Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Wistful Halftime. Piatigorsky Master Class. Emerald Isle On Wings.

Foto Memory: A Wistful Watcher
Michael Sedano

Halftime. Number One USC leads tonight's opponent by 7. Only seven.

Worried fans stare forlornly at the no-blowout scoreboard while others seek amusement, or solace, in companions and the crowd of thousands of bloodthirsty Trojans and hundreds of supposed-to-be-vanquished visitors watching hopefully. Can our boys pull one out? 

Almost everyone in the stadium looks forward to the second half.

Hey, kids, let's put on a show!

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is a halftime performer's Carnegie Hall. Before there was a superbowl halftime show to crow about, for halftime performers in 1974, the LA Coliseum occupied the pinnacle of the halftime world. 

These aren't just any kids marching onto the turf of the thunderous stadium floor. These are band musicians, a special type of personality with marvelous skill and anonymous mien. These are flag girls, the baton twirlers, the pom-pom shakers. Survivors of try-outs, practices, and car washes, people's daughters budding, beauteous stars in fishnet stockings and leotards, supporting cast in tunics and loose shorts. Hold your back straight, pretend that thing isn't heavy and awkward, look cute. Smile, you're on stage!
These aren't just any kids out there. These are staff carriers, honored to bear their school's colors onto the gnarled turf of the only place in the world these daughters of proud moms and dads want to be tonight. Half a million eyes on television, all their friends, and fifty thousand screaming people just like them, watching what they, and only they, get to do. The sports photographer hopes these kids are having the time of their lives. He's not here to take fotos of halftime--editors want action, footballs in mid-flight, not flying flags. Desultory stuff is yearbook material, if that. In truth, no one wants these kids' photographs. 

None of this matters to these kids marching onto the grass--they know it. Sabes que? Right now is their moment, fifteen minutes of halftime at a soon forgotten game for a lifetime's best moments.

Hours of practice on four different home fields, coordination between schools, dress rehearsal with  blaring loudspeakers doesn't prepare them for the adrenaline of the big moment. The legendary Trojan Marching Band plays louder than a kid has ever heard, especially in the echoing tunnel as USC high steps out of the tunnel followed by the dancers and banners. Representing.

Dr. Arthur Bartner takes his ladder, hits the downbeat. The hard-charging Trojan brass and drums boom out three songs, fifty thousand cheering lungs pour out of the surrounding night onto the center of the field, each kid alone in the center of her own universe, soaking in the noise that drowns out any sensation but puro joy.

The photographer watches a watcher, she's a member of the band, too. Up front, the band's sequined baton-twirler moves in exultation.  She tosses, she catches. A toss, walks under the falling wand, spectators hold their breath against a drop. The girl between the "R" and the "E" holds up her banner steadily,  the spinning wand reaches its arc, the girl between the letters watches the glittering girl in the bathing suit reaching for her moment.

Gregor Piatigorsky Master Class at USC 1974

Football games and halftime spectaculars offered one satisfying diversion from the rigors of USC graduate school. I was there on the G.I. Bill working with Walt Fisher on a degree in rhetoric while dabbling in photojournalism.  Working as Chief Photographer for the Daily Trojan and also chief for El Rodeo yearbook, gave unfettered access to wondrous experiences.

For a photographer, USC offered a treasure trove of memories. There was the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, for example. An NFL minor league team, USC was chasing the national championship year after year. World-class musicians, legends in fact, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, sat chairs in the School of Music. The violinist closed his classes to outsiders. The cellist welcomed me with open arms.
I knew a lot less cello music in 1974 than I do today. Still, I wonder if I'd recognize the piece the students endeavored. I asked but don't remember. Something hard.

Four cellists sat in the studio, a short walk off-campus in a 19th century Victorian. Piatigorsky talked and smoked, had students perform, then called for one in particular to perform. Today was "his" day.

The student dressed in a white suit to match the maestro. He sat, took a breath, and played. Within a few measures, Piatigorsky interrupts to describe a phrasing that the student then attacks, followed with discussion and more performing. The student works the same phrase, then again.

Maestro satisfied, the teacher stands, strides to the baby grand piano where another cello rests. I look with tachychardia as the maestro takes his own cello in hand, sits in the student's chair, and, using the student's bow, demonstrates the passage. 

It's a magic moment not to be admired but captured. I place my camera on the floor at the base of the cello. Piatigorsky ignores me. I capture several portraits of the artist at work.

Emerald Green Gems For St. Paddy's Celebrators

 And even if you're not Irish--more people are not Irish than are, other than undocumented European immigrants in the U.S.A.--the color green works magically as a relaxant, and as a marvelous color for feathers on hovering hummingbirds.

Here are two fotos in a series of action portraits whose capture challenges an old-time sports photographer. This is like my other project of taking the perfect portrait of a writer reading their own stuff in front of an audience. Oracy and Hummingbirds, i want to take their picture.

If you think photographing a football in mid-interception is challenging (it is), capture that lightning quick bird floating around a branch, finding a flower cluster to sample. It turns, it flits, it finds a blossom. Click! A beak about to seek its hidden nectar. 1/4000 of a second will capture the instant, but if you see it in the viewfinder, you missed it.

Here are two almost such portraits of female Allen's Hummingbirds. Red, Eriogonum. Purple, Salvia, at The Huntington Library & Gardens, March 2021.

A wee bit 'o green for ye, do note, the bird is ecumenical, wearing her ever-Orange vest under that green top coat.

1 comment:

Daniel Cano said...

Michael, thanks for the memory, and in '74, so much happening in the U.S., especially in popular culture and activists re-claiming the adage about sports being the opiate of the people, and just the image of the "guys" participating on the field and the "girls" cheering from the sidelines, the height of sexism and chauvinism, old cultural customs that would hold the new progressive world back. Many began boycotting high school football games, or showing not much interest, and few fans filed into the bleachers. Timothy Leary ruled the day and freeing the mind was more attractive than bruising the body. But, it seemed, university sports hung on, drawing thousands to USC-UCLA games, the pinnacle the Rose Bowl, to see who would play Michigan or Ohio State, Woody Hayes, the enemy of the West Coast, and you had a front row seat. What a treat!