When I first started this blog, I imagined I’d be posting my writings in addition to my cards. Actually, I thought I’d be making cards and writing letters in them, and posting those. The writing part never did happen, but I’m taking a stab again, so I’ll be posting some in this space. I know I haven’t made any cards lately. Bloghop is coming though, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, here’s something I wrote last night.
I’m the daughter of a church musician. My mother was a double-major in Voice and Piano performance. From before I was born until she had her strokes, she was always either the organist or choir director of at least one church or chapel. I spent many childhood hours in choir lofts, choir rooms, and balconies entertaining myself quietly and watching the behind-the-scenes of weddings, funerals, and worship services.
I also spent a lot of time “inside” the music. Exploring around the organ pipes, crawling around behind and between the rows of choir members. There’s something really comforting to me, to be surrounded by voices in harmony.
Of course it also means I’ve been in choirs all my life. I could hold my own part before other kids even knew there were parts to hold. I remember them granting me early admission to the children’s choir. I sang solos as soon as I was in there (see aforementioned ability to hold a part).
It’s just something I did well. I sang.
From the time I could talk, I sang. It’s what people knew about me. I had the voice. On the uncommon occasions in my life when I was in church but not in the choir, people who didn’t know me would turn and look during the hymns. They were looking for the voice.
Somewhere amid the fog settling in – somewhere in the murkiness I’ve been lost in for several years, I stopped singing. Most of the people in my world don’t even know I can. I remember singing at a coworker’s wedding and coming back to amazement on Monday, “I didn’t know you could sing like that!”
I could sing. I just didn’t.
My computer crashed a few weeks ago. Upheaval and emotion and whirlwind of other life issues I haven’t/should/am beginning to confront. World-upside-down-ness. My brain turned into a snow globe. Amid the swirling and falling I began re-loading my iTunes.
Music is magic.
Music remembers who I am.
Making my playlists, I began to sing along. Oxygen in the blood. Oxygenated blood in the brain. Music remembers. The laptop speakers are so tiny I started using my headphones. Suddenly I’m inside the music again. Remembering.
It’s always amazed me that I can’t remember the names of seventy percent of the people I know, but I can remember every word of a song I haven’t heard in thirty years.
On iTunes, I have two different versions of The Hallelujah Chorus. One was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir; the other was recorded by The Roches. The Hallelujah Chorus is special to me, more than any other choral piece I have ever sung. It remains so, regardless of shifts of belief and philosophy in my life. I remember when I was very young my mother told me about the king standing during the performance. People in our church used to stand when it was sung. I don’t know if anyone does that anymore.
My senior year in high school, my choir director (barely out of school herself as I recall) decided our little choir would do the Hallelujah Chorus in a school concert. I was mortified. Our choir was tiny, and a cynical person might (accurately) say all but two or three students were in there for the easy credit. Oh, how I tried to talk her out of it.
She would not budge.
So, for weeks she and I split the choir in half. I took the boys to the band room and she kept the girls in the choir room. Next time we’d switch. I’d bang out parts. People made the effort, but honestly, it was well beyond what we should have been performing. The director put me in the center back of the choir, and when we all came together, instead of me singing the alto part, she had me sing every entrance, regardless of voice.
“For Hallelujah Thou Hallelujah … And he shall And he shall And he shall…” etc. It was crazy, but it made a difference.
I never sang it correctly again. I’ve been in choirs that performed it, but as the director, and so I cued all the entrances. I’ve heard it performed. I’ve listened to recordings. I’ve sung along, but I was aware I was singing it incorrectly. It’s easy to stay lost inside the London Philharmonic, but with the a capella Roches I stick out like a sore thumb.
Tonight, as I continued sorting songs into playlists, I stepped inside The Hallelujah Chorus for a while. Just me and the headphones and the London Philharmonic. I got so frustrated with myself, losing my part, I went online and found the sheet music, along with an online piano program. I sat there and banged out the alto part, just like I was in the band room with the girls from choir. It took several attempts, but eventually I found it. And when I did, I found something beautiful I’d been missing.
The thing about really well-written choral music is the way the parts fit together. The thing about singing alto is you don’t usually have the melody. You have the harmony. You have the sweet notes in the chord, the movement, the transitions. Of course you share them with the others, but altos really have the best parts most of the time.
Or I’m biased.
But see, that’s exactly what I’ve been missing all these years. I’ve been propping everyone up, and losing the sweet richness of my own voice.
So, after a little rehearsing, the London Philharmonic and I had another go. Just us and the headphones. The cats were a little confused, but inside the music another piece clicked into place. Another snowflake settled. Oxygen in the blood. Oxygenated blood in the brain. Music. Magic. Healing.