I have been thinking about this story for a long time. Like, well over a year. People often tell cute stories about meeting idols and coming to some kind of realization while singing, but these stories are all connected thanks to one thing: my tear ducts.
The First Time: Finale to Symphony #2: Resurrection, Mostly Mahler, May 2011
I joined The Washington Chorus in January 2010. It was a trial by fire; my first half-season involved three of the major Requiems and some seriously crazy baroque music. So by the time I got around to the second season, the five concert layout for the full season seemed pretty light.
So in the Spring of 2011, I started learning a lot of music I had never even heard before, let alone sung. Among these were the first half of the Veni Creator Spiritus, an act of an opera that Mahler completed, several short pieces, and the Finale of the Resurrection Symphony, Auf erstehen. I prepared with professional recordings and went to all of the rehearsals, but it wasn’t until the orchestra rehearsal that I really grasped the intense emotion that comes from producing those sounds together.
So there it was, the day of the concert. This Finale would be ours as well, as really, you can’t follow that with anything else. The piece begins very quiet, and then builds until there is such an overwhelming amount of sound and harmony as the orchestra brings the piece to a conclusion at the end. The adrenaline had been building, and building, and then I had to stand there and wait for the last fifty bars. I wanted to curl up and cry. But I was good and just waited.
And then I went home and collapsed.
The Second Time: Testimony, The Wizard and I, May 2013
Two years later, I got to be a part of an NSO Pops concert featuring four Broadway superstars. It was a tribute to Stephen Schwartz (who made an appearance!) and the tenth anniversary of Wicked on Broadway. There were some power songs, and overall it was a whole lot of fun. I got to meet Norm Lewis and Jeremy Jordan, I got to hear Julia Murney sing “Shadowlark”, and I got to experience the process of learning and producing “Testimony.”
“Testimony” is Stephen Schwartz’s contribution to the It Gets Better project, and it’s a doozy. Written for chorus (originally TTBB but then for SATB), it has two halves: the first runs the gamut of the feelings of so many young people, questioning or not; the second is a more uplifting reflection on what the speaker might have missed, if they had acted upon those feelings.
By the time of the performance, I had it memorized. It was such a poignant piece, and so current, and so heartfelt, it was hard not to feel it personally. So by the time we were there, singing to thousands of people (three times, I might remind you), with feedback coming from the conductor, who himself seemed to be affected by it, it was hard not to feel a tightness in my chest and a squeezing in my throat by the end. This time, we were just done at the end of it and could sit down with the lights off and process. And I really had to process after that. Every single time. But damn, I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything.
The Tears: Almighty Father, Made in America, June 2014
Made in America was the final concert I did with The Washington Chorus. After nearly getting my five year pin but cutting it short because of a need to be economically satisfied and environmentally happy, I had established relationships, friendships, and a hell of a vocal repertoire. I had become a better singer and a better, well rounded person with this group, and this was the last time I would experience being surrounded by these voices. The first half would be a newly cut concert version of Bernstein’s Mass and the second half was a concoction of several modern pieces by mostly living choral composers.
And then, at the end of the first half, there they were.
If you haven’t heard the Bernstein Mass, you will in a second. But let me explain what makes it so conducive to tears.
The bookends of a lot of different feelings and forms of expression is a close-harmonied, lightly accompanied hymn. The vibrations between nearly 400 people producing those sounds are tangible. So when you’re not only an empath, but you are also…whatever you call someone who is overly affected by music, that kind of energy just breaks you.
Music is one of my lifelines. It makes my heart sing…but it can also make me exhausted and overwhelmed.
And that’s one of its wonders.