‘Titanic:’ ship sinks but show soars

Titanic4bSpoiler alert: Yes, the ship sinks.

But the Uptown Players-Turtle Creek Chorale production of Titanic soared with sound that topped the original Broadway production. I loved the show on Broadway with its measly cast of 40 or 50. But the production that continues through the weekend at City Performance Hall has a cast of 160.

Please don’t confuse this show with that dreadful film with that one song that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard. This show isn’t about some dopey necklace as in the movie that came out about the same time as the show. The story revolves around the tension between the ship’s designer, its captain and the representative from White Star Lines who wanted to set records on its maiden voyage to beat Cunard, as well as about actual passengers from the ship’s three classes of service. In this version of the story, there are actually characters to care about.

This show, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, is performed with a 15-piece orchestra in concert style. That means the emphasis on the music, with a single set and limited choreography. And what a wonderful score the show has.

On Broadway, once the big ship in the opening scene sails off stage, little scenery was used through the rest of the production, so this version doesn’t suffer one bit from its limited set. In fact, the projection screens worked as well as sets did in the original. As the large wave projected behind the Chorale overtook the Titanic, the feeling of drowning is more effective than in the original.

Powerful voices throughout the huge cast make this a blockbuster — the Strausses, the three Kates, the Thayers, the Beanes — all were wonderful singers. When the Chorale joined in the sound swelled magnificently to fill the room.

The choreography helped keep the show from getting static, but in a few places, was quite energetic. If I had one suggestion at all, it would be that the over-sized stage at the Winspear across the street would have accommodated this production even better. That stage was full, well, at least until half of them drowned.

Great collaboration and looking forward to seeing these two groups continue their successful partnership.

—  David Taffet

Topsy Turvy: A bright star in dark times

Brandi Amara Skyy reviews the Turtle Creek Chorale’s “Topsy Turvy” concert, continuing tonight and Saturday night, March 24-25, at City Performance Hall. (Photos courtesy Turtle Creek Chorale)

 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Call me a bad gay, but I had never been to a Turtle Creek Chorale concert before last night.

Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I texted a few of my closest friends who are devoted fans (and season ticket holders) to get a feel for what to expect. My good friend Dana said, “You’re in for a nice surprise. They always combine serious with comedic moments.”

He was right.

The evening was filled with … surprises — something that in this day and age of the internet is not necessarily what we expect. It’s far too easy to Google the happenings of the latest episode of our favorite shows prior to even the show airing the first time, let alone us watching it. Or to attend a show and be moved by the visuals, but not by the message.

So when I received the email with the set list being performed last evening (the names are not supposed to be known to the audience until after the show has ended), I made the decision not to open it. Because if Sean Baugh, the artistic director, wanted me to ride the wave and be surprised, I wasn’t about to deny him — or myself — the pleasure of this rarity.

And in this arena — the element of surprise — Topsy Turvy is a massive win. From song inclusion to talent to flow, Topsy Turvy does what it sets out to do — not just tell a story, but create and share an experience.

The Chorale promises “one of the most energetic and full-force arrays of musical selections our audience has ever experienced,” and I can feel, based on the audience’s energy and attention (minus the blonde wine-gulping girl sitting two seats to my left who completely ignores Rule No. 2 (Don’t Sing Along) when the finale hits) that this particular show and evening is in fact, different from all the rest.

I feel it too, even though I have no prior knowledge to compare it to.

But I’m not going to lie, this is probably the hardest review I’ve ever had to write because I refuse to spoil the experience by referring to the songs in the show by their name. So I will only reference them by the number in which they appear in the show.

The Topsy Turvy experience is billed as songs you thought you knew, and they drove that artistic theme home by reshaping pop, musical and LGBTQ classics into arrangements and styles we’ve never heard before (I’m thinking about songs 14 and 18 in particular). The visuals, the big top and all the dancers are stunning. And B.J. Cleveland is not only excellent and captivating as our ringleader, he is right there to help usher us through the two-hour experience (although I did miss him in the beginning of the second half).

The Thursday audience, teased for being the least vocal of the three-day bunch, rose to their feet for a song (hint: No. 5) and I rose for one as well (you’ll know it when you experience it). My personal favorites? Numbers 4, 5, 9,14, 17, 19, 21 (and a certain “whistler” in No. 3). These seven pieces were elegantly thought out, choreographed, and fully realized — and executed.

And while the soloists were spectacular, every single chorale member stole my heart that evening because they were so full of love for what they do. You could see it. But more importantly you could feel it.

Were some pieces in Topsy Turvy more successful than others? Yes. Were some pieces more polished? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Always.

But did the TCC deliver on their promises? Hell, yea — and then some.

What I love most about attending events, shows, and art in our community is just that. WE are a community. And both Bruce Jaster and Sean Baugh made sure to drive that point home to the audience every chance they got. And with all the talk about arts funding being cut and walls waiting to be built, we — I — needed to hear that as a community we are more inclusive now than ever.

Whether you are a devoted fan who has season tickets or you’re like me and new to the whole TCC experience, this show is a bright light in dark uncertain times, with just the right amount of camp, adult humor, laugher, nostalgia, and seriousness to keep me thoroughly invested — and entertained.

Topsy Turvy runs tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall.

Go.

Brandi Amara Skyy is a drag artist who writes and plays in magic. You can find out more about her and many projects at brandiamaraskyy.com.

—  Tammye Nash

And the winner is: Who won what in the Dallas Pride Parade

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Kaliente won the trophy for Best Overall Entry (Photo by Chuck Marcelo)

The biggest Pride parade in Dallas history took to the streets of Oak Lawn on Sunday afternoon, with more than 120 total entries making their way down Cedar Springs to Reverchon Park. Today (Monday, Sept. 19), organizers announced the winners in the nine different categories. They are

  • Best Performance: Oak Lawn Band
  • Best Walking Group: Turtle Creek Chorale
  • Best Costume: LULAC
  • Best Social Commentary: Dallas Victims of Crime
  • Best Overall Entry: Kaliente
  • Best For Profit: Bank of America
  • Best Non Profit: United Court of the Lone Star Empire
  • Judge’s Choice: Veteran’s for Diversity
  • Best Interpretation of the Theme (“Solidarity Through Pride”): Abounding Prosperity

(Watch for more of Chuck’s photos of the parade here on Instant Tea throughout the week.)

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The United Court of the Lone Star Empire won the trophy for Best Nonprofit Entry (Photo by Chuck Marcelo)

—  Tammye Nash

Talk to the hands

As the Turtle Creek Chorale’s sign language interpreter, Don Jones has spent decades artfully crafting song lyrics for the hearing-impaired

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Don Jones, performing last fall at the Turtle Creek Chorale’s Heartland concert. Jones has served as ASL interpreter for the chorale since 1989. Photography by Michael McGary

By Elaine Liner

Even when he’s chatting over a nosh at La Madeleine, Don Jones lets his hands do most of the talking. His fingertips dance across the tabletop to make a point, then his palms gently meet as punctuation. When his left hand topples a coffee cup — as it did during a recent interview in Oak Lawn — Jones laughs. Big gestures often lead to little spills.

Fans of the Turtle Creek Chorale will recognize Jones — the silver-haired gent in the tux, standing on the skirt of the stage — as the American Sign Language interpreter for all the group’s concerts since 1989. Jones has also signed for the Catholic Diocese of Dallas for 40 years, is currently signing mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in East Dallas and is now in his sixth year with the Dallas Independent School District as an “inclusion teacher,” traveling school to school to check on classroom accommodations for hearing impaired and dyslexic students.

It’s the concerts with the TCC, however, that allow Jones to use his signing skills with an artistic flair. Signing musical performances isn’t done word-for-word, he explains. “It really is an interpretation of the words, the music and the message. I use ‘poetic motion,’ you can call it, to put across the meaning and the emotion.” That includes not just ASL signs and some finger-spelling, but body language and facial expressions.

Jones recalls his first appearance with the chorale as one of his toughest assignments. He’d been hired mid-season when Dr. Tim Seelig, then in his second year as TCC’s artistic director, saw him sign the Lord’s Prayer at a spiritual conference and asked him to sign for the chorale’s next concert: Verdi’s Requiem, which required a signer to interpret three different texts being sung simultaneously. In Latin.

“I studied it beforehand, of course, but I highlighted the sections in different colors to get everything in,” says Jones. “When you’re signing with a choir, you can’t have that time delay that you normally have in interpreting speech. In music, you need to be right on the words. You have to know the words.”

Pre-performance homework for Jones can mean learning the libretti of operas sung in German, French or Italian. Jones spends hours rehearsing signing lyrics, from hymns to Broadway show tunes to the rapid-fire words of rap songs, as done recently by soloists at the Dallas Sings/Dallas Strong concert on July 14. That event saw the TCC joining with the Credo Choir and other singers in a gesture of community healing after the killings of five police officers.

“Rap lyrics are not a problem,” Jones says. “I looked them up and printed them out. Then in that performance, they changed the words. I’m standing right next to the singer and know I’m on camera. I’m live interpreting a rap that I have never heard before. But with rap, you have to listen for what it means and not listen just for the words. The words won’t make sense. You want to interpret the feeling in the words. Rhyming is not germain.”

Jones, now 65, was drawn to sign language as a teenager. His younger brother is hearing impaired and Jones learned to finger spell to help him with vocabulary words. A summer job as an assistant to a deaf/blind college student led to more studies in the art of sign interpretation. After graduating from University of Oklahoma, Jones worked as a teacher and interpreter in New Orleans before coming to SMU in the mid-1970s to earn a graduate degree in “deaf ed.”

Having outlived two partners, Jones now is single and says he thinks of the TCC as his community and extended family. “If I weren’t the ALS interpreter for the chorale, I would sing in it,” he says. “The music is beautiful, of course, but the message of the Turtle Creek Chorale is what keeps me there… their basic philosophy of inclusion — of different races, sexual preferences, identity, physical abilities. Providing a means for persons with hearing impairment to be included is a natural part of this philosophy.”

He says he also experiences something the audiences at TCC’s concerts can’t see. “I am in the unique position of looking out at the crowd and feeling their reaction, looking into their eyes and seeing their faces,” says Jones. “It can be emotionally overwhelming.”

The chorale, now led by artistic director Sean Baugh, adds singers through open auditions once a year (coming up on Sept. 3, at the Sammons Arts Center). The first major concert this season — the seasonal A Not So Silent Night from Dec. 8–11 — is at City Performance Hall, a venue whose onstage acoustics are tricky for clearly hearing speakers and singers, Jones says.

Is there any piece of music too difficult to interpret in American Sign Language? Wagner’s Ring Cycle would be all but impossible, he says. And what about the physical toll felt from 40 years of signing?

“I’m getting arthritis in my thumbs,” he says, “but using my hands so much is good physical therapy for it. I don’t think arthritis will interfere with signing.”

He fans his fingers over the table. Are those manicured nails? “I do get a manicure,” says Jones, his blue-gray eyes twinkling at the question. “I’m very proud of my hands.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Palant to lead musical concert of healing

Jonathan Palant

Jonathan Palant

A free concert of healing takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 14 at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St.

Singers from around the area will participate in a massed choir performance led by Credo, a community choir conducted by former Turtle Creek Chorale artistic director Jonathan Palant.

“We have invited members of every church, synagogue and community choir in the Metroplex to join us not only in singing out against violence, but also to sing out for peace, love, and unity,” Palant said. “The Dallas Police Choir has also been extended an invitation to perform.”

Singers from the Dallas Symphony Chorus, Turtle Creek Chorale, Dallas Independent School District, Cathedral of Hope, Temple Shalom and from many churches plan to perform, Palant said. The concert will include appearances by local opera star Ava Pine and area favorites Denise Lee, Paul Mason and Liz Mikel.

Several speakers, both religious and lay leaders, will offer thoughts and words of encouragement.

Singers who would like to participate should enter the Meyerson through the glass doors on Flora Street by 5:30 p.m. and follow signage toward the stage. There is no pre-registration. Sheet music will be distributed at the start of rehearsal. There is no charge to sing and all singers are welcome. Attire for performers is business casual.

No tickets or reservations. Tickets are open seating.

—  David Taffet

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother: Chorale comforts the community

Denise Lee

Denise Lee performs in the Songs for Healing concert with Turtle Creek Chorale on Tuesday night at Cathedral of Hope.

Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Sean Baugh woke up on Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. and knew he needed to do something in response to the Orlando attacks. So he started sending emails. One after another, members of the Chorale responded, saying they would participate.

Baugh quickly pulled together a program — Songs for Healing. Denise Lee said she’d be there with him. Chris Chism said he’d do a solo. Jodi Crawford Wright agreed to reprise “I Love You More,” the mother’s song from Tyler’s Suite, the piece commissioned by the Chorale about the death of Tyler Clementi. Members of Resounding Harmony and of the CoH choir also stepped up to participate.

Cathedral of Hope opened its doors on Tuesday night, June 14, for the community to come and grieve. The Dallas Police Department responded with 60 officers swarming the campus, quietly but visibly making their presence known. DPD Chief David Brown and his officers received their own standing ovation.

Had he had time, Baugh said he would have pulled together photos from news reports of survivors carrying gunshot victims out of Pulse and running with them down the street to the nearby hospital. Even without the visual, the image was clear as they sang, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”

The concert streamed through KERA and WFAA to more than 28,000 people. About 2,000 people filled the church and several hundred more packed the Interfaith Peace Chapel to watch on monitors. Passing a plate raised $15,000 to help cover expenses for the Orlando victim’s families and medical expenses for the survivors.

The Rev. Neil Cazares-Thomas reminded those attending that the men’s choral movement began in San Francisco the night Harvey Milk was shot when a group of men gathered and began to sing.

The concert itself was a testament to the brilliance of the Turtle Creek Chorale. Baugh pulled several songs from last week’s Heartstrings concert but others were from more distant concerts. Without a rehearsal, the performance came off without an apparent glitch. One song after another received a well-deserved standing ovation. Throughout the concert, Chorale members read names of the dead. The crowd left the church still stunned by the massacre but comforted as the community came together.

—  David Taffet

Best Bets • 06.03.16

Tuesday 06.07 — Sunday 06.19

4The-Shirelles-in-Beautiful---The-Carole-King-Musical-on-Broadway-(c)-Joan-Marcus

Feel like a natural woman with ‘Beautiful’ at the Winspear

Carole King — often with sometimes-hubby Gerry Goffin — wrote some of the seminal pop songs of the rock era, from “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” to “Take Good Care of My Baby” to “Up on the Roof” for groups like Aretha, the Righteous Brothers and the Shirelles, pictured, to her own solo hits from her groundbreaking Tapestry album (“You’ve Got a Friend,” “It’s Too Late”). They have the perfect makings for a jukebox musical, which is exactly what Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is. The Tony Award-winning show makes its local debut at the Winspear as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Broadway Series. Come feel the earth move and watch the sky come tumblin’ down.

DEETS:
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
ATTPAC.org

Thursday 06.09 — Saturday 06.11

yarn-heart

Chorale closes season in loving fashion with Heartstrings

The best songs are all songs of the heart — love songs, break-up songs, torch songs. All of those will be present in the Turtle Creek Chorale’s season closer, entitled, aptly enough, Heartstrings. But as luck would have it, this lovely, loving concert arrives almost a year after marriage equality became the law, and to celebrate, couples will actually get married during the concerts each night … and to the music of Queen, Cher, Adele, Celine and more. It’s something everyone can open their hearts to.

DEETS:
City Performance Hall
2520 Flora St.
Nightly at 7:30 p.m.
TurtleCreekChorale.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Brian and David are getting hitched and we have the license to prove it

In 1991, activists celebrated National Coming Out Day by staging a “kiss-in” in the Dallas County Clerk’s office to protest for marriage equality.

1991 kiss-in

Gary Bellomy, left, and Bill Hunt were among the protesters. The accompanying article didn’t identify who else was there and I can’t make it our from the picture. Mary Franklin, John Thomas and others held a sit-in in the County Clerk’s office on Valentine’s Day sometime in the 1980s.

In 2012, it took four sheriff’s deputies to arrest Major when he and Beau applied for their marriage license and handcuffed themselves to the stanchion in the marriage bureau office when they were turned down.

Major arrested

And that was followed by protesters outside the county courthouse during their court appearances for trying to get a marriage license.

Protests

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage equality law and this happened in Dallas County:

June 26

And today, Brian and I did this. No sheriff’s deputies were called. No arrests were made. No one had to handcuff themselves to anything. No offices were taken over.

The clerk smiled, said congratulations and handed us our license. Someone who works in the building downstairs saw us trying to take a selfie and asked if she could take it for us. That idiot clerk up in Kentucky keeps making news, but thank you Dallas County for making marriage equality so, well, routine.

David and Brian

And thank you Gary and Bill, Beau and Major and everyone else who protested for years to make marriage equality a reality.

And if you’d like to see our wedding in person, everyone’s welcome.

We’re getting married on stage during the second act of Heartstrings, the Turtle Creek Chorale concert on Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. Beth El Binah’s Rabbi Steve Fisch is officiating. Brian’s mother will walk him across the stage to the chuppa and my Aunt Rhoda is flying in from New York to walk me. And our flower girl? Well, let’s just say she’s a big girl.

After the Chorale performance, we’ll have a reception in the lobby with the biggest damn cake for everyone to share. (The main cake is sour cream champagne with blueberry and key lime layers all covered in a chocolate icing).

OK, so for our bizarre wedding, you need tickets, because it is in the middle of a Turtle Creek Chorale concert. Tickets are available here. And if you’ve never seen a Chorale concert or haven’t been to one in awhile, here’s a good excuse to do it. Cake comes with your ticket. And the bar will be open til midnight.

—  David Taffet

‘Tyler’s Suite’ is another notch on the Chorale’s belt

Tyler-Clementi

Tyler Clementi

Heroes is a concert unlike anything else the Turtle Creek Chorale has ever done. But that just makes it like a regular evening at the concert hall with the Chorale. If the group was afraid of tackling something new, they wouldn’t have an Emmy Award or be the most recorded men’s chorus in history.

In Heroes, what the Chorale does best is let others shine and helps make those others even better, while still being fabulous on their own.

Six community groups are honored in the first half of Heroes. The organizations were chosen because of the work they’ve done helping LGBT people form families and raise children, healing spiritual wounds, stopping bullying, healing through art and  raising money to work for equality.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that exactly what the Chorale has done over the years? Of course, but nothing’s wrong with honoring friends and those we admire. And that’s what this concert does.

Short videos about each group precede a song that honors the spirit of the organization and explain its work.

I’d like to add a few words to what is expressed in the first video about Jonathan’s Place.

Jonathan’s Place is an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children who are waiting for foster or adoptive homes. The video assumes everyone knows they’re just looking for the best placement for these children, and to Jonathan’s Place that means if a trans adoptive mom is best to provide the love these children need, that’s where the child will be placed. That’s never said in the concert but this organization was a pioneer in Texas in LGBT adoption and fostering.

A warning: If you visit Jonathan’s Place, be prepared to leave upset and angry. It is infuriating to see what people have done to these children.

Each honored group was given a glass turtle, but a video shows what went into each turtle. From plaster to clay to wax to bronze to poured glass, each step fired in a kiln and cooled. Kind of one of those nothing-to-do-with-the-music things, but one of the most interesting elements of the evening, that showed what kind of love went into putting this concert together.

Among the stand-out moments from the first half was the performance of “Fight Song” for Susan G. Komen and “I Never Lost My Praise” for Cathedral of Hope. The first had the audience standing and cheering, the second had them swaying and joining in.

Eight dancers from the Bruce Wood Dance Project performed two pieces that hooked the audience. The BWDP’s next show will have to add a performance just to accommodate the new fans they’re adding from their chorale appearances this weekend.

The second half of the show is Tyler’s Suite, commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation and put together by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of shows like Wicked and Pippin. Eight composers each wrote one of pieces that comprise the suite. The lyrics are by Pamela Stewart, a librettist and lyricist who also wrote the Chorale’s award-winning Sing for the Cure that took the group to Carnegie Hall.

Tyler was the Princeton freshman who committed suicide after his roommate set up a camera in their room and live-streamed and tweeted about him having sex with another man. The suite is not just about Tyler, but the people in his life who loved him. Alex Heika and Jodi Crawford Wright, as Tyler and his mom, are both superb, as are the soloists from the Chorale.

Each piece was written by a different composer and most, if not all would stand on its own. Jake Hegge’s “The Narrow Bridge” has been performed alone. “Just a Boy” is a beautiful tribute from a father to a son he’s lost. The lyrics were words Tyler’s dad sent off after not being able to sleep one night. Stewart used them. “The Unicycle Song” tells the story of a creative child ending his life.

And I know I’m not mentioning enough about the Chorale, but that’s how successfully they performed Tyler’s Suite. I was engrossed in the music without even thinking about the wonderful chorus of voices performing it.

Tyler’s Suite has been performed now by six choruses that started two years ago with Tim Seelig’s San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. In the lobby, I spoke to a couple of SFGMC board members who attended, as well as Tyler’s mom and his brother, James.

“So this was the best performance of Tyler’s Suite?” I asked. “Much better than San Francisco, right?”

Sheesh, try to get some people to open up. Some people are much more diplomatic than I am.

I loved this performance. They would only agree this was among the finest of the Tyler’s Suite performances.

Eh. What do they know. Artistic Director Sean Baugh was inspired to invite Albert Drake from Bruce Wood to choreograph the piece “Meditation.” Others didn’t have Peter Mena and Charles Mullins performing “Brother, Because of You.” The Chorale was fabulous. Tickets are still available for tonight or Saturday. Oh, on Saturday, the Susan G. Komen chorus will be joining the Chorale for “Fight Song.” Talk about heroes.

And in case you thought the Clementis were just in town enjoying great music: James said he would be speaking to classes about bullying at SMU today.

—  David Taffet

Best Bets • 03.25.16

Friday 03.25 & Saturday 03.26

Dancers-Air

All-male Herve Koubi makes Dallas debut

It was just last month that the all-male British dance company BalletBoyz made its Dallas debut, and now another testosterone-filled troupe from across the pond will share its unique take on dance with local audiences for the first time. Cie Herve Koubi showcases bold, masculine movement in a celebrated style that combines capoeira, martial arts and contemporary dance, with dancers culled from Algeria and West Africa in gravity-defying feats of strength.

DEETS:
City Performance Hall
2520 Flora St.
8 p.m.
ATTPAC.org

Tuesday 03.29

xanadu-copy

See a ‘bad movie we love:’ ‘Xanadu’

It killed both the movie musical and disco for a generation, but Xanadu — a terrible movie that’s perversely enjoyable now as high camp — endures in gay culture. It screens as part of New Classics series at the Magnolia, sponsored by Dallas Voice.

DEETS:
Landmark’s Magnolia
3699 McKinney Ave. in the West Village
7:30 and 10 p.m.

Thursday 03.31—Sunday 04.02

chorale

TCC celebrates local heroes, explores legacy of Tyler Clementi

The third concert of the Turtle Creek Chorale’s “Four H” season gets underway Thursday with Heroes, and it may be the most ambitious concert yet. Part one celebrates local organizations whose work in community and the arts have been “heroic” (such as the Resource Center and the Bruce Wood Dance Project); part two is a regional premiere of a specially-commissioned work called “Tyler’s Suite,” created by many acclaimed composers, and exploring the legacy of Tyler Clementi, a gay man who committed suicide.

DEETS:
City Performance Hall
2520 Flora St.
7:30 p.m.
TurtleCreekChorale.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2016.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones