Poetry and music welcomes solstice

By Kathleen Steward
Posted 6/19/19

"There wasn't much happening with the solstice in Taos," said event producer Opal Keen. Keen is new to production and fairly new to Taos ...

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Poetry and music welcomes solstice


The Chinese say the shortest shadow is found on the day of the summer solstice.

Since ancient times humans have ritualistically celebrated the life-affirming heat and light of the sun. The solstice means the beginning of summer-- early dawns, long days, late sunsets. On Friday (June 21), the Harwood Museum of Art will host a summer solstice celebration through music and poetry.

It's called "Summer Solstice Concert: The Gathering Place." It is set to begin at 7 p.m. in the museum's Arthur Bell Auditorium.

"There wasn't much happening with the solstice in Taos," said event producer Opal Keen. Keen is new to production and fairly new to Taos. She booked the Harwood Museum in March on a wing and an inspiration. The performance grew organically from there with a serendipitous pulse.

By trade Keen is a cardiac sonographer. After relocating to Taos in December of 2018, she took a poetry workshop at the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) with veteran poet and storyteller James Navé.

"Navé made it so comfortable and welcoming and I had a great experience. For me poetry and music are a profound healing to engage with."

So it made sense to call Navé after the booking to ask him to be part of the solstice ensemble.

"I feel a bit of joy, I feel freer - there is more light. The arrival - it's the dance between my joy and my melancholy," Navé says of the solstice. After the sun reaches its apex, the days begin to shorten and the nights become longer.

He says the performance will be open, exploratory, experimental and, he predicts, even a bit mysterious.

There will be a free flow of music and poetry creating a conversation with the audience. The idea is to stay away from a stand-alone performance and lean into an as yet unknown flow. Keen and Navé are confident that the group will intertwine their substantial talents and experiences to evoke a celebration of the sun without overhashing with rehearsals.

Navé is a veteran poet and storyteller with a master's degree from Vermont College. For more than a decade he has partnered with Julia Cameron, author of the book "Artist's Way," as her camp director. Navé has taught writing, performance and creativity in a variety of settings and is known as a whirlwind of energy and passion. He has directed the SOMOS-sponsored Taos Storytelling Festival for the past three years. This year's festival is planned October 11-12 at SOMOS.

After securing Navé, Keen said she felt like she needed one more poet and almost before she finished asking he suggested Olivia Romo. Navé first met Romo at SOMOS when she was a high school student attending his poetry workshops.

"She is a seasoned performer - she knows what she is doing," Navé said.

Romo, a proud Taoseña, is a young and upcoming poet. Only this year she was featured in a New York Times article reporting on the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Reporter James Stanley writes, "She uses the rhythms and speech patterns of the spoken word poetry in a strong mixture of Spanish and English." Romo, a water rights activist, received her bachelor's degree majoring in both English and Chicana/o studies from the University of New Mexico.

With two diverse and talented poets gathered into Keen's solstice vision, she cast about for the musical component. She thought of Lebanese singer-songwriter Tony Khalife. Keen met him while attending a yoga retreat in Ojo, California. He was playing the tablas, drums from the subcontinent of India. "When I heard him I thought, 'Is it possible for that to come from someone's hands?' "

Khalife has a powerful story shaped and scoured by war. He was born in Beirut during peacetime in 1964. By the time he was 11, civil and national war broke out and he was drafted into the local militia. What he really wanted to be doing was playing his guitar.

In his late teens, Khalife joined the Marvels, a professional Lebanese band playing American and European music, and was named Best Guitarist in Lebanon. A year later he was on his way to the Guitar Institute of Los Angeles. His music has become a vehicle to increase the world's vibration to bring greater awareness and healing.

Since moving to Taos a year and a half ago, Keen now wants to give back to a community that she says has been incredibly supportive and welcoming. She said her jump from the medical field into poetry to producing a multilayered performance of poetry and music would not have happened to her in any other place.

Tickets are $20; $16 for museum members.

The Harwood Museum is located at 238 Ledoux Street. For more information, call (575) 758-9826 or visit harwoodmuseum.org.


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