Sunday, June 18, 2006

Director's Choice

Here I have a couple of "Choice Directors" to comment about. They have some similarities and some vast differences. Recently they both were doing the same thing..."retiring". Mostly they did it gracefully and without regret. To me this is important. When you it when you are still "on a roll" and "desireable" so to speak. In my book they both could've gone on for years with few complaints from me. I enjoyed their work, professionally. I didn't really know them personally. With one, I sort of tried to but the other, no way, just admiration.

The first "director" I'm talking about is Garrison Keillor. He actually was more than a director of "Prairie Home Companion" for over 30 years. He was "Prairie Home Companion". I also admire him for writing books, poems etc. His creative imagination carried that "ol' fashioned radio show" every Saturday night for many years for me. His sense of humor, wit and turn of a phrase were unique. He invented so many "characters" ie. "Guy Noir", "Dusty and Lefty" a whole town/community with all it's inhabitants "Lake Woebegon". There was just a "homey feeling" every saturday night curling up by my radio and "visualizing" all his creations. This says nothing about his musical talents and his choice of guest stars each week. His pianist Doworsky(?) had the kind of ad lib talent that you rarely hear. His "sound-effects" man was so perfect and right on most of the time, and if not, quite a laugh. I used to listen to Garrison's "Poem of the Day" on my way to school and it would inspire me to teach poetry.

His recent "director's choice was to produce a movie, CD, DVD that, for me, were less than his best way to "say goodbye" To take the risk of "making visual" what for all those years was "purely audio" and "in everyone's imagination" was venturing alot. To bring in "name stars" ie. Woody Harroldson, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, was nice but not what we needed from him as a "Goodbye". His "regulars" were there but in lesser roles off stage and the "whole back stage story-line" I guess was supposed to take the place of his "final chapter" of "Lake Woebegon" Just didn't cut it for me, not enough "invested" in the "Johnson Sisters". I liked the "Angel of Death" idea and making her one of Guy Noir's effemeral "hot dishes" was perfect. Yes, I will miss P.H.C.(actually have these past few years, living where no radio station comes other than Mexican Mariachi) I will miss Garrison, his wit and creative storytelling...a real inspiration for me over the years.

The second director I'm talking about is Bruce Rogers. He actually was the founding musical director/conductor of the Mountainside Master Chorale for its first 12 years. I had the privelege of singing tenor under his direction for 6 of those 12 years. He just produced his final "director's choice" concert back on June 10th. I was there. The Garrison Theater at the Claremont Colleges was SRO (standing room only). At times, I'm sure, there wasn't a "dry eye" in the crowd. He was/is very popular. He also decided to "step down" while he was still "on a roll". I remember so clearly "auditioning" for him at Mout SAC. It was scary but I knew he needed tenors. I had just come from the Claremont Chorale and was singing baritone. He checked my range and "had faith in me". I honor that and respect his skills as a director. His "talents" were mostly under used at MMC and as the years went on, his fame and importance in the "Choral World" came through his college groups, especially "Sing-copation" He is untouchable in timing, rhythms and getting the music exactly correct. His ablility to inspire his singers could not be touched. He had the "heart" himself.

However, his choir was ever "aging" and "changing" and that was hard to deal with from year to year. In college teaching, each year you get a "new crop" so to speak. He could be very demanding and I think (my opinion) wanted to do more difficult, secular selections. I think the "leadership" of the choir had some different ideas. For all those years, it truly was a "labor of love" on all parts. He was never paid, nor did he ask, what he was worth. The average member volunteered time and at least $100. a year, just to sing under him...I did. I supported the choir for many years after just because I believed in what he/they were trying to do. Choral performing Art is/was the "first art" and is now a "dying art" with very little support compared say to the Philharmonic. I never really got to know Bruce personally. I didn't really try. There was the age difference, and he had "hired me" (auditioned) me. He didn't really let that many get to know him. Oh there was that "inner founding circle", section leaders, those who I considered had more knowledge and responsibility for the "excellence" and goal of the group. Yes, they were the "elite" and that, for me was just fine.

So for me two more "chapters" in my life, happy ones, have closed. Bruce's choice of songs were perfect for me. Many I had sung with him and Kirk and my tenor buddies. My favorites, "Carmina Burana" from my first season and "Dirait-on" from the Istedfod in Wales. His use of "youth" in the virtuoso violinist and drummer was just inspired programming. He stood off to the side as if to say, "this is where you should go". His finally letting Pro have a solo and what a solo! The side of Pro that no one sees on the stage is his "wit and humor" behind the scenes. Bruce was, as he said, "Truly blessed" to have Pro. I spotted the "new director" during intermission and told him what an "awesome tenor/men's section" he was getting. He has quite an act to follow. Good luck to him. He is young and that's what happens if groups are to "renew" themselves. I hope MMC does.Bob


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