December 9, 2009 - THE PLAIN DEALER
Peter Simon was four-foot-two and nine years old when he first applied his pure boy soprano to the carol "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice!" in 2005 with Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra.
The Cleveland Heights resident today is a gangly 13-year-old ready to tackle the solo for what he and his mother, soprano Sandra Simon, are sure will be the last times.
"This is it," says Mom. "In a few months, you'll be a baritone."
The Simons will take to the same stage this week when they sing in Apollo's Fire performances of "Christmas Vespers," an elaborate program of music by Michael Praetorius and others. She'll be one of the vocal soloists. He'll be a member of Apollo's Musettes, the ensemble's children's chorus, and carol-singing boy soprano.
Call it a Simon reunion, of sorts. Mother and son performed on the same platforms when music director Jeannette Sorrell, her period-instrument ensemble and guests first performed and recorded the holiday spectacular in 2005. Peter took part again in 2007, when the more seasoned soprano in the house was occupied elsewhere.
This week's performances promise to be a rite of passage both for Peter and Sandy, as everyone calls his mom. Peter's voice is showing signs of adolescent descent, though Sandy reports that boy-soprano life still exists in her son's larynx.
"It's actually really beautiful – gorgeous and clear," she says. "He goes up to [high] D-E-F – Queen of the Night range. It must be fun to have that clarity up there."
"It's embarrassing," says the teen.
Peter's mother has been an admired presence on Cleveland's musical scene for almost two decades. She's performed often with Apollo's Fire, appeared in musical theater (including a radiant Marian the Librarian in "The Music Man" at Cain Park in 1998) and taken part in programs devised by Bill Rudman of WCLV's "Footlight Parade."
The arts are Simon family constants, if not exclusively the family business. Sandy's older brother, Daniel Reinker, is principal viola of the Nashville Symphony. Her husband, Reed Simon, is a jazz violinist and graphic arts teacher at Notre Dame College.
The Simons' children also have shown an affinity for things artistic. Sixteen-year-old Lydia, a junior at Hathaway Brown School, is a singer and actress.
Peter played violin before switching to flute. He joined his church choir mostly to tag along with a friend, but discovered that he also enjoyed singing. Peter became an Apollo's Fire soloist after auditioning for Sorrell, who initially thought he might be too young to handle the difficult solo. But he quickly won her over with his performance of "Simple Gifts."
"He has such an amazingly sweet voice, really angelic," Sorrell says. "In singing in the really high range, I felt his intonation was amazingly good for a child his age, and he really had the Sandy Simon musicianship."
Yet even Peter's mother, who coached him in his solo, was taken aback when her son first stepped into the limelight.
"Much to my surprise, it turned out to be a highly choreographed moment," she says. "At the end, the chorus circled the podium. Jeannette brought him up front, like a lamb for slaughter, with a big brass fanfare. He was a champ every night."
"Did you cry?" Peter asks.
"Every night," Mom answers. "I couldn't believe his poise and confidence."
Peter has no idea what he'll pursue as he makes his way through school. When not doing homework, he happily spends time playing baseball, watching TV and fooling around with his dog.
And much to his relief, the teen won't be standing near Mom when they perform with Apollo's Fire this week.
"You can just make believe I'm not there," she says. "The first time we did this, he was so little. I was just so ecstatic if he got through the night and would have done what he needed to do. Now I can just stand there and be proud."
"You mean cry?" says Peter.
"That really translates into crying," she answers. "It's amazing to watch your kids take off and do things on their own."
Her son, naturally, is rolling his eyes.