Mary Sugar’s Amazing Tuscan Adventure

June 20, 2010

Mary Sugar generously shares her recent experiences at Il Chiostro with Amanda McBroom and Suzanne Kiechle…

Tuscan Memories, or “Hey, Mom, I played the Palace”

Tuesday, May 11. “What do we do? We fly!” Lufthansa flight to Frankfort – watch Avatar, Up In The Air, Sherlock Holmes and It’s Complicated. Too excited to sleep. Arrive in Frankfort on Wednesday morning, May 12, transfer in Frankfort to Florence. As we come in for a landing, I notice something totally unexpected – there’s a huge Ikea store right next to the airport. Seems just a little out-of-place. I get to hotel, lie down for a “nap” at 5 pm, wake up at 10 am May 13. Oh well. At least I got the jetlag out of the way fast.

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Thursday, May 13. First thing I accomplish is to melt my curling iron. AAA told me I didn’t need a converter, just an adapter. Never trust AAA again. Anyone who knows me knows what a huge difference a curling iron makes to my hair. Now I have to go through the next several weeks without one. I spend the rest of my time in Italy looking scruffy and unkempt. Hope no one judges by appearances.

Take a bus to midtown Florence, see the Duomo. Geez Louise. Big. Ornate. Pretty glorious. “Stone after stone, day after day. From year to year man had his way. Men had built with faith and love. These cathedrals rose above… From nowhere came the Age of the Cathedrals, the old world began… for man just has to climb up where the stars are, and live beyond life, live in glass and live in stone…”

Shop for souvenirs on my way to my main goal for the day: the Galleria dell’Accademia. Home to two of the nine remaining Cristofori instruments. My Holy Grails. And what’s-his-name: David, too. Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the Pianoforte in Florence in 1711. I stand there with tears running down my face, in front of his Ebony Harpsichord (1700) and an Oval Spinetta (1690), the precursors to the glorious instrument that has provided the life I live today. One of the most spiritual experiences of my life. (Another major spiritual experience would happen in a few days when Amanda put her chart for The Rose in front of me on the piano, but more on that later). Overwhelmed with gratitude, both to Amanda for asking me to do the gig, and to Bartolomeo for what he gave us. No picture taking is allowed, but I slip my iPhone out of my pocket and manage to surreptitiously capture a few memories.

I leave the Musical Instrument wing and see the rest of the Galleria, including David. Much bigger than I expected, and the detail and the brightness of the stone was dazzling. Good job, Mikey!

More shopping on the way back to the Piazza, where I stop for a delicious lunch of Gnocchi with Rocket (arugula) and Pears, and my first Gelato. The gnocchi was awesome, the gelato somehow less so. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nearly as wowed by the gelato in Italy as I thought I would be, though I tried a few different flavors. It was the pasta and the sauces that were the most mouth-watering – more on that later.

After lunch, more walking around Florence in search of my next goal – the home of one of my favorite authors, Dante Alighieri. A light rain kept me from taking too many pictures, but I managed to get a few. There’s signs all around, pointing the way. I get to the church he attended, and then turn the corner and there’s his house. Very mystical, like being transported back in time. Kept expecting to look through an open window and see him at his writing table. Very moving.

This was my first full day in Italy, and it was so much more than I expected. The emotions, the gratitude, and more: the feeling of my mother so close. She was born in Linguagrossa, Sicily (yes, I know that means great tongue, now stop snickering), but came to America when she was only a year old, and never got to return. She passed over in 1984, but I felt her with me every moment of this trip, like I was seeing everything for the both of us. “And I wonder, am I living partly her dreams, partly mine?”

My father’s family were gypsies from the Tyrol region. I feel very much connected to both sides here. In the Piazza del Duomo I encounter the first authentic gypsies I’ve ever met other than my own relatives, who weren’t very connected with their heritage. I buy some scarves from one, but I don’t get to talk to her much, she bolts when she sees policemen approaching. They don’t bother with me, although I do find out it’s illegal to buy from street vendors. Oh well, I’m now a criminal with contraband. “It’s just the gypsy in my soul.”

The Italian songs I learned in my childhood are very much with me now: Al Di La, Quando m’Innamoro, Innamorata, Amico Mio, Amore Scusami, Alla Porte Del Sol, Mala Femmina, Mamma (especially), and many others, but so is Amanda’s “The Portrait”. It’s copywritten 1981, just three years before Mom passed, and though not all the lyrics fit my life, enough do that I’ve always felt connected to it. I have that picture, I had the sailor dress and the pigtails. I’ve always been a Gypsy, by blood, by nature, and by profession. And Mom’s never far from my dreams. That song played a huge part in my healing process. I’m still so astonished that I’m here, on this gig, to play for the woman whose music has meant so much to me for so many years. I don’t know what I did, but it feels like the Universe is giving me one big, fat reward after another.

Back to my hotel to sleep and get ready for the bus-trip to Siena the next day.

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Friday, May 14. On the bus to Siena I meet a very nice couple from the States. They help me get my luggage up to my hotel room and we have lunch together. After lunch I do un poco shopping and have a lie-down.

Then I meet up with the gang at the Hotel Athena. I see voice teacher Suzanne Kiechle first, and with her is Kathy McGinty. Then Sarah Boone joins us, as well as Giselle Wolf and her husband Stuart Ungar. Amanda’s husband George Ball enters the lobby, immediately getting everyone’s attention. Very handsome man, much charisma, amazing presence, and the warmest, friendliest, most resonant voice I’ve ever heard. And strangely familiar to me, for a reason I don’t figure out for a couple of days. More about that later.

Then I see Amanda. Simply a goddess. No words. I still can’t believe I’m here, still can’t believe we’re going to be working together. I’m so honored, and I’m so awed I’m feeling stupid. Throughout the whole trip I say things I want to kick myself for after. Like my friend Steven Lutvak says: “I just believe in music”, so to me, songwriters are the vocal proxies of the Universe. Oracles. The Forces that speak Reality into Being speak through them. I’m always humbled by that. I’ve worked with many songwriters before: Kander & Ebb, Schmidt & Jones, Strouse, Harnick, Hall, Friedman, Cryer, Carnelia, Gatlin… But this feels so different. She doesn’t just write songs, she writes… I don’t know what. I’ve heard “The Rose” called a pop anthem, but it’s more than that. It’s a Gospel. Not a gospel song, but a real Gospel. The Universe had a message It wanted to get across, and It chose Amanda to do it. She’s an Oracle. And I’m… continually making a fool of myself.

We walk up the street to a cute little family restaurant called Nona Gena’s, where the gang tells me about this wonderful thing called Pici. It’s like spaghetti, but with a much wider diameter, wider than linguine or anything I’ve seen before, and hand-rolled. So I order it. It’s served in a sauce that’s half-Bolognese and half-Pesto. Bolognese sauce here doesn’t have tomatoes like it does in the States. I take one bite and my toes curl. I say “Oh my god”, not even knowing I’m speaking out loud. I end up taking four packages of Pici home in my luggage.

I get to talk to everyone and start getting to know them better. I’m still gushing over how much Amanda’s music means to me. When I first heard her album “Midnight Matinee”, I thought “that’s the kind of singer I became an accompanist for”. The biggest joy of the whole trip was playing for her and George – Italy, though gorgeous, was incidental. It could have been anywhere and it still would have been the best experience of my life.

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Saturday, May 15th. I rejoin them at their hotel and leave my luggage with theirs while we go back to Nona Gena’s for lunch. More Pici – yay! Then back to the hotel, where we’re picked up by Michael Mele and Andrea, one of Il Chiostro’s two marvelous chefs, for the trip to San Fedele in Chianti. This is my first real look at the Tuscan countryside and it’s astoundingly beautiful. Olive trees and grape vines everywhere. Just gorgeous.

A few words about Borgo San Fedele. This is a painstakingly reconstructed 12 century monastery. The owners, Nicolo & Renata, have lovingly rebuilt this incredible sanctuary stone by stone. It’s an awe-inspiring place, with a truly spiritual feeling about it. http://www.tuscanrenaissancecenter.com , http://www.borgosanfedele.com and http://www.ilchiostro.com give much more information about the place and about the programs they hold here.

I get settled into my room and meet my roommate for the week, Mary Zephnfennig – apparently we’re in the “Mary, Mary” room. She’s a delightful young college student, eager to learn, and excited to be there for her second year.

In the evening, there’s a welcome & orientation, then dinner. I meet the rest of the staff: Linda Mironti, beautiful singer and incredible chef, and Michael Ferris, called “Michaelino” to differentiate him from Michael Mele. Michaelino is a baby-faced sweetheart with a gorgeous tenor voice.

The class members introduce themselves. There’s the ones I met up with in Siena: Sarah, a theatrical producer living in Florida, Kathy, a nurse from L.A., and Giselle, an actress from London. Then there’s Mary, my roommate, from Colorado, but attending U.S.C., Kelley Mathews, a former restaurant owner from Tuscon, who has never sung before, Candace Leeds, who works in public relations in NYC – always tres chic, Wendy Kurtzman, a busy casting director and cabaret singer from L.A., Rene Potter, a retired computer consulting firm owner from Tuscon, Donna Moore, an elementary school teacher from L.A., Cathi Schultz, an actress/producer who runs a wildlife rescue center in L.A., and Ron Squeri – the reason I’m here. Ron and his partner Michael Miyazaki (https://cabaretdc.wordpress.com/) held a Master Class in D.C. in November with Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman, and hired me to play for it. That’s how I met Amanda, and from that she asked me to come to Italy with her.

BTW, it’s cold. Seriously. In the 50s by day, upper 30s at night. And there’s some energy-conservation statute in Italy that says you can’t turn on the heat after May 1st. Mercy.

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Sunday, May 16th. Breakfast: Pecorino cheese, croissants, fruits, hard-boiled eggs, breads, homemade jams, granola, cereal, blood-orange juice…. This was the spread every morning, sometimes supplemented by baked goods by Renata. The food in this place was unbelievable. Linda & Andrea did a wonderful job every night, introducing us to the food, telling us how it was cooked – oral “program notes”! Everything was made from scratch each day, with the freshest of ingredients – some picked by the students on walkabouts!

Class starts. Warmups by Suzanne and Amanda, then away we go. Each student sings, then Suzanne comes up and does some kind of alchemy on them, and suddenly a new voice emerges. I have no idea what she did or how she did it, but it worked every time. I also saw a workshop of hers in Maryland before this trip started, and she worked magic on each and every performer. I’ve worked with many voice teachers, but she’s really a voice healer. I highly recommend her book: The Keys To Vocal Freedom. She’s not kidding. http://www.SuzanneKiechle.com .

Amanda then works with each student. There’s so much love and generosity of spirit in her work. She brings out the essence of each singer and each song. It’s wondrous to see, and beautiful to be a part of.

The classes all week are filled with hugs and tears, breakdowns and breakthroughs. I’m honored to be a part of this process with these brave, talented people.

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Monday May 17th. After the morning class, we have an excursion to the town of Radda-in-Chianti. I have lunch with Amanda and a few of the ladies in the class, and we do window shopping. I don’t buy anything, but it’s fun.

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Tuesday May 18th. Group excursion to Siena, which I didn’t join – been there already and needed sleep. Want to be fresh and alert for what I know is coming up. Something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Being the obsessive that I am, I’ve prepared for this by learning every song on Amanda’s albums and in her songbook, which I’ve also brought with me. I even know songs of hers that haven’t been published – one of which winds up in our concert in Florence. But nothing could have prepared me for what playing for them would really be like. That night, I rehearse with George and Amanda for the first time. Here’s a copy of the email I sent some friends that night: “Just had the best night of my life. Two hour jam session with Amanda McBroom & George Ball, going through her entire songbook. Cried constantly. Especially during The Rose. The most iconic pop song EVER, and I just played it with the songwriter. In fucking Tuscany. Is this really my life????” Seriously, when she put her chart in front of me, I burst into tears and couldn’t make my hands touch the keys for a couple of minutes. That’s never happened to me before. I’ve been playing that song for 30 years. I’ve been a wedding musician for 35 years, and that song is THE most requested wedding song, ever. Playing it with Amanda was a Major Spiritual Experience.

And I finally figured out why George’s voice was so familiar to me. There’s a certain demo I acquired by (ahem) questionable means, which I listen to constantly, and he’s on it! I practically cried again when I realized his is the voice I’ve loved for months, listening to it at least once a day. So of course, I do a quick transcription of the song, and we do it together – I can’t even describe what it felt like, to play that song with him. Linda calls him “the human vibrator”, and I can see why. His voice is like rich honey that just melts and flows over the music….

I was a fan before, but now I think I’m madly in love with both of them!

On my way back to my room, I kept thinking “Wow, I can’t wait to call Mom and tell her about this night”. And then of course, I remembered. That’s only happened to me once before, the first time I had lunch with Robin Williams. I mentioned the experience (of forgetting Mom had passed, not lunch with Robin) to George the next day, and he said that often happened to them when they had heightened experiences or heightened states of emotion. Nice to know I’m not crazy. (well…) Especially since it happens pretty much every time I play for the two of them over the next couple of weeks.

In the coming days, George and I discuss the relationship between a singer and an accompanist. I say it’s like really good ballroom dancing, and he agrees. And chemistry, he says. That’s got to be there, too. I agree. There’s so much give and take, and sometimes one has to play like an accompanist and follow, and sometimes like a music director, and take the lead, to let the singer play around, backphrase, etc. I’ve never before played for people who lead as well as they do. It’s such a joy to follow them.

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Wednesday, May 19th. More and more connections are being discovered between the participants here. Turns out Michaelino is from a small town in upstate New York, not far from where I grew up. Sarah and I knew each other 25 years ago in NYC at HB Studios. Wendy was the casting director for the movie “Dangerous Beauty”, which is my favorite movie, and which Amanda has written the musical of, with Michele Brourman. Candace is on the board of Cap 21 in NYC, which was started by our friend Frank Ventura, back when I was working with him in my NYC days. Giselle’s first musical was a show called “Bar Mitzvah Boy”, which I happened to have on my iPod/iPhone because it was sent to me by Larry Blank, who is a good friend of George and Amanda. Also, Giselle’s cousin Ron Abel is a conductor/orchestrator/music director/friend of mine! And many more new, beautiful connections being made daily.

Today a trip to San Gimingano. Bought the most beautiful scarf, and found that Mary Z. had bought almost the exact same one a few minutes earlier in the same store! Had a wonderful lunch with the gang, then back to class.

That night, an informal jam session with the students and staff. Linda & Michaelino sang beautifully, and we got to see a different side of some of the students. When everybody else had left, Michaelino and I sang some duets I had arranged – how nice to hear them done like that!

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Thursday, May 20th. Mostly private sessions today. Brave people, these. Extraordinary stuff happening, on many levels.

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Friday, May 21st. Concert day. Boy, it’s been nice having a 15-second commute to work – by foot! I’m going to really miss that! We had a run-thru in the morning, lunch, then getting ready time.

The concert is lovely. There are moments when the students have me in tears, like watching Cathi really listening to the “This One’s For You” intro I played for her song “The Song Remembers When” and knowing what that meant to her, or the moment when I knew Kelley really “got it” and was going to do a great job, or seeing Ron, who I’ve known for over 2 years, really open up and own the stage and himself. The honesty Rene found in “My Favorite Year”, the risks Wendy took with “Where Am I Going?”, and Linda wailing out “Since I Fell For You” – so proud of all of them! Then a group-sing of The Rose, a song that will never be the same for me after this experience.

The support and love given and received during this week has been so beautiful to see and be a part of.

Yet another stupendous dinner, with a surprise treat at the end: Ron’s partner Michael arranged ahead-of-time with me to provide some goodies for a birthday celebration. Linda has made a confection called “Pollock” because it looks like a Jackson Pollock creation, out of gelato, chocolate, amarena cherries and other good stuff. They drink a toast of Prosecco, and then everybody sings an accapella song – even me. I sing Quando m’Innamoro, one of the songs I grew up hearing my “Uncle” Sergio Franchi sing. A lovely end to a wonderful week.

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Saturday, May 22nd. “Ciao Compare.. my memory embraces the ring of your voices, the light of your faces. I’ll be with you someday, somehow… but for now, Compare, Ciao.”

Many tears as friends part. We go off in groups, some to Rome, some to Florence, some to Siena. Joyce Dittemore, who will be our hostess for the next few days, arrives to take Amanda, George, Stuart, Giselle and I to our next stop: Porto Santo Stefano, on the Mediterranean. After driving through many miles of beautiful scenery, we arrive, have lunch, unpack, and relax for a bit. I’m emotionally & physically exhausted by the week we’ve just had, so I stay in the apartment while they go out to dinner. I’m asleep by 8, wild woman that I am.

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Sunday, May 23rd. “Northward, Southward, East or West – Take me different places, show me different faces, that’s the life I like best: Travel!”

We go Porto Ercule to visit friends of Joyce who run an Arts Festival. Their estate is palatial. Olive groves, gardens, a huge pool, and two gorgeous dogs that are bigger than most people. We have a lovely lunch al fresco. Every place I go in Italy is more beautiful than the one before. That night, after dinner in a local restaurant, Joyce takes me down the back stairs to do something I’ve always wanted to do: we take our shoes off and walk into the Mediterranean Sea. A tearful, prayerful moment of communion with the Spirit of the Waters (I’m hearing Dan Fogelberg in my head), and Mother Earth. I am so moved, and so thankful for this experience.

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Monday, May 24th. “Take me where you want to go, make it anywhere at all. Follow any winds that blow, any course that seems to call.”

We move on to Arezzo. Again, the drive through the Italian countryside is astonishingly beautiful. We’re staying at Joyce’s home, a 3-story villa overlooking Arezzo that’s been in her husband’s family for over 500 years. Longer than the U.S. has been a country. The history here is astounding. She and her husband Sandro are lovely hosts.

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Tuesday, May 25th. We go into town, and to the Church of St. Francis. This is built upon the site he often stayed at when he came through town; Joyce pointed out the statue built over the cell he slept in. Beats “George Washington slept here” any day. I’m not a believer, but I buy a rosary for my cousin Frank who was named after St. Francis. Lunch is delectable Italian pizza with porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese, then more travel. On to Firenze! My second time here in two weeks.

We’re staying in a two-bedroom suite with a grand hallway you could do a movie musical in. The domed ceilings are about 40-feet high. Everything’s marble & old wood. There’s a bust of Athena on the fireplace mantle.

“Would ya look at that coffered ceiling, Look at that chandelier. Excuse me but how I’m feeling is a hundred-proof. I could raise the roof. I’m so happy to be here…”

This is a copy of the email I sent to my drummer: “Holy Shit. Just got to our hotel suite at the Palazzo Tornobuono in Florence. It used to be called The Medici Palace. The bathroom is bigger than my living room at home. The Palazzo has it’s own music festival, Maggio Musicale, one of the oldest festivals in Europe. The MD is Zubin Mehta. I may never leave.”

It’s here that I meet my soulmate. In the Pope’s Quarters here at the Palace(!), there’s an “Opera Room”, called that because it’s where the first opera (Daphne, 1598, Corsi & Peri) was ever performed. In here is the most exquisite Steinway Concert Grand I’ve ever encountered. It’s an honor just to touch it. It definitely owns the room. I have to sit with it for a few minutes to get the feel of its energy before I can touch the keys. The sense of gravitas within it is palpable. The resonance when the keys are pressed reverberates through the history of the room. Mary wants.

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Wednesday, May 26th. “Excuse me if I seem jejeune, I promise I’ll find my marbles soon. But everywhere I look it’s like a scene from a book. Open the book and Here I am!”

Here’s a copy of the email I sent out to friends: “The ideal day: Spending the morning rehearsing. In the Pope’s quarters. In the Medici Palace. In the room in which the very first opera was performed. With the woman who wrote “The Rose.” On the most spectacular Steinway I’ve ever encountered. Then lunch & shopping in the Piazza San Lorenzo. Then alone-time with the Steinway, singing Italian songs & thinking of Mom. Then a nap in a bed so high & plush I had to climb on a chair to get into it. In our suite. In the Palazzo Terrabuono. AKA The Medici Palace. When did I step into this parallel universe?”

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Thursday, May 27th. We teach a couple of private lessons in the morning – Naccia is a lovely girl, half Italian, half Dominican Republic. Lovely voice. Then a husband and wife team – she’s very good, he’s very inexperienced. But it’s all fun.

Concert day. Wish I had my curling iron. Fairy-Godmother moment: while I’m getting ready, Amanda comes into the room with a present: a gorgeous necklace of deep blue Murano glass beads, saying “this is your color”. A beautiful gift, and I feel like Cinderella – after all, I am at the Palace!

Concert goes well, although being me, I can only focus on the one chord I felt I held too long. Obsessive doesn’t begin to describe. George and Amanda sing: Some Enchanted Evening, Ship in a Bottle, The Way You Look Tonight/Dance, September Song, If I Were You (the song I transcribed from the demo of Dangerous Beauty), E Se Domani (an Italian song I transcribed for Amanda), They Call The Wind Maria, and of course, The Rose. They’re glorious. Throughout this whole tour, I have noticed the care with which they treat each other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a couple more in love, and they’ve been together since 1968! There hasn’t been a harsh word between them, or a moment not filled with respect and regard for each other. What a beautiful thing to see. Gives me hope…

Dinner at a Trattoria around the corner is rabbit on a skewer and apricot gnocchi – divine!

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Friday, May 28th. We do a few more lessons in the morning. Gabrielle, the Marketing and Attache’ Assistant for the Palazzo sings “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Memory”. She’s terrific. She and I talk afterwards, and she asks if I play jazz and cocktail music, and of course I say yes. Then she asks if I’d like to be a recurring pianist there for special events. I think she’s kidding, so I say, “sure, if you’ll fly me back and forth and let me stay here”, and she surprises me by saying “of course we would!” I don’t admit to her that I’d play for free just to get to spend more time with that piano. “Ritorno a me. Cara mia, ti amo. Solo tu, solo tu, solo tu. Solo tu, mio cuore.”

We take a fun bus-tour up to Fiesole, a little town way up on a hillside that overlooks all of Florence. The houses on the way up are built into the side of the hill – it’s breathtaking to see!

One more dinner together – this time it’s veal with avocado in a truffle cream sauce… I think I need to be alone with it…. The food here has been so sensuous, and there’s so much care taken with the preparation and presentation – no packaged foods slapped together on an assembly line. There’s definitely a different consciousness to it.

Back at the Palazzo, I get Giselle and Stuart to come to the Opera Room with me – every singer should have a chance to sing in that room, with that glorious Steinway. We do “La Vie En Rose” and a few others, then they leave and I stay for awhile longer, to say “au revoir” to my lover. I have to fight the urge to get some chains and attach myself permanently to that piano. But the thought that I might be able to come back gets me through.

Mom’s so close. Every moment. I know she’s been listening, and crying along with me as I played for them. This is what she always wanted for me.

“… and she tells me that she loves me… ”

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Saturday, May 29. George, Amanda and I pile our things into the taxi and get to the airport. I’m desolate. I never want this to end. We say goodbye, and I can only hope and pray I get the chance to play with them again.

I get home late Saturday night, and have an early church gig Sunday morning. My suitcases stay in the foyer till Thursday, when I finally get the strength of will to unpack them. Still can’t believe this actually happened.

On my last night there, Joyce asked me what the highlight of my trip to Italy was. I answered without hesitation: “Playing for George and Amanda”. She replied “no, what – specific to Italy – was the highlight?” I answered: “Playing for George and Amanda on the Palazzo Steinway.”

That moment was one of the highlights of my life. My heart is overflowing; my gratitude is unbounded.

And that’s my Tuscan Memories.

If you’ve gotten this far (and even if you haven’t), thanks for reading. I wish you many blessings.

“Ciao Compare, may life only bring you the wishes I wish you, the love that I sing you – each day, sweet as fruit on the bough. But for now, Compare Ciao… but for now, Compare Ciao!”

Hey Mom! I played the Palace!

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Ron-ing Around: The Tuscany Adventure

June 6, 2010

“How I spent a glorious time in Italy doing two things I love, singing, and meeting new people”

My week at the Il Chiostro Vocal Technique Workshop

It’s been two weeks since I have returned from my trip, and I am still basking in the afterglow. I have to tell you, I really enjoy combining these two activities, especially in the breathtaking setting of the hills of Tuscany. This year there were 10 participants and 3 instructors, Suzanne Kiechle (Vocal Technique, and the author of “Keys To Vocal Freedom”), Amanda McBroom (Vocal Performance, and friend of this blog), and Mary Sugar (Music Director/Accompanist). (Amanda’s husband, actor George Ball, was with us too, although not in a teaching capacity. While spending time with him outside of classes, he provided a lot of insight, as well as just being a swell guy.)

The participant group had varied levels of singing experience, from professional actress, to someone who had never previously sung in public. This variety, I believe, only enriched the whole learning experience. (Although the level of experience was varied, the raw talent of the group was pretty darned high) Each of my fellow students was enormously supportive and just plain wonderful. As is usual for a program like this, there was much sharing of feelings and emotions, for you never really grow as a singer (and a person) without that. I cannot adequately express the joy I felt being around them, and how much I miss their company.

Our days began with optional stretching/warming up exercises led by program director Michael Mele. Breakfast followed, then we had morning and late-afternoon classes, with a 2 to 3 hour break in between, which follows the classic Italian day. Dinner, ably provided by Program Director Linda Mironti (who also proved to be a powerhouse jazz/cabaret performer), followed the evening class. We were provided opportunities to tour neighboring towns and cities between morning and evening classes, if we wanted to. I always did. Why wouldn’t I? Not only did we have group classes, but also had separate private sessions with Mary Sugar, and the Amanda and Suzanne team.

Suzanne’s vocal techniques and exercise were right on target, eliciting not only vibrant sounds, but doing so without creating any tension in the larynx. It clearly extended my range in just a few short days. And it hopefully will increase the longevity of my singing career (what it is) by not damaging my vocal chords.

I worked on about 6 or 7 different songs, which hopefully will make it into my next show. One of the songs I worked on was “The American Hymn” (the theme from the min-series East of Eden). It is a glorious expansive ballad. During my working on the song, Amanda stopped me, had the whole class go outside, and she had me sing it out towards the green flowing hills surrounding San Fedele. That picture is indelibly etched in my brain. Thank you Amanda.

Needless to say the food was amazing. The cooking, according to Linda, was fairly simple, (I sincerely doubt that), but the local produce, much of which was picked earlier in the day, was what provided the flavor. Our hosts, and owners of San Fedele have a real passion for the arts, and for the history surrounding the monastery.

At the end of the program, we had a salon, where each of the students, as well as Linda, Michaelino (associate program director, tour guide, driver, and overall “let’s make it a great experience for everyone” guy), George and Amanda sang. The highlight of the evening, for me, was everyone singing backup to Amanda singing “The Rose”. It is something that I will always treasure. I hope that I will have the opportunity to do the program again in the future. (I did throw a coin in the Trevi fountain.)

For more information on the programs look at http://www.ilchiostro.com/about.html. For info on San Fedele check out http://www.tuscanrc.com/21615/24843.html


Talk about your ideal “cabaret tourism” experience !

March 3, 2010

Space is still left for the workshop with Amanda McBroom and Suzanne Kiechle at Il Chiostro in Tuscany.  Check out the link!  It looks like an amazing week in an amazing venue with an amazing team !

Oh, and Washington’s own Mary Sugar will be the music director!


Beverly Cosham at Germano’s Friday Night

April 22, 2009

BEVERLY COSHAM will appear at GERMANO’S in Baltimore’s Little Italy at  300 S. High St, Baltimore, MD  on Friday, April 24th at 7:30 p.m.  Ms. COSHAM will perform songs from the Great American Songbook as well as music from some new composers who are destined to one day be included.  This concert will also feature material from Ms. COSHAM’s latest CD, How Do You Keep the Music Playing?

BEVERLY has always admired the effect JOHNNY MATHIS has on an audience.  For this concert she will focus on songs of love and passion meant to touch the heart.  So, if you are in the mood or want to get in the mood, come join Ms. COSHAM accompanied by the fantastic MARY SUGAR on piano.  Come and share this evening with someone you love.

For more information, directions, and reservations call GERMANO”S, at 410-752-4515.


In Full Light at Germano’s

March 28, 2009

fulll light pixRon and I went up to see In Full Light at Germano’s last night, featuring Justin Ritchie, Terri Allen, and Lonny Smith.

It was really great to see the show again.  And it’s always especially nice to see a piece like this after the performers had the ability to get the show “in their skin” where they seem to be able to re-direct that bit of energy that worries about things like what song is next, what’s the patter, what will the pianist be doing, to giving a performance and connecting with the audience.  It especially showed in efforts like Terri Allen’s more focused take on Misery and Happiness and Lonny Smith’s I Could Be in Love with Someone.*

The three performers pretty much kept the same song order that they had in the two previous incarnations of the show, adding the We Can Make It (Justin) / Maybe This Time (Lonny) / Isn’t This Better (Terri) trio from And the World Goes Round as an encore.  And of course, Mary Sugar’s music direction made the venue’s upright sound like an entire Broadway pit band.

Germano’s remains a terrific venue, and Cyd Wolf who runs the cabaret series does an amazing job at making audience members welcome (and booking a pretty terrific series with local talent).  Oh, and the food is terrific.

*I’ve gotten feedback that this review seems negative about Justin by omission — he was terrific!


A VoixDeVille Saturday Night

March 1, 2009

We had a great Saturday night at VoixDeVille at the Indigo Room at the Atlas Theatre (who I’m glad to say that they have their own Web page).

We got there late (oops, I thought it started at 8:00), so sadly we missed the usually-terrific storytelling of Vijai.  However, we got a chance to see host Scott Burgess do a set on guitar, joined for one song by wife Maia DeSanti. 

Christopher Davis appeared as his alter ego the Renaissance Man, doing a really interesting performance set that combined stand-up, storytelling and juggling.  A highlight was a dramatization of Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado assisted by a youthful volunteer from the audience.  A great example of craft combining with imagination for an entertaining audience experience. 

And Karen Beriss presented her delightfully low-key, witty takes on some classic magic tricks.

In the second half, Maris Wicker and Lonny Smith presented  their show Lenny, Kurt & Harold, featuring the music of Bernstein, Weill, and Arlen (but you guessed that, didn’t you?), with music direction by Mary Sugar.  The songstack concentrated on lesser-known works of the writers, which allowed for some interesting contrasts, such as the Weill/Hughes song Lonely House paired with the Bernstein/Comden & Greene number Lonely Town.   

Here’s their song stack:

  • Tango Ballad
  • Barbara Song
  • Dissertation on the State of Bliss
  • Over the Rainbow
  • Neverland
  • Carried Away
  • Tschaikowsky
  • The Saga of Lenny
  • Lonely House
  • Lonely Town
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself
  • One Hundred Easy Ways
  • Buds Won’t Bud
  • When the Sun Comes Out
  • Ain’t It the Truth

Showcase Rehearsal

February 25, 2009

I had a rehearsal last night for the DC Cabaret Network showcase on Sunday at the Arts Club with Alex Tang and Judy Simmons.

I think all veteran performers have their own tricks and secrets for working with a music director and stage director in these situations.  Click here for mine.

And here’s the secret behind the secret.

Before the rehearsal, I prepped with Mary Sugar to put my thoughts together about how I want to do the songs I chose.  After we got through with At Long Last Love (bell tone before the intro, two verses cutting the “love” at the end of the verses, modulation into the third verse, tag after the third verse, “three and out” at the end), I said to her, “Well, you must go through this a  lot.”  Her  response was, “You know, most people just want to  sing things the way they’re written.”   So much said  in one little statement.

In my Helen Hayes round-up column, I forgot to congratulate Judy Simmons on being Helen Hayes nominated for Goodnight, Moon.  When we were discussing the Helens, I couldn’t help but pass along the bit of gossip that a local performer, directing a recent project, several times during the process was heard to say, “You know, I was nominated for a Helen Hayes award!”  Mercifully, I wasn’t there, because it would have been too tempting to use the Ann Hampton Callaway line from  Sibling Revelry, “Who won that year?”

Anyway, it’s shaping up to be a great show.  Ron’s two songs are looking good.  Mary Reilly who had the rehearsal slot before Ron and me sounded wonderful and Emily Everson is planning two songs I love.

Here’s ticket info:

The DC Cabaret Network is delighted to present the fourth DC CABARET NETWORK MEMBERS ONLY SHOWCASE.  Please join us for a wonderful evening of Cabaret featuring our own DC Cabaret Network Members on Sunday, March 1st at 8:00pm at The Arts Club located at 2017 I Street, NW.  These talented Cabaret performers will be accompanied by the extraordinary Musical Director Alex Tang and directed by Judy Simmons.  Wine and sodas will be available for a small fee (cash only bar).
Reservations are highly recommended and should be sent to:  (please include your name, phone number and address) info@dccabaretnetwork.org
$10 for non-members and $5 for members (cash only)