Lots to do today, but I thought I might pop in to share a really great experience I’ve been having the last few weeks. I sing in the North Carolina Master Chorale. There is a chamber choir, too, but there are no auditions. It’s an invite-only situation. Recently, one of the sopranos in that group had to have surgery, so our director, Al, invited me to join them in their performances of two pieces for Easter. Here’s a description of them:
The NCMC Chamber Choir, joined by instrumental chamber ensemble, presents a pairing of two stirring works by living composers: locally-based composer J. Mark Scearce and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Scearce’s spiritual cantata for chorus, chamber orchestra and five soloists is an uplifting, life-affirming powerhouse with texts drawn from the Bible, Schopenhauer and Chief Seattle. MacMillan’s arresting and completely original setting of the Seven Last Words has been called inspired and stunning. A glorious and compelling program for Passiontide.
Now if you know me, you know I’m not a religious woman. To me, Easter is generally about making sure I get my hands on some Cadbury Mini Eggs (actually haven’t had any this year!). But I’ve always loved sacred choral music. People are inspired by their beliefs, and that inspires me. I’m more inspired by the sounds and the emotion and the raw beauty than by the details of the stories behind them – I’ve always been that way, for whatever reason. When it comes to words and language, I’ve always been very interested in how they sound more than what they mean. I’ve always felt like that was maybe a bad thing, but anyway, that’s how it has always been for me. If I’m truly inspired by the way something sounds, only THEN do I maybe start listening to the lyrics for their content. Anyway, I digress. When Al asked me to do this concert, he provided me with a recording, and after hearing it, I knew I was IN. No question. The MacMillan is a stunner of a piece, and I knew that I had to be a part of it.
We did these performances on Friday and Saturday nights. The real performance was Saturday, but we did the MacMillan only Friday night in the sanctuary of the church where we rehearse. It’s a lovely space, and our Friday performance was part of a service, rather than a concert.
There was a speaker (who I did not hear), then an organ prelude, then we sang the piece, which includes 7 movements, each corresponding to the seven words of Jesus on the cross. Before each movement, there was a reading related to each thing Jesus said. At the end of the piece, there is a long, drawn out section where we don’t sing, and the orchestra plays. It’s clearly the last breaths of Jesus dying. During this part, the lights in the sanctuary were dimmed, and when it ended, the lights went out completely. There was no applause, and the audience was encouraged to stay and pray or reflect and leave as they were ready.
Jake and Lalitree came for this Friday performance, and I’m so glad they did. They are story and words people. After the performance was over, and I met them out front, I learned so much more about what I had just performed. It really is a little embarrassing how I can overlook such a dramatic story, but (and I know this sounds odd) I knew the emotions. I knew they were desperate and solemn. And I was overcome by the beauty of the piece each time we rehearsed it.
The Saturday concert was really satisfying, too. We got a big standing O at the end of each piece, and I saw familiar faces in the audience: Lenore (a Twitter friend), Stan (from Flickr), and several other people who sing in the regular Master Chorale. I was happy to share that with them, and they seemed happy to be there. Mark Scearce was there for the performance of his piece, and he could not have been happier with how it went. It’s wonderful to see a composer responding to his “baby” like that.
I will admit that I have been guilty of some boredom in choir lately. I was spoiled singing in the Atlanta Symphony Chorus with Robert Shaw for all those years, because it doesn’t get much better than that. In the regular choir, people are slower to learn music, and I get impatient. It makes going something I sometimes avoid, because I know I will be restless and have trouble remaining focused. The challenge just isn’t always enough to keep me occupied. But this really shook things up for me. It was a treat performing with such good musicians and really bringing a piece ALL THE WAY to fruition. I really hope Al asks me to do more concerts with them.
We got a little stipend for our participation, and I’m happy to report that it was enough to cover the cost of my little black dress! I can’t TELL you how thrilled I was to hear that I would not have to wear my standard issue choir outfit. 😀