Saturday, December 13, 2014

Winter Concert

A word to the wise about being a working musician: don't be a diva. No one will want to work with you.

So, the back story here is that the person who used to accompany the choirs at the Large Suburban High School applied for the choir position when it opened...and obviously, did not get it, because I did. Said accompanist was then No Longer Available to accompany, which is probably fine, because that could have been awkward. But it left me scrambling for a while, and now, I find myself trying to find a regular accompanist who can commit good time to helping out. There's money to pay someone, so it's just a matter of finding someone with availability.

I was pleased, then to find a young man who could play for my Winter Concert this week. Our initial emails and phone calls were friendly and professional; he was excited to come play for us and I was relieved to cross the all-caps "FIND ACCOMPANIST PRONTO" off my To Do List.

With the music mailed and the hours agreed upon, I got busy working with my choir to prepare for our two-night Winter Concert. We practiced, we practiced, and we practiced some more. I had many conversations with Lynn, the band teacher, about how we'd pull off our combined concert. The time flew by, and everything was going well.

This week, both Lynn and I had pretty free use of the theater and stage for rehearsals. I left the baby grand piano out on stage one day, and on Wednesday, Lynn said, "We had to put it back stage. It just won't fit with all of my band kids out there..."

"Okay, that's fine," I told her. "But what about Peace, Peace?"

Peace, Peace is a song we end every Winter Concert with; it is a tradition started by the choir teacher who is now my boss (though she admits she got terribly tired of the song, but by that time, could not end the tradition). To stop the tradition of Peace, Peace would basically get me tarred and feathered in the LSHS community--but I wouldn't stop it. The song is lovely and a perfect way to cap the evening. It's pretty simple, but what makes it effective is soaring harmonies in the women, an audience sing-along of "Silent Night" under it all, and the fact that the theater is fully darkened and the choir stands in the aisles with little battery-operated candles. My kids love to sing it, and my freshmen were excited to become part of the tradition.

Some band kids were to perform a song with the choir after the band's set, so, fortunately, a small keyboard was set up below the stage that could easily be used for Peace, Peace. At my Wednesday dress rehearsal, I let my new accompanist what was up with that, and he seemed fine. He asked if there was a pedal for the keyboard, and I sent a student over to the piano lab to grab one.

Fast-forward to Thursday. It was a crazy day, with a huge storm coming through, and some doubt about whether the concert would even go on for a little while. My accompanist arrived and we all warmed up. There was some concern about the keyboard pedal--it wasn't working. We tried a few things and couldn't get it to work at all, so finally, I told him we'd have to go without pedal for the evening. He wasn't happy, but at that point, he had to be quiet about it--with everything else I had to worry about, I wasn't putting "piano pedal" at the very top of my list.

The show went on as planned, and finally, to my delight, we got to Peace, Peace.

To my horror, I realized fairly quickly that we didn't have a stand light for my accompanist. He had to play in the dark, barely able to see his music. But he played well, with only one or two hesitations due to the darkness. I didn't notice any glaring errors that would be noticed by the audience, especially when they're more preoccupied by the kids singing.

But my accompanist was not pleased. As the lights came up he started to huff and puff, even as I told him that it had been absolutely fine. Finally, he said, "I am so embarrassed. I need a stand light, and I need a pedal." Then he flounced off in high dudgeon, leaving me thinking, "Well, crap."

For about five minutes, I felt really bad, but then I got angry. I have been in this music world long enough to know a few things, and one of the key rules is you don't piss off the director. I had to remind myself that I am now that director--you know, the one you don't piss off. Running a concert is hectic, and it is stressful. I was incredibly pleased with how my choir performed that evening, and here was a hired performer throwing a tantrum over something that was very much not a big deal, wasting my time and keeping me from being fully engaged with my students.

So on Friday, I put it out of my mind, and focused on my kids.

You can imagine, however, my worry as 6:00 creeped closer with no sign of my accompanist. The storm had calmed enough that on Friday we really only had light drizzle, no flooding, no wind. As 6:00 came and passed, I started to wonder if I'd hired a huge diva who would walk out on the second evening.

Finally, at about 6:20, he arrived, in his street clothes. I offered to open a staff bathroom for him to change, and he said, "Oh, I don't have my tux. It's coming." Lynn walked through and mentioned that we'd put out a stand light for him for Peace, Peace. "Oh, good!" he said, smiling. Then, "...but I have to have a working pedal. I mean, I'm not even sure I can perform on that keyboard." Visions of telling the audience, "we won't be performing Peace, Peace tonight" danced through my head.

I must have looked like I wanted to punch him because Lynn turned to Wade, one of her percussion instructors, who was hanging out that evening. "Wade, can you get a pedal working on the keyboard?"

Wade, bless him, grinned and said, "Absolutely!" and puttered off to get working on that. The accompanist followed him, leaving me standing in the middle of the choir room with steam trickling out of my ears.

A moment later, I was distracted by people at the door to my classroom, holding up a tuxedo. It was my accompanist's family, so I grabbed it and said, "Oh, I'll make sure he gets it!" Wondering, all the while, when, exactly, I had become Wardrobe Assistant to someone who is, essentially, my employee.

Before you think I hate my job, I'll remind you why I love it.

As all of this was going on, my kids were being amazing. I had looked at my choir president at one point and said, "Can you warm everyone up, please? And run through Silent Night?" She had nodded, gathered everyone, and there they all were, warming up, pacing around the room as they sang, fixing a lyric error they'd made in Silent Night on Thursday evening. As I dealt with my absolute diva of an accompanist, they got right to work.

I found myself hiking out to my piano lab for another pedal--in heels--with Wade, venting all the way about how unprofessional my accompanist was acting (even Lynn, later would say, "Yeah, he was high-maintenance...").

Finally, we had the pedal issue resolved. My accompanist was all smiles--he still didn't love the idea of playing on the keyboard (for one flipping song, you big baby), but he was suddenly cheerful and bright again. I proceeded to ignore him and join my kids in their pre-concert energy circle, where they give shout-outs to each other. I gave my own shout-out, telling them, with tears in my eyes, "I am so tired--we all are. It's been a crazy week. And I've been dealing with some drama tonight...but I know, as I run around feeling stressed, that you will give me 150% out there tonight, and on that, I don't worry, because I have great students." The tears started to fall then--the first time I've cried in front of my LSHS kids--and after a few "awws" from the kids, my girls made me laugh by screeching, "Think of the eye makeup!!!"

It's all's well that ends well--my kids sang beautifully, there were no more temper tantrums from my accompanist, and I move ahead with the knowledge that I have three phone numbers of other possibilities that I will be calling this week, because this young man has ensured that he will not be hired at the Large Suburban High School again. Even my boss, who started this choir program, agreed with me when I told her what was going on--and she said one key thing that made me feel justified: "My accompanist used to bring his own stand light because he knew I would forget. I wasn't thinking about stand lights."

Amen, Mrs. Boss. Amen.

I am learning so much as I go along in this job--it's sometimes stressful, but I wouldn't trade it. My kids make it worth it, especially when the parents come to me after the concert to tell me their kid loves singing in my choir. That's why I'm there--to be to those students what my music teachers were to me. I have fun with those kids--making ridiculous face to them to get them to smile on stage, seeing the satisfaction on their faces when they know they sang well. Hearing them cheer for themselves in the choir room later. It's all so worth it.

A mom told me last night that her son comes home from school excitedly talking about choir, and singing his choir music in the car, in the shower, everywhere. Another parent thanked me for allowing her daughter to use her creative talents in choir, for allowing the kids to experience arranging a song so they can develop those abilities. A former student of Mrs. Boss told me she loved how we sounded. And several people have told me this is the best the choir has sounded in a good few years. Not too shabby for a small choir at a Large Suburban High School, often forgotten in such a high-achieving school. As I drove home last night, I thought to myself, "I did that!" And I knew--know--in my heart that I can do more, that I can grow this.

I have a terrific foundation on which to start.

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