Today, March 19, I learned that the board of directors of the Master Chorale of Washington voted to dissolve the choir at the end of our concert season in May.
To say that I am profoundly sorrowful at the news is an understatement equivalent to saying that a person would be slightly upset when he/she learns they must have an arm amputated and their eyes cut out.
I’ve been singing in the choir since 1997 and I’ve been attending the Master Chorale’s concerts since I was three-years-old, back when it was called the Paul Hill Chorale. My mom has been in the choir since 1981.
The Master Chorale, as an institution and the members who populate it, is my music family.
I grew up running around in the backstages of the Kennedy Center and through the tunnels under the Kennedy Center. I grew up listening with rapt awe and later singing Once in Royal David’s City and other Christmas carols during the annual traditional Christmas candlelight concert processional/recessional.
I fight to hold back the tears (although I cannot stop my face from growing heated in sorrow) when I think I shall never again sing Once in Royal David’s City while carrying my folder under one arm and holding a battery operated candle in the other hand marching down the aisle of the concert hall of the Kennedy Center.
I stuck around in the choir (unlike many who left) upon the death of the choir’s founder Paul Hill in the 1990s and I’ve loved singing under our director Don as much as, if not more than, I did singing under Paul. They were different in many ways but both commanded love, devotion and respect.
Music is such a part of who I am that I fear a part of my soul will shrivel up and die if I can no longer sing in a choir (one that is as finely tuned as the Master Chorale).
I’ve had other choir directors before and while they were good,a majority of directors seemed to have the abilities of monkeys flinging feces compared to the eloquence of singing under Don’s direction. No offense to those others who I’ve sung under. There’s something about good directors that brings out absolute devotion from the members of a choir.
But it’s not just about the director.
The institution of the Master Chorale lets me leave the dirge of this life for a few minutes every week and to feel that much closer to God when the sound of the choir envelopes me and my voice congeals with those of 120 others. The music and singing with the choir leaves me feeling better than any drug has dared to compare. Often after a concert I find myself both completely exhausted and elevated.
I could say more. I could speak to the frustration I feel at having only recently learned the desperate situation our choir faces. At the anger I’m trying to hold in when I think that the board of directors didn’t wait another month to make this decision when only last week they told us that to even survive on half a budget for another year we’d have to raise 300,000 in a week.
I could say the frustration I feel that this financial situation has been building up and could have been prevented if it were not for a few people. I could say I wish I’d savored my time in the choir more.
The financial crisis we are in contributed to the downfall of the choir’s finances. Yet it was truly only the powder in the cocked and loaded gun.
I’m on deadline at my office today so I can’t acknowledge how I feel to myself. If I had a choice I’d be at home rocking in my bed, swaddled in my down comforter with a cup of tea and listening to a CD of the choir.
I have been able to keep my tears limited to my bathroom breaks. But my guess is that the reality of this will hit me when on Saturday we meet for one of our last choir pot-luck marathon rehearsals.
It is eerily apropos that we are currently rehearsing my favorite piece of music for what will be our last concert with the National Symphony Orchestra: Brahms Requiem. I usually sing it keeping in mind the memories of the loved ones I hope to see when I arrive in heaven. This time I think I’ll sing it to comfort myself and to believe that although it may be until I’m in heaven, I will ONE DAY again have the joy of singing in a choir as good as the Master Chorale.
TTFN, signed your sad Friend, Esthernow
(update: March 20, Washington Post Article on the choir’s end)
Note: My statements in no way represent the Master Chorale of Washington in whole or any of its members other than myself. They are my personal opinions.