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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Singin' in the choir

I sing in a church choir that is truly one of the best church choirs in the Pacific Northwest. I don't often blog about this part of my life; my spiritual life is quite private and my singing life even moreso! I have an incredibly average (alto) voice, but I like to work hard and, thankfully, auditions are not required to be part of this ensemble.

This past weekend, the choir gave two performances of Handel's Messiah -- the WHOLE thing -- and the experience of that and the reaction to it is worthy of a blog.

For those of you who don't know the piece (or don't know anything beyond the Hallelujah Chorus), the entire Messiah is 53 pieces of music -- arias, recitatives, choruses. That's nearly three hours of music. We did it with a small (15-piece)orchestra (which is in keeping with the Messiah's baroque origins) and nine professionally-trained soloists. It was fun. It was hard work. It was well done. It was inspiring.

The church pays the musicians and the soloists a (very modest) fee for their work; because, collectively, paying that many people adds up fast, the choir members contribute to paying the musicians and soloists. We don't mind. It's one of the typical costs, I fear, to being in a group that lacks a budget but has high standards. I, of course, earn nothing for my work with the choir, but I contribute to the small paychecks received by the soloists and musicians. So, in a way, the cost of my doing this was roughly equivalent to what it would have cost me to attend a professional performance of the Messiah in NYC. The irony is not lost on me. But that's the part of this blog that's supposed to make you laugh -- I PAY to be able to sing in a really good choir. I'm happy to do it.

However, for audience members, the cost of attending this event was about as cheap as it gets for decent music: canned food or a check made out to a local food pantry. We asked people to be generous, though we didn't specify a minimum number of cans or a minimum donation, nor did we turn people away if they just came to listen (and many did, in fact, come without giving anything). Despite that, our auditorium was packed -- and I do mean packed -- for both performances. In the end, people gave a total of $4588 and 1,319 pounds of canned food. Those numbers alone made me exceedingly happy, as this concert was a benefit for the needy. What better way to start the holiday season???!!

What touched my heart even more than those donations, however, were two letters that the choir director received a few days later, and which he shared with the choir. The first letter came from the first violinist. She is an exceptional musician trained at the London School of Music, a member of our congregation and works both as a pediatrician and a professional musician with local orchestras and festivals. She has, not surprisingly, performed Messiah several times. She praised our choir and soloists as having given a truly outstanding performance, one that she would compare to performances done by professional choirs. The second violinist told me the same thing. Wow. Way to make a bunch of amateurs truly proud! Our heads are a little swelled, but at least we know our hard work paid off.

The second letter, however, is probably the more important one. A woman wrote to the director, telling him that as a child she sang in a church choir and had performed the Messiah. Lately, however, her life has been rough -- she's lost her job, her marriage is falling apart, her car has been repossessed, she's suffering (understandably!) from depression and anxiety and a sleep disorder. But she told our director that for over two and a half hours, she forgot all that and felt peace.

I can't imagine that there is any greater reward performers can receive than knowing that their performances can make people escape, momentarily, from their suffering.

That is really what singing in a church choir is all about. I'm just lucky that the one I sing in is also particularly good.

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