Music moves me every day. Sometimes in subtle ways; sometimes the emotion of it is almost more than I can hold.
It depends on the day … and on the piece of music.
The Weekly Writing Challenge has asked us to write about being moved by music. This is a challenge for me as much of my life has been moved and shaped by lots of different kinds of music. In this post I can only touch on a few things.
I love how music lives in us forever
As I negotiate the middle years it amazes me how the memory of a moment from my past, and all the feelings that go with it, can be triggered by a simple melody and a few memorable words.
I don’t understand the science behind hit. All I know is that the music (as well as books, movies, etc.) we absorb lives with us forever. It is a powerful emotive force that can build up or, tear down. Like all living things it has its good, bad and ugly. It is why I am so careful about what I tune into. These vibrations colour my life forever.
Lately, I’m finding myself downloading from iTunes songs I’ve heard on the 70s satellite radio channel. “Oh, I remember that song!” And I sing along as if no time has passed, the words and vocal nuance as alive in me today as they were 35 years ago. I tuck the tune in the forefront of my memory band for replay whenever the spirit moves. I am 15 again.
1977 seems to be a key year. Hotel California (The Eagles); Dance with Me (Orleans); Reminiscing (Little River Band) and, of course, many, many more. Their music was a panacea for me at a difficult time. I don’t focus on the angst. I focus on the melodic turn; the harmonic counterpoint; the catchy words, and smile.
Though I loved the popular songs of the day, I was raised in a home glowing with classical music. All through my formative years, my mother was a soprano on the international stage, with a base at the English National Opera in London’s West End. Opera was the music culture I grew up in. Rock was my rebellion.
I made my own operatic debut at the tender age of five in the children’s chorus of the Canadian Opera Company’s 1967 production of Harry Somer’s Louis Riel. I might have had a music career of my own were it not for a series of unfortunate events that quickly followed, including my parents’ divorce and our move to London. Mine was not a happy childhood.
I was a child lost in shadows.
Later in life, however, I found my own venues for musical expression.
I’ve always loved music that begged me to go fishing
In the rock genre Genesis, Pink Floyd, and the Eagles provided lots of opportunity to dig deep for the incidental lines, or hum along with a rhythmic bass. I loved singing along with the Eagles’ harmonies. I’ve always loved the harmonic line.
I loved the blending of voices creating layered depths of beautiful uplifting sound. My dream was to sing in a large choral ensemble.
I started in church choirs. I had some training (grade V piano and some theory), but it was my natural musicality that always saw me through. Though I can read music I’m terrible with the numbers behind it all. Math was never my strong suit, so I learned a lot by feel. After all these years I still don’t get how a time signature works. I’m a feeling singer. I can’t explain it.
Still, at the age of 27, and after years of slogging it out in church choirs, I finally had my chance to audition for a large choral ensemble. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Canada’s premier large choral ensemble, was looking for singers to join its ranks.
I’d done few auditions in my life. Growing up in a shadow makes it painful to step into the light. But after humming and hawing for a couple of days I finally concluded “If not now, when?” Did I really want to live to regret a step not taken just because I was afraid of it? I didn’t want to look back 10 years later and wonder “What if?”
So, with some coaching from my mother I prepared the set soprano audition piece (Rejoice Greatly from Handel’s Messiah) and gave it my best shot.
I’d never acted so confident in my life. Elmer Iseler, the Choir’s conductor at the time, was a larger than life character, yet somehow I felt at ease. Perhaps it was my nothing-to-lose attitude that saw me through. I struggled with the sight reading test (never my strong suit); nailed the ear tests and delivered the aria with relative confidence. Even if I received a rejection letter six weeks later I at least had given myself the thrill of the chase.
The letter arrived. “Congratulations on being welcomed into the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for its 1989/90 season.” Talk about being moved.
I sang in the Choir for 12 years, re-auditioning every year. It was the standard requirement of all returning choristers and it never got any easier. Unless life got in the way everyone wanted to come back for the next season. No one wanted to be released because the conductor didn’t think they had the pipes anymore.
I’ll never forget my first rehearsal
The rehearsal venue at Roy Thomson Hall was filled to capacity with 180 singers all set out in their respective sections ~ Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass. The great curtain of sound descended first with the singing of Godfrey Ridout’s thrilling arrangement of O Canada, followed in short order by the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah ~ and this was just the warm-up.
If the purpose of starting with these two iconic pieces was to blow the new-comers away, it succeeded. It was overwhelming to the point of tears. There I was, nestled in the soprano section with the altos singing from across the room, and the basses and tenors booming beside me. A vast, warm melange of vocal harmony enveloped me.
With each rehearsal I found myself more enthralled. That I should be part of such an experience was incredible to me. I recall all the happy, studious, joyous faces eager to make beautiful music together. One hundred and eighty men and women from various walks of life, of various political and religious stripes, leaving their differences behind and moving each other, and audiences, through the great choral masterworks. Beautiful, heart warming, rapturous, uplifting, life affirming, glorious music.
The journey to performance was a veritable roller coaster ride. Studious exasperation during difficult passages. (The roller coaster runs in any Bach work come to mind, or anything exposed in a cappella). Relief when we got it right. The scratching of pencil lead across the page as we all made notations ~ lines through edited passages; circles around difficult notes; changes in vocal colour, tempo; switches from one vocal line to another ~ all things designed by the conductor to convey to us, his instrument, the vision he had for a particular work.
Consider Messiah, for instance
During my 12-year tenure with the Choir we worked with many esteemed conductors all of whom had their own interpretation of how Messiah should sound. Large orchestra or chamber orchestra. Up tempo and sprightly, or profoundly slower and stately. We even performed the Mozart version. Choruses were included and excluded according to the considered whim of the conductor.
And then there were the up-stands and the down-sits. One conductor might want us to stand in an appropriate moment several bars ahead of the upbeat of a particular chorus, while another preferred us to rise to the occasion with only notes to spare.
Every season a new set of notes scribbled over the erasure marks of an old set. For many in the Choir, including myself, Messiah was such old hat we welcomed a new conductor’s interpretation just to keep us sharp. (No pun intended.)
I had the same score for 12 years and sang the work in more than 60 performances. When I left the Choir and returned my score to the librarian it was like parting with an old friend.
Music is, of course, a universal language that speaks to us all. One of the great challenges of performing the great masterworks is singing in a variety of languages.
It is a privilege, I feel, to experience the beauty of language through music. Even the English language takes on a delicious flavour when peppered with notes in a choral feast.
I loved singing in Latin. It’s such a lyrical language and wraps around the notes so easily. The requiem masses were mostly in Latin. Among my favourites are the requiems of Mozart, Verdi and Fauré. Brahms’ gorgeous requiem is in German.
Other languages we tackled frequently included French, Russian and, occasionally, Czech.
To move our audiences through music and word was an incredible feeling.
Perhaps some of the most memorable moments occurred when we performed a capella. Keeping such a large choir tuned while performing without instrumental support is no mean feat. It’s incredibly stressful, in fact. However, it’s also magical. The washes of vocal sound so potent; so powerful that sometimes it was all I could do to stay focused on the music and not trip in a puddle of rapturous emotion.
Among my favourites: The Rachmaninov Vespers particularly the Ave Maria; Henry Purcell’s Hear My Prayer, O Lord; C.V Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via, and Morten Lauridsen’s divine O Magnum Mysterium. Listening to these lovely pieces makes me so wistful for my choral days.
I miss singing this beautiful music, but it’s not where my life is right now. So, I allow it to reach me through listening, and that must be enough.
To close, I’ll leave you with The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in rehearsal under the direction of their current conductor, Noel Edison, singing Eric Whitacre’s divine Lux Aurumque a piece, regrettably, I never had a chance to sing.
I know classical music, or even choral music, is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it lives on in my heart and continues to colour my life in so many beautiful and uplifting ways. It will continue to do so until my days are done.
If you have read this through to the end, thank you. I have had fun reliving some music moments that have moved me. Now you might have a sense of how music has shaped my life. And this isn’t even the half of it …
If you have listened to any of the links I’ve furnished here, please comment on how they might have moved you.
Thank you for visiting …
©Dorothy Chiotti, Aimwell CreativeWorks 2013
Others Moved by Music