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

 

She Sings the Dawn

Just before the light of day,
before the rising of the world,
gripped in silence, darkness, shame,
there the rolling dawn unfurls.

She breathes the chill of night away.
It fades to navy, purple, flame.
There the morning song resumes,
beneath the twilight of the day

and waking trees and yawning streams.
The meadow needn’t fear her dreams.
She sings the dawn, the rising sun,
and Life begins–again.

semmie.

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

Ode to Joe Plantt

It’s Joe’s fault.

Every so often, I play through my binder of songs, looking specifically for songs written in the same month of years past. I’m not sure why, but I enjoy it. It amazes me to think about where I’ve been, what I’ve struggled with, what I’ve enjoyed, what I was passionate about, et cetera.

But tonight, my startling revelation is that there are no songs of August.

That’s not entirely true. There is one in particular, but it is a very personal therapy sort of song. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it with anyone. I doubt I ever will. And there are a handful of others…but they are Joe Plantt’s fault.

In 2001, I became aware of this young man. I don’t recall that I met him, but that he was a friend of a friend (heh…that’s funny because of the song) and a friend of my brother. There was this incredible story about how he dropped his guitar and snapped the neck, and his solution was, to be sure, duct tape.

I was not nearly so uptight as I am now, in my elder years of almost-thirty, and to be honest with you, he was cute enough that I forgave the impropriety of the duct tape on an instrument. I went home and wrote the most ridiculous two-stanza-ed song I’ve ever heard in my life about Joe Plantt and his guitar, titled “Ode to Joe Plantt.”

When I shared it with my friends, they enjoyed it so much that I began to write these cheesy, short songs about people–or written around some weird statement they’d made (like Rachel, who was telling me about her first car, and said, “It’s nothing fancy–just a four-door, car-car,”).

But the beauty of it (which I hadn’t realized until today) is that several of them were written in August. So not only do I not have any real songs of August…I have to admit that August is the month of the Joe Plantt-inspired songs.

It’s Joe’s fault.