In my living room, above the stereo cabinet, there are two framed posters advertising choral concerts. One of these commemorates my very first performance of Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem... not with the Seminary Master Chorale, but with the combined choirs and orchestra of Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
I never majored in music. I was a very serious English major who spent a lot of time around music departments. I joined choirs, accompanied soloists, even learned to play the clarinet well enough to join the band. I never missed a chance to attend a classical concert, even if it meant driving around Lake Michigan to Chicago and getting back in the early hours of the morning. But I was a musical dilettante–-a moderately skilled pianist, a sixth-chair clarinet, a soprano not quite good enough to sing in the university’s elite ensemble. Despite my love for music, I knew it would always be only a hobby, not a profession.
One early evening in May 1988, I walked across campus to rehearse Brahms’ Requiem at the campus church. Glorious spring had come to Michigan, bringing clear blue skies, light winds, and temperatures in the low 70s. The flower beds along the sidewalks were a mass of brilliant color. I had successfully defended my Master’s thesis, and I was on my way to rehearse what had already become one of my very favorite works of music. In a mood of absolute joy and contentment, I thought: Oh, I wish I could spend my whole life going to rehearsals and performances!
I should have known that someday I would recall that moment in the glaring light of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” And so I did, the first week of March 2001. The Fort Worth Symphony had performed 29 education concerts in the six weeks prior to that, and as the FWSO Education Coordinator, I had some responsibility for all of them. Teaching materials, maps, reservations, payments, seating charts, buses, ushers, contests, prizes... endless details, non-stop phone calls. There were more education events to come later in March, too. And in the middle of this–-the first week in March–-were three performances of Brahms’ Requiem with a well-known guest conductor.
As the Chorus member on the FWSO staff, I was the conductor’s chauffeur during that wet, cold week. The visiting maestro had some sort of flu, and so I drove him not only to rehearsals but also to the doctor and several pharmacies. As the poor man wheezed and hacked in the passenger seat of my car, I feared that I would catch whatever he had and be unable to sing a note that weekend... or even have to take off work the next week, and fall even further behind.
I still loved Brahms’ Requiem, but I didn’t want to sing it that weekend. I wanted to drive away with my husband to someplace warmer and drier, bask in the sun, and forget about rehearsals and performances for a few days.
Of course I stayed, like a dutiful chorus member--put on my black dress, went on stage with my old, worn score that had “Andrews University Department of Music” stamped on the cover, and sang all three performances.
It would not be honest to say that those performances were the most memorable of all my years in Chorus. But something did happen during that weekend. I don’t know exactly when or how–-but sometime between the first notes on Friday evening and the last on Sunday afternoon, I found joy in the music again. I remembered that it was a privilege and a delight to sing with this choir.
In the final movement of Jonathan Willcocks’ From Darkness to Light, Ryland Baldwin’s moving text says, “Dawn comes, not like thunder, but slyly, as in a motion, slow.” Sometimes the joy of music overpowers me, overwhelms me, like the mighty Sanctus of Verdi’s Requiem. Other times it whispers, like the last hushed word of Brahms’ great masterpiece: Selig. Blessed. And I remember to thank God that a wish I made, more than 20 years ago on a glorious spring evening in Michigan, actually came true.
NOTE: This article will be included in the February/March 2009 issue of Choral Connections, the newsletter of the Southwestern Seminary Oratorio Chorus.
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