Thursday, December 2, 2010

I did that once...

So, I notice I haven’t written anything for a couple weeks now. I had something—honest I did—but it’s gotten lost in wherever one thinks one saves things then finds out there’s nothing there. I've replaced it with a video of Handel’s Messiah, the Hallelujah Chorus—the sing-along version.

I did that once many years ago, the sing-along Messiah, and it was amazing. I picked up my many-paged sheet music a month in advance, studied it a bar or two at a time, following along my part as best I could. I was stupefied at the way the music wove in and out between the parts. They don’t call those guys the Great Composers for nothing.

We gathered in a large sanctuary, the several hundred of us who were to sing this piece together. There was much anticipatory anxiety, clearing of throats, rustling of papers, sipping of water, and even a few vocal exercises around and about—the kind where you make bubble sounds with your lips. I was wedged I between a teenage girl in a Santa hat and an elderly woman sporting a festive Christmas tree pin on her blue woolen coat. I found myself distracted by the pin—if you pull on a little chain, which she did as a nervous tic, tiny lights on the tree would twinkle. I took a deep breath and reassured myself that if a kid and an old woman with a funny pin can do this, surely I can make it through to the end. I found out later that the “kid” was a musical prodigy and the old woman had been an annual participant in this sing-along for as far back as it had been sung.

There was a whole orchestra on stage warming up, flipping through their music, setting up stands, stretching. Stretching—that should have been a clue as to what we were getting into. Behind the orchestra was a choir of maybe sixty who tried not to fidget once they found their spots on the risers. The orchestra finished tuning up, the lights blinked to signal the audience that we were about to move together into this musical experience. There was a collective inhale as the conductor stepped smartly onto the stage, took his position in front of the orchestra, turned and bowed to us. I suppressed the urge to bow back and instead, joined in a round of applause for what was sure to be a riveting experience.

The baton was raised, the music began, my finger lay ready just under my first note. Just at the moment I didn’t think I could contain myself any longer, the choir, the hundreds of people around me, and I burst forth in song. It was so explosive, my knees threatened to buckle and I lost my place for a few bars. I glanced at the kid and the old woman to relocate myself on the musical score; they, too, were following along with their finger. Page after page we filled the auditorium with joyful noise. My heart pounded with anticipation as I waited for that really high note at the end—you know the one if you’ve ever sung this piece of music. Could I? Should I even try? My finger kept moving through the music. Occasionally, I’d stop singing so I could hear what was happening around me, but my finger tracked the notes like a hound dog on the scent. It was powerful, magnificent; we rose and fell like the waves of the ocean. I fully expected sparks to shoot out of the end of the conductor’s baton, or the heavens to open up, or something even more magnificent to happen.

We were getting closer to the end. That impossible note beckoned me like a seductress with a dark sense of humor, daring me to push beyond my comfort level. Yes! I was going to go for it. “Ha-lle—lu…” (here it comes, the last note) “Cough, cough, hack, cough,” the woman next to me wheezed into her fist. I turned my head to see if she was all right as the final and highest note was sung out “…jah!” And I missed it.

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