Our friend Bill was in town last week from Paris. I love Bill. He's big—like standing next to a horse—oversized and slightly intimidating, but warm & approachable. He wasn't my friend first; I met him long ago through my partner, who had known him through theater projects. It's just a funny technicality: that I think of him as R's friend & because of that I don't rate somehow. This is not something that Bill perpetuates—it's just my paranoid fantasy. Nonetheless, it's real enough to make me slightly uneasy when he's in town because of our History.
I will explain.
I've always been musical, but in 1982, if there was anything of a musical offering in my immediate vicinity, I developed an especial and somewhat obsessive yearning to be part of it. The Bay Area was ripe with opportunity. I mean, if say, the local community college had an interesting group (it did), then why not join it? If there were half a dozen small opera companies, why not see if I could sneak in? Hell, it was the Home of Lamplighters Musical Theater!
When I first embarked on a formal music education, I had plenty of performing chops. I could act, I could dance. Stage fright was never my issue. No, no, no. Not at all. However, my stubbornly vague knowledge of keys & clefs was becoming an impediment. I learned by listening and I got cast; but deep into the opera chorus of some devilish Beethoven, in my naivete I once asked one of my sister sopranos plaintively why, if all else be presentable—pitch, clarity, tone & accuracy—should reading music be such an issue and she replied if a director had to chose between two singers of equal measure, the ability to read would be the deciding factor. I was shocked at this simple logic. And thrown into panic. I had to think fast; I wasn't getting any younger. I found that my neighbor around the corner was not only a Julliard-trained accompanist, but also a licensed hypnotherapist who could trance me out of my fear of sight-reading...why not let her put me under? And then not six blocks from my house, a voice teacher offered coaching for a reasonable price. Why not hazard some lessons?
A year or two at this, and a moment came whilst singing away at my teacher's house, her husband the conductor walking down the hall remarked 'you have a very listenable sound—you should look into the conservatory!' and my teacher grunted; yet I took him at his word & followed up on the suggestion. Auditioned & parlayed my way into the institution, even being past the age of competition of any meaningful sort, transferred everything I could from my old days at UC Berkeley, signed up for my first classes, teacher & coach. And then came up against it. There was just one teensy problem.
I flunked the musicianship entrance tests.
I was still froze up. My old teacher had been giving me Vaccai vocal exercises to learn and I had had to painfully work them out on the piano and then into a tape recorder and then listen to them over and over, and still feel wobbly at my frickin' lesson. I could & did put myself into a light trance in order to get over nausea before lessons. WTF? Damn.
Paying for bone-head, non-credit musicianship courses at the conservatory felt so...demeaning. 'Pas pour moi, mon cher!' What to do next...I went through ear-training tapes in the car. I met with a very bizarre woman who outlined her RULES before our first meeting--'five minutes LATE and the door is LOCKED'--
Here's where Bill comes in.
After R. convinced me Bill wouldn't bite, I signed on with him for weekly sessions. He took me in hand: analyzing Bach Chorales as the best possible tool for tuning the eye, the ear, the mind. A bunch of other horrifying stuff I don't remember. Chord progressions. Plagal cadences. I just recall terror. I recollect bursting into tears. And I think back & realize he was the kindest, most generous of guides. I had nothing whatsoever to fear. Ultimately, I skated through my musicianship studies by a damn thin margin, making it all up as I went along, in the same way I finagled my acceptance by pretending I never got my rejection letter. Force of Bill, if you like. Bill was my biggest cheerleader and even went on to compose a song cycle for me to present in my Senior recital as the 20th century portion of jury requirements.
So now, a couple of decades & a half later, why am I hating him?
[to be continued]