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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Married for 25 Years?!

Where has time gone?

My wife, Elizabeth, and I are getting ready to celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. She and I both think it's crazy that 25 years has passed by in what seems like a handful of years.

We had had a crazy time leading up to our wedding.

Beyond the seven year dating that led up to our nuptials - which included a few big break ups, long distance bills totalling in the thousands of dollars, multiple cities, and four college degrees - we decided to finally tie the knot mostly because she had "found the dress" while visiting Iowa during the summer of 1991. I was suffering in an internship position in the upper MidWest while waiting to move to New York City to join my on again girlfriend. Elizabeth called me up one day and asked me to marry her. Over the phone. It went like "So, I found the dress..." pause "And..." pause "I think we should get married."So Romantic.

You see, I had asked her to marry me two summers previous, on a very Romantic afternoon on a mountain in Colorado, with a ring and all. She had said yes, but then a year later we were breaking our engagement. Long story. Let's just say it's hard to commit to each other during seven years when you had only been together about 12 months total during those seven years...

But we decided it was now or never! We were going to get married or risk losing each other all over again.

So the plan was for me to move to NYC to start my fellowship at the Juilliard Opera Center (joining Elizabeth who was already a member of the JOC), live "in sin" (as it used to be called) and then get married a few months later. Simple. However, a few too many operatic events tried to prevent that plan from being implemented. First off, the same weekend I moved to NYC, Elizabeth flew to Chicago to audition on the stage for the Lyric Opera of Chicago's young artist program. She signed a 12 month contract with LOC that weekend which began two weeks after our planned December wedding. Oops.

Then she was cast as Vanessa in Barber's Vanessa at Juilliard. It hadn't been performed in NYC since its premiere with Steber and Elias, so everyone came to the performances (two weeks before our wedding, yikes) including the NYTimes (great review), Carol Vaness (rumoured to be among the cast of a never-happened Vanessa at the Met), and many others. In the cast was a young Jay Hunter Morris as Anatol, Jane Gilbert as Erika, and Carlos Conde as the Doctor. Richard Bradshaw conducted and it was directed by Ed Berkeley. Wow. Then just to make things really interesting, two weeks leading up to the premiere, my Dad had a major heart attack (but managed to recuperate and be at our wedding less than 4 weeks later.) Crazy month, eh?!

The night in question, December 28, 1991, was a cold, extremely typical, winter's evening in Burlington, Iowa. We chose the Saturday between Christmas and the New Year in order to accommodate our friends and family who, we'd hoped, were free that week. Outside of disappointing my parents, as their wedding anniversary was December 26th ("Why not just get married Thursday?" my mother would whine during the preceding months), the date was perfect because Bethany Lutheran Church was decorated to the nth degree with Christmas poinsettias, a lovely tree, and that holiday "air".

So many friends came, our relatives (my family: small, hers: ginormous), and our wedding party looked marvellous, from Maid of Honor Lisa to Best Man Rusty and all the rest. We did a very traditional wedding, complete with communion (in order to garner more time for more music), a church reception with requisite punch and the big white cake. The evening, though, ended in a totally unique family potluck party graciously hosted by one of Elizabeth's cousins. A keg was donated and the DJ was also a cousin. Lots of dancing into the wee hours. We honeymooned at a local Bed and Breakfast for two nights.

We could not have had a more perfect wedding, really. The music was provided by a bunch of our friends from Simpson College singing many favourite madrigals and Christmas Carols. The most memorable one was a totally unique rendition of "Good King W" that had to be heard to be believed! Anne Larson, our voice teacher extraordinaire from Simpson, sang our favourite Sven Lekberg song (look him up - amazing art song and choral composer!) and blew everyone away with her voice and musicality. We wish we had a video of her singing (we could barely afford the photographer).

Speaking of afford - the wedding was really "given" to us by so many others - our parents, yes - but more so by our musician friends, Elizabeth's two amazing cousins who provided the reception space and all of the flowers as their wedding gift, and all of the family that brought food to the second reception. We were unbelievably poor and were getting ready to embark on the next few months with practically no money in our pockets, living in two separate cities (Chicago and NYC). What were we thinking? In fact, we drove home from Iowa to NYC and then a week or so later back to Chicago on the cash we'd made during those many dances at the reception where people would put dollar bills in our wedding finery.

I remember thinking we had it all. We didn't need money, we had each other, we had our futures.

Those futures, at the time, seemed boundless. Elizabeth was at the height of her success as a young artist, going from Santa Fe to Juilliard to Chicago in only a few years. I had finished my masters in KC and had gotten the JOC fellowship, spending the fall playing for Marlena Malas, Frank Corsaro, Nico Castel, and making my collaborative pianist debut at Alice Tully Hall. All was well. I foresaw many years living in NYC, getting onto either the Met or NYCO music staff and just, well, succeeding.

But that was not to happen as I envisioned. A year later, I was on tour with Opera Iowa and getting ready to start my own contract at the Lyric playing for Maestro Palumbo. Elizabeth and I never returned to NYC, except to visit or for auditions. Our careers happened far and away from that city.

Which was totally okay, in the end. I think that it's important to go with the flow, go with what doors open, but especially to not have regrets in life. First off, if you're a fan of the movie About Time, going back to change something in your past typically changes the rest of your life and why in the world would I want to do that?!

So years later, twenty-five in fact, I sit in Alexandria, Ontario typing these words in front of a roaring fireplace as an ice storm rages outside. My wife is listening to "Time after Time" from the movie soundtrack from Julie and Julia sung by Margaret Whiting (it occurs at the end of the movie as Julia finally gets her published cookbook delivered). It's an apt song for us:

"Time after time
I tell myself that I'm
So lucky to be loving you
So lucky to be
The one you run to see
In the evening, when the day is through
I only know what I know
The passing years will show
You've kept my love so young, so new
And time after time
You'll hear me say that I'm
So lucky to be loving you."

Here's a link in case you'd like to listen to her sing it:
Time After Time

My wife and I are a team, something many still don't quite get even after I've blogged about it for years now. She is my muse, my harshest critic, my heartiest fan. Her voice sits in my head whenever I coach Mozart or Puccini or Barber or Schumann or Handel or, let's just admit it, any kind of music. We both come from the same place: southern Iowa (I'm Missouri River coast, she's Mississippi River coast) and that gives us a massive commonality that is our glue. We also have mirrored talents - she's a great singer who could play and I'm a great pianist who could sing; she can teach belting equally with the more refined classical style and I move in and out of opera and musicals with a great deal of ease. She was an amazing actress onstage and I direct my operas thinking that she's playing all the parts (male and female). She is the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life (to quote Julia Child.)

So we sit comfortably together in our living room, and it is now December 26, 2016.

Twenty-five years later. No party plans. No big trip. We want to spend our time together with our sons while they are still at home and so have decided to spend the evening together, maybe go out. We will play it by ear.

If anyone out there is lucky enough to know what it's like to spend 25 years together as a married couple, I tip my hat to you. Looking back, it seems like it was an inevitable journey that I can't imagine making with anyone else.

Here's to 25 more!