Monday, June 09, 2014

Country Again

Pardon me while I fold up the sheets I have had draped over the furniture here these last few months, and please excuse the dust hanging in strings from the light fixtures. Blogville is a ghost town, and my plot on the corner of it has been pretty ghosty as well.

Well, here we are with our feet up and gin and tonics all around, so let’s get started. My orchestra performed a concert this past Saturday night, and the experience was thrilling enough for me to make a trip here to tell you all about it.

Every two years, we put on a show, like Rooney and Garland, but instead of Babes in Arms, we put on a country show, and we do it partly for money because it’s guaranteed to sell the house, or at least nearly. This isn’t to say we play country music begrudgingly or condescendingly. Members of this orchestra love a good symphony as much as anybody, but we don’t mind getting together on stage with other kinds of music on our stands. This season, we have played swing, contemporary American, and a choral piece based on poems by Robert Frost, for example, and there was only a minimal amount of grumbling. You can’t put sixty or so people in one place without some complaining no matter what you do.

Anyway, about this country business—we have a couple of regular guests we invite, Elizabeth Langford-Estes and her husband Jon Estes (you can look them up). Liz is originally from Small Town, but they now live in Nashville where they have some amount of success as professional musicians. Liz is an award-winning fiddler and sings, and Jon plays everything else, basically. This year, we also brought in some local talent, Reb Robinson, Jacob Stockdale and Rick Troyer who puts together a small country band for us he calls the Onenightstandband. Our apologies to Rick for listing him as Rick Yoder in the program. We don't really believe the names Troyer and Yoder are interchangeable (you'd have to live near Amishworld to understand the mixup.)

And we flew in a special guest, Rich Travers, a piano player from Massachusetts who, from what I can tell, can play any damned song put in front of him. I may never play the piano again, after hearing him handle the keys with such ease and expertise.

If I were to tell you about every single song we played, you’d nod off or start checking your email and kicking at the fringe on the rug, so I’ll just hit the highlights, at least the moments that highlighted this concert of me.

We kicked the whole thing off with everyone on stage to play "Mountain Music," and hearing the full hall applaud so enthusiastically and even hoot a little (you don’t typically get that with a symphony), I knew this was going to be exhilarating. I have written in the past that playing before half a house isn't so bad because we really just play for ourselves anyway, but I may be lying. Having so many people seated on two levels cheer and clap in your direction makes all the difference.

After a few tunes played by the guests, all really well received, the orchestra came in again to play with Reb singing a couple of her original tunes and the classic "Crazy," which Reb sang with the depth I appreciated so much when hearing Patsy Cline. She didn’t impersonate Cline, though, because she didn’t need to, with her own style worth hearing. I have a soft spot for Patsy Cline, and “Crazy” in particular, and when I hear it, I always go back to an evening in a barbecue joint outside of Atlanta when my brother-in-law used up all our quarters on the Cline songs in the jukebox because he knew his Yankee family would enjoy them.

At some point, Jacob, the fiddler performed his set, playing and singing, and I’m telling you, that boy is so adorable, you would all want to eat him up with a spoon. But he plays the fiddle like a full-grown man with enough life experience to draw awe from an audience. And he and Liz played a few tunes together, including “Ashokan Farewell.” 

We opened the second half with an arrangement of “Shenendoah” that starts with a soft horn line and ends with the horns popping veins with the kind of volume you can feel in your chest, like when you’re standing on the street corner for a parade, and the base drums march by. And I have to say, from the standpoint of a participant, that was my favorite moment. 

As a listener, though, being witness to so much going on without horn parts, I’m not sure I could claim one particular favorite tune. I generally enjoy hearing and watching music performed with remarkable skill, and there was that enough to marvel at for days. And I was personally pleased I didn’t miss my pitch on a single note. I got tripped up with some exacting articulation, but in general I’d give myself a nice pat on the back for not being my usual neurotic self on stage.

Country music isn’t my preference, I’ll admit, and I will choose just about any other genre when given a choice. But this is the music of my childhood, and when I sit on stage for this event, I go straight back to my roots in my appreciation for these tunes. This is the music my father and his brothers played on their front porch in Alabama, with each boy handling a different instrument. This is the music I heard coming from the kitchen radio when I was a little girl, as my father rose before dawn to pack his carpenter-sized lunch and would listen to Grand Ole Opry as he tapped his work boots on the Linoleum. And this is the music I was taught around our piano, singing alto with my mother out of yellowed gospel song books the family had saved since their tent-meeting days in the '30s and '40s.

I’ll probably not listen to country music tomorrow when I turn on the radio or iTunes, but I'm still floating from quite a dopamine boost from Saturday's event, and I’ll look forward to putting on this show again in two years.

Here is a video of Reb singing one of her original tunes (courtesy of one of her friends):


Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

Country music isn't my preference either, but anything done well is a true pleasure. And wow! Listening to that video of Reb was amazing. I wish I was there in person. Excellent post. I kind of feel as though I was.

PF said...

Such an excellent concert...wish we would do it EVERY year! I loved it, and, yes, I may or may not have been one of the "hooters". Ha ha!!