"Particular People," directed by
Pablo Vela with choreography by Meredith Monk, is a unique event devoted
entirely to the music of the late, great Donald Ashwander, whose compositions
range from classical art songs and swinging ragtime frolics to sophisticated
theater songs and lyrics.
Composer and musician Donald Ashwander (1929 - 1994) was perhaps best
known as musical director and resident composer for The Paper Bag Players,
where he entertained audiences for nearly 30 years. Ashwander's diverse
and profound contributions to American music have been documented on numerous
recordings, including his final 1994 release of "Traditional Patterns."
A self-professed "ragtime piano player," Ashwander's compositions
and performances were largely responsible for the revival of interest
in period ragtime (1897-1917) and the broadening and deepening of content
and meaning in new ragtime works. CBS Sunday Morning has cited Donald
Ashwander as "a hero of glee."
The cast of "Particular People" features cabaret artists Thomas
Bogdan, Lanny Harrison, Nicky Paraiso, Lily Pink, keyboard artist Nurit
Tilles, and special guests.
Pablo Vela, Meredith Monk and Donald Ashwander assembled to create "Particular
People" as a revue for the West Kortright Centre in East Meredith,
NY in 1993. (Monk has a house there, as does cast member Lanny Harrison.)
When it was performed that year, Ashwander was accompanist. A year after
Ashwander's unexpected death in 1994, the piece was re-created for The
Club at La MaMa as a remembrance. Now it is ten years after Ashwander's
death, and the piece is being revived not as a memorial but as a celebration.
A true "Son of the South," Donald Ashwander was born in Birmingham,
Alabama on July 17, 1929. Growing up in the small North Alabama community
of Hanceville, his musical talents were recognized early. He studied during
his teens at Sacred Heart College in Cullman and Birmingham Southern.
Upon high school graduation, Ashwander boarded the train, headed for New
York City and enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music.
At that time, the New York musical scene was rigidly divided between
the "classical" and the "popular," both flourishing
independent of the other. While immersed in his studies, he attended many
concerts and performances, but still found time to frequent out-of-the-way
places where jazz reigned supreme. His interest in American music led
him to Ragtime, Sacred Harp and other forms of American folk and popular
music. Ashwander's life experience in the Deep South, the New York music
scene, his worldwide travels and his enjoyment of people from diverse
cultures are all components of his thoroughly unique "Americana"
Mobile was home to Ashwander from the late 1950's to the early 1960's.
While exploring his musical interests, he earned his living through employment
as a shipyard worker and merchant seaman. Writing commercial jingles and
playing at local piano bars supplemented his income. Ashwander returned
to New York City in the mid-60's and began a 28 year collaboration as
composer/performer and Musical Director for the acclaimed New York based
children's theatre group, The Paper Bag Players. Today, ten years after
his death, The Paper Bag Players continue to perform to the rambunctious
and irresistible Donald Ashwander music that has given such a distinctive
sound to this unique children's theatre.
Donald Ashwander was a prolific composer, making many diverse and profound
contributions to American music, both as composer and lyricist. His music
Friday Night is in the repertories of The Canadian National Ballet
and The Royal Ballet of London. He was honored by the Guide Foundation
and received several ASCAP awards. His work with The Paper Bag Players
was recognized with a New York State Governor's Award. Ashwander received
further recognition with awards from the American Theater Association
and The American Alliance for Theater and Education.
Donald Ashwander died unexpectedly on October 26, 1994 while preparing
for a performance with the Paper Bag Players in New York City. On January
1, 1995, Charles Osgood of CBS Sunday Morning, gave tribute to Donald
in the broadcast's annual "Salute to Heroes" by saying, "What
Donald Ashwander wanted was to make life merry...goodbye to a hero of
ABOUT PABLO VELA
Pablo Vela has been a member of Meredith Monk/The House since 1975, appearing
in many of its major productions. He was Associate Director of Monk's
opera "Atlas" and of "American Archaeology #1." He
received his theater training at Yale University and, in addition, studied
with Viola Spolin (improvisation) and Jacque Lecoq (masks and mime). From
1965 to 1975, Vela taught acting at Goddard College, becoming director
of the theater program there. Subsequently, his work as performer and/or
director has been presented throughout the US and Canada and well as in
Europe and Central America. In NYC, he created a series of cabaret performances
including "WB Club WB," a tribute to American film noir.
ABOUT MEREDITH MONK
Donald Ashwander was one of Ms. Monk's closest friends for 23 years. A
composer, singer, filmmaker and director/choreographer, she has created
more than 80 music/theater/dance and film works since 1964. She has received
numerous awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, three Obies (including
an award for sustained achievement), two Villager Awards, a Bessie for
Sustained Creative Achievement, 16 ASCAP Awards and the prestigious MacArthur
"Genius" Award. Her films "Ellis Island" and "Book
of Days" have been shown on PBS and at festivals worldwide. In 1968,
Ms. Monk founded The House, a company dedicated to an interdisciplinary
approach to performance and in 1978, she formed Meredith Monk & Vocal
Ensemble to perform her unique compositions. She has recorded twelve albums,
most of them on the ECM New Series.