The conditions of victory can be… fluid
The choir I sing with is celebrating its 40th anniversary season. Our official anniversary concert was last night. It made homages to the past with a movement of Robert Kyr’s The Passion According to Four Evangelists and a movement of Julian Wachner’s Come My Dark-Eyed One. Both of those were originally commissioned by the choir. (I actually sang in the premiere of the latter!) The music director who conducted the premiere of the Kyr returned to conduct it again last night. (Some of the choir, of course, have worked with Beverly Taylor before. I hadn’t until this concert. She’s great conductor. Impeccable taste and extremely clear with her gestures. I knew exactly what she wanted at all times.)
Our music director bookended the concert with Bach double motets. We started with Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf and ended with Singet den Herrn ein neues Lied. We’ve sung a lot of Bach over the past decade or so (and never the same work twice, so far). I personally think this is awesome. Bach is really fun to sing. If we work our way through the entire Bach canon that would be fine with me.
Also, for this concert, rather than being organized in sections, we sang mixed. I love singing surrounded by all the other vocal lines. It’s much easier than singing in sections. You really get to hear what’s going on harmonically. Yes, if few enough people sing your line, then you may not hear other people on your line singing mixed. If you want to hear your own line, you make sure you stand next to someone singing your own part. I don’t so I placed myself away from all the other tenors. (Few enough people sing tenors in choirs that I get to do it. Vocally healthy and warmed up, I’m good to a Bb which, for most choral works, is close enough.) Everyone’s happy.
That said, singing Bach would have been much more fun if I hadn’t been sick for most of the time while we were preparing for the concert. From Arisia on, this winter has pretty much been one cold after another, complete with laryngitis for a week or two and weeks where I wasn’t so much singing Bach as much as indicating Bach. (I’m still coughing…) It’s really frustrating when your voice doesn’t do what you know it can do when it’s healthy. Also, it means I never got to sing through everything as much as I’d have liked. The rest of the choir was impeccably prepared. I never got anything i sang into my voice.
On one hand, whining is so unseemly. I won’t claim to be a great sight-reader. A bunch of years back, I attended a masterclass run by a group of LA session singers who formed an a cappella group. They are great sight-readers. Throw anything at them and they come back with complete, polished performances on the first try. However, I’m good enough to hit the correct notes of the tenor line of a Bach motet at the correct time on sight within a try or two and I pick up material fairly quickly. (Note: The alternate way of putting this is that I’ve historically gotten away with not practicing as much as perhaps others have and imagine how much of an asset I could be if i were more diligent about this?)
On the other hand, my vocal stamina is absolutely not where it should be. These motets are pretty athletic sings. They are around 8 and 12 minutes, highly melismatic, and they never stop. Bach never gives you a chance to recover. I am not so awesome a singer that I can just step up and sing this with little preparation regardless of vocal health. I.e., this is not “oh, if only I were healthy, I would have flown through this.” Being the singer who can fly through this is something I’m working towards.
The lovely thing is that we’re a choir of over a hundred people. I’m not sure that I actually added anything to the concert. I’m pretty sure I didn’t detract from it. At the end of concert, i could still sing and actually sang the whole of the fugue that ends Singet den Herrn ein neues Lied without stopping to stifle a cough. Right now, that counts as victory.
Our next concert is Handel’s Saul on May 10th. I actually have a ticket to see the Encores! concert production of Irma La Douce the same day. Singing Saul is the more important commitment so I’ll be doing that. Fortunately, I’d rather being singing Saul anyway and, this time, with more conventional victory conditions. (Let’s face it, “did not detract from the concert experience” is too low a bar.)