He’s traveled the world performing with and conducting some of the most prestigious orchestras around. He’s received accolades from fellow musicians and leading newspapers alike. Yet when you ask conductor and pianist Glenn Langdon what stands out most in his career, it may well be the night, several months ago, when he squeezed a few close friends into a small practice room in Dixon Hall at Tulane University and gave a private piano recital. It may not seem like much for a distinguished musician, but for Glenn, it was the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
“My career has taken a lot of twists and turns,” Langdon, says, but quickly adds, “I’m like a lot of people in the New Orleans area; life may knock me down a couple of times, but I don’t stay there very long. I don’t dwell on the past; I would rather focus on the future.”
Langdon is spending a month back in his adopted hometown as a guest conductor for a series of concerts with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO). It’s the first lengthy stay in the Crescent City for Langdon since Hurricane Katrina, when he and his wife, New Orleans native Laurie Volny Langdon, lost their Broadmoor home to floodwaters.
At the time, both Glenn and Laurie were with the traveling company of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera, but owned a home in New Orleans. “We had actually just arrived in Atlanta when we learned Katrina was heading straight for New Orleans. I was trying to get back to secure the home, but it was just too late. The next day Katrina hit and well…we all know the rest of the story.”
The Langdons continued to travel around the country with the company, but jumped on an opportunity to settle in one city when a dance opening occurred in the Broadway production of Phantom. They finally sold their New Orleans home and Laurie and Glenn settled in New York, where Laurie became a dance captain and Glenn took a break from performing. After all their post-Katrina trials, all seemed to be going their way with one exception. In 2006, Glenn had developed a cyst on his right hand that continued to grow and began to interfere with his conducting as well has his ability to play the piano. In early 2007, Glenn underwent surgery to remove the cyst and something went terribly wrong.
“When I woke up from the surgery I had no feeling in my hand or arm,” Langdon remembers as if it were yesterday. As he tells the story, “The doctors told me it would take a few hours or even a few days for the regional nerve anesthetic they used to wear off. Three days later, I still had no feeling and I knew something had gone horribly wrong. Six weeks later it was confirmed that I had suffered severe nerve damage. I couldn’t use my right arm or hand at all, so I had to take a leave of absence from conducting. My whole life centered on music, either playing the piano or conducting an orchestra, so you can imagine what goes through your mind when you don’t have use of your arm.”
Langdon says he had no choice but to start from the beginning, taking baby steps in order to move his fingers and his arm. He spent hours every day working on simple tasks and doing physical therapy. As Langdon says, “I believed that if there was one shred of nerve connection left, I was going to work to get my fingers moving.”
Pure determination, willpower and 100 percent acceptance of his condition has gotten Langdon where he is today – back in the conductor’s podium. He is also back to playing classical piano, hence his private recital in New Orleans a few months ago, even though he still has limited sensation in his fingers, which, as Langdon explains, is the equivalent of a singer having damaged vocal cords.
“I have had to accept to the fact that when I play the piano, I can’t feel half of the keys; when I hold the conductors baton, I see it in my hand, but I don’t necessarily feel it. If there is one thing I have learned from this experience is that the act of music-making comes from a place far distant from the physical act of making music.”
Langdon also relies on a good dose of humor to get him through all that happened over the years. His personality comes through almost immediately on his website (www.glennlangdon.com), when he introduces himself through a “Making an American Conductor” quiz. You learn upon opening the first question that he comes from a long and colorful line of “slackers, swindlers, and ne’er do wells.”
Langdon laughs as he tries to explain that legacy. “Well, there’s my grandfather; the one who danced en pointe in musicals in San Diego. And have I mentioned that I’m also a cotton farmer? I come from generations of cotton farmers and I’ve continued to operate a cotton farm.”
He begins to laugh a little harder because, as he further explains, “Yes, one day I’m in New York in formal wear conducting an orchestra and the next, I’m in a mosquito-infested cypress swamp in Hornersville, Missouri picking cotton; I can’t make this stuff up, really.”
Putting the cotton farm aside for now, Langdon will be showcasing his talents and his recovery at two upcoming venues. He is conducting a special “Angelic Sounds of Christmas” concert with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra On Sunday, Dec. 18, at St. Joseph Church in Gretna. The concert is a benefit for the The Gretna Cultural Center for the Arts. He will also conduct the LPO in three performances of the Delta Festival Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Those performances will take place Dec. 22 and 23 at Dixon Hall, which is located on the campus of Tulane University.
Other Langdon career/life highlights: