Thursday, June 28, 2007

"The Fountain Story"

Can you guys take one more post about SongFest? You're probably tired of hearing about it. Sad, because there's so much I could say besides "blah blah blah it was great blah blah blah I worship Graham Johnson more than ever blah blah blah." Anyway, this is more of a Daniel story than anything else.

Friday night I was scheduled to play in a masterclass taught by Martin Katz. If you're not a singer or pianist, you probably don't know this, but Martin Katz is one of the most famous vocal accompanists/coaches in the United States, if not the Western hemisphere. He's on the faculty at the University of Michigan and travels all over the world performing with well-known singers and teaching masterclasses, and he's really superb at both of these things. He's also infamous for his temper, and has been known to yell at people, storm out of classes, and rumor has it he once threw a chair across the room. Everybody who sings or plays for him knows they must come über-prepared; go into a class or coaching with him knowing the piece, knowing every word of translation, knowing about the poet, knowing when it was written and no matter what don't argue or disagree with him. Do all this, and you'll probably be fine.

(I hesitated about writing that above paragraph on a public website, but there's nothing I said that everyone in the professional world of singing doesn't already know.)

That said, there weren't any incidents at SongFest. We were all prepared, Mr. Katz seemed to be in a pretty good mood, so things went smoothly.

For him, anyway. Friday night, as I said, I was scheduled to play on a masterclass. Near the middle of the class, before I had played, I slipped out to make a quick phone call. I saw Joseph and Daniel close by. Joe was talking to some people who had a little girl about Daniel's age, and holding onto Daniel's hand because Daniel was walking along the edge of a fountain. All of a sudden, Daniel lost his balance and fell into the water, which was several inches deep. For about a half second, it was an awful, awful moment, because Daniel went all the way under water. Of course, Joe was right there and pulled Daniel out before he had a chance to try and inhale or even open his mouth. Daniel was fine, but scared and drenched. I scooped him up right away to keep him warm and comfort him.

About this time, the masterclass had a 10-minute break, and everyone wandered outside to stretch their legs and chat. I had to go up to the great, the infamous Martin Katz, wearing my now-soaked sweater, holding my dripping wet son, and ask if I could please play later in the class because my toddler had fallen in the fountain, and I had to change him and change my shirt. Of course, he agreed; he's not an unreasonable man. But I still felt a tad, shall we say, unprofessional at that particular moment in time. I was told later that when the class resumed, Katz announced that due to a certain emergency involving "a wet mom," the songs would be performed in a different order, and the next day everyone wanted to hear "The Fountain Story."

Needless to say, Daniel didn't get a bath that night. We figured that little rinse-off would suffice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Farewell, Malibu

SongFest concluded with three hours' worth of Bach cantata arias in two concerts on Monday. I played in the first concert, and then I played dead last in the second concert. By that time of night, I was pretty wiped out, but I have to admit it was gratifying to be in the very last group of performers for SongFest 2007. Afterwards I said a few goodbyes and went to bed, forgoing the salsa club outing someone had organized. It probably would have been fun, but I really stink at salsa dancing and we had to get up early to get to the airport.

Was SongFest worth it? Absolutely. It was expensive, so I won't be going back any time soon, but it was definitely worth the money. I learned a lot of new repertoire and met some very fine musicians I hope to stay in contact with. I feel like my words can't adequately describe the experience, maybe because I'm a little jetlagged (Pacific time is two hours earlier than here and I still woke up at 5:30!), or maybe because it's just difficult to describe what makes a musical experience invaluable.

Still, two and a half weeks was long enough. It is good to be home and have our little family all together again. Daniel missed his daddy, I missed Stuart, I missed his lattés, I missed our bathtub (bathing Daniel in a dormitory sink was less than ideal), and I was more than ready to get back to eating good food again. Stubert was traveling for work most of the time we were gone, so the house isn't any cleaner than I left it, but I don't care. (I'm on the cusp of a new trimester anyway, so I ought to have some more energy for things like cooking and housework.)

I plan to spend today going to the farmers' market, doing laundry (which doesn't involve scrounging for quarters - hooray!), making bread, cleaning the house, going through mail, and spending some quality time with my son. In other words, back to life as I usually know it. And just for today, I'm not even going to LOOK at the piano!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Another one down

Since I keep mentioning it, I might as well check in and report that the Harbison premiere was on last night's faculty concert here at SongFest. It went very well, the singer sounded amazing, I was happy with it, and now it's a relief to be done with it. We're actually recording the piece again on Monday, so there will be a few more chances at a really clean performance (there were a couple of very minor blips but I'm sure no one could tell). It's possible that will go online at some point, and if/when it does, I'll be sure to link it for anyone who wants to hear.

Andre was there! (He's a composer teaching in L.A.; we have a mutual friend in Boston.) Hey, Andre, it was fun meeting you, and I hope it was worth the drive!

There are just a few more days of this program left. I'm still enjoying it, still learning a lot, still very glad I decided to come out here, but I will certainly be ready to go home. Daniel has been a little cranky the last couple of days; I think he's ready to see his mama for more than a couple hours in the morning. Joe's doing well with the babysitting gig, but I think he needs a break, too. And we ALL miss our Stu.

That's all for now. I have to eat lunch, hack through some Bach, hack through some more Bach, do a couple of rehearsals, and get ready for tonight's class with the great Martin Katz. No rest for the weary!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A little starstruck

Since one of the tenors here told me he saw David Duchovny at Starbucks the first weekend here, I've been keeping my eyes open in hopes of spotting a celebrity myself. I know it's silly and shallow, but heck, I'm in Malibu. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, as they say. This evening, Joe and I decided we couldn't take another meal in the Pepperdine Waves Cafeteria. (The food was decent at first, but once the junior high bible campers got here, it was all chili dogs and tater tots.) We loaded up the Danimal and went a few miles up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu Seafood for some fresh grilled fish. Malibu Seafood is a very causal place. You order your food, pick it up outside, and sit at one of the picnic tables they have set up outside. You can even bring your own beer.

So anyway, we finally decided what we wanted to order and went to stand in line. I had my eye on Daniel, when Joe leaned over and whispered, "Hey, isn't that Dr. Cox in front of you?" And indeed, it was John C. McGinley. I nearly peed my pants with excitement, but of course I didn't say anything to him because I didn't want to make an idiot of myself. I couldn't think of anything to say, other than, "Dude, what was up with season 6 of Scrubs?" and that would have been rude, so I didn't say anything. He smiled at Daniel, so that was good enough for me.

I guess I can say my L.A. experience is complete now.

Monday, June 18, 2007


It's the midpoint of SongFest and everyone is just exhausted. Graham Johnson has left, Ricky and Jake (yeahhhhh, we're on a first-name basis, why not?) have left, and it's a little bit like the air has gone out of the room. Of course, the rest of the faculty has arrived, and they are wonderful, but we haven't had any kind of a break. Saturday and Sunday were no different from the rest of the week in terms of classes and private coachings. If I could change anything about this program, it would be adding a little bit of fun time in the middle so people can stop griping about how exhausted we all are. Have a talent show (that doesn't involve singing), order pizza and set up a big screen to view a movie, take us to the beach for an afternoon, whatever! We just need one day or afternoon where noone is scheduled to do anything. The singers' voices are fatigued, and it's starting to show. And the pianists? We're just walking around in a bit of a daze.

That said, I'm still having a good time, even if I'm getting a tad weary of sitting in masterclasses. Oma has gone home, Uncle Joe is the new "nanny," and Daniel has decided to relinquish his afternoon nap in favor of going to bed at 6:30. (God knows what time I'll have to get up with him tomorrow morning; I don't even want to think about it.)

Let's end on a positive note, though. Heh, pun intended. I had a fabulous, fabulous coaching on the Harbison pieces I'm playing Thursday night. Harbison isn't here, but his good friend and fellow composer James Primosch is in residence, and he had lots of really helpful things to say. I think we're going to be really, really good. This isn't ego here, this is confidence going into a performance (an important performance), and that's a good thing.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

SongFest ROCKS!

I'm just doing a quick post here to say that SongFest totally rocks and I'm loving almost every minute of it. I can't even begin to describe everything, especially now when it's late in the evening and I'm tired, so I'll try and sum up the big stuff:

1. I am in awe of Graham Johnson. Total, complete awe. For those of you who don't know, Graham Johnson IT in song accompanying. He's a fabulous pianist, a scholar with incredible depth of knowledge, a musician of depth and understanding like I've never seen. He is also a very kind and generous man.

2. Ricky Ian Gordon and Jake Heggie are two of the composers-in-residence here, and they are just swell guys. Very laid back and hands-on in their coaching sessions. Ricky gives everyone a hug when they're done performing. I am OK with that.

3. All the musicians here are superb. Really, there's not a dud among us as far as I can tell. Sure, I'm working with a couple of sopranos that are, shall we say, high maintenance, but they're solid musicians and essentially nice people so I can handle it. The soprano I'm doing the Harbison premiere with (not one of the high maintenance ones) is truly an excellent singer. (If you want to hear us, come to Raitt Hall on the Pepperdine campus next Thursday, June 21 at 7:30p.m.)

4. Daniel is handling everything beautifully. He traveled well...for the most part (I'll save the saga of installing the car seat at Budget car rental for another day) and is having such a good time trekking all over campus with his Oma and flirting with the cafeteria staff he barely even notices when I'm around. It makes me a little sad, honestly, but I'm glad he's having a good time.

5. The Pepperdine campus is stunningly beautiful. It's also stunningly hilly, making going anywhere with a stroller a bit of a pain. We're certainly getting our exercise.

My brother arrives tomorrow with his camera and laptop, so it's possible I'll have more to share with you soon.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Solution: just rent the damn car

Does Daniel have any idea how much extra work it is to travel with him? Good thing we all love him so much, eh?

After spending an entire evening calculating the total cost of checking an extra piece of luggage (80 buckaroos one way), or renting a portable crib ($100 plus delivery fee), or shipping a portable crib via UPS overnight (you don't even want to know how much that costs), plus the added cost of shuttle service for four people, not to mention the royal pain in the tuckus it would be to install a large, cumbersome toddler safety seat into a large van while all the other passengers are waiting...I just decided to rent a car. When you add up all of those other expenses, renting a car was just a little bit more money and significantly less hassle. In other words, worth it. Plus, this way my mom and brother will have an easy way to get around if they need a change of scenery; I imagine the beach can only entertain the Danimal for so long. At least parking is free on the Pepperdine campus.

Andre, Thorny, and Animal, thanks for your suggestions, by the way, but this just seemed the best option. Checking an extra piece or renting a crib adds enough to the cost that it didn't seem worth it, and there's no way I'll have time to find a Target to buy a crib. I pretty much have to hit the ground running and get into rehearsals the minute I get onto campus.

Even the car rental took a few tries, though. The cheapest option I found is three miles away from the airport, necessitating a shuttle ride to pick up the car, the irony of which did not escape me...though I didn't realize all this until I had made a reservation, which I immediately canceled. Orbitz, normally a great website for finding the best rates for airfare and rentals and so on, was also no help because they couldn't guarantee availability for "special equipment" (i.e. car seats), which is ridiculous. You either need a car seat or you don't; there's nothing optional about it. I tried another rental company that appeared to have pretty good rates, but their website simply didn't work, no matter what browser I tried. Another place wanted to charge twelve bucks a day for a car seat with no cap, adding a good $250 to the rental fee just for a safety seat; no thank you. I eventually found a place with decent rates and made a reservation and it's all good.

But let me tell you, they better have that seat installed when I pick up the car or I'll give them WHAT FOR.

I'm getting kind of heady with excitement about this trip. The enormity of it all is just starting to sink in: I'll be spending two weeks studying one of my favorite genres - song accompanying - with two of the world's best experts in the field; three prominent American composers will be there (James Primosch, Jake Heggie, Ricky Ian Gordon); I get to premiere a piece by John Harbison; I get to meet a whole pile of singers; I'm going to a beautiful place I've never been before (Malibu!). I get to do all this with my little boy, my mom, and my brother. (I bet someday, when Daniel is a teenager, he'll complain that I took him to Malibu when he was too little to remember.)

I don't know what kind of internet access I'll have in California. It's not as though I'm going someplace rustic, but I won't have space in my luggage for a laptop (somehow, clothes and diapers take priority), and I won't have much extra time to sit around and blog. I'll try and check in at least once, though, and rest assured I'll tell you all about it when I get back. I return home on June 26, so if you don't hear from me until then, don't despair!


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blogging while on hold

I'm still in Wisconsin and commuting in the Los Angeles area is already getting on my nerves. The best way to get from LAX to Pepperdine is via shuttle. When I called them yesterday to make my reservation, they informed me that I have to provide my own car seat for Daniel. This presents a problem, as my one airline ticket allows me two pieces of checked luggage. One of those must be my suitcase. One of those must be a portable crib. One of those must be a car seat.

That brings us to three. Even though I know it's hopeless, I've called several car rental companies hoping one of them will rent out a car seat without the car. The responses so far:

"Without a car? No, we don't do that."

"Not an option."


Damn. What do I do? Spend $400 to rent a car just to get the car seat?Leave the suitcase at home and wear the same skanky clothes for two weeks? Leave the crib at home and hope Daniel doesn't mind sleeping on the floor? Leave the car seat at home and walk to Malibu? None of these are viable options. Urg.

I wish I could just let him sit on my lap for the shuttle ride, but I know they won't let me, seeing as it's 1) quite dangerous and 2) quite illegal.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Kid Stuff

Look who decided he's too grown up to sit in a high chair.

What else can I say about Daniel? He does all kinds of funny stuff these days. A favorite is putting things in places they don't normally belong, like clean diapers and piles of blocks in his hamper, tennis balls in the cupboard. We lost his shoes and found them a day later wedged in a cereal box. A couple weeks ago, Stuart discovered a sprouting potato under his pillow. He likes helping with the dishes, which means spooning the suds from the wash-water into the rinse-water with a little spoon. He got really excited once while Stuart was washing lettuce and insisted on shaking the colander himself. And so on!

Daniel is also very active, as most 16-month-olds are. I'm really dreading Friday's long flight to L.A. How am I going to keep him entertained for four hours on a cramped plane? If he sits in my lap, he flies for free, so you can bet I didn't buy him his own seat, but that will make things doubly difficult. I'll find some new, exciting things to play with, but I'm afraid that will only work for ten minutes. Ideas, anyone?

(BTW: That hymn that was bugging me, Pam and Oma is "Rejoice the Lord is King;" I had to figure it out this morning because it was driving me crazy!)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Pam's the winner!

She didn't make the 5pm "deadline," but she came up with the most answers! Pam, I'll send you a prize this week at your new digs!

Here are the tunes I had in my head originally:

1. EBBA: All the Pretty Horses

2. ED#DG: Rubber Ducky

3. E-flat G E-flat B-flat: Theme from Beethoven's Eroica symphony

4. EBAB: Theme from "The X-Files"

5. CGFE: Moon River (from "Breakfast at Tiffany's")

6. GGAB: Yankee Doodle is so obvious, but I didn't even think of it! I was thinking of the theme from the aria of Bach's Goldberg Variations.

Oma and Pam both guessed #3 is a hymn, and I know exactly which one you're talking about but darned if I can't remember the name of it... "Lift up your voice and sing" maybe?