Sometimes It Works

Show business is a collaborative effort always. And any part being out of balance or off kilter can — and will — affect the end product, even to the point of ruining what in other circumstances may have turned out brilliantly. That’s a great part of the fun and excitement of mounting a production: the risk. And also what often makes it (apart from the loss of large sums of money) such a heartbreaker. The 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote “Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’ ” Anyone who’s ever trod the boards or otherwise been associated with the production of a show knows exactly those feelings.

Perhaps the risks are highest in musical theatre, where nowadays the costs are so astronomical, but also because of the need to add the extra elements of song and dance to an already dicey task of creating something that in roughly two hours is going to entertain and perhaps shed light on some aspect of the human condition. Good luck to ya!

For every time it succeeds, heaven only knows how many times it doesn’t, often with all the grace and charm of a belly flop.

But sometimes . . . sometimes … something happens and it works. It would be too easy to just chalk it all up to stardust. Have you ever really analyzed why it works in those glorious cases when it does?

I recently read some insightful words by author James Leve, who is a musicologist and professor at Northern Arizona University, about the collaboration between the late lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander, one of the most successful and prolific teams in the history of musical theatre. Kander and Ebb’s work includes Cabaret (probably their greatest commercial success); Chicago; and New York, New York.

Leve provides an excellent analysis of what makes a Kander and Ebb song — and their collaboration — work:

“Kander and Ebb’s portfolio of songs includes recurring harmonic progressions and exhibits preferences for certain stanzaic structures, but what best defines their voice is the contradictory nature of their collaboration: the composer and lyricist have strikingly different artistic temperaments, the former demonstrably sentimental and lyrical, the latter campy and cynical. Their collaboration is a perfect balancing act. . . . The palpable tension between the opposing qualities that each embodies produces the dramatic energy underlying their scores. In “Maybe This Time” [from the film version of Cabaret], for instance, the melody striving to go higher and higher and the forward momentum of the harmonic progression force the singer to deny the possibility of failure even though the lyric and physical exertion required to sing the song create a sense of desperation.”

Nicely said.

I’ll add to Leve’s astute observations by including three video clips of Kander and Ebb songs from Flora, the Red Menace (Broadway, 1965); the film version of their Broadway musical Cabaret (1972); and the 1977 film New York, New York (all starring singer/actress Liza Minnelli). These beautifully exemplify what Leve is saying and further show the perfect marriage of a singer/artist/interpreter with composer and lyricist. Minnelli has the chops to perform the physically and technically demanding material while embodying the optimism, vulnerability, urgency, and pathos that are the hallmarks of Kander and Ebb’s works. What a great team the three of them made! Minnelli’s greatest artistic achievements have arguably always been in association with them.

In the case of Cabaret, the addition of director and choreographer Bob Fosse’s cynicism, sense of rhythm and movement, visual eye, and ability to synthesize all the clashing high energies of Kander, Ebb, and Minnelli with a knowledge of the possibilities and limitations of film made for artistic achievement of the highest order. That sense of “desperation” Leve references is always there: sometimes in your face, sometimes lurking just beneath the surface and in counterpoint to what the melody, itself, or the situation is saying. In Cabaret, Kander, Ebb, Minnelli, and Fosse, all come across as being at the top of their abilities. Without any of them, I think that film would never have worked at all. High command of craft makes the components; the tensions and the mergers make the art.

Have a look and a listen and see what I mean. Sometimes it works.

Maybe This Time

But the World Goes Round

Sing Happy (excerpt)

WILL You Give?

In the last few weeks, we’ve explored some aspects of giving, including What’s In It For Me?, Why Do You Give?, and now on “Giving Tuesday” we come to the big ask:  Will You Give?

It’s a simple as that.

The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation was created in 2012 through a monetary contribution in memory of Earl Wentz.  This forms the corpus of the foundation’s finances.   Additional support comes through gifts and grants from private individuals (alumni, friends, supporters of the arts and arts education) and corporations.

And these gifts are not only needed and welcomed but they are put to work right away by the foundation’s Board of Directors strictly for the purposes for which the foundation has been incorporated.

And those purposes are excellent ones:

        • promoting, creating, and supporting the musical and other artistic works of the late Earl Wentz and
        • fostering and continuing the educational methods of Earl Wentz, particularly related to music and drama.

Each year, we continue to give thousands of dollars in scholarships to students in need and to provide classes and educational initiatives in the arts, particularly for students who otherwise might have little or no access to high-caliber arts training and programs.

Over 90% of the students and families we serve are currently living below the poverty line.

We continue to promote, support, and produce the music of Earl Wentz with the continued intent of archiving, maintaining, and preserving them with the highest degree of artistic integrity possible.

There are so many ways you can help:

The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation is qualified as a charitable organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.   Federal tax id #: 46-1415914.


Will you give?

Can we — and all those who benefit from our work — count on you?

If you give to The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation, please share with us at the foundation and others in the community — especially those who may be considering a gift — why.

I invite you to “weigh in” with your own comments and ideas and to share them with other readers by using the “Comments” feature above. You can click the “Comments” button at the top of the page to see what other readers have to say and to create a dialogue with them.

And . . . you can give easily by clicking this link.


© William B. Watkins and “William Weighs In”, 2014-2015. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction. This blog and all its content and components, including but not limited to photographs, videos, music, and text entries, are fully protected by all copyright laws of the United States of America and by international covenants. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Why Do You Give?

Last month’s post, What’s In It For Me?, proved controversial and evoked comments and discussion (which is part of what we want to do!) around selfishness / self-centeredness, especially when it comes to charity.

I participated in an event the other day where we talked about “Thanksliving”. Yep, that’s not a typo. Thanksliving. So in this week in which we celebrate one of the more popular American holidays (usually by eating, drinking, watching parades and sports, and shopping), let’s take a more positive approach and look at why  people (including you and me) do give.

Sometimes it really is out of a sense of gratitude; sometimes it’s from a sense of guilt; sometimes it’s because our hearts have been stirred by something; sometimes it’s because we want something in return (even if it’s only a tax-deduction); and sometimes it’s because we just feel it’s the right thing to do.

From the standpoint of the receiver of the gift — be that a charity or individual — maybe the motivation of the giver isn’t such a big thing. After all, in the case of a charity, if the money gets received that allows for the programs to be accomplished, does it really matter why someone or some business gave?

Well, maybe it does. It’s always good to know that those who support our foundation‘s work are on board with our mission. It also helps us who are doing the work to know that we’re not just on the other side of the cynical “What’s in it for me?” coin.

Here are just a few of my favorite reasons that people have shared about why they support our work:

      • “I give . . . because I cannot imagine this world without Earl, but if he can’t be here, at least his extraordinary genius will live on through the music he created. And perhaps — riding on the notes of his brilliant compositions — his huge heart, sustaining wisdom, and unstoppable humor will continue to inspire, comfort and delight us for years to come.  I miss him beyond words, but am blessed to be able to hear his music time and time again. That is why . . . . “

      • “I give because Earl Wentz gave.  He gave laughter not just to countless audiences but to everyone he met. He gave music to the world. He gave encouragement to his hundreds of students. And he gave love in everything he did.   That’s why I give . . . . “

      • “I had the joy and honor of working with Earl as my teacher and he taught me so much about music and life through his passion for both.  I miss him, but his music will live on as a reminder of his beautiful spirit.  I give . . . so others can experience his music and as a tribute to his life.

      • “There are so many reasons . . . !  Continuing Earl’s work is actually a gift to the world. You know how everyone gets all excited when someone finds an unpublished piece of music from Berlin or Gershwin? Well, Earl’s legacy is of the same magnitude –- but it needs to be heard to be appreciated and loved, which is why funding the preservation and publication of these buried treasures is so important.”

      • Earl was a giver . . . .  A lot of my confidence to appear on stage came from Earl.  He believed in me, in my abilities and my aspirations.  He was always there to give you a boost when you needed it . . . .”


So . . . in this season of thanks and giving . . .

Why do you give?

Why not?

If you give to The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation, specifically, please share with us at the foundation and others in the community — especially those who may be considering a gift — why.

I invite you to “weigh in” with your own comments and ideas and to share them with other readers by using the “Comments” feature above. You can click the “Comments” button at the top of the page to see what other readers have to say and to create a dialogue with them.

And . . . you can give easily by clicking this link.


© William B. Watkins and “William Weighs In”, 2014-2015. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction. This blog and all its content and components, including but not limited to photographs, videos, music, and text entries, are fully protected by all copyright laws of the United States of America and by international covenants. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

What’s In It For Me?

Our blog is back after some time off.  Time off was taken for the standard summer break reasons but also because shortly after the last post, there was the horrible tragedy of the Charleston, South Carolina church shootings.  Anything I could think to say in this blog just faded in light of that.

Alongside of that, was a disturbing trend that I’ve noticed grow more and more in the last several years.  It’s “What’s In It for Me?”  Maybe that’s not so bad when it comes to flat out business but it really disgusts me when it comes to charitable actions.

And sadly, I’ve had that raised once too often when it comes to the work that we’re doing and trying to do at The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation.  Here’s a few brief examples:

The individual who suddenly decided for some reason that he or she owned the rights to one of Earl’s works simply because he had performed in it and, therefore, said he or she was no longer interested in fulfilling the booking obligations we had made and further showed true colors by ending with “Too bad you didn’t know Earl’s wishes.”  Was that an ill-advised “negotiating tactic” or something worse? The upshot is that what the individual has ended up with is a really bad reputation in the business and ultimately a loss of the performance fees he would have received for his legitimate work.

Another is a church official who decided, I assume from greed, that he could do whatever he wanted to with Earl’s music, that “there’s a common perception that music doesn’t belong to anyone”, and that “if ASCAP has told you any different, we can talk about it.” (Send me a note if you need a primer on copyright, wills, performance rights, legal ownership, what ASCAP is and does, good taste and decency, etc.! Contact him if you need a primer on why the church is reviled so highly in our society and trust in clergy is at an all-time low.)

If those didn’t send me retching, and don’t do the same for you (apologies if you’re reading this around mealtime!), here’s the one that just stopped me in my tracks the week of the Charleston massacre when nine innocent people were gunned down in their place of worship by a racist maniac with access to a gun:

I had been asking readers of this blog and of our “Update” newsletters and our general supporters to provide a few written sentences on the subject of “home” to help with a program we were developing around that subject for our young students.  This would also help connect the larger community with our students in a way that would be tangible and easily-understandable for our students.  (They need to know that people care and that other people, especially adults, think what they are doing is valuable and will share something — which cost the responding adults only about 5 minutes of their time.)

I was startled by the number of people who couldn’t take a few minutes to write down a few words that would be helpful to children but was completely appalled when someone who has benefited greatly from the work of the late Earl Wentz , rather than contributing a few words, approached me to try to get our mailing list so that she could sell the parents of our below-the-poverty-line students her videos.

How about that sports fans?

Are you with me on this?

Have we all just bloody lost it?

I mean, I’m no panty-waist but this makes me puke.

The first two are, sadly, for our lawyers to deal with. The last is something far worse (as is the underlying motivation behind the first two).

Please do let me know your thoughts and feelings by using the “Comments” tab above and let’s have a community dialogue about this quickly before it’s too late for us all.

My quick take is that what’s “in it” for anyone who contributes or works with us is the unspeakable joy and pleasure that comes from helping those in need and seeing their faces light up and their lives forever impacted in a positive manner (perhaps for the first time ever), a legitimate tax-deduction for your monetary gifts, and — if you are a vendor or instructor for us — fair compensation in addition to the first item. If you believe in good karma then there’s bucket-loads of that, too. . . .

. . . . But if you fall into that first category of I have to profit off of charitable works designed for the most needy, then let me direct you to the end of the line right behind the bone-picking vultures.

Welcome back to my world, dear readers, and a happy fall (he tried to say without too much irony.)

Click “comments” at beginning of this post above to view what others are saying and to weigh in on this topic.

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

So, I’ve been back in Manhattan and having a ball, seeing old friends, catching a really wonderful show (“The Visit” — more on that one in another post), having a couple of business meetings, seeing some great art, doing research, taking a class or two, and buying books to use in our foundation’s classes.  Oh, for me, this is heavenly stuff!

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Old Friends, Old Students, Old Teachers, Old Times

This morning I walked into the school where our foundation had been in residency to attend a meeting.  As I rounded the corner, I saw a group of students who began waving and smiling at me.  Several broke from their line and came up to hug me and say hello.  What a truly nice surprise, especially because these students and I hadn’t seen each other in a year.  They remembered me and apparently it was a positive memory!  Well, that alone was enough to make my morning.

I’ll be teaching some old and some new students in about eight weeks.  Introducing each of them to something new.  We’ve added basic tap dance to our program of instruction for our Summer Musical Theatre Workshop and I’m excited about it.  I hope they are, too.  It’s so good for the development of rhythm skills and to learn different timings.  Not to mention the sheer joy and what it does for you physically.

There was a time several years ago when I was taking about 8 dance classes per week in New York.  Man! was I in shape!  There’s no room for any extra fat when you’re working like that, especially when the studio may or may not be air conditioned in the middle of a steamy NYC summer.  If nothing else, I sweated off any extra pounds!

But that’s been a while.  And since I will be teaching others to tap this summer, I thought I’d better start getting in shape again.  So that necessitated finding a couple of old friends.  A little worn, a little dusty, but a couple of nice old friends.  My tap shoes.

It was soooooo good to see them again.  And although our reacquainting started off a little creaky at times, before long we were clicking along as if no time had passed at all.  Okay, some time.  I’m older.  That’s the way it goes.  But I remembered.  I’ve got to say that it may take new info a while to get in there but once it’s there for me, it usually is pretty much there to stay.  (Part of this must be what they call “muscle memory”, where you don’t think you just “do”.)

So this week, I’ll be in Manhattan and I’ve checked the schedules at the studios where I used to take classes.  Hey! whaddya know!  One of my old teachers is still there, still hoofing after all these years.  I wonder if he’ll remember me when I walk in, put my bag down on the floor, lace up my shoes and begin to warm up at the barre?  Like old times with a couple of good old friends.


What are some of the old joys that you’d like to rekindle in your life? 

Who — or what — are your old friends that you’d like to get reacquainted with?

What’s stopping you?

(Please share your comments and thoughts by using the “Comments” feature below.)


© William B. Watkins and “William Weighs In”, 2014-2015. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction. This blog and all its content and components, including but not limited to photographs, videos, music, and text entries, are fully protected by all copyright laws of the United States of America and by international covenants. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Ice Cream Faces

I ran into a former student this morning at my community garden. She was there for a school-related program; I was just there to water and weed and hope a little as I surveyed the puny seedlings just beginning to emerge from the little patch I cultivate.

She was wandering around the garden in a state of apparent bliss, eating from a styrofoam cup.  I called her by name and said hello.  She smiled and said hello back to me.

“Do you have ice cream in that cup?” I asked her.

“Mmmm-hmmmm!” she affirmed, tilting the cup so I could see.

“Do you know how I knew that?” I asked.

She scraped her plastic spoon against the inside of her cup, getting every last bite.   “How?”

“You had on an ‘I’ve got ice cream’  face .  .  . ” I explained.

She grinned even more broadly than she had been doing.

” .  .  .  Like you were just going to bust out giggling at any second!”  I continued.

She did.   Giggle.

Whenever I wonder why I spend so much time teaching, I think of faces like that.   Beaming, blissful faces.  Faces like that of one student who, earnestly, seriously, and with the concentration of a brain surgeon, played two solo measures of “Turkey in the Straw” on the violin in one of our public performances and, looking to me for approval, brightened and beamed as I gave her the “thumbs up” and the audience applauded.

Faces like the ones I witnessed this week when I told some new students that yes, they had been accepted into our Summer Musical Theatre Workshop.   Faces of students who just plain were too timid to speak, but who screwed up their courage, delivered a line, realized that they had not died, and, in fact, that the audience was enjoying themselves. Faces of parents watching their children doing something new.

I’m going to have some ice cream now and compare my face to theirs.   And then hone our curriculum a wee bit more.

(Please share your comments and thoughts by using the “Comments” feature below.)


© William B. Watkins and “William Weighs In”, 2014-2015. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction. This blog and all its content and components, including but not limited to photographs, videos, music, and text entries, are fully protected by all copyright laws of the United States of America and by international covenants. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Wild Beasts at Work

“The artist should call forth all his energy, his sincerity, and his greatest possible modesty in order to push aside during his work the old clichés that come so ready to his hand and can suffocate the small flower that itself never turns out as one expected.”

— Henri Matisse1


Isn’t it wonderful how things sometimes “line up”?   I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mission and activities of The Earl Wentz and William Watkins Foundation, how to explain succinctly our educational approaches, and what our next steps will be.   Right now, of course, our Summer Musical Theatre Workshop looms large on the horizon.   But then there are the other initiatives on the schedule, too, including performances of some of Earl Wentz’s musical works.

How to do it all?   How to gain additional support beyond what the foundation can contribute from its own resources?   How to keep growing and not just repeating what we already know and have done?   How to keep moving towards fulfilling our goals?

I get restless as I ponder and so I roam.

And it works.  For me.

In the last week, I’ve visited the fabulous new Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas, seen architect Fay Jones’s stirring masterpiece Thorncrown Chapel, hiked over rushing river waters via marvels of engineering, and just today attended an exhibition of the art books of Henri Matisse at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Masters

I am writing this entry while in Augusta, Georgia to attend the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. I’m very fortunate to be able to attend this event every year.

Although I know very little about golf, each year I thoroughly enjoy not just the exquisite beauty of Augusta National in full bloom, but I also marvel at how impeccably managed every aspect of this tour-nament is, which lends an air of relaxed formality that makes for a fun and friendly time.

Oh, and then there’s also the golf.   Did I mention that?  It’s a thrill to see the top players in the world playing one of the best courses in the world and, very often, playing their best game.   It’s not just the top pros either. Every year the top amateurs from around the globe are also invited to participate alongside with the best professionals.

I am sincere when I say that this annual event is something of the best the American South and, indeed, this country have to offer.  It’s all done with great grace and style.

“What on earth are you, Bill Watkins, Mr. Artsy, talking about?”, you might be asking.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

A Bag of Tricks

Your growth as an artist and as a human being lies in the constant development of your instrument, which includes your instincts, your mind, and your storehouse of knowledge. It is a series of victories — sometimes small — over fears and doubts. Through practical VictoriesOverDoubtsxcfadvancement and application (that is, by doing rather than talking or fretting about), it is the continual building up of that list of things that change from “I couldn’t possibly” to “yes, I can”.   You might never be among the ranks of the great singers but, by gum, by taking it on, you will be better and not afraid to do it when the circumstances call for it. You will become better and better prepared, more directable, and more marketable.

You need to login to view the rest of the content. Please . Not a Member? Join Us

Some thoughts from the foundation chairman…