Yesterday was a travel day disguised as a day off
Yesterday was a travel day disguised as a day off. 18 hours from point A to B which ended up being more like 20. One of the orchestra buses broke down and they opted to wait for the mechanic to come fix the problem. There went another 4 hours. Luckily, that went smoothly and only cost time. Many times a mechanical problem means a day or more of figuring out how to get to the next place.
Chorale Le Chateau is traveling strong and hard. We always worry about them on these long drives. We talk about them a lot and love playing with them. It would be easy for the two groups to have conflict, but they have been beautiful. We love their spirit and the way they have responded to the music.
This drive has given our resident film maker-composer/arranger-play anything with a reed (and read everything the first time)-‘can hear’-super adaptable-West Coast wizard of musical alchemy, a chance to ruminate on the tour, Mr. Ted Nash:
There was a moment during a recent concert when Patrice, one of our soprano soloists, sang a short phrase with such clarity, control and expression that my eyes turned to water. I looked over at Walter, and his eyes were similarly wet. I couldn’t look at him anymore. I focused on the music in front of me, a quick choice to internalizing the experience – a safety measure, really. But as the music intensified, so did my willingness to be part of it; to experience it at the deeper level it was meant to be.
Nicole, one of our alto soloists who clearly has roots in the church, went off script at the end of her solo, and for the first time we were really in a place of worship. People were cosigning, jumping to their feet. Damien Sneed, our stylish and exuberant choral director, was sculpting more than conducting. Nicole, feeling the energy, raised her pitch. I thought for a moment she had become possessed. It felt like the roof was going to come off. I was expecting a miracle to happen right in front of us. Well, in a way every opportunity to play beautiful music is a tiny miracle, and I am blessed to be able to do this night after night.
One high point so far was being in New Orleans. Of course, some of the band members grew up here and have deep connection to the Crescent City. Wess Anderson, who used to play lead alto with the band, happened to have a gig at the French Quarter haunt, Snug Harbor. During our concert, word of Wess’s gig had spread like a brush fire through the ranks of the choir and as soon as our last note finished resonating through the hall about twenty-five of us (a mix of jazz band, choir and staff) jumped in taxis and headed over to hear “Warm Daddy” swing.
Wess recently had a stroke and despite not having one-hundred percent of the fluent technique that he used to have, he absolutely did not lose an ounce of his soul, swing, clarity of ideas, and just plain Wess. It was amazing to look around the club and see several of the choral singers, many of whom are trained in opera, and have had very little involvement with jazz, be there and were swinging with Wess and the rest of us. It was a wonderful bonding experience.
The morning after we drove twelve hours from Dallas to St. Louis I spent the morning at an elementary school talking music to three hundred fifth-graders. Two back-to-back assemblies of 150 enthusiastic music students. They were surprisingly attentive. I even got about ten volunteers to be my band: five singing a bass line and five clapping their hands. They became my rhythm section while I jammed on some blues. They weren’t exactly ready for a national tour, but we had a good time.
As we come into our last week I look forward to all the ways the music will continue to grow, and the opportunity to get to know more of these wonderful musicians with whom we are out here connecting with on Wynton’s beautiful and inspiring composition.
In honor of having survived this long ride, here’s Damien:
Quiana Smith, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, is a quiet kept secret in Chorale Le Chateau. I remember how one of our mutual friends introduced me to her by sharing the rave reviews of her recent success as a principle in Mary Poppins on Broadway. Her warm spirit is always refreshing to me and she leads by example.
I’m not sure whether to sleep, take a shower now or in the morning, or continue shuffling through my iPod until I decide what to do. Whatever the case, the grueling idea of riding on a bus for 18 hours is over and surprisingly it wasn’t as bad as we all thought. Maybe I should speak for myself. I did hear the orchestra’s bus broke down… poor dears.
After our concert at the aesthetically beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, MO, we had a couple of hours to ourselves to pack up, find food and or drink and gear up for our cross country bus ride to Harrisburg, PA. Some decided to fly and others, such as myself, decided to stick it out. I definitely could have used some frequent flyer miles to get there, but the stubborn side of me wanted to “stick it out”. I felt like if I’ve come this far, I should go ahead and do the damn thing all the way! The cool thing is everyone was able to ride comfortably because we all had our own seats. YAY! We were like siblings sharing a bedroom then one day our parents telling us we now have our own.
Because we left at 1am from Kansas, we were able to sleep the time away so by the time the sun gently kissed our faces, we were already a quarter of the way there. Our first stop was around 6am at a rest stop. I had just fallen asleep 2 hours prior and my body did NOT want to get up, but nature called. :) Three hours later we stopped at a Cracker Barrel Restaurant, which has become a favorite breakfast stop. I can eat breakfast anytime of the day (It’s my favorite meal) and Cracker Barrel does breakfast right!
We hop back on the bus, making sure we stretch our bodies and say hello to our fellow mates on bus 1. For a few minutes the bus is alive and excited about what the next few hours will bring. Not too long after the laughs die down and last joke has been told, there is quiet. Everyone is asleep. “Morning Mood” by Duke Ellington comes to mind as we drift off.
The October air is crisp, clean, and smells like everything that fall is supposed to be. We drive through each city noticing the skylines and speak on how different and or similar they are from each other while my iPod acts as the soundtrack to our drive; A little bit of Tracy Chapman plays, Tyrone Wells, Lianne la Havas, Ani Difranco, Thelonius Monk and The Clark Sisters grace my iPod on this fine Sunday. Midway through we switch drivers. We were sad to see our dedicated driver, Monty leave us, but we welcomed Betty, our new driver for the last few hours with open arms. She didn’t seem intimidated at all by our lively bunch. In fact, she fit right in!
As the sun and moon began switching places, we decided we needed a little something to get us through. John, a fabulous baritone had Kevin Hart’s new DVD release “Let Me Explain” and we laughed until we cried. I had seen it in the theatre when it opened, but it was actually cool to watch it with my bus and trying to guess who’s gonna laugh harder at the upcoming jokes. I do love hearing people laugh and sing (especially in their cars singing off key and LOUD). Laughter is healing. I’ve heard that laughter is the closest thing to heaven. I’m not sure how true that statement is, but in this situation laughter seemed to bring us to our destination a lot sooner. We definitely needed that. Thank you John!
On road trips I take the time to reflect on the blessings of life. Though, we are tired, some upset and bodies aching, there is a blessing in it all. We are ALIVE, for one. And two, in this moment in time we are all doing what we love to do! SING! Come on! Is this our life right now? I pinch myself sometimes and realize there are a hundred other things that I could be doing and being miserable is not an option. We are singing to the Glory of God and that alone is something to smile about. Life isn’t so bad. And neither was the drive.
“Glory to God in the Highest! Glory to God in the Highest!” – A lyric from “Anthem” by Wynton Marsalis.
Tonight it will be a privilege to perform as part of the inaugural season at Messiah College’s Calvin and Janet High Center for Worship and Performing Arts in Mechanicsburg, PA.
“Abyssinian: A Gospel Celebration”, will be on tour on October 3-23, and will be webcast live on October 24th, 25th and 26th at 8PM ET on http://wyntonmarsalis.org/live