Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Who's the last person who gave you a Daybreak?

The first big break i got in Show Biz was when my high school choir director allowed me to choreograph our jazz choral arrangement of Barry Manilow’s “Daybreak.”

(I am not kidding.)

I don’t know what came over me, but one evening after dinner, I just took a pencil and my spiral notebook and worked it up.  I came to class the next morning and presented it to my teacher. He said, “Yeah, let’s it try it out.” It was that easy. My classmates might have been annoyed, but everyone cooperated, executed the jazz hands with show-choir precision on “Shine, shine, shine...” and we performed it on our next concert. 

(Remind me to add that choreo credit to my résumé!)

It was this same choir director who let me accompany one song on our Christmas concert -- “Do You Hear What I Hear” -- even though I wasn’t officially our accompanist.  I had just been practicing it in the classroom; he must’ve heard it and offered me the chance.

One of my classmates and I sang the Papageno/Papagena duet from “The Magic Flute” for our local solo and ensemble competition. My duet partner, coming from a musical family, suggested that I sing the Queen of the Night aria. My high school choir director said, “Well, if you can sing it and sing it well, go for it!” Despite his support, I think I took the lazy way out and sang “Caro Mio Ben” instead, perhaps heeding his warning of messing up something that might be too difficult. I remember having a cassette tape accompaniment, and that my boombox ran low on battery in the middle of the audition, making for a very interesting atonal version of the classical Italian air.

I also remember forgetting my concert dress for our mixed choir performance in this same competition a year or two earlier. This was before the day and age of the Soccer Mom, when kids tended to fend for themselves. Somehow we were split up into two groups, and my classmate Phaedra lent me her dress for my portion of the competition. I gave it back to her, apologizing for it being sweaty in the pits, and she just shook it off, said it was no problem, and put it on for her performance. We were sweat-sisters! That was the same year I showed up to march in a football game having forgotten my clarinet. The band director scrounged up an E-flat clarinet -- I couldn’t play it, but I could take my position on the field and fake it.

At any rate, later on in high school, my choir director entrusted me with a lot, including the lead role of Sandy in our production of “Grease”. I placed first chair in regional and all-state choir, and sang the national anthem at our graduation.

This sent me off into the so-called real world with a great deal of confidence because someone out there had confidence in me. There have been times when I have let this go to my head, and I’ve come off as cocky or at best over-confident, but I don’t think I’ve ever over-stepped my boundaries (thanks to that early lesson: if you can do it and do it well, go for it!). 

I still experience these bouts of genius from time to time -- like when I arranged “The Magic Saxophone” for a Mozart celebration, taking five pieces from Die Zauberflöte and interspersing them with popular songs of modern times; or when I was fortunate enough to perform my version of The Police’s “King of Pain” (also dreamt up in one night) in the context of an 80’s night on the same stage and with the same colleagues who supported me in the Mozart venture.

It sounds silly, maybe even cocky, but if an idea is good, people will have your back. Case in point: non-music related, I was able to put another idea of mine into practice during a camping trip. We were 30 people on an 8-day trip rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. It was Mexican-food night, and there was a gigantic bowl of guacamole in the center of the table. Needless to say, 30 people vying for a scoop of this precious green glop was the cause of much chaos. Somehow, my suggestion to take a scoop of guac on the chip, walk around the table while chewing, and come back for the next scoop caught on. Everyone got their chance to dip their chip equally. I single-handedly had 30 people prancing around a bowl of guacamole at my whim. It's a stretch, but that must be what being a choir director is like.

Sometimes we don’t trust the extent of our own power, but if we’re lucky, we have well-meaning people to influence us and help us use it. Like Barry Manilow. Looking at this video, it seems he could’ve used my choreographic support, but listening to his story, it wasn’t always easy for him either. I, for one, am thankful for the people who have been on my side all these years, starting with Craig Plotner, my high school choir director, who knew that the most important thing was to give someone a break!