Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Moment with Greatness

Home, James.  My older brothers waited years to use that line.  When I finally earned my driver's license, they got kick after kick out of it.  Yesterday, I climbed into the front seat of my Enterprise rental and homed home, 471 miles in 8 1/2 hours.  Not entirely uneventful, I alternated between National Public Radio and an "essential" 3 CD collection of Leonard Bernstein's works. 

Listening to Bernstein brought to mind my stint with the Choral Arts Society of Washington, 1979-1981.  At the time, I was studying voice with Naomi Blake, characterized by a University of North Carolina instructor as having "the most relaxed singing voice in the world," who had recommended Naomi, to the effect, "if she teaches how she sings, she can't be beat."  Naomi earth-mothered her students into her modest Crystal City living room studio, reaching far into our diaphragms to seek out any talent we might have.  She could make a modicum listenable.  When I tried out for the Washington Opera, the director admonished me, "Listen to Naomi.  She knows what she's doing."

I mentioned Choral Arts because its director, Norm Scribner, had a famous friend in New York who joined us for a concert each year.  He would arrive in flamboyance, surrounded by an aura of super-energy.  The young man who carried the maestro's silver water cup surprised me once, when Mr. Bernstein took a break and asked him to fill in for a few minutes.  He took up the baton and didn't miss a beat.  I wonder what it was like to travel in close company with the great man's photographic memory, Renaissance charm and unusual moral character. As a chorus, we never doubted where his beat was.  He may have lied, but he knew how to inspire our confidence.  Once, after finishing the rehearsal of a movement of his Kaddish symphony, he said something like, "that was great."  Hearing a bass mutter, he said, "what's wrong?"  "We didn't sing the right notes," said the bass.  "Don't worry about the notes," said Bernstein, "the rest is what's important."

"I would have loved to sing under his direction," says Virginia.

I say, "He would have loved you, too."

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