Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - Freedom to Sing
A Review of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Jan. 29th 2014 Performance

Freedom to Sing
It was cold outside, but inside the Byham Theater hearts and souls were warmed by the tight harmonies, high-kicking energy, and inspiring message of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The four time Grammy Award winning, singing group from South Africa shared not only their beautiful music and rich culture, but an uplifting message of love, peace, and harmony.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo was formed in the early 1960’s by Joseph Shabalala with the mission of preserving South Africa’s musical and cultural heritages. Maintaining that mission is also a family tradition. Five of the ten current singers are 2nd or 3rd generation family members. And their newest album Always With Us, is a tribute to Nellie Shabalala, Joseph’s late wife and matriarch of the family.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
(photo credit: Erica Gannett)
They sang in a style called isicathamiya, with origins from Zulu men, who worked far from their homes in mines and factories before 1900. The men would come together in small groups singing in call-and-response about themes ranging from the brutal working conditions and homelessness to the things they missed about from their homeland and dreams for their future.

Now about the kicking… While some of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s songs are about sad or challenging subjects, the end messages are of hope, perseverance and victory. And those are to be celebrated. In addition to the 4-part acappella singing of beautiful tenor melodies and robust bass harmonies, the isacathamiya style has a strong dance component. The dance moves enrich the story telling of the songs and can also feature dance solos. So, the exuberant high-kicking while singing was a sign of celebration of promise and joy. They also clearly had fun doing it. It was fun and entertaining for the audience too!

To celebrate the life of South African President Nelson Mandela, they sang “Long Walk to Freedom,” which carried the familiar biblical sentiment of “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

They closed their concert with the unifying South African folk song “Shosholoza.” Mandela said, “the song compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train" and that while imprisoned "the singing made the work lighter." Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music was a moving testament to the power of music to unify people and sustain hope - hope for freedom for all.

By: Stephanie Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2013

Friday, January 24, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - Hooray for Hollywood… Music!
A Review of the PSO’s Jan. 23rd 2014 Pops Concert

Hooray for Hollywood… Music! 
(photo source: PSO)
If ever you were thinking of dabbling your senses into the world of symphonic music, this would be the concert to do it. But don’t just dabble or dip your toes. Jump in! Take the plunge with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra into the chum filled, shark infested waters of Jaws. This movie music experience is a must-see blockbuster.

It’s not locked in a “Chamber of Secrets” (Harry Potter).  The fact that John Williams is a genius at composing dramatic, emotion-rich music for the big screen that whisks us away. His music has transported movie lovers from beautiful secluded islands overrun with dinosaurs, to the Black Hills of Wyoming and eerie close encounters; from galloping through the battle fields of World War I, to magical lands of wizards, sorcerers, and quiddich matches; and from lost treasure troves in the deserts of Egypt to the outer edges of deep space.

You know the music of John Williams. I’m positive you could even sing it. It’s iconic.  Surely you’ve interrupted a game of Marco Polo, with your hand above your head like a shark fin singing that suspenseful two note motive, Da Dum, Da Dum? Or wielded a light saber to “The Imperial March”?

PSO Resident Conductor
Lawrence Loh
So, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will recognize every piece in this concert. But in case you do need your movie memory jogged, fear not, because Resident Conductor Lawrence Loh is not your run of the mill orchestra conductor - he has clearly put in his popcorn time. He along with the talented members of the PSO bring to life some of the most memorable cinematic moments of the last 30 years with music from War Horse, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and even gears us up for the upcoming Winter Games with that hopeful spirit evoked by the Olympic Fanfare and Theme.

The powerful and moving music of John Williams takes the movie experience to new heights and leaves viewers with lasting memories. Didn’t you ever camp overnight in your backyard, snacking on Reese’s Pieces and gazing at the stars, wondering if you too could someday have your own ET friend that would zoom back into space to ? I have to think that the boyishly cute, thirty something guy in a dapper grey suit a few rows in front of me did. After intermission he brought back a bag of those tasty candies, which were featured in the 1982 movie, to share with his expecting wife.

The music of these movies has left a lasting impression in our hearts and memories. Taking a moment to look around at the audience Thursday night was like watching a groom watch his bride, as she walks down the aisle. Heinz Hall was filled with beaming smiles, the biggest and cutest smile maybe being that of Conductor Loh. This Olympic gold medal worthy concert is one you don’t want to miss. My review is to not miss this family-friendly Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Pops concert! It is FUN!!!

Additional Concert Times:
Friday, January 24, 2014 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 2:30 PM

By: Stephanie Curtice
Good News Reporter & Contributing Journalist
(c) 2013

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Mangiare Bene! PapaGallo Cucina in Bridgeville

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Mangiare Bene! 

PapaGallo Cucina in Bridgeville

When my friend and publisher Joyce Faulkner asked me to meet her at Papa Gallo Cucina in Collier Plaza in Bridgeville,  I was more than delighted always willing to try out a new restaurant especially an Italian one.  Joyce was so excited she said it was truly an experience to experience Chef Len Spampinato's hospitality and the amazing daily specials and the ambiance of the restaurant. 

Well she did not lie about a single thing.
There were so many wonderful things on the menu that I did not know where to start but I settled on one of the daily specials which was a chicken and fresh pear salad with fresh blue cheese.  Wow.  Joyce does not eat carbs and Len accommodated her with a plate of chicken salad smothered in cheese with fresh vegetables.  Also on the specials was chicken with mushroom and blue cheese risotto.  Chef Len's combinations are unique and delicious.

PapaGallo's hours are short during the day
Mon – Fri: 7 AM to 2:30 PM
Sat: 8 AM to 1:30 PM
He rents out the restaurant in the evening for private parties and lends his incomparable gourmet talents to private catering in the evening.

Len's breakfast offerings range from the traditional eggs to the exotic including Huevos Rancheros:  Spiced Black beans topped with two eggs, spicy tomato salsa and melted jack cheese; over warm tortillas.and also Rebecca’s Omelette which is 
Freshly Whipped Eggs with onions, artichokes and melted Feta cheese or Triple Berry Pancakes.

For lunch you can have Fish Tacos, Crab Cakes or Pesto Chicken Panini or a Vine-ripe Vegetable Panini or anyone of the amazing specials that Chef offers daily. 
Cannot wait for my return trip to try many more of his signature dishes.

Now here is something that you won't find a restaurant owner doing.  The atmosphere was so delightful that we stayed way to long and the restaurant was about to close but I wanted to take home some of what looked like and proved to be the most amazing chocolate chunk cookies ever.  Unfortunately as Len said, "They go fast." But he was accommodating and offered to make some for me as we chatted.  What a guy! Should have asked if he had any single brothers. So here are pictures of Len making his amazing cookies and I left with the warm aroma of the cookies tempting me on my drive home.

Did I mention that Chef Len is Sicilian and so am I, so there is a bit of nepotism here.  But truly if you want to try some legendary, unique Sicilian cuisine then this is the place to do it.  But as we say in the Burgh" yunz gotta get up early" because Papa Gallo is only open most days until 2:30 PM.  ""Mangiare bene!

Collier Town Square
1597 Washington Pike
Bridgeville, PA 15017

(c)Joanne Quinn-Smith and 2014

Joanne Quinn-Smith, Award winning internet radio broadcaster, blogger, author and internet radio and TV network editor and publisher. Joanne is the owner and CEO, Creative Energy Officer, of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates, a successful Pittsburgh-based marketing company. She is a grandmother and great grandmother, an unlikely trendsetter for online journalism and broadcasting. Joanne is internationally known as the “Get Your Google On” Gal. But better known as Techno Granny™ to over one million accumulated online listeners worldwide. Joanne has created a revolutionary online NEW MEDIA platform in Internet broadcasting, blogging and other social media participation that represents the new second generation of World Wide Web interactions, known in technology circles as Web 2.0. JQS is the online publisher of, an online community magazine to disseminate the Positive News for Positive Pittsburghers. PPL Mag is Pittsburgh’s First Internet radio and TV network with syndicated channels and online radio and TV capabilities. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - Exploration of Emotion at PSO’s Haydn & Zarathustra

Exploration of Emotion
A Review of PSO’s 2014 January 17th Concert - Haydn & Zarathustra

A clever start to the concert brought a smile to my face.  Now of course, I should let on that I’m partial to this era of music and the one before it.  So in my opinion Franz Joseph Haydn and his contemporaries of the first Viennese School hit that sweet spot.

What I love about Haydn’s Symphony No. 22 in E-flat major, “The Philosopher” is the cheekiness that
Christoph König
(Photo from
emerges amidst stuffy austerity, a kind of Jane Austen feel.  Guest conductor Christoph König maintained the beautiful dichotomy of this piece in every way.  While the piece begins with an adagio, it can sometimes, unfortunately, be almost dirge-like, but König maintained the perfect and unyielding tempo.

With a continuo that oscillated between solid but not plodding, delicate but not tentative, and firm but not harsh, the perfect foundation was laid for the antiphonal cleverness that Haydn was known for.  Soaring above, and woven into the continuo, were the subtle blossoming of long arching swells in the Adagio, suspenseful rumblings both vivacious and robust in the Presto, and a delightful Menuetto that pleasantly whisks you away.  The Finale begins with an intense drive to reinforce control and above it a beautiful call and response plight.  This work showcases the diverse spectrum of tone created by the French and English horns, from warm to pungent tones paired with mellow but crisp strings.

The concert then turned from flirting with danger to living in danger.  Richard Danielpour’s symphony Darkness in the Ancient Valley depicts the struggle of an Iranian woman living in an abusive relationship, choosing to not respond to violence with yet more violence.  Every night I watch the national news, thankful that I live where I do.  The stories that Elizabeth Palmer reports are unfathomable to me.

Hila Plitmann
(Photo by: Marc Royce)
Danielpour created a beautiful cacophony of sound that dramatically creates whining horn sirens of distress, a careless romp of tyranny, frantic bells attempting to flee, brief melodies of hope, strings crying of agony and a single violin pleading – praying.  Then the terror-filled pursuit continues, full of intense chases alternating with very brief moments of relief, until finally being trapped with no where to turn.

The final movement featured soprano, Hila Plitmann singing an English translation of a 13th century poem by Rumi.  Her voice soared gloriously above huge orchestral swells of pain and doom.  The Iranian woman’s bewildering and dutiful perseverance are professed, along with ethereal sounds of harp and bells and soaring strings of hope.  And she stands there, takes the final blow, and does nothing in retaliation.  I was baffled by her strength, grace and inner peace.  Her story was that of many who suffocate under an oppression most of us can not fathom.  PSO’s playing and Hila Plitmann’s singing of Darkness in the Ancient Valley left my heart and mind wrenched.

After intermission, a smile returned to my face with the familiar and bombastic grand entrance of trumpets. Oh yeah, some Also sprach Zarathustra, Opus 30 by Richard Strauss! And while I do like this work, what made me smile more was the young gal in front of me was seat dancing – yes bee-bopping in her seat at the symphony, with her date quietly giggling at her.  And one might think this reaction would be confined to young, inexperienced symphony goers. But oh no, a woman a few seats down and probably 40 years her elder was head bobbing rhythmically too – both beaming with smiles.

(Photo from
PSO crushed this one.  From percussive wonderment to lush enveloping hope and ecstasy, the curious pursuit of the unknown to exhilarating happiness, an unraveling dream sequence to sounds tumbling into consequence and despair, tonal sonorities were folded in one over the other, making it growingly more complex like home made bread.   The human quest for understanding kept soaring with what seemed to have no tonal resolution, and when we thought that guy in the front (Noah Bendix-Balgley) couldn’t play any higher, so beautifully, so in tune ‑ it kept climbing and soaring and searching. And then ‑ we were left hanging, wandering

As for the young gal in front of me, well I asked her if she had ever heard the full work or just the opening.  She had, in fact, never heard the whole work, but I enjoyed the enthusiasm she had as she, without being prompted, told me how even though the piece had lots of different parts that had very different feelings that she thought it was cool how she could hear that recognizable theme resurface at various points.  I loved that she enjoyed it and was there experiencing something that seemed maybe outside the normal date-night activity.

That was a well crafted emotional roller coaster of music.  The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra fully embodied the spectrum of human experience and emotion depicted in all three works beautifully.  Christoph König was a delight to watch.  He had stealthy, clean and subtle gestures that commanded rich and accurate sound – and was cute in a non baby ducks sort of way.  Hila Plitmann “shined bright like a diamond, shined bright like a diamond.”  As a fellow soprano I’m probably most critical in this area, but she was exquisite in both sound and performance.

My first night at the PSO #awesome!  I’m putting the PSO on my list of favorites, right up there with Jimmy and Nino Sunseri’s sfogliatelle (which tastes like Christmas in your mouth).  I love to hear precision and passion in music and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra has both.

Not to go all Eminem on you, but if you missed this concert, “you’ve got one shot, so don’t miss you’re chance.”  Its Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 2:30 PM.
(c) 2013

Stephanie Curtice
Good News Reporter & Contributing Journalist