George?… Is that you?…

March 17th, 2010

In retrospect, stepping straight off a long-haul flight from London to Melbourne and straight into a national tour was a bad idea. I thought if I hit the ground running I’d stave off jet-lag, but I realised at about the third day of rehearsals that things just weren’t right. I’d contracted some sort of weird virus that gave me a crushing headache, a killer fever, and – most annoyingly – just made me want to sleep all the time. I could gather just enough energy and focus to play for each concert I had to do with the percussionist I was touring with, and then it was back to the hotel room to rest. For me, this behaviour was decidedly atypical. My friends jokingly asked me if I might be pregnant.

Of course, I tried to stay in denial all-too-long about the fact that my body simply needed to rest. After all, Syzygy has a concert coming up – I needed to practise! In the lovely, intimate Wesley Performing Arts Centre in Horsham, I took the score to George Crumb’s ‘Apparition’ and thought I’d sneak in a quick practice session in between the soundcheck and the concert I had with the percussionist.

The stage was kind of dark, and a little warm. I began the first page – all swirling mists of sound created by strumming the strings inside the piano hypnotically – up and down, up and down, up and down, up and- woah! It was time to stop by that point as I was making myself decidedly seasick. “No problem”, I thought. “I’ll play it a bit slower to calm myself down”. It was fine until I got to the point, about three-quarters of the way into the first page, where the pianist is required to play a melody on the keyboard with their right hand while continuing the strumming with their left. I looked down at the keyboard from my ‘crouching tiger’ stance over the piano strings. The forest of black and white keys swam before my eyes. No good. I looked back into the yawning chasm of the piano’s interior – I really needed to stop that up and down strumming before I got any more woozy.

The second page calls on the pianist to actually find harmonics at certain places along the length of the piano strings and stop them while actually playing the piano keys. A certain amount of bodily contortion is required to do this effectively. I stood up, placed my fingers upon the strings needed for the three notes of the first chord and promptly fell onto the floor on my bum as stars danced before my eyes. Clearly today’s Crumb practice was not going to be all that effective. I sat back down on the piano stool, swallowed some Panadol, and waited ten minutes for my fever to break. Suddenly I had an apparition of my own. “Leigh? Leigh?” I had fallen asleep sitting bolt upright on the piano stool. In my mind, I was having a visitation from George Crumb. He seemed angry that I wasn’t taking his beautiful setting of Walt Whitman seriously.

But it wasn’t Crumb after all. it was Nick – my percussionist and touring partner. From where he’d appeared on stage behind me, it was impossible for him to tell that I was asleep. I opened my eyes and the world swam back into consciousness. “Leigh? LEIGH? Are you going to get some dinner? We’re on in an hour.” I mumbled something in the nick of time, and then we wandered down to the local pub for a schnitzel. The food and the Panadol kicked in. Was I really having my own fever-induced delirious communion with George Crumb just an hour ago? No time to think about that now. I had a job to do and the show had to go on. Nick and I walked onto stage smiling warmly and took our first bow. Somehow, the music flowed out, but then again, that’s the power of music – it’ll do that, regardless of how its conduits might be feeling. I knew I was going to sleep well that night.

Yours in good health (now),


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