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.