HALL MONITOR — Still too much testing

February 28, 2017

By Jay Bullock

It’s that time of year again, when all over the nation, teachers look out at their students and think, “Yippee! It’s standardized test time!”

As if. I don’t know a single teacher anywhere whose idea of a productive school day is watching, hawk-like, over students as they bubble in answers with the much-beloved Number Two Pencil or, more and more these days, peck out answers on a Chromebook keyboard. We would much rather be, you know, teaching.

Last month, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors got a report on how much testing happens in MPS schools — a sprawling chart of how many standardized tests are given, to how many students, and for what quantity of total time.

Not counting Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, MPS students take nine different standardized tests between September and May. There is hardly a date on the MPS calendar that isn’t in one testing window or another.

This is too much. MPS pleads that these tests are the result of federal or state mandates, but not all are, and the ones that are don’t have to be so taxing.

Eighth- and tenth-graders have it the worst, spending, respectively, 14.3 hours and 13.6 hours per school year taking some kind of standardized test. Coming in a close third are, surprisingly, fourth graders, who also spend more than 13 hours a year taking tests.

Even kindergarten students take five hours of standardized tests a year. Seriously. Kindergarten.

This may not seem like a lot; those of you who aced your math ACT have already figured out that even the highest figures represent only about two school days of testing. True! However, standardized testing doesn’t happen for two days in a row.

Rather, testing is spread out over the school year, creating not two consecutive days of lost instructional time, but repeated disruptions that ripple through classes and entire schools.

For example, on February 28 this year, every eleventh-grade student in the state took the ACT, which is now the state’s accountability test for high schools. In MPS, that meant not just five hours of testing for juniors, but a lost day of school for all the other high school students, who stayed home that day.

It also meant hours of registration time, as guidance counselors walked every junior through bubbling in their names and other information on answer sheets, time that students were out of class and counselors weren’t counseling.

As always, teachers felt pressure to do ACT prep as test day approached. I know I sure did. It took needed time away from subject matter. And since last year, high schools are under a directive to convert as many classroom assessments as possible to the ACT Writing test format: a timed, 40-minute argument writing task. For many of us, that has meant twisting and contorting what formerly were engaging, authentic assessments and projects, into a form devoid of any pleasure or creativity. Because of ACT.

None of that was represented in the chart the board saw last month, nor were the corresponding curriculum corruptions that affected every grade level and that were caused by testing. Also absent was data that represented repeated testing of students in various academic intervention classes, where those students can take the same test 15, 20, or more times in a year. That’s enough to beat the spirit out of any student.

The report was in part spurred by changes to federal guidelines under the Obama administration, which in its last couple of years came around to the idea that testing is not necessarily the best, and should never be, the only measure of student, teacher, school, or district achievement. Obama’s Department of Education launched a plan in 2015 to reduce time spent on tests — genuinely good news.

But who knows where that initiative goes now under President Trump and his public-school-hating Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. DeVos has long supported groups like the American Federation for Children, who count on test data to argue for the expansion of school vouchers and the disruption of public education as a whole.

The board committee receiving the report spent, if you can believe this, 10 whole minutes on this critical issue. Most of that time involved the district’s director of assessment explaining how there will be a more detailed report of MPS testing practices later. Only one member of the public spoke.

Even normally garrulous Director Terry Falk, who requested this study of standardized testing in MPS, had very little to say on the matter. “I’m not getting the phone calls on testing that I would have gotten a year ago,” he said. Teacher complaints about time spent testing, he said, is a “residual reaction” to the slightly greater number of hours of testing students spent a couple of years ago.

Okay, okay, I will admit this: The testing report was the final item on the agenda of a long night that included heated discussions of things like closing schools and mandating school uniforms. I can appreciate that board members entering their sixth hour of meetings in an evening can start to lose attention and concentration. It’s almost as if being trapped for hours doing a repetitive, restrictive task can be bad for you…

I feel like there’s a lesson in that, somewhere.

Jay Bullock teaches English and proctors standardized tests at Bay View High School and tweets as @folkbum. 

Speed Humps for Smith Street

February 28, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Two speed humps are proposed for E. Smith Street between S. Burrell St. and S. Howell Avenue, one in the 200 block and the other the 300 block.

Ald. Tony Zielinski announced that two humps were approved by Milwaukee’s Department of Public Words for Smith Street. DPW’s traffic engineer will determine the location of the speed humps that would be installed. The Common Council will vote on the proposal March 1.

Artist and MIAD faculty member Waldek Dynerman has lived on the affected area of Smith for 15 years. He said he sees speeding almost every day on his narrow street in a neighborhood populated with many children.

Kim Kelly lives in the 200 block of E. Smith St. She said, “Traffic is pretty bad year round and worse in summer when traffic is flying through.” Like Dynerman, Kelly said there are many children in the two-block stretch and on neighboring blocks.

She worries about her four grandchildren when they visit her and speculates the speeders are teenagers.

Residents of the 200 and 300 blocks of E. Smith requested speed humps to slow traffic on their narrow residential street. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Dynerman attributed some of the traffic to patrons leaving the Quick Pick gas station on the southwest corner of Howell and Smith. He said he thinks that others, who want to travel east on Lincoln Avenue, turn west on Smith from Howell in order to avoid the busy intersection of Howell, Kinnickinnic, and Lincoln avenues. Smith runs parallel to Lincoln and is one block south.

Dynerman became aware that his neighbors were similarly alarmed by the dangerous traffic on Smith when he was presented with a petition that called for traffic calming and again, when he received a postcard from Ald. Zielinski about the proposed traffic calming measure.

Zielinski said he’s overseen the installation of about 10 speed humps in Bay View during his tenure. “They’ve definitely reduced the amount of traffic and the speed. If they go over them full speed, they’ll destroy their car,” he said.

He responded to his constituents’ calls for help by mailing a postcard to those in the affected area of Smith to gauge their support or opposition. The consensus supported installing humps.

DPW said the estimated project cost for two speed humps on Smith is $11,600 and includes the hump, signage, and pavement markings. One speed hump would cost approximately $6,000.

Property owners would foot the bill. The length of the portion of land that abuts Smith Street determines the amount each property owner would be assessed. Each assessment is a portion of the project cost and per city ordinance is $6.50 per lineal foot of abutting property.

Zielinski said the average homeowner would be assessed $160 and that it could be paid off over a 10-year period. The assessment shows up on the resident’s property tax bill.

“I’m very glad that a speed bump is coming. France has speed bumps everywhere. They have them at crosswalks in large cities and villages, everywhere. I will gladly pay the assessment. People’s life and health is worth $160,” Dynerman said.

Dynerman accused city officials of having “a philosophy that is more for motorists than pedestrians.” He is concerned about the intersection of E. Smith and S. Howell Avenue, which he thinks would benefit from four-way stop signs. He’s seen accidents at that intersection.

Dynerman said he’s aware of and supports efforts by residents, business owners on Howell, as well as school officials and parents at Parkside, Saint Lucas, and Downtown Montessori to slow traffic on Howell Avenue between Lincoln and Oklahoma avenues, and he attended the meeting on the matter that was hosted by Zielinski at Parkside in January.

At that meeting a DPW traffic engineer said that his department would not consider speed humps for Howell because it is a key traffic arterial and used by emergency vehicles.

When the Compass asked Zielinski if the traffic calming requests for Smith Street were a priority over those made for Howell Avenue, he said, “The residents on Smith Street supported and were willing to pay for a speed hump. The school request was not for a speed hump — it was for a hump out. The difference is that the residents paid for the speed hump and the school has the city paying for it. If the school wants to pay for the hump outs I am sure we can get that built really quick.”

DPW said that its traffic engineers did not conduct a speed study on E. Smith Street.

Zielinski anticipates that the hump or humps will be installed on Smith in July or August.

He said that residents seeking information about getting a speed hump for their street should contact him via his Facebook page or call/text him: 414-405-1483.

Tintype siren song

February 28, 2017

By Sheila Julson

Margaret Muza found her path with century-old photo technology

“Tariq” 2016 Margaret Muza

Haunting images in mottled brown and cream tones line the walls of artist Margaret Muza’s Bay View photography studio. The photos look as if they were found in antique stores or a history museum. Printed on aluminum plates, the images capture contemporary subjects but they resemble the photographs of the soldiers and landscapes of the Civil War that were made 150 years ago.

“My hope is to confuse people and make them wonder, ‘When was this really taken?’” Muza laughed.

Muza, who loves history, said that she’d seen tintypes of Walt Whitman, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and other people who were photographed during the Civil War. She found the photos moving — haunting and ghostlike, a world apart from more recent photographs captured with film or digital technology.

Her friend Eileen Blom was similarly drawn to the enigmatic beauty of tintypes. The women met when they both worked at the former Sweet Water  Organics aquaponics facility in Bay View.

“I didn’t know why old photographs look so different or what made them stand out,” Muza said, so she and Blom set out to discover the secrets. They found a 1975 article published by Mother Earth News that discussed a resurgence of interest in and making of tintype photographs.

“I read the article and felt a strong urge to do it. I eventually found an email for the author and told him that I just read his article online, and I saw that he teaches tintypes and I’d love to learn,” Muza said. He replied but said he was no longer teaching.

Undeterred, Muza and Blom kept digging. Their research led them to Rowan Rene, who conducts tintype workshops in Brooklyn, N.Y. The women signed on. After picking up the basics, they returned to Milwaukee, ordered supplies, and began practicing in Muza’s basement.

The process is complex and involves numerous steps and toxic chemicals that can accidentally produce poisonous cyanide gas or explosions if mistakes are made. They survived their early experiments.

To earn money to acquire equipment, they offered to make affordable tintypes for their friends, which led to others who also commissioned them.

Learning to make tintypes involved some bumps for Margaret Muza, such as learning how weather conditions like heat affect the chemical reactions. PHOTO Jamie Bloomquist

Hands-On Process

Tintype photography was the original instant photography, prefiguring Polaroid technology. It is a fast process, about 20 minutes from the click of the shutter to a finished photograph. It was used predominantly in the 1860s and 1870s.

The tintype method Muza uses is produced through a wet plate process — the photo must be taken and the plate dipped in developing solution while the photographic emulsion is still wet.

The process involves no negatives; the image is known as a “direct positive” in photography parlance. The photographer starts with a liquid emulsion called collodion, also known as gun cotton, that is spread on a metal plate. As soon as it starts to dry, the plate is immersed in a bath of silver nitrate, which makes it light sensitive. At this stage, the plate is inserted in the camera. When the photograph is taken, Muza removes the plate and immerses it in a developer solution.

After the photograph is developed, she finishes it by applying a homemade varnish made of tree sap, lavender oil, and alcohol. The final result is an heirloom 8- by10-inch photograph that costs $125. Muza also has a smaller camera that she uses to produce four- by five-inch tintypes that she sells for $75. She makes locket-sized tintypes that she sells for $20.

Muza’s large format view camera is an antique, an Eastman Kodak from the early 20th century. PHOTO Margaret Muza

Muza’s camera is an antique Eastman Kodak 8- by 10-inch large format view camera she found at an antique store. She thinks it was made in the early 1900s.

Tintype photography requires long exposures so the subject must remain motionless for several for a brief time to avoid blurred or multiple exposures in the final photo. After the shutter snaps, Muza removes the plate and places it in a dark box, a tabletop mini darkroom about the size of an end table.

Most of her subjects don’t don vintage garments for their tintype shoot, but Muza has a collection of antique hats, furs, and jewelry on hand for those who want to play dress-up for their photos.

Last year Muza and Blom found a studio in a warehouse tucked away on Allis Street, just off of Hilbert Street. When Blom, her husband Jesse, and their children moved to Baltimore last summer, Muza became sole owner of Guncotton Tintype. Blom has also continued to pursue her tintype art.

“Tintype photography really merged all my interests together — an interest in old things, in costumes, and I get to meet people and make portraits that last 150 years and stand the test of time,” Muza said.

Most of Muza’s photos are portraits. There are some nature photographs, including images taken at the Seminary Woods. Details in tintypes are prominent, such as tree reflections in water or deep emotions expressed through the subjects’ eyes.

Learning to make tintypes involved some bumps for Muza, such as learning how weather conditions like heat affect the chemical reactions.

Until she developed an interest in tintype, Muza said she just took photos on her phone like everybody else. She always had an artistic flair and made jewelry, sewed, and dabbled in other forms of art.

I feel like it’s important to make a photograph really special again. It’s not like taking a million images on a digital camera and throwing away all except the best ones,” she said. “On a digital camera, the images are on your camera, but you really don’t own them.”

Muza’s Jones Island Fishing Village Heritage

Margaret Muza is a direct descendant of one of the original Kaszube families who lived in the fishing village on Jones Island. The village was settled by squatters, who emigrated from the Baltic Coast of Poland, people of Polish and German descent.

Margaret is the great-granddaughter of Michael Muza, who was born on Jones Island in 1902, according to Richard Muza, Margaret’s father. Michael was the son of Aleksander Muza.

Margaret said that according to family lore, Aleksander emigrated from the Baltic to Wisconsin, settling on Jones Island at the behest of Jacob Muza, one of the first settlers on the peninsula just north of Bay View.

Richard Muza said that he believes that Jacob and Aleksander Muza were related but hasn’t been able to establish the relationship.

When Margaret Muza worked at Sweet Water Organics, she helped fillet fish. She said realized one day that she was carrying on the tradition of her fisherfolk forebears.

The Kaszubes lived on Jones Island from 1870 to 1943. They were forced out by the city of Milwaukee so it could establish a sewage treatment plant on that land. 

Jones Island is now mostly concrete-covered. It is the barren land that lies beneath the Hoan Bridge.

The diminutive Kaszube’s Park is a pocket of green on the north end of Jones Island that memorializes the fishing village and its people. The park, located at 1101 Car Ferry Drive, is owned by the city of Milwaukee.

— Katherine Keller

Guncotton Tintype
1911 S. Allis St.

Hello Bay View! — Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons moves home and prepares for her Florentine Opera debut

February 28, 2017

Emily Fons and her dog Lupita, a rescued Australian Kelpie. PHOTO Emily Fons

After living on the East Coast and in Chicago for a number of years, Bay View native and international opera singer Emily Fons moved home in October. She will make her Florentine Opera debut this month in a starring role portraying Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

Fons is the daughter of Carolyn and David Fons and sister of Claire Fons and Elisabeth Biggs. She attended Saint Lucas Lutheran Elementary School and Wisconsin Lutheran High School (Class of 2001).

Fons’ dog Lupita travels with the singer, easing the rigors of the peripatetic nature of a professional opera career. Fons adopted Lupita from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.

Bay View Compass: Did you want to sing opera since you were a child?

Emily Fons: My mother is a voice teacher. She teaches at Wisconsin Lutheran College (in Milwaukee). Music and singing were always kind of around. It was just a part of my life. I never thought that I would be a singer. I never took any voice lessons with my mom. I never did anything like that. I took piano lessons as a kid and then I played clarinet for a while.

I always loved theater. I was in a group in the Avalon Theater (in the early 90s) before it was refurbished called the Milwaukee Youth Theater run by Peter Daniels. They did this really neat thing where everyone learned all of the parts so it was this really team effort. We would go to inner city grade schools in the summer and put on these performances of these little shows and we would all switch parts so nobody was the star.

That was kind of my first case of performing and having a sense of community around performing. I loved it. I just absolutely loved it. Then in high school, I auditioned for plays and musicals and things like that, and it was more just the idea of theater and performance that I fell in love with before I fell in love with singing. I think that makes sense because unlike every other instrument, (the voice) is one that ages and matures with you. So you can’t sing opera when you’re a teenager.  You can sing musical theater when you’re a teenager, sure, but you can’t really sing that seriously until you’re in your mid 20s.

My parents realized that I loved performing, loved acting. My mom knew Helen. She asked me if I wanted to take voice lessons with her.

I started taking voice lessons at 16 with Helen Ceci. Helen was my mother’s first voice teacher. She has a spirit about her, makes it fun. She understands how to teach a high school kid. She gives you appropriate info and, above all, [encourages you] to get out and share it with people. She tells you to get up and sing. I was never nervous, not even once. And I think I owe a lot of that to her because her attitude was just one of excitement and sharing and just a love of what she was doing. I didn’t take it too seriously at that age, which I think, was also really crucial for me.

One of the reasons I’m successful is no one in my life ever pushed me ever to do anything. It was very much a self-guided journey, I guess. I just happened to have really patient and wonderful mentors along the way who let me figure it out on my own and were there when I needed them.

What did you sing when you studied with Helen Ceci? 

A lot of Gershwin, musical theater. She introduced me to foreign languages for the first time, which is probably why I fell in love with opera and classical singing,  these beautiful French art songs. It was age appropriate music; she knew a beautiful tune would go a long way for a young singer.

What do you mean by age appropriate?

Interest to the student and the vocal ability of the student. There’s certain emotions you can’t really access at age 16. And just the style of music, the demands it puts on the voice, the range, how high it sits in the voice. She was very wise in giving me things that were achievable, that made me feel confident, and really made me fall in love with singing.

After a partial first semester at Syracuse University, Fons felt the school wasn’t the best fit for her. She moved back to Milwaukee, finished her first semester at Wisconsin Lutheran College, then following Helen Ceci’s suggestion, enrolled in the music program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She began studying with voice teacher Connie Haas. When Haas took a sabbatical, Fons enrolled in and completed her college education at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Connie Haas been my voice teacher ever since. I’ve gone other places for school but I’ve been studying with her since I was 19. She just kind of changed my world. She’s incredibly patient and she treats singing and a singing career like a marathon, not a sprint. And that’s the kind of person I am too. I like to see the long game and always play the long game. I think everybody has patience for different things. I tried to learn to sew but I couldn’t tolerate a mistake. I didn’t have the patience to rip it out and do it again. But for some reason with singing I have the patience to play the long game. I think Connie taught me that, to have the patience to grow into my voice and to look at technique as an evolution, not a magic trick.

I think a lot of voice teachers teach by the method — here’s my bag of tricks, let’s it solve it for the day and maybe it’s not a permanent solution or permanent understanding. Connie not only worked for technical solutions but a technical understanding. She just really supported me and was very encouraging and held me to a high standard. I studied with her for two years at UW-Milwaukee.

Did you start singing opera at UWM? If so, did it appeal to you then? 

Yes, and it really did. I’m a very active person. I can’t sit still. Opera’s a very full body, full mind experience. You can’t afford to leave anything behind; it’s all gotta come with. I really like that about it.

What style of opera are you attracted to?

You tend to be drawn to the type of opera that is appropriate for your voice. Starting with the very origins of opera, baroque opera — and even slightly earlier than that with Monteverdi — I absolutely love that style of music, and for me the reason I love that style is the clarity of the sound. I feel that I can hear — I can almost pull it apart in my mind — all the different instruments, the counterpoint, the way they work together. I love that and the music is very customizable. I think that’s why it’s still performed because it was the tradition to ornament (vocal embellishments and flourishes) the music. The singer would ornament and sometimes the orchestra would respond with its own ornaments. I love that because I’m able to put my own stamp on something that was written 400 or 300 years ago. Baroque and Early Music are some of my favorite things to sing because of that. And also collaboration. The tight collaboration with the orchestra and the conductor. The conductor needs to know what your ornaments are, they need to know when to give you time, how to respond, so I guess I feel very close relationships when I’m working on that type of music.

Do you create your own ornaments?

Sometimes I’ll go to someone I trust, a baroque specialist and have them write ornaments for me because I can sing infinitely better ornaments than I myself can write. I need someone who can write the level of ornaments that I can sing. For instance, I have a person I work with in Chicago. I’ll send him the music, he’ll ornament it for me, write it all down, and send it back to me and say, “What do you think?” I love to sing ornate music. I think someone who specializes can write these ornate stunning ornaments that I myself couldn’t come up with.

If I have the time, if it’s a conductor I know well, I’ll send him the ornaments and say this is what I’m planning on doing, what do you think? I’d rather know if there’s something the conductor doesn’t like or that he’d like me to change and I’ll relearn it, get it in my voice, and hopefully show up to rehearsal and we’ll hopefully be somewhat on the same page when we start off.

How do you decide what operas to audition for?

People who know me well can make assumptions about what would be appropriate for my voice. The number of auditions that I do now [is a lot less] — I guess I sang an audition about 10 months ago — as opposed to when I first got out of the young artist program at Chicago Lyric Opera, when I sang a bazillion auditions all the time. It’s very different now that I’ve been out working and people know me a little now. People think of me as a person who would sing baroque music, Mozart, French opera.

There’s a lot of options, but I probably wouldn’t sing Puccini. I tend to not prefer to sing bel canto, not that I couldn’t but it just doesn’t feel right for me right now. I tend not to sing bel canto, I tend not to sing bigger repertoire like Verdi, Puccini, Wagner…that’s not right for me.

I think Don Giovanni is one of the most perfect operas ever written. I’m more than happy to sing it.

Talk a little bit about learning languages.

It is surprising how many times people ask me if I know what I’m saying. I get that question all the time. Can you imagine if you went to see Lincoln and Daniel Day Lewis had to say all his lines but had no clue what they meant? It wouldn’t really work. I think it’s interesting that people want to know — that they don’t automatically know that I know what I’m saying.

As part of a music degree, I studied French, German, and Italian. The opportunity to be a young artist at Lyric Opera in Chicago and Santa Fe Opera, those were really important experiences because they have high quality coaching staff, pianists who are well versed in those languages and diction coaches around the opera house, task masters who will make sure you have the pronunciation of the languages correct. Not only do we want to have an intimate knowledge of the language so it’s clear that we not only know what we are saying, but so that we can correctly inflect the language. It’s important that we’re pronouncing it as accurately as possible because as an opera singer I work internationally.

To me, probably the most helpful thing is to know the grammar of the language and for me that functions as a memory tool. There’s such a lot to remember, obviously, and I find that the times when I have the most memory problems is when I don’t have a good grammatical understanding of what I’m saying and why.

I find it really challenging but really beautiful to express in another language.

Emily Fons (left) as Cherubino and Susanna Phillips as Countess Almaviva in “The Marriage of Figaro” © Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera, 2013 santafeopera.org

What are some of your favorite operas?

I’m kind of a Handel geek so anything Handel wrote I will feel in love with. Baroque opera can be very long but I love it. Giulio Cesare (Handel), I love that opera so much. It’s definitely one of my top operas. I love Mozart too. I love Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. They are so special. I love Così fan tutte too, but not as much. I also love Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. I think it’s orchestrated so beautifully.”

What is it like to sing and play the role of Donna Elvira in Mozart’s Don Giovanni given his reprehensible character?

Elvira and Giovanni have a backstory. Their story happened before the opera even starts. They were, I guess, married, or she thought they were going to be married. It’s a little unclear. Either way, it does seem clear that she either thought they were engaged or even they were married, and then he left.

I really feel like she has a mission. Her motivation and mission are clear from the second she comes on stage. There’s no question. She says, “Where is he? If I find him and he won’t come back to me, I’m going to rip his heart out.” It’s pretty clear what she wants.

But I also sort of think of her as the superhero of the opera because she inserts herself into everybody else’s story. Not even after Leporello says to her, “Honey, you’re not the first, you’re not the last, let it go, it’s not worth your time.” But she decides it is worth her time and then she stops Giovanni from seducing Zerlina.

So she kind of has this mission the whole way along. She wants to make sure he doesn’t seduce or rape anybody else and secondly, and this is what I think is so interesting about her, she wants to change him even though she’s been so badly hurt by him. She doesn’t give up. Her very last entrance, she says, “This is the ultimate proof of my love for you. Change your life, get your act together.”

So her storyline is kind of this double-edged thing of wanting to prevent any further disaster for anybody else but also to change him and have him come back to her. So she’s very…I think, it’s interesting that she just doesn’t give up until the very end when he’s dragged down into hell.

What makes the role difficult is her emotion and that her music can be very intense. It’s a long opera and you have to pace yourself. You have to leave room for character development even though, like every step of the way, it seems too easy to be intense. I think finding the moments of vulnerability for her and finding when you can take it down a notch are really important to balancing out the character so it’s not just this kind of firestorm the whole way through.

How do you personally react to that aspect of her character? Do you feel sympathy toward her or do you feel her mission reflects a tragic flaw?

I definitely feel sympathy towards her. I don’t want to say anything too stereotypical or sexist but I kind of think it’s part of being a woman is, I don’t know, the struggle of following the facts versus letting your emotions get involved. I think it’s just part of her struggle as a woman, especially a woman of that time, suffering a betrayal but wanting him, wanting to fix him to make it the thing that makes [her betrayal and suffering] okay as opposed to her just moving on, distancing herself from him. I think that’s really interesting as a woman of the time and class that she would take the initiative to go out and find this man who wronged her and try to make it right. So I think she’s very strong but she’s interesting because she evaluates her own emotions, has conflict, she wants so badly for Giovanni to be the man she thinks he could be. I hate to say she takes on a project, but he’s a project. I definitely feel connection and sympathy for her.

Fons’ dog Lupita travels with the singer, easing the rigors of the peripatetic nature of a professional opera career. Fons adopted Lupita from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society.  PHOTO Emily Fons

How do you prepare to step into the heart and soul and mind of a character?

I usually start with the text. I read the libretto, translate it, get a sense of how the character speaks, what their vocabulary is. In the first recitative that Elvira has, she goes on for two pages, ripping Giovanni a new one. Leporello says it sounds like she’s reciting this out of a book. So you pick up cues from what the other characters say about you.

Of course with such a great composer like Mozart, then I listen to the music he gave her and how he sets that text, it informs a lot of things about the emotion behind the text. I want to know the story as a whole, know all the characters and see how my role fits in with that. I think it happens often in our industry that you have to learn something quickly and perform it but the kind of ideal situation is to have time to get to know it and to spend some time with the character, spend some time with the music, and listen to different recordings of how different people do it, that’s always a good resource. And then I take it to coaches that I trust and try things out and play around with the colors I want to use, the speed of delivering recitative, even something as simple as where do I want to breathe and how does that affect what I’m trying to say.

What don’t people know about prepping for a role?

In terms of preparing the role, I don’t know if people know how much I rely on other people. Maybe they think, “Don’t you just sit down and learn it?”

But, no, I have books by Nico Costel where the libretto is written out with the translation and written out in the international pronunciation alphabet. I’ll get my score, highlight all my music and lines, write in the translation, write in the international alphabet. So before I even sing it, I’ve done all that. I start learning it. I’m fortunate that I play the piano so I can do some of that on my own. And I meet with coaches who play the piano — the vocal reduction of the score, while I sing. They correct my diction, they correct any other errors. (I think people don’t know about) the painstaking process of correctly learning the notes, rhythms, pronunciations. That all comes before. Of course, I’m already imbuing it with some emotion then but those are really the first building blocks before I even start digging into how I really want to present it and what the top-of-the pyramid points of refinement are. Then making sure it’s memorized. I think people maybe don’t realize that we have to show up to the first day of rehearsal with the score completely memorized. I think people don’t realize those kinds of steps all go into it. And that we pay for everything, all the coaches.

I like to have a few months to prepare a role, ideally at least eight months since I’m usually learning a few things at once, or learning one role while in rehearsal for another.

What do you love about Bay View?

I love the proximity to the lake and that everything I need is nearby.  I’m also thrilled to see new businesses/restaurants/coffee shops popping up all the time.  I love that Bay View is dog-friendly and I can get out and exercise my pup easily every day. It’s also great to have grown up in this neighborhood and to see it changing in such positive ways all the time.

It’s great to visit with family and friends who are still in the area.  I also get a lot of work done since my voice teacher is in town and the pianists that I study roles with are down in Chicago.  I enjoy doing yoga and cooking in my own kitchen.

What does it mean to you to be singing at the Florentine in your hometown?

I am really excited to come home at this point in my career and sing a role that I enjoy so much.  I’m so touched by the support of friends and family. I really feel that the arts can bring such peace, joy, self-awareness, and community to a city and I’m thrilled to be doing that in Milwaukee. I hope that I have the chance to inspire young people to get involved in the arts and to go out and bring more beauty to Milwaukee and the world.

Emily Fons will be starring in the role of Donna Elvira in the Florentine Opera’s upcoming production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni March 17 & 19 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Info + Tickets: florentineopera.org
Also, emilyfons.com

Katherine Keller interviewed Emily Fons February 21, 2017.

Early Music Now Hosts Ars Longa de La Habana

February 1, 2017

Early Music Now was selected to host Ars Longa de La Habana for its long-awaited U.S. debut performance at 5pm on Saturday, February 18, at UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts.

Ars Longa was founded in Havana, Cuba, in 1994 by Teresa Paz and Aland Lopez, and since has toured extensively throughout Europe and Latin America. The ensemble’s focus is Latin American and Cuban music of the Colonial Period, and annually hosts the international Esteban Salas Early Music Festival in Havana. The 16-member ensemble includes singers, as well as performers on viola da gamba, flautas dulces, chirimías, sacabuche, bajón, Baroque guitar, chamber organ, and harpsichord.

The February 18 concert is a program of Afro-Cuban music drawn from the ensemble’s 2013 recording Gulumbá, Gulumbé: Resonances of Africa in the New World, which highlights the African presence in Baroque music from the New World. The music represents the artistic expression of Cuban composers in the 17th and 18th centuries, which resonates with the poetry and music of the descendants of African slaves.

The program, notes, texts and translations for the February 18 program are available at EarlyMusicNow.org. This 5pm concert will be preceded by a lecture at 4pm. The program will proceed without intermission, and will last approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The February 18 concert will be followed by a special buffet dinner to honor the visiting musicians, catered by Cubanitas, Milwaukee’s first entirely Cuban restaurant. ¡Celebración Cubana! is a separately ticketed fundraising event. The menu and reservation information is available at EarlyMusicNow.org.

Ticket info: 414-225-3113 or goo.gl/ZDTERI

Alan Lomax Revisited at SMPAC

February 1, 2017

Moira Smiley and Jayme Stone are two musicians who are part of the collaboration that re-imagines and plays music collected by music historian and field collector Alan Lomax. PHOTO Christina Kiffney

The Jayme Stone Lomax Project, a concert featuring a re-imagining of traditional roots music will be held at the South Milwaukee Performing Art Center, Saturday, March 25 at 7:30pm.

The Lomax Project brings together some of the world’s top folk musicians who recycle, re-imagine, and recast traditional music compiled by Alan Lomax. An American field collector of folk music of the 20th century, Lomax worked at penitentiaries, plantations, lonely farms of the Mississippi Delta, and hundreds of obscure places in the U.S., Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa to collect his recordings. Jelly Roll Morton, Woody Guthrie, and Muddy Waters were among those he recorded as well as scores of ordinary, nonprofessional musicians.

Two-time Juno-winning banjoist and composer Jayme Stone leads the collaboration, whose repertoire includes Bahamian sea chanteys, African-American a cappella, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes, and work songs from sea captains, cowhands, and homemakers. Collaborators for the project include Tim O’Brien, Bruce Molsky, Moira Smiley, Margaret Glaspy, Brittany Haas, Eli West, Julian Lage, and more.

Adults $20-40; seniors (ages 60+) $15-35; and students (ages 4 through college) $10-20. Tickets: 414-766-5049 or southmilwaukeepac.org.

True Love Stories in Caregiving — Book-signing with authors former Wisconsin Governor Martin Schreiber and John McCarthy

February 1, 2017

Former Wisconsin Governor Martin Schreiber and Milwaukee financial adviser John McCarthy will share two compelling true love stories at an author reception and book signing Wednesday, Feb. 8, from 6 to 8pm, at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care–Stein Campus, 2801 E. Morgan Ave.

Schreiber’s book unravels the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on his 55-year marriage, and McCarthy’s looks at life with an adult child with special needs.

In his new book My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver, Schreiber candidly counsels those taking on the caregiving role, as he did 12 years ago when his wife, Elaine, was diagnosed with the disease. He offers practical advice on how to respect the one with Alzheimer’s while avoiding caregiver burnout. Two-thirds of those with Alzheimer’s are women. Schreiber offers special guidance for men taking on the traditionally female role of caregiving.

“One of my biggest learnings was that I had to let go of the woman I met at 14 and instantly decided I wanted for my wife — the woman who gave me our three children, supported me in every endeavor of my life, and never let me feel defeated,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber describes the journey he’s taking with his “second Elaine,” now living in a memory care center. He explains how his love has continued with the woman that he describes as “always cheerful, always happy, and always telling me how handsome and intelligent I am,” although sometimes not recognizing him as her husband.

The central character of McCarthy’s book, Maggie’s Angels: Loving, Living with and Learning from a Special Needs Daughter, is his 31-year-old daughter. Born with a rare neurological disease, Maggie experienced slowed physical and mental development and cognitive and behavioral challenges. Along with memorable moments with Maggie, McCarthy spotlights the inspiring stories of some 60 other people with special needs — artists and musicians to Special Olympians, as well as their parents, coaches, and teachers, who’ve become “angels” in his family’s lives.

Founder of McCarthy Grittinger Financial Group, McCarthy also gives advice about preparing for the long-term care of adults with special needs, using specially designed financial and estate plans.

For years, Maggie has been an occasional guest in the overnight respite at the Stein Campus.

When she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Elaine Schreiber frequented the campus for reiki massage and swim/exercise at the Aquatics Center.

Both authors are longtime St. Ann Center supporters. Part of the proceeds from the evening’s book sales will go to support the children and adults served by the center.

The free reception will include refreshments and a chance to meet the authors. Signed books will be available for purchase.

More info: Casey Rozanski, 414-977-5062.


Urban Aquaculture and Aquaponics Workshops — Learn How to Build Your Own System

February 1, 2017

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences and Growing Power will offer three-day workshops once-per-month February through June.

The workshops are designed for those who want to learn about growing their own food using aquaponic and recirculating system technology. This three-day workshop is designed to educate, enlighten, and inform practitioners, whether novices or experts, as well as science educators, agriculture and other educators, about the critical aspects of aquaponics and aquaculture, including fin-fish husbandry, plant husbandry, water chemistry, system design, technology and construction, nutrition, aquatic microbiology, and fish and vegetable processing and marketing.

With the support of funding from NOAA’s National Sea Grant and the Wisconsin Sea Grant program, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences has worked intensively with Milwaukee-based Growing Power since 2007 to enhance fish and vegetable production through urban aquaponics. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences is in a unique position to teach the theory and practical applications of aquaculture and aquaponics.

PHOTO Tori Sepulveda

The three-day workshop (Friday through Sunday) is offered monthly from February through June 2017. Each workshop begins on Friday at the UWM School of Freshwater Sciences and provides the fundamental principles of aquaponic system design and construction, water chemistry, aquatic microbiology, fin fish husbandry, fish nutrition, and plant biology and horticulture methods necessary for starting an aquaponics business. All of the instructors for this workshop series are professionals and leaders in their field of expertise. All presenters have extensive experience not only in the biological, chemical, and physical aspects of aquaculture and aquaponics, including animal husbandry, water quality, and system design, but also in the investment, costs, and product marketing of aquaponics and aquaculture.

The Friday workshop sessions will also include a tour of the Great Lakes Aquaculture Center, a 15,000 square foot state-of-the-art aquaculture research facility housing yellow perch, lake sturgeon, rainbow trout, lake whitefish, etc.

The Saturday and Sunday workshops provide participants with an intensive hands-on experience focused exclusively on aquaponic training at Growing Power’s urban farm. Topics include system design, construction, and operation of both natural and hybridized aquaponic systems, water chemistry, fish and plant husbandry, and harvesting methods.

Growing Power is the last functional farm within Milwaukee city limits. Two days of intensive hands-on training, offers the participants the opportunity to learn, plan, develop, operate, and sustain community food projects. Participants leave the workshop with improved skills that they can take back to their communities and share with others.

The workshops are for both rural and urban projects.

Registration information for the monthly Growing Power Aquaponics Workshops can be found on Growing Power’s website, growingpower.org.

The Friday workshop series will be held from 8:30am to 4pm on Fridays at the School of Freshwater Sciences, 600 E. Greenfield Ave. in Milwaukee. Saturday (8:30am to 5pm) and Sunday (9am to 3pm) will be held at Growing Power’s Urban Farm, 5500 W. Silver Spring Dr. in Milwaukee.

St. Francis Library Children’s Cooking Classes

February 1, 2017

Culinary professional Ann Wegner LeFort, owner of The Mindful Palate, will be teaching young people to cook through the Books & Young Cooks series at St. Francis Library. The classes are for children age 6 to 10, without an accompanying adult.

The series begins Saturday, Feb. 4 with Broth-based Vegetable Soups, followed by Pureed Soups and Garnishes on March 4, and Cream Soups and Desserts on April 1. Classes run from 10am to noon.

They are free but limited to eight children.

The library is located at 4320 S. Nicholson Avenue in St. Francis.

More info: 414-481-7323 or stfrancislibrary.org.

Humboldt Park Egg Hunt April 8

February 1, 2017

Humboldt Park Friends is hosting its annual Egg Hunt Saturday, April 8 at 11am sharp. The event is open to children age 12 and younger. Children will be divided into four groups: toddlers, age 3 to 5, age 6 to 8, and age 9 to 12.

The Egg Hunt is held on the west side of the Humboldt Park Pavilion. More than 3,000 eggs will be hidden, in addition to golden eggs.

The event organizers are seeking volunteers. Humboldt Park Friends will hold an informational meeting for volunteers at 6:30pm, Thursday, Feb. 2 in the Humboldt Park Pavilion.

Hoan Bridge Safety Question Pursued

February 1, 2017

By Katherine Keller

Rep. Christine Sinicki met with Wisconsin Department of Transportation officials Jan. 20 in the aftermath of the Dec. 19 traffic fatality that took the life of 27-year-old Christopher Weber who was driving over the Hoan Bridge when his pickup truck plummeted from the bridge, landing on the pavement 50 feet below.

Icy road conditions are believed to have contributed to Weber losing control of his vehicle.

Sinicki said she has asked DOT officials to investigate the height of the Hoan’s barriers. She noted that prior to the redecking of the bridge, steel railings were attached to the top of the concrete barriers that increased the barrier height. Sections of the barriers that lead to the bridge on the northern section of I-794 still possess the railings.

DOT officials told Sinicki that a national group that tests and makes barrier recommendations said that even if the railings had been in place, it is possible they would not have prevented the truck from going over the barrier.

Sinicki said she’s requested engineering reports and options that would improve the bridge’s safety.

She noted that there was also a discussion about adding digital signs to the bridge approaches to warn drivers of unsafe conditions including ice and high winds.

DOT officials agreed to a follow-up meeting in the next six weeks or so, although Sinicki hoped it would be sooner. “In the meantime, I will continue to talk to county officials about snowplowing and look to see if there is a better, safer way to plow the bridge,” she said.

State Senator Chris Larson and Rep. Jonathan Brostoff also attended the meeting.

Weber was employed at Odd Duck, a restaurant in Bay View, at the time of his death.

Camaraderie is heart of St. Ann Center Indoor Market

February 1, 2017

By Sheila Julson

Easy, free parking that’s close to the front door, ready wheelchair accessibility, and the intimate setting are selling points. Children are welcome and there is seating for those who want to take a break, eat, or sit and chat with friends. PHOTO Katherine Keller

For the past five years, the Indoor Market at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care has provided a marketplace for handcrafted goods. But in keeping with the center’s mission to create a caring community, it also offers a winter refuge for a dedicated group of customers and vendors who have formed strong social bonds.

Yolanda Jones, an art therapist and the head of the market, cheerfully greeted patrons as they arrived on a chilly January morning, unwrapping scarves and stripping off hats and gloves. Many of them returned Jones’ warm greeting with a hug.

Lori Grzybowski, of St. Ann Center’s marketing and communications staff, said the market was created to bring people into St. Ann Center who had never visited it. “Unless they have a certain need, such as for daycare, a lot of people don’t know about us,” she said. “We’re kind of a hidden gem here, so the market is a way to show the community what we’re all about and what we do. It’s also a way to promote local businesses. A lot of our vendors have been here for years and they enjoy catching up with each other.”

Rosemary Weber crochets cold weather gear but also makes cat toys that she fills with cat nip.
PHOTO Katherine Keller

The vendors offer crafts, artisan foods, spices, and teas. There are also vendors offering products from Avon, Mary Kay, and Pampered Chef.

Jones is in charge of booking vendors for St. Ann’s market but noted that other winter markets in far larger buildings draw big crowds, therefore luring many vendors on Saturday mornings. “Here, it’s more word of mouth,” she said, “but once they (vendors) come, they come back.” Easy, free parking that’s close to the front door, ready wheelchair accessibility, and the intimate setting are selling points. Children are welcome and there is seating for those who want to take a break, eat, or sit and chat with friends.

Generally, the Indoor Market restricts jewelry crafters, as its organizers don’t want competition with the jewelry made and sold by Sister Edna Lonergan, founder and president of St. Ann Center. Lonergan’s donates all the profit from her jewelry sales to St. Ann Center. Occasionally, Diane Oman, OSF, displays her work. Both women make beautiful affordable jewelry featuring pearls, natural stones, semi-precious gems, and crystals.

Sister Edna Lonergan, founder and president of St. Ann Center. Lonergan’s donates all the profit from her jewelry sales to St. Ann Center. PHOTO Katherine KellerFood vendors are required to carry applicable state and local licenses. Food vendors must grow or produce their goods themselves. The number of craft vendors outweighs the food vendors, Jones said. Thirty-nine vendors signed up for the 2016-17 season, although not all are present each week. The Indoor Market also features live music on most mornings.

Sister Edna Lonergan, founder and president of St. Ann Center. Lonergan’s donates all the profit from her jewelry sales to St. Ann Center. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Garden of Eden Kingdom Living hot sauces and vinaigrettes are made and sold by Karen Long and Kim Harrington, who own an artisan condiment business. Have a tissue handy if you try their tasty Edens Extra Spicy Hot Sauce.

Crafts, Food, and More

Rosemary Weber has been selling her crocheted hats, headbands, yarn octopuses, potholders, and bookmarks at the market since its beginnings. “The kids love these,” Weber said, referring to the bookmarks that sell for 25 cents apiece, or five for a dollar. “I’m very happy here at the market, and I’m lucky to do this.”

Crafter Mary Wojciechowski said she loves the people — both customers and the other vendors. She crafts dishtowels and features potholders with screened images of different dog breeds. Wojciechowski sews the potholders from purchased screened fabric.

Diane Oman, OSF, stands behind her display of a large assortment of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Both she and Sister Edna Lonergan make beautiful affordable jewelry that features pearls, natural stones, semi-precious gems, and crystals. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Jennifer Teffer owns Pheasant Run, offering cards, environmentally safe laundry soap, and pure wild rice, also known as manoomin, the Ojibwa tribe’s word for true wild rice that translates to “good berry.” Teffer, who was chatting during downtime with others that pulled up chairs to join her at her booth, said she specifically likes the market setting of the atrium.

Things that spin are a specialty of toy top and gyro-maker Chuck McMurry, a whiz with a lathe. His toys are made from recycled wood objects like rolling pins and chairs and are dyed with nontoxic pigments.

Carol Pierce is an independent beauty consultant with Mary Kay cosmetics and another long-time vendor at the market. Her table included a full product display of cosmetics, creams, and lotions. Avon representative Marilyn Petersen sat at her table with a large assortment of cosmetics and jewelry, chatting with customers.

Bayview Sports & Accessories sells licensed sports apparel, but one of their best sellers at the market is a T-shirt of their own design artfully depicting the logos of four favorite Wisconsin teams: Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin Badgers, Milwaukee Brewers, and Milwaukee Bucks.

Garden of Eden Kingdom Living hot sauces and vinaigrettes are made and sold by Karen Long (above in black dress) and Kim Harrington (not pictured). They own an artisan condiment business. Have a tissue handy if you try their Edens Extra Spicy Hot Sauce. PHOTO Katherine Keller

Ruegsegger Farms, of Paoli, Wis., is best known for pasture raised, grass-fed meats. Its owner Ken Ruegsegger greets his customers Saturday mornings at the market. At his booth, shoppers will find root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, alliums, squash, soy-free eggs, honey, and maple syrup. Ruegsegger’s farm consists of 140 acres but he also rents some additional land. He comes to the Indoor Market biweekly to distribute to his Milwaukee-area customers and sell to others at the St. Ann Market.

Cindy Lopez of Lopez Bakery sells their popular tamales, guacamole, salsa, chips, and churros. Lopez also praised the market’s camaraderie among vendors and customers, as well as the location, noting it’s ideal for the community and for the clients and employees of St. Ann’s.

Wayne and Belinda Copus of Country Meadows Farm in Racine, sell natural goat’s milk soap, lotion, and soy candles, all free of lye and harsh chemicals. They have popular year-round scents such as cherry or juniper berry, and seasonal scents like honeysuckle in spring or pumpkin in fall. When asked what they like best about participating at the Indoor Market, Belinda replied, “Yolanda!” without hesitation and gestured toward Jones, who grinned.

The market’s dedicated customer base includes Karen McCaigue, who comes to the market every week. “It’s a great to connect to local people,” she said.

Her sister Sharon McCaigue agrees. “It gives us something to do in the winter,” she added.

The market runs Saturdays from 9am to 1pm through April 29. More info: stanncenter.org.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Bay View Compass.

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