Lena Duncan infusing the community with talent

Published 3:00 am Friday, May 1, 2009

You&squo;ve probably seen the back of Lena&squo;s head more than her face when she&squo;s playing piano in the pit for one of the Tryon Little Theatre musicals. However, for those on stage her face is the most important focal point, because she&squo;s the one following the musical score. A nod from her tells the chorus when to cut off, or a big breath cues them for the next entrance. What the audience never sees is that while her hands are busy at the keys, her face is conducting the singers on stage. This weekend will find Lena accompanying many hopeful young singers as they audition for Les Mis´rables. Next weekend she&squo;ll be the master of the keys for various performers during the Morris Awards at Tryon Fine Arts Center. This summer she&squo;ll be guiding teens to sing one of the most challenging scores written for musical theatre. Without her dedication and patience it would be difficult to pull off these musical events. Between our busy schedules, now that we&squo;re not working on the same shows, Lena and I have been emailing back and forth. The following questions and answers come from those emails. How many shows for Tryon Little Theatre have you done over the years and what are some of your favorites? I have been a cast member of 8 TLT musicals and musical director for 3 TLT shows and 3 Tryon Youth Center/TLT summer youth productions. It&squo;s hard to identify specific favorites as all of the shows have held a certain appeal. When did you first get involved with TLT productions? My first show was South Pacific in September of 2000. Other than a play or two in junior high, this was my first theatrical experience. Several friends were active with TLT and encouraged me to audition. It sounds like you&squo;ve been kept busy with TLT since you first got involved. What keeps drawing you back? Or, how do you explain to someone who&squo;s never been worked on a production the value of the time and effort you put into rehearsing a production? I believe I have participated in every major musical production since South Pacific. I enjoy the dramas and comedies as well, but as a spectator. To identify one specific thing would have to be the interaction with the cast and crew and the friendships and camaraderie that develop when you&squo;re spending weeks working together on a project. Until you&squo;ve actually done it, no one can really describe the time and effort that goes into planning and producing a show and the satisfaction of being involved in such a successful program. You are also the pianist for a local church? Currently, I am the pianist at Landrum Presbyterian Church. I have served there since 2004. Prior to that, I served as pianist for Columbus Baptist Church for 13 years and substitute in neighboring churches when my schedule allows. What are some of your favorite types of music to play? I enjoy playing all types of music and enjoy the challenge of technically difficult pieces. Because of limited practice time, most of what I play is driven by the project in progress, planning and playing for weekly church services and special occasions as they arise. I&squo;m anxiously awaiting the score for Les Miserable, the TYC/TLT summer show for 2009. CATS Orchestra 2008 (photo by Lorin Browning) How are the TLT/TYC shows different from the main stage series? What are some of your favorite moments working with the kids? I don&squo;t really see any difference in the process of TLT/TYC shows, except the age of the performers. We strive to give the kids the same quality experience that the adult shows have. I have always had a love of working with kids. They are energetic and usually enthusiastic about trying new things. I have been musical director for three summer youth productions and have enjoyed all of them, but would have to say that our experience with the production of CATS last summer is my favorite. The cast worked really hard on the music and choreography, but that show was a total package: the costume design, make-up, set design, the pit musicians, and the stage and tech crew. There were many people who voiced concern that CATS was beyond what our group could do, but under Chris&squo;s direction, those young people set an example that holds true in most things: Set your expectations high and more times than not, you get more than you expected. How long have you been playing piano and where did you get your musical education? Lena Duncan (photo by Lorin Browning)&bsp;I do not have a degree in music. When I was in school, general music was not part of the school curriculum, but the PTA at our local elementary school saw the value in music education and funded a music teacher for our school. We had 30 minutes of general music, twice per week. Our general music teacher also taught piano lessons in a small room adjacent to the school auditorium and her students were allowed out of class for their assigned lesson time. I began piano lessons as a first grader and took lessons for 8 years. I did not have a piano at home during that time and had to go to my grandparents home to practice. Early on, I practiced regularly, but as I got older and involved in more activities, efforts to practice diminished. I regret that today, but isn&squo;t that typical that we don&squo;t realize what special opportunities we have at the time. Aside from musical instruction in the school setting, my church had a very strong music program, beginning with preschool age. So it&squo;s difficult for me to remember a time when music was not a huge part of my life. Back then, most girls took piano lessons and it was like a rite of passage as older girls graduated and we had the opportunity to play for the children and youth choirs at church. What are you preparing at this time for the Morris Awards? I have been asked to provide accompaniment for two musical numbers that will be performed during the Awards ceremony. Pam McNeil will also be providing accompaniment for some of the performers. What will people see when they come to this event? This event is going to be a lot of fun. People can cast their ballot by visiting local businesses in the days leading up to the event. Attendees will be greeted to a red carpet experience, Tryon style that could include limousine arrivals and paparazzi. Can you give us some tidbits to look forward to? We have a group of talented people in our area that spans many decades of participation in the various community arts programs. This is an opportunity to showcase these talents. I believe there are going to be several vocal numbers and a dance or two. &bsp; Anything else you would like to mention to the community about the Morris Awards or the upcoming summer production of Les Mis? I would just encourage the community to get out and cast their ballots and be sure to attend the Morris Awards. As for Les Mis, auditions are May 1 and 2, with callbacks on May 3. I hope to see a large number of youth audition for this show. I believe this show has the potential to be another &dquo;best ever&dquo; production. You&squo;ll find Lena Duncan at 516 South Trade Street in the Tryon Little Theatre Workshop this weekend for the Les Mis´rables auditions and then at the piano again in the Tryon Fine Arts Center next Saturday May 9 for the Morris Awards. For more information and tickets to performances please call the Tryon Fine Arts Center box office at 828-859-8322 ext. 214.

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