Happy Ending

Happy Ending

Well,  I survived the last seven days somehow – and reasonably intact both in mind and body –  and when my last big obligation (Polly’s choir concert at Tremper) was done earlier tonight, I was in my car and on my way to Tinseltown Cinema to catch the final few minutes of the Metropolitan Opera’s repeat simulcast of Rossini’s La Cenerentola – an operatic retelling of the beloved tale of Cinderella.  I saw most of the live simulcast on May 9th,  but had to leave a little bit early because of a recital at Carthage. . .  and so this was my chance to see the Happy Ending of this story and hear this wonderful young mezzo,  Elena Garanca, bedazzle the audience with her singing of the big final aria.  After seven days of nearly non-stop piano playing, teaching, singing, etc. it felt so good to be nothing more than an audience member, and to have no jury sheets to fill out or any other obligation whatsoever aside from shouting Brava!

This was my Happy Ending in more ways than one.

Some thoughts about these last few days. . .

Juries-  This was the biggest killer for me.  All of our music students have to play or sing a final jury for the faculty of their respective area – and of the approximately 63 singers we heard sing juries,  I played for about 50 of them – and practiced with the vast majority of them.  (A few just showed up with music in hand and I had to sight read.)  But just when I was starting to get grumpy – or just when my poor butt was starting to smart – into my office would walk a nice young singer who would be so gracious and grateful.  The juries went well, by the way,  and I was especially pleased with how most of my students did.  The most memorable moment of the two days, however,  came when one of our best musical theater students sang a song from the musical “The Last Five Years” in which the characters is supposed to start to cry at the end (the character is having a fight with her husband) –   and when that moment came,  I would have sworn that Maureen was really crying- and for a few moments I actually wondered if I should stop playing and give her a moment to collect herself.   But then the song was over,  and instantly she was Maureen again, and I realized that I had just witnessed some superlative acting that had me completely convinced that it was absolutely real.  (I’m still shaking from that moment.)   I also have to acknowledge  the courage shown by another young woman who got some very bad news about her summer job right before she was to go on and sing her jury for us.  I am still shaking my head in amazement and admiration that she gathered herself together after some tears and sang remarkably well.  That’s part of this too . . . singing well when the chips are down and the stars are not aligned the way you would want them to be.

Durufle Requiem-  I was the bass soloist for a performance on Sunday afternoon down in Lake Forest, Illinois- and it reminded me of how thrilling it is to sing with orchestra.  I don’t get to do that all that much anymore, for a variety of reasons,  so this is the kind of thing I would gladly do for free.  And as it turns out,  the North Suburban Symphony Orchestra orchestra could not afford to pay me, so I DID do this for free. . . but have no regrets whatsoever.  The Durufle is a remarkable work and who knows when I’ll have the chance to sing this again?  By the way,  the performance was in the gorgeous sanctuary of First United Presbyterian Church – and I ended up singing my two solo passages from the pulpit, which brought back memories of doing a similar thing with the Racine Symphony when they performed the Brahms Requiem at Holy Communion.   As with the Durufle, the orchestra and chorus completely filled the front of the sanctuary, and the only place left for the soloists to stand and sing was in the pulpit . . . which believe me is the ultimate Power Trip for a singer!

Opera Class-  I’ve blogged from time to time about my class, which consisted this time around of 4 music majors and 13 non-music majors. . . which presented me with quite a pedagogical challenge – for which I’m grateful.   It meant that for once I couldn’t afford to teach this course right off the top of my head.   I had to really think about what was most crucial for these students to know- and how I could explain it in such a way that the all-conference tackle on the football team with not a whit of musical experience could understand.   And I succeeded in that, to an extent,  and most of the guys did a pretty darn good job of grabbing hold of this exotic thing called Opera.   Actually,  the biggest challenge for me came with a young man on Carthage’s blazing baseball team,  which later this week plays in the national collegiate tournament.   As the team kept winning and advancing in post-season play,  this young man had to keep missing class. . .  always informing me of it, which I appreciated, and with a sweet sound of apology in his voice, which I really appreciated.  (And because Mother Nature got cranky and kept causing games to be rained out,  the baseball team was gone even more than they otherwise would have been.)  But the challenge remained of how to catch him up at least a bit,  so he would have a fighting chance of doing well on the final exam.   So he and I met together Tuesday evening, 8-9:30 – the night before the final –  for a frantic ride through Bizet’s Carmen,  Italian Verismo,  Puccini,  Richard Strauss, and 20th century opera.   A scenario where you get to spend 15 seconds talking about La Boheme is not exactly ideal  ( I was speaking about as fast as your typical auctioneer, trying to get through everything)  but we did it.

Honky Tonk Angels-   There was something so right about the last seven days including not only the Durufle Requiem and songs of John Dowland and Shubert’s “Ave Maria” – but also Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”  The occasion was the auditions for the summer musical at the RTG,  “Honky Tonk Angels,” which is about three different women coming together under surprising circumstances to sing country music together.  There is a fair amount of tight harmony in this show, so part of the audition process had to involve making the singers learn harmony and then try to hold their respective parts when it all got put together.   And although there are all kinds of country music favorites in this show (from “Stand by Your Man” to “Coal Miner’s Daughter”)  the song which seemed to be the best vehicle for testing our singers was “9 to 5” –  but as I played it and taught the harmonies,  I kept chuckling to myself that not two hours earlier, I was playing Schubert’s “Erlkonig” for someone.

Honors-  Speaking of spanning wide musical divides,  Carthage’s Honors Recital Sunday afternoon broke some new ground in including a wide swath of different musical styles. . .   so we had a work for pipe organ by Max Reger, songs of Renaissance composer John Dowland, and a Mozart concert aria juxtaposed with a scene from “Carousel” and four belting Broadway songs including “Blow, Gabriel, Blow.”   It was an exciting and convincing demonstration of how Musical Excellence comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes and styles.   And it’s one more reason why I cannot imagine ever growing tired of this life of music which I am so blessed to live.