Fred Penner made a visit to Medicine Hat on January 24, 2009. He teamed up with the Medicine Hat Symphonic Society's Acadamey Orchestra to perform a concert of his well-known children's music.
The orchestra normally performs without a conductor, however, since in this case it was important for the orchestra to stay together both with themselves and with Mr. Penner, I was asked to conduct.
I got the scores, many of which I already knew from growing up watching Fred, and began to prepare. The scores however, were far from ideal. Fred puts on concerts with orchestras all over Canada and even internationally - that means the scores have seen many conductors and many orchestras. The hand-written scores were well used; every conductor from coast to coast has put their own markings in them. Red, blue, green pen, different colored pencils, many post-it notes, and an enormous amount of pencil made each score look more like a children's colouring book than a piece of music.
Challenge number one: decifering the scores! A few hours with each score and I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. I even started to understand many of the marks, post-its, extra pages, and crossed-out sections that previous conductors had added.
I never really thought much about the fact that I was about to meet a celebrity from my childhood; I worked hard on making sure I was prepared. I met Fred at our rehearsal on Friday night - what a great guy! I tried to keep my professionalism and focus on the task at hand, when really I just wanted to talk about his TV show, and how cool his log was (if you don't know about the log, then you've likely not seen his show...).
Rehearsal was challenging but good. There were many instances where I needed to change my gestures and interpretation very quickly in order to keep up with Fred and the way he does things. Challenge number two: making sure the orchestra and Fred start and stop playing together, and making sure what the orchestra had on their pages is actually what Fred was playing. Like Fred said part way through our rehearsal, "I wrote and recorded these songs 20 years ago, they have been done many different ways and there have been many changes since then." So, an extra repeat here and there, an extra bar in some places, a few ritardandos and fermatas, and a little rubato, and we were playing well together.
Unable to keep my excitment under control, I got a picture:
The concert was a success. I had a great time conducting, the orchestra had fun playing (and singing sometimes!), and I think Fred had a good time too.
I am thankful for this opportunity - It was a real learning experience for me! I look forward to doing more of this in the future. It was also quite fun to meet Fred Penner. We sang The Cat Came Back! How cool!!!