Several months of preparation and study have prepared me to conduct tonight’s performance of The Wizard of Oz, and I now have a rather unfamiliar feeling: nervousness. Conducting doesn’t usually make me nervous. It might be because I don’t have to look at the audience like most performers do. But even though I know that everyone will be watching the movie and not me, I’m feeling butterflies in my stomach. It’s not like I’ve never done this: I’ve conducted orchestras for silent film performances before. It was a new experience at the time, but I don’t remember feeling particularly anxious, even though there were a lot of sight cues and “stingers” that had to be timed very precisely. So why—I have been asking myself—am I having trouble sleeping lately?
After pondering this for several weeks, I think I know why: I’m afraid of letting them down. Who? The orchestra? The audience? The company that supplied the film and the music? No—and this may seem silly—I’m afraid of disappointing Judy, Ray, Bert and Jack. Yes, that’s right. Judy Garland, a.k.a. Dorothy; Ray Bolger, a.k.a. The Scarecrow; Bert Lahr, a.k.a. The Cowardly Lion, and Jack Haley, a.k.a. The Tin Man. I’m not as worried about Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan or the Munchkins, because I never felt particularly close to them (truth be told, I never liked The Great Oz, and it’s hard to bond with The Wicked Witch of the West, even if I admired her sheer Witchiness). But Dorothy and her three sidekicks were different. I knew them! I felt every emotion they felt as they followed the Yellow Brick Road, and their determination, brains, courage and heart inspired me every time I watched the movie. As I grew older, I saw the adult Judy Garland sing and act on television and in other movies, but I knew that deep down inside she was really Dorothy, a young girl from Kansas who still misses her dog and who knew there was no place like home and who struggled her whole life to find it, and never did. Maybe, on the podium, I can help?
In movie theaters, these people were both figuratively and literally larger than life, and each seemed perfect. Judy was the Best Dorothy, Ray was the Best Scarecrow, Bert was the Best Cowardly Lion, and Jack was the Best Tin Man (even though Buddy Ebsen was originally cast in that role). Many years later, I feel like I know them, but I still hold them in awe and I want to do my best so that they can be their best. Of course, they’re all dead now. Ray Bolger was the last to go, in 1987, but if I use my imagination, maybe when it’s all over he’ll wink and give me a thumbs up. Or maybe I’ll have to close my eyes, click my heels together three times, . . .