Event Recap: Political Satire, Planned Improvisations, and Poetic Meditations

Words and Music Once Again, April 3, 2011

This spring, the Sunday Best Reading Series expanded its artistic horizons, widening its focus to include musical expression as well as spoken word.  The result was “Words and Music Once Again,” a program that combined the literary and the musical in performances ranging from the poignant to the raucously humorous. For those who missed the show on April 3, the audio from this event is available on the Washington Heights Free Radio website.  Read on for a brief recap with photos from the event.

The program opened with a tribute to poet Phil Miller.  Phil, who passed away on Valentine’s Day 2011, wrote poetry that delineated the internal emotional landscape of the everyday human condition. He was a beloved literary figure, not only in New York City but also far beyond its borders.

Poet Patricia Brody and Charles Ramsey of Duo Fortuna plan the tribute to Phil Miller.

The tribute began with the ringing of a Tibetan prayer bell. Poet Patricia Brody, a friend and colleague of Phil Miller, then read a selection of his work while accompanied by classical-experimental ensemble Duo Fortuna. The poems Patricia chose for the tribute, most notably Phil’s moving villanelle “Hello and Goodbye,” were particularly well-suited for a musical setting.  In addition to “Hello and Goodbye,” Patricia also read “Crooked” and “Like a Tree.”  Patricia read Phil’s poems in a clear, authoritative voice that conveyed the depth of meaning and feeling intrinsic to his writing.  Phil would have been proud of her.

Patricia Brody read poetry by Philip Miller as part of a tribute to the late poet.

The tribute closed with Sunday Best curator Patricia Eakins ringing the Tibetan prayer bell six times in quick succession and then seven times.  The chimes of the bell represented the years in the life of Phil Miller, who died at age 67.

Following the tribute, Duo Fortuna performed a set of four of their own original songs.  Duo Fortuna is an experimental and improvisational musical performance group that consists of pianist Leslie Purcell Upchurch and guitarist Charles Ramsey, both classically trained musicians.

Pianist Leslie Purcell Upchurch of Duo Fortuna.

Duo Fortuna performs “planned improvisations.” While the group has a repertoire, each piece in that repertoire is based upon a specific musical idea or prompt rather than upon a predetermined, set-in-stone arrangement. In performance, Upchurch and Ramsey improvise around that musical idea. Thus, while each of their compositions has its own recognizable identity, no two performances of the piece are ever the same.  The result is thought-provoking music with a meditative quality that impresses the listener as being at once completely spontaneous and motivated by an internal purpose and pattern.

Guitarist Charles Ramsey of Duo Fortuna.

After a brief intermission following Duo Fortuna’s set, the stand-up poetry duo Mik and Gilles took the stage. Poet and performance artist Mikhail Horowitz is the author of three books, two collections of poetry (The Opus of Everything in Nothing Flat and Rafting Into the Afterlife) and a “collage/caption opus” (Big League Poets). The Blues of the Birth, a collection of his jazz fable performances, has been issued on CD.  His partner-in-crime, guitarist Gilles Malkine, performed as a member of Tim Hardin’s band at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and at Carnegie Hall. Malkine has recorded with Hardin and others, plays the bass and the fiddle as well as the guitar, and is a composer in his own right.  He also presents a series of “women in history” profiles on the public radio show 51% The Women’s Perspective.   Together, Horowitz and Malkine have been serving their special concoction of literary spoofs and fold-song parodies, with a heavy helping of political satire, to audiences in the Catskills and beyond since 1989.

Mikhail Horowitz of the stand-up poetry duo Mik and Gilles.

Mik and Gilles have been called the “thinking man’s comics.” On April 3, they presented their trademark blend of outrageous but thought-provoking humor and incisive political commentary to Sunday Best Reading Series attendees. They sang of that Brigadoon-like oasis in the political wasteland, the big Vermont-y Mountain. In their updated rendition of “The Riddle Song,” they posed the eternally puzzling question “How can there be a congressman with no lyin’?” For their closing number, they presented a condensed, hip-hop version of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy (this version has a brief sequel that takes place on Wall Street–the villains are “Gollum Sachs”).

Gilles Malkine of Mik and Gilles.

Following the program, audience members mingled and had a chance to meet and talk to the performers. Wines were again provided by Vines on Pine.

Wines for the Sunday Best after-reception were provided by Vines on Pine.

Gilles Malkine talks with Sunday Best volunteer Risa Hirsch Ehrlich at the Sunday Best after-reception.

In closing, the Sunday Best Reading Series would like to thank poet Nicholas Johnson, editor of BigCityLit and a friend of Phil Miller, who helped plan the tribute to Phil that opened the afternoon’s program.  Nick was originally slated to perform in the tribute alongside Patricia Brody but could not because of a foot ailment.  However, he gallantly attended the event, with his crutches in tow.

Poet Nick Johnson, editor of BigCityLit.

We would also like to acknowledge Nancy Eldredge, wife of Phil Miller, who drove all the way to New York City from Union, Pennsylvania to attend this event.  Those involved with the reading series were touched and honored by her presence.

Poet Patricia Brody (left) and Nancy Eldredge, wife of Phil Miller.

Again, please check out the Sunday Best Reading Series program page on the Washington Heights Free Radio web site for the audio of this event.  To see more photos from this event, please visit the Sunday Best Reading Series Flickr page. And be sure to check out our page on Facebook.

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