Paul Davies

March 10th, 2013

Composer, music educator, and concert pianist Paul Davies recently completed his first full length opera based on the life of Charlotte of Belgium who was Empress Carlota of Mexico during the period in Mexican history known as the French Intervention.

Davies received a Ph.D in music from the University of California at San Diego. He currently teaches composition, music appreciation, music theory, and a course on the Beatles at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, California. Davies has also appeared as soloist with the Foothill Wind Ensemble, the Winchester Orchestra, and the South Valley Symphony.

Paul Davies at the piano

Whirligig: You recently completed the writing of an opera, Carlota. What inspired you to write an opera?

Paul: I had been invited to give a talk about my music and present a new composition, an instrumental ensemble piece, at the Ernest Bloch New Music Festival in Newport, Oregon, in July of 1999. I was at one of the festival concerts where another composer premiered a new chamber opera of his when the idea of doing an opera myself flew into my head. I had been thinking of the tragedy of Empress Carlota for quite a few years before this, but never with the idea of doing an opera on the subject.

I suppose another impetus was that I’ve always been fascinated by history and of the possibility of traveling back in time. So doing an opera on Carlota is the closest I’ll ever get to time-travel, so to speak. I realized that my research would involve reading every major book on the subject I could get my hands on and also traveling to Mexico City to visit Chapultepec Castle, where Carlota and the Emperor Maximilian lived during their short reign. I very much looked forward to this.

Whirligig: What path did your research for this project take you on?

Paul: Since I was intent on doing the text myself, I spent a lot of time researching how to do a good libretto, and I also consulted with two dramaturges who gave me much invaluable advice. I analyzed quite a few librettos to gain further insight. Also, I came across very interesting photographs of the time period. I remember being at the library of San Diego State University and finding a photograph of the moment Maximilian and Carlota enter Mexico City in June of 1864.

Every time I read about an historical event, there’s always at the back of my mind this very small sense of myth, a sense of maybe what I’m reading about didn’t happen since I wasn’t there to actually see it. It’s not that I don’t believe the event happened, or that the historical figure in question never existed, It’s just that tiny feeling of “unreality” since I didn’t experience it myself. But when I saw this photograph I almost jumped and said to myself, “Wow, this really did happen.” I get the same kind of feeling when I look at a life mask of Beethoven, or some other figure for whom the only visual representations are idealized paintings. If I hadn’t been a composer, I probably would have been an historian.

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Diane Cassidy

October 13th, 2012

Diane Cassidy After Manet's dejeuner sur L'herbe

Bay Area photographer and artist Diane Cassidy celebrates her 82nd birthday this month with the showing of a new series of photographs at the annual San Francisco Altered Barbie show, and the launch of her first website. Cassidy studied photography at San Jose State University in the late 1980’s, and continues to take classes with respected photographers through various peninsula venues. A monograph of Cassidy’s work is scheduled for publication by Hunger Button Books in 2013.

Whirligig: How did you come to be an artist?

Diane: For me, becoming an artist was an indulgence. Throughout my formative years I was equally interested in making art and natural science. An unfortunate marriage ending in divorce left me, at a very early age, completely responsible for myself and my two children.

My first plan in preparing myself for a well-paying job was to get a degree in Art Education. Being young and impatient, I just couldn’t tolerate the necessary Mickey Mouse curricula; those how to educate courses were so so boring. I had trouble staying awake. One day while conversing with fellow classmates I learned that with a degree in a related science I could qualify for an internship in Medical Technology. I made the switch. How I relished those difficult chemistry and physics classes. A welcome relief.

During my 20 year stint as a Medical Technologist I was always taking art classes and workshops. Art was my hobby. Then one day in the 70’s while on vacation I stopped at the Script’s Institute. I noticed some images of shore life displayed on their walls that I really liked. Upon asking I learned that they were hi-contrast photographs. Thus began my foray into photography.

One day I attended a photo workshop in portraiture with Margo Davis at the Palo Alto Cultural Center. While she went over her bio she mentioned that though she had a BA in French from San Jose State, she returned to get a MA in photography. I had gotten a BA in Biology from San Jose State years ago; maybe I could return to get a MA in photography. Which I did. I retired as early as I could from Valley Medical Center and concentrated on photography in earnest.
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Lisa Hochstein

July 10th, 2012

Lisa Hochstein, Wrap 2Lisa Hochstein is a Santa Cruz, California-based artist who works in collage, painting and fiber arts.

She recently curated the exhibition Earth • Science • Art for the R. Blitzer Gallery in Santa Cruz. The exhibition paired 16 scientists from the USGS Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center with 16 Bay Area and Santa Cruz artists.

Hochstein has a BFA in painting from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Whirligig: What is art?

Lisa: My answer to that depends on whether I am in the role of artist or of audience. As someone who creates objects, art making is a response I have to the world’s bumping up against my awareness. Making art feels very instinctual though I can’t completely explain why I feel drawn to this particular activity. It has always seemed a little strange to me—that awareness leads to a desire to make something. When I am in my studio, my frame of mind is one of openness and curiosity and a certain amount of discontent or unease. Each piece grows from a combination of feelings, ideas, memories, associations and formal considerations, plus elements of chance and luck that I always hope to be awake to. I regain some kind of equilibrium through my work, but it’s not just about that. I also want to be surprised by what I’m doing.

Lisa Hochstein, Origins When I’m in the role of audience, I take in someone else’s work and want it to transfer some of that initial response/art-making impulse from its maker to me. As a viewer I also look for something I recognize as much as I look to be surprised. Elegance, honesty, technical skill, originality, narrative truth and aesthetic truth are some of the touchstones for deciding whether I regard something as art or creative output, which strike me as different from each other. There is a lot of creative work that may be artistic but not what I would call art. For me, something that is awkward and raw can be art while something beautiful and harmonious can easily fall into a creative-but-not-art category. Art needs to sing. Read the rest of this entry »

Valerie Raps

October 27th, 2011

Valerie Raps sculpture

Bay Area artist Valerie Raps recently completed a public art commission for the Alum Rock History Corridor Project.

Cultivating Community is a life-size, stylized spring tooth harrow created from fabricated steel and cast bronze. The tines of the harrow are made from casting the arms of ten San Jose community members. The sculpture is located at Tropicana Shopping Center in East San Jose.

Raps has a MFA from San Jose State University and a MA in Holistic Counseling from JFK University. She is also the Resident Curator of Art Ark Gallery in San Jose.

Whirligig: You recently completed a commission for a sculpture for the Tropicana Shopping Center. Tell us about this project.

Valerie: The project was commissioned by the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs in collaboration with Don Imwalle, who is the property owner of the northeast corner of Tropicana Shopping Center on King and Story Roads in San Jose.

About three years ago the city put out a call for participation for submissions to be part of an artists catalogue. They selected 30 out of 300 applicants for this catalogue which was then made available to developers who build commercial and residential spaces. I was one of three artists to present proposals for a public art project for the Tropicana Shopping Center. The site is part of a larger project called the Alum Rock Cultural History Corridor, an area in East San Jose which has pinpointed several locations for public funds to commenorate the rich and diverse history of the area.
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Steven Andrew Kacsmar

September 22nd, 2011

Steven Andrew Kacsmar is a San Francisco based singer songwriter. His band Phantom City has just released its second CD Off the Map.

Whirligig: Off the Map is Phantom City’s second CD and your third. What goes into making an album and how do you determine the arc of the music?

Steven: My songs come from my experiences and sometimes from my idealism. Sometimes I write tunes to try and help people think about how things could be better. Sometimes I just have a story to tell. But even the songs that are about a real event often undergo a transformation from the literal to the allegorical.

In terms of making a CD, there is a lot of work that goes into producing a CD that goes unnoticed unless you don’t do it. For example, on Off the Map we recorded many takes of each part then picked the best sections and then blended them into a single track. We also ironed out any wrinkles so that we put out a polished product, hopefully without losing the fresh feel of the song. In the process of creating a CD, you spend a lot of time listening, and honing, taking out as much as you put in.

Whirligig: How did you come to be a musician and songwriter?

Steven: I’ve always been musically inclined; I sang on my mom’s lap in the car when I was a child. I was in band in high school and have been playing guitar since I was about 8. There’s always a soundtrack going on in my head. I was curious so I asked some of my friends if this was true for them and was surprised to learn that not everybody has a soundtrack to their life going on in their head. So I guess it’s safe to say that music is an integral part of who I am as a human being. I have worked at many things in my life, but the day gig I had longest was with Bank of America, for 21 years. When I left the corporate world behind, it was with a very clear intent to focus on my music while I still had some fire in my belly. Read the rest of this entry »