NYFOS@North Fork 2023: Day 5

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published August 26, 2023

I’ve just been through a couple of tough days, and was determined to turn the corner today. My wonderful Spanish teacher, Dorothy Potter Snyder, advised me to meditate. I don’t really know how to do that, but I did take a few quiet moments to grab the tiller in my psyche and attempt to aim my spirit towards harbor. I wasn’t so sure Nature would be on my side: it was supposed to rain on and off all day, and getting to the hall in my wheelchair would have been a real trial if it were really coming down. But the Almighty turned off the heavenly faucet for 20 minutes when I left the house, and obliged me with a dry ride home four hours later. Hosanna. 
In order to alleviate the exhaustion that had knocked us all out the day before, I proposed a run-through of the songs primarily for memory and staging. “Save your voices, take it easy today.” Everyone agreed. Of course, since they’re young people they would rather sing out than mark (sing half-voice) and pretty soon they were at full tilt. “I don’t really know how to mark,” said one. “I get more tired staying off the voice than singing out,” said another. And they sounded like a million dollars. 
My own agenda was simple: I wanted to connect to the music, connect to the piano, and get to the essence of each song in the simplest way possible. I get so wound up when I am rehearsing., in a mad desire to make every color, every emotion, every inner line come blazing to life. This can flood my system, especially since I am playing an instrument whose basic tone color runs from sepia to burnt umber. A piano teacher of mine once told me, “Steve, it’s as if you are trying to play ALL the notes at once.” I knew what he meant—my arm and hand were somehow attempting to execute the entire shape, the entire movement of the phrase at the same time, so that my energy was caught in a muscular traffic jam.  My college teacher, Alex Farkas, once shared something that the pianist Artur Balsam had told him, a shorthand philosophy of the keyboard: “Play, don’t play, play, don’t play.” In other words, be where you are, not tugging the hand out of where you need to be and into all the upcoming notes in the phrase. (I’m probably butchering the quote, but even the Bowdlerized version helps me.)
I wasn’t perfect today, and I won’t be on Sunday, but it was a lot, lot better. I was so relieved to be sounding like myself. Even the ancient Mason and Hamlin baby grand seemed more disposed to cooperating with me. No, it’s still not the Cary Grant of pianos, but at least more like Karl Malden than, say, Danny de Vito today. I’m hoping to keep the piano-golem out of my body for another 48 hours. 
Even after just five days the songs are starting to feel like home to all of us. It warms my heart to see how quickly the cast has taken possession of the material I chose for them, and how much they love it. Most of our energy was spent on refining the very simple staging that we’d devised in our brief rehearsal period. Shavon and Kerrigan do a little waltz in the Jerome Kern tune “I’m So Busy,” ending with a dip that faltered a couple of times but ended up looking damn spiffy; later on we needed to work out the moves in Sondheim’s “Hello Little Girl,” to position the Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood comfortably on our tiny stage. We got rid of the one platform that tipped onto its side when anyone stepped on it. We took one of Kerrigan’s songs down a step to make the lyrics easier to understand—she sounded just fine in the original key, but her voice is so resonant in its upper reaches that it was almost impossible for her to get the words out clearly through all that gorgeous tone. 
The hall was still empty, of course, but we did have one audience member: my husband Jim, who took pictures and was the most gratifying cheerleader imaginable. It was clear he was loving the music, and even in the very echo-y space he was able to catch most of the lyrics. One surprise: he had trouble understanding the first verse of our finale, “Anything Goes,” a lyric I’ve known by heart for 54 years. It hadn’t occurred to me to lean on the singers about something as familiar to me as “Happy Birthday,” so it was a good wake-up call. 
More meditation today, Steve-style, and then dress rehearsal. I get to wear my new suit, and an actual tie! I do love dressing up, even in Orient. Especially in Orient. 

Get your tickets to 100 Years of Broadway Love here! Sun, Aug 27 at 3pm, Poquatuck Hall in Orient, NY.

author: Steven Blier

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Called “the coolest dude in town” by Opera News, master collaborative pianist and coach Steven Blier is the co-founder and artistic director of New York Festival of Song. Here on No Song is Safe From Us, Steven blogs about the NYFOS Emerging Artist residencies, writes the engaging and erudite program notes for our Mainstage concerts, and contributes frequently to Song of the Day.

1 Comment

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    Can’t wait- so looking forward to this every year!


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