Sunday, December 24, 2006

Carolina Welcomes Clay Home

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS -- Clay Aiken celebrates the end of the Symphony Christmas Tour with Saturday evening's performance in Greensboro. Photo by Shine in NC

Final JNaT Concerts

Carolina Welcomes Clay Home

North Carolina welcomed Clay Aiken home with two very special performances of the Symphony Christmas Tour in Charlotte and Greensboro Friday and Saturday nights. Many fans made the weekend a two-fer, and I joined the celebration for the grand finale of the Joyful Not a Tour.

Exquisite nuances and tenderly caressed notes in soft phrases, playfulness and surprising change-ups in others, as well as the skillful surge of resounding power in forte passages -- Clay effortlessly took concertgoers on a tour of his vast repertoire of vocal techniques and interpretations.

The singer's quick wit is priceless, following a loose outline for the tour but easily flowing with the dynamics of diverse audiences each night. In the popular between-song JNaT banter, Clay cheekily snarked with his home state on many subjects, some planned and some a surprise even to the performer.

Sound Problems Enter the Act

From the beginning, there were sound difficulties; and during an orchestral interlude in Christmas Waltz, Clay stepped off stage and obviously asked that the volume be raised. Later, when the faulty mic/speakers interjected loud snapping noises into his songs, the humorous facial expressions he showed the audience would fill an art gallery. The seething ones he kept inside probably would, too.

As with the wobbly stool, he suggested to the offstage tech crew that he just might need a replacement mic. The stool situation was solved early on, but the crackling mic continued for a while and gave Clay new comedic material. Following a loud pop when he sang "Farmer Brown" in Winter Wonderland, Clay deadpanned to the audience, "And then they shot him."

One of the funniest moments came while the singer was perched on his stool, legs crossed, singing to the audience on his left. A loud cracking noise struck swiftly; and, mid-song, Clay fanned the air behind the stool and joked that he might have to take some Gas-X before returning. He was very concerned that the sound system be fixed before the upcoming religious songs, and somehow it was.

Choir Teacher Elaborates on Test

During the Merry Christmas With Love banter, Clay introduced Alison Lawrence, his high school choir teacher who toured with the Joyful Noise 05 cast. Ms. Lawrence still has the theory test Clay has talked about up and down the east coast this month, and he knelt at the front of the stage while she expounded on her student's infamous answers -- "a key was something that unlocks the door, a note something you pass in class, a measure an inch, a bar a place where you go for a drink," etc. -- that resulted in an "F" and punishment of cleaning the school bathroom with a toothbrush.

The Greensboro concert was definitely "home" as family members -- his mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and cousin Jamie -- were in attendance. Later, the singer recognized Raleigh's Gregory Ellis [Joyful Noise 05] and his family. He also introduced his tour staff -- Mary and the "J" Crew (musical director Jesse, Jamie, Jennifer, and Jerome).

During the expected banter about first-time CA concertgoers and the veteran fans surrounding them, Clay warned the newcomers: "Take a real good look around at those who are raising their hand. They may work with you, they may teach your children, they may attend the your church. They will get your home phone number and your home address, and they will stalk you like they stalk me! They embrace their craziness; after all, this is the South!"

His fan shtick, enjoyed throughout the 18-city tour, further warns that longtime followers will incorporate first-timers into their ranks and drive them to multiple concerts. Saturday night he also spoke at length about how much he appreciates the support of his enthusiastic fans.

Clay Dedicates MGUCL to Brother

Any discussion of the tour's 14-song playlist would have to include the very moving My Grown Up Christmas List, as Clay dedicated this selection to his brother, Brett, who recently celebrated his 21st birthday and is currently serving in Iraq. The words, he said, would probably be very close to his brother's grown-up Christmas list. The interpretation was rich, pensive, and beautiful.

Playful performer became Preacher Clay during his intro to Steven Curtis Chapman's uplifting arrangement of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, now the singer's favorite carol of the season. Employing an exaggerated southern drawl, "Rev. Lovejoy" asked everyone to "turn to Page 342 as we all sing 'Joy to the World,'" a phrase of which Clay sang terribly out of tune and with the same heavy accent. "You know there was someone in your church who sang like that, someone just that much off key. If you don't think there was somebody like that in your church, it was probably you," he quipped.

After all this, OCOCE was an elegant, prayerful communication with God.

As he has done through much of the tour, Clay dropped his mic near the end of Don't Save It All for Christmas Day, this night firmly putting it back on the stand and walking to the front of the stage to tenderly sing the final phrase of the song. The capacity audience erupted with an instantaneous ovation.

The encore, All Is Well, was gorgeous, incredible, and breath-taking, as Clay soared from his lovely, reverent low register to the glorious, powerful sonorities of his upper tenor range.

PHOTO INTERMISSION: This clickable Greensboro concert collection features work by photographers All4Clay, 1, 2; xxx4clay, 3; Kbastide, 4; and Shine in NC, 5.

Backstage Chat With Violinist

Since Greensboro is home base for me, I know and have played gigs with several of the symphony members, among them Anita, the flugelhorn soloist, and violinists Kay and Jean. Sunday morning I talked with Jean about the orchestra's interaction with Clay.

It was great to hear that Greensboro musicians really enjoyed working with our favorite singer. Jean said he was very nice, personable, professional, and lots of fun during the rehearsal and dinner. He came into the rehearsal with a half hour remaining and started singing where they were, checking sound and warming up. "He was very involved with the orchestra and sang to us during the rehearsal," she said.

I think she was a little surprised to hear that the concert was beamed throughout the US and Canada via cellcert. Saturday night's audience was definitely out of the norm for most orchestras. I told her I enjoyed watching the orchestra during Clay's shtick since some members caught the "Ripa" remarks and some obviously did not. She agreed, adding they were duly educated.

Orchestra Helps Select Musical Term

During dinner, Clay explained about the "musical term of the night" and asked their assistance in choosing an unusual one. Every word they suggested had been used. Jean even knew that one concert Clay made up a term because concertgoers were bringing their music dictionaries. Talking amongst themselves, the Greensboro string section finally came up with flagioleto or flagioletto.

In case you missed it, flagioleto means "playing overtones with a slide touch of the string in the points where it is divided in two, three, and four equal parts." In the music, this is indicated with an "o" over the note.

A more recognizable description might be "playing harmonics." Basically, this happens by barely pressing the string while bowing versus firmly pressing the string on the fingerboard and bowing. The violin section demonstrated both sounds very effectively.

I am sure the symphony appreciated Clay's plug for their next performance on Dec. 31. "What are you doing New Year's Eve?" he asked the locals. "I'm not singing, just asking," he quipped, referencing a favorite from his popular 2004 Christmas CD, Merry Christmas With Love.

Restaurant Manager Spins MCWL

Carrabbas, the Italian restaurant where several Internet fans met for a pre-concert dinner, has a very smart manager. With approximately 25 Claymates in the house, the CD of the night was Clay's MCWL. However, if one stopped by the ladies room -- men's, too, I presume -- an "Eye-talian" pronunciation lesson was playing continuously through the intercom.

As always, a Clay Aiken concert is a celebration of an extraordinary man -- his magnificent voice, and beautiful heart -- as well as the many close relationships, new and old, originating through activities surrounding the CA fandom. At dinner, I finally met face to face many fans who have long been special online friends. It was a phenomenal moment to match personas with screen names.

Like many, I am already looking forward to the next convergence of Clay Aiken music and very special friends. A Dr. Seuss quote, posted by Shine in NC at Clayversity Sunday, sums up what many of us felt as the weekend came to a close: Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

Happy Holidays graphic by ABeautifulMind, photo by dc4clay

Wishing you and yours a joyous holiday. Thank you for your loyal readership and many kind comments throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, Clay Nation!


RELATED TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , ,


All4Clay said...

Thank you Carolina Clay for the wonderful blog. It captures everything I wanted to say but didn't have the words. Great job.
Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful summation of a fantastic concert! I really enjoyed meeting you at Carraba's.


Vox Vixen said...

Thanks for the great recap. I loved hearing about the orchestra members impressions of Clay.

Happy Holidays.


Shadylil said...

"flagioletto"! That's how I tune my guitar!

Wonderful blog. Made me want to be there.

Question for you. Are you the same CarolinaClayFan who went to the Greensboro concert with ClaymaniacinPA (Julia)? I think you may be.

CinPA (for short) used to live about 10 minutes from me and now that she's moved to NC, I miss her.

Let me know if that's you or if I have you mixed up with someone else.