music life


For those of you who still check in on this blog occasionally, I apologize for the long period of silence.

Now that I can rant about things on the phone to my boyfriend each night (and he patiently listens and gives input where he can), I have had less of an urge to write.

But I’ve recently realized how much ranting I do on the phone, and I’ve decided to give my boyfriend a little break.

Also, it’s fall now, and I’m starting to have more breathing room in my schedule.

Therefore, come November, I will be back on the blog bandwagon and again resume posting stuff weekly.

In the meantime, my choir is performing this coming weekend in McLean, Virginia, at 4 p.m. Sunday October 31.

We gave a wonderful concert last night in Washington, D.C. (standing ovation from the audience) and I’m really looking forward to singing the same music again this weekend at a different location.

I had been struggling with the German diction in the Brahms gypsy songs, despite practicing the words for hours each week, and was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get almost all of the words right and even be able to look up at the director every couple of measures during the concert.

My goal this week is to get the German all but memorized so I can bring another level of emotion to the singing and more attention to the director for this Sunday’s concert.

If you want a break from Halloween-related activities this weekend, come hear me sing with the National Master Chorale. For tickets and more information see our choir’s website.

We’re performing a relatively unknown, but absolutely stunning, mass by Rheinberger, as well as some other chant-like pieces. And for the second half, you’ll get to hear a rousing round of gypsy songs by Brahms that are sure to bring a smile to your face and make you want to tap the floor with your feet to the music.

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Yesterday I did not cry.

In fact, I did not have to fight back the tears when I joined with 70-some others in singing the inaugural concert of the  new National Master Chorale to a packed audience in the 800+ seat National Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. I am a volunteer singer in the choir.

Our choir was formed after the Master Chorale of Washington was brought to an abrupt close due to financial woes, click here to learn what happened. I sang in that choir for 15 years and felt a great void in my life when it was taken from me. Other members of the choir must have also felt the void because about six months ago, a handful of former MCW members met up with Thomas Colohan and decided to form a new and slightly smaller choir with a new purpose. Check out our website (nationalmasterchorale.org) to learn more.

Last night was the fruit of our labors and it was amazing.

Here are a couple of highlights:

We sang to a packed audience. There’s nothing a singer loves to see more than a throng of eager faces stuffed into every nook and cranny of the concert hall.  I don’t know how many people were squeezed together in the 800+ capacity hall. But I did notice that there were some people standing along the sides and that the ushers during the late seating break had to take away the tape that blocked off some rows (where the sound system wires had been taped) to let people sit there. Even the front rows were packed.

We sang our hearts out and in fine form too. As should be the case after any concert, I felt like I had run a marathon and at the same time attended a big family reunion (the rare kind of reunion that heals the soul and bonds family together).  Yet I also was high in the moment and due to the love that radiated from the audience, choir and director during the concert.

We were one big sound filling the hall and vibrating the rafters. There were many times during the show when I realized I couldn’t distinguish the sound of my voice from any other around me.  One time I questioned for a second whether I was actually singing so I took a breath to hear that some sound had diminished with my inhale — the only sign I could find to signal I had indeed been singing.

The audience understood our words without consulting the program. After the concert, a friend who doesn’t have the best of hearing, said there was no need to look at the words in the program. In fact, he found it to be a distraction from our amazing sound.  Rather, my friend understood what the choir and soloists were saying during the concert as if this person was sitting a few feet in front of the stage — this person was in the balcony during the concert. It’s safe to say it is rare when a choir enunciates the words enough for the audience to understand.

Last night, we proved that a group of people with a passion and talent for music can fight against all odds — our own demands from jobs/careers and families, an economic depression, broken hearts from loosing a choir and a city already saturated with arts and amazing musical groups, etc — to form a new choir that fills a very distinct musical gap in the area and sound f–king amazing after only a couple months of rehearsing and planning.

Today my hope is restored in a musical life. Yet just as a widow never fully heals from the loss of her husband and soul mate, I don’t believe I will ever be fully reconciled with what was taken from us when the MCW was closed and that I’ve lost that musical experience forever.

I did not cry yesterday, not even tears of joy.

I did not weep because there will be more concerts with the National Master Chorale and opportunities for amazing moments of song. I did not weep because the time for mourning is past and the moment for singing praises is at hand.

Thank you God for  leading us through the desert back to the land of music and harmony.

Thank you my friends and family for coming to the concert and giving us a chance to prove our musical selves.

Finally, thank you my new choir family and director for giving me a reason to sing once again.

ps The Washington Post’s review of the concert http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/01/AR2010030103598.html was pretty on-point in my mind. I’m the blob of blond hair in the second row on the far end of the photo.

On Sunday February 28, 2010,  my year of mourning will come to an end, well … mostly.

On that day, I will layer on my stage makeup and bright red lipstick, curl the ends of my long blond hair and climb into my floor-length black velvet skirt, matching shirt and comfortable black leather flats that have stayed tucked in the back of the closet for nearly a year.

My standard concert preparation routine — perfected from 15 years of singing in the Kennedy Center with the now defunct Master Chorale of Washington — will continue as I go about the house-warming up my voice to the tune of favorite hymns and by singing musical scales, nursery rhymes and difficult or mostly memorized sections from the day’s concert repertoire.  Oh and I’ll attempt to drink only mildly warm water and avoid eating dairy, menthol-based or sugar products.

Before I leave the house, I will check to make sure my music is tucked in the concert folder in the correct order  and I’ll stuff my music bag with a bottle of static guard, a fist full of cough drops, a back-up pair of hosiery, needle and black thread and mini-scisors,  a travel-size pack of tissues and my latest crochet project, which I may or may not tinker with in the free time between when our choir warms up and we take the stage.

As you may have by now guessed, I have found a new singing family in the newly formed National Master Chorale. I have decided to fold up and tuck away in the corner of my mind the world of sorrow I suffer(ed) due to the loss of my former choir family. Click on the category Master Chorale of Washington to read background stories about the former choir’s demise.

My year of mourning will end on the day of  the National Master Chorale’s first concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, February 28, at The National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

Titled Winter into Spring: the concert program will feature the music of Francis Poulenc, Aaron Copland, Morten Lauridsen and other distinguished composers who wrote on themes of transition and transformation. Composer Lauridsen, whose Mid-Winter Songs will be featured during the concert, will give a complimentary pre-concert lecture starting at 6 p.m.

You can buy tickets online if you want to witness this historical event and show your support of the local arts and of me and the new choir’s hopes and dreams and mad-singing skills :-). Even if you don’t care about all the “supporting the arts” stuff, you’ll want to attend this concert because you will get to meet a famous American choral composer and hear a finely tuned choir perform a rare repertoire of 20th century music.

Stop for a second and imagine the feeling of love, joy and hope that will saturate the room as our choir takes the stage to celebrate the fact that, despite all the odds, including a wide-spread economic depression, we have reunited much of our choral family and all our efforts will have come to fruition. How could you not want to be there for that?

Prices are $10 for students (with ID), $20 for balcony and $30 for ground-level orchestra.

The new choir has been featured in the front page of the Washington Post style section and is listed on the Post’s website as an editor’s pick as a top Washington classical music event to attend in the months of February-May (Washington classical music and opera picks)

Now that you have the details of the concert, let me explain my decision to rejoin the ranks of professional choral groups.

I auditioned/joined the new National Master Chorale (NMC) because it is headed by, and was started up through the volunteer hours and blood , sweat and tears (well, maybe not the blood part unless someone got a really bad paper cut) of those of us who sang in the now defunct Master Chorale of Washington. The new NMC is an 80-member choir comprised equally of paid professional and volunteer singers. I am a volunteer member.

A majority of its members were a part of the MCW at the time the board shut it down.  Moreover, our new director Tom Colohan, was assistant director to the former MCW director before Tom went on to hone his own directorial skills and then came back to DC to director our new choir.

Colohan’s enthusiasm and determination to ever strive toward choral perfection is contagious and matches our own. Moreover, his directing style is wonderfully aligned with the style that led us to such great heights in the prior choir. And yet, at times he reminds me enough of our former director that I get a little verklempt inside and even sometimes yearn for one of those poignant and side-splitting funny quips my former director was so famous for making.

Why did I join the new choir?

1.) I will be singing with people who are determined to do whatever it takes:  practicing music at home and/or volunteering every moment of free time to get the organization running, fundraising and marketing plans in full gear and all the concert details locked in place.  I have but spent a mere fraction of time compared to the new board of governors, director and committee leaders and I give them major kudos for all they have done.

2.) I will be singing with people who I consider my choral family.

3.) In the last few months of rehearsals I’ve several times felt myself caught up in the music and our amazing sound just as often happened in the prior group. In other words, I’m getting my chorale high on.

4.) Finally, other than if the Master Chorale were still around, I can’t imagine wanting to sing in any other group.

I hope you can come and join in the celebration!

With the choir ending, I’m finding myself with the urge to purge.

Purge myself of clutter, drama and a busy schedule so I can focus on what’s important.

I can make these changes, but not all at once.

First, and easiest of all will be purging myself of toxic people who come with much too much drama. Note: I’m not saying that I haven’t bathed in my own share of drama. Instead, I believe I’m ready to try to turn a new leaf.

For example, I no longer mind that someone I used to call a friend has a beef with me, because I’ve apologized and there’s nothing more I can do.  Time and again I have forgiven and allowed this person back in my life but this person keeps finding ways to push me away, be angry at me and cause more drama. After a recent outburst when the person screamed out the window at me in the middle of the night spewing profanities and lies, I reached “10.”

In fact, there’s been too much drama in that friendship from the start and with my post-choir closing cleansing ritual I think that friendship will have to remain where it is — purged.

Second goal, clutter reduction.  My fight with clutter has been a life-long struggle. But I’m sick of having an excess of material items in my small apartment. I think it’s time to slowly start paring away at the clutter and keep only the things that are valuable to me and that cannot be easily replaced.

Finally and most difficult of all tasks will be to stop scheduling and committing myself to attending/planning, etc, events. I will continue to spend time with my friends and go to parties and perhaps throw them for special occasions. But I will not go out and seek new entertainment or volunteer opportunities for a while. I am also considering that when this season ends with the Shakespeare Theatre I may not sign up to volunteer next year–an easy way to trim back my commitments.

I hope that in doing these things, I will better be able to focus on what’s important in life and live a more simple life of contentment with more time for a spiritual walk with God.

I know I will survive the close of my choir.

I know I will survive living without a musical outlet for the first time in 24 years.

I know my heart will continue to beat, I’ll continue to laugh and somehow find a connection to God outside of praising him with my voice.

But I also know that last Sunday marked a change for me, for my life, my spiritual journey and for where I head from here.

The question in my heart is whether I can again find my tangible link to God without music.

I don’t find church appealing any more and honestly I’ve never found God in church unless the building was empty.

I get distracted in church by my insecurities, by the noises of others, by my lusts and by my longing to belong there and among the people there.

Instead of feeling intimate and loved by God in church, I feel exposed and watched by humans. That’s why for a week in June I’m going to a place where I’ll be allowed to mind my own business and seek God. I’m going to Mepkin Abbey, of the order of Trappist Monks.

I don’t belong among most of the church people I know, that is with all but a few, because I don’t fit in any of their molds. I’m not proper, chaste, pure, closed minded, a slut or searching for a husband or boyfriend from among them.  I just want to find people who I connect with on a spiritual level and who have the same spiritual sincerity.

More importantly I want my spiritual balance to be renewed when I take time to search God out, not to be lost among the insecure and egotistical masses.

Other than in music I’ve only felt an intimate connection to God in one way: silence.

I feel him particularly strongly if that silence is free of human noise pollutants.

I’ve felt God …

*on the ledge of the Grand Canyon with only the wind in my ears

*on a mountain cliff among the sound of leaves

*on a deserted ocean beach early in the morning

*while swimming under water

*while praying in a Quaker church surrounded in silence by people in prayer

*in lunch break prayer sessions in the church around the corner — silence broken only by the sound of homeless people in corner pews snoring

*and in the meadow or woods near my house when I was a child.

I’m not sure what else to say now perhaps I’ll just let the silence speak for itself.

God are you there? I’m ready to slow down and listen now.

I thought I had my emotions together last night as we lined up for our last concert of the Master Chorale of Washington and headed out to the stage with my music in a binder and my pockets stuffed with kleenex. But as we entered the backstage area I heard loud cheering coming from the audience.

Note: the audience usually waits until the end of a concert to cheer….except in cases of rock concerts perhaps.

“Oh Shit,” I said, and my eyes started tearing even as I smiled, “I should have brought more tissues.” Those around me nodded in agreement.

Don, our ever-loving director, was trying to rally the troops and keep us from getting all emotional and choked up.  But it did no good. I already had tears coming down my cheeks.

I turned the corner into the bright spotlights and I saw the audience standing and clapping and cheering. In nearly every row I recognized the faces of former choir members and spouses. Oh my heart…the bitter sweet sorrow.

After someone gave a short speech about the concert and how this was our last show, we started to sing songs from Frostiana, which are poems put to music by Randall Thompson. The first half was more emotional than most of the second half when we sang Carmina Burana in part because of the outpouring we received from the audience and in part because the songs gave us time to reflect as we sang.

It was hard sometimes to read the music amid my tears and I did my best to keep from getting verklempt. But when we sat and the men sang the words “I won’t be gone long….” and “you come too,” I again had to reach for my tissues.

I’m not sure how we made it though the first half without the quality of the music suffering. Perhaps like me, everyone else was determined to give the best show of our lives. The orchestra must have been of the same mind because they played more beautiful and meaningfully than I think they ever had before.

During the break, the ladies bathroom in the singers’ lounge downstairs was full of women washing their faces, gathering more tissue and reapplying make-up.

The second half went fast, as concerts always do. I held my composure until the men did a number where they sounded so strong and rich and lively. I couldn’t help from crying out of pride and because I doubted if I would ever hear such a group of men sound so fantastic again. We also had a childrens’ choir joining us in the Carmina Burana. When they sang I cried because they sounded so fresh and innocent.  I remembered how much I loved singing as a child and how little I knew at that time about how hard this world can be.

I held it together after that until the last song. Then I couldn’t hold it back anymore.  For a few measures there I was able to keep from letting my face show my sorrow. But as the last few measures began, my emotions could not be contained and I’m sure I looked like those sad crying masks that are used for Chinese operas. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.

For the last note Don kept holding it out and mouthing “more, more” to us and we sang louder and harder. I sang louder and harder than I ever had until I thought my vocal chords would burst.

The audience was again at their feet and cheered us on for at least 10 minutes until we did an encore of a song Don and Denny wrote called “when in the presence of music.”

When Don received cheers from the audience, the choir, for the first time ever, was allowed to clap for Don. And we did and we stomped on the risers too.

As the choir stood there and smiled and cried, Don leaned over the podium at us and mouthed “I love you. Thank you.” to us.

If we had a choice, the choir would have mouthed back, “We love you too and THANK YOU.” But we couldn’t.

Then we left the stage. Backstage was a mess of hugs, picture taking and shots of tequila. And outside was my family and friends and faces I hadn’t seen in years.

We went to an after-party thrown by one of the choir members at her house. She’s held one after every concert since I can remember. It was wonderful but it had to end.

And as I walked to my car alone I sobbed aloud.

I’m sorry this entry is so sad. But the emotions are true.

I’m not sure I can put in words how I feel today, the day after the last concert. Numb, aching and just sorrowful to my core. I’ve lost a major part of my life without having any say in the matter and I feel cheated of at least another 20 years in the choir. Cheated.

Tonight some of us are getting together at the bar that we used to go to after choir practices. I have yet to decide whether I can handle another emotional night, whether I can handle a two-day funeral, or whether it’s wise to drink two nights in a row when I’m already depressed. But either way, I know it’s over.

Goodbye choir and 28 years of memories (I’ve been attending Master Chorale/Paul Hill Chorale concerts since I was 3-years old and singing in the choir since 1997).

To Don, Angela, David, Denny, Alexis, our favorite orchestra members who have stuck by us over the years, fellow singers and everyone else who have been a part of the experience:  Thank You ever so much for everything.  And Don, I love you too and I will miss you terribly. Thank you.

Honorable mention goes today to a blog by a member of the audience who was hearing our choir for the first and last time yesterday.  I’m glad to read that the end of our choir at least inspired her to be more active in supporting the arts in DC.

Update May 20: Someone posted a fantastic blog that gives an alternative review of our concert.  The feelings and reactions offered in the alternative review is what Midgette should have captured in her Washington Post piece. Our choir was disappointed and somewhat angry at the the outright lazy, inaccurate and poor quality review written by Washington Post reporter Anne Midgette on earlier this week.  And no I won’t include a link to Midgette’s review because I disliked it that much.

Today is the start of a sad week.

Tonight will be the last regular rehearsal of my choir, the Master Chorale of Washington. We have practiced for many years, and for free, in the cafeteria of Geico in Friendship Heights, Maryland. Thank you Geico!!!

After tonight at 10 p.m., all that will remain will be two dress rehearsals and the concert Sunday.

Oh my heart, be not distressed.
There is nothing you can do to change what will occur.
Instead you must continue to buck up,
turn sorrow into determined pride
and make this last concert your best performance yet.

On Sunday you’ll have pockets full of tissue and wear no eye make up
On Sunday you’ll march out on those squeaky risers with a smile and head high
On Sunday you’ll ignore the aching in your heart so your throat doesn’t tighten and constrict your vocal chords
And on Sunday you’ll face the audience of warm and sad faces and sing your heart out
like the bird that has one song left in it’s breast as the sun sets… (note: we’ll be singing Frost’s poem “Come In” on Sunday).

This poem is probably about making decisions whether to get sucked into a dark mood or stay out and look for stars… and in this way as well as another interpretation, it fits my situation almost completely. In my mind, I am both the bird and the person.

I’m looking at the end of the choir (sunset), which is an event over which I have no control. While my urge will be on Sunday to indulge in my sadness and allow the quality of the concert to diminish… I will not wallow in sorrow because I am out for stars (to rise above the situation and strive for excellence.)

**p.s. I think there are still tickets for sale.  To buy tickets to this historic event, contact the Kennedy Center box office.

Here is the poem we will be singing Sunday:

“Come In” by Robert Frost

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music — hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush’s breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went —
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn’t been.

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