If life is supposed to take you full circle, then my life is definitely a giant loop, always under reconstruction, with two ends as far away from each other as can be, linked by a thousand smaller “full circles”.
On Saturday, I went to meet J’nai Bridges at Penn Station so we could travel to a concert together that our friend, pianist Sakura Myers was playing at in Brooklyn. I woke up and left my apartment early so I could walk around the city a while before her train got in. When I did arrive at Penn Station, I realized that her train from Philadelphia was running late. With nothing to do but wait, I walked around the rotunda and stopped in the various shops designed for the busy on-the-go suburban commuter… you know, the ones that carry a hundred different kinds of fishnet stockings, perfume and “massage oils”. I guess days at the office are truly unpredictable. Unlike Grand Central Station with it’s visually arresting ceiling and high-end shops and restaurants, there is nothing particularly interesting about Penn Station, and because of that you seem to notice more about the people around you. I listened to my iPod while I window shopped and people watched, and, realizing that I was now walking around listening to “One Day More” from Les Miserables with the upmost serious gaze on my face, I looked around myself and realized that about 80% of the people around me were also listening to music. I tried to glance at each of these people who, with their stone cold expressions of “I’m more important that you are” scurried past me with determination. I also realized that I was probably not the only one who was listening to something completely and utterly ridiculous. I imagined the blonde in the red patent leather stilettos listening to Madonna’s Immaculate Collection while the obese man in the gray pinstriped suit was dancing in his head to “Bad Romance”.
When J’nai’s train did arrive I expected us to quickly run and catch the subway to Brooklyn.
“Sakura wants a sandwich” said J’nai.
“OK- there’s a bunch of places around the corner.”
“This looks dry, this looks gross, and this… this just won’t do” mumbled J’nai while examining the choices at one of the food shops.
“So how are you?” I asked. J’nai is now finishing her second year (and taking an optional third) as a Master’s student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Miss Bridges just won an encouragement award through the Mid-Atlantic Region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions at the Kennedy Center in DC, sang Elgar’s “Sea Pictures” with the New Jersey Symphonic Orchestra and is performing the role of Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo next month at Curtis under the baton of George Manahan… needless to say, she’s been a busy girl.
“Good” she said with an excited smirk on her face. The following words out of her mouth unfortunately have to remain a secret until further notice, but what I can say is, this girl is going places, and you will definitely want to stay tuned.
When J’nai finally found a sandwich suitable enough (aka edible) we grabbed Sakura some flowers and made our way to the A train only to enter the same subway car as Sakura.
“Of course” said Sakura as we joined her “only in New York… so glad you could make it.”
“And I thought we were late” I joked.
“Girl if you ever make your Carnegie Hall debut…” mused J’nai.
“I’m camping out across the street” replied Sakura.
J’nai then quickly and effectively applied Sakura’s makeup on the train while I unsuccessfully tried to hide her flowers from view. The concert venue was, The First AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church in Brooklyn and yes I was the only person at the concert who wasn’t of color. It has been through my many experiences with J’nai and Sakura that wiped away any awkward feelings I may have previously had in such a situation.
The concert centered around former Metropolitan Opera soprano Priscilla Baskerville with Sakura playing as a guest artist in the middle of her program. The concert was an interesting experience, and gave me another glimpse at what outreach truly is. In the back of my mind I had always understood and experienced outreach as a means to get children interested in classical music, and had never really thought about how adults, who had already developed their own musical tastes could react so positively to this medium. The members of the congregation who attended weren’t instructed to wait until between sets of music to clap, nor were they chastised or given a signal to stop by the artist. She simply acknowledged their obvious enjoyment of the music and not wanting to seem ungrateful of the perfomance, J’nai and I joined in the applause… after every piece. Nobody even seemed to mind when a custodian strolled along a balcony above the altar to turn on a giant light-up cross, they just continued to let themselves be moved by the music.
Maybe that’s one of the problems with classical music. We try to disband the pre-conceived notion that the recital hall or opera house is strictly for the stuffy and well-educated individual, but we still expect everyone among us at such events to fully understand so many rules of etiquette.
After a delightful afternoon of hearing Sakura play Rachmaninov, Chopin and Joubert, as well as hearing Miss Baskerville enchant the audience with art song, Negro spirituals and an encore performance of “Io son l’umile ancella” from Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, we made our way to the adjacent parish hall for the reception. I was more than thrilled to discover that the afternoon’s festivities were being catered with fried chicken, hush puppies and every kind of chicken, tuna, macaroni and potato salad you could imagine. After we finished, I grabbed one of J’nai’s bags and we made our way towards an exit. As we re-enterred the sanctuary, one of Sakura’s friends asked if J’nai could sing something for her.
“How about the lullaby?” suggested Sakura, referring to the lullaby from Richard Danielpour‘s opera Margaret Garner, this was the piece I first heard J’nai Bridges sing, about two hours after we met in a practice room at the Manhattan School of Music.
The opera Margaret Garner is the tragic true story of an Ohio slave who tried to escape to freedom with her family. When they were caught, Margaret killed her two year old daughter to prevent the child from having to be returned to slavery. The trial provided the question of whether or not Margaret be tried for murder, like that of a free person, or for the destruction of her owner’s property. Margaret was not immediately tried for murder, and was sent back as a slave to her former master. By the time she was to be tried for the murder, she and her husband had been sent to work in New Orleans and subsequently seemed to disappear from the judicial radar. Those who have had the pleasure of hearing Richard Danielpour’s beautifully tragic setting of Margaret’s story would agree that his haunting melodies deserve widespread exposure.
J’nai is one of the most beautifully poised people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and as she opened her mouth to sing the lilting phrase “sleep in the meadow, sleep in the hay, baby’s gonna dream the night away” with it’s elegant and jazzy vocal line, I wasn’t necessarily taken back to that little practice room like I expected. Instead, I saw a future star standing in front of me, shining in creating a simple, unrehearsed, yet fully meaningful experience alone in a large dark church for an audience of three people. No I wasn’t taken back; I was humbled and taken forward, because not everyone gets to see a star being born the way I get to. As she hummed the final line, I realized that, for me at least, I had completed yet another one of those beautiful small circles that color the vibrant tapestry of my life.