Choral Arts celebrates 40 years

SCENE & HEARD

Scene&heard

March 12, 2006|By SLOANE BROWN

For one night, the Baltimore area had a swanky dinner club, complete with cabaret singer. The Grand Lodge at Hunt Valley was transformed, with small round tables clustered around a stage where New York cabaret singer Eric Comstock performed songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Jule Styne. It was all for a good cause, as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society gave itself a 40th anniversary party called "A Night at The Ruby."

Guests had no problem getting into the nightclub mood. A few dinner jackets were spotted in the crowd. A mink stole danced about the shoulders of guest Linda Robinson. "My mother used to wear this to New York nightclubs," she explained.

Sisters Catherine Tucker and Elizabeth Gibbons flaunted the current trend of elaborate textured hosiery: Catherine in a black zigzag pattern, and Elizabeth in black fishnets decorated with large crocheted roses.

Party chair Barbara Bozzuto swished through the throngs in a clingy coffee ensemble. And who could miss Choral Arts board member Peter Savage in his signature bow tie? His date, Eleanor Bacon, was all aglow in silver and gold brocade.

Matching all the glitter on the guests, the ever-effervescent personality of Tom Hall, the Choral Arts music director.

"He's the very spark of Choral Arts," board chair Andrea Bowman announced to all assembled.

A DRINK WITH BENN RAY

Independents' champion sells books in Hampden

Benn Ray, 37, owns the offbeat Atomic Books store in Hampden with fiancee Rachel Whang. He also is one of the forces behind the Independent Hampden Coalition, which opposes locating large retail chain stores in the area.

How did you end up owning a bookstore?

I worked for a video game company for years. I was the managing editor of GameShark. It's a video-game cheat device. ... I had a team of hackers working for me. My job, 9 to 5, was playing video games. That was a job that all 14-year-olds everywhere dream of having. ... The parent company imploded. The assets were sold off. ... I used the money I made to take over the bookstore [from founder Scott Huffines].

Why?

Basically, I like living in a city that has bookstores like this: a small independent store that focuses on underground press. My friend who had it had made it somewhat famous. Friends in Seattle knew of it. There are certain businesses that define your city. When you think of Seattle, you think of Starbucks. When I think of Baltimore, I think of Atomic Books, I think Reptilian Records [in Fells Point]; these odd, independent businesses that no other city has.

Is this the career path you envisioned when you were younger?

No. Depending on which me you're asking. The 16-year-old me would've envisioned a suburban house, two-car garage, a career I don't hate, and kids that don't hate me. The 22-year-old version would've envisioned the second coming of Lester Bangs, the [then] rock critic of the Village Voice. The 30-year-old me had a midlife crisis that doesn't count. Shortly after that, I stopped worrying about it.

What do you think of your life now?

I feel happy. I'd like to have health insurance. That would make me happy. This makes me sound like my life is over. I really feel like it's just getting under way.

Did anything surprise you about owning a bookstore?

When I worked retail [years before], I remember that people [were lousy]. The sort ... who won't put down a cell phone to complete a business transaction. But, I found out that not all people [are like that]. It could be because of the type of business I have, and the people it attracts. A lot of stuff we carry; we're the only ones for miles and miles who do. ... If we didn't sell it, would these people just do without? The mega bookstore or New York Times best seller lists offer very little for some people.

What do you do for fun? Go play video games?

My fun and work are the same thing. I might have worked middle management for the rest of my life in Timonium and lived for the weekends. But, every day is a fusion of hobby, interests and career.

Does anyone accuse you of being a workaholic?

I accuse myself.

But isn't that when you use work as an escape?

Well, I guess I use it to escape boredom. I remember desperately trying to find something to do with my time on the weekend. ... It usually involved damaging my liver. And my lungs. But, I've quit smoking. Now, I don't have that problem. And I feel far more productive.

Any advice?

Don't ever do something you love as a career. Because the business takes the fun out of it.

SOCIAL CALENDAR

SATURDAY

The Gala -- In Pursuit of Miracles

Benefits Anne Arundel Medical Center's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Open bar, hors d'oeuvres, seated dinner, live music, dancing

Marriott Waterfront Hotel

6:30 p.m.

Tickets $250

Call 443-481-4747

SATURDAY

Carver Celebration 2006

Benefits Carver Center for Arts & Technology Foundation

Heavy hors d'oeuvres, performances / demonstrations by Carver Center students

Carver Center for Arts & Technology, 938 York Road

7 p.m.

Tickets $50

Call 410-337-0591

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