NYFOS@Juilliard Rorem Project: Post 3

Written by Steven Blier

Artistic Director, NYFOS

In category: Blier's Blog

Published January 17, 2024

We’ve had a bit of drama over the past few days. Trevor Haumschilt, the baritone in the cast, had been belting out his songs like a champ, seemingly tireless day after day. He’s a very tall guy, with a football player’s build, and he looks indestructible. Imagine my shock when he wrote yesterday morning to say that he was abruptly suffering from sharp pain in his throat, and that he’d gone to the ENT. Happily, the doctor reassured him that there was nothing serious amiss—no hint of damage—but that he’d have to be very careful in the next few days if he was to have even a chance of singing the concert on Thursday. He’s been on complete vocal rest for two days now, and he won’t really open his mouth to sing until Thursday. Today he whispered that he was feeling a little better. I smiled and said, “Good. Now shut up.”

In these situations I have a defense mechanism that keeps me from panicking: my mind becomes a kind of blank. My thoughts slow to a crawl as I consider my options. Then my other defense mechanism kicks in: a knee-jerk, childlike optimism reassuring me that everything is going to be OK. (That mental widget was on overdrive Monday night, between Trevor’s distress and Trump’s win in the Iowa caucus.)    
Who could be pressed into service, I mused, to learn two solos, two duets (one of them a rhythmic minefield) and a quartet….Well, maybe some of the cast members could deputize, having heard the music every day….     
And then it hit me. 
Baritone Andy Garland has been with us all week coaching the singers. Not only did Andy sing the original version of the show in 2013, then called Ned Is Ninety, but he just did a version of it in Boulder, Colorado where he is on the voice faculty. His presence goes beyond serendipity, all the way to miracle. The only other person in the world who knows Trevor’s music happens to be in the room with us and on salary. 
Andy sang today and sounded wonderful. My inner optimist is still insisting that Trevor will be just fine in 48 hours. But one way or the other, the show will go on. And it is a beauty—Jazmine Saunders is exquisite in all of her numbers; Kerrigan Bigelow is a fount of passion and animation; young Jack Hicks, the baby of the cast, displays a kind of eloquence that unfailingly casts a spell in the room;  Michael Butler is an artist of vocal honey and bardic delivery; and Sophia Baete—also very young in years—already has access to amazing volcanic fire and emotional depth. Our director, Jen Pitt, has found myriad ways to keep the stage alive and get the best from the cast.

I’m not the only pianist in the show: Francesco Barfoed is partnering me. He is a beautiful player, flexible, consistent, and a technical whiz. He took on the gnarliest songs and nails them every time—a colleague sent from heaven.  

PICTURED: the artist (Trevor Haumschilt) and his understudy (Andrew Garland)

Ned at 100: A Rorem Celebration will be performed at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater at The Juilliard School on Thursday, January 18, 7:30PM. Tickets and livestream available here.

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 has contributed many Song of the Day entries.


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