A decade of nostalgia in Rockford, Illinois
Last year I had the privilege of singing with the Rockford Wind Ensemble in Rockford, Illinois, and I was grateful to be asked back this year! I did a wee livestream of it, feel free to scoot forward to the ten-minute mark to find me. I got to sing "Gimme, Gimme" from Thoroughly Modern Millie, and "Fire and Rain" from the one and only James Taylor.
Perhaps the best part was the strong sense of nostalgia I felt throughout it all. I speak to this in the video, but these two men in the photo have a great deal to do with my musical career. Bill Petersen (left), conductor of the ensemble, was the one who asked me to join for this particular concert. He was also the orchestra pit conductor and jazz band director during my high school career, which meant I would work closely with him when tech came around to marry the orchestra and the singing (that had only been done to the original cast recording). I remember rehearsing closely with him on many occasions, especially during our time doing Thoroughly Modern Millie. I remember rehearsing the song "Gimme Gimme" for the first time (ten years ago!!!) with the pit. I speak to this in the video above, but I remember him taking me aside and explaining that the high school orchestra wouldn't be able to do the same things the original recording did. But it was the way he said it that I'll always remember...he didn't say, "Now Leslie, I know you've probably gotten this in your head a certain way from listening to the recording, but we aren't able to do that because we haven't had months of rehearsal and performance like they did, so please just follow me." No, I think his words were, "We won't be able to do the rubato, so try to keep a steady beat in your head." He approached me, a vocalist, like a musician. Not like a high school singer...like a musician. With few (but specific) words, and it required that I rise to the occasion. When he called me about this gig earlier in the year, it was his idea for me to do a non show-tune song as the second in my set. He remembered, and I don't know how, that I would do coffee shop gigs and specifically James Taylor songs. He suggested I play guitar along with the orchestra. Again - treated me as a musician. And it required that I acted like one.
The concert was made even more special because Tim Connors (right) could be there as well. To say Tim was simply the director of these shows I did a decade ago would be missing the entire point of his existence in my life. I will never forget the rehearsal I had with Tim in 2007 for this same song, "Gimme Gimme." It was just the two of us at 8pm on a Tuesday. I was 17, had a long day of school, followed by a long ensemble rehearsal for the show, and he cleared the entire cast out of the 900+ seat theatre out so we could nail down this song. Naturally, I had listened to Sutton Foster's version probably 400 times, and watched the video at least that much. I had a very clear sense of how I wanted to do this song. I think we only did the song three times (because yall it's a lot). Each time he gave small critiques, and then when we were done, he said something to the effect of "this is the best you've ever sounded." I put in the work, and he was pleased. To make Connors pleased with you is one of the greatest joys. He was coach, director, mentor, buddy, and uncle-figure. To a great many of us. Interestingly, I saw him at a coffee shop in town the morning of this performance. He mentioned that the kids who hang out in his office can truly talk about anything they wish...they know they're safe. He has a keen sense of what is a passing phase (like a few of my boyfriends...) and what was something to be dealt with head-on...and he was willing to do what it took to help us get rid of the problems that were holding us back. A true teacher in every sense of the word, and the world is a better place because he is in it.
I was grateful for this time with old friends making GREAT music. Here's to next time!