David Bowie Is Here: A Subway Station Installation

I often write about the public art in NYC subway stations, but the recent David Bowie installation in the Broadway – Lafayette subway station in Manhattan was a real treat. The installation, titled David Bowie Is Here, celebrated Bowie’s life and music in New York City. It was meant to draw attention to a David Bowie exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Unfortunately, the subway station installation just ended, but the museum exhibition continues until July 15.

Everywhere you looked in the station there was something to see – photographs representing Bowie’s albums and career, quotes about his views of living in New York City, even song lyrics on the station steps! There was also a map showing locations where Bowie lived and worked in the neighborhood surrounding the station. For anyone who loved David Bowie’s music, the installation was a real treat!

Here are some of the images I captured of the installation, but there were many more.

At some point, I’ll go to the points on the map and write a post about what I find. I’m also hoping to make it to the Brooklyn Museum exhibition before it closes!

A Late Summer’s Day in Washington Square Park

Summer’s gone, but the memories remain. Here’s a glimpse of a late summer day in Washington Square Park. The park is a hub of activity, drawing local city residents, tourists, and students from nearby New York University. Whether you wish to people-watch, hear some music, or watch some performance art, there’s always something for everyone – regardless of the season.

 

 

Want to visit Washington Square Park? The West 14th Street subway station is only a couple of blocks away to the west, accessible by the A, B, C, D, E, F, and M trains, or you can take the R or W trains to the 8th Street station and then walk to the southwest.

A Second Line Parade in NYC

Recently, New York City hosted the annual Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival, a celebration of the top high school jazz bands in the United States. The event is hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center, a world-renown center for jazz music. Wynton Marsalis, the famous jazz musician and composer, is the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Now, you may be thinking that a high school music competition is not for you, but here’s where you are wrong. The Essentially Ellington Competition begins with a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade, led by Wynton Marsalis himself. If you are like me, you may not know what a Second Line Parade is. I did my research before I went, and here’s the description I found on a New Orleans tourism website:

Second line parades are the descendants of the [New Orleans’] famous jazz funerals and, apart from a casket, mourners and a cemetery visit, they carry many of the same traditions with them as they march down the streets. … They range in size, level of organization and traditions, but in all cases they will include a brass band, jubilant dancing in the street and members decked out in a wardrobe of brightly colored suits, sashes, hats and bonnets, parasols and banners, melding the pomp of a courtly function and the spontaneous energy of a block party, albeit one that moves a block at a time. The parades are not tied to any particular event, holiday or commemoration; rather, they are generally held for their own sake and to let the good times roll.

How fun to experience a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade in New York City! The parade began by the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle, located at the southwest corner of Central Park. It was only a short march to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s location, but it was a wonderful experience to listen and follow along. Bystanders traveled beside and behind the musicians, snapping photos along the way – I joined in the festivities. In addition to those playing musical instruments, there were students carrying posters promoting music education as well.

I invite you to follow along with the Second Line Parade through my photos below:

Can’t you just hear the jazz in the background?

Garifuna Concert at the National Museum of the American Indian

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Most people associate Smithsonian museums with Washington, D.C., but New York City is actually home to two Smithsonian museums: the National Museum of the American Indian (there is also one in Washington, D.C.), and Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum. Today’s post is going to focus on the National Museum of the American Indian, or NMAI.

Every time I go to NMAI, I’m reminded why I really love this museum. There are always great exhibitions, but the museum also regularly offers special events in the gallery space on the first floor. On my last visit, I walked in just in time to attend a free concert. (Both the museum and almost all events are free, an added bonus!) In celebration of African-American history month, the museum invited James Lovell, Garifuna musician and cultural activist, to perform. Mr. Lovell is also a resident of New York City, making this event a perfect fit for this blog on many levels.

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Mr. Lovell and his friends introduced the audience to Garifuna music, language, and culture in an exciting and entertaining way. As I learned during the concert and Question & Answer session, the Garifuna people originally lived on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, but they were banished to modern-day Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Belize in the 1790s. The Garifuna people are a combination of African and indigenous Caribbean descent. New York City has many Garifuna residents, and Mr. Lovell uses his music to increase understanding of Garifuna culture and social issues, as well as preserving the Garifuna language.

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The ensemble included drummers and other musicians, as well as traditional dancers. Mr. Lovell had also invited Lucy Blanco, a jazz singer of Garifuna descent, to participate. The music was beautiful. At times the stories told by the music were haunting, as they documented the challenges the Garifuna have faced over time; other songs were joyous and welcoming. During most songs, the singers sang both the Garifuna version and then an English translation so that audience members could fully engage with the performances and their messages.

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But the audience did not sit passively throughout the performance. Mr. Lovell taught us a song in Garifuna, and at one point we were invited to get up and dance with the traditional dancers. It was impossible not to tap our feet and clap along with the music throughout the concert.

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If you have the opportunity to visit the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, be sure to check the museum’s event calendar to see what special events might be offered during your visit. And I definitely recommend that you attend one of James Lovell’s concerts if you have the opportunity – I know I will be looking for both his and Lucy Blanco’s concerts in the future!

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How do you get to NMAI? If traveling by subway, take the N or the R trains to Whitehall station, the 1 train to the South Ferry Station, or the 4 or 5 train to the Bowling Green station. If traveling from Staten Island, the museum is only a few short blocks from the ferry terminal. NMAI is across the street from Battery Park, and I encourage you to visit the park either before or after your trip to the museum. (Battery Park is also where you can catch the ferry that goes to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.)

Strolling Through Central Park

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As much as New Yorkers love the hustle and bustle of the city, sometimes we just need a place to recharge our batteries. For me, one of those places is Central Park. One reason why I enjoy Central Park so much is that it is different every time I go. As the seasons change, the trees and flowers change too. Around a corner may be a musician I’ve never heard before or a statue I’ve not noticed previously. There’s always a new path to take. Or, if I want to sit on a bench and watch the world go by, the park is the perfect location for people watching.

During a recent walk through the southern portion of Central Park, I enjoyed the last remnants of Autumn. Although many leaves had already fallen to the ground, the trees still had enough color to make the park picturesque. This was true even though it was a blustery, overcast day.

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I like to explore the park without a plan in mind, choosing paths on a whim and trying to find small treasures I’ve never found before. There are also numerous rock formations that are fun to climb on. They provide a different perspective of the park and surrounding areas.

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Of course, Central Park is also known for its ice skating rinks, which are now open for the season. Here’s a photograph of people skating at the Wollman Rink, located at the southern end of the park. The buildings along 59th Street overlook the location.

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The southern end of Central Park also has some intriguing buildings to explore. First, there is the Chess and Checkers House, located on top of a small hill. Inside the Chess and Checkers House, you can check out chess or checkers pieces and play on the permanent boards located outside. Unfortunately, the day I was there it was a little cold for outdoor checkers! On the weekends, there is also space available to play games inside.

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Nearby is the Dairy, built in 1870. In its early days, it offered milk to the city’s children; now, it hosts a park information kiosk. The Dairy’s ornate gingerbread trim makes it picturesque.

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A third building is located near the Chess and Checkers House as well: the building housing Central Park’s vintage carousel.

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There are quite a number of statues scattered across Central Park, and on this visit I went looking for a few of them. The first one I found was Indian Hunter, an 1866 sculpture by John Quincy Adams Ward. I think it made for a striking photograph, especially with the chartreuse green of the trees behind it.

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Near a statute of Christopher Columbus I stumbled upon a musical performance by a group called the Good Morning Nags. The band has a great sound, somewhat a cross between bluegrass, folk, and rock. (Their Facebook page calls it American roots rock.) A number of people had stopped to listen, and I did too for a couple of songs. It was quite a treat.

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A short distance behind the band was another John Quincy Adams Ward statue, this one of William Shakespeare.

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Another sculpture that caught my eye was Christophe Fratin’s Eagles and Prey. Fratin created the sculpture in 1850, and it was brought to Central Park in 1863. (The Central Park website states that this statue is the oldest known statue in any New York City park.)

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Before I left that day, I decided to head to the Bethesda Terrace and fountain. A series of steps leads downwards to the terrace and fountain, overlooking the Lake. There are beautiful stone details everywhere you look, including some charming and quirky stone carvings.

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Here’s a good photograph of the fountain, with the Lake in the background. You can rent rowboats at the nearby Boathouse if you wish to go out on the lake.

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The interior of the terrace has interesting architectural details. The ceilings are covered in beautiful tiles, and the walls display lovely colored frescoes.

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There was one final bonus as well–A singer, part of a group known as Infinity’s Song, was singing at the bottom of the steps. She had a full, rich voice, and she accompanied herself on the guitar. Her performance made for the perfect end to this particular park walk.

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There never an end to the adventures that can be had in Central Park–I’m sure I’ll have additional posts about other park walks in future posts. Stay tuned!

Sonic Blossom at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I love to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As a New Yorker, I would argue that a Met membership is a valuable investment. (It’s also one of those places you really should go if you are a visitor to the city.) I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy visiting the Cloisters, an annex of the Met, but I visit the main building on Fifth Avenue on a regular basis as well. In future posts, we will explore some of the Met’s exhibits together, but today I want to tell you about an amazing experience I had last Friday when I went to the Met, as I became part of a performance art experience called Sonic Blossom.

I was exploring Gallery 915, part of the Met’s Modern and Contemporary Art collection, when a young woman came up to me and asked, “Can I give you a song?” When I responded, “Yes,” she led me to a chair at one end of the gallery and had me sit. She then walked across the room, turned and looked at me, and began to sing a Schubert lied. It was absolutely beautiful, emotional. I had been through a difficult week, and her song felt like a healing balm to my battered spirit. Other museum visitors began to gather, listening, taking her photograph and recording her performance on their smartphones. I sat still, taking it all in, my eyes connected to hers throughout the song. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a true gift–just as she had offered.

I took no pictures during my song, but I later took a few pictures as both my performer and another one sang to other museum visitors. This first one gives you a sense of what it was like to be in that chair, hearing the music wash over you as you held eyes with the performer.

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The performance above took place a couple of hours after my song. I couldn’t help myself–I had to circle back to the exhibit to watch other people having the same experience I had. Here is a photograph of the woman who sang to me (she was singing to the person she picked after me). (Note the paintings behind each performer as well–I definitely recommend this exhibit.)

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So what is Sonic Blossom? It is the creation of artist Lee Mingwei. As the Met’s website explains, Lee Mingwei compares the interactive performances, which took place sporadically over the course of several days, to “the folding and unfolding of a ‘Sonic Blossom.'” The performers were students from the Manhattan School of Music. From firsthand experience, I can say that it is a beautiful performance art piece. It’s exactly the reason why it’s important to explore museum event calendars–you never know what special experiences may be in store for you!