Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Doc Severinsen: A Grand Old Man
(He may not like the 'old' part--he's only 79, after all)
This weekend's concerts will be his last as the Pops conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; he deserves all the respect and accolades that he gets, too.
Doc's Christmas specials included the MSO Chorus, and your scribe was a member for several years. Frankly, I was not all fired-up when it was announced that the MSOC was part of the show--while Doc was a great trumpeter and band-leader, his Tonight Show work and public persona didn't quite fit into "Christmas."
Well, he set that straight. He engaged the Chorus' director in the programming process, and included other local groups--the Concordia U. bell-chorus, and/or the Milwaukee Children's chorus--all to great effect. The music included pops stuff--but also classical Christmas literature, always including Handel's Hallelujah chorus as the finale, in "hotel two," which actually works very well as a tempo for that piece. It was magic.
And far more "magic" than the audience might imagine.
Doc was never over-prepared for the concerts when he arrived in town on the Monday before the run; it was clear that he was working through the music as he ran the rehearsals. He knew what he wanted, but not necessarily how, exactly, to make it happen with the Chorus.
But Doc's genuine, humble, lovable personality won over everyone in the room, every year, without fail. We'd go over stuff, again and again, to help him find what he was looking for. And when he found it, we ALL knew it. There is a "pop" and a glow that settles in when the music is right, and Doc found the groove. It has a great deal to do with his talent, which is spectacular; this is a man who can musically go from zero to 125 in a matter of seconds; he truly has a gift.
But now and then stuff went wrong, and Doc showed his real colors when that happened.
On one occasion, Doc muffed a cue for the Chorus. It did not result in a train wreck, but it showed. We knew it. The Symphony knew it. He knew it. Maybe the audience knew it.
The next night, Doc came to the Chorus' rehearsal room. That was unusual; in fact, it had never happened before, with any other conductor.
And he apologized to us.
He knew he missed the cue, and rather than brushing it off, or letting the Chorus stew about it, he came up to our rehearsal and said he was sorry--and he would NEVER miss a cue again.
And he never did.
He's a treasure. See his shows, and blow kisses. He deserves it.