Creating an Opera to Remember

SFO_Dance2When Black Bart was forced to choose between a ghost and a dancer, then suffered an untimely death, but was brought back to life by a genie, what was the moral of the story?

“Love conquers all. Love is eternal.”

That’s according to participants in the latest Community-in-Residence program held last month at the Santa Fe Opera and supported by the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and the Academy for the Love of Learning’s Lifesongs program. The New Mexico History Museum began working with Gary Glazner and the Alzheimer’s project several years ago, inviting people with memory illnesses and their care partners into the museum to enjoy an hour of creative poetry, music and dance inspired by our exhibits.

Last year, we held a daylong conference on ways to use the arts to reach such people, which inspired other local arts organizations to collaborate on Community-in-Residence. The program offers occasional events at venues that have included the Museum of International Folk Art and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

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Go Ask Alice

72-GaryGlazner-1On Wednesday, June 25, the History Museum happily welcomed the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and 29 participants for a 90-minute workshop that was, in a word, wonderful. Or perhaps it was frabjous, an appropriate word given the Lewis Carroll overtone the day took on.

Gary Glazner (at left), a Brooklyn-based poet with strong New Mexico ranching roots, directs the project, which helps people with memory illnesses, their caregivers and family members find a moment of respite through the literary arts. He’s brought the project to the museum before, but this was the first time he had the psychedelic images and cameras of Poetics of Light: Pinhole Photography to work with.

Joined by Palace Press Director Tom Leech, Glazner began in the museum’s main lobby, leading participants through a museum-ish poem, calling out a line then encouraging them to repeat it. Then repeating it again. Then adding a rhythm section. Then encouraging a hip bump. Then a dance move. And laughter all the way.

The poem, “The Museum Heart,” is by Alberto Ríos, and it begins like this:

We, each of us, keep what we remember in our hearts.

We, all of us, keep what we remember in museums.

In this way, museums beat inside us. …

Then the group moved upstairs to the Poetics of Light exhibit. After a few exercises in the exhibit, participants gathered around Bethany de Forest’s Rosetvliders, an imagined landscape of impossible flowers and lighter-than-air butterflies:


Glazner asked folk what the painting looked like, felt like, smelled like, sounded like. A cacophany of answers followed. Honey. Oranges. Morning rain. Bzzzzz-bzzzzz-bzzzzz. One woman spied a rabbit and hopped up, scrambling around the group in imitation of a bunny. Another flapped her arms as elegantly as a ballet dancer. Alice in Wonderland came to one man’s mind.

Finally, Chimayo poet Michelle Holland, who had kept careful track of the answers, turned them into a call-and-repeat poem that ended with a lengthy (if slightly amateur) version of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Here it is:

Go Ask Alice

Moving clouds

                                and sunshine

                                                                and joy

and a rabbit eating it, a rabbit running.

The colors make it real, like Alice in Wonderland –

go ask Alice, go ask Alice, go ask Alice B. Toklas,

“What does one pill make you?”

Where the flowers taste like cotton candy, oranges, and honey in a magical museum.

Where the flowers smell like whoa…! and rain and wet green morning and leaves,

     and leaves wet as the rain clouds.

Hear a slight rustle, laughter, busy like bees.  Bzzzz.  Bzzzz.  Whoosh.  Whoosh.  Flap. Flap.  Bzzzz. Whoosh. Flap. Flap.

Feels warm, soft, and floaty.

Feels cushy.  Shout, “Cushy!”

There’s no sense.  There’s only nonsense. 


Whirling dervishes – a living community —

We could go forever and ever in them.  Amen.  Forever and ever.  Forever.  Halleluiah!


Later in the week, Glazner gathered with staffers and others involved in the arts as well as aging issues to plan a Dementia Arts Conference for Oct. 25 at the museum. (Stay tuned for frabjous details.) In the meantime, consider the woman who brought her father to the event and left beaming at the joy she had witnessed. “It was just wonderful,” she sighed, although, her father added, “It would help to have a fiddle.” To which we say: Callooh! Callay!