Posted on April 8, 2020 at 2:51 pm

I have a friend who lives in Beijing, and by the time of the TADA! gala, he and his family had already been in lockdown for over a month. I remember not being able to imagine what that was like. I can imagine it now.

But in the days after the gala, things in the US had started to intensify. In particular, there was a cluster of coronavirus cases in a nursing home in Seattle that seemed to foretell something very scary, but it was hard to know if it was just a blip or the first rumblings of an earthquake. I was watching it closely because I was holding a ticket in my hand to fly to Seattle that very weekend.

Almost a year before, Ben Stuart, the head of drama at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, had reached out to say his drama students were teaming up with the orchestra students to do a production of The Trumpet of the Swan, a “novel symphony” that Marsha Norman and I created (based on the E.B. White novel). Ben wanted to know if I would consider coming out to Seattle to see the production.

I love The Trumpet of the Swan and it doesn’t get done very often, so I was particularly excited about this invitation. We arranged that I would come out, do a benefit concert, and work with his students. The date we picked was Saturday, March 7. And now that the date was upon us, I decided that unless the government canceled the production, I was going. So armed with a surgical mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer, I boarded my flight and headed out.

When I landed in Seattle, I was informed that all gatherings at the school would be shut down as of Sunday – we were getting our concert in just under the wire. At that point, there had been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus connected with the school itself, but we were all fairly cautious – washing hands, bumping elbows instead of shaking hands, keeping our distance. In the afternoon, I worked with the cast and orchestra on the concert’s finale, then I spent some time on the Roosevelt stage doing my sound check.

That night, I began the evening with a five-song set, solo at the piano, before ceding the stage to the amazing Roosevelt kids, who did a moving and blissfully funny performance of Trumpet. Then I came back on to lead everyone in a rousing “Wait ‘Til You See What’s Next.”

Director Ben Stuart, JRB, and conductor Christine Gero

The energy in the room was something very special and intense – not just the usual affection for a group of kids doing something extraordinary, but also the weird sense that this was the last time everyone would be gathered together for a while, that we had to hold on to this moment of being connected, of sharing something in the same room at the same time, because it wasn’t going to happen again any time soon.

We don’t choose to be part of history, it just happens. As scary as it was to be in Seattle that weekend, I feel so lucky I got to be there and got to make music with these fantastic young performers before things went abruptly quiet. At the time, the mayor of New York was saying he didn’t want to shut down the city, so I didn’t know that I was about to be on lockdown myself.

But first, I had to go to Los Angeles. (The final pre-shutdown setlist will come next week!)

Hope from How We React and How We Recover (2018)
I Love Betsy from Honeymoon In Vegas (2015)
The Old Red Hills of Home from Parade (1998)
Moving Too Fast from The Last Five Years (2002)
Invisible from How We React and How We Recover (2018)

JRB: piano and vocals

Directed and produced by Ben Stuart

Cast: Grace Molinaro, Aidan Murphy, Myles Mawa, Lucy Dickinson, Bito Gottesman, Rosy Allen, Maya Garzelli, Mia Bell, Jack Hillstrom, Shilalat Shega, Fiona Willmer

The Roosevelt Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Christine Gero

Trumpet Soloists: Henry Roller & Hans Faul
Electric Bass Soloist: Anna Thielke

Violin 1: Ruby Brown, Silas Colombara, Kara Johnson (concertmaster), Maya Kempen, Anna Pettis, Mei Smith
Violin 2: Jacob Berg, Maisie Grosskopf, Mia McGrath, Aidan Mirick, Maya Trujillo, Sophie Turner, Taylor Woodward
Viola: Will Callender, Jack Griffith, Amelia Grosskopf, Claire Harrington, Sophia Hillstrom, Makiko Lam, Mica Weiland
Cello: Luci Campau, Mikayla Crawford, Iris Duxbury, Daniel Kahn, Sara Kaiser, Kevin Lu, Torben Parker, Alexei Perez
Double Bass: Alex Adelaar, Grace Kaste, Alex Roca, Dylan Wilson
Flute/Piccolo: Karina Lee, Grace Gasper, Sam Ross
Oboe/Cor Anglais: Caroline Goodnow, Maya Pena
Clarinet: Marcelus Dacanay, Thea North, Olivia Sayrs, Sora Storck
Bass Clarinet: Duncan McAllister
Bassoon: Matthew Kellegrew, Peter Steck, Calvin Williams
French Horn: Hailey Herzog, Allison Kerr, Cameron Moskito, Kira Stewart, Emily Stephenson
Trumpet: Thora Kastbauer, Devlin Swanson
Trombone: Thomas Evans, Ethan Roden, Jacob Waag, Thatcher Sexton
Tuba: Will Hodson
Piano/Celeste: Kohl Hebert
Harp: John Carrington
Percussion: Addie Backer-Corthell, Aidan Shapero, Calvin Guthrie

Wait ‘Til You See What’s Next from How We React and How We Recover (2018)