Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Dec 14 2013 09:07 AM

HERB BENHAM: Chili fries, tuxedos and pre-show jitters

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

Men fear tuxedos. Especially cuff links. Snapping on the bow tie is not fun, either.

I'd rented a tux from Carl at Mr. Tuxedo for the Bakersfield Master Chorale's Christmas program held last Saturday night.

Carl looks like he's wearing a tux even when he's not. He has tuxedo posture. Head erect, shoulders back, Carl is one cummerbund away from stepping out on Broadway.

The night before was our last rehearsal. We were awful. Our director, Dr. Robert Provencio, had cause to sling his baton and stick it in any number of our foreheads.

Off key, out of rhythm, heads down and nailed to our scores (you are supposed to keep your eyes fixed on the conductor); other than that, we were great.

"Are people going to pay $20 to hear this?" somebody said.

I wouldn't. I wanted to unsell the tickets I had already sold.

"Don't worry. A bad rehearsal means a good performance," a choir member said.

If it does, and it's a game of performance opposites, we were on schedule to outsing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

"Make sure you brush your teeth and use deodorant," said one of the sopranos.

Was she talking about me?" We stood 40 feet from each other. Did my scent waft over the choir like Handel's "Messiah"?

***

Saturday, six hours before the show, I was driving on Oak Street, approaching Jake's, when I felt the urge for an order of Herb's Chili Fries, my namesake dish that has become world-famous. Herb's Chili Fries consists of cowboy potatoes smothered with meat chili, topped with cheese.

Herb's Chili Fries are excellent, but they are sturdy, too. They'll stare down any toothbrush and toothpaste. That wasn't good considering the suggestion about brushing teeth and applying deodorant.

I brushed four times before the concert, and I still had dragon breath. I probably should have brushed my teeth with deodorant.

I put on my tux at 5 p.m., two hours before the concert. With the red cummerbund, I felt like a bullfighter. All I needed was a bull and a three-cornered hat.

Sue helped fasten the bow tie. I wanted to do it myself and surprise her with how good I looked. I couldn't do it and so I was just another guy who needed help from his wife putting on his tux.

I brushed my teeth again, and my breath went from solar fire to desert hot.

We met at 6 p.m. in the choir room at Olive Drive Church. The room was sweltering, in the 80s. Was hunkering down in a sweat lodge part of the pre-concert ritual?

Conversation centered on how difficult Benjamin Britten was, the section we had stumbled over during rehearsal the night before.

Britten's "A Ceremony of Carols," is tricky. It's not terribly melodic, so you can't cheat by anticipating where you think the piece is headed because you'll go off the musical cliff.

Where was Dr. Provencio? Was this like getting married, where the bride and groom don't see each other until the altar?

At 6:50 p.m., we fell into our lines, walked outside in the cold bracing air and back into the auditorium. The sopranos started in with "Procession," the beginning of the Britten piece as they walked down the center aisle.

They sounded beautiful. The next thing I knew, we were in our places on the risers, singing and looking out over a surprisingly full house.

The concert went fast. Not like we were rushing fast, but like I didn't want it to end fast.

It was pure joy. I could not stop smiling. It reminded me of walking Katie down the aisle. I wish the distance had been a mile rather than 200 feet, and the concert four hours rather than two.

All the pre-concert nightmares -- dropping your book, losing your place, blowing through endings -- faded into the warmth of the house lights and the glory of "O Holy Night," "O Magnum Mysterium" and "The Messiah."

A savior is born. A choir, too.

***

The Bakersfield Master Chorale has an open rehearsal and audition for new members scheduled on Jan 7. For information, contact Dave Waterman at 348-4678 or davew@bak.rr.com.

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