Why Do We Do It?

I made the Tanglewood Festival Chorus roster for an upcoming small concert run.  It’s a little known piano concerto by Ferrucio Busoni that has an all male chorus.  It’s no surprise I made the roster, because they literally accepted anyone who said they were available and wanted to do it.  And as I studied the piece over February break in Florida, I could see why they didn’t have a lot of takers:

  • The chorus sings only in the last 8-10 minutes of a 70 minute piece.
  • The piece is rarely performed, because the piano solo is very hard, the orchestra is huge, and it’s hard to get together a chorus just for that last little bit.
  • The piece is not particularly loved or critically acclaimed.  It’s tonal, at least, but certainly not as remarkable as other choral works.
  • Our rehearsal schedule involves four trips into town before two daytime orchestra rehearsals and a Friday afternoon concert, meaning lots of work and home schedule disruption.
  • Each trip is 1-2 hours of rehearsal, for about four minutes of singing.  So not counting travel time, we’ll basically average more than an hour of prep for each minute, before the orchestra.
  • One of the composer’s goals was for the chorus to be almost invisible, just another texture added to the orchestra.  In fact, usually they’re an off-stage chorus.

Pretty bleak, eh?  Those were the thoughts rumbling in my head as I traveled to the very first rehearsal upon returning from vacation.  Why do I do concerts like this?  Why do any of us do it?

Over the course of those three rehearsal and tonight’s piano rehearsal with Maestro Oramo, I’ve reflected on the answers to that question…  because, wow, there are a lot of them.  Why do we do it?  Because:

  • The piece actually is very beautiful.  (You can hear the part we sing in on YouTube here.)
  • All men’s choruses are fun.  Especially when we get to sing hashed so we can truly blend with each other.
  • I get free voice lessons and German diction lessons from musicians Who Know This Sort Of Thing.
  • I’m an extrovert who loves being on a stage, and who loves being around people I don’t see as often.
  • I love any activity that involves a group of people working together to achieve something they couldn’t achieve individually.
  • It’s yet another opportunity to be in “flow” when you know the music so well that you are completely in the zone, immersed in everything around you, enraptured.
  • Everyone else at these rehearsals wants to be here too.  There’s no glamour in being in this piece.  So everyone in the chorus wants to make great music.
  • For that victorious moment at the rehearsal with the conductor, where he looks up after about 30 minutes of work and, slightly stunned, says, “Actually I…. I’m really, really happy with this,” and dismisses you early.

Ultimately, though, the answer is this: Music is my religion.  The chorus room is my church.  And the concert hall stage is my cathedral.  I’ll take advantage of every opportunity to worship that I can.

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