Tuesday, September 18, 2012



Finally, after a year's absence, I'm back to post a story about an event worthy of posting. It has been a quiet year with minimal long distance travel but lots of local jaunts.  One of these was a trip to the Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival.

 With my cynic's mind completely engaged, I was prepared to roll my eyes at what I perceived would be "Comic-Con" for those with a medieval fetish.  And, to a degree, I found what I expected to find.  Large men with red beards dressed in tights, plastic armor, carrying wooden axes, and wearing horned helmets. Slender young women with very long hair dressed as princesses complete with pointy hats with flowing scarves. My personal favorite, middle aged matrons in push-up gowns, their abundant breasts lifted to new heights and proudly displaying the accomplishment. Among the notables, a random assortment of would-be knights, royalty, jesters, minstrels, and a lot of nondescript characters whose intended purpose was known only to them. It must be said that the attendees became a large part of the atmosphere, assuming personae that presented to the world a deeply held fantasy brought to life as they wandered among the vendors of medieval clothing, armaments, jewelry, crafts, and recognizable food with strange names. I can assure you that pulled pork and lemonade served by a tavern wench tastes surprisingly similar to that served at any neighborhood barbecue place, the difference being several dollars and a peek at some attractive cleavage.

There were numerous stage shows, many that we attended and were greatly entertained by vastly better than expected performances.  We saw an escape artist who could open his handcuffs, shed his chains, and then dislocate his shoulders (to the gasps and groans of the audience) to escape a straight jacket.  He was followed by an energetic group of musicians who played ethnic music from several European countries while toasting Ireland with generous swigs of grog between tunes. Then came the "Washing Wenches", a pair of extraordinarily bawdy young ladies with several blacked out teeth, who mercilessly teased the men in the audience with their naughty antics, while leaving the wives laughing until tears ran down their cheeks.  That show alone was worth the rather considerable price of admission to the festival.
 Then came the demonstrations of horseback skills using lances, swords, and maces upon numerous defenseless melons and cabbages. Where ARE the vegetable rights groups these days anyway?

The fire-eater awed the assembled with bursts of flame into the sky and skillful juggling of burning torches. He was followed by a singing duo who specialized in pirate songs and 'punnery'. Exit the pirates in favor of two 'Tavern Wenches'.  Let me state that I have become a serious fan of 'wenches', their bawdy humor, and the soft, swelling cleavage of their young bosoms, a treat to aging eyes.  Their 'not child friendly' announcement before the show sent many parents scurrying with their impressionable youngsters. As it turned out, both the humor and the antics of two young wenches in search of male companionship were funny but ever tasteful. 
Still wearing a smile from our close encounter with two lusty wenches, we made our way up the hill for the scheduled performance of "Cast in Bronze", having no idea what the show entailed.  We joined the growing crowd in the already standing room only area of the performance.  Before us was a large wheeled 'goose neck' trailer with a steel framework that held thirty five brass church bells of varying sizes.  Connected to the clapper of each bell was a cable that ran through pulleys to connect to an odd keyboard. Imagine a piano keyboard with only white keys.  The keys are longer and physically larger than those of a piano and there appear to be only about three octaves. At the front of the keyboard rises a vertical face with smaller black keys projecting out at six to eight inches above the white keys. At floor level is a pedal board like that of an organ, but designed such that the player pushes down on a step to activate the pedal.  A very curious and unusual device that is called a Carillon.  At the hour of the performance, an oddly dressed figure stepped from the shadows and took his place on the bench at the keyboard. I would learn later that his name is Frank DellaPenna.  He is dressed head to foot in a black spandex bodysuit, his face covered by a strange, bird-like bronze mask, and  his feet in heavy combat boots. He looked more ninja than musician.  My first thoughts were of the "Phantom of the Opera", the master musician who played the huge pipe organ in the popular Andrew Lloyd Weber show. As he took his seat, the accompanying music started and my 'new and different phantom' dramatically raised his arms, scanned the audience, and a fun day became magical.

Those of you who follow my ramblings know that I have a bit of a passion for quality music and an admiration for those with the skill to perform it.  Whether drummer, organist, pianist, guitar player, bassist, no matter the instrument, it is the ability to make the difficult appear easy and create magnificent music seemingly  without effort. Watching and listening to the master of an instrument weave his or her musical web is inspiring to me.

At first sight I had thought that this would be something akin to the old 'Swiss bell ringer' groups where three or more people dressed in silly Swiss costumes tinkled out a basic song by ringing the appropriate bell at the appropriate time.  Talk about being completely wrong!  As the first song started, there was a steady beat and a driving bass line gradually joined by a full arrangement of piano, horns, and strings. When my 'phantom' began to play the bells, the sound came together as a perfect audio recipe for excitement. I was swept away by the amazing musical ability and showmanship of a true master of the instrument.  With flying fists and feet, my 'phantom' created musical magic while casually glancing at the audience as if his instrument were playing itself.

 On this day, Frank DellaPenna captivated and thrilled his audience both with his music and with the flair and style he presents.  To you, dear reader, all I can say is, click and behold! The video is best viewed at full screen.

For more information about Cast in Bronze and Frank DellaPenna, please go to: