The main reason for Florida was the Tremper Choir’s participation in Festival Disney, a competition for choirs, bands and orchestras from across the country. I keep calling it the Tremper Choir, but in fact this group was an amalgamation of singers from the top choirs at both Tremper and Bradford. And this particular group was a little bit smaller than usual – thanks to the poor economy as much as anything, I’m guessing – and Polly went into this competition with no grand expectations other than that the singers would do the best they could, and who cares about awards or ratings.
Well, these 40 singers had other ideas and they ended up singing like they were on fire. . . and when the three judges took the stage to offer their verbal critique, they pretty much fell over themselves offering one glowing compliment after another. And the last judge seemed to speak for the other two when she said that the Kenoshans were the best choir they had heard all day. (They were the last group on a long day.) That certainly put an extra wide smile on the faces of the students when they heard that- although I felt badly for the previous choir which was seated in the auditorium and heard not only our performance but also the accolades of the judges afterwards, which were in rather stark contrast to the extensive critical comments which they themselves had been given right before us. (We were in the room for that.) Nevertheless, it made it all the more sweet and meaningful to receive these compliments, knowing full well that not every choir was showered with that kind of praise. It had to be earned.
I was kept busy with the first two songs the choir sang. First was Haydn’s “The Heavens are Telling” from The Creation – and forgive me for using some salty language here, but that piece is a real booger to play. . . much harder than it first appears, with all kinds of running thirds and rapid passage work . . . and I’m glad I didn’t mangle it too badly. The second piece could not have been a more striking contrast- “Dirai-ton” by Morten Lauridsen, which is surely one of the most sublime choral pieces of the last decade. Mr. Mann conducted it with an enormous amount of rubato, and since he and I had a grand total of one rehearsal together (plus one run-through right before the performance itself) I had to watch him like a hawk while also trying to coax delicate sounds out of a huge grand piano that seemed built more for honky tonk than for Debussy. I must have succeeded to some extent, because the head judge singled me out for praise in her verbal comments, which was nice because I suddenly felt like I had earned my plane fare. Then for the last piece, all I had to do was give them their starting pitch and then just sit back and enjoy the work of these fine young singers. What could be better than that? And by the way, the singers distinguished themselves not only by performing SO well, but also by carrying themselves with great class and maturity. I’m sure there are other accompanists (and conductors) at this festival who are tempted to wear a grocery bag over the head so as not to be too closely associated with the rowdy juveniles with whom they are sharing the stage. But I was only too happy to say “I’m with Them!”
By the way, there was a bit of unexpected drama/ comedy when one of the basses in the choir – a private voice student of mine, as it so happens – realized as we were on our way to the competition that he did not have his tux pants with him. He had his shirt, jacket, bow tie, dress socks, dress shoes – but no pants. . . only the shorts he was wearing to the parks that day. So quick-thinking Polly asked if there was a tall guy in the choir who would be willing to give up his slacks for Josh (who was a soloist for the Haydn, and thus needed to be standing right up front, in the spotlight.) And bless his heart, another bass named Ryan (I believe) kindly volunteered to do just that. The reason this was a workable solution is because the way it works is that the judges step out of the auditorium after they’ve worked with each choir, so that the next choir to perform can have a few minutes on their own to take the risers, sing a bit, etc. So the judges never see each choir enter – by the time the judges re-enter the room, the choir is already up on the risers and ready to go. So when the judges came in, Ryan was safely positioned in the back row, with his bare legs completely hidden by the people standing in front of him.
Festival Disney runs a very tight ship and they leave nothing to chance (surprise, surprise) except that they do not provide a place for choirs to change into their concert attire- so if the group is spending the rest of the day in one of the parks, they either have to traipse around the Magic Kingdom in long gowns and tuxes (not a great idea) or improvise a place to change. Kenosha’s solution is to change right on the bus. . . once the bus has been parked well away from any other vehicles, so there is no chance for anyone or anything to be seen from the outside. And needless to say, the changing is done in two generic- specific shifts. . . and I’m not aware of a single instance of anyone even pretending to sneak a peak. After we were done performing, the guys stood outside the bus while the females were changing back into their street clothes. Imagine my surprise when Brad Mann, the director of the Bradford Choir, walked up to me with a big smile on his face and said “I love it when they peek!” I swallowed hard, trying to figure out how to reply to such an outrageous comment – when he went on to say “when they give you their very best when it matters most” – and suddenly I realized that what he had said to me in the previous sentence was “I love it when they peak!” And I could say without hesitation, “Amen to that, Mr. Mann!”
pictured above: the aforementioned young man who so willingly and generously gave up his tux pants for a colleague. He gets the Good Sportsmanship Award for the day.