May 18, 2012

We finally got to sing some of our concert rep today.  Revisiting Howell’s Requiem was like getting a hug from an old friend – the choir sank right back into the spirit and the sound.  It will be wonderful to sing this work for an audience in Charleston.  Our rehearsal was at the Wellbrock Hall at the Cathedral of St. Luke’s and St. Paul, and the staff greeted us with warm welcomes, hot tea, cold water, and coffee.  I fear we will be spoiled mightily by the time we have to leave.

There was time between rehearsals to eat (of course – all we do is sleep, eat, and sing).  I had to try Kudu, described by Dr. Miller as ‘the Small World of Charleston.’  The coffee was in fact great (but, to be honest, at that moment I would have eaten mud if it were caffeinated).  What was really wonderful was the ham and cheese croissant.  I mentioned this to Daniel Elder, and he threatened me with bodily harm if I did not also mention the chocolate croissant, which I have not actually had, but now I have mentioned and am therefore safe.

After Kudu for lunch, we had Sitzprobe.  This is a seated rehearsal with orchestra – it was the first time we had heard this score with so many colors and it was really exciting.  The orchestral musicians are chosen from nation-wide auditions, and are the hot up-and-comers in the orchestral world. There was an electric tremor pulsing through the choir as we heard the 72-member orchestra bring a new dimension to the work, with which we are now so familiar.

The Kepler orchestra with conductor John Kennedy.

Following the Sitz, we had another brief break and then were back to the Sotille theatre for the evening stage rehearsal.  By now, the blocking is staying pretty much the same except for minor adjustments, so we are able to imbue some of our personal artistry into our characters.  During the scene when we are wearing the chain mail helmets and long robes (think the knight at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), we move en masse and point at the principals in a very threatening manner.  From all accounts, it is pretty terrifying.  This is assuming of course that we all point on the same cue, at the same time.  Mark Murphy Laseter, sophomore tenor extraordinare, is in the front row of the ‘holy warrior’ formation, and pointed exuberantly at absolutely the wrong time.  This caused all of the principals and the first few rows of knights to burst into giggles, which they tried desperately and unsuccessfully to repress, making the corporate laughing fit all the more powerful as it rippled through the ensemble.  Dr. Miller has sworn that as long as Mark is in Westminster Choir, this moment will never slip quietly into the backs of our collective memories, but will remain colorfully on the forefront.

At the end of the opera, all of the principal ‘scholars’ have left the stage and the story.  They are replaced by a new generation of scholars, which come from the choir.  Chosen at random, these lucky seven Westminsterites take their seats at the principal table and usher in the final moments of the show.  It is fascinating to watch them ‘act’, because you can see clearly their personalities as individuals and as students.  Some are obviously doodling,  others are staring off into space ‘thinking’, and a couple are so busy writing that they seem to be in perpetual motion.  Most individuals in the choir have their ‘Slow normal, fuzzy logic, big acting moment!’ as quoted beautifully by tenor Michael Bennett, in the vernacular used by our director, Sam.

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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