Tuesday, December 2, 2008

O Tannenbaum

When I think of the major outcomes of the Louisiana Purchase, three things come to mind:

-It doubled the size of our country

-It paved the way for future western expansion of the United States, and

-It got me a Christmas tree in 2002.

See, what happened was, the bicentennial celebration of the Purchase occurred in 2003, and the LPO decided to commission an orchestral/choral piece to commemorate the event. The composer that we commissioned, Rob Kapilow, is the kind of composer that really tries to absorb intimate knowledge of the subjects of his compositions. He’s really an amazing artist. If you ever get the chance to check out one of his performances of What Makes It Great, make sure you go.

As part of the composition process, Rob wanted to meet as many true Louisianans as he could to find out what the Louisiana Purchase meant to them, and to find its relevance today. He made several trips down to meet with various constituencies that we would coordinate for him. This involved much travel by car around the state.

There is a particularly hectic 2-day period that I recall in early December 2002. Rob was in town for just a few days to meet with various groups and do some promotional activities for us; the piece was to premiere in January 2003 so it was basically crunch time on all fronts. My co-worker Ken and I were driving Rob around the state to get everything done on a Monday, and on Tuesday we had promotional activities scheduled in New Orleans. Problem was, we couldn’t spend the night on the road Monday night because Ken had to be back to perform in our educational concert Tuesday morning. So even though our last meeting got over at 8:30 at night in Shreveport, about a 6-hour drive from New Orleans, we had to drive back that same night.

We saved a bit of time by driving an hour to Baton Rouge on Sunday evening and spending the night there since our first meeting was there on Monday morning. But we still had to get up at 7:00 to make our first appointment. Then we drove for 2 hours to our second appointment, then another 3 hours for our third appointment, then another hour and a half to our last appointment in Shreveport. I ended up arriving home about 3:30 in the morning and got to sleep about 4.

I couldn’t sleep in on Tuesday because I had to get Rob to a radio interview and then get to the education concert Ken was playing in to take pictures and handle a TV crew that was covering it. After the concert I went back to the office for the rest of the day, then at 5:30 we had an event at the downtown main branch of the bank that was sponsoring the composition, where Rob would talk about his work and promote the upcoming concerts.

Operating on about 3 hours sleep in 37 hours, I chose to let the rest of the staff handle the on-site coordination of the sponsor event and volunteered to stand at a table and pour wine for the attendees. I noticed Ken leaning against one of the teller stations, available to answer questions but not much more. We were both exhausted, as was Rob, who mercifully kept his remarks short!

My friend Mark, probably one of the most generous people I know, came by to hear what Rob had to say about the piece and also to hang out with me by the wine bar. When he went to leave, he mentioned that he and his then-girlfriend, now-wife Sandy were going to look for Christmas trees for Sandy’s house. Drawing on my immense talent for sarcasm, I replied “ok, pick me up one while you’re at it.” I didn’t even think he heard me; he was halfway to the door by that point and just kind of waved back in my general direction, kind of like you do when you didn’t quite hear somebody but you don’t really care what they said.

Finally, I got home about 8:00 that night, stripped to my boxers and crashed onto my bed, oblivious to the world. I didn’t wake up until 8:00 the next morning, very groggy, probably from too much sleep. I noticed the little light blinking on the answering machine and it was Mark from 8:30 the night before asking if I was going to pick my tree up from him or if I wanted him to drop it off.

I listened to the message about 3 times, and in my groggy state had no idea what the hell he was talking about. After 2 cups of coffee, about halfway through my shower it hit me. I told Mark to get a tree for me, and Mark, being his usual efficient and generous self, actually bought a Christmas tree for me.

This is all Sandy’s fault, of course. She’s supposed to be the voice of reason in our lives. I asked her later how she could not know that I was being my usual stupid sarcastic self, and she replied that she thought it was a little strange, but Mark was so positive that I told him to get me a tree and she “never knows what’s going on when the two of y’all get together.” Then they tried to call me and got no answer, so they went ahead and got the tree.

Ok, I guess we can accept that. The best part was that we got to spend some time together the next night when I went over there to get the tree. We had dinner and just spent a pleasant time together, doing what friends are supposed to do during the holidays. It was an incredibly generous act for Mark and Sandy to get the tree for me, and I thanked them profusely, but after the whirlwind activity of the previous two days, the best part for me was being able to just kick back with a couple of friends, have dinner and talk over drinks, just enjoying being together.

For me, it’s what the holidays are all about.

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