I often find odd notes in the margins of my scores, a word or two of a defining or inspiring instruction from our conductors. Last week, I was organizing the growing stack of scores I’ve collected singing with BCCO and my copy of Bach’s St. John Passion fell open to a page in the “Kreuzige” chorus with a note in the margin that made me contemplate the great success of the conductor mentoring program and the ways in which singing with BCCO influences other parts of my life.
Honey Crisp, the note said, along with other markings and reinforcements of “terse, crisp.” I wrote it during a rehearsal in which Ming was out sick, and Eric Choate, our relatively new assistant director was working through some of the choruses in the Bach. I’ve sung for a long time and sung a lot of music, but this was my first go at St. John, and I was finding it very hard to sing. I know I’d get way too tense, which didn’t help my voice, and that particular section was really bugging me (at least I speak German, I thought, so I have one less thing to worry about.)
As we muddled through, Eric stopped us, and began a story. He’d gone to school with a woman whose father researched and developed apples. Among the experimental trees, Eric told us, was one that the researchers were not enthusiastic about. The tree was slated to be cut down, the attempt at this new variety abandoned. As the tree was about to meet its end, his friend’s father decided to eat one last apple. That bite changed everything — the apple was amazing. It was crisp, sweet-tart, it snapped. If my somewhat dodgy memory serves me right, Eric’s friend had the honor of naming the new apple variety: Honey Crisp.
“And that’s how I want you to sing this,” Eric concluded, “crisp. Think Honey Crisp apples.” It was a brilliant instruction. The chorus laughed and our singing improved greatly. Eric had given us one of our first real looks at his skill and charm. How lucky we are, I thought. And how wonderful it is that BCCO can give him some experience in front of a large (if somewhat unruly) choral and orchestral ensemble.
Now, I had never heard of Honey Crisp apples, but on my next trip to the farmer’s market, there they were. When I commented on them, the farmer replied that he’d heard the variety came from an experimental tree that was about to be discarded. I launched into Eric’s tale. “How do you know all that?” the farmer asked in surprise. “I sing with the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra,” I replied, as I filled my bag with my first Honey Crisp apples. Honey Crisps are now regulars in our fruit bowl — crisp, with a distinctive musical snap.