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Strings are the ties that bind Mary B. Martin School's spring season

Contributed by ETSU • Jan 7, 2017 at 7:35 PM

Mary B. Martin School of the Art’s spring 2017 season comes with strings attached, a lot of strings.

Three of the program’s four spring ticketed events feature stringed instruments of widely varying kinds – 17th-century viols, classical and folk guitars, fiddles, banjos and mandolins and string basses jamming to jazz, blues and post-modern bluegrass.

“We have a lot of strings this spring,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “You can even relate ‘strings’ to one of our visiting visual artists, Sheila Pepe, whose installations are crocheted from many types of string-like materials.”

Those strings also represent many and varied connections and collaborations with the East Tennessee State University campus and the area. “It’s very important to us to be able to touch on multiple communities, both on campus and in our region,” DeAngelis said. “As so often is the case, many events in our season are a result of threads of interest from and activities in campus departments and arts organizations in the Tri-Cities.”

LeStrange Viols, the first ticketed event, brings together six American viol players committed to crafting musical experiences full of vigor, passion and technical prowess. The work of this ensemble of viols – upright, bowed stringed musical instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods – has been called, "music of sublime beauty, sublimely performed," by Fanfare Magazine.

LeStrange will bring its bold, imaginative approach to music and classic English consort tradition to a concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. The ETSU connection for this performance is Lee Bidgood, faculty member in Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music Studies and a viol player.

The School of the Arts’ second concert artist not only plays a stringed instrument, but he also has close ties to the area. Guitarist Matt Palmer – who will perform Thursday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, Johnson City — is a graduate of Sullivan South High School, where his string history began — in heavy metal rock bands.

Palmer’s solo guitar performances and recordings have been called “one of a kind,” “truly accomplished and refined” and “jaw-dropping.” His repertoire includes J.S. Bach, Villa-Lobos, Rodrigo, Turina and Tarrega, as well as contemporary composers — all played with “utmost clarity and incredible speed,” says Modern Guitars Magazine.

“We haven’t scheduled classical guitar in our eight years of programming,” DeAngelis says. “We hope the community is as excited about this concert and artist with local roots as we are.”

In April, ETSU will re-connect with Mountain Stage with Larry Groce, which was last on the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts schedule in 2013. The live show, which is broadcast later on public radio, features five to six bands of varying styles and compositions. “We don’t know all of the bands yet because the concert is so late in spring, but we are thrilled to have them back at ETSU,” DeAngelis said. “The last Mountain Stage was an event we’ll never forget.”

Headlining the show, on Sunday, April 2, at 7 p.m. in ETSU’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium, will be The Claire Lynch Band. Dolly Parton credits Lynch with "one of the sweetest, purest and best lead voices in the music business today." Also a songwriter, Lynch’s songs have been recorded by musicians, including The Seldom Scene, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Cherryholmes and The Whites. Also on the bill will be the Bumper Jacksons known for their unique intertwining of American roots jazz, country swing and street blues.

The School of the Arts’ last ticketed event of spring is A Celebration of Harold Pinter with Julian Sands on Friday, April 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Culp Auditorium. Coached by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter himself and directed by John Malkovich, British actor Julian Sands has been performing A Celebration of Harold Pinter the world-round since 2011. Sands is known for his work in more than 100 films, television and the stage, in work including The Killing Fields, Oceans 13, Dexter, Ghost Whisperer and his role on 24.

This performance of a selection of Pinter’s poems gets to the soul of the man – poet, playwright, husband, political activist, Nobel winner, mortal. “When he reads Pinter’s poems, as well as the odd prose piece, you feel the playwright’s presence,” wrote The New York Times. “Or should I say Presence, with a capital P?”

ETSU’s Division of Theatre and Dance will weave into this event its own celebration of Pinter’s work – a staged reading of Other Places — 3 Plays by Harold Pinter — on Thursday, April 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Studio 205 Campus Center Building. Other Places includes the three short pieces, Family Voices, Victoria Station and A Kind of Alaska, first performed in 1982.

The spring season will spotlight another one-man show and represents an annual collaboration between ETSU’s School of the Arts and College of Public Health — An Evening of Health, Wellness and the Arts. This spring’s — always free — event features Michael Milligan as blue-collar worker Joe in Mercy Killers, which Milligan wrote and performs.

Collected from personal stories of financial and emotional bankruptcy, Mercy Killers depicts the plight of Joe, a mechanic, whose wife has cancer, and their life-and-death struggle with the American health care system. Through the eyes of Joe, the audience sees health care in America “unblinkingly.” Broadway Baby, UK, says Mercy Killers — which was an Edinburgh “Fringe First” Award winner — is “one-man theatre at its best” and Manhattan Digest calls it “a blistering drama.”

“One of the reasons why we’re devoted to this event annually,” DeAngelis said, “is because the lens of the arts helps us understand health care and wellness better. The conversations this event generates are significant not only for our campus but for our region.”

Mary B. Martin School’s visual arts collaborations kicked off the spring season, on Jan. 3 with the opening of three photography exhibitions at ETSU”s Reece Museum — Parting Shots featuring new works by retiring art professor Mike Smith; Under the Influence exhibiting photography by some of Smith’s former students; and Somewhere Along the Line with images by ETSU visiting art faculty member Joshua Dudley Greer.

Parting Shots opened Jan. 3, while the other two shows open Jan. 9. All three exhibitions will share a reception on Thursday, Jan. 26, from 5-7 p.m. at the museum. “Mike has been my colleague for 22 years,” said DeAngelis, who is also a faculty member in the Department of Art & Design. “I’m glad we are able to help celebrate his accomplishments and the accomplishments of many of his students, as well as enjoy some of Joshua’s recent work.”

The School of the Arts will host two renowned visual artists in spring, starting with New York artist and professor Sheila Pepe, known for her “improvisational crochet” technique and large-scale three-dimensional ephemeral installations and sculpture. Pepe will give a free artist talk on Thursday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Ball Hall Auditorium. She uses materials such as shoelaces, yarn, nets, ship anchor line and rubber bands and is known for her work with social justice, feminism and the LGBTQ community, DeAngelis said.

On Thursday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Ball Hall Auditorium, printmaker and professor Oscar Gillespie will present a talk on his work in monotypes and intaglio, especially metal-plate engraving. Gillespie’s work can be found in more than 60 public collections, including the Fogg Museum, Harvard, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Denver Art Museum and the National Museum of Posnan, Poland.

Gillespie, who visited ETSU about a decade ago, will be renewing ties with ETSU and, like Pepe, will be working with ETSU Art & Design students. “Students and faculty member Ralph Slatton requested that we bring him here,” DeAngelis said. “Oscar’s work is exhibited internationally and he teaches workshops across the country in addition to his full-time teaching.”

The work of film artists — some experienced and others just starting out — is the focus of the annual South Arts Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers series that the School of the Arts has sponsored at ETSU for seven of its eight years. This spring, the thread of indomitable spirit and perseverance runs through the tour’s films coming to the Johnson City campus.

At ETSU, all Southern Circuit films are free of charge and are followed by a catered reception with the filmmakers, who also provide a talkback after each screening. All spring Southern Circuit films are on Mondays at 7 p.m. and in Culp Auditorium.

Narrative film Mango Dreams will be featured on Feb. 6. Mango Dreams tells the story of a Hindu doctor with dementia and a Muslim auto rickshaw driver, who form an unlikely friendship as they journey a thousand miles across India in a rickshaw. “The film is hilarious as well as touching,” says OSHO News.

I Come From screens on March 13. Shot in the world’s largest and most over-burdened corrections system, I Come From features the stories of six incarcerated artists whose work declares a will to survive and grow as human beings.

Finally, on April 10, Speed Sisters documents the first all-woman race-car driving team in the Middle East and how they have sped their way into the heart of the gritty, male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene.

“Mango Dreams is one of the most beautiful films we’ve had on Southern Circuit,” DeAngelis says. “I Come From is very uplifting, and Speed Sisters gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a story that most of us in the United States would never imagine.”

For more information about ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or to purchase tickets online for LeStrange Viols, Matt Palmer, Mountain Stage with Larry Groce or A Celebration of Harold Pinter, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587).

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