All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Robbie Wedeen
INTERVIEWER: Ann McGrath
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    January 9, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/1985)

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(I) What was the result of that bicentennial folk festival? I know that you continued

(N) Yes, one result was the continuation of the folk festival which is now entering its tenth season so that I think that was a very worthwhile root or branch from the root of the bicentennial and the following year, though, again it was a I think Judy Dissler and I sat down one day and said, that was too good not to do again. We can't wait for a centennial observation. Let's see if we can do something like a folk festival at least that folk festival part again. And I must say that Judy was a fantastic organizer and she organized a committee that included Paulette Zisk again, Isaac McNatt, Dick Rodda, Bea Lewis, Carol Hausner so that it covered all ages also and sort of skills within the community and we submitted a proposal to the town council at least for at that point the requesting support funding in terms of park personnel, in terms of sound system, we felt that I guess it was kind of last minute that we needed some token from the town that it would support it to that degree and I must say, Eleanor Kieliscek was then mayor. She was wonderful. And liked the idea and gave it her full support and so we had a lovely festival outdoors in Votee Park on again with a lovely sort of picnic feeling about it and we from the beginning also scheduled activities for children so that parents could watch and not, and the children could be engaged elsewhere if you didn't have the patience to sit around and listen to a whole festival.

(I) And who would take care of that? What would the children do? That's interesting.

(N) Well, Dick Rodda organized activities through the Recreation Department so they had arts and crafts activities in places and it was held at a distance from the outdoor festival so they could run around and at the same time, what was interesting was by the end of the afternoon, the kids would all trickle back and sit on the stage, around the stage, because the music did draw them and

(I) What time of the year did you do them?

(N) Around Memorial Day weekend. We found over the years that sometimes it was difficult to (END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2)

(I) This is a new tape just beginning. I wanted to ask you Robbie you said that you've done at least nine of these folk festivals since the bicentennial. Which ones were your favorites that you remember the most. What were the highlights of some of them?

(N) Well each year, I think this one is going to be my favorite. Each year there was a slightly different, we usually try something new so that over the years, we have added folk dancing, we've included square dancing, we've had art and sculpture shows, we've included craft shows. Generally what happens is that each year we add something and we just keep adding because we like whatever it is that we've added. We have tried to touch upon a variety of different ethnic heritages and traditions so we've had Anglo-Irish music, we've had Indian music from India, we've had Latin American music, we've had, oh dear, give me a country, we've had English music

(I) I know you've had South American music. 

(N) We've had Afro American music but we've also had different types of music as well because generally we've had a Blue Grass group because that's always fun and lively and also that's great for square dancing which we've included too. We've had Balkan music, we've had Yiddish music, we've had Hebrew music, we've had, well we are working our way around the world in no particular order but we hope to touch on ... we've had Mauri music so we hope to catch every country eventually.

(I) What were some of your favorites, some of the people that were so special?

(N) Well some of the people who were really special I think were Sooni Paz (?) with her Latin American music, our various blue grass groups have been delightful starting with Jules Hanson and Loretta Meyers of Bottom Dollar and Rich Ramey. And the Blue Grass Cousins and also his blue grass playing children who have their own group called the Blue Grass Hoppers. And Roger Sprung and the Blue Grassers. I really have a special memory of fondness and respect for the folk festival with Bob McGrath performing because that one was held under especially difficult circumstances. For one thing, it poured and our program which is always planned to be outdoors on a beautiful day and which I might add for the past four years has been rained in, never rained out, but rained in but that particular day, it rained even harder than usual and that year we had scheduled the festival for, as always, in Votee Park and the facility we used for the first time was the community gym which is adjacent to Votee Park and unfortunately though it may be a wonderful facility for basketball, it turned out to have horrendous acoustics for folk festivals and there was a tremendous echo in the gym and also an especially large number of children who had come to hear Bob McGrath so we had a combination of very difficult circumstances with a lot of children who really had come to hear one performer in particular and what struck me about Bob's performance was that he was able to cut through the noise and to cut through the excitement of being indoors with a lot of loud instruments and to reach all those children on a very personal basis in he sang a song called THE RAINBOW CONNECTION from Sesame Street I presume but I felt he really made a rainbow connection with those children and that he turned it into a very direct and personal experience for each of them and I found that a very moving and touching experience. And what I remember there especially is one little boy who was so overcome by the excitement of being so close to Bob McGrath that he blurted out in the middle of Bob's singing, "he wear Lee's too" and we all sort of checked our jeans to find out what he meant. I don't think everybody knew. And then we realized he just suddenly had realized that Bob McGrath was a human being.

(I) You had Teaneck Artists at that performance. Do you remember who you had? Because they are famous too.

(N) At the various festivals we try to involve the arts in a variety of ways and this one was interesting because it was planned to be a happening and the happening was that the artists would create a work of art at the festival in some way triggered by the experience of being there at the festival, by the music, by the people and the artists were Janet Indick who is a fine sculptor, Laurie Baer a printmaker and photographer, Susan Hogan who is a set designer/costume designer and fine artist, Jim Edmunds who is a graphical artist and photographer also. Mal Stein who is a poet and artist. Candace Christakes who is a dancer and an artist and who is also the co-chairperson of the Advisory Board on the Arts. I think that is our array of artists. And many people found that also a very fascinating experience to see the artists concentrating and working very hard and the artists themselves who had been leery of in a sense being performing artists - artists don't always like to perform - and they don't think of themselves as performers so they had been a little leery and they found that it was an exciting and stimulating environment in which to do the work and also at the same time that they were able to concentrate. That that was somehow something very exhilarating about being in the midst of all this commotion and at the same time, being able to focus and concentrate on creating something and we exhibited the works at the end of the festival and they were all different but they were all on the same type, they all started out with the same size it was some sort of fiber-board and some people do collages and some people do drawings, some people did watercolors, some people did, they chose their own mediums but they started out with the same size, same thing but everybody did something very individual of course. So that was a memorable festival and I think the festivals have all been memorable in that sense that each one creates its own spirit despite the fact that we've had some weird weather, that the ones that have been indoors in June which after all are not the most beautiful of locations, so after the experience of the community gym, we did go back to using Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Allen has always been very kind in offering us the use of that gym on an emergency basis and but one must admit that gyms are not the most beautiful places in which to hear music. Nevertheless, there has been dancing and singing and very good feelings. And again, I think now let's see, when Martha Schlamme performed and Roger Sprung and there was a vast turnout of people who knew her and had known her work for a very long time and were very interested in hearing her and there was a wonderful folk dance led by Jim Gold and

(I) He is a Teaneck person.

(N) He is a Teaneck person and coverage by the UA Columbia cable coverage. We've had live coverage by WFDU. As a matter of fact, they've always been most cooperative in terms of having programs based on the folk festival before and after and as a matter of fact, they have requested several times that they broadcast live from the festival so I think that is a testimony also to the high caliber of the performers that we have had and that includes well I guess I mentioned Roger Sprung and Bob McGrath and Martha Schlamme and Sooni Paz and Montego Joe, we had a wonderful festival in the first at the high school outdoors and that was the first of the Discover Teaneck days. So the festival was part of that first Discover Teaneck Day. That happened to be a gorgeous sunny, crisp day and there in addition to the performers what was particularly memorable again was watching people dancing on the green and it really was a green and again, that the folk festival cuts across generational lines and has always both in the committee that participates in it and in the performers and in the audience so that you find grandparents dancing with children, little children, not necessarily their own but that everybody is welcome and enjoys it.

(I) Where do you go to publicize it, where do you go for publicity for an undertaking of this kind and do you get cooperation?

(N) Well I, the festival is publicized in the local papers, the Shopper, the Suburbanite, The Record, in the Times. Of course the support system for publicity, for getting it together, that's the hard part of doing a large activity and people often do work for a year or two and then they get, have other commitments and involvements and it is a problem in terms of people working as volunteers. You know I should just give a little history and say that the folk festival started in the bicentennial. Then it continued for a couple of years with an ad hoc committee. I mentioned that Judy Dissler and I kind of started but mentioned all the people who joined. That group of people shifted somewhat throughout the years. That was called the Committee on Delightful Occasions and then gradually I guess as I became more involved and as the Teaneck Advisory Board on the Arts was formed, the folk festival while maintaining its separate character and really separate funding to some degree, more or less came under the Teaneck Advisory Board on the Arts and has been sponsored by that organization.

(I) Which started first? 

(N) The folk festival.

(I) And then from that came the Teaneck Advisory Board.

(N) Well no. It is just that the Teaneck Advisory Board on the Arts, I'll tell you, really in terms of some of the organizations in TAB, the folk festival first was the bicentennial, the folk festival developed after that and it took on a character of its own. Now as a sort of result of that bicentennial folk festival, around the same time, an organization was begun by Joan Kuyper of Teaneck which was meant to be an arts organization, a performing organization, featuring Teaneck artists. Joan invited, I think this also began with a gift of a piano to the First Presbyterian Church and they requested that she do something constructive with than piano and Joan, being a Teaneck person who was very constructive, carne up with the idea of having a concert series essentially speaking but one that would represent different types of music and represent the diverse community of Teaneck so that she asked people from classical music, from jazz, from folk music, from opera, to join her on this and I think we started with a committee of five.

(I) Were you on the original committee?

(N) I was on the original committee and I was very thrilled really to be invited to be in that community and of course right from the very beginning, what we saw was that there was a community of artists in Teaneck who didn't know each other and that one of the purposes that TAP formed, so that here we go again with an organization developing to fill a conceived need, that one of the functions of TAP (Teaneck Artists Perform) would be to have the artists in the community get to know each other.

(I) Who else was on that original board?

(N) Joan Kuyper, Bill Kuyper, Joan Kuyper was the director, managing, whatever, executive director, Bill Kuyper, Joan Stein, Will Roy the opera singer, Joan Stein the pianist, Bill Kuyper the French hornist with the Philharmonic, Ruby Stevenson who is a jazz artist and myself who was representing the folk community. And I must say, it was a very exciting organization and it was exciting for us because we really were starting from the beginning and devising a kind of dream organization and again, one of the things that, well we came up with a name ultimately of Teaneck Artists Perform which really does say exactly what the purpose of TAP was to be which was to feature a Teaneck artist and I think based on my experience with the folk festival, I had always felt that you can't make an organization too parochial, too limited. If you always limit it specifically to the town itself then I think you are cutting out a lot of strength. Now of course with the folk festival, we've had people of national reputation come into Teaneck but we've also always included Teaneck artists. I can't go into everybody's name right now but the local Teaneck artists like Jim Gold and Lenny Appelbaum who plays the bagpipes and Al, his mentor, whose last name I can't think of at the moment. And Carol Hausner, again including high school, from high school kids up through any age. But TAP's emphasis was a little different. Here the Teaneck artists have to be featured and I guess as many Teaneck artists who would fit into that particular program but again, not limited, so that the featured artist could bring in people that he or she felt would best express that program. So that was one of the ideas, the featured Teaneck artists. The idea was to perform for the community at affordable prices.

(I) But you did pay your talent?

(N) The talent was always paid and in fact, I think TAP must be unique in that it is an organization which started out due to performers being, it was actually more like a cooperative so that the performers selected the artists essentially speaking and the first year, each of those performers did a concert and that was the program series. And in fact sometimes that's been repeated so that there's a kind of reparatory group among what developed as different chamber music artists have performed, what has evolved is a kind of resident chamber music group with a shifting personnel depending on the composer and the work selected.

(I) Was there any money originally there at all?

(N) No, it all came at the door and so that each of the concerts at the beginning was very limited to the number of people that could perform and everybody got flat rate, a modest rate but from the inception, the idea was that the performers got paid, that the, as a matter of fact and the administration did not so that's unusual, that the performers devise the program again so it wasn't an executive board telling the performers what to do. It was the performers getting together and deciding what they wanted to do. That it was to develop an interest in the arts and to contribute to the community by providing concerts by Philharmonic people, by Metropolitan Opera people, by, in other words, to develop the resources or at least instead of having everybody run into New York, to know this is available here on an intimate basis, in an intimate setting and at the same time, to have, and I think to some degree, it really did succeed in doing that - to have a community of artists get to know one another. So again, for me personally, the folk festival and the, and TAP, were very important because they were things that I participated in in the community that made me feel connected in an important way to Teaneck and in fact around about this time, we had been looking at houses elsewhere, particularly in Englewood and Tenafly and at the last minute so to speak, I kind of said, no, I think I would just as soon stay here and it was just about that time. Actually it was just before these other things started to happen but I always thought that was interesting. It was something that I felt was developing here that made me feel connected to this town.

(I) Did the Advisory Board come after all that?

(N) Now, so here we have Folk Festival and TAP and at the same time, there were several other arts organizations that had started in Teaneck. One of them was called Mostly Opera and that was started by Don Grandy I believe and his wife Joan Grandy and Bergen Stage which was a theater group started by Bing and Lucille Bills which did wonderful plays, very fine presenting, very fine theater. He is a professor at City University.

(I) Do you remember where they performed?

(N) Yes, I certainly do. They performed at the same Presbyterian Church at which TAP performed. And as I recall at my very first concert, as we were in rehearsal trying to set up a very complicated system for the multi-media presentation that I was doing at this concert, Bergen Stage was pounding at the door because they had to get in and set up for their program, for their play that was taking place. And of course what we all realized very quickly was that where it seemed to be a birth of organizations, suddenly we were getting a number of organizations and not only that, if we were not careful, we were going to run into all kinds of conflicts and we would be trying to draw upon the same community at the same dates and using the same facilities and it became apparent to us that a prime need in Teaneck which is still a prime need in Teaneck was for a Performing Arts space, for an Arts Center. I think it is really too bad that we have not achieved that yet and that we have not really pushed hard enough. I think we all get so involved in trying to do the work that we are doing, that it is very hard to keep pushing for things that you know you need and I'd like to come back to this if you could remind me because you asked me the question about reorganization earlier, early on in this interview and I'd still love to see a school building turned into a cultural arts center as has been done in other communities such as Fair Lawn with great success. It seems to me that it should be something that should still be on Teaneck's agenda as a possible use for school buildings that are under utilized for educational purposes.

(I) Do you think that the community could support it with the arts?

(N) Well I always think a community could support it. Now I am not a financial expert but it seems to me any time a community has facilities like this, it enhances the community and just as when we selected Teaneck, we wanted to know what the schools were like, well we also wanted to know about the library and we also wanted to know about other things in Teaneck and I think a cultural arts center is a magnet and just the way I have people who call me when they want to know directions to the folk festival, they say oh but Teaneck is a wonderful place. There are so many things going on. But they only go on if they are supported ultimately and if there is a place for them. And well we can get into the sad story of what happened to some of these organizations largely because there was no place and is no place.

(I) I was asking you about the facilities because certain churches have been more than wonderful.

(N) Right. And the Presbyterian Church was one of them and St. Anastasia's is another. Temple Emeth has its own living arts series of concerts and arts programs. Jackie Guttman whom you mentioned, had also been active in that. The library, of course, has always had an interest in presenting concerts which it has done, they had the Sunday Series and programs which it presents to the Friends of the Library. But, and it has added a room with its renovation that serves as a performing space though I don't know how effective it is as a performing space for concerts and dance programs and so forth. Anyhow, Temple Emeth, there was another temple to which Bergen Stage finally went for one or two seasons but there again, it was very difficult for them to, what do you do with props. If you are presenting theatrical productions, you need a place to store props and costumes and sets and flats and most churches and synagogues and temples don't have that on a permanent basis. They may make space available on a short term basis but they don't have the facilities and so forth that these kinds of performing groups require. 

(I) We were talking about the Advisory Board on the Arts. Is it still active?

(N) Yes, it is. To a degree. I believe that it was Mary Tepulsky who was involved with Mostly Opera whose husband had performed also with TAP. He is a bassist with the Metropolitan Opera. I believe that the concept of having the township support the arts and provide a forum in a sense for arts organizations to work together to their mutual interest and to the benefit of the town by the formation of an Advisory Board on the Arts, I believe that was Mary's idea and she was elected the first chairperson of the Advisory Board on the Arts.

(I) Do you know what year that was?

(N) This was in, during the tenure of Eleanor Kieliczek so I believe it was 77 or 78 and so all of the representatives from all these different organizations were on the first Advisory Board on the Arts as well as other interested people who expressed their interest to the town council and were willing to attend was it weekly meetings or monthly, I guess it was monthly meetings, and we had many ambitious plans and spent many hours again when you are starting an organization, one of the things you spend a lot of time doing is saying, what is the purpose of this organization? What do we really want to accomplish? So we spent an awful lot of time worrying about that. But I think generally speaking, with the Advisory Board on the Arts, its function has been to advise the town council on matters pertaining to the arts. Again where we feel, and the township requests, guidance. But I think also to think of programs and ideas that will be of benefit to the community and to the artists within the community. At least in terms of my own personal interest in these organizations, I think always there is a sort of two-fold purpose or that there is like a two-fold community and that it is to everybody's advantage to develop both the artists community, their sense of self, as living and contributing to a larger community which is the township and so one of the things the Advisory Board sponsored on the arts was a directory of Teaneck artists and a poetry anthology which brought a lot of writers together who, in a wonderful way.

(I) There area lot of writers here.

(N) We had a reading of the poets from the anthology which was a simply lovely occasion and

 

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