Monday, September 9, 2013

The Art Deco Society of Virginia's Gatsby Afternoon Picnic

I held my tongue from yelling out, "Yes, we have no bananas!" at the ukulele player on stage, a cowardice that would follow me for the later part of the afternoon but would be greatly redeemed in the early evening by a ragtime piano player from Charlotte.  By that time the Art Deco Society's 2nd Annual Gatsby Picnic was winding down and most all of the Costumed attendees had packed up their baskets and left, the exception being my wife and I, a writer for a local magazine, and a few couples enjoying a last minute game of Croquet at the front of the house.  This left the dance floor wide open for us and the writer.  There I was keeping rhythm by clanking two empty champagne bottles together in my right hand while sipping a plastic flute of Moscato with my left and watching my wife tap dance on stage while singing along to "We're in The Money" in Pig Latin, just like Ginger would have done.  If it hadn't been a humid 90 plus degrees outside and the alcohol hadn't sweated straight through to my linens then we may have had a honest to God Scott and Zelda send off, but luckily we kept it together through the last few numbers.  We sang our songs and danced our dances, I even got to unbutton a few buttons, hold up my plastic and shout out that Yes indeed, we have no bananas.  The perfect ending to a 1920s morning.

We arrived at the Wilton House and Museum at One O'Clock, two hours into the picnic.  We had been delayed because, not having time to shop, I had to piece together a costume by going through my own collection.  It was then that I realized that all of my 20's era clothing are formal wear and none of it casual or summer appropriate, "We need to update our vintage duds, baby." Is how my wife put it, and I agreed but we had no time, so I put together a shirt and old linen pants, and what I lacked in specifics and accouterments I made up for with a tiny Tom Buchanan mustache.  As usual my skill with facial hair maintenance saved the day though proved unnecessary because upon arriving to the event the very first vendor was a straight razor barber.  He set up two chairs at the end of a walkway just beyond a slight field just big enough for two groups to play Croquet.  Beyond that was the Wilton House, a monument to 1750s Georgian style architecture, sitting on a wide hill overlooking a bluff.  As we rounded the house the hill was revealed and much to my surprise there sat dozens of happy pinic-ers all in full dress.

Looking down from the steps of the house parasols and blankets dotted the green grass like a perfect Sunday in the park with George.  Men wearing ties and women in fine dresses played and laid and drank and dined, and all in hats of course, in fact more than one conversation turned to the pleasantries of a good hat and how we should all wear them all the time, a welcome conversation to thin haired men like myself.

After a tour of the museum, a game of Croquet, and a visit to the photo booth, we relaxed on the grass for a few drinks and a pasta salad I put together that morning.  Sitting on that blanket was a most wonderful afternoon listening to songs that I love and hearing the sounds that I adore, birds chirping and champagne corks popping, it was a day of pure decadence in the perfect Deco surrounding. The performances were charming and scholarly my favorite being a ukulele singer I was increasingly jealous of with each ragtime arrangement he strummed through and sang, I wanted to ask him for lessons but I didn't get the chance, perhaps I missed my calling as a "Broadway Troubadour," something to remember for the next time around.  Sitting there happily with my wife smiling ear to ear I couldn't help but think that just maybe when we get another shot at this life, perhaps it doesn't have to be in the uncertain future, but maybe life does find it's way back around again and I could be born into the life I was meant for all along, I don't know where exactly I wold be, but I know it would look an awfully lot like this.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

RRMC Early Music Workshop - Part Two: Lunch

My wife and I arrived at camp the first day just about lunch time, and after a brief tour, met with the rest of the staff and participants in the dining hall where most of them were already enjoying an assembly line of quesidillas and an assortment of hot tea and flavored water.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate was the phrase, and I certainly did.  The first thing you learn stepping off a plane in Colorado is that thin air and dry heat are not a myth, so chapped lipped and winded we joined the line for our first meal.  The dining hall was set up with several long cafeteria style tables leading up to a stage where performances were to take place most nights while we were on site.  At the beginning of the first table were displayed three rows of name tags and a box of lanyards.  Each name tag with a participants name, place of origin, and instrument listed in that order for easy friend making.  There was Katy Dee, New York, Flute - Sue Ann Flecher, Colorado, Dulciean -  Chad Buckles, Montana, Viola de Gamba - and me - Nicholas Batten, Virginia, Family.  "don't knock it," I said to Lana Dalbee, Montana, Violin, "not a lot of people play the Family these days."  She looked past me at a pitcher of Vitamin enriched Agave water, I passed it to her and sat down.

"Oh, you studied Art History at University," remarked a a Baroque treble Viola player originally from New Jersey, "how brave!" 
I agreed, I had a good time,  I told her. 
 "I mean, with the job market and all…" she continued but I stopped participating, not because I didn't welcome the conversation but because my attention had been stolen by an older couple on the other side of the table.  The woman touched my arm with a "how interesting" squeeze and I knew I was in for a test, it's always the same, 
"oh, have you seen blank? in blank? or is it blank? it's been so long since I've been in blank!"
"who is the guy who made blank?"
"can you explain how a low relief works?"
"what is the process of a casting like that one there?"
"I don't believe you didn't study So and So"
It's a conversation that I don't hate, in fact its a great ice breaker and makes for fun banter, but it's also a conversation that I have always been terrible at.  Terrible because I'm terrible with people, and I was a terrible student, though it did, in this case, find us all at a common ground, and also distracted the table from discussing my further job prospects.  But soon I was running out of things to impress old people with so i deftly turned the discussion back to music.  I think I said something like, "oh, there is a beautiful Vivaldi Museum in Venice right near where they filmed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade!" and then dipped out to the salad bar to watch from afar as the table lit up discussing the finer points of the baroque for the first time, while I turned to the pasta salad and discussed to myself the finer exploits of one Dr. Henry Jones Jr.  One meal down, fourteen to go.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RRMC Early Music Workshop - Part One: Introductions and the Moose

"The first thing you need to know about the Rocky Ridge Early Music Center and Baroque workshop is that if you have any food in your cabins or in your cars, anything at all, it needs to be taken to the dinning hall area and left there, or else the bears will find it and take it.  Any trash can be disposed of in the dumpsters at the entrance to the site, or the kitchen trash cans, we definitely don't want any food stuffs or banana peels left in the cabins over night."

this is where I joined the conversation.

"well of course we wouldn't want the bears to slip and fall."

There was a slight pause, and only a slight pause.  I surveyed the crowd for at least a smirk but nobody was giving me anything back, maybe Baroque music nerds don't have a sense of humor about bears, or maybe I mumbled, but either way this was my introduction to the first ever class of participants in the Rocky Ridge Music Centers Baroque music program.  

Made up of about 16 bright eyed and diverse musicians from across the United States coming from as far as a flutist from New York City, and my wife and I from Richmond Virginia.  Though myself excluded from the 16, for I was only along as a spectator, and auditor, a tag-a-long as is my lot in life, whereas my wife Jessica was there as a practicing Soprano in the rough and tumble world of professional Sopranos.  The perk for me was the traveling, countless trips to New York and other cities for auditions and performances, recently taking us as far as Milwaukee, and now here in Estes Park Colorado, home to the historic Stanley Hotel of Stephen King fame, and of course the Rocky Ridge Music Center.  The RRMC was by far the most remote and serene location I have ever been to in the states, and the highest I've ever been to boot, in actual feet that is.  On top of that it is the first and maybe premier musical workshop where the threat of bears is a primary concern, though to be fair the word "threat" was almost always followed by the words "of seeing" or by the act of "food stealing' and never of actual attack or bodily harm.  In one story told over lunch a veteran of the area relayed the event where a black bear opened a students car door, found and ate a chocolate bar, and left leaving the empty wrapper on the seat and the door ajar.  This sounded more like the handy work of a clever harpsichordist to me but, she was there, so I believe her.  

What I found most upsetting about the opening wildlife safety lecture wasn't that the Black Bear presence was almost constant in the park, but that the Grizzly presence was absolute zero. Here I was for the first time in my life out of cuddly Black Bear country and almost 2,000 miles over and 8,000 feet up into flesh ripping Grizzly territory, only to be placed in a cabin surrounded by chocolate stealing Black Bears.  What made the realization worse was thinking about the wasted hours i spent preparing for my trip practicing my bear encounter technique.   BLACK BEAR: hands in the air, look big and scream!  GRIZZLY BEAR: play dead… and also probably scream.

Other than the threat of seeing a bear near the cabins we also were informed of exotic birds, Elk, Chipmunks, Squirrels, and Bats (remember Bats, they will be important later in the story.)  Mostly all small critters which we were familiar with in Virginia, but then there was the legend of the First Aid Supervisor who claimed to come across a Moose drinking from a creek that ran along the boarder of the campus.  The office workers and the grounds Keeper Mike both claimed that the woman was mistaken, not being familiar with theses parts of the country, and shook off the idea that someone would actually mistake an Elk or a deer with a Moose as absurd.  This became a subject of much debate over the last season, and the staff this year seemed to imply that perhaps the Moose sighting was an invention with a purpose to draw attention, but this season the First Aid lady was no longer on campus to defend herself, so it was left at that. 
The story of the Moose I found most exciting because my small living space just happened to be the same one in which the fabled Moose sighting took place.  We were located on the second floor of the main office with a small deck overhanging each side, one of which hung right above the bordering creek where the sighting took place.  Upon moving into our new space I was assured by the lady in the office that I would "see some cool stuff" if I spent a good deal of my time sitting out on the deck, which I assured her I would be doing plenty of seeing as I was spending a week on top of a mountain, with no internet or cell phone service, at a musical festival specifically geared toward a period of music and scholarship of instruments which I had zero formal training or knowledge of (Upon telling her that though I was not classically trained I did play guitar, bass, Uke, Banjo, and other things, her reaction was "oh, my son likes that Rock N Roll stuff.")  

         So there I was living in a cabin which carried only, other than the bed, an upright piano and for some reason a Foosball table, neither of which I excel at solo.  If perhaps I had someone to play right field, or someone to play left hand i would have had my week planned for me, but alas, it was just me, a lonely Rock n Roller in a world of Early Music Specialists and obsessives.  I seemed to be destined to sit alone on that over hanging back deck staring out into that bubbling creek and waiting for that mysterious, elusive, and possibly fictional Moose.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Virginia Opera - Opera in the Park 8/31/2013

On Saturday evening I settled into the couch for what would be the beginning of what normal working folks might call a "three day weekend." I flipped through my Netflix queue and having exhausted a majority of viewing options, decided to finally cave in and watch the first season of Breaking Bad. The award winning and massive hit of a show was just nearing its finally few weeks and, having started and stopped watching the first episodes three times now, I was finally determined to catch up in time for series finale. You see, for me, a holiday weekend doesn't mean much. I worked Saturday morning and I would be working that Monday afternoon which was not far from the norm, though also I am no stranger to a three day vacation, seeing as after that Monday afternoon shift my next one wasn't until Thursday evening, meaning I had plenty of time to get through four or five seasons of Breaking Bad before the final episode as long as i started right away. That is when my wife entered the room. She was holding in both hands her opened lap top, and without a word placed it in my lap and pointed at the screen. TONIGHT 7:30 - 9:30 pm, FIRST ANNUAL OPERA IN THE PARK. I checked my phone for the time, it was 6:30, and from my apartment to the park is about a 15 minute walk. I decided quickly that Breaking Bad would just have to wait a few more hours, and we set into motion immediately, hesitating only to discuss wither we should drain a bottle of Prosecco into a water bottle or into ourselves before heading to the show, we decided on a water bottle, and grabbing a blanket were out the door. and this was the beginning of our adventure.

 About a half a block from the front door of our apartment we were crossing a one way street when without warning over the rooftop of an around the corner coffee shop swooped a low flying Bald Eagle! Live and in the flesh it glided slowly and lowly, just over our heads, i felt like i could reach up and pluck a feather from its tail to wear in my hat, and it disappeared on what must have been the canopy over our back deck. A giant and truly majestic looking creature surly does not exist in the city of Richmond Virginia we each thought silently as we turned toward each other, jaws hanging wide, and could do nothing in reaction but high five. 

The Event took place at Dogwood Dell, a 2,400 seat open air amphitheater in the heart of Byrd Park, where on each fourth day of July flocks of Richmonders swarm to watch the fireworks, and the rest of the year mostly remains empty. That night was a different story, it was what they hoped would be the first annual Opera in the Park event, and somehow went almost unnoticed by my wife and I who happen to be, especially her, somewhat plugged in to the local Opera scene. Luckily the rest of the city did not have the same problem because the turn out was inspiring. I should know by now that my city is hugely supportive and Arts-Interested, but part of me still always expects these things to flop, though they almost always are rousing successes, this being one of those times. Even with the storm clouds circling over head, and the occasional leaping lightening bolt just beyond the stage, the seats were completely full and the blankets and beach chairs stretched far back into the park itself.

We arrived just as the MC was introducing the conductor for the event, his joke was something to the effect of, "the conductor for the night will not be me… and you should be glad for it!" which stared things off with a pleasant patter immediately followed by an excited applause as the conductor and first violin took the stage. The evening was quickly introduced as a selection of pieces from the upcoming season of Virginia Opera, and after a brief tuning they were off. The first piece was an aria from the opera Carmen which started things off with a whisper, though a galloping one. The Virginia Symphony was fluid and the singer was lovely though i could help but think about all that is lost in translation in the concert setting. If only the crowd here could feel and see the energy in the actual performance of the song, then perhaps skeptics would be swayed from what was actually lost in literal translation, here it was just a beautiful song preformed professionally, I was starting to feel a bit worried as I do at the opera concerts, but i quickly was proven wrong, as the next aria was one of Ford's from the Verdi opera Falstaff, and it was put forth with full drama and expert acting. It was a heavy second number which juxtaposed perfectly with the lighter and faster Carmen aria before it. Doing this they managed to set forth the range of emotion which the music strives to achieve, and I, feeling fully comforted, laid back on the blanket and closed my eyes.

I never felt more interesting or culturally significant than lying on that stretched out blanket in my cut off jean shorts among a sea of old squares, listening to opera and snacking on a left over bag of Jet Blue pretzels from another recent Opera related excursion. A moment that really didn't translate into Instagram, though try as i did. 

The next few numbers were sure crowd pleasers, the Virginia Opera Chorus came out and preformed the always exciting Anvil Chorus described by the host as a favorite of fans of the Marx Brothers, followed by something from the Magic Flute which they hoped would act as the "family friendly" Opera of the season. This was followed by the famous sextet from Don Giovanni whose introduction achieved the usual giggles from opera lovers, especially when accompanied by the word "sextet." Bunch of nerds… We were right at home.

As satisfied as i was after that first half of the show, it was after the intermission where the emotions started to flow. They kicked it off with the instrumental of the aptly introduced "Kill, Kill the Wabbit" song, then moved into a series of songs from the stage of musical theatre, and oddly enough this is where I personally was most effected. The three tenors preforming that night each had perfect control over their instruments and were effortless performers which really shone in songs from Sweeny Todd and South Pacific (which was a favorite of my wifes late Grandfather, who used to roll around in his wheel chair ominously singing "Bali hiiiiiiiii" ) But it was a pinpoint perfect rendition of Agony from Sondheims "Into the Woods" which I will remember most from the evening, a song that is, in performance, one of the hands down funniest moments in theater of any kind, but in this setting was so emotional and heart breaking. The sheer perfection of harmony in the dual melodies and the precise word choice in the writing in a concert setting is really put into the forefront and the songwriting alone was enough to send a tear down the cheek, it might have been for the music alone, but what can i say, I fucking Love Sondheim. Breaking Bad just didn't seem so exciting after the show was over, maybe next week.