When we arrived at the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood around 1:30 pm Saturday, the Julliard String Quartet was fiddling around with its Debussy segment while nearly a dozen stagehands, engineers, and foctotems bustled about, doing what needs to be done to put a live radio show together.
Once producer Christine Tschida logged the time of the Debussy segment, she informed the quartet that their Guy Noir scripts were in their dressing room, adding “your initials are next to your lines.” One of them reminded her that they’d need to allow for a moment of applause when she was telling them what to expect by way of introduction from Garrison Keillor.
“Oh no, we want to squelch the applause – this is radio and we need to keep the show rolling.” – producer Christine Tschida
Regardless, the audience showered the Julliard String Quartet with ample applause, both for the brilliance of their musicianship and for the color they brought to the Guy Noir episode. The auditory sundae that millions treat themselves to every Saturday goes down so smoothly because Tschida is so good at her job, an aspect of which is to cajole musicians into cutting out music.
Special guest (and former music director) Rob Fisher and The Guy’s All Star Shoe Band leader Richard Dworsky did a piano duet – a medley of patriotic music. After a run-through, Tschida approached, “It’s 4:40 now; I think a nice juicy 4 minutes would be fine – if you could cut it by 10%.” Being all stars, of course the boys made the cut, and the segment delighted the audience.
Sound effects wizard Tom Keith had the opportunity for advanced research on the sound of thunder, especially during rehearsal. It stood him in good stead during the show’s Melville/Hawthorne + Dickinson skit. The skit expanded upon the locally well-known (even among non-English majors) meeting of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, during a rain-interrupted hike up Monument Mountain in Gt. Barrington.
Since nobody said Emily Dickinson wasn’t there, Keillor and the cast showed us how much fun the outing could’ve been if the belle of nearby Amherst had made the trip. Erica Rhodes’ portrayal of a 19 year old Dickinson, eager for the affirmation of her literary elders, made the skit a winner.
The audience roared when she reached the closing lines of a re-working of “Time and Eternity,”
(which begins, “Because I could not stop for death/He kindly stopped for me…)
“The woods are lovely, dark with dew,/Do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.”
Conveying the local flavor when the show is on the road (and skewing it for laughs), is endearing to the locals and educational for the vast radio audience. A Prairie Home Companion’s local-history maven is Russ Ringsak, who has been with the show since its beginning in 1974. He drives the show’s equipment truck, and getting to the venue a day or two in advance affords him the opportunity to visit local libraries and other establishments in search of information for Keillor to use on the show.
Jon Carroll (MCC’s pianist): Can we get a little bit of the mandolin spread around?
Mary Chapin Carpenter: I don’t need too much mandolin.
Duke Levine (electric guitar): Neither do I.
Eventually, Ms. Carpenter says, “I don’t know how specific I can get with you, but on the quieter songs, less bass, and on the up-tempo songs, more.”
The audience was more than satisfied with the mix finally settled upon. Toward the end of the show, she dedicated her new song, “Late for your life,” to Chet Atkins, who died earlier that day. (Four days after this show, Garrison Keillor delivered a eulogy for his longtime friend Chet Atkins at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.)