I was in California last week, diction coaching (diction cheerleading?) for the Rachmaninoff All Night Vigil. The ensemble was made up of professionals and volunteers; and in the first rehearsal I attended, they were underwater in terms of the pitches and rhythms. But, dude, did they work.
Every note of Rachmaninoff’s music is purposeful and filled with possibility. You can just skip over that, sing it through, and make some pretty noise; but they didn’t settle for that. They accepted the challenge to sing all of the music–not just what was on the page. On top of all the work they gave Rachmaninoff, they were also performing at least three other whole concert programs!
And so many of them were so very nice to me, I suspected at first they may have received some kind of threat about me: “be super nice to Amelia or she will explode! And make a mess!!!” But then it became clear that they just were nice. Friendly. Supportive. Interested. Enthusiastic. Great. Tolerant of and kindly amused by my dorkiness, they made me feel welcome and comfortable.
Reflecting on how unbelievably impressive the singers are, I remembered the love letter I wrote to my ensemble last fall. It ends with this:
I am so grateful to singers and instrumentalists in the ensembles I conduct. Most of you would say, “of course we show up, of course we try. What else are we going to do? Isn’t that why we’re there?” And that, the openness of your hearts, is the only thing that makes my work possible. It’s the only reason my work matters.
There’s a lot of music I love, but you are the reason I bother to show up and make it.
It didn’t occur to me that I’d see this on the other side of the country in a choir that isn’t even mine; but there they were! It was lovely. A pleasure. A joy.
I learned about the Piano Puzzler from them, and that sardines are as impressive as they are delicious, and that the view of fog is as gorgeous as a sunny view.
And I learned the lesson I keep learning about ensemble singers: that they are the reason choral music is so powerful.
Rachmaninoff never expected the choral music he wrote in Russia to be sung by anyone but Russians. The work it takes for Americans to live inside all that unfamiliar language is far more than would be required by the singers he had in mind.
It’s astounding and moving that this ensemble gave so much for Rachmaninoff, for each other, and for me.
It’s also completely natural.
So thanks again, ensemble members. You’re fabulous.