It’s the most Mummerful time of the Year

The biggest reason I love the Mummers are the people who Mum and one teenager is a perfect example of why.  13-year-old Julia Parmisciano is a smart, upbeat, talented person.  She’s a fan of the Mummers.  Julia is also a heart transplant recipient.  She suffered cardiac arrest last spring while at Epiphany of Our Lord School at 13th and Jackson.  Julia was lucky to survive.  She was taken to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where she waited for more than 6 months for a heart transplant operation.  Doctors think she had lived with a weakened heart since contracting  a virus at a very early age.  In late November, the donor heart became available and she underwent the operation.  She came home to South Philadelphia in time for Christmas and to see the preparations for New Year’s Day.  Her mother, Grace, and her whole family have been wonderful in supporting Julia.  Her friends have sprung into action, too.  They have started the Hope for Julia Fund to defray some of the big bills that insurance won’t pay. How you can help is farther below.

Julia made great friends while she was in CHOP.  She plays the guitar really well.  She played with Selena Gomez , and met Ryan Seacrest and Joe Jonas who stopped by CHOP.  Gomez and Jonas autographed her guitar.  But, as cool as all that was, it was Julia’s hospitalized friends and the nurses at CHOP who impressed her the most. Now, Julia wants to be a cardiac nurse when she grows up.

I was at her house when members of several Mummers clubs came by to serenade Julia and boost her spirits.  They came from Quaker City String Band, the Jester’s (Julia’s favorite), South Philly Vikings, Satin Slipper, Avenuers and more.   Quaker City played “When You’re Smilin’.”  Julia had to wear a mask that day, as she will for a little while longer, to prevent infection.  But, no mask could hide her happiness at seeeing Mummers and seeing that so many people care about her.  Julia is glad to be home.

As an aside, I want thank the members of two string bands who in the past week have given me awards. Avalon String Band for induction into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame and for broadcasting the parade, and Quaker City String Band Friday night delivered its Humanitarian Award to me.  Both are extremely kind and reflective of the great hearts of Mummers.

If you can, donate to help Julia’s family, send a check to:

PNC Bank

c/o Hope for Julia

1544 Packer Avenue

Philadelphia, PA   19145

Here Come the Cromptons

Jerry Crompton is a fine sax player and he was a great music director for Avalon String Band. Tough. He was tough. Jerry is one of the most recent inductees into the String Band Hall of Fame.  Son, Jim, has carried on well in his place as Music Director since 2007, while dad still marches. Younger Jerry is also in Avalon and is showing there’s no drop-off in quality with later versions of the Crompton model. And then, of course, there is Jeff, who is formerly of Avalon, and lately of Fralinger. Jeff is Presentation Director of one of the finest bands to walk up the street. But, more importantly, all the Cromptons are prime examples of the quality of talent, the dedication to Mummery and the great families that are the Mummers. They touched many bands,  starting with Aqua.   There’s Polish American, Ferko and more that they were directly with or influenced over the years.  But the biggest connection is Avalon.  It was an honor for me to speak with Jerry and the boys. In this photo the late, “Big Ger”, towers over Jerry and the kids. I talk with the Cromptons Sunday, December 25th, Christmas Day, at 11:30 a.m. on NBC10 at Issue. The program also features the great Mummers Chorus, singing Christmas songs, and I highlight the story of Julia Parmisciano (go Jesters!) and Philadelphia’s Firefighter of the Year, Ed Verbitski, of Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars.  Happy Holidays everyone!  And remember, coverage of the 2012 SugarHouse Casino Mummers parade begins at 9 a.m. New Year’s Day with “Breakfast with the Mummers.”

The D in Dana

Dana Theil

You could certainly say that the D in Dana Theil stands for dance. Dana is co-director of the Pennsport School of Dance in South Philadelphia.  Her philosophy is straight forward: Have fun and, says Dana, “You’ve got to put on the best show that you can with what you have and that’s all I try to do.”  That just begins to describe the mother of 4 that so many Mummers appreciate.  Dana is the long-time choreographer of Fralinger String Band, which has won 8 First Prizes in a row. A piece of each of those prizes belongs to her.  While Fralinger is known for doing everything well, especially music, what often gets lost to observers is that while they are playing, they are often dancing.  In addition, the dancers and the captain must be among the best or first prize is out of reach for the band.  Current Fralinger Captain Thomas D’Amore won First Prize his first year as Captain under Dana’s guidance.  He says her personality, she easily gets along with everyone, helps her communicate with dozens of string band members.  Dana is also from a family of Mummers.  Many of those closest to her are connected to the Fancy Brigade, Jokers NYA.  Former Fralinger Captain Bill Bowen, Jr., says “I think she can look at a package and whatever production is being done that particular year, not only in dance but in band movement,” and help form the whole 4 and a half minute show.  Bill spotted Dana’s talent when she was a teenager.  In the first year he took her advice, he won First Prize.  Bill would go on to become the winningest captain on Broad Street.  This year Dana is once again offering her expertise to Fralinger, but she is also assisting Ferko String Band and Avalon String Band. Both bands know they are in great hands. Ferko Captain Anthony Celenza, for example, tells me, “”We’re hoping that she can be the good luck charm as she has with some of the groups she’s worked over the past.” Ms. Theil’s accomplishments are even more impressive when you realize that she is getting everyday working people, blue and white collar workers, not professional dancers, to dance well. Dana admits that is “the tricky part.” Her dedication and patience make it happen.  But that’s Dana, and not just with Mummers.  I also saw that genuine appreciation on display when I witnessed her working with little kids getting ready to put on a Christmas recital. Dana says, “Dancing to me is a release almost. I can be in the worst mood, sad, depressed about anything, but once I get into the studio and just start teaching and they (the kids) start making me laugh, it just brings a smile to my face. You know, that’s my whole life.”  The D in Dana can stand for dance.  But, it also stands for D-elightful, D-edicated, in D-emand, and D-ynamite.  Dana Theil is one more reason to love the Mummers.

Getting Closer…

There are a few signposts along the road to New Year’s Day that tell you that you’re getting closer to the Mummers Parade.  Some of them include, “Hey, that prop needs more wood,” and “We actually are beginning to sound good.”  There are other signs such as the kids Christmas parties, Kazoo/Hat Day and the Mummers Mass.  The annual Mass at St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church at 5th and Girard is this Sunday, the 19th, at 9 a.m.  That’s when the Mummers procession is scheduled to begin.  Msgr. George is much appreciated for his support of the Mummers.  String Bands and Fancy Brigades rehearse later in the morning in halls, school gyms, in warehouses and under I-95.  The annual Hat Day/Kazoo Day event, celebrated in various fashion at clubhouses, picks up steam in the afternoon.  Some of these are family events. Others, less so.  Weather permitting, a serenade takes place along Mummers Row.  Over the last couple of weeks, many of the clubs have held Christmas parties for children of club members and some more will take place this weekend. I stopped by two last week. Avalon String Band and Jokers Fancy Brigade gave up their clubhouses to the kids.  There was a live animal show courtesy of the Philadelphia Zoo at Avalon and there was a great magician, Jimmy McGinty, at Jokers.  Even with all the pressure that’s intensifying right now, with last minute designs, changes in music, adjustments to props, working with the costumes, and in some Captain’s cases, still waiting to see that full costume in action, this is a time that you see Mummers as a family tradition.  Generations meet and drill together. Adults take time to give the kids an afternoon to rule the clubhouse. It’s all coming together. Christmas parties for the children, Kazoo Day, walking down the street or driving under I-95 and seeing everyone at work on their presentations, taking time to honor old friends, Palma Lucas sewing like no one else can on Greenwich Street, Hog Island and Golden Sunrise talking smack with each other, and Murray Comic Club methodically planning to try to break yet another record.  These are just many of the signs not of winter, but of a new beginning, a New Year in Philadelphia, getting closer.

Rally

Scores of Mummers will rally this afternoon at the Mummers Museum to boost awareness about savethemummers.com and about the big Bacon Brothers concert on December 5th at the Electric Factory.  Congressman Bob Brady will be among the elected officials at today’s rally, which starts about three.  Not only do the Mummers deserve support because of their economic benefits to the city, their ambassadorship and their continuing of America’s oldest folk parade, but they give a considerable amount of their private time to charity.  For example, just last night, members of Avalon String Band, led by Captain Jack Hee, performed and pumped up hundreds of people raising money for United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.  I have no doubt they were a highlight of the evening and made people feel even better and more likely to contribute to UCP.  I spoke with Kevin and Michael Bacon and Bunny Sigler this morning on NBC10 at Issue and they are primed and ready for the concert.  It’s a great combination when the three getto perform together with the Bacon Brothers Band.