Friday, September 17, 2010

About Picking Pearls

By Susan Kepecs

In the age of slicked-up, dumbed-down cultural common denominators like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars,” the more sophisticated performing arts need strong voices to stay in the public spotlight.  I’ve been speaking my piece on the arts for a long time.  I’ve published in various local, national and international media, but if you recognize my byline it’s probably because, during the last decade, as a freelance contributor to Madison’s alt weekly, Isthmus, I wrote regularly about dance of all sorts, jazz both Latin and straight ahead, Cuban son y rumba, Afropop, and the broader ever-shifting phenomenon we call world music.  I’ve covered popular bailes in the local Latino community, the socially conscious hip-hop of Youth Speaks and the UW-Madison’s First Wave initiative, plus other topics in need of more press.  While I regret the decline of print journalism, I’m thrilled to have this ticket to ride the new technology train.  I’m known for being opinionated, but I hope you are, too.  To survive, the arts desperately need engaged audiences.  So let’s talk.  There’s a comments box waiting for your words, below.

      Of course, there’s information and/or misinformation behind all opinions.  As an engaged reader, you have the right to evaluate mine.  So I’ll tell you a little about the sources that shape them.  I’m a first-wave boomer; I grew up in a musical family, on the south side of Chicago.  My mother was an opera singer who hoped I’d be a dancer.  I’ve spent huge chunks of my life dancing, though dance was never my career.  I have an MFA from the UW-Madison Art Department and a UW-Madison Ph.D. in anthropology.  On the heels of my undergraduate years in hippie Miffland, I did a stint as a cocktail waitress at a funky jazz club – a bastion of postbop and seedy characters in the Alphabet City segment of Manhattan’s East Village.  I’ve lived and worked in Latin America, and at the start of the ‘80s, long before the Latin music craze hit the U.S. (and thanks to both my pal Ricardo Gonzalez, owner of the Cardinal Bar, and the Mariel boatlift, which brought some 12,500 Cuban refugees to the U.S.), I had a Cuban salsa band right here in Madison.  I got my start as an arts writer then, too – for a couple of years I was a regular freelance contributor to the Wisconsin State Journal.

      I’ve seen some of the great performances of my life at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Among the amazing artists from my past with WUT, Joan Baez, Habib Koite, Eddie Palmieri and Dianne Reeves return this season, and I’ll report on them.  But this blog isn’t just about the Union Theater.  By starting a dialog about the performing arts I hope to promote the sifting and winnowing that’s at the historical heart of the University’s mission.  And by providing space for this project under University auspices, Union Theater cultural arts director Ralph Russo and marketing and communications director Esty Dinur are standing up for the freedom to pursue all angles, unconstrained by the commercial forces that shape so much of what’s left of journalism.  Russo says he hopes this blog, like its classical music companion, Jacob Stockinger’s The Well Tempered Ear, will “float all boats,” raising the profile of the performing arts across the community and beyond.

      So I’ll fish for pearls in the city’s fertile culture beds, from the performing arts palaces anchoring State Street (the Union Theater and the Overture Center) to the sundry smaller venues, festivals and studios that make Madison vibrant.  I may occasionally stray into related areas.  For example, radio’s on my radar – stations like La Movida, WPR, and of course, WORT, do heavy lifting when it comes to pushing the performing arts.

      I can’t promise to cover everything, or that I’ll post as often as my prolific colleague Jake over at the Ear.  There’ll probably be times when I won’t write for weeks.  But I’ll keep you posted on promising events, and I’ll always preview my top picks.  I’ll do post-show reviews, though some may be short.  I’ll be on the lookout for local surprises.  I’ll profile artists, review juicy CDs, and poll people in the community on pertinent topics.  I think linking the arts to broader concerns adds relevance, so you’ll often find my thoughts framed by current events.  And please, participate.  I’m happy to entertain your story suggestions, and eager to know what you think.


Shelley said...

Sue -you have been very busy and thorough. Can't claim to know all these different styles and types of music but my bumper sticker does read;
Peace thru Music!
Cimmorron is fab- would love more videos because of the vast amount of music you are exposing us to. Thank you for that. This is my first post ever-hope I am doing it right.
Great Sue!
Shelley in the florida keys

Shelley said...

I forgot to add that the title is sensational. As pearls are the most beautiful,and sensual gems embraced by women and men alike for many many centuries.