What a rich musical day this was! My first musical experience of the morning was actually an interview I recorded at 9 am with one of my favorite human beings- Ralph Houghton, who for a quarter century was the coordinator of music for the Kenosha Unified School District; It was under his peerless leadership that KUSD became nationally known for its music program, and Ralph did it the old fashioned way, by building the program one great teacher at a time. But for all the glorious successes he achieved, Ralph has always been one of the most self-deprecating, down-to-earth people you could ever meet. What he has achieved he has achieved quietly and graciously. As Ralph walked out of the studio today, I thought to myself what I have thought so many times before- The world would be a truly magnificent place if there were more people like Ralph Houghton in it. And when he’s gone, something irreplaceable will be lost.
When I first got to Carthage mid-morning, it wasn’t for anything musical but rather to teach Heritage. But right after that was departmental recital, and it was a delightful mix of things today – a classical guitarist, a clarinet choir, a marimba soloist, and five different singers. Everyone did well and I enjoyed the three singers I played for (even the one whose song was in seven flats!) but my greatest pleasure and pride was reserved for a very special student of mine named Matt who sang “There is a Balm in Gilead.” When he began lessons last fall, he could scarcely match pitch and sang everything with a contorted, artificially darkened sound that was reminiscent of his favorite singer, Johnny Cash. When I think of that and compare it to the flowing, perfectly tuned, expressive performance he delivered today, I can scarcely believe that it’s the same guy. It’s been so gratifying to see Matt grow by leaps and bounds and to help him achieve both success and joy in his voice study. I have a very soft spot in my heart for Matt and so desperately want him to succeed and be happy – because he wants that so much as well. Today was a real step in the right direction.
Then it was off to Schulte Elementary to play piano for the dress rehearsal for Kathy’s big spring choir concert- a musical called “The Adventures of Lewis and Clark.” There is something a bit jarring about going from Mozart and Strauss sung by college students to “Life’s Ruff” sung by fourth and fifth graders (with one of them costumed as a dog). But how fun to see this kids putting their heart and soul to the matter at hand – and fun, too, to watch Kathy orchestrate the whole thing with the firm, assured hand that comes with experience. I especially enjoy – and I’ve said it before- how Kathy exerts such command over the situation. . . there is absolutely NO doubt about who is in charge. . . and yet does so in a way that makes it fun for all concerned. And this musical, by John Jacobson, is a lot of fun. (My favorite song, called “let’s make a deal” is set to the French national anthem – and features Napoleon Bonaparte himself! You never know what and who you might encounter in these elementary school programs!)
From there, I raced back to Carthage in order to have a quick session with a couple of singers who are competing Friday afternoon in preliminary auditions to help determine who will perform on our spring Honors Recital. (I cancelled my Wednesday afternoon lessons, and then realized later that if I rushed back I could slip in a much-needed rehearsal with Ben and Andrew.) Ben is a talented tenor who is quite a latecomer to singing (he was a football player in high school and his only musical pursuit back then was playing tuba) but you would never guess his vocal inexperience from his singing; he sounds like he’s been doing this a long time. He’s auditioning with a set of three Handel pieces and sounds great. Andrew (“The Voice of God” in a recent blog entry) has been doing really fine work on a set of Shakespeare songs composed by Gerald Finzi that are so challenging and which he sings so well. These few minutes were so pleasant for me because here were two guys who really know their music. . . so we could spend our time polishing and perfecting it. How fun is that?!?!
From there, it was time for Carthage Choir rehearsal – and for the first time we sang through the entire John Rutter Mass for Children. There were lots of sublime moments, but in some ways my favorite part of the rehearsal was when things went awry in the “Gloria” which is in the tricky time signature 5/8 and at a fast tempo. For some reason today Mr. Noble and I were at odds, rhythmically- feeling the music differently. . . but after several false starts I was finally able to settle into the slightly slower tempo which he now prefers- and we were suddenly ‘As One’ again! And at the end of the rehearsal, Mr. Noble opened up his arms and gave me a big bear hug – so pleased that we made it through the whole work and that it sounded so good -and especially that we were able to surmount that rough patch so convincingly.
On my way home, I was on the phone to Oak Music, the folks who are creating the accompaniment tracks for the Racine Theater Guild’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” Sometime I’ll write a whole blog entry about how complicated and challenging this is – to adjust the accompaniment sometimes one beat at a time to make it exactly how the singers want it to be. . . “and then in measure 47, the tempo over the three beats should change from 78 to 72 to 64, and can you bring out the bass notes more loudly. . . ” Guys and Dolls is a tricky show, musically, but we’re getting close to having a polished accompaniment- and fortunately, the guy from Oak Music had only a couple of very simple questions that were easily answered. Whew.
Then it was time for supper – with Kathy’s family – and then our typical mid-week babysitting stint with our niece Lorelai. She wanted to spend most of the evening auditioning for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team, but we also spent some time making music together – especially after Sarah Gorke and Nic Sluss-Rodionov showed up for voice lessons. I told Lorelai that Sarah can sing really high and Nic can sing really low – and then had them demonstrate that, with Sarah soaring to a gorgeous high B-flat while Nic descended to an impressive low D. Lorelai was impressed, and applauded vociferously. . . and then was persuaded to do a little bit of singing herself. But what she seemed most anxious to do was to “play” the piano. . . and when I asked her the name of the song she wanted to play for us, she replied “I Love You.” It wasn’t an especially gentle-sounding song she played – she was basically pounding the keys that sounded more like a construction worker’s jackhammer than music – but there was just something so sweet about Lorelai naming her song “I Love You.”
After that, it was time for lessons with Nic and Sarah, and there could have been no better way to end the evening. Nic’s rich, luscious bass voice is only getting better with time, and he really raised the roof with Purcell’s “Arise, ye Subterranean Winds.” After that, Sarah and I worked through Rutter’s “Mass for the Children” (she and I will be the soloists for the performance on May 11th) and I was left feeling so excited about that. Sarah is such an exceptional talent and I know that her solos will be a real highlight of the performance.
How’s that for a musical wild ride? Today featured everything from a three year old’s improvised piano solo to a conversation with a guy in his mid 80s looking back over a long distinguished career in music. . . plus everyone from Handel to Napoleon, and everything from Mass for the Children to Guys and Dolls.
All I can say is, anyone who believes that Music is boring is simply not paying attention.