FORT MADISON — Iowa is the only state that flies the French tri-color, and on Saturday, Fort Madison will be the only town to have a free concert by a French artist, a Parisian classical guitarist, and a Native American astronomer.
Classical guitarist Francis Verba has won French national and international competitions.
Professor of Astronomy and Physics James Rock teaches at the University of Minnesota and is program director of the Marshall Alworth Planetarium.
Artist Cecile Houel has won international acclaim in the world of pastels and now focuses on multi-media including sculpture.
All three will appear at Houel's studio in Fort Madison on Saturday. The event is catered by Martha Wolf of Uptown Ivy. The audience will sit among Houel's art pieces while Rock lectures and when Verba performs.
"I'm ordering some wraps from Simple Table, in addition to Martha," Houel told The Hawk Eye.
Verba, a professor at France's National Conservatory, was named Education Advisor by the French Ministry of Culture when he was but a lad. He founded and directs several national and international festivals featuring prestigious guitarists such as Abel Carlevaro, Alexandre Lagoya and Narciso.
Using 6-, 10- and 13-string guitars, Verba’s pallet runs from ancient and classical music — including the entire repertoire of J.S. Bach for lute, violin and cello — to Spanish and Latin American music, jazz and contemporary music. He plays duos with pianists, singers, lutenists, guitarists, violinists and in trios, quartets, chamber music and symphony orchestras.
"Francis was one of my first classical guitar teachers," Houel said. "I met him in one of his master classes in Paris. He's not only a fantastic classical guitar player, he's also a brilliant mind. He's a yogi and teaches yoga."
At that time, Verba's master classes for classical guitar included a morning yoga session for his students.
"I went upstairs to that space and early in the morning he was playing very loud music to wake up the students," Houel said. "I became friends with Francis. He was always around Paris and did a lot concerts and events."
Houel had wanted to be a classical concert guitarist player, but marriage and a pregnancy derailed that dream. She and Verba have remained friends over the ensuing decades. She recently asked Verba if he wanted to come to the States. He said yes, and agreed to five weeks.
"He was very influential in Africa," Houel said. "He developed some cultural and musical programs in North Africa: Morocco, and Tunisia."
And, oh yeah: He's a psychologist, too. And a nutritionist.
"He's a brilliant mind," Houel said.
Saturday's event begins with noshing and wine before Rock makes his presentation, "A Native American Perspective: The Night Sky and Burial Mounds."
"Then there will be a few minutes when people can drink," Houel said. "Then Francis will play, and when he plays, it's classical, one instrument."
She said Verba is quite picky about audience chatter when he performs and isn't shy about admonishing rude yakkers.
"This is a guy who will stop in the middle of a concert," Houel said. "He's an extreme guy. He's funny; you cannot put any box around him. Impossible."
Verba, who performed Wednesday with the Burlington Lunchtime Chamber Music Concert series, is making two more appearances in southeast Iowa in addition for Fort Madison; all are open to the public: May 24 at the Art Center in downtown Burlington, and Cafe Dodici in Washington, Iowa, on May 27.
“…And once upon a time…” is 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday at 731 Ave. G in Fort Madison. Admission is free. Read more at cecilehouel.com or call (319) 601-6420.