Music Makers: Bringing music to the masses

Santa Cecilia Orchestra and its conductor Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega


By Claudia S. Palma

Photo by Walt Mancini

A young girl used music as a way to connect with her father. As a grown woman, she uses music to connect with the community, especially the Latin community.
Sonia Marie De León de Vega formed the Santa Cecilia Orchestra 20 years ago specifically to bring classical music to Latino families in Eagle Rock and surrounding communities.
Through the orchestra, she also began “Discovering Music” in 1998, a two-year music education program that brings instruments into more than a dozen elementary schools throughout Los Angeles County ,and in the hands of students.
“(Starting the orchestra) was very personal. I wanted to serve my own community,” said De León de Vega. “I wanted to take the arts to the schools. The kids need that or else they wouldn’t have that opportunity.”
Another reason to create the orchestra was so the Texas-born Latina could lead it. While she is not the first female conductor, when De León de Vega began her path to conducting, she faced some obstacles in the male-dominated field, and sometimes because of her ethnicity.
“This isn’t the only unusual profession for women. I tell people, they have to follow their dream, their passion,” she said. “Music is my passion. Music saved my life.
“One of the reasons I got into music, was to get (my father’s) attention,” she admits.
Her father, the late Reynaldo Sanchez, traveled a lot as a vocalist and guitarist in a traditional Mexican musical trio. With a traveling musician father and a noted actress mother, who is now a pop artist promoter, it was not a surprise De León de Vega began her music instruction early. But she never imagined where it would lead her.
“I never thought when I was a child that I would be conducting music,” she said. “I’m making music by conducting it and choosing the programs. (It’s because of conducting) that I got to start this orchestra.”
De León de Vega discovered Beethoven at age 6 from flipping through radio stations. She quickly told her piano teacher and said she wanted to play Beethoven. Her teacher advised her to take it one step at a time. While formally studying music in college, she took a mandatory conducting class and her instructor saw her natural ability and suggested it as a major.
She didn’t think much of it at the time but saw that there weren’t many women conducting and the few that were, were working with opera orchestras and symphonies.
When she began conducting professionally, she worked mostly in Europe and Mexico. She was the first woman to conduct a symphony for a Papal Mass at the Vatican, but orchestras in the United States weren’t too interested.
“I definitely feel unique “ as a Latina conductor, De Leon de Vega said. “It’s still rare.”

There have been a few female conductors in Los Angeles and of those, few are Latina yet De León de Vega said she doesn’t feel much different than any other conductor.
“(After a concert I conducted,) someone said to me, ‘what’s your background? You can’t be Mexican, you have to be mixed.’ I hated that,” she recalls.
But after a concert with SCO, De León de Vega was approached by a young girl who innocently asked her if men can also conduct.
“Here’s a little girl watching me conduct and thinking a woman does this all the time,” she smiles.
De León de Vega admits she has been discriminated against from other conductors but never from her orchestra.
“You have to build respect. It takes time,” she said. “(The orchestra) just wants someone that knows what they’re doing, to act professionally.”

Santa Cecilia
Soon after the death of her father, De León de Vega was inspired to create her own orchestra.
In 1992, she honored him by naming the orchestra after his favorite saint — Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of music.
“I think (my father) would really be surprised. I think he would be very pleased.” she said.
The orchestra’s 20th anniversary is in June. The celebrating will come at the beginning of the new season later this year.
.
“It does feel like 20 years: It’s been a lot of work,” said De León de Vega. “The growth has been great.”
SCO has come a long way since its first concert which had an audience of about a dozen people in a church. Now it draws a thousand people to the concerts that are held in various places, but most recently in Thorne Hall at nearby Occidental College. The orchestra has rehearsals at Seventh Day Church in Eagle Rock.
At frst, “people thought we were crazy (to try and reach a Latino audience) but when you have culture, you have beauty. I wanted to bring beauty (to the Latin community),” said De León de Vega. “They get it now. They come back. Someone said we’re building an audience one family at a time.”
The concerts feature classical works from various noted composers such as Brahms and Gershwin as well as at least one Latino composer’s work, such as Carlos Chávez.  One show each a season is dedicated completely to works from Latin composers.
“Sonia’s very excellent as far as programming,” said Rodolfo Vega, associate director of SCO. “It’s such where people are attracted to it. They’re moved by it. We see their faces, of families (when they first arrive at a concert). They’re skeptical at first, but they’re surprised at their kids’ behavior. They’re transformed by it.”
At the April concert,  ‘Latinos Clasicos’, SCO performed Yalil Guerra’s ‘Old Havana,’ a world premiere, and ‘Leyenda de Miliano’ by Arturo Márquez, a Los Angeles premiere. Both Guerra and Marquez are still alive.
“(Guerra) is the youngest composer we’ve featured (that’s still alive),” said De León de Vega.
“It’s wonderful to get the composer’s feedback,” she said. “Conducting is bringing that composer’s heart to life. You can’t just follow the notes (on sheet music), it has to come to life so the audience can feel that too. That’s what’s great about symphonic music, you can feel whatever you want.”
Guerra, a Havana native began his classical music training at a young age as well with his parents playing a big influence.
“(I started) singing with my parents, then I started the guitar,” said the 39-year-old. “I always had it in my mind that I wanted to be a composer.”
Guerra studied guitar and composition in Spain. He has written 30 classical works and composed more than 100 pop songs.
“My school background is classical, but at the same time I had the popular background because of my parents,” he said. “Learning to switch between the two took me some time.”
‘Old Havana,’ composed in 2009 and the title to his first classical album, was nominated for a Latin Grammy in 2010.
Guerra is emotional as he hears his work performed by SCO for the first time during a rehearsal for Latinos Clasicos.
“I’m thankful, and so honored, that this will stay in music history records. That (De León de Vega) was the conductor and SCO the orchestra, and performed all while the composer was alive,” he reflects. “That’s very important. Imagine having to wait 150 years for your work to be played. As composers, we have to wait to see how it is presented. With Sonia, I’m in good hands.”
Guerra had been sharing his compositions with Sonia for awhile. He finally asked her one day if she would want to premiere ‘Old Havana’ with SCO and she was more than willing. Guerra had another piece premiere in an L.A. piano concert in May.
“Music is an art that transmits energy when you feel the vibration of the orchestra, you can feel empathy,” he said. “What Sonia and SCO is doing is great — bringing music to the L.A. community and the Latino community. They’re giving them the opportunity to afford to pay a concert ticket, because many venues are expensive. They’re treated to an excellent and tasteful concert with great music in abeautiful hall. The price is incredible.”

Little hands make big sounds
Whether it creates future musicians or future doctors, music education is an important part of a child’s upbringing, De Leon de Vega said. The orchestra’s Discovering Music program’s motto is “Music is for everyone.”
Dodi, her 14-year-old son, has taken music lessons since he was a toddler.
“I don’t believe he’ll be a musician,” she admits. “But it’s a great thing to do, especially for children, to build their self esteem. We live in a world of instant gratification. Playing an instrument, you have to take the time to learn. You have to play every day. You have to practice and put the effort in.”
Through Discovering Music, SCO reaches about 200 students in third through sixth grades each year at more than a dozen elementary schools, most in northeast Los Angeles. The program has been in about 35 schools as close as Pasadena and as far away as Pomona.
“When we reach our schools, it’s really intimate,” said Vega. “We send four to six musicians into the classrooms with different instruments to teach them to play.”
The program works to reach schools without music programs or have limited programs. SCO changes the schools they serve every two years.
“It’s like you’re opening a door (the students) didn’t know was there. A door to opportunity,” said De León de Vega. “The kids get inspired. They get to find out about what a bassoon is, an oboe.”
The program has a string program in some schools, as well as mentoring programs in some middle schools.
“Next year we will start with second grade,” said De León de Vega. “We have youth orchestras in several schools (as part of the program). The future goal would be to bring them together for a larger orchestra.”
Students in the program are then invited along with their families to one of SCO’s concerts.
“In our experience, students have to drag their parents, many of them because they haven’t been exposed to (classical music) before,” said Vega. “Music can transform people’s lives, we see it. It’s moving that we see different age groups, many different ethnicities. It’s a unique experience.”
An hour before each concert, SCO offers audience members a special experience with ‘Make Music!’ Adults and children alike are invited to feel and play with instruments with orchestra musicians, in each of the orchestra families: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.
SCO has received most of its support for the Discovering Music program from foundations.
“One of the things we never cut back on is the kids programs, it’s our mission,” said Vega.
De León de Vega and SCO continue their mission of bringing the beauty of music to the masses with their 2012-13 season this fall.
“There’s still a lot of great music I would like to perform,” she said. “There’s a lot of power in beauty, a lot of power in culture. When you hear it and you see it, you’re impacted.”
For more on De León de Vega, SCO and Discovering Music, visit scorchestra.org. For more on Yalil Guerra, visit yalilguerra.com

Music Makers: Larry McZeal parlays his talents

Larry McZeal of Mr. McZeal and the Late Nights


By Michelle J. Mills

Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz

Larry McZeal sinks into the overstuffed couch against the back wall of the Coffee Gallery in Altadena with a smile that exudes confidence. It’s not surprising, as this man has his hand in a range of endeavors and is always looking for even more ways to spread his talents, all while maintaining an irrepressible positive attitude.
The 28-year-old Altadenan is a singer/songwriter, the frontman of the blues/rock band, Mr. McZeal & the Late Nights, and the creator of Fusion, a bi-monthly variety night at the Old Towne Pub in Pasadena.
“The hardest thing, especially with trying to sell yourself as a black artist, is that a lot of times my own people don’t know how to perceive me because of the commercial onslaught that they absorb,” McZeal said.
“The radio stations geared to us are all R&B and hip-hop, and the idea of anyone picking up a guitar is almost taboo in our culture. Only certain artists are even given that respect because they have to earn it first and be recognized as a performer before they can be lovingly absorbed by their own people.”
McZeal performs solo as often as he can during the open mic and Artisan Alley nights at the Coffee Gallery. For his band, he handles the vocals and guitar with Pasadena guitarist David Johnathan Smith, bassist Daniel Higgins of Arcadia and drummer Johnathan Tweedy of Alhambra. Mr. McZeal & the Late Nights play throughout the San Gabriel Valley and will be featured during an open block party on Halsted Circle in Alhambra on July 4.
McZeal is the main writer for his projects. He draws lyrical ideas from everyday life, imagining what it would be like to be in different situations. And in all cases, his words are optimistic, hopeful and inspiring.
“A lot of people confuse the idea that blues music has to be about feeling down or feeling bad,” he said. “There are plenty of inspirational blues songs that are campy and upbeat. It just depends on where you want the listener to go.
“I’ve been able to express myself pretty well in terms of pain and anger, but that part of my life is over, I’m really more focused on the positive lifestyle.”
McZeal began singing after receiving a radio for Christmas when he was 12. He would buy singles of the songs he liked, such as tunes by Toni Braxton and Michael Jackson, and play them over and over, singing along. His father died from a heart attack when McZeal was 13, but not before instilling him with good values.
“You cannot grow up in a black household with two loving parents and not get a solid upbringing,” McZeal said. He always thinks his father is “somewhere watching me, making sure I am becoming the man he wanted me to be.”
A year after his father’s death, McZeal’s mother bought him an acoustic guitar, but it took three years before he got good at it. Today he still plays his new songs for his mother before he shares them with anyone else.
McZeal works as an IT consultant to pay the bills. In his free time, he is looking for a space to launch a dinner theater showcase with spoken word performances and short plays. He also wants to connect with charities, especially organizations associated with disadvantaged youth.
“You have to try, you have to speak to be heard,” McZeal said. “No one thing will get you through it, every aspect of everything you do has a path and there are pratfalls and there are obstacles and you have to plan for these things and move around them. A lot of people’s biggest obstacle is themselves.”

YWCA Pasadena Foothill Valley

PASADENA STAR-NEWS NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION OF THE YEAR

The Y's Tech Gyrls explore the Internet. (June Korea, June Korea Photography)

2011 Women for Racial Justice Breakfast Committee, L to R: Tamika Farr, Ayana Rose, Crystal Hernandez, Roberta Martinez, Denise Jones, Abby Lloyd Sabin, Johari DeWitt-Rogers, Anne Wolf, Julianne Hines. Very front in chair: Toby Osos (Photo by Jennifer Brett)

Established in 1905, the YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley, an independent nonprofit organization, has long been a pioneering voice in the fight for racial, economic, and gender equality.

From the pre-1920 racial integration plan to the early 1970s founding of the nation’s first Big Sister program and the area’s first rape hotline, the YWCA has long been on the cutting edge of responding to the needs of women.

Last year, the organization served 2,631 community members in the Pasadena area. It has a special emphasis on low-income communities, women, youth and minorities, and run a number of programs that serve women, girls and the community at large.

The YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley is developing girls into leaders, celebrating women’s accomplishments and advocating for a community free of violence and racism.

Mission statement
We are dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

The Showcase House of Design’s Spanish accent

1927 Spanish Colonial Revival Estate designed by John Winford Byers (Photo by Walt Mancini)

This year’s Showcase House of Design is notable not only for itself but as a fine example of the influential Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style strongly associated with Southern California buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. It was designed in 1927 by John Winford Byers as a winter home for a Michigan couple, Hunter and Margaret Robbins, and their four children. At the time, Byers had celebrity clients, including J. Paul Getty, Joel McCrea and Shirley Temple.

The eight-bedroom, 6,429-square-foot home, built on two acres, is much larger than the typical one-story Spanish Colonial Revival homes. Even so, many of the design features of the beautifully executed Robbins home in La Cañada Flintridge are shared by humbler homes throughout California, so it will feel familiar to locals.

Spanish Colonial Revival buildings incorporated design and source materials from several Spanish styles, as well as Mexican, Italian and Moorish architecture, for an eclectic but often harmonious result. In addition to thousands of homes, you can see the architectural style in city halls, libraries, train stations and hotels all around the Southland.


PASADENA SHOWCASE HOUSE OF DESIGN

through May 13, $30-$40
714-442-3872; www.pasadenashowcase.org

Typical Spanish Colonial Revival characteristics include rectangular or L-shaped floor plans with side wings; low-pitched clay tile, shed, or flat roofs; balconies and courtyards with decorative wrought iron grillwork; tile both outside and indoors; arcade entrances and heavy wooden doors, often with ornate carving.

Sources: essential-architecture.com and Fullerton Heritage

– Patricia McFall

Celebrating something? There’s a song for it

Got birthdays? We got songs.

Ditto anniversaries, holidays and virtually any joyous occasion — along with many that aren’t particularly upbeat.

Take the songs of Irving Berlin.

“Avoid holiday songs, they’ll only be played once a year,” Berlin once cautioned his fellow songwriters. And yet, Berlin went on to compose the biggest seller in recorded music — “White Christmas.” He also did pretty well with a little ditty entitled “Easter Parade.”

Berlin, a Jew, never celebrated those holidays, but the royalties rolling in from those songs must have made every day feel like Christmas.

The all-time royalties Christmas king — based on sheer volume of titles — is the late Johnny Marks. Like Berlin, Marks was of the Jewish faith. But that didn’t stop him from celebrating Christmas, musically. Among his songs are “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and about a dozen other Christmas-themed songs heard throughout the season at a Big Box store near you.

Marks even extended himself to New Year’s, with “Happy New Year Darling,” co-written by Carmen Lombardo of the Lombardo brothers, who definitely knew a thing or two about ringing in a new year.

Birthdays have a lot of songs to sing. For starters, there is “Happy Birthday to You.” This peppy little tune has been around for more than 100 years now, and shows no signs of fading as America’s favorite natal day accompaniment. Everyone sings it, which is also ironic because it remains in copyright. Currently, that copyright is owned by Warner Music Corp. Sing it on network TV, and the odds are great that you will get the gift of legal papers from Warner Music.

The song was devised — composed is far too strong a word — by a pair of ladies from Louisville. In 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, both schoolteachers, took an existing song, “Good Morning to All” and turned it into “Happy Birthday to You.” Neither bothered to copyright their cobbled-together creation until 1912.

By 1920, both Hill sisters were deceased, but the battle over the song was just beginning. The copyright was acquired by Preston Orem in 1935. It  passed through several corporate hands before landing with Warner Music, which has a legal hold on the tune until 2030.

Although it’s a latecomer to the birthday song wars — written in 1968 — the John Lennon/Paul McCartney composition of “Birthday” (“You say it’s your birthday”) is gaining ground in popularity.

Also from the Top Pop 40 charts, there’s “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby,” a hit for the Tune Weavers in 1957 and again for Ronnie Milsap in 1986, “16 Candles,” a hit for the Crests in 1959, “Happy Birthday Blues,” a hit for Kathy Young in 1961, and “Happy Birthday Sweet 16,” a hit for Neil Sedaka in 1962.

Lesser known, but still in the ASCAP catalog, are “Today Is Your Birthday” by Morey Bernstein, “Happy Birthday Polka” by Dewey Bergman, “Happy Country Birthday” by Ronnie Rogers, “Happy Birthday To Me” by Hank Locklin and even “The Unbirthday Song” by Jerry Livingston.

And then there is the curio entitled “The Birthday Cake Polka,” although frequently mis-cited as “Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake.” This song, written in 1952 by John Rovick and Lynn Penny, has preserved even though its origin, “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” TV show on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, has been off the air for 40 years.

For many people, their wedding day is the happiest day of their lives. For others … well that’s a story for another time.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (written in 1842) remains a staple of marriage ceremonies. Fortunately, a squeaky soprano singing “O Promise Me” has fallen out of favor.

A popular wedding song of more recent vintage is “I’ll Dance At Your Wedding,” by Herb Magidson and Ben Oakland and a big hit for Buddy Clark in 1947. Also gaining in popularity is “Hawaiian Wedding Song” by Al Hoffman, Charles King and Dick Manning and made popular by a best-selling recording by Andy Williams in the 1960s.

Honeymoons seem to inspire songwriters. There’s “Honeymoon Bay” by Martin Fried, “Honeymoon Blues” by Lloyd Fry Garrett or “Miami Honeymoon” by Thomas DiNardo.

You can do the “Honeymoon Glide” to the tune of Arthur Collins or the “Honeymoon Mamba,” appropriately by the husband-wife team of Phil and Joyce Bennett.

After that, you may well be singing “We’re Having a Baby,” a Harold Adamson tune with lyrics by Desi Arnaz, made popular on “I Love Lucy.”

And don’t forget your anniversary.

To help you remember, hum “Happy Anniversary” a Top 40 hit for both Jane Morgan and The Four Lads in 1959, or “Anniversary Waltz” by Dave Franklin and Al Dubin, which was a hit for Connie Francis.

Or you can sing along to “The Anniversary Song” by Saul Chaplin and Al Jolson, a big hit for Jolson in 1946. Or try to do the “Anniversary Yodel” by Jimmie Rodgers.

And let us not forget our Uncle Sam. On April 15, you might not feel like singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” but perhaps you can manage a few bars of “You Can’t Put a Tax on Love” by George Adams.

Have a happy.

– Jim McConnellMUSIC

Celebrating something? There’s a song for it

Got birthdays? We got songs.

Ditto anniversaries, holidays and virtually any joyous occasion — along with many that aren’t particularly upbeat.

Take the songs of Irving Berlin.

“Avoid holiday songs, they’ll only be played once a year,” Berlin once cautioned his fellow songwriters. And yet, Berlin went on to compose the biggest seller in recorded music — “White Christmas.” He also did pretty well with a little ditty entitled “Easter Parade.”

Berlin, a Jew, never celebrated those holidays, but the royalties rolling in from those songs must have made every day feel like Christmas.

The all-time royalties Christmas king — based on sheer volume of titles — is the late Johnny Marks. Like Berlin, Marks was of the Jewish faith. But that didn’t stop him from celebrating Christmas, musically. Among his songs are “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and about a dozen other Christmas-themed songs heard throughout the season at a Big Box store near you.

Marks even extended himself to New Year’s, with “Happy New Year Darling,” co-written by Carmen Lombardo of the Lombardo brothers, who definitely knew a thing or two about ringing in a new year.

Birthdays have a lot of songs to sing. For starters, there is “Happy Birthday to You.” This peppy little tune has been around for more than 100 years now, and shows no signs of fading as America’s favorite natal day accompaniment. Everyone sings it, which is also ironic because it remains in copyright. Currently, that copyright is owned by Warner Music Corp. Sing it on network TV, and the odds are great that you will get the gift of legal papers from Warner Music.

The song was devised — composed is far too strong a word — by a pair of ladies from Louisville. In 1893, sisters Patty and Mildred Hill, both schoolteachers, took an existing song, “Good Morning to All” and turned it into “Happy Birthday to You.” Neither bothered to copyright their cobbled-together creation until 1912.

By 1920, both Hill sisters were deceased, but the battle over the song was just beginning. The copyright was acquired by Preston Orem in 1935. It  passed through several corporate hands before landing with Warner Music, which has a legal hold on the tune until 2030.

Although it’s a latecomer to the birthday song wars — written in 1968 — the John Lennon/Paul McCartney composition of “Birthday” (“You say it’s your birthday”) is gaining ground in popularity.

Also from the Top Pop 40 charts, there’s “Happy, Happy Birthday Baby,” a hit for the Tune Weavers in 1957 and again for Ronnie Milsap in 1986, “16 Candles,” a hit for the Crests in 1959, “Happy Birthday Blues,” a hit for Kathy Young in 1961, and “Happy Birthday Sweet 16,” a hit for Neil Sedaka in 1962.

Lesser known, but still in the ASCAP catalog, are “Today Is Your Birthday” by Morey Bernstein, “Happy Birthday Polka” by Dewey Bergman, “Happy Country Birthday” by Ronnie Rogers, “Happy Birthday To Me” by Hank Locklin and even “The Unbirthday Song” by Jerry Livingston.

And then there is the curio entitled “The Birthday Cake Polka,” although frequently mis-cited as “Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake.” This song, written in 1952 by John Rovick and Lynn Penny, has preserved even though its origin, “Sheriff John’s Lunch Brigade” TV show on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, has been off the air for 40 years.

For many people, their wedding day is the happiest day of their lives. For others … well that’s a story for another time.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March (written in 1842) remains a staple of marriage ceremonies. Fortunately, a squeaky soprano singing “O Promise Me” has fallen out of favor.

A popular wedding song of more recent vintage is “I’ll Dance At Your Wedding,” by Herb Magidson and Ben Oakland and a big hit for Buddy Clark in 1947. Also gaining in popularity is “Hawaiian Wedding Song” by Al Hoffman, Charles King and Dick Manning and made popular by a best-selling recording by Andy Williams in the 1960s.

Honeymoons seem to inspire songwriters. There’s “Honeymoon Bay” by Martin Fried, “Honeymoon Blues” by Lloyd Fry Garrett or “Miami Honeymoon” by Thomas DiNardo.

You can do the “Honeymoon Glide” to the tune of Arthur Collins or the “Honeymoon Mamba,” appropriately by the husband-wife team of Phil and Joyce Bennett.

After that, you may well be singing “We’re Having a Baby,” a Harold Adamson tune with lyrics by Desi Arnaz, made popular on “I Love Lucy.”

And don’t forget your anniversary.

To help you remember, hum “Happy Anniversary” a Top 40 hit for both Jane Morgan and The Four Lads in 1959, or “Anniversary Waltz” by Dave Franklin and Al Dubin, which was a hit for Connie Francis.

Or you can sing along to “The Anniversary Song” by Saul Chaplin and Al Jolson, a big hit for Jolson in 1946. Or try to do the “Anniversary Yodel” by Jimmie Rodgers.

And let us not forget our Uncle Sam. On April 15, you might not feel like singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” but perhaps you can manage a few bars of “You Can’t Put a Tax on Love” by George Adams.

Have a happy.

– Jim McConnell

What wedding gown styles tell us about our history

Pasadena Museum of History is photographing and archiving their collection of vintage wedding dresses. (Photos by Sarah Reingewirtz)

In the textile archives of the Pasadena Museum of History lies a 1920s turquoise ball gown bedecked with a beaded city skyline.

But this isn’t just any old garment — it was someone’s wedding dress.

The turquoise gown is one of more than 70 in the museum’s wedding dress collection. A group of volunteers and museum staff members have been working for more than a year to inventory the dresses and compile a digital archive.

The public can learn more about the gowns in a museum exhibit scheduled to open sometime next year..

The collection ranges from 1859 to the 1940s, and includes a variety of styles, fabrics, designs and even colors. And as the turquoise dress shows, museum volunteer Suzanne Ehrmann said, the traditional white wedding dress wasn’t always the norm.

“It was their best dress,” Ehrmann said. “So they didn’t just wear it once.”

To create a digital record of the dresses, volunteers take a photo of each gown on a mannequin and record any information provided by the donor, such as the type of fabric, where and when it was worn and if it has a connection to a notable Pasadena family.

Ehrmann said the process is so time-consuming that she and her fellow volunteer, Dr. Elizabeth Smalley, can only get three dresses done each working day. They recently finished the photographing process, which took a year, and now the information must be entered into the museum’s computer system.

Laura Verlaque, director of collections at the Pasadena Museum of History

“Inventory control is the key to success for any museum,” Director of Collections Laura Verlaque said. “If you forget the history of an artifact, it becomes useless.”

The archiving process presents more obstacles than one might suspect. The volunteers couldn’t use a normal plastic mannequin, for example; they had to purchase special ones made of archival styrofoam, a material that won’t leech harmful chemicals into the garments.

Not only that, the mannequins had to be child-sized because the average waist size for the historic dresses is 18 inches. Only today’s pre-teen-sized mannequins would work.

One of the most important qualities about the gowns is that they have a connection to Pasadena, Verlaque said. The museum’s gown collection lives up to that expectation; it includes a dress from the Giddings family, who founded the Mountain View Cemetery.

There is also a dress that belonged to the niece of California Gov. Henry Markham, and a veil that belonged to the Fenyes family, whose historic mansion sits behind the museum.

“Fashion is an interesting way to tell the area’s cultural history,” Collections Manager Michelle Turner said.

A selection from the museum’s collection will appear in an exhibit in spring 2013 called “I do, I do: Tying the Knot in Pasadena, 1860-2010.” Verlaque said they chose to do the exhibit because of the important role weddings and fashion have played in people’s lives in all eras.

“The fantasy and romance of weddings is something that is important to everybody,” Verlaque said.

The show will also reveal how this important event has changed over time, featuring the historic dresses and photographs as well as some more modern gowns.

“It will be an interesting statement on women’s history, how brides have changed, how women have seen themselves over the years,” Verlaque said.

–Lauren Gold

The soothing tones of the Showcase House

Cocktail table made from a door by designer Genaro Lagdameo (Photo by Walt Mancini)

For last year’s Pasadena Showcase House of Design, Genaro Lagdameo created a family media room. This time around, he changed the channel from TV to real life.

“I wanted to put the focus more on family,” said Lagdameo of Designs of the Interior in Westlake Village. “A place where family and friends can really share and connect in a more intimate setup.”

Lagdameo’s family room has an extra-long bench where the family can play games; it also works as seating for parties. There’s a sofa that opens in the middle, drawing attention to the patio door and the garden, which beckons beyond. A door made into a cocktail table gives a nod to the house’s many vintage doors, while offering a unique take on design. Even the family dog has his special spot: a custom bed.

Dog bed in family room

“I think the dog bed came out to be the fanciest furniture in the room,” Lagdameo said.

Signature fabric banding the carpeting leads the room’s hues of paprika, Prussian blue and sage. The ceiling has been stenciled to mimic the design of the flooring.

Fabric panels have been added to the windows and, with custom-scrolled brackets, create drama.

“Because we’re far away from the rest of the house, we decided to have a little bit of a departure,” said Cynthia Bennett of Cynthia Bennett & Associates, Inc. in South Pasadena. “Even though the architecture of the room is somewhat Spanish, we’re doing the Writer’s Retreat in a more contemporary style.”

Cynthia Bennett stands next to the fireplace in the Writer's Retreat

The space, a short walk from the main house, is calming with its peaceful neutral tones such as cream and beige. There are pinches of coral and bright blue, and from every window there is a view of trees.

Trees come indoors as well in the form of a redwood desk with irregular edges and a fireplace bearing a sculpted relief of two arbors.


PASADENA SHOWCASE HOUSE OF DESIGN

April 15-May 13, $30-$40
714-442-3872; pasadenashowcase.org

Bennett decided that the room belongs to a travel writer, so she created an “inspiration wall.” The wall features a computer touch screen the size of a large television. There are a clutch of beautiful images displayed and, with one touch, the writer can select a picture that will instantly be shown enlarged and accompanied by a quotation.

The design team had started with rough beams, an unfinished floor and fireplace and a bathroom that’s only feature was its plumbing. All of this now shines, in addition to a brand new kitchenette making the spot a perfect place to get away from it all.

– Michelle J. Mills

Keep your eye on the (night) sky

Mike Roy (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz)

For Southern California skygazers, 2012 is shaping up to be quite a remarkable year. The cool nights of winter are slowly giving way to more moderate evenings. So dust off those binoculars and telescopes, go outside and look up!

The red planet Mars, in the constellation Leo, is progressing high from the east and slightly toward the south an hour after sunset. Not far behind in the constellation Virgo is jealous Saturn with its colorful rings tipped at 15 degrees. Its’ closest approach to the Earth is April 15.

The winter constellations are gradually giving way to the misty star fields of the Milky Way as summer approaches. A recent survey said that 1 in 5 city dwellers has never seen the Milky Way from a dark site. Give yourself the gift of a lifetime and take a short drive to the local mountains or clear desert skies on a clear moonless night. Spend an evening wondering over the myriad of distant stars too numerous to count!

Astronomers live for rare events, but brilliant Venus is about to give us an extra special treat on the afternoon of June 5. It is about to cross in front of or “transit” our nearest star, the Sun! This happens only four times every 243 years. The next time isn’t until December 2117.

The dark silhouette of Venus will first contact the sun’s outline at 3:06 p.m. By 3:24 p.m. the disk of Venus will appear as a small black dot against the brilliant sun. It will continue to move across the solar outline until the sun sets.

Venus and the Earth are very close to the same size so compare the difference against the massive size of our Sun, a smaller than average star!

Important: Never look directly at the sun or try to observe it directly with binoculars or a telescope. Permanent eye damage will occur in a fraction of a second. There are a few ways to watch this event safely, however.

Wear welder’s goggles with a No. 13 or No. 14 filter. Or fit your binoculars or telescope with special sun filters available from telescope manufacturers.

Here is a good link for information on safe solar observing: www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/sun/3309106.html

Or go to your local observatory or planetarium. They are sure to set up for public viewing of this rare event!

Now, let’s keep our fingers crossed for a cloudless day.

 

Bungalow Heaven

Steve and Kari Salinas (Photos by Keith Durflinger)

A 1908 Craftsman home on Mar Vista Avenue has all the things you would expect on the Bungalow Heaven Home Tour — beautiful moldings, a fireplace with vintage tiles and an inviting porch. But it is what’s behind the house that makes it unique.

Steve and Kari Salinas, along with their three children, share the backyard with a goat, two dogs, three chickens, two cats, three rabbits, a miniature horse and Bonnie the turkey, who loves to have her head scratched.

“My intention was to one day have a farm,” Kari Salinas said. “This is where we stayed, so I have just made it my little patch of heaven.”

The Salinas home is one of eight that will be open for the 23rd Annual Bungalow Heaven Home Tour on April 29. The event includes self-guided tours of the homes, a Living History House, demonstrations, stalls of books, music, food and lectures.

Proceeds from the tour go to projects within Bungalow Heaven, including home restoration grants.

This will be the second time that the Salinas home is on the tour. Steve Salinas said that having a thousand people over to visit is very motivating. The couple, who along with friends, do most home projects on their own, are installing tile around the fireplace and painting the exterior of the house to get ready.

“Tour day is fun,” said Steve, whose family has lived in the Altadena and Pasadena areas for seven generations. “You get to talk to people and they really are interested in the house and the neighborhood.”

For the fourth time, the tour will feature a Living History House where visitors can experience what it would have been like to like in the neighborhood during a different time period.

“This year’s Living History House is far out,” said Kristin Stone who writes, casts, acts in and produces the event.

In the selected house, which was built in 1907, guests will “meet” Ellen Peterson (the homeowner from 1958-1976) in 1976 when she has the house for sale. Ellen is having difficulty with the showings, because her current tenant, the very single Bruce Manwich, is in no hurry to move out. He’s overly congenial to prospective homebuyers and often dominates their visits with his own experiences and observations about living in his bungalow “man cave.”

Visitors will also “meet” Bruce, and will see and learn about the significant features of the home.

23rd ANNUAL BUNGALOW HEAVEN HOME TOUR

“The house is beautifully furnished with both authentic and inspired 1970s decor, and the look is fantastic,” said Stone, explaining why she choose the 1970s for the Living History house.

“It is fascinating to see how the 1907 house is transformed with contemporary furnishings,” Stone said. “We also selected the house because it retains much of its 1907 original bungalow features, including an oversized fireplace with clinker brick and stone. The fireplace is alone worth the visit.”

Bungalow Heaven is Pasadena’s first Landmark District. It is also listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

Hundreds of Craftsman-style houses, known as California bungalows, were constructed in the neighborhood between 1905 and 1925. The architecture reflected a movement away from ornate Victorian sensibilities to simpler structures in harmony with nature through the use of materials such as river rock and redwood shingles, and incorporating wide verandas and expansive windows.

“Bungalow Heaven is a very special place in Pasadena,” Stone said. “Often when people think of bungalows, they think of an Arts and Crafts style bungalow, but there are many styles of bungalows and Bungalow Heaven has a wonderful variety of these homes.”

– Jennifer Errico

Celebrations: The reception. It’s OK to go cheap

 

Cheap chic can make the party


By Janette Williams

Entertaining can be effortless. All you need is a Downton Abbey-size household staff, a team of party planners on speed dial, and an unlimited budget.
For the rest of us, it can be an effort just getting a few family members together for a potluck.
Still, the experts say, it takes more than money to throw a great party that’s memorable for all the right reasons.
Knowing where to save, where to splurge, and how to make it hard for guests to tell the difference is key, said Jill Hawkins, of the Altadena-based event-planners Miller Hawkins, which has staged events for varied local non-profits as Five Acres, Pasadena Police Activities League, Hathaway Sycamores and the Community Health Alliance of Pasadena.
Some of the advice she gives to non-profits trying to put on a budget-minded bash translates to anything from weddings to family birthdays, showers and anniversaries, Hawkins said.
“We strongly encourage people not to do the traditional sit-down chicken dinner,” she said. “Most people come to an event not expecting a gourmet meal. They’re there for the cause.
“We do a lot of reception-style events with small bites, not spending so much but making it enough to feed everyone and satisfy people with appetizers as opposed to plated dinners.”
One plus, she said, is it tends to make events “a little more social” and encourages guests to mingle.
“It can become a little boring to sit at a table of 10 people and be there for the night,” she said. “Reception-style is not so formal. We strongly encourage people, especially with weddings, to think less about doing something simpler and spending more money on entertainment. People don’t always remember the food, but they remember if they danced all night and if the room looked amazing.”
Hawkins’ mantra for easily glamorizing the atmosphere of any venue, including living rooms or outdoor areas at home, is “lighting, lighting, lighting.”
Light strings, lanterns and tea-lights can be flattering not only to guests, but can put a gloss on standard quality white linens and basic silverware, she said. hes. Renting silverware for a crowd doesn’t cost a lot if you pick up and return it, she said, and it pays off with a more elegant feel than plastic.
Costs also can be kept down by limiting beverage choices to “a signature drink, beer and wine.”
Weddings are probably the single largest, costliest social event most people ever organize and — reality TV stars aside — you have only one chance to get right.
But other celebrations have more flexibility, and experience has shown hostess and food maven Peg Rahn that picking the right time of day can simplify entertaining.
Basic afternoon teas and picnics can be good ways to entertain people of all ages without breaking the bank, Rahn said.
“Breakfast or a brunch is good,” she said. “For one thing, people don’t stay forever.
“You don’t want to have any food that requires too much precision … Serve simple, delicious food; don’t serve squid or anything weird.”
Rahn and Hawkins agree that organizing help to pass food, serve drinks, replenish ice, replace candles and clear away used plates and glasses is imperative.
“If you’re doing it yourself, you’re going to need help,” Rahn said. And don’t expect invited guests to chip in, unless you’ve asked them ahead of time, she said. “Hire teenagers to serve and clean up.”
,But for all the thought that goes into food, drink, flowers, lighting and all the other details, it’s often the guests that make the party.
““Families, they’re the worst, especially if people are drinking and decide to tell so-and-so what they think,” Rahn said. “Know your people, and anticipate a problem here or there. Or, if there’s a problem brewing, you can head them off at the pass.”