I must begin each post here by recognizing the many months between posts. There was a time I wouldn't let a day go by without writing here, but now my writing efforts are elsewhere. Still, this remains the place for longer explorations.
Last night, the orchestra performed its annual Christmas concert, which includes a certain number of traditions, almost non-negotiable. We assemble a children's chorus—in past years, more than 150 kids would sign up for the thing, but we're now working with 60 or so—and with them on risers behind us, we perform "The Marvelous Toy." That's for certain. With them, we also occasionally perform "Here In My House," which I do wish someone would video record and post for all to hear because it's a keeper.
We have also begun including a chorus of high school girls who gather from various schools on Saturday mornings and rehearse together. They joined us last night to sing some incredibly beautiful music, these kids who listen to godknowswhat the rest of the year (this is how old I have become—any pop music recorded in the last ten years is generally labeled "godknowswhat.") Last night, the young women sang Bach's "Wir Eilen" and Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter."
There were no horn parts for these pieces, accompanied lightly with some strings and keyboard, so I sat quietly on stage and listened, with the singers behind me and their conductor before me. Our conductor, Eric, stepped off the podium here and handed the baton to the choral director, Shawna Hinkle, who teaches choir at one of the local high schools. She was key in gathering these girls and teaching them the music for the evening.
Conductors don't play the instruments, obviously, but they hold the power to make or break a performance simply by their demeanor. They can lead gruffly (and ineffectively) or with encouragement expressed in their facial expressions—even the pleasant raise of an eyebrow can do it—(and effectively if the effect you're after is great music created cooperatively).
I was struck last night by Shawna's expressions as she led her singers to deliver the music she knew they could give the audience, and themselves, which is just as important. Her graceful gestures, her smile, her wide-open hopeful eyes, every visible muscle telling them "Women, you sing beautifully. Show them."
When they finished, we were wrapped up by their performance. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone. Their final whispered "Yet what else can I give him? I would give my heart" settled over the hall like a pleasant, dizzying fog. And their conductor gave them the best reward she could have offered, the look of satisfaction and pride. I say that from experience because I look for that same expression from our orchestra conductor. It's the punctuation I need to finish the sentence after our instruments go down.
We went on to perform the rest of our program—two pieces from Engelbert Humperdink's Hansel and Gretel with horn parts worth waking up for, and new work by Conductor Eric, "On the Night Before Christmas" and the centerpiece for the evening, his new piece based on Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales," with the chorus and narrator. I could go on for paragraphs just about that piece, which I have been following since this summer when he began its composition, but that requires a separate post, perhaps. Just here, I'll say it was remarkable, pulled together nearly miraculously. I don't really believe that. I believe it was pulled together through skill and hard work, but at times during rehearsal I confess to thinking this will take a miracle. I suppose you could attribute its success to the miracle of human cooperation, a miracle because sometimes that seems in short supply.
It was there in abundance last night, though, with the musicians working together through the leadership of our conductor, and through the singers responding so trustingly to the thoughtful guidance of their teacher.
Here is a photo from yesterday's rehearsal, a reflection of the young women singing: