I remember the very first time I felt what I’ve come to call “Choral Panic.” We were three rehearsals away from our Spring concert, and I realized (after I’d finally made sense of the ha-ha-ha-ha-hallelujahs in Handel’s Zadok the Priest) that counting and singing with precision in an auditorium with an organ was going to be an entirely different task than what we’d been practicing in the choir room with the piano for months. One person, I remember thinking; If even one person sings it wrong, we are all going to lose our places.
The following semester offered me a similar moment, when I tried to count 7/8 time. And then there was the German line that I was still worried about the week of the concert.
There’s always a moment.
There’s always a sinking realization–a fear–that wrenches my gut and says, “This is going to fall apart. You’re not ready. None of you are ready.”
That’s where I am right now. At rehearsal this week, I sat in my little corner of the choir room trying desperately to find the F-natural after the F-sharp of which the entire alto section seemed entirely oblivious, and it was enough to bring me to that moment. We are three rehearsals away from our concert, and I can’t find an F-natural. I am in Choral Panic mode. I’m wondering how I’m going to sing that Latin at a gajillion-Mozartmiles-per-measure (no, I’m not exaggerating [okay, yes, I am, but it might as well be a gajillion]). I’m wondering how I’m going to count all those ridiculous rhythms. I’m wondering how I’m going to keep from crying when the choir breaks out in Libera Me. I’m wondering whether it would help me at this point to go in and mark the solos so I don’t accidently sing with Jean on her beautiful alto parts. I’m wondering if I’ll be cognizant enough to remember that the altos do have three measures to sing in Faure’s Sanctus. I’m wondering whether my shoes are still comfortable enough for the concert. I’m wondering how I can stop myself from singing “homni-es” when I need to be singing “homines.”
In spite of how it may seem, I actually love this part of the process. I love this anxiety, this restless uncertainty of how our performance will turn out. It is an incredible lesson in any area of life–not only in music, but in sports, in writing, in work, in relationships: You prepare as much as you’re able and then do what you’ve been preparing for. In the end, one of two things will happen. It is commonly expressed as “sink or swim.” It’s that moment, when the audience hushes and we know: This is it. We are going to give it everything we have and there’s no stopping to fix it. This is when we see what we’re really made of as singers.
But here’s the truth of it, folks: Floyd has never lead the choir where he couldn’t conduct us (okay, except during that one concert where he tried to bring the ladies in at the wrong time and we rebelled and came in where the music implied). He knows this music better than anyone in the choir, better than anyone who will attend the concert, better than anyone else I know. He knows where he’s leading us; he knows how to get us to respond and produce the very best that we’re able if we will simply commit to following him.
So am I in Choral Panic? I am. But I’m going to bunker down and do with it what I always do with it–listen to the music as if it were Bing Crosby on ‘repeat all’ and work on it until it makes me crazy. I’ll tape the Latin to my bathroom mirror until I am comfortable with it. I’ll trust Floyd.
It’s such a neat parallel to faith, isn’t it? I’m so glad that Christ never leads us where He can’t conduct us. I’m so glad that He allows us to prepare and struggle through F-sharps and F-naturals and 7/8 time signatures and foreign languages while He makes a beautiful piece of music of our lives.
Have I mentioned that joining choir is the best decision I’ve made as an adult? Yeah. It still is.
If you’re in the area, contact me for concert details. I’d be honored to see you there.