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The return of the Coffeehouse

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By Kelly Dolejsi

When Kay Newnam played violin in the first Los Alamos Coffeehouse, she was pregnant. Now, her baby boy is 30 years old.

And she is renewing the Coffeehouse for a special one-time event.

After 112 concerts, the extremely popular Coffeehouse series came to an end in early 2008. However, in honor of the 60th anniversary of Los Alamos, Newnam, one the original founders of the Coffeehouse and a frequent performer, is teaming up with the Los Alamos Arts Council (LAAC) to bring fine chamber music and desserts to Fuller Lodge one more time.

The Aug. 21 event will be held without the guidance of Rosalie Heller, favorite piano teacher to many local students and queen of the Coffeehouse dynasty.

 “Rosalie was like the hub of a wheel,” Newnam said. “She was hugely important. Doing this Coffeehouse without Rosalie is daunting.”

Nevertheless, when Heller asked Newnam to take over and organize the upcoming performance, “I was thrilled,” Newnam said.

Newnam already had the Coffeehouse mugs, as well as the other information and material necessities to put on an event, all of which Heller handed over to her last year. Now, she had to choose her musicians – carefully.

“The Los Alamos audience is discerning and loyal,” Newnam said. “They want to see faces they see in the grocery store, not just onstage.”

But without Heller, Robert Wingert, Patty (O’Rourke) Broxton, Tom O’Connor, Carol Redman, Vick Firlie and other Coffeehouse stars from days gone by, Newnam had to find a new group of musicians to play with her – not just any musicians, of course, but ones she knows very, very well.

“I’m very excited about everyone meeting my friends,” Newnam said.

Performing with Newnam will be pianist Karen Follingstad, professor of piano at San Diego State with whom Newnam has played many concerts; cellist Sally Gunther, who moved to Taos after a full career as principle cellist for the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway; and Kasia Sokol, professor of violin at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., and, in Newnam’s words, “a terrific fiddle-player and a really neat gal.”

Choosing the program was fairly easy, Newman said. Just as in the old days, the quartet simply chose a repertoire “we really love.”

The musicians’ affections have led to a program that begins with a piano trio by Mendelssohn (Opus 49), followed by a set of Bach inventions for violin and viola, and in conclusion, a piano quartet by Gabriel Faure (Opus 15).

Newnam will set down her violin for the Bach numbers and pick up her viola, while Sokol plays the violin part.

The Bach pieces will act as a “palate cleanser between two quite romantic works,” Newnam said, adding that while it might be unfair to refer to Bach’s works as a “palate cleanser,” they are certainly “more cerebral than the Mendelssohn and the Faure.”

While the arts council sponsors a variety of music programs, including Guitars and Gateaux, this is the first time the group has collaborated to host a Coffeehouse.

LAAC Executive Director Marlane Hamilton said the idea initially came to her by way of an arts council board member who felt it would be a great way to commemorate the county’s 60th anniversary.

“I also thought this was something that LAAC could do for the 60th, much like the Free Film Series we have been co-sponsoring with the library,” Hamilton said. “I felt that the coffeehouse was a much loved program and that many people would be thrilled to have it return for a special event.”

Newnam said she was pleased to partner with the LAAC.

“The LAAC is a potent and vital organization,” she said, “bringing so many events to the Hill every year and quietly promoting countless others.”

Newnam added that it thrives mainly because of Hamilton’s dedication, elegance and organizational skills.

“I hope Los Alamos knows what a coup it is to have someone like Marlane in town,” Newnam said.

With help from the LAAC and the top-notch musicians Newnam is bringing next month’s event will no doubt “be the Coffeehouse people know and love.”

Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21, with music beginning at 8:15 p.m. Advance tickets to the special 60th Anniversary Coffeehouse cost $19.49 (students pay $12) and are available at the LAAC office in Fuller Lodge and at CB Fox.

Coffeehouse events have often sold out, so organizers recommend buying your tickets early.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.