The rehearsal for Michael Torke’s PLANS is in full swing when I arrive. The voices of the Chorus echo up the walls, pouring out of the park. The beauty and resonance pull me in. I quickly walk to the front middle seats, shaded, plenty of room— and start to enjoy the spectacle before me.
The orchestra, chorus, soloists and composer are all on stage. Dressed in warm weather clothes, jeans, shorts, tees, sandals, baseball caps, a rainbow of color spans the stage, set off by the brilliant reds of the swaying drapes behind the Chorus. A cocoon of curving steel ribbons encases them.
They wait for the conductor, take drinks of bottled water, wipe foreheads, blow noses, turning pages, and talking to each other, as the conductor talks to the tenor.
They begin again.
Sirens on Lake Shore Drive wail in the background; compete with Soprano Jonita Lattimore and tenor Bryan Griffin as they sing “Long After We’re Gone” the orchestra stops. “No, No, No.”
I notice the composer, sitting Down-stage, Stage left, House right. (I couldn’t resist.)
Michael Torke, “commissioned by the Grant Park Music Festival to write an Oratorio [(long dramatic musical composition)]—using some of the spoken words of Daniel Burnham—to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Plan for Chicago.” *
Michael Torke’s PLANS divides the Oratorio into five movements of Burnham’s “recipe for making lasting and beautiful things.”*
Daniel Burnham’s “Recipe:”
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves, will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”
A white towel hangs from the rail on his stand, a harbinger of the energy of Conductor Carlos Kalmar. His baton, an extension of his brain reaches for the perfect tone, his legs jump and bend like a frog so quickly, a mystery third appendage pushes out to the left— his head of wild hair in constant motion. His commitment dances a passionate appreciation of the music, the Orchestra and Chorus.
My book sits on my lap. Waiting to be opened.
Then it happens. Again. The same day! A woman sitting about 15 seats away, third row middle, starts on her cell phone, loud— and this pavilion is famous for it’s state-of-the-art acoustics.
I take a deep breath, retroact my 151 bus experience on the way here, take another deep breath and concentrate on Jonita Lattimore’s rich soprano in “Long After We’re Gone.”
The clamant cell continues. My self-talk begins.
She won’t talk for the whole solo! Am I turning into a bitch? My name means ease, emotion, but with skillful balance! What happened to text messaging? There is lesson for me here. Just make a personal statement in a polite way. But? ?? Not an embarrassing shout-out—just a gentle one on one… Why does this bother me?
Clamant cell is still talking when the music stops; the composer and conductor are in a discussion. Then as if on cue, she’s off the phone.
I know it’s now or never. I leave my seat, walk over, lean across the row, brace myself and say, “Please, I don’t think you know how your “high-tech” (words from her conversation) voice carries.
“Is it disturbing you?”
Dah? Now I have to admit I’m an annoying, intolerant, cranky … “Well… yes.”
“Thank you for telling me.” she says, smiling the sweetest smile.
Small risk; big payoff.
And back to the movement titles and text for the World Premiere of PLANS.
“1. Make Big Plans— Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves, will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…
“2. Noble Diagram—…remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die…
“3. Long After We Are Gone—…[but] long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.
“4. Our Sons and Grandsons— Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.
“5. Your Watchword— Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.”*
Michael Torke’s Oratorio reflects Daniel Burnham and the City of Chicago. Torke composes with “musical idioms”* the way writers fuse genres, painters mix mediums; he discriminates and takes the best. A “melting pot”* of fantastic music for a celebration of a city that prides itself on being the big shouldered, melting pot of The United States of America.
—”Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” Carl Sandburg.
Michael Torke aimed high with Burnham’s recipe for Chicago; his magic a living thing stirs and raises our spirit. The beauty of PLANS staggers me.
* quotes are from the Grant Park Music Festival Program and Docent Tim Halloran pictured here with Soprano Jonita Lattimore.