Musical happenings in Carnation and Fall City

A look at the arts from Mr Schwartz.

Greetings Valley Arts Crossroads readers.

You may hear drums beating in the distance, coming from Carnation. If you listen closely, you can tell the natives are restless – one native in particular.

I’d like to introduce you to Lee Gruman, founder of “Valley Drum & Dance Troupe.” For the last three years they’ve toured the Valley, performing in various venues. Lee recently bought and refurbished Miller’s Dry Goods store in Carnation and remodeled it into Millers Community & Arts Center.

There she offers classes in conga drumming and pottery. She also sponsors some unique performers. An upcoming event that is already sold out is dinner and a show on March 17 with “Uncle Bonsai,” an eclectic Seattle-based trio that has toured nationally. They do a unique blend of vocals and satire. The New York Times says, “Uncle Bonsai perform funny original songs,” and that their “exquisite musical detail and subtle needling wit attain a level of craft not often seen in pop.”

At 8 p.m. Saturday, March 5, Lee is presenting a unique artist, Swil Kanim. Expect an evening of music, poetry and storytelling for all ages at the cost of $5. Kanim is a virtuoso violinist and performer who advocates self-expression to create stronger community. He intertwines his performances with storytelling, poetry and audience interaction.

Lee is a vivacious woman who wants to see the arts flourish in our area. She moved to Carnation in 1995 after traveling the world, learning drumming in West Africa and Cuba. In 1984, she went to Beijing to study Chinese for one year. Amazingly, a few months into the program she auditioned for the leading role in a feature film called “Zhude & Smedley.” She played the role of Agnes Smedley, an American journalist who resided in China between 1928 and 1943. The movie loosely portrayed the part of Smedley’s story when she decided to write the autobiography of Zhude, who co-founded the Chinese Communist Party with Mao, leader of the Chinese Communist Army.

After the film Lee was invited to be featured in an hour-long television musical special aired on Chinese New Year’s Day. In 1987, Lee returned to Asia to live in Hong Kong for two years where she studied Chinese politics and worked for Save the Children, UK.

Now settled in Carnation, Lee continues to teach conga and has great plans for Millers.

“Why Miller’s?” I asked, “Why not The Gruman Center for the Arts?” Lee responded that, “Miller’s is named for Howard and Marion Miller who ran a dry goods store in Carnation for 44 years. Howard is very well loved here in Carnation, a bit of a celebrity. Folks are very sentimental about the store and Howard. When Miller’s Dry Goods went up for sale, we were all nervous about what would happen to it. I decided to buy it in large part to ensure that it remained for the community and was well loved.”

Lee is interested in collaborating with a variety of other groups. So far that includes the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, Fall City Arts and the Duvall Foundation for the Arts. I know that collaboration will extend to the Unity Theater as well and I look forward to helping expand the network. Lee and I share the same goal – a flourishing, well patronized arts community in the Valley. Visit Miller’s in Carnation or go to

There was a great to-do in Fall City a few weeks ago. The Fall City Arts Council presented an “Evening in Spain” at the Fall City Masonic Lodge. I was out of town but my wife, Tina, went to the event and raved about it

“I’m a longtime fan of flamenco dance and music and have even taken dance classes,” said Tina. “I was very excited to hear that there was going to be a flamenco show in Fall City. For the show on Feb. 5, the Fall City Arts group turned the lodge into a Spanish taverna. There was a beautifully embroidered Spanish shawl on the wall above the stage. Tables arranged around the performance area were covered with colorful table cloths. Each table had a bowl of salted nuts and a beautifully printed menu of delicious tapas that were offered, like an elegant buffet. At a dollar each I wanted to try them all, but restrained myself [a little bit]. There was also Spanish wine and sangria available to add to the fiesta atmosphere. After we’d all had a chance to enjoy the tapas, the show began.

“Performers Eric Jaeger, Vassili and Encarnacion are part of a larger group called The Children of the Revolution. Their music is a mix of flamenco, Greek, Middle Eastern and more – truly world music. Eric is the master of the guitar; Vassili, lead singer and spokesperson and Encarnacion, dancer and guitar player. Of course, I loved the dancing. Encarnacion has that mix of haughtiness and pride and gypsy wildness that makes flamenco so exciting and so different from every other form of dance. I wish she could have danced all night.

“Then there’s the music. Flamenco is fast and exciting, and slow and soulful. The fingering on the guitar is so intricate it seems impossible. I especially enjoyed it when the three artists were all playing guitar, as I watched their hands move in unison. They sang, told stories of their travels and studies in Spain and Vassili did a little dancing as well. It was a fun show with wonderful music and dancing. I bought two of their CDs and I’m still listening to them in my car every day,” said Tina.

The group is based in Seattle with a Web page at

“I can’t finish this review without praising the efforts of Fall City Arts,” said Tina. “This was more than just a performance. They created a wonderful atmosphere that was more like a party and made the evening truly memorable. I look forward to attending the other events they have scheduled for the year.”

For information on Fall City Arts, contact Barbara Center at (425) 222-5681.