It felt so good to be at choir last night. I’m not sure what was different, but it definitely felt better than it has in the past. I was doing all the right things- breathing all the way down to my diaphragm to the point that my stomach muscles hurt in only the way that singers hurt after a long rehearsal. I’m sure it will get easier the more I do it, but it’s been a while (too long), and I am not in the shape that I once was.
Last night, for the first time in several years, high notes felt like flying. I could hear within myself that I was doing well, without the need for external validation. I mean, that’s always nice, too, but it’s a good night when you can praise yourself.
That being said, I got a great compliment from the soprano on my right at Lessons and Carols. She said that she liked singing next to me because she thought our voices blended so well. It’s the secret to great choral work- adjusting to the sectional sound, instead of falling in love with the sound of your own voice. I think every singer occasionally falls into that trap, but in my case, it’s generally unintentional. I get buried in trying to read the music and my eyes drift from the conductor… and all of the sudden, I’m dragging so far behind I think I’m ahead.
I used to hate conductors that would make the choir memorize their music, but now I understand perfectly. When you don’t have a folder in front of you, it’s harder to look away from the person giving you the beat.
I am also very lucky, because my conductor is so artistic that I want to watch him. I like the way he works, from the first warm-up to the last amen. Additionally, focusing on him keeps me in the moment. There is nothing but the now, the groundswell of feeling that comes from being a part of something greater than you could ever accomplish on your own.
The thing that is missing for me right now, and will only come with time, is camaraderie with the other singers. Right now, I’m too new. They’re still getting used to me, and me to them. There’s not the easy give and take that comes from being in a group that knows you well. On the plus side, I have decided that this is the group where I want to put in my dues. Things will look so much different once they can stop giving me the once over and decide that indeed, I do know what I’m doing.
I’ve been in church choirs my whole life, from the small and somewhat tonally challenged to blow-your-hair-back repertory that challenges professionals. I know the Episcopal service like the back of my hand, and for some reason, I have an easier time reading choral music than when I’m in an orchestra. Don’t ask me why. I can’t explain it. Maybe it has something to do with being able to hear better the other moving parts of the piece, because the tenors and basses are close to me rather than spread out like musicians are in the pit.
It also helps that so much of the music is familiar to me, and I haven’t had to sight-read very much. I am gifted at a lot of things, but that is not one of them. It has very little to do with rhythms, though. It’s that it’s hard to read the treble clef line and the words at the same time when you have no peripheral vision, which I do not. I have monocular vision, but that is another story entirely.
I routinely get lost when there are five verses to something and I have never heard it before… and sometimes hilarity ensues, even when the hymn is familiar to me. So far, I have sung “when I fall on my face” instead of “when I fall on my knees,” and angels have fallen prostate instead of prostrate since I was a teenager.
The world of choral music is opening up to me again, after I’d tried to close the door. As I have said before, I am in the process of making peace with who I am, because the emotional abuse I endured came from a choral musician and at first, I wanted to leave everything behind that reminded me of her. It was when I realized that what had been done was done, and there was no way to ever accomplish such a lofty goal. I am a choral musician, and I was before her influence. I just had to remind myself of it, because we’d been in choir for so long together that nearly everything a church conductor could possibly program would clench my stomach in grief. In “Slash and Burn,” I made the connection that it was hard when I reminded myself of her, because my anger toward her would make me hate myself, too.
As my process has gone on, that part of myself has just had to cope, and my past is making peace with my future, note by note and measure by measure. There are still some times in rehearsal when her presence is very real, and it no longer frightens me. It used to, when I believed that I couldn’t go to that place of remembrance because I wouldn’t be able to find my way back. The mind worm was just too intense to ignore. I would see every iteration of us from 1990 to the present.
The process has been to realize that I value myself so much more than I did, and that being lost in what was held nothing precious. They were not wasted years, but our journeys diverged sharply, and I have to believe that is what should have happened. I could no longer ignore that I put my trust in someone that could not and would not put their trust in me.
It has been beautiful music in a minor key, but thanks be to God for realizing it was time for a Piccardy third.