Culture? We got culture!

Massena librarian Debbie Feuhring and Shirley Reva Vernick, author of The Blood Lie, in front of a wonderful display of historic photographs from the turn of the last century.

Last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a literary conversation in Massena and then attend a live performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony two nights later. Not bad for our backwater neck of the woods.

This is not the first time I’ve been honored to lead a book conversation at the Massean library, where members of the public are actively interested in talking about classics as well as more recent works.

Shirley Reva Vernick’s “The Blood Lie” was the focus of the evening, and it was wonderful to have Shirley, who is a Massena native now living in the Boston area, present for the question and answer session. The novel–ideal for readers ranging in age from middle school to adult–personalizes and illuminates a 1928 incident which has been called the only episode of “blood libel” against a Jewish community known to have occurred in the United States.

A full house for the conversation with Shirley Reva Vernick–the staff had to add more chairs to fit everyone who wanted to hear Shirley’s comments and add their own personal stories about the Massena incident at the center of Shirley’s novel.

“Blood libel” is the anti-Semitic and wholly false notion that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children in religious practices. In 1928, when a young girl went missing, rumors were circulated around Massena that the girl might have been kidnapped for such rituals by members of the Jewish community. You can find a story about that 1928 episode from NCPR here.

What was so interesting to me were the many personal stories members of the audience shared about their families’ recollections of what happened in 1928. And, Barbara Klemens, the little girl who went missing that day–now, of course an older woman–was sitting in the front row of the audience.

Again, the Massena library seems to have an exceptionally lively community of readers–people who come together readily and often to talk about what they’ve read. “The Blood Lie” was part of a special “community reads” project undertaken by the library this fall.

On Saturday, I attended the Orchestra of Northern New York’s production of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, complete with two choral groups totaling about 150 singers, four soloists, and, of course, the orchestra, conducted by Music Director Kenneth Andrews.  I calculated some 200 plus musicians on the stage at SUNY Potsdam’s Hosmer Hall. Wow. Great evening. Great audience–a wonderful mix of old classical music fans like me and as well as lots of young people from area schools, including Crane. A full house! It was a real treat for me–the first time I’ve seen the Ninth Symphony performed. (Musical trivia: the first performance of the Ninth Symphony took place on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, with the composer conducting.)

The Orchestra was joined by the Potsdam Community Chorus (Jeffrey Francom, Director) and the Northern Choral Society (Sara Gleason, Director), as well as soprano Jill Pearon, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Yaros Sullivan, tenor Donald George, and bass David Pittman-Jennings.

This production is part of the Orchestra’s 25th anniversary season. Here’s a link to their website and information about other concerts planned for this fall and winter.

I was in the balcony, no zoom on my camera, but you get the idea…lots of musicians on stage, and a full audience in Hosmer.



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