Tag Archives: Dr. Everett McCorvey

A Marvelous Party

“I have been to a marvelous party.”

Thus wrote/sang/chanted Noel Coward in 1938 and I lived it last Saturday night.

The “marvelous party” was “Encore”, ostensibly a fund-raiser for OperaLex to raise money to support the Opera Program at the University of Kentucky.

What it was, in practice, was a resounding celebration of much that is special about living in the Bluegrass.

To begin with, it was Keeneland, in May; intoxicatingly green, lush, and bursting with life…or at least the assurance of life after Derby.

Then there was the 1938 Rolls Royce convertible just inside the entrance. Is that what it takes to get a good parking space?

Then there was the wine-tasting (thank you Liquor Barn) and the mingling of Lexington’s arts supporters with the singers/students/nascent citizens of the UK Opera program. Seeing Houston Tyrrell (you’ll see him next in GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING) discussing the merits of a box of stunning South American red wines with Ben Kaufmann (you saw him in last year’s GRAND NIGHT) was jarring. I’m not completely convinced of who was advising whom, but the entertainment value…priceless.

And then the dining room; it was a palace of glassware, auguring well for the meal to come.

From the stage, Jenna Day came back from her home in Los Angeles to guide us through the evening and share her passion for this program and these students. She introduced Dr. Everett McCorvey and Dr. Tedrin Lindsey.

The spirit in the room got higher and higher;

  • Tedrin’s program for the evening included selections from the past season; LA TRAVIATA, SHOWBOAT, and BOUNCE the basketball opera.
  • Cameron Mills’ and Rex Chapman’s delight for being in the room was obvious and incandescent.
  • The passion and the talent of the singers could not be resisted.
  • Tshegofatso Clement Baloyi broke everyone’s heart with his “Ole Man River”
  • Michael Preacely and Taylor Comstock delivered world-class performances and inspiring personal stories.
  • Jessica Bayne defined class for us all.
  • Emilia Bustle charmingly explained to us that “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” isn’t what a girl supposes.

These young people come to the University of Kentucky to sing and learn to sing and learn to teach others to sing. Tell me again how Lexington, and Kentucky, and the planet is not made better by that. They are with us for two, three, four, five years. They and Lexington are made better by their time here. It is a kind of gardening of talent, and scholarship, and citizenship. Saturday’s Encore event was a kind of harvesting and renewing of that gardening.

Next year, I propose we measure the height of every participant as they enter the event, and again as they leave. I’m convinced that everyone is two inches taller for having been there.

Get It Right

There was an OperaLex Board meeting tonight.

We meet in the Schmidt Vocal Arts Center at the University of Kentucky, which is also where this year’s cast of It’s a Grand Night for Singing rehearses. After my meeting, I slipped in to watch and listen to a bit of their rehearsal.

These are early rehearsals, devoted to learning the music before the choreographer comes in next week.

Dr. Everett McCorvey was conducting the rehearsal. Two evenings ago, Dr. McCorvey was awarded UK’s highest academic award by the president of the university. Tonight he’s guiding about 30 young singers through the intricacies of the Great American Popular Songbook. The passion and the pride is the same for each night – his and the young singers. It’s the same passion and pride he’s brought to this production and these singers every year since 1993. I’ve witnessed it myself every year.

Dr. McCorvey took a moment to explain to the cast that the geezer that just sneaked in was harmless. One lady in the alto section mentioned that in the second year of Grand Night, I had sung “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” to her daughter, and that her daughter was now 29. There’s a special place in Purgatory for people like her.

They were working on “Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity.

Everett stopped the rehearsal to point out that in measure 89 (of several hundred measures), the staccato was on the first beat only. The rest of the measure was rhythmically smooth. He then ran the passage three times to emphasize the rhythm and get it right.

Get it right.

One measure out of hundreds – get it right.

Not just on a solo when everyone is watching you, but in a chorus, perhaps in the background – get it right.

Not just when it matters – it always matters – if you know what “right” is, get it right.

Not just in loud places, not just in quiet places, not just in public, not just in private, not just in the Schmidt Center, not just in Lexington, not just in Washington, not just today…

…everyday…

…it always matters.

If you know what “right” is, get it right.

That’s what the arts can teach us…and I fear we are in sore need of that teaching these days.

Olympic Thoughts in the Bluegrass

Olympic thoughts for my friends in Frankfort.

Arirang.

Korea’s historic anthem.

Very cool and mightily moving.

But…

In Kentucky, we have artists as well, and they have things to say.

We have Jean Ritchie…and Zoey Speaks…and Dwight Yoakum…and Everett McCorvey.

We have Michael Shannon…and Ashley Judd…and Joe Montgomery…and Jennifer Lawrence.

We have Frank X. Walker… Robert Penn Warren …Charles Edward Pogue…and George Ella Lyon.

We have storytellers…and stories…and dreams…and hopes……and more than a few suggestions.

Throw them away, ignore them if you will. Discard them, and discard a path to success – a path to wonder.

Yes, it’s useful and good to pursue and master the employable skills of today.

But why?

In the theatre, we consider the whence, the whither, and the why; whence have we come, whither are we going, and why are we making the journey. These questions match up remarkably with Kentucky’s historic place in the life-arc of our nation. Great questions and great possibilities have flowed through Kentucky, why should today be different?

…only if we continue to choose to be small…

The arts can provide the “why”.

There is a saying;

“If you have two pennies, spend one for bread and one for wine; the bread so you can live, and the wine so you will want to.”

The arts are the second penny.

Spend it.

Verdi and an Unexpected Question

Verdi and an Unexpected Question

Sometimes I find myself in the middle of something wonderful and BAM! It suddenly dawns on me I’m in the middle of something wonderful.

This can often happen in a theatre rehearsal, occasionally several times in one evening.

It’s always jarring, sometimes scary, and always to sought again and again.

Today, it happened at lunch

I attended a preview luncheon for UKOT’s production of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA.

  • Portofino’s served a fine meal – check.
  • I got to chat with one of the best actors in the area; Tom Phillips – check.
  • The room was packed – check.
  • Everett McCorvey gave an update on UKOT’s activities;
    • LA TRAVIATA opening next week.
    • BOUNCE the basketball opera opening with a world premiere in Lexington in November (opera/basketball/Lexington – talk about the “best of all possible worlds”).
    • SHOWBOAT in the spring.
    • The opera outreach program has booked two shows (schoolchildren K-8) in over 50 venues throughout the state.
    • Singers being recruited to Lexington from all over the planet and accomplished singers and citizens being exported all over the planet. We are infesting the planet with remarkable young people.
  • Check, check, check, check, and CHECK!

Then three of those young performers blew the luncheon-ers and the walls of the room away with excerpts from LA TRAVIATA. Thabang Masongo was confident and polished. Jessica Bayne was passionate and vulnerable. Michael Preacely was gigantic and……Michael Preacely!

And the music of Verdi is sublime and emotional and important on a cellular level.

All of these delights and miracles were expected.

What was unexpected was a question from one of my tablemates, a first-time attendee of these luncheons; “Obviously, these singers come to UK with a gift. What does the opera program do to enhance that gift?”

Everett answered with an impressive description of the instruction and coaching that each student receives. Michael spoke of being taught to apply the facts of instruction to the acts of performance. Jessica spoke of the variety of instructors and the nurturing ambiance of the UK opera community.

I thought of two things I have watched Everett instill in students for 26 years.

  • “Participation” means more than signing the guest book. It means coming to class/rehearsal/performance having practiced and being prepared to share that practice/improvement immediately and eagerly.
  • Our students believe they belong in every room and have a contribution to make in every room. The room may or may not be about them, but they are prepared and confident and competent to make any room better.

BAM!

Something wonderful.

And I’m living in the middle of it in my home town.

A Geezer Remembers a Grand Night

GN 02In Lexington, the University of Kentucky’s extraordinary Opera Program has for the last 26 years staged an extraordinary event; “It’s a Grand Night for Singing”. Over a thousand people a night for two weeks assemble to hear remarkable voices sing Broadway/Hollywood/Billboard tunes. It’s supported by an orchestra and choreographed by a team of Broadway-seasoned professionals. It’s a startling evening. You just don’t expect this level of performance, energy, and talent from a basketball school. It’s a great tribute to Dr. Everett McCorvey who conceived the idea and has nurtured it through two-and-a-half decades and a couple of generations of participants.

I have been fortunate to have been a participant in this event a number of times. In fact, I think I may hold the record for having the most numbers cut from “Grand Night”. Hey, the standard’s high.

My friend, Dr. Tedrin Lindsay, has been a featured performer in this event for 20+ years. His piano-playing is energetic and passionate, yes. But he is also a man of great imagination and this shines forth in his performances. This is what live performance is about.

Tedrin has posted some of his remembrances of “Grand Night” moments.

May I indulge in one myself?

For the third year of “Grand Night”, Everett asked me to be part of a quartet of singers to sing a medley from “Kismet”; And This is My Beloved/Baubles, Bangles and Beads. I had never met my fellow singers until I arrived at my first rehearsal for the number in Everett’s old studio, the studio that was 80% piano. We crowded in; Everett, Cliff Jackson on the piano, and singers Angelique Clay (soprano), Phumzile Sojola (tenor), and a young bass from Louisville whose name evades my geezer memory.

We rehearsed for about an hour. My fellow singers didn’t sing to me, they sang through me. I had never heard so much sound in my life. You could see the sound in that little room. After the rehearsal, I crossed the street to the Medical Center for an MRI to confirm that all my major organs were intact and in their proper places.

I was in heaven.

I was singing these stunningly beautiful songs with these crazy talented singers in front of an orchestra for a thousand people a night…in a tux no less.

Just kill me now.

After the show, I asked my wife if she liked the number. She replied; “Were you in that one?”

Everyone’s a critic.