That’s almost a record, I think. But I have a good excuse. We were in Birmingham visiting my family, and hanging out a little bit with King Pen and WonderGirl. It was hard to leave. Very hard. A lot of people can’t wait to leave their hometown once they grow up. Not me. I love my hometown. I loved it as a child. I loved it even more as a college student. I still love it. A whole lot. I knew kids in high school who talked about “leaving this little town” and going to someplace like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or even just to Atlanta. A lot of them did. I never had those feelings.
For me, Birmingham was/is just the right size (although it has grown a great deal since my childhood). It was big enough to afford us lots of cultural opportunities, but small enough that getting around was not a nightmare. I went to my first recital at age five. It was a Baroque chamber music recital at the First Christian Church in downtown Birmingham. At age six, I went to the ballet for the first time. By the time I was ten, I had been to the symphony many, many times and had seen an opera (“Porgy and Bess” performed by Southern Regional Opera). I brought back my old ticket stubs with me this time. I saw “Annie” in 1980 (I was 12) and “Evita” in 1981 (at 13). In my teenage and college years, I was a part of a P.D.Q. Bach concert conducted by Peter Schickele (I have his autograph somewhere in a box), saw the Manhattan Transfer and the Swingle Singers two times each, saw Bobby McFerrin (before “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”), Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” (in 1985), Leo Kottke, Michael Hedges, Jerome Hines, Ray Charles, Steve and Eydie (don’t laugh–they put on a great show!), Gallagher (OK, you can laugh at that one), “Cats”, “Les Miserables”, the B-52’s, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Spyro Gyra, Wynton Marsalis, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, countless string quartets and trios from all over Europe (who performed as a part of the Birmingham Music Club), and many, many more.
I performed in the chorus for Beethoven’s Ninth and Poulenc’s Gloria with the Alabama Symphony. I have sung Falke in Die Fledermaus, and Major General Stanley and the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance (in two separate productions, of course). As a part of the Birmingham Savoyards, I sang in Trial By Jury and the little-performed, three-man operetta, Cox and Box (It’s the story of two men who share a flat and don’t know it: one works days and the other works nights. I can’t tell you if I was Cox or Box, but tenor Randall Richardson–also my former voice teacher–was the other character, whichever one I was not. Chipper Janes sang the role of our landlord.). I sang with the Lee Scott Singers for eight years, making many recordings.
All in Birmingham.
It is so obvious, when we go back to Birmingham and visit, that culture is just an everyday part of life. You don’t have to go looking for it: it’s everywhere. Part of that is because you’ve got UAB, Samford, and Birmingham-Southern all in the same town, with UA just a stone’s throw away in Tuscaloosa and Montevallo just down the road too, and each of these schools has an outstanding music department/school of music, plus outstanding drama as well. Add to that the Alabama School of Fine Arts downtown and more world-class church organists and church choirs than any town of any size should be allowed to have, and you get the picture.
(Most people don’t realize this, but Alabama was the first state to have a public television network. Every other state’s public television network is modeled after APT. Public radio went on the air very early in Birmingham, too. WBHM is one of the oldest, and finest, public radio stations in the country.)
I miss the hillly landscape, a lot. I’ve gone on and on before about the restarants I miss, particularly the barbecue places. I miss Five Points South, the Alabama Theatre (and I will not watch “Gone With the Wind” anywhere else!), Vulcan, Burt and Kurt, Rick and Bubba, Parisian, Milo’s, Buffalo Rock Ginger Ale, Grapico, and Pete’s Famous on 4th Avenue. I miss Step Sing, City Stages, and the Greek Festival at Holy Trinity-Holy Cross. I miss James Spann and Brenda Ladun on TV, and I even miss (dare I say it?) Paul Finebaum in the paper. I miss the PAPER, for crying out loud! It’s not one of those Gannett clones, and it actually has CONTENT.
But mostly it’s the music I miss. I miss working with Lee Scott terribly. I miss singing in the most acoustically perfect choir loft I’ve ever been in before or since (Mountain Brook Presbyterian). I miss ASO concerts (mostly Amerigo Marino: Paul Polivnick not so much). Choral Evensong at Cathedral Church of the Advent and IPC. Christmas Eve at the Advent and/or St. Mary’s-on-the-Highlands. The Choir at Temple Emanu-El at the High Holy Days.
I want my children to have access to the kinds of opportunities that I had. Note to self: work on that.