Tuesday, June 2, 2009

There's no place like home!

Let's go back in time, shall we? Tis the fall of 1987, and I'm starting my undergraduate degree in Music Education at the Wichita State University, a short 3-hour drive down the fast-food littered Interstate-35 from Kansas City, the original "Dirty Dancing" was the big hit of the day, and dry cereal from the dorm cafeteria was the safest menu option of the night. My roommate, chosen at random by beautiful chance, and I hit if off immediately, and lo and behold, she was a wonderfully talented vocal performance major who quickly turned into my best friend. Imagine the serendipity of being able to sing along to the entire Dirty Dancing soundtrack in two-part harmony while driving to the mall in my Plymouth Arrow! Imagine, also, the glee of two young Kansas girls jumping for joy at being accepted into the undergraduate vocal group, "Chamber Singers". (Little did we know the audition was mere perfunctory routine - we were in if we had a heartbeat, but that didn't diminish our elation one bit.) And so began my intensive, unforgettable college education!

I soaked up every musical experience (while skipping a few of those educational "psych" classes along the way), and the inspiration surrounded me at every corner: a demanding, exceptional choral teacher, a glamorous, spiritual voice teacher, and the man who directed me in my first paces on the operatic stage and has remained my guiding mentor all these years. But let's be clear: I was not a star. I was most definitely a reliable chorus member to be sure, securing the occasional solo (the highlight being Aaron Copland's "In the beginning" - oh how I hope to do that piece again some day!), and served the part of the "2nd" 2nd mezzo in our opera productions (singing the second casts of the Mother in "Hansel and Gretel", Marcellina in "Nozze di Figaro" and Katisha in the "Mikado" - oh YES, I can't wait to sing her again someday, as well!) So I was solid, yes, but not a "star" by any stretch of the imagination. I only say this not to ask you to "cue the violins", but simply to put into context from where I have come. I never want to belabor the point that "they didn't think I was great" - I only want to show that I was a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of performer, and all the while I "lost" the big roles to another singer, it simply kept showing me that I still had work to do - I'm convinced it's the reason I don't shy away from hard work while in this career today, and why I feel the job is never actually done.

Fast forward a few (be nice here!) years, and I walk on to the stage of the Wichita Grand Opera to applause - applause coming deep from the hearts of so many dear people. That was a lovely feeling. But it wasn't so much about me, truth be told. The week in Wichita was the chance for me to come home and share with all the huge network of teachers and supporters and friends all rewards of the work I began way back during my time at WSU. I feel them with me every step of the way - the people who gave me my foundation, who instilled in me the responsibility that comes with making music, and the respect for colleagues and for the audience. It was born here in Wichita, and to share that with so many dear people - well, it was a real gift to me.

It was also a blast to follow up my Vienna debut of the same opera with a cast there in Wichita of one seasoned veteran (the beaming, wonderful Stefano de Beppo pictured here), and the rest: Barbiere Virgins! How fun to help introduce them to the joys of this piece, suggest how to perhaps avoid a few of the pitfalls, and to watch their discovery of this magnificent 3 hour show come to life! It was a real pleasure and I enjoyed every moment of it.

But I suppose if we're going to go to the real root of the situation, it was truly born at St Ann's grade school in Prairie Village, Kansas, where I spent the first 8 years of my school-going life. Yes, there were nuns (and I'll tastefully avoid writing in some of their nicknames here, as it might be nsfw!), there were cliques, and there were tears - mostly over Eric, my first, achingly tragic love. Sigh. But it's also where my love for music was born. (I had to have SOME sort of outlet for all the drama I felt over losing Eric to Peggy!!!)

I returned after my trip to Wichita to the 4th grade classroom of St. Ann's where my sister currently teaches music to all 450 kids: she's a real hero in my book. She invited me to visit on their last day of school and answer a few of their questions: "Have you ever broken glass?", "How many languages do you speak", "...And my mom's, um, well, um like her parents, my um, grandparents, um, well they like, um went to Italy once."

It was fascinating indeed to be among the shrunken walls once again, but I loved challenging them to see who of us could hold a note the longest, and inviting them to sing along with me to "Somewhere over the Rainbow". We posed for pictures, naturally - one of the proper sort:

And the next with their best Opera Faces:

The next afternoon I was busy at work in my home, when I was distracted by a very persistent helicopter overhead. A quick glance down the street showed 5 fire engine trucks - all with sirens blaring. "Time to grab the camera and join the festivities," I thought, and sure enough I arrived on the scene just in time to see our valiant KC firefighters lifting a stranded painter over the top of the 15-story building next door to me. Who dares to say life in Kansas is dull???

And in keeping with that theme, I went with a number of dear friends to one of the greatest shows in town - and a favorite haunt of mine, not only to pick up performance tricks, but to also have a ball with my camera:

Yes, it's Missie B's, the premiere drag show in the midwest, at the very least! This lady tore it up singing Jennifer Holiday's "And I am telling you", and I was officially blown away!

Without a doubt, this lady knows how to entertain and leave nothing behind on the stage! Brava!

So my time home, of which there is no place like it, was wonderful, topped off only by great visits with family. These times re-fuel me and keep my feet firmly on the soil, and I treasure them. Having my trip coincide with high school graduations and first missing teeth? Well, that is truly priceless!


Hariclea said...

I loved every single word of it and every feeling that came with it! You and your big, beautiful heart are truly wonderful!!!!

PS. Really counting the seconds until the 4th of July in London!

Jakob said...

Joyce, I am so grateful that you share with us these moments! I love this Blog!!

Mei said...

It must be a blessing to sing there, where all this started...

Kim said...

You always give me so much hope.

I can't believe you were 2nd 2nd mezzo! I don't feel so bad about myself anymore.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Sarcastic Soprano said...

I have now been given "the glare" from the librarian at the WSU music library for laughing too loud, whoops...I couldn't help it, your WSU experiences were almost identical to mine, especially the part about Chamber Singers, too funny! Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful memories :)