THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME SING WITH YOU
Last year when Kevin Westbrooke (BCCO tenor) told me his chorus would be singing the Verdi Requiem in Europe and invited me to come as his guest, I said Yes immediately. I haven’t traveled outside the U.S. much. I’ve been to Transylvania once, more than 20 years ago, and 10 years ago to Peru. I wanted to see more of Europe. What an opportunity, I thought. Then I started thinking about how important it is for me to feel connected with others, and wondered if I’d feel like an outsider, a lonely tag-along. I wanted to be a full participant. So I decided to ask if I could sing too. I love choral singing and have been an alto with the choir at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley in Kensington for more than 30 years, so it seemed like it might work out. I am so glad I asked to join you.
I contacted Linda Berti and she said I could sing if I had sung the Requiem before. Hmmm, I hadn’t. What to do, what to do. I copied Kevin’s score and started practicing on my own with rehearsal files. I attended the first meeting with the tour company, met Linda and revealed to her that I hadn’t sung the Requiem before. She wasn’t bothered by that fact – whew – first hurdle!
I had other concerns – would I stick out like a sore thumb as the only non-BCCO member? Would I be good enough musically? Would I get tired of practicing the same piece over and over again? (In a church choir, we sing lots of different music every week, rehearse one piece for a couple of months maximum, perform it once, and move on.) Would I make mistakes during performance? Since I don’t have a big voice and the chorus is large, I wasn’t worried about the audience hearing my mistakes. But I was concerned I might throw off my alto neighbors. I am so glad I practiced on my own before the pre-tour rehearsals, otherwise I would have been completely lost. I was relieved and helped by a number of things: At the first rehearsal, Ming Luke asked for a show of hands of people who were new. There were a lot of us! That was a great relief. Also, we didn’t take a couple of the movements as fast as the rehearsal files. That was a big relief too – I thought I’d never learn them. I sat near different people and noticed, as in my church choir, everyone had different strengths; strong voices that were easy to follow, beautiful resonant voices, excellent rhythm and counting, alert and aware of where we are in the music – all were helpful to me. I found that I did just fine, and was even able to help others in small ways. It was helpful to have the same version of the score as most of the chorus, and to add the measure numbers to my score. I especially liked sitting next to the bass section during performances – I find it helpful and exciting to hear other parts clearly.
Singing with Ming Luke was an excellent experience for me. My choir has had good conductors over the years: Simon Andrews, Edwin Barlow, Eric Howe, and now Bryan Baker. Of course I compare them all. Ming is inspiring – his energy, physicality, facial expressions, and theatricality. He constantly gave us information – talking to us as we sang – motioning, pointing – he is on top of everything – letting all parts know when and how to sing. I appreciated his attention to detail. He was positive and encouraging, professional and efficient. I hear he can get down on you at times – as have all the conductors I’ve sung with – but I didn’t experience that. The strongest criticism I heard from him was, “You know better than that”. Because of his energy and passion I sang for Ming as much as, if not more than, I sang for the audience.
My favorite performance was the one in the Cathedral conducted by our assistant conductor, Eric Choate – it was uplifting and inspiring to hear our voices echoing out; to look up and out to the loftiness of the cathedral, and to feel connected to the history, humanity, and spirituality surrounding us. I know it was acoustically difficult but it was also the most emotionally satisfying.
I wished for warm-ups before the performances – we didn’t warm up before any of the three performances. Maybe each bus could have a person designated to lead warm-ups on the way to the venue.
Everyone was helpful and welcoming. I enjoyed chatting with Ming’s father and hearing what it was like for him when he first saw his son as a pro in action, and how proud he is. It was satisfying to learn a complete masterwork. There is so much variety in the Requiem. This experience will affect how I participate with my church choir – now I want to practice on my own more in order to be a stronger member. It’s more fun – the harder I try to learn the music the more I enjoy it. I found myself thinking, “I could practice Handel’s Messiah on my own”. Then I’d be able to sing more than just the Hallelujah chorus with confidence next December at my church’s annual sing-a-long Messiah. Maybe I’ll see some of you there!