Support Angie Mack Reilly of Ozaukee Talent through Arts Wisconsin

Donate Here

Angie is a lifetime arts advocate and leader with proven and documented success who is looking for benefactors to help her keep launching forward.  Contact angie@ozaukeetalent.com

Recent podcasts that feature Angie’s work:

Follow Ozaukee Talent on Facebook to see samples of work

 

Pandemic Poem: No Fear

Pandemic Poem:  No Fear

Photo and Poem by Angie Mack Reilly*

There is no fear
when you know that
the motive in your heart
is love
There is no fear when
you know that your reasons
are pure

Yes. Mistakes happen.
Imperfection is human.
But mostly?
There is misunderstanding.

And assumptions
of intentions
and generations of biases
and egos and not knowing
and confusion
then mistrust
and fear
and the break down
and the shake down
and it all comes tumbling down

*grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.. intentional

Interviewing the Interviewer

The Music of Milwaukee Radio Host Ben Merens

by Angie Mack Reilly 3.9.20

Ben Merens Musician and Radio Host on the Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame

New Release!  Listen to “Babylon” by Ben Merens on Hot Seat Records

A Master of Improv

Have you ever seen the show, “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”

It’s an improvisational comedy television show.  One feature is that the actors are asked to make up comedic lyrics and a melody on the spot while a band plays music that they’ve never heard before.  NOT an easy task!

I have always marveled at the show’s actors’ ability to do this. Decades of teaching music and drama has taught me that improvisation requires a heightened sensitivity and a rapid mind. Improvisation is done without any preparation. It requires having a wealth of knowledge to pull from as well as a bravado of spirit.

This is why I like to listen to jazz.   In my opinion, jazz is one of the most difficult and advanced musical art foms to master.  Why?  Because of the improvisation.  Likewise, stand-up comedy.  It requires a high skill level of improvisation that is extremely difficult.

Like I was saying.  Very few people have this high level of skill that entails composing music, creating lyrics and creating a melody on the spot.

Ben Merens has this skill.

Having been in journalism for over 30 years, Ben is somewhat of a celebrity in the Milwaukee area. Most people know him as the longtime radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio’s At Issue With Ben Merens on the Ideas Network.

As a live radio host, Ben has had to improvise on every program.  He has literally spoken on thousands of shows without a full script.   Again, not many people can do this.

I find it fascinating that Ben has taken this strongly exercised skill of improvisation and has applied it to music.

An Example

Ben came over to record some music recently and met my son Joshua for the first time.  Within minutes of meeting Joshua, Ben created a comedic song complete with lyrics, melody and music.  The song played on the ironic fact that Joshua is a baker who cannot eat gluten.  Check it out.

 

“Yes.  God must have a sense of humor you see.  When a baker cannot eat gluten.  I think that’s God’s stand-up comedy.” – Ben Merens

Communication Expert

Ben explained to me that all of his experience in radio has taught him amazing focus and mindfulness.   He is a keen listener which can be a rare commodity in today’s self-centered and busy world.  In fact, Ben has written a book called People Are Dying to Be Heard.  He is an experienced keynote speaker on the topic of communication.  He conducts workshops that help people and organizations find their unique story or voice.  His ability to understand people also fuels his ability to create on-the-spot songs.

Adaptability

“And the only constant in life is change. And we all must be willing to rearrange” – Ben Merens lyric from One Hundred Voices

People who have the ability to improvise are highly adaptable.   They quickly adjust.  They are keenly sensitive.   Aware.  Flexible toward change.   Adaptability knows how to feed an audience while feeding off of the audience.  Because no two audiences are the same, you will find that no two versions of Ben’s songs are the same.   He adjusts the song to fit the environment.

Forget buying mood lighting at a party.  Hire Ben to come and entertain your guests in a way that they won’t ever forget!  I’m serious!  Hire him to speak or sing at your place of worship, school, workplace or event.  Ben has a long track record of connecting with audiences of all demographics.

The Background and the Vision

Ben and I recently started connecting after a music event that we both attended in Cedarburg.   The more I have gotten to know him, the more I have appreciated what a gem of a human being he is.   Ben loves people.  Pure and simple.  And he uses his talents to help others in a variety of creative ways.  We have a similiar intuitive, improvisational and heartfelt manner in which we share our talents with others.   We both understand adaptability or, as I like to call it, fluidity.   Ben recently invited me talk with him about creativity on his Riverwest Radio show called Just Talking.  You can listen to the link below.

Because of how creatively compatible we are,  I thought that it would be great to work on a creative project with Ben.  Since we both love networking, I thought that we should invite others who want to join us.  It’s a bit improvisational.  The musicians and singers will have to be adaptable.  But we want to communicate a message as a performance public art piece.  Not perfect.  But heartfelt.  Because a lot of people need a glimmer of light right now.  Please join us.

100 Voices:  Public Performance Art

WHO:  Calling 100 Musicians and Singers for “One Hundred Voices Jiant Jam” (a Flash Mob type performance)  Don’t worry.  Nobody’s making anyone dance. (lol)
WHAT:  We will be performing “One Hundred Voices” written by radio personality Ben Merens (listen to the track above….lyrics are in the comments).  This song was inspired by the book 100 Voices:  Americans Talk About Change by Mary M. Clare.  Mary traveled the nation asking diverse people what change meant to them.  Ben wrote the song upon meeting the author.

Event has been cancelled and will hopefully be rescheduled due to Covid-19 crisis

WHEN:  Sunday March 22nd, arrive no later than noon.  Performance will be videotaped/recorded at 12:30pm.  By participating, you are agreeing to be on film, audio recording, social media, television, etc….Rain date of Sunday March 29, same times.  Try to gather in the cul de sac just south of the giant piano Walk of Fame when you arrive.
WHERE:  Paramount Plaza Walk of Fame in downtown Grafton (outside of Atlas BBQ)
HOW:  We will rehearse the song at noon under the musical direction of Angie Mack Reilly.  Looking for acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, hand drums, voices, violins, saxophones, etc….Please have the song memorized and rehearsed before arriving
WHY:  We want to raise awareness about the ripple effect that “one voice” has and how music continues to be a unifying, meaningful and valuable tool to bring people together.  This is an attempt to raise awareness about the musicians who recorded for the Paramount record label.

RSVP:  send your firm email commitment to angie@ozaukeetalent.comMiss6123@gmail.com or ben@benmerens.com No last minute cancellations please.

It’s Good to Be Home (from the archives)

It’s Good to Be Home by Angela Mack

Peformed at Spirit Life Church in Mequon, WI

Keys/Lead Vocals:  Angela Mack

Background Vocals:  Lori Wilke,  Tracy Martin, Beth Hammond

Drums:  Tom Wilke

Percussion:  Chris Musbach

Guitar:  Jay Walls, Karen unknown

Bass:  Ron Bush

Tin Whistle:  Monica Radzin

“Unexpected Song”

Very random (unexpected) and not indended to be a professional video.  But…. the vocals.  Musical theatre.  Unexpected song. One take. But you get the idea…

This is a painting that I did several years ago called, “A Good Kind of Dread”.

“Just Talking: A Chat With Angie Mack Reilly 2.29.20” Ben Merens and Riverwest Radio

RiverwestRadio

 

A Place of Inspiration: Harlem

A Place of Inspiration: Harlem

Written by Angela Mack (c) 2004

The time period between 1918 and 1929 contained an explosion of African American immigration, literary and artistic expression in Harlem, NY.

The Harlem Renaissance, also known as “The Negro Movement” was the time period between 1918 and 1929 in which there was an explosion of African American immigration, literary and artistic expression in Harlem. As Langston Hughes wrote in his manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”, it was a time of “present vogue in things Negro”.

During this time, African Americans were excelling in blues, jazz, theatre, clubs, musicals, intellectual dialogue, literary works, visual arts and an overall sense of unity and community. Duke Ellington, Louise Armstrong, and Billie Holiday are famous names associated with the music of that era. A new pride swelled in the hearts of many African Americans and Aaron Douglas was an artist who portrayed the beauty of being black through his African-inspired themes. Zora Neale Hurston, a friend of Langston Hughes, was a famous female writer of the day who flaunted her unique fashions as well as her literary works such as the play, “Color Struck” and the novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. There were many more African American artists of all types as well as intellectual thinkers who were caught in the momentum of the new black culture.

Why did the Harlem Renaissance occur? First, during World War I, many African Americans moved north with the hopes of finding jobs and escaping inequality in the south. Harlem was a newly developed city that desperately needed tenants in its new townhouses and apartments. Eager to occupy the new buildings, landlords rented to blacks. By 1914, Harlem was considered a “black city”. This move north is also known as being the “Great Migration”. With this great amount of blacks in one place including many from the West Indies and other countries, it was a prime location to hold discussions. Many of these discussions led toward greater artistic expression and literary works.

Magazines from era added fuel to the movement. The well known W.E.B. Dubois was the editor of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. Charles Johnson was the editor of the Urban League’s magazine, Opportunity. There was also the socialist magazine called The Messenger. The NAACP, the Black YMCA, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Urban League Office were all located in Harlem which helped unify the interests of the African Americans who longed for an ending of segregation and a redefining of what being black meant. This led to the popular thought of nationalism. Marcus Garvey, through the United Negro Improvement Association, preached a message of racial redemption. He also cast a vision for an independent black Africa and provided “The Black Star Line” to transport people.

The effects that the Harlem Renaissance had upon the African American culture were numerous. It taught future African American generations that there is power in black unity and pride. It lifted their self image as a race and showed America that blacks are beautiful and very capable of expressing themselves intellectually and emotionally through the arts and literature. Blacks had a newer prominence in American culture and a strong civil rights presence which aided in latter 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. It was foundational in laying the groundwork for African American expression and thought in America. The Harlem Renaissance gave America as a whole many great artists of all types to learn from. In addition, the jazz erected from the era has become a vital part in American musical history and lifestyles. Many whites took interest in the art produced by their black “neighbors”.

The Harlem Renaissance has had a direct impact on me. My home of Grafton which is just north of Milwaukee, WI recorded at least 1/ 4 of the blues music in this time period of the Harlem Renaissance. Charles Patton began with recording over 28 of his songs just down the road from me in the Old Chair Factory building by the Milwaukee River. “Son House”, Ida Cox, Skip James, Louise Johnson, and many more rode the train north to record in the New York Recording Laboratories subsidiary, Paramount Records. These “race records” are extremely valuable and I have been in contact with various officials in Grafton and around the around the world over bringing this part of Grafton’s history alive. I am working on developing a web site toward its resurrection and hope to get a non-profit organization set up to raise funds for a permanent exhibit and yearly blues festival in Grafton in honor of its Delta Blues artists and Paramount Records.

The Harlem Renaissance embraced the talents of male and female artists alike who were primarily from the working class (although many were in Harlem to earn their education). It taught us what can cause inspiration in a community and among a people: unity, freedom of expression, openness to discussion, the merging of the arts with social issues of the day and intellectual thought. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great momentum and hope. I hope that the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance comes to life in my home village, Grafton, WI.

https://web.archive.org/web/20130507133154/http://www.creativeconnectionarts.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=43

Langston Hughes: The Weary Blues from the Eyes of a Musician

A Harlem Renaissance Poet
Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes
“The Weary Blues” From the Eyes of a Musician
(c) Angela K. Mack 2/05

Langston Hughes is a fascinating African American writer who has written many poetry books such as The Weary Blues, Fire Clothes to the Jew, Shakespeare in Harlem, Montage of a Dream Deferred, and Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz. His autobiography is titled, The Big Sea. He has also written children’s books, musicals, and the Manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance titled, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and so much more!

Many of his poems contain jazz and blues rhythms. Langston Hughes got swallowed up in the jazz scene in Harlem during its Renaissance and his passion came out in many of his poems. His poem, “The Weary Blues” is a great example of such a poem. Yet other than the musical fingerprints found in this poem, incredible symbolism involving what was going on historically during the Harlem Renaissance can be found as well.

Contrary to what the title suggests, this song is not solely set up to a blues rhythm. It is primarily structured around jazz rhythms. These rhythms combined with the words make for fascinating interpretation.

First of all, “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes is dripping with clever words of onomatopoeia. Not only do many of the words sound like their meanings, but they sound identical to jazz specifically. The type of jazz that is expressed in this poem through onomatopoeia and specific imagery is the sort of jazz that one would listen to in a club late at night close to “bar time”. It’s that “droning drowsy syncopated” blues played by the “Negro” “by the pale dull pallor of one bulb light” that is described in his poem. When I read this poem, I envision a dimly lit smoke-filled room with a few people left to linger over their final drinks.

The opening line, “droning a drowsy syncopated tune” suggests a song that has a depressing tone and is repetitive”. As I read it out loud, I hear the words “droning” “drowsy” and “tune” as jazz chords that are held for a longer duration than the rapid word “syncopated”. The words “rocking back and forth to a mellow croon” give the poem an almost melancholy or whining feel. It is here that the rhythm of the jazz tune is established. The repetitive phrase, “He did a lazy sway” ends the first musical phrase and makes for a nice hook. It is here that the reader of the poem or listener of the jazz tune becomes engaged.

“To the tune o’ those Weary Blues” is the beginning of the musical refrain. This refrain ends with “Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues!” The exclamation point suggests that the music in this poem is emphasized here. This chosen punctuation on “O Blues!” “Sweet Blues!” and then “Oh Blues!” again indicate a slight musical climax or place in which the song is lifted out of its depressed state. This adoration and celebration of the blues is exemplified as being the source of hope. These phrases with exclamations are louder than the rest. They are accented musically.

I love how Hughes uses words of onomatopoeia in the refrain that sound musical. Words such as “moan”, “swaying”, “rickety”, and “raggy” explain the diversity that exists in jazz. Some instruments play repetitively while others improvise in syncopation. In other words, some instruments “sway” and “moan” as if depressed. Yet, in jazz, there is always that overcoming joy that exists as notes hop and dance against the laws of musical gravity. This defiance of gravity is visually expressed in the rickety stool which I imagine lifting off of the ground slightly with each sway.

This dichotomy in jazz, I believe, can be taken as being symbolic for the time in which this poem was written. Langston Hughes once wrote about the Harlem Renaissance, “It was the period when the Negro was in vogue.” During World War I, many African Americans moved north with the hopes of finding jobs and escaping inequality in the south. Harlem was a newly developed city that desperately needed tenants in its new townhouses and apartments. Eager to occupy the new buildings, landlords rented to blacks. By 1914, Harlem was considered a “black city”. This move north is also known as being the “Great Migration”.

Harlem, in its day, was symbolically a series of syncopated rhythms that overcame and defied the moaning gravity of suppression. During this time, African Americans were excelling in blues, jazz, theatre, clubs, musicals, intellectual dialogue, literary works, visual arts and an overall sense of unity and community. There was a NAACP office in Harlem as well as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the Urban League office. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of extreme momentum much like the music of Duke Ellington who was a famous pianist during the era. Also carrying much momentum in this time period were the railroads which were popular and aided in expansion overall in America. The jazz loved by all at that time was as fast sounding as a train! Likewise, the Harlem Renaissance was a fast explosion of creativity that burst out of many depressing years of segregation and inequality for the blacks.

This syncopation of the Harlem Renaissance was sandwiched in between 1919 in which the race riots of Chicago contributed to 76 African Americans being lynched and 1929 when the stock market crashed. The Harlem Renaissance was an amazing and legendary time in history. It was definitely something to shout about with an exclamation point! It appeared to be a type of new beginning in the lives of African Americans.

“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes refers to new beginnings as the jazz pianist sings, “I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’ And put ma troubles on the shelf.” Again, there is a sense of hope. The word “shelf” most likely ends on the musical tonic denoting a feeling of finality and a sense of “home”.

Harlem was a home to Langston Hughes. He moved there in 1921 after graduation and after spending time with his father in Mexico who was non-existent for most of young Langston’s life. Originally, he went there to attend Columbia University to study mining engineering. His lawyer father urged him to go to school for that and he also provided the money to do so. However, Langston dropped out after two semesters. It wasn’t his passion. The music, dance, and literary discussions of Harlem had captivated his interests.

Langston Hughes traveled a lot throughout his lifetime. However, he always managed to return to Harlem. At age 21, he joined a crew ship that sailed for Africa and also landed in Holland, Spain, Italy, and France. Hughes also traveled to Haiti and the Soviet Union in his lifetime. But Harlem was his home. He knew it so well that he wrote the Manifesto for the Renaissance titled, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”.

“The Weary Blues” takes a turn as did the Harlem Renaissance. Eventually, the Great Depression, the invasion and commercialism of whites in the area, poverty, gang violence, and more inequality came crashing down on the burst of creativity. The poem reads, “Thump, thump, thump went his foot on the floor.” Musically, these thumps are a series of notes that could be played in rhythmic unison among the instrumentalists. They are simple and quick. They break the momentum of the poem and transition it back into a depressed state. The singer continues in a typical I, IV, V chord blues pattern, “I got the Weary Blues And I can’t be satisfied. Got the Weary Blues And can’t be satisfied— I ain’t happy no mo’ And I wish that I had died.” Ah yes, the droning, drowsy, swaying and moaning continues. The song returns to the familiar and ends with “While the Weary Blues echoed through his head. He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.” The song ends on the tonic of its scale.

Finally, after studying and analyzing the life and works of Langston Hughes, I see the “The Weary Blues” as being intensely symbolic. In it, Hughes expresses well the dichotomies in jazz by using carefully crafted and opposing onomatopoeia. These poles explain, ultimately, the plight of the African-American artist. They also explain the intensity, hope, and community that he so loved about Harlem music and nightlife. This poem has been interpreted on a literal and musical level. I have also attempted to interpret this poem from the eyes of African Americans as well as from the eyes of Langston Hughes.

However, being one of the greatest writers ever, he is able to explain in a few words what I have been attempting to say all along,

“But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul–the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile”.

– from “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” written by Langston Hughes (1926)

Syncopation and improvisation are the two main aspects of jazz. I now understand why Langston Hughes insisted on combining syncopation and words of onomatopoeia in “The Weary Blues” as well as many other poems. Jazz is overcoming music. It is one of the most advanced forms of music. It defies gravity and is full of joy. It contains elements of surprise and momentum in the midst of familiar and repetitive beats. Perhaps, in my own words, this is his subtle message in combining jazz with his poetry:

EVEN WHEN THINGS DO NOT CHANGE, IMPROVISE ANYHOW! CREATE SOMETHING UNIQUE. PLAY YOUR OWN TUNE PROUDLY! RISE ABOVE THE GRAVITY OF DEPRESSING AND REPETITIVE CIRCUMSTANCES AND OVERCOME!

The Weary Blues

by Langston Hughes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,

Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,

I heard a Negro play.

Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light

He did a lazy sway . . .

He did a lazy sway . . .

To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.

With his ebony hands on each ivory key

He made that poor piano moan with melody.

O Blues!

Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool

He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.

Sweet Blues!

Coming from a black man’s soul.

O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone

I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan–

“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,

Ain’t got nobody but ma self.

I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’

And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.

He played a few chords then he sang some more–

“I got the Weary Blues

And I can’t be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can’t be satisfied–

I ain’t happy no mo’

And I wish that I had died.”

And far into the night he crooned that tune.

The stars went out and so did the moon.

The singer stopped playing and went to bed

While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.

He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

http://www.themediadrome.com/content/poetry/hughes_weary_blues.htm

Works Cited

Feather, Leonard. “Weary Blues Langston Hughes”. Audio recordings of poems with music.

http://www.geocities.com/xxxjorgexxx/wb.htm

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”. (1926). The Nation.

http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/mountain.htm

Hughes, Langston “Langston Hughes 1902-1967.” (with poems written by Langston Hughes). The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. (2004). 1288-1338.

National Endowment for the Humanities Seminar of Kenyon College. (1998)
http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/music/harlem-page/harlem-page.htm

Nichols, K. Pittsburg State University. “Jazz age culture”. (2003).
http://faculty.pittstate.edu/~knichols/jazzage3.html#harlem

PBS. “Langston Hughes: A Biography.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/americancollection/cora/ei_hughesbiography.htm

Article rescued from https://web.archive.org/web/20130507081715/http://www.creativeconnectionarts.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12&Itemid=43

Photos taken from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/446630488016755716/?lp=true

 

Poem: Who Are the Innocent?

Who are the Innocent?

by Angie Mack Reilly (c) 2020

 

Who are the innocent?
Yes. The unborn are innocent.
And the sexually abused
are also innocent.
Those wrongly stolen from are innocent.
Those who are falsely accused are innocent.
Animals are innocent.
Our environment is innocent.
Those who are sick
and refused care
are innocent.
The frail can be innocent.
The racially targeted are innocent.
Justice for all?
Is there justice for the innocent?
How can one group of innocent
be more important than another
group of innocent?
Those who did not commit a crime
are innocent.
Who is defending the innocent?
Perhaps your party and my party
are defending different kinds of innocence?
I don’t see society defending the innocent
like it once did.
I see people denying the innocence
and refusing to look at it altogether.
Even destroying innocence.
Shooting kids.
Denying medical assistance to kids.
Abusing kids.
Trafficking kids.
Hurting.
The innocent.

Photo taken by Angie Mack Reilly at a hate rally in West Allis

%d bloggers like this: