Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Jack Wall Experience

What follows is an edit of an email sent to friends and family about the concerts this past weekend. Why reinvent the wheel?


The wife's-eye-view of the experience:

By the time Gracie and I arrived in Seattle it was early evening on Saturday, around two hours from show time. Jack had been gone for two days already at that point, and had been working on getting the show set and rehearsed technically. Since the show is in a theater, as opposed to a large outdoor venue like the Hollywood Bowl, many things has to be re-scaled and re-thought. Jack's been wearing at least two hats in setting up the show: executive producer, and music director. Just one of these roles would bring a strong man to his knees, but Jack, who is currently sound asleep in the next room, took on both responsibilities with complete dedication and focus, even amidst the sorrow and business chaos of the rest of the tour being cancelled.

Many technical things were very shaky, even up to the last minute. Jack remained calm throughout, even though snags in the way that crucial pieces of technology were working cost him hours of production time, and necessitated his constantly playing catchup on other fronts. He slaved until the wee hours of the morning in the days before the show, and woke up early to get back to the theater to see to major aspects of production. Meanwhile, there was the steady drumbeat of anxiety over ticket sales in the venue.

Over the last few weeks Jack has been "woodshedding" the pieces - going off to a quiet, private place to maniacally rehearse the music until it is perfect. Conducting a symphony orchestra on pieces as challenging as the ones in the show, that have to be perfectly synchronized to other show elements for the better of two and a half hours, is not for the faint of heart. With many eyes on this production judging its merit and future prospects, there was unbelievable pressure to bring it off with as much perfection and finesse as humanly possible.

On the day of the show, Saturday, Jack began his rehearsals with the orchestra and choir. This began at 1pm, and went, with a few breaks, until 5pm. Gracie and I arrived right after rehearsal ended. Luckily, the orchestra is supremely competent, and they sailed through the pieces. At this point in time our hero had been up for hours, had dealt with the many headaches and stresses of last minute putting-on-show-nightmares, and had rehearsed for four hours. What he needed was a hot bath, a bowl of soup, a massage and a good night's sleep. But no! He had a show to conduct. And, as we all know, the show must go on...

Tommy and Jack (and then Gracie and I) shared a dressing room at the theater. It was a posh place, and very comfy. The theater was a beautiful old deco structure with tons of architectural detail. (Just thought you'd like to know.) Jack and Tommy wandered around looking like very tired ghosts in the minutes before curtain. They were pale and shaky and nervous. Well, wouldn't you be?

Gracie and I took our places about four rows back in the audience. (We couldn't get up there in time for rehearsal, so we didn't perform.) I was pretty much a wreck. Jack came out in his beautiful pin stripe suit. He shook the concert master's hand, and bowed to the audience amidst thunderous applause. I was completely beside myself. Gracie and I were whooping and screaming and shouting. (Yes, at a symphony concert, whooping and screaming. Everyone else was too. Highly unusual, but not for this event.) The room was very crowded, not to capacity, but felt very full, and crackling with excitement and energy. I held my breath as Jack cued the video guy backstage to start the DVD, which hadn't worked reliably until very recently, and which held all of the synchronization information on it as well as video. If that failed at any point in the show all bets were off. Jack raised his baton -- oh my god this is actually happening -- and the video started to play. It was Pong, the very first video game ever created. The crowd erupted in applause and delighted laughter. Then the orchestra started playing along with the video, with Jack guiding them.

The pieces came, one after the other, with no serious technical problems, and with incredible beauty and quite a bit of pathos. It was a big moment when we got to the Myst section of the show because this was Jack's first time conducting his own works before a live audience. He pulled out a microphone that had been situated next to the podium, and addressed the audience about the piece about to be played. Myst comes some time into the second act. Up until this point in the show (at least an hour, maybe more, had lapsed) Jack hadn't uttered a word. He began speaking by saying something like, "Yes, I can actually talk." Which the audience found very funny. He took a moment to describe how the Myst franchise had affected him, and how it was what got him interested in composing for games. And then the orchestra and choir launched into the Myst suite. Stunning.

Jack's movements as a conductor were beautiful. His shoulders looked really broad in his perfectly cut suit, and his mien was very commanding and powerful. Jack's attention to detail on the podium, as well as his ability to clearly communicate what the music demanded from the players, and to cue everyone was just perfect. He was dramatic without being showy. He didn't overpower the other visual elements going on on the stage, but added to and created other interest for the eye. His hand movements were full of art and emotion. His arm movements were strong and steady. Wow. Okay. I know he's my husband, but I assure you, this is how it looked to even the most casual observer.

By the time the show ended, Jack had been waving his arms around for about eight straight hours. He and Tommy then went out to do a "meet and greet" signing. The line went on and on, and the signing lasted for hours. (Poor Jack's right arm.) I think he was too exhausted to appreciate what he had just achieved once the evening ended. I think that it's starting to sink in now. We left the venue at around 1 in the morning to begin the drive to the next venue, Vancouver. Rock and roll.

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