Summer, 2003. For our family vacation, we decided to drive nine hours from San Francisco, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada and attend the Creation Entertainment Star Trek Convention. We’ve been watching Star Trek forever, it’s a source for family bonding, and we knew it would be fun! I logged onto creationent.com and discovered a notice about the first annual Star Trek Idol Talent Search, taking place during the convention. I took a chance. I got hold of the music to all five TV show themes, practiced until I had memorized tiny sound bites from each, noodled around until I had them strung together in a recognizable one minute medley. The deadline for submission was July 1, and at 3:15 PM on June 30, I leaned up against the wall of my studio, dressed (because I know you are wondering if I wore a costume) in my normal street attire of leopard print clothing, and videotaped myself playing the oboe. My daughter ran to the post office for me, and in the nick of time, mailed it off via express mail.
“Hello”. It was about 2:00, in the afternoon, just two weeks before the convention. “Hi Brenda, this is Tina from Creation Entertainment. I’m calling to tell you that you have made the finals of the Star Trek Idol Talent Search”.
I screamed. Then “uh, uh, uh.” I could hardly speak, I was so excited. It wasn’t the possibility of the $1000.00 gift certificate prize. I have had an intriguing career devoted to bringing the oboe to audiences that don’t usually have the opportunity to hear it either at all, or in a soloistic context. Here would be a chance to bring this gorgeous sound to thousands.
“Uh, how many finalists are there?"
"What's my Competition"
"Mostly Singers. Some Comedy. Other Stuff."
"Is everyone good?"
My mind was racing. Maybe I should play a Telemann Fantasy.
“Should I keep the theme to Star Trek?”
“I think so. That would be a good idea”.
I notified the double reed world via the International Double Reed Society and Double Reed online lists. I received dozens of e mails – public and private, wishing me well, sending encouragement, expressing love of Star Trek and nurturing support for my daring. It was great to share this unusual double reed/Star Trek bond.
Thus began two weeks of obsessive mental composing and intensive practicing. I created a new musical composition/arrangement by mentally improvising and mentally practicing while I drove, while I ate, while I slept. I was urgently
putting together the various themes, chronologically and creatively. I
thought about the shows, what they expressed, what were their
differences and similarities, and all the while my wonderful son,
Elijah, 9 years old at the time, would pop into my studio to inform me
that I was playing a wrong note, an incorrect rhythm, a misunderstanding
of that particular melody. I hung on his every word, followed his
instructions, and came up with a five minute Fantasy on Themes from Star
Trek. I decided to dedicate it to the android character Data, who
played the oboe in a Next Generation episode entitled In Theory, and who
had died in the latest movie Nemesis.
It was time to pack up my family and leave. I was freaking out. I’d practiced for so many hours but still there were entire sections of my own composition that were not trek-nically perfect! I needed more time. I was frantic.
“Brenda, put down the phaser - you are going to win”. It was a message on my answering machine from oboist/friend Bennie Cottone. During the long (still mentally practicing) drive to Las Vegas, and during the several convention days prior to the contest, those words became my mantra.
On the morning of the contest, I was informed that there would be no rehearsal time and no sound check. Internally, I screamed, “AAARGHH!” then remembered, “Brenda, put down the phaser.” I calmly explained about reeds in relation to unfamiliar environments, and Tina gave me special dispensation and kindly arranged for me to have 5 minutes to adjust my reeds on stage. That’s when I met the sound technician. Dr. Benn – a former oboist.
There were maybe two hundred people in the audience for the contest. The competition was fierce – an hilarious and uplifting Klingon with all the moves and props attached to his attire, singing Tom Lehrer’s “Masochism Tango”, a Beverly Crusher look-alike coloratura soprano singing “Queen Of The Night” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, a Scotsman in full kilt, singing a perfect imitation of Louis Armstrong, an incredible soprano singing “I will always love you”, several other extraordinary singers/entertainers and a seven year old boy who had composed his own song. Everyone was wonderful and memorable.
The judges were Larry Nemecek, editor of Star Trek Communicator Magazine, J. Kelly Burke, co-author with Larry of the Voyager episode Prophecy, J. G. Hertzler and Robert O’Reilly, actors who played Martok and Gowron. Imitating American Idol, they offered hilarious comments to each of us. While all of the contestants sat backstage, the judges compared notes and deliberated out front. My family reported afterwards that from the audience there arose a steady chant: “oboe, oboe, oboe”.
I won. What a feeling of exhilaration! Onstage after the announcement, the judges asked intelligent questions. I don’t remember much of my interview, except for the comment by Janice Kelly Burke who said, “I must tell you that when I heard there would be an oboist, I cringed”.
The Las Vegas Hilton, site of the event, hosts The Star Trek Experience which includes a “promenade” in imitation of the set of Deep Space Nine. That night, we went to Quark’s Bar. I was famous. Klingons pounded their beer mugs on the tables as I entered, and Star Trek actors and convention attendees radiated appreciation and love.
My career as a visible, innovative oboist has developed largely because of my own determination and perseverance. Being different, as we know from Star Trek, can lead to the attraction of negative energy, but determination and perseverance can ultimately lead to profound positive influence. In Adam and Gary, owners of Creation Entertainment, I found understanding and support. I persuaded them to allow me to perform at the Pasadena Science Fiction Convention in March, 2004. They generously provided me with free admission to the convention and a free table to sell my Oboe Of The World CD in the merchant’s room. I would perform as the closing act for Leonard Nimoy, (Spock) and my dream come true! as the opening act for Brent Spiner (Data).
As time approached for my performance, I had to change clothes in the public ladies room, and I asked advice of the woman standing next to me at the sink. I told her what I was about to do and asked “Which shoes should I wear?” “The gold ones”. We talked a bit and she told me that her husband is Malachi Throne, who played Commodore Mendez in the original series, and Pardak in Next Generation. She invited me to come visit them in the autograph room.
There were 3000 people in the audience. Dr. Benn had, once again, set the microphones perfectly. I played the five minute Fantasy, and with applause still ringing, I walked down the steps into the makeshift, very dark, backstage. Brent Spiner walked over to me and said in an exuberant tone, “what’s that?” “The oboe” I answered. “I love the oboe” he responded, “are you going to play”? “I just did! I composed a piece to honor Data, and I won the Star Trek Idol Talent Search last summer. That’s why I’m here.” “I’d like to hear it” he called back to me as he was hurried onto the stage.
Two very attractive young teenage boys approached. I knew they had to be actors, in order to even be backstage. One held out his hand, to shake mine. The look on his face was one of awe, and in a trembling voice he said “wow, I just want you to know, that was great!”
I could hardly see in the dark, but I thought I recognized this kid. But from where? The other young man began to speak. I recognized the voice and British accent before I clearly saw is face. “Oh, I know you” I said, and leaped to my feet. “You’re Neville Longbottom!” (from Harry Potter, actor Matthew Lewis). “I just want you to know,” he said, “ when you played that theme from Voyager, that was, that was awesome”.
“Thank you, thank you”, I said, “I’ll come over to your table and visit you guys later”. They took off, and I realized that the first young man, was Daniel Logan, Baba Fett from Star Wars, episode 2.
I finished packing up. Brent Spiner was still onstage, now answering questions from individuals lined up alongside the stage. My website designer, oboist/friend Brian Moses had asked me to inquire of Brent, what training if any, he’d undergone in order to so skillfully imitate an oboist, in the episode 'In Theory'. So now I stood last on line, and just as Brent turned to me so that I could ask my question, he was informed that time was up, he had to depart the stage immediately. Nevertheless, Brent graciously turned to me, and quite hurriedly, I simply thanked him on behalf of the oboe playing community, for doing such a good job of pretending that he played the oboe. “I do play the oboe” he responded, and left the stage.
With my gift certificate “prize” I had arranged to have my photo taken with Brent Spiner and now was the time to head over to the photo booth. Bennie Cottone had made a brilliant suggestion: “Bring two oboes!” So I stood on line with two oboes in hand, and my oboe backpack on my back, and engaged in conversation with Star Trek fans who indeed knew what the oboe is, and asked really good questions about reeds and more. When my turn came I said to Brent, Will you? I held up one oboe. “Sure why not”, was the answer.
I must explain that there are thousands of people at these conventions, paying substantial amount of money to have their pictures taken with the stars. Each photo shoot takes exactly 20 seconds, so there was not much time to look over at Brent to see what pose he had adopted. Besides, I was Star struck. It never occurred to me that he was unfamiliar with holding an oboe and was expressing kindness and generosity in agreeing to this photo. Later, much later, at a different convention, Brent explained to me that he had no memory of ever playing the oboe in any episode. “Did I play the oboe?” he had asked. ”You didn’t”, I’d answered, “Data did.”
In Pasadena, I was staying with bassoonist John Steinmentz and family. His wife, Kazi is the violist who performed, on viola, the misnamed violin solo that was so gorgeous it made Vulcan Spock’s father Sarek, cry. Kazi had just invested in a substantial number of baby chickens with the intention of raising them for the eggs. Born and raised in New York City, living in San Francisco, I have had no experience with baby chicks, so spending time in that delightful and wondrous environment was the perfect ending to this Pasadena Sci-Fi Grand Slam and I left LA in quite the happy state.
I used the rest of my $1000 gift certificate to purchase tickets for the August, 2004 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. I figured I’d show up at the 2nd annual talent contest and pass the crown to the next winner. But, huh? There was no contest scheduled. The annual Star Trek Idol Talent Search was not to be and I retain the crown!
“Hello, Brenda? This is Sky Conway. I run Planet XPO. We’re having a convention in Hollywood to honor Jimmy Doohan. It’s called “Beam Me Up, Scotty”. I hear you’re a terrific oboist. Would you like to come to Hollywood and play at the convention?”
As Nichelle Nichols passed by She said “You’re oboe was wonderful” and Grace Lee Whitney said “You’re the oboist! - Breathtaking!”
Elijah walked up to Neil Armstrong and said “My Mom told me to shake your hand". The first person to walk on the moon complied.
A few days following the event, an International Double Reed Society online member, (I am so sorry; I don’t remember your name. Could you e mail me to remind me?) wrote a note to the IDRS list online, informing everyone that Wil Wheaton had mentioned my performance on his website. He’d said “a woman got up to play an incredibly beautiful Star Trek Suite on the oboe”. I took a chance and wrote to thank him. To my astonishment I got a response: “You know. I’ve done so many Star Trek things. It’s rare that I see or hear something new and different…and that the new thing is really amazing. You managed to accomplish both at once. My best to you and yours.” Wow.