In our busy busy world, sometimes we neglect to make time for activities that don’t contribute to the bottom line but are still important to us. For me, one of those things is choral singing.
I actually got paid the first time I sang in a choir. Fifteen dollars a month, in 5th grade. We sang for women’s groups. I cried when the director told me I had to be an alto. I thought singing harmony was a demotion. Later, of course, I realized that holding your part is more challenging than singing the melody.
By the time I reached high school, my main goal in life was to get into the Viking Choir. They sang on television, toured Europe every other year, made albums, and had lots of parties. And you couldn’t be in school musicals unless you were in choir. Finally, it was an honors class, which meant an A was worth more.
But a grueling audition with our strict choral director, Walter Rodby, was required. You had to sight read–he gave you a piece of music and the starting note, then you had to read the rest off the page with no accompaniment. You had to repeat back patterns played on the piano, sing a variety of scales and chords, and hold your part in the Star Spangled Banner. Voice quality, not my strong suit, counted too. Scoring was kept secret, but rumor said that over 40 out of 50 meant you’d probably get in.
So I took voice lessons. My teacher said, “I have a good track record of getting people into choir. But I don’t know about you.” I scheduled a lesson right before my audition. I cried in the car on the way to school. The girl auditioning before me came out of the room crying.
I survived the audition. By squinting at the piece of paper on the piano, I could see that my score was 43. I got in. In addition to loving the process of learning new pieces and singing them, many of the best moments of my junior and senior years were because of choir…touring Greece, having a half hour Christmas special on WGN-TV, making friends.
I just loved choral singing. So I sang in a symphony choir in college for a couple of semesters and an oratorio society in law school, and sang some amazing music, from Vaughn William’s Dona Nobis Pacem to Mahler’s Symphony of 1000 to highlights from Philip Glass’s Satyagraha. It’s not every day you get to sing in Sanskrit with music that, instead of having every measure written out so you can follow along, had a bracket over a group of measures with a number on top, such as 9. Meaning you had to count while repeating that phrase 9 times.
I remember the thrill of singing Beethoven’s 9th under the direction of the late Christopher Keene. There was something about the energy in the air during one of our performances…as the final chords echoed through the hall, the audience jumped to its feet.
But when I started working, choral singing fell by the wayside. Until a couple of years ago, when the Chicago Bar Assiation formed a chorus. I joined with a friend. We sang Beethoven’s 9th at Navy Pier for 1,100 people. We sang the National Anthem at a Sox game (which can be heard on the CBA Web site.) Now we’re starting Haydn’s Creation.
I’m really enjoying singing again. But all of us…from young to retirees, must make time in our schedules for rehearsals and performances.
What, pun intended, strikes a chord deep within you?