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From the President, Board of Directors
It is with sadness that I tell you Tom McNally – friend, musician, dancer, teacher, colleague, and member of the Board of Directors died Saturday May 23, 2015. Tom was 103 years old.
Early on in his life Tom developed a passion for music and dance. He told us about how as a young man he found his way to the Denishawn compound in the Bronx, but not having the nerve to go in, threw himself on the ground. Tom became a part of the first generation of American modern dancers to step forward on their own in Bennington, Vermont during the mid-nineteen twenties. He became a studio musician and accompanist for many of the founders of American modern dance, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, and May O’Donnell. Tom continued as accompanist and performed with the Humphrey-Weidman group in the 1930s including Humphrey’s La Valse. He told us about going to the Humphrey-Weidman studio on the top floor of a factory building in Manhattan, and once, when he played for one of Martha Graham’s classes, he complimented her on her fine teaching – she took it as an insult and said she was a performer, not a teacher. Tom was the longest serving member of the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation Board of Directors, and was involved in the production of our award-winning documentary Charles Weidman: On His Own in 1990 and the CWDF’s presentation of our Humphrey-Weidman Gala at The Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College in New York City in 1994. He was an avid theatergoer for music and dance and still attended performances into his 100s. Tom was a great raconteur who loved to tell stories about the early Bennington years and all the luminaries from that period of modern dance in America. He had a wonderful delivery and style, and during our board meetings he would often have us listening and laughing as he recounted all sorts of anecdotes about those early years.
In recent years Tom taught music at LaGuardia Community College and the Brooklyn School of Music, played organ at Lower East Side Trinity Church, and sung with Collegiate Chorale. He attended all our productions of performances of Charles Weidman’s work including: Easter Oratorio performed in New York City at the 92nd Street Y Legacy Series in 2010; Brahms Waltzes and Lynchtown performed in 2011 at the 92nd Street Y for the 110th anniversary of Charles Weidman’s birth, the 75th anniversary of Lynchtown, and the 50th anniversary of Brahms Waltzes. He was a tireless supporter in his dedication to the legacy of Charles Weidman and The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation. We miss him very much.
The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation, Inc.
The Charles Weidman Dance Foundation would like to invite all who knew Tom to send us your remembrances of him, whether through music and dance or not, which we will post on our website, Facebook page, and blog. We want to do this to pay tribute to his dedication to Charles Weidman and the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation and to celebrate his long life. Send your remembrances to: firstname.lastname@example.org or to our mailing address.
Today is a very special day! It marks the 85th anniversary of the first presentation of Charles Weidman’s work!
On March 24, 1928, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey presented their first concert at the Brooklyn Little Theater (now called the Brooklyn Music School Playhouse). Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral (Cathedrale Engloutie) and Humphrey’s Color Harmony and Air for the G String were among the important works that premiered on the program.
Color Harmony, considered to be America’s first abstract ballet, was based on the color theory of light. Groups of dancers represented as different primary colors interact and mingle around the stage. Quoted from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, she describes the flow of the dance poetically; “Through the wild colors shoots a silver arrow–it separates the couples–it draws them one by one into form—all the flaming colors are laid down in rhythmic patterns—in a pyramidal form—up high steps to a climax, where a silver streak molds itself into a stream of light that goes up into infinity.”1 Also innovative for its time, Clifford Vaughan composed the music for the work after Humphrey composed the movement.
Weidman’s Submerged Cathedral is based on a Breton legend about a cathedral that periodically “rises out of the water. The ringing of the bells and the chanting of the monks are heard—silence when the cathedral sinks back into the sea.”2 In his performance, Weidman “indicated with a truly moving quality the surge of the sea depths, the rising and sinking of the submerged structure, and the tolling of the underwater bells.”3Opening and closing with swirling circular movements contrasted by sharp upward thrusting movements in the middle, the choreography foreshadows Humphrey’s 1931 Two Ecstatic Themes: Circular Descent and Pointed Ascent.
Weidman continued to perform Submerged Cathedral until his death in 1975. In 1993-1994, Peter Hamilton recreated the choreography which has since been performed by Craig Gabrian (pictured above) at the Sylvia & Danny Kaye Playhouse, the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It has also returned to its first home, the Brooklyn Little Theater, where, in 1996, the Charles Weidman Dance Foundation presented the Brooklyn Music School with a plaque commemorating the first concert. Again in 2003, for the 75th anniversary, the program included Easter Oratorio, Fables for Our Time, Submerged Cathedral and Two Ecstatic Themes.
The CWDF was thrilled when Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz proclaimed March 24th Humphrey Weidman Day. Celebrate Humphrey Weidman Day today and remember the great modern dance pioneers and all they established for the future modern dancers of the world. Thank you Charles and Doris!
1from Doris Humphrey’s notebook, quoted in Days on Earth, the Dance of Doris Humphrey by Marcia B.Siegel
2from Weidman’s program note, quoted in Reclaiming Charles Weidman by Jonette Lancos
3Soaring by Jane Sherman
Photos at Little Theater by Larry Hall
Words by Nadira Hall
Post by Julia Jurgilewicz