I write to you live (I’m fairly certain that there is no other way to write, but I’ll keep you posted) from the lounge of our luxurious dorm where 42.5% of the Westminster Choir is gathered. As our first event is at 3:45 tomorrow afternoon, we are actively engaged in what are referred to as “leisure activities.” Since the opening of the festival, our days have been packed with rehearsals, one performance of our own (so far), and attempts at getting into every performance we can manage.
On Sunday evening, we had our first concert—a presentation of our tour program for Spoleto audiences at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul. Being a Westminster Choir member at Spoleto has likely ruined me for life, as I have a hard time imagining that any future choral activities in my life will come with such invested (and well-dressed) fans. Entering into the lovely cathedral for the penultimate time felt like a homecoming. Following the concert, I had the chance to chat with Mayor Joe Riley, Dr. Flummerfelt, and Westminster Choir’s South Carolina family, the Reahards. I never get tired of seeing how the choral concert setting can break down the performer-audience divide as human interaction takes the place of the composer (or performer) worship. It is in these moments that I begin to grasp how much can make us more human, and ultimately, have a true impact.
That evening, I returned to the dorm with most of the choir for costumed tabletop diversions while others elected to explore the evening performance options. Speaking of performance options, there are few material possessions in the muggle world more magical than a Spoleto Festival participant badge. For those who carry one, the badge is a free pass to any performance that (so long as it is not sold out.) On Monday, Emily and I decided to commit to attending three performances before our evening rehearsal of St. Matthew Passion, and we were certainly not disappointed.
We began the day with the second chamber music performance, in which I was delighted by composer-in-residence’s Mark Applebaum’s work. He began by sharing an intimate piano improvisation on the subject of loss, in which a melody that he wrote after the death of a friend took on a palimpsestic nature as he reinvented it to reflect on the loss of his sister. Pre-composition, written for live performer and 8-track tape (naturally, in digital form as we have recently left the Paleolithic Era) represented a far more whimsical side of his oeuvre. Each speaker represented a different, dueling internal voice during the composition process (for example, the philosophical voice, the critical voice, and the mind-in-body voice). The work blurred the lines between theater, performance art, and music. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so delighted (and strangely enough, comforted) by a piece. In an expert touch of programming, the performance ended with another profound and constrasting exploration of the human experience: Schumann’s Dichterliebe.
After a quick stroll in a nearby churchyard, we returned for round 2. We were not disappointed, as we were treated to an impromptu waltz jam session in the lobby, a chance to meet host Geoff Nuttall, a Westminster Choir shoutout in the performance, the world premiere of one of Applebaum’s newest works, and two renditions of opera arias for strings and piano. Here, it behooves me to thank Jeff Foster, usher extraordinaire for the Dock Street Theater. Without fail, he consistently manages to find seats for the Westminster Choir members at every chamber music concert, sometimes in delightfully unconventional locations. During the second concert, many of us were comfortably nestled in a perch to the left of the stage. Sitting on the ground, peering at the performers through the wooden railing makes me feel a bit like a child again, peering through the various banister railings of friends’ houses in elementary school. If only their staircases had overlooked such ebullient, communicative music!
Our final performance of the day was Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare’s Globe. I must confess that, of all of the Shakespeare plays I have read, this one is perhaps my least favorite. Desensitized by years of reinventions, parodies, and English class over-analysis, I really only went because of my desire to see how the company presented the work. And I’m so glad that I did. Clad in 1930s-inspired street performer garb, the troupe rapidly switched between roles, played together as a klezmer band, and layered concurrent scenes on top of one another. This fast-paced, witty production redeemed the formerly unpalatable story for me, as I actually found myself sympathizing with two of my least favorite fictional characters.
Here I am with Sarah Michel and Emily looking astonished for a Westminster Instgram post at intermission.
That night, we had our first combined rehearsal for St. Matthew Passion with the Taylor Festival Choir. The two choirs fit together almost seamlessly, so we were free to sing the entire choral portion of the work in a relatively short rehearsal. I was particularly excited by the basses of choir one, as they were seated behind me. While I love my newly found alto identity, I have missed sitting in front of the bass section. Due to the seating for this production, however, I am comfortably placed in front of the tenor-bass divide. There’s nothing like being grounded by earth-shaking low notes, and they did not disappoint.