On Friday, I spent the whole day with a famous person.

Well, okay, he’s not A-list celebrity famous (my husband had never heard of him), but in the music world — the choral world, especially — he is quite well-known.

Photo by Malcolm Crowther

His name is Gabriel Jackson, and he wrote a song for The Crossing, which will be premiered Sunday, June 5. He has written an awful lot of gorgeous music, much of it choral (which is why he’s a bit of a celebrity with choirs), and The Crossing was able to commission him to write the first piece for their commissioning project, Seneca Sounds (works based on the writings of Seneca the Younger).

You know what my biggest worry was before I met him? That I wouldn’t have anything to say. I always get tongue-tied around celebrities.

My celebrity complex all started, I think, when I met Peter Tork. Apparently my dad and he used to be close, back in the day, and once my dad realized Nickelodeon had made me a fan of The Monkees, he thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to introduce me to Peter. And it was such a cool thing that I turned into the most awkward, shy preteen you could imagine, and even though I knew I had every capability of being smart and funny, I couldn’t formulate a single witty thing to say.

When I was a freshman in college, I went to a masterclass and recital by Frederica von Stade, my favorite mezzo and idol at the time (I still love you, Flicka, but I have since broadened my horizons!), and my friend convinced me to go backstage and say hello. I was at the end of a long line of well-wishers, and I think she may have been getting a little tired by the time I got to her. This was our exchange:

Me: You were great.
FvS: Thank you.
Me: I’m from the Bay Area too.
FvS: Oh?
Me: Yes. Say hello to San Francisco for me! (nervous, high-pitched giggle)
FvS: …uh…okay…have a good evening.
Me: You too! (walking away with a smile pasted on my face and the distinct urge to bang my head repeatedly against a wall)

After that, I gave up trying to make conversation with famous people. I was riding the subway in New York about ten years ago, and this older gentleman got on the train and sat down next to me. I glanced at him briefly, and here was my thought process:

That guy looks a lot like Henry Winkler.
Heh…I bet he gets that a lot.
Can you imagine being mistaken for Henry Winkler?
OMG, that actually IS Henry Winkler.
Henry Winkler is sitting right next to me!
The Fonz!
What do I do? What do I do what do I say what should I do?
Okay, be cool. Just be cool. Act like you don’t notice.
He doesn’t want to be bothered.

At that moment, some guy got on the train, took one look at him, and said (in a really loud voice), “Hey, you’re the Fonz! How are you? That’s the Fonz, man! Eyyyyyyyyy.”

Henry Winkler just nodded, mumbled, “Thank you,” and got off the next stop. I breathed a sigh of relief that I had not offended Mr. Winkler like that rude guy. But I realized that I was pretty darned close to doing the same thing, and if I had opened my mouth, something idiotic like that would have come right out. I’m sure of it.

So all of these botched celebrity meetings made me doubly nervous to meet Gabriel Jackson, a composer who I seriously admire, and whose very rhythmically complicated music I had been practicing for the last week, trying desperately to get perfect. And what was I going to say to this man? What was he going to be like? I had to pick him up from Newark Airport and take him to his hotel in Philadelphia, a good two-hour drive. Would he be cold and distant? Cranky from the long plane ride? Sleepy and jetlagged?

Was I going to say something incredibly stupid?

When I arrived at the airport, his plane had just touched down, and it took another 30-45 minutes for him to retrieve his baggage and go through customs. All the while, I was nervously waiting with the other limousine drivers, my sweaty palms clutching the paper proclaiming “GABRIEL JACKSON” in big letters — bigger than any of the other drivers’ signs, I noticed. Was that a faux pas? I sighed. His more difficult passages played in a tape loop in my head. Over and over again, my mind subconsciously practiced while I waited for him to appear.

People started trickling out of customs into the waiting area. I studied the face of every man that came down the hallway. Oh, no, I thought, would I recognize him? I’ve only ever seen his headshot! I know he has a big mustache, but maybe he shaved it off before the flight. Well, at least I have the sign. If I don’t recognize him, he will surely see me with the sign.

Turns out, I had nothing at all to fear. Not only did he still have the mustache, but he was wearing the same hat he wears in his photo. I knew it was him the moment he rounded the corner, and I saw him long before he saw me. I waved at him.

He didn’t see me.

I waved again, this time, bouncing his sign up and down.

Finally he saw me. And we shook hands as he entered the waiting area.

“How exciting,” he said in a charming English accent. “I’ve never been met at the airport by someone with a sign before.”

All of a sudden, the pedestal I had been holding him up on disappeared, and he was just an ordinary musician, just like me. We spent the long drive chatting about all sorts of things, from politics to human nature to religion and everything in between. I enjoyed his company immensely, and he even convinced me to come out for a drink with a few folks after rehearsal (which, for those of you who know me, I do very rarely! I’m such a homebody).

Maybe I should stop thinking of famous people as being famous and start remembering that they are just people. I mean, heck, if I ever get famous, that’s how I would want folks to think of me.

Oh, also? If you’re wondering about this group, The Crossing, that I mention from time to time, they just released this video that gives you an idea of how much we singers love being in this ensemble. Seriously, it is AWESOME.

And come to Sunday’s performance. You might even get to meet Gabriel Jackson too.

Famous People
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  • Wendryn

    That is so. Incredibly. Cool. 🙂 I’m glad you got to meet him and that it went so well! I hope the concert goes beautifully!

  • Kerri

    Wow.u00a0 I can’t think of words…wow oh wow oh wow oh wow.u00a0 Just beautiful.u00a0 Maren, your kind words and warm praise on my “Battle of the Sexes” post 2 Indie Ink challenges ago, when you gave me 4 random (!) words to write about, means the world to me.u00a0 “Brava” from you is high praise indeed!u00a0 I must admit, I was pretty intimidated by the caliber of the group; still am to some extent.u00a0 But I joined the challenge to stretch myself, and your words as well as this wonderful choir you belong to make me so glad I did.u00a0 Thank you!!!

  • Sara

    Hi Maren – I thought it was interesting in your discussion of meeting famous people that you included former Monkee Peter Tork, but not former Beatle Paul McCartney.  I seem to recall you a bit breathless upon reporting a kiss on the cheek from Sir Paul after performing in the ‘Ecce Cor Meum’ American premiere in 2006.  You get around, girl!

  • Oh my goodness, that’s true! Although I didn’t act like a complete idiot around McCartney, so it didn’t really occur to me to include him in that list. Hmm…maybe I’m not nearly as inconsequential as I thought? (Nah)