Tag Archives: Kayla Pongrac

Roving piano man reflects on life, looks forward to Johnstown

Submitted photo

Our Town Correspondent

Matt Jordan studied mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University until he said he became “distracted and disillusioned with college.”

After two years, he dropped out.

“I was looking for something else to do with myself,” said Jordan, who now travels around in a minivan equipped with a piano, playing “pop-up performances” for unassuming audiences.

His first appearance in Johnstown, for instance, was well-received. Men and women who were gathered inside Mill House Café, located along Diamond Boulevard in Westmont, were beckoned out of their comfortable chairs when sounds of the blues suddenly emerged from the parking lot area.

The sight of Jordan playing the piano was almost as delightfully entertaining as his obvious musical talents. Jordan’s strawberry-colored instrument was installed inside his minivan like an art exhibit on wheels. As Jordan stood and played, his upper body poking through the sunroof, more Mill House customers continued to gather ‘round.

Some folks reached for their phones to record video and take photographs, while others danced and clapped. The blues, it seemed, had never sounded better on that crisp October morning.

“Where did that guy come from?” one lady asked when she returned inside.

This reporter had wondered the same. I found out later, after asking Jordan for an interview, that he was in Johnstown on a business trip that involved delivering ice to local customers. Jordan’s employed part-time by Home City Ice.

“The regular guy needed a vacation, and I’m the ‘floater,’ so I took the gig,” Jordan said. “I brought my piano and stayed an extra day to explore, because I’ve always thought Johnstown seemed like a cool place.”

On that day, Jordan did what he always does when he’s in a new town, or near public places in general: He went looking for people going about their days as usual, people whose days Jordan knew he could brighten by simply pulling off the road and sharing his talents.

“Most people don’t expect to see a guy sitting in a van playing a piano and singing to them, so it’s fun how people react,” the 25-year-old said. “When I’m looking for a place to stop and play, I look for people. Playing to an empty street or the side of a highway wouldn’t benefit anyone besides me, so I look for populated areas.”

Jordan’s performing name is Matt’s Blues, and he’s been entertaining audiences throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky since early 2016.

As far as the piano-inside-the-minivan is concerned, it took some time and effort to get it inside that van in the first place.

“I received my piano from a guy who didn’t need it anymore,” Jordan said. “I wanted a red piano for my shows, so I painted it with the guidance of a friend from church. The piano ended up in the van as soon as I figured out that I could use the van to transport it. The Dodge Grand Caravan is spacious enough to fit a console (mid-height) piano behind the front seats, through the side door.

“I built a six-wheeled cart for moving the piano, and it loads into the van by rocking back and sliding up onto the van floor. It weighs several times what I do, so it’s all about leverage. More recently did I discover I could play the piano while it was in the vehicle.”

A piano man in a piano van. And nowadays, Jordan is as happy as can be.

“There is no such thing as a typical day for me, and that’s something I enjoy about my current lifestyle,” he said. “Between working on cars, tuning, repairing and painting pianos, practicing, promoting, performing and sometimes driving trucks, one week is never the same as the last.

“I hope to grow as an artist and become a great musician. Learning to tune pianos has opened my ears to the infinite range of intonation and inflection present in sound, things I’ve been hearing my whole life but only recently picked out or focused on, so that tells me there is a certain bit of eternity present in music. No two pianos are the same, no two performances are the same, there’s no absolute standard of success and there’s no upward limit of creativity. People who say it’s all been done are conceited. My goal is to see how far I can go with music.”

Jordan started traveling in his piano-equipped minivan when he realized “how low of a demand most places have for live music.”

“It’s like a traveling sales job,” he said. “You work on expanding your territory.”

Jordan became interested in music at an early age, thanks in part to his parents.

“My dad always had a keyboard and would show me stuff,” he said. “I would say I was 16 when I started to learn (how to play piano) intuitively.”

His parents introduced him to artists such as the Beatles, Paul Simon, James Taylor, John Denver, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Joel, Steve Winwood, Men At Work, Boston, Heart, Peter Gabriel and more.

While attending high school in Garrett County, Maryland, Jordan also learned how to play the trumpet. From there, he picked up the organ, keyboards and harmonica.

It was an Eric Clapton album (specifically, “The Cream of Clapton”) that turned him on to blues music. And so, he said, his exploration of the blues began.

During his two years at college, Jordan took the blues more seriously than his academic studies (plus, he said, playing and listening to music was an escape “from the prevalent alcoholism” on campus), and, a year after he quit school, he landed a gig playing organ with the Dennis McClung Blues Band.

“I met Dennis while working at Sam’s Club and started talking to him about my interest in music,” Jordan said. “He invited me to a jam session to audition, and, next thing I knew, I was part of the group.

“It was a great experience playing with the DMBB. Dennis and his bandmates gave me an incredible foundation of music to build upon, and gave me a real love for the blues. Historically speaking, without the blues, there’d be no rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, R&B or boogie-woogie, so it’s an essential and pure art form to me, the study of which I see no end to.”

Jordan mentioned that while the band never embarked on an “official” tour, they played in places he had never been to or heard of before — the kinds of places he now seeks out as a solo artist.

Even though college didn’t quite work out for him, the metaphorical weight of his school loans inspired Jordan to pay them off as soon as possible and, in turn, he gained the confidence he seemed to have needed to hit the road and pursue his musical passions.

“Getting into debt going to school for something I wasn’t convinced I wanted to do seemed like a bad idea, and from that mistake I found the motivation to get a job and work to pay them off,” he said. “Once I had done that, I felt like I could do anything, like be a professional musician.”

Jordan sought the help of professional musicians, including Tom Roberts, a pianist, composer, transcriber and arranger from Pittsburgh.

“Studying with various teachers has opened my brain to the many different ways people approach the common goal of making music,” he said. “One only has to witness a few seconds of Tom playing to realize he is seriously good at what he does, so I’m super blessed to have him in my life. Tom has completely reinvented the way I approach the piano.

Others have also given Jordan guidance and support throughout the years.

“Dennis McClung has many profound ideas on music that I still think about every day. Randy Franklin, DMBB pianist and keyboardist (also a piano salesman) was the first to give me real practical advice on my technique. Jonathan Wilson, a software engineer from Montana, via the digital magic of YouTube, got me started in my dorm room playing funk grooves on my keyboard.”

Dr. John floats to the top of Jordan’s list when it comes to musical influences.

“Dr. John is the artist to beat because he has mastered his craft,” Jordan said of the 76-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “It would take a very special person to play his music and do anything better than Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John the Nite Tripper). It’s evident he has put in the effort, or ‘paid his dues’ to become extremely proficient as a musician. Besides his chops, which are definitive, the stuff he writes ranges from funky to heart-wrenching to thoughtful to weird, with a little of everything in between, and a persona to match.
“In other words, he is fabulous. I think I could dig him for the rest of my life and never get to the bottom.”
He’s also a huge fan of Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville, James Booker, the Neville Brothers, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, the Meters, Tuts Washington and Jelly Roll Morton.

“Listening to them, and so many more, has taught me everything I know about music.”

Lately, Jordan said he’s been on a “psychobilly kick” since he discovered Reverend Horton Heat.

“In my spare time, I listen to whatever strikes my fancy,” he added. “The less it sounds like generic pop music, the better. And I never go too long without some New Orleans jazz.”

The pianistry, stories and humor typically associated with the music of music of New Orleans is what makes Jordan so interested in playing, and sharing, it with others.

“New Orleans music attracts me because it’s everything,” he said. “Nothing is excluded in their appreciation of music, because like people, all notes are created equal.”

Jordan said that he hopes his unique approach to playing music for crowds will allow him to “communicate some truth to the people listening.”

“In life, I feel there is a lot of confusion,” he said, “and people’s plans rarely turn out perfectly. To sort through all the thoughts and emotions of a situation and find the truth in it, and possibly communicate that truth to someone else, is maybe the highest goal a mortal person can strive for.

“Pertaining to the piano van, I think what I do makes a positive impact because it’s unusual, and something most people have never seen before. I always hope to deliver a soul-stirring performance, and I feel great if I brighten even one person’s day. I think it’s something everyone should make a goal for themselves. If everyone took time each day to be kind to someone else, then there’d be a lot less insecurity in folks, I think.”

Thanks to the attention Jordan received in Johnstown during his stop at Mill House Café, he will be returning to the city in the new year. On Jan. 21, he’s scheduled to play a gig at PRESS Bistro in downtown Johnstown.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Johnstown,” he said. “I landed some gigs by meeting some folks who were looking for an entertainer. I was out being the ham I am, and was asked to play, so I said, ‘Yes please!’

“I’m looking forward to seeing the same nice Johnstown folks I met earlier when I come back. I hope to deliver an unforgettable performance, see some more scenery, and make some more friends along the way.”

Jordan said he’s enamored by Johnstown’s history and the people who call the city home.

“I think Johnstown is cool because it’s a place with a lot of interesting history and surviving architecture. A lot of places I’ve seen in West Virginia and Pennsylvania are like this. The industry moved out a while back, but the towns are still there,” he said. 

“People call it ‘economic depression,’ but to me it’s just a different time for the same place, and every place has a story to tell.”

In addition to playing in Johnstown in January, Jordan will also be playing the Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival in February. His up-to-date list of future performances can be found on his official website at www.mattsblues.com.

At the end of the day, Jordan might not have become an engineer, but he certainly has, in his own right, engineered a way to bring people together.

“I think society has for a long time been heading in an impersonal, antisocial direction, so I like breaking down that barrier with random strangers and coming into contact,” he said. “I used to be afraid to talk to people, and I think a lot of people are afraid of being awkward. 

“But there’s beauty in awkwardness, I think. We’re all people, and people are amazing. It’s never not worth my time to give someone my attention.”



By Kayla Pongrac
22 pages
Robocup Press (2016)

Our Town correspondent and author Kayla Pongrac enjoys exploring humanity’s inner eccentricies.

“Kettle Whistles the Blues” is a quiet afternoon with an unquiet mind. Pongrac’s protagonist ruminates over life and all of its subtle dichotomies. Permeating the prose is a desperate sense of mortality — tasks unfinished, dreams unrealized and loves unrequited. 

The key here is how the author tactfully sprinkles telling details about the narrator amid seemingly innocuous banter about brewing tea leaves. It’s a quick, clever read, and worth your attention.

For more about the author and this book, visit www.kaylapongrac.com.


Arts center to host murder mystery dinner

Submitted photo The scene of a past performance of “Pajama Party Murders.”
Submitted photo
The scene of a past performance of “Pajama Party Murders.”

Our Town Correspondent

Those interested in trying to solve a mystery are invited to attend Community Arts Center of Cambria County’s Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre. The event is scheduled for Jan. 23 beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Sunnehana Country Club in Westmont.

“Pajama Party Murders” will be performed by Mystery Theatre Pittsburgh. The event will give those in attendance an opportunity to be part of an interactive performance and enjoy a three-course dinner.

Angela R. Godin, development director for the arts center, explained how the evening will be set up.

“Hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available beginning at 5:30 p.m.,” Godin said. “Dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and, after the entrees are served, Act I will begin. Dessert will be served during intermission, and then after dessert, Act II will begin.”

The plot for “Pajama Party Murders” is as follows: Following the death of Bartholomew Cosmo, an inventor and millionaire, Cosmo’s lawyer gathers his heirs in order to distribute the inheritances. Before Cosmo’s heirs can each receive their inheritances, however, they are required to spend a night in the Cosmo Manor to locate both a patent to a secret project and $10 million in cash.

Cosmo’s heirs include Bertha, Melanie, Myrtle, Dexter and Eddie. While in pursuit of the patent and the money, one or more characters will be killed.

“This is going to be a lot of fun,” Godin said. “This is such an exciting way to do a fundraiser and raise awareness for the performing arts.”

At the end of the evening, audiences will have the opportunity to win awards based on their answers. The awards include: “CSI Award” will be awarded to the person with the most correct/best answers; “Super Sleuth Award,” awarded to the person who offered too much detail in his/her answers; and “No Clue,” awarded to the person whose answers are most off-base and incorrect. The prizes are being supplied by Sunnehanna Country Club.

“We will also have a variety of consolation prizes for various people — some funny and some nice,” Godin said.

Tickets for the Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre (as well as table sponsorships) are still available and can be purchased in advance by calling the arts center at 814-255-6515. More information can be found online at www.caccc.org. The deadline to purchase tickets is Jan. 18.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the arts center. Stifel is serving as the corporate sponsor for Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre.
“This murder mystery is funny, interactive and entertaining,” Godin said, “and it’s going to be a great evening. I am just so thrilled to bring more theater and culture into our community.”

‘Iron-wood Artifacts’ going on display

Our Town Correspondent

Two new exhibits will be unveiled Jan. 21 at Bottle Works.

Joe Hensel’s “Iron-wood Artifacts” will give viewers an opportunity to admire sculptures, furniture pieces and architectural accessories with an industrial flare, while “Marcellus Shale Documentary Project” reveals the impact that Marcellus Shale gas drilling has had on the state of Pennsylvania.

Hensel, a self-taught outside assemblage artist, has an interest in the steel and mining industry and uses that interest to create industrial artifacts. The basis for the majority of his works are the original wood patterns used to mold metal machine castings at Cambria Iron Works, later known as Bethlehem Steel Corp. His materials are glued, screwed and welded, but rarely cut or compromised.

“Aside from re-finishing with the original clear shellac and a few screw holes, it is the same piece foundry men used to cast it into an iron, steel or brass machine parts years ago,” Hensel said. “If it lasted 50 or 100 years, it should remain intact and still serve a new purpose.”

The second exhibit will be on display inside the Bottle Works building. Since 2012, six photographers have traveled across the state with their cameras in hand, determined to capture how Marcellus Shale drilling has affected communities and the people living and working in them.

These photographers — Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Brian Cohen, Laura Domencic, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson and Martha Rial — met families and listened to and recorded their stories. Some of these families are for the drilling; others remain against it.

The exhibit features 60 photographs and is accompanied by a book containing additional images, essays and graphics. A website, www.the-msdp.us, is also available to view.

A gallery opening for both exhibits is scheduled for Jan. 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Bottle Works members can attend the opening for free, while the general public will be asked to make a nominal donation at the door. The artists will be present during the opening. For more information about these exhibits, visit www.bottleworks.org or call 814-536-5399 or 814-535-2020.

Both exhibits will be on display through March 5.

G.R.A.P.E. reaching out for community support


Our Town Correspondent

Michael Toth wants the G.R.A.P.E. movement to prosper in 2016 and beyond.

Toth and his friends recently launched G.R.A.P.E., which stands for “growth, respect and positive energy.”

The group consists of local residents who are working together to organize entertainment events for people of all ages. Past events have been held at Venue of Merging Arts (VOMA), a church-turned-art-venue in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood.

So far, G.R.A.P.E. has hosted two concerts complete with after-parties, holiday parties, water-pong tournaments, listening parties and birthday parties.

“It has been amazing to see how many people show up and support local talent and positive energy,” Toth said.

G.R.A.P.E. events represent a wide variety of musical genres.

“Almost every person in the world enjoys some type of music,” Toth said, “so if we can offer every variety, then there’s no reason why someone couldn’t come out and enjoy our events.”

He said that they’re also looking for those who want to perform as part of G.R.A.P.E. events.

“Our outlook is that everyone has a purpose; everyone has something to give,” Toth said. “It doesn’t matter if you juggle. The point is, come juggle with us. Open up to new people, help yourself — as well as others — grow and share diversity. As long as you’re about G.R.A.P.E, G.R.A.P.E is about you.”

Toth expects G.R.A.P.E. to expand with the help of regularly scheduled events as well as community involvement.

“Our event hopes are endless,” he said. “Right now, we’re steady with a concert show once a month, and party for whatever holiday is going on. But we’d like to get bigger venues, help communities, as well as the city, and possibly do something with the schools down the road.”

Members are especially interested in helping children, including those who are going through tough times at school or at home.

“We want to influence kids to pick up a guitar before they pick up a weapon and to use their voices instead of drugs,” he said.

He also mentioned that he and the other members of G.R.A.P.E. see a lot of potential for the area.

“Johnstown needs us just as much as we need Johnstown,” Toth said. “Johnstown has character. It’s not like any other city. We’re festive and creative. We carry pride in our city.

“I hear people say, ‘There’s nothing to do in Johnstown’ or, ‘We’ve done that too many times.’ That’s where we come in. We want to be able to give people options and give them something positive to do. Who knows, someday we might end up having a G.R.A.P.E headquarters here in Johnstown, where kids can come after school and people can be involved 24/7.”

Those who are interested in getting involved with G.R.A.P.E. are cordially invited to join the movement.

“You honestly don’t even have to have a talent to be a part of G.R.A.P.E. It’s actually just about the support, and being a part of something positive,” Toth said. 

“It’s about supporting others, growing mentally and physically, respecting each other and yourself, and having a positive outlook on things. We want kids and adults who can’t talk to anybody to be able to speak up. We want to give people in Johnstown a chance to have fun and feel like they are a part of something.”

For more information about G.R.A.P.E., including how to get involved, find the group on Facebook or email grapesof814@gmail.com.

“If anybody is interested in being a part of something great, please reach out,” Toth said. “The more, the better.”

Toth, who runs his own independent record label called Team Support Entertainment, said that he is also available to answer questions about the group. His email is MikeyMontana213@gmail.com.

“We’ve all had ups and downs and made mistakes,” he said. “The G.R.A.P.E movement as well as establishing my Team Support Entertainment paved the road to a better me.”

Christian comedian combines love of God with laughter

Submitted photo.
Submitted photo.

Our Town Correspondent

When John Telyea decided to try stand-up comedy for the first time in the spring of 2009, he showed up at a club just outside of the city of Seattle and expected to be added to the open mic roster.

“I didn’t realize that you had to email the club owner to be included in the show,” Telyea said. “I walked in two hours before the show and the owner said, ‘We don’t have any room.’”

One could say that by the grace of God, a performer already on the roster had to cancel his appearance. Telyea took his spot.

“Stand-up comedy was something I always wanted to try out,” Telyea said. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I’m a pretty funny guy.’”

Turned out, a lot of people found Telyea funny that evening.

“I had a really good set that night,” Telyea said, “so the club owner gave me his card. I became a pretty regular comedian there, which was a lot of fun.”

For four years, Telyea performed regularly at that venue, Tacoma Comedy Club, as well as Laughs Comedy Spot. Then he felt compelled to become a pastor. 

That’s right, a pastor.

“I packed up all my things in my Subaru,” he said, “and in the middle of winter, my dad and I drove to Minnesota.”

Telyea spent the next few years pursuing his master of divinity degree at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He had higher hopes for this degree, considering that his bachelor’s in athletic training hadn’t worked out so well.

“I worked for minimum wage at Home Depot for two years after receiving my bachelor’s,” he said. “People would come into the store and I would talk to them about, you know, installing new floors.”

This was not only a far cry from athletic training, but also what he really desired to be: a doctor. Telyea shied away from that career option because he said that he “wasn’t smart enough.”

But Telyea felt confident in his choice to become a pastor. By that point in time, he had already become a comedian. It wasn’t until one of his professors came to Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy in Bloomington and saw Telyea perform his stand-up comedy routine that Telyea realized that he could be both a pastor and a comedian.

“During that show, I spotted my professor in the audience and I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m getting kicked out of school,’” he said. “But he came up to me after the show and said, ‘That’s what the church needs.’”

Ever since, Telyea has been combining his love for God with his passion for making people laugh.

Nowadays, he performs dozens of shows at local churches, colleges, private companies and church camps. When he’s not doing that, he’s serving his congregations at Geeseytown-Newry Lutheran Parish in Hollidaysburg.

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Telyea and his wife moved to western Pennsylvania in February.

“We are very, very happy to be here,” Telyea said. “I really love the history of the area and of the state. Newry Lutheran has been around since 1801. There is such a rich and a deep history here, and it’s really quite neat to witness that.”

He said that “Portlandia” — the comedy series starring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein — provides an accurate portrayal of his hometown.

“‘Portlandia’ is a perfect example of what I grew up with. The saying, ‘Keep Portland Weird’ is ever so true,” Telyea said. “It was quirky and a great place to grow up.”

That said, Telyea seems thrilled to call Pennsylvania home.

“I’ve been so graciously received by my congregations,” he said. “I’m kind of a different duck and to have that ‘Portlandia,’ comedian vibe to go along with it . . . I don’t think they really understood what they were getting into. The great thing about it is they’re willing to learn and grow with me. And I learn and grow with them.”

Despite his interest in mixing comedy with religion, Telyea has not performed in front of his congregation.

“It’s true,” he said. “I have never performed in my own church. At the end of the day, these are my people, and I’m called to be their pastor first.”

Congregation members are always welcome to attend Telyea’s comedy shows, and those who have done so have given him favorable feedback.
Even his mother was impressed by his comedic skills.

“My show in Johnstown in November was the first show that my parents had ever come to in my comedy career,” Telyea said. “They flew out from Portland, and it was really special for them to see what I do because they hear about me doing shows and I tell them my shows are an experience. After the show was over, my mom looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t know you were that funny!’”

Telyea’s wife, who is also a pastor in the region, is his toughest critic.

“My wife is super supportive of this crazy idea of being both a comedian and a pastor,” he said, “but sometimes I run my jokes by her and she just doesn’t see the humor in them. Meanwhile, I’m like, ‘That is a funny joke! That is hilarious!’”

“Get” or “don’t get” his jokes, Telyea enjoys writing them all the same.

“I enjoy the thrill of a writing a joke,” he said. “There’s nothing better than when people laugh at your jokes.”

“I’m not a comedian who can just keep using the same set. You can only say a joke so many times before it’s worn out.”

That’s exactly why he often relies on audience members for inspiration. Telyea thought it was a hilarious, for instance, when a man wearing a camouflage outfit decided to sit in the front row during one of his recent shows.

“I told him, ‘I can still see you,’” Telyea said. “Be warned: I pick on people in the two front rows, and that’s kind of the danger zone in the audience.”

One of Telyea’s goals is to make people laugh, of course, but his mission seems to be much larger in scope: make church more accessible to people of all ages.

“Church doesn’t have to be boring,” he said. “That sounds bad, but it’s true. We could just keep going down the same path or we can say, ‘Listen, what are the gifts and skills and abilities that we as pastors have?’ We need pastors to show what they’re passionate about outside of the church, whether it’s singing or painting or running. That’s where I’m trying to shake things up a little bit.”

His recent performance at Johnstown’s Moxham Lutheran Church, which drew a crowd of approximately 150 people, reminded Telyea that what he’s doing seems to be working.

“I’d love to do a comedy circuit. Why not? I’m not the traditional pastor, so with all these doors opening up, maybe God is calling me to do something that’s never been done before,” he said.

If Telyea does end up touring the country and sharing his jokes, he would expect venues to provide him with Swedish Fish candy.

“I would need at least four and a half bowls,” he said. “Not five. Not four. Exactly four and a half. I don’t want to go overboard, but I need to have enough.”

While Telyea and his wife plan to stay in the area, they also intend to travel to wherever God takes him in the future.

“I would love to meet people from all areas of the country and learn their stories and who they are because, at the end of the day, we’re all people,” he said. “Whether you’re Christian, agnostic, Jewish . . . we all need to be loved, and if I can spread God’s love through a joke, that’s what I’m going to do.

“I think the biggest gift that comedians have is our gift to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary. And a big part of humor is truth. If a joke is so out there, it’s not funny — it’s just weird. Living life is an opportunity. Every day I have the opportunity to turn ordinary things into extraordinary things.”

Telyea’s shows are suitable for all ages, and though he is a Lutheran pastor, his Facebook page states that he “play(s) well with other denominations.”

If anyone is interested in booking him for a comedy show, he’s always willing to share his talents.

“What I can bring is deep love of Scripture and of the church, along with a unique flair of humor and humility,” he said.

Telyea can be contacted through his Facebook page or by calling 814-381-9509.

“I think anytime the Gospel is proclaimed, God smiles,” he said. “I think God’s in support of what I do, but we’ll see on Judgement Day. I could be way off. I mean, I sure hope that God finds me funny, but maybe St. Peter hates my stuff.”

As fate would have it, perhaps Telyea has indeed become a doctor of sorts.

“I have never met a person who has said, ‘I hate laughter!’ Laughter is a natural medicine. It releases endorphins, and it makes you feel better. So, basically, I am a doctor,” he said.

What is his advice for good health? Gather together and laugh together.

“Anytime that people can laugh together, they grow closer to each other, so the beautiful thing about a comedy show is that you’re going to walk away and feel connected to people who you do not know and may never see again,” he said. 

“I think that’s what the world needs. We need more people coming together and laughing. Pastors should go through comedy school because there’s a reason why comedy clubs are packed every week and churches aren’t. We have to get away from the idea that pastors are these holy, holy people. We’re not. We’re normal people who have fears and hopes and desires just like everybody else. And if we put ourselves on this pedestal, it drives people away. That’s the best part of using humor; I can make that connection with people, and if they feel closer to the church — that maybe the church is the place for them to be — then I’ve done a good job.”

Bingman scheduled to play at VOMA


Our Town Correspondent

Folk, blues and roots singer-songwriter Hannah Bingman is scheduled to perform at Venue of Merging Arts on Aug. 22 as part of VOMA’s 2015 Folk Series. She has been performing for years along the East Coast and opening for musicians such as Kaki King, Michael Glabicki and Jeffrey Gaines. 

In 2006, Bingman won the Susquehanna Folk Music Society Songwriting Contest, and in 2011 she was selected as a Regional Round Finalist in the Mountain Stage New Song Contest.

Hailing from Lancaster, she has released three studio albums. “Loam,” her most recent release, focuses on small-town roots and rural themes.

Event organizer Micah Mood said that he’s looking forward to Bingman coming to Johnstown and performing a selection of songs from her new album.

“Hannah is a very talented songwriter and singer, and I’m glad for this opportunity for folks to see her and hear some new songs from her just-released album,” Mood said. “I am not fully certain that this is Hannah’s first appearance in Johnstown, but if she has played here before, it hasn’t been for quite a while, and I know this will be her first performance at VOMA. For the past several years I have been seeing Hannah on the schedule at several great folk venues in (Pennsylvania), and I’m glad to finally have her on the VOMA schedule for a Folk Series show.”

Opening for Bingham that evening will be Laurel Harrison of Johnstown.

“Laurel Harrison is a great young singer from Johnstown,” Mood said. “She’s been performing a lot lately and honing her sound. I thought she was great the first time I saw her, and she keeps getting better.”

This will be Harrison’s first time performing as part of a Folk Series show.

Mood encouraged community members to mark their calendars for Aug. 22.

“I think this will be a great opportunity to hear great songs from two talented performers,” he said. “I know that I call VOMA’s atmosphere ‘intimate’ a lot, but it really is; the Folk Series audiences are attentive and appreciative. Bands have remarked that it’s great to play a slow song, a song that would get drowned out by the background noise if they played it at a club or bar. At VOMA, every song has the audience’s attention and appreciation.”

The all-ages BYOB show is to begin at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. A limited number of reserved seating tickets are available for purchase. 

VOMA is located at 305 Chestnut Street in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood. The 2015 VOMA Folk Series is supported in part by a grant from the Robert Waters Charitable Trust of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.
“I’d like to thank the Robert Waters Charitable Trust of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies for their support of the 2015 Folk Series, which has helped enable us to bring in more new artists to perform in Johnstown,” Mood said.


By Kayla Pongrac
38 pages
Anchor & Plume (2015)

Many Our Town readers will recognize the Pongrac byline from some of the entertainment stories that run each week in this publication. But there’s no trace of the mild-mannered newspaper reporter in these flash-fiction stories.

Pongrac takes readers into the minds of real-world characters induced with a wonderland-like psychosis that makes them both endearing and unnerving. It’s a new rabbit hole with each page.

“The Flexible Truth,” at its best, scratches that sub-subconscious level of the mind — the nagging, slightly neurotic side that’s questioning your mortality and wondering how exactly to have your friend’s name included as a noteworthy date by a mass-producing calendar company.

This is escapist fiction at its purest, cut into bite-sized pieces and made perfect for travel.


Renowned poet coming to Pitt-Johnstown

Our Town Correspondent

Each spring semester, the humanities division of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown sponsors a professional poetry reading as part of the Esther Goldhaber Jacovitz Poetry Reading Series.

This year, award-winning poet Jericho Brown will share his poetry inside the Whalley Memorial Chapel on campus. The free reading is scheduled for March 30 beginning at 7:30 p.m., and is open to the public.

Brown’s first collection of poetry, “Please,” won the 2009 American Book Award, and his second collection, “The New Testament,” was named one of the best books of 2014 by Library Journal. His poems have been published by The Nation, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The American Poetry Review and The Best American Poetry, among others.

He received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University and the Bread Loaf writer’s conference, and is the recipient of the Whiting Writers’ Award.

Marissa Landrigan, assistant professor in Pitt-Johnstown’s program in creative and professional writing, said that she discovered Brown’s work while she was also in attendance at the Bread Loaf Writer’s conference.

“I heard him read there for the first time and I was blown away by his powerful and provocative performance,” Landrigan said. “He’s a great reader of his own work, and he has a great understanding of rhythm and cadence . . . people have described his readings as ‘testifying.’”

Landrigan, who helped organize Brown’s appearance at Pitt-Johnstown, said that the poet explores a variety of themes in his work, including race, sexuality and masculinity.

“It’s really exciting to have a poet of this caliber on our campus and a poet who, in many ways, is bringing a different voice and a different experience,” she said. “It’s really great for our students and our community to be exposed to as many voices and perspectives as possible.”

Brown’s poetry has been described by fellow poet Terrence Hayes as “the poetry of bloodship,” exploring “the meaning of family, of love, of sexuality; the resonances of pain and the possibilities of redemption.” He currently resides in Atlanta and teaches at Emory University.

Brown’s appearance marks the 12th anniversary of the annual Esther Goldhaber Jacovitz Poetry Reading Series, begun in 2004 and made possible by a generous endowment from Pitt-Johnstown alumnus Esther Goldhaber Jacovitz. Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, George Bilgere, Mark Doty, Terrance Hayes, Nick Flynn and Mark Halliday have previously participated in the series.

“I encourage people to attend because to sit in a room and listen to a poet read his own work is almost like a theatrical performance or musical performance,” Landrigan said. “This is an amazing opportunity, and we’re incredibly grateful for Esther Goldhaber Jacovitz’s generosity.”

The Mount to show ‘As You Like It’

Our Town Correspondent

Mount Aloysius College’s theater department is preparing to present William Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” from March 26 through March 28.

“This play is one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful comedies,” said Nathan Magee, theater department director. “The story of Rosalinde is just as relevant today as it was 400 years ago. This young woman pushes the boundaries of what is accepted by her society and, in doing so, discovers something about herself.”

The comedy tells the story of brothers Orlando and Oliver, whose relationship is soured after their father, Sir Rowland, dies. Oliver, the older brother, is convinced that his right as the elder son entitles him to his father’s inheritance and proceeds to develop a scheme to ensure that he receives it. During the play, audiences will also meet Duke Fredrick’s daughter, Rosalinde, who falls in love with Orlando. Problems arise and challenges ensue, leaving audiences to wonder if the star-crossed lovers will get married and if the brothers will reconcile.

Feuding brothers Orlando and Oliver will be portrayed by Angelique Gorba of Lilly and Pam Young of Summerhill, respectively. Other lead roles are Aaron Gorba of Lilly as Charles; Kalyn Blake of Rossiter as Duke Frederick, and Brianna Ports of York Haven as Rosalinde.

The cast and crew is rounded out by: Sami Aurandt of Huntingdon; Paige Bowers of Hollidaysburg; Josh Bridges of New Florence; Hannah Corbett of Somerset; Kristy Daniel of Gratz; Dan Davis of Osceola Mills; Courtney Fowler of Tyrone; Rachel Haywood of Quakertown; Claire Kirsch of Clymer; Cheyanne Marsh of Schellsburg; Evan Standley of Summerhill; Kolby Wasnick of Summerhill; Colton Wilkinson of Altoona; and Corrine Wollet of Carney’s Point, New Jersey.
“This cast and crew have worked incredibly hard, and I am very excited for everyone to see their work,” Magee said.

Mount Aloysius College’s theater department produces four shows each academic year. Productions include a variety of genres, including comedies, musicals, dramas, classical pieces, student-directed plays and nights of sketch-comedy improvisation.

Last spring, the theater department earned two drama awards from the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival for the production of Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell.”

All three performances of “As You Like It” are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. inside the campus’s Alumni Hall. The performance on March 26 will be professionally interpreted for deaf attendees.

Grand Halle hosting children’s choruses

Our Town Correspondent

The children’s choruses of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra are to present their spring concert March 27 beginning at 7 p.m. at The Grand Halle on Broad Street.

Inclined to Sing and The Apprentice Choir, both celebrating their 15th anniversary this year, are directed by Kim Rauch and Andrea Mulligan. They feature young local singers ranging in age from 5 to 15.

Audiences who attend the concert can expect to hear a wide variety of music, including traditional songs, arrangements of American folk tunes, canons, traditional work songs and vocal jazz.

“The sound of the treble children’s choir is very unique and will be especially beautiful in the acoustics of The Grand Halle,” Rauch said.

Previously, the choirs have performed with the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra, River City Brass and at the 10th anniversary of the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville. They practice weekly at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church.

Doors for the show are to open at 6 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door. Proceeds from the concert support The Steeples Project, the development campaign for three former Roman Catholic church buildings within the cultural district.

The Grand Halle on Broad Street, the former Immaculate Conception church, is located at 306 Broad St., is on the corner of Broad and Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood.