The following few posts are from our final couple of Norway years, and from the chapter in Global Mom entitled “Song of Norway.” It took time, work, and lots of support from family and gifted musician friends, but building a musical career in Norway was getting some serious traction. Slippery traction at times. But a grip, nonetheless.
From Global Mom: A Memoir
“Wouldja listen to me? Whatever you do, do not do weddings.”
The brunette soprano in fishnets and a body microphone was schooling me, wagging her polished pointer finger my direction. We were in our dressing room between the acts of the Tuesday matinée at the Westchester Broadway Theater, a bunch of the cast half in costume, half in costume change, chatting about agents, 8×10 headshots and all the details of musical theater careers.
“No fun’rals, eethah,” piped in the fiery belter with a red wig and a killer Bronx accent. “Soon’s ya go Equity, mine as well stay outta churches altagethah.”
Translated, that meant that as soon as you were a member of Actor’s Equity, the union for professional stage actors, all that kind of work – funerals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clam bakes – was beneath you, even illegal, a breech of your Equity contract. When you got your union membership card, my theater friends agreed, you do the Big Time, nothing else but. This was our solemn sister’s pact.
Now what could I do with this fancy schmancy Equity card of mine? The one right there, tucked in the pocket of my fleece-lined anorak? I’d left that fledgling theater trajectory to follow my husband’s career and, I’d hoped, to offer a big world to our little family. But now I was frozen in my tracks, literally and professionally. My identity was in crisis. Last thing I’d heard, though, there weren’t any Big Times coming any time soon to my tiny island.
No funerals. No weddings. No clam bakes. No gigs underneath a hyacinth trellis with a Latvian accordion player doing Lionel Ritchie. And like the Bronx gal had said, I had to stay out of churches altogether.
So what did I do? I started singing in every last church in sight.
. . .What did I sing, with whom and where? Let’s just say the range was eclectic. Among the most memorable holiday gigs was Händel’s “Messiah”, staged in a dilapidated barn hidden deep in the mountains. A glacial manger. The small baroque choir and we the soloists stamped boots in brittle straw covering the upper loft of this barn where we crowded together, trying to generate some heat without utterly desecrating Händel. Our vibratos were like machine guns. Our faces were tinged with smoke and our hair almost ignited by the small live torches we were given for heat as much as for light, since there was no electrical source but for the shizzing generator into which a Yamaha keyboard, our only accompaniment, was plugged.
I was so jittery, a sympathetic audience member, an older gentleman with a beard to his belt, lent me his floor-length, fur-lined World War II army coat. Then he tossed me his hat. The costume kept me from getting whiplash or chipping my incisors from all the chattering, although strangely, I did expect every one to salute me when I finished.
Talk about atmosphere. All that candle light and singed hair, that residual laryngitis and my walking pneumonia until April. Still, I smile when I recall how the legs of the keyboard began shaking then slowly folding in on themselves, and neither the pianist, still pounding away, nor the vocalists, still singing, missed a beat. The keyboard sank to the floor, the conductor crouched following his fingers, the closest baritone scrambled to his knees to recover the conductor’s sheet music flying all over the place, our voices mounted higher as we neared the dramatic end of the chorus, until everything, keyboard, conductor, sheet music, reached the floor with a thud. And just as we landed on that last, sustained, triumphant “Ha-leeehhh-lu-jaaah”, this conductor shouted at the top of his lungs, “You’re never going to forget this!”
And I haven’t.
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