I have not managed to be on the treadmill even once in the last two weeks, thanks to the wildness which comes with the last two weeks of the school year. . . but this morning at 11:00 I was doing my own version of Sweatin’ to the Oldies. No, I don’t mean Richard Simmons. It was Franz Schubert and his famous song “Erlkonig” that had me huffing and puffing and surely sweating off at least a pound of two.
Actually, the biggest cause of my sweat was not Schubert’s ball-busting “Erlkonig” (one of the toughest, most taxing art songs of them all, both to sing and to play) as much as the stress and strain I experienced with the senior voice recital of one of my voice students, Zach Wolf. His recital was supposed to take place last Saturday afternoon, but two days before he was stricken with some variety of Bubonic Plague which at one point inflicted him with a fever of 105 degrees (You read that right) and necessitated a trip to the emergency room. Zach did recover slowly but surely over this past week, but was by no means back to full strength – and as we ran through the program Thursday afternoon, I became completely convinced that Zach could not possibly sing a successful recital two days later, when the makeup performance was scheduled to occur. Unfortunately, canceling altogether was impossible because this recital was Zach’s senior project, and it had to be successfully completed in order for him to get his diploma. But postponing was not workable either, for a variety of reasons- so ultimately Zach decided that he had to go through with the recital as scheduled, do the best he could, and hope that would be sufficient for a passing grade. In the end, it was a fairly simple, black & white decision – because it was the difference between graduating and not graduating.
So at 11:00 this morning, just as scheduled, Zach was on that stage, and I was with him as his piano accompanist, hoping and praying that Zach’s technique and courage would see him through the next 45 minutes. And wonder of wonders, Zach came out blazing with the very best performance of “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville that I have ever heard him sing. (This is that famous aria where at one point the singer sings “Figaro . . . Figaro . . . Figaro. . .”) And although there were some rough patches after that, Zach managed to gut out an amazingly fine performance of his demanding program. And when he and I embraced backstage right after he took his last bow, my first words to him were “I have never been happier to be proven wrong!”
Zach’s recital was titled “Chiaroscuro: A Study in Contrasts.” That long word was originally a term used by artists to describe the use of light and shadow in paintings. Eventually, Italian voice teachers adapted the term to describe that ideal balance of brilliance and depth that every beautiful sound has. That’s been a central focus of the work that I’ve done with Zach over the last four years, so he thought it would be fun to use that term as the theme of his recital. His program consisted of two contrasting arias from the bel canto era, two contrasting settings of the famous Erlkonig poem by Goethe, and then a set of nine songs by Vaughan Williams titled “The Songs of Travel” which are filled to the brim with contrasts of one kind or another. I am not a fan of gimmicky recital themes, but I fell in love with this concept right from the start and I’m just glad that Zach managed to sing his program as well as he did.
This was one case when I was especially glad to be up on that stage, accompanying my student. It would have been SO hard for me to be out in the audience today, worried sick about Zach and whether or not he would have the stamina to make it to the end. At least by being onstage with him, I was in a position to try and help him do his very best. But in the end, this came down to Zach himself and his gutsy courage and determination in the face of formidable odds. And that’s why I can say that after all of the blood, sweat and tears which went into this performance, I don’t ever remember being prouder of a student of mine than I was today.
pictured: This is the sheet cake served at the reception after Zach’s recital. He asked his mom to get a marble cake and have it frosted in black and white, in keeping with his recital’s theme. And notice how even the napkins were black and white! Now that’s a case of caring about the details. By the way, the original recital was cancelled on rather short notice (his illness came up quite suddenly) and it was too late for Zach’s parents to cancel the cake order – so they gave it away to a local shelter. So you’re looking at Chiaroscuro Cake #2.