Monday, December 8, 2014

My hilarious moment with Marie de la Palme

A little over two years ago, I wrote about the The 10 Things I learned for the 10 years I have been a Ballet Pianist. My final item was this:

Never Forget the People Who Helped You Get to Where You Are

Marie and I have worked together on and off since our days at Orange County School of the Arts. Once in a blue moon if my schedule allows me to, I would pop into one of her classes at IVC and take class. Every time I would walk in there, she would consult me about appropriate music for particular exercises if she got stuck. She would always ask for my help if the pianist is struggling. She would always introduced me with high praise, saying I've played for this person, and that person, and this company and that company. However, I don't think she actually REALIZED she was one of the people who got me there!

Back in 2005 when my husband and I relocated to Orange County, I called around a few studios and schools saying, "Hi, my name is Rebecca, and I am an accompanist and would love to play for ballet. Please give me a call if you are interested or in need of a musician." With only a couple of years of ballet accompaniment experience, not one place called me back except for Orange Coast College. I remember telling my former employers that I finally got one class at OCC, my friend Sofia said, "Oh wonderful! I hope you get to meet Marie de la Palme! She's a dear friend of mine." Of course the one class I got to play for wasn't for hers. It wasn't until I was called in for a special event for the school's high school preview day, I finally got to play for Marie. We chatted after class, I mentioned I use to work for Riverside Community College who gave me my start. She quickly jumped up and said, "Oh! My dear friend Sofia teaches there!" A professional friendship has started. She asked me for my contact info, and told me that she would drop my name for the Classical Contemporary Dance Conservatory at OCSA saying I would be a perfect fit.

Now that I am in my 10th year there, the school has connected me to work with local studios (the same ones I called months before!), master classes for big names in the ballet community, and major ballet companies from all over the world. I'm completely immersed in the world of OCSA, muscially directing musicals for the Integrated Arts, and Music and Theater Conservatories. Marie was my catapult, and I am forever grateful for seeing the potential in me. 

Therefore, I am going to tell a story of one of my favorite moments working with Marie.

Years after meeting Marie, we got to work together on IVC's dance concert called Perspectives. She asked if I can play the ever so famous piece sung by the gorgeous Cecilia Bartoli, "Sposa son Disprezzata" from Vivaldi's Bajazet. The rehearsals were a blast. I got to work alongside Marie for an actual performance instead of a ballet class, and I also formed some amazing friendships with some of the dancers from the piece. There were a lot of laughter in rehearsals, and moments of seriousness to get it together. Then there's my favorite, Marie telling one of the dancers to stop playing Angry Birds on my iPad and actually give the iPad back to me so I can start from the top. 

Tech week came, and I remember this tech week very clearly. We had quite an interesting lighting designer. If she's reading this, well...I'm not sorry for what I'm about to say. She was rude to the crew, to the dancers, to Marie, to the stage manager, and to whoever crossed her path. I always know to stay away from the line of fire if I can help it, and I steered clear of her. When it was our turn, I crawled down into the pit, and waited as they went cue to cue. Not once did she set a light on me. I had to ask for a light so I can see the keys on my piano. If there was no light, it was pitch dark other than my iPad. That's not an unreasonable request now, is it? Assuming they set it, we went on to the rest of tech. 

Sitting in the pit during tech...with my dog's yawning face on my iPad set on a piano. can't see the piano.

At the final run, Marie came up to me and asked, "Why is your hair down?" 

Sidebar: At the time, I had this short mohawky little pixie haircut, and I always styled it up and all over the place. 

I said, "Well, I didn't want my hair sticking out of the top of the pit."

To which Marie replied, "No! Style it up! I like it that way!"

Okay. The boss has spoken!

The first performance came. It was a noon show, mainly with an audience of high school kids, college students, a few teachers and parents. The chair of the department was there along with a few professors who had the hour off. It was finally our turn. I flipped the iPad on, my hands on the piano, and my dancers are in their places. 

Lights on them. 

No lights on me. 

I waited. 

I waited. 

Then I waited some more, and no light come on. Instinctively, I started playing assuming the light will come on AFTER the music started. 

I started on the first rain-drop arpeggio. The dancers move. No light. 

I proceeded to the second rain-drop arpeggio. The dancers move. Again. NO LIGHT. 

I proceeded to the third rain-drop arpeggio and I landed on the wrong note. WRONG NOTE! A Pianist's worst nightmare.


At that very moment, I stopped playing, I turned around, stood on my piano bench, and my little mohawked pixie head comes straight out at the top of the pit and I yelled to the back of the light booth, "I'M SORRY!!! I CAN'T SEE A DAMN THING!!!!" 

In that split second, it's that moment of regret. That feeling of, once you've said something, you can't UN-say it. I couldn't catch my words and stuff it back in my mouth. That is the most unprofessional thing I have ever done in my 20 year career as an accompanist. Marie was probably infuriated with me. That was so inappropriate. I can't believe I said that in the middle of the performance. I turned around and sank down into my bench. Then I hear the audience chuckle. (Why are they laughing? Perhaps it's because it's the excitement of the theater? That anything can happen?) I looked up on stage, and my poor dancers are still in their starting position, and I see their shoulders jiggling up and down. Oh, then comes the Intelligent Light (ironic, no?) moving downwards towards the pit, passed me to the other side, then shoots back to upstage, then downstage, then to the right, and left, right again, left again, back to upstage, and downstage before landing it directly on me. I raised my right arm with the thumbs up and I hear another audience-chuckle followed by an applause. I started the piece from the beginning again. 

When the piece was over, I ducked down and slipped out of the pit and ran upstairs to backstage. I opened the door to see my dancers on the other side waiting for me. They all ran up and hugged me, laughing their asses off saying it was the most hilarious moment, ever. I was still freaking out. I said, "WTF was that? What happened?! OMG! That was so bad! How can she not find me with the light? I don't go anywhere. Marie is going to be so mad at me!" They all said my outburst was well deserved, that the lighting designer has been quite difficult to work with all week. But still, I should not have said that. Marie came trotting backstage after the performance, and starts guffawing the moment she sees me. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, "I'm so sorry!" 

She pulled me in, hugged me, and still laughing,  "Why are you sorry? That was hilarious! Okay, let's go talk to the lighting designer so it doesn't happen again." 

Well, like all things, one you make a mistake, you try not to make it again. Here is the video from the SECOND performance: (Courtesy of David Sukonik) my dear friend Marie. Thank you for being my catapult. Without you, I would've never gotten the opportunity to work with The Greats. You included. I am where I am today, because of you. I will cherish that for the rest of my life. I love you to pieces!

1 comment:

  1. Truly a wonderful story to read and Marie's response is nothing less than I would expect!