Friday, November 26, 2004

choral encounters of the third kind

"Mondays at 5:30", the sign read. "STU Choir meets. We need new people!" I, as anyone who's ever shared a kitchen with me knows, love to sing. I can't read music, though, and the last time I sung in a choir was in Grade 6. (Mrs. Green formed a little group to do some carols at the yearly Christmas concert.) So, I made my way to the chapel at 5:30 that first Monday, and found a wonderful, diverse little group of singers. There are the 'hardcores' who have been there a few years, know what every note and mark means, and who can hit a perfect pitch without trying. Then there's the other end of the spectrum, the people like me, who know they like music and singing, but are really new to this whole system of 'mezzo-forte' and measures and phrases.

Every Monday since, and most Saturdays too, I have met with the choir in the chapel. It is empty when we gather on the small stage where the lectern sits, and we look out over quiet pews as we sing. We've been practicing Christmas carols; some are in Catalan, a version of Spanish. Some are in Olde English. Some are 1950's style: "Come on, it's lovely weather/for a sleigh ride together with you! (Jingle tingle jingle tingle...)"

We would start a song by passing out the sheet music. To me, at first, it looked a crazy heap of black scribbles, little obscure markings in the corners, neat yet incomprehensible patterns formed by the notes. We would begin with the sopranos, my section, who usually have the melody. Then the altos would practice their more complicated parts, harmonies and all that. There were at best three boys, but they didn't always all show. So, sometimes we would have tenors and bass, and sometimes we wouldn't. When we didn't, sometimes we'd hum their part.

Slowly, the song would built from phrases to sections to the whole thing, and we would stand and with our backs straight, abdomens steady, put our hearts into them. Often, there would be mistakes--messing up a note, a cue--but over time we'd smooth those things out.

Yesterday, we all met in the SUB (Students Union Building), along with the UNB choir. We were dressed in black slacks and colored tops. We assembled, and were directed by the indomitable Anne Hewson (with her best hand flourishes) through our program. Friends and strangers had gathered to listen to us. I even had a little part in a descant, Rose and I for one complete musical phrase had a different melody than the rest. No solo, I know, but still--I was nervous.

The choir has one more concert--Sunday night we will sing in the chapel, for the midnight mass. This is the chapel where we have practiced so many hours, to solemn pews, to each other, to the high ceiling and the huge windows. Sunday night there will be people, the faithful come to celebrate the holiday. The chapel will be lit with candles and electricity and we will sing for them, "Gloria, in excelsius deo, gloria" and after that the choir will come to an end. Anne Hewson is simply too busy to do it anymore. No doubt we will all keep singing, in our kitchens, in small groups, in other choirs. But for this year, the STU choir has lived a bright and short life. It has taught me the subtlety required to be part of a vibrant group, to contribute and to temper yourself. It has taught me about music, though I still can't sight-read. It has taught me about joy, and inner voice. For that, I am most grateful.

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