Tag Archives: singing

Handel’s Messiah

26 Nov

Part of me doesn’t want to listen to Handel’s Messiah again for at least a year.

Another part of me wants to be back on stage again and again, singing it better each time, and reveling in the fun of the moment, the gorgeous soloists, the lovely accompanying symphony.

Part of me will not miss waking up singing a different chorus every day, wondering which one it will be today that follows me around incessantly.

Another part of me will miss having the background theme songs in my dreams.

I will miss having something to challenge me musically – it had been many, many years since I’d sung in a choir and what will fill that void? I will miss seeing new friends every week. I will miss the anticipation – several decades in the making – of singing this oratorio. For as long as I can remember – probably way back when my parents sang in it when I was a kid, Dad taking the bass solo and Mom the soprano – I have wanted to be a part of The Messiah.

In 10th grade, I missed out on singing the Hallelujah Chorus because I was ill. Had I known that it was a traditional part of the Christmas program at my school (it was my first year there) then I would have dragged myself out of bed and sung my heart out (probably infecting the entire soprano section in the process).

But I didn’t know. And I’ve been bummed ever since.

If I had a better voice – and a lot more ambition – I probably would have sung it long before now, as had many members of the chorus. But as it is, I second-guessed my presence in the rehearsal room every week! But I never wanted to quit. Not once.

As we performed the songs last night – to a sold-out crowd – I tried to enjoy the moment, to soak in the music, the ambiance. I was sitting right behind the bassoons with their fabulous, pure, deep notes, which was enough to practically make me swoon. And as for the soloists – well, I closed my eyes and imagined I was in Carnegie Hall, they were that good.

I wished I was sitting next to my husband so that I could hold his hand and share the moment, but he, a tenor, was much too far away in the 70-some member choir. It was fun singing with him, though. He sings a lot more than I do so I enjoyed the rare chance to at least be in the same group with him.

Handel’s Messiah actually features in our courtship. My parents had invited him over for dinner – it was the first time he met my dad, I think, though he’d met Mom before. He came into the house and we all sat down at the table and The Messiah was playing in the background. My dad turned to him and asked him if he know what the music was.

Colin smiled and replied, “Handel’s Messiah!”

Dad smiled in return and, with his smile, told him he had permission to court his daughter.

Colin swiped his forehead and said, “Phew! I’m just glad it was a well-known piece of music!”

Dad nodded. “You got lucky, young man.”

That all happened close to 20 years ago. Last night, sitting there beneath the bright lights, felt like the culmination of that moment.

At various times throughout the concert I squinted into the crowds and found our children, sitting with a dear friend of mine, and I couldn’t wait to hear what they thought of it all.

When it was all over – after the intermission, after the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra filled the auditorium with the marvelous strains of The Nutcracker Suite in the second half of the program and we’d sung Christmas carols (such a great entrance into the holiday season) and retrieved our coats and returned our music (a sad moment) our kids finally found us and hugged us and told us what they thought. Our youngest, at seven years old, said, “I loved it!” I asked her what bits she liked best. Without a pause she replied, “I don’t know. I slept through most of it.”

And that, my friends, is how our children keep us humble. Because Mom may be having an existential moment. But Lucy, lulled by the beauty of the music, just needed a nap.


The Morning After the Previous Two Months

16 Aug

The whole family! Three angry French villagers...plus two nice Americans who came to the show!

So…our community theater production of Beauty and the Beast is over and now I hardly know what to do with myself. Just kidding! You mean I actually have energy and time to cook? I’m home in the evenings to hang with the kids? I don’t have to wake up each morning and go over the lyrics to my songs before I even get out of bed? Wow. I like normal life.

But, that being said, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m glad I did it. Colin is glad he did it, and Katie is thrilled that she did it. It’s been fun getting to know people we either didn’t know before or only knew at a distance. It’s been fun exercising our rusty skills, doing things we hadn’t done in years, if ever. Yes, it’s even been fun “dancing”…though I never thought I’d say that a few weeks ago. I actually found myself thinking, “What? I was worried about this?”

Ian and The Beast!

One of the joys of doing live performance is, of course, the crowd’s reaction. When the crowd is more responsive, it gives us, the performers, more energy. It was in the third performance (out of six) that I discovered this. The crowd laughed more, they clapped more, they radiated energy…and we were exponentially more “tuned in” to our performance when they showed us how much they enjoyed it. It was so fun! “They like us, they really like us!”

I’m only on stage for three songs, though I have backstage duties during the rest of the time. In fulfilling these duties I have learned several things. 1) After setting down Gaston’s chair (in the dark) exit stage LEFT…that way you don’t bump into the Silly Girls (who are also entering in the dark). 2) When your husband warns you that your flower cart – which has sat in the corner of the family room for years doing nothing – will never be the same again after its debut as a bookseller’s cart, BELIEVE HIM. (No, acting hasn’t gone to its head, but its wobbly wheel is going to force it into an early retirement.) 3) You must UNTIE BELLE’S LACES ALL THE WAY if you’re going to get it over her head and microphone pack in the two and a half minutes you have to redress her for the ballroom dancing scene. 4) Always have fingernail polish in your costume bag for those untimely runs in your black “Villager #2” stockings. 5) When you see your husband laughing until he cries – laughing like you haven’t seen him laugh in years – just sit back and enjoy it. This is good. This is part of our developing story. 6) If you’re going to buy a “prop cheese” from the actual grocery store, be sure that there’s a fridge you can keep it in between performances, otherwise it will look and smell more like Roquefurt than Colby Jack.

Beast, Menu, Lumiere and Belle!

One other thing I have learned: if your director asks you, the night before the first performance, to do the scream in the mob scene where everyone first sees the beast in the mirror, don’t underestimate the power of a good Faye Wray scream. I didn’t know I could scream. I have avoided screaming for many years. In fact, when I was in 4th grade and played the part of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, I had to ask another girl to do my death scream. I’m not a screamer, but I grimaced (in character) and obeyed when he asked me to. Well, apparently, now I have a reputation. I cannot tell you the number of people who have said, “You do a great scream!” Who knew?!

We had an evening off last week and Colin put on The Music Man (apparently we’re now all about the musicals) and an interesting thing happened while we watched. Lucy and Katie began to dance around the room, they were dramatic, they were expressive, they were acting. I think – and I’m only just now realizing this – that we’ve watched less television since all this has happened, too. There are other things to do…better things…things like dressing up in outfits that trip the wearer (sending them into fits of laughter), and wearing crazy hats, and singing at the top of our lungs while roasting hot dogs in the back yard.

Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth!

Another thing I enjoyed was the multi-generational aspect of community theater. It’s been fun to work with the “little girls” (“We aren’t ‘little,’” they insist). And it’s been fun to work with…well, okay, I’m like almost the oldest performer there, so nevermind about that contrast.) But it’s been especially fun to work with the high schoolers. I haven’t spent much time around high schoolers in the 23 years since I’ve graduated and there are certain things I forgot about. Energy. Shyness. Energy. Self-consciousness. Talent. And did I mention energy?

Lucy wouldn't get her picture taken with the Beast...but Belle was another story!

It’s funny, performing. You do things you never knew you could do. You gain confidence. You gain perspective. You gain friends. Yes, it’s possible that you gain aches and pains from the granny boots you have to wear that used to fit you before you had children but which decidedly DON’T fit you any more…but hey, those things are temporary. They’re forgettable. So forgettable that, it’s possible, I’d do something like this again someday. Especially if there’s screaming involved.

So now my boots have been tossed in the back of the closet where they belong, my Villager #2 tights with the red finger-nail polish “patches” have been thrown away, Lucy has her fake vegetables back because I no longer have to pretend to buy them, and all my kind friends no longer have to avoid answering the phone because I won’t be bugging them to watch Lucy and Ian during rehearsal and/or performances any more. (A HUGE thanks to everyone who was willing to take them for us!) Nor will I be bugging everyone I see to, “Get your tickets today!”
But there’s one thing that isn’t done: I’m still singing the songs in my head.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I never hit that high note again. Not once.

QUESTION: Have you ever done community theater and what was your experience?

Beauty and the Wicked Witch of the West

19 Jul

I'd be far more comfortable playing the Wicked Witch of the West.

Ok, so there are some things in life which sound better than they, in reality, are. Turkish Delight is one of these things. (I was brutally devastated when I first tasted real Turkish Delight, which I found in The Netherlands and bought with exceeding great joy. “WHAT?” I almost exclaimed outloud, trying hard to conceal my near-tears state of mind. “Edmund turned traitor for THIS?”) Lavender Ice Cream (from a cute little shop on Bainbridge Island, WA) is another. (“Ummm…WAY overrated!”) Asking Gretchen O’Donnell to dance and sing in a local theater version of Beauty and the Beast is another. And it’s a big one.

Now, I must admit, it’s possible that the powers that be who allowed me into this production never thought that seeing me dance was a good idea to begin with. I haven’t had the courage to ask them and I probably never will. But to me, the idea of a little dancing, a little singing, a little acting…that wasn’t so bad. I can do that! I was Malificent in our 4th grade production of Sleeping Beauty! How different can this be from that? Sure, I’m 31 years older than I was then…but hey, it’s still me…right?

Oy, vey, am I an optimist.

So, to begin with: the singing. I used to sing. I was in a girls singing group from 5th grade through 9th grade. I sang in high school choir and Women’s Chorus in college. I sang solos in church, and sang in the choir…back when churches actually had choirs. I can sing!

Well, I COULD sing. But it turns out, like any other muscle, the voice needs exercise. And, like the rest of my body, my singing muscles are scrawny and undeveloped. My voice box, lungs, and diaphragm are flabby. Probably pale and unattractive, too.

I knew this about my voice – I mean, I knew that I didn’t have the range I used to…or the breath control. But I thought that a little exercising of the muscles involved, and I’d be good to go. As it turns out, yes, I can still hit a “C” two octaves above middle “C”…but only when I’m not trying. Without thinking, without realizing, I hit it in our first practice. And everyone in the room turned to look. Yes. Everyone. I, being a person who vastly adores attention, was immensely proud as what I had accomplished dawned on me. Like I said, I wasn’t aiming for it…it just happened. I surprised even myself. I basked, for two seconds, in the glory. Then, with every eye in the room still trained on me, (and a few comments from the high schoolers and “oohs” from the little girls, and, I thought, impressed chuckles from the adults) it suddenly hit me: DID I HIT IT? OR DID I FLATTEN IT OUT LIKE A PANCAKE and THAT is why everyone is staring at me? Was I Pitchy, Dawg?! My smile faltered a little. My inner ear strove to regain what it had just heard. “I didn’t know I could do that,” I said, turning red. (A common occurrence for me.) And, it turns out, I could. I did. Though I’m not sure my tone was overly pleasing. (In case you’re wondering, yes, I checked with the music director afterwards just to make sure that I wasn’t off-key!)

The crux of the matter is, I haven’t been able to hit the note since.

“If you’re not ‘in voice’ tonight, please don’t sing the high part,” the director said at the next rehearsal, and I, coughing to prove my point, mumbled that perhaps I wouldn’t attempt such a feat. I sang the middle part. Even though I couldn’t hear it. I wimped out. In other words, I now live in fear that, what I accomplished without even meaning to, I will never accomplish again. Ever. My reignited high school dreams of being an opera star poofed out like a candle. Now I watch Mrs. Potts from afar (with undisguised envy) and am content to be one of the “needful but unnamed” village people. (Yes, every rehearsal begins with YMCA jokes and arm motions.)

To add to my humility, as previously implied, I stink as a dancer. Our choreographer, bless her heart, is being so kind to us. She totally knows what she’s doing. I, on the other hand, do better in the song where I all I have to do is sweep, smile and wave. Type casting, that is. But dancing?! And this isn’t even, like, intricate dancing. This is Step, Step, Lunge, Walk, Walk, Walk. I tripped over my shoes on the lunge. Lucy is quite impressed by my floor burn. She stares surreptitiously at it, while trying to remember what it was she was going to say before being distracted by the larger-than-a-silver-dollar red spot which glows like a neon light on my knee. “Sorry ‘bout your knee, Mom,” she says eventually, admitting that – let’s face it – it can’t be ignored. “Thanks,” I reply, laughing. “It’s not so bad.” She walks away, looking skeptical, and I continue to smile.

Because, really, I accepted long ago that I can’t dance, and I’m accepting now that I cannot sing that well either, but I’m having fun doing this with my husband and our daughter, Katie, and that, in the long run, is worth all my failures on stage. (For the record, my husband is way better at the dancing than I am. AND he is a wonderful sport to be doing this. He deserves a medal.)

So long as I can remember the words and keep from singing Belle’s parts by mistake (which I’ve been singing for years every time I watch the DVD and it’s a hard habit to break) then I’ll be okay. But if you’re yearning to catch a high note from the stoop-sweeping townsperson, don’t strain yourself. She’ll be the one lurching in the shadows, dreaming of the day she can play The Wicked Witch of the West…who doesn’t sing…or dance…but she does get to wear some serious make up. (“I’ll get you my pretty! And your little dog, too!”)

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