Westover School - Middlebury, Connecticut continued

After hitting such a moral low, RT assured them that his next number represented to him what he conceived of as the moral ideal: 'Because morality is all about balance, about walking that fine line between the extremes one can fall into. So this next number, about a tightrope walker, was written a long time ago, back in my youth, when I was still an idealist about morality -- you know, before all that s--- got knocked out of me." [After the show RT facetiously assured me this slip into casual profanity had been meant not really as profanity but in its best historical usage as a good old Anglo-saxon word -- but it really was the only time I sniffed those pine branches sizzling, as promised....]. And then he played "Great Valerio" -- to be honest, this was the one song that, as he played it, I wasn't sure how well it was going over, just by trying to read the girls' faces. It wasn't until he got to the end, to the final plucked, tightrope-walking chords of that last wordless verse, and I realized that it was so quiet in that Chapel that many of the girls had clearly stopped breathing for these chords, that I understood how deeply rapt they had been in the performance. Sure enough, as the song ended in total silence, there was a moment of total stillness, then a sort of a breathed sigh, before the applause burst out thunderously.

And then came RT's final case study in his program, "Cooksferry Queen", which RT introduced by telling the girls the story of the character who inspired it, that 60's music venue owner who had been a total thug, almost a mafioso, before one evening Fairport showed up to play -- and he'd been so transformed by love [and possibly by the acid his new girlfriend had slipped him] that he'd overnight turned into almost a parody of the hippy flower-child, complete with beads and caftan and hugs. "I mean, it seemed a case of entire and dramatic moral transformation, from one moral opposite -- violent, brutal, thuggish -- into its reverse. But is such transformation possible? I have to admit, I don't really know whatever happened to him after that -- did he remain transformed after the relationship fell apart, or did he revert back? We never saw him again. But his story stayed with me, and that's where this song came from." And then he launched into the song that for most of the girls turned out to be the musical highlight of the program [it was certainly the one I fielded the most inquiries about afterwards], and it was for me wonderful to watch all my students and colleagues have so visibly the same reaction to that song that I do, particularly when RT plays it solo/acoustic -- the energy just builds and builds and builds, until you feel as if the top of your head is about to come off. In this case, the girls were not only visibly moving and grooving in their chairs, they were laughing out loud and shouting out in disbelief, many of them jumping to their feet, mouths already open and hollering, with the sudden spring-catch of that surprisingly abrupt ending. [Made even more abrupt than usual by RT's ratcheting up the speed even more -- he was beginning to be conscious of running out of time, I think, and he knew he had a number of songs still to do.]

He introduced the next song simply, "Is the woman in it merely opportunistic? Or is she predatory?" -- and then, to my students' delight, launched into the rollicking version of Nelly Furtado's "Maneater" that RT has used to close out his "1000 Years" sets more recently. Now, I've heard RT do this one before, but nonetheless, like most of my colleagues, I don't really know the original at all -- so everyone over thirty in the Chapel looked somewhat amused by the girls' carrying on as they were, with hands either pulsing palms up into the air or waving rhythmically side to side as they sang along and shouted with laughter at RT's take on what is clearly one of their favorite songs.

When he ended his set after that song, they first applauded thunderously from their seats before launching into a standing ovation that threatened to be deafening. RT obliged with two encores. He prefaced the first, "Persuasion," by admitting, "This next song is morally neutral. Your teacher," he said, gesturing at me, "urged me to sing something to make you cry. So this is just a lovesong." I don't think I imagined the distinct if faint sniffling sounds that followed [perhaps a cold -- but I don't think so]. And then, before his last song, he assured them that it was a very serious take on the subject indeed, a weighty treatise of a song, and then launched into Britney's "Oops, I Did It Again." You might be surprised to find that the girls actually consider this piece, if not an oldie, at least a "classic" -- but their response was even more raucous than to the Furtado number: they danced, they sang along [very loudly!], they laughed out loud, they were even [I was happy to note] standing up out of their ch airs to marvel and to point out to each other how fantastic RT's guitar work is between choruses. And their applause and screaming afterwards were stunning -- I noticed that Richard's eyes were somewhat teary and red by the show's end, but whether it was from laughter at their response to "Oops" or from being moved by their heartfelt ovation, or a little of both, I don't know.

Afterwards, I nearly sold out the sixty cd's I had on hand in a little less than ten minutes [I think even Cropredy might be impressed by those numbers], with only two left when almost all the newmade fans had to head off to their next class. The few left, who must've had a free period, eventually ran out of cd's to ask RT to sign, and moved on to more whimsical requests -- could he sign their notebooks? their bookbags? their art history essays? their shirts?

All in all, it is difficult to imagine a better morning. Days later, students and faculty are still emailing to express their enjoyment and their gratitude. The students in particular all wonder the same three things -- How soon can he come back? Will he be able to play longer next time? And, by the way, where can they find that great Cooksferry Queen song?