Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Mrs. Robbo and I had a long, but very pleasant day yesterday as we travelled down to The Homestead resort to hear Middle Gel perform with her All-State Senior Honors Choir, which I bragged about her auditioning into a few weeks back.  (Yes, this is going to be one of those Proud Dad posts.)

The Homestead, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a big place situated way down yonder near the West Virginia border and absolutely inconvenient to get to from just about any other point in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.  After slogging through several hours of interstate traffic, you’ve still got another hour plus of mountainy backroads in order to get there.  It’s very scenic, but still…..

Actually, Mrs. R and I had been there once before.  Nearly twenty-five years ago and just a couple months before our wedding, we spent the weekend attending a state bar conference (back when I thought such things important).  My only recollection of that earlier trip was of Mrs. R humiliating me on the tennis court when we found ourselves on opposites sides of the net during a mixed doubles tourney she had talked me into.  (I was a mere weekend duffer.  She was varsity captain in college.)  Nonetheless, it definitely felt odd returning after all that time to see Middle Gel do her thing.

As for the concert, it was presided over by an egomaniacal little sparkplug of a man who spooled the thing out to about twice its length otherwise with a series of autobiographical anecdotes, one-liners, and crowd-participation exercises.  As time went on, I could see the smiles on the choristers’ faces definitely beginning to become rayther frozen.

The musick, though extremely well done, really wasn’t the sort Ol’ Robbo enjoys.  They started with Moses Hogan’s “Every Time I Feel The Spirit”, to which Ol’ Robbo usually adds sotto voce, “I Want To Slit My Wrists”.  Next was a bit by Britten, whom the Gel likes a lot but I’ve always put in the “Meh” category.  (I have a theory that there’s a different scale, as it were, of enjoyment between performing a work and just listening to it.)  Then we got “Father William” by Irving Fine.  It’s a setting of text from Alice in Wonderland, and I actually found it rather amusing.  UPDATE: The gel informs me that I am mistaken about Britten.  She likes his “Festival of Carols” but thinks a lot of his other work is “weird”.

This was followed by the Randall Thompson “Alleluia”, which is actually a favorite of the Gel’s from back in her Cathedral days.  Before they began, however, the Sparkplug went into a long, gooshy monologue about lost loved ones, and invited the audience to call out anyone’s name for whom they thought the “Alleluia” would be an appropriate tribute.  Ol’ Robbo hates this sort of thing.  I came near to saying, “All the souls in Purgatory” just to spike him, but thought better of it at the last moment.

Then it was the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.  Ol’ Robbo loathes Bernstein on all levels, personal and musickal.  (I thought Tom Wolfe got him absolutely bang-o right in his essay “Radical Chic”.)  The Sparkplug, on the other hand, was practically drooling, as were many audience members.  That tells you quite a bit.  (There’s a boy soprano part, by the bye, for which they got some young middle school kid, who was scared out of his wits but quite game.  It was nice to see how fondly the choristers looked at him as he did his stuff.)

The last two selections were by somebody named Healey Willan of whom I’ve never heard, and by the Sparkplug himself.  I don’t remember much of them, frankly, except that the text of the Sparkplug’s piece was inane.

When it was over, everyone leaped spontaneously to their feet, as was really right and proper here because the kids did an outstanding job, especially considering that there were about 130 of them, they all only came together for the first time on Thursday, and some of the pieces were really quite tricky.  I’m only a hack sight-reader at the piano myself, and I continually marvel at the caliber of this performance-grade talent and how quickly and expertly they can bring it all together.  Well done, indeed.

As for the Gel, she had an absolute ball, being immersed in a group that was on the one hand so dedicated to what they were doing, and on the other so immediately and extremely friendly with each other.  It helped that five other kids from her school were there, but I gather that even singletons were quickly made to felt at home.  She was very reluctant to leave when all was over and done.

So in a couple of weeks, the Gel’s school madrigals group is going to do their annual Renaissance Feaste, a mock-Elizabethan Christmas dinner with costumes, props, and silly dialogue, but also with musick much more to Ol’ Robbo’s liking: 20 voices performing 16th and 17th Century madrigals, rounds, and carols in mostly four and five part close polyphony.  That’s the stuff!

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