Just over a year ago, I walked into the choir room on my first Sunday as Music Director of the church, not knowing what to expect. Before me sat a handful of women wide-eyed with anticipation. “The most important component to proper singing is diaphragmatic breathing,” I began. The group assembled before me nodded but gazed at me quizzically and demanded more explanation.
Thus began a long year of growth, development, and maturity. I can’t recall working with a choir so committed and so enthusiastic about the music they were singing. If a rehearsal was scheduled for 9:00 AM, some came at 8:50 but none past 9:05.
By the end of two months the choir was working on five different two-part anthems for Special Music while developing their vocal technique through breath support and appoggio. Word of our heroic exploits must have spread, as by the fall, male members began to join the ranks and formed a tenor section. By Christmas the choir had grown from a group of four-five women singing in two parts to an ensemble of twelve singers singing in three-part harmony.
Preparations for the Christmas cantata involved Sunday rehearsals both prior to and following worship, as well as evening rehearsals during the week that could last as long as three hours. All of that changed when Mr. Dick Bennett joined the choir and insisted that every rehearsal must end precisely 90 minutes from its start and not one minute later. I didn’t expect this highly daunting challenge so early into my tenure, with a choir member telling me what to do!
Mr. Bennett also introduced another great idea that quickly gained great popularity – ending rehearsals with a light song like “Old MacDonald” or “Jingle Bells”. Mr. Bennett posited that choir members have strongest memories of those notes that they sing last; therefore they would be apt to leave a rehearsal in far brighter spirits just having sung “Frosty the Snowman” than The Messiah. Thus “Good Old Mountain Dew” (from Mr. Bennett’s collection and passionately rendered by Mr. Bennett to the choir in a demo solo performance), entered the choir’s repertoire.
The choir worked extremely hard this past year. I played all of the music while Annie recorded it. She and Charlie then burned CDs of what we recorded, and Annie personally delivered the CDs to each choir member’s door. For every song, each choir member received a CD containing my play-through of both their individual part and all the choral parts together. This way they could practice their own part and then attempt to sing it together with the remaining parts.
Choir members listened to their CDs during the week, in their cars, on their computers, and on their ipads/iphones, singing along with the tracks. They practiced pronunciation of Latin text and sang in Latin for Easter. Even during the summer, every choir member is still working, preparing a solo or duet for “Summer Solos” – a series of Special Music solos sung by a different choir member each Sunday throughout the summer. For the mission the choir was called upon to accomplish, it exceeded and surpassed all expectations.
Some people ask what actually happens in the choir room. Before a note is even uttered, and as the anticipation of making the first note perfect sets in, there is a silence unlike any other that permeates the room. What happens thereafter is magical. It is a mission that combines passion, stamina, and great love. You must come and see it for yourself. We are all part of the same team creating what is beautiful to all of us – music.
Larissa Sokoloff, Music Director