The Unconservatory  

Kirk & Marilyn: Costa Rica, December 1996

A letter from the Artistic Directors, Kirk Whipple & Marilyn Morales

To our dear friends and musicians, we hope you will enjoy the following slice from life on the road.....

We were invited to perform on the annual Coast Rican national telethon (the key word here is invited) during the weekend of December 6. Every year the "Activo 20/30" club of Costa Rica puts on a show at the San Jose Gymnasium with famous (and nearly famous) artists. The goal is to raise funds towards the children's hospital they are building. They plan to finish the project within the next three or four years. We were assured by our contact that we would be playing "any material we wanted" on two pianos during our time slot. We were rehearsed and ready to go when the fun began.

We were scheduled to leave Thursday, December 5 from San Francisco. It is a good thing that Marilyn called the airline to confirm our flight the day before. We found out that LACSA airlines had only one flight per week from San Francisco, and it was leaving at 11:00 that evening! This slightly altered our plans to casually pack, rehearse and get a good nightís sleep.

Incidentally, our producer informed us the evening before this particular scramble that we needed a DAT (Digital Audio Tape) formatted recording of the pieces we intended to play. It was possible that we would have to pretend to perform on camera one or more of our pieces written for two pianos on the one piano that the telethon scheduled to deliver! We had the DAT delivered from a studio in the bay area by our good friend Ken Blacklock and packed the following day while we were coming out of shock.

Our great pal and teaching colleague, Virginia Cayton joined us for the dash to the airport. Fortunately, we arrived in time to receive the last two knee-crunching seats: #1A and #1B, respectively. This was UNfortunate for the woman who arrived five minutes later with a $900.00 confirmed ticket. Apparently it is routine for airlines servicing South American countries to overbook flights. Our newfound wisdom: Get there at least two and one half hours early. We were early by more than an hour and almost had the chance to discover a new pub in the Golden Gate city.

After pit stops in Guatemala and El Salvador we were able to unfold our legs on the Costa Rican tarmac - 12 hours after we boarded the plane. Marilyn almost ruined her foot when the friendly hostess from the telethon directed her to trip over a concealed step. We found out the following week in Miami that she had actually fractured two toes. The X-ray explained the mysterious black and blue color and expanded size of her otherwise delicately hued and proportioned right foot. This prevented Marilyn from her planned expedition of the rain forest and volcano that weekend. (Sigh!) On to the telethon!

Our room was lovely. The people were fabulous! Everyone had a cell phone. Nobody knew exactly what was going to happen next. This included our rehearsal time, space and piano(s?)! Looking back, this was a very valuable period of time for us. Since we had no place to go (and only three feet with which to get there) we took advantage of the excellent guest services at the "Hotel Residencias de Golf." Kirk also took advantage of the time and sketched out what has become the duo's latest salsa for two pianos.

We discovered during our third day at the hotel that the telethon organizers were definitely picking up the food and drink tab. This was a relief since we spent about $75.00 (roughly equivalent to a googol of "Colones") to replace the underwear we left in the drier back home. One advantage to the artists not knowing where to go or when to get there was the stories told by new friends. We all had the same story: an interesting life and a good reason to be in Costa Rica.

We were scheduled to appear on the second night of the telethon. Earlier that afternoon we had a "choreography" rehearsal at a nearby hotel. (No, this was not so we could high-kick in the finale.) We were afforded the chance to practice our body moves on an 88-key piece of furniture. The impertinent Muzak which was accompanying us over the hotel sound system provided the final touch of "Twilight Zone" to this episode. After forty-five minutes of this brand of torture we were ready for anything.

We arrived at the gymnasium three hours before our scheduled appearance. We had forgotten how to deeply inhale cigarette smoke, but a few of the singers in the artists lounge obliged us with repeated demonstrations. Amazing. We had excellent assistance in hair and make-up. We looked like a gazillion Colones. The combination of entertainers, screaming fans, sweaty vendors, stressed out producers and a good cause was truly exciting!

Our performance time of 10:00 p.m. was scheduled during the prime time of the telethon: one to two hours before the end. Over three million people were watching. The tension was building. Expectations were high. Everyone wanted to see the Gringo and the Cubanita perform.

Thirty minutes before our performance the telethon staff tried to move the (one) grand piano onto the stage. They failed. Or rather, someone neglected to get the measurements and weight of the piano. These facts would have shown the telethon organizers that the piano was too big and too heavy for the walkways leading up to the stage.

Fifteen minutes before our performance we were told that our appearance would be of a more verbal nature. Great! We learned how to talk a long time ago. We've only been musicians for the last quarter of a century. We walked on stage and did our bit for the telethon. They gave us a plaque and a very pretty watercolor by a native artist.

An impeccably dressed presenter with an abundance of teeth announced the staging problems to the live audience and that we would be back to give a real concert in Costa Rica just as soon as they could, well, organize it. They were so friendly, they even invited us back on stage to wave to the audience, sing songs, and recite the "Our Father" in Spanish. This was especially challenging for Kirk.

After the telethon we joined our famous (and newly famous in Costa Rica) friends for an all-night party at a local disco. All had a good time, and we left before our ears started bleeding. Sometimes things just work themselves out in a bizarre sort of way. We are patiently awaiting word of our return trip. If all goes well we will perform the world premier of a piece entitled "Pura Vida" (or"Pure Life," a uniquely Costa Rican response to the question, "Whatís up?") the two-piano piece from Kirk's pen that emerged from the trip. We can't wait!

The next leg of our trip was great fun. Fortunately, we made our flight. UNfortunately, one of the performing groups that had a major television appearance did not. There was some strange problem regarding the number of passengers and the number of seats. We flew from Costa Rica to Miami over Cuba. It was the first time that Marilyn had seen her native country since she left with her family on Christmas Eve, 1972. (Kirk had not been south of Mexico before this trip.) We could clearly see the hotels of Varadero, the vacation spot in Cuba. We are both waiting for that jerk, Fidel, to take a hike. It would be a powerful visit, but we will be glad to go when the ruler is not a murderer.

Our stay in Miami was marvelous. We began our Florida experience the morning after our return with a 9:00 performance and lecture for students of Linda Byrd's piano class at Miami Dade Community College. After our adventure in Central America, 9:00 a.m. Eastern time still felt like a great time to go to sleep. We could hardly resist this performance, as Linda Byrd was Marilyn's principal instructor at Miami Dade and continues to be a great friend and educator.

We performed a full two-piano concert of our original compositions and arrangements at the University of Miami on Sunday, December 22. From the ticket receipts, we practically sold the hall out. You could not tell from being there, though.

From reports that filtered in to us during our stay, apparently over half of ticket holding audience either were under the weather, lost or in need of one more shopping day! Too bad. They missed a good show. So did our guest artist, a local sax star, Ed Something-or-other... Fortunately, the two of us had plenty of music to share with our audience.

We enjoyed great festivities with the Morales family. We saw a packed screening of a movie we highly recommend if you are interested in the Cuban experience. "Bitter Sugar" is an honest and courageous film made by a great group of artists. Don't miss it! We had a rockin' New Years Eve party at "Castillo Morales." The weather was "a bit chilly" for the locals, but we did not complain. We endured the occasional dips into the 50ís.

Our last drama surrounded our return trip. We had been promised by our producer friend full round-trip air fare before we committed to the telethon. During the last week before our departure from California our travel arrangements became increasingly vague. In Miami things turned from vague to desperate when we were informed that the neither the telethon nor the producer would pick up the fee for our return flight.

Fortunately, a cousin (of which Marilyn has no shortage) works at a travel agency. Luz was able to score us some relatively inexpensive tickets home. UNfortunately, we arrived in the middle of the Los Angeles "wild winds" too late to get our baggage over to the connecting terminal. Fortunately, after trying unsuccessfully to make our connecting flight, we were able to recover at a local hotel (expenses paid by Carnaval airlines) with our good friends, Eric & Lianne Swanson. A good time was had by all.

We were met the next day, January 7 (a good four days later than we had planned), by the world's greatest apprentice, Cory Gray at the Oakland airport. Cory took great care of The Unconservatory studio and prized mascot, Sergei the cat while we were away. Since then we have been rehearsing like fiends (just in case our return to Costa Rica is closer than we think!) and trying to catch up with our life here in Santa Rosa. We can hardly contain our excitement for our musical work, as we can barely contain our schedule!

Marilyn's foot is almost in "Flamenco form" again. Kirk is learning the latest creation for solo piano by Sebastopol composer W.A. Mathieu. Sergei the cat is sassy as ever. The duo is ready to hit the road in early March or late February or whenever....

So, what have we learned lately from our travels? The well-prepared musician should never leave home without the following items: sharp pencils, manuscript paper, underwear, Ben Gay (or Tiger Balm) medicated salve, the latest DAT recording, and plan "B." Oh, yeah, a little extra cash and a good attitude don't hurt!

The moral of our story: No risk, Tsk, tsk! Or...

If you can't smell the adrenaline,

Turn off the damn television!

Love, life and music.

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Updated: January 25, 2001 (KB)

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