I had the chance last semester to sing the Messiah in England with my host and the choir that she was a part of. They were short several altos, and she thought that because I could belt out various songs around her house that I could learn the Messiah in three weeks with only three performances, whilst writing five papers and taking side trips to London to see plays. Wisely enough (or unwisely, perhaps) I declined the offer. I had no idea what performing the Messiah would require, though I knew that I was slightly too busy to participate. Looking back, I have mixed feelings of my decision. Yes, I had a lot of work to do, but to sing the Messiah with Marion's (semi-professional) choir! And there is so much more involved in learning it than I ever thought possible, so to do it in only three weeks....but singing it with a British choir!
I suppose that, in my mind, I had already sung the Messiah so it wouldn't be too difficult to learn again. Mistake: I learned this semester that there is a *great* difference between singing the Messiah for young people and the actual real deal. For one, there's a lot more solos in the actual Messiah than the Jr. And for another: there's a little word called "melismas."
This semester has been a mix of emotions for me in terms of rehearsals and practicing. In September, I was so excited to be back in choir again after a year of absence. However, by October things were starting to drag. I was enjoying learning some of the choruses, I had developed the routine of hitting a practice room once a week to "nail" some of those melismas down, but the rehearsals themselves almost seemed tedious. It occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons is that we didn't perform as a choir until November 11, Remembrance Day. Normally we sing at an Evensong or something else, but the only thing that we had done was Grandparents day, and even then it wasn't any of the first years. After Remembrance Day, things seemed to gain momentum, and I had a lot more energy to bear the rehearsals. In fact, the closer we got to December, the more productive rehearsals were, and the more fun I had.
This past week scared me, though, in terms of both the rehearsals and the performances. It wasn't so much the singing that I was scared of; it was the fact that half the songs I was singing, despite enormous amounts of time practicing on my own, I didn't know. My fears were embodied and brought to fulfillment in Friday night's performance. Due to my lack of knowing the pieces, I wasn't able to watch Dr T as well as I should have been, and I take a huge chunk of the responsibility of the Alto problems. I freely admit to messing up on my favourite pieces, "The Lord Gave the Word," and many other pieces. One thing that I will admit: the hallelujah chorus gave me chills. It was worth going through Friday night in order to sing that chorus the way that we did. The Amen, as most know, did not go so well. I don't know that there's much more to say besides the comment that was passed around at The Brassie on Friday night: "What a train wreck!"
All day on Saturday, the Amen was not far from my mind. While getting ready for the performance that night, I must have listened to the recording of it ten times, not singing along with but feeling it. It sounds like a cliche, I'm quite aware of that. However, the sound that I was left with after Friday was not encouraging, and I needed to replace what was there. From the very beginning of the Saturday performance, I was excited. I could hear every single part of the choir: I felt as if I was a part of the choir, singing the choruses together, as opposed to Friday night when it felt (to me) as if we were all singing (some) of the choruses on our own, en masse. I had fun, and I could feel the presence of God among our choir, in the choruses and in the solos. Elation is the only word that would be fit to describe what consumed me a quarter of the way into the Amen. Well, elation, thankfulness and praise would be more accurate. I wasn't crying by the end, but my entire body shook as we sang the final measures, our director doubled over in tears. I have never been more thankful for the opportunity to be in choir.
This year is the first year that the Christmas concert has actually been performed twice, and in my opinion (and knowedge) this is the first year that the second performance has been so needed. I realize that a majority of the audience on Friday night won't have realized that we absolutely butchered the Amen of the Messiah as few have done before. However, if that was the last note of choir for the semester, I shudder to think of how it would have affected our coming semester. As it stands now, there is not a choir member who did not put his heart and soul into what we did this weekend, and there is not a member who did not experience the gift that God gave us last night. That performance has already touched how the choir will come together to sing next semester, both on tour and in concert. Thanks be to God! Amen!