What are these “Oliverisms” that I refer to often in this blog?
I’ve been singing for John Oliver since 1991. He was conducting the MIT Concert Choir then, and I was just making the transition from ‘pianist’ to ‘singer.’ Learning to sing in that choir with John was like learning to drive in a parking lot but with a $100,000 BMW. You got the impression you were being treated very nicely, but you didn’t have a real way to experience it. Even with that limited experience singing with John, I got to appreciate his musical knowledge, his style and typical adjustments, his well-trained ear…. and his wit.
John has a great way of breaking up the pace of rehearsals with a funny story or a one-liner that just cracks everyone up. It functions as a nice tension relief, too, to break up all that concentration on the music in front of you. (Having sung for Allen Lannom later with the Masterworks Chorale, I got to see first hand how weary it can be to drill, drill, drill without a break in the action.) But more importantly… they’re just damn funny!
For years, now, I’ve always wanted to capture every one of those spontaneous lines (my term: “Oliverisms”). He throws at least a couple out there every rehearsal to lighten the mood and keep the rehearsal moving forward. Many of my favorites are lines he throws out when someone screws up. He’ll regularly stir up friendly rivalries amongst the sections, with lines like “You sound great, basses — MUCH better than the tenors.”
Three of my all time favorite lines:
- “That’s too soft.” (Said with an earnest look as if he’s serious, when an entire section misses its first entrance.)
- “The problem is that the sopranos are flat when they’re exposed.”
- “Try to sing… as if the person next to you… might be right.”
I’m trying to capture my favorites as I remember them from rehearsals going forward.