Tag Archive | "Madison Street"

School House Rock Star

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By Claire Walla

Eliza Callahan wasn’t planning on entering the 2011 John Lennon Songwriting Contest. In fact, she entered on a whim, on the advice of a person (whom she’s since forgotten) who brought the subject up in passing.

“It was really easy to enter the contest,” said the New York City native who spends her summers here in Sag Harbor with her parents. “I just clicked submit and, after a week… I kind of forgot I had submitted anything.”
Months later, when the teen was in her high school chemistry class, she got an intriguing note. While staring down at the screen of her cellphone, which she had been using as a calculator, she noticed she had an email alert: “Congratulations, you’re a grand prize winner!”

The announcement didn’t have its intended impact. “It sounded pretty spam-y,” Callahan recollected. But after class she read the email more thoroughly, she found out she had been selected from a total pool of thousands of applicants from around the world, chosen over the top winners in 12 categories — including Gospel, Children’s, Electronic, Hip-Hop and Pop (Callahan herself entered the Rock category) — as the sole winner of the 14th annual John Lennon Songwriting Contest. And she would get $20,000.

“I was so surprised,” she noted rather modestly in an interview last week.

And while it may be surprising — impressive to say the least — that this tiny 16-year-old with long black hair, living right here on Madison Street has received international acclaim for a song she started writing as sort of a lark while sitting on a friend’s couch in D.U.M.B.O. (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), her musical career suggests otherwise.

Callahan began playing the Suzuki guitar (a strict classical style) at age three, when her instrument was the size of a ukulele and her plucking was all done by ear. She picked up jazz guitar at age eight — still her preferred mode of strumming — and gradually transitioned into rock shortly thereafter.

Callahan also began experimenting with songwriting by recording notes and lyrics on Garage Band — a computer program that allows professional, amateur, even non-musicians to record and overlay tracks — at a very early age. She credits the inspiration for her very first song, which she wrote at age seven, to a parrot named Lolita, whom she met on a family trip to Costa Rica. (Lolita was special, Callahan noted. She said “Hola” when you spoke to her.)

Though Callahan has only recently started performing her own songs, she has been a part of the Third Street Music School for about as long as she’s been playing jazz. With collections of other young musicians, the school organizes two performances each year, during which young ensembles play a range of music, often classic rock. Callahan herself has played Hendrix and The Beatles (her personal favorite), and remembers getting her on-stage start with The Kinks’ classic, “Lola.”

“I was an eight-year-old singing about a transvestite!” she laughed.

Now fully immersed in all facets of the process, Callahan speaks of her songwriting with professionalism and the insight of someone who’s been doing this for ages.

“Each song is its own beast, in a way. The hardest part is trying to really figure out what you’re trying to say through the song,” she began. “There are two ways to go: either you tell a story, or the song is [composed of] snippets of stories, but a message comes across, and emotion is portrayed.” Callahan always writes in the latter, more free-form style.

The song she entered into the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, “Bridge Song,” is what she refers to as a “Brooklyn anthem.” Though it was instigated by an afternoon spent mocking the wave of super-trendy hipsters that, in recent years, have spilled out of the East Village and into Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and DUMBO (to name a few), Callahan said the song grew over two years to become what it is now: a soulful tribute to this young sub-sect of Manhattan’s satellite community.

In a relaxed, breathy droll reminiscent of modern female songwriters like Regina Spektor, Callahan melds words and phrases into drawn-out crescendos. But she embellishes the tail end of her lyrics with a delicate almost vibrato, which nicely caps these drawn-out sounds. The effect makes her voice both cool and impassioned, yet totally in control. The sound compliments the raw guitar, a constant beat somewhat reminiscent of garage rock artists like The Strokes, and before them The Ramones.

“People tell me I’m not singing full, or that it sounds like there’s an effect on my voice,” she explained. They also tell her it sounds as if she’s singing with a British accent, which may be the result of listening to endless hours of Beatles records as a child. “My style [of singing] was not developed purposefully,” she continued. “It just kind of happened.”

The way she describes it, Callahan lives and breathes music. Sure, at 16-years-old and an incoming junior, next year she’ll be spending extra time studying for the SATs — which will put music temporarily on hold — and she said she plans to go on to a small, liberal arts school rather than a music academy after graduation. But still, after more than a decade immersed in sound, Callahan takes her passion seriously.

“I don’t know that I made a conscious decision to ‘be a rock star,’” she said. “I just really love music. It was always around me and I always wanted to play it.”

Callahan is now working on an LP at Headgear Studio in Brooklyn. She said she hopes to use the money she won from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest to get guest collaborators.

“I want a horn section, and I want to pay some homage to Amy Winehouse,” she said. “It’s great that it happened now,” she added of winning $20,000 from the songwriting contest. “Getting a song mastered and remixed is very expensive, so the money will probably go very quickly!”

To Build a Church: Methodists Move Forward on New Edifice

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Three years ago, the Sag Harbor Methodist Church congregation found itself in a dire situation. Only 15 parishioners consistently attended Sunday mass – a meager number by congregation standards – and the average age of a church member was around 72, said Pastor Tom MacLeod. After completing a full assessment of their former Madison Street home, a towering building – with a columned entrance – dating back to the 1800s, the congregation learned the space was in need of repairs totaling $1 million.
“My predecessors were in a crisis mode trying to figure out how to keep the building open,” said MacLeod, who took over the church in 2002, of the pastors before him. “It was overwhelming just figuring out if we had enough money to put the heat on … It would have been a matter of time before the church would have been ‘aged out.’”
Although unfortunate, the predicament of the Sag Harbor Methodist Church was far from unusual. According to MacLeod, Protestant churches have noticed a steady decline in numbers since the late 1960s. In fact, this phenomenon was one reason MacLeod entered the church.
“I was first involved [with the church] as a layperson … But one of my calls to the ministry was the decline of the church … It really grieved me to watch a church in decline. I wanted to know why we were accepting this … Why there wasn’t anything that could be done to stop it,” said MacLeod.
The Sag Harbor Methodist Congregation voted to circumvent certain death by selling the building to former Southampton Town Councilman Dennis Suskind for $2.9 million in spring 2007 and relocating.
“Almost all of us agreed that it was necessary for the survival of the church [to sell the building],” said church trustee Bruce Saul. “The survival of the church was more important than the survival of the building.”
As part of the agreement to move, MacLeod found an interim space for the congregation and a plot of land for sale just outside the village on which a new church would be constructed.
Coincidentally, the members of the Sag Harbor Methodist Church found themselves temporarily located in the former St. David African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church on Eastville Avenue. The AME Church, founded in 1840, had closed its doors nearly a decade ago because of dwindling membership and the steady aging of its parishioners.

Although the fate of the AME church serves as a constant reminder to the Sag Harbor Methodist congregation of their once possible fate, the church numbers are now booming and they are preparing to break ground at the new property. The plan was in front of the Southampton Town Planning Board for the first time last week. CHECK THIS

“When Tom came, we started to grow,” said Carol Elmslie, a 21-year member of the congregation. “Tom brought a new openness and freedom to the church. He brings people from great distances and a big draw is the praise music instead of the organ.”
In an effort to attract new parishioners, and cut down on costs, church member Suzanne Lewis began to sing and play the guitar every Sunday.
“In all of the handbooks on church growth, they tell you to hire a music director and youth group leader … We didn’t have the funds available, so we decided to keep things simple and do the best we could with what we had,” said MacLeod.
The change in style seems to have paid off for the church. On Easter Sunday, almost sixty consistent members attended mass, as MacLeod preached with humor and humanism while describing the struggle between the Philistines and the Israelites. The congregation, however, squeezed into the space and only a few seats were left open.
“We are all looking forward to the new space,” said recent member Carol Jaswal. “Even on regular Sundays there are not many seats left.”
The public hearing on the church’s plans for their new space was closed without public comment on Thursday, April 9, at the town’s planning board meeting. Architectural engineer Matthew Sherman, of the Shelter Island-based firm Sherman Engineering and Consulting, gave the board a brief presentation on the church’s intended plans for the site. The church would like to construct a 6,776 square foot building, complete with sanctuary, basement, fellowship hall, kitchen and bathrooms at the corner of Carroll Street and the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. The neighbors adjacent to the property, including Sag Harbor Village Trustee Brian Gilbride and Pamela Kern of Harbor Heights, are in favor of the project.
Paul Mott, however, of the Mott Family who sold the church the parcel, said he would like to see a 50-foot buffer of land between the edge of his property and the proposed church parking lot. As the plans stand today, there is 20 feet between the parking lot and Mott’s land.
To ameliorate the problem, Sherman suggested taking away a few parking spaces.
“We proposed 54 spaces … But we really need only 48. If we take six spaces out that would pull back [the space between Mott’s property and the parking lot],” said Sherman.
Overall, MacLeod expects the project to cost between $1.3 to $1.5 million, in addition to the $695,000 cost to purchase the land. MacLeod added that the church – after paying various taxes and agents’ fees – netted nearly $2.7 million in the sale of the Madison Street building.
Although, the property on the turnpike will no doubt serve the congregation for many years, MacLeod noted that the church moved four times since it first began in the early 1800s.
“We had to adapt to the needs of the church … But the church is not the building,” said MacLeod. “When I go to visit people in the hospital and tell them the church is praying for them. They don’t envision the building. They envision the people.”