Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - December 5, 2014

The show must go on

Most people like music. It certainly is true in our family. Like most youngsters, our two girls seem to have some sort of music player with them wherever they go. Husband Art and I spend a big portion of our entertainment dollars to attend musical events at Kansas State University’s McCain Auditorium. So far this fall, we’ve enjoyed violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, the a cappella group “Straight No Chaser” and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. LeAnn Rimes and Christmas with the King’s Singers are just around the corner.

Art receives an additional dose of music by helping with the high school musical in early November. He says that even though the quality is certainly not up to professional standards, watching the students "get into it," combined with it being a live performance, makes the whole event quite entertaining.

There definitely is something about a live performance that adds to the entertainment value. But as much as I enjoy music, this former piano/trumpet/clarinet player wants nothing to do with the spotlight that can come with performing in public. So I was very happy I was not daughter Katie the early part of last month. Sunday, Nov. 16, was scheduled as the date of her senior recital in All Faiths Chapel on the college campus.

But for Katie, who was fortunate not to have inherited my aversion to being in the limelight, standing in front of a group of people was the least of her worries. First, she had to memorize the music that included a piece in French, two in Italian and five in German. Then, she needed to schedule time with her accompanists. For most, this would probably mean only a piano player. But Katie wanted to include some soft jazz, so she chose three musical numbers that, in addition to the piano, needed a bass and drum set.

To make it more varied for the audience, her friend Sarah agreed to combine her recital with Katie’s so that together they would provide more than an hour of music. In addition, they decided two of the numbers would be duets. Katie also asked another friend to sing with her on one of her jazz pieces.

While it sounded great on paper, things began to unravel as November approached. Sarah’s new job, together with an illness that sort of waxed and waned, made it difficult for her to find time to rehearse with Katie. A number of large papers had been due in several of Katie’s courses, causing her to push to the side the memorization of several songs.

Then the fatigue set in. It seemed like no matter how much rest she managed to fit into her schedule, she could barely drag herself out of bed. As the days passed, it became worse. She was convinced it was nerves that were making her so tired and decided it was just something she’d have to push through.

A bit more than a week before the recital, she awoke with a sore throat. She said her immediate thought was, “I really don’t need this too!”

With just six days to rehearse, her throat was so sore that she decided to visit the doctor to see what he could do. The verdict was strep throat and tonsillitis. He wrote her a prescription that included vocal rest and told her to return by the end of the week if things weren’t better.

They weren't. Her tonsils were so enlarged it was making it difficult for her to breathe - something that is annoying for anyone, but a real problem for a singer.

When Katie saw the doctor Friday, he apologized. Since her spleen wasn’t enlarged, he had misdiagnosed her condition. She had mononucleosis! He gave her some steroids to reduce the inflammation.

Oddly, the diagnosis actually made her feel better. Suddenly, the on-and-off fever, the extreme tiredness and the other symptoms made sense. It wasn’t just stress; she was legitimately ill!

From there, things improved. The steroids seemed to help with the swelling and the tiredness was less acute. On Saturday, Katie and Sarah ran over their duets and Katie had a chance to practice with the trio. Two days earlier, she had been wondering if it would have to be scrubbed. But now she concluded that while it was unlikely to be her best effort, the “show must go on” - and she’d be able to perform without embarrassing herself.

For a critical listener, the effects were there. The steroids had dried her throat and, on her third piece, a stretch of high notes finally took a toll and she couldn’t sustain the last one. It also reduced the strength of her lows. Sarah was not spared either, shifting pitch during a few bars of a solo.

And then it was over! The extended applause was evidence enough that it had gone well. Before going to the reception, Katie told us she was amazed how quickly it had gone by and said she was generally pleased with the outcome.

Art stayed behind in the now-empty chapel to collect his video equipment, when Dr. Patricia Thompson, Katie's voice teacher, appeared. She smiled broadly and said, "I think that was an A!" Considering what had happened in the days leading up to the recital, the fact Katie could do it at all amazed me.

But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. Several incidents came to mind. One was last year when Katie and Art stopped for lunch at a fast food place and were surprised to meet one of her former high school choir members behind the counter. He had briefly attended a nearby college, but had dropped out when, to use his words, "You know, music is hard!"

Another was two weeks prior to the recital when she was so tired. She visited with Dr. Thompson about cutting some of the pieces, but knew beforehand what the answer would be.

Another occurred when Katie was a freshman in high school. She was playing the violin as well as singing then. K-State cellist and orchestra conductor Dr. David Littrell was, as he is now, the conductor of the Gold Orchestra, a youth string group that has won much acclaim. When Katie joined the orchestra, one of his statements stuck with me. He told the parents that even though it was unlikely our children would become professional musicians, the discipline and habits developed while studying music would help them throughout their lives. Those words came back to me the day before the recital when Katie said, “As long as I can breathe, I’ll be able to sing.”

Despite all the distractions, the discipline and work habits she has developed paid off - and Dr. Littrell was in the back of the chapel watching.

Left: Katie as a preschooler using a closet rack as a microphone; middle: Katie several years ago with Dr. David Littrell; right: Katie at her recital November 16.

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