The music rang out, pouring from the two Steinway Grands, nestled side-by-side, and sweeping across Markel Auditorium. And even before the last notes of Rachmaninov melted into the silence, laughter rang out as well.
There’s always a good deal of laughter when Artist-Teacher of Music Debbi Wyse and fellow mucisian Kristi Gautsche rehearse –– ever since they first sat down to play together nearly 28 years ago. Wyse was originally skeptical of the arrangement, given that Gautsche was a gospel pianist.
“But then we started playing and I realized that she sight-reads really well. Then I realized that she’s also really musical. Then, I realised, ‘Wow! We’re really well-matched!” Wyse explained. “I didn’t know she had a background in music.”
“Oh, of course not!” chuckled Gautsche. “I was only classically trained at Goshen College!”
“I’m a little bit of a music snob,” Wyse admitted.
The two women exchanged a sidelong glance and then broke into renewed gales of laughter before returning to rehearsal for their Duo Piano concert, “Dance and Romance,” to be held Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.
“To be in sync like they are is astonishing,” said Ned Wyse, Debbi Wyse’s husband. “They are very different people, but they think together when it comes to music.”
According to page turner Heidi Dunn, the two pianists even attend rehearsals wearing the same outfits or coordinating colors –– completely on accident.
“You’ll see both of them in black shirts and pants wearing red jackets,” Dunn said. “They won’t have planned it and won’t have needed to. It just happens.”
“It’s called ‘getting in sync for the performance’,” Wyse explained.
But, beyond similar fashion senses, a shared love of chocolate, and a tendency towards irreverent marginalia in their music scores, the two have similar tastes when it comes to music and find little difficulty when selecting songs to perform or agreeing on the the details of a joint performance, Gautsche said.
“You want music to move people, so we always ask ‘will this relate to the audience? Is it listener friendly?’” Gautsche said. “And then there’s always the consideration of ‘Do I want to play this?’”
“That one always comes up,” Wyse agreed. “But we know that if something is beautiful enough to move us to tears, it will probably move the audience as well.”
The two began selecting the music for this duo performance last fall, sifting through their extensive library of shared duo-piano music to see what particular pieces stood out and how they worked together as a single program.
“We’ve researched and hunted down a lot of music over the years,” Gautsche said. “And then people give things to us. And there’s always something there that we’re going to love to play.”
Wyse had a handful of ideas for themes before the two even began the quest for the right music. Attracted to the idea of “Dance and Romance,” she directed the search towards dance literature, Wyse said.
“It was the vitality of dance, the freedom of expression in dance,” said Wyse. “Besides, everyone dances to music, so there was a lot of great literature out there to work with.”
“There is an emotionalism that runs through the whole program,” Gautsche added. “Mostly we’re playing dance music that has a very romantic feel to it. And it’s almost Valentines Day, so it seemed appropriate.”
The two are only playing one technical “romance,” a musical term describing a lyrical piece of particular tenderness.
“And that would be the Rachmaninov,” said Wyse. “We’re playing part of his Suite No. 1 ‘Fantaisie Tableaux.’”
The two movements from Suite No. 1 “Fantaisie Tableaux” that Gautsche and Wyse selected to bookend their performance also led them to include poem recitations by Ned Wyse, scattered throughout the evening.
“Rachmaninov selected poetry for every movement and put it right there in the score. Even though we aren’t performing the entire thing, we decided to bring that in,” Wyse said.
The two selected a number of poems –– written by poets ranging from Lord Byron and Christopher Marlowe to Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg – – that they paired with the music in the program.
Shortly afterward, they asked Ned Wyse to join the performance and recite the poetry for them.
“Some of it is a little outside of my comfort zone,” Ned Wyse said, smiling and watching the rehearsal progress. “But they asked.”
Ned Wyse is a farmer who, years ago, made a habit of memorizing poetry while working in his fields. He has between two and two-and-a-half hours of Robert Frost –– his favorite poet –– memorized, and has been invited to recite the poet’s works across the country.
He read at one previous concert and has been invited to recitations at Hillsdale College several times, first in May 1983.
“Usually when I recite, I wear bib overalls,” Ned Wyse said. “But she wants me to wear my tux for this one. Slightly different poetry, you see.”
Wyse and Gautsche wanted to make sure that they included some Robert Frost, they said. They selected “The Investment,” a poem that has particular meaning for the Debbi and Ned Wyse.
“Debbi’s engagement ring was an upright Steinway studio,” Ned explained, smiling softly. “And we got a 1921 Steinway grand for our 30th wedding anniversary. She’s just brought so much beautiful music into my life.”
Ned Wyse is personally looking forward to the concert so that he can hear the music played in it’s entirety, with both pianos ringing notes on the page to life.
“I’m proud of them,” he said. “No one knows the hours they put in for no reason except a love of music.”
And love is readily apparent throughout the program, beginning and ending with Rachmaninov, pouring from the two Steinway Grands nestled side-by-side, and sweeping across theater.