Gesher Music Festival Opens Season #7 With ‘War & Peace’ Theme

GF_081516_016One of St. Louis County’s most unique music festivals returns this week for its seventh season. The Gesher Music Festival brings professional musicians to St. Louis to perform chamber music with a Jewish inflection.

The theme of the Gesher 2017 is “War & Peace” and explores music and stories that reflect the Jewish experience. It also illuminates our common humanity that never wavers, even in times of conflict.

In “Prayers for Peace” Gesher tells the painful stories of war and conflict through music. It will be held Saturday, August 19, at the 560 Music Center in University City. On Sunday, August 20, “Transcending Borders” will be held at the Jewish Community Center’s Wool Studio Theatre at 2 Millstone Campus Dr.

The Arts Blog asked Gesher organizers if Gesher is unique in its mission in scope. The answer is that Gesher is a one-of-a-kind music festival. Most festivals with a Jewish theme tend to offer primarily Klezmer or Jewish folk music rather than classical chamber music.

GF_081516_232Gesher has been a definite success, with audiences growing substantially through its seven-year history.

“We have developed quite a strong following and have very large crowds at our primary events,” said Marla Stoker from Marquee Media.

The War & Peace theme was part of Gesher’s artistic vision of remembering history, she said.

“The first year it was “Music of the Degenerates” in keeping with the Missouri History Museum exhibit of Propaganda and Degenerate Art in Nazi Germany. Last year, we took our theme from the “Route 66” exhibit with our “American Dreams” programs featuring music of American immigrants. This year’s theme of “War & Peace” is built on the museum’s World War I exhibit.”

GF_081516_264The 2017 Gesher festival has two local connections: Eva Kozma, assistant principal second violin from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and Peter Myers, cellist, son of Dana Myers, first violin SLSO and Timothy Myers, Principal Trumpet.

More information on Gesher is available at www.geshermusicfestival.org.

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This Big Band Gets Its Kicks On Route 66

One of the toughest challenges for any band is playing in unison. If one band member gets out of sync, it will throw off the entire performance. It’s not that easy to accomplish this basic stagecraft, with all the distractions like crowd noise, clinking glasses, maybe a drummer with a hangover.

If you go to a Route 66 Jazz Orchestra performance, you’re unlikely to hear a single glitch. That’s because this group, which specializes in big band, swing and jazz, puts a high premium on practice.

BillSimpsonThe Route 66 Jazz Orchestra performs eight times a year, but the nonprofit group rehearses once a week in Mehlville, from August thru June. The band spends a lot of time trying to get the songs just right; hence, the dutiful focus on practice. Their effort pays off, because the band consistently nails challenging arrangements.

They certainly don’t do it for the money, unless you consider a $46 Christmas “bonus” adequate compensation. That’s roughly the amount of the checks the orchestra’s members receive from director Bob Boedges at year-end.

“It’s to reimburse them for their gas,” Boedges said, laughing. “They give up one night a week to practice, and they need to because this music is so darn difficult.”

The Route 66 Jazz Orchestra has 22 members, including Boedges and three top notch vocalists. Many have day jobs unrelated to music, while others work as professionals in the industry, but they all have a passion for jazz. They range in age from 20 to 84.

BobBoedgesHow the band came into being is a story that began in 1969. Dr. Ron Stillwell started a house band at Meramec Community College. It was known as the Meramec Jazz Lab Band and consisted of both students and volunteer members of the community.

In 2012, the St. Louis Community College lost funding for music programs and dropped the band—on very short notice. That meant no pay for the director, no rehearsal space and no access to the college’s music library.

By this time, the band was under the direction of Boedges, who took over from previous director Bob Waggoner in 2005. The band re-formed as an independent not-for-profit organization and has emerged as one of the top big bands in the region.

Usually, at the end of a Route 66 Jazz Orchestra show, Boedges thanks the audience for coming and the orchestra for playing. He’ll say: “We do this because we love it and nobody gets paid.”

CraigToddThe sentiment is true but it’s a rehearsed shtick. The orchestra members hear these words and feign surprise and disgust, saying “WHAT—no pay!?!?” “We’re not going to play for nothing!!”

But, except for carfare, they do and the St. Louis music scene is richer for it.

The next performance of the Route 66 Jazz Orchestra is at 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 26 at the Kirkwood Park Amphitheater as part of their Summer Concert Series.

For more information visit route66jazz.com.

 

Top Notch Violins provide instruments for any budget and skill level

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Top Notch Violins owners Ted Moniak, Stephen Nowels, and Chris Clark.

Bowstring musical instruments are considered the most difficult to play. That hasn’t stopped many new students from taking up the violin. It remains the fifth most popular musical instrument that people play, behind the piano, guitar, drums and flute.

In St. Louis County, the go-to shop for new and used violins, either for sale or rent, is Top Notch Violins at 3109 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood. Top Notch is one of the independent shops along Sutton that has made Maplewood a hotbed of creative entrepreneurship. A couple of doors down from Top Notch is region’s one and only cat café.

Top Notch has only been in business for just four years, but it has gained a reputation for customer service and quality. They also offer expert craftsmanship in repairs and restoration.

The secret to their success is that the trio of Top Notch partners—master craftsman Ted Moniak, sales guru Stephen Nowels, and operations/logistics chief Chris Clark—love what they do.

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Stephen Nowels and Chris Clark inspect an instrument.

All three grew up in the St. Louis area. Their enthusiasm for music and stringed instruments is infectious, and they make a special effort to educate customers, Clark said.

“We begin educating our clientele when they walk in the door,” he said. “Most of them don’t have a lot of experience with violins. They can be intimidated, so we try to deflate that, by explaining the difference between a $9,000 instrument and a $900 instrument.”

Most new violin players don’t need to spend thousands of dollars, Nowels said. Entry-level instruments run between $300 and $500. Rentals are even more affordable, at $170 per year. And three years of rent can be applied directly to the purchase of the rental instrument.

The inventory at Top Notch includes much higher-end instruments as well. The objective is to match the customer with the right instrument.

“Our niche is our relationship with teachers,” Nowels said. “There are a lot of people doing it for the love of doing it, there are teachers we have longstanding relationships with, and we help them and their students.”

In addition to violins, Top Notch sells and services violas, cellos and double basses. In 2018, they also plan to begin manufacturing instruments, in their Maplewood facility. That will be sweet music to violin students in St. Louis County.

From Musician to Freelance Writer: Kevin Mitchell’s Incredible Journey

“If you buy into the rule of six degrees of separation, by knowing me you are immediately a mere three degrees from your favorite pop/rock star. I don’t get to hang out with Tom Petty, but I’m close friends with his tour manager of 40 years; I’ve never had a drink with Billy Joel, but I have his lighting guy’s cellphone number.”

Most young musicians seeking a music degree enter college believing that this is their first step towards fame and fortune. At the end of four years, many of these students will instead obtain degrees in Music Education or Music Therapy to guarantee post-graduate employment. Very few of these graduates will go on to make a living as full-time musicians, and even fewer will actually make it to the “big time.” Competition is fierce in the music profession and, aside from the few careers mentioned above, a degree in music offers very few evident job options.

And then there’s Kevin Mitchell, a freelance writer and stay-at-home Dad who lives in Webster Groves. Using his lifelong musical passion and education, Kevin has become an incredibly prolific writer for the musical instrument industry. In addition to writing for the musically-minded, Kevin’s list of clients includes many names well known to the present day consumer, including Hewlett Packard, Nestle, Best Western, Huggies, Kellogg’s and, one of the most elite clients in the world, Disney.

Kevin spends his days writing articles or copy for magazines, flyers, press releases, digital media, producing educational or corporate videos and scripts, and managing a multitude of Facebook and Twitter streams for his clients. A typical assignment may entail going to see Brad Paisley in concert in order to interview a tour manager or to write an article about the lighting schematic for the show. Past gigs include writing about the business side of musical instruments, so when a new guitar or amplifier is hitting the market, Kevin will provide text describing its capabilities and provide comparisons with other similar products. He is quick to point out that he does not receive free merchandise in order to test for these missions, however if he happens to buy an item in advance of his review process, it is tax deductible.

So, how does a Music Composition major end up writing and editing for so many different industry magazines? “It’s all luck,” according to Mitchell, “things just kind of fell in place.”

When Kevin entered second grade he started bugging his father to buy a piano. At age 9 he wrote his first musical composition, a piece so memorable that the composer remembers more about the writing process than he does the title or melody.

In high school, Kevin became a bass player for the Lindbergh Jazz Band, while at the same time getting heavily involved with the school’s drama department. A self described “theatre geek,” he formed a group at Lindbergh called The Sloths, a small group of friends and fellow drama students who produced comedies, musicals and sketches. It was during this time that Kevin began to write short plays and one-acts for his friends to perform.

When it was time to go to college, Kevin discloses “I was kind of torn between theatre and music.” He enrolled at St. Louis Community College – Meramec, taking an equal number of music and theatre production classes. By the end of his second year he had decided to pursue a degree in Music Composition from the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri – Kansas City (UMKC). His father was initially unhappy about this decision, concerned that his son would not be able to land a good job with just a degree in music. Kevin had not yet realized that getting a musical education would not result in “being the next Elton John, the next Billy Joel or getting a job with the St. Louis Symphony.”

While at UMKC, Kevin took a job writing for the campus newspaper, the University News. The Conservatory was thrilled, because for the first time they had someone writing about events happening in the Music Department. His first interviews were with the music school’s faculty and visiting guest artists like Jerry Goldsmith. Shortly after he got his feet wet writing for the school paper, he landed a job at the Kansas City Star writing obituaries.

Kevin explains, “If you were interested in journalism (in the early 80s) around here, you could go to Columbia (Mizzou), or KU (Lawrence, Kansas). If I had gone to either of those I wouldn’t have gotten to do anything. At UMKC I walked in and I started writing movie reviews, then I became the Features Editor, the Arts Editor, Managing Editor, then Editor. It was a paying gig, so I was able to work my way through college a little bit. I got to interview a lot of great people before I even got to the Kansas City Star.”

After graduation, Kevin spent the next several years living in Kansas City, playing in rock bands and working as a word processor for an architectural engineering firm. “I was gonna be a rock star of course in Kansas City,” declares Kevin, ”I had my own band! When I was 27, I was pushing a big amp up to a bar on the second floor, I had already been married and divorced, and I thought, you know, I don’t think I’m going to be a rock star.” When asked which rock star he wanted to be at that point, Kevin quickly responded, “Todd Rundgren!”

That moment of clarity became a turning point for Kevin. Upon realizing that he was not going to be the next Todd Rundgren, he came up with an alternate plan that made perfect sense at the time. Kevin would move to L.A. to become a comedy writer.

“For 10 years I wrote plays, musicals and I had a couple of things produced,” admits Kevin. Successes included writing for The Groundlings, two TV pilots and multiple near misses with jobs writing for sitcoms. He was heavily involved in the theatre culture of L.A. but made little money from those efforts. Faced with finding a day job to pay for living expenses, Kevin confesses “I was an amazing typist! I did 96 words per minute with no mistakes, so that would open up weird jobs for me.”

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Answering an ad for a Word Processing position, Kevin found himself on the doorstep of an L.A. based publisher. Previous to this interview, Kevin had conditioned himself to downplay his musical degree, telling potential employers “Oh, that was just a stupid thing I did and blah, blah, blah, and I don’t do anything with it, and I really want to work with your architectural firm!”

Sitting in his interview, Kevin tells us “this guy kept wanting to talk about my musical background and I kept downplaying it. Finally he says, ‘Do you know what we publish?,’ and I didn’t!” As it turned out, the position was at Alfred Music, the world’s leading music publisher.

While at Alfred, Kevin moved up to become an editor and eventually Director of Public Relations and Marketing. Simultaneously, he began writing books and freelancing for other publications. Books like “How to Put a Band Together,” “Making a Great Demo,” the “Essential Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary” and “The Musician’s Ultimate Joke Book” are just a few of the books he has written that are still in publication and still delivering royalty payments a few decades later. It was also at Alfred that Kevin met his wife, Lauren. The couple wed in 1999.

KMmagazines

Immediately after marrying, he quit his good, steady-with-benefits day job to launch a freelance career. Kevin then started writing articles for MMR Magazine, the Musical Merchandise Review, a publication read by music retailers around the world. Suddenly he had the clout to interview industry giants like Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars, Chris Martin from Martin Guitars, or the CEO of Steinway. Over the next 15 years Kevin worked his way up from being a freelance contributor to Editorial Director of the entire MMR publication.

StLouisDad“In 2001 we decided to start a family, so that’s when we decided to move back here,” says Kevin. “By that point my writing career was pretty solid, and I could work from anywhere.” An added bonus to this plan entailed Kevin working from home so that he could be a stay at home dad and raise their two sons while still working for seven different magazines, one set based in Boston, the other set based in Las Vegas.

Upon his return to St. Louis Kevin was picking up jobs writing for St. Louis Magazine and several other local publications, almost always exploiting some musical aspect of his subject. New doors continued to open and his roster grew to include clients as varied as an insurance company, a winery in Napa Valley, several non-profits and, most notably, the most famous Mouse in the world. Last year his children’s play, “Ben Franklin Ate My Homework” was published. His “Beanstalk! The Musical!” has been produced twice in St. Louis.

Much of the writing he does for these clients requires the ability to speak in different voices. For instance, the insurance work that Kevin does requires him to ghostwrite in the voice of his client. He ghostwrites daily for the client’s blog, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts, and manages two Facebook accounts.

Kevin recently wrote an online quiz for Oh My Disney entitled “Which Disney Princess Am I?,” which includes questions regarding the best qualities to look for in a Prince and your favorite location to burst into song. Another assignment for Disney’s XD Channel needed the voice of a 13 year old snowboarder, a task that sent him to Google to find samples of popular phrases and slang used in that culture.

When asked how he manages to get so many interesting writing assignments, Kevin explains “I just say yes to everything, that’s the secret, just say yes and then figure it out.” He agrees that In addition to being a good writer, you must also have skills of project and time management, business management, accounting, and other endless tasks.

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Kevin continues, “You would be surprised how many people who work as freelancers don’t return the client’s phone calls, who don’t follow up, who creates something that the client doesn’t like and take it personally. For some reason I figured out right away how important that all was. No matter how many magazines I’ve written for, or how many clients I have had, when that phone rings I make them feel like they are the only people I’m working for.”

Asked if he ever got to meet his idol, Todd Rundgren, Kevin relays, “I’ve gotten to meet him twice! The first time I met him was in 2005, he came to an awards show that I was producing and he was the keynote speaker. Part of my job was to go and walk him around the trade show. I was trying to play it cool and I said ‘You know, Todd by the time I was 21 years old I had only seen 24 rock shows, and 19 of them were you!’ and he went, ‘That’s weird!’”

You can learn more about Kevin and connect to his many blogs and other writings via his website at www.kevinmmitchell.com. Kevin is also the leader of the Kevin Mitchell 4, a jazz band that offers “Martini Music With a Twist!”

 

Creve Coeur Lake Park is an urban oasis with hiking, kayaking and more

DSC00058You really want to get out in the fresh air, but the extreme July heat drove you indoors, right?

Well, here’s a secret—there’s a spot in St. Louis County where you can sit high on a bluff, in the shade, and look out over a magnificent lake view. Just head over to the Greensfelder Shelter just north of Dorsett Road, on Marine Avenue at Creve Coeur Park.

The 2,145-acre park features Missouri’s largest natural lake, archery, athletic fields, hiking trails and even a disc (Frisbee) golf course. Just behind the disc course is a traditional golf course, Crystal Springs Quarry.

Of course, the main attraction at Creve Coeur Park is Creve Coeur Lake. It’s ideal for small sailboats, like Hobie cats or kayaks. In fact, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard for a nominal fee of $10 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour. Canoes are also available for rent for $15 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour.

If boating isn’t your cup of tea, the boat rental facility on Marine Avenue also offers bikes and quadricycles for rent. Rentals are available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

DSC00050This being St. Louis County, one of the quirks of Creve Coeur Park is that it isn’t actually IN Creve Coeur. This is Maryland Heights. And if you go exploring the park, don’t believe everything you read. That includes the sign that informs us that a broken-hearted Indian girl was the inspiration for the French phrase Creve Coeur (broken heart). The story suggests that Dripping Springs in the park was the site of her tragic death.

It’s a poignant story, but likely an old wive’s tale. Park historians say that Anglo settlers to St. Louis County never really found out why French settlers used the expression. There actually is an old French breed of chicken known as Crevecoeur (with green-black feathers).

DSC00055Creve Coeur Lake began as a large resort. Hotels, a cable car, and even an amusement park once sat nearby. Following the 1904 World’s Fair, a 255-foot observation tower at Forest Park was moved to Creve Coeur Lake. The park took a turn for the worse in the 1920s when lakefront saloons and nightclubs became gangster hideouts.

Then, Mother Nature took a turn in messing up the park. Between 1950 and 1955, the lake nearly dried up. Fortunately, the Missouri River eventually rose and backed up into the lake. That refilled it AND restocked it with fish.

The ensuing years have seen efforts by St. Louis County to improve the lake, including parking facilities, boat ramps and amenities. Today, it remains one of the county’s most popular parks, with bicyclists, skaters, boaters and walkers.

Music and Craft Beer Festival Comes to Historic Jefferson Barracks

We know what you’re thinking: where can I find that combination of military history, gravestones, tame deer, music, craft beer and hipsters that mid-August just cries out for? Well, the St. Louis Arts Blog has got you covered!

To say that Jefferson Barracks has history is a gross understatement. Started as a military post in 1826, it was named after one Thomas Jefferson, the ginger US President and Louisiana Purchaser who had just died the year before. The location on the banks of the Mississippi River had supreme geographic importance at a time when St. Louis was truly a gateway to westward expansion. The post was the army’s first permanent post west of the Mississippi and, by the 1840s, it became the largest military post in the country.

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During the Civil War, the post became a training ground for Union forces and featured a hospital for its sick and wounded. The Civil War also posed a new issue for the country: what to do with the vast number of corpses the unimaginably brutal war was creating. In 1862, Congress established a bill authorizing the President “to purchase cemetery grounds, and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country.” Jefferson Barracks was established as such in 1866.

Gravestones? Jefferson Barracks has plenty. The old cemetery has over 20,000, including over 1,000 Confederate dead and Union soldiers who are arranged, as best could be determined, by the State of their regiments. Today, the Barracks covers 331 acres and holds over 188,000 graves.

IMG_9534While no interments could surpass the fame and honor we should bestow on our nation’s veterans, including two Medal of Honor recipients and three Revolutionary War veterans, there are some noteworthy individuals buried in Jefferson Barracks too, including, somewhat oddly, several musicians. Individuals of note include: sports announcer extraordinaire Jack Buck, nine-decade-recording artist and bluesman Henry Townsend, opera singer Robert McFerrin Sr. and legendary pianist and Chuck Berry cohort Johnnie Johnson.

So where are we? Ah, yes, music!

MojoFinal_1000_01The Mojo Craft Beer and Music Festival, featuring and initiated by local music heroes, Story of the Year, will make its debut this August 19th at the Jefferson Barracks Park. In addition to Story of the Year, other acts include P.O.D., Unwritten Law, The Orwells, Lucky Boys Confusion and Joe Dirt and the Dirt Boys Band. That last group seems quite apropos.

The all-day event will feature over 80 craft beers on tap, including a special, one-day-only concoction by 4 Hands called, rather cleverly, Story of the Beer. Tickets for the festival range from $40 to $199 and can be found by visiting the festival’s Facebook page.

So we have military history, gravestones, music and craft beer, which just leaves us wanting the tame deer and hipsters. But, as the photos show, the tame deer will find you and, with all the other components in place, we believe the hipsters will too.

You’re welcome!

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The Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is located at 2900 Sheridan Road in St. Louis and is adjacent to the Jefferson Barracks Park, located at 345 North Road. The Park includes the Old Ordnance Museum, the Powder Magazine Museum, the Laborer’s House and Ordnance Stable, the Missouri Civil War Museum, the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum and a Visitors Center.

The Hidden Beaches of West County

Yearning for the beach this summer, but landlocked in Missouri? You’ll be surprised to learn that two large public beaches are located on the Meramec River in West County and, unlike the public swimming pools, are open year round.

Sherman Beach Park, located just off St. Paul Road in Ellisville, is a lovely rock beach settled on a lazy bend of the Meramec River. There are no signs directing you to the beach, but a phone with Google Maps will get you there, along with a little bit of guessing. The parking lot that serves the beach is very small and holds about 20 cars, with overflow parking along the side of the road available for another 20 or so cars. Saturdays and Sundays are particularly busy at the beach, however the tiny parking area usually seems to have just enough space for one more car.

Sherman Beach Park
Sherman Beach Park

After a short walk down a sandy incline you will find yourself facing a large expanse of gravel beach with more than enough space to stretch out for the day. Families are often seen setting up awnings or tents for shade, or putting their chairs in the shallow river to sit chest deep in the cool waters. Large mussel shells are scattered all over the beach and river fowl are often seen scouting the shoreline for food. The beach is bordered on one end by a railroad bridge that services several trains a day, adding a bit of old-time Midwest charm to the experience.

Sherman Beach Park
Sherman Beach Park

Although the Meramec River has a treacherous history, this particular spot on the river appears to be quite placid with a mild current during the lower crests of the summer months. Swimmers should do so at their own discretion.

Castlewood Beach
Castlewood Beach

Several miles downstream, or a mere 13 minutes by car, is the beach at Castlewood State Park. This mostly sand beach is set on a gorgeous expanse of the Meramec that is filled with fish and wildlife. Unfortunately, the river at this spot is very deep and very unpredictable, so swimming is strongly discouraged, however the location is perfect for picnics, sunbathing or just communing with nature.

Long before this area became part of the Missouri State Park Service, the small town of Castlewood was a popular weekend resort getaway for St. Louisans looking for a respite from the summer heat. As early as 1915, bars, hotels, dance clubs and stores began to spring up in the adjoining community of Castlewood. Thousands of weekend vacationers would arrive by train and spend the weekend canoeing, riding horses, playing games and swimming. When Prohibition became the law in 1918, this same area became known for its many speakeasies and local underworld figures.

Lincoln Beach 1920s
Lincoln Beach 1920s

The most popular beach on the river in those days was Lincoln Beach, just a short trip upstream from the beach at Castlewood. So many people would arrive each day by canoe, small boat or ferry that the beachfront was virtually filled to capacity. In the early 1940’s the Castlewood Pool opened, an 18,000 square foot spring-fed pool, and became the new swimming hole for locals and visitors.

Both beaches are open year round and close one half hour after sunset. The Al Foster Memorial Trail, part of the Meramec Greenway, is a 5.5 mile gravel path that begins in Glencoe and runs to both locations.