Tonight is the last nighttime performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Woodland Opera House. We still have one more performance tomorrow in the afternoon, after which we will strike the set, the pit, the costumes and props and ourselves from the venue.
This has been a special show for me because it is the first show I’ve done, start to finish, since Mom died.
In the fall of 2005, I was in rehearsals for “She Loves Me” at WOH. When I found out my mother had pancreatic cancer and that she was dying, I left the show to spend the last two months there with her. It’s the best choice I’ve ever made.
Since that time, however, my vital vibrancy has been less than radiant. My heart has been so very heavy with grief since November 23, 2005 when Mom died. I haven’t had the energy to truly commit to anything much at all, including the shows I’ve done. I’ve done concerts, shows at the Performing and Fine Arts Academy where I worked, and the latter part of “Damn Yankees” at WOH, but there has been something missing in those processes for me.
I’ve been dreaming of finding my joie de’vivre again. At last, three-and-a-half years later, I’ve found it. This is been an engaging show, a phenomenal cast, including our precious young ones, and I have been so thrilled to be a part of this group. Our orchestra is small but mighty simply because we have some of the best musicians in our pit in the area. That helps. Our crew, designers, and staff are incredible.
Angela Shellhammer, our director is superlative. Her sensitivity and strength, wisdom and creativity have all impacted this show, and me, in the best way possible.
Our Executive Director, Jeff Kean, has been, as always, the foundation upon which our excellence is based.
I say this only to acknowledge the spectacular contribution these magnificent people have made to me personally. They aren’t likely to see this blog; however, I know that this is the way I feel. I’ve said so to them, too, but I wanted it down on “paper,” if you will.
They have participated in my healing in a very real way. For that, I will be forever grateful.
This last show is for you, Mom, to say another phase of good-bye to my grief. I may have another thirty or more years on this planet and I have to find real happiness along the way. As much as I love all of my departed family, I must learn to live in the land of the living.
So, I shed my mourningwear and don my own dreamcoat for the future. And, what pretty colors it is!
To writers, especially new ones, it will come as no surprise to hear that taking on the task of writing a novel length work is daunting, at best. When one is writing a memoir, it is all the more challenging because one must balance their research, as personal as it is, with the emotional ramifacations of delving into the deepest recesses of one’s heart.
I would love to blithely say, “It’s just a book, so why worry?” It would be a perfect way of distancing myself from the material; however, I know better.
As a music director, when I’m training singers for their roles, I always tell them that if the veracity of their words and phrasing are not there, the audience will know. They always know.
It’s the same way with writing. If there is any subterfuge, insincerity or gimmicks, the reader will know. That holds especially true for one’s family when the subject is their history, as well as one’s own.
So, here I am, excited at the prospect of leaving a written legacy for my family about being an adoptee who finds his birth family and, thereafter, begins his genealogical journey toward understanding his complete life more fully, while recognizing how his journey is impacting others around him, as well. Yet, the intimacy is very intense and can, at times, stop me in my tracks.
As my mother often told me, I must continue to put one foot in front of the other and keep trudging down my path, no matter what.
That, my friends, is exactly what I intend to do.
Every time an audience member comes up to me after a show to say how much they enjoyed our production or that the drums were too loud, I always wonder if they truly know what a music director does?
There is no way to fully describe everything we do; however, in a more esoteric way, I can say that we breathe for the production. From the first rehearsal, we train the singers and instrumentalists how we want them to create the aural portraits of the characters and scenes they are portraying. Every attack is a message. Every dynamic change draws us into or sweeps us up to a landmark moment.
If we, as music directors are very good at what we do, we become invisible. It is only the character and feel of the moment that you see and hear. The stage director creates the pictures and overarching structure of the piece; however, once the piece is in production, the music director has to make sure it stays on track like a train conductor.
The smart music directors trust their performers to, first, bring their expertise in musical theatre performance to the table, adding their own takes on phrasing, dynamic and storytelling. Then, they ensure that the performers have a consistent and stable foundation on which to build their nightly creations. The more readily the music director does this, the more invisible he becomes, so that on opening night, he truly is simply a back and a stick to the audience.
I’ve been so very lucky in my years as a music director to be surrounded by outstanding musicians, both in the pit and on the stage. They are creative and joyful in the preparation for their performances. They are intelligent, sensitive and vibrant in their artistry.
I often describe myself more as a jeweler who simply sets the beautiful stones in a creative setting. The gems themselves are perfect the way they are. The jeweler just polishes them a little bit.
When one gazes upon an exquisite ring, one doesn’t think of the designer who made it; one simply sees the beauty of the piece. That’s as it should be. That will continue to be my goal for each production I music direct.
After years of working on my genealogy, you know, if you’re following my posts, that I have finally found the gravesite for my great-grandmother, Gertrude, the last one of her brothers and sisters to be located.
This evening, while playing piano and conducting, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at the Woodland Opera House, my great-great-grandmother, Beatrice, and her mother, Medarda, visited me.
As I stood backstage, waiting to go on before the first act, the evening felt different somehow. I felt secure and peaceful in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I couldn’t explain it, really. I felt a new confidence. I didn’t connect the feeling with anything specific. It was just there, like a fragrance that lingers in the air from something you hadn’t seen come or go.
Halfway through the first act, I had a clairvoyant and intuitive experience in which I saw Beatrice standing in front of me smiling. Her mother, Medarda, stood behind her, also smiling. At first, I was confused why they chose this moment to visit me. Then, it hit me.
Both Medarda and Beatrice were outstanding musicians and music teachers. Everyone who experienced their music said that they played dynamically and could move people to tears with their music. They expressed their power through music.
While I may not be a musician at that level, I have followed in their footsteps as I, too, am a music educator and professional music director. As part of my skills, I play the piano, as did my ancestors.
Gertrude was Beatrice’s daughter and Medarda’s granddaughter. I had stayed focused on finding Gertrude for many years until, at last, I found her.
It was Beatrice and Medarda who came to say, “Thank you for loving my daughter enough to find her and, in effect, bring her home from anonymity.” They did so by making my hands, slightly crippled with arthritis and the aftereffects of two strokes and five decades of life, glide across the keys in a way they hadn’t flown for well over a decade. I played beautifully.
I smiled humbly at my female ancestors and my musical progenitors. In a way, I suppose, I, too, found a new home within the Herrera-Lopez clan. Perhaps for the first time, at this level, I felt as though I was contributing to the family in a dynamic and profound way.
Not unlike a musical theatre production, one does not find an ancestor in a vaccuum. There are family members and strangers alike who participate. I know, though, that in this particular effort, it was my focus that kept things moving and, for that, I am so very proud.
Thank you to my genetic and musical family line, Bette, Lorraine, Gertrude, Beatrice and Medarda, for bringing my music in the first place and elevating it to a new level tonight.
I, too, am home.
I was reading today my granddaughter’s poetry on her MySpace blog. Of course, I expected fifteen year old angst about boys and school. My mistake. Although there was a bit of that, most of the poetry was thoughtful and intimate and extremely personal. It got me thinking about our family and art.
In 1851, Medarda Garcia was born and in the 1870’s she married Manuel Lopez with whom she had my great-great- grandmother, Beatrice. Beatrice had many children, three of whom were my grandfather Ralph, my great-grandmother, Gertrude and my Great-Uncle Gene.
Medarda and Beatrice were both accomplished musicians. They also taught music. Uncle Gene was a professional musician. Uncle Gene has since retired considering he is 101 years old.
I am a music teacher and music director and having been born more than 100 years after Medarda, I am, apparently, hardwired with the same music gene as my cousins, uncles and grandparents.
There’s more, though. How is it that an inordinate number of our family is attached in some way with visual, musical or written word art? From my grandchildren to my cousins to my ancestors, we seem to feel an intractable call to communicate, to give voice to our inner most feelings in anyway we possibly can.
So many of my relatives on the Herrera side are multi-faceted artists. Some are filmmakers and writers, visual artists and musicians, graphic artists and experts in marketing, actors and dancers.
On the other side of the question, for a family that is so embued at the genetic level in the arts, why is it we sometimes have such difficulty communicating with our own families?
That, too, seems to be hardwired into our family history.
So, as I return to read my granddaughter’s poetry once again, I remember that I am just one bend in the river of our family art. Medarda and Beatrice and Gene are earlier bends, while my son, James, and my granddaughter, Mary, are simply later bends. We each, in our own way, are helping to create our artistic family landscape with our talents and skills; but, we are not alone and we are not the last.
I doubt that in our family, there will ever be a last artist.
After last weekend’s wonderful experience of filming, “Out of the Frying Pan,” I’m really looking forward to filming a project we’ve been working on for some time, “Two Tears and a Bucket.”
My filmmaking partner, Dave Garcia, really is a talented screenwriter and I think this ten minute short is going to be quite something when we’re done.
I’m always surprised to find myself in this kind of position, where I’m having to move a project forward that, previously, I have little or no experience. It was the same way when I began teaching at Natomas Charter School.
Sure, I had taught voice privately for a long time and I had even directed several groups; but, to teach children how to sing? I never would have imagined that I would be doing that in a million years; yet, there I was.
This is so similar. I’m taking the reins as a producer and film actor in a genre that’s so new to me. It is so incredibly fun, though.
We’ve got a great cast and crew, including a cinematographer with a real camera, lights, sound and everything! I feel like a kid on Christmas morning.
There is that pragmatic side of me that keeps me grounded, thinking, “Have I done everything? Is there enough of everything for everyone?”
We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck!