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Barbara Ernst Prey, School Room, 2019, watercolor on paper; [source Hancock Shaker Village].
Barbara Ernst Prey, School Room, 2019, watercolor on paper; [source Hancock Shaker Village].

Mighty Thunders and Borrowed Light open 2019 season at Hancock Shaker Village

by Jason Velázquez

This is the Top Left Corner. Today is Saturday, May 25, and you’re listening to episode #72. I’m your host, Jason Velazquez, and as always, thank you for tuning in. We have a huge show for you this week. We start off with a short hop over to Lenox where we check in with Shakespeare & Company, whose 2019 season kicks off with the Wavery Gallery. Then we spend the remainder of our show at Hancock Shaker Village, which begins its season with the opening of two major installations, Borrowed Light: Barbara Ernst Prey, and While Mighty Thunders Roll: Popular Artists Sing the Shakers, produced by Jeffrey Gaskill. We’ll finish up with some key segments of my conversation with Matt Lorenz known by his one-man band — The Suitcase Junket. Oh, and we’ve got some boss tracks from his new album to share with you, too.

Hey, are you ready to say enough to the milquetoast-ification of media? Because we have such stories to share. And some of them are gonna take a little brass to tell properly, which means that we need to know you’ve got our backs. If you want this extraordinary storytelling, it’s on you to make that choice to become an active supporter of the news.

Show us how important fearless local reporting is to you by becoming a Greylock Nation member at a level of $5 a month. Do that, and we’ll be able to plug one of the many small holes that seem to leak money every time we even think of covering an issue or an event. Not only that, but you’ll get immediate access to exclusive content, from the Greylock Glass such as our full length interview with the Suitcase Junket and early access to a track off his recent release Mean Dog Trampoline.

And if you can’t do $5 month right now, joining at the $1 a month level still gets you entry into a bunch of the members-only features of the site and puts your name on our Wall of Generosity. Because the generosity of the audience members who can contribute keeps it free for those who simply can’t.

Thanks for staying with us, and now, on with the show.

The Waverly Gallery

Shakespeare & Company opens their 2019 season, “The Strings of the Heart,” with Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery. The tale, by turns wrenching or hysterical, tours the loss-before-the-loss a family experiences as their matriarch succumbs to dementia.

Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery, at Shakespeare & Company through July 11; (from left) Michael F. Toomey, David Bertoldi, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, Annette Miller, and David Gow; photo by Daniel Rader.

Directer Tina Packer said, in an official release, “The Waverly Gallery is a very insightful, very funny, and very painful play,” said Director Tina Packer. “It deals with something we are all going to have to face, whether we like it or not: getting old and losing our minds. Lonergan has woven a story from his own life and experience, similar to the play, everyone in his family rallied round his Grandmother, as she moved from being a women active in the world– politically, socially, and personally– to someone who could no longer follow the conversation. Like Gladys’ her desire to remain active is as necessary as breathing, and her denial of reality deeply affected the lives of everyone around her.”

Helmed by acclaimed Director Tina Packer and Associate Director Michelle Joyner, the cast features Shakespeare & Company veterans: Elizabeth Aspenlieder, David Bertoldi, David Gow, Annette Miller, and Michael F. Toomey. The creative team includes Juliana von Haubrich (Set Design), James W. Bilnoski (Lighting Design), Elizabeth Rocha (Costume Design), and Brendan Doyle (Sound Design).

While Mighty Thunders Roll: Popular Artists Sing the Shakers

We spoke with producer and promoter Jeffrey Gaskill, who curated While Mighty Thunders Roll: Popular Artists Sing the Shakers, a video and audio exhibition, opening Sunday, May 26 at Hancock Shaker Village that features specially commissioned a cappella recordings of Shaker songs by artists such as folk-pop legend Natalie Merchant and indie sensation Mountain Man, with a prelude performance by world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. While Mighty Thunders Roll will be open through November 11.

Natalie Merchant performed Shaker spiritual, “Watch Ye,” a cappella for multimedia exhibition While Mighty Thunders Roll: Popular Artists Sing the Shakers; photo Jason Velázquez

About Jeffrey Gaskill

(from supplied information)

Jeffrey Gaskill is a sixth-generation Berkshire County native and Grammy-nominated independent producer from South Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is the producer of Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan (Columbia) an album that garnered two Grammy nominations: Best Soul Gospel Album and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for the Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples duet of “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking.”

Jeffrey Gaskill, submitted photo.
Jeffrey Gaskill, submitted photo.

His newest release God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson (Alligator) was Grammy nominated for Best Roots Gospel Album, as was the Blind Boys of Alabama’s recording of Mother’s Children Have a Hard Time for Best Roots Recording. The Associated Press said, “Jeffrey Gaskill’s able guidance has resulted in 11 stirring renditions which replicated the soul of the songs not just the sounds.” Gaskill is a grantee of The Iguana Music Fund.

The performers of While Mighty Thunders Roll *

* Information supplied by Hancock Shaker Village.

Borrowed Light, Barbara Ernst Prey

That second voice you just heard was that of Barbara Ernst Prey, who’s exhibition, Borrowed Light, launches this weekend. She can be heard praising Sarah Margolis-Pineo, who curated the installation in drastically transformed poultry building that made an appropriate environment to display the work with an understated dignity.

The term, borrowed light, denotes the Shakers’ skillful incorporation of windows and skylights to illuminate the interiors of most structures for both aesthetic and utilitarian purposes.

Barbara Ernst Prey discusses methods and techniques used in Borrowed Light: Barbara Ernst Prey; photo by Jason Velázquez.
Barbara Ernst Prey discusses methods and techniques used in Borrowed Light: Barbara Ernst Prey; photo by Jason Velázquez.

Barbara Ernst Prey studied the fall of light during fall and winter of 2018–19 surrounded by the material culture and landscape of the Village. She sketched boxes, garments, tools, and domestic objects and became fluent in the cypher of shadow and shine.

Jennifer Trainer, director of Hancock Shaker Village, explained the significance of sunlight to the Shakers in more detail, and provided some valuable context both to the exhibition and to the practicality of radiance to a farming community.

Barbara Ernst Prey, Spindles, 2019, watercolor on paper; [source Hancock Shaker Village].

The Greylock Glass spoke with Barbary Ernst Prey on location to find out how she approached her subject. Her eye, it seems, has been attuned to interior spaces most of her life.

Light is the currency of visual art, and Barbara Ernst Prey spends it lavishly. Of course, light is both the raw material of color and the engineer of lines and angles, and Ernst Prey commands their performances deftly. She explains that she has interpreted what she sees in a way that may be a degree to this side or the other of photorealism, but astronomical accuracy isn’t the point.

The emotional truth is found gazing into her expansive scenes, which create the impression of a vivid and well-remembered dream — the sort of mental picture that would be commonplace, were it not for certain almost imperceptibly accentuated details that resurface like a deja vu of someone else’s experience. The effect of such intense concentration of the life of wavelengths gently pulls colorful threads of history from shadow to a degree that further humanizes in two dimensions that which might go unremarked in three dimensions.

Sarah Margolis-Pineo, curator of Borrowed Light: Barbara Ernst Prey, describes her work in bringing the installation to completion.

Anyone who has worked with watercolor knows that the medium is less forgiving than oils and acrylics, to put it mildly. So to stand in front of works that would threaten to overwhelm small walls in, say, a bachelor apartment, is to stand on the far side of profound risk. Such large paintings demand equal parts faith and control, and few artists have the experience to get through the arduous process of creation in one piece, mentally. A mistake can be a setback of weeks or even months.

Borrowed Light, Barbara Ernst Prey, is on view at the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield Mass until November 11.

The Barn Music Series kicks off with The Suitcase Junket

Lovers of American Roots Music can rejoice that the Shaker Barn Music series, curated by Karl Mullen, returns to HSV for its third year. The season kicks off with The Suitcase Junket, Saturday, May 26 with guest Berkshire singer songwriter, Eliza Edens. The audience will likely be treated to tunes off his most recent LP, Mean Dog, Trampoline, as well as earlier works.

Sustaining members of the Greylock Glass have access to the full-length interview with Matt Lorenz, a.k.a. the suitcase Junket. But I hope all of our listeners enjoy, “Everything I Like” right here on the Top Left Corner.

Matt Lorenz is The Suitcase Junket; photo by David Jackson
Matt Lorenz is The Suitcase Junket; photo by David Jackson

Matt Lorenz has had the opportunity to do some traveling, but the Western Mass native, so far, manages to make his way back home to New England at the end of each tour.

The uninitiated could hardly be blamed during a live Suitcase Junket show for thinking that other musicians beside Lorenz must be hiding behind a curtain somewhere. Lorenz does with a rig of hand-modified sound objects, his hands and feet what plenty of four-piece acts fail to achieve on a good night. He said he was tempted to add more flesh and blood musicians to this album and tour. Briefly.

Although hearing a gifted songwriter who happens to be a one-man-band these days is a novel experience, Lorenz doesn’t want the tools and techniques he uses to produce sounds to become a novelty. The music needs to stand on its own merits. If you’ve heard how he incorporates his throat singing abilities into his tracks without undue fanfare, you understand why he might hope people get into his music regardless of how many artists are involved.

Mean Dog Trampoline, does mark a departure however. On past albums, Lorenz acted as producer and engineer, and the tracks were largely a representation of his live performances. On this most recent LP, he chose to see what would happen if he let someone else take the wheel.

The Suitcase Junket is Matt Lorenz, plus the myriad custom-altered sound-producing objects that surround him; photo by Bill Foster.
The Suitcase Junket is Matt Lorenz, plus the myriad custom-altered sound-producing objects that surround him; photo by Bill Foster.

It’s hard to say what, if anything, has changed about the songwriting on Mean Dog Trampoline. Lorenz still projects a “wise-beyond-his-years” grasp of the human condition. His poetry is still alternately tender and jarring. And his hooks are still satisfying in the same way your favorite burger always is when washed down by your favorite beer. There may be more both of some intentionally blatant nods to his musical DNA and more subtle borrowings on this record. But the main change is that the Suitcase Junket has been bangin’ around on the road like a hobos suitcase for a few years now, and the songs reflect a certain seasoning. Almost like the minute difference between light coming in the window at noon in May versus in June. It comes across in the generosity he give his very human subjects

What’s immensely refreshing about the stories of the Suitcase Junket, is the honesty. Even though many of the narratives are imagined or altered, an often prickly truthfulness permeates his art. Being cautious not to let his editorial judgement bend towards redaction takes a little mindfulness.

The Suitcast Junket inaugurates the 2019 Barn Musics series at HSV, Sun, May 26. Check for info on this season-long festival of American Roots Music and on the Suitcase Junket in the show notes. Remember, sustaining members have access to the full-length interview. Information on membership is available at greylockglass.com. I think we should let Eliza Edens help us bring this show to a close with one of my favorites among her tunes, Balaclava. Until next time, Greylock Nation, Stay Safe, Be good to each other, and go easy on yourselves.

Publishers Note: Hancock Shaker Village is a sponsor of the Greylock Glass. The news coverage of the organization we provide reflects the alignment of their issues and events with our readers’ interests — not sponsorship status.

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