Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On making your own instrumentation:

"Now I want you all to remember that during the performance we just heard, there were NO instruments whatsoever. Anything you heard was done by these guys standing right in front of you," Shauna, the director of the Breman Jewish Nursing Home, addressed a kindly-but-sleepy crowd exhausted by noise and an effort to applaud.
I'm still not sure what struck me about that moment. By all appearances, it seems like a straightforward statement; and it's true, of course, in the most literal sense.
But someone alerted me recently to the fact that college is as much about learning how to simply live life and be a functioning member of society as it is learning facts and professional skills. So I've been on this kick recently of analyzing the value in the things that I do.
My existential mindset kicked in that day in snapshots that distinguished themselves, even as they happened:
"Happy Birthday Dear Beth, happy birthday to..." and the tears roll down Beth's face and onto the arms of her wheelchair with a smile that cannot be contained. We all lose it.
and then shortly after,
"Adam and Anne, a match made in heaven," our baritone teases his "Wheelchair Waltz" partner with a wink. We all smile knowingly at each other as we weave a pattern, slowly pacing our elderly partners up and down the dance floor in time to the blaring classical music.
and then later
Huddling together for an outside performance, our voices shaking and our toes numb, we somehow still manage to smile into the microphones.
and of course,
The strains and refrains of a final chorus echo over Cannon Chapel as we bombard sweet Tim, our incredible basstenorrangeboxer, with the traditional serenade for his 21st birthday, a night which he chooses to spend with, of all people, us.

It's the moments like these that I can't help but laugh about all we have to work through behind the scenes to get to this point. Tuning issues, ridiculous syllables, non-sequential runs, a relentless tendency to sing everything at warp speed- did I mention tuning issues? Then there's the extra rehearsals, getting lost and stuck in traffic on the way to anywhere, early morning admissions gigs (enough said), powering our voices through illness and five performances in one weekend, filling out those wretched (but necessary) "doodles" to work everyone's schedules together, and of course, the never ending drama of talking for hours about what we will wear in performance.

Last Sunday, we spent an hour learning individual parts to this sick arrangement of Bend and Break, in which the alto part jumps all over the place and we all switch lines a gazillion times and we're singing words like "Kyle"and "suh fih" and enough "jins" to far exceed our daily quota. We all went through phases where we wanted to throw in the towel, because it feels like this is getting us nowhere, and couldn't we be using our time on something actually do-able, and how many more times do we have to sing that high note, and doesn't anyone care if my vocal cords shrivel up and snap in half?
And then,
it was incredible:
we sang it all together
and all of it made sense.
And we're laughing as it comes together
because of course,
there are no instruments
and anything we heard just now
we made.
And we should've known this all along-
That even though we thought we had no clue what we were doing,
we made it work.
That even though we all felt unprepared,
maybe we were more prepared than we realized.
That it would come together
if we would.
And you can call me crazy
but I find a lot of parallels between
that moment
and my life.

I am sorry
for complaining about late rehearsals
and for being late to rehearsals
and for sleeping during rehearsals
(which there is altogether too much photo evidence for me to deny).
It is always, always worth it
to sing with you
and to work out life with you
and I'm sorry
that sometimes I lose perspective
in the moment.