No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
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Today wasn’t just our dress rehearsal, it was our Dress Rehearsal. The concert at Caramoor usually feels like a final run before the New York show on Tuesday, but this year it’s different. For one thing, there is no New York show because of the #$%^#&@*@ corona virus. And there will be only a tiny, silent live audience tomorrow at Caramoor. But there will be cameras and microphones for a live stream, which we hope to show again Tuesday as a substitute for the Merkin Hall concert.

We decided to videotape the dress rehearsal as well, just to have a backup. And we got gussied up for it—hair, makeup, earrings, ties, suits, gowns, heels. It was a good exercise for us all: singers, pianists, and video guru, who needed to see the show onstage to get the cameras and sound right for tomorrow.

We had just one audience member today: Tim Coffey, Caramoor’s Artistic Planning Manager who has been a beneficent demi-god for us all week. Otherwise the hall was empty. But we performed as if the world were watching us. Most of it went great, but we all had a couple of nervous fumbles. I can always catch the singers when they have theirs, but there’s no one to catch me when I have mine—not even Shawn Chang, my guardian angel at the other piano. Sometimes I find myself onstage telling myself, “Release! Release!” and then getting so distracted by my Inner Zen Quest that I have my biggest screw-ups. Let’s just say that I was in the zone a lot of the time, and grateful for it. I took a major step forward, and the cast followed suit. 

The presence of cameras brought out my vanity (you are permitted to do an eye-roll), so I decided I didn’t want to wear my reading glasses for the last few songs. Alas, that didn’t work out so well. I was not ready for the result—sharps that look like naturals, B’s that look like A’s, eighth-note rests that look like ink blots. I ended up doing a bit of “spontaneous composing” in a couple of numbers. I’ve learned to play wrong notes with celestial beauty, inspired by Algernon in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Ernest”: “I don’t play accurately–any one can play accurately–but I play with wonderful expression.” That maxim has served me for almost half a century. 

It hit me today what a privilege this week has been. Caramoor is a sequestered place of great beauty, even in this unflattering part of the year with neither snow nor greenery. The five artists I invited, the two guest teachers, and Michael Barrett have a common aspiration: clarity, expressiveness, beauty, and catharsis. We are like hunters after a single prey, the truth of a song. Every time Thomas West, Siena Miller, Elaine Daiber, Terrence Chin-Loy, and Shawn Chang claimed victory, the world became calmer, less toxic, less baffling. And they did so over and over again today. I am so grateful to them, to Caramoor, and to Eileen Schwab, the godmother of the Vocal Rising Stars program. I can’t always see this during the day, which fills up with real-life concerns like Catalan vowels, tempo discussions, acting intentions, and the occasional missed beat. But with the distance of a few hours I can see the bigger picture, and I feel blessed.

You can watch The Art of Pleasure live-streamed here on Caramoor’s YouTube channel at 3pm on Sunday, March 15 through Tuesday, March 17.

Steven Blier

Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

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