Something Lies Beyond the Scene

Pre-show backstage chill

Photo by Howard LeVant

They say magic happens in summer music festivals.  They don't lie.

One week ago tonight, I was backstage at Penn Yan Academy, trying to focus on a NY Times crossword puzzle while Richard Auldon Clark and members of the Manhattan Chamber Orchestra played Richard's Four Sketches. I was up next to narrate William Walton's Facade. Paloma Capanna had written a lovely, full page piece in City newspaper. It was closing night of the Finger Lakes Chamber Music Festival. No pressure.

Richard kept saying, "We'll have a blast. It'll be fun."  I wasn't buying it.

My music came late.  Facade is, to put it mildly, difficult.  Words as rhythm, often nonsensical, layered with syncopation. Beats are skipped, entrances vary, songs are pattered, blisteringly fast. 

Seven hours of study on Thursday, listening to my Chandos CD and reciting in my backyard.  I had some of it down, but not cold. The last three songs were lost causes. My husband took me out to dinner with his college roommate. Something to take my mind off the stress. Anything to take my mind off the stress.

Richard kept saying, "You'll be great. Relax."  I didn't believe him.

First rehearsal was at 2 on Friday in the gorgeous Keuka Lake home of FLCMF board members Steve and Elise Rosenfeld. We ran through it all.  I was close in a few, on top of a couple, stunningly awful in some--especially the last 3 songs. Three hours of work with a great band, then a little swimming and a lovely dinner.  Back at it at 7, to run through it all.  Cuts were made, including 1 of the last 3 songs. I had convinced Richard to carry the last one, "Sir Beelzebub" and he wanted to keep "Popular Song."  My personal favorite, "Through Gilded Trellises," made the cut.

It was a long drive back to Rochester. When I got home. I cut and pasted a second copy of the score into strips so I wouldn't have to turn pages in the middle of the patters. It took an entire roll of tape. I called Richard.

Richard kept saying, "You were wonderful. Tomorrow will be fine." There was no way.

Final rehearsal was at 2 in Penn Yan Academy.  94 degrees outside; mercifully air conditioned in the auditorium.  We ran through the songs. Final cuts.  "Through Gilded Trellises" was dropped.  I cringed internally, feeling like a failure. My other favorite, "Valse," was almost cut, but got a last-minute reprieve. "Popular Song" hit the floor.  I felt relief. But mostly, I felt fear and humility.  Walton and Sitwell had me beat, and I was about to let a lot of people down. 

Richard kept saying, "You wait.  Something will happen when the lights go on and the show starts." I replied ruefully, "Yeah. Maybe I'll get it right."

Time and again, musicians have told me that magic happens in summer music festivals.  Rehearsal are few, but focused and then...bingo! The last notes off Richard's piece were fading.  Max set my music and mic. Fist bumps with the band, a hug from Richard, then out into the lights, red megaphone in hand.  The fanfare played, the first song began and...it worked. Rhythms hit, words declaimed, megaphone used to great effect. And Richard was right. It was fun.  We had a blast. It was a gift. It was magic.