‘The New Chautauqua' wins new fans to old form

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:02

Franklin - People stop and listen when Chris Brune sings or picks up one of his guitars, his clarinet, his banjo, his guitar, or his fife. This versatile musician’s one-man show recalls the best of Garrison Keilor’s National Public Radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, but also brings to mind the coffeehouse performances of the 1970s. With a bow to Pat Metheny’s stunning solo album of that name, Brune, who lives in Vernon, calls his one-man shown “The New Chautauqua.” A small but enthusiastic audience cheered Brune’s medley of classical compositions, American folk tunes, poetry, and short stories. “I think he’s marvelous,” said Susie Wood of Vernon, who loves to sing country tunes. Jackie Howell of Franklin echoed Wood’s sentiments, adding, “fantastic and unbelievable,” to the list of descriptions, as did Shea Curtis, a junior at High Point High School, who called Brune’s performance, “excellent and beautiful.” Brune performed on Saturday night in the 1903 Church of the Immaculate Conception in Franklin. The church has changed little since the 1904 Chatauquas begin touring America. The traveling circuit of lectures, comic story telling, and musical performances was founded at Lake Chautauqua. N.Y. by business Lewis Miller and Methodist bishop John Heyl Vincent. At its zenith in the mid-1920s, Chatauquas appeared in more than 10,000 communities across American and reached more than 45 million people. Famous orator William Jennings Bryan deemed them “a potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation.” After bidding the audience to spend time in the world of the imagination, Brune led off with a spirited clarinet transcription of the Gigue from Bach’s Partita No. 2, followed by a reading of Robert Waller’s short story about the day in 1971 when Charles Kuralt arrived in Madison County to film the last run of the famous Wabash Cannon Ball from Detroit to St. Louis for a segment of his popular CBS series, “On the Road.” Waller is best known as the author of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Following the reading, Brune took up guitar and harmonica and regaled the audience with the traditional American hobo folk song, “The Wabash Cannonball.” The “Wabash Cannonball” was a mythical train that was bigger and faster than any real train and it visited every station in the world. Brune then segued to a reading of two poems by unpublished Catskill poet Will Robertson, which contained the unforgettable lines, “Too bad we cannot note the richness of our lives in its own stage.” As Brune moved fluidly from instrument to instrument, the program featured clarinet transcriptions of Gustav Holst’s, “Jupiter,” from “The Planets,” Olivier Messiaen’s “Abyss of the Birds,” from his “Quartet for the End of Time,” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “Primavera” from “The Sicilian Vespers.” Brune also performed a Garrison Keilor-augmented version of Scottish poet Robert Burn’s “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose; the haunting 18th century ballad, “The House Carpenter;” “Riding down the Canyon,” a song made famous by singing cowboy Gene Autry; and Aaron Copland’s version of “the Boatman’s Dance.” A lively reading of humorist James Thurber’s “The Night the Ghost Got In,” had the audience in laughter, and Carl Sandburg’s rhythmic poem, “Jazz Fantasia” enchanted them. One member of the audience was overheard saying, “If only more people knew about this wonderful performer, this church would have been packed.” Brune accepts no money for his performances. Proceeds from Saturday’s performance will go to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.