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SEVEN: Hey!  Quiet! Someone is coming!

TWO: What? We’re always quiet!  Oh… Yeah, someone just turned on the lights!

SIX: Hey! Someone just turned on the lights!

TWO: I just said that! Will you stop looking out that window!  I know you miss the building that used to be there, but it’s gone now, and it’s gonna take a least a year before something else is put up in it’s place.

SIX: Well, I still miss it. But I just noticed some sort of screen-printing business over in that other building. I keep seeing–

SEVEN: Whoa! I’m moving, I’m moving… He’s moving me, he’s moving me…

TWO: Probably just wants to get a better look at you in the light.

SEVEN: But he just turned on the lights.

TWO: Well, he just moved you closer to the window, so I guess he wanted to see what you looked like in the sunlight.

SIX: Or maybe he wants you to see that screen-printing business in the other building too.

SEVEN: Yeah, right.  Hey!  He looks really familiar.

SIX: You know, he looks familiar to me too.

TWO: Me too!

SIX: You’re just saying that.

TWO: No, I’m not.

SIX: Yes, you are.

TWO: No, I’m not.

SEVEN and SIX: YES, YOU ARE!

TWO: No, I’m– Why is he taking out a camera?

SEVEN: I think he’s taking a picture of all three of us.

TWO: Hey, I have seen this guy before! Remember, Seven? I was just telling you about him! This is the guy that was taking pictures of his lunch two weeks ago.

SIX: What?!?!?  That’s crazy.  Why would anyone want to do that?

TWO: I dunno.  But I swear I saw him taking pictures of his lunch.  And he kept setting the self-timer on his camera to take pictures of himself too.

SEVEN: I swear, they’re all narcissists!

SIX: Well, it looks like you’re right. He is taking a picture of the three of us.

SEVEN: So that’s why he moved me?!?  For a picture? And I was just tuned!

SIX: So was I.

TWO: We all were!

SEVEN: As if a tuning is gonna hide that big scratch on your fallboard, anyway.

TWO: It’s not that big.

SEVEN: Yes, it is.

TWO: No — Well —  So… Well, at least my bass notes don’t keep ringing!

SEVEN: Hey! Some people like the extra sound!

TWO: No they don’t.

SEVEN: Yes, they do!

TWO and SIX: No, they don’t.

SEVEN: Well, at least my damper pedal doesn’t squeak!

SIX: Hey! It only does that in the summer when the humidity is high! It’s not like I can control the change of seasons. We all have our faults. Just be thankful we all got tuned today. It’s been a while.

SEVEN: Guess you’re right, it had been a while. Of course, then he left us in front of the drafty windows and the radiators.

SIX: Well, nobody’s perfect, but at least we’re well tempered. Get it? Well tempered?

TWO: Trust me.  We got it.

SEVEN: And we got it the last time you made that joke.  And the time before that, and the time before that.

SIX: What do you mean "and the time before that"? I haven’t made that joke that often.

TWO: Yes, you have. I never forget a bad joke.

SIX: Shut up.

SEVEN: Now, now, now – No need to put a damper on the situation.

TWO: Oy! – And I’m the one accused of making bad jokes?

SIX: Oy?!?!  Where did you pick that up from?

TWO: With the number of bagels that get placed on me each week?

SEVEN: Oooh, I hate that too.  Especially when the sesame seeds and poppy seeds fall between my keys!  You think they would be more considerate, more caring.

SIX: And the cream cheese fingers!

ALL THREE: And the coffee!  Ah, well.  (sigh)

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Origami – from the Japanese ori meaning “folding”, and kami meaning “paper”

I’m not exactly sure when I started folding paper into shapes a bit more complicated than a paper airplane or water balloon, but I do remember buying, rather having my mother buy me my first origami book when I was eight or nine years old. I’m also not exactly sure just what sparked my interest in the ancient Japanese art of paper folding, however, when that spark hit, it lit quite the fire. At the very least, a glowing ember. I still remember coming up with an extensive Halloween bulletin board display when I was in Mrs. Wallace’s 5th Grade Class at Pleasant Valley Elementary in Groton, CT. I made witches on broomsticks, pumpkins, black cats, ghosts and other spooky shapes. It really was quite festively terrifying if I may say so myself. I also taught a few origami classes when I was in 8th Grade at St. Thomas More Elementary in Arlington, VA. (Yes, I was a Coast Guard Brat.) Who knew folding square pieces of paper could make someone so popular? *I believe my second "major" origami book was "Modern Origami" by Dr. James Minoru Sakoda.  It served me well when I was 10, and I still consult it regularly today – and his "Modified Chinese Junk (Ship)" still confounds my fingers and mind.

Throughout high school, I continued to fold.  I would buy a new book every now and then, and when I found out that the local art supply store carried different types of origami paper, I became more or less a regular there.  -Although, I would also by my Letraset sheets there too, but that’s a topic for a post I don’t feel needs to be written. Origami is basically something I do to pass the time.  I don’t fold on a regular basis, but every now and then, I will pick up a pack of paper and start going through a new or old book, folding as many of the "folds" as I have the time and patience for. There are still many folds in my library of origami books that I have yet to try, but, on the other hand, there are many I come back to time and again for their ingenuity, their simplicity (or their challenge), and their beauty.

I usually get back into folding mode whenever I’m playing in a show. Some people do crosswords between songs, some people knit, other read magazines. I fold. It keeps my fingers warm, and my mind engaged. Origami has always been like math to me without the burden of having to remember formulas.  For the most part, any time you make a crease, you are folding the piece of paper in half, or folding a section of the piece of paper in half.  There is geometry involved, but it’s magically simplified in the third dimension: you match one corner up with the other, and/or match one side of the paper with the other, then crease. You do have to think about what you’re doing, but the paper really does tell you where the creases should go. And if you happen to over or under compensate one way or the other, the paper will tell you that too. At the very worst, you’ve wasted a couple of minutes of your time, and a half-cent’s worth of paper. -How many lopsided paper airplanes and swans have you seen?

During one show – again, I can’t remember the exact one – the conductor turned to me and said that someone in the front row was admiring the various paper animals, flowers and geometric figures I had placed on and around my keyboard. It turned out to be a young girl, probably around age six or seven. It was around Christmas at the time, so I had folded a bunch of stars – four- and eight-pointed ones – in metallic gold and silver papers, of course. I asked her if she would like something for her Christmas tree, she nodded Yes, and I handed her up one of the stars. A tradition was born. I began folding and giving away my creations on a regular basis. Depending on the configuration of the pit, I was usually able to keep some books down there with me, so I could also take requests!  Of course, if a show had a short running time, or if the scenes between songs were short, my folding output would be affected.  On the flip side, during a run of Camelot, I folded a lot. A lot!

The fold illustrated below is one of my favorites.  It comes from Kunihiko Kasahara’s wonderful book, "Origami Made Easy". I bought the book in high school – after checking it out countless of times from the library. There are some truly wonderful folds. Yes, it is "easy", but there are some "not-so-easy", and a few advanced folds to keep one interested and entertained. I’m going to refrain from putting any textual instructions, and just let the pictures speak for themselves.  I hope. Traditionally, origami books instruct through the use of diagrams that use different types of lines and arrows to indicate how to fold the piece of paper. A dashed line indicates a "valley fold", and a dotted and dashed line indicates a "mountain fold". Essentially, if you fold a piece of paper "away" from you, you are creating a "valley fold". If you are folding the piece of paper "towards" you, you are creating a "mountain fold". The labeling of those folds becomes evident upon visual inspection. There’s also great deal of perspective involved: one man’s valley could be another man’s mountain. There are also inside-reverse folds, outside-reverse folds, blintz folds, squash folds, etc.  But again, I don’t want to deal with that code, at least not right now.

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I guess the first few weeks of 2008 with their leisurely, almost worrisome pacing have finally given way to a virtual flood of work: auditions, auditions, and yet more auditions. Over the past two weeks, I have found myself sitting at a different piano, on a different bench or chair, in a different studio from practically one day to the next. A variety of shows, styles, people and situations. Lots of changes and adjustments, and a bit of self-appraisal along the way.

From the multitude of self-help and self-image books lining the best-sellers shelves, it seems (and reassures?) that all of us go through times in our lives and in our careers when we begin to question the Why, the What If, the Is It All Really Worth It aspects of our Existence, of our Happiness.  Well, I guess I’m going through one of those phases right now.  Rather, I’m coming out of one of those phases right now.

As one best-seller states in its title, "Don’t sweat the small stuff." But what if your Life is made up of the "small stuff"? What if your daily routine centers around deciphering small black dots and lines of ink on a page?… Of trying to read words printed in newspaper-sized typefaces under dim lighting that still somehow manages to cause a glare?… Of determining whether that was a nod to start playing or just a simple breath?… Of wondering if that smile was genuine or simply polite?

I will be the first to admit that I do not do everything well, that I do not play everything well – in the brief life-span of this blog, I know I’ve already stated that a few times. We all have our specialties, our comfort zones, our limitations. I will be the first one to turn down a job when I know I will feel like a fish out of water the whole time I am in the room. I hate being uncomfortable when I’m sitting down at the piano, and if I know that I am not able to fully contribute to the process at hand, then I would rather not be there. Alas, due to the nature of my work, and the nature of the biz, sometimes what looked like a "comfort zone" on paper, turns out to be anything but comfortable.

I’ll spare the specifics – the small stuff, as it were – but I will say I recently had one of those days. It’s natural to have those thoughts of I can’t play, I’m not good enough go through my head whether or not I happen to be playing at the time – I could have just been listening to some music rather than playing it. But I happened to find myself unexpectedly put into a situation where those thoughts, those doubts were just reinforced and, in a sense, amplified over the course of a few hours. At the end of the day, I could not help but feel a bit disheartened, small… Helpless and Non-Helpful. Nothing was said directly to me at the time, even though my own mind was filling in the blanks throughout the day, however, the coda for my day consisted of a pleasant phone call, followed by a not so successfully suppressed flow of tears on the subway ride back home.

What could I have done? It’s not like I was hired blindly for the gig – someone thought I was good enough, the right person for the job. And for a portion of the day, I was "right", I was more than "good enough". Then came a part of the day which had me summoning up a skill set I have never had to use, I never studied, and, frankly, never wanted to use nor study. But I was the one who got the call that day, who was sitting at the piano, so I did the best that I could do. I even voluntarily abstained at times when I knew any contributions from me at the piano would hinder rather than help – at least I had enough knowledge to discern when those situations would arise. Alas, getting that phone call confirming my "lack of ability" (the quotation marks are mine) did nothing to ease my own self-analysis of the day’s proceedings. Even though I fully understood what was being shared with me at the time – and, in retrospect, it allowed me to take a very real sigh of relief –  the phone call just confirmed, albeit falsely, the thoughts and doubts that had been lingering in the back – and sometimes in the forefront – of my mind throughout the day. I can’t play. I’m not good enough. And worst of all: I did not help today.

It’s amazing how fine and malleable the line between a "Can" and a "Can’t" can be from situation to situation, from moment to moment. The Mind is most certainly a powerful Thing, and sometimes that power is used for Good, sometimes for Bad, and sometimes for the In Between. Lots of gray. Now that I’ve had a few days to process everything, well… Maybe "process" is not exactly the proper word. If anything, I’ve "displaced" what happened, or "re-placed" it. The whole situation was unexpected and new to me. In a sense, it was also new to the people who had hired me: they had never seen nor heard me using the skill set that I was called upon to use that day. In fact, after my work for them in the past, they had assumed that I could play Everything, and play Everything well. Now they know. Now I re-know. (And this was truly not a case of, "You know what what happens when you assume?…")

When I was in college, there was an inevitable sense of competition – some would call it jealousy! – between piano studios, between teachers, between students. Comparisons were unavoidable due to the closeness of the practice rooms and the not-so-soundproofing of the studios. Sometimes, I would even go as far as accompanying someone else’s solo piano part in a concerto through the cinder block walls. Or, if I was feeling particularly feisty that day, I would play a song accompaniment at the same time – up a half step! My teacher was a wonderful Polish woman who came to the States in the 1960s. She was – and still is – a fine Pianist and fine Teacher. Growing up and training in Europe at the time that she did, she was very familiar with the "Russian School" of piano playing that was personified by Emil Gilels, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lazar Berman, Vladimir Horowitz. She, too, was a part of that pianistic royal lineage having been a pupil of some Star Pupils both in Poland and in the United States.

My first lesson with her was not really a lesson at all. It was an interview. A two-way interview. After she had asked me some questions about my musical and personal preferences, she then asked me to ask her some questions. At first, I didn’t know what to ask, what I wanted to know, so she started off by giving me some answers: 53, married, two sons, two dogs (standard poodles), New England Conservatory, Catholic University of America, Prokofiev piano sonatas, Purple. Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her frankness, her openness; consequently, I was also a bit in shock to inquire about anything else personal, musical or pedagogical at the time. However, that first lesson perfectly set up the Teacher-Student dynamic for our time in and out of Studio B-16 over the next couple of years. She had already begun planting, nurturing and insuring(!) the Idea that Music is not and can not be isolated to the piano studio. Whatever else was going on in our Life would most certainly affect our Music. It was all connected. Music was an integral part of our Life, but not Life itself. -She even required that we take at least one class outside of the Music Building each semester: she would not allow her students to isolate themselves figuratively, academically nor geographically.

I believe one of the greatest lessons I learned from her – as if that were not great enough – was that there was a difference between being Good and being a Virtuoso. Being Good ultimately results from one’s own honest self-appraisal. Being a Virtuoso is a label applied by someone else. Yes, one could be Good and a Virtuoso, but one did not have to be a Virtuoso to be Good. I did not have to be a Virtuoso. I did not have to work, to strive for something I was not meant to be, for a goal I never really wanted to achieve. It does sound very pat and simplistic – and maybe even a cop-out to some people – to say that someone knows how they fit in the larger scheme of things, but there is never anything wrong with Honesty. It truly does take all kinds. Just because I was not playing the Liszt "Transcendental Etude" that I could hear coming through duct work, did not mean that I could not still enjoy the Music that was being made.

So, as the proverbial dust settled from the events of earlier this week, and as I realized that the tears that I cried were a result of that situation and many other smaller matters preceding it, I remembered and was reminded (with the prompting of a very dear friend) that I am Good. It was the luck of the draw. It was not a matter of being "good enough" or "not good enough". I was simply the one who got the phone call to come in and play, when I would have been happier in the hallway listening through the door that day.

I believe this was the first recipe I tried out of "Baking With Julia", the Julia of the title being the late, great Julia Child.  The book was published in conjunction with the same-named PBS series: each episode featuring a different baker baking with Julia.  The series and the book provided a wonderful cross-sections of baking techniques and traditions, as well as a varied selection of both sweet and savory baked goods. I believe it’s the one cookbook on my shelf out of which I’ve at least attempted a majority of the recipes, with "The Joy of Cooking" a most likely close second.

These biscotti are one of the classic Italian double-baked cookies.  In his introduction to the recipe, contributing baker, Nick Malgieri, states: “The traditional accompaniment is vin santo, but they’re great with espresso or tea. No matter the libation, they’re meant to be dipped.” I’ve found that if sliced to just the right thickness, they can be easily and satisfyingly eaten right out of the cookie jar – no dipping required. Or as an accompaniment to a generous scoop of ice cream or gelato.

Cantuccini

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1-½ cups unbleached whole almonds
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350℉.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl and stir with a rubber spatula to mix.  Stir in the almonds.

Whish the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, then stir them into the flour mixture. The dough may seem dry at this point, but it will come together as it is kneaded.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead, folding it over onto itself until it is smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a 12-inch-long log. Gently press down on the logs to flatten them until they are about 2 inches wide and 1 inch high. Transfer them to the prepared pan.

First Baking Bake the logs for about 30 minutes, or until they are slightly risen and firm to the touch. Slide the logs, parchment and all, off the baking sheet and onto a cooling rack. The logs must be completely cool before you can continue with the recipe. Since they will take about 30 minutes to cool, you can either turn the oven off or leave it on for the next step. You can bake the biscotti up to this point several days ahead. Wrap the logs well in plastic and continue when it’s convenient.

Second Baking When the logs have cooled completely, preheat the oven to 350℉, if necessary. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Working with a sharp serrated knife, cut the cooled logs diagonally into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place the sliced cookies cut side down on the pans and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the biscotti are crisp and golden. Cool on the pans.

Storing There biscotti will keep for up to a month in an airtight tin or plastic container.

My Notes and Observations

  • The recipe states that it makes 8 dozen biscotti. I’ve usually just managed to get about 6 dozen slices.
  • Make sure your baking powder is fresh – check those expiration dates! It’s the only leavening in the recipe, and it contributes greatly to the airy-crunchiness of the finished product.
  • Once the dough starts to come together, it really does come together quite fast.  I’ve found it easier to knead the dough while it is still in the bowl, and then transfer halves of the dough directly to the parchment paper-lined baking sheets.  Your hands will get messy!
  • Besides the vanilla, I also like to add a ½ teaspoon of almond extract to help round out the almond flavor and aroma.
  • As a final fillip, you can dip the cantucinni in the melted chocolate of your choice once they are cooled.

I’m here.

Just an hour before I arrived at the rehearsal studio, I was still slumbering away in my bed on my still somewhat comfortable mattress, cocooned in my still surprisingly insulating comforter. I could hear the muffled vibration of my cell phone buried in the pocket of my winter coat which was across the room.  Of course, by the time I had put my feet on the floor, stepped over some stray laundry, and fumbled through the pockets of my coat, the vibrating had stopped, but now the little red light was flashing. You have voicemail.

I didn’t even bother checking the message, I just went ahead and called back the "Missed Call". I had suspected why I was getting that call at 9:00 on a Sunday morning, and sure enough, my suspicions were correct. Someone was sick, and they needed someone else to come in and cover the day of auditions. Sure, I can come in. See you soon.

In retrospect, I’m not really sure just why I said, "Yes." Under normal circumstances, I would have just let the phone ring, and checked to see if someone left a message later on; but since WQXR had been quietly sounding in the background since 8:30, I was already coming out of my slumber to the strains of some Bach and Elgar. When I called back, I may have just been too tired to say anything but "Yes".  A pianistic Pavlovian response – Work equals Money, Money equals Rent. I guess I could have said, "No. I’m sorry, I already have other plans today," then gone back to bed for a few more hours.  Or, at the very least, "I’ll come in today, but only if I’m paid double the usual rate due to the last minute notice." Hindsight is 20/20. But I just hung up, and started getting ready.

It wasn’t until the D Train reached Rockefeller Center that I realized I had not brought my laptop with me. No book. Not even a magazine. Nothing to help me pass the time, nothing to keep me company. I stopped by one newsstand in search of the Sunday New York Times… We only carry the weekday.  What?!?! I passed a Starbucks – one of the twenty (at least) that bask directly in the neon glow of Times Square – and thought about getting a coffee, but then remembered that they carry the New York Times. I was able to grab one of the last two copies they had, and the barista/clerk even let me cut into line since she could tell I just wanted to buy the paper.  Nothing Tall, Grande or Venti for me at that time.  Another block or two later, I realized that I should have at least have gotten a Mocha.

I’m here.

The day was quite leisurely paced. I had plenty of breaks, plenty of time to read. Plenty of time to text silly messages to some of my friends – although, I had to step out of the studio into the hallway to do so since the signal was pretty week behind the closed doors. Plenty of time to give a listen to the audio-feed of the show that was running in the theatre next door.

The studio itself was very conducive to reading, if not ideal for reading. High ceilings, one wall lined with mirrors, a decent grand piano, but despite the number of recessed lighting fixtures, the general lighting was surprisingly dim. It was just The Room and I and the Times for most of the day. No distractions. It was an interior room, so there were no windows which made me feel better about not having my camera with me since there was really nothing to take pictures of.  Even the two big, round windows in the hallway were frosted – they were there to let light in, not to let one’s gaze out.

Every couple of minutes my reading would be interrupted by a familiar face coming through the door.  Some I knew by name and greeted with a hug; others I recognized from a Playbill bio, a television appearance, a movie role, and greeted with a smile, keeping a professional distance. Each person was taught a few short sequences of steps, and some were asked to improvise some movement accompanied by my own improvisations at the piano in the designated, requested style. It was during those brief exercises that I really wished I had not forgone the caffeine that morning.

That was pretty much the routine for day, interrupted only by a very quick lunch break. Work, work, work. Read, read, read. By the time the casting director informed me that I was done for the day, I had managed to make my way through the Sunday Times. Consequently, I was brought up to date on matters International, National, Local, Arts & Leisure, Style and Magazine. Even Real Estate.

I bundled myself and my newspaper up – I would take it home with me and put it in the recycling bin –  and headed back down to the street. As I stepped out of the stage door, I realized it was the first time I had been outside since rushing to the studio that morning. That first intake of the cold, NYC-fresh air into my lungs finally cleared away the bits of my interrupted morning slumber. Just a few feet later I found myself in the middle of Times Square. Like most New Yorkers – native and otherwise – I have a love/hate relationship with Times Square. Sometimes all the people, the noise, the lights, the smells are just too much to deal with, something to be avoided.  Other times – and this was turning out to be the case this evening – it feels great to be a part of all the fabled and infamous hustle and bustle of those few blocks of midtown. To be both and Observer and Participant. Native and Tourist.

I’m here.

As I navigated the crowded sidewalks, I noticed a couple trying to take a picture of themselves with the lights of Times Square as their background. Would you like me to take your picture? They kindly refused stating that they had perfected the art of the outstretched-arm-point-and-shoot self-portrait.  However, they did ask where I had picked up my copy of the Times. I told them that I had picked it up earlier that morning, and had managed to read all of it during the course of my work day. I then offered it to them. At first I could sense that they were waiting for me to attach some sort of catch to my offer, but they eventually accepted my gently-used newspaper. They even said they would make sure to put it in a recycling bin. Nice catch.

As I looked out through the window – a window in dire need of some cleaning or at least a good strong rain – just staring somewhat blankly into the distance seemed to muffle the din of room. Observing the buildings in the distance, the brightly clouded sky, the water towers on the rooftops across the street provided a pleasant distraction. At least momentarily. At least for me. Shuffle-hop-step… Reverse Cramp Roll… Push… Pull-back… STOMP! Over and over. Again and again. The roomful of Hopefuls – at this moment all men – were learning or, at least, attempting to learn a tap dance combination. Not easy stuff today. Very aggressive, very athletic. Very loud. Thankfully, I always keep a set of ear plugs – two sets, in fact – in my bag, so those helped to protect my ears from any possible auditory damage. Alas, there’s only so much noise they can keep out, and since I still had to hear the "sounds" in conjunction with my own playing, I could not totally isolate myself from the twenty pairs of tap shoes making contact with the studio floor.

I noticed the small length of pink ribbon sitting at the top end of the keyboard, just resting quietly on the highest B-flat. Previously, it was used to tie up a small bag of macarons that I had bought at lunch. I just happened to come across a recently opened café on 36th Street: a sliver of a place which consisted of a counter, a display case, a set of chairs and a small couch. More of a café in spirit, if not in execution or square footage. Besides the macarons – one violette and matcha green tea (which always seems somewhat redundant labeling to me) – my petit déjeuner included a baguette layered with a few slices of jambon and gruyère, sliced cornichons, moutarde and beurre.  A Ham and Cheese Sandwich which the café’s management called a "Paris".  Alas, when the order was called back to the kitchen, it was a "pair-riss", and not a "pah-ree". Ce ne fait rien. At least the proprietor was a true Monsieur.

As I played the brief excerpt of music, the piece of pink ribbon proceeded to do its own dance. Not only was it rocking along to the shuffling boogie that I was playing, but it was also succumbing to the room-quake caused by the 20 men dancing just a few feet away – the literal repercussions of each footfall. Between repetitions, it would settle back into place, although, if a breeze would come through the window, I would watch to see if it would get blown further down the keyboard or onto the floor, but it managed to stay put.

After the teaching phase was done, it was time for the Hopefuls to dance for the judges: the assistant choreographer and the casting director. The assistant choreographer’s assistant, the "dance demonstrator", for today went through the combination one more time before each Hopeful went up for their final exam as it were. He counted off the tempo, "5… 6… 5, 6, 7, 8…".  I started playing. As he danced/demonstrated, he called out the names of each step – a vocabulary still somewhat embarrassingly foreign to me after many years of playing dance auditions. Some of the Hopefuls just watched and listened, others moved their feet along with the demonstration checking to see if their movements were in sync. Still others just closed their eyes, running the steps in their head, hoping (and praying) for the best.

Three names were called out. The first three Hopefuls were lined up left to right. This time, after receiving a nod from the people behind the table, I started the count-off… 5… 6… My left hand hit the first octave of the descending bass line… 5, 6… My right hand started playing the offbeats… 7, 8… And we were off. The three Hopefuls picked up their left foot for the first step, then three taps made contact with the floor a fraction of a second later, while three pairs of eyes and ears watched and listened and evaluated. Two hands, ten fingers played along, emphasizing the rhythms, accenting the downbeats to help keep everyone from rushing. Eight short measures of music, 12 seconds later, it was over.  Well, at least for a few seconds, just enough time for the three Hopefuls to catch their breath before running the combination one more time. And then it was over. Another three names were called out, the next three Hopefuls lined up, the nod from the table… Line Up. Dance. Repeat.

By this time in the day, this whole routine had already been completed three times. The day started off with a group of women and a group of men before lunch, and another group of women after lunch. We were dancing the final group of men for the day before moving onto the singing portion of the process. Due to the number of people that were called back, that needed to be heard, the singing part of the day was a flurry of 16-bar cuts of pop/rock songs, or at least something resembling a pop/rock song for some of the Hopefuls. Lots of Billy Joel and Elton John, Cyndi Lauper, Janis Joplin, etc. Towards the end of the session, I found myself just playing what was put in front of me, not really recognizing the titles, the melodies. It had all become a visual and aural blur.

After the last singer had come back to the piano to reclaim his "book", the three-ring binder filled with the copies of his music, I began to put the piano back in order. As I lowered the fallboard, I noticed the length of pink ribbon still sitting quietly on the upper keys. After the countless repetitions of the dance music, it was still there. After all the dance-induced rumbling, it’s shiny finish still reflected the dull, yellow-gray output of the fluorescent ceiling lights. It reminded me of the café I had discovered on my lunch break, and of the two dainty, delicate and delicious pastries that were placed in a small cellophane bag that was then tied and sealed with that piece of pink ribbon. I continued to close the fallboard, leaving the ribbon undisturbed, content in its stillness. I wondered if it was afraid of the dark, of being closed off from the rest of room. And I wondered – No! – I Hoped that the next person to open the piano, after catching a glimpse of that piece of pink ribbon out of the corner of their eye, would suddenly think to themselves, "Ah, macarons."



Well, the other night, we finally had some true, real snow fall here in New York City.  Alas, it was not a record-setting storm like we had two years ago around this time, but it was snow, and it did not melt when it made contact with the sidewalks.  Yes, it did eventually turn into sleet and freezing rain, and then into basically an all-day rain event the following day, but for a few hours, the City was covered in a layer of frozen white fluffy stuff.  And I was smiling and happy.

Trust me, I’m smiling in that picture.

While walking the snow-covered sidewalks of the Upper West Side, I just happened to come across the recently opened branch of Magnolia Bakery.  Needless to say, Cupcakes and Snow made for a very nice Winter Evening.

Truth be told, I passed on the cupcakes this visit.  However, the slice of Coconut Layer Cake was a more than worthy substitute.

Oh… If you happen to observe, celebrate such things… Happy Valentine’s Day!

Gimme, Gimme – You’ve Got That Thing – Vanilla Ice Cream – Her Face – Stranger to the Rain – I Could Write a Book – The Hostess with the Mostest – Sweet Thursday – Almost Like Being in Love – Could I Leave You? – Rain – A Summer In Ohio – Home – As We Stumble Along – It’s an Art – I Believe In You – Goodnight, My Someone – I Can Hear the Bells – What Do I Need With Love? – Easy Street – Days of Plenty – A Little Bit In Love – Someday – You Should Be Loved – Sailing – Your Daddy’s Son – Don’t Tell Mama – Dance Ten, Looks Three – I Won’t Send Roses – Some People – I Could Have Danced All Night

When I woke up today, it was just so nice not having to be up and out of bed and functioning by 8:00am Central Time. However, I am always amazed – and proud of myself! – for being able to switch over my bodily waking-sleeping schedule like that when I need to do so. I have no qualms when it comes to admitting that I am not a "morning person", but at least I know I can play one in real life from time to time. In Memphis, I basically worked six to seven hours each day – well, there was a lunch break in there too – but the monologues and the other periodic breaks helped to ease the built-in stress and fatigue that comes with any set of auditions.

Gimme, Gimme – How Could I Ever Know? – Keeping Out of Mischief Now – Here I Am – The Life of the Party – Heartbreak Hotel – Miss Byrd – Don’t Do Sadness – My White Knight – Solla Sollew – Those Were The Good Old Days – Easy Money – Dancing Through Life – It’s a Perfect Relationship – And They’re Off – Old-Fashioned Love Story – The Streets of Dublin – Our Time – Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun – The Girl in 14G – The Devil You Know – Comedy Tonight – The Beauty Is – Into the Fire – One Track Mind – Dancing All the Time – Fools Fall In Love – I Wanna Go Home – Younger Than Springtime – You Can Always Count On Me – A Wonderful Guy – Gorgeous – My New Philosophy – Maybe This Time

All in all, it was a pretty good batch of auditions. Thankfully, the ratio of Good to Bad was very much in favor of the Good this year, but, at least from my perspective, there weren’t as many "WOW!"s as I would have liked. However, I did find myself giving some very hearty nods of approval from time to time. I was particularly impressed with one young man who sang two simple, non-show-off-y songs. He sang them well with a perfect sense of style and with no personal interpolations. He was not trying to prove something. He was just being himself. Very honest. Very refreshing. Very smart.

Gimme, Gimme – I Am On My Way – That Dirty Old Man – Take A Chance On Me – Poisoning Pigeons in the Park – Wherever He Ain’t – On the Street Where You Live – Legally Blonde – I Want To Be A Producer – Not A Day Goes By – Waiting For Life – Enchantment Passing Through – Roadkill – Maybe I Like It This Way – The Music That Makes Me Dance – Bride’s Lament – Infinite Joy – Lucky to Be Me – Never Neverland – Beauty School Dropout – Take Me or Leave Me – Times Like This – Use What You Got – Mama Who Bore Me – One Hundred Easy Ways – The Highest Judge of All – Life With Harold – Coffee – Astoria Gloria – A Trip to the Library – Daddy – Notice Me, Horton – The Sadder-But-Wider Girl – Holding to the Ground – Ol’ Man River – Rita’s Tune – Someone To Watch Over Me

Of course, there were a few crash-and-burns, train wrecks, totally botched auditions – it’s just the nature of the beast, the luck of the draw. Some of these not-so-good auditions resulted from a bad choice of material – songs and/or monologues. Others were hurt by severe lack of preparation. Some self-delusion also seemed to be in evidence this year. Sadly, I could also tell that some people were the victims of bad advice, teaching and coaching; coupled with a lack of honesty, reality, from the people giving them pre-audition opinions and criticism. I would have thought that with the popularity of "American Idol" that people – well, at least actors – would be a bit more honestly self-critical in regards to evaluating their talents. -Especially after paying for headshots, registration fees, airplane tickets, hotel rooms, cab fare, etc., to just get to the audition. It’s a far cry from taking the R Train into Manhattan for $2.00.

Gimme, Gimme – Gooch’s Song – Tonight – A Quiet Thing – Nobody Does It Like Me – A New World – She Loves Me – So Many People – I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today – Lost and Found – Nothing – You Must Meet My Wife – Jimmy – Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat – That’ll Show Him – My True Love – My Rules – Look What Happened to Mabel – The Finer Things – Someone Like You – Where in the World – This Place Is Mine – Let It Sing – Forest For the Trees – See What I Wanna See – Not While I’m Around – No Other Love – Home (the other one) – Till There Was You – Lost In The Wilderness – Glitter and Be Gay – Art Is Calling for Me – Soliloquy – There’s a Fine, Fine Line – Should I Be Sweet? – Anything – Come To Your Senses – Kind of Woman

As I mentioned, there was a lot of Good this year, and, there was also a greater variety of songs and monologues being presented. Anytime you get just under 1000 actors in one place – or even just 20, there’s bound to be some duplications of material along the way. Again, it’s just the nature of the beast. However, there were more than a few times during the last day of auditions when I would take my first look at someone’s music, and say to them, "We haven’t heard that one yet." -Which, of course, would bring a big smile (of relief) to their face. There were even a few "Greatest Hits" that did make the rotation this time around: no "Maria" (from West Side Story, not Paint Your Wagon), no "Defying Gravity", no "Old Red Hills of Home", no "Green Finch and Linnet Bird". No "I Can Cook Too"!?!?!?

Gimme, Gimme – If I Can’t Love Her – Astonishing – Dear, Friend – Crossword Puzzle – Sara Lee – I’ll Know – You Don’t Know This Man – Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee – What Is It About Her? – All That Jazz – I Am Adolpho – Hold On – Lost In The Wilderness – Glitter and Be Gay – The Mason – One Night with You – No Man Left For Me – You Don’t Know This Man – Winter’s On The Wing – There Won’t Be Trumpets – A Cockeyed Optimist – What Did I Have That I Don’t Have? – If You Could See Her – Thank You for the Music – Much More – Schaudenfreude – Turn Back, O Man – Me – Is It Really Me? – (Not) Getting Married Today – On the Street Where You Live – Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm – Let Yourself Go

So, today is my recovery day. My first auditon-free day in over a week. A month from now, I will be repeating the same duties for the SETC auditions in Chattanooga. In the meantime, well at least for today, I shall watch the snow fall (yes, I’m happy about that), perhaps take a walk in it, watch the some TV, hang out with some friends. I don’t have to be "on" today. I don’t "have" to smile. I can giggle out loud.

Oh, and…

Gimme, Gimme

Well, I guess this post should actually be titled just "Eating in Memphis – Days 2, 3 & 4", but for the sake of continuity I shall continue the series.

Due to my schedule, and also due to the fact that I did not want to deal with cabs – and cab fares – nor with the hassle of arranging and securing a rental car, I did not make it to some of the places I had quasi-planned to visit while I was here.  However, in retrospect – and I still have one more day to go here – if I had made it to every place on my list, there would have been no way I could have happily enjoyed eating all the foodstuffs from all the places on my list.  That would have been just too much food, too too much. Schedule-permitting, I will be back next year, so I can always cross and re-cross some of the places off my list.

If there’s any place that I do wish I could have gotten to this visit, it would have to be Dinstuhl’s Fine Candies.  Dinstuhl’s is famous for their Cashew Crunch and Chocolate-Covered Strawberries and Chocolate-Covered Raspberries, however, my favorite are their Chocolate-Covered Grapes.  Yes, Grapes!  -Just think of them as re-hydrated Chocolate-Covered Raisins.  *Alas, Dinstuhl’s website no longer – at least not presently – has a page for their chocolate-covered fruit pieces.  I wonder if they’re not shipping them anymore?

But, again, I did partake of some pretty good eatin’ while I was in town.  In addition to my first ever visit to Catfish Cabin, I made it back to two Memphis Institutions: The Cupboard and Huey’s.  The Cupboard is a classic "meat and three".  They moved into an old Shoney’s building a few years ago, but, from what I can tell, the food is still just as good as it was across the street and a few doors down in smaller quarters.  However, I do miss the "sloppiness" of the cornbread gem muffins – those crispy, muffin-top "crackers" were always a true treat.  Huey’s is known for their burgers, and for their "toothpick ceiling".  When I was here two years ago, I remember reading about how Huey’s had switched over from in-house, hand-formed hamburger patties, to ones made off-site for them, and, alas, I could tell the difference that change made during this visit.  It was not a bad burger, just not as good as it was the first few times I ate there.  However, the onion rings were still killer.

I also made my first visit to Marlowes this weekend.  I had heard some of the theatre staff talking about this place, and after looking it up on the web – and after realizing that most of my first dining choices were closed on Sundays – I took a chance, called them up, and arranged for one of their Pink Cadillac Stretch Limousines to come pick me up at my hotel.  The meal was great, but the limo ride was truly the most memorable part of the experience.

In order not to fill the main page of my blog up with additional pictures of my food selections here in Memphis, I’ve gone ahead and set up a separate page for anyone who wishes to view my "guilt".  Just click below.

Memphis Meals

An interesting thing happened towards the end of my audition day. It started off with one of those "everything in a second" moments:

I looked at the music… I looked at the actor… I started to play… I noticed some writing on the music… A cue line?… I noticed the actor start to speak… Or was he opening his mouth to sing?… Was the actor going to stop me and start his audition again?… I finished playing the very short intro… Still he did not stop me… Then the actor started singing…

For the next 30-40 seconds as he sang, and as I accompanied him, my mind raced: Was I wrong? Did I throw the actor off? Should I just go ahead and stop and request to start again? As the actor held the last note of the song, and as I played the "outro", I hoped and hoped for the best. Then I heard him start his monologue, and from the very first words I could tell that they were leading to the phrase that he had printed on his music. Another 30 or so seconds later, when I heard those words spoken, my heart sank even more.  When the actor turned back upstage and approached the piano to collect his music, I did not want to look at his face, but I knew it was something I had to do. When my eyes briefly met his, I could sense the confusion, the shock, even some anger (which was totally understandable under these circumstances), the self-control. I received the confirmation I did not want to receive. Unfortunately, due to the situation, the process, all I could do while handing him back his music was to say somewhat sheepishly, "I’m sorry." I had to maintain a semblance of a smile, an air of "nothing is wrong" in order not to upset the next person. He did not say anything to me after he took his music, and started to walk away. I still questioned my questions.

All of that in just a little under 90 seconds.

After those 90 seconds – after that audition – I made sure I asked the right questions. Confirmed and reconfirmed the answers I received. There was even one person who turned back to me once they were in place to say that they were doing their monologue first. Did word already get back to those waiting to go on? Or was she just in her own world of self-security?

In an earlier post, I had asked, "Do I care too much?"  Now I know that I do. That I must.

Did my mistake possibly cost the actor a job? Did my mistake ruin that actor’s day beyond his time in the audition room? Did he think that I did that on purpose? Did he think that I wanted to sabotage his chances for getting a job? Did I offend him? Did I hurt him?  All of that and more was going through my mind during and after(!) those 90 seconds. Another 90 seconds later, I did confess to those in attendance that I had made that mistake: hopefully to explain any confusion or unsure footing they might have sensed from that actor during the course of his audition. Alas, my confession felt a bit too little, too late.

I am not foolish nor self-deluded enough to say that I am the one in charge during an audition. Yes, I have joked from time to time that I can make or break someone – Well, I’ll just play it my way! –  but it is so against my nature to actually follow through on that faux-threat. Even with my not-so-favorite people that I end up playing for audition after audition – sometimes more than once in the same week – I just can’t make them have a bad audition. The revenge would most definitely not be sweet.

I have two more days of auditions to go. There are another 400 musical auditions. Another 400 songs to play. Another 400 Actors. Another 400 reasons to care too much.

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