Sunday, April 22, 2018

Practice, practice, practice...and then Carnegie Hall

I haven't sung in an organized group since college.  But I still keep (some of) my chops in order through joining my mom's church choir as a ringer during Christmas and Easter, doing numerous Handel's Messiah sing-throughs during the holiday season, and blasting through oratorios, requiems (I feel like the plural of "requiems" should be "requiae" or something), and opera choruses during summer sings with various choral groups.

I've performed [Mozart's Requiem] twice as a chorister and once in an orchestra, so Lazy Ted was happy not to have to do too much work.  I was wrong about that, but in a good way.

Rehearsal peeves (AKA, "I'm an arrogant bastard")

It's rare that I get to rehearse a piece, these days, and I kind of like that.  With my fast-paced [read:  harried] life, I don't have time to rehearse often, so I don't belong to a group.  And even if I did, most choral rehearsals repeat things ad nauseam as people learn the notes before being told the same things choir directors always hammer into you:  Enunciate your consonants, drop your diphthongs, follow the dynamics, be mindful of your phrasing and colors, keep your eyes out of the music.  And everything else is determined by the quirkiness of your conductor and what they want to do with the piece.  So, learning a choral piece means getting the notes down and then anticipating all of these things that have been drilled into you throughout the ages.

If you've been a choral singer for a long time, these things should be second nature to you, and yet, we still spend a lot of time reviewing them in rehearsal.  So when my mom's choir got an invitation to sing Mozart's Requiem with a bunch of other choruses at Carnegie Hall, I was pumped:  One combined rehearsal on Friday, one on Saturday, a quick one followed by a sound check on Sunday morning, and then the concert on Sunday afternoon.   Come into Friday's rehearsal thoroughly prepared. They were only sending five people from the group, and I asked if I could tag along.  Sure enough, I was let in.  And because we were only a group of five, we learned it on our own.

Nacho mama's requiem

I was also pumped because this was Mozart's Requiem:  I've performed it twice as a chorister and once in an orchestra, so Lazy Ted was happy not to have to do too much work.  I was wrong about that, but in a good way.  Ironically, Mozart died before finishing his requiem. The "standard" version we all know was finished by Mozart's student, Franz Xavier Sussmayr, who apparently lacked much in the way of compositional nuance.  In more plain terms, he sucked.  (He completed the work because Mozart's widow wanted the commission money.)  A lot of music scholars have pulled apart the Mozart Requiem, saying this doesn't sound like Mozart and that doesn't sound like Mozart.  So Robert D. Levin, musicologist, concert pianist, and Harvard music professor, did something about it:  He finished the requiem on his own terms.

The new rewrite is as meticulous as it is audacious (would you touch a 200-year-old piece?):  musical kinks got massaged out, lines extended, fugues added, and in one case, what was once a two-measure "Amen" got its own movement.  And it was also hard:  I dare say that every note added to the piece made it more difficult.

Two pages from the Robert D. Levin Mozart Requiem vocal
score.  The amazing thing about this picture is that not one
note, here, is in the original Sussmayr edition.
So, rehearsing it actually turned out to be a challenging, yet rewarding experience.

I was actually very nervous about showing up to rehearsal on Friday:  The piece is difficult and we were to be singing this in Carnegie Hall.  As it turned out, the other groups were high school and college-level choruses.  Nothing to worry about:  Some groups were quite good; some were very, very meh.  I didn't invite anyone to come.

The concert

Sure enough, I'm glad I didn't.  We actually had quite a nice dress rehearsal and sound check, and the conductor's advice was brilliant:  "Don't change a thing".  Well, sure enough, the high schooler next to me who never once wrote down a single conductor's note (not that it would have mattered, anyway -- you couldn't hear him while standing next to him) all of a sudden started paying attention.  The bass section rushed its way through many passages, even throwing me off.  At the end of the day, it wasn't my finest hour.

Backstage at Carnegie Hall
Backstage hallway at Carnegie Hall.
But that being said, Carnegie Hall, y'all!  I'm still glad I went.  And while this was my second time performing at Carnegie, it was my first time performing on-stage.  Last time, many moons ago, I was part of an off-stage chorus for Verdi's Requiem.  We sat and sang from the balcony.

So...yeah, it was imperfection at its finest.  A cacophony of hormonal singing and a lot of forgetting everything that was taught in the past three days because...Carnegie Hall, y'all!

That being said, would I do it again?  In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!"

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