The arts are at the heart of our national life
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News 12/11/2009

Does the news of the past two weeks just make you want to take a shower? Tiger Woods' fall from the high pedestal where this country has placed him brings out the grit that comes with celebrity and our own fascination with all things famous.
The women in his life that may tally soon to a dirty dozen still beckon the question why women do what they do when they know a man is married. However, yet again we learn the naiveté of some who thought that they were the only mistress in his life and that he would be leaving his wife for them. Who knows how all this will play out?

While Woods commanded our attention at an event took place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. last weekend to reassure us that all is still right with the world. Five accomplished artists in the field of music, theatre, and film were honored for their contributions to the arts. Named in honor of the former president, the Kennedy Center honors were presented to singer and songwriter Bruce Springsteen; actor, writer, director and producer, Mel Brooks; actor, director and producer Robert DeNiro; opera singer Grace Bumby and jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, a longtime Wilton resident who received the award at age 89.

President Barack Obama recalled that when he was 10 years old, his father visited him in Hawaii and took him to his first jazz concert. The performer was Dave Brubeck. He's been a jazz fan ever since. In paying tribute to the quintet of artists, Obama said "the arts are not somehow apart from our national life; the arts are the heart of our national life."


Where would we be as a country, as a state, as a city, and as an individual without the arts? They enrich us; they bring us together; and they give each of us the substance to find meaning in every day existence. For me personally, music and writing have always been a part of my life. My love for music started early, for my maternal Italian immigrant grandfather taught music. It seemed he taught all instruments. All his children played instruments, including my mother who played the saxophone and mandolin. Her two brothers played band instruments and that is how she met my father who was a pianist and a friend of my uncle. I grew up listening to my father play the piano almost every day. He was more of a contemporary/jazz pianist. He had a Liberace style of playing.

At middle age he became controller for London Records. Therefore, as a teenager, the house was filled with the music of Mantovani's orchestra and Italian operas. I remember his taking us to Carnegie Hall when Ted Heath and his the English jazz orchestra gave concerts. His brother, my Uncle Joseph, was a classical pianist and taught piano and music at Iona College.

On Christmas Eve, after dinner and before we all opened presents at my grandfather's second floor Bronx apartment he would take out the instruments and I would watch my aunts and uncles play.. There were a lot of mandolins going.

As an adult I realize how much of an impact my introduction and exposure to live music has had on me. For, I still get very excited to hear music in person and especially during the holidays, like this time of year, when I hear Christmas music.

Last weekend, I bought Andrea Bocelli's new CD of Christmas music and gave it to my daughter's family in Massachusetts. My 5-year-old grandson Cameron kept repeating and repeating Bocelli's version of Jingle Bells. Each time I would say that's ANDREA BOCELLI so that he would become familiar with one of the greatest voices of our time. I know that when he is older he will recognize his voice each time he hears his music.

It is a wonderful time for me to introduce my grandchildren to the arts as their parents were introduced growing up as their father and I would play the great jazz music of Dave Brubeck and Bruce Springsteen, in between the symphonies and operas, Creedence Clearwater and Bobby Darin.

My grandson Cameron at age five wrote his first book, which his mother copied at Office Max and gave it to his 4-year-old cousin Calum for his birthday. It is a story about Cameron's dog, Bulls-Eye and the title is "Bulls-Eye, The Rascal." The last page of the book is a picture of "the author" and it gives a little bio about the author and all his five years of life thus far. There's even a picture of the author, so Calum will remember his cousin.

Cameron and Calum's older cousin Gabriel is now nine and way ahead in writing books. He even illustrates them, himself. My favorite activity when I visit is to have Gabriel show me something he's written lately. He proudly takes out his pages with lots and lots of penciled drawings and reads me his story.

Cameron's 4-year-old brother Zachary loves to sing and Gabriel's 7-year-old sister loves to dance. Calum and his one-year-old sister love to play their music and bend their legs in rhythm to the beat. Calum is great with creating rhythm with whatever object is in his hand and nearby. One day he was standing on a chair at Pop-Pop's house with mixing cups in each hand beating out the rhythm to a Beatles song on the small CD player on the counter. He banged everything in sight much to Pop-Pop's chagrin. As Pop-Pop yelled, I laughed for Calum looked as if he were his own percussion section in an orchestra.

It is thrilling to watch each child become introduced to the joy of music and other art forms. I haven't even begun to mention the artwork of childhood imagination that is framed and hanging all over the walls in their homes. There are two very large watercolors, each by Cameron and Zachary in the kitchen that would give Peter Max a run for his money.

I can't wait for Christmas when all three families will spend Christmas Day and weekend in Connecticut. Five of us, including 7-year-old Alexandra will be going to Radio City to see the Rockettes and the Christmas Show to celebrate her birthday. Then, we will take Alexandra to the American Girl store. This trip to the city is a reminder of holiday trips to Manhattan that began when I was a child and continued as a parent when my husband and I took our three children to see the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Now in our family there's a new generation experiencing the arts.

The Kennedy Honors Gala will be broadcast on CBS on Tuesday, Dec. 29 at 9 p.m.

Rita Papazian is a freelance writer who has written about Norwalk extensively. 

© Copyright 2009 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.