What a pleasure it was to recently perform with some of my favorite musicians at the Salisbury Congregational Church in Salisbury, Connecticut.
The church, completed in 1842, is an example of Greek Revival architecture. At the time, it was the center of political, social and religious activity. I have performed often at the church and have always felt a strong sense of history and a feeling of calm and peace in the light filled sanctuary.
For our recent concert, I was joined by Marcia Young, singer and historical harpist and my Hofstra University colleague, lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. My daughter, Alicia DePaolo sang with us for several years, but recently moved to Virginia with her partner. We miss her presence in the group, but were happy to welcome a new friend this year; singer and Baroque dancer, Zahra Brown. For many years, I have performed an annual Christmas concert in Salisbury, Connecticut that has been generously sponsored by the Salisbury Association.
Originally the concert was held at the historic Holley House Museum, now a private home. It was complete with it’s own mischievous poltergeist! On two separate occasions, strings snapped suddenly on a viola and harp; in another concert, a note stopped playing on my oboe, as if someone was holding down an extra key! And, then there was time that I felt somebody was tickling my nose with a feather while I was playing!
Next, the concert was held for several years at the cozy intimate space at the historical Salisbury Academy building Built in 1833, the exterior is an example of a Federal style school building.
Living in this bucolic New England town, I routinely pass by all of these all of these historical buildings and architectural gems; they have become part of my fabric, almost like a familiar family member!
Last year, we presented an online version of the concert and we felt so fortunate to be able to consider a live concert this year; a few weeks before our current Omicron situation. With proof of vaccination required and a socially distanced audience, the venue of the spacious church with beautiful resonant acoustics was perfect!
I always look forward to the rehearsals we have in NYC; usually a few weeks before the concert. This year, we set two rehearsals on late Saturday afternoons. Both weeks, I had taught at Hofstra University the day before and stayed overnight in the city. Each Saturday I had a few hours to fill and decided to make long over due visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and to the Frick Museum.
It was heart warming to walk down Fifth Avenue and see the crowds of people outside of the museum.
And, then as I entered the familiar space of the grand hallway, I stood in awe for moment taking in all of the art and beauty surrounding me. I made my choice of what to view that day. I walked up the grand stairway towards the impressionism wing; through the hallway filled with Rodin and Degas sculptures and eagerly tried to take it all in! I decided to concentrate on an exhibit of Surrealistic painters.
It can be overwhelming at times with so much to visual stimulation; I find that concentrating on one or two works of art is most rewarding. I stroll slowly through an exhibit and stop when a work of art is compelling. Such was the case with a painting by the Austrian-Mexican painter Wolfgang Paalen; who I was not familiar with. A friend of Frida Kahlos, he moved to Mexico in 1939 to escape the Nazi regime. He became interested in the Fourth Dimension and studied with the Russian mystic Peter Ouspensky. I found his painting “The Messenger” fascinating and was drawn to the bold lines of the brush strokes and the hidden symbolism in the work.
The next Saturday, I visited the Frick Museum, which I discovered had recently moved their entire collection to the modern stark Whitney Museum, while renovations are taking place.
At first, it was jarring to see masterpieces from the permanent collection that date from the Renaissance to the early 20th century displayed in a building with modern architecture. I chatted with a surprisingly friendly guard about the new location for the artwork and he thought that some patrons might be able to appreciate the artwork more in a sleek pared down setting. I tended to agree and as I viewed the exhibition, I found that I could concentrate on the art without becoming visually tired. Unfortunately, I was asked to not take any photographs, although I did sneak in one photo; (a tiny sculpture tucked into the wall) as I walked up the stairwell to another floor!
Then, it was time to get ready for our rehearsal and of course think about what to pick up to eat in the car on the way home that evening! We were rehearsing at the apartment of one of the musicians who lives in a high rise in the mid fifties near Eighth Avenue.
One of my favorite dumpling places, Kungfu Kitchen, is on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street, not too far from our rehearsal location!
I knew there was a place to park my car for free on 38th Street; between Eighth & Ninth Avenue, where Hevreh Ensemble usually rehearses at our keyboardist’s studio. AND, here was my plan:
Find a parking spot on West 38th Street; walk to Kungfu Kitchen on West 41st Street and place an order for pickup after our rehearsal; walk to rehearsal on West 55th Street and rehearse for about 1 1/2 hours; retrace my steps and pickup my order- it all worked like a charm! The only thing I had to do was to find a place to park!
I am usually a very calm and considerate driver and pride myself on my smooth acceleration and braking, but a transformation overcomes me when I am seeking out parking spots in New York City. I become eagle eyed and aggressive looking for possible spots and delight in squeezing my car into the tightest of places. Such was the case on this day! I believe that this New Yorker cartoon expresses my metamorphoses perfectly!
After the rehearsal, I picked up my order at the appointed time, walked back to my car and laid my treasure of 2 steamed buns filled with bok choy and shitake museums, an order of steamed chicken dumplings with a pungent black vinegar sauce and a large icy bubble tea made with lemonade; sweetened with honey on the seat next to me. I navigated my way through the midtown traffic making sure to not get into a left turn only lane that would force me to go through Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey and then I could enjoy my treats as I headed up the West Side Highway towards home-Heaven on earth!
In past years, the musicians from the Salisbury Four would drive up to my house in Northwest, CT the day before the concert. We would have a dress rehearsal and I was treated to the most excellent house guests for the weekend. One of the members is vegan, so I would always have fun dreaming up interesting dishes, like this Mixed Greens Pie inspired by the delightful PBS Kitchen Vignette Series!
A favorite and often requested dessert by the Salisbury Four members are Strawberry and Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones. This year, we had a quick rehearsal before our Saturday evening concert and enjoyed tea and these scones together. This simple one bowl recipe is adapted from Erin McKenna’s Baby Cakes NYC Bakery. I found the recipe several years ago in an article from Food and Wine Magazine. For my version, I swap out agave nectar with coconut sugar and I add cinnamon. These scones are not very sweet, but are guilt free; perfect for a snack or with a bowl of yogurt and granola for breakfast!
Strawberry Walnut Vegan Spelt Scones
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup canola oil
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ⅓ to 1/2 cup cup hot water
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen strawberries cut into pieces (if using frozen berries, thaw slightly and then cut into small pieces-don’t defrost all of the way, it will make the mixture too soft).
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts broken into small pieces
To Make Scones:
- Step 1 Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, whisk the spelt with the baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, coconut sugar and vanilla. Stir in the hot water and strawberries- if mixture seems to dry, add a bit more hot water at a time.
- Step 2 Scoop 12 mounds of batter 1/3 cup each onto the prepared baking sheet and lightly brush the tops with oil. Bake the scones for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the baking sheet cool completely on top of a rack.
AND, here is the last “Tree of the Week” for 2021!
BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY AND SAFE HOLIDAY AND NEW YEAR!!