In this season of Thanksgiving I’m particularly interested in hearing some of your stories of gratitude related to choral music. I would imagine most of us have warm memories of our choral experiences over the years and I can’t think of anything more appropriate to share this week than some of those recollections. Your story might have to do with a former director, a choral friend, a particular piece of music, or something else. Whatever it is, share it in this space and remind us all that during this time of the year when we are reminded to be thankful, our musical experiences often evoke some of our warmest memories.
Most community choruses have a similar rehearsal schedule – usually one rehearsal weekly, lasting 1½ to 2½ hours. It is also common to have from six to ten weeks of rehearsal in preparation for a performance. The aforementioned parameters certainly apply to MOS. I think all of us would agree that to learn our repertoire well and perform it at our best requires individual time spent on the music outside the weekly rehearsals. I have noticed over the years that the finest performances occur when the singers have taken a “personal responsibility” for learning their music, not when I have “achieved miracles” in the rehearsal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be able to take credit for our most outstanding moments of music making, but in all honesty I can’t do that, for I ultimately can only “work” with what you “bring” to the rehearsal.
So, I am interested in hearing how you study your music outside of rehearsals. Do you practice at a piano? Do you actually practice singing your part? Do you practice rhythmically? Do you silently study the music? Do you listen to performance or rehearsal recordings (either provided by the chorus or personally obtained)? Do you review text? Do you have a set time for music study or do you just grab moments when you find them? Do you do a combination of things mentioned above or something else entirely?
Remember that your combined individual contributions are perhaps the most important ingredient to the success of a final performance. Don’t keep them a secret. Share with each other (and me) how you do it!
This past Tuesday evening (Election Day) I was struck with the eloquence of the words spoken by Senators McCain and Obama. Senator McCain exhibited grace and dignity in his concession remarks and in his acceptance speech Senator Obama expressed a sense of confidence and hope for the future. I was impressed by the way each of these gentlemen used words that seemed to heal and unify. Their words, combined with the historic importance of the moment, brought tears to my eyes.
Words are indeed powerful, and in choral music we are given the opportunity to join the power and beauty of text with the equal power and beauty of music. Yet, I wonder how often we take this remarkable opportunity for granted? Consider some of the words we have sung in the past couple of years. In the Holocaust Cantata we recalled the atrocities enacted upon humanity seventy years ago and were led to consider that genocide still exists today. In Mass of the Children and Prayer of the Children we were given the opportunity to consider both our blessings and responsibilities as we care for the defenseless among us. In every Requiem we sing (Duruflé this past August and Mozart this coming March) I have encouraged you to think about those individuals from your past who have touched your lives in some profound way, and who continue to do so long after their earthly existence has ended.
Just as the words shared by Senators McCain and Obama on Tuesday elevated and enriched us all, we are given the chance on a weekly basis to enrich and elevate both ourselves and others through the blending of our voices in words and music. It has been suggested that the Fine Arts can sometimes offer us a “glimpse of the Divine,” and I have found that for me choral music is the most natural of all the arts to accomplish this.
This is the third “installment” to my blog and I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to read it thus far. Let me also offer a special thanks to those of you who have contributed comments. I have found your observations to be both insightful and stimulating and have discovered myself spending even more time considering the topics because of your input. In fact, my subject for this week grows directly out of one of those comments, and I would encourage all of you to use this blog in a similar way. If you wish to “comment” on a “comment” instead of something I’ve said, then please do so. I imagine this blog can only be made richer and more useful with a growing number of readers willing to participate by sharing their thoughts.
Now, to my “thought” for the day. I found Olga Espinola’s remarks about memorization to be illuminating. As the only member of MOS functioning without “visual” sight, I believe she is in a unique position to discuss the topic of memorization. As you may have noticed, Olga sings every concert without the aid of a printed score. Yet, every time I look at her at the end of the first row of sopranos she appears to be totally involved in the experience of making music. Her blog comment mentions what happens when one moves beyond mere memorization and muscle memory to the point of truly “feeling” a piece of music. She states, “You’re no longer focused on the notes, breathing and breaking at just the right places, counting beats…because that’s all a part of you now. Instead, you can rejoice in the sharing, the dialogue among the voices and instruments, that intangible energy generated by all the participants…I guess freedom and elation might come closest to describing what it is like for me.”
What I find especially meaningful about Olga’s observation is that it really goes beyond the subject of memorization. Obviously, much of what she says might be more easily accomplished when music has been memorized, but it seems to me that it could also be experienced while singing with the benefit of a score. The most important thing is to be free to make music “beyond” the printed page (whether that page is in one’s hand or in one’s mind). When we possess that freedom we also have the opportunity to communicate with each other (performers, conductor, audience) in such a way that something miraculous and magical may occur. What do you think?