The Time I Met a Famous Music Guy
When I was 20 years old, I briefly lived in Cambridge and worked at the Harvard Coop. The Coop (said like "chicken coop" though it was short for Harvard Cooperative Society) is Harvard University's student store and it has changed greatly since I worked there. It used to have a fine gifts and pen counter, where you could buy an expensive Montblanc fountain pen, it had a poster store in an annex you accessed from a skyway, and a wonderful bookstore. It also had every conceivable stationery supply you could think of, and as someone with some knowledge of calligraphy, I was allowed to be in charge of art supplies.
One day I was restocking, when I noticed an elegant, elderly gentleman studying a list in his hand and looking a bit perplexed. I went over and asked if he needed help finding anything, and directed him to the ruled legal pads he sought. But I noticed his very thick glasses and that he moved a bit delicately, so I asked if he would like me to gather the things on his list. He was grateful for the help, and after we'd accumulated his items, I opened a cash register by the front door so he wouldn't have to walk all the way to the back to be rung up. Now, if you were a grad student or faculty at Harvard, you could get a Coop Card - a charge account card - and this gentleman presented his to me. As I was imprinting the card (as we did in those days), I naively said, "Oh, that's funny - your name is Randall Thompson, just like the composer." Then as my brain began to actually process the context, I looked up at his face, his eyes large behind his lenses, and I blurted, "Wait! You're THE Randall Thompson! Oh, my god, I've sung several of your choral works, and I LOVE them!" Then I blushed and allowed that now I was acting like an idiot, and he kindly said he was delighted to have a fan. I finished my encounter with him by saying,
"Well, I'm so glad I was nice to you before I knew you were FAMOUS!"
But you know, I wasn't making it up. In high school, I sang alto in the chamber choir and we performed both the Frostiana (poems by Robert Frost set to music with a very New England sensibility) and Peaceable Kingdom that Thompson had written. They were among several choral works that still stand tall in my mind. Our choral director, John Pleasant, was partial to contemporary classical pieces (late 1800s to mid-1900s) and we sang works by Irving Fine, Samuel Barber and Gabriel Fauré and I learned so much about harmony from singing these pieces. In fact, I would say that if you wanted to learn to sing harmony, a fine starting point is to join a no-audition choral group. You'd be one of many voices on a part, so you'd get to swim with the school. And no matter whose work you sing, you will drink in harmony - and it will intoxicate you!
This last few weeks have been delightfully busy with studio work with Libby McLaren on Carmony: Learn to Sing Harmony While You Drive; we got our "level one" speaking parts recorded and will soon get onto recording our songs and their harmonies. I've also been rehearsing for an upcoming "giglet" with Fortunate Strangers at a new store/venue in Reno called Mountain Music Parlor (see below), which boasts a music store, performance space and classrooms for teaching, so if you're in the Reno area, check them out!
I also called a family dance for Sunridge School in Sebastopol, the Ukiah Contra Dance, and did a workshop at the Freight and Salvage for beginning dancers. Each of these had a distinctly different texture to them, but all were fun! I wasn't sure how the Freight workshop would go; regular Contra dances have beginning lessons, so I was prepared to find out that this was an unnecessary thing. But a few of the folks who attended who had a little previous experience said they were really helped by it, and the folks who'd never danced before said they felt braver about dancing in general. So we'll see if there are opportunities for more beginner workshops!