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The Interview: Luis Biava

Conductor / Cellist / Teacher Classical music is composed from a center of great emotion. Yet it often becomes background music. What can help us to truly listen to this transformative art and be moved by it? Pro tip: Have a conversation with a conductor. (They love to talk!) Talking with Luis Biava is a [...]
Laura Dachenbach



Conductor / Cellist / Teacher

Classical music is composed from a center of great emotion. Yet it often becomes background music. What can help us to truly listen to this transformative art and be moved by it? Pro tip: Have a conversation with a conductor. (They love to talk!)

Talking with Luis Biava is a mini-lesson in world music. The recipient of multiple musical traditions, the principal cellist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra grew up in Colombia watching his father conduct the National Symphony of Colombia, a place where many European musicians had fled to escape war and fascism. A conductor looked at the young Biava’s hands, deemed them cello-worthy, and Biava’s musical studies began on that instrument, a journey which eventually led him to Interlochen Center for the Arts and The Juilliard School of Music.

Although he performs as a professional musician, Biava has spent his career with musicians of all ability levels. He often sits down with his instrument during a conducting rehearsal to demonstrate, waiting for the “aha” moment from each player. Biava conducts the Columbus Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, the New Albany Symphony Orchestra, and the CSO Nutcracker Orchestra, in addition to teaching cello at Kenyon University and guest conducting for numerous ensembles. Wherever he picks up a bow or baton, Biava embodies the belief that classical music is for everyone.

I love the cello. A lot of people like the cello. What do you think it is about the sound of the cello?

Luis Biava: Everybody always says that it’s the voice, that [the cello] matches the [human] voice. But I think it’s that mellow tone in the middle register, like a baritone or a mezzo-soprano. The warmth—because things are a little bit thicker than the violin, and I guess it just speaks to people with the sound that it is….. I love where it’s placed in a string quartet as the bass, and then [cellists] get some middle range as well, and then there’s a solo here and there.

At what point in your career did you decide to become a conductor?

LB: Actually, when I was first at Interlochen in Michigan—the national music camp—in high school I took a conducting course, and I’d always liked it because growing up my father (who is a violinist and conductor), did this thing besides play. I thought that it was really interesting to see a score and to be able to understand what it’s like.… It was really cool to be able to express what one knows as an instrumentalist and put it into the conducting thing —to try and recreate the piece. It’s not about power or ego or anything, it’s about hearing the piece, and you have something to do with its creation. When you see the Mona Lisa, it’s there, and that’s all it is […] it never gets redone. But with Beethoven Five, you can play it over and over again.

“It’s not about power or ego or anything, it’s about hearing the piece, and you have something to do with its creation.”

I bring up a TED talk with conductor Benjamin Zander, who believes, “Everybody loves classical music. They just don’t know it yet,” and that a conductor’s silent power comes from empowering musicians.

LB: Extending that […] I think it’s in the actual music where you can get the orchestra to do something that sounds really musical and really moves people. Not everything can move people, but there are moments that the great composers write where they’re saying something beautiful through the music. I think that’s what he means: Benjamin Zander’s thinking about what the phrase is like. He’s silent; [he] shows what it is. The musicians get it. He shares, and it comes out as a beautiful phrase.

In the world of high-speed-instant-gratification internet, how do we get people to slow down and practice?

LB: It’s a question of enjoying it, even though it is tedious—it’s a lonely thing. We’re always stuck there in a room by ourselves practicing. “Hey c’mon, let’s hang out…Nah, I gotta practice.” With young kids it’s tough because they don’t know. But if they have some talent, someone has to instill in them that the ultimate goal is really permanent, so that when it comes to the performance, you’re going to really provide something for the audience…. There’s always beautiful musicians in every instrument, and I think it’s because somehow they’ve seen the final line, and they want to get there by repeating things over and other again.

“There’s always beautiful musicians in every instrument, and I think it’s because somehow they’ve seen the final line, and they want to get there by repeating things over and other again.”

It occurs to me that privately, music can teach us patience, endurance, and how to become good at something difficult. Music should also encourage us to take risks and put ourselves out there in the public view. Music training is life training.

LB: Everybody has to do difficult things in life…. One of the things I think [music] teaches people is the drive….But you have to have a balance. [A bad outcome] is not the end of the world, no matter what. You try. You take a breather. There’ll be a bad day. Maybe a bad week. But you’ve just got to stick with it, ‘cause that’s what it’s all about. Imagine people in research for cancer. If they gave up, we’d have nothing…. A friend of my father’s in Colombia, he was a great first bassoonist and worked really well, beautiful player. Something happened to his lip […] and he became president of Alitalia [airline]. That type of thing. Good professionalism, good pride to say, “I can do this. I guess I’m not going to play the bassoon anymore, but now I’m going to work hard as president of Alitalia.

What’s on your playlist?

LB: I’ve always loved The Beatles. I had an old record my parents gave me when I was in Colombia. It was A Hard Day’s Night in Spanish. The front was in English but some of the liner notes were in Spanish, and I think I still have that record. I love Salsa […] solid rhythm. It’s a great feel. The chords are great. The major. The minor. It’s dance music, yet it’s in a minor key. It’s like, “Are you happy? Are you sort of sad-happy?” I like jazz because I grew up with my uncles playing jazz a lot. My father, after he came from tours, would always give me a record. He’d go into the cities he was traveling to with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and say, “What’s the big current thing now?” He brought me Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” the Canned Heat, Rolling Stones records. It was great that he did that.

“Everybody has to do difficult things in life….One of the things I think [music] teaches people is the drive….But you have to have a balance.”

Accessibility is a general arts buzzword, but what does it mean to you?

LB: One of my goals is to make classical music accessible for all the people. [New Albany Symphony Orchestra has] done concerts where an actual deaf person played in the orchestra. We’ve done sensory-sensory-friendly concerts that are very successful. Accessibility is important. Senior citizens—it’s great to go into senior homes […] and go in and play for them and talk to them. And then accessibility to the kids. It’s important for them to know there’s something special about classical music, that it is really cool. When you think about it […] why do The Beatles add a trumpet and a string quartet to their music? Why is it in five four and seven four [meter]? It’s because they’re really great composers. So that accessibility was throwing in the orchestra, the Baroque feel, the quartet thing.

I finally bring up the concert/lecture I saw this summer with Yo-Yo Ma. It was a surprise to me that Ma majored in anthropology. The thesis of his lecture was that the arts awaken the moral self, which leads to the survival of civilization.

LB: [He’s] exactly what one aspires to be, because people do know Yo-Yo. He’s a great ambassador of music…. In a sense that’s how we should all be…. I totally agree with his approach: super-nice, always connecting, always working with the orchestra. It’s true. It is a civilization thing, which is why we were talking about accessibility. Classical music has to be put out there.

The next sensory-friendly concert given by the New Albany Symphony Orchestra will be Sleeping Beauty on March 9th, conducted by Luis Biava. See

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Penzone shares: what to expect with salons

Julian Foglietti



With the closing of Hair Salons on March 18th, buzz cuts and bowl cuts have made an appearance on the heads of Ohioans, young and old. Luckily for those desperate for a do, Dewine has announced that hair salons may begin to reopen on May 15th. To guide us through the transition, I spoke with Debbie Penzone, President and CEO of Penzone Salons, about serving on the Governor's salon advisory board, dealing with the business effect of the virus, and what we can expect from hair salons moving forward. 

I understand that you served as the chair of the Governor's committee board regarding reopening salons. What did you do in that role? 

On the committee, my role was pulling from my experience as a cosmetologist and business owner to assemble a group of individuals that represent our business in Ohio. We had everyone from 10 person salons to one person barbershops. braiding salons and nail salons, to schools and three health commissioners. From there, the job was building an agenda and listening to members while consulting health professionals on how to expand upon existing sanitation guidelines.  The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology has been enforcing for years. Beyond that, it was a lot of keeping time, guiding the conversations, gathering information and reporting it.  We also wanted to build plans if something did happen in a salon, and make sure that everyone could abide by these practices so we can remain safe and open.

In what ways has the virus caused you to rethink the way salons will function moving forward?

One of the things we did was go through a COVID specific certification process with Barbicide, which produces a lot of the sanitation products already used in salons and barber shops. A lot of people don’t realize that in the Ohio Administrative Code, there are very specific sanitation guidelines that you have to follow when you get your license, and there is a major component of constantly learning new sanitation practices all the time. The main difference you’ll see is us taking that sanitation to the next level: social distancing between booths, or barriers put in place, as well as reduced capacities in many salons. There will be more emphasis on reducing contact points and sanitizing things like doorknobs and counters as well. The biggest change will be the way we interact with our clients. We're a very emotional industry. We’re huggers, and we’re very close with the people we work with. Our clients are like family to us, so having to distance ourselves and not engage in that way will be different. 

What has been the greatest challenge to overcome over the past months? 

It’s really been adapting to the constant change we're all facing. We might spend all this energy sharing with our team new knowledge, but the next week it will change again. It’s been difficult to coordinate and continue to train everyone and update them with the new practices, as well as provide support for them while we're all distanced from each other. We're all scared right now, and it’s important to not lose our community so we can give each other confidence in the direction we’re heading in.

What have you witnessed over the past few months that gave you hope?

The biggest hope for me was serving on this committee. I’ve always felt so strong about our industry, so bringing so many people together and supporting one another during this difficult time. This whole thing has really brought us together as an industry, and shown that we can work together to support each other and raise each other up. There's enough clients for everybody, and it’s beautiful to see the incredible diversity of salons and see us all coming together to work with one another.

Are you worried about customers returning?

We’ve opened our booking today, but were not opening on the 15th, because we want to have a few days to go over the new procedures with our teams before we start to bring clients in. Every salon will only be operating at 50% capacity, and then we’re extending the hours to make sure everyone has the same hours they used to, and some of them are already booked out to July.

What would you say to ease the concerns of customers?

Really that we’re regulated by the state board and have so many sanitation practices in place. We have printouts posted showing the guidelines for clients that come to the stores, and for those who are high-risk, we are opening up early so they can be the first people to come in right after the salon is sanitized. What's important to remember about salons is that the regulators randomly check our spaces to make sure we're complying, and as we build on regulations, these checks are going to be taken to the next level. 

As a hairstylist, do you see any hairstyle trends emerging from this?

I definitely think there's gonna be a boom for bobs and pixie cuts, ‘cause people are just done. Maybe some bold colors, because everyone just wants to come out and say, “I’m back, baby.” Maybe just a little more attitude with the cuts people are getting.

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Meet the Saviors: from doctors on the front line to PPE makers

Mitch Hooper



While searching for Columbus’ helpers, we found that they come in many different shapes and sizes. And this month, we are telling as many of their stories as we can.

These are the stories of the saviors on the front line, working at hospitals, and assisting patients on a day-to-day basis. Or these saviors are at home and providing essential resources to these same folks on the front line. These efforts are quite literally saving lives and risking their own in the process.

Saviors: Pauline Vales, COVID-19 ICU Nurse at Riverside

It was just a little more than a week before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be going into social distancing orders when Pauline Vale and her husband had already begun leaving for a vacation to Texas. And when she returned home on March 10, the events preceding have been a rollercoaster ride of long days and nights, moments of sacrifice, and above all, bravery in the face of danger.

“We have to be mindful about what we need to do each time we enter a patient room because we can’t just run in and out when we need something. It’s harder to connect with our patients because they can’t see our faces, we can’t hold their hands without gloves on, and it’s harder for them to hear us talking through a mask,” Vales explained. “It seems like there is something new every single day, so we have had to adapt and evolve many times over in the last weeks. And there is just more stress and worry in general, but my unit has really come together as a team and done so many amazing things.”

The challenges are seemingly endless for nurses in the ICU like Vales. She said beyond medical professionals having limited contact with patience, hospitals are not allowing visitors unless it's a life situation or fits a different protocol.

There’s also the battle of resources; now more than ever, folks on the front line need protection like gloves and N95 face masks. Luckily, that call is being heard by larger corporations who can do something, such as Battelle. Battelle now works with hospitals, including Riverside, to decontaminate face masks for these front line workers.  And coincidentally, Vale’s husband works as a virologist at Battelle while she was also a former microbiologist for Battelle.

“I have been able to share my knowledge about virus research and testing with my co-workers at the hospital. It has been very helpful to understand the challenges in developing reliable testing and treatments,” she said. “When we first realized that PPE supplies were a real concern, we were worried about how we would be able to protect ourselves and still care for our patients. The relief of having enough PPE available was really palpable on the unit.”

Vales also faces challenges in her personal life. As a mother to a six-year-old boy, the outbreak of COVID-19 has severely changed his day-to-day without much preparation. Like most young children, social distancing is stopping him from going out and playing like he normally would.

“It’s difficult to convey the situation without scaring him,” she said.

But still, Vales and the rest of the team at Riverside continue to fight on the front line, day-in and day-out. And through all the adversity and tough times, she is still taking a moment to recognize the silver lining on these cloudy days.

“The outpouring of support for health care workers has been amazing and people have been so generous to our unit. We have gotten sweet treats, thank you cards, coffee, and so many encouraging words, which has been very much appreciated,” she said. “Different departments in the hospital have been doing kind things for each other, and our food service staff have been a huge support. I have seen many kind acts across Columbus as well. Food drives, to organizing financial help for families in need, to the support of local businesses. It has been great to see so many people doing what they can to help others.”


Saviors: Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP

Sometimes the battle against COVID-19 in Columbus means taking your talents elsewhere; and that’s what Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP, is doing. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.

“The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is that I’ve been applying and registering to help New York City for multiple weeks,” Ulmer said. “But extensive red tape has prevented me from being where the healthcare workers are truly overwhelmed and need us the most.”

Ulmer specializes in emergency medicine here in Central Ohio. As someone who has worked on the front lines here, he’s been reminded of the importance physicians like himself can have—especially during an international pandemic. And all the extra steps medical workers have made to further protect their families, he said the outbreak has been eye-opening within his own life.

“I will never take for granted the impact and importance of being present for our families when we are home,” he said.

But, while there have been many struggles, he’s found the silver lining in moments like this.

“The most beautiful thing I’ve seen is that so many people appreciate the entire medical staff, not just us as physicians. There is an incredible workforce that collectively cares for patients. I am so glad they are being recognized and appreciated for the heroes that they are.”


Saviors: Kim and Kallie Mallett, Mask Makers

Life was normal for Kim and Kallie Mallett just a few months ago. While Kim worked at Burn Boot Camp, Kallie was busy as an American Sign Language interpreter. And then in a flash, as it has been for most of us, life was far from normal.

Gyms were one of the first of businesses to close due to COVID-19 so Kim was out of work. And Kallie was also temporarily laid off from her position. Though the financial losses have been tough to manage, the biggest thing the two said they miss is getting to interact with and help all the people they meet through their jobs. So it makes sense that the two found a way, even through social distancing and shelter-in-place, to help by making face masks.

“I have been sewing off and on for years so when an EMT friend expressed a need for homemade masks as a way to extend the life of hers and her fire stations N95 masks, we felt called to help,” Kim said. “We quickly realized how significant the shortage of PPE was across all essential workers and just kept going. In the three weeks we’ve been making masks, we have completed almost 700.”

Through mask making, they’ve been able to raise more than $900 in donations—$700 of which will be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the rest will be used to purchase more fabrics to make more masks.

“It’s been amazing to see Ohio come together and lend a helping hand to their neighbors—from six feet away, of course,” Kim said.

“I’m further reminded of how interconnected we all are and how we need to continue to rely on each other because we truly are all in this together.”

And of course, they’ve learned lessons along the way.

“I’ve learned to take it slowly and one day at a time,” Kalie said “I will be more appreciative of time with friends, the ability to workout with my gym family—really, just normal life in general.”

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Govt & Politics

NY Times lauds Dr. Amy Acton with video tribute




If you live in Ohio, you'd have to have been living under rock these last 6 weeks to not know who Dr. Amy Acton is. Now the NY Times is making sure the rest of the country knows too with this nearly 7-minute tribute video titled, "The leader we all wish we had".

As the state's lead spokesperson on the healthcare side of the pandemic, Acton has received wide praise from both near and far. Despite recent protests that occurred outside of her Bexley home, most Ohioans believe she has been a shining star in these dark times.

She has a tribute t-shirt, "Not all Heroes Wear capes" created by Homage

Her own (Ok, Gov. Dewine too) tribute parody video

Her very own bobblehead from the Bobblehead Hall of Fame

A Facebook Fan Page with over 133,000 members

Here's our profile piece from the April issue of (614) Magazine - the cover of which is featured in the NY Times video. Very cool, Sarah!

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