On the bus again – this is a great place to collect thoughts, though it certainly is not a quiet place. There is something about being surrounded by like-minded friends in a mobile space where we are forced to be still that is conducive to reflection.
Thanksgiving was a lovely holiday, though it was really an extended homework break lightly veiled in festivities. Many students travelled home, and a large population stayed around campus. Professors open their homes to these ‘orphans,’ and other groups divide the cooking responsibilities and spend the day eating, singing carols, and appreciating the depth of friendship found on our campus.
Once classes began again, Westminster Choir commenced with rehearsals for our benefit performance at the Racquet and Tennis Club in New York (this is where we are travelling as I write this). It is SO FUN to sing holiday music in this group – the level of musicianship means that our reading is deadly accurate a lot of the time, and so we get to the music making really quickly. We have very few rehearsals to prepare for this important performance, so the spirit and collegiality of the pieces need to be present from the first note – no time to work in to it! I always get a little misty-eyed when we sing Gustav Holst’s setting of the Christina Rosetti poem In the Bleak Midwinter. This piece is simple, lovely, and represents to me the holiday season as much (albeit differently) as Handel’s Messiah. (Last year, we sang the oratorio with the New York Philharmonic, conductor by Peter Schreier – what a holiday treat that was!). Westminster Choir sings In the Bleak Midwinter every year, and most of the ensemble has it memorized – the delivery of the text is slightly different from each person, and the story takes on great depth through the music.
Tonight’s performance is also special to the choir, because everyone is dressed in their holiday finery. We are served a beautiful dinner in an opulent space, and there will be lots of photos taken this night. (I’ll share some as I get them) I am also busy collecting money for our collective gift for Dr. Miller – just in case he reads this before our party this Thursday, I won’t tell you yet how we plan to surprise him! Suffice it for now to say, this choir is generous in spirit and broad in vision.
Concurrently, Readings and Carols rehearsals are going beautifully – we have run-through rehearsals in the Princeton University Chapel this week, and performances on Friday and Saturday. This breathtaking performance harkens the start of the holiday season for our Princeton community, and the ceremony and ornamentation make for an evening full of goose bumps and memories. I am extra excited this year, personally, because in addition to helping with logistics, I get to play a fair amount of percussion in that reverberant space. I can’t wait to hear the echo!
Symphonic Choir is also preparing for a performance at Carnegie Hall on December 11 with Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra. If you ever wondered how fast a group of choral students can sing dialectical Portuguese syllables, you will find out if you see this concert!
I wasn’t going to write again tonight, but this evening has been far too fun to wait. Our performance was tremendous, and we were able to connect strongly to our audience. As we encircled them to sing In the Bleak Midwinter, Dr. Miller started talking about how the strength of the choir had very little to do with how well we sang and had everything to do with the stories that each person brings. He talked about a member of the choir who is one of the only students to travel from her country to learn about choral conducting, so that she can take what she learns back to her home community. He talked about another choir member who worked in a public high school before coming to Westminster, where many of the students were homeless, and others were living in poverty, and still they made music. He told the story of yet another student who is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, who fought in Iraq and who came back to study conducting. Ours is an ensemble richly woven, made all the stronger because of the legacy we are fortunate to continue everyday.
Once we got on the bus to go home, our wonderful, snarky driver Rich asked if we wanted to drive past ‘the tree’ (in Rockefeller Center), to which we responded enthusiastically ‘YES!” He drove us past the giant tree surrounded by crowds of people, and of course we started singing carols. After finishing O Come All Ye Faithful in full harmony (some improvised – I am not sure there are jazz chords in the traditional version, but it sure sounded good!), we proceeded through about 15 carols. Sometimes it was funny (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, death metal style) and other times choir nerdy (Silent Night first in English then in German), and of course richly musical. Rich said that he hadn’t heard this much from the choir in 14 years – this is a special ensemble with a deep love for one another, and this bond will only be strengthened (and tried!) when we are on the bus together for days during our tour in January.