October 12, 2012
Dr. André Thomas was our Fall 2012 artist-in-residence, and what a presence he was! Dr. Thomas is the Owen F. Sellers Professor of Music, Director of Choral Activities, and Professor of Choral Music Education at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and he travels all over the world as a guest conductor (for the Berlin Radio Choir, among many others) and a clinician. As if significant achievement in choral conducting alone was not enough, Dr. Thomas is also a remarkable pianist and a prolific composer/arranger. His lectures were engaging and informative, and the master classes for which was the clinician were filled with collegial laughter and mini-enlightenments.
My colleague, John Hudson, and I are the graduate assistants for Westminster Schola Cantorum. This choir is directed by Dr. James Jordan and is made up of all of the sophomores on campus. Last year, as freshman in Westminster Chapel Choir with Dr. Amanda Quist, they performed Rockin Jerusalem, arranged by Dr. Thomas. He wanted to visit the choir, and to thank them for the recent performance of his work. He and Dr. Quist arrived at the Schola rehearsal just as John was commencing with warm-ups (which were going beautifully). It is important at this point to note that Dr. Jordan was not present for this rehearsal, as he was guest conducting a choir in Ireland. Dr. Thomas spoke with the members of Schola, and then asked if they would sing something for him. We listed the repertoire that was nearly ready for public consumption, and he decided he wanted to hear A Jubilant Song by Norman Dello Joio. Since John Hudson is playing the piano part, yours truly was up to bat for conducting the piece.
My heart was thumping a little too loudly for comfort, and I smiled at the choir and they smiled back. I took a step forward on the podium to extend the music stand, lost my balance, fell backwards off the podium onto my back in front of Dr. Thomas, AND Dr. Quist, AND all 70 members of Schola Cantorum. As I stared at the ceiling of Bristol, I thought that if I was going to have one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, at least I shared it with some really good friends. Dr. Thomas was so courteous, extended his hand and helped me to my feet. At this point, even if I did the worst conducting of my life, it would still more graceful than the fall that had just bruised my pride. I said as much to the choir, we laughed together, and then made some pretty great music. My only regret is that the fall was not recorded, because I am sure (and have heard from many others) that it was absolutely hysterical. At least I get to relive it, and laugh, and silently thank the universe for the reminder that you cannot always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how you will respond.