How She Did It: Landing the First Big Fish

How She Did It: Landing the First Big Fish
Fall 2019 – The Last Word – How She Did It

In the spring of 1979, Lorraine Wales was the part-time pianist for the dance department, and as an improvisational musician, she couldn’t resist jumping in with an inspired proposal: Let’s aim for quality over quantity. The conversation was about the landmark gift honoring Jeannie Vail ’46, which President Bob Good saw as a chance to fund more programming in the arts at Denison. Instead of bringing in the usual performers, Denison could now afford to invite artists of much higher caliber than had been possible before. With a mix of the world’s greatest artists together with others who were  rising in reputation, students would be exposed to the best there is, and Denison would gain a reputation for having a world-class performance program. Provost Lou Brakeman and President Good liked this thinking and handed her the directorship. Wales had the instincts of an impresaria: with no experience and only five months to secure an impeccable program to launch Vail, she breathed deeply and asked herself, “Who do I know?”

Wales happened to be in a musical collaboration that spring with a gifted young violinist in Granville, Richard Marshall, son of Ken Marshall in Denison’s English department. Richard, today the co-principal violist for the Minnesota Orchestra, describes that time: “I was spending a year living with my parents in Granville, having just completed an undergraduate violin performance degree studying with my musical hero, Itzhak Perlman at Brooklyn College. My plan was to practice for orchestra auditions, go to New York for an occasional lesson with Perlman, and find my niche in the performing arts world. I began playing with Lorraine accompanying me on the piano in her living room. I felt a kinship with her, and we decided to do a recital together at Denison the next spring.”

Itzhak Perlman, arguably the greatest violinist in the world, would do very nicely for the Vail premiere. Lorraine set her sights on the maestro. First she contacted his agent, but her request for a booking for  September 1979 was dismissed as impossible and a little naïve. She wasn’t deterred.

“Lorraine suggested she come to New York as my accompanist during a lesson with Perlman, to play the piano and then to talk to Perlman in person about coming to Denison,” says Marshall. “We arrived at his apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan, and  performed our recital for him. By the end of the hour Lorraine had become his friend and was laughing and joking with him the way she did with everyone. Her musical passion was clear, and he took to her.

“As we were packing up to leave, she mentioned her new position as the director of the Vail Series and asked if he might consider coming to Denison University in Granville, Ohio, for the inaugural program.

“Perlman’s response: ‘Where the hell is Granville, Ohio?’ Lorraine continued advocating for this exciting new series, and we didn’t leave his apartment until he agreed to give her his manager’s number to see if it could work in his schedule. When she returned home she connected with Perlman’s manager and, because she had planted the seed days earlier with Itzhak directly, he accepted the invitation to perform.”

Published December 2019