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As Hanukkah winds down and I hear the faint ringing of sleigh bells approaching, memories of holidays past once again flood my reverie. I made a conscious decision this year to avoid the “Bah Humbug” and embrace all things “Merry and Bright” and so far… all is well. One sure way to enjoy the season is to immerse myself in the holiday celebrations cascading throughout the mountains, and I’ve done just that in recent weeks with Dharma the Wonder Dog at my side, of course. How fortunate are we who call the Catskills our home? For everywhere one casts an eye in the Upper Delaware River region, a Currier & Ives vision of winter virtually springs to life. Yep, we basically live in a picture-postcard world, and (IMHO) our lives are better for it.
In that same spirit, I’ve put on a happy face and ventured out to join the festivities, and have even been caught smiling (who’da thunk it?) a few times. “Wow, you look happy!” said Amy Ronai when I crossed the threshold at the Airport Café in Bethel. “Look,” she said, nudging her husband and business partner Joe. (www.in2retro.com). “Jonathan looks happy!” I suppose I did, since the reason for arriving at the airport was to share some holiday cheer with local entrepreneurs (www.bethelbusiness.com) while listening to carols provided by musicians from our own Bethel Lakeside Music (like ‘em on Facebook!) Series. “You’re not here to work!” admonished Bethel Business Association volunteer Moreen Lerner. “Put the camera away. Wait… are you smiling?” she asked while posing with Town of Bethel Supervisor Daniel Sturm. “Well, all right,” Moreen said as the flashbulbs popped. “Maybe just one.”
While I was invited to be a guest, I always feel better with the camera nearby, and as the party progressed I did snap a few. Jane Axamethy’s food (The Bake House, in residence at the café) was fantastic, the ambience festive, and the music…? Well, let’s just say I actually sang along—without mishap. Hallelujah!
I think my good mood was due, in part, to knowing that world-renowned violinist Eileen Ivers was comin’ to town. Ivers, who has been called a “sensation” by Billboard Magazine and “The Jimi Hendrix of the violin” by The New York Times, “will change the way you think about the violin,” the promotional material (www.bethelwoodscenter.org) proclaimed. But I already knew that to be true. The nine-time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion and music star of “Riverdance” has graced the Event Gallery at BW before, and I was psyched to catch Ivers’ “A Joyful Christmas” tour, which promised a gospel-style “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” along with a “jig-ified” version of Bach’s “Jesu Joy” and a “very unique” rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” performed on a “traditional bodhran goat-skinned drum.”
The last time Ivers performed here I ran out of superlatives and found myself speechless once again—save for the screams of approval coming from me and the rest of the sold-out audience as Eileen and her ridiculously talented band elevated traditional Irish and Celtic tunes to new heights. Even though I remembered Ivers and our last meeting vividly, it quickly became apparent that it was not reciprocal. “Oh look!” she squealed when spying the dog after the show. “I remember her!” Smiling sweetly (uh huh) I approached Eileen about getting a photo. “Of course!” she exclaimed “If Dharma is in the picture!” After taking a breath, I agreed. “I’ll give you a dollar if you can tell me my name” I whispered as folks looked on. “You’re from the newspaper, right?” she responded. Close enough, I suppose. At least she remembered that much. Hallelujah.
Still in the mood to sing, I headed out the next day to St. John’s in Monticello (www.episcopalchurch.org) to join like-minded individuals in a communal performance of Handel’s Messiah, presented by WJFF Radio Catskill and performed by local musicians accompanying soloists from the DVO (www.delawarevalleyopera.com). The community sing-along was something I had never experienced before, and I was surprised to see so many familiar faces. Soprano Kathy Geary, tenor Kevin Hanek, and mezzo soprano Janice Meyerson all greeted me (I mean the dog) before I took my seat, but bass John Weidemann actually shook my hand before admiring you-know-who.
After conductor Kristina Martorano divided the pews into vocal sections, I took a few photos as she addressed the crowd with a bit of history about Handel’s masterpiece, and the program began. As voices soared, I was impressed by the church, by the music and the overall complexity of the individual solos paired with choral interludes provided by those around me. As the concert reached its climax (the “Hallelujah Chorus”), Martorano smiled and held her baton high. “All right, here’s your chance to shine,” she exclaimed as the music swelled and everyone in the church (including me) stood up, and sang. I think I managed to blend in nicely. Hallelujah.