Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Huge Charleston Mural Appears in a Month

    • Posted on Jul 08, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    July 8, 2014 

    Was walking Charleston on Monday, June 2 when I came up Queen Street, just a few feet off Meeting Street, and couldn't help but gape at this sketch on the wall of the Mira Winery building:  

    Hard to not gape, right?  The artist, David Boatwright, was sketching a painting-to-be of 14 figures, and was just beginning, either that day or possibly the week before.  I didn't actually measure it, but it's probably 15 by 15 feet and fills most of the wall.  Hard to miss, and right across a small parking lot from the well-known Poogan's Porch restaurant.  Everyone stops and stares.  

    So I began taking photos, this one just three days later: 

    That's Thursday of the first week.  Not bad for two guys working four days, I thought.  
    I did ask one of them how long it would take, and he said "weeks."  

    So I made it a point to walk by the wall every few days, and took these photos, in order: 

    Took this on Saturday, June 7, shocked at how much Boatwright had completed: 

    Then this, on Friday June 13:  

    Again, these guys work fast, I thought.  

    Then this, taken on June 19, just 17 days after that first sketch above:  

    And on June 23, a week before completion:  

    And here is the completed mural without scaffolding, taken Monday,  June 30:  

    So David Boatwright and his assistant completed that mural, sketch to full figures in living color, in one month to the day.  

    Here's a detail, just to show what you could see with good light walking up to it: 

    Now:  in case the mural looks familiar, you're right:  it's more or less a copy of Renoir's famous 1881 painting, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"--here: 

    The Mira Winery hired Boatwright to paint an homage to Renoir's painting, only with a difference:  each of the figures, instead of being Renoir's friends--that's who Renoir painted, after all, would be the faces of fourteen of Charleston's well-known restaurant owners or chefs.  

    Of course, foodies around Charleston will certainly recognize at least a few of the faces, just as Renoir's friends must have recognized themselves in his painting.  One difference would be size--Renoir's painting measured just 51 by 68 inches, whereas Boatwright's as mentioned, covers a large outdoor wall.  

    A few thoughts on this whole process: 
    ---an "homage" if done by a writer might be called "plagiarism." 
    --Renoir's is a work of art, worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Boatwright's is worth whatever the Mira winery paid him.  But it certainly adds 
    a dimension of interest to the Charleston food scene, not to mention making that wall a thousand times more interesting and attractive. 
    --how well will it hold up to the weather?  --high heat, sun, humidity, rains, hurricanes? Will be curious to photograph it again in a year and see if it has faded. 
    --was great fun watching it emerge, and a pleasant surprise that it took only a month. 

    A note of congratulations to the muralist, David Boatwright, his assistant, and the Mira winery for having the imagination and vision to create an engaging image that flatters and reveals some of the people that make Charleston's restaurant and food scene such a memorable part of contemporary Charleston.  
    Go comment!
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  • In the Company of Virtuoso Musicians

    • Posted on Nov 04, 2013 by Scott Cawelti
    Published in the WATERLOO COURIER on Sunday,  October 27.  It's the culmination of our London trip, really, and explores what happens when gifted people develop their gifts with fierce passion and discipline.    

    For the past three weeks I’ve been surrounded by music and musicians, and it’s been—well, read on.

    By “music and musicians” I mean the highest of high-end virtuoso musicians, principal players in the London Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, among others.   

    Because I’m married to a UNI flutist who’s researching a book on British flautist Geoffrey Gilbert, we’ve been in London interviewing those Gilbert students who are now accomplished concert performers and teachers.  

    Gilbert taught several major flautists in the United Kingdom, including Sir James Galway, William Bennett, Trevor Wye, and Susan Milan, among many others.  We’ve been interviewing them all.      

    I’m here to tell you:  Musicians at the virtuoso level are special people.  Being with them has offered a chance to ponder music and its place in our lives.    

    Having taught music briefly myself, I know a little about how music works.

    Humans seek it, play it, listen to it, yearn for it, use it as therapy, and wish they could play it better. 

    I’ve now become more aware of how music affects those who devote every waking hour to it.  All the musicians we’ve interviewed have done just that from childhood.

    What else makes them special?

    First and foremost, they’re disciplined.   They spend hours in daily practice, and all emphasize the need to love and play their instrument, virtually constantly. It’s not for the uncommitted or lazy.     

    When we arrived at Galway’s hotel suite in Belfast, the first notable object was a music stand with music on it.  He had been practicing that morning, and every morning, beginning with scales and difficult passages.  

    Galway emphasized during his interview that no one wants to listen to musicians who don’t practice daily.  Susan Milan, the first woman principal flutist of the Royal Philharmonic, told us that she spent a full year, seven hours a day, practicing nothing but scales and studies.

    And she loved it.  Every minute of it.   Those are her words. 

    That’s the second trait of accomplished musicians.  They spend their lives in love.  Totally, completely, unequivocally in love.  Not necessarily with a romantic partner and certainly not with themselves.  But with making music.  

    Many are in happy relationships, but their partners have a rival in music.

    All accomplished musicians overcame doubts, complaints, critics, personal hangups, and devoted themselves completely to music, to improving their playing to the point of near-perfection.

    I asked William Bennett, another superstar of the flute world, how he managed to teach nine one-hour master classes in one long day with such high energy.  We visited his master class at London’s Royal Academy of Music, where only the best students get admitted.  Forty students also attended.

    I observed two hours, and his intensity and devotion to each student was beyond admirable.

    Bennett said, “This is a like a vacation from worries for me.  It’s plain fun, all day.”

    He’s about to turn 78, by the way. 

    That’s the third trait of these virtuosos:  Longevity.

    Because these musicians never “work” in the sense of grinding through a day of resenting what they do, they’re often able to carry on for years beyond the norm. 

    Besides Bennett, Sir James Galway may be the best example.  He’s 74, and when we interviewed him he was about to headline the Belfast Music Festival, playing a concerto with the Ulster Chamber Orchestra. 

    Though busy with interviews, rehearsals, master classes, and constant demands on his time, he seemed relaxed and full of good humor.  Clearly he enjoys fame—he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2001--but not nearly as much as he enjoys making music.

    That’s the whole key:  Making music. Nearly everyone I know has made music, or makes music, or wish they had made music.  It seems the very stuff of life, akin to breathing and eating.      

    Virtuoso musicians, by virtue of their talent, practice, and commitment, just have more of it.

    “Music has charms to sooth the savage breast,” wrote William Congreve in 1697, then the striking second line: “To soften rocks or bend a knotted oak.”

    That’s the power of music:  sooth, soften, bend.  

    Now I would add:  Transform.   

    Go comment!
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