Encores: An uncommon glory
When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.
— George Washington Carver
Last fall, in the role of a composer in pursuit of a handful of ideal singers and instrumentalists for an April concert featuring music from many wide-ranging genres, highbrow to Gospel, I found myself coming down to the wire in my search for a tenor-for-all seasons: a voice rich, resonant, soulful, skillful — the works.
But I didn’t just want a singer, even a superbly seasoned one; I wanted a musical dramatist, someone who could get inside the desperate, driven, ecstatic, world-weary alter egos in my operas, musicals and songs.
Otherwise, what would be the use? Going through all the trouble of a search, a contract, a commitment, long rehearsals and finally a concert. And for what? A mere “performance?”
No thanks. That would be like weathering the long siege of pregnancy for, shall we say, a less-than-full-fledged baby.
No, what I wanted was the presence, the chemistry — and yes — the sure and certain explosion of the many spiritual storms and splendors embedded in my music, ardently waiting to be released.
Several possibilities had come, beckoned and gone, until at length it seemed as if the stable was bare and I was going to have to make bricks without straw, as it were.
So I began to trouble the waters, to stir the ethers with the urgency of my need, and to challenge the universe to come through. I didn’t care how. A kind of quiet, steely resolve congealed throughout my being and all thoughts of possible failure receded.
Seizing all means at hand, I did an online search, for it seems that the potential for the fulfillment of human destiny now lies as much in the sphere of the World Wide Web as it might in any other domain of life.
In virtually — no pun intended — no time flat, the web (or was it the universe — the hand of God?) came up with a concert announcement sporting a photograph featuring a pleasant pair of faces, one of an elfin female — Julia Bady — whose name I recognized as a much-respected Pioneer Valley pianist, and the other of a warm-visaged male — a tenor, Irwin Reese, a soul unknown to me.
I was not a little frustrated by the fact that, in spite of my attempt to maintain a keen vigilance on musical events in the valley, the concert had, alas, already taken place, and I had somehow managed to miss it; even more frustrated because, serendipitously, Reese happened to be African-American, and I had decided to include at least two of my favorite Gospel creations in the forthcoming concert — “What better pairing could there have been?” I lamented.
A fool who often rushes in where wise men fear to tread, I had no sooner sleuthed out Mr. Reese’s whereabouts and phone number and punched it in than I found his mellow voice cushioning the other end of the line; offering my greetings, and putting him at ease that he would most likely not know me, I quickly shared my identity and my plight with him.
Happily, he remained surprisingly gracious, pleasantly interested and refreshingly free of any professional pride or the brusqueness that so often emanates therefrom — in other words, he demonstrated all the traits of a real human being.
There was, to be sure, a palpable and necessary aura of comfort with himself and his skills, but these were never in danger of morphing into their less-than-pleasant brethren — overmuch self-importance and human disregard.
No, here was that much-sought rarity — an unadulterated gentleman — and, as I was eventually to learn firsthand, a gentle man.
Not only that, but he had detoured the extra mile(s) to my home directly after a Messiah sing in Worcester — to which he had traveled from his New York City home — all so that he might honor my desire to meet, speak, listen and share human time, for myself a necessity, but a tough feat to achieve in this most virtual and impatient 21st-Century world.
My original music seemed to resonate with him, and he then indulged my request to hear him sing; his voice, his spirit, his embrace of this elusive creature called music were deep and heartfelt. He was clearly my go-to guy.
We enjoyed a leisurely dinner and, eventually, once time, music and remunerations were settled, he came on board.
Well, come the April concert — even with an interruption due to the passing of one of Mr. Reese’s friends, which accounted for the loss of more than half of his scheduled rehearsal time with the 10-member musical ensemble — it turned out that the man had overwhelmingly nailed his music long before arrival.
He sang like an angel and, even amidst a bevy of fine performers, glowed like a soft diamond; there were even audible sighs from the audience as the last strains of my spirituals lay, vibrating in the silence of the Arts Block.
But even after these little epiphanies, no proud prima donna was to be found, only the same affable — if self-effacingly elusive — fellow I had come to know.
Well, this same Irwin Reese, one 23-year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus and corps of supporting singers, is, along with his exquisitely sensitive one-woman piano-orchestra, Julia Bady, to be the final offering, the piece de resistance in the Old Deerfield Sunday Afternoon Concert Series, Aug. 25, with “The Black Man in Song” “... a special concert in tribute to Lucy Terry Prince, Deerfield’s 18th-century African-American resident and America’s first African-American poet who was also known for her singing and storytelling.” The program will include works by Margaret Bonds, Thomas, Camille Nickerson, J. Rosamond Johnson and a piece commissioned by Mr. Reese based on letters written by African-American botanist George Washington Carver.
A recent rehearsal I attended revealed the performers in tip-top form — vocally, pianistically and ensemble-wise; but there was something even more striking than these qualities — the fair, sylph-like pianist and the tall tenor emanate a deep mutual regard, which, when ignited by their equally powerful dramatic electricity, seeds the air with the stuff of which life is made: heart, soul, spirit, love — call it what you will.
And when that happens, one has only to sit back, relax, breathe free and bask in the presence of — well, to use a much-maligned old-fashioned term — the Glory.
Catch this gift while you can — or not at all — but don’t say I didn’t try to alert you!
(Happily, Ms. Bady, a certified instructor in the Taubman technique, described as “... a natural approach to piano playing that promotes artistry and fluidity at the piano,” dwells among us and may be contacted at 413-774-0102 or through her new website: www.juliabadypianist.com class="Internet Link">.)
Concert information: Tickets, $10. Concert takes place at Memorial Hall, 8 Memorial St., Old Deerfield at 3 p.m.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.