Memorial Day Weekend: a signpost to vacation like pausing my library holds, arranging on-line bill pay, another storm of cottonwood pollen and another Northwest Folk Life Festival for the annals of The OK Chorale. Our first official appearance at Folk Life, fifteen years ago, was on the Intiman Stage under dramatic lighting and it gave us a rush.
I remember sitting quietly in the green room and feeling assaulted by one of the altos who was on some sort of nervous talking jag. I remember thinking that as the director, I had a responsibility to stay calm and focused—especially since the last time we sang, a physician in our group suggested I look into getting beta-blockers for myself. I was floating on a beta-blocker there in the green room and considered offering my second one to the chatty alto. Instead I told her, “I need some uninterrupted quiet,” a bold, even rude statement for me at the time.
How things have changed. We never got to sing on the Intiman (now the Cornish) Stage again. The last statement I ever made to the alto who has now thankfully left our group was, “You could have taken some responsibility for yourself.” (Pretty good story here) I no longer need beta-blockers. I don’t get nervous anymore; I get excited.
We’ve sung at the Charlotte Martin Theater where they said they had a piano and it turned out to be an old upright pushed to the edge of the stage apron and impractical for what I needed. There was a flurry to get to my car, drive to the loading area, and get my keyboard out of the truck. I wafted on like nothing had happened. That was in the beta-blocker days.
After Intiman, my favorite venue is the stage below what we –back in the 60s–called the “Food Circus” but which now is referred to as the “Center House.” The stage is officially called “The Armory Theater,” but I call it the Black Box under the Food Circus and no one knows what I mean but I say it anyway because I think they should know by now. It’s the home of the Seattle Shakespeare Company. I love seeing Shakespeare performed there and I loved singing there. The acoustics are exquisite.
The past several years we have sung in the Cornish Courtyard in the open air and the emphasis has been on audience participation. I love being at the keyboard as I was yesterday with the Chorale on risers above me because I can see their faces and watch them sing. Another thing that has changed over the years is that we have somehow acquired Pitch and can go a cappella without a downward slide. I stopped the accompaniment many times and enjoyed what we all created together this quarter.
All Present spring quarter has also ended: I’m about to begin three weeks in England; something I have looked forward to for six years, ever since I got back the last time. At our last song circle I wished I could take our little group of singers with me.
It’s more than sentiment. Part of the richness of All Present—to me–is the hovering presence of death. I get to know the singers who come to All Present and they get into my heart. It reminds me a little of teaching pre-school. The folks in All Present have a joie de vivre and an openness that enchant me the way my preschoolers did many years ago. But little children leave for the great adventure of their lives.
In All Present we watch them decline and then we lose them to hospitals, to memory units, to death. It can happen so fast. One day they are there, vibrant and smiling and then they don’t come back. They take something of me when they go and I never know what that will be until they’re gone.
Bob in All Present has dementia. Two years ago he and his wife Ilana danced at one of our concerts when The OK Chorale and All Present combined to sing “Shall We Dance?” It was one of the highlights of the show. Then Ilana’s body almost folded in two from M.S. She came with Bob using a walker, and then a wheelchair. The two of them propped each other up at home, struggling with their health.
Months passed and Ilana came out of the wheelchair, and then she moved without a walker. This past week she was steady and light on her feet. As we sang our way through our songbook we got to “Shall We Dance?” Our last song circle for spring quarter ended with Bob and Ilana dancing together again.
“Shall we then say good night but mean goodbye? . . .
On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen,
Shall we dance, shall we dance, shall we dance ?