Arts & Entertainment

A World of Classical Music

Above is a photograph of a piano, an instrument commonly utilized by composers like the ones mentioned in this piece. Photo via Cordelia Trueax.

Everybody has heard of Mozart and Beethoven, even those who don’t regularly listen to classical music. Somecan name a few more composers off the top of their head, but chances are that all of them are white men. As with many things from history, classical music representation is lacking in diversity. The composers who get the most recognition are rich white men, while other brilliant writers seem to have been largely forgotten.

This form of music still gains a following among younger generations, no matter how many hundreds of years old it can be. As Opal Rockett (10), Franklin student and cellist in AP Music Theory says, “It’s a form that takes a lot of time to really listen to and understand. More songs will be 30 minutes long whereas pop songs will be like two minutes. You really have to really pay attention to it more and I feel like some songs go deeper, [and take] you to a more real spot.” As time moves forward and our world strives to stop the damage it’s doing to people who are seen as somehow “less than,” it’s important for people to see reflections of themselves in the entertainment they consume. “We don’t really realize how much information is coming towards us but everything influences us in these non direct ways,” Rockett explains, “and I feel like, if you have representation, more people can see that. With entertainment especially, people see a lot more validation for their own lived experiences and it gives them an example for which they can go by so they can be like ‘Oh, okay, a person like me is doing this, I also am interested in this and they’re showing me that I can also have potential.’”

This artform doesn’t just belong to rich white men. The fanbase is growing, as people can now access music over the internet without having to be wealthy enough to attend concerts, and the musicians who interpret and perform classical music are growing more diverse. In the present, as well as throughout history, there have been multitudes of BIPOC, LGBTQ+, female, disabled composers, and many more from other historically marginalized communities. These are the stories of just eight: 

  1. Joseph Bologne (1745-1799)

Bologne was a prolific composer, violinist, conductor, and swordsman during the Classical period. Born on the island of Guadeloupe in 1745 to a plantation owner and his enslaved partner, Bologne moved to France at a young age with his father. In his early life, he was given private lessons for fencing and music. He became so good at fencing that when his father became personal assistant to King Louis XV and Bologne was still a teenager, he was added to the king’s guard and given the title Chevalier de Saint-Georges. 15 years later, Bologne made his musical debut playing two violin concertos of his own creation. 

When the French Revolution befell his country, Bologne took to fighting for the republic and even was given command of his own cavalry. Later, however, he was imprisoned for his ties with the King. Upon release, he turned back to music, conducting his own orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, until his death in 1799.

Bologne was a greatly talented person in several areas and gained respect from many with his charm. Aside from his flattering personality, if you challenged him to a duel, it was a sure path to defeat. Still, he fought many challenges for being a person of color in pre-revolutionary France. In the midst of his music career, Bologne was offered the position of artistic director for the Paris Opera but was eventually denied the post when four of the leading singers protested against having to work with someone of mixed race. He was also often referred to as “the black Mozart.” Cal Curtis (10), a student who plays violin,  says “I find [this] quite concerning… It was Saint-Georges who inspired Mozart yet the nickname inferred that his music was alike to Mozart whereas it was literally the other way around. It was said that Mozart stole from Saint-George’s music, and was pretty jealous of him at the time.”

  1. Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

Smyth grew up in Victorian England, where her gender held her back in many aspects of life. Nevertheless, she fought to get an education in her early life and, later, to be able to sustain herself with a job different from what was generally available to women at the time. The beginnings of her life, unfortunately, is not very well documented. Smyth studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory where she met the likes of Tchaikovsky, Clara Schumann, and Brahams. Her compositions were numerous, many written for chamber groups and voice. 

This composer was also a committed member of the women’s suffrage movement in England. Her composition, “The March of the Women,” became the official anthem for the Women’s Social and Political Union and her pieces gained fame throughout the movement. She once wound up in prison for throwing an expertly aimed rock through a window in Parliament, which happened to smash into the office of a particular official who had frequently demonstrated negative views about women. 

Another thing that was remarkable for her time is that Smyth never married. She did have many relationships, however, most of them openly with other women. Her most enduring relationship was long-distance, carried out via letter, and lasted many years. Near the end of her life, when Smyth grew tired of composing, she turned to the writing of memoirs and essays rather than musical notes, proving to have a powerful command of written language as well as sound.

  1. Florence Price (1887-1953)

Price proved to be a strong and determined figure as she carved out her place in the world during the Jim Crow era. She grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, learning piano from her mother. Her first recital was at four and her first published piece was released at 11. Throughout her childhood, Price attended a poorly funded school for Black students as segregation in schools was still very prevalent. Here she learned her passion for literature and graduated as valedictorian when she was only 14. After a few years, Price moved to study at the New England Conservatory, a primarily White college. There she pretended to be of Mexican descent, per the advice of her mother, in hopes she wouldn’t face as much of the blatant hatred and violence directed so openly towards African Americans at the time. Upon graduating the conservatory, she had earned a bachelor’s degree with a double major in piano and organ performance. 

In her compositions, Price often included elements of African-American folk music and told stories about the lives of slaves such as in her pieces, “The Land O’Cotton” and “Corn Tassels”. Price’s work, “Symphony No. 1 in E Major,”was the first symphony by an African American woman to be performed by a major orchestra. She also taught music both in various schools and in private lessons. Throughout her career, she was refused many teaching jobs for her race and once had to leave a position because of a violent encounter that culminated in a lynching. Despite the hardships, Florence Price produced many remarkable works of music in her time. 

  1. Kaikhosru Sharpurji Sorabji (1892-1988)

Sorabji’s career was nothing if not unique. He was born near London to his Sicilian/Spanish mother and Parsi father. Born Leon Dudley, Sorabji changed his name as he felt more connection to his Parsi heritage than any of the European influences around him. This was something he was bullied for at school, even by the tutors who wanted to make him “more English.” Sorabji’s mother taught him piano from a young age and his first occupation was performing as a concert pianist. When he grew tired of playing, he became a music critic notorious for sarcastic and witty reviews. When that got old, he finally turned to composing, becoming known for his lengthy and dissonant pieces. Sorabji wrote the longest non-repetitive piano piece with a run time of five hours: “Opus Clavisembalisticum,” the longest excerpt performed of which was 90 minutes straight.

Sorabji was not a fan of the spreading of his work, and he was known to have walked out halfway through at least two of his premiers. In fact, he put in place what became known as “The Ban”: restrictions on the playing and publication of his work. He was always a very private and secluded person, feeling alienated by his mixed-race heritage and homosexuality, and now he kept his music private as well, not allowing anyone to perform it for years. It took much persuasion by friends and fellow musicians to convince him to allow a small group of people to play his work. Once it was achieved, however, it continued: the ban was lifted and his music is now out there for us to enjoy. Sorabji spent the last 35 years of his life with his partner Reginald Norman Best, and they are said to have their ashes buried side by side.

  1. Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Rodrigo was born on the Mediterranean coast of Spain in Sagunto. He, too, showed an interest in music during his early life. At the age of three, he contracted diphtheria, a bacterial infection which was common in children at the time, and though he recovered, his eyesight did not. The Rodrigo family moved to Valencia where the future composer began attending a school for blind children. Around the same time, he began to receive music lessons from teachers at the local Valencia Conservatoire, even though he never officially enrolled there. Before long, he had become a brilliant pianist and was writing his own songs at the age of 19. Sometimes they would be written in braille and sometimes his assistant would transcribe them; “Rafael lent me the eyes I did not have,” Rodrigo once said. 

  It was still not until he moved to France that Rodrigo received official music training. Here, he made many lifelong friends including other musicians and even his future wife, a pianist from Turkey. He continued writing wonderfully intricate pieces for classical guitar and married Victoria Kamhi in 1933. Three years later, when the Spanish Civil War began, the pair found themselves hiding out in the Black Forest in Germany, giving lessons for both music and the Spanish language. After the war ended, Rodrigo spent the rest of his life as a professor of music at Madrid University.

  1. Fanny Mendelssohn (1805-1847)

Mendelssohn is a well-known name, but most would recognize it in reference to the composer Felix Mendelssohn, brother of Fanny Mendelssohn. The two were born in Berlin, grew up under the same roof, and had the same music teachers. They were both even composing from a young age. Fanny was a great piano player, Felix often confessing that she was far better than him. She was said to have memorized the entirety of Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” by the time she was 13. Fanny served as her brother’s musical advisor until he left home. 

Later in life, she married and moved to Italy. It only lasted a short while, though, before she had to return to Berlin to look after the family home when her mother died. As head of the Mendelssohn household, Fanny would often organize local concerts in the community and sometimes perform in them. Though she composed nearly 500 pieces in her lifetime, few were published. Six of her writings were released under her brother’s name in his “Twelve Songs.” Even after they left home, the siblings remained close. It was thought that Fanny’s death in 1847 contributed to her brother’s demise just a few months later. 

  1. Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-9007)

Menotti may have produced some of the most well known American operas of all time. Growing up in Italy, his mother was a musician who would often play for their family and she taught him the fundamentals of music. He wrote his first operatic work at the young age of 11; before he’d reached adulthood, he’d written several more. When Menotti was 20, he attended the Milan conservatory for a time. To finish his education, however, he moved to the US to study at Curtis Institute of Music. Even though he would spend most of his time in America after this point, Menotti still retained his Italian citizenship for the rest of his life.

At Curtis, Menotti met Samuel Barber, another well known classical composer. The two became fast friends and eventually even partners. During the summers when they were off school, Barber and Menotti would travel to Europe, attending operas and dipping into the music scene across the Atlantic. Back in the US, Menotti’s career grew as he won awards for his operas and even had one made into a movie. When in school both Barber and Menotti would stay at the Barber home, but they now found a house of their own to share. Though the partners would split up after many years, the two did remain friends for the entirety of their lives.

  1. Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959)

Villa-Lobos is best known for the way in which he combined Indigenous 

music from Brazil with the Western classical style. Inspired by his dad who was a musician, Villa-Lobos learned the cello when he was six years old, becoming especially interested in the works of Bach. His family traveled around a lot when he was young, exposing him to native Brazilian cultures and music. Later on, he began to learn guitar and got to know many local musicians with whom he would perform. 

At the age of 18, Villa-Lobos left home, as his family was pushing him to become a doctor, but he was determined to make it as a musician. In the following years, he began to travel to Brazil once more, now on his own, and started to compose. Playing guitar and cello brought in enough money to survive and he got to learn more about native music as he traveled.

After three years, Villa-Lobos enrolled in Instituto Nacional de Música where he studied Western music more deeply, specifically the works of Bach and Wagner. He composed yet more, now developing a syncretic sound that blended the two cultures and, though he had his critics, the works drew in an audience. It wasn’t long before the composer took off on a tour of Europe, guided by pianist Artur Rubenstein, playing concerts all over the continent. Throughout his career, Villa-Lobos composed almost 2,000 different works and in the end, he returned to his home country to become a music educator. 

“We have so many talented classical musicians and composers from all over the globe, both from the past and those in the present, but time and time again, who do we hear about? Who do we praise? I’ve never taken a class on the history of classical music, and I don’t plan to pursue a music degree, but I’m very curious as to who is in the curriculum when learning about influential composers from long ago. I do wonder if the spotlight has become more inclusive and exposes students to [a] greater range of composers than just those who were considered as the ‘greats’,” Curtis says. So many people who have put their life’s work into music have been overlooked and forgotten, but they deserve to be remembered and have their creations heard. Classical music is a prolific art and one would hope that anyone who has a dream to become a composer, orchestral musician, or soloist, no matter their situation in life, would one day get a chance to follow it and make history.

A scannable Spotify code to a playlist titled “A World of Classical Music”. Code via Spotify.
Arts & Entertainment

The Beauty of the FHS Poetry Slam

Ayn Frazee with winners of the Franklin Poetry Slam, Shala Santa Cruz Krigbaum (1st), Lilli Rudine (2nd), Gigi Bareilles (3rd), Georgia Newman (4th), Anna Gunderson (5th). Photo taken by Sandra Childs.

It has been nearly three years since Franklin High School hosted their annual poetry slam in-person, and I got to say, it was amazing. After isolation from the pandemic, emotions were stewing. Thanks to Ayn Frazee, Franklin’s trusty librarian who hosted the event, students were given the opportunity to have their voices heard in front of an audience who was willing to listen. 

Students from all grades were able to sign up and perform their art. A total of 18 contestants each presented two pieces, one piece for the first round and another piece for the second. Competitors were scored by four judges after they were done with their piece, and the average of the judges’ scores were given. The audience was very supportive of the poets, and many attendees engaged with each poem. 

Frazee hosted the annual slam for people to come together and express their thoughts on any subject. “Truly, you never know what people are going through just by looking at them,” says Frazee. “People don’t know what everyone’s dealing with in their private lives, and this was kind of a glimpse of what students are going through, what they’ve been through, what they overcome, and what they survived. I think it’s great for all the poets getting up on stage and sharing.” 

Shala Santa Cruz Krigbaum, a senior at Franklin, was crowned the winner of the event (Congratulations!). With a poem about worries of the future, holding tight onto the time left, and coming to terms with life changing events, they powered through in front of the audience with passionate expressions of love and sacrifice. “What helps me a lot is just taking a deep breath, and just thinking about my starting sentence and my ending sentence. I do story slams, too, and the main thing that helps us [is to] memorize our stories.”

Lilli Rudine, a senior at Franklin, was the runner up of the slam with an incredible performance. Flawless and directed, delivering line after line with a fiery tone. As it takes quite a turn, you would be surprised at the change of tone of her poem and how beautifully it was expressed. “I really lean on […] emphasizing […] why I want to write, which usually comes from a place of just expressing how I’m feeling.” Lilli enjoys performing rhyming poetry, and recommends it for people who enjoy rhythmic vibes. “I love writing poetry that is personal, especially if it’s a story poem, I think those are important.” Writing prompts helped Rudine’s ideas come to life, so don’t slack off; you might be surprised at what you’re capable of. 

Sophomore Gigi Bareilles wrote about police brutality, detailing her worries of safety for her and her family. Bareilles isn’t afraid to voice her frustrations in front of an audience. “That is how we’re going to move forward; if we can listen to each other as people. We can hear about other’s perspectives that we couldn’t have fathomed, to learn about the things we could never see. I think it will make [us] better humans.” Bareilles encourages students to attend future poetry slams to witness the bravery and courage of others performing. 

Georgia Newman, a sophomore at Franklin, furiously performed at the slam with raw and unashamed art. Battling with stereotypes and eating disorders, she makes her voice loud and clear with honesty. Unafraid to mention the problems with society’s ideal image of how a girl should be, the challenges of self-acceptance, and the hatred that followed. Newman shares her problematic obsession with weight loss, and how she reclaimed her identity from the poisonous thoughts that clouded her mind. Through graphic lines of self-harm, she captures the significance of self-love. 

Junior Anna Gunderson tackled the stereotypes and perspective of love, plus how we view the perfect love story in her first poem. She challenges her ideal image of the perfect girl, and she isn’t afraid to fight back. “I’ve never written poetry until a year ago. Last year I was put into a terrible elective, and I was like ‘please switch me to anything.’ So, they switched me into creative writing and then I stayed. They suggested a competition, and it was fun, so I started doing it. I have written songs since I was eight, and it’s a lot like that. It’s like rhythmic writing, so that’s why I like it.” Gunderson enjoys watching others perform as she feels it gives a reflection into another person’s life. 

The Poetry Slam was indeed a slam. The audience members were very respectful and mindful of each poet. Competitors clapped for each other for their amazing work. Teachers and staff supported their students with signs and whoops. All the poets who performed were brave for sharing their vulnerabilities, so we thank them for their time and effort for a wonderful time. Frazee welcomes students of all grades to share their work for next year’s poetry slam competition. Franklin Poetry Slam winners, Shala Santa Cruz Krigbaum and Lilli Rudine, performed at the Literary Arts’ Verselandia on April 28, with Gigi Bareilles as their alternate.

Arts & Entertainment

The Arts are Alive!

A collage of various components of Arts Alive including the pieces:  La Vida Es Un Carnival, Anyone, Jewel Box, Killer Queen, Pennies From Heaven, and Valleys. Image by Quintana Jones.

Dance at Franklin encompasses 200 students of all levels. Every participant in the program is required to take part in Arts Alive, a four show performance with an audience of hundreds each night. There are opportunities to choreograph, produce, and collaborate in the studio, making it a largely student-led endeavor. Sonia Kellermann, the director of the show and the Dance at Franklin program, said that “this year the goal is to center student voices.” With an impressive 12 pieces featuring student choreographers and/or directors, Arts Alive 2022 certainly accomplished that goal. 

Originally conceived by Kellermann’s predecessor Julana Torres, Arts Alive was formed with the intention of a display of all art forms at Franklin. Torres said, “I felt strongly that I did not want to do a show that was solely dance, but one that displayed how all arts are connected and feed off of each other. I wanted an opportunity to build collaboration amongst all of the departments, demonstrate the need for these programs, and also to provide an opportunity for students to explore creation with other arts students.” Torres began with a budget of $800, compared to this year’s estimated $10,000. The constant from then and now has been Josh Forsythe, the Franklin Theater and stage craft teacher. Torres said, “Mr. Forsythe really saw my vision that first year and was a huge support and instrumental in helping to bring the show to fruition.” Forsythe oversaw the technical aspects of the show, as well as contributing to the musical theater pieces. The Black Box Theater hosted visual and ceramic art displays, including photography. Thespians gave monologues alongside chorus renditions, poetry slammers, jazz musicians, electric guitar, a Mean Girls duet, and the list of various acts goes on.

The opening night standouts captivated the audience. Most noticeably, Emya Hall (10) singing “Anyone” by Demi Lovato. The curtain opened to reveal a shadowed profile swimming in the blue background. Hall’s voice was distinctly vulnerable. When the scrim lifted and revealed her and a floor length emerald dress, the impressed crowd cheered encouragingly. As Hall continued her voice got increasingly more powerful, and by the end of the song many around me were teary eyed (including myself). 

Leaving a similar aftertaste of openness and beauty was the dance piece Valleys, performed and choreographed by Shannon Doyle (12) and Stella Garrido-Spencer (12). The contemporary duet seemed to play with space between the two dancers; a manipulation of one anothers’ energy through movement. The dance was accompanied by the song “The Valleys” by Elecralane, an English all-women band. Its rhythm is steady; the style is defined as Krautrock (a 1960-70s German concoction of psychedelic rock, avant garde and electronic music). The gray background with the warm lighting on the dancers tied it all together, making it one of the most technically successful pieces of the night. 

Meandering on over to the Black Box at intermission might surprisingly make you hungry. That’s thanks in part to a delicious display of ceramic sustenance. Kelsey Eisland’s picnic ready “Summer Pie” and Ruby Owens’ “Peanut Butter and Banana Toast!” are certainly good enough to eat. The high-gloss glaze added a flattering sheen reminiscent of Japanese jelly candies, yet were based on the French sculpture style of Trompe l’oeil or, “deceives the eye.” Accompanying the ceramic foods were bowls and pots good enough to be professional, such as Nina Roy’s graduated nesting bowls “Urban Cityscape” with a delightful black and red line art skyline climbing the outerface. 

Lining the Black Box were paintings from all levels of art, and photography on the back center wall. Adrian Wilkinson’s (11) spooky iconic photo painting “Black and White Landscape” stood out distinctly on the left wall as a panoramic rectangle with glowing cemetery crosses. Moving clockwise to the photography, the intimacy of Sophie Adam’s (10) “Shy” leaves you wondering what its subject hides behind gaudy fingers. Julian Tiana (12) embodied Patrick Batman in an imaginative tri-photo series entitled “Hip to be a square” that brings a comedic angle to horror tropes. Reminiscent of childhood and late summer nights running around was Sofia DeBenedetto’s (9) “Golden Hour”. And finally, “Do what you love, love what you do” by Kevin Ngyen (10) was giving Wes Anderson with its saturated red and blues and posters reflecting the different angles at which one can hit a ping pong ball.

Sans music, the Tap Company’s “Call and Response” moved as a unit, shaking the auditorium and demanding the audience’s attention. Tap, like ballet, is one of those mediums that noticeably takes training. While the dancers shuffle-ball-changed and added more and more small taps between, I sat and thought to myself, “man, I definitely could not do that.”

As for popping and locking, Alida Halsy (12), who co-choreographed the group piece  “Okra” with Arabella Kelly (12), made it look so effortless. Every step was perfectly on time. The crowd did their loudest hooting for the final hip-hop dance, Beyonce’s “Homecoming” number. The high-energy moment left everyone with a smile at the close of the show.

The future of Dance at Franklin looks like expansion on the diversity of practice and genres of dance. Kellermann expressed that she isn’t comfortable teaching styles of dance that she hasn’t studied in depth. “I came up in a time when Western European Centric practices were prioritized in our curriculum, and other art forms weren’t. I would love to bring on a different voice.” However the biggest crowd pleasers of the night came from the K-Pop club, the Latinx Dancers (special shout out to Luis Barrios-Villanueva (11) who waved those hips and had the crowd howling), as well as the Hip-Hop Company. All of these groups choreographed their own works, proving once again that the students of Franklin show up for what they care about.

As cheesy as it is, seeing your peers on stage, let alone your friends, creates an overwhelming sense of pride. Our assortment of differences seem so much smaller, and you can feel the nerves that blossom into confidence when the performers move from their hearts. If anything, Arts Alive is a wonderful anti-apathy pill to leave you feeling Franklin Strong.

Arts & Entertainment

Booktok Books: Overrated or Underrated?

If you’re a teenager who’s lived through the pandemic, you’ve likely heard of TikTok, a social media platform that allows users to create funny, educational and entertaining 60 second clips. One TikTok subcommunity, BookTok, is a sanctuary for book lovers of all kinds, where creators share their reviews and discuss and joke about the books they have read or have been dying to read. BookTok creators make videos about character development, plots and over- or under-hyped books. Some creators even discuss the misrepresentation of minority groups and a lack of diversity in literature by highlighting underrepresented groups and topics by shining a light on amazing authors of color and LGBTQIA+ authors. If you have ever found yourself in a book slump, have struggled to find your next amazing read, or even to pick up a book at all, BookTok’s dramatic trends ranging from, “books that had me sobbing at 3am” to “books I would sell my soul to read again” might be able to help you out.

Let’s start off with what I would say is the best of BookTok, the books that deserve the hype they have been given. “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover is one of those books and worth the read. Colleen Hoover is a fantastic story teller; every book I have read by her was a fast paced page turner with lots of emotion, plot twists and momentum. I think that’s because of two things: First, the frequency in which she uses plot twists and big reveals. Secondly, her use of motifs. It could be a small thing mentioned at the beginning of a book which by the end has huge significance, which helps you further connect to and understand the characters or the storyline. Although many people read for the romance, it was so much more than that. The book focuses on abuse and gaslighting, strongly conveying the author’s purpose of shedding light on the victim and how complicated it is for a person suffering from abuse. As Colleen Hoover writes in “It Ends With Us,” “Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet.” Like most romance novels, I did find the writing borderline cringe-worthy.  One reason was because of Hoover’s overuse of italics, which were used to emphasize the importance of words, but I found unnecessary. There was little subtlety about how the narrator was feeling and as the reader I felt  that I was being told things I already knew over and over again. I mean, the main character is a florist whose name is Lily Blossom Bloom, so that tells you how subtle the book is. As the blurb would suggest, the main love interest is a walking red flag. Ryle(the main love interest)is a neurosurgeon and his only redeeming quality is that he’s always wearing scrubs, outside of work I might add. I don’t know that much about the medical field, but I feel like you should be changing out of your scrubs that you have been wearing at a hospital and maybe even performing surgery in before you go home. While Lily was all hot and bothered about him, I was just bothered about his lack of hygiene and overall personality. Josie Brandenberg, a sophomore at Kalama High School and a huge Colleen Hoover fan, says, “I would definitely recommend other Colleen Hoover books just because of how consistent her writing is.” Overall this book was a great introduction to the world of Colleen Hoover that has been given the right amount of hype.

Next on the list is “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller. The Greek mythology retelling follows a young Achilles, the son of a cruel sea nymph, Thetis, and the legendary King Peleus. Achilles is strong, beautiful and irresistible to all who meet him, including Patroclus, a young exiled prince hoping to find a new home and purpose in his life. Brought together by chance, they create an unbreakable bond on Achilles’ journey to godhood and through the Trojan War. Madeline Miller portrayed Achilles and Patroclus as lovers, rather than writing a version like in the movie  “Troy” where Achilles and Patroclus were straight men and cousins. As a “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and “Heroes of Olympus” lover, I found this book to be a great reintroduction into mythology. For many people mythology can be intimidating because it can be confusing to follow multiple storylines and characters as well as boring to read, but this was not the case. Madeline Miller writes in such a beautiful way that makes you fall in love with not only the characters but the story, and the book was paced in a way that kept you reading. “The Song of Achilles” follows Achilles and Patroclus through their childhood into young men, and although I didn’t feel much connection to Achilles and Patroclus, I did love watching their bond slowly grow over time and how hard they would fight to protect one another. The book didn’t have me sobbing at three am but Brandenberg felt differently, gasping when I said it didn’t make me cry, “The ending had me bawling!” Like many relationships, the two had issues, but slowly realized the powerful bond they held. While Patroclus wanted the war to end, Achilles wanted the glory he received from fighting. “The Song of Achilles” deserves all the hype it has been given.The end has such a beautiful tone that makes you both sad and happy, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth while the other is gone.” 

Lastly is “The Folk of the Air” series, more commonly known as the “Cruel Prince” trilogy. The books take place in the Kingdom of Elfhame, the land of the fae hidden from human civilization. The story revolves around the main protagonist, Jude, a human girl trying to find her place in the strange world of the fae. The writing was gripping, vivid, and fast paced, and I loved how complex the fae world was and how all three books were super quick reads. Because the main focus was on the fae politics and deception, it didn’t leave much room for the romance, which left it feeling forced. Carden, the Prince of Elfhame, is known to be arrogant, cruel and has done everything in his power to hurt and belittle Jude throughout her life, but once Jude gets the smallest glimpse of humanity in him she instantly has feelings for him. While I can’t deny enjoying the enemies to lovers trope, the way it was done in “The Folk of the Air” wasn’t my favorite. Another thing I didn’t like were the plot twists, because they were very obvious. “You could see the plot twists coming, especially in the last book,” said Brandenberg. “I do feel like it’s overhyped with what people say about it.” Despite this, she still enjoyed the book. “I gave it 4 stars because it was a well written book and I loved Jude and how powerful she was!” she says.

BookTok allows bookworms of all kinds to connect with new authors and find their next favorite books because the community is constantly featuring new content. This doesn’t just mean new books, but also old ones that have been given a new life. From mythology to romance to kingdoms with cruel princes, there is so much to be discovered in the world of BookTok! Although many of these books didn’t have me “sobbing at 3am,” I would without a doubt “sell my soul to read them again,” for the first time. 

Arts & Entertainment

Bookworms Review: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Malinda Lo, author of “Last Night at the Telegraph Club.” Lo is one of the AAPI authors that we read this month. Illustration by Pearl McNames.

The beginning of May means a little less spring rain and the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. We’re here to offer you a variety of different reads with AAPI main characters by AAPI authors as a starting point for this month. We encourage you to seek out a diverse collection of authors and maybe add some of these to your list. 

“Last Night at the Telegraph Club” by Malinda Lo is the perfect intersection of niche tropes and genres. Blending historical fiction and sapphic romance, “Last Night at the Telegraph Club” follows seventeen-year-old Lily Hu, an ordinary girl living in 1950s Chinatown. When a school friend, Kathleen Miller, takes her to a lesbian club, Lily’s life is turned upside down and everything she thought she knew about herself was turned on its head. We recommend this coming-of-age love story for any readers desperate for some good sapphic content.

“Parachutes” by Kelly Yang splits its focus between Claire Wang, a privileged girl from Shanghai who is sent to study at a private high school in California, and Dani de la Cruz, a scholarship student who hosts her during her stay. At first, the two avoid each other at all costs—but as their lives become more complicated and intertwined, they have to figure out how to support each other. This book handles serious topics with the gravity they deserve through flawed characters trying their best in an unfair world. 

“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan explores the experiences of Chinese immigrant families and the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, especially within immigrant families. It focuses on four families who play mahjong, a Chinese tile based game, together in what they refer to as The Joy Luck Club. Each of the characters has a section of the book devoted to telling their story. This book is an emotional journey about the nuance of the Chinese American experience that successfully puts you in the shoes of each woman, throwing you through their memories at a startling, and sometimes confusing, pace.

In a story that eerily mirrors current events, “Severance” by Ling Ma follows millennial drone Candace Chen after an apocalyptic plague sweeps through the world. After joining a group of survivors on their quest for a place called “the Facility,” Candace must keep a secret that could endanger her to the rest of the group. This dark, witty book is perfect for anyone looking for entertaining commentary on capitalism. 

“A Phở Love Story” by Loan Le is a charming story of young love, perfect for enjoyers of the enemies-to-lovers trope. Two teenagers from two different families with intensely competitive phở restaurants (Romeo and Juliet retelling, anyone?) find themselves falling for each other despite the rivalry. This book covers everything from food and high school to immigration and racism. While there are some slow moments, it’s overall adorable and will leave you craving phở. 

Some books that we are looking forward to reading: “Dial A for Aunties” by Jesse Q. Sutanto, “Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir” by T Kira Madden, “Frangipani” by Célestine Hitiura Vaite, “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner, and “Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning” by Cathy Park Hong. 

Some of these books contain upsetting or triggering content. For more information on these subjects, or if you have any suggestions, reactions, or additional opinions on books that you want to share with us, we welcome all emails sent to 

Arts & Entertainment

“D-day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape” Album Review

D-Day by Dreamville, J. Cole, And Dj Drama. Image via Dreamville.

“D-day: A Gangsta Grillz Mixtape” was released on March 31, 2022 by J. Cole under his record label Dreamville. The album features artists such as DJ Drama, JID, Sheck Wes, 2 Chainz, Young Nudy and many others with 15 tracks on the album. This review is entirely my opinion; I suggest you go listen to the album yourself rather than take my word as to how the album actually is, because everyone’s perspective is different.

The first track on the album is “Stick” (feat. JID, J. Cole, Kenny Mason, & Sheck Wes). The song opens with large horns and DJ Drama yelling about how we weren’t ready for the album and how we didn’t see it was coming, giving the immediate impression on how the rest of this song was about to go. Right after Drama’s short clip, in comes JID screaming “stick” which immediately gave me chills. After JID’s part it tones down a bit with Kenny Mason coming in with a melodic soul feeling verse and then going into him rapping. After Kenny’s part ends it cuts back to JID yelling and rapping and I honestly adore this flow that he has over this almost orchestral beat. Sheck and Cole’s part of this song didn’t feel as prominent as JID and Kenny’s part and felt a lot weaker. Though this is the case, I love the hype that JID brings to the song, it makes it a lot better, especially how it goes from Drama’s intro straight into the yelling I just can’t get enough of. I’m gonna rate this song an 8 out of 10.

“Ghetto Gods Freestyle” is a much more chilled out take to this album, although still with Drama’s vocals in the background, it didn’t bring me in the same way as “Stick.” 2 Chainz’s part on this track felt like it had more effort, but the beat on this song was atrocious, and EARTHGANG’s part felt so weak it really didn’t leave me with much to say about it. I would rate this song about a 4 out of 10.

“Lifestyle” with Bas and A$AP Ferg has a crazy flow but the weakest 808 I’ve ever heard. The mixing on the track is good and I love the sample that they use but the 808 is just awfully mixed with no low end and an already weak mid end. I really like Bas’s part on this song; his flow is amazing and I love the way he can pull something good out of this god awful beat playing in the background. Ferg’s part of this song has an even crazier flow than Bas’s but again the beat is just really not good and holds them back a lot. If the 808 on this track wasn’t so atrocious, I would definitely rate this higher but since the only thing it had going for it was the sample, and how wild the artists were going, I’m gonna have to rate this a 5 out of 10.

“Starting 5” with Lute, Cozz and Omen was a major step up from the last two songs. Drama and Lute have a little interaction at the beginning with Drama telling him to perform well, which he does with a beautiful flow over a calm beat that hits like crazy, giving me goosebumps all over. However, after his main verse it cuts to this little melodic chorus that doesn’t sound great; I feel like they could have executed this part better or had someone else on. Omen’s part on this track was amazing and I love the way his voice mixes with the sort of hotel lobby type beat playing under him. Something I wasn’t expecting to happen around two thirds of the way into the song was a complete switch up of the beat from  a sort of late night hotel lobby beat to a more mysterious dusk at the beach feel with a beautiful vocal sample playing in the background as Cozz goes absolutely mad on this beat. Rapping about his beginnings to where he is now fits really well over this beat. I really like this song even though it had an odd switch up. 7 out of 10.

“Coming Down” with Ari Lennox really surprised me because I didn’t really expect an R&B track on this album. The beat is odd to say the least, I like the R&B aspect of it but it seems the theme of this album so far is abhorrent 808s with just another awful one ruining the whole beat again. The 808 on this track is something that I could go on about forever; it feels almost out of key in some parts even though it’s not, it 100% could have been better. Lennox’s vocals on this track are amazing to say the least, bringing this song back up from its knees due to the awful beat. This song would be amazing and something I would listen to if it weren’t for that egregious 808 absolutely ruining the song. 6 out of 10.

“Hair salon” with Cozz featuring G Perico and Reason has a solid beat with a tense and mysterious tone to it with very lo-fi mixing on the drums. This really brings out the artist’s vocals on this song and leaves a lot of open room for a good flow. DJ drama also makes everything 20 times better when he’s introducing a song. This song isn’t too notable because I feel like everyone was underperforming, and the only flow that I really liked was Cozz’s. There’s also this annoying lead with a really irritating string sample playing in the background that got on my nerves. The only thing holding this song up was the beat (not including the string sample) and Cozz. 5 out of 10.

“Freedom of Speech” with J. Cole is amazing, the beat is perfect, and his vocals and flow are perfect. The beat could not have been better having no issues with the mix unlike other tracks, and the way Cole delivered over it was miles better than how he did on “Stick.” I love the melodicity of this song and all of the horns and chords playing in the background gave me chills. I was nodding to this song like a sleep deprived chicken bobbing its head. This song had me sucked in for the whole 2 minutes and 11 seconds that it lasted. It was short, sweet and simple. 10 out of 10.

“Blackberry Sap” with Ari Lennox was like 30 times better than “Coming Down.” The R&B beat on this song was executed so much better than “Coming Down” and I absolutely adored her background vocals, and her vocal tone. The sample used in this song along with the low pass filter gives it a very calm tone that I love, but the kick wasn’t great and her vocals were mixed a bit weirdly. It might have been the microphone but it felt like it didn’t have enough high end. Other than that, this song was really good, and I’m gonna give it an 8 out of 10. 

“Like Wine” with Lute is very interesting, it has a super chilled out dark and mysterious vibe to it. This song reminded me of “777” by X and Kid Trunks a bit with the feel I got from it. Another solid 808, which is a plus one, is used in the sample and I really like the way they pitched it down; it really added to the dark tone. Lute’s vocals are alright in this song, this is what really reminded me of “777”: this rough rapping over a dark lo-fi beat which I feel mostly in the chorus. I feel like the chorus carries this song, but the rest of his vocals bring it down for me, hence I’m going to give this one a 6.5 out of 10.

“Jozi Flows” with Bas and EARTHGANG is a really solid addition to “D-Day” with a sample I feel would have worked better in a drill song. This song’s beat did have a slight drill feel in the drums but there’s nothing particularly special about this beat or notable within the sample. The thing that makes this song great is the chorus, the vocal layers are just perfect, and the way Bas and EARTHGANG perform on this song is super good compared to their other songs. Everything works really well and the only thing I would change is the key; I would pitch everything up a bit. I’m gonna give this song a solid 7 out of 10.

“Barry From Simpson” with JID, 2 Chainz, and Young Nudy is confusing for me. I can’t pinpoint exactly what the sample in the beat reminds me of but I can only describe it as an annoying cartoon villain theme with an 808 that was mixed well, but ended up distorting so I assume there wasn’t a limiter on the master. The banter in the beginning made me chuckle a bit but JID’s flow on this really matched the beat which confused me. It felt all over the place, and felt disorganized and off but in a good way. I don’t like Nudy on this track; I feel like JID was able to match this beat a lot better. Nudy’s ad libs and background vocals were good but I feel like it should have been a JID solo track since he was able to match the beat far better than Nudy. The song was alright, 6.5 out of 10.


“Everybody Aint Shit” with EARTHGANG is certainly an interesting track. The beat is really odd in a good way, and the chords panned to the left give the song a fever dream feel. I also like that they sampled “Yonkers” by Tyler, The Creator or at least used the same sample. The 808 on this song is really good and I don’t think I would change anything about the beat other than adding a panning automation on the chords to go left and right instead of sitting on my left ear; it bothered me for some reason. Earth’s vocals on this song are just not good. I feel like if you put Nudy on this song it would sound better; I really didn’t like the vocal tone he kept on this song and I feel like he should have toned it down to more of a mumble, which ultimately would have sounded better. Gonna have to give this song a flimsy 5.5 out of 10.

“Ballin in Newport”with Omen has my favorite beat on the whole album. I love the piano, and with the lo-fi drums it just gives the perfect combination. Omen’s vocals and lyrics brought this track to a whole other level. His flow on this song was unmatched by most on this album, and the story he was telling, especially him talking about studying hip hop and coming up, really resonated with me more specifically on studying music and falling in love with it. I don’t think I would change a single thing about this song, 10 out of 10. 

“Big Trouble Freestyle” with Cozz is a pretty dry song, mostly because of how empty the beat was. The beat had a very simplistic chord progression playing over a simple drum pattern. The mixing on this track was very clean and worked well with how Cozz was rapping, although again it felt bland and numb. I wasn’t super fond of this song but I really liked the bar “I’m a Spider-Man fan, but man fuck the web. It gave voices to losers who never get out of bed” because it really reflects on the way social media is right now and how it gives a platform for sending hate to artists. I’m going to give this one a 6 out of 10.

“Heavens EP” with J. Cole opens with an angelic vocal sample with cleanly mixe\

d drums and a groovy bass that adds a super chill vibe to the whole song. Cole’s flow on this song fit really well over the beat and I really enjoyed the track as a whole. I’m giving this track an 8 out of 10. 

I really enjoyed this album from the middle onwards, and the energy on “Stick” was just wild. For my final rating of the album as a whole, I’m gonna rate it a solid 6.5 out of 10. There were a lot of songs I enjoyed but to be honest a lot of the songs were poorly mixed or just felt off, but I would still recommend giving it a listen of your own.

Arts & Entertainment

A Review of “Multitude”: How Stromae is Experimenting With the Idea Of Pop Music

Stromae with a multitude of himself. This is the album cover for his release “Multitude”. Photo via

On March 4, 2022, Belgian singer-songwriter Stromae re-entered the limelight with his third studio album, titled “Multitude.” The album delivers a complex mix of styles deriving from Stromae’s use of different types of music from places around the world, and also commentates on world issues, and issues from Stromae’s own mental state. It’s Stromae’s attempt at making experimental pop music, and it works well, delivering a solid album that gets better the more you listen.

Paul van Haver, better known by his stage name Stromae (an anagram of the word Maestro), first gained popularity with the release of his single “Alors on danse,” though he had released music before that and had even been part of a rap group called Suspicion. “Alors on danse quickly became the number one song on Belgian charts, and gained worldwide recognition. He released two albums, “Cheese” and “Racine Carrée,” before taking a long hiatus for his mental health. On Oct. 15, 2021, he released “Santé,” his first single in three years, and then released his album “Multitude” earlier this year. 

“Multitude” is an experimental album that combines hip hop, pop, and folk music. It starts out with “Invaincu” (Unbeaten), an upbeat song about how Stromae has gotten through his hardships. It features the voices of a Bulgarian choir. The second song on the album is “Santé,” which includes Argentine charango played by professional charango player “Juan Paio.” It thanks workers who kept things clean during the pandemic. Next is “La solassitude,” a song about being lonely while single and weary while in a long term relationship. It includes the Chinese erhu, an instrument similar to a violin, which on this song is played by musician Guo Gan. 

The fourth song on the album is arguably one of the best, and it might be my favorite. “Fils de joie” actually samples the teaser for the “Bridgerton” series on Netflix, and is a delightful mix of funk music with cello added. Stromae defines it as a “paradox between baile funk and classical music” in a YouTube interview series where he explains each song. This song highlights the experiences of the children of prostitutes, and pays tribute to these women who he saysdo a very difficult, largely unappreciated job, which exists and will exist whether we like it or not.” The song name translates to “son of a hero,” and the music video that accompanies the song depicts a national funeral for a missing sex worker. The cross of funk and classical music is stimulating to listen to, and something I doubt many people have heard before. 

The next song is called “L’enfer” (Hell) and talks about his experience with depression and suicidal thoughts. It starts out slow with piano and lyrics, and shocks you with a raging chorus. It also includes a Bulgarian choir. It’s a haunting song that departs from his usual happy and upbeat music, and is the darkest song on the album. After “L’enfer” comes another one of my favorite songs, “C’est que du bonheur” (This is Happiness). This song talks about how it isn’t always easy to be a parent. It’s an off beat song featuring a Bolivian charango player named Alfredo Coca. I love how the song sounds staccato and off beat when you first hear it, but quickly comes together into something unlike anything you’ve heard before. 

The seventh song is called “Pas vraiment” (Not Really), and it’s the last of my favorites on the album. Stromae has a hard time defining what this song is about. “It’s a bit like gossip,” he says in one of his YouTube interviews. “[Gossip] between friends and acquaintances and everyone gives their opinion.” The woodwind sound featured in this song is that of a ney, a Turkish flute.

I’m not a huge fan of the next three songs. “Riez” (Laugh) is a song about dreams, inspired by Afropop. It’s good but something about it seems lacking. My taste in music is mostly fast with heavy bass, so this song doesn’t fit in much with what I like, being a song with a mostly high melody and little bass. As for “Mon amour ” (My Love), it’s a song inspired by Venezualen music about a guy fooling around and his wife leaving him. I don’t really like how the song sounds, simple as that. It’s very well put together, however, with an experimental beat. “Déclaration” is kind of weird. It starts off with this strobing, ghostly sound, and I feel that the tone of the lyrics don’t really match it. It shares a message of feminism and a promise to be a better husband.

The album ends with two songs, “Mauvaise journée” and “Bonne journée” (Bad Day and Good Day). I’m a fan of both these songs. “Mauvaise journée” has the Bolivian Charango, again played by Alfredo Coca, and talks about a really bad day where nothing goes right.  In the chorus it introduces heavy horns that really adds weight to the song. “Bonne journée” is the positive counterpart to “Mauvaise Journée.” Stromae sings about a good day, ending the album on a high note. It again uses the Bolivian charango, but this time Stromae puts a trap beat over it, creating an interesting texture of sound. 

Stromae takes a really interesting path with “Multitude.” While it still discusses social issues like his last album, Stromae’s musical approach is different, sampling folk music and going more experimental. Fans used to his upbeat, danceable songs like “Alors on danse” and “Tous les mêmes” might be disappointed with the direction he took. I wouldn’t call any of his new songs a hit like “Alors on danse” or “Papapoutai” was. However, for those who really appreciated the messages his music carries, this is an excellent addition to Stromae’s discography.  

I first learned about Stromae from Dana Miller, who’s been a French teacher here at Franklin since 2003. Mrs. Miller has been a fan of Stromae ever since she heard his hit single “Alors on danse.” When asked about her favorite song, she said “I’d have to say “Santé.” I love the lyrics, [and how] he’s always so spot on when he talks about social justice.” When I asked her about her general impressions of the album, she talked about how she loves the lyrics and his plays on words, but also how he delves into the struggles he faced. “There are some [lyrics] that you just feel for him because you know that he really struggled, especially through the last two years how so many of us had struggled with mental health. It was just so spot on,” she explained. She really liked this album, and gave it high praise. 

Overall, I really enjoyed “Multitude.” Every time I listened to each song, I enjoyed it more. It’s complex music, something that hasn’t really been coming out lately. Stromae manages to make experimental music without departing too far from what’s popular, and he pulls it off well. I’d give it a well deserved 9/10, for delivering such a solid and enjoyable collection of music. 

Arts & Entertainment

Alice Oseman’s Hit Comic Series “Heartstopper” Debuts on Netflix

If you’re a fan of tropey teen romances and are perpetually on the Internet, you have likely heard of “Heartstopper,” a British webcomic series and graphic novel written by young author Alice Oseman, which has recently been adapted by Netflix. “Heartstopper” follows two teenage boys, Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) and Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), as they navigate first love, coming out, and figuring themselves out. The sincere art style, heartfelt dialogue, and endearing characters stand out in the comics from the very beginning, and bringing those emotions and well-loved characters to the screen was an exciting transition. The eight episode series covers content from the first two book volumes, and fans of the graphic novels and newcomers alike will enjoy this sweet coming-of-age romance.

Oseman played a large part in adapting the show, having written the script, and their influence is clear to see. The show starts off with a strong connection to the original subject matter, with brightly colored visuals and drawn elements that emulate the style of the comics. The animated flowers and leaves at key emotional moments, as well as the comic book-like transitions, captured the energy of the comics perfectly. 

Although the emotions and visuals could have been pulled straight from the comics, the plot of the show both successfully stayed true to the comics and still had elements of originality. The plot was well-paced through the show, although fans of the comics may notice some differences in the plot and order of significant moments. Moments of drama were emphasized more heavily in order to create a more complicated dynamic, but it didn’t take away from the plot in any way.

There was more focus on some of the background characters; Tara Jones and Darcy Olsson, played by Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell, are featured more as they go through some of the same challenges as Nick and Charlie, like coming out. Their timeline was changed slightly from the comics, and we got to see them become more three-dimensional and complex. This, as well as a focus on Charlie’s friend Elle Argent (Yasmin Finney) and her experience transitioning from the boys’ to the girls’ school, made a nice addition to the general backstory and fleshed out the ensemble of characters. 

There were some bigger changes made to the cast as well, one of which was the absence of Charlie’s younger brother, Oliver. Although Charlie’s best friends Elle and Tao Xu (William Gao) still featured heavily in the series, Aled Last, one of Charlie’s friends in the comics, was replaced by Isaac (Tobie Donovan), a quietly supportive friend who observed most of the drama from the sidelines. Oseman, in an interview with Radio Times, noted that Aled was featured in “Radio Silence,” one of her other novels within the “Heartstopper” universe. This meant that he had a fixed storyline that wouldn’t change within the existing canon of the universe. Isaac, however, is a new character whose story could go any direction. His character is completely unique to the show and has some potential for originality within the universe, although he did not receive much focus or standout characterization in this first season.

Another big change was the addition of Imogen (Rhea Norwood), one of Nick’s friends whose addition to the cast created some additional complications. Nick’s rugby friends created more problems, without some named characters from the comic series to support Nick. Although these changes affected the dynamic of the characters and their issues, the overarching sense of heartwarming friendship and joy shone through. 

Nick’s process of figuring himself out was one of the highlights of the show. It demonstrated some of the difficulties as well as the joys of figuring oneself out, especially given the lack of bisexual representation in most media. Overall, the entire show was a joy. “I genuinely enjoyed every moment,” says Owen Phillips, a freshman at Franklin. “Even with the characters I don’t like, they still brought an important dynamic to the show that made it a lot more interesting.”

Hopefully, there will be another season of “Heartstopper” that covers some more content and expands on some of the new storylines they created. The later volumes of the comics go deeper into some of Charlie’s struggles with mental health, while other books within the universe, such as “Solitaire,” take a look at some background characters. There may not be room for too much branching out, but it would be interesting to see the development of new characters, some background relationships (hello, Elle and Tao!), or even just handling more difficult topics.

Overall, newcomers to the “Heartstopper” universe and longtime fans alike will enjoy this lighthearted coming-of-age romance. Being able to see queer teenagers represented in a manner that is accessible to viewers of all ages is incredible to see, and for anyone who wants a heartwarming, bingeable show, this is the one to watch.

Anyone looking to read the original content first can find all four volumes of “Heartstopper” on Webtoon, Tapas, or in book form at any nearby libraries or bookstores. 

Arts & Entertainment

FHS Talent Shines in Production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Photo Caption: The vowel cast takes their final bow on March 11. Each cast performed in three shows of the six total. Photo Credit: Stella Holt Dupey.

10 yellow chairs on a stage, “Putnam Optometrist” written in squiggly handwriting on a purple paper attached to a table, a basketball hoop hanging from the back wall, audience members filing into the auditorium, excitedly talking in hushed tones. And for good reason – The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is about to begin. 

One of the main components that makes this production different from past Franklin High School (FHS) plays is the audience participation. Four audience members are invited to participate in the bee as spellers each performance: mainly FHS staff, students, and some parents. Liam Pearson was an audience participant on opening night, Mar. 4. He didn’t know quite what he was getting into before the play, but when he stepped on the stage he assumed the role of another speller in the bee. The audience participants were called up to the microphone at different points during Act I, where they were asked to spell words ranging from “cow” to “lysergic acid diethylamide.” One by one, the audience members were eliminated and sung off by the cast in the recurring “Goodbye” song. Pearson was the last audience member in his show to be eliminated, and so received a longer goodbye in “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.” 

“I didn’t expect them to sing a full song to me, all the other volunteers who were eliminated before me just got a short little song,” remarked Pearson. Overall, he had a great experience. “I’m good friends with all the spellers [who were performing that night] so it was super cool to be up there with them and interact with their characters. It was also fun to spell the words and be a part of this show they had all been looking forward to and talking about for so long.” 

Sophia Goble, who played Marcy Park in the consonant cast, spoke about this unique component of Spelling Bee.

 “Something that is cool and unique about this show is how it breaks the Fourth Wall.” The Fourth Wall is the invisible barrier separating the audience from the cast, but Spelling Bee “breaks” that barrier down through audience participation, which leads the audience to feel as though they are a part of the bee, which is a unique and exciting experience. “[A typical play] is like watching TV, but in this play, there is high audience interaction, and [lots of] improv. So it is very much like a conversation musical,” Goble says. 

Spelling Bee first opened on Broadway in 2005. It was based on a book by Rebecca Sheinkin, who won a Tony Award in 2005 for her writing. That year, the musical was additionally nominated for six Tony Awards, and won two: Best Book of a Musical and Best Performance of a Featured Actor in a Musical. The FHS production added a few unique twists to the play, but in general, the story is more or less the same. The special component of a school production is seeing your classmates display their talents and take the spotlight in a non-academic setting. 

Doug Panch (played by Adrian Wilkinson), is the word pronouncer who claims the role after the first pronouncer refuses to get vaccinated. That’s another thing about this production – there are multiple instances where the cast mentions the pandemic and COVID-19, which makes the play feel more current than the Broadway version from 2005. Panch provides the audience and spellers alike with witty definitions and sentence applications throughout the show. 

“S-Y-Z-Y-G-Y. Syzygy,” declares Rona Lisa Peretti. She’s played by Maia Kleinberg and Emilia Valencia in the FHS production and dons a bright red suit jacket and a slicked back low bun. She is the driving force behind the bee, having been a former champion herself, and her excitement for the situation is prevalent in the show, especially in her recurring song “Favorite Moment of The Bee.” Her kindness and care towards the children as well as her firmness around the rules of the bee make her the glue that holds the whole production together. 

Meg Mahoney (played by Freya Maher and Mara Babasin) is the “comfort counselor” for the group of anxious young spellers. She’s there to serve her community service hours, but ends up taking on a role much more important than just escorting weeping children off the stage and handing out juice boxes. When the last audience participant is eliminated, she serenades them with “Prayer of the Comfort Counselor.” Throughout the show she grows a fondness for the children, hoping to teach them valuable lessons about life and loss. At the end of the play it is revealed her life’s purpose is to comfort losers of future spelling bees. 

Charlito “Chip” Tolentino (played by Twylo Landey and Brian Gardner) is a boy scout and the defending champ of the 24th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He returns as a contender to win it all, but unfortunately becomes distracted by Leaf’s sister Marigold who is sitting in the audience, and he stumbles on the word “tittup.” Meg escorts him offstage, but he returns at the beginning of Act II to distribute candy to the audience and belt “My Unfortunate Erection (Chip’s Lament),” a dramatic and harrowing reflection of who—or what—is to blame for his shortcoming. 

Marcy Park (played by Anna Gunderson and Sophia Goble) is a veteran speller, having placed 9th in the previous year’s national bee. She is highly accomplished in many spheres, and makes it known in “I Speak Six Languages.” However, her overachiever tendencies and perfectionism come to a boil in Act II as she begins to grapple with the choice between being all business and not living up to expectations. She is given the word “camouflage” and exclaims “Oh Jesus—can’t you come up with a harder word than that?” To her surprise, Jesus (Bela Aveline) skateboards onstage, and tells her that he would still love her if she won or lost the bee—but it’s not really the type of thing he cares about. She deliberately botches the word, shedding her perfect all business persona for a happier mindset. 

Leaf Coneybear (played by Max Weaver and Evan Lewis) qualified for the bee by chance—he was second runner-up in his district, but the first and second place finalists both had to attend a Bat Mitzvah. He comes from a large family and makes his own clothes. In “I’m Not That Smart,” he explains how he is, in fact, not that smart, but makes it relatively far in the bee due to his “spelling trances” in which he seems to be possessed by an outside force, prompting him to spell the word correctly. 

Logainne “Schwartzy” Schwartzandgrubenierre (played by Ava Penberthy and Delia Graham) is the youngest competitor in the bee. She’s an outspoken advocate for lowering the voting age to 10 and getting vaccinated, and tutors students much older than her. She has a lisp, but a loud voice and personality. She is driven to win by both her own drive for success and her two dads, Carl and Dan (Liam Rahm and Logan Markwell). Carl puts a large amount of pressure on Logainne, even going so far as to spill soda in attempts to sabotage Logainne’s competition, William Barfée. She is in the final three when, after an upsetting outburst from her dad and Panch, she misspells the word “vug” and is eliminated from the competition. 

William Morris Barfée (played by Henry Takiguchi and Oliver River Satalich) is a Putnam County finalist from the previous year, having been eliminated due to difficulties with his peanut allergy. His unfortunate last name leads the judges to pronounce his name “Barf-ee” every time he is called to the mic, which he counters with “it’s Barf-AY,” with increasing frustration. His coveted method of spelling is his “Magic Foot” but eventually learns he can still spell without it. He has only one working nostril and an irritable temper, but is motivated by his drive to win, and at the end of the show, gains a liking towards Olive. He debates botching his last word so she can win, but with her encouragement, he spells his word correctly and wins the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. 

Olive Ostrovsky (played by Amelia Dusevoir and Crea Sisco) is a newcomer to the world of competitive spelling. Her mother is in an ashram in India, and her father is still at work, per usual. She spends much of the bee fretting about if her father will ever come, or how she will pay the $25 entry fee. Nevertheless, she makes it to the final two, where she faces off against William Barfée; the two eventually develop crushes on each other throughout the show. She is asked to spell the word “chimerical” meaning “highly unrealistic, wildly fanciful,” which sets off “The I Love You Song,” a powerful number featuring Olive and her parents (Vetiver Long and Evan Lewis play her father, the actress who plays Rona Lisa Peretti plays her mother), symbolizing that her parents saying “I love you” and being there for her is highly unrealistic and wildly fanciful (chimerical). She finishes the bee second to William, but is overjoyed to have been a part of the bee and to have made a strong connection with him. 

Franklin has put on many great plays in past years, but The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was special as it was a return to in-person theater. The FHS arts department worked tirelessly to bring together talented students in a whimsical and hilarious production. Countless individuals used their talents to create the musical aside from the actors themselves, from people who worked on costumes and makeup, set design/production, lights and sound, curtains, students in the band, and many others.

 For all, collaborating on a project was a much-missed experience that the pandemic took away. Hazel True, who was Head of Lights for the production, said that it was “fantastic” to get to work and be in the theater again. “Getting to see a show come together after so long was one of the best things about being in person. I am so glad my final show could happen in person.” For them, a highlight was being able to work with their friends. “This year, most of my friends are involved in theater, so it was really nice!” And that seems to be a trend for many involved. Isolation due to the pandemic made these feelings of connection so much more important when life slowly returned in-person. “Coming back from a pandemic really made me realize how much I missed live theater and how much this disease sucks. It’s been so special and amazing that I get to be in a show with people who have become my absolute favorite people,” reiterates Amelia Dusevoir, who played Olive Ostrovsky in the vowel cast. “It’s not the rehearsing and the show I’m going to remember, but all the funny little laughs we had.” 

Arts & Entertainment

The Evolution of a Jeen-Yuhs

A portrait drawing of Kanye West. The documentary series jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy on Kanye West’s professional life has been released. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.

In 1998 the journey to begin filming the three part documentary series about Kanye West, jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy began. The hip-hop scene in Kanye’s hometown of Chicago was almost non-existent. All the big MC’s were living on the coasts, showing how big rap was going to be in the coming years. Chicago rappers were hungry to join this surge of hip-hop popularity, and so was filmmaker and director of jeen-yuhs, Coodie Simmons. Simmons was hired to host Channel Zero, a hip hop themed television show based in Chicago. But right as Channel Zero was getting popular, Simmons met the man who was about to change his life: a young, humble producer by the name of Kanye West. Simmons left everything behind to film this documentary about Kanye, and the rest is history.

act i: VISION. The documentary starts very early in West’s career when he was making a living creating beats. He wasn’t famous, he wasn’t a billionaire, he was a kid trying to make it in a business not catered to his lyrical musical style. Hip-hop was focused on a very different sound than what West was creating at the time; labels were searching for the next Jay-Z or DMX, and West didn’t fit that mold. That was until he met the most successful rapper at the time, Jay-Z. Jay-Z instantly recognized West’s talent and had him produce half of his platinum album, The Blueprint. This episode is the easiest and most fun to watch, West is humble and driven, and there are a ton of great moments of him and his late mother, Donda West. Act I highlights who West was and what he wanted to become, which was very nice to see after the past few years of nonstop controversy. 

act ii: PURPOSE. Act II is very different from Act I. In the time between these two episodes, West’s ego has been inflated, in order to be a big enough personality for the ever changing music industry, and to sign to a major record label. He hustles every minute of his life to try to reach his goals. But it seems like all of his work was for nothing; once he finally got his record deal and was on track to release his debut album, The College Dropout, West was in a near fatal car crash that broke his jaw in multiple places. This episode mainly focuses on West’s comeback; he healed from his injury while making a platinum song about his experience called “Through the Wire.” After his debut album, The College Dropout released, West skyrocketed into fame, and that is where the final act takes place.

act iii: AWAKENING. The final act of jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy was truly hard to watch. It shows the death of West’s mother and how that affected him. West started pushing everyone away, including his longtime friend and the director of jeen-yuhs, Coodie Simmons. West starts to spiral out of control in this episode; whether it was crashing Taylor Swift’s VMA award speech or calling out George Bush on live television, it was clear West wasn’t in a good place. Although he continued to create some of the more highly rated hip-hop albums of all time in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and The Life of Pablo, there was nobody there to help West when he needed it the most. The documentary ends in late 2020 with West trying to run for president and staying secluded on his Wyoming ranch. It did leave the viewers with some hope for West; he was starting to do Sunday service, a choir based church service that seemed to be a positive turn for West’s career and health as a whole. 

Overall jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy was well directed and the story was told in an excellent way. Even though there were years when Simmons wasn’t able to film Kanye, there was still a great flow with no noticeable gaps in the storyline. It definitely would have been more uplifting to end the documentary with a focus on the church service phase of his life if West wasn’t currently involved in what can be considered his worst controversy yet. For him, this documentary being released on Netflix seemed to come at the perfect time. It took the media’s attention off his ongoing hatred for comedian Pete Davidson and his highly publicized divorce. For many West fans, it is getting harder and harder to support him in any way because of his actions. The documentary showed that the old Kanye is still there, it just might take some time before we will see him again.