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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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Not sure if I'm ready to sign away my name yet.
Not sure if I'm ready to sign away my name yet. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

What's in a name

On the long list of Things I Would Change About Myself If I Could, my last name has always been right at the top.

Before you get concerned that this blog is going to alienate my entire family, calm down: don’t confuse a disdain for my name with a disdain for my family. I’m extremely proud of my ancestors, whatever their ethnicity. And thought I never enjoyed the name, I love the people I share it with.

And it’s a perfectly good name, after all. I’ve done some research on it. According to Ancestry.com, there are over 1,000 immigrants in U.S. history bearing the name "Jurkiewicz," most of them settling in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.  I once found information online that it was a surname belonging to szlachta (noble) families in the Kingdom of Poland, but I’ve never been able to verify that (if you search long enough on the Internet, you’ll always find some website assuring you that your family is, in fact, European royalty).

Though I’m a Milwaukee native who’s always eaten oplatki on Christmas Eve, I have never really identified with my Polish heritage. My Irish genes completely hijacked my sense of self, as Irish genes are notorious for doing. With a mother who gave me a Gaelic first name, sang "Galway Bay" to me every night, and always assured me that I would have been an Irish princess if the English hadn’t taken our land and castle (perhaps a bit overdramatic, in retrospect) I never gave much thought to my Polishness.

And so my last name has always been an awkward appendage, and I’ve never quite known what to do with it. We’re a very strange fit, the Jurkiewicz and me.

It’s meant confusion ("Whoa. How do you say that?"), teasing ("You must be a jerk!") and worst of all, unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes you’ll meet someone who knows exactly how to pronounce it, and they will tell me what a "good Polish name" it is. I am always at a loss for words, feeling somehow undeserving of a good Polish name (what with all those Irish lulla…

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Hannah Mrozak, 14, of Richfield will be a judge at this year's Milwaukee's Got Talent competition.
Hannah Mrozak, 14, of Richfield will be a judge at this year's Milwaukee's Got Talent competition.

Mrozak overcomes bullying with music

Like a lot of kids her age, singer Hannah Mrozak was a victim of bullying in middle school.

The Richfield resident, now 14, moved to a new school in fifth grade. "I was a little on the heavier side and I just didn’t really think I fit in," she remembers. "I was different from a lot of the girls in my grade."

Mrozak got picked on and called hurtful and "just nasty, nasty" names. She endured physical abuse and had a locker slammed in her face and a book thrown at her head.

"I had no one to turn to," she says. "It got me in a little bit of a depression."

Now that she has a few years between her and the painful experience, Mrozak wants to help other young victims of bullying.

Her latest single, entitled "It’s In Me," speaks to the power of bullying and the strength of a victim to overcome it. Inspired by her personal experience, Mrozak penned the tune herself. The music video was directed by Eric Seguim-Arnold and filmed at her Richfield home and Slinger High School, where she is a freshman.

The video depicts Mrozak receiving verbally-abusive texts and being mocked by classmates. It ends with her performing triumphantly on the school stage and holding a sign that says "I control my own destiny."

The song was featured on the website of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Mrozak has been speaking at schools and churches about her experiences with bullying. 

"I am so proud of her and I just want to do everything I can to support her," says her mom, Melena. "She loves to make people happy and wants to make people happy with her music."

A singer since the age of 4, Mrozak has performed for years at local talent shows, festivals and coffee shops and has sung the national anthem at Brewers, Bucks and Marquette games. Last year she released a CD entitled "Hopes and Dreams" which includes covers of songs by artists such as Etta James, Adele, Christina Aguilera and The Beatles. In 2011 she won the Milwaukee’s Got Talent competition at Winter Fest, and return…

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Christmas carols can be a great reminder of the reason for the season.
Christmas carols can be a great reminder of the reason for the season. (Photo: shutterstock.com)

"Sing For Your Supper" CD a beautiful reminder of the meaning of Christmas

Christmas songs like "Silent Night" and "Grown Up Christmas List" are beloved reminders of the reason for the season. Now, Agape Community Center has compiled 18 of these meaningful carols on its 2012 "Sing For Your Supper" Christmas album.

All proceeds from the sale of the CD directly benefit the hungry poor in Milwaukee.

It's the sixth year that Agape has released a Christmas CD, with all proceeds donated to its Agape Community Meal Program. The program serves more than 17,000 meals every year to the hungry with the assistance of over 850 volunteers from local groups, churches and corporations.

This year's "Sing For Your Supper" CD features local celebs like Sarah Fierek of 88.9 Radio Milwaukee and Leigh McNabb of 103.7 FM, as well as the vocal talents of these area schools and churches:

  • St. Robert's Middle School Choir
  • Marquette University High School Choir
  • St. John Vianney & St. Dominic String Orchestra
  • Dominican High School Concert & Chamber Choirs
  • Divine Savior Holy Angels High School Choir
  • Greater Galilee Baptist Choir & Calvary Baptist Choir
  • St. Thomas More High School
  • Catholic Memorial High School

A few of my personal favorite tracks: "What Child is This," performed by the angelic voices of the children of St. Robert's; "O Come O Come, Emmanuel" performed by Amy Stanelle and Lucy Hagen; and "Boyce Alleluia" performed by Catholic Memorial High School Chorale.

The CD is $15 and can be purchased at Agape Community Center, 6100 N. 42nd St., or by calling (414) 464-4440. 

Valerie Harmon performs the role of Clara/The Sugar Plum Fairy in Michael Pink's "The Nutcracker," which runs until Dec. 26.
Valerie Harmon performs the role of Clara/The Sugar Plum Fairy in Michael Pink's "The Nutcracker," which runs until Dec. 26. (Photo: Jessica Kaminski)
Julianne Kepley performs the role of the Snow Queen on opening night (the roles vary each performance). Also pictured: Rachel Malehorn.
Julianne Kepley performs the role of the Snow Queen on opening night (the roles vary each performance). Also pictured: Rachel Malehorn. (Photo: Jessica Kaminski)

Pink's "The Nutcracker" shines again

There is nothing more joyful than Christmas through the eyes of a child, and there are few experiences more gratifying than to witness a young person’s first exposure to art in any of its forms.

Call it a Christmas miracle, then, that these two moments are magically united in Michael Pink’s "The Nutcracker," a jubilant and lively production that is bursting at the seams with royal beauty bright. But the seasonal delights of the choreography, set, lighting, score and costumes are only half the magic. The other half comes courtesy of the audience.

There may not be another artistic production, ballet or otherwise, that is so encouraging of – and dependent upon – the enthusiasm of its audience members, most of whom are very young.

For any performance of this season’s "The Nutcracker," which runs until Dec. 26, there is bound to be a sea of children – mostly little girls – in vibrantly colored Christmas dresses making their way toward Uihlein Hall at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. These kids are at the age where they associate Christmas with reindeer, Santa, presents and no school – and now, ballet.

The presence of the little ones brings a joy and effervescence to the occasion that quite frankly is lacking in every other production of Pink & Co. – and through no fault of theirs. You’re not going to bring your 10-year-old to see Mimi hack herself to death in Rodolfo’s arms in "La Boheme," after all.

And so it is "The Nutcracker" that, more than any other event of the ballet season, reminds us why dance is important – indeed, why art is important. Dance is beautiful. It’s joyful. It inspires. And at Christmas, more than any other time of year, we need to remember that the things that exist in this world simply for the purposes of being beautiful, joyful and inspirational are perhaps the most important things of all.

There isn’t a whole lot you can do with "The Nutcracker," and I’m not sure that anyone would accuse this production…

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