This book is a must read:  “Chains” by Laurie Halse Anderson. It’s a YA—young adult—novel, but don’t be fooled into thinking the writing is at an intellectual level beneath an adult’s.  It’s also historical fiction, which is a neat way to learn our history.

Isabel, the protagonist, is a young teen girl who is sold into further slavery after her kindly current owner dies. People refuse to check his will to verify the fact that he had granted her and her little sister freedom. The setting is 1775’s and 1776’s New York, where there were hot seats of Loyalists (loyal to the British Crown) and the Rebels (hoping George Washington would rescue them from the British rule). The Revolutionary War ensues.

Anderson cleverly weaves historical fact and friction (not a typo) with the cruelties suffered by Isabel and her 5-year-old sister, whom she loves and protects with all her heart and determination. As in most stories about slavery, your own heart is wrenched by the acts of slave owners, and also, in this story, by the treatment of prisoners and lawbreakers of even minor crimes. I’m not saying we are so much more civilized now (because I don’t really believe that), but Anderson doesn’t pull her punches when she writes of the life in those days and in that place. And that really makes you wake up and smell the coffee!

I couldn’t put the book down and am still trying to catch up on the work I neglected while I read it. There is a sequel to the book—“Forge”—which I intend to read as soon as I finish the other books I took out from the library this week.

Run to your library or to your B&N and get “Chains”. It’s a page-turner. Just please leave a copy of “Forge” in our library system for me!


Percussion Rochester Festival

Downtown Rochester has done it again! And so have the Eastman School of Music and Kodak Hall and the many sponsors of these musical events.

Last Friday afternoon, I went to the Miller Atrium (formerly Eastman Place, right across Gibbs Street from the Eastman Theatre) to watch and hear the RPO Marimba Band perform.  Oh, the joy!!

There were a xylophone, several marimbas ranging in size from about six feet to 12 feet long, a set of vibraphones, a drum set (base, snares, tom toms) and a steel drum. The range of sounds from all these percussion musical instruments was phenomenal. Mellow, staccato, vibrant, brassy, clear, precise.

The repertory of pieces played was across the board, from “Nola” to a hauntingly beautiful classical salute to a now deceased artist. (Sorry, I don’t have the program here and I can’t remember the name or the artist. Darn!)

But hearing “Nola” on the xylophone (with marimbas in the background) took me back to my childhood. Growing up, we had in our family room sets of marimbas and drums and an old upright piano. My Dad had played during the depression in some bands around Auburn, Syracuse and even up in Toronto and he brought that music to our home every day. Often neighbors would congregate in our home while Dad played the marimbas, my brother Joe was on the drums and I or my sister, Teash, accompanied on the piano. Our very own jam sessions. They were wonderful. And so are the memories.

The RPO Marimba Band brought joy on so many levels. Their excellence is one of our many cultural blessings.