. It was a very rigorous and exhausting time.

There were times when I as a parent felt like I knew what it was like to live with an Olympic athlete in training. Mimi's dancing has really consumed her life. Besides dance she goes to school, circus, and church. Circus is on Wednesdays after school so she is still able to participate in that school activity. I had hoped that she would join the school's Scholastic Bowl team and follow in T-Man's footsteps. That was not to be this year; although she can attend the practices she dances all the days the team competes. It doesn't seem to bother her but it makes me sad.

Mimi and five other girls from the dance academy were preparing to compete at the competition. The moms spent the month of January sewing their costumes and/or making alterations to store bought costumes or some from the dance company. I tweaked Mimi's costume for her contemporary dance. I made her costume for the classical performance.

Ready or not February rolled around. I booked a hotel and hoped that the whole family would go or at least the boys would come up Friday after school. It turned out that T-Man's Chess State Tournament would be the same days. He would travel on the team van missing school Friday, return home that night, and return to competition Saturday. That ended the hope that everyone would go with Mimi and I.

I took Friday off from school. I packed the van double and triple checking that I had the costumes, shoes, make-up, and hair supplies necessary for the competition. Mimi would also need snacks and her I-pod loaded with her warm-up music. After map questing directions for the Chicago suburbs, loading up on toll road quarters we left at 5:30am to get to the hotel and meet the rest of the girls. The girls would get ready for the competition at the hotel. Here her jazz teacher fixes her hair.
Then the director/owner/ ballet teacher applied her make-up.

We then headed off the the hosting college campus theater for the competition. It was an all day experience. In the evening the girls returned for a hotel room celebration of pizza and fun. Saturday we did some shopping, watched some high school age girls compete and then watched the awards ceremony.

One of the girls from the academy earned a national competition spot in New York. She’ll compete again in April. Another of the girls placed in the top twelve for her age division. Angelique earned very good scores and was given good feedback from the judges. All in all it was a great experience.

We could not take pictures or video during the competition. The following couple of weekends had the Youth Ensemble participating in some community dance events. I was able to get some shots Of Mimi dancing her contemporary piece. At her student concert I hope to get some of her classical dance.