Podcast version (sound affects included!) available here: http://www.dulcimerdude.com/Choir_Bootcamp_Final_3.mp3
Christmas Concert Recordings available here: http://dulcimerdude.com/dulcimer_dude/christmas_choral_music
Have you ever felt in over your head, and wanted to give up before you even really tried? Back in 1989 I found myself in that situation. I’m glad to say, I faced that challenge, and experienced some of the most incredible moments of my life.
A friend of mine, who I sang with in a medieval themed glee club, encouraged me to try out for a choir. Knowing that my friend was a music student in university, I took his suggestion as a compliment, and decided to give it a try. It turned out that joining this choir was not a simple matter and required that I audition for the available spot.
On the day of the audition, the conductor himself put me through my paces: Singing basic scales, repeating a short passage he played on a piano, and, a solo performance of my choice. It all happened so fast, I never had the chance to let my nervousness take over. The conductor thanked me for my efforts, and politely informed me they would call me if I was accepted into the choir.
Two weeks later, the choir’s secretary called, and I received the news I was accepted into the choir. I was also invited to attend a weekend country retreat on Labor Day weekend. Flash forward to Labor Day Friday, after a long day of work, we all arrived to the location of our retreat. I imagined we would start up a campfire, roast a few hot dogs and marshmallows, and maybe sing a few campfire songs. I could not have been more wrong.
Instead of starting a nice campfire, we were all marched into the main hall. I felt like I was in bootcamp, instead of a countryside retreat. Once we were all seated, the conductor began to pass out booklets. Up until that point in my life, the only music I had ever played was in high-school, and singing simple medieval tunes with my friends. This sheet music I was now looking at was much more intricate and advanced than anything I’d ever seen before.
Immediately after everyone received their booklets, the conductor began to warm up the choir with various vocal excercises. Panic began to set in, and I was hoping we would get to hear the songs BEFORE we rehearsed them. I was wrong. Again. The conductor raised his baton and said, “Now, please open the first booklet, a piece composed by Dieterich Buxtehude.”
Before I could think “Oh, oh, what have you gotten yourself into”, rehearsal began. That evening, we rehearsed from 7:00pm until 10:00pm with a 15 minute break in the middle. Three hours of singing is not that long when you think of it, but, most of us had day jobs. Friday had been a long day for most of us.
Then came Saturday: After an early breakfast, we practiced from 9:00am until Noon. We then ate lunch and went back to practice from 1:30pm until 4:30pm. After supper, we rehearsed again from 6:00pm until 10:00pm. In all we sang for nine full hours that Saturday. Heading up to my sleeping quarters, I thought a nice hot shower would revive me. Then I would try to find that campfire I had been thinking about. Wrong. Again.
It turned out I would never have made it, even if the mythical campfire/wienie roast/singalong actually existed. Stepping into the shower, I realized how bone tired I was, and actually started feeling a little dizzy. I knelt down to avoid actually falling over. My eyelids felt like heavy stones, and started to close, as my body demanded I get some rest, NOW. With the nice warm water enveloping me, I lay down in the tub, and fell fast asleep.
When I woke up again the shower was still nice and warm. I must have been asleep at least thirty minutes, if my wrinkly and raisin-like fingertips were any indication. Walking out of the bathroom as I dried off, I barely made it to my bed. I literally fell face first on the pillow, and was fast asleep in no time.
That Sunday morning, after breakfast, we started rehearsing all over again. Thankfully, we finished at around 4:00pm, and we all headed home. After that retreat, we had weekly rehearsals. I still felt like a novice swimmer who just got kicked into the deep end of the pool AND told to race against experienced swimmers. However, no matter how difficult it was, quitting never entered my mind.
Then, something wonderful began to happen. Not only did I stop feeling like I was in over my head, I began to start feeling stronger in my singing abilities, and much much lighter in these new musical waters. By the time concert season arrived in December, there were times that singing in that choir was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to flying. No longer burdened by my arthritic pain, it felt like gravity itself had lost its grip on me. I was now floating like pure sound, just above the choir. Surrounded and supported by all the other voices. There was also the high that comes AFTER a concert.
It’s not so much the applause, but what the applause indicates: The audience enjoyed what you presented, and was moved enough to let you know. To this day, I remember how hard it was at the early rehearsals. But what I remember even more was how the effort, the will to keep on going, brought me such incredible experiences.