Friday, November 12, 2010
FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES...25TH ANNIVERSARY OF FREESTYLE PART 1
It was Saturday, November 6, 2010, the day of the 25th Anniversary of Freestyle concert at Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. I had only about 5 hours of sleep; seems that's about the average I've gotten in the last few weeks. The sleep deprivation resulted from anxiety, concern, nerves and good stressors in my life recently. But today would be the day - lots to do, lots to say, lots to sing. I arrived to Atlantic City, after getting myself lost for the first time, which robbed us of about 45 minutes of relaxation time. But I was excited - the surprise I'd been keeping locked inside would finally be revealed.
My surprise? My Trump Card? My Secret Weapon? The Chorus of PS 22 in Staten Island would be performing No Reason to Cry with me on stage, just as they had done in 2006 at their school as a surprise to me! For years I had thought about those children, and wanted to include them in a show of some sort, but I was always turned down for one reason or another. Having children perform in big venues is a big insurance, liability risk, blah blah blah. But somehow, by God's goodness, this year I was granted permission to ask them to sing with me at Taj Mahal. I had a month to make this happen, First, I had to get the producer's permission. The next step was to write a proposal letter to the principal and get permission from the Board of Education. I did all the necessary things in less than three days but it took about three weeks for it to happen!!!
First I was told to wait for an answer. Then I was granted a yes, Then a no. Then a yes. Then I was overjoyed!! Then two days before the show, "Judy, we have a problem." NOOOOOO, what could it be NOW??? Turns out that I was scheduled to go onstage at 10:25p.m. - PS 22 Chorus would sing with me first. The problem was the 10 year old children had to be back at the school by midnight the latest. The teacher explained to me that the students had a curfew of midnight - no later - no exceptions! They had even performed for the President of the United States, and had to be back by midnight. So if they didn't make an exception for him, I would not be any different. Hm. So NOW what would we do??
So the producer, Vito Bruno, and I put our heads together and came up with the idea that since I'd hosted the KTU Freestyle Free For All for 12 1/2 years, I could open the show with the children...and say "There's No Reason to Cry because Freestyle will never die!!" Corny, yes, but we'd have to make it work.
I arrived to soundcheck, and saw all of PS 22 Chorus filling in the first two rows of the audience. I said hello to them all, and in an instant you could hear the genuine joy and excitement in their voices. I high-fived them, asked them if they were excited, if they were ready....and in unison they cried, "Yesssss!" Kids are the best! The biggest challenge at soundcheck was to ensure they would all be heard. I said it over and over again to the sound engineers, "It's not about me...I'm fine, I'll be fine, but if those children are not heard, it will be useless." Their amazing teacher, Mr. Breinberg, looked at me with the same concern I had...but by the third try, they could be heard. Thank goodness....our dream was going to happen in less than 3 hours!
Not much time to do too much. I swallowed dinner and rushed to get ready. I met with the students of the PS 22 Chorus in the green room, and wished them luck. They had nothing but compliments: "Ooh Judy, you look so pretty!" And then from a boy, "Judy, you look beautiful!" And then of course, most likely from a future fashion designer: "Judy, NICE shoes!!" LOL. They were so adorable with their smiling faces...and it was their faces that I remembered as I walked to the stage. I was nervous -actually I had severe dry mouth, lol. But it was those faces full of hope, excitement and joy that I brought with me. The chorus began to form onstage, and I watched from the screens backstage. They were holding their hands up high, waving to the audience. It was a great moment.
I walked out onto the stage, and I just felt so supported. I'm used to being on stage alone. And sometimes, it can be lonely. Although I can handle it, it was just great to have people on stage with the very same intention: to please the crowd! And then the music began. I started softly...if you begin singing too loudly you have no where to go. That was a valuable lesson my high school music teacher, Mr. Frank Roman, had taught me, and I never forgot anything he said to me. So I began singing and as soon as I heard the children behind me, I was just full of love. I was so happy with how it was sounding, and then when I introduced them, I heard the crowd TRULY support their presence and I almost cried. In spite of my dry mouth, which sucked, I sang the words: "...'Cause, darling, it was meant for you..." and I heard the crowd roar! Great feeling...nothing describes it. And then I heard the children, "There's no reason to cry..." and I knew we were all performing something I'd never forget.
Afterward, I walked upstair to congratulate them: "WE DID IT!" And the PS 22 Chorus screamed with the exhilaration that only children can, and I was just so grateful. Working with them made me miss the one year that I was a music teacher at St. Dominic's in the Bronx - I taught Kindgergarten through 8th grade, and although I loved them all, I have to confess it was the 4th and 5th grades that were my favorite! I wanted to take these kids home forever! I told them, "I have no children, but today I do!" And Mr. Breinberg interjected, "You have 65 now!" I also gave them a little pep talk: "How many of you want to be a professional singer when you grow up?" Many enthusiastic hands went up. "Well, let me tell you, you see how smal this room is? You see there is nothing fancy here? This is the reality of being a professional singer: the lights and glamour are on stage, NOT back stage. It is very important to remember where you come from. It won't always be fancy. If you are wanting to become a singer only to be famous, you are wasting your time. Be a singer because you want to make people feel good, help them forget their problems, NOT because you want fame. I love you all & I will never forget what you did for me today!" I walked away, feeling happy, but feeling sad. I know in some way, I am meant to work with children. Actually, it's been in the back of my mind for a few years now, that I'd like to start an afterschool mentoring program called, DreamCatchers! It would be an afterschool program for underprivileged children that would support them in self-esteem and performance arts. It will be something I do one day, for sure, but I had to release that thought for a moment because I had to go back on stage in a while...time to change...the show must go on!