Monday, October 19, 2020

A Timely Revival


A Timely Revival

By Tom Wachunas


EXHIBIT: ANIMAL FARM: A 75th ANNIVERSARY APPRECIATION / On view at Stark Library, Main Branch, 715 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / Sat. November 7 through Sat. Dec 5 during regular library hours / For those wishing to attend a socially distanced  PRIVATE OPENING (masks required) on Friday November 6 from 5 to 8p.m.,  sign up for a slot at  


 First, please read this announcement from Craig Joseph:

“Though a more relaxed schedule has been a blessing, one of the things I've missed during the pandemic is having the opportunity to shape and champion the work of other artists - both on stage and through visual art.

So it's with great excitement that I invite you all to ANIMAL FARM: A 75th Anniversary Appreciation. In celebration of this classic novel, I've revived the Translations Art Gallery brand and partnered with Stark Library to host an exhibit of 52 scenes from the book, created by artists from Stark County, Ohio, and around the nation. These are people whose work I treasure and admire and I'm so honored to have them all creating and exhibiting under one roof.

Additionally, I've cherished my opportunity to work with students at Malone University and specifically through Theatre At Malone University, where we'll be presenting an online production of ANIMAL FARM: A Fable in Two Acts, by Nelson Bond. These students have worked incredibly hard to create a "visual radio play" of sorts that you can view online, and I think you'll be impressed by their creativity and skill in still making theatre happen during a pandemic.

Details about all of these events - along with a few more - can be found at

 I hope you'll take the opportunity during the month of November to engage with the arts and support the work of these talented folks.”


   I’m thrilled and grateful that Craig invited me to exhibit a new work for this show. In my re-reading of George Orwell’s classic tale about a rebellion of farm animals against their human keepers, I was startled at how the vivid narrative seemed to literally pop off the pages and invade my consciousness, my sense of place in time. While Orwell’s novel was a bitterly satirical allegory of the Russian Revolution and its tumultuous aftermath, I felt the story explode beyond the confines of its time. An ignoble ethos of tyranny and corrupted ideals, the story still lives today, outside the book. A then has become a now.

   My wall piece is an assemblage of found objects (a hardcover book, stones, and plastic toy farm animals). Call it a 3D drawing which I’ve titled, “The fruit of all their struggles.” It addresses the episode in chapter 6 wherein the windmill being constructed by the animals was destroyed. The ferocious leader of the animal community, a boar named Napoleon, blames another banished pig, Snowball, for this treacherous act.

   Here are Orwell’s words describing the scene: 

    “…A terrible sight had met their eyes. The windmill was in ruins.

    With one accord they rushed down to the spot. Napoleon, who seldom moved out of a walk, raced ahead of them all. Yes, there it lay, the fruit of all their struggles, levelled to its foundations, the stones they had broken and carried so laboriously scattered all around. Unable at first to speak, they stood gazing mournfully at the litter of fallen stone. Napoleon paced to and fro in silence, occasionally snuffing at the ground. His tail had grown rigid and twitched sharply from side to side, a sign in him of intense mental activit. Suddenly he halted as though his mind were made up.

’Comrades,’ he said quietly, ‘do you know who is responsible for this? Do you know the enemy who has come in the night and overthrown our windmill? SNOWBALL!’ he suddenly roared in a voice of thunder, ‘Snowball has done this thing!...”

   And so it is that I excerpted some words from this passage for my piece. I wrote them in cursive, quickly. As if writing on a page in a journal, or like a student taking notes. Cursive, after all, remains for me the most urgent if not earnest form of drawing.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

A Reverent Replay


A Reverent Replay

By Tom Wachunas

   Another major casualty in this distressed time of Covidemic distancing are the always marvelous live concerts by the Canton Symphony Orchestra (CSO). I will always remember 2020 as the MasterWorks  season that wasn’t.

   Yet I’m happy to report that the CSO has been active in other contexts, including its ConverZations, a free monthly (now virtual) series of lectures. I’m happier still to invite you to attend a particularly special session on Monday, October 12 at noon, on Zoom, featuring CSO Music Director/Conductor Gerhardt Zimmermann on the 40th anniversary of his very first concert in Canton. You’ll hear what being a conductor means to Gerhardt and get the chance to ask him questions.

 Register to attend at  or

   MEANWHILE, in honor of the man and the anniversary, I thought it apropos to revisit and share again with you what I wrote here ten years ago. Beyond the many pleasures of watching him through the years make magic from the podium, my lunch with Gerhardt remains among my most thrilling memories. ENJOY.


Right Times, Right Places (ARTWACH post from October 11, 2010)

   In the Canton Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 – 2011 Season brochure, Gerhardt Zimmermann is quoted, “This piece literally saved my life…” He was referring to his passion for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, one of the program selections that opens the season celebrating his 30 years with the orchestra. During a conversation over a leisurely lunch in downtown Canton last April, I asked him to elaborate.

  He explained that prior to his studies at Bowling Green State University (begun in the fall of 1963, and where he earned a Bachelor of Music Education degree), he saw himself simply as a band conductor, had never listened to classical music per se, and didn’t even own a record player. “The music department chairman said that would be a nice Christmas present,” he recalled, “and so my parents went into a furniture store and bought me this little baby-blue Voice of America record player, and along with it came five free records.”

   One of the recordings, which Zimmermann still owns, was of Toscanini conducting Beethoven’s seventh symphony. Zimmermann was clearly moved by the memory as he spoke in slow, measured words, “And I took that sucker to bed with me every night for a month and played it. It was, ahhh… I mean the rhythm and the intensity and everything.” With an infectious, hearty laugh he added, “So when I sat in an orchestra after that I was primed and ready to bite the bullet, so to speak.”

   What preceded – and certainly followed - such an inspiring epiphany is, on the face of it, a study in serendipity. Born and raised in Van Wert, Ohio, Zimmermann’s earliest aspirations were anything but musical. “My dream was always to be second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, because I loved Johnny Temple,” he recalled. “I had Polio when I was seven, but I thought I could get over it all the way until I was in junior high school. I was stubborn about it, even though the doctors said I would never walk again.”

   In the fourth grade, after satisfactorily learning to play the Tonette (at that time a requirement for all elementary school students), he was asked if he’d like to be in band. He was discouraged from taking up his first choice - drums. “You know, you should really take a real instrument first,” he remembered the band director telling him. And here came that infectious laugh again, with just a bit of mischief, as Zimmermann shared an afterthought, “Now, I use that against my percussionists when I need it.”

   As it was, he chose the trumpet, and envisioned himself becoming a band director someday. Fast forward to his audition on second trumpet during a rehearsal with the Bowling Green orchestra. He had never previously heard an orchestra in a live setting – only a handful of recordings. “After that rehearsal, that did it,” he said. “All the colors that you hear with the strings and the winds. That was it. I didn’t want to be a band director anymore. I just fell in love with the string sound.”

   From this point onward, the interview became something of an autobiographical marathon as Zimmermann recalled, with astonishing detail, all the faces and places (too numerous to list completely here) along the winding road that ultimately brought him to Canton. “I guess the reason I say all this,” he explained, “is that I tell my students that finding a conducting job is 90 percent luck. You need to be in the right place at the right time. Once you find that break, then you’d better have that extra ten percent to prove yourself.”

   His college days were peppered with various teaching jobs in elementary and junior high school music programs. In one bewildering and unusual situation (student teaching), he was required to teach elementary school violin while learning it at the same time. “I had to sit on those silly little chairs that the fifth graders sit on. Well, you learn by fire.”

   Zimmermann earned his MFA in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Iowa in May of 1972. Several months later he began teaching at Western Illinois University. In his first year there he tied for second place in a conductor competition in Chicago, overseen by Georg Solti of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He remembers Solti saying, “It is unfortunate that you are a conductor. You will not be able to get enough power out of the orchestra.” A year later, Zimmermann learned that Solti’s comment was meant to convey that his (Zimmermann’s) physical condition would undermine his ability to withstand the rigors of the conductor’s life. One need only peruse his bio on the Canton Symphony website to see vigorous evidence to the contrary. Reflecting on Solti’s assessment, Zimmermann said, “That’s when you learn about prejudices. Not skin-color prejudices, but other kinds of assumptions.”

   During the summer after his first year at Western Illinois he actually turned down an offer to be assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. “I didn’t have the guts to go into the head of the music department at Western and say I’m resigning, since I was the fourth conductor in four years, and the school year would begin in six weeks” he mused. But several months later he was persuaded to reconsider. He went to St. Louis to hear a concert and discuss the job, accompanied by his fiancĂ©e, Sharon. The story prompted another observation about his life journey. “She’s still my wife, which is another unusual thing for a conductor,” he said proudly. “I’ve been married for 36 years to the same woman.”

   Zimmerman’s eight-year tenure as assistant conductor of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra began in the summer season of 1974 and was comprised of one year under Walter Susskind, three years under Jerzy Semkow, and four years as associate conductor under Leonard Slatkin. During his seventh year, 1979, his manager found out that Canton was looking for a conductor and was interested in hiring Zimmermann. Reluctant at first, Zimmermann came here to hear the orchestra. After the concert he went out with Linda Morehouse and Bill Blair (who had gone to St. Louis to hear a concert that Zimmermann conducted), talked until 2 a.m., and accepted the job.

   Looking back at that time, Zimmermann observed, “I needed to make the next step from being an associate. I needed to have an orchestra of my own. They wanted the best orchestra they could have and I felt there wasn’t any of the board politics that can muddy up the works. It was a good fit. I think this orchestra, like the North Carolina orchestra when I went there in 1982 (where, concurrent with his position in Canton, he was Music Director and Conductor for 21 years), was hungry. They were hungry to play well and they wanted someone to demand that they play well.”

   Is there a philosophy behind the chemistry between conductor and orchestra? Zimmermann has told every orchestra he’s ever worked with, “The better you get, the more I’m going to demand from you. There’s only one sound I have in mind, and that’s the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra, the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic… I don’t care whether you’re students or not. That’s the ideal you should always work toward.”

   The Maestro acknowledges that in pure technique, there are orchestras that give “cleaner performances” than he might offer. But he’s not willing to settle for technical excellence alone. “I would hope my performances at least bring some excitement to the table,” he said. “So most of the time in rehearsal, I work a lot on musical ideas – the sound. I have found that if you start there, fifty percent of the technical problems will take care of themselves, instead of wasting too much of your time on just that (technique), and then you don’t bring it up to that higher level.”

   He added that beyond the remarkably disciplined and gifted individuals who actually perform the music, there is another vital component to the healthy working atmosphere of the Canton Symphony Orchestra. “It’s amazing how much an orchestra depends not only on who’s sitting in those chairs, but the leadership from the board and the management.”

   So, really, how is it that a boy with Polio goes from dreaming of playing professional baseball in Cincinnati to showering Canton with the glorious music of the masters for 30 years? Only serendipity? Just the random vagaries of luck? Or something of a higher order? Late in our talk, Zimmermann at one point paused and, with a look of genuine wonderment, said, “My career has been very unorthodox. Someone somewhere helped me, was taking care of me.” And for all of that, we’re blessed that he had his extra ten percent well in hand, proved and multiplied now beyond measure, as he continues to regale us with the rhythm and the intensity and…everything.