This has been an extraordinary year.
In the late spring, I had a number of deaths in my family and a number of family emergencies, which caused me to be out of town for an extended period of time.
More recently, my wife and I were celebrating one of those milestone wedding anniversaries - the ones which end in ''zero.'' We had been planning for five years to make a major celebration, and ended by being out of town for three weeks.
At the moment, I'm newly back in town, and the inbox of my email account has well over 500 unopened messages in it. I mention all this in case any of you have been trying to reach me, because I have been bent over my screen for quite a while, but there is still a great deal of mail to open.
Because I haven't been in pursuit of subjects for this column, I thought it might be fun to pick archives of past columns, from a couple of different years, and share just a hint of the wealth of what I've learned from people who have found their way to Chautauqua County, and agreed to talk with me about their varied and usually successful careers.
I began writing reviews in the mid-1970s, and I began writing this column in 1980. At that time, I was working full-time, and my wife was working part-time and staying at home with the children, so she volunteered to preserve my writings, in case I might want to look back on them for future reference. She started by pasting the columns into giant scrapbooks, which grew to number well more than 20.
These preserved the writing very well, but now each piece is permanently located and they can't be sorted through. Eventually, we got a large cardboard box and bought a big box of manila folders.
We labeled each folder with the name of the most frequent subjects: Little Theatre, Concert Assn., Chautauqua Opera, etc., and of course ''Miscellaneous.'' Now I find back references much more easily when a questions arises about when something happened or what someone said.
So, I went to the shelves and pulled out two of the old scrapbooks. They turned out to be from 1983 and 1985. I thought you might enjoy learning about who was here, and some small bit of what they had to say. There are interviews in the books with both Bill and Hillary Clinton, for example, and with FDR Jr., Congressman Jack Kemp, Civil Rights leader Coretta Scott King, and many other major figures, but this is an arts column, so I'll stick to a few of the artists.
Actor Margaret Hamilton was surely best known for having played the Wicked Witch of the West in the immortal film of ''The Wizard of Oz,'' although she more recently played Cora, a folksy old inn keeper in a series of commercials for a popular brand of coffee.
She was at Chautauqua in 1985 to perform the role of Miss Prism in ''The Importance of Being Earnest,'' and the murder victim in ''Night Must Fall,'' with the Cleveland Play House, which was then in its 52nd year of residence at the Institution.
She told me in the interview that she is happy that so many people loved her performance in ''The Wizard,'' but she has had an extensive career beyond it, including a role in ''My Little Chickadee'' with W.C. Fields, a role in the original cast of Sondheim's ''A Little Night Music,'' a featured role in ''State of the Union'' with Hepburn and Tracy, and a performance of ''Orpheus in the Underworld'' with the Boston Symphony.
She reminded me that she was only 36 when she played the witch in the 1936 film, although people assume she was in her 60s because of her costume and makeup, and that while filming the scene in which she ignited her broom to threaten the Scarecrow, she accidentally caught her costume on fire and was severly burned.
She recalled an incident in which she tried to cash a check at her own bank, and was refused for lack of identification. However, en route home, she suggested a route to a New York City cab driver, and he pulled to the curb and ordered her out of the cab. She said she was struggling to gather up her packages and get out of the cab, her hat askew and her stockings tearing in the process, and a group of little girls on the sidewalk got out their cameras, pointed to her and said, ''Oh, look! It's Margaret Hamilton.''
She offered charming story after charming story, but when I went to write up the interview, I found that without her tone of voice, her fluent hand gestures and her visual intensity, they were just nice stories. It was she who made them special.
Joan Baez was both beloved and reviled during the 1960s, because she included commentary about subjects such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement in her performances, along with her sweet singing and skilled guitar playing.
She wanted to use the interview to inform possible ticket buyers that she would only sing three or four of her popular hits from the '60s in her concert at Chautauqua, and the majority of her program would be songs she had written or others had written, more recently. ''I want people to come, but I don't want to make them think they're going to hear something they won't hear,'' she said.
She said that in the 1980s, when we talked, she felt a social sickness going around which made people want to feel better about themselves without doing anything to deserve feeling better. She warned that politicians who encouraged voters to feel good without doing good were always dangerous.
''I'm very humble about my singing voice, because I didn't do anything to deserve it. It was a gift. But I think it's really good,'' she concluded the interview.
Formerly our nation's second lady, Joan Mondale came to our area shortly after her husband's defeat for the presidency by Ronald Reagan. Her subject was government support for the arts.
She complained that opponents of the arts often mislead people into believing that they appeal only to a small minority of people and that they are a drain on governments who support them. She showed me, in the interview, letters she had received from mayors of a number of different cities, from the major ones to small towns.
I was only able to scan quickly through them, but they all stated that the writer had doubted the value of the arts, only to find that the arts created jobs, and that homes located near arts institutions benefited from the neighborhood becoming safer, as crowds were attracted, as did businesses in those areas, and they further gained from more customers coming to attend performances or to tour museums, and then bought meals in restaurants and shopped in nearby stores.
She also showed me a copy of the Harris Poll, which stated that more people had attended arts events than athletic events in the year in which we talked, and indeed more people had attended the arts than had voted in all the federal, state, and local elections in the nation.
She cautioned that the nation needed to learn from the reign of French King Louis XIV, who spent a great deal of money on art, but who allowed one of his ministers to control artists and to only allow certain subjects and certain styles, stifling creativity and progress.
President Reagan often suggested that it was for private individuals to support the arts, not the government, but Mrs. Mondale said that the private sector certainly had an important role in supporting the arts, but that both individuals and especially businesses tend to want to donate a painting or to commission a symphony, which will associate their name with them and get them advertising.
''Often a museum needs a new roof more than it needs another painting, for example, and visitors aren't going to be shown a plaque, calling their attention to the X Corporation Roof Repairs,'' she said. ''Random support produces random results, at best.''
Christopher Keene was one of the handsome, young conductors who were constantly on the covers of major news magazines and being interviewed on network television, in those days.
He conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic for the Jamestown Concert Assn. in February of 1983, and talked with us by phone, before the concert, which would draw well over 1,000 ticket buyers to the Reg Lenna Civic Center, which was then called the Palace.
Sadly, he died of lymphoma shortly before his 49th birthday in 1995, so he may have faded from memories, yet he made dozens upon dozens of recordings for major record labels, and conducted the musical scores of a great many award-winning Hollywood films. He joined the staff of conductors at New York City Opera at the age of 23, and rose to be the company's music director, and then its general director, and he frequently conducted at the major concert halls and opera halls, throughout the world.
Keene was artistic director of the Syracuse Symphony and the Long Island Symphony. He became artistic director of Artpark, our state's feeble effort at using our taxes wisely, and made international headlines there, performing a ''Ring Cycle'' and introducing Phillip Glass' monumental opera ''Satyagraha.''
Keene often complained that the arts ought to be organized so that artists could work at their art, while labor negotiations, smiling for photos with large donors, and other duties which are largely forced upon them, are done by people who enjoy doing them and are good at them. He claimed he was miserable when he had to make small talk with strangers, yet he did more of that than he did working with musicians in many situations.
From time to time, there are people who doubt the importance of the conductor at a concert. Keene, who was known on many occasions to grasp his baton with both hands and literally stab it at the orchestra to focus and empower the performance, disagreed.
''Good music can serve many purposes at the same time. Composers become respected because of their ability to communicate with an audience on many different levels. But, you can't have a trumpet player performing one interpretation of the music while the flutes play something different. The conductor creates a single interpretation of the music, understanding that there might be other interpretations at other performances,'' he told us.
Keene used most of his interview time to regret the anti-intellectualism to which our country is prone. He said he understood that classical music didn't appeal to everyone, but he couldn't understand the pride which so many people put into trying to destroy it for those who do understand and love it.
These were just a very few of the interviews, from only two scrapbooks. Others included Phyllis Diller, Heloise, Max Cleland, Leslie Fiedler, Tom Hulce, Harold Schonberg, Judith Crist, John Simon, Norman Vincent Peale, Eugene McCarthy, Kathy Bates, Walter Hendl, the dancers of Pilobolus, John Denver and many, many more.
We need to do some Winks, so we'll cut the column off there, but I hope you've enjoyed it, and if you have, we might consider re-examining the words of those who have come to our area to share their thoughts and their talents.
Readers who love folk and country music might want to keep an eye out for performances in our area by a woman named Kim Dolittle.
I recently came out of a restaurant, and heard her voice, coming from a tavern across the street, and I went over to listen. She has the vocal power of Cass Elliot, yet can do the crystal clear top notes of Judy Collins. Her rendition of ''Bobby McGee'' rivaled Janis Joplin's version for vitality and power.
A native of Nova Scotia, she said she now lives in Toronto, and frequently performs within easy reach of our area. She has released a number of recordings. If you get a chance to hear her perform, I suspect you would find it most enjoyable.
Several readers have mentioned that they hoped to catch a performance at Stratford Festival of Des McAnuff's production of ''Twelfth Night,'' but have found tickets to be in short supply.
The festival has just added an additional performance, on Wednesday of the coming week, which might be a possibility for you, if you can make it.
Also, Stratford has announced that their successful production of ''Jesus Christ Superstar,'' by Andrew Lloyd Webber, which has been a major hit in the current season of performances, will be transferring to Broadway, at the Neil Simon Theatre, with previews beginning on March 1 and an official opening on March 22.
If you missed it at Stratford, you can catch it on the Great White Way.
Tonight and tomorrow, you can catch a performance of Stephen Sondheim's sophisticated and very literate musical ''A Little Night Music,'' performed at Allegany-Limestone High School by the Olean Community Theatre.
Learn more at their website at www.octnow.com. or by phone at 375-1628. Tickets are $12, with discounts for senior citizens and for youth.
Public Radio station WNED, found at 94.5 FM, which broadcasts locally as WNJA at 89.7 on your radio dial, is preparing a series of programs to showcase young musicians from Western New York, northwestern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario.
Student classical musicians who live in the station's broadcast area, and who are in high school or younger, may apply for an opportunity to perform on one of the 13 programs which will be produced, to be broadcast Sundays between 6 and 8 p.m.
For additional information, you may phone 845-7016 or visit the station's website at www.wned.org/youngperformers.
The Jamestown Community Orchestra will perform their annual Autumn Concert at First Covenant Church on Oct. 23 at 3:30 p.m.
The orchestra is made up of area residents, both professional and amateur musicians, who donate their artistry. There is no admission charge for the concert, although a free will offering will be taken to help with the cost of sheet music and similar expenses.
The church is located at 520 Spring St., in downtown Jamestown.
The Buffalo Philharmonic, which recently extended by five years, the contract of its music director, Joann Falletta, has now announced that they have signed a five-year contract with their musicians.
The new contract restores the two weeks of vacation which were given up by the musicians during the nation's economic slowdown, provides for small annual weekly salary increase, and offers additional pay for recording sessions and other requirements outside the normal season of the orchestra.
The orchestra is only one month into their 2011-12 season, but has already had two sold-out concerts: the performance by Broadway star Idina Menzel and the performance of Orff's ''Carmina Burana.''
The orchestra has 73 full-time musicians and more than 30 part-time musicians. They have a production and administrative staff of 25 full time employees and 18 part time employees. They have an annual budget which well exceeds $7 million, of which 92 percent stays in Western New York.
The orchestra attracts more than 70,000 listeners to their concerts, and independent agencies have measured an economic impact on Buffalo of $25 million.
Fans of the rock ensemble The Goo Goo Dolls will find tickets now on sale for their Nov. 15 performance at Erie's Warner Theatre, on State Street in Downtown Erie. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m.
For additional information about the concert, phone Erie Events at 814-452-4857.
Tickets are now on sale by the Center for the Arts at the University of Buffalo, for a performance by Bela Fleck and the original members of the Flecktones, on Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets range in price from $32 to $42. To charge by phone, call 800-745-3000. By computer, go to www.ticketmaster.com. Purchase tickets in person at the Center for the Arts' box office and at Ticketmaster outlets, throughout the area.
Tonight at 8 p.m., the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford will offer a performance of John Steinbeck's ''Of Mice and Men,'' performed by the touring company of The National Players.
The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m., in the Bromeley Family Theatre, on the University's campus. Tickets are $10 and $12 for the general public. Admission is free for students. Purchase them by phoning 814-362-5113, of at the door, based upon availability.
On Friday, the university will offer a concert by flutist Sarah Tiedemann, accompanied by pianist Ritsuko Wada. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. There is no admission charge.