Claudine Jones-Scene4 Magazine

Claudine Jones

It Had've Been Marlowe

In the inexplicable turns of fate, I have encountered another musician who worked with my beloved late-great Lillian. We're in the same chorus & we were chatting about our histories.


I came to find that N not only had heard of Lillian, she pre-dated me. Heck, she almost pre-dates all of us—Susie, Michael, Kirsten, Veena—who form the core of Bay Area musicians lucky enough to find Lillian. N says that she remembers all sorts of stuff about her years with Lillian: a long ago chapter of the woman's life when she was actively performing, though it was mostly as an accompanist to her singers, or crafting wedding programs to sing & officiating as well.


That primed my pump; recollections of all those times that I went to my lesson with a recital to plan or part to coach or song cycle to run, & navigated Lillian's observations about the intrinsic quality in the pieces (or lack thereof). She loved Bernstein, for example & would sometimes spend half my lesson noodling chord progressions that she admired. I could have been more focused, I suppose, but for my part, after I had warmed up & sung what I came to sing, it was fascinating to hear her go on.


That's how I found out about her long-time lover, the Italian Count. Lillian had a tradition of going all over the globe doing Master Classes—London & Paris, Rome & Jerusalem—& of course her accommodations were included, first class all the way. On one of these trips, she met the Count. Not sure of the year, but N laughed when I mentioned it, so it was pretty early. She was a slim, classy redhead, still had all her own teeth, & he absolutely adored her, lavished her with clothes & jewelry & more shoes than Imelda, but couldn't leave his wife. When he died, she was uncharacteristically muted for a while. She wore his loving accoutrements always.


italianLillianShoescrI think the subject must have come up because of the particular shoes Lillian was wearing one day; they were pretty unique & she was not shy about getting up from the piano to show off a bit. That's another funny thing I recall: like as not, when I rang the bell & opened the door, she would be with another student, at the piano in the studio/dining room.  In that case, I would go & sit on the couch in the living room & wait, right there in full view. When that student left, Lillian didn't get up; she did the most mellifluous magnificent salutation heLOW, cloe-DEEN! (using an endearingly fakey French accent especially for me) & I came in & we were off. 


She had a tape recorder ready to accept a blank cassette if you brought one & wanted to record your lesson—a thing she strongly recommended—which I generally hated, but only because of the contrast between our voices on the tape. Back then before she reached the point that she simply couldn't do it without hurting her voice, she would do a version of you with the mistakes that your technique produced & a version of her which, of course, blew you out of the water.


It was fucking amazing to hear the difference actually. Her demonstrations often came in the form of interruptions every other bar of music. As soon as you let down, in fact. The stream of air compromised was the usual culprit. You were in your head. Thinking too much was discouraged. Hell, taking any kind of conscious breath was fanatically discouraged. You were anticipating that high note & boom! Lillian's voice would admonish you with the familiar mantra: never take a breath there is no up there is no down I can sing up here [insert stratospheric note] I can sing down here [insert a couple of octaves lower] and it makes no difference where I am there is no up there is no down.


So, yeah, it was painful to hear yourself sometimes because she made it sound so effortless. She was so ruthless in her lovely boisterous & sweet way you couldn't be mad; you only went away thinking I can do this; I just gotta try less.  I can imitate her to this day & I do, but I feel like that's cheating of a sort, & she's not around for me to ask hey, Lillian, can I be you? I think her response would be to laugh & say of course, why not? And make it a habit! Because naturally, all she was talking about were things that she had found out about her own instrument by a loose method of kinesthetic analysis over the years. It involved feeling a sort of power—leaving technique behind, tossing it away—sensing the automatic-pilot take over, watching yourself sing & being completely uninvolved in judging the outcome.


When I went to the annual chorus retreat this last weekend, I was not beset with musical heebee-jeebees as I sometimes have been. No, it was more anticipation of high-school social ostracism that I wasn't looking forward to. Although I try to be balanced, there is an exhibitionist side of my character that wants to shape the script, write the lines, form the beats which means I'm more than happy to take over the talking portion of a conversation, given half the chance. Looking around a room, making snap decisions about which table to eat at, who would linger & chat.


Or who would look straight through you & not feeling it, get up & go talk to someone she knew in the far corner, as distant as possible, like a statement of intent. R thinks that's a possible sign of psychological issues & has nothing to do with me & I tend to agree, except I let it bug me. Doesn't matter how many decades of satisfaction with life in general I have under my belt, it is still about the Great Lady.  Something I could do, but which in my mother's estimation I am too stubborn to implement, that would induce swarms of people to sit at my feet. Or at the very least, crouch on my patio.


Last night after rehearsal with fellow choristers at a local pub, I sat next to M who is the same age as I am; she's ruddy & healthy looking & went to Italy this past summer with the Tour while I was being my best self hanging out with my guy in his recuperative phase. M & I talked about the wide open field of retirement interests: I likened as how I felt done with theater auditions & such, & she replied with a sigh yes, I've done theater, yes I have. I felt a bit of a glow of companionship in the sense of belonging. I am a musichien & carry my instrument with me. I used to take it over to the house on Oxford in Berkeley every other week or so & feel that same belonging.


Lillian was a great lady, but she would never say she was. 


That's the whole point. 

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Actor/Singer/Dancer Claudine Jones has worked steadily in Bay Area joints for a number of decades.
She writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2016 Claudine Jones
©2016 Publication Scene4 Magazine




November 2016

Volume 17 Issue 6

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