Noted baritone Jason Stearns, of US Army Chorus and Metropolitan Opera fame, was to have been the Sarasota Music Club’s program on Friday, the 17th of November. As sometimes happens, he got the flu and realized he would not be able even to croak his way through a program on Thursday evening, less than 18 hours before the intended start time on Friday. He informed his accompanist, the indomitable Lee Dougherty Ross, who said, “Not to worry! I have a friend.” And, indeed she did.
Amy Jo Connours grew up in Sarasota. A really nice high school Violist, she sat in the Principal Viola chair, next to my son, Keith, who was Principal Cello in Sarasota’s fine Youth Orchestra. They discovered one day that the end-of-year Prom was fast approaching and neither of them had a date, so they agreed that they could solve each other’s problem, and went together. And we have a lovely photo of them, in their elegant gown and tux, to prove it. So, you could say that Amy and I go back a long way. Or, at least Amy and Keith do.
Well, Amy went off to college, and did other things, and eventually returned to Sarasota. She and I found ourselves in a chorus together, and I came to know that little Violist Amy had grown into a mature vocalist of the highest order. She lists herself as a Mezzo-Soprano, but her effective range goes from the lowest Contralto to a sterling Soprano, and she shifts imperceptibly from chest voice into the higher ranges with aplomb, as she proved that Friday morning.
Overnight, she and Lee (good name for them - ‘She-and-Lee’) put together a very pleasing program, ranging from the sexy Habanera from Bizet’s opera CARMEN to the inspiring You’ll Never Walk Alone of Rodgers and Hammerstein. My favorite of the morning was A Simple Song from Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, the sardonic nature of which was found in the subtle and difficult harmonic mutations in both melody and harmony, which Connours conquered unerringly.
There is a little war in the world of music, which is denoted in the terms “musicians“ and “singers.” Without a pause, we speak of the musicians being seated over here and the singers over there, subtly implying that singers are not musicians. Unfortunately, it is often true that singers are less well-trained in basic music skills of note-reading and must learn largely by rote, listening to the accompanying piano. Amy is decidedly not one of those. Her early training on piano and viola gave her impressive musical knowledge and skills, which help make her such a delight to hear and work beside.
A similar case can be made for Lee Dougherty Ross, who trained early on as both a pianist and a singer. An exceptional accompanist, she is extremely sensitive to the soloist’s every nuance...she leans in to the keyboard as if to seduce it (yes, she is interesting to watch, as well as to hear!), always in service to the music.
So, we missed Mr. Stearns and hope the Sarasota Music Club can have him back at a later time, but we had a gem of a program in Connours and Ross, whipped up overnight. Thanks so much, She-and-Lee, for a truly wonderful performance!