The Holy Archangels
One of my favorite things about the parish I attend is their choir. They sing both enthusiastically and well (two things that do not always go together). Plus, they sing really good music, throwing in pieces from The Messiah, or a little something by Bach, you know, just for kicks and giggles. I inquired about joining the choir back when I first started going to St. Anthony’s, but gave it up when I found out they rehearsed on Wednesday nights. At the time Wednesday nights were sacred to swing dancing, and doing anything else was unthinkable. But things change. The unthinkable happened, and I found myself staying home on Wednesday nights more than I went dancing. Still for a long time I wasn’t willing to completely give up the idea of going dancing, which would be implied if I actually signed up for another commitment on the same night.
Then last October I suddenly found myself in a hospital bed getting a blood transfusion and contemplating what was to be the first of two surgeries. I decided then that when (not if) I got better, I was going to join the choir. It took me a little longer to get there than I had hoped, but one Sunday in August after 10am Mass, I made my way up the windy stairs to the choir loft, and informed the choir director that I wanted to be one of them. She told me that was lovely, rehearsals started the first Wednesday after Labor Day, and she would see me then. She did see me then, and every Wednesday since.
I’ve been singing with the choir for three Sundays now, and I absolutely love it. Everyone else has been in the choir for approximately forever. The lady I sat next to my first day told me she had been in the choir for 34 years, and had been in the youth choir before that. She moved to another city about half an hour away, but she’s still in choir. Because everyone has been there for so long, the issue of where you sit and what hymnal you use is a Very Big Deal. Right now I am allowed to sit in the front row because the lady who usually occupies that seat is out sick for a while. She’s expected back any Sunday now, and then I will have to move to a seat in the 2nd row, which is open because its previous occupant is now dead (this or extreme ill health seem to be the only way that anyone ever leaves the choir). The hymnal I use has the initials MAI on it. I was given to understand that it was ok for me to use that book on a regular basis, since MAI has retired from the choir. However, if she ever comes back to sing with the choir for a special occasion, it’s her hymnal, and she gets it back. I find all of this rather hilarious, and I kinda hope she does come back, just so I can meet the woman who really owns my hymnal. I wonder where she sits?
Since the choir has been singing together for so long, they have a huge repertoire of songs under their belt. So rehearsal for them is usually not so much about learning the songs as refreshing everyone’s memory. At our first rehearsal, they passed out a piece by Bach. We breezed through it a couple of times, the choir director corrected a couple of little things, and then announced that we would be performing that one on Sunday. We did, handed the sheet music back in, and haven’t seen it since. There are a few things we see more than once, usually the pieces by modern composers who are overly enamored of throwing extra sharps in every once in a while just to make sure the choir is still awake (we give their names on the cover narrow-eyed looks, like a sort of choir loft voodoo). All this means is that I’m sight-reading about 90% of the time, especially on the basic hymns, which we usually don’t rehearse at all. After all, we’ve all sung them 1000 times, right? Except this is the choir version, which has parts you’ve never seen before, and you’re expected to sing that, not the melody you could sing in your sleep. This is when belonging to a family who thinks Happy Birthday should be sung in 10 or 11 part harmony comes in really, really handy. So I do apologize for butchering the alto part the first time through I Am The Bread Of Life last Sunday – it took me a run through or two to get it down.
So, you know, I’m having the time of my life. And it’s going to get better. Last week I got an email from the choir director asking me if I might perhaps have any interest in cantoring. And, well, yeah! The schedule is already set between now and December, so it won’t be for a while. But when it comes, it will be awesome.
Today I am praying for Lydia Simon.