Freude schoner Gotterfunken and all that jazz. Tonight was the first night back performing with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra Chorus in twenty-six months. It seems somewhat fitting that my very last performance before the shut down in March of 2020 was Mozart’s Requiem and the return to choral singing of major works is Beethoven’s 9th symphony and The Ode to Joy. The house wasn’t packed, but decent and it was possible to feel the joy wafting off the audience from our perch in the choral balcony as the thundering chords of that 4th movement brought back one of the highlights of the choral cannon to public performance. Many cheers at the end, even though our numbers have been diminished by the prolonged toll of the pandemic and all of the changes in patterns that has brought forward. Usually there are 90-100 of us up there, tonight we were 65 but tried to bring the same fortissimo. One more performance tomorrow night. Now if only Carlos, our splendid Venezuelan conductor, would not take that last bit at quite the tempo di bat out of hell. I can’t turn the pages fast enough.
Tomorrow morning, it’s back to rehearsing The Merry Widow (from which I have been off for a few days due to the combination of symphony rehearsals and most of the rehearsal time being dedicated to principals). The ensemble doesn’t have all that much to do so I think I have most of it down other than the rather insipid English lyrics to the famous Merry Widow Waltz at the end of Act One. They aren’t quite as bad as the English lyrics to Die Fledermaus a few years back, but they run a close second. I find it very difficult to learn bad lyrics as the moon/June/spoon variety have so many possibilities, they don’t want to stick in your brain. Good lyrics, on the other hand, are easy for me to learn. They are so specific to the music that no other word could possibly come next.
My other task tomorrow is more melancholy. I am MC for my friend Diane McNaron‘s memorial tomorrow afternoon. Diane was instrumental in the development of my performance career when she and I and Ellise Pruitt Mayor devised Politically Incorrect Cabaret back in the spring of 2004. I thought about doing it in my PIC Ansager character but have decided no, I need to just be me, although the Ansager may slip in around the edges a bit. Diane was my first voice teacher, my patient, my collaborator, my friend. We would bump heads bitterly when creating a PIC show as our political and satirical views did not always align but in the end, we were always able to meet in the middle somewhere and some of the pieces we did were inspired. Me dressed as Mrs. Anna from The King and I doing a kinky version of Getting To Know You. Singing The Alabama Song from The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny together with her as a show opener. A salute to Capital Punishment in Alabama to Razzle Dazzle from Chicago. A commentary on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a ballet with a seabird trapped in the oil slick to Saint-Saens The Swan. Doing out of town shows in four other states in some of the strangest theatrical venues you could imagine. I owe her the send off.
Covid numbers are inching up again, not enough yet to call it a surge in the making, but enough to be concerning. Case positivity rate nationally has inched back up over 10% which is not good. Of course, with so many home tests now available, it’s hard to know what data is actually going into that number these days. The rates in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest are serious enough for the authorities to recommend universal indoor masking again. I have no idea if the populace is listening, not being in one of those regions (feel free to chime in if you are), but the barometer I follow – Broadway performances – have definitely suffered with more cancelled shows due to infections in the cast and an extension of mask mandates for theaters until at least July. The hospitalization and death rates are also inching back up with deaths having doubled from the 200 a day it had fallen to back to 400 a day this past week. The hospital rates are low enough to be absorbed by the system but I remain worried. It wouldn’t take much of a surge to put us back in overwhelm mode due to the changes in staffing the pandemic has wrought.
Here in Alabama, we are still relatively spared. My last look at the local numbers had us at less than 5% case positivity and with very small case loads both here in the Birmingham area and statewide. However, the trends are heading back up this past week. I’ve had a number of friends who have tested positive in recent weeks but none of them has been seriously ill and the biggest headache has been the inconvenience of quarantine. I’m still feeling relatively safe being maskless in public but I’m keeping a sharp eye on local numbers and trends and will be popping it back on if I don’t like what I see. Of course, I still wear one at work and will for the foreseeable future as I do work in health care with folk with immunocompromises of various stripes.
Why is Alabama still doing so well despite dismal vaccination rates? Isn’t that the sixty-four dollar question. Perhaps the overwhelming number of omicron infections of a few months back has left the population with a certain amount of lingering immunity. Perhaps it’s something climatological. The nice weather we’ve been having without the humidity having quite yet arrived has chased a lot of activities outdoors. I’m going to trust that the combination of my infection from a few months back and two boosters is going to keep me going without too much difficulty. Although, after the last couple of weeks of staycation without the usual work headaches in my life, I don’t think I would mind an additional week of quarantine while feeling relatively well, as long as I could time it so it doesn’t interfere with other life duties. But, knowing my luck, it would likely strike on a performance weekend and I have a few more of those coming up in June before I hit the summer lull. So I’ll keep those hands washed, watch the numbers, and have my mask handy. And I’ll take as many boosters as are proven to help.