November 2, 2019

ASO Chorus in action

My head is a whole jumble of things tonight and, as I have an extra hour courtesy of our 19th century agricultural time change system, I might as well do a little writing to sort things out. Anastasia the cat is snuggled up and not being too demanding and the house is quiet. It’s too cold for the teens to get raucous in the park across the street as they are want to do on Saturday nights when the weather is fine.

The first feeling is one of a deep tiredness. I’m not sure if it’s physiologic or psychosomatic. It’s been going on for a month or so now and seems to come over me in waves. It’s never bad enough to keep me from meeting all of my obligations but if I stop and sit down and do nothing, I have an unnerving tendency to fall asleep rather quickly for about half an hour. I have to keep going and keep moving or I am just no good. I’m sleeping reasonably well and getting enough so I don’t know what the trigger is. The biggest issue is choral rehearsals after a long day. If I sit still and try to focus, it just doesn’t work so my mind tends to wander and off I go. Perhaps I have new onset ADHD at the age of 57. The second feeling is an odd one of time being compressed and the past and the present starting to coexist. I think this was started up by the reunion last week which brought up a whole lot of who I used to be stuff so now my various past selves have taken up a little bit of real estate in my central nervous system and are competing with my present self. I can do something as simple as drive down University Boulevard coming home from work and I suddenly feel like it’s 1998 and 2004 and 2019 all at the same time. It’s very strange. Memories of the same activity or the same surroundings just seem to be layering one on top of the other. It’s an interesting texture but I expect it will fade some over the next few weeks, at least until I go to my 40th high school reunion next year, presuming it’s held a weekend I can actually go.

The ASO Chorus in rehearsal. It’s the Messiah from a couple of years ago but the You Tube videos are spotty

The major project of the week was singing with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra Chorus – we had a Brahms piece, Nanie and Borodin’s Polovstian Dances with the rest of the evening being made up of Grieg’s Peer Gynt. About five years ago, Tommy more or less twisted my arm and made me go audition for the group. I hate auditioning, especially musically. I always feel horribly self conscious and like I have absolutely no talent whatsoever and my Impostor Syndrome takes over like nobody’s business. Tommy had faith and, as I sang for Philip Copeland, he at least didn’t stop playing the piano and stare at me and I got an email a week later saying I was in. I enjoy choral singing. It’s the one time I feel like I can sing just as myself. I don’t like singing solo as myself as I feel so inadequate. The one exception is singing in character. Give me a role to play and I can sing whatever. When I pack myself away in order to act, I seem to be able to pack the Impostor Syndrome away along with that piece of my ego. Strange, but true. The concerts went well, especially the Borodin. The bass part seems to consist mainly of screaming high Ds and E flats fortissimo but when you have fifty guys doing it together, it sounds pretty good. There was a small boy of about five sitting up in the balcony with his family tonight. When the orchestra played ‘The Hall of the Mountain King’ section of Peer Gynt (you know it – it’s used in every other movie trailer), he jumped to his feet, was crashing his fists together with the timpani and the look of pure joy on his face was amazing and a good reminder of why we do what we do and how important serious music is. I have to give a shout out to Chris Confessore who conducted this concert. He is one of the easiest conductors for a chorus to follow and its very simple to stay with him and give him what he wants. While watching him at work, I also noticed how much he conducts with his mouth. It’s unusual but it works and something the audience will never see. (Sorry if I’m giving away a trade secret).

I was a judge today for the Trumbauer Competition, the Alabama High School Theater competition – sort of like the playoffs for the team sport for those who are not athletically inclined. I’ve done this off and one for over a decade. The people I was doing theater with fifteen years ago have now become respected high school theater teachers and they rope their friends into judging. Melissa Bailey called first so I showed up at Mountain Brook High School at 8 am for District 6 semi-finals and was assigned to men’s dramatic and comedic monologues – both novice and varsity, for the next six hours. Some very talented kids, and a good reminder, now that I am old enough to be their grandfather, of the urgency and angst and emotions of adolescence. Over the last couple of years, I have really started to feel myself settle into elderhood and the natural role of mentor, counselor, and storyteller to the young. This was just an extension. It was also interesting to hear monologues from plays that were new in my era being treated as venerable classics. Let’s face it, the 1930s were the same distance away from my high school years as my high school years from today so the world of my youth is as ancient to them as Bonnie and Clyde was to me.

The general tiredness has kept me from moving ahead on some projects as fast as I would like. I have to get cracking on my lines for Dear Brutus. (I have a good sense of the character and the shape of the scenes but the words, not so much). I have two chapters of the book I’m working on, one on dementia and one on death, that I’ve started but which I can’t seem to break the backs on. They don’t want to flow the way I want them to. And, per usual, I need to knock out an MNM column or two. I have been working on this year’s CME and nearly have that done. I’ve also been preparing for a trial I’m testifying in next week up in Nashville. (Prepare for some brief travelogue moments). I also got all of Tommy’s vocal and piano music that I have no real use for boxed up and down to the University of Montevallo for distribution to the faculty and students. It’s not easy watching pieces of him go but it’s better that things like that get out into the world where they will be appreciated and used rather than sit on shelves gathering dust in some sort of silent shrine. I still have a lot more decluttering/downsizing to do but I figure if I get one project done every couple of months, I’ll remain on my schedule of being prepared to move into a condo in a couple of years.

Silicon Valley – 1983

A couple of last thoughts about the Stanford Reunion before I close up shop. The first is how the bell curve starts to spread with age. I know this well theoretically professionally but it was in such evidence when I looked out over hundreds of class of 84 gathered together. We’re all roughly the same age but we looked like we covered a twenty year span of mid 40s to nearly 70. We all have had relatively soft lives, as lives go in the upper middle and upper classes with access to health care and reasonable nutrition so I think a lot of the variability is genetic chance. The first rule of aging, as I have told my patients for decades, is to choose your parents carefully. The second was how much physically smaller many of them were than they were in my memories. I’ve been thinking about why that is and I think I’ve figured it out. I was a very small child. Not only was I small, but I was also a late bloomer. I was the smallest boy in my grade up until about 7th or 8th and I didn’t hit five feet until I turned fourteen. I then proceeded to put on five inches the summer between 8th and 9th grades and another four over the course of the next year. By the time I got to college, I was just under six feet (topping out at just under six foot one) but I still considered myself a very small person as I had been one for most of my life. I didn’t really start to embrace my adult size until my mid 20s, after I had left college, so I think my Stanford years and the people I knew there are seen through a lens of feeling small that no longer exists. Running into them again without it, I can see their physical sizes more clearly.

I will tell one story. When I was a sophomore in high school, my school, The Lakeside School in Seattle, went through a capital campaign and expansion which included building a new theater which opened in the middle of my junior year. The first time I walked into the building and looked up into the flies, I knew I wanted to learn how to use the space and I volunteered for tech theater. The first show I worked on was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest with a guy named Graham Winton as McMurphy. Graham went to Stanford with me and then off to Julliard. He had a role on a soap, some stage success and a couple of films. I helped build the set, ran sound, and was a general stage hand. By the end of the run, I was hooked and over the next year and a half, did pretty much every backstage position there was. I found that I was best suited to stage management, rather than design or carpentry or electrics and moved from there into directing. I looked at people like Graham who had talent and were magnetic on stage and was sure I could never do that – I’d leave acting to actors, besides which I had colossal stage fright. I had no idea that in my maturity I’d have that conquered and be able to hold my own with the truly talented.

It’s late and so, in the immortal words of Samuel Pepys, to bed.

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