Hard as it may be to believe, today's column is the last column in March. That makes it our anniversary column.
We wrote our first column on the last Saturday in March in 1980 - 32 years ago. And, it actually was the 31st of March, as it is this year, making it exactly our anniversary.
We had started reviewing performances in the mid-1970s. In those days, there were no locally written columns in The Post-Journal, but our region editor at the time, one Cristie Herbst, believed that I could be depended upon to meet deadlines and keep up the work needed to do a column, so she took a chance on me, and now, here I am.
A younger Robert W. Plyler with the same smile readers see today.
When we wrote our first column, we promised that each year, on our anniversary, we would look back over the past year of coverage, and share with our readers what has been covered. We also promised to remind readers what they need to do to get coverage. And so, the day has arrived.
I know that there are some readers who are tired of hearing or reading my explanations of how my work for the newspaper works. But, every week, I have to ignore or throw away information which was very important to someone, but which wasn't presented to us correctly, so while I'm very willing to help them, I end up unable to do so.
As long as people do it incorrectly, I'll keep trying to explain. I guess that's what's left of the teacher in me.
The policies are rather simple, but if you're one of those who needs to stand up in a public forum and demand, ''Haven't you already said all this a thousand times?'' please just skip down to the next heading and skip it altogether.
I do two kinds of writing: first, I write columns, which are full pages, which appear in the section of the Saturday edition titled ''Saturday.'' I have a firm deadline, which is one week in advance. Material which isn't in my possession by a week before it will come out in print, will not appear in the column.
Sometimes readers think this means I must have the information about their event a week before the event. If they're presenting a play, or a concert, or a ballet on a Wednesday, they think I need it by the previous Wednesday, but sadly that is too late. If the event is on a Wednesday, then they want the information to be called to the public's attention at least on the Saturday before that, and I'll need to write it up, yet another Saturday before that.
My column should be about the arts. My particular interest and experience is in the classical arts. For a great many years, our newspaper didn't write a great deal about the arts, so when I got my column, I tried my best to cover every aspect of them. My files of past coverages include rock concerts, country and western concerts, and the like.
A few years ago, the newspaper assigned a reporter to cover entertainment in the community, on a regular basis. That has freed me up to focus on the areas in which I have the greatest experience and expertise, and it enables me to give more space and attention to them. I try hard not to do the entertainment reporter's job, and I appreciate that he doesn't try to do mine.
Obviously, there are areas where the two jobs overlap. There are readers who think they're being very clever, by trying to get both me and a regular reporter to write separate pieces about their event, by not telling each of us that they're also giving information to the other. ''Clever'' is not the adjective which I think applies.
There are always readers who find it shocking that they know more about their events than I do. But I need to explain, you know what play you're going to perform, or if you've arranged a clarinet concerto to be performed on a viola, or whatever, and I have no way to know it, until I hear it from you. Some things I can look up, like the career of a composer or the reception which a particular play got on its first performance. Anything unique to your local production, such as that you're having the leading man's role performed by a woman, I can't know unless you tell me.
Please, please, don't sit and wonder why I don't get in touch with you about your upcoming performance. If you want something covered, call me, or email me, or write me a letter. For most of my life, if I bumped into you in the grocery store and you asked me to cover a performance next month, when I got home, I would write it on the calendar and be there.
Increasingly, I'm finding that my mind is on a million other things and I don't remember an encounter which took place two hours ago. If you phone, email, or write, I'll write it down on my calendar, and I'll be there.
Right now, although there are some weeks when I have to hunt up a last-minute subject for my column, there are many weeks when I could write three or four columns, but I don't have the space in the paper, so I have to tell all but one of them that I'm sorry, I can't help them. I think it would be rude and inexcusable to tell an arts organization that I can't publicize their exhibit or performance, then go out and chase down someone else who is doing something, who didn't bother to share with us the fact that it was going to happen.
The information about how to contact me is below, in the first ''Wink.''
The second thing which I write is reviews. That's what it's called when I attend an event, and describe and evaluate it, in print. Reviews are shorter than columns. They are submitted to different editors, and can appear on any day of the week, and on nearly any page of the paper. People phone and angrily demand why I could get the review of Little Theatre in the day after the opening performance, but I told them I needed to have information about their upcoming exhibit a week in advance.
The answer is because advance features are columns, for me, and must be written a week before the Saturday on which they appear. And, Saturday is the only day on which they appear. Reviews are news, and can appear any day, and without the long advance time. And believe me, I am aware that not all writers for the paper need a week's advance time, but I do. Honestly. It's a fact of life, not a whim.
If you send me a note which says, ''We will perform a concert on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m.,'' I will announce that fact in the paper, or else pass it along to someone else to print it. If you want me to attend and write a review, please specifically say, ''Please review the performance,'' or some similar wording.
The vast majority of our readers are warm, wonderful, intelligent people, and I am happy that I am in a position to help out a large number of them. I try to share with people exactly what will get them the coverage they want from the newspaper. In my experience, people aren't terribly interested in our requirements until they're appointed publicity chairman for an upcoming charity concert or memorial production, or whatever. Week after week, people are saying ''If only you had told me in advance.''
I'm trying to do just that.
THE YEAR PAST
Gathered around me are all the writings I've had published, since April 1, 2011. There are 52 columns, and 53 individual reviews.
The numbers - as are many statistics - are deceptive, because they don't indicate that some of the columns include as many as five reviews. I usually review between 150 and 200 events a year. If you multiply that times 32 years, it is a stunning education, for which I am most grateful.
Individual columns have concerned some fascinating topics. To name a few, the German brass quintet which has performed several times at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Jamestown; the new local history book about Robert H. Jackson by Lakewood resident Helen Ebersole; the golf tournament in honor of hardworking champion of Chautauqua Opera Marcia Connelly; the art exhibits at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute; the benefit performances of the musical ''I Do, I Do'' by Bob and Irene Terreberry; the Spoon River Project performances in Lake View Cemetery; and the new choral music commissioned by Rebecca Ryan, director of the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, in honor of her late daughter.
There was a piece about Marlena Kleinman Malas, a teacher of singing at the Chautauqua Institution who has been named the greatest teacher of singing in the world, by a national magazine, plus two columns about local young men who have risen to the highest professional ranks in the world: Jordan Leeper and Joshua Stafford.
There was the announcement of last year's ''Big Read'' topic at the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System, the announcement of the 2011-12 ''Folk in Fredonia'' series at the 1891 Fredonia Opera House, and the announcement that local donors have made it possible for us to see and hear the productions of the Metropolitan Opera Company, live, right here in Chautauqua County, at the Opera House.
There were announcements of the essay contests and visit by a national author to the Robert H. Jackson Center, analyses and interviews with people from the Chautauqua Theater Company who have taken two plays from Chautauqua's New Play Workshops to professional productions in New York City, and even an announcement that I was going to step in front of the curtain, for a change, and perform A.R. Gurney's play ''Love Letters'' with the magnificent talent of Jill Keating, as a charity event, supporting scholarships for the National Society of Arts and Letters.
There were some standards: a discussion of the coming 2011 season at Chautauqua, a look at the year's season at both the Stratford and Shaw Festivals, which attract hundreds of local arts lovers during a year, two analyses of plays currently on Broadway, in addition to the Chautauqua transfers, reviews of the performances of all our local organizations, and much more.
Again and again, I hear people complain that there is nothing to do in our county, and I find myself often near exhaustion, trying to get to all the things which there are to do, or which can be done with a bit of foresight and a bit of initiative.
I've tried to stimulate your interest in classics on television, classics in the movies, classics in recordings and in literature. Some readers complain that I write enthusiastically about nearly every performance I attend, and yet I am enthusiastic about nearly every performance I attend. I love it when people make a sincere effort to create art, even when I think they haven't succeeded in a particular instance.
Others complain because I couldn't write enthusiastically about something they were in, or which they attended and thought was wonderful, but try to remember, we're not handing out death sentences here. We're expressing opinions about material which is created and presented to inspire opinions. I don't care if you don't agree with me, although I'm interested to know why. Why should you care if I don't agree with you? I give my reasons.
To paraphrase the words of one of my very favorite fictional characters, the magnificent Auntie Mame, ''Life is a banquet. And most poor suckers are starving to death. Go out there, and LIVE.''
From time to time we print our policies for your information. Any organization wanting a performance or exhibition reviewed should request, preferably in writing, that The Post-Journal review. In the case of conflicting performances, the sponsor requesting first will be reviewed.
No organization will be reviewed which doesn't request to be reviewed. Telling us that a performance will happen will get you an announcement. You have to ask for a review to get one.
Performances whose intent is religious rather than artistic cannot be appropriately reviewed.
Children and youth through high school will not be reviewed, and if they appear in a performance with adults will be named, but not evaluated.
Material intended for publication in The Critical Eye and its ''Winks,'' must be received at least 10 days before the Saturday on which you wish the information to appear. Exceptions are impossible.
Drop announcements in our night mailbox, or mail them to The Post-Journal, P.O. Box 190, Jamestown, NY 14702-0190. Make certain that my name or the name of the column is marked clearly on the outside of the envelope.
You may email them to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note, I cannot be reached through The Post-Journal virtual newsroom.
Suggestions for the subjects of full columns are welcome, but please be aware, they are usually booked very far in advance.