Monday, December 10, 2012

Scout Puts On Her Singing Cap

A new experience—a first—I joined a community chorus yesterday to perform selections from Handel’s Messiah. The Tuscarawas Philharmonic performs this every other year or so using a community chorus, and because demand for the Messiah is smaller than for other music, and since it’s specifically religious, the orchestra performs it in a local church. This year, it was free as a gift to the community, thanks to corporate sponsors who pitched in to cover the cost.

Handel didn’t write horn parts for Messiah, so I have only experienced it from the audience, but this year, a few friends from the chorus encouragement me to join them. I grew up singing with my sisters and in church, and I used to sing in the church choir back in my previous life, so singing isn’t new to me. Singing what you might call “formal” music with parts more complicated than chord harmonies is new, and I was out of my element.

Everyone knows the key phrases from Messiah, like you know the opening notes from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony even if you’ve never heard the entire piece. You know how “Hallelujah” goes and maybe the notes for the phrase “All We Like Sheep,” and you could probably hum a few phrases from a recitative or two. But when you dig into the score, there is so much more. You actually have to work to do this thing right.

As a newbie, and with only two rehearsals to help me catch up to the veterans, I had to rely on the altos standing on either side of me. One of them, my friend Sherri, loaned me her extra score, and I followed along with a website designed for private practice of Messiah (yes, there are such things). I was reminded of the techniques for note and tone shaping, and I learned a new word, melisma, the term for singing one syllable on a series of moving notes—much more difficult to do well than it sounds, and I’m afraid I don’t quite get the hang of that. Next year, maybe.

We performed in a small Catholic church that was just lovely—a big rose window and delicately painted details on the pillars. The parish had installed a new pipe organ, and we opened the event with an organ prelude. Gorgeous. The sanctuary seats around 300, and we watched people stream in even after start time, so it was standing room only.

Our soloists were absolute gems, and I marvel at their skill every time I hear them. The orchestra, a small group for the occasion, was on task and made me proud. And the chorus was powerful. We weren’t perfect—the tenors missed an entire page of Amens, and the mentally challenged girl, whose mother brings her every year, sang in the rests and came in early and talked between movements. What to do about that situation, I do not know. I suppose you take it because this is a community effort, just as you take the warbling elderly women and the horn player who fakes the melismas where necessary.

After we finished our final movement, the chorus moved down into the aisles, and we invited the audience to join us in singing a carol cantata composed by Conductor Eric. As much as I enjoy hearing, and now singing, Messiah, this moment in the event might be the highlight for me. I find myself closing my eyes and just listening, especially during the verses sung only by the men. A large group of men belting out Hark the Herald Angels Sing (or anything, for that matter) is a wonderful thing to behold.

So, I now hang up my singing cap for the time being and take up my horn again. There is practicing to do, and we’ve got our big Christmas concert this coming Saturday. But I just may take up that cap again when the opportunity arises.


savannah said...

midnight mass was always a favorite of mine because of the music! well done you! xoxoxoxo

dive said...

You have a singing cap? That's like something out of Harry Potter. Does it accompany you on descant when you ing in the shower?

If the demand for the Messiah is smaller than for other music it makes me wonder what the tastes of a Small Town audience might be. Actually, I'm not sure I want to know the answer to that one.

Sounds like you had another great night, anyway Robyn.
Your local church looks nicely Romanesque inside. Over on this side of the pond we tend to think of American churches as looking like the one in the Simpsons so it's nice to see a sturdy, European styled basilica church.
You'll have to post more photos of Small Town.