As I set foot on stage, an involuntary shiver of excitement ran up my spine. I had just descended six flights of stairs backstage along with over 200 other vocalists from around the world. We walked in our lines with purpose, stopping exactly on our marks. Four months of solitary preparation and three-and-a-half days of intense rehearsals had come down to 2:00pm, March 9, in Stern Auditorium of the world-renowned Carnegie Hall in New York City.
When the opportunity to be a part of the National Sacred Honor Choir (NSHC) first presented itself in October, I wondered if it would even be a possibility for me. How could I find the time to learn Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (in German) and Mozart’s Requiem (in Latin)? Would my husband, Bruce, be able to schedule vacation time for the performance? Would my daughters’ sports schedules allow them to attend?
I shared my excitement with only family and a few close friends at first. After all, with so many puzzle pieces that would have to fall into perfect place, there was no guarantee I’d be able to participate in the inaugural concert of this newly-formed choir.
A series of fortuitous events rapidly unfolded. In the first week of November, Bruce and I found ourselves with more free time. He was able to spend more evenings with our girls so I could take time to rehearse, and I was actually free in the evenings as well. The concert date fell in between winter and spring sports. Vacation time was approved. Friends offered a place to stay just outside of the city. Snap, snap, snap–the pieces of the puzzle all popped into place.
During college, I was a member of the Houghton College Choir. We performed many pieces in Latin, so the pronunciation, as well as the translation, came back to me quickly. Couple that with my love of anything composed by Mozart, and the Requiem ran through my head continually.
German was a completely different animal. Even though I lived in Germany for four years when my dad was attached to the American Embassy in Bonn, I was only six years old when we returned to the USA. The most I could remember were a few polite phrases and counting from 1 to 20. German pronunciation guides became my best friends as I learned the Choral Fantasy.
For those unfamiliar with this music, you should know that the Requiem takes just under an hour to sing, whereas the Choral Fantasy consists of 15 minutes of piano and orchestra, concluding with five minutes of rapidly sung choral music. I was relieved to find the bulk of the singing would be done in Latin.
Four days before the concert I departed for Houghton College (the official sponsor of the NSHC); once at Houghton, I boarded a coach bus which carried other vocalists. When we arrived at the rehearsal location on March 6, we had fifteen minutes to register and find a place to sit before the first group rehearsal began.
Dr. Brandon Johnson, the director, walked out on stage and simply said, “Welcome. Let’s begin with the ‘Kyrie’.” The orchestra swelled, and we were off and singing. When we finished, he thanked us for being so well-prepared, but told us there was still much room for improvement.
Over the next three days we worked in sections as well as a group. We perfected phrasing and timing as well as each note and syllable. We learned the emotive meaning of every phrase. We sang side-by-side and in the round. Three hundred people (vocalists and orchestra combined) became one. We unified and we were thrilled.
The night before the performance we were treated to the Oscar-winning movie, “Amadeus.” While the movie is somewhat far-fetched, it does contain quite a bit of the Requiem. Imagine a movie theater full of vocalists singing along in Latin! It was a well-needed respite from the intensity of rehearsals.
When Sunday morning dawned, I didn’t notice the missing hour of sleep. Adrenaline provided all the energy I needed. Dr. Johnson had one final piece of advice. He said, “For some of you, this will be your first time singing in Carnegie Hall. For most of you, this will be your only time singing in Carnegie Hall. All of you–cherish it.”
I cherished every single moment of my once-in-a-lifetime experience. And to my husband, family, and friends who cheered me on in this endeavor, my heartfelt gratitude is yours forever. Gratias tibi Domine!
~This post was published in the March 22 edition of the Corry Journal http://www.thecorryjournal.com/ ~