Yo-Yo Ma closes APAP virtual trade conference on multi-cultural note

Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma was the attraction at yesterday’s closing plenary session of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) APAP|NYC+ 2021 trade conference, which like the panels, showcases and exhibition hall set-ups that preceded it, was held virtually online due to the pandemic.

Ma’s session took the form of an informal chat with APAP board member Renae Williams Niles, who heads Renae WN Consulting. She saluted Ma for his service as a UN Messenger of Peace, and being both the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees and a recipient of the Fred Rogers Legacy Award.

She also noted that “most impressive,” Ma has been married to the same woman for over 40 years.

“My wife is still putting me on yearly leases!” Ma responded, noting that every year she either renews it “or I’m out!” But he acknowledged that he is usually at home only one-third of the time, the other two-thirds spent “visiting APAP presenters—and it’s like I’m married to them as well!”

Niles, citing Covid and social upheaval–and the performing arts world’s tragic “loss of family, touring, and sense of community”–asked Ma how he’s been impacted.

“My life is no different than anybody else’s right now,” said Ma, who is indeed working from home like most everybody else. In fact, he “went to emergency mode” after March 10 of last year—the last time I played live in the States.”

He then thanked Niles for mentioning Mister Rogers.

“He was a role model! He used to say that his mother used to say, ‘Whenever there’s a crisis, you can always look for the helpers.’”

“Helpers,” Ma noted, “respond to need.”

 “Helpers give hope,” he said. “Helpers give succor to those in need. In whatever way, all of us can help in one way or another.”

In Ma’s case, being a musician, he tries to “Zoom into private hospital rooms or vast tents [of Covid patients],” perform for health care workers, and “go out on a flat bed truck with my buddy [classical pianist] Emanuel Ax” and play for high school or college students and “people graduating without ceremonies that they’re aching to enjoy.”

“There is a place for music,” Ma maintained.

Niles noted that last year’s APAP conference theme was “Risk and Reslience,” and said that she’s never heard the word “resilience” more frequently than during the last nine months. Another word being frequently used now, she added, is “hope.”

Here Ma realized that being in the year 2021, in 2100—79 years from now—his youngest grandchild will be 79: “I’m suddenly thinking, my goodness, I’ll be long dead, but what world am I leaving for my grandchildren?”

Reflecting on the “authenticity” sought and demanded by young people, Ma noted that funding generally comes from older ones, idealism from the young.

“There’s so much work to be done, so much to fix and repair,” he said. “Can’t we bring those two most precious resources together and accelerate the process by giving custodial responsibility to younger people way sooner, and with us just listening–and when appropriate, helping?”

Relating that he himself is 65, Ma wondered how to best spend his remaining years.

“We need to solve some near-term, midterm and very long-term problems,” he said, conceding that he likely won’t be around to see the long-term ones through.

“But someone who is young can easily go half-a-century and work for presenting organizations,” he said, directly addressing them as “scouts for society” who can find artists “who are saying something important for us.”

“You can see over the ledge and see the dangers ahead–or beautiful things ahead,” said Ma. “What can you report back to our communities?”

Asked by Niles about “the disease of perfectionism,” Ma forwarded a lesson taught him by theater director Peter Sellars: “You don’t need to deliver the whole package signed and sealed and wrapped beautifully, but have to ask someone to complete it. It’s a big, big lesson: Don’t complete the whole thing, becuase the magic we’re all looking for is people meeting you halfway–the communal moment that we want to have and remember and hold on to and come back to later.”

“So perfection, no! Communication of something aspirational, absolutely!” He added: “I love when a string breaks at the beginning of a concert. Why? The damage is done–and everybody realizes that that happens.”

As the talk had transitioned to what Niles called “true collaborations when entities really do come together in unity and shared space to do something they don’t do independently,” she asked Ma to speak of The Bach Project, his two-year journey begun in 2018 and involving his performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six suites for solo cello in 36 locations around the world. The suites were among the first music he ever learned when starting cello at age four, and he was motivated, too, by Bach’s ability to speak to shared humanity at a time when civic conversation is often focused on division.

Niles noted how Ma used the Bach suites as a tool to learn from others—and other cultures, including indigenous tribes in Taiwan via a virtual visit in November. Niles herself had also experienced a cultural connection with a Taiwanese indigenous group.

“What happened with you and that indigenous group is the ultimate gift,” said Ma. “They let you in, and that is the crux of any artistic experience: Not watching through the window looking at Tiny Tim and seeing what happens next year, but being invited in–and you were invited in. I hope this is what all presenters are doing–not just presenting something but allowing the community to welcome a new member and new guest as a template for what we all do.”

Ma mentioned working with celebrated indigenous Taiwanese songstress Abao, who includes indigenous words from her tribe in her pop songs. He also recalled meeting a Hawaiian who had sailed throughout the Pacific solely via celestial navigation and was training younger people.

“They have a lot to teach us,” he said of indigenous peoples. “I met so many groups during The Bach Project, in Canada, the States, Australia, New Zealand. They hold a lot of wisdom that can help us stay resilient.”

Closing with a solo cello performance blend of the Shakers song “Simple Gifts” and Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” theme from his New World Symphony, Ma said, “The meaning of life is actually very simple: It comes from the very simple things we do, and simple gifts, and in terms of simple kindnesses—treating the next human being the way we would like to be treated.”

And rather than “compose like me,” Ma urged plenary attendees to “listen to what’s around.”

“Let’s listen to voices of younger people and what they see ahead–and let’s do it together.”

 APAP’s new CEO/president Lisa Richards Toney closed the 2021 virtual APAP conference by noting that it had been an “agenda-setting conference.”

“This is not the end,” she declared. “We are not returning to business as usual. This is the beginning: to engaging more equitably in advancing the field as the richly diverse ecosystem that we are; to building forward with anti-racism as our lens; to addressing the climate crisis as the sea level rises that affects us all; to centering the voice of Blacks, indigenous and all people of color; to better visa and immigration policies; to outdoor programming; to resilience and mental health; to recovering in an altered touring landscape; to public health and reopening; to the art of going virtual–and HEPA [High-efficiency particulate air] filters!”

“We’ve got work to do, but we have imagination to uncover and promises to uphold,” Toney concluded. “We are just getting started!”

APAP|NYC+ 2021 Conference goes virtual in looking past pandemic

Normally there would be thousands of international attendees gathered at New York’s Hilton Hotel Midtown for the annual Association of Performing Arts Professionals’ (APAP) trade conference—where they’d visit hundreds of exhibition hall booths and artist showcases in between participating in professional panel sessions.

But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, everything at this year’s APAP|NYC+ 2021 Conference is virtual, and with a dramatic sense of urgency.

“It’s different this year,” said Baylin Artists Management president Marc Baylin at the start of Friday’s opening plenary session. And while he joked that there would be no $7 cups of coffee in the hotel lobby or jockeying for position at the ground floor elevators, he also stated the obvious: All performing arts professionals have faced “unimaginable challenges” together.

National Endowment for the Arts chairman Mary Anne Carter likewise noted that of all the artistic disciplines, performing arts have been hit the hardest by the pandemic, “and even almost a year in we’re all still trying to figure out what we have to do to revive them.”

Carter hailed national service organizations—particularly APAP—for their increased importance. Amidst anxiety and uncertainty, she said, artists and arts organizations have found ways to continue sharing their art—mainly virtually, and globally, online.

“I’ve seen few things more moving than artists coming together in their living rooms,” she said, “so although venues have been empty, few have been idle–and there is new access to the arts as never before. People who have never seen performances in theaters are now seeing them online, or taking classes in their living rooms.”

Karen A. Fischer, president of Pasifika Artists and chair of the APAP board, observed how the Covid pandemic had “disrupted every performing and touring artist, agent, manager, presenter, venue and vendor”—but unfortunately, there were other factors that contributed to the disaster that was 2020.

“The murder of George Floyd mandated attention to social justice and racial reckoning,” Fischer said, then cited Wednesday’s violent insurrection and attempted takeover of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., where APAP is headquartered.

“The shock of Wednesday forces us yet again to face hatred and inequality,” said Fischer, “but we can affirm the value of each voice, and the collective voices of our humanity.” And while many have been devastated by the loss of family, friends and colleagues because of the pandemic, as well as loss of livelihood “and daily life as we knew it,” she was heartened by the arts professionals coming together and demonstrating ingenuity in moving forward.

But a year ago, as APAP’s new CEO/president Lisa Richards Toney noted, 4,000 of those arts professionals at the Hilton “never imagined that in a few months going to performance venues would be off limits–but it is.” Like Fischer, she also noted “the loss of loved ones, cherished colleagues, and beacons in our fields,” along with over $15 billion in business due to cancelations by 99 percent of the trade’s presenters and producers.

Toney further seconded Fischer in referring to the violence Wednesday at the nation’s capitol, along with the accompanying hatred and racism. Here she invoked “our revered spaces”—performing arts venues that offer refuge and comfort, which are needed “now more than ever.”

“If we were together in a physical space,” Toney added, “we could grab, hug and embrace.” But the digital platform at least offers a fortunate alternative in being “always open” with live streaming and replay options for showcases, plenary and artist pitch sessions, and even virtual exhibition hall booth meetings. Such digital access, while not replacing the live APAP conference experience, “opens us up to new possibilities.”

With a focus on three “core tenets” of equity, advocacy and innovation, this year’s APAP, then, provides a “rare opportunity to strengthen from within and emerge stronger than ever,” concluded Toney.

“Getting through this requires resilience,” she stated. “We know what it means to struggle, and we also know there is a light ahead: the vaccine coming, and audiences are looking to come back–and they will. The cultural sector is a bigger economy than sports, transportation, construction or agriculture. If cities are going to rebound, they won’t do it without the arts and cultural creatives.”

“Yes, we are in need—but also deeply needed,” said Toney. “The arts are not going to go away.”

She asked: “Why hope for ‘back to normal’ when we can aim for more? There is opportunity: The arts are essential. Arts workers are essential–and we are worth it.”

Then, expressing her eagerness for “gathering in person again,” she noted, “but if our shift to digital allows you to join us today, I say, ‘Welcome!’”

Dr. Anthony Fauci inspires APAP attendees

The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) presented a major interdisciplinary star yesterday at its annual trade gathering when Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health—and newly named Chief Medical Adviser for the Biden Administration—discussed the status of the global pandemic and vaccine rollout in the U.S. in an online conversation with Maurine D. Knighton, program director for the arts for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Fauci himself has a significant arts background, making him even that much more valuable in helping the performing arts community plan for the resumption of live performing arts programming and touring.

At the start of his Public Health and Re-Opening the Live Performing Arts virtual plenary session with Knighton—who observed that he was likely the only APAP participant with his own bobblehead figure—Fauci noted that his pre-med education included a grounding in humanities. This, he said, had a major impact on his career and the way he looked at challenges to global health.

In fact, Fauci had initially been a classics major, and studied Greek, Latin, and French. He later took various philosophy courses.

“I took enough science to get to med school, but I was grounded in the humanities, so I take a different look at global health,” he noted, being “as interested in human nature as physiology.”

Fauci also saw himself as a frustrated artist. Observing that his grandfather was an accomplished artist whose son was also one, and daughter’s child was a successful painter, he said that he “flirted with it as a hobby,” but the intensity of his main career prevented him from doing it “in earnest,” thereby leaving him the frustrated artist.

It certainly showed a different side to “the face of America’s fight against Coronavirus” (per the BBC).

Fauci further noted the virus’s “underappreciated impact on society” in “the lack of free access to the performing arts.” He said that the last performance he attended was Hamilton at the Kennedy Center, and that the succeeding loss of access to the performing arts has added to “the gloom” of the pandemic, although he did hail the many quality television offerings—none of which fully compensate.

Turning to his more intense main career and putting it in context of the APAP performing arts community, Fauci sadly saw an “extraordinary divisiveness in society” so extreme that it clouds all reasoning. The healthcare system was being overrun, he said, yet many people still deny the severity of the problem and maintain that it’s fake news, a conspiracy, or hoax.

“To me that’s total denial of reality,” Fauci said, stating that “there’s no easy answer” in getting around it other than to “continue to be very transparent” and clear in countering it, while trying to get “an overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated” amidst the craziness. Asked about the recent discoveries of coronavirus mutations, he said that people should understand that “RNA viruses continually mutate…but we have to keep an eye on it because every once in a while there’s a substantial change and effect.”

He added that the new mutations don’t appear to be more virulent or resistant to the vaccines, though the U.K. variant does seem to be more efficient in its spread.

As for spreading the virus in the APAP community, Fauci stressed that people don’t always know if they’re completely protected.

“If you’re on stage and everyone’s vaccinated, chances are very low that you’ll get it,” he said. “But when you’re in society and in a crowd you still need to wear a mask.”

“It’s no big deal walking around like this,” Fauci said as he donned a white mask. “People in Asia do it all the time. We’re getting used to it now, but maybe we should pay more attention to washing our hands more frequently.”

He spoke of the likelihood of infecting others if one unknowingly has the virus while not having symptoms—and doesn’t take the necessary steps to avoid spreading it. Recognizing that the performing arts have been particularly devastated and professionals are ready to return to work, Fauci looked to the fall of 2021 for achieving “enough herd immunity”—depending on 70-85 percent of the population having been vaccinated–for people to safely perform on stage or sit in an audience.

Assessing the relative danger between attending live performances and going to restaurants, gyms and religious gatherings, Fauci suggested that the performing arts trade take guidance from Germany in studying theater ventilation, especially the employment of industrial-sized air filters in maintaining clean air flow. But he cautioned against comparing the U.S. to other countries where infection levels are much lower: With over 4,000 coronavirus deaths a day, he said it doesn’t matter what you do since the risk is so great.

Here Fauci returned to the basics of wearing masks, washing hands, social distancing and vaccinating in order to “get the level of community spread as low as we possibly can.” He foresaw wide future availability of 10-minute Covid tests that if passed, could be used in permitting theater entrance. He also touched on the implications of tour routing, such that for a New York artist, for example, touring to Tulsa (“red-hot with infection”) would be less likely than Philadelphia, where the infection rate might be really low.

Noting that revered sports heroes like Steph Curry and Magic Johnson have been enormously helpful in heightening coronavirus awareness, Fauci felt that top performing artists could likewise influence followers.

“Lin-Manuel Miranda could get vaccinated in front of everybody and show people not to be so skeptical [of vaccinations],” he said, adding that theaters could also be used as vaccination locations. And proof of vaccination could also be required for admission to theatrical events.

Questioned whether international artists should be blocked from entering the U.S., Fauci felt that it was far more likely that they’d be wary of coming here, what with 300,000 new infections daily. He also noted that outdoor venues are far safer than indoors, thanks to natural breezes blowing away deleterious respiratory particles.

“We’re suffering Covid fatigue in this country,” Fauci concluded, citing Jan. 21 as the one-year anniversary of the first Covid case recognized in America.

“Don’t give up!” he implored, promising that help is on the way in the form of vaccines while urging all to continue implementing the “public health measures we know work. We will get back to normal. It will happen!”

And when it does, Knighton told Fauci, “we’ll be looking for you in our audiences!”

Interest in Fauci’s appearance was clearly high, as seen from steady attendee questions submitted in the online screen margin. And Fauci earned a big laugh when he admitted anxiousness over being asked to make a “pronouncement,” as it inevitably turns into a soundbite.

“Everything leaks out!” he acknowledged.

‘Puff, the Magic Dragon’ and the Vietnam War Moratorium redux

It was perfect timing, running into Peter Yarrow a week ago Sunday unexpectedly at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP). He was meeting and greeting talent buyers strolling the Hilton’s vast exhibition halls, where he was stationed at the BiCoastal Productions agency booth to assist in the promotion of Lonesome Traveler: The Concert, the acclaimed 2015 off_Broadway musical now being packaged as a concert event, that he has endorsed and can be featured in as guest star depending on his availability.

Subtitled “The Roots of American Folk Music,” the show celebrates the likes of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, The Weavers, Bob Dylan and of course, Peter, Paul and Mary, in the context of folk music from the 1920s to the ’60s and beyond.

I didn’t meet them until much later, but I first saw Peter, Paul and Mary at a church on the University of Wisconsin Campus, where they performed at a Vietnam War Moratorium—but I’m not sure of the dates. According to Wikipedia, The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, which was a massive demonstration/teach-in all over the country, took place Oct. 15, 1969, and was followed by a Moratorium March on Washington a month later on Nov. 15.

So it had to be the second Moratorium (the word means “a suspension of activity”), because I do remember that PP&M were leaving that night for D.C. to join the march. It’s terrible I don’t remember the church—maybe St. Paul’s?—but it had to be at the end of State Street, where the UW begins. Peter, though, remembered the church well, not to mention everything surrounding the Moratorium.

The last time I’d seen Peter was a couple years ago or so, doing pretty much the same thing, except at Toy Fair at the Javits Center. Not sure which exhibition booth he was ensconced in this time, because I think there were two toy companies that had “Puff, the Magic Dragon” toy product out, but he was probably at the one with the plush Puff toys. Wherever, he was signing Puff, the Magic Dragon illustrated children’s books, packaged with a CD of Peter singing the PP&M classic and other songs with his daughter Bethany and a cellist—and, of course, posing for pictures with starstruck baby boomer toy business people.

But at the Hilton, I was for once more than just the starstruck baby boomer kid at the Moratorium who didn’t even meet Peter Yarrow, as well as the starstruck baby boomer music journalist who had met him many times since. No, this time I approached him as an equal in that both of us had starred in the 2015 Noah Baumbach movie While We’re Young.

Yes, I exaggerate! Not Peter’s role, for he had a meaty part as a leftist intellectual—hardly a stretch—whereas I was an extra–hardly a stretch–sitting at an Upper West Side coffee shop while Naomi Watts, her back to me, was meeting with Adam Driver, with Ben Stiller, playing Watts’ jealous husband, storming in after.

If you see the movie, you might recognize me by the bald spot on the top of my head—which I didn’t even know was there! Then for a second or so the camera pulls back at the end of the scene to reveal my truly recognizable receded hairline profile. Just don’t blink.

But it was so fun, and certainly arrogant, to address Peter, Paul and Mary’s Peter Yarrow as my co-star! That he didn’t blow me off is testament to something or other, his befuddlement, most likely. But it did lead him into some interesting observations, and an affirmation by both of us of our continued commitment to the ’60s ethos.

“It took a cultural, ethical point-of-view,” he said of While We’re Young, “and when I read the script I realized it was the antithesis of what I try to espouse in the songs I sing–as was the case with Peter, Paul and Mary all those years. And it profoundly preceded the rise of Trump.”

Here he pointed to Driver’s less-than-truthful aspiring film director character, who is “perfectly able to live without finding any sense of responsibility or guilt and can act unethically in terms of respecting the rights and creativity of Ben Stiller’s [documentary filmmaker] character. I thought that that counterpoint made it a very important film—but I didn’t expect it to become such a powerful commentary on what’s happening now in our country.”

He had attended the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival of the 1947 Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg musical Finian’s Rainbow the night before, a show centering on themes of immigration, economic greed, racial reconciliation and fighting bigotry.

“At the end I sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ with the cast, and spoke about why the music is so critical: It’s intention is to bring a tear to your eyes and dissolve the distance between us—and let us now unite in the face of a disuniting force.”

A disuniting force.

I told Peter Yarrow I would be marching again come Saturday, the day after the inauguration of the Disuniting Force. And Peter Yarrow of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” hugged me and called me “my Brother.”

Lesley Gore

I was on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for several years before being unceremoniously dumped, ostensibly because they were looking for people who were more knowledgeable about the 1970s (that I wrote the first book on The Ramones, apparently, was of no consequence), but I like to think that it was because every year at the nomcomm meeting I would put up Lesley Gore for nomination.

So it’s not my fault that she’s not up where she belongs, though when I started my own Rock ‘n’ Roll Pantheon, she was one of the first inductees.

Lesley was also one of the first stars I met when I moved to New York in 1982. It was at the Chem Bank at 57th and Broadway, where the Cash Box office was–where I worked. I’m sure I was the ultimate geek when I went up to her and introduced myself and then started slobbering all over her—as well I should: After all, “Judy’s Turn To Cry” was one of the first records I ever bought. I still remember the great B-side, “Just Let Me Cry.”

It remains one of those wonderful things in my career and in my life that I got to know her so well as the years went by. But I didn’t know she was sick. I should have figured it out when she stopped responding to phone calls and emails the last few months, but no, I just figured she was busy and gave her space.

I really should have figured it out last month at APAP—the Association of Performing Arts Presenters annual trade conference at the Hilton, where she was scheduled to showcase. I tweeted my excitement and got there early to surprise her—but she wasn’t there, and no one knew why.

I emailed her again, no response. And then I got carried off with work and whatever else gets in the way of the important things in life.

I’m thrilled to see so many wonderful tributes to her now on Facebook and Twitter. My tweets followed Mark Lindsay’s tweet announcement in the middle of the afternoon. I was at Toy Fair at the Javits Center, the annual toy trade show full of thousands of toy manufacturers and dealers, a business centering on fun and joy and happiness, and suddenly, incongrously, I was fighting back tears.

“It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Lesley Gore in rock ‘n’ roll history. That she’s not in the Hall of Fame is true travesty,” I tweeted. When I got home I called Lou Christie, who knew Lesley since 1963, when she had “It’s My Party” and he had “The Gypsy Cried.”

“We stayed friends for all these years,” Lou said, fielding the calls we make at such times. “She was hard and tough, baby. She’d want me to tell you that, too! And she knew she was very talented and very smart and had a great sense of humor. I loved the sound of her voice, and she was a better singer than most people knew. And she went out there and put it all on the line.”

I’ll have more to say about Lelsey shortly and not so personal at examiner.com. I just wanted to get this up now quickly, and with a couple videos. But first I should say that although I knew her very well and loved her very much, I’m not at all alone in either regard. As I told a Facebook friend who offered condolences after reading my tweets, while it surely is a personal loss for me and more so for Lou, it’s personal for anyone who feels it. Lesley touched us all, and we’re all the better for it. And sadly, Lesley was hardly alone among female rock artists (Connie Francis, Nancy Sinatra, The Marvelettes, The Shangri-Las, etc., etc.) in suffering unforgivable neglect by those who should most know better—The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee.

So here’s video of two legendary rock ‘n’ rollers and longtime friends and contemporaries who aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

And while there are so many Lesley Gore hits to remember her by—most obviously her proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”—here’s one to help us smile through the tears:

Finally, big thanks to Chris Matthews, who an hour or so ago on Hardball, amidst all the overblown coverage of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special and the pseudo-singers and celebs it honored, saw fit to run an old Lesley clip and simply, succinctly state, “A loss for the world.”