Shortly after meeting Gerald Martin Moore on the subway, I received an invitation from him for me and four friends to sit in a television audience for a taping of the new Sundance Channel show Spectacle with Elvis Costello. Renee Fleming and Rufus Wainwright were going to be the evening’s guests, and Gerald was going to accompany Renee when she sang Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca. I was more than thrilled for the invite. The show was to be taped in front of a live audience at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
The evening’s interview was actually very interesting. I had seen many Renee Fleming interviews before on TV and Youtube, and read her autobiography The Inner Voice front to back about four times, but never get tired of hearing what she has to say. One thing you could always count on her to speak about is the text of the music she is performing and why it is so important. Last year, Renee gave great insight to the texts and hidden meanings from Olivier Messiaen’s song cycle Poèmes pour Mi during a backstage interview given by Alec Baldwin… she never fails.
“Oh the text! I just love the text!” said Renee as she described the aria Vissi d’arte to Elvis. Her performance was extremely captivating, and until this point, I had never seen her live, so that made it even that much more special for me. The evening continued with more performances by Renee and Rufus each singing jazz, classical and folk music while giving additional interviews between each piece. Rufus eventually joined Renee on stage and complained continually about how the Metropolitan Opera, or rather general manager Peter Gelb, tried to take away his creative freedom. “They wanted my opera to be in English, but it just came out… French” said Rufus. To a question about growing up as a homosexual, he answered “Well it was just different for me, all the other boys would be playing lacrosse on the quad while I was naked in my basement wearing my mother’s pearls singing Salome” I would have given anything in the world for him to scream “Gib mir den Kopf des Jochanaan!” in Elvis Costello’s face, but alas, he didn’t. He did however hint that he was dating a sexy operatic baritone at the time who would sing the occasional Wagner aria to him.
When the taping was finally completed, my friends and I found Gerald to thank him and filed out into the street. We were met by several other students from our school and walked back to the dorms with them. Among the other group were mezzo soprano J’nai Bridges and classical pianist Sakura Myers. J’nai and Sakura had acquired tickets to the show through a friend who worked at the theatre and wanted to know how we too were able to attend the exclusive event.
When we reached our destination, we gathered in J’nai’s room to talk about the show we had just seen… J’nai lived in room 1202 and I was in 1203. I changed quickly into sweatpants and a t-shirt. When I entered 1203, J’nai was in silk leopard print pajamas and had a matching silk hair wrap on.
“Do you like black people?” Sakura asked me immediately upon my entrance.
“Umm… of course I do” I answered with a confused look “I don’t think I’d be in this room if I didn’t.” As it was I was the only person in the room whose skin resembled dusty chalk (I wasn’t getting much sun at this point).
“How would you like to go on a musical journey?” asked Sakura as she picked at her ‘fro with a comb “A cultural exploration through time by way of the rhythms and soul of Africa!”
“Sakura!” yelled J’nai “Stop right now; our new friend is never going to want to talk to us again if you keep up your behavior!”
“Oh it’s alright” I answered smiling “I’m a little curious now”
“We need new members in the Pan-African Student Union” said Sakura “would you like to join? You don’t have to be black to join”
I was actually very interested; I had attended meetings of the school’s GLBT club, but it turned out the only thing they ever did was a drag cabaret, and though I volunteered to help set up the event, no one ever called me. I couldn’t attend the student government meetings because I had ear-training at that time and as it is, I am always looking to learn more from others.
“Sure” I said “where do I sign up?”
“What’s your e-mail, I’ll send you info right now” said Sakura as she took over J’nai’s computer.
I began learning black spirituals for the concerts we would later put on, and somehow, I ended up becoming a Public Relations Coordinator for the group. Some of my duties involved helping coordinate concerts and find talent within as well as outside the school to join the group and/ or perform in our events.
I was able to get my friend Gabi Rojas to come and perform several of her dances for our fall concert. I met Gabi when I was a freshman at UNM after seeing her star in José Rivera’s References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot. We ended up in the same Stagecraft class and had to build scenery for and crew The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnik. We quickly became friends and she even convinced her mother to give me a trapeze lesson, which was terrifying, but fun. She was very well received by the PASU as well as the students and faculty who attended. Gabi later went on to gain national fame for her audition on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, and is currently dancing with the Cleo Parker Robinson Company in Denver.
My second semester in the group proved a little challenging. We were going to put on a join production called Basic Black with The Juilliard School’s Multi-cultural Youth Artist Network. MYAN was run by LeBaron McClary, a talented student in the school’s famous dance program. LeBaron had already choreagraphed several pieces for Juilliard’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration and gained great enthusiasm for his beautiful work. The students from the drama division also had amazing pieces that they had prepared for the concert. The rest of the work was on us. We had a grueling rehearsal schedule and were denied access to practice facilities at MSM due to our late requests. Most of the group rehearsals had to be at Juilliard.
I spent every weekend for about two months at The Juilliard School. We rehearsed several spirituals including Lift Every Voice and Sing which is the Black National Anthem. There was an extreme responsibility in all of us to make the performance a success. Barak Obama had just been elected President of the United States, and we wanted to show New York that we were the new generation that had elected him.
The concert proved to be a success, although there were many miscommunications along the way. I had designed a beautiful backdrop that enthused every student from both schools, but one of the coordinators just had to have special pink lights (that were impossible to find) before we could do anything about it. The backdrop was never made. Someone also failed to obtain the correct music for the orchestra to rehearse, and when they showed up at rehearsal… they had nothing to play. For J’nai’s set, she was to portray Diana Ross and two others were The Supremes. It wasn’t until the day before the concert that the girls obtained dresses. There was also a frantic display of disorganization backstage, but when the music began… we lifted our voices and sang.