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North Shore Public Library

'Kicking up the Dust'

By Melissa Arnold

Ask Sally Anne Keller what she loves most about painting with watercolors, and she’ll give an interesting response: She says it’s like painting backward.

“There’s no white paint in watercolor, so if you want to have a white cloud in your piece, for example, you have to paint around the area you want it to go. It’s a little tricky, and I enjoy that,” said Keller, 53, of Rocky Point.

The artist fell in love with painting when she was just a little girl, and since then her work has appeared in galleries, libraries, hotels and local businesses. Her next event is a solo exhibit entitled Atmospheric Watercolors, appearing at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham for the month of December.

“I grew up with a single mom and she worked a lot, and I was always doodling or painting something. Then one day when I was in elementary school, we had an art class about watercolors. That was it for me,” she recalled.

‘Path to Beach’

Aside from public school art classes, Keller is entirely self-taught, gathering much of her painting expertise from poring over books. Her family was supportive, she said, and pushed her to create and share whatever she could.

Ultimately, Keller began a career in the insurance industry, working jobs in various parts of the field for 30 years. On the weekends, she works as a consultant at an art gallery. And of course, whenever she can steal a few moments to herself, she’s painting in her home studio.

“You can be your own worst critic, and to hear other people say that they enjoy your work feels really good,” Keller said about the exhibition process. Her first exhibit a decade ago in Southampton brought her out of a solitary hobby and into the local art scene.

She’s now a part of the North Shore Art Guild and loves selling her work at affordable prices to raise money for causes close to her heart. Even the infamous radio host Howard Stern has purchased one of Keller’s paintings — at the time, he shared that he enjoyed painting with watercolors himself.

“I love getting people together, especially when it can help other people at the same time,” she said. “I’ve donated to veterans’ causes, animal rescues, and children’s hospitals in the past.”

With Atmospheric Watercolors, Keller has selected about a dozen watercolor paintings of varied sizes that depict Long Island landscapes. What makes her work special, she said, is the way she tries to pull viewers into the scene.

“I’m really into nature — I see shapes, shadows, and colors in ways that most people overlook. I like to create pieces that make you feel what you see. If it’s a sunny day, then I want you to be able to feel the warmth. If it’s a storm, you might feel the heaviness of the clouds coming in or smell the rain,” Keller said. “If people can experience that by looking at my work, then it makes me happy.”

Currently, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, located at 3131 Nesconset Hwy. in Centereach, is featuring a collection of works from the North Shore Art Guild. The exhibit includes several of Keller’s paintings. All the artwork on display is for sale, and proceeds from sales of those pieces will benefit Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. 

Vito Marrone, incoming president of the North Shore Art Guild, met the watercolor artist when he first joined the organization in 2011. At the time, Keller was participating in a mixed exhibit of more than 50 artists. Marrone recalls Keller’s work catching his eye right away.

 “We have some really great artists that are part of the North Shore Art Guild, and Sally is one of them. I’ve had the chance to take classes with her and she’s so good at what she does,” he said. “Watercolor is difficult, and she’s taught me a lot about how to engineer a watercolor and maintain control of the paint so that the finished piece comes out well.”

Keller’s work has been featured in several exhibits at the North Shore Public Library, and Adult Program Coordinator Lorena Doherty said they’re excited to welcome her back again.

“Sally is a skilled watercolor artist. Her work is direct, and luscious in the use of color and light,” Doherty said. “Sally has a way of isolating the beauty of nature and creating the feeling of standing inside the work, not just on the outside looking in. Atmospheric artwork is timeless and enduring, and the exhibit is a beautiful addition to the library.”

For those interested in meeting Keller and learning more about working with watercolor, she will host a demonstration at the library on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. All are welcome and the event is free.

North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham will present Atmospheric Watercolors throughout the month of December. For library hours and more information, please call 631-929-4488. 

Libraries across Suffolk County will have to deal with changes to the number of e-book copies allowed to them. Photo by Kyle Barr

As the internet has connected the world, libraries across Suffolk County have never been as linked as they are today with both patrons and each other.

The written word is strong, despite claims to the contrary, especially with the proliferation of e-books and audiobooks. Suffolk County’s Library System allows for libraries to request books from fellow libraries and gives access to multitudes of e-books and audiobooks alike, all free on request, barring a wait list.

Some publishing companies are not happy with the status quo.

Macmillan Publishers, an international corporation and one of the top five publishing houses across the globe, announced its intent to limit the number of copies allowed to libraries to one for the first eight weeks of release starting Nov. 1. After those eight weeks, they can purchase “expiring” e-book copies which need to be re-purchased after two years or 52 lends.

The Port Jefferson Library will have to deal with changes to the number of e-book copies allowed to them. Photo by Kyle Barr

While this decision has rocked libraries across the country, in Suffolk County, as the interlibrary program and e-book lending is handled by the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, that will mean one copy of an e-book for the entire system, according to Kevin Verbesey, director of the county library system. Just one e-book license for the whole of Suffolk and its near 1.5 million residents for the first eight weeks of its release.

To add some perspective, Verbesey said a hot new title could have thousands of residents on a wait list for the title, and the county library system usually tries to have one copy of said book for every two or three people requesting it. Like any anticipated piece of media, new and highly anticipated titles are most often sought and bought in those first eight weeks. Following that, barring renewed interest from something like a movie deal, attention begins to wane. Basically, the library system, which would usually purchase hundreds of licenses of that book, will effectively be restricted from having any. 

In socioeconomic terms, Verbesey said it means people who can afford it can buy a book. Those who can’t afford it will have their access restricted.

“In some parts of the county where there’s not great socioeconomic need, people have the option to ‘press buy’ and buy it for $12, but that’s not the case everywhere,” Verbesey said. “Rich people can have it, but poor people can’t.”

The North Shore is one of Suffolk County’s heaviest concentration of library users, the county library system director said. Those patrons could see some of the biggest impact of this decision.

Debbie Engelhardt, the Comsewogue Public Library director, said her patrons are savvy and know when books are set to hit the street, and they depend on the library to have e-book copies available.

North Shore Libray will have to deal with changes to the number of e-book copies allowed to them. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have a long history of working very hard to get things into people’s hands as quickly as we can,” she said. “Think about a tiny little library someplace, they can buy one, and then all of Suffolk County can buy one. It just doesn’t seem equitable.”

Engelhardt said libraries often have deals to purchase books cheaper than retail price through deals with publishers. They will also create lease agreements to gather numerous copies of whatever is popular at the time, so they are not later burdened with multiple copies of that same tome. 

Ted Gutmann, the director of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, also pointed to the interlibrary loan system, which means not every library will need to purchase every book as long as it’s available nearby. 

E-books, on the other hand, are purchased by libraries for sometimes five times its original asking price. A regular e-book could cost around $12. A library or library system will purchase it at around $50 or $60, according to Verbesey. This is because libraries need to buy the licensing agreement of the copy in order to lend it to multiple people over the course of its license before the agreement expires in a few years. Each publisher has different policies on how long the licenses last and what is the cost for relicensing a product. 

The Suffolk library system has an annual budget of $14 million, with $4 million being spent directly on e-books and for the services of Overdrive, an application used by libraries to distribute their electronic media. E-books currently make up approximately one of every four checkout items from libraries in Suffolk. 

Despite the price of these books, Verbesey said they are happy to purchase what can be hundreds of licenses of that one e-book if there’s demand. This new policy would make it pointless to purchase any copies.

Macmillan did not respond to a request for comment, but in its original July 25 letter to Macmillan authors and agents announcing the change, CEO John Sargent wrote, “It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an e-book for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American e-book reader is starting to lean heavily toward free … Our new terms are designed to protect the value of your books during their first format publication. But they also ensure that the mission of libraries is supported. They honor the libraries’ archival mandate and they reduce the cost and administrative burden associated with e-book lending. We are trying to address the concerns of all parties.”

The changes came after the corporation tested a 16-week embargo with e-books from its subsidiary Tor Publishing, concluding e-book lending had a negative impact on sales.

The Emma S. Clark Memorial Library will have to deal with changes to the number of e-book copies allowed to them. Photo by Kyle Barr

Overdrive CEO Steve Potash condemned the move, calling the company’s original test data faulty adding that very few Tor e-books are available in public library catalogs. He pointed to other studies that showed libraries had no material impact on e-book sales.

Authors published under MacMillan include romance author Nora Roberts, young adult fantasy based in African myth Tomi Adeyemi, and even famous and deceased authors such as C.S. Lewis. The company is also set to publish whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s memoirs this month, which is sure to become a hotly requested item.

And though the libraries have no control over the publisher’s requests, some expect the onus to fall on the individual libraries themselves. 

“When a library serving many thousands has only a single copy of a new title in e-book format, it’s the library — not the publisher — that feels the heat,” said American Library Association President Wanda Brown in a July 25 statement. “It’s the local library that’s perceived as being unresponsive to community needs,” she added.

Engelhardt pointed to data from the national Library Journal’s Generational Reading Survey for 2019, which showed 42 percent of those surveyed purchased the same book they borrowed from the library, and 70 percent bought another book of the same author of a book they borrowed. She added libraries are some of the biggest promoters for individual books, authors and literacy in general, and Macmillan may only be hurting its own brand.

While the limitation on e-book lending won’t be in effect until November, libraries are already preparing to tell their patrons why Macmillan books won’t be available electronically. 

“We’re going to have to explain the publisher is not working with local libraries,” she said.

 

A drawing from Torrey’s book, ‘My Dog, Bob’

By Melissa Arnold

For most of his childhood, Richard Torrey dreamed of becoming the world’s first pro hockey player/cartoonist. His father, Bill Torrey, brought home multiple Stanley Cups as a general manager in the National Hockey League. Following in his father’s footsteps was practically his destiny. But young Rich found that his passions were leading elsewhere.

Torrey has spent more than 30 years engaging readers, first as a comic strip creator and later as the author and illustrator of more than 15 children’s books. In February, the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham will showcase his childlike imagination with an exhibit titled, Richard Torrey: The Creative Process.

The cover of Torrey’s ‘Almost’ book

Born in Los Angeles, Torrey grew up all over the U.S. and Canada, spending long summers in a Canadian cabin without TV or other technological distractions.

“I was always drawing,” recalls Torrey, 59, who now resides in Shoreham. “My mind would wander, and I was always coming up with new ideas. I used to cut out the Sunday comics and try to figure out how to draw the characters.”

As luck should have it, Torrey had a chance opportunity to meet beloved Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz thanks to his father’s career in hockey. Schultz was a diehard fan and season ticketholder for the now-defunct Oakland Seals, where the elder Torrey was general manager in 1970. Rich approached Schulz during a hockey game, eager to present him with a drawing of a horse he’d done recently.

“He wrote feedback on the back of my drawing, and was so kind,” Torrey recalled. “That moment hooked me.”

Still, he found art classes in school terribly boring and too structured, and while he first majored in pre-med at Allegheny College, he knew immediately it wouldn’t work. He got a degree is psychology mostly out of obligation and spent the next several years working with his father, directionless.

But there was plenty of downtime on the job, and Torrey always found himself drawing. Despite self-doubt, his big break finally came in 1984 when his first comic strip, “Heartland,” was picked up for syndication in 180 newspapers.

Torrey would go on to create a successful sports-themed strip called “Pete and Clete,” but as the newspaper industry began to change, he wondered what else he might do for work. 

“Ally-saurus & the First Day of School”

“I looked for avenues that would be a good fit for my style of illustration, and children’s books seemed like the answer,” he said. While Torrey first took jobs illustrating for others, he continued to fill notebooks and reams of cheap paper with drawings, bits of text and storylines of his own. He knew he had to try writing his own books.

“Nine times out of ten it’s going to be a horrible idea, but if you generate enough of them, something is bound to be good,” Torrey said. “All kinds of things inspire me — it might be something on the radio or something my kids did growing up, or just lines that pop into my head.”

Today, Torrey considers himself an artist that writes. His award-winning stories, including “Ally-saurus & the First Day of School” (Sterling), “My Dog, Bob” (Holiday House) and the series “Why,” “Almost” and “Because” (HarperCollins), are drawn or painted almost entirely by hand in a variety of mediums.

Lorena Doherty, adult program coordinator and art coordinator of the North Shore Public Library, said that Torrey is a regular library user and has occasionally read his books to children during special programs there. He is also a well-known speaker at area schools and an instructor at the Art League of Long Island. “Illustrators are genuine artists, and we love to feature local members of our community,” Doherty said. “He uses quick, simple pencil lines in his drawings, and there’s a storyboard quality about them. He’s very playful. This exhibit is different in a fresh way, and I believe it has a wide appeal.”

The exhibit will feature approximately 25 illustrations from Torrey’s career in varied stages of completion, along with text from Torrey explaining his inspirations and work process.

“I think people will enjoy getting a peek into the way I operate when I’m doing a book,” Torrey said. “I talk to kids often, and I tell them that none of it is magic. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of mistakes. There is no single route for creativity. I want people to see the bumps and bruises [in my work]. The path to success isn’t a straight line, it’s more like a ball of yarn.”

See Richard Torrey: The Creative Process from Feb. 1 through 27 at the North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham. Torrey will also speak at the library’s Art Forum meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. For more information, please call 631-929-4488.

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

'Country Ride,' taken in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, edited with oil painting effect

By Melissa Arnold

For more than 40 years, John Spoltore has immersed himself in his love of photography. It has taken him all over the world, earned him scores of accolades and allowed him to nurture hundreds of budding Long Island shutterbugs through teaching. But it all began with an unfortunate accident.

John Spoltore

In 1975, Spoltore was enjoying an exotic honeymoon in Montego Bay, Jamaica, with his new bride Barbara. The couple spent one afternoon exploring the beautiful Dunn’s River Falls, but in a split second, Spoltore dropped his tiny camera with its precious photos of the trip from the top of the waterfall.

That trip led to a better replacement camera and a desire to capture the world. Now, Spoltore is sharing some of his favorite photos in an exhibit at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham throughout the month of January.

“I always enjoyed taking pictures, but it wasn’t until after I was married that I really got bit by the [photography] bug,” said Spoltore, 64, of Port Jefferson Station. He originally went to school to become a teacher but ended up working for the Nassau County Department of Social Services, helping those in need access welfare and food stamps.

In his spare time, he read every book about photography he could get his hands on and attended local workshops.

‘Eagle Eyes,’ an image of a bald eagle in captivity (sky photo edited in) taken in Skagway, Alaska

One day, Spoltore walked into a photo studio and asked to help them shoot weddings. They took a chance, and soon he was shooting his own weddings and portraits. Eventually, Spoltore launched a successful career with companies including Tiffen and Canon. He has also taken thousands of photos of railroad life while working in public affairs for the Long Island Rail Road. Many of these photos are framed and hang in stations around the Island.

While portraits, weddings and event photography pay the bills, Spoltore loves to shoot landscapes. His favorite style focuses on highly saturated photos of colors that pop, as well as infrared and combinations of color with black-and-white palettes. He also likes to manipulate photos so they resemble oil paintings.

Spoltore takes much of his inspiration from the famous wedding and portrait photographer Monte Zucker and creates images based on Zucker’s quote, “I don’t photograph the world as it is. I photograph the world as I would like it to be.”

‘All Aboard,’ an image taken with infrared digital camera at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada.

“I think digital technology makes things a lot easier since you can see your photos right away instead of waiting for your film,” Spoltore said. “Many of my students are intimidated by digital photography because of all the options. But when you see a really gorgeous picture these days, it’s (mostly) digital manipulation. You’ve got to be a good photographer, but you also have to be good on the computer.”

Spoltore’s teaching career began with a simple class he offered for adults in continuing education at Comsewogue High School. When that program ended, one of his former students approached the Comsewogue Public Library about letting him teach there.

The popularity of Spoltore’s classes exploded, and he now offers classes at 34 libraries on Long Island, in addition to private lessons. More than 800 people receive his weekly email newsletter featuring photos and articles about photography, and he’s also contributed a column to local newspapers for the past several years.

“Seeing the ‘aha’ moment on the faces of my students makes me so happy — they would say how easily they understood what I was explaining to them,” Spoltore said. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve never met have emailed me with questions or problems. I’ve had people come to me with a camera still in the box become really great photographers.”

‘Glacier Moon’, taken from a cruise ship in Alaska with moon edited in

This month’s exhibit at the North Shore Public Library is Spoltore’s 10th on Long Island. It will feature 25 framed prints of his favorite photos that showcase a variety of styles. Each photo is printed on metallic paper to enhance its color. Visitors to the exhibit can expect to see visions of Long Island’s North Shore, Alaska, Canada as well as Pennsylvania’s Dutch Country, to name a few. A photo of an Amish father and son riding a horse and buggy titled “Country Ride” is among Spoltore’s favorites.

“John Spoltore has a great and beautiful heart,” said Lorena Doherty, art exhibit and adult program coordinator at the North Shore Public Library. “I have attended his classes and am astounded at the level of knowledge that he has to share. He enjoys working with people. It gives him such great pleasure to share his talent, knowledge of people and wisdom with all. Please come and view these colorful iconic images.”

The exhibit will also be the photographer’s farewell to Long Island — Spoltore plans to relocate in a few months to Florida, where he hopes to continue spreading his love of photography to anyone willing to learn. His absence will be felt by many including the library where it all began.

“John has taught photography programs at the Comsewogue Library since 2010, and we are sad to see him leave the Island,” wrote the library’s Adult Services Librarian Christine Parker-Morales in a recent email. She continued, “John’s classes were always beloved and well-attended. In 2015 we ran a Geek the Library campaign at the library and John was our go-to guy for a patron portrait shoot included in the activities. He also took part in our library’s 50th Anniversary celebration, providing digital professional-quality family photos free of charge to those who participated. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors and will find his shoes here at Comsewogue hard to fill.”

“Photographs by John Spoltore” is on display through the month of January at the North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham. For hours and more information, visit www.northshorepubliclibrary.org or call 631-929-4488. Learn more about John Spoltore at www.swedephoto.com.

North Shore Public Library’s 2017-18 budget passed with 341 votes for and 62 against. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River and Rocky Point residents know what they’re looking for.

With 341 votes in favor and 62 against, The North Shore Public Library’s approximate $3.5 million budget proposal was passed. The 2017-18 budget, in compliance with a state-mandated cap on property tax levy increases, resulted in a zero percent increase from last year. In total, the budget is around $259 less than last year’s.

Community members in the district also re-elected longtime library trustees Terry Cipriani, who is returning as vice president, and Virginia Ryan.

“I am so excited that the people of the community love their library so much,” North Shore Public Library Director Laura Hawrey said. “Everybody participates and attends our programs and has different interests and reasons for being here. We want to continue to be an active community center for all ages and meet everybody’s needs — we do our best to provide everything without any big tax increases.”

Hawrey said while a majority of the budget is devoted to salary and employee benefits, the money will also help continue and expand the library’s ongoing services and programs, like its weekend concert series and active children’s department.

It will also help maintain the library’s wide variety of bestselling movies, music and books, and allow for continued free access to online media and resources.

Cipriani, who received 284 votes, has been on the board of trustees for two five-year terms, and will be entering her third.

Ryan, who received 297 votes, has previously served on the Friends of the Library and has also been a treasurer on the board.

Cipriani said she and Ryan love the library and have been avid participants since before they were members of the board. She said she wants to see all the great services continue.

“That’s what it’s all about to me,” Cipriani said, “keeping the library going for the public.”

This version corrects the spelling of Terry Cipriani’s last name.

Marc Berger photo by Jill McCracken

By Stacy Santini

Mocha buttes rising upward from the soil, vistas framing breathtaking views of distant snow-capped mountains, Indian-traveled sandstone underfoot, rock formations resembling Donatello sculptures, rushing rivers and sienna sunsets; visually, there is no place comparable to the American West.

It is hard to imagine that beauty such as this can be as relevant cinematically in song and just song alone, but lyric-ace Marc Berger has managed to capture this imagery with his album RIDE and will be sharing it with the community at a free concert at North Shore Public Library in Shoreham on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.

Berger’s relationship with the West began while studying law at Rutgers University. When he was 21, he embarked on a cross country journey that would alter his life and career path for ever. Berger describes this catharsis, “Probably because I grew up in the Northeast, I had a strong desire to go out West when I travelled, and the effect it had on me was staggering. I explored the Mojave Desert, Yosemite, all of it, and I came home transformed. Every year for 5 years, making this journey was an integral part of my existence. On each drive I went further inward. At that time, there were no distractions, no cell phones and such. It was a beautiful thing.”

As a result of his travels, he began to write songs about his experiences. Success welcomed Berger early on. His first attempt at his to music publishing firms found him signing a contract. Along the way, icons like Richie Havens befriended him and were very interested in his work. Havens recorded Berger’s song “The Last One” in 1982 and it received much attention.

It was not long before Berger realized that if he wanted to truly make a contribution to the culture he was living in, he needed to sing. “After Richie did my song, I got to thinking about how singing my own lyrics would be the only true expression of myself, and so I willed myself to sing and perfect my voice,” says Berger.

Berger’s roots run deep within the music industry. He has opened for Bob Dylan and other equally impressive bands and musicians. Collaborating with him on his next album, starting in December, will be world class instrumentalists such as Tony Garnier, bass player for Bob Dylan and Paul Simon; Joe Flood, mandolin and fiddler for Levon Helm; and Eric Ambel, guitarist for Joan Jett. Garnier can also be heard on several tracks on RIDE.

Joe Wawrzyniak from Jersey Beat calls the new album “Supremely tuneful and colorful … One can almost taste the dust and feel the desolation of the wide- open prairies while listening to this exquisitely harmonic gem.”

With RIDE, Berger’s passion for the West and his music are palpable, “I don’t think of it as music, but as art, and the art form is secondary to the artist. It is a vehicle to communicate a personality that is only the artist. The most challenging part of this was getting the recording equipment to be pictorial; meaning that I did not want you to just hear a song and picture a band, I wanted you to actually see the great American West, be there present in it,” he said.

With songs such as “Montana,” “Nobody Gonna Ride on the Railroad” and “Heavenly Ancients,” Berger accomplishes just that.

Accompanying Marc next weekend on bass is Rich DePaolo, an extraordinary talent himself. “It is Marc’s vision for sure. I have been working with him for over fifteen years. He is very focused as an artist and clear as to how he wants his vision realized. It is a jot to be a part of this,” he said in describing the collaboration.

North Shore Public Library is a venue that never disappoints when it comes to its concert series. “I am a fan of the American West. Marc’s song, ‘Heavenly Ancients’ on RIDE brought me back to being on the desert floor and glaring up at the sky. His music really captured the awe of the landscape,” said librarian Lorena Doherty.

“I have been doing adult programs here for some time now, bringing in multicultural programs and classical music. Having Marc Berger come here is unique and different. It is very exciting as I am finding that independent musicians have great appeal. We had an amazing turnout for ‘Miles to Dayton’ and I expect the same for Marc,” she added.

North Shore Public Library is located at 250 Route 25A in Shoreham. For more information, please call 631-929-4488.