Tag Archives: John Williams

Once upon a shamrock

Images of three leaf clovers are popping up all over as Valley families with Irish roots prepare to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which honors the patron saint of Ireland. A nifty PBS “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” multifaith calendar says he’s “credited with spreading Christianity in Ireland and abolishing pagan practices in the fourth century” — noting that he used the shamrock to “explain the mystery of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.”

Turns out lots of religious holidays happen this month. March 8 was Purim in Judaism, Holi (the festival of colors) in Hinduism and Magha Puja Day (honoring Buddha’s birthday) in Buddhism. Scientologists celebrate the birth of founder L. Ron Hubbard on March 13, and Christians follow the March 17 celebration of St. Patrick with “Saint Joseph’s Day” in honor of “the earthly father of Jesus” on March 18.

I’m no Irish scholar, but I’ve got a Scotch-Irish spouse and green eyes that protect me from the pinch, and something tells me St. Patrick would have expected more of people than a day spent pub crawling. So while others are trolling for green beer, consider exploring family-friendly St. Patrick’s Day fare with an arts and culture twist.

Families can enjoy Irish music, dance and more at the Phoenix St. Patrick’s Day parade first held in 1983. Its purpose, according to the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix, is “to preserve and enhance the heritage and traditions of the Irish Culture as well as share that culture with the citizens of Arizona.” For some it’s “a traditional day for spiritual renewal and offering prayers for missionaries worldwide.”

This year’s parade begins Sat, March 17 at 10am — with a parade from the Irish Cultural Center to Margaret T. Hance Park,  where the rest of the day’s activities unfold. I had a great time at last year’s festival seeing parents carting green-clad children around in decorated strollers and wagons, and watching older couples getting “jig” with it as Irish dance music floated from stage to the lovely lawns just right for dancing.

Remember, as you’re celebrating Irish arts and culture, that the Irish are but one of many groups to immigrate to America — something profoundly illustrated near the end of the musical “In the Heights” when the sign over a business sold by a Latino couple comes down only to reveal an earlier sign from a business run by Irish Americans. Circles of lifes of life, circles of culture — all worth celebrating.

The Phoenix Symphony performs “Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham” Sat, March 17 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. Families can “follow and interact with Sam-I-Am” as he rhymes his way through the classic Seuss tale told by folks from The Phoenix Symphony and Valley Youth Theatre. Best to read “Green Eggs and Ham” rather than eat them.

Folks seeking authentic Irish fare can head to a little neighborhood joint in Scottsdale called Randy’s, or hit the MIM Cafe at the Musical Instrument Museum — where the chef often sets the mood for celebrations of holidays and world culture with special menu items created with fresh Arizona-grown ingredients.

The MIM presents a five-piece acoustic Irish band called Trotters Wake Thurs, March 15 at 6pm. I’m told they perform “new and old Irish drinking songs, rebel songs, ballads, and traditional instrumental tunes” on acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and electric bass. Or hit the MIM between noon and 3pm to enjoy Tramor/Overseas performing traditional Welsh music with bagpipes, flutes, whistles, mandolins, guitar, percussion, storytelling and dance. Then tour the museum’s collection of European instruments to learn more about materials used in making bagpipes and such.

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix art studio, open from 10am to 3pm, is featuring arts and crafts with a St. Patrick’s Day vibe through Sat, March 17. Think shamrock hats, lucky leprechaun wands and green playdough. They’re also celebrating artists Georgia O’Keefe and Salvador Dali and continuing ongoing projects like painting a giant rocket, playing in the puppet theater, and exploring plenty of books and toys.

You’ll find oodles of other fun activities in print and online editions of the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine calendar — including St. Patrick’s Day events presented by Lakeshore Learning Stores, Local Lily, Shamrock Farms and Hubbard Family Swim School.

I’ll be celebrating by revisiting the works of great Irish writers like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and finishing a dark little work by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. Now that our three kids are in college, we can indulge our drive to spend more time on reading and reflection.

Those of you with younger children can seize St. Patrick’s Day as an opportunity to read with your children about Irish history and culture, or to remind them of the many gifts immigrants continue to bestow upon our country.

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity. — George Bernard Shaw

— Lynn

Note: If your arts and culture organization is offering a family-friendly event or activity to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, please comment below to let our readers know. Click here to learn more about submitting event information to our calendar editor.

Coming up: Dancing with the real stars


“War Horse” on screen and stage

"War Horse" was a novel before it was a play

The “War Horse” story was first told in 1981 by novelist Michael Morpurgo, whose tale was adapted for the stage by Nick Safford in association with Handspring Puppet Company, which earned a special Tony Award for its “War Horse” creations.

The National Theatre of Great Britian production premiered in London in 1997 and officially opened in the U.S. last April at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in NYC’s Lincoln Center Theater — and went on to win five 2011 Tony Awards, including one for best play.

The “War Horse” movie directed by Steven Spielberg is based on a Lee Hall and Richard Curtis screenplay inspired by both book and play, was released in the U.S. just days ago, and is already being hailed as a 2011 Oscar contender.

I’ve seen both works with my college-age daughter, who shared my apprehension when learning that the story we so loved on stage was being adapted for big screen. The only saving grace for us at that point was knowing the story had made its way into the heart, and hands, of filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

Though we both enjoyed the movie, we were fonder by far of the play for several reasons. First, because the actors who performed in the live theater production did such an exceptional job of conveying each character’s depth. The play makes abundantly clear the full measure of dysfunction in Albert’s family, something that makes his loss and reunification with the “War Horse” Joey feel more precious and profound.

The scenic, lighting and sound design for “War Horse” on stage at Lincoln Theater Center was exquisite. All three designers, as well as the play’s two directors, earned Tony Awards. Despite the visual feast of “War Horse” the movie, we still favor the symbolism these designs conveyed over the literal depiction of war featured in the film.

"War Horse" was a play before it was a movie

We appreciated the fact that several elements of the play, like the bothersome duck who quacks up a storm while nipping at people’s heels, were included in the movie. The duck was funny on stage and screen, but it’s hardly fair to ask an on-screen duck to compare with a whimsical puppet creation operated by a puppeteer sporting a Scottish tam o’shanter cap.

Still, I found more humor in the screen version of “War Horse” — in which knitting needles and metal cutters get used in unexpected ways. The machismo of men is fraught with more comedy than angst in the movie, and plenty of light moments help to break up a story full of labors and loss.

Perhaps the greatest difference is found in the music. John Williams’ score for “War Horse” is no less magestic than those he’s composed for other works, but I found the simple violin and haunting vocals of “War Horse” on stage more moving — despite the fact that songmaker John Tams worked on both stage and screen versions of “War Horse.”

I remember “War Horse” on stage as a single strand of magnificent storytelling, with just a specific scene or two standing out from the rest — the glorious opening and the terrifying tank scene — so the play felt more consistent across scenes. But I’ll remember the movie for specific moments — some touching, others terrifying. The transition between farm fields and battle fields seemed more abrupt on screen, making me feel at times like I was watching two separate films.

In the end, I suppose, it’s all a matter of personal preference. Whether you tend to fancy stage or screen, the story at the heart of “War Horse” is gripping and gratifying. Get to London or NYC for the stage version if you can. It’s truly captivating, and something you’ll never forget. But see the movie, and read the book too. With each “War Horse” encounter, you’ll find something remarkable and new.

— Lynn

Note: Nominations for the 84th Annual Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 24, 2012. I’ll be rooting for both “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin.” Updated 12/28/11.

Coming up: Valley theaters bring classic literature to life

Update: The touring production of “War Horse” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe Feb. 5-10, 2013 as part of the 2012/13 “Broadway Across America” season — click here for details. 4/15/12

Tintin tales

Tintin-related titles I discovered during a recent trip to the Book Gallery in Mesa

While I’d heard that the new movie “The Adventures of Tintin” was based on comic book adventures created by 20th century Belgian artist George Remi under the pen name Hergé, I hadn’t seen any of his work until stumbling a few weeks ago on a pair of related titles at the Book Gallery’s Mesa location.

I was apprehensive about seeing “The Adventures of Tintin” after hearing that it’s a mystery meets action adventure film. I’m not particularly fond of either genre, mostly because I’m bad at following clues and even worse at enduring vicarious chaos.

But I was pleasantly surprised that the tender little package, wrapped in mustardy yellow and equivalent shades of blue and red, is a rare blend of mystery and action adventure with old-fashioned storytelling. A charming opening sequence featuring old-fashioned typewriter keys pounding out Tintin’s boyish bravado hastened my conversion.

“The Adventures of Tintin” feels first and foremost like the simple tale of a curious young boy named Tintin and his loyal pup Snowy, but it’s also the tale of Captain Haddock, a man left alone in the world to face his family’s unfinished business. Through his journey, we’re reminded of the power of personal choice — and the value of holding tight to a puppy when seas get rough.

Haddock delivers the most obvious messages of the movie, which always feel organic rather than contrived, and never interrupt the pace of the  chase. When you hit a wall, break through it. Don’t glorify giving up by labeling it “realism.” And know that what you think of youself influences your vibe with others.

Plenty of synapses fired while watching “The Adventures of Tintin,” but I couldn’t always make the connections. Several action sequences, bits of music and other elements felt vaguely familiar, in a nostalgic way, but often I was caught up in the next moment before realizing the intended reference. There’s an extra layer in “The Adventures of Tintin” for folks with lots of film and music experience.

Parents should know that “The Adventures of Tintin” (rated PG) has several scenes featuring fist fights, sword battles and rapid exchanges of gunfire. Also fire, explosions and such — all well-integrated into the story and none particularly frightening for elementary age kids and up because only animated characters take the hit. 

“The Adventures of Tintin” is full of tools young adventurers can relate to — magnifiying glasses, flashlights, maps and more. When Tintin can’t find what he’s looking for, he asks questions, hits the local library or doggedly hunts down missing clues.

Adults too reliant on four letters will discover new options as frustrated characters belt out alternatives like “Great snakes!” or “Thundering typhoons!” And literature lovers will revel in long strings of Shakespearean-like insults shared by pirates, bumbling detectives and a pickpocket who explains “I’m not a bad person, I’m a kleptomaniac.”

I saw “The Adventures of Tintin” with my college-age son, who shared his thoughts about the movie as we walked back to the car. “It reminded me,” he said, “of how I was as a little boy.” Not to worry, Christopher. That unsatiable curiosity is still there. And life with you will always be an adventure.

— Lynn

Note: “Tintin” is Jamie Bell, known to Broadway fans for his performance in the film version of “Billy Elliot.” The film is directed by Steven Spielberg and features music by composer John Williams. It’s rated PG.

Coming up: Once upon a “War Horse”

Family-friendly symphony

I had a lovely Sunday afternoon, enjoying the semi-staged, narrative-style performance of “The Music Man” — the first venture in a multi-year collaboration of the Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre.

Think charming sets with lattice-laced blue and yellow porchfronts sporting charming screen doors. A barbershop quartet and gentlemen donning newsboy caps.

Think  tall white pillars topped with spring bouquets of gentle pastel tones. Ladies wearing crisp white blouses buttoned staunchly with cameos and adorned with large hats boasting fantastic feathers.

French horn meets mouse

We’ve been enjoying Phoenix Symphony concerts as a family since about the time our oldest could spell the word “symphony” — and they never disappoint.

Once we saw them perform while an artist created a giant original painting on stage. Another time they performed cartoon-theme music with cartoons rolling on a huge screen behind the musicians. The Phoenix Symphony has always excelled at family-friendly music and performance art.

I’m pleased to present a sneak peek at the 2010/2011 “Target Family Series” — followed by a look at pre-concert activities for children.

Enchanted Tales: Brundibar and Peter & the Wolf. Oct 10 at 2:30pm. Special guest: Phoenix Boys Choir. Both folk tales follow friends who come together in the face of those who bully or menace others. And “Peter & the Wolf,” with various animals represented by different instruments, is the perfect introduction to orchestral music.

"Peter & the Wolf" meets piano lessons

Hocus Pocus Pops. Oct 30 at 2:30pm. An afternoon of “tricks, treats and suspenseful music” including a murder mystery for children — Lemony Snickett’s “The Composer is Dead” — which also teaches children about instruments of the orchestra. Kids and grown-ups are encouraged to come in costume.

Orchestra from Planet X. Jan 29, 2011. Two “devious but somewhat bumbling space creatures” attempt to take over the concert as the symphony plays music ranging from “Symphony X” by Don Gillis to John Williams’ “Flying Theme” from the movie “E.T.”

Cirque de la Symphonie. Feb 26, 2011 at 2:30pm. “Acrobats, contortionists, jugglers and strongmen” perform as the symphony plays both popular music and classical masterpieces.

The Rhythms of the Earth. March 19, 2001 at 2:30pm. A concert dedicated to “our amazing planet” from desert to jungle — to include music from the “Grand Canyon Suite,” “Songs the Plants Taught Us” and more. Children leave with seeds to plant as the community prepares to celebrate Earth Day 2011.

Opera meets "Wild Things"

Pre-concert activities start in the Symphony Hall foyer an hour before each of the above concerts — and feature activities ranging from storytime and arts & crafts to a musical instrument “petting zoo” where children can try out various instruments. The cello and horns were always big hits with my kiddos — who went on to play flute, piano, saxophone and violin between them.

I’ve also chaperoned many an elementary school field trip to the symphony, but hadn’t realized until I visited their website recently that they also offer programs that send musicians to perform at schools. 

I was struck today by just how magical the venue can be for children–with a perfect blend of formality that makes the occasion feel special and a more casual ambiance that still feels warm and welcoming.

We’ve also experienced the music and musings of individual symphony members, who chat and perform periodically in venues like bookstores where children can see and hear just a small number of instruments up close (and for free).

Phoenix Symphony meets Ib Andersen's "The Nutcracker"

Lizabeth still recalls many other experiences with the Phoenix Symphony — seeing friends play in the “side by side” concert coupling the Phoenix Symphony with the Phoenix Youth Symphony, hearing Tchaikovsky’s music as Ballet Arizona performs “The Nutcracker” each year.

My favorite Phoenix Symphony memories are of lazy afternoons or evenings when Lizabeth and I would go to hear musical greats like Itzhak Perlman. At first I fretted when she only made it through half of a concert before falling asleep on my shoulder.

But then I realized it was a rare and special gift — Lizabeth drifting off to slumber amidst the tender sounds of the symphony, and me feeling the warmth of her cheek nuzzled against my neck.

There’s really nothing quite like it.


Note: Intermissions at Symphony Hall have a charm all their own — with impressive chandeliers and other interesting design elements to explore, a gift boutique with diverse offerings (my favorites this time around were miniature animals playing various instruments) and a choice of snack bars (including one with over-the-moon cheesecake and chocolate-dipped strawberries).

Coming up: My “first love” in theater is rekindled

Ballet Arizona photo by Rosalie O’Connor