Wendy Grubbs’ Campaign to Rescue the Old Dogs on the Shore by Val Cavalheri

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573 Reasons to read this.

This story, I promise, has a happy ending. It’s about Wendy Grubbs, an ordinary person, and at the core, it’s a story about love. Yet, her story is unquestionably connected to and can only be understood by first hearing about two dogs named, Dubya and Samson.

Dubya (aka Dubs), estimated to be around 13 years old, was a surrender to Prince George’s County Shelter by his owner. He had rotten teeth and a cancerous tumor on his front leg.

Sansom

Samson at approximately 14 years of age, had an unknown history, but the embedded rope scars around his neck speak of a rough start. He was adopted by a loving rescuer who shortly afterward died from breast cancer. The friend she entrusted him to had a cat that didn’t appreciate the new family member. Samson had nowhere to go.

What these two had in common was PetConnect Rescue, where Grubbs is a board member, who saw potential and hope for these two misfits and others like them. The rescue group which arranges and pays for medical services ranging from routine vaccinations and blood tests to treating serious medical conditions (such as broken bones) had recently launched a Senior Dog Program recognizing that seniors are usually overlooked due to their age and are most at risk to be euthanized.

The organization stepped in and fixed what could be fixed, removed or cleaned what couldn’t. “We try to give [the adopter] a dog who is in the best health a senior can be,” Grubbs said. “You’re going to get a dog that big things have been dealt with. Basically, you get a pretty healthy animal.” Since PetConnect doesn’t have a facility, they can only pull a needy dog from a shelter when they have someone willing to foster or adopt.

Dubya Before

Now, this is where the happy part is: Dubya was adopted a year ago and Samson four months later. They and three additional ‘flawed’ rescues named Jellybean, Stella, and Camilla live with and are loved by Grubbs.

Grubbs finds nothing unusual about her passion for saving animals in need. She’s had, since kindergarten, always had shelter dogs as family members. It surprises her, however, hearing people’s first instinct is not always to get a rescue animal. “What is the psychology of why people need to buy an animal?” Looking around her home, she said, “You can buy posters, or you can get original art. You can wear clothes that everyone else wears, or you can buy couture. I prefer original art, and I prefer my dogs to be couture—one of a kind.”

Despite the increase in her family size, Grubbs is not housebound, they are “totally manageable,” she says. Currently an equities markets specialist, she’s had a busy career in law and investment banking. She also spent a few years as a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. There were always dogs running around the White House, she recalls, and their presence made the Executive Mansion feel like a conventional home. But her focus these days and uppermost in her mind is how to persuade people to give homeless animals a chance. “There are 573 senior dogs in shelters within 100 miles of Oxford looking for homes,” she says. “I want to convince people to think of adopting from a shelter as being the only option instead of an option. We’re still euthanizing 4 million adoptable animals per year, and it really breaks my heart.”

But an older dog? I asked.

These are some of the reasons they are so perfect, she said:

-You don’t have to worry about potty training. You have to show them where to go and also learn how they’re used to asking.
-They don’t chew your expensive things. Sampson sleeps in my closet. On my shoes. I don’t have to worry about picking them up.
-Oh yea, they sleep a lot.
-You don’t need to crate them.
-They don’t require tons of exercise. Dubya loves to go for a long walk, but the rest of them are super not interested.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges in this type of adoption. “Most times, I know nothing about them,” she said. “I have to figure out their favorite scratch spot. I knew nothing about Dubya. He doesn’t seem to like toys. In fact, he sat on a squeaky one and scared himself to death. I just go slow and try and figure it out.”

There are other times when a dog’s history is known. “When I got Samson, I got a bag of his stuff, and I cried over that. It was such a mixed blessing because I had all of this information about him, I had his toys. I was also heartbroken because his owner was so thoughtful and she planned for him. She put his favorite stuff in a bag. She was 40 years old when she died. I feel like I owe it to this person. And as for Samson, I am at least his third and definitely his last, owner.”

This reminded the lawyer in Grubbs to give the following advice. “If you have an animal, put their care in your will. Samson is a very clear example of doing it right and things going wrong. The owner left Samson with a friend, and it didn’t work, and there was no backup plan. So, you can leave a dog with a friend or family, but provide a Plan B in case they won’t or can’t do it. Plan B should be naming a rescue group in the will, so the dog doesn’t end up in a shelter and is euthanized because of their age.”

Dubya After

The hardest thing to talk about and the most significant objection Grubbs hears are people’s feelings about the animal’s end of life. “I don’t have the perfect answer, but let me tell you this, I think when you see a ‘before’ picture, like the one of Dubya, and they have this forlorn expression that says, ‘I did my best for my human and here I am, and I’m lost.’ And then you see them blossom, and you see them run and play, like he does every morning, with such vigor. Look, I know it’s going to kill me when he goes, but I feel like I’ve done such a good thing for him and I’m so rewarded as a person. They’ve been loved, and that’s such a powerful thing. They win, and I win.”

There are several ways to help organizations, such as PetConnect, rescue more adoptable animals.

The most obvious is, of course, adopt an older dog. For every Dubya and Samson, there are others like Shana and Smitty, a bonded pair who were found in a motel with a dead, overdosed owner. After all the loss they have experienced they cannot be split up.

Foster a senior while they wait for a forever home.
Donate to a needy shelter, cash, in-kind goods, etc.
Volunteer to help socialize a dog. Seniors who have had lives with people and end up in a shelter shut down. If they are socialized, they are more adoptable.
Contribute to a spay and neuter program.

Recently, Grubbs has been working on a new rescue model, raising awareness on a solution she feels is ideal: matching senior dogs with senior humans. Unfortunately, many shelters refuse to allow senior citizens to adopt. “Older folks are perfect adopters. If a dog is willed back to the rescue, then why wouldn’t an older person, who will spend most of their time with the dog, be perfect?”

There is much that can be done, but there are changes on the horizon. Best Friends, the largest coalition of shelters in Utah have a goal for no euthanasia of adoptable pets by 2025. As of January 1, 2019, a new law in California requires pet stores to sell only rescue animals. “I think rescues are morphing and people understand that these animals are family members. I want these animals to live with dignity, not curled up in a corner in a shelter somewhere.”

As for her future, Grubbs says she’ll be out there educating people that older dogs are worth it, “I don’t know how many more dogs I’ll take. I’ll take as many as I can. I’m a go big or go home kind of person, so I’m going to do what I can do and take as many as I can take. Hopefully, in the future , this will be less needed.”

She again mentions the numbers she can’t stop thinking about: 573. The number of senior dogs in shelters within 100 miles of Oxford that are looking for homes. It’s the reason she does what she does. However, she will probably be the first to admit she’s just an ordinary person with a desire to do something. But to Dubya, Samson, Jellybean, Stella, and Camilla, she is so much more than that. She is extraordinary.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Mid-Shore Arts: The Daily Work of Qiang Huang by Val Cavalheri

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What would it take for an optical engineer, with a Ph.D. in physics, to quit his successful job and take up a totally unrelated field that he wasn’t sure could support his family? Passion. In this case, a passion for creating art. That’s the background story of Dr. Qiang Huang (pronounced Chong Wong). Born and raised in Beijing, China, Dr. Huang currently lives in Austin, Texas, but his work is everywhere there is an art gallery or a computer. That’s because another one of his significant accomplishment might be some modern marketing to complement his traditional still-life painting style.

To hear him tell it, it began after he had moved to the US to study, after graduate school, after joining a startup company, after marriage, after a child, and after getting his citizenship. All the while pursuing a ‘hobby of drawing with charcoal or pencil for fun,’ when he had time after his demanding job. The real motivation came once he bought his first house and wanted to decorate it with some artwork. It was 1998. Says Huang, “I went to places like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, trying to buy some prints, but after so many years of dabbling in art, I was sensitive to colors and style and couldn’t find artwork I really liked. I went to galleries, museums and saw beautiful original fine art, but noticed that it was beyond my affordability.” He thought: Why not paint something?

Realizing he needed more formal art training, Huang took adult education courses from the University of Texas. He also attended various workshops and classes, some of them hundreds of miles away. In the process, he was able to decorate his home, while also accumulating a large inventory of his paintings.

It was in 2007 when there was a shift in his thinking that would change his life. During a Plein Air Austin event, he attended a still life demonstration by a friend of his from Oregon, Carol Marine. Marine, an acknowledged painter and author, introduced Daily Painting, an approach she had recently taken up herself. It involved painting small (5×7, 6×6, etc.), colorful, and realistic pictures every day and then selling them online. Web commerce for artists was a new concept then. At that time, Huang believed that to sell his work he would need gallery representation. Marine changed that. It’s exciting, she told him, and not difficult to do. You put an image of your painting on something called a ‘blog,’ talk about your picture, and link it to an eBay account. People who follow your blog and are interested in your work can buy it immediately without leaving their home.

This new self-representation and self-marketing philosophy was a revelation. With Marine’s help, he opened the accounts, learned how to do some basic marketing, and began to collaborate with other bloggers. He also painted 2-3 hours at night after work, blogging about the painting’s inspiration and process. Within three months, he sold his first painting to someone who was not a family or friend.

Artist Qiang Huang

As Huang’s confidence grew, so did sales. Yet, he was still working full time as an engineer in charge of an R&D department, while also continuing to study and paint daily. It was during this time that he visited a gallery and, much to his surprise, saw one of his paintings for sale for double the price he usually charged. The gallery owner informed him that a collector, who had bought a couple of Huang’s pictures online, was reselling it to make a profit.

This experience began a new phase for Huang. Art galleries asked to represent him. His collector base and number of blog followers grew, and he caught the attention of a workshop organizer from Houston who helped plan a class for Huang to teach.

Despite all the training he had done throughout the years, Huang had never taught before, but was willing to share his experience as a daily painter. “I really prepared,” he said. “English is my second language, so I needed to make sure my teaching was understandable. I did the demonstration, told them how I did this daily painting. Spent the afternoon talking about the business activities, how to use the internet and blog and all of that.” The workshop, he said, was a success. People liked his work and bought some of his painting. He also got additional opportunities to conduct more workshops which led to American Artist Magazine writing a featured article about him.

Huang says of that time: “I started to consider… This could be interesting. My art was taking off, the business was doing well, and I was teaching. More galleries wanted to represent me, which started generating some income. Also, more magazine articles about me came out. So, this venture looked like it was growing. My small business became bigger and bigger. I joined professional art groups, such as the Oil Painters of America and was able to show my work and participate in national shows.”

Huang now found himself in the enviable position of being too busy. He was juggling two careers, each wanting his full attention. “If I’m doing something, I want to do it well,” he said. “If I’m doing two things and both are energy-demanding, I only can be mediocre in both. If I want to do well, I need to be able to concentrate. I only have a certain amount of energy. That started cooking in my mind. I needed to consider taking a break from my technical career and go into art.” Despite this contemplation, it would be another three years (and the blessing of his family) before Huang quit engineering in 2011 to became a full-time artist.

Today, Huang continues to paint daily, is represented by even more galleries, including Studio B Art Gallery in Easton, and his workshops are in demand nationwide. His income, he said, is not comparable to what he used to make as an engineer, but he’s happier and can ‘make ends meet.’ He still considers himself a student, occasionally taking classes to improve his art and expanding his subjects to include more portraits and landscapes. “As I’ve become more and more into landscape, the plein air events have become more important roles in my paintings.” For the second year in a row, Huang participated at the Plein Air Easton this past year, taking home first place in the Quick Draw contest and winning automatic entry into the 2019 competition.

He credits his success and opportunities to the daily painting regime. “It’s a very good exercise,” he says. “Like any activity you want to be good at, you need to practice. It’s given me the discipline, and it is noticeable progress. I also learned internet and technology skills, and how to blog. I learned business, bookkeeping, and taxes. I learned entrepreneurship, and I also made some money.”

As he has in the past, Huang continues to be an innovator. He knows that with the rise of social media, besides the blog, his marketing has to include Facebook and Instagram as well. Art still takes up most of his time, but now he’s also interested in solar power, organic gardening, rainwater harvesting, etc., and uses his technological knowledge and background to pursue environmental sustainability. The irony is not lost on him. “So now after art became my career, my technology part became my hobby,” he says smiling.

For more about Qiang Huang’s art please go to the Studio B Art Gallery website here

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

 

Mid-Shore Wine: Crow Farm is Building Memories and Serving Wine

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There is something special about spending time on a farm, particularly for someone raised in a busy metropolitan city. My childhood memories include how quiet and dark it was, away from all the traffic, noises and lights that were part of my everyday life. There were animals who typically didn’t make appearances on urban sidewalks–cows, pigs, horses, and chickens; and even those that did, such as dogs and cats, roamed unleashed and unrestricted. There was a sense of leisure yet busyness, calm yet purposefulness.

Harvest time (photo credit Lotte Bowie Loblolly Productions)

I no longer live in a city, recently moving to a small town, and when given the opportunity to visit and write about Crow Winery, a vineyard and 365-acre working farm in Kennedyville, MD, I jumped at the chance.

Seeing the silos as we drove down the long road leading to the farm brought back all the beautiful memories. But there was also much more that this grown-up could appreciate as I stepped out of the car– the sweet smell of ripening grapes on the vines that reminded me of Autumn, harvests and well, yes, a fine crisp wine.

Owner Judy Crow, fresh from attending the birth of a calf, met us. After introductions to a new addition to the 100+ herd of Angus cattle, she took us to her home, an 1847 farmhouse which also accommodates a 3-bedroom B&B that they call a ‘farmstay’ experience. “We opened up the B&B,” she said, “so people could come and spend the night with us, learn about farming sustainability, have a farm fresh breakfast served family style, and if they want to be a part of delivering calves or going out to move cattle on the pastures, they can do that. The farm is an opportunity for the public to integrate themselves into the farm business.”

But Crow is so much more than a farm; it’s also an award-winning winery. And for a good reason. Take the 12 and a half acres of beautiful vines, imported years ago from the New York Finger Lakes region, now pregnant with grapes and ready for picking and managed by Judy’s son, Brandon Hoy, along with Vineyard and Winery assistant C.T. Wright. Or the state-of-the-art 5,000-case production winery where a bottling and labeling machine stood idle, but ready for the 200 cases a day it produces, where polished and gleaming fermentation tanks, sorting tables and wine-stained oak barrels are carefully monitored by winemaker Michael Zollo and consultant John Levenberg. Or the Tasting Room, formerly a milking barn, where you’ll probably run into Joe Rieley, the sales manager who will expertly guide your selection and your palate to sample a flight of wines, maybe even accompanied by the local cheeses.

The story of how it started goes back years ago when it wasn’t always about vines, wines, or tasting rooms. Then it was about Roy Crow who had a three-generation family dairy farm which grew wheat, corn, and soybeans and had 10 Angus cattle. Ten years ago, after meeting and marrying Judy, they began to consider other options. Why not wine, they asked? They knew that Maryland’s climate did not produce the types of wines that customers were used to (such as the sweeter Cabs and Merlots), so why not create something new and local for these consumers to enjoy using only grapes they would grow or those grown within a 50-mile radius of the farm?

“Early on we decided to stick with dry premium style wines,” Judy explains. “The B&B was driving business to the farm, and our first customers were from metropolitan areas, such as New York, Philly, and New Jersey–wine savvy people, who wanted nice quality local wines. So, we stayed with that model, even though it’s harder in Maryland, as Maryland wines tend to be sweeter and our wines are drier, our price points are higher, and we either grow our grapes or have local growing partners. It’s a different style of wine that means that people have to come here and experience them or go to finer establishments that stock our wines.”

She was right. Soon, reviewers began to talk about their wines and Crow began to win awards Two years after building their winery, the Crow Vidal Blanc received a gold medal at the International Wine Competition. That same year, Crow took the Best in Class and Double Gold for their Barbera Rosé in both the Maryland Comptroller’s Cup and Governor’s Cup. The accolades have never stopped. A corner of the Tasting Room is dedicated to showing off just some of the medals Crow wines have won. This past summer, Crow was voted this year’s “Best of the Bay 2018 for Maryland Wineries,” by Chesapeake Bay Magazine readers.

Even with all of this notoriety, Judy worked on a new business model. Crow Wineries was in a great location–an hour from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and minutes from historic Chestertown and Rock Hall on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The problem was they were near other wineries, in other counties, and each was competing for the visitors, tourists, and residents. There had to be something they could do, which with Judy’s encouragement, they did. Crow, Broken Spoke, and Chateau Bu-De Vineyard and Winery decided to form a collaborating relationship.

“Our idea was to bring people to the area and for our businesses to integrate and work together. So, we created a marketing strategy that encompassed our various counties. This made it good for all of us,” Judy said. “One winery may not bring people out; with two you have a better chance. When you add other wineries and interesting places for people to visit, it becomes a destination for people to come and experience these small waterfront towns.” Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City saw the value in the concept and bought a 15-passenger limo that would take their guest to the various wineries.

This past year, the Rivers to Canal Wine Trail, as they are now known, added centralized events that would benefit all. Crow Fest 2018, in early September, brought hundreds of visitors and featured live music, vendors, food, tours, grape stomping, games, and hayrides. The Rivers to Canal winemakers led tastings and discussions. It was a win-win for all. Events, such as this, and others planned throughout the remainder of the year, guarantee that there is something happening weekends that would interest everyone. The group is growing even larger with Casa Carmen Wines, Bad Alfred’s Distillery and Bayhead’s Brewing Company joining them.

This joint effort appears to have paid off. At a recent Wineries Association meeting, where other wineries were discussing disappointing profits, Crow’s sale numbers were up. Crow Wine Cellars recently opened at Queenstown Outlets selling wines, beef, and local products, all with the ultimate goal of luring people to come to the area. Their wine club has grown to over 250 couples–only 15% of which are local Kent county residence. This means that the area’s tourism industry is growing as well. 

To Judy, it all comes down to involving the community, whether that community is other wineries or people who want to experience and create memories about being on a farm. She remembers years ago when they first started and about 12 people expressed interest in learning about harvesting wines and working on a farm. This year that number is around 40-50 people. “It’s important to us that the public comes out and harvests grapes and works in the winery or at the farm so they can see first-hand what it means to have a vineyard and winery in their community. These are all things that people value. This is why we are here.”

For more information about Crow Winery, go to http://crowvineyardandwinery.com/.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

 

Jazz Festival Profile: Matthew Whitaker’s Different Vision of Jazz

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Do you think anyone would blame you for being proud, or a little arrogant, if for your entire life you were called a prodigy for your jazz piano playing ability? How about if you’re always compared to Stevie Wonder, or if you can say that, among many other places, you’ve performed at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall? What if your first album, Outta the Box, contained six original compositions?

And what if you were only 17 years old?

Matthew Whitaker

The Spy recently spoke to Matthew Whitaker, the wunderkind, who will be one of the featured artists at this year’s Monty Alexander Jazz Festival (Friday, August 31 – Sunday, September 2). One might have expected some smugness from him. Instead, Matthew turns out to be both unassuming and a well-rounded teen. Not surprising, his mom and dad have a lot to do with that, even though they deny it. Since 2011, Dad has traveled with him, acting as everything from chaperone to road crew—setting up and taking down all the musical instruments they bring. Joining us for the interview, Moses Whitaker was quick to remind me about the other important part of his job: “I make sure he stays humble. And he is that—he’s humble.” The love and admiration they have for each other is palpable, and neither is shy about expressing it. During his appearance on both the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres show, Matthew could be heard saying, “I love you, dad,” as Whitaker led his son to the piano.

Oh, did we forget to mention Matthew is blind?

With a Wikipedia worth of accolades, web pages of accomplishments, and YouTubes of videos, Matthew is used to interviews and being asked the same questions. As soon as we started, without a prompt, he quickly ran through his statistics: Born three months prematurely and weighing under two pounds, he wasn’t expected to survive. He was later diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which caused his blindness. On his third birthday, he received a toy keyboard from his grandfather, and after hearing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was able to play it. Started taking lessons at five years of age, fell in love with jazz when he was seven. At nine, he taught himself the organ, and four years later became the youngest artist to be endorsed by Hammond in its 80+ year history. Currently, he’s studying classical piano and drums and learning to play the vibraphone, a gift he received from his appearance on Ellen’s show.

Then, of course, there is that frequent comparison to his idol Stevie. How does it feel, we asked? “It’s an honor, Matthew replied, “however, there is only one Stevie Wonder.” A modest thing to say, you think, until you watch him perform. There’s a reason for the comparison. Matthew is good.

No, really. He’s that good.

Take into consideration how in 2010, Matthew was the winner in the “Child Stars of Tomorrow” competition, as part of Amateur Night at the Apollo. How, a year later, at the age of 10, he was invited to perform at Stevie Wonder’s induction into the Apollo Theater’s Hall of Fame, returning in 2016, to the televised Showtime at the Apollo. Last year, he was listed on the breakout list of 20 under 20 as a performing artist on Crain’s Business New York and named as one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine.

Having established his credentials and having read that he is also talented with other musical varieties (including R&B, classical, gospel, and rock), we asked about the special connection he feels toward jazz. “With jazz,” Matthew said, “you get to be completely you. With other genres, you have to play it as it’s written, jazz allows you to do your own thing. I love to improvise.” If he has a ‘sound,’ he claims, it’s a mixture of various styles that he combines into making a song his own. He likes the versatility, and he is quick to let you know about his influencers, which include a variety of musicians from Chopin to Thelonious Monk, embodying the soul of these ageless giants who left their mark on the music world.

Since Matthew has played for audiences most of his life, he’s comfortable changing his setlist even an hour before show time. “What we play, depends on the crowd and on the type of performance. I love the reaction when I play a song that is recognized by the crowds.” Something else that makes him happy is hearing that there are people his age in the audience. “I want to be able to introduce jazz to others. I want them to listen to this music.”

Matthew has been fortunate to be able to take the music he loves not just around the US, but overseas. Some of his favorite moments include traveling to Europe, notably Portugal and Switzerland. Despite being told Europeans have a deeper appreciation of jazz, he feels the same appreciation here in the US. “I’ve had amazing audiences in both places,” he says.

With all this success, it’s easy to forget that Matthew is also just a kid in his senior year in high school, who is slightly ‘freaked out’ about all of this attention. Whitaker is quick to point out that his son doesn’t miss too many school days. They try to schedule his performances around days off and summer vacations. He receives school credit for his concerts. If traveling overseas, his teachers send and expect him to complete homework. Next year, Matthew hopes to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, three hours away from home and a place that is accommodating to the visually impaired. He wants to study further in what he is already doing: directing, composing arranging, and orchestrating music.

As for his appearance in Easton, Matthew is excited to have been included as part of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival. “I love Monty. I’ve met him a few times, and I have a lot of his records. Monty is sort of like me, and I can’t wait to be part of the show.” He wanted us to make sure that people coming to the show knew that there would be a lot of different musical styles and a lot of improvising. “It will be a fun time. Come out, invite everyone and bring friends. Can’t wait to meet you.”

Whitaker confirms his son’s enthusiasm. “Matt has a special gift,” he said, “he didn’t get it from me, he didn’t get it from his mom. The thing he really likes to do is share his gifts with everyone. When he finishes playing, he doesn’t want to go, like some musicians, backstage or to the dressing room. He goes out into the audience and talks to people. He likes to share.”

Do you, we asked? “Nah, he said, “I’m just the guy packing up the equipment.”

And raising a wonderful and talented son.

Matthew Whitaker will be playing on Saturday, September 1 at the Avalon Theater, at a free community performance that will provide an introduction to jazz. For more information about the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival please go here.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Mid-Shore Arts: Getting Them When They’re Young with Mike Elzey

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The way Mike Elzey, owner of Mike Elzey’s Guitar Studio, sees it, learning to play an instrument, such as guitar, can only make you a good guitar player. Which is why he hopes to inspire his students with something he can’t really teach them; the talent to become musicians. In the process, Elzey feels they will also pick up valuable life lessons.

“Some kids have never played music with others and when they do they learn social skills and how to compromise. “During class, I’ll hear: ‘I don’t like Johnny’s song,’ and I tell them, ‘Well, Johnny doesn’t like your song selection either, get over it so you can just play.’ Kids today are used to doing their own thing. We’ve become too fragmented. I’d like to change that.”

The change, he wants to be involved in is to offer instructions in a multitude of instruments (including voice), motivate his students to form a band, and find them a showcase where they could perform. That is the reason, Elzey says, he started the band camps with help from other talented musicians, including Jordon Stanley and Quinn Parsley.

“The problem,” Stanley says, “is that the musicians in our community are all over 25 years of age. There is no place where those who are younger can go to be motivated.” Stanley was inspired to pick up drums after watching the movie Drumline when he was 9, an age he considers ‘pretty late to start.’ He’s never stopped playing and now, besides being a studio musician, performs in church and with several bands including the Front Porch Orchestra, and Blackwater.

Parsley, also plays with the Front Porch Orchestra, for theater productions, at Christ Church of Easton, and for “anyone who is paying.” He knows the importance of working with young musicians. “It’s a great outlet through which children can express themselves.” A multi-instrumentalist, Paisley began playing at 15 after his parents bought him an acoustic guitar for $5 at a yard sale. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Salisbury University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical guitar.

Elzey’s love of music began at an early age, as well. He remembers attending a battle of the bands in high school when he was 14 and watching the reaction of the crowds. He ended up joining the group. “Suddenly, I went from nothing to a Rock Star.” He knew, even then, that this something he wanted others to experience.

Despite Elzey’s talent and interest, once school ended he married and accepted a position in a start-up manufacturing company. He filled the musical void by teaching guitar to a few students and playing with a band on the weekend. After many successful years that included a corporate merger, he decided to make a change. “I knew I wanted to give something back to the community. My wife and I didn’t have kids, but it was clear to me that anything I did would have to involve children and music. I used the business skills I acquired in my previous job, gave myself 6 months to succeed at the end of which I had 25 students. We hired another teacher, and a year later we had more students than we could handle.” That was 30 years ago.

Currently, Elzey owns two studios in Cambridge and two in Easton, while also teaching at Seaford Music in Seaford, Delaware and performing in local area bands. But, it is the future that excites him the most, a future that will allow him to introduce the love of music to his students.

This is no easy task. At a time when nationwide there is a decline in the number of children learning to play guitar, bass, drums, or keyboards. When songs are being recorded using computerized instruments and autotuned voices, and children are busy with other activities. “We can’t compete with video games, and we can’t compete with sports. If the child does not have the drive or the passion, parents don’t make their kids practice the homework we give them,” says Stanley.

Instilling that drive and passion is what it is all about for Elzey, one child at a time. This is how it usually happens, he says: “Gina sings and likes Nirvana, Ryan plays guitar loves Nirvana and is learning their songs and Eli drums to Green Day who everyone likes. And I think, let’s get you guys together.” That’s how his school was invited to play at Talbot First Night and how a band called Jinxed was formed and how they all played at the Avalon Theater to an appreciative audience. And that’s why the school has been invited to the Caroline Summerfest in Denton in August. “I want other kids to see our musicians and get inspired, as I did. I want to hear: ‘mommy, I want to play drums, too. ‘ ”

Says Parsley. “I enjoy working with younger musicians because it allows me to help build an even stronger musician community for the future. It also allows me to show music to kids that they may have never heard. They may run into such classic bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but there are many great lesser-known bands out today that also deserve appreciation like Vulfpeck, Whitney, and Moon Child. Through learning how to play music, kids can also gain a greater appreciation for the artistry that goes into making the music they like.”

Elzey agrees. “Quinn and Jordon are younger and have a different perspective. I’ve got great help, I’ve got great space and we’re all ready. What we all agree on is that if we can get kids involved in a band and with other musicians, they grow to love their instrument. It’s my mission to do all we can to encourage and promote children playing instruments Maybe we can make a difference in the community. I want to look back and know we’ve made a difference; I want to see people in our community say: ‘look at all the musicians we have here.’ “

Summer Music camps are being offered throughout the summer.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Mid-Shore Arts: A Chat with Singer Barbara Parker

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Barbara Parker has always been a singer-songwriter, but it wasn’t until thirteen years ago that a friend handed her a mic at a party, and after she sang one of her songs asked, “Why aren’t you doing this for a larger audience?” And so she did, starting with Open Mic Nights at the Garfield, to various gigs, and the recording of her first CD. But it was the collaboration with jazz pianist, Joe Holt to whom she credits her current success.

They met two years ago when Parker would come to see him perform. Even before being officially introduced, she knew she wanted to work with him. “I told him: I want to do another project, and I want you to produce it. Joe builds around my music, and makes my music complete.” Holt interrupts, “My role here is one of support. This is a duo, but it’s a duo with a structure on facilitating what Barbara does.”

Barbara Parker and Joe Holt. Photo by Sherrie von Sternberg

Listening to them finish each other’s sentences, is a clear indication of their relationship. Parker and Holt seem to have the perfect partnership of lyricist and musical arranger, allowing both of them to do what they love while encouraging each other’s talents. “I have limited skills musically, and he’s got endless skills musically,” says Parker. “That’s the gift he gives me. He makes me sound really, really good.” “I can only do that,” he retorts, “if there is something there to begin with. Barbara is a complicated person, as any artist is. There’s both complexity and paradox in her life.”

Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in what she sings about. As with many songwriters, Parker is inspired by what goes on around her. “I love to write when driving. You should see the music that comes with that! Thank God for cell phones. I have currently 159 voice memos all of which are snippets of songs that come to me.”

Some of these snippets become songs, and some of these songs become audience favorites. One is Blackbird, written in homage to Robin Williams. “When I heard he died that morning, I sat down and wrote the song in less than 15 minutes.” Another song, Sanctuary, came to her after a phone call from a friend who was feeling sad. Her Dragon of the Chesapeake is relatable locally (and deals with her bridge phobia).

Explains Holt, “That’s how it works when a songwriter is not ‘formulaic.’ It’s like opening up a spigot.” Parker laughs, “I’m like a bucket that has a hole in it; luckily Joe is there with a pan. I’ll give him a melody, and I’ll give him a lyric, and he’ll say, ‘let’s switch the timing up just a little bit,’ or he’ll say, ‘this should be a tango.’ ”

Her ability to accept various styles and suggestions from Holt is another reason they work so well together. “I’m influenced by so much, and I really have no specific musical preference. I listen to everything from classical to jazz to easy listening to pop to rock to country, and when a song comes to me, in the amazing way that it does—this bolt out of the blue, it can be any of the styles. From my standpoint I’m a storyteller, I’m a singer-songwriter.” Holt agrees, “She’s stylistically diverse. Her songs are as much country and as much pop rock as much tango. All while being accompanied by a jazz pianist!”

Parker is also creatively diverse. Successful as a professional painter, her artwork was selected five years ago by the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival for use on the Festival’s publicity materials and poster. She is also a photographer and writer. “Creativity is creativity,” she says. “It’s all about relating a message in an emotional kind of way that doesn’t destroy you.”

Asked what her challenge is as a performer, Parker admits she hopes to “keep producing fresh material, that is not like something else I’ve done. I hear it differently in my head, but with my limited musical knowledge, I can’t make it happen. Having Joe as a resource has been such a gift. I am so grateful. Every day I have the opportunity to create something new and how great is that?”

Barbara Parker will be joined by Joe Holt Thursday, June 7th at the Oxford Community Center. Show starts at 7PM and tickets are $15. For more information please go here. For additional show dates, check out her website.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

Maryland 3.0: The Award Winning Inspiration of Plum Dragon Herbs

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Sometimes, a challenging situation inspires innovative solutions. Such was the case for Lisa Ball CEO of Plum Dragon Herbs, Inc. of Chester, MD. Diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, she told by doctors there was no cure. Three weeks later, after intensive research, a change in diet, and the addition of supplements, she amazed her physicians by curing herself. This passion for research, natural healing and wellness combined with her entrepreneurial spirit, and in 2013 she purchased Plum Dragon from a friend.

Lisa Ball CEO of Plum Dragon Herbs

The company’s goal then and now was the manufacture and sale of a line of 100% herbal and natural topical analgesics for sports-related injuries, such as tendonitis, bruising, sprains, strains, fractures, etc. “The pain relief formulas are based on ancient Chinese remedies called ‘Dit Da Jow,’ which was the secret to the superior feats of strength, resilience, and rapid recovery of the famed Shaolin Monks and Samurai warriors,” says Ball. Plum Dragon acquired and translated these herbal formulas, keeping the traditional authenticity, the original method of preparation, and many of the original names.

They were originally marketed to Olympic athletes, martial artists, and fighters. But according to Ball, as word of mouth spread about the success of the analgesics, they began to be used by ‘everyday folks’ all over the world to treat their pain and injury. “In short, she says, “we are bringing powerful ancient healing secret formulas of the great warriors and martial artists of the Eastern world…”

These ancient mixtures, which are manufactured locally in Chester, MD, contain 15-30 powerful medical herbs in an alcohol base, which are aged for a minimum period of 6 months. In formulating these tinctures, Plum Dragon has had many advisors including acupuncturists, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners, as well as nutraceutical chemists and FDA consultants.

Plum Dragon advertises that their top three best selling topical analgesics can help with nearly all types of pain or injury. The Ho Family Dit Da Jow is their number one best-selling formula for pain relief and used for muscle pain and injury, tendonitis, and nerve pain. The Bruise Juice is best for new injuries with bruising, redness, and/or swelling and for inflammatory conditions where inflammation is apparent. The Ancestor’s Advanced formula is best for arthritis, older injuries or fractures that are taking a long time to heal, and connective tissue injuries. The formulas are applied topically to the affected area a minimum of three times per day for an average period of 1 to 2 weeks (sometimes longer for more serious injuries).

Asked about the safety of these analgesics, Ball points out that the herbs used by Plum Dragon have thousands of years of recorded history of safe usage, and work with the body to support and enhance its natural healing processes. In contrast “many of the chemicals used in our competitor’s products, both topical and oral (including sports creams, NSAIDs, and opioids), have known and scientifically proven harmful side-effects, and relieve pain by circumventing or blocking the body’s natural healing functions.”

Pictured from left to right) RBI2 Mentor, Jack Schammel; Plum Dragon CEO, Lisa Ball; Director of Advisory Services, Anne Balduzzi

At the beginning of May, Plum Dragon received some promising news. The Maryland based Technology Development Corporation’s (TEDCO) Rural Business Innovation Initiative (RBI2) announced Plum Dragon as its first pre-seed funding recipient. RBI2 provides technical and business assistance to small companies and early-stage technology-based companies in rural Maryland counties. According to Ann Balduzzi, Director of Advisory Services, “We’re looking for start-ups with a really good idea, that is growing, and that has a strong team. Since we’re offering small pre-seed funding of $25,000, we are highly selective.” Plum Dragon fit all that criteria.

“Jack Schammel, the Upper Shore RBI2 mentor, had been working with Lisa Ball for some time. “The company, under Lisa’s leadership has grown rapidly.” Schammel says, “Lisa took full advantage of assistance opportunities, listened to mentors, hired capable people, sets goals, and made a solid business plan. We see a great future.”

Given today’s emphasis on wellness and Ball’s enthusiasm, RBI2 selection of Plum Dragon is apparent. According to Ball, the pre-seed investment provided by the program will give the company “an opportunity to improve product delivery mechanism and packaging, marketing, brand messaging, online sales funnels, and e-commerce functionality.”

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

 

 

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