Wednesday, May 15, 2013

This is a Moment: Julie Corbalis at MTK Tavern, Mount Kisco

By Patrick J. Walsh

Little flashes of images spark like photos tossed across a table, and sounds mix awkwardly as I try to focus on the topic at hand.

On the stage at the far end of the room, there is a vision, a voice, a melody; at a nearby table, the chatter and clatter of a small party enjoying a late dinner is punctuated by vigorous applause at the conclusion of each song.

At one point, an inopportune cheering erupts in response to a goal scored in an NHL playoff game, which is transmitted to the revelers at the bar via an overhead television screen. The spontaneous celebration is quickly cut off as abruptly as it begins, out of respect for the live performance taking place a mere few yards away.

Such is the warmth of the moment, and the benevolent mix of performer and venue on this cool night in spring.

And, after a long while in which I have found it difficult to write about music, I have found my way back to one of my favorite subjects.

The occasion: a string of special bookings, the "Women and Music Spotlight Series" at MTK Tavern in Mount Kisco, New York. On this particular evening, the artist is singer-songwriter Julie Corbalis, a long-time favorite in the local area.

The venue's furnishings bespeak its casual elegance: to the left upon entering, there is a long row of square shiny tables, each accompanied by four tall stools, all adorned with a gleaming ebony finish.

To the right, the long, fine-grained wood bar stretches from the entrance to the stage area; and above and behind the bar multiple large TVs are displayed like living fine art prints, each opening a window on a different sporting event.

One screen over from Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins past the Islanders in the NHL playoffs, the Yankees are winning early on the West Coast; on the set above the near end of the bar, my beloved Mets are losing at home.

On this night, though, the triumphs and travails of the games overhead are lost in the friendly, informal, inviting atmosphere of the place.

Julie Corbalis is an ideal performer for such a venue.

In her selection of songs and the smoothness of her presentation, she is well equipped for the challenges of the 'home crowd' context that characterizes intimate settings like MTK Tavern — a milieu that simultaneously ensures respectful support and the expectation of a first-rate performance.

The result is a winning mix of classic rock, folk standards and deep-catalog covers, all wrapped within a leavening blend of Ms. Corbalis' own original songs.

Her wide range of musical fascinations, so well expressed in her choice of songs to cover, is also amply displayed in the breadth of interest and diversity of approach that characterize her songwriting.

The emotional content of her own songs runs the gamut from sardonic admonition (the cleverly written "Should've Stayed Away") to flat-out protest ("Shame on You, Verizon") to loving pastoral ("Belgian Countryside").

Delivered in warm, resonant tones that invite friendly interest, in a setting conducive to active and attentive listening, these are the kinds of songs that shape those moments that brighten the spirit and offer a real hope for a vibrant, sustainable nightlife in these often-quiet suburbs.


Located at 30 East Main Street in Mount Kisco, MTK Tavern features a daily lunch and dinner menu and a wide variety of beverages. The "Women and Music Spotlight Series" continues on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 pm, featuring Kris Cambria on May 15; Ams Palmieri on May 22; and at 7:30 on May 29, a double bill featuring the Knox Sisters and Alison Shearer. Find the full schedule at; 914-218-3334.

For more information about Julie Corbalis, see her official website at

Also by Patrick J. Walsh:
Fred Gillen Jr.: Live in Peekskill and On Disc
That Every Mouth Can Be Fed: Remembering the Extraordinary Desmond Dekker
Earth Day Memories: Greetings From A Small Planet
The Perfect Dive

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Pat's Official Site: Echoes Among the Stars

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Cicada Song

By Patrick J. Walsh

Walking in the park near twilight in these early days of Spring, when the shadows stretch deeply onto the far bank of the pond, it is difficult to miss the odd humming sound in the air.

The unmistakable murmur of cicadas in the midst of their mating ritual, the droning buzz rushes out across the surface of the water like a swarm of bees passing through a hollow log.

It is an evocative music, the cicada song. For the wanderer in the park, it recalls magical nights of summers long past, and the hidden joy of sudden encounters with the living presence of nature in the midst of a warm summer's evening.

In the case of the insects themselves, however, the humming represents the soundtrack of a brief, remarkable cycle of life that bespeaks both the wisdom and the wonder of nature's strange logic.

While "annual" varieties of cicadas appear every year, the particular insects now in the park are most probably of the Magicicada genus — the so-called "periodical" cicadas.

These cicadas live underground for a period of 13 or 17 years, and then emerge in massive numbers for a brief mating period before they die, leaving their progeny to begin again the long cycle of nurture underground.

The sound of the cicada's song is produced by the rapid vibration of membranes on the insect's abdomen. The vibration of the membranes, which are properly known as tymbals, produces a chirping that is then amplified by chambers within the creature's respiratory system. Male cicadas "sing" the song in large choruses to attract females.

In accordance with the science of the identification system devised by entomologist C. L. Marlatt in 1907, the insects in the park are most likely Brood II cicadas, of the 17-year variety.

It is the poetry of their appearance, however, that leaves a lasting impression. After 17 years underground — a period in which the human world routinely sees the utter transformation of leading personalities and technologies and societies — these tiny creatures struggle upward through a foot or more of soil to emerge, all at once, in the still-chilly air of the early hintings of summer.

They spend their brief time on the surface in the pursuit of a mate, in the interest of ensuring the propagation of their species. Then, after a period of several weeks to several months, their course is run, and their song withers to the last few chirrups of those who remain at the end, like the sound of a valiant heart drumming its last in the moments before death.

As all falls silent, the purpose of the cicadas' brief time on the surface is accomplished in the production and hatching of their eggs, ensuring the promise of a new generation.

The newborn nymphs fall like raindrops from the twigs where the eggs were laid, and upon landing on grass or soil, they burrow downward, to begin another long cycle of life underground.

Meanwhile, their song sung, the adult cicadas die off. The tone and timbre of their particular sound vanishes once more from the landscape, hidden away in the dust of the Earth and the promise of their descendants, not to be heard again until the first chilly days of Spring, 17 years on...

© Patrick J. Walsh

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