the now that was
1. The Pallor and the Black Eyeliner (kind of like The Agony and the Ecstasy, but different)
Who knows what all really goes into the making of a human being. What affects our likes and dislikes, all those qualities that make us individuals? That's one of the mysteries of life. Why do I have a penchant for wearing black eyeliner and not tanning? Some may say, as I do myself when the spirit moves me, it's my paternal Transylvanian bloodline. The Tegzeses and Dankas (my grandmother's folks) both hailed from the region of Transylvania in Romania. On my mom's side, I've got the influences of Sicily (her dad, Gaetano Mondello) and Calabria (her mom, Domenica Maccherone).
When I was growing up in Hamilton, NJ (a suburb of the Trenton area) there were all sorts of Italians about. Everyone was acquainted with that cultural group, but Romanians were another thing entirely. In school, when I told classmates that I was half Romanian, they'd sport quizzical looks and say: "What is that - Roman?" Then of course, there was the whole issue with my last name. It just confused people like you wouldn't believe. Whereas the pronunciation is absolutely phonetic, people became stymied by those adjacent letters, G and Z. They felt that they should make some horrendous sound - or comprise a few extra syllables - out of them.
So it was no surprise that for show and tell one day in third grade, I took and read to the class an article about Vlad, The Impaler (that infamous Transylvanian scamp!). The article came replete with examples of the variety of tortures he'd inflicted. As troubled a fellow as he was, it gave me enormous pride to be able to cite an historical figure who'd hailed from the same place as did some of my own family.
Is this when the seeds of black eyeliner wearing were planted?
But then there is my love of old movies. My fascination with the look of those silent film (and early Talkie) sirens: Theda Bara, Gloria Swanson, Louise Brooks, Garbo (my favorite). Likewise, I have always had an affinity for the 1920's: the fashions, the music, art, literature (F. Scott Fitz, be still my heart). All that lovely shadow in those silent films, the huge eyes and pale skin of the ladies. This is the quintessence of beauty to me. Oh yes, and I mustn't forget my Japanophilia (I done made up a word, according to my computer). At the age of seven, we studied Japan in school and I became completely enamored of the culture (whatever we learned of it at the time), particularly the look of the Geisha. And I wanted to be a beautiful Japanese woman. I believe I rather hounded my dad, who'd been stationed in Japan during the Korean Not-war, to tell me everything he remembered about the country. He did teach me to count to six. I was very proud. I can still count to six in Japanese. Why six and not ten????
Fast forward to eighth grade and "hello, Edgar Allen Poe!" Well, if discovering The Raven and The Tell Tale Heart didn't cinch it, nothing would. But they did. What in the world was going on with this poor guy? What a mind! I'd no idea that anyone had expressed in writing (or otherwise, I guess) such dark inner workings of the human psyche. Well, shortly thereafter, a book of Poe's complete works was on my "Christmas list." And it was under the tree on Christmas Day too - thank you Mom and Dad!
deep in the heart of home mt thoughts
2. A Musical Review
My parents, Earl and Lena (she prefers Lee), met in a Trenton based community choir called The Bel Canto Choir. The Bel Canto performed all around the area, including on Paul Whiteman's show. The director of the group, Mary Stoka (I've always called her Aunt Mary) was a friend of my dad, a fellow Romanian in fact. She also conducted the choir at their church in Trenton, Saint Basil's Romanian Catholic. When my parents married, my mom joined St. Basil's. I joined the choir at age eight (soprano section), singing the Romanian liturgy. This was a highlight of my childhood. We even participated in a mass at St. Patrick's. I remember how thrilling it was for me.
When I was around 10, Aunt Mary gave me a little lesson on how to properly breathe for singing. I began voice lessons at the age of 13 (already had been studying piano for 5 years). My teachers, Tina and Byron Steel, pianist and tenor respectively, had performed on the vaudeville circuit. They were from Tennessee. They'd settled down in the Trenton area. when Mr. Steel began teaching voice at The College of New Jersey, eventually becoming chair of the department.
The Steels had purchased a very tiny church in Trenton. With a bit of remodeling, they transformed it into a very tiny performance space, and called it The Artists Showcase Theatre. Here is where I spent most of my teens before college, performing full and partial roles in operas. Here is where I discovered that classical music was for EVERYONE, not just some elite echelon of society. My first exposure to opera was singing in the chorus of La Boheme. Most of the performers were in their 20's and up. I, as I said, was about 14. Thus, I always needed a ride to and from rehearsal. My pop arranged to drop me off at one of the soprano's houses. She would take me to rehearsal and then back home with her, where my dad picked me up. This meant that I stayed at rehearsal till that soprano was done. Well, she was playing Musetta. So I got to sit in on all the rehearsals of the entire opera. La Boheme has remained one of my favorite operas since that time. I watched these folks come to rehearsal, after a full day's work, and sing their hearts out. They were all so very talented and committed to their love of music. It was no less than idyllic for me. I know that now and I believe I knew it then.
deep in the heart of home mt thoughts
[For the essentials about my dad, please visit the now that is page.]
In her 20's, my mom was one of those "girl singers" with a local Trenton trio. I have a recording of her lovely song stylings (including a wonderful version of Moonlight in Vermont) from a live radio broadcast. Mom also studied piano earlier in her life. It was she who turned me on to musicals and old movies, as well as some important popular singers. How many times I listened, sang, and danced to her original Broadway recording of West Side Story - I just can't tell you. When I was a kid, she took me to see the film of The Sound of Music. Later on - and still today- I find it a bit too sappy for my taste. However, when I hear (or sing with a student) the title song itself, I am reminded of all those many gifts of music she gave me throughout my childhood.