Arts in the News: Shameful Holocaust Memorial selfies, new Mark Twain Fairy tale, America’s first opera company, Music heals, The ‘accidental’ basso, The Pilgrim

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‘Yolocaust’ Project Shames Holocaust Memorial Selfies

28-year-old Israeli-German writer and artist Shahak Shapira has embarked on a project called “Yolocaust” meant to bring attention to, and outright shame, the trend of visitors to Berlin taking selfies at the famous Holocaust Memorial. Shapira used social media to find twelve of what he found to be the most egregious examples of inappropriate pictures taken at the Berlin memorial; he subsequently posted these pictures to his website. As a user’s mouse hovers over each image, the original background of the grey stone grid disappears, replaced by a scene from the death camps. The juxtaposition of carefree tourists against these horrific images are, as one can imagine, disturbingly striking. “I felt like people needed to know what they were actually doing, or how others might interpret what they were doing,” explains Shapira. Many, including the New York architect who designed the memorial, Peter Eisenman, have been critical of Shapira’s project. Nonetheless, it certainly raises an important discussion about the proper etiquette around memorials and other symbolic works of art.

Never-Before-Published Mark Twain Fairy Tale

Later this year, a fairy tale written by famous American author Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) for his daughters in 1879 will be released. Publisher Penguin Random House explained in a press release that “Although Twain told his young daughters countless bedtime stories, made up on the spot as they requested them, these notes are believed to be the only ones he ever jotted down from those sessions.” The story, a fairy tale entitled “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” is rumored to be a whimsical story; in published form, it will be accompanied by delicate watercolor illustrations by Erin Stead. It will certainly be exciting to see this forgotten story by a treasured author released to the public!

America’s First Opera Company Was All African-Americans

Unbeknownst to many, the first American opera company was born at St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC–the first all-black church in the nation’s capital–and consisted entirely of African Americans. In 1873, an Italian priest invited a white Spanish American veteran of the US Marine Band along with John Philip Sousa to teach an African American choir the French style of Opera Bouffe, effectively creating the first American opera company. A fascinating new podcast from Shelley Brown, a producer and former artistic director of a theater in Maryland, and Patrick Warfield, a professor of musicology at the University of Maryland, discusses this hidden American story. What a wonderful and important piece of American opera history!

Musicians’ Superior Reaction Times

A recent study from the University of Montreal suggests that musical individuals have faster reaction times than their non-musical counterparts, finding a link between playing an instrument and quick reactions to non-musical stimuli. The aim of the study was to investigate the relationship between playing a musical instrument and improving senses in a non-musical way. “We found significantly faster reaction times with musicians,” explains lead author Simon Landry. “These results suggest for the first time that long-term musical training reduces simple non-musical auditory, tactile and multisensory reaction times.” The results of the study by Landry and his colleages may have important implications for the medical field: they suggest that learning an instrument later in life could improve cognitive as well as motor functionality for elderly people. Yet another benefit of making music that scientists have confirmed!

The ‘Accidental’ Opera Star

Skeptics abound when it comes to the story of bass opera singer Morris Robinson, due to the incredibly unlikely–and unorthodox–career path that brought this man onto the stage. Aspiring to be a drummer at a young age, Robinson passed up music scholarships in favor of a free-ride to play football at a military college. He went on to work at a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage. Then, at age 30, Robinson decided to attempt singing professionally, trying out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera–the largest company in New England. He was cast in a solo role. Robinson is now 47 and has 18 years of major roles with A-list companies; he is currently onstage with the Los Angeles Opera for their production of Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” Robinson admits that he has achieved “a great professional life,” but adds that it is “Not one I quite planned, but I have zero complaints.” An inspiring and unlikely journey for a man who was clearly born to sing!

A Literary Magazine from Homeless Authors

Every Tuesday morning at 9:30, a group of people meet in the basement of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on Tremont Street in Boston; this “Writers Group,” as they’re called in the community, publishes a literaty magazine called “The Pilgrim.” The remarkable part of this story is that all of the contributing authors to The Pilgrim, the members of the Writers Group, are homeless. James Parker, who has been editing the literary magazine for the last five years, tells the amazing story of this publication and its unlikely contributors for Pacific Standard magazine. The Pilgrim just published its 41st issue; since 2011 it has featured the work of over 150 writers. Parker recounts the early days of the Writers Group and how The Pilgrim came to be. On its website, Parker explains that “Homelessness is a state of acute pilgrimage,” as people carry their loads–both spiritual and material–with them from doorways to shelters to curbs. Parker recounts the incredible story of the amazing human beings whose voices fill the pages of The Pilgrim–voices that often would not be heard, but have beautiful and profound things to say.

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