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The Big Sing

One of the things that I loved about living in the Midwest was that, every so often, there were these pickup choir events. I got to go to the singalong Messiah at the Lyric Opera once, and to KAMII's singalong Judas Maccabaeus the last year that they did it. lcohen and rhobike and I had many lovely June evenings in Oak Park tearing through their pickup choir offerings.

And it turns out that I can still sometimes do the same in England! One of the basses in the Jewish choir that I've joined told people about The Big Sing, which is a pickup choir for charity event. I think it's once every two years, so I'll get at least one more chance to do this before my fellowship is up. There's a core choir and orchestra that sponsors the event, and other people can just sort of show up and sing. You have to buy a ticket, because the whole event supports a cause, but it's totally worth it.

This year, the piece was Mozart's Requiem, which I last sang in the spring of 1998 as the big chorus/orchestra concert of junior year at The Fairest College. Seventeen years later, it all came right back to me. In fact, I'm a better singer now than I was at age twenty-one, I understand music better, and it was just pure fun to pick up my old score and sing through it.

The event was at Great St. Mary's Church, which is a big church right smack in the middle of downtown Cambridge. Altos and sopranos sat in the balcony, right opposite each other, tenors and basses in the main body of the church. There were four soloists, a small orchestra, and the conductor was the guy who usually conducts the host choir. We had an afternoon rehearsal, and then an hour's break where we flooded the local cafes for tea, and then we reconvened at Great St. Mary's and performed our pickup choir singing for an audience, which is a new twist on the type of pickup choir singing I did in Chicago.

I loved it! You always remember the fun of singing Requiem, with the "et lux perpetua" and the really neat double canon of the "Kyrie eleison" (fun fact: that canon is in the key of D. Not D major or d minor. Mozart never pins down which one it actually is, and it ends on an open fifth, without the third that tells you whether you've been hearing major or minor.), and the Dies Irae is really exciting. But I'd forgotten just how neat it is to sing Rex Tremendae because that bit has actual honest-to-God swagger. And I'd completely forgotten about a little canon part in the Domine Jesu, the part that begins at about 0:59 here, "ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum." It's fun and tumble-y, and I guess it must have been a major pain in the butt to learn back in the day, but last night, it just felt like playing pinball, except with my voice.

Plus, I got to revisit my old score, which had all sorts of convenient notes and pronunciations already penciled in. And some more obscure markings as well. What is 209X? Who are Andrea and Isabel? What took place on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 7 - 10? Why is the name of a Yiddish film written on the cover? The answers are lost to history, but the singing remains.


( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2015 11:46 am (UTC)
That sounds so amazing. You must have been on some high afterwards.
Jan. 18th, 2015 11:55 am (UTC)
Absolutely! I began the day at shul, where we had a fabulous service led by Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who is the Senior Rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism here and someone I'm definitely going to have to get to know better. I was also on the mild adrenaline high of being the Machine of Unstoppable Courage by biking all the way out to the shul (not the most bike-friendly route that Cambridge has to offer).

And then comes the chance to go into GSM and start singing through this fantastic piece of music that I haven't sung for ages. And you know how much I love singing, and how much I love big, meaty kinds of singing, and what a head rush all that music and all the deep breathing is.

Is it any wonder that I ended up sleeping for eleven hours last night? I just completely wore myself out!
Jan. 18th, 2015 12:12 pm (UTC)
How great that music is making all these links for you. I guess when people all care about something, you can take that anywhere.
Jan. 18th, 2015 12:47 pm (UTC)
That's one of the things that I love about having music be my job. Musicians love music, and they jump at places and chances to make music, and they're usually eager to share their musical experiences with other people. If you want to make friends, and also if you want to learn about musical communities, it just takes one way in. And then, you just say "yes" when people invite you places. And then magic happens!

It was no accident that my first friends in Chicago, lo these many years ago, were shape-note singers.
Jan. 18th, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)
Plus, I got to revisit my old score

That is one of my favorite things, finding old sets of notes of any kind and remembering the events around them and pondering the indecipherable parts. :-)

I'm glad you are finding 'home' there, along with the activities that you love.

So, FP, tell us a bit about the classes you are teaching (or point me towards the post you already made on that topic--I am so off and on with LJ recently that I probably just missed it). I'm curious to how you would compare your classes there to the ones you taught in the US.
Jan. 18th, 2015 04:26 pm (UTC)
The one thing that I miss having easy access to is shape-note singing. The closest singers are in London. While London isn't prohibitively far away, it does take some planning and costs money, so I'm going to have to sit down and plan a singing trip soon. But there is still singing, along with plenty of dancing and lots of new friends!

The reason I haven't written about the classes I'm teaching is that I'm not teaching any classes this year! So don't worry, you haven't missed any. If I want to teach next year, I think I have to express interest by tomorrow evening, so that's on my to-do list. I was thinking about doing a class on sacred music.

Teaching does work a bit differently here, in that there are either big lectures or small supervisions, and not much in between. I do have one student, but he's more like an advisee. He's writing a major research paper, 7000 words, due at the end of the year, and I was asked to supervise him for that. I'm supposed to meet with him four times during the year and sort of guide him through the process of researching and writing this thing. So far, we've met twice, and he seems to be doing okay. I like him, and he works hard. What's not to love? We meet in my living room, and we have tea, and we talk about what he's done and what he'll need to do next.
Jan. 18th, 2015 04:55 pm (UTC)
well the mozart wouldn't be a repeat for me but i miss our evenings in oak park!

did you hear us thinking of you last wednesday? it was the first time with the peculiar four with cathryn. but we still miss you! i'll be posting about it at some point, here.
Jan. 18th, 2015 04:59 pm (UTC)
I did hear you thinking of me! That must be why I dreamed of shape-note singing on Thursday night.

How did the P4 singing with Cathryn work out? (And how's Cathryn doing? The grapevine says that Cathryn Senior isn't doing too well.)
Jan. 18th, 2015 06:47 pm (UTC)
it went pretty well. cathryn felt insecure about her sight reading which surprised me because i think of her as a very strong sight reader. but we got through a bunch of songs and it felt good to sing. cathryn is almost done selling the condo (hallelujah) and heading down to VA this week, i think, so i think you are right about cathryn senior.
Jan. 18th, 2015 09:18 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it was the bass clef getting to Cathryn? I know that altos tend to go a bit wibbly when a part shows up written in bass clef, so maybe that was making her insecure. But I'm glad that things worked out, and I'm glad that the group will continue. I'd hate to think that I'd be completely breaking up the band by moving away.
Jan. 18th, 2015 06:56 pm (UTC)
Your college experiences have been so interesting and i love how music plays such a large part of your social life. And then must expand Upon Elliska's question – if your fellowship is not around teaching, what do you do?
Jan. 18th, 2015 09:20 pm (UTC)
Now that I think of it, music has always played a big part of my social life. That seems to be how I meet people, by either making music with them or dancing with them. Not a bad lifestyle, when you think about it.

My fellowship is a research fellowship. Teaching is optional, but my main job is to work on my research. It really is a gem of a fellowship, and I'm amazingly happy about it.
Jan. 20th, 2015 05:12 am (UTC)
What kind of research? Or have you already posted about it elsewhere?
Jan. 20th, 2015 08:38 am (UTC)
I don't remember if I've ever mentioned it here before. The project is one that I had the idea for while writing my dissertation, but I couldn't do anything about it until La Dissertation was finished. This one has the tentative working title of "Musical Lives of British Synagogues," and it's about the ways that music works in British progressive Jewish worship. Who sings, why they sing, what they sing, why they sing what they sing, that sort of thing.
Jan. 21st, 2015 01:36 am (UTC)
That is very cool and it explains why Cambridge was interested in you.
Jan. 21st, 2015 08:09 am (UTC)
I think they liked that the project has aspect of the humanities, the social sciences, and divinity, the three divisions of the University of Chicago that are eligible for my fellowship. And I like the project, and it's one that I really wanted to do, and I suspect they picked up on that in my interview.

Either that, or I was just really rocking the high chignon that day!
Jan. 30th, 2015 07:45 am (UTC)
This is off-topic, but an author named Pamela Smith Hill has written a book called Pioneer girl: An annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She taught a class last quarter at Missouri State University a MOOC about Laura Ingalls Wilder and she's teaching the second half beginning April 6. I did email her and ask her if the material from the fall would be available to those taking the spring class and she said yes. She said the course might also be repeated next year. I know you have an interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder and thought you might be interested. The class is obviously free and I have an email from them that I can forward to you if you want, it includes a link to register for the class. Let me know what email address to use or I can look up whatever is on SoA. I listened to an interview on NPR with her that was very interesting. The book is in second printing and I'm waitlisted for it. It's been published by the South Dakota historical society, it is available through them and also on Amazon.
Jan. 18th, 2015 07:21 pm (UTC)
Sounds great fun. I always thought the Domine Jesu must be quite difficult to get right, with all those moving parts threading in and out, lolol, but the result is breathtaking.
Jan. 18th, 2015 09:23 pm (UTC)
Well, choral singing is an art. But all those years of shape-note singing, and more than a few in groups where I sometimes had to hold down the tenor bench solo, they taught me lots about how to hang onto your line. In fact, I've been teaching one of my new friends about harmony singing, just the two of us in my living room, so it does get easier the more you do it.
Jan. 21st, 2015 01:24 am (UTC)
That sounds wonderful. I wish I could have been there.
Jan. 21st, 2015 08:11 am (UTC)
It was amazing! They do this every two years, and I'm totally on board for the 2017 edition.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )