Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 Greater Colorado Tour – Day 1

Good morning readers! Well… at least I think its morning. It’s still dark outside and there are no birdies chirping. Heck, the paper isn’t even in my driveway yet. But never-the-less, I’m up, the tank is packed (I had to stand on the tail gate to reach the trunk door) and I’m soon on my way to get the rest of the crew. We have an early morning today. We’re driving up to Gunnison do to a series of in-school workshops with 1st-3rd graders at the Gunnison Elementary School and we have to be there by 11:30.

I make a quick stop to fill up the tank in the tank and then head to the house to meet everyone. I pull into the neighborhood and the first thing I see is Alex and Jared ready and waiting, complete with Opera Colorado jackets (they’re super cute; check them out when you go to see Don Giovanni). The gents are all smiles, well Jared is all smiles. Alex cracked a grin and then moved to the tank to stake his place. He ate breakfast, so he’s moved past the general grunting phase already, but it seems his basic animalistic behaviors surface in the early morning regardless…

Cassidy, Morgan, Joshua and Steven are all soon present and Alex does the honors of packing the gear. He does an excellent job and we actually have room to spare. I mean, I think we could actually fit a couple of tissue boxes back there – amazing! Alex is very impressed with our rental tank. So are Cassidy and Jared; it has a DVD player. I comment that I told them to give me the biggest thing they had – Alex then makes a clever comment about my comment (I’ll leave it to you readers to figure it out).

We load bodies into cars and we’re off. Only 1 minute behind schedule. I think that’s some kind of record. Traffic around the Front Range isn’t too bad yet and soon we’re into the mountains. The roads are pretty good and the sun is rising. Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day. Joshua’s driving the Yukon, with Morgan as his co-pilot, and as this is his first trip up into the high country, we take the lead. Steven is driving so I make sure to keep them in my sights. Within minutes, I notice that I can’t see them anymore. Cassidy calls them on her phone and reaches Mr. and Mrs. Harmison-Bouillon. Allow me to explain –

As part of their residency, Cassidy, Morgan and Joshua share a house together. Alex and Jared share an apartment. They have become quite close and have taken on rather domestic, family-like, roles. Cassidy is the teenager, always going somewhere to do something. Alex and Jared are the big brother and favorite uncle, you know the ones who give you noogies and bring cupcakes and beer to a party? Morgan and Joshua…? Well, they’re the old married couple. And thus, we’re back to the drive; Morgan tells Cassidy that their GPS isn’t working, that’s OK they can follow us. Morgan then strongly encourages Joshua to keep up with us… strongly… several times… while still on the phone with Cassidy. Marital bliss becomes a topic of conversation in our car.

We’re getting into the more rugged part of our drive and Jared makes an observation. Seeing a lone cabin off in the distance, he says, “People live out here?” Yes, Jared. Yes, they do. We crest a hill and the view is amazing. Thankfully, there’s snow this year. When we came this way on last year’s tour, there was no snow, so it’s good to see. Jared has moved on from learning about rural living conditions and is now singing tunes from A Chorus Line. I’m about to join in when Cassidy quickly suggests that they watch a movie. After endless minutes of debating, they settle on Happy Feet. Cute show; some very funny parts. But, let me tell you, it’s a whole different experience to listen to an animated movie. Notice, I said “listen to,” not watch. Steven and I are in the front seats; no TV screen. It’s just as well. We’ve reached the valley that lies around the South Park / Fairplay area and it’s gotten really windy. I mean like arctic tundra windy. There’s a lot of snow here and it’s blowing across the roads and causing white-out conditions. There are lots of icy patches too. I make sure Joshua and Morgan are behind us. They are, but I can barely see them. The mood in the car changes. Jared looks out the window and says “Oh merciful magnolias!” Alex has gone quiet, only chiming in to do certain voice-overs with the movie. Cassidy? Well, she’s quite emotional. Happy Feet does that to her.

We finally make it through the ice age and into the start of Monarch Pass. I’ll admit, I’m a bit nervous not knowing what the roads are going to be like. It’s gorgeous though. The sun is shining and the snow looks like it’s made of diamonds (poetic, no?) The pass is, well… passable, and we make it through to the valley that leads into Gunnison. Just off road, on the hill, described by Jared as “bumpy and woody,”  we see some deer and a big horn sheep. As the designated wildlife spotter, I yell out to everyone what I’ve seen, but I neglect to say where. What follows next is a few comical moments straight out of vaudeville as the others try to find them. Cassidy spots something. She says it’s a goat. A “goat, goat.” Unsure of what other kinds of goats Cassidy has knowledge of, we press on. We soon see more deer and some llamas. Steven makes up a catchy phrase that incorporates some Spanish with llama and mama. About ten minutes later, Cassidy finishes laughing and thanks Steven for his creativity. With that – we arrive in Gunnison.

We make a quick pit stop and I check in on Mr. and Mrs. Harmison-Bouillon. Morgan and Joshua are doing just fine, happily having a car picnic together. Bodies pile back in cars and we head off to the school. We manage to park the tank, after driving over a concrete barrier, Joshua parks the Yukon and we go check in at the office. We’re looking pretty snazzy, I must admit, in our matching Opera Colorado jackets. (Did I mention they’re super cute and you can check them out when you go see Don Giovanni?) We’re shown to the classroom and greeted by their wonderful music teachers. This is one school that seems to be bucking the trend. They have two music teachers and their students get music or art every day of the week. That’s what we like to hear! There’s just time enough for the Young Artists to warm up before the first group of students arrives. Each class sings for us, we work with them on breathing and some other beginning techniques and then we sing for them.

All in all, it’s pretty fantastic to be able to interact with them in a small group setting like this. I love watching their faces and listening to their comments when they hear opera for the first time, up close. Cassidy sings “Non so piu” for the 3rd graders and does a marvelous job of explaining what it’s about – not a teenage boy’s raging hormones, but a boy excited about the world and talking about the wind and the trees…Uh huh. Morgan sings “Batti, batti” and explains to a group of 3rd graders that she has just been married but went off with another man. One of the boys in the front row looks as his friend and pronounces Morgan “a cheater!” Jared sings an aria from Hamlet and tells the students that it’s about wine and how it sometimes makes you happy and sometimes makes you sad. It’s right about now that I realize that I may not have chosen repertoire that was entirely kid-friendly. They seem to love it, but I check in with the teacher during the break between classes. She’s thrilled and says not to worry – that these are kids with real lives and real drama and it’s a good thing for them to see that expressed in the arts. Next, we’ve got two groups of 2nd graders. Alex and Cassidy sing a duet from Cosi fan tutti. Alex does a really superb job of explaining the duet in terms the kids can understand. Whew. Then Alex and Morgan sing a duet from Don Giovanni. Again, Alex is the king of self-censorship.

We have a little break, but, never ones to rest on our laurels, we take this time to rehearse some new arias. Jared and Joshua treat everyone to a rendition of “O mio babbino” and then “Donde lieta” from La bohème. It was moving, let me tell you. It just about moved Alex and Morgan out of their chairs and onto the floor. The teachers are laughing with us and comment to me that it’s so refreshing for them to see artists that are genuine and approachable; and love what they do. That’s nice to hear because it’s something we strive for in this residency. Opera isn’t that lofty art form that you’ve been taught about in history class. Opera is exciting and fun and dramatic and alive; opera is for everybody. (This is me… on my soapbox.)

Our last two classes are with 1st graders. For every class, I start by asking the students what opera is. Though it took a few suggestions to get there, each class got it right. Opera is a story that is sung. The first graders blow me away. Each time, they get it in one guess. Alex sings “Avant de quitter” for the first group and, while there are some initial giggles, some covered ears and some wiggles, they do a great job listening. For our last group, Joshua sings Romeo’s aria “Ah, leve toi soleil.” He tells the students that this aria is from an opera where two people fall in love and then do themselves in. I can see the horror spread over Joshua’s face and he quickly tries backpedal, saying that in this aria he’s asking Juliet to come out on her balcony because her likes her and they just want to chat. OK. My favorite question of the day comes from a little boy in this group. He asks us if, when we puff our tummies out, does that mean we can hold long and loud notes? Yes it does – great observation.

We spend a few more minutes with the teachers and thank them for having us in their classrooms. It really has been a treat to work with these students and show them what opera is at such a young age. We leave the school and head over to the hotel and check in. Next it’s a quick trip to Sonic because we never had time to stop for lunch. Jared sneaks in front of me in line, Alex orders extra sugary things in his drink (oh joy) and the button you push to order something gives me one heck of a shock – literally zaps me. Soon, everyone is happily snacking. We somehow get onto the topic of sunburns and that’s when the train derails. Morgan tells Joshua to “tell us that story.” Joshua shrugs it off, it was “just a bad sunburn.” Morgan then tells Joshua he’s not telling the story right and begins to re-tell it. Mind you, she wasn’t even there when this sunburn incident happened. We watch as, what can only be called a marital spat, plays out right in front of us. Me-thinks all is not well in the Harmison-Bouillon household. (I’m truly joking, they are good friends and play along with this.)

The next couple of hours is “as you wish” time and we each head our own ways. I do some work in my room. Cassidy and Morgan watch a movie. Steven and Joshua nap. Jared and Alex watch a Family Feud marathon. I make a reservation for dinner and we meet in the lobby a little later. Well, 5 of us meet in the lobby. Remember, I said Steven and Joshua napped? This was apparently the mother of all naps because we have to call and text and text again before they return to the conscious world. While we’re waiting for them, Alex does an impromptu dance to the elevator music that’s playing and Jared critiques. He didn’t get tens. Steven and Joshua appear in the lobby looking a bit fuzzy around the edges. After Jared helps Cassidy and Morgan out of the couch that they have sunk into, again literally, we head off to dinner. There’s a great restaurant here called Garlic Mike’s.

Dinner is spent in great conversation; we’re remembering the day, working with the students and other things that we’ve experienced during the Young Artists’ time here. I say more things that Alex misconstrues and comments on, Mr. and Mrs. Harmison-Bouillon have another spat, then make up, Cassidy get the giggles and Jared and I (with Joshua as back up) sing along to the show tunes and Neapolitan ballads playing over the sound system. Our server comments that we sounded good and there’s no way we’re going to let that go. We tell her where we’re from and invite her to our performance tomorrow night. After a round of free cannoli, and a lot of laughter, we call it a night and head back to the hotel. I go over the plan for tomorrow and then we bid each other goodnight.

As I sit here, typing the last bit of today’s blog, I have to admit, I feel really lucky. There are plenty of people who work at a job just because it’s, well, their job. I get to work at a job that I love. It’s not easy. It’s hard work and long hours, but I work for a wonderful company, one that I believe in. I don’t take that for granted. I don’t take the chemistry of this group for granted either. Not every year is like this, trust me. This group of Young Artists is inspiring. Not to get too mushy on you, it’s late after all, they’re not only gifted artists, they are simply good people too. It’s nice to see.

Well, that’s all for day 1 readers –



Don’t forget your job readers. “Like,” “Share,” “Tweet” and “Comment.” Oh, you can follow Mr. Quacksworth’s tour adventures on Twitter too. People are flocking to follow that duck.

Sorry,  I said it was late.

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