2016 Greater Colorado Tour — The Prelude

Readers… Drumroll please… It’s blog time! Yes, that’s right – the blogs from Opera Colorado’s Greater Colorado Tour 2016 are about to begin. I know. You’ve been counting the days. Well… you’re wait is over… almost. The blogs for the next week are a bit of a teaser. A prequel if you will. We’re taking a short jaunt to Gunnison, Alamosa and Monte Vista for a week; it’s a good way of prepping for the more extensive experience. The official tour happens in May. We had a window of time before rehearsals begin in April for this little opera we’re doing. You may have heard of it… The Scarlet Letter? Anyone?  World Premiere… Ring a bell? It’s going to be amazing. We are so excited! You should come.

We’ve been performing non-stop with our touring productions Hansel and Gretel and Carmen, Arias & Ensembles – all around the Denver Metro area. We’re busy and we love it. So busy in fact, that our tour has outgrown its time frame. We’re not just headed out this week, but we’ll be on the road again for another few days at the end of March; headed to Steamboat Springs for a new partnership with Emerald City Opera. So many locations are asking for us that the 2-weeks in May weren’t enough time to get in all of the requests we’re getting, so we’re finding other times where we can bring opera to Colorado.

Let me introduce you to our group this year; the Opera Colorado Young Artists. You’ll be getting to know them as the blogs from tour progress. The talented line up is as follows: Emily Louise Robinson (soprano), Danielle Lombardi (mezzo soprano), Benjamin Werley (tenor), Charles Eaton (baritone), William Lee Bryan (baritone) and Alaina DeBelleview, our accompanist. Oh, and there’s me – your blogger, travel guide and occasional mascot, Cherity Koepke. From this point forward, everyone will be referred to by first names only. Unless they’re on my list, then it’s their whole legal moniker. Or they get the eyebrow, but that’s difficult to translate effectively via blogging.

Gunnison Elem. sign
Welcome to Gunnison!

It’s Monday, March 16, 2016. You know that saying “time waits for no man?” Well, apparently it doesn’t dilly dally for women either. Whose idea was it to start a tour the day after Daylight Savings time kicks in? (The answer to that question is that it was my idea and I I’ve reprimanded myself for the oversight) I manage to pull myself together and get the car loaded, but it’s a challenge. We have a rental (a brand new Lincoln Navigator, proof that batting my eyelashes still works) and we’ll also be taking our “new” Opera Colorado touring vehicle, a 2005 GMC Denali. The thought that I will not have to wrangle our old tour vehicle, which I lovingly referred to as “the Beasty,” is a bit of a pick-me-up and I hit the road. That peppy attitude lasts for all of 10-minutes. Once I’ve sat in traffic on I-25 due to not one, not two, but four separate accidents, I’m not feeling quite so chipper. What the heck Denver? Perhaps the time change has adversely affected others, or maybe they’re all just rushing to get pie. (It’s Pie Day too and cravings can be a motivating factor in how one goes through ones day)

baby shark
The Young Artists warm up with “Baby Shark.”

Delayed about 30-minutes, I finally make it and everyone is ready and waiting. Luckily, I’ve learned to build a bit of padding into our schedule, so we’re still on track. We’re headed to Gunnison for days one and two. Today we’ll be working with students at Gunnison Elementary School and conducting in-school workshops on singing. For a few moments, we just stand and stare. Stare at the amount of stuff we have to somehow fit into the rental. I back away and leave the task to the one who will assume the mantle of car packer. There’s one on every trip who just naturally gravitates to this role. This year, it seems to be Ben. Emily has a gleam in her eye too though; time will tell. Cars loaded with luggage and people and we’re off. Charles is driving the Denali with Will as his copilot and I’m piloting the rental with Danielle, Emily, Ben and Alaina riding along. Danielle, in the passenger seat, is given the task of being in charge of the music. Now, readers, you have no idea the pressure of this position in a car full of singers. Seriously. You’d better get it right or there could be repercussions. I’ve seen it. Danielle chooses wisely and we make our way into the mountains. Talk in my vehicle moves from subject to subject. Music, food, drinks and more. Emily knows a little boy who just saw his first live opera performance and now wants to see more. Alaina is enjoying the backseat and quietly comments here and there. Ben is an avid amateur photographer (I’ve no doubt you’ll see some of his shots in the coming blogs) and he’s happily snapping pics as he’s inspired. I tell Danielle I’ve brought one of those new coloring books for adults, which she’s loves. She gets very excited and tells us that she just spent hours upon hours completing a page. She couldn’t stop until it was finished. I believe a conversation on the topic of “how to use coloring as a tool for relaxation” will be in Danielle’s near future.

Gunnison Elem. kids
Students at Gunnison Elementary

We make it to our turn off before we get to Monarch Pass and we stop to fill up both vehicles. It’s really windy and snowing, but I’ve driven in worse at this time of year.  Fueled, we get back on the road and Danielle selects another set of tunes for this leg of the journey. We get to talking about things that singers love and can’t leave home without and we get onto the subject of tea. This is something I love about traveling with singers. No one thinks it’s strange that I’ve packed tea bags in my suitcase. Why? Because they’re such an accepting lot? Nope – because they’ve packed them too. Ben even packed his electric tea kettle; now that’s devotion rarely seen in this day and age. He finds that the rental has an electric outlet in the backseat and realizes that he could make tea while we drive. I’m not so sure how steamed up windows would look to the passer by so, maybe later. We reach Monarch Pass and the roads are a little snowy and we get stuck behind a semi hauling freight so it’s a slow go. We reach the valley leading to Gunnison and I finally pass the truck. Charles plays a game of chicken as he passes the truck. He wins, but watching it in the rear view mirror was not good for my heart. Hurrah! We make it safely into Gunnison, just a little behind schedule. We stop for a quick – very quick – lunch and then head to the school.

I have now been to this school for the past several years. The school has not undergone renovation, nor has it changed its physical location. Why then, I am unable to figure out, every year, how to access the parking lot as the designers intended, is beyond me. For the third year in a row, I hop the curb and mutter that I’m not from here. Well, I’m not. But, no time to dwell – we have students to teach! We head into the school and they’re expecting us. In minutes we find ourselves in the music room, waiting for our first group of kids to arrive. We’ll be working with 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders today, six classes in all. Each group will hear the Young Artists sing and then we’ll work with then on some basic techniques. We teach these through games and make it as interactive as possible. The kids are fabulous; so excited and eager. Their expressions as they watch the Young Artists sing and then participate in the exercises are priceless. There are a couple who clearly don’t want to be there or maybe they’re just having a rough day – I understand, time change grumpiness does not discriminate. By the end of the class, even those kids are smiling and participating in every exercise. After we finish up with the students, I have a private lesson with a young lady who is a junior in high school. She’s very serious about pursuing a music degree in college and wanted to work with me. Will loves teaching so he’s volunteered to help with the lesson. We work with her for an hour, each of us building on what the other one says. We throw a ton of information at her and she listens to it and begins to make connections. It’s a wonderful way to wrap up a day of teaching students about singing.

costumed Charles
Charles in “Costume”

While Will and I have been in the lesson, the others got checked into the hotel. Charles and Emily come back to pick us up and it’s then that I find out that Danielle isn’t feeling well. She’s sleeping right now, but I’m immediately worried. First, I’m concerned about her. Second, I’m concerned that if she’s coming down with something contagious, it’s going to make the rounds through the group – there’s no way to avoid it with the close quarters we’re sharing in hotel rooms and cars. Third… I’m concerned about tour. Having one singer go down could mean the week goes much differently than planned. Danielle’s well-being is the most important thing, so I will keep a close eye on her and take it a step at a time. We’ll just have to wait and see how she is tomorrow.

We get back to the hotel and everyone rests for a bit while I catch up on some work. Then we meet for dinner, minus our Danielle who elects to stay in her room and rest. Alaina chooses a local dining spot and we pile in the rental. It’s starting to snow and getting pretty chilly outside. The restaurant has good food and we are able to catch our breath – the first time for me since we started out this morning. Dinner conversation is all over the map; Charles loves all things that involve him speaking in an accent (probably not the last time you will hear about this topic) and he’s got a tune from Manon stuck in his head. Alaina has chosen to wear flip flops and can barely move because she challenged Emily to a round of squats in the gym earlier. People – this is ill advised. Emily is the queen of this workout maneuver. She does this to relax when she sings. With goodness in their hearts, Ben and Will try to help Charles by getting a new song stuck in his head. They succeed, eventually. It’s really starting to snow now, so we head back to the hotel. On the way to the car, I overhear Will say how much he enjoyed working with the kids this afternoon, especially when they did baby shark. It’s a song the 1st graders sang for us; had movements and everything. It’s was a whole baby shark, mama shark, daddy shark thing – grandma and grandpa shark where there too. It was pretty great. It makes me smile that he enjoyed his time in the classroom. I think it’s important that the kids we work with see that we love what we do – it makes a difference in how they will remember opera.

The group decides to hit the hot tub before turning for the night. I briefly go over the schedule for tomorrow and then head to my room.  My evening consists of working from my laptop and blogging – recounting the day. Tomorrow promises to have its own story and I hope you will tune in and follow our journey.

Till tomorrow readers, Cherity

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