Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Salvation is created

This spring has been a little insane. I have two part-time jobs that constitute official Work, plus a teeny tiny pottery teaching gig that constitutes official Recreation. My organ job is the Work that nourishes and sustains me. Alas, it's getting short shrift at the moment, due both to the demands of my other part-time job and to my aging brain's inability to focus on a bazillion different things at once, the way (I like to think) it used to.

Adding to the stress: someone's brilliant idea, several centuries ago, to precede a big holiday that demands special, festive music--like Easter--with a season that demands extra church services every week, cutting into choir practice time--like Lent. Yes, yes, there's a certain logic to spiritually preparing for the Resurrection, but for the professional church music director, these six weeks are laced with panic.

Thankfully, there come occasional nights like tonight, when, prepared to crumple into a desperate heap, I suddenly learn to breathe again.

Imagine: although Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter loom, only half of the small choir is at rehearsal this evening; the other half is sick, or visiting far-away family, or having assorted joints surgically replaced. I resign myself to the low numbers and plan to make the best of it, when the cavalry unexpectedly arrives: two basses, an alto, and a soprano appear in the doorway, their previous scheduling conflicts resolved, and we're up to a good dozen singers.

I check the upcoming repertoire's vital signs: this Sunday's anthem seems to be in pretty good shape, as do the pieces for Palm Sunday and Good Friday; and the Hallelujah Chorus for Easter Sunday is for all practical purposes memorized. We're going to make it through the home stretch.

But then a disappointed alto asks, "the Hallelujah Chorus? That's all we're singing for Easter?" Usually we sing two pieces, but between my aging brain and the reduced rehearsal time, I've been grateful just to stay afloat lately. "Yes," I say with manufactured confidence, "that's all."

As I say it, I hear a flutter behind me. An unrehearsed anthem, still tucked in its folder on the piano, is calling to me. "I am one of the most gorgeous, luscious, goosebump-inducing sacred compositions ever written," it says, "and I am seasonally appropriate. Rehearse me now."

"Stop it," I reply telepathically, "you're a six-part anthem, and we barely have enough folks for the four-part stuff these days."

But the anthem doesn't listen: "Rehearse me," it says. "You know you want to."

And so I sigh skeptically and distribute it to the singers, who pick up on my tentativeness. They take one look and become skeptical too. Everyone vaguely recognizes the title page, but only two people claim to remember that we sang the piece three years ago.

They shake their heads, but we try it out anyway--and the metaphorical gray clouds hovering in the choir loft magically dissipate. In the beginning, sound rumbles out of the primordial depths--pianissimo, rich, resonant. And then there is light, so radiant and exquisite that it makes you want to cry. Salvation is created in the midst of the earth. Alleluia. The music enacts the text. Everyone is stunned by their sonorousness.

"Told you," says the anthem, who has just moved from an indeterminate, distant, if-we-can-manage-to-learn-this-in-time Sunday to top Easter billing.


Lisa B. said...

I love that piece! Are you singing it in Russian?

mom2homer said...

English. We're pretty good with German, French, and Latin, and we've been told our Zulu isn't too far off, but haven't tried any Russian.

Lisa B. said...

Maybe next year ... but in any case, I love the magic realism in this post.