Tag Archives: Stephanie Sokol

A nice, summery page for Orangeburg T&D

Last week I designed this page. The editor asked for me to simply “get creative with it,” so I added a little citrusy fun to this Orangeburg Times and Democrat A1.

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Metro Detroit artists bring birds to life through paintings

Stephanie Sokol for The Oakland Press


Photo courtesy of Helena Kuttner-Giasson

For painter Helena Kuttner-Giasson, art is a way to communicate in more ways than one. When she couldn’t find the words, her art spoke for her, and she took inspiration from her surroundings.

“Art is my first language,” says Kuttner-Giasson, of Clinton Township. “I always enjoyed doodling and drawing from the time I was able to hold a crayon. When I was 4 years old, my immediate family immigrated to America from Europe, leaving behind what is now the Czech Republic. As I struggled to learn English, I discovered that drawing was a way to bridge the language and culture gap.”

Kuttner-Giasson is one of three artists with paintings in Level One Bank’s latest exhibit, “Birds: An Avian Adventure,” going on through Feb. 6.

While she paints landscapes and has always painted birds, she took a more intuitive and spontaneous approach to these paintings after watching birds in her yard.

“This Autumn in particular, my yard was filled with a myriad of sparrows, woodpeckers, buntings, cardinals — it became an airport for these world travelers as they prepared to depart to warmer climates,” Kuttner-Giasson says.

“Different birds represent different moments and ideas to each of us, so it was a perfect opportunity to paint a myriad of birds. I spent quite a bit of time observing how so many species could group together and watch out for each other with warning calls, sharing berries and seeds from the garden and the feeders. After many days of observation, it became rather impossible not to humanize their interactions with each other.”

Rather than compose her works as scientific observations, she used what she observed, and just began to paint.

“Nature is our common experience, the sum of many small differences,” Kuttner-Giasson says. “To me, birds symbolize how all of us with our differences across the world can come together and celebrate the community of being. During a season where there is very little color in the land and sky, I think having a bird-themed show is a wonderful way to warm our spirits while we await the arrival of spring.”

The group exhibit highlights aviary works of three metro-detroit artists, in the gallery area of Level One, called the Community Art Gallery, which takes up the entire front of the bank, and has been hosting art exhibits for about 10 years.

Exhibit host Mark McDaniel Burton has been curating shows at the gallery for about a year and a half and says it’s a nice space to highlight a large amount of work.

“The gallery is quite big, so each artist has their own section,” he says.

“For one thing, people should come to the show to escape the cold weather. And people don’t normally think of a bank having a gallery. It’s a unique space, and a chance to see some fantastic local artists.”

The bird theme fell into place when Burton was putting the show together. He reached out to artists, and Marilyn Bicsak Thomas sent her realistic, almost photographic paintings of birds. Kuttner-Giasson also sent her new loose, sketchy water-color pieces, which happened to show birds as well. And Louis Wildfong had a pen-and-ink series of fantastical, humorous birds, complementing the others.

“It brings a really diverse look in a single subject, instead of doing all photographs or hyper realistic, you have these different takes on the same object — birds,” Burton says. “You get three different views from three different artists.”

• Birds: An Avian Adventure exhibition is up through Feb. 6 at Level One Bank, 22635 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. The gallery is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday.

Oprah’s ‘Life You Want Tour’ brings inspiration to Detroit

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Oprah Winfrey made a stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Photo/ Palace Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey made a stop at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Photo/ Palace Entertainment

Oprah Winfrey wants her fans to remember that when things aren’t going the way you want, it might be a message from life pushing you in another direction. That was one of the topics she shared this motivational weekend, Sept. 12-13, when the “Life You Want Tour” made its stop at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Friday’s events began at 11 a.m., with O Town, an art-fair style event with vendors selling food, clothing and more.

At 6 p.m., the Palace became extremely packed, as the eager crowd gathered  to see Winfrey live.

From the beginning, the audience was encouraged to send questions and share photos of themselves, using #LifeYouWantDet.

The show officially started shortly after 7 p.m. DJ Kiss got the crowd excited with fun, uplifting music, including Coldplay’s “Sky Full of Stars.” The lights then went off, and the screen lit up with a montage of clips from Oprah’s career, from her start in daytime television, to the first episode of her talkshow and the beginning of her network television station.

As the video wrapped up, Oprah’s voice boomed talking about stars and matter, and the fans’ RFID  access wristbands lit up, turning the pitch-dark Palace into a solar system of lights.

Oprah strutted onto the stage in a  jade-hued gown, and fans cheered as she talked about her visit to Pure Michigan, and the peaceful walk she took along downtown Rochester’s Paint Creek trail.

“Hello Detroit! The D, you’re here! You came, oh my gosh, I’m so happy to see you,” she said. “So I ask you why are you here? You know I don’t sing, I don’t dance. You know I don’t have a hit record, right?”

“I’m here to help you figure out why you’re here. I’m here to help you turn up the volume in your life, to help you figure out what your passion is, what your vision is, what your mission is. I’m here to let you know that you’re co-creating your life, right now. And if you acknowledge and honor that, you will be able to move closer to the life you want.”

Oprah had her audience’s full attention throughout the evening, sharing personal stories including a bit about the process of auditioning for ‘The Color Purple’ and other things that impacted her life, all relating to the idea that the universe pushes people where they should be.

“Be grateful even when you’re in the struggle,” Oprah said. “Be thankful for the little things. Life is speaking to me all the time,

Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc. / George Burns Oprah Winfrey and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (far left), Bonnie Davison (Devita’s father, second to left) and Devita Davison (second to right) of Detroit Kitchen Connect who was honored with The Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award.

Photo Courtesy of Harpo Studios, Inc. / George Burns
Oprah Winfrey and Toyota Brand Ambassador Amy Purdy (far left), Bonnie Davison (Devita’s father, second to left) and Devita Davison (second to right) of Detroit Kitchen Connect who was honored with The Toyota “Standing O-Vation” Award.

and gratitude is a force.”

The second day of activities started bright and early at 7 a.m., with more O Town going on all day, and a morning fashion show to kick off the day.

Throughout day 2, various speakers — the “trailblazers” — took the stage, in a classroom-like atmosphere to speak and hold mini “seminars,” where fans listened, asked questions and participated in activities. Among the guests were ‘Eat, Pray Love’ author Elizabeth Gilbert, author Rob Bell, author and philosopher Mark Nepo, Soul Cycle Instructor Angela Davis and Life Coach Iyanla Vanzant, all bringing their stories and life tips to the fans.

“We all want the same thing, and that is to be able to fulfill the highest and truest expression of ourselves,” Oprah said. “You want to be able to step into that what is your glory, take that and live everyday. And I promise you that that is what we are here to help you do this weekend.”

During the second day, in addition to more motivation talk and group activities like exercise and meditation, Devita Davison was awarded the second Toyota “Standing O-Vation” award, for her work with Detroit Kitchen Connect, “a Detroit-based organization created to build community and invigorate the economy by supporting local food entrepreneurs.”

Through this award, DKC is awarded a $25,000 grant from Toyota to help them continue supporting the local Detroit community.

After a day of speakers, the event wrapped up, leaving guests uplifted and inspired to take on their world and take control of their lives.

“All power comes from the greater power that is spirit, and your success, your happiness and your joy is in direct proportion of how you are connected to that spirit,” Oprah said.

The Life You Want Tour Continues, with more stops across the country:

Sept. 19-20            Washington D.C.                 Verizon Center

Sept. 26-27            Newark, New Jersey           Prudential Center

Oct. 17-18              Houston, Texas                   Toyota Center

Oct. 24-25               Miami, Florida                      American Airlines Arena

Nov. 7-8                  Seattle, Washington           KeyArena at Seattle Center

Nov. 14-15             San Jose, California           SAP Center at San Jose

OU Mechanical Engineering student awarded ‘best overall’ intern at JCI

By Stephanie Sokol for OU SECS

Photo/ Vincent Seefried

Photo/ Vincent Seefried

OU Mechanical Engineering student Vincent Seefried was honored “best overall” at the Johnson Controls Inc. Intern Expo, for his achievements with the company.

Out of 31 interns working at the company this summer, Seefried was the only one from OU. 

“The engineering graphics and CAD course at Oakland prepared me to use use Catia V5 for part and assembly design,” Seefried said. “This background allowed me to develop different tools and fixturing for conducting tests at JCI.”

Seefried started working with JCI’s Plymouth location through SECS last February, and began his full-time summer internship on April 28.

His focus there was on integrating a digital image correlation system into the Technology and Advanced Development (T&AD) group. He also said he worked to reduce variability in test set ups and camera calibration by creating fixtures and work instructions for those processes. 

Through his display, Seefried showcased that research, as well as illustrating the experimental dome testing fixture that OU students designed for JCI and its value to the JCI teams.

“After the expo there were different awards handed out for best presenter, most innovative, intern’s choice, and best overall. I was honored to receive the award for best overall, for displaying what I have accomplished here at JCI,” Seefried said.

For more information about Oakland University’s Mechanical Engineering Department, visit oakland.edu/secs/me.

DSO returns to Meadow Brook, with Joshua Bell

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Joshua Bell will perform with the DSO at Meadow Brook Music Festival on Thursday, July 24. Photo/Wikimedia
Joshua Bell will perform with the DSO at Meadow Brook Music Festival on Thursday, July 24. Photo/Wikimedia

After a four year hiatus from performing at Meadow Brook, the DSO returns to the venue this Thursday for a concert with violinist Joshua Bell.

The DSO last performed at Meadow Brook as a full orchestra in 2010. Since then they have presented a couple of other programs like Yo-Yo Ma’s Goat Rodeo, in partnership with the venue, according to Gabrielle Poshlado of the DSO.

“My favorite part of performing at Meadowbrook is that it’s a less formal atmosphere and a great place for families to come to concerts. When they were young, my own children heard a lot of classical music and were introduced to live performances by coming to Meadowbrook. In the outdoor setting, families can be together, and the kids can move around and be a little more fidgety. They can even go to sleep – that’s ok! They’re there and they’re experiencing the orchestra and great music,” Bass player Larry Hutchinson said.

Of course, no outdoor venue can match the great acoustics of our wonderful Orchestra Hall, but Meadow Brook is a natural amphitheater and has great acoustics for an outdoor venue. We love playing there and the orchestra is very excited to be performing there again.”

Michael Stern, who serves as Kansas City Symphony Music Director, will conductor the hour and 27-minute performance. The program includes works by Glinka, Ravel, Stravinsky, Kodaly and Bruch, bringing a variety of classical pieces to the stage.

Known as the “poet of the violin,” Bell, a Bloomington, Indiana native, is one of the world’s most celebrated violinists due to his tone, charisma and virtuosity. He began his musical career at age 4, when he received his first violin. Since then, he has earned awards for his performances, and has more than 40 CDs recorded under Sony Classical.

“We’ve worked with Joshua Bell several times before and the pieces he’s playing are well known to all of us,” Bass player Larry Hutchinson said. “The purpose of the rehearsal, like it is when we work with all great soloists, is to adapt our accompaniment to his interpretation of the music. When all know their jobs, conductor, orchestra and soloist, then it all comes together very quickly. It will be a wonderful performance.”

Tickets to Detroit Symphony Orchestra featuring Joshua Bell go on sale on at 10 a.m. May 10 and are available online at dso.org and palacenet.com, by phone at 313.576.5111 or at the Max M. Fisher Box Office at 3711 Woodward Ave. in Detroit or The Palace Ticket Store and all Ticketmaster locations. Tickets may be also charged by phone to American Express, Discover, Visa and MasterCard by calling 800.745.3000. Lawn seats are $15 and Pavilion seats begin at $25. A limited number of lawn 4-packs will be available for $44.

A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost bring fun to the Crofoot

A Great Big World performed at The Crofoot last night.

A Great Big World performed at The Crofoot last night. Photo/Stephanie Sokol

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

The audience at The Crofoot in Pontiac came together Thursday night, with the meaningfully happy music of A Great Big World and Jukebox the Ghost. While the bands clearly had a different sound, their message was the same— live for today and enjoy life.

A brief opening from Greg Holden started the evening on a more somber and mellow note, keeping it slow and steady on stage for a 25-minute 6-song set.

While he was musically talented and brought strong vocals, his slower songs made for a somewhat odd opening to what later became an extremely lively show. Fans sang along especially to a slower rendition of “Home,” which Holden wrote for artist Phillip Phillips.

Next up was Jukebox the Ghost, taking the stage for their hour and 45-minute, 11-song set. “Hello Metro Detroit. It’s really good to be here,” Keyboardist Ben Thornewill shouted, right before the band jumped into “Summer Song.”

Donning hipster-like denim apparel, Jukebox The Ghost kept things lively throughout the night, dancing around the stage and clapping get fans pumped up for the show. Thornewill, Guitarist Tommy Siegel and Drummer Jesse Kristin brought massive energy to the stage with their strong instrumental and vocal talent.

An impressive piano part on “Schizophrenia” showcased Thornewill’s skills. Kristin and Siegel also stood out in various songs throughout the set.

The band’s striking similarity to Queen was even more apparent during a harmoniously fun cover of “Somebody to Love,” which Siegel said they played as a song everyone would know. Jukebox The Ghost wrapped up their set with a performance of “Everybody Knows.”

Right before A Great Big World was about to take the stage, “The Circle of Life” started to play over the sound system, and the audience responded in a singalong that eventually led to very loud cheering.

Running out in flamboyant, brightly-patterned apparel, A Great Big World’s performance was a production.

Kicking off the evening with “Rockstar,” they were all smiles on stage. During “Land of Opportunity,” things got fun when lead singer Chad Vaccarino brought out a pink plastic trumpet, which had a surprisingly great tone.

Their hour and a half, 13-song set continued with “Everyone is Gay,” a lively performance that ended with Vaccarino bringing out the jazz hands as confetti shot into the air. The song was about happiness, and truly seemed to bring everyone together. People also got a kick out of Vaccarino’s triangle playing during “Cheer Up.”

The upbeat mood took a turn when the band started talking about “Say Something.”

“5 years ago we were in a dark place. We felt alone, and stopped writing music. I wrote this song to talk about how we were feeling… It’s really crazy that this song we wrote when we felt most alone connected with so many people. Thank you for all your love and support,” Keyboardist Ian Axel said. As the spotlight shone on Axel onstage, he performed “Say Something” and received massive response from the audience.

A Great Big World really showed their versatility when they performed “Shorty Don’t Wait,” a more acoustic-feeling track that they performed with the opening acts. The band returned to the stage, and closed the show with a two-track encore of “You’ll Be Okay,” and a cover of The Beatles’ “Got To Get You.”

It was clear from both their behavior and the actions of fans that the show had brought a lighter mood and feeling of togetherness to the evening of fun.

The Pit’s Stephanie Sokol and Shannon Coughlin had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jukebox The Ghost about the tour experience, and their future music.

Nico Vega’s new album brings fresh sound

Stephanie Sokol for The Pit

Indie band Nico Vega‘s sound has evolved over time. What started as grungy garage rock has transformed to a more structured musically alternative melody, which will be heard on their upcoming album, “Lead to Light.”

Nico Vega’s new album will be released July 22. Photo Courtesy of Catie Laffoon

Nico Vega’s new album will be released July 22.
Photo Courtesy of Catie Laffoon

“I would say that we probably started out a lot heavier,” Vocalist Aja Volkman said. “I was really into garage rock when i was younger, so i came from that background, as did my guitar player. That was kind of how the music naturally started. And it slowly became more musical. I’ve developed my songwriting ability over the years, that’s a big part of it.”

Volkman started playing solo gigs when she moved to Los Angeles, as a way to meet people. 

The band came together in 2005, and currently consists of Volkman, guitarist Rich Koehler and drummer Dan Epand, a group that she said really connected.

“They had me come down there and start working with them, and we fell in love. It was just all great,” Volkman said.

Since they got together, Nico Vega’s music has grown in popularity, from performing solely in small venues to appearing in film trailers, television and video games, including a sample on Bioshock Infinite.

While “Beast” was one of the first tracks the band wrote, a worker from Irrational Games was a big fan, and reached out about using it for the game. The band was surprised, but excited for the opportunity.

“That song is sort of more of a stand up for what you believe in and love your neighbor kind of song,” Volkman said. “It’s a social song, about rallying together — waking people up and having them feel like they can be heard and have a voice. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in. That’s what that song is for me.”

When it came to composing music for the new album, Aja said it’s a collaboration between everyone. A simple guitar riff or lyrical verse can bloom into a new track, but Nico Vega likes to think outside the box when it comes to their music, working together and collaborating with others.

“We never limit ourselves. It’s fun for us to experience music in different ways, and that’s what we try to do,” Volkman said.

Volkman said “Beast” and “Wooden Dolls” are her favorite tracks to play live, but she’s looking forward to taking the new material to the stage.

With collaborations from other artists, the album has variety to it. Each song is substantial and tells a story.

“I’m On Fire” tells the story of the red headed step child, and fights for the underdog. Produced by Dan Reynolds (Imagine Dragons frontman and Volkman’s husband)  “I Believe (Get Over Yourself)” is more upbeat and danceable. The song encouraging people to be optimistic, and the video, which was released last week, is just as cheerful.

As an indie band, social media has played a big role in Nico Vega’s fan base, but touring is just as important. While Lead to Light Drops July 22, the band will take the music to their fans, with international gigs and a North American tour planned for later in 2014. 

“I just hope the music makes people feel something,” Volkman said. “(I hope it) makes them feel a sense of fellowship— we’re not alone, we all have each other. That’s what music does for people in general, and I like to be a part of that.”