Music Memory #3- Carmina Burana
Carmina Burana is a grand opus of poetry written by the Goliards; a band of poet-musicians who were scholars and clerical students. They celebrated the more carnal and earthy nature of life; words of beer drinking, enjoying the beauty of a woman and conversing about the unpredictable nature of life. Carl Orff put their words to amazing orchestral music, saying that everything he wrote prior to it could be destroyed as it would never measure up to what he had written. Parts of it has been used in commercials and movies and you would likely recognize the music it if you heard it. My favorite use of it is in the movie Excalibur; “O Fortuna” is heard when Arthur rides off to defeat Mordred in the final battle.
I was 6 years old when Dad introduced me to it. My father loved Carmina and I too, fell under its sway and dreamed of singing it one day. I would listen to it thru my headphones and memorize the score. It’s sung in Latin, so I didn’t really know the words, but I knew the music. It would give me goose bumps every time. My father passed away in 1986 and I continued to love him through the music we had shared over the years.
In 1992, I saw a Colorado Symphony announcement for the upcoming fall/winter season, and I saw several works that I wanted to hear but the capper was the finale for the season: Carmina Burana!!! I had never heard it live and vowed to go, for myself and for my father.
Two weeks later I saw an audition notice in the paper for the Colorado Symphony Chorus’s upcoming season. OMG!!!!! Could I really be getting the chance I have always wanted??????? YES!!!! The next day I called for an audition appointment. It was in 2 weeks.
This was going to be a different performance than just a choral and orchestral performance. One of Denver’s best dance companies was going to be performing with us; Cleo Parker Robinson’s company and Cleo did the choreography. This was the first time Carmina would be performed this way in Denver.
I have to backtrack a bit here so you can understand the future impact. For some years, my father worked for the Colorado Council for the Arts and Humanities as their Public Relations Manager. Perks included getting free tickets to many performances and got to know musicians, artists, actors, and performers of all kinds, including many members of the Symphony itself. Duain Wolfe was the conductor of the Symphony Chorus and I had trained under him while I was in the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He knew my father well, having done business with him for PR work. This concert was going to happen about 7 years after. Getting into the chorus was going to be like coming home. I danced with delight when I got the phone call telling me that I was now a Colorado Symphony Chorus member!!!
Once we were rehearsing with the Symphony musicians, I found that many remembered me and my father as we went to many concerts and would meet them backstage. They did not know that he had passed away. I felt my father’s spirit every time we rehearsed. It was wonderful.
One rehearsal afternoon, I was talking with some of the musicians and sharing how much my father loved Carmina and how he would have been right in the front row for this event. Someone made the suggestion that we do a private dedication of Carmina to dad. We finally decided to make the Saturday night concert the dedication concert. My husband Wes, brother Adam and his fiancé Liz, my mom and her husband Jim would be in attendance as well as some friends of mine Timothy and Kathy.
The night finally came. Duain had heard about the dedication and fully supported it. My father was important to Duain, and he wanted a chance to say good-bye as well. It turned out that Cleo Parker Robinson also knew my father, so she and the dancers joined the private dedication. We didn’t plan this in time to get it into the printed program but that was okay, it was from us to him. I wrote a note to my mother telling her about the dedication. Adam knew about it and was to give her the note at intermission as Carmina was in the 2nd half. He told me later it made her cry when she read it. It made him cry too as he knew what was coming. Mom knew after years of listening to the piece how important it was to dad.
What happened in that second half was a musically spiritual experience for me. I felt my father’s spirit with me that night, we sung it together. Everyone who was in on the dedication felt him that night. The performance was flawless. Every note, every pick-up, every step, everything was perfect. Even Duain said it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. The energy was astounding, I was high for hours! I finally fell asleep around 3AM. And still had a matinee to sing on Sunday afternoon.
When we finished the last note, we heard it echo off the back wall and come to the front again. The audience was silent for a few seconds, stood up and the applause was deafening. We stood there for a good 10 minutes before exiting the stage. I was stunned and crying. I looked over to where my friends and family were standing, the love and joy from them was almost overwhelming.
I met my loved ones in the lobby. Mom was still crying and whispered, “thank you”, while hugging me tight. As she released me from the hug, I looked at my crying family and friends and felt dad hugging me too. It was the best way to love someone who had such passion for music and for the arts. That was his best gift to me and my brother, a love of music. Music moves the soul, and I am grateful to have such a gift.