There would be many other singing engagements over the two years that would remain in Norway. There were months when I was learning new music every week, my children wandering in and around the piano or sometimes around other vocalists or orchestra members. I was recruited to sing at all sorts of functions; the library’s opening social, a 50th birthday gathering, the kindergarten’s closing social, the local book club, a corporate mid-year social, a neighboring town’s Late Winter Song Evening, another town’s Early Spring Poetry Reading, a high school’s mid-spring chamber concert, and the frequent American Broadway potpourri.
Breech after flagrant breach of the sisters’ pact.
When invited with three other American musicians to give a private concert at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence, I took along nine-year-old Parker. He sat primly in his navy suit and bow tie, his hair parted on the left side and slicked flat like a confederate soldier.
“You have to sit right in that seat, honey,” I told him, pointing to an upholstered chair in the front row, “Because in one song, I’m going to give you the signal like this,” I nodded just once and discreetly, “and then I’ll come get you with my hand just like this,” I took his fingers in mine, “and then I’ll bring you uon front of the audience. Then I’ll sing right to you. Right into your eyes. Kneeling in front of you. Got it?”
“Got it. I don’t have to sing, too, do I?”
“No, you only have to listen. And you also have to help me not mess up, buddy. Can you do that?”
It was “Not While I’m Around,” a lyrical, haunting piece from Stephen Sondheim’s dark musical, “Sweeney Todd.” When I pulled the young boy with a bow tie and confederate hair to my side and knelt on the stage and sang right into his eyes, I nearly abandoned all efforts at composure. I nearly forgot about the respectable audience, the professional distance, I almost forgot about Mr. and Mrs. Ambassador sitting right over my shoulder in a gown and suit. I nearly let emotion seep into my vocal chords, a perilous thing. But I was composed and tried not to feel the moistness of his palms as I held his two hands, tried not to sense a quiver climbing up my sternum. I just kept singing the tender tune a bit baldly, I think; “Nothing can harm you,” I sang to my child, “Not while I’m around.”
And I finished, as I remember, with a smile so totally incongruous with the broader context from which that song is taken – a smile, now that I think about it, like that of a weather channel person waiting for the camera to blink on – I ended smiling with my head tilted, squeezing his skinny suited shoulders, giving him a peck on the cheek and dismissing him with a tap on his rump, clapping the fingertips of one my right hand on the palm of my left, nodding to him and then to the audience, “Too cute, isn’t he?”
(Some minutes in life you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness. Others you revisit to reinhabit their sweetness and to mentally redo them altogether.)
I didn’t take the children to all of my performances. One such, I described in my Journal:
Flå is a small arts community tucked deep in the folds of Hallingdal. Flå had invited an “American Broadway Singer,” to appear at their annual Arts Days celebration.
I stood in a glitzy American gown on an outdoor stage with microphone in hand and sang three hours of show tunes and big band standards flanked by twenty-five somewhat rigid but nevertheless hearty and well-amplified members of Hallingdal’s civic “Big Band.” The locals, robust and impossibly well-scrubbed, wielding sausages and wearing boiled wool knickers, stomped patterns across the pavilion’s dance floor till all the Aquavit ran dry and the moon peered over the rough ridges of Hallingdal’s towering walls. I went through everything the band had in its repertoire; Benny Goodman, the Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, even Neil Diamond. Which was a good fun even though I felt strangely like a disco ball rented for a country picnic.
But then there was this last number, a traditional Norwegian Saeter tune I’d prepared just for this event. When it was announced, five band members, rosy-cheeked, woolen knickered, flannel plaid, stood to join me. Against the evening chill I slipped the bass player’s boiled wool jacket around my shoulders. Three of us sang tight harmony first with Ole on the accordion, then all six of us sang in a capella harmony, arms wrapped around one another’s waists or shoulders. We howled like mountain sheep herders under the moon’s perfect spotlight. And on the way home, driving alone down that ancient black canyon, I decided things don’t get much better than this.
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