In a scene from one of my favorite childhood books, Because of Winn-Dixie, the main character, Opal, plants a seed from an unknown tree with her eccentric neighbor Gloria. When the curious Opal inquires as to what type of tree it will be, Gloria responds, “It’s a wait-and-see tree… It means you got to wait for it to grow up before you know what it is.”
The first performances of our tour program always remind me of the wait-and-see tree. The commitment we make together as a choir every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4:30-6 (and the countless moments outside of class) allows us to progress ever-closer toward becoming a family. But performing together allows us to know each other in a different way—giving us a taste of the cumulative growth we’ve made as individuals and as a community as we step out and take a leap together.
And what an exciting leap it was. In light of the concert’s overarching plotline, it is nearly impossible to experience the full effect of the program in a rehearsal setting. From the meditative first moments of Sisask’s Oremus to the thrill of Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine (and everything from the ridiculous to the sublime that falls in-between) we’ve only just begun to explore this story.
Perhaps more importantly, we’ve only just begun learning about each other. You can never predict what will happen in a performance, which, for a Type-A try-hard like me, is simultaneously the most freeing and terrifying part of music making. This weekend, however, certainly fell far closer to the joy side of the spectrum than the terror one. Stepping back and trusting our section mates, quartet, and the ensemble as a whole enables us to see sides of ourselves that we may not show in the day-to-day rush of rehearsals, classes, homework, social lives, and basic functioning. You never know which song, or phrase, or chord will light up someone’s face, or what section you’ve toiled over in a practice room will unexpectedly tune brilliantly in performance.
And then there’s one of the most obvious elements of performing: getting to share our music. The audiences in Short Hills on Saturday and Princeton on Sunday were so deeply receptive, they demanded our best efforts. During the pieces in which we were encouraged to connect with the audience via eye contact, I was delighted to see a multitude of Westminster Choir alumni from the past two years, friends, family members, current students, faculty, and friends. However, the most gratifying part for me was getting to premiere theory faculty member Doug Helvering’s work Love, which was written specifically for this year’s concert. As Dr. Helvering attended both concerts, Dr. Miller took a moment to recognize him on both occasions (when he received much-deserved standing ovations). Even though I’ve been at this school for four years now, I still have moments when the level of musicianship in the faculty and student body seems surreal. Singing Love certainly was one of those moments. I don’t know how someone as deft at enlivening a text with music as Dr. Helvering could possibly be the same jovial person as the one who shows up to teach us mnemonic devices to remember how to sing quintuplets (to be honest, I haven’t been in his classes but a good mnemonic device makes the rounds at a place like Westminster), but I’m hardly complaining.
Today, we returned to the daily grind a little sleepier yet deeply refreshed. On Wednesday, we begin Christmas music (insert uncharacteristic primal shriek of joy here – I hide it well, but I am in fact a Sacred Music major), as this first semester cascades to an ever-eventful close. Next stop, Pajama Day, the Racquet and Tennis Club benefit concert, and Readings and Carols!