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Maddie’s Great Adventure

Maddie, a pug dog from upstate New York, breathes rapidly through her wrinkled nose and shivers while the wind blows like a high-speed train. It’s August 2004 and she’s huddled with her family, the Allinsons, on her first trip to Florida. Unfortunately, Hurricane Charley decided to visit, too, and Maddie has already discovered that barking won’t make the storm go away.

While trapped inside, doors and windows rattling, the Allinsons pass time by reading Dr. Seuss stories. When the lights go out, mother Amy Allinson (EDUC ’72) starts making up a poem about frightened Maddie. Later, it becomes a family project, with Amy’s son and Maddie’s owner, Matt (CAS ’00), helping with the writing and her daughter Kate illustrating. The result: Maddie’s Great Adventure (Trafford Publishing), a colorful, rhyming story about a pug who braves a stormy vacation.

Maddie and Matt were relieved to return to New York after that harrowing night. On the plane ride home, Maddie wore an “I survived Hurricane Charley” T-shirt. —Katie Kurtzman


The Price of Assimilation

Sitting at a microfilm machine, Jeffrey Sposato examines the magnified cursive script in an 1833 letter written by composer Felix Mendelssohn. He is searching for stolz, the German word for “proud.” Musicologists have long debated how Mendelssohn’s dual religious background—he was born into a German Jewish family that converted to Protestantism—influenced his compositions. Several music scholars have cited a 1955 transcription of the letter as evidence that the composer identified with his Jewish roots. However, Sposato noticed it was an outlier among other correspondence in which Mendelssohn expressed his Christianity. He ordered a microfilm copy to transcribe the German missive himself.

Sposato finds no sign of “proud” in the original German, even though it’s in the 1955 transcription. As he continues reading, he realizes that several words in the transcription aren’t present in the microfilm letter. His hunch is confirmed: The elements of the transcription suggesting Mendelssohn identified with Judaism were fabricated.

Sposato, now assistant professor of music and choral director at Pitt-Greensburg, shocked colleagues in the American Musicological Society and readers of The Musical Quarterly with his discovery. He recently included the evidence and an in-depth analysis of the Mendelssohn identity debate in his book, The Price of Assimilation: Felix Mendelssohn and the Nineteenth-Century Anti-Semitic Tradition (Oxford University Press). It was named a finalist in the creative communication category of the 2006 Music Awards sponsored by the Royal Philharmonic Society. —Cara J. Hayden


Irving Berlin’s Show Business

In a Manhattan building just blocks from Broadway theaters, David Leopold (CAS ’87) leafs through sheet music stuffed into a dingy green filing cabinet. Inside are 800-plus pieces of music—all of Irving Berlin’s published songs and part of his personal archive—still organized the way his secretary filed them: alphabetically and by size.

Leopold cracks open the “M” folder, discovering “Marie from Sunny Italy,” the first published Berlin song, from nearly 100 years ago. The songwriter’s fame soon grew with “That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune” (1909) and skyrocketed with “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911). It has remained in the stratosphere ever since with many classic songs—including “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business”—firmly embedded in the American psyche.

As Leopold photographs the cover of Berlin’s first work, he notices that the simple sketch of a Venetian gondola contrasts with the dynamic covers of other sheet music; they reveal a colorful chronology of early 20th-century culture.

That first cover and hundreds of other illustrations—many never before published—fill Irving Berlin’s Show Business (Harry N. Abrams), which documents the songwriter’s career. Leopold’s book accompanied three national traveling exhibitions about Berlin, celebrating this quintessentially American genius, a Russian Jewish immigrant who could only play in the key of F-sharp on a custom-made transposing piano.

Surfing’s Greatest Misadventures

Paul Diamond and his friend hang high above the snow-buried slope, their chairlift swaying gently. They’ve been stuck on the stalled lift for nearly an hour. The two pass the time conjuring up unusual ideas intended to propel them out of low-paying jobs and into the entrepreneurial limelight. By the time the ski patrol arrives to rescue them, Diamond (CAS ’92) has hashed out the embryonic plans for a book about his warm-weather passion: surfing. On a broken ski lift in Montana, Surfing’s Greatest Misadventures: Dropping in on the Unexpected (Casagrande Press) is born.

Diamond’s collection contains 30 remarkable experiences related by surfers and others associated with the sport, including a group of beginners who get caught in the 2004 tsunami.

Diamond writes, “Surfers’ indefatigable wanting and seeking eventually leads them a bit too deep on the surfer’s continuum, which has at one end pure joy and at the other horror, with absurdity and mockery in the middle.” Surfing’s Greatest Misadventures covers the entire range in compelling fashion.
—Bo Schwerin

The Collins Big Book of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art bustles with the usual Saturday crowds of New York City tourists and art enthusiasts. Steady lines flank the hallways as curious visitors with color-coded maps in hand stroll past some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. Among the visitors is David Wilkins, Pitt professor emeritus of the history of art and architecture, who’s playing a mind game.
“When I first walk through an exhibit, I never look at the labels,” he says. “It’s like a game of analysis, attempting to figure out which work belongs to which artist.”
Wilkins has analyzed thousands of pieces, and he taught thousands of students how to interpret art during 37 years at Pitt. For his latest project, The Collins Big Book of Art (Collins Design), he selected more than 1,000 images chronicling the evolution of art from ancient Greek sculptures to silkscreen prints by pop artist Andy Warhol. He chose the broad range with art novices in mind so that they, too, might recognize an artist’s work on their next gallery visit.
Navigating through the museum traffic, Wilkins veers into the American wing, where he’s greeted with a painting by one of his favorite artists. There’s no need for him to peer at the nameplate. He gazes at the hanging masterpiece and knows—Georgia O’Keeffe.
—­Rachel Hayes

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