On the afternoon of the Fourth of July, I was on the stage of the Historic Asolo Theater with about 30 of Sarasota’s finest singers, Virginia Bray — a tiny dynamo of a pianist — and Joseph Holt, Gloria Musicae’s new artistic director. It was GM’s annual (and sold-out) Fourth of July concert, and it was filled with great and mighty music by Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan and John Philip Sousa. The program included ubiquitous blockbusters such as “America the Beautiful,” in a gorgeous arrangement by Carmen Dragon, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” arranged by Peter Wilhousky, a stirring transcription by our conductor of the “Armed Forces Medley” and some poignantly affecting folk songs from around the world.
On July 5, I felt as if I’d been run over by a Mack truck.
Singing takes as much stamina as a long-distance runner and as much training as a doctor. In fact, the years we spend learning languages; hunting for the teacher who will change our lives from “wannabes” to “superstars”; listening to recordings; attending performances; taking classes in movement, drama, stage makeup and dance; auditioning; practicing and rehearsing makes medical school look like kindergarten.
And then there’s the age factor. As we grow older, our vocal cords thicken and our diaphragms weaken. Suddenly, a phrase we’ve carried with ease leaves us panting for breath; a high B-flat that used to float feels like a lead balloon — there’s a wobble! And don't even ask about memorizing.
Standing in one place for 90 minutes gives me leg cramps and makes my feet numb. Holding my music makes my shoulders ache. Breathing the way I must breathe in order to sing makes me dizzy. And concentrating makes my head hurt.
But it was worth it. It was a good concert. There was a woman in the front row who wept when we sang “The Dying Soldier.” The whole audience laughed out loud when we showed a photo of the infamous “Unconditional Surrender,” while singing “I Left My Heart in Sarasota.”
My heart is still in my song. The price is bigger these days but, boy, is it ever worth it.
— June LeBell
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