The Muse Machine’s summer program, Upon a Star, was a festival of music from Disney productions. The great movie songs of my youth, more than seven decades ago, shared songs from films to which you took your children and now grandchildren.
I will always be grateful to Disney for Fantasia. I was eight or nine when the music and the colorful scenes captivated me. My appetite for great music began with Leopold Stokowski conducting Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in the film. Now I can thank Disney and the Muse Machine for a great evening of musical treats.
This summer marked the first Muse Machine event following the retirement of theatre genius Nat Horne. Fellow genius David Düsing is still active and joined Douglas Merk in creating the revue. Unfortunately, David is temporarily sidelined after hip and shoulder replacements. Hopefully, the now-bionic David will be back on the podium soon.
Replacing David Düsing as conductor was former Muse Machine star and Oakwood High graduate Andrew Pester. Andrew is at the threshold of a distinguished career as a conductor after graduating from Yale and the Eastman School of Music. He has begun doctoral studies at Duke.
The student orchestra played with élan and verve. At one point, they even took over the stage, cleverly emerging from the pit to play a double jam session of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Orange Blossom Special.”
Special effects such as three pianos and pianists, - Jonathan Lynn, Rachel Snyder and Lauren Pratt - accompanying three singers – Andrew Koslow, Elana Elmore and Abbey Brown – made interesting staging and wonderful music.
Truly outstanding voices belonged to Isaiah Templeton, Jamard Richardson, David Sherman, Angelé Price and Brittany Price. Two numbers which struck a special chord were Natalie Houliston’s “God Help the Outcasts” and Abbey Brown doing my personal favorite, “Feed the Birds.”
Then there were the dancers and the Young Ensemble. In constantly changing costumes, these beautiful young men and women and irrepressible kids wove themselves into the pattern of the great songs.
And, there were surprises. During a fun rendition of “Bella Notte” by Brett Mutter and Ray Zupp, enhanced by dancers Evan LaChance and Brianna Sullivan, who would appear on stage but a pair of quite senior accordionists, Oakwood Accordion Band mavens Charlie Campbell and Jerry Nelson!
The show stopper was veteran Michael Wadham with his youngest and perhaps most beautiful dance and singing partner, Jayden Hayn. Together they segued into a series of great songs leading to the grand finale, “Kiss the Girl.”
The Muse Machine can also be named “The Special Machine.” Several hundred young talents, in the pit, on stage and back stage poured their hearts into the show. Their vitality overflowed into the audience and will overflow into their lives forever!
And, the singing continued! A few days after the Muse Machine triumph, voice professor, singer and former Cantor Jerome Kopmar displayed his students at a recital at St. John’s Church on Ludlow Street.
Jerry is completely devoted to the human voice. He has created great singers and helped enthusiastic amateurs gain the joys of song. For so many decades he stands as a beacon in the vocal arts of our area.
I was introduced to sparkling new talents. Several were Sinclair students now moving on into further studies. To hear Kate Hunt, a very young mezzo voice, sing and personify the provocative “Habanera” from Carmen so well, is an example of what good vocal training can do.
Sopranos, Amanda Alexander and Jacqueline Darnell sliced through the difficulties of such iconic arias as “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca and Adele’s “Laughing Song” from Die Fledermaus with amazing ease and spirit. They joined Baritone Nathan Kendrick in a beautifully blended trio from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte.
Bonnie Dobbs, along with her husband and pianist Byron Dobbs, do so much for the vocal arts. Bonnie has a rich, beautiful voice which took the great aria “Dove sono” from Mozart’s “Marriage” through its convoluted emotional path.
Her gene pool has also triumphed. Her lovely daughter Dara Neer, a rising senior at Fairmont High School, has a remarkable voice. She sang Juliet’s magnificent love song from the Gounod opera Roméo et Juliet. Equally amazing was a duet with her professor Jerry Kopmar in the emotionally charged double aria/duet “Tutte le feste” from Rigoletto.
Extra special were two very different performances and performers. Gerald Kotler is a successful business man whose heart has always been in music. He is a lay cantor and lecturer on Jewish music and Judaism. I have been a not-so-secret fan of his for a very long time. Hearing him sing Verdi’s most challenging aria, “Eri tu” from A Masked Ball was an outright gift.
Mezzo-soprano Grecia Vaughn is so well-remembered in Muse Machine performances for many years. She has attained a Master’s degree in voice from Miami. Her vocal instrument recalls clarion voices such as Jesse Norman and Angela Brown. Recently, plagued with technical vocal problems, she sought help from Jerry and had her problems solved.
She sang “Stride la vampa” from Il Trovatore and “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson et Dalila with controlled power and sheer musical beauty. Professor Kopmar pronounces her to be Met Opera quality. Funny, I predicted that a decade ago!