I haven’t shared anything about my playing work for quite a while. These past two weeks have been overwhelmingly busy, filled with driving and performing – three different organizations, seven venues, six separate programs, very hard music – all this to say, I’ve been drowning in repertoire and putting in hours behind the wheel for the privilege, and I have not been able to sit and write as I normally would. Heck, I haven’t even been able to lie down and sleep for seven hours as I normally would. Late nights and early mornings should not go together like this. Here’s to the return of a civilized schedule soon!
The most fascinating bit of this craziness is a snippet of music I play from offstage at Lyric Opera’s production of Siegfried. I’ve written before about the stunning experience of being behind the scenes at this fantastic organization – the attention to detail, the care and integrity from everyone I see, from the amazing and hard-working musicians to the stagehands to the extras to the cover conductor to the personnel manager. EVERYONE is working to make the Grand Opera grand, and the result is just remarkable.
My role, however, is ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this. I LOVE it.
In Act Two of the opera, Siegfried finds himself in the woods. He hears the song of a bird (played beautifully by musicians in the orchestra) and is entranced by it. He decides he wants to communicate with the bird, and cuts a reed into an instrument with which to do so. (Watch HERE from 38:00 for about 5 minutes to see the scene in question)
As a reed maker myself, I can sympathize with the challenge of creating an instrument from raw materials – out in the woods – with a magical sword as your only tool – and it is no surprise that his instrument does not give him the result he wants. On stage, Siegfried mimes a desperate attempt to play a melody on his makeshift oboe, and backstage I provide the sound effect of him doing so. I make the worst, crudest, brokenest English horn sound I can create, and limp through a version of the bird’s pretty song with it. It’s hilariously written to be not only the bird’s motive but also bravely heroic, like Siegfried, and my task is to present both elements in the most obviously failing way possible.
In other words – my role in this epic five hour journey of an opera is to BE TERRIBLE for three minutes. And it’s not all that easy.
I had to make several new reeds to get the sounds I wanted – because everything in my case was much too refined to use. I couldn’t mess up my embouchure ENOUGH to make them sound terrible. I mean, if you put me back in the orchestra and asked me to play something really delicate, I could louse that up just as well as the next person. But to be SO BAD that everyone in the large dark theater laughs out loud – that requires a very special reed.
The whole thing a little bit of a head game, honestly. I’m backstage, and all around me everyone is earnestly working on scenery, props, changes – EVERYONE is in service of the show. It’s quiet backstage – busy but wholly professional. Then I step up to the stand, I take a breath, I begin – and all heads whip around. I can sense the shock from all corners. And can almost hear the tittering in the pit. I feel like I need to wear a sandwich board with a disclaimer.
*Please note: I’m actually pretty good at this*
But all of that hilarity aside – I have had a hard two weeks but I am SO LUCKY and SO HAPPY to be making my living in this way. Great colleagues, great music, and NEVER a dull moment.
I love my life.
You can see Siegfried – not for me but for all of the other amazingness – November 3 through 16. Details HERE.