Archive for the ‘Boston Life and Culture’ Category

Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts: Circle the City

Bostonians enjoyed easy access for walking, biking, skating, playing and more on the outbound lanes of Huntington Avenue on Sunday, July 14th thanks to the Circle the City Open Streets program.  Thanks to Walk Boston, I was able to participate in the event reviving my Boston By Foot Avenue of the Arts walking tour.  A small but curious group joined me on the 90 minute walk from the Christian Science Center to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

After the tour, I met up with my wife and kids to take in more of the activities.  My son Peter was drawn to the Super Soccer Stars activities at Northeastern University and happily played soccer with the coaches and rotating cast of children for about three hours.  I had little trouble convincing my daughter Kay to be my copilot on a bike ride up and down the Avenue of the Arts.  We enjoyed the Boston Cyclist Union’s demonstration cycle tracks, listened to a drum circle, watched dancers, heard a loud synthpop duo, rode alongside marching bands, and got high fives from passersby.

Despite scorching hot weather, it was a fun day out for all the family and something I’d love to see more often.  Before I get to the photos, I have two quick, mild criticisms.  First, the map and program didn’t seem to have enough helpful detail about the types of activities going on or even a good sense of where to find some things (for example, I think my tour may have had more people if they had a better sense of what it was and where to meet, but I also had this feeling looking for other activities).  Second, the stretch of Huntington from Ruggles to Brigham Circle felt like the activity tents were spaced far apart.  It’s also a less shady part of the road, unfortunately.  It didn’t seem too welcoming to pedestrian activity and I didn’t see many people walking here.  Maybe the activities should be grouped together more closely to lend it a better street festival vibe?

 

Cross-posted at my Boston Bike Commuter blog.

July 14th: Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts

This Sunday, July 14, 2013, Circle the City and The Fenway Alliance present Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts.  From 11am – 4pm, Huntington Avenue will be closed to motor vehicles and open for fitness, yoga, bikes, dance, arts, kids activities, and walking tours AND MUCH MORE.

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I’m particularly excited about this event because thanks to Walk Boston I’ve been invited to reprise my Boston By Foot walking tour of the Avenue of the Arts.  Imagine a walking tour where we can step safely out into the street to take in new perspectives on the architecture and history of the institutions that line the avenue!  And the best part is that the tour is free.  If you are interested in learning more about the cultural institutions on Huntington Avenue, this is the day to do it.

As we walk along this cultural corridor we’ll explore the history of Huntington Avenue and learn about:

  • landmarks created by two of the most remarkable women in Boston’s history: Mary Baker Eddy and Isabella Stewart Gardner
  • not one but two acoustically perfect concert halls
  • not one but two historical figures named Eben
  • the oldest artificial ice sporting arena in the world
  • Boston’s lost opera house
  • the many innovations and contributions of the YMCA
  • the site of the first World Series game
  • expansion and development at Northeastern University, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • and much, much more

Meet at the Christian Science Center plaza on Massachusetts Avenue at 11 am for the 90 minute tour.  And leave time to make a day of it because there will be plenty more activities to enjoy on our Open Streets!

 

US Open Cup Soccer Comes to Boston

On Wednesday June 12th, the local soccer club the New England Revolution played a game on Boston soil for (I believe) the first time. The match saw the Revs face the New York Red Bulls in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup.  If you’re not familiar with the US Open Cup, it is a knock-out tournament open to soccer teams from amateur levels to the lower professional divisions and on up to Major League Soccer similar to the FA Cup in England and the Copa del Rey in Spain.  This is the 100th year of competition for the US Open Cup which has a rich if overlooked history.

MLS teams like to schedule US Open Cup home games in alternate venues to allow a more intimate setting in front of fans who may not usually make it to their league games.  The Revolution wisely scheduled this match at Harvard University’s Soldiers Field Socceer Field.  Most Revolution games are played at Gillette Stadium, designed for NFL football for their roommates the New England Patriots, and located in the podunk town of Foxborough* about 30 miles southwest of Boston.  Both the field and cavernous stands of Gillette are ill-suited to soccer.  Harvard’s field veers to far in the opposite direction of being too intimate with seats for only 2,500 fans, but it is a good first step for the ultimate goal of having a professional men’s soccer team call Boston home.

A rainbow crossed the sky before the game and continued to reappear in the first half with the two ends of the bow appearing to reach from goal to goal.  The Revolution’s die-hard supporters groups marched in before the game and filled up a grassy berm at one of the goal ends where the lead the fans with rhythmic chants and flag waving.  Even some Red Bulls supporters came up to occupy the opposing end of the field.  All of this created a wonderful atmosphere for the enthusiastic fan’s in attendance, and most importantly the Revolution won an exciting game 4-2.  They advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup versus DC United, which will be played Maryland on June 26th.  It was great fun riding the MBTA #66 bus home after the game on a bus full of happy Revs fan.  The team is now 1-0 on Boston soil.  Let’s hope we can do this all again.

Some more thoughts on the game from New England Soccer Today.

* Sorry to insult Foxborough, which I’m sure is a lovely town, but the stadium itself is poorly located with no access by public transportation and even auto access is along one road (US 1) that is several miles drive to the nearest interstate.  The NFL has wealthy season ticket holders, corporate interests, and lucrative television deals so they can afford to pretend it is still the 1960′s/70′s and turn their backs on the cities.  Professional soccer (like baseball, hockey, and basketball) needs to tie themselves with the resurgence and growth of the urban core as amply demonstrated by the successful soccer specific stadiums in Portland, Vancouver, Montreal,  Kansas City, and even Houston.  Seattle is even able to make it’s urban NFL stadium a big draw for soccer.  The Revolution or a new team in one of the lower divisions would be wise to settle into Boston and take advantage of an untapped market of college students, young professionals, and immigrant communities with time and money to spend.

 

Related Posts:

2013 Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon

On June 2nd, I participated in the 26th annual Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon along with my 18-month old daughter who rode in the copilot’s seat. This is the second time I’ve participated in this event, having previously ridden the 2011 ride with my son (who is now too big for the bike seat, too little to ride on his own).  I hope to make it an annual tradition as it is really a spectacular event.  The rides are pretty laid back with lots of support for volunteers and other riders.  I’m particularly impressed by the number of children participating, riding alongside their parents.  Groups of teens also raised lots of money and participated in the ride, once again impressing me with all the wonderful things Boston youth can do.  The Bike-A-Thon ends with a festival where there are lots of delicious food, music, and fun things to do.

Altogether, this year’s Bike-A-Thon had record 559 registered riders and raised a whopping $162,567 to support the work of Bikes Not Bombs!  The ride may be over, but you may still support this worthy cause by visiting our rider page and sponsoring us.

This year, we participated in the 15-mile ride.  While the preceding days saw temperatures soaring into the 90s, the ride day temps were a more comfortable low 80s.  I sweat an awful lot but at least I didn’t have to worry about the ride being dangerous for my daughter.  She enjoyed the cool breezes of Daddy’s exertions, and I looked out for the shady coverage of benevolent trees whenever possible.

The day started at Fazenda coffee shop with my wife Susan & son Peter, and then we were off to Stony Brook station on the Southwest Corridor Park bike path to register for the ride.  There was a bit of salmon swimming upstream as we encountered the 25-mile ride heading out as we were riding in.  One of the stations at check-in was to have bike mechanics check up on the bikes.  I went over to have the saddle on my seat tightened because it was rocking back and forth, only to learn that I also had broken spokes on my bike wheel.  The mechanic took them off and told me to take the bike in for further repairs after the ride (which I did at the Bike Not Bombs retail shop the next day).

We set off on the ride, which is something of an adventure since it goes through parts of Boston I rarely visit, particularly West Roxbury and Hyde Park (most of my commutes take me in the opposite direction).  It’s nice to see different neighborhoods, and I particularly enjoy riding on the bike path through the Stony Book Reservation (mostly because it’s shaded and downhill).  One of the odder moments on the ride, we passed by a house with chickens in the yard and then a boy who must’ve been around four-year old hopped on a bike and started riding down the bike path with us.  I would’ve thought him just an enthusiastic biker joining in the ride, except that he was also weeping uncontrollably as he rode.  Several riders also heard an adult calling from the house.  I caught up with the boy and tried talking with him, but he ignored me.  Luckily, a woman on the ride was able to convince him to ride back with her to his house.

The rest break was in a shady picnic grove with lots of snacks and drinks.  Kay enjoyed chewing on orange slices.  Lots of other riders complimented Kay for being adorable and I enjoyed this so much that I probably spent too much time at the rest area.  I think there were only a half-dozen bikes left when we set off again for the second part of the ride.  As the riders were more spread out now, the rest of the ride felt more solitary for Kay & I although we sometimes passed or were passed by other riders, particularly families riding with young children on their own bikes.  Several fathers pointed out that they started out with the baby in the bike seat and continued riding each year.  One even told me about his son falling asleep on his back in the bike seat.  “He’s 35 now!”

Time flies, and so did the Bike-A-Thon.  Soon we found ourselves rolling back into Jamaica Plain on the “hidden” road between Forest Hills Cemetery and the juvenile detention center (I always forget that it’s back there).  Then we zipped through Franklin Park and soon were back on the Southwest Corridor bike path.  Peter & Kay were at the finish line cheering for us.  We had some delicious food and listened to the groovy marching band before heading home for a well-earned rest.

Boston By Little Feet Tour, or My (Nearly) 15 Minutes of Television Fame

Boston Neighborhood Network Television recently filmed the Boston By Foot Little Feet walking tour and I was the lucky guide captured on film:

Here I am leading a Boston By Foot tour geared towards children aged 6-12 years old.  BNNTV captured me on April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon, but despite the bomb attacks you can see that downtown Boston is bustling with activity.  A lot of children came out for tours that day but I was assigned to wait for latecomers and thus ended up leading just one child and his mother (and the cameraman!) so it’s not very representative of a typical tour where there’s more interaction with the children rather than me just talking.  All the same, it’s fun to see myself at work and enjoy my brush with television fame.

 

Support Bikes Not Bombs!

This weekend I will be riding in the Bikes Not Bombs Bike-A-Thon with my 18-month daughter Kay as my co-pilot.

Bikes Not Bombs is one of my favorite charitable  social justice organization because it uses the bicycle as a vehicle for social change. This includes shipping restored bikes to International Programs in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean where sustainable transportation is vital for economic development. Closer to home, Youth Programs in the Boston area teach bicycle safety and mechanical skills to local teens building self-confidence and personal responsibility. Please make a donation to help the world-changing activities of Bikes Not Bombs. Better yet, come join us for the ride and/or for the post-ride festival at Stony Brook.

SingPositive, JP Spring Concert on Sunday, May 19 at 4 pm

Awake My Soul

Join SingPositive, JP! for our Spring Concert!
Sunday, May 19th, 4pm @ St. John’s Episcopal Church (1 Roanoke Ave.)

“Awake, My Soul” – celebrating spring, change, growth, and rebirth
with JP’s biggest intergenerational chorus and band

Songs from Mumford & Sons, Michael Jackson, The Muppets,
James Taylor, “Hair,” Peter, Paul and Mary, and more

Tickets available at the door or by emailing us:
$10/adults, $5/kids ages 2-16.

“Join” our Facebook event and invite your friends!

Photopost: Wake Up The Earth 2013

Spring descended on Jamaica Plain this past weekend with the annual Wake Up the Earth Festival presented by Spontaneous Celebrations. This was the 35th annual festival, an event that grew out of the “highway revolt” of the 1960s & 70s when local activists opposed the construction of highway infrastructure in Jamaica Plain & Roxbury, leading to the creation of the Southwest Corridor as a system of train lines, bike paths, and parks that we enjoy today. Ironically, some people who want to create new prioritized highway infrastructure for cars marched in this year’s parade which I guess shows that this festival takes all kinds.  The festival itself was home to many tents of activists of many causes, food, games, and musical performances.  My family and I sang a few songs with the intergenerational chorus SingPositive, JP in preparation for our concert on May 19th.  We also danced to Maaak Pelletier’s jam band the Mystical Misfits as they played Grateful Dead classics.  Finally, the potato sack slide down the hillside was great fun for everyone.

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A peace sign and yin yang grow out of the hillside at Jamaica Pond’s Sugar Bowl.

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Peace and flowers!

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The Brendan Behan quote seems appropriate to the occassion.

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Spanish banner for the festival.

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Here comes the parade.

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The stilt walkers always impress.

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I’m pretty sure this woman participates every year.

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The theme of the year is snakes and these folks won the Best Family Costume award.

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Hula hooping is another big highlight of the festival.

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Mobile percussion unit.

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The wolf and the lamb dance in the street.

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A rocking marching band and dancing stilt walker.

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Scholars from my son’s school march.

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Getting brassy.

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The Mystical Misfits lead the dance.

More photos from the parade and festival on Universal Hub and JP Patch.

Previously:

Moving Forward in Forest Hills

Every so often, I like to write about my neighborhood of Forest Hills, a section of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston, as the area is going through great changes with the removal of an antiquated elevated highway and development of previously underused parcels near the MBTA station. Progress on revitalizing the neighborhood continues this week as 25% Design Hearing will be held for the new Casey Arborway at-grade roadway at 5:30 on February 27th at English High School. You can read my earlier posts from Nov. 29, 2011 and April 4, 2012 for background information on the project. It should be an exciting time when the neighborhood can come together for input on a new system of roads and public spaces that will serve all users – walker, bicyclists, transit users and drivers alike. If you can’t attend the meeting, please write a letter of support for the at-grade project and your ideas for design to:

Thomas F. Broderick,
P.E., Chief Engineer,
MassDOT,
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02116,
Attention.: Paul King, Project File No. 605511

or

dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us (include the above address information in the email)

Such submissions will also be accepted at the meeting. Mailed statements and exhibits intended for inclusion in the public meeting transcript must be postmarked within ten (10) business days of this Public Information Meeting. Project inquiries may be emailed to:

dot.feedback.highway@state.ma.us

(This information via the Boston Cyclists Union)

Unfortunately, there is a small but vocal group that will be using this meeting to agitate for building a new overpass cutting through the neighborhood, an automotive-centered model that offers little for other users or the neighborhood in general. Through nearly two years of a public process with dozens of meetings and hundreds of letters, at least 2/3′s of the people of Jamaica Plain have let it be known that they prefer not to have an elevated highway slicing the neighborhood in half. I hope if you’re reading this and feel that a new overpass would be a good idea that you can take a moment to step back from the hostility of the most extreme overpass advocates and work together with other neighbors in the 25% Design Process to find solutions that work for everyone.

Just for review, here are some reasons why an elevated highway is a bad idea for an urban area:

  • Doesn’t reduces automotive congestion – Most people think that by building more highways and wider highways, we can improve traffic flow and reduce congestion. It makes intuitive sense and for about six decades starting from the end of WWII it was the main way cities responded to traffic concerns (including constructing the original Casey Overpass in the 1950s). However, building more highways simply creates induced demand where the more road built, the more people drive cars, and with cars prioritized other users suffer. Cities across the world from San Francisco to New York to Seoul are learning the benefits of highway removal which actually reduces traffic congestion and makes for healthier, more economically vibrant neighborhoods.
  • Creates a highway mentality – The Casey Overpass does not just carry a large volume of cars rumbling overhead, but creates a full highway interchange with a system of access and exit ramps. These added roads complicate the intersections around Forest Hills greatly. Much of the congestion that occurs on Washington Street and South Street at peak periods is caused by cars trapped in-between the traffic lights on each side of the overpass that regulate access and exits to the highway. It also brings a lot more cars into the area than there will be with an at-grade neighborhood road system. With highway mentality encouraged by the car-first design of the overpass, most drivers exceed safe neighborhood speed limits and are looking more for a way to jockey themselves into a better position than looking out for walkers and bikers.
  • Highways cost more – Two options were presented last year, a new overpass and an at-grade plan. The new overpass plan cost significantly more and didn’t include many of the benefits such as new bike lanes, walking paths, and public space covered by the lest costly at-grade plan. The “iconic bridge” proposed by the most vocal overpass proponents would cost significantly more, and again would prioritize motorists over all other users. In these troubled economic times, there is a limited pool of money available from the government, and much of that should be spent on repairing actual bridges that cross rivers and railroad tracks in other parts of the commonwealth. Not to mention, these are just the construction costs. An elevated structure will require more money for maintenance. The current Casey Overpass built in the 1950s was significantly rebuilt in the late 1980s/early 1990s. A new overpass now would force the next generation to face the cost of repairing or demolishing the highway once again in 25-30 years.
  • An antiquated model for changing times – A lot of the pressure to rebuild the overpass comes from the idea that the current levels of traffic will continue to increase in the future. Current trends indicate that the future of Boston will see fewer than more cars. For one thing, the troubled economic times have forced many people out of their cars for more affordable transportation. Even when the economy fully recovers, peak oil has made cheap gas a thing of the past. Since the 1990s, more and more people have decided to take advantage of the social and business connections of living in the city. The Millennial generation are driving less frequently than their parents and grandparents. The growing danger of pollution and climate change will also force people to drive less. In short, a new overpass is a 1950s-era solution that could be a fossil shortly after it’s built. Instead of being saddled with a fixed structure, an at-grade road in Forest Hills would be able to adapt to changing uses and serve the needs of a developing, transit-oriented neighborhood.
  • Make Transit Alternatives Irresistible – Considering that urban highways create congestion, prioritize motorists while putting walker and bicyclists at risk, have enormous costs that just keep building, and are on the verge of being extraneous anyway, why not have Forest Hills be the center of a new, cutting edge Boston? Instead of putting cars first, why not make alternate transportation irresistible so that people once fearful of leaving their cars can enjoy walking, biking, and public transit instead? There are a number of parcels of land to be developed in Forest Hills. In the shadow of an overpass they are likely to end up oriented to serving automotive customers. Without the overpass, Forest Hill can begin to develop as the hub of a transit-oriented neighborhood of the future. Ultimately it comes down to a choice of maintaining the status quo based on fearful predictions of traffic nightmares or working together to create a vibrant neighborhood that fulfills our hopes and dreams.

Having said all this, there is one point upon which I agree with the opponents of the at-grade plan. The current design for the Casey Arborway road at 6 lanes is too wide, and like proposals for a new overpass, puts too great an emphasis on prioritizing motorists. As we work towards a final design for what is ultimately constructed at Forest Hills, now in its 25% design phase, I would like to propose a narrower road. In fact, last summer the Jamaica Plain Gazette noted that the opening year design would be reduced by two lanes. I believe that a four-lane road with additional right turn lanes at appropriate intersections would be the optimal final design for the Casey Arborway for the following reasons:

  • Induced demand – Like building a new overpass, building an oversized at-grade road will encourage more people to drive. The designs for both the new overpass and the at-grade model were based on projections of future traffic increases rather than current use. In a sense, building the wider road may just create the increased traffic congestion they were hoping to avoid, whereas a more modest roadway could help encourage the trends I noted for a future with reduced car use.
  • Consistency – The Casey Arborway connects the 4 lane road of Morton Street to the 4 lane road of the Arborway. There’s no good reason for the road to swell to six lanes for 3/10 of a mile as it will not increase the throughput of traffic. The wider road will just encourage drivers to shift lanes which traffic studies indicate is a cause of greater congestion. One only need to look further along the Arborway where the road inexplicably expands from 4 to 8 lanes and then back down to 4 lanes causing traffic backups as vehicles merge together.
  • Makes it bigger than it already is – Currently, due to the deterioration on the Casey Overpass there is only one lane in each direction. On the ground level on New Washington Street, there is one through lane in each direction with other lanes dedicated to turns and parking. So as it right now there are four through lanes crossing Forest Hills. The plans to remove the confusing system of access/exit ramps, clear away infrastructure that creates blindspots, take away left turn lanes at the intersections, and most importantly to vastly improve the signaling will help make the new four lane road less congested than the current four lane road/overpass.
  • Overbuilding for peak periods – Okay, so Forest Hill can see some nasty traffic backups, and that is what most people complain about. But I wonder if these drivers ever see Forest Hills outside of the peak morning and evening rush hours. Since I actually live in Forest Hills, I notice that at midday, nights, weekends and holidays that traffic runs smoothly around Forest Hills and in fact can get pretty sparse. Even in the mornings I’ve noticed that there can be snarled traffic at 7:30 or 8 am, but everything running smoothly at 7:45 or 8:15 am. I think it’s a mistake to overbuild the road to serve the levels of automotive traffic that Forest Hills gets for a small part of each business day. It is a recipe for:
  • High Speeds and Reckless Driving – Wide roads and wide lanes in residential/commercial areas are not a good idea, because no matter the posted speed limit, a wide road is an invitation to speed. As it is today, Washington St./Hyde Park Av./Ukraine Way/South St/New Washington Street often has the ambience of a NASCAR speedway. Speeding cars will kill any chances of building a walking/biking community and most likely kill some walkers and bicyclists. A narrower road will force drivers to operate their cars at safer speeds.
  • Make walking, biking, and transit irresistible – I said this before, but it’s worth reiterating that it is beneficial for everyone in the community to encourage as many people as possible to get out of their cars and use other means of getting around. Forest Hills sits in between the Southwest Corridor community path, Franklin Park, and the Arnold Arboretum. A narrower road means there is more space for cycletracks, comfortable places to walk, and connections to transit that can tie these places together as well as making new connections south to Roslindale.

So those are my thoughts on the design of the new Casey Arborway as we reach this latest milestone of the 25% design hearing. Again, if you live in Jamaica Plain or Boston, I encourage you to attend Wednesday’s meeting and/or write a letter with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes come forward as the design process continues.


The Casey Arborway is not the only thing happening in Forest Hills. I thank you for reading this far, but if you can bear to read more, here are a few tidbits:

  • New Harvest Co-op opens – the first major new development in the neighborhood is a very welcome grocery market. It is a bit pricy gourmet store but it’s still great to have a place to shop within walking distance.
  • A new cafe is on the way – the next development will also be welcome. It’s kind of across the tracks for me, so it will be a good excuse to walk over
  • Ideas for new park space –  The Casey Arborway plan will open new park space at the end of the Southwest Corridor Park.  Public space is great but I do worry that it may end up only being used during commuter hours and be an empty void on evenings and weekends.  One idea I have to keep the space active is to create a dog park.  Although I’m not a dog owner myself , there are a lot of dogs in our neighborhood.  I expect that dog owners would take their dogs out to exercise on evenings and weekends even in the winter time so it would make for an active and social space year round.  I’m sure there are other great ideas for the space as well (I’d love a Munich-style beer garden but I doubt that would happen in Boston).

Songs of the Week: Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live

The songs in my head this week, of course, are the songs I’m rehearsing for a concert called Beck’s Song Reader Performed Live.  The show is next Thursday, February 28, 2013 at Somerville Theatre in Davis Square (on the Red Line) at 8:00.  Beck released his 2012 album Song Reader entirely as sheet music, and 150 of Boston’s best musicians, dancers, and performance artists will be presenting their interpretations of all 20 songs.  My choir will perform an arrangement of one song a capella and provide accompaniment to four other songs.

Get your tickets now for $25/seat as this show is sure to sell out!

The choral centerpiece is a song called “The Wolf is on the Hill.”  In this video, you may hear us rehearsing a couple of weeks ago.  We sound even better now.  At the end of this clip you can also hear a small portion of “Title of the Song” which is the grand finale of the concert.

The choir is also accompanying Sarah Ribdau and Peter Moore on their rendition of “Please Leave the Light On When You Go” and Peter Moore’s take of “Heaven’s Ladder”:

The choir is participating on a fifth song as well, “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard” by Molly Zenobia.  This may be my favorite of all the songs I’ve heard, but you’ll have to take my word for it and come to the concert to hear it, because there is no demo.

Some other songs you will hear at the concert include:

  • “Why Did You Make Me Care” by Mary Bichner:

  • “Now That Your Dollar Bills Have Sprouted Wings” by The Highland Drifters
  • “Sorry” by Endation
  • “Old Shanghai” by Mary Bichner

This barely scratches the surface, as there will be a dozen more songs plus choreographed dance performances for each number.

So buy your tickets now!!!

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