Recently I was invited to join a group of singers who sing together regularly. They needed another second alto for an upcoming concert. I agreed to participate, but only for this one concert. I did not want to commit to any future involvement due to other responsibilities I already had on my plate. For several weeks, we rehearsed every Tuesday evening and Sunday afternoon. The final week before the concert, rehearsals were scheduled for two evenings and one afternoon. What I soon found was that I looked forward to every rehearsal. The music grew on me like wool grows on a lamb.
The pieces selected by the conductor were Requiem by John Rutter, Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Breitten, and Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I knew nothing about any of these composers, nor had I ever heard the music before. I learned that Rutter completed his Requiem in 1985. It has the most gorgeous Kyrie Eleison section that still haunts me many days after our performance. A soprano soloist from our local Opera Company sang the Pie Jesu, with a quiet choral commentary accompanying her. The whole work is burned into my brain and I find that just humming sections of it causes my shoulders to go down and my breathing to slow. I quote from John Bawden's notes: "Though it necessarily has its dark moments, Rutter's Requiem is unmistakably optimistic in its message of hope and comfort, expressed through the beauty of the chosen texts and Rutter's uplifting music. It is not entirely surprising that after the tragic events of 9/11 it was this setting of the Requiem that was the preferred choice of music at the many memorial services which followed across the USA."
Our second selection was Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten. I was prepared not to like this difficult piece, but I grew to love it. The words are crazy. They are taken from a lengthy poem by Christopher Smart, who happened to be in an asylum at the time he wrote the poem. Here's what I learned. Each creation on earth, in its own way, has the ability to appreciate blessings and beauty, and to be a blessing, and to be beautiful. Smart talks about his cat, Jeoffry, who winds his body seven times around with elegant quickness, worshipping God and there is nothing sweeter than Joeffry's peace when at rest. Then Smart goes on to the mouse, the flowers, and the many instruments. Once I got the hang of this piece, I loved it. Plus it caused me to think deeply about all creation and to rest in the knowledge that I am blessed and I can bless others in turn in many ways.
The Five Mystical Songs were written between 1906 and 1911. The work sets to music four poems by George Herbert, from his 1633 collection The Temple: Sacred Poems. Herbert was a Welsh born English poet and Anglican priest. I didn't get as much out of these pieces as the first two works, but they were still beautiful. However, as our conductor, Russell McKinney, wrote "The final song "Antiphon" is a triumphant hymn of priase, repeating as its antiphon "Let all the world in every corner sing, My God and King." It was a moving climax to the entire concert.
We had forty choir persons, five soloists from our local Opera Company, and seven instrumentalists including persons playing flute, oboe, cello, harp, glockenspiel, timpani, and organ. Wow! Approximately 150 people turned out for the concert.
I am deeply grateful that my neighbor knocked on my door that night and invited me to "fill in" as a second alto. Yes, it was worth the time to practice. I gained so much peace of mine and shere enjoyment of the music from the experience. I also find myself filled with hope for the future. As a little side-bar, memorizing all of those words, especially the really fast sections in Britten about Nimrod, et al, improved my memory, I'm sure!