Jack Smith

In this shaggy dog story of divided loyalties, there is a happy ending and everyone wins

June 06, 1985|JACK SMITH

I was torn between loyalties last Sunday--the third game between the Lakers and the Celtics on TV, and the final concert of the Highland Park Symphony Orchestra at Franklin High School Auditorium.

The concert began at 3 o'clock. The game ended at about 3:05, and I couldn't tear myself away from it. Having watched the Lakers cave in to the Celtics so wretchedly last year, and having seen them shellacked in the first game of the championship series this year, I had to watch them to the finish Sunday, when they were 20 points ahead, and in no danger of losing.

So I was late to the concert.

Of course that is the problem these days. Neighborhoods have forgotten how to entertain themselves, since everyone is watching the big eye in the living room.

I missed selections from Wagner's "Die Meistersinger," and walked in on selections from Delibes' delightful ballet, "Coppelia."

Surprisingly, the auditorium was almost full. I saw Joel Wachs, councilman for the district, in which he is very visible, sitting in the front row. He was to host a tea at intermission.

"Coppelia" is bright and playful music, and I think the Highland Park Symphony handled it quite well, though one would not say they played it as brilliantly as the Los Angeles Philharmonic might have.

But the purpose of the Highland Park Symphony, which has been around for years, and which is struggling to stay alive, is to bring live symphonic music to people who can't go to the Music Center, or even to the nearby Glendale and Pasadena symphonies.

Thanks to public contributions and a few grants that help support the orchestra, the concerts are free.

After the "Coppelia" the soloist, mezzo-soprano Sarah Jane Hensley, sang "Connais-tu le pays?" from "Mignon." Miss Hensley is tall, red-haired and handsome, and her voice is round and true. She comes from Indianapolis, where she sang with the symphony; at present she sings at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Highland Park.

In the middle of her song, however, a shaggy black dog wandered in from outdoors. The Franklin High School Auditorium is not the Music Center, and in lieu of air conditioning, when the weather is nice, the doors are left open.

The dog wandered in and strolled across the space between the stage and the seats. He stood there a while, as if listening to Miss Hensley, then Wachs' assistant, Arlene De Sanctis, beckoned to the dog and he walked over to her seat and put his muzzle on her knee, evidently content.

Through all this Miss Hensley sang bravely on.

The concert was the final event in a three-day Highland Park Cultural Festival, and I felt guilty that I had not attended any of the others. I have been a resident of Highland Park for 35 years; like many other Los Angeles neighborhoods, it is rich in history and landmarks.

There is a danger, in a metropolis like Los Angeles, that local neighborhoods will be absorbed by the larger city, and seduced by its excitements, and forget their own cultural heritage and potential.

Highland Park is on the Pasadena Freeway between Dodger Stadium and South Pasadena. It is one of the older residential sections of the city. At the turn of the century is was fashionable to move to the "highlands," away from the grind of downtown. In earlier decades, though, it had had an unsavory character. Bandits hung out in the Arroyo Seco and waylaid citizens. Several notorious roadhouses prospered in Sycamore Grove as watering places for downtowners on their way to the bawdy houses of nearby Garvanza.

Because it needed the protection of the city's professional police department, Highland Park allowed itself to be annexed to Los Angeles in 1898. The day the papers were signed, the police arrived and burned down the roadhouses in an operation that anticipated Philadelphia.

At the top of Mt. Washington, where I live, a large white hotel was built, and it became a fashionable retreat for the tennis and adultery set. In 1909 it was connected to Marmion Way, at the foot of the hill, by a funicular railway, like Angels Flight. A conductor rode one car halfway up, collecting fares, and jumped to the descending car, collecting fares on the way down. The old mission-style passenger station still stands at Marmion Way and West Avenue 43, occupied now as a residence.

After the intermission the orchestra played the bacchanal from "Samson et Dalila," an exotic, sensuous piece that gave the musicians a chance to show their stuff. Then they played some familiar selections from "Le Cid," which everyone liked.

They ended with a medley from "The King and I," but just as the conductor, Dr. Frank Desby, was about to give them the downbeat, a baby started crying, once again reminding us that we were not in the Music Center.

There was a long, tense pause as the baby continued to cry and Dr. Desby held his baton aloft. Evidently he had no intention of starting the medley and subjecting Miss Hensely to the competition of a crying baby.

Finally the mother got up and left the auditorium with her infant, the performance began, and Miss Hensley sang "Hello, Young Lovers," "We Kiss in the Shadow," and "Something Wonderful."

Considering that the Lakers won, too, it was altogether a pleasant day, and I hope the Highland Park Symphony can survive.

Where else can you see a shaggy dog stray in while the mezzo is singing her heart out?

Los Angeles Times Articles