Thomas Lawrence Toscano
WHAT DO WE DO?
I, Bill Lewis and Chloe Owen formed OperaOggiNewYork in the fall of 2007. We reheared in various locations, at Bill's studio and at our local Lutheran church. Then, we found St. Gregory Magno on 90th St. in Manhattan and it was a wonderful place to work for a while. (BTW, remember yesterday we visited Vizzini? - The Chiesa Madre of the home of my ancestors is San Gregorio Magno - do we believe in coincidents? I don't).
Then some shifts happened and we found ourselves in Greenpoint where I was living, very close to my former loft that I spoke of yesterday, corner of Newtown Creek and the East River. Very close to the center of Greenpoint, thanks to my dear friend John Tapp, we were given access to an Art Gallery run by the Polish Democratic Center. It was a small space with an upright piano and there in this almost out of place ski-chalet designed medium sized hall we created a spectacularly adventurous event, Hrabina - the opera by Moniuscko, in POLISH! no less. It was a glorious event which I will talk about at a later date for believe me that was fraught with miracles as well.
Now one day all of this came to an end and what started off to be a potential disaster for me and my pride turned out to be another blessing. I say pride because I, as the sole operating director ( which means I did all the administrative work and operational work, my colleague Bill would help with programming, rehearsing and performances, when he had the time- sadly Chloe Owen had been taken ill after St. Gregory's and we never had the good fortune to be with her again).
I had a final meeting with John and all was well between us, I completely understood that they needed the hall for more activities and began, almost bewildered to walk south on Manhattan Ave in Greenpoint with knowing where I was going. I was simply walking - wracking my brain as to what to do next. All of a sudden I came to a corner and walked to the right now walking west and found myself directly across from 138 Milton St., Greenpoint Reformed Church.
I knew both of the ministers who were a couple and lived above the old house now in use as a church and crossed over entering the main door as I went through into the sanctuary, very old and very utilitarian filled with potato and onion sacks and boxes and boxes of food I found Pastor Ann Kansfield, who has since added "NYC Fired Department Chaplain" to the list of her duties. Ann greeted me warmly as always and as we hugged she said, "what's the matter?".
I proceeded to tell her that our opera company, OperaOGGINY had to find a new home. She quickly offered her church and as I looked around at the potato and onion sacks and boxes and people moving things in and out I exclaimed with a smile - "I think there's enough going on here!". We laughed and then started to think. "I know" she said, "my dear friends at Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church have a rather large complex and I believe the pastor is an opera buff, I'll give them a call". She gave a call then and there, gave a swift description of who we were and our plight and circumstances and handed me their phone number with instructions as to whom to speak with and where they were.
Long story short, thanks to Ann's typical generosity and quick thinking and the wonderful charity and support of the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church I found myself not only with a place to have our rehearsals but the use of an entire church founded in 1654 by order of Peter Stuyvesant, whose church proper had been rebuilt twice to the current structure built in 1796. This wonderful place, quite underutilized, would now be my artistic home for 3 years.
It was an enlightening place to work, full of inspiration and a working pipe organ, which I played as often as I could, especially in the evenings after the sun went down to the counterpoint of the sometimes fortissimo traffic sounds of this very busy corner in Brooklyn.
As I began to spend much time there, we were given a closet whose door I fixed so that it would close properly and I also had the joy of fixing the old colonial lock! Across from this closet was another door I opened it and found this...
Plowshare Handle Chimes, take a look at the levers, they are very similar to wheelbarrow or plowshare handles, hence the name.
The following Christmas season, I began to repair the bells that you see throughout this post, replacing old wires and connectors in the tower you see in the picture of the church's steeple which was accessible only by the old colonial staircase, yes the original, which had a hatch door at the top which opened into a space that one could access only on one's knees (more or less). I worked up there with the joy of knowing that if I was successful sound would ring for miles. And so I was, and so that Christmas I pealed out Silent Night, Away in A Manger, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear etc. It was one of the most emotional and rewarding moments of my life. I had no knowledge, except spiritual knowledge, of those in the street who were my audience. Later, I found out that people stopped and listened as they walked up and down and I did this throughout that week. After that initial celebration in bell sound - I would play it a sometimes on Sunday's and then on Wednesdays for important city wide meetings. I never tired of it and would love to return to doing this if I can find a church that still has them here in Vermont.
So, the next time you have to make a decision, or find a new place to live or work or for your organization. First take a walk - you never know what solution lies a few blocks south and 1/2 block to the west. Thank you all, Thomas