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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

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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 newalbanysymphony.net.

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas

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Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff

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HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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I Love My Job: CBJ national anthem singer Leo Welsh

Regina Fox

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Every day, people all around Columbus drive/ride/walk to their jobs, eager to contribute their passion and talent to the city. This series aims to highlight those people and give them a platform to spread their love for their careers. Welcome to I Love My Job.

You may not know his face (depending on your seats), but you definitely know his name: LEO! Longtime Columbus Blue Jackets national anthem singer Leo Welsh has been stealing the hearts of hockey-goers at Nationwide Arena with his impressive pipes and passion for the game since 2003.

Here is why he loves his job so much:

614: What do you love most about your job? 

LW: The thing I love most about my position with the CBJ is being such a fan and being part of the game experience. It is a total thrill every single time. 

614: What parts of your job do you find most challenging?

LW: The most challenging part would have to be maintaining my health during the winter. Hard to sing well when you aren’t feeling your best. 

614: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

LW: The most rewarding aspect is when I am singing and I can see young people singing along to our National Anthem.

614: What’s the best story you have from your time with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

LW: So many great stories and interactions with fans and our military honorees. Most recently the playoffs from last year strand out. The CBJ had a World War II veteran on the ice with me every night. These men were all special and excited the crowd and made it very easy for me to be focused on honoring our country. Several were arm in arm with me and singing along to our National Anthem, very special moments. 

614: Who has been the most influential mentor in your career so far?

LW: I have had many great teachers and mentors. Maestro William Boggs stands out. He is one of the reasons I moved to Columbus following graduation from Ohio University. He offered me a job with Opera Columbus. He was critical when he needed to be, demanded preparation from his singers and was supportive by offering examples and best practices at all times. Truly a great mentor.

Leo will be leading players and fans in the national anthem this Friday as the Blue Jackets open their season against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena. Puck drops at 7pm.

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