Wednesday, August 8, 2012

AMONG GEORGETOWN'S GREATS


Georgetown is a charming area in northwest Washington, D.C. that gives the word "diversity" full meaning. Its unique architecture includes old stone houses, Georgian brick residences, and early Federal and Classic Revival homes interspersed with numerous attractive row houses. I'd define the cuisine in Georgetown as "global," ranging from Belgian and Asian dishes to classy French menus offered at numerous excellent eating places. The population includes Salvadorans, Asians, Hawaiians, African Americans, and many other ethnic groups who add to the colorful diversity of the area.

Among those notables who live in Georgetown and contribute to its diversity are two of my favorite friends, Jane Bonin and Fred (Freddie) Begun. We lunched with them this week at the Raku Restaurant on Q Street in Georgetown. The previous evening at Jane's apartment on Q Street, Freddie had read aloud an entire food review in the Washington Post, interjecting wry remarks about the touted menu items and the elite prose describing those items. He was doing one of his favorite activities – performing!

Fred Begun, master
timpani performer
For 48 years, Freddie performed as the major timpanist of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. under the batons of some of the greats in the music world: Copland, Rostropovich, Stravinsky, Slatkin… and his performances often equaled the dramatic renditions of these renowned conductors, especially the performances of the ultimate conductor (who was Freddie's favorite), Leonard Bernstein.

"I was noted for my 'balletic style'," Freddie said, explaining that he often leaped about while playing the timpani. He executed this style while premiering five timpani concerti and while touring the world to perform in such places as the former Soviet Union where he played in a historic series of musical performances.

This Spring, George Mason University, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and the School of Music presented a Percussion Celebration to honor the "Extraordinary Musical Career of Fred Begun." The University has established Fred Begun Percussion Scholarships and given the percussion studio at George Mason his name. In appreciation, Freddie donated to the George Mason Fenwick Library his entire library of timpani parts and scores, many of which are autographed by famous conductors and composers and containing Freddie's original markings. Freddie also made a personal financial contribution to help maintain the collection.

Freddie Begun began studying percussion instruments when he was 11, playing the snare drum throughout high school, then entered Juilliard School from which he graduated. He taught at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland and mentored many distinguished timpanists who're performing in the music world today. He also authored 21 Etudes for Timpani, pieces designed to teach students how to enhance their technical and musical skills. "Some of the musicians today are technically proficient," Freddie said, "but they aren't actually involved with the passion of music. This seems to happen because some of their teachers feel that way. They think the older generation is too schmaltzy."

Nowadays, Freddie continues to mentor timpanists and has just completed his manuscript entitled Playing Outside the Box, a memoir devoted to reminiscences about playing beyond the written score – "performances for which I was infamous," he said.

Freddie and Jane at Raku's
in Georgetown
Freddie's companion, Jane Bonin, is a long-time friend of ours, a former professor in the English Department of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she was honored as Distinguished Professor during her tenure there.

Jane was one of the founders of the Eavesdrop Theatre in Lafayette and "Open Space," a showcase for student playwrights. She authored a play produced Off-Off Broadway and wrote a definitive biography of playwright Mario Fratti, as well as Prize Winning American Drama and Major Themes in Prize Winning American Drama. Jane and Freddie share a love of drama and music, and Jane studied voice in Washington for years after returning stateside from Africa.

She's now working on a memoir of Africa, excerpts of which have appeared in her blog entitled "The Color of a Lion's Eye." She served two stints with the Peace Corps – as a Country Director in Niger and as a Deputy Director in Malawi. "I'm proud of my work there," she said. "Hilary Clinton just today singled out the Peace Corps as having the model program that will heal HIV-AIDS. One third of the population was infected with this disease when I was there. I loved Africa, but it was my first experience with extreme poverty, and it was overwhelming to someone who had formerly been a cloistered academician." During the 80's, Jane actively promoted The Hunger Project, a global organization committed to the end of world hunger.

Both Freddie and Jane deprecatingly refer to themselves as less than notable, but we think they're two of our most interesting and attractive friends who have contributed to the Washington/Georgetown community and to the world at large. We left them reluctantly, via the notorious I-95 before traffic began to snarl, to return to Williamsburg, VA where we're vacationing, but we're still talking about the wonderful visit with these two notables and plan to return for another celebration of our friendship next year. 
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