Choral Panic

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. :)

Pax Christi,

Sar

 

Relearning. Or, Duplets. Or, Watch Floyd, again.

As promised, here I am–back for a few moments, and ready to say something (though I’m still unsure what needs to be said) about Fall rehearsals and concerts.

I’ve said it before, and it won’t hurt you to hear it again: Joining the Choral Society is one of the (or maybe, simply, the) best decisions of my adult life. I would be hard-pressed to think of another choice I’ve made in the last decade that has resulted in so much fun, so much discovery, so much reconnecting with myself, so much simple soul-fulfillment, so many blessed relationships I didn’t know I was missing out on–friends new and old, heroes amazing and approachable. There is not even the tiniest speck of disappointment or regret in this area of my life. I am so blessed, so thrilled to be participating in the Choral Society.

This was my fourth concert season with the Choir–two spring concerts, two winter. One of the great things about the Choral Society is the winter concert. It is traditionally held at St. Peter’s Cathedral (where the acoustics give us a heavenly sound that even Floyd can’t summon of his own will), and serves as a sort of “ushering in” of the Christmas Season in our Walton-esque town. When Floyd turns to the audience during that concert and directs the community, not a soul dares keep silent. There, in the beauty and reverence of the Cathedral, I truly believe the townsfolk would follow Floyd anywhere.

But what of the Choir?

I’ve been mulling over this question since the concert, asking myself why we–why I–struggle so ferociously with following Floyd? I try, friends. I really try. But when I most need Floyd, I look down. At the music. It hit me again, like the lesson I didn’t learn last Spring. We were singing an incredible arrangement of Silent Night with an F-natural that the Altos had been fighting for all semester. And there, in the mess of this beautiful 6/8 carol, the Altos had a duplet.

Right?

Are you kidding me?

The Sopranos are singing a dotted quarter, for three.
The Tenors and Basses are singing a quarter and an eighth, for a one-two, three.
And the Altos get to divide those three beats into two?

I won’t insult your intelligence by trying to describe how lacking the Altos were at that moment when we first realized it was a duplet (I think most of us were content to ignore that little “2″ above the notes and just sing it like a quarter/eighth with the guys). I’m sure there were a few who had it right–there always are; but I’m honest enough to tell you right here, on the wide open interwebs, that I wasn’t one of them.

In fact, I’m still not.

We went over and over and over it in rehearsal. And finally, we breathed a collective, Altoic sigh of relief when Floyd said, “I’ll point, like this, when you need to move to the second note of the duplet.” And he did. He pointed. A good, sturdy, unmistakable point. Right at any Alto who had the sense to look up.

And if you know me, if you know what a slow learner I am, or how I think I’ve learned some lesson and then have to go through the process several times more before I actually learn anything, you know that I didn’t have the sense to look up. There I was, at the Friday night dress rehearsal, still trying to count it perfectly all on my own.

I’m a bit proud that way. If Floyd can do it, if Brubeck can do it, surely Sarah can do it. Right? (And for those of us counting it right now in our heads, I just want to remind you [and me] that counting it alone is an entirely different pursuit than counting it in context of a choir, and an entire section which is made up of people trying to count it the same.)

So why is it? Why am I so slow to accept that I need Floyd’s direction, when there in the audience sit a community of friends and family who would take any cue Floyd offered without hesitation? Why does my pride, my ego always step in and blind me to my need (and desire) to follow Floyd? It baffles me! I baffle me!

This, friends, is the exact lesson I thought I learned last Spring. Remember? How insightful I thought I was when I told you all to “Watch Floyd“! And here I am, still struggling to watch him when I most need direction.

I would be lying if I told you that this is no reflection of my spiritual life. It strikes me hard, yet again: I look to Christ, and I trust Him to lead me, until things challenge me. Then, somehow, my self-preservation kicks into high-gear and I try desperately to come out on top on my own. And isn’t that entirely counteractive to the Gospel message?–that in and of ourselves, we can never accomplish what we need or desire (salvation)? Isn’t that entirely why Jesus became a man, gave himself to be born of a young woman in a barn, surrounded by animals?

As you approach this holiday, may your eyes be drawn once more to Christ, who never fails to cue us, to guide us, and to lead us in righteousness. May your trust be in Him, fully, when your duplets confound your rhythm.

Pax Christi,
and Merry Christmas!

Sar

The Quotable Floyd, part III

Well, friends, I’ve avoided my blog for several weeks now; and would be content to keep avoiding it, were it not for the incredibly quotable Floyd. I simply cannot resist sharing this semester’s quotes from Choral Society. As always, I do promise to share my thoughts about the concert weekend at another time, and I do encourage you to go back and read Floyd’s Quotes, part I and part II. Without further adieu, I give you the Fall 2013 Floyd Quotes.

This must be good! I have a power point clicker!

They look good. The Choir In My Head sings them really well.

Tenors, if it’s too low, just look like you’re humming.

No tongue lifts.

Relax the collision.

6/8 is a rhythm pit.

I heard s-words.

11/8 — it’s slowing down; who cares how many beats there are? Don’t count.

We’re going to fermataize.

You’ve gotta breathe sooner than you must for life.

If you can’t be forgiven in a choir, there’s no forgiveness for you.

O come, all ye faithful, lalalalala, Amen. That’s the Reader’s Digest version.

Sing in English or Latin as you wish.

There should be a fermata. If you keep your eyes open, I’ll actually show it to you.

I have nightmares about 6/8 carols.

I’m going to do the music there, not the notes.

Thank you for being wrong with me in unison.

You’re different from everyone else. But you’re Altos. That explains everything.

Oh my gosh! I thought that would be pretty! It is!

I wrote down “slower.” I hope this is the slower I meant.

I release you from any note-reading responsibilities.

You must fight for your right to sing C.

Virgin Mary had a baby boy? Have the boy later.

You’re still trying to read the notes, aren’t you? Stop that.

Please make sure your “w” has a pitch.

Big space. Big open hole. Look through there before you go on.

Take your legato engine and stop it.

It’s a vowelless sound.

We are the singers who sing “duh.”

Relax the Men.

Hum in Polish.

I will not do the proper tempo, apparently.

About 80% of this piece is entirely logical.

There’s no way I’m going to conduct this one steady. Completely not steady.

I think I will always conduct 8th notes. Except when I don’t.

I may not do what you think I’m going to do.

Do more like you did before, but not quite.

The Choir In My Head has perfect legato.

A comma isn’t a comma unless I say it is a comma.

Make it sound important.

I’m gonna sleep on my tempo.

I recommend more air. At every moment.

I wish I knew what I was doing.

Allegretto? I don’t think so. For reading, we’re going to do slow-o.

Those chords are so interesting. Why should we go through them at 40 miles per hour?

I’m gonna be releasing some energy right there.

You’re all by yourself. Except when you split. Then you’re yourself and a half.

Kris: We’re doing so well they shut the door.

Nameless Soprano: Can we keep singing this til we get to Jesus?

Nameless Choir Member: Where are we not supposed to breathe?  Floyd: Anywhere.

Wow! I didn’t realize Floyd gave me so many quotes this semester. It sure was fun! If you live in the Marquette area, please join us for Spring rehearsals. Contact me for details. :)

Pax Christi.

Sarah

Watch Floyd

Watch Floyd.

Or…Look Up.

Or…Fix Your Eyes.

Or…”Then Let All the Living.”

I can’t decide on an appropriate title for this blog. There are so many good choices.

In just under two weeks time, the Marquette Choral Society will be performing our spring concert. I can’t wait to tell you about it. I think I love this music even more than I loved the music last spring. I feel connected to this program for a few different reasons, but I won’t bore you with those details tonight. In two weeks, I promise to share my thoughts about the concert, the material, and (best of all) my Floyd quotes from the semester. It hardly seems like we can be so close to performance…

Anyway, I had something of a revelation last night during rehearsal. We are singing several incredible (and difficult) pieces of music (those Germans know how to write a hymn, yo). We were working on a piece from one of my newest favorites, Heinrich Schutz, entitled, “Dank sagen wir alle Gott”–or, We Offer Our Thanks. It’s a beautiful hymn in a sort of flowing 6/4 time.

At least, the first page is. I confess that I’ve been struggling with measure 11. It’s right there on the page, easy as can be–a half note (two beats), then a quarter rest and half rest (three beats of silence), and a quarter note (one beat). It doesn’t sound hard, does it? The two notes are even the same pitch, so there is absolutely nothing about this measure that should be difficult. All semester as we’ve worked on this, I’ve chided myself: “If you were able to sing the 7/8 song last semester, and Zadok with the organ the semester before that, there’s no way you aren’t going to master this simple measure.”

Yet…I struggle. Why?

Well, I could tell you it’s because of the page turn. That could be part of it. I’m not turning soon enough. I could also tell you it’s because this nice flowing piece of music, beginning with that last quarter note of the measure, suddenly moves. And I could tell you that I’m not being diligent about counting my rests, so I’m not hitting the quarter note with anything that could be mistaken for confidence. It could be that I’m still feeling “new” to the piece, and the movement of the next page still catches me off guard. I could tell you that I’m not breathing when I should. All of these things, I suppose, are true; but none of them (individually or together) are the reason I struggle with this measure.

And I realized that quite clearly last night when I did everything right–the counting, the breathing, the page turn, the expectation of the next page. I had it, folks. I was there, I was ready, and still–I missed it. How did I miss it?

I know I wasn’t the only one because Floyd stopped us and made us do it again. And as I sat there, wondering how in the world I was going to conquer this measure–this stupid little measure that was half silence–I had a brilliant idea. “Stop trying to figure it out,” I said to myself, “and just watch Floyd.”

The amazing part about it is that even as I forced myself to not look at the music, to turn the page a measure earlier than normal and fix my eyes on Floyd, I have to confess to you that there was an enormous part of me that didn’t expect anything to happen. I’m embarrassed to tell you that it surprised me when Floyd gave me my breath, and my cue, and by gosh, if he wasn’t movin’ to the rhythm of the page turn in expectation of what we were barrelling into!

It shocked me.

It shouldn’t have.

Poor Floyd, who tells us week after week, “Watch me.” Poor, poor Floyd. Hahaha.

I just had to laugh at myself. Of course the answer is to watch my director. What’s really amazing is that I knew it all along. I pride myself in watching Floyd, in paying attention when he’s talking, in following his lead. But me, in my pride, in my folly…do I trust him when I am faced with something I am struggling with that I shouldn’t be struggling with? Nope; I decide I’m going to conquer it alone, rather than trust the man at the front of the room who really knows where we’re going.

It reminded me of the verse in Hebrews that tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. How often do we try to conquer situations and emotions on our own? Even when we have all the particulars analyzed and figured out, even after we’ve counted every beat of silence, we blunder; we step without confidence; we don’t anticipate the page turn. Christ knows exactly where He’s leading each one of us, and if we could but turn our face toward Him and trust Him to lead us, we would excel through the most difficult situations.

“Then let all the living, then let all the living join with the angels’ shouts of thanksgiving, thanksgiving.”

God bless you this week as you learn to fix your eyes on Christ.

Pax Christi.
Sarah