My Experience with Linda Eder & TCGMC

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by Chris Mellin, TCGMC Tenor 2

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(EDITOR’s NOTE: On Saturday, August 24, 2013,  the men of Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus performed on stage with Linda Eder, the elegant Minnesota vocalist who went from a stunning debut on “Star Search” to sing at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. The night before, Ms. Eder conducted a Master Class for the men of the Chorus at our usual rehearsal space in Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church.

(Our own Chris Mellin contributed the following article to the newsletter for the Linda Eder Fan Club. It is with great pride that we share Chris’ delightful essay recounting the TCGMC Master Class & Concert with Linda Eder. Enjoy!)

Hello to Linda Eder and all you Linda Eder Fans!!! I was asked to share my recent experience with you. I ramble. Here goes.

My name is Chris Mellin. I was a music major in college (JMU ‘84!), sang and danced for five summers at theme parks throughout college (1981-1985), and have sung as a paid church choir section leader for many congregations since then. I sang with the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus from 1990-1992, and after going back to school in my 30’s, finally joined Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus (TCGMC) in 1997 where I sing Upper Second Tenor, and have had more than my fair share of solo opportunities. So yeah… I LOVE to sing!

I first heard of Linda Eder in 1997 as well, when my twin sister’s bestie (and sorority sister) asked that I sing in her wedding. I was informed the song, Someone Like You, was from a new Broadway musical – Jeckyl & Hyde – and that I should listen to the recording to familiarize myself with the piece. I bought the CD and my jaw dropped to the floor listening to Linda Eder sing. I was immediately hooked on her voice and talent! And Frank Wildhorn’s music. I have since acquired many of Linda’s albums and have been to five of her concerts here in Minneapolis. Huge fan!

Fast forward to this past spring, 2013. Through the magic machinations begun by Ryan Mayer – one of TCGMC’s own who is also a member of the Linda Eder Fan Club – TCGMC would be singing backup for Linda at her upcoming concert on Saturday, August 24. Not only that but Linda would be doing a master class/rehearsal with us the night before the concert. I squealed with glee at the thought!

Fast forward to the week of the concert. It had originally been suggested we would sing backup on about 6 songs. Once all was said and done we had twelve (12!) of her 20-or-so songs to learn. We were gonna be up there the whole time. Again with the giddiness!

Five of our members – Bobby Schlidt, Matthew Reeves, Lon Lamprecht, Nathan Croner and I – were each asked to prepare a piece to sing for Ms. Eder at the master class. First of all… YAY!!!!!

So then one’s question becomes, “Omigawd! What to sing for her?”

Nathan and I had been looking for the right opportunity to sing a duet we’ve had in our back pocket for a while. He knew it from a musical review And The World Goes ‘Round – The Music of Kander and Ebb. Since both of us had been chosen to sing, we thought this was the perfect opportunity! The duet: a quodlibet of I Don’t Remember You and Sometimes A Day Goes By (When I Don’t Think of Her).

TCGMC rehearsed the Sunday, Tuesday, & Thursday prior to the concert. Six is one thing, but 12 songs now? The pressure was on the group to be prepared. Not to worry: TCGMC’s Artistic Director, Dr. Ben Riggs was energized; prepared and concise in his directing. The week’s rehearsals were well attended; the guys focused and enthusiastic. It was great to see one another after the summer hiatus, but Dr. Riggs was also very down to business. The rehearsals moved along at a pretty fair clip. We had several of Linda’s recordings to listen to as reference.

In addition to learning TCGMC’s background vocals, I found myself singing I Don’t Remember You all week long – in the shower, in the alley on a break at work, walking to and from lunch downtown, driving in the car, everywhere I had to myself. I needed it to be memorized, and I hate being unprepared! Prior to Thursday night’s rehearsal, Nathan and I ran through our duet with Tim De Prey, TCGMC’s amazing accompanist, and that went really well. I was stoked for the upcoming weekend!

And so the day had arrived: it was Friday and I would meet Linda Eder in person that evening! I think most of us in TCGMC thought that Friday night would be more of a rehearsal than a master class and we weren’t quite sure what the evening would entail. Dr. Ben Riggs had as many butterflies as the rest of us, I think. I felt fairly secure in TCGMC’s preparedness for rehearsal with Linda. But… you just never know…

TCGMC rehearses at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church on the second floor in the Art Room, a large art gallery whose walls are covered in immense Renaissance Biblical paintings and one immense Asian wool carpet on the hardwood floor. As you enter, the room expands to your right. Grand piano at the right wall, facing center. A huge semicircle of chairs, enough to seat nearly 100 singers fans out around the conductor’s podium which is near the crook of the piano. A row of visitor & observer’s chairs lines the back of the rehearsal space.

Friday evening’s rehearsal began at 6:30. We were seated in our normal semi-circle. We had quite a few guests watching from the back of the room that night. Everyone was excited to meet Linda. You could feel the energy in the room.

Dr. Riggs took the floor, welcomed and introduced the guests in the back that evening. And then introduced Linda Eder. Did I mention being giddy before?

TCGMC was to sing Defying Gravity (from our June concert) as our feature piece during Linda’s concert. So we began Friday evening singing that for her. And then The Master Class began. Linda mentioned she had done master classes with individuals before, but not normally with entire choirs.

And she nailed it with one of her first comments: “Singing is like a sporting event. You should be exhausted and used up when you’re done.” It’s physical. It’s emotional. I completely agree.

It was great to hear Ms. Eder go on to tell us some of the same things Dr. Riggs is always trying to get from us, and then some: A better sound. How to get a brighter sound up in your “mask”. The abdominal muscles being used when you breathe, when you sing. The carriage of your arms. How they can help you sing, especially singing solo. Your feet, your stance. Staying on top of the pitch. Word stress – singing with similar inflection to speech – to emphasize the important words, not plodding through it as if every note had equal value. Having an arc to the musical line.

I really respected everything she said, cuz… I’d heard much of it from my own voice teachers and choir directors in the past. Everything she said and tried to draw out of us was spot on.

Then it was time for the soloists. First up, Nathan and Chris (me). GULP!

It’s one thing to sing with over 100 of your peers for one person. It’s quite another for one person to sing for over 100 of one’s peers (and invited guests) sitting RIGHT UP IN YOUR FACE and oh-by-the-way, Linda Eder is going to critique you.

I’ll add the caveat that the lyrics to I Don’t Remember You are a little confusing. It’s sung by a young cad trying to woo back his girlfriend for the Nth time, trying to jokingly convince her that this time is different. But lacking that context, one could also think this beautiful song was being sung by some amnesia victim singing to his wife/love whom he does not recognize. One take is funny. The other is tragic. And Nathan had originally told me this song was funny! But… the music is beautiful. Anywho… I had found the song confusing until I knew the context of the plot line.

So, I asked if I should set-up the song to let the audience know what was going on? Linda remarked, “If you sing it right, you don’t need to set up the song much. We’ll know.”

Fair enough.

I forgot just how very short the introduction to the duet was. Chord-chord, chord-chord SING! Not much time to “get into the right head space.” But we’d begun, and I think it went well. I sang, trying to impart that bit of humor to the confusing lyrics. Sans context for the audience. It felt like my song and verse were over in no time flat. Then Nathan’s turn, and he sang beautifully. Then the quodlibet, where we both sing our melodies overlapping one another. It’s a great piece. And I thought we were good. Darn good. Like “this needs to be in our repertoire” good.

Feedback from Linda (and she nailed it): “You both have lovely voices and did a great job with the piece. What I just saw was a great… ‘performance.’ But it didn’t come from here,” as she tapped her heart. So right. We were both a little nervous, a little off our game. Specifically, she worked with me on brightening the sound I was making. And how to back off on the second syllable of the word “moment” and lighten up on it at one point, try using more of my sotto vocé (head voice, but not falsetto), to give it a different spin. And then after all the technical stuff… really just… sing From My Heart. I’ll let Nathan speak to his own experience, but we both came away feeling like we really got a LOT out of the opportunity.

My biggest compliment about everything she did for everyone that night: she told us each exactly what we needed – to improve. Her demeanor was the definition of Positive Criticism, only to make one better, not tear you down. She was so genuinely giving of her knowledge and experience.

Whether it was about how to better physically produce your sound. Or get in touch with Whatever Gets You There Emotionally to really connect with the song to really Put Yourself Into It. Because the audience may already know the song. Or not speak the language you are singing. But they can tell when it’s just a performance (albeit a good one), but not really from your heart as a performer. And that little bit of You is what They are hoping you will share with them.

I feel like that is a gift she has given me since I first heard a recording of Jekyll & Hyde. Here was this Voice that was not only singing like an angel, but blessing us with a little of Her as she shared that gift God gave her.

I hope the other soloists give their angle on their experience as well. Friday night became solely a master class, no rehearsal. Yet Linda took her time with each of us in turn, and really made a difference in each of us, and I hope everyone got a lot out of watching the master at work. Hearing the improvement in each singer. It made me want to take voice lessons again, or at least get some vocal coaching! I have a whole new set of reasons to love her.

Since we never really rehearsed Friday night, Saturday was it. Everyone was demanded be ON TIME to the theater.

A comedy side story: Parking in the multi-tiered municipal lot at the edge of downtown Minneapolis, a block and a half from the Pantages Theater. The structure straddles the highway both directions in and out of downtown. The median between inbound and outbound is a sporting event bus terminal something-or-other, which I had never experienced before. There I was being efficient, parking nearby. I think I know what I’m doing. I decide to be healthy (and faster) by taking the stairwell instead of the elevator down to street level. I walk out and I’m in this median thing surrounded by the highway. And the door closes and locks behind me. I had to run across two lanes of (thankfully empty) inbound highway and along the retaining wall a short distance to get back up on the intended city street. Doh!

The show was at 8pm; we were there at 4pm for sound check and rehearsal with the band. Dr. Riggs watched Linda’s musical director like a hawk in order to cue us properly. A few tweaks here and there, but it all went off without a hitch. And dear God in heaven – Linda, what a pro!

The Pantages is rather old and grand, but made for smaller productions. TCMGC filled (and then some) the choral risers and platforms they had for us on the stage. No room to hang out in the wings. The Green Room downstairs was reserved (kinda sorta mostly) for Linda and her troupe. It was a snug fit getting ALL of us onstage. Our sheer volume of singers could only be contained offstage in the loading dock to the theater. It would take far too long for us to process on and off the stage, so we were out there on stage the entire show. It was a lot of standing in a sardine can and worth every second of it.

If the audience is at high noon, I was standing at about Linda’s 4:30 position, just off the bass player’s right shoulder, in the back cuz I’m tall. Gazing out towards the audience, I had a little bit of vertigo looking upwards at the steep sweep of the theater. Or maybe I was just plain excited. A little of column A and a little of column B.

There was enough time between the sound check and curtain to go grab dinner, which I did with two good friends from TCGMC. It was such a memorable night, the food should be, too. We got back in plenty of time for call.

Linda and her band were inCREDible! Having seen her perform five times already, it was such a treat to be UP ON STAGE WITH HER (excuse me while I give a little “gay gasp” of excitement!). Linda explained to the audience that the show was “influential music from her past.” If you’re a Linda Eder fan, then the songs you’ve heard her sing, you might expect. Part of the fun was hearing the stories of the songs you’d never heard her sing. Like Climb Ev’ry Mountain from her senior high school musical. (She didn’t get the part of Maria.) And she truly made them her own. She gave us that piece of herself talked about in the master class.

With such interpretation. Clear as a bell. Nailing the center of the pitch. It makes your heart jump up in your throat to hear such music. LIVE! IN PERSON! Mere feet away.

To be up there WITH her and her band. I don’t know if there are words that express the …honor …thrill …joy of such an experience? It is one I would wish for all of you.

Most thankfully for two evenings I shall never forget,

Chris Mellin

Upper Second Tenor,

Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus

and total Linda Eder Fan!

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All photos by Paul Nixdorf.