Pittsburgh concert March 12, 2013 – A great day!

It had been fifteen long months since the last time I saw Jackie Evancho in person.  Fifteen months waiting in anticipating for March 12, 2013 when Jackie would finally be performing somewhere I could attend.  Suffice it to say, this concert was well worth the wait!  I will try to paint a picture of the day with words so that you follow along as I saw it.

The entire day was a whirlwind of activity.  My wife and I departed for Pittsburgh slightly after 12:30 pm, arriving in the city around 2:45 pm.  The traffic was heavy for the first 15 minutes of the trip.  After that, the drive went very well.  The weather was cool (around 40 deg.) and overcast.  There were only a few sprinkles of rain here and there along the way, but for the most part the weather cooperated.  As soon as we arrived in Pittsburgh, I could feel the excitement starting to mount.  This was going to be a great day!  We found a nice place to park the car in a parking deck just down the street from the arts district in Pittsburgh.  The first thing we did was to walk to Heinz Hall to check out the venue.  It didn’t take long to find it at all.  Surprisingly, there was no marquee with Jackie’s name outside the concert hall.  We walked around the hall looking for posters, or some kind of hint that Jackie was performing there that day.  We didn’t find any sign of Jackie’s concert at first.  Later on, there would be posters of Jackie put up by the venue.

After checking out Heinz Hall, we proceeded to Six Penn Kitchen restaurant where a Jackie fan gathering / dinner before the concert would be taking place.  My wife and I were the first fans to arrive.  We were an hour early.  The fan gathering wasn’t until 4:00 pm, but we sat down in the bar area to wait for and welcome the arriving fans.  I had volunteered to make arrangements for the fans to have dinner and I was a bit worried as to whether there would be enough space for everyone.  It was going to be a very large group.  Reservations were for 26, but I think more than that eventually showed up.  Thankfully, Six Penn restaurant set aside an upstairs room for us to gather.  I think that the fan turnout overwhelmed the restaurant staff, but they did a great job in accommodating us.  I can’t thank the manager and staff at Six Penn enough for everything.  I was told that we ballooned to around 36 fans who actually showed up – one of the biggest turnouts ever for a fan gathering.  The fan gathering was charged full of excitement.   There were people handing out Jackie buttons galore, in addition to posters, banners, cards, and everything imaginable for all of us to sign and wish Jackie the best.  So many fans generously gave to other fans out of the goodness of their heart.  It is one of the many great qualities of Jackie’s fans.

Time started to fly.  Before we knew it, the time was approaching 6:00 pm – the magic hour when those of us who were fortunate enough to attend M&G were to report to Heinz Hall.  Once we arrived at Heinz Hall, the outer lobby was packed full of people.  It was hard to believe that all of these people were attending M&G.  I think some were just arriving early for the concert to take in the experience.  Soon we would get our M&G passes and those of us who received them were escorted into the hall.  We were taken down a stairway to a lower level where the area was roped off for the fans to form a line to see Jackie. It wasn’t long before Jackie, her family, staff, and security were in the room adjacent from the line of fans.  I could see them all just ahead.  Soon, the line started to move.  At this time, I will admit that the butterflies start to take over and nerves set it.  How is it that Jackie’s presence in a room can suddenly raise the emotional levels up so high?  I was feeling giddy with excitement!  Soon, there was only one more person to go in before me.  I frantically tried to remember what I wanted to say to Jackie.  Here we go…. I am next.  I walked up, handed my camera to Jackie’s manager, and then greeted Jackie.  My mind suddenly went blank.  What did I want to say?  All I could get out was, “Hi Jackie!  Nice to see you again!  I haven’t seen you in a long time since the last time you were in Pittsburgh.”  Jackie was a bit soft-spoken.  I think she said, “Thanks for coming.”  Honestly, in the excitement of the moment I am not sure what she said.  Soon, the picture was snapped, and I knew my time was over.  Before I walked away I think I said, “You’re the greatest Jackie!”  I think she said, “Thanks!”  Oh… I wanted to say so much more!  I forgot to tell her my name (not that it matters).  I wanted to tell her how much I admired her for her voice, her kindness, and most of all her faith in God.  I wanted to tell her that I believed she was making a difference in the world.  But, before I knew it, I was out of there.  The time with Jackie may have been only several seconds, but the memories will last forever.

On to the concert.  We still had about 45 minutes before the concert would start at 7:30 pm.  My wife arrived at Heinz Hall to meet me since she did not get to go to M&G.   We hung out in the lobby talking with fans, taking pictures, and soaking in the atmosphere.  We soon went to our seats in the front row center section.  The seats were incredible!  We were about 4 feet from the stage.   Jackie would eventually be singing probably about 8 feet from where we were sitting.  Soon, the lights started to dim, the concert master tuned the orchestra, and we were underway.  At that moment, I wanted the time to slow down so that I could savor every minute of this experience.  The entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) was there to play for Jackie.  They started out with 2 music intermezzos from the opera Carmen (Entr’acte – Act 4, and Act 3 respectively).  I absolutely love these selections as a concert opener for Jackie.  It sets the mood perfectly,  and the PSO played them beautifully.  It gave me goosebumps, and Jackie hasn’t even come out yet.  Once the orchestra completed the selections from Carmen to a rousing applause  the orchestra suddenly starts into the haunting introduction of “Pure Imagination.”  At this time, I could feel the rush of emotion take me over, as I knew Jackie would soon be coming out.  Suddenly, out she comes in a beautiful turquoise dress  that I have seen photos of but never seen in person.  She looked spectacular with the lights shimmering off her dress.  The introduction of the song finishes, and then Jackie starts into “Pure Imagination.”  Her voice is as pure and wonderful as I have ever heard it. The orchestra and Jackie were now one, and the music was like listening to her Songs From the Silver Screen CD, only better!  One by one, Jackie sang through the songs on her set list and all I could do was pray that somehow time would just slow down to a halt because I didn’t want the moment to end.  I was in a state of bliss!  There she was,  just 8 feet away and sometimes even closer when she would walk to our side of the stage.   Jackie’s family sat about 8 rows back from where we sat and it was obvious that Jackie was giving them extra attention.  You could tell that she was very happy to have her family there in the audience and it showed.  She made it a point to wave to as many audience members as she could between songs during all the many cheers that came her way.  One special treat that we got as a bonus for being in the front row is that during intermission, Jackie’s family came in and out of the concert hall through the front row aisle just inches from where we were standing.  It was great to see Jackie’s siblings, her grandparents, and several other family members and/or friends whom I did not recognize, walk by our seats.  They kept to themselves and tried to be inconspicuous, moving through our area rapidly.  It was really great to see this wonderful family!  Jackie’s mother and father (Mike and Lisa) were not in the audience.  I am assuming they were backstage.  Lisa did come out at intermission (rapidly) to remove the set-list for the first half from the stage floor.  At intermission, my wife and I remained in our seating area.  I had several people come up to us because they thought WE were family.  This happened to us at the last concert we attended at Pittsburgh too.  It must be the Jackie buttons we wore, or the Jackie M&G pass that I was wearing that may lead people to think this.  It is sort of flattering, but I have to tell them that we are just fans of Jackie.  Many wanted to know where we got the buttons.  Several people who were patrons of the PSO talked with us too.  Some had never heard Jackie and were floored at how well she sang.  Soon the intermission was over and we were on to the second half (oh nooo!  concert is going by way too fast!).   The orchestra starts into Pirates of the Caribbean as a lead-in for the second half (I was hoping they would do something a little higher up to their level, but that is the standard set-list for her concerts on this tour).  Soon, Jackie would be coming out for the second half wearing a spectacular dress that may fans have been raving about.  It is absolutely spectacular as it explodes with shimmers of light!  I now know that pictures cannot do it justice, you have to see it for real as others have said as well.  Jackie then sings the second half with various songs from her CDs (Songs From the Silver Screen, and Dream With Me).   There is no doubt in this fan’s mind that Jackie still has plenty of fire-power in that gorgeous voice of hers.  Jumaane Smith (a talented guest trumpeter who tours with Jackie) also performed his solos brilliantly as well as his duet with Jackie on The Summer Knows.  Jackie poured herself into her songs to give everything she had for the home crowd.  She finished to a roaring applause and came out for 3 curtain calls and two encores.  Maybe on other concerts she would have only done one encore, but I am guessing she wanted to give her all to the home crowd.  Everyone generously showed their appreciation with roaring applause and standing Os.  We didn’t want to let her go!

After the concert was over we didn’t want to leave until the ushers told us we had to go.  I talked to some fans afterwards outside Heinz Hall.  Some of the fans whom I had talked with were people I hadn’t seen at the dinner, but had recognized from the last time I was in Pittsburgh to see Jackie back in December of 2011.  One fan I remember in particular had his young 8 year-old daughter with him.  They were both beaming from the concert.  It was great to see young kids at the concert too.  Jackie certainly does transcend to all age groups.

Thank you to Jackie and her family for making all of this possible.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am for getting to experience the joy of meeting Jackie again and attending this concert!  It was fabulous!

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Impressions of “Dream With Me” CD

Several months have passed since the release of Jackie Evancho‘s “Dream With Me” CD on June 14th, 2011.  I purchased my copy sometime in July.  From the first time I started listening, I was amazed at how much Jackie’s voice had progressed since her appearance on America’s Got Talent in 2010. At the time of the show, her performances were exceptional.  As I listened to the CD months later, it was as if Jackie had taken her already amazing talent and propelled it to the next level.  The vocals that are produced from this gifted little girl (11 years old at the time the CD was released) are absolutely incredible.  Over 2 months have passed since I first listened to it, and I am still playing it almost daily in my car.  It draws me in like no other recording has ever done.  There is this uncanny sense of peace and tranquility that comes over me when I listen to her sing.  It is almost indescribable.  The CD covers a range of musical genres that highlight Jackie’s singing style very well.  Each track is beautifully orchestrated and the sound quality is exceptional.

For anyone who has not purchased this CD or at least watched some of the videos of her singing on PBS Great Performances as shown on YouTube , I would highly encourage you to do so – and to be clear, I am not a paid promoter.  Jackie is a rare pearl that will fill your heart with joy when you see and hear her perform.

The only critical comment that I would make of the CD is that there does seem to be a bit of background noise that was picked up on the “Nessun Dorma” track.  It almost sounds as if someone bumped a mic. during the recording.  This could be due to it being recorded live.  I have watched the PBS Great Performances video of “Nessun Dorma” as well (where I believe the CD recording was taken from), and it does not appear that Jackie had anything to do with the background noise.  It may have been an orchestra member or stage hand that bumped something that was picked up on the recording.  It occurs about 3 or 4 times, but does not detract from the piece.  I am a bit surprised that it could not be “edited out” of the recording considering the advancements in audio processing that are available today.

From my perspective and personal tastes regarding each piece on the CD, I have come up with my own order of favorites concerning each track.  Keep in mind that this was not easy considering I absolutely love each and every track, but I think that I do have a slight preferential ranking that I would like to share – basically an order of favorites among favorites.  The rankings that I have come up with are as follows:

  1. “Lovers” by Shigeru Umebayashi – Absolutely my most favored track.  It is just such a powerful piece of music and to hear Jackie’s performance of it with such great orchestral backing is just mesmerizing.
  2. “Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini,  Giuseppe Adami, Renato Simoni – Jackie broke the mold singing this piece considering it is primarily meant to be performed by male adult tenors.  However, Jackie took this thing on and totally nailed it.  She made it her own and created a new dimension to this piece that is fresh and inspiring.  Even though there is some background noise in portions as mentioned earlier, I still would rank this as part of my top picks.
  3. “Imaginer”  by Walter Afanasieff,  Lara Fabian – Just when I was blown away by Jackie  taking on the complex task of singing in Italian with “Nessun Dorma”, she goes one step further and sings in French on “Imaginer” with equally amazing skill.  The emotion that comes from her interpretation of this piece is absolutely brilliant.
  4. “The Lords Prayer” by Albert Hay Malotte  – This is probably one of the most touching songs that Jackie sings on the CD.  When I first played this for my wife and kids in the car, everyone was speechless.  When it had ended, you could hear a pin drop.  It was as if our souls had been touched in a unique and profound way.  When I pray this prayer, I now hear Jackie singing it in my head and I feel an even deeper connection with God because of it.
  5. “To Believe” by Matthew Evancho – This is another spiritually touching piece that Jackie sings.  This was written by her uncle who is a musical composer.  It showcases Jackie in a very charming and endearing way as a prayer in song.  Having a children’s’ choir for accompaniment to Jackie is another wonderful touch within this piece that portrays the sacred innocence of childhood.  I think the lyrics illustrate the hopes and dreams of us all.

From here on, it starts getting a bit harder for me to rank.  I pretty much have equal favoritism for each of these next pieces, but if I will rank them nonetheless.

  1. “Nella Fantasia” by Ennio Morricone, Chiara Ferrau  – Another beautiful Italian piece that Jackie sings so effortlessly.  This is one of the reasons why Jackie’s voice has such a great appeal.  She can beautifully sing a song like this with a gentle style that is not overpowering.
  2. “O mio ba babbino caro” by Giacomo Puccinni – This piece has special meaning to me, because it is the first debut piece that I heard Jackie sing on America’s Got Talent.  This is where her launch to stardom began and it will always be something dear to me and probably many of her fans.
  3. “Dream With Me” by David Foster, Linda Thompson, and Jackie Evancho – This is the title track on the CD and I love the fact that Jackie had a hand in writing it.  I am not sure of the level of contribution that Jackie made on this piece, but just to know that she was involved with it is very appealing.  It is indeed a dreamy song full of things you would expect an 11-year-old girl to dream about, which is what I love about it.
  4. “Ombra mai fu” by George Frideric Handel – The vocal entrance that Jackie makes after the intro is one of the many reasons to love her performance of this piece.  In addition, she demonstrates great control over her voice by showcasing her ability to hit a broad range of notes with a great sense of pitch while making it seem effortless.
  5. “A Mother’s Prayer” by David Foster, Carol Bayer Sager – This piece has been performed many different ways by many different artists.  Typically performed as a duet, Jackie Evancho and Susan Boyle team up to record this piece.  Although the recording was made using “studio magic” to combine Jackie and Susan’s voices to form the duet, it is masterfully done and is a joy to hear.
  6. “Somewhere” by Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim – Another amazing use of “studio magic” to combine the voices of Jackie Evancho and the legendary Barbra Streisand.  Jackie and Barbara complement each other very well in this piece.
  7. “All I Ask of You” by Charles Hart, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Richard Stilgoe – For anyone who has followed Jackie Evancho, this piece should have special meaning since it is from “The Phantom of the Opera” — one of the reasons why Jackie became inspired to sing.  Starting at age 8, she began singing songs from the musical and it eventually lead to where she is today.  You can sense the passion that she has for this piece when she sings.
  8. “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Leigh Harline, Ned Washington – An all time Disney classic.  At first I though this piece was a bit beneath the skills of Jackie until I listened to it.  She treats this piece with an equal level of grace as the more complex works that she performs.  I believe that Disney could use this as their headline rendition, it is that good!
  9. “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan – Although this comes in at the bottom of the list (something has to when you rate things), I think this is another fine performance by Jackie that deserves accolades for sure.  Although I personally feel that Jackie is better suited for classics as opposed to pop music, she still does a wonderful job with this piece and I can understand why it was chosen for her to perform — she has the voice of an angel and it is only fitting for her to sing it.

As I said earlier, I am not a paid promoter, nor am I a professional music critic.  I am just a simple man who has been impressed beyond belief by the wonderful gift of music that God has allowed me to enjoy.  I think that Jackie is heaven-sent and I truly cherish what she has done so far.  I can’t wait to see what she does next.

To see one of my favorite reviews of “Dream with Me”  and of her other releases  on Amazon, click here.

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