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How can I keep from singing

January 12, 2010

You’re in luck, because I finally have something else to talk about!

A week or so ago, I got an email from my most favorite classical music DJ. I like him so much that I started a fan club for him on Facebook. He has a great sense of humor and love and knowledge of music and he is on every morning in this house. But the best thing he did for me (and forgive me, because I’ve told this story before) is make me a recording of a string quartet version of the University of Michigan fight song so I could give it to my father for his birthday (as it turned out, he got the recording and a bonus grandson that day, so it was a pretty good day for him all around).

Anyway, this DJ has been serving on a board with a good friend of mine. My friend J and I lived across the hall from each other for years and, since we had the whole floor and our front and back doors faced each other, we were essentially roommates. We spent a lot of late nights sitting on our shared fire escape landing with cigarettes and beer and bowls of macaroni and cheese and a lot of sunny afternoons shredding the Bach double in my living room. We went to grad school together and we worked together when we both dropped out (I later went back, but that’s another story). And when I got married, she was my maid of honor. J and the DJ have become good friends and tomorrow is her fortieth birthday so he’s dedicating an hour of his broadcast to her favorite pieces and blasts from her musical past.

Part of her musical past includes a number of years singing for a choir I founded and conducted in the 1990s. The choir started almost accidentally. I was singing in a couple of choirs at the university and the director (of both groups) decided to do a small festival of Spanish music. I asked him if he’d considered performing Victoria’s Ave Maria, which is one of my favorite choral pieces. He said no, but if I wanted to conduct it, he’d add it.

And that was the beginning of my choral conducting career. I put together a small ensemble of singers from the choir. We had so much fun working on that piece, that we decided to keep singing together. The following fall we held auditions and began singing together weekly. We sang together for 6 or 7 years. J was a charter member, as were Green-Eyed Siren and Permanent Qui Vive.

That choir was the center of my life –all our lives, I think — during that time and I’m really proud of much of the work that we did. The first full length concert we did was hugely challenging and we rehearsed for months. We performed it in a tiny gem of a chapel across from the music building. We walked around the neighborhood and put up posters ourselves, divvying up the streets between us. The night of that first concert, we were expecting a few of our friends and relatives. But it was way more than that. More than 200 people came and paid money to see a completely untried group perform. We didn’t know who most of them were or where they came from.

We’d worked so hard for that first one, that it was exactly as we wanted it to be. We picked all our favorites. Debussy’s Trois Chansons. A trio of Machaut chansons. Excerpts from Josquin’s Missa Pange Lingua (if I remember correctly, although I might not). The last piece on the program was the Victoria Ave Maria. I will never forget the moment it finished and the applause started. And it didn’t stop. We were completely unprepared for this. We didn’t have an encore. I’ve never been prouder of anything I did. I remember thinking that if this was the last artistic thing I ever did, I’d be okay with that because this was good. I’m still kicking myself for not getting a proper recording. But maybe it’s better that way. The memory is more perfect. Recordings never are.

When my favorite classical music DJ emailed me (remember him?), he asked if I had any recordings of our group that he could play. I dug out my old recordings. Most of them are on cassette. CDs were available then, but more than we could afford. The later ones were on DAT. One of the random people who showed up at our first concert was a doctor at the University hospital who was also an audiophile. He volunteered to record our concerts and did it for free for years. He had the DAT machine. I have three DATs for concerts I can’t listen to.

For the last concert that we recorded, though, we performed a piece that was part of a composer friend’s doctoral thesis, so we hired a professional. He gave me a CD, the only recording of the group that I have the technology to play. I remember that concert as the weakest of our history. Our tenor section, always a revolving door, was hit hard when Permanent Qui Vive left town. The replacements were less confident. And one of our basses got sick before the performance, so we dragged in a ringer. But the repertoire also didn’t hang together as well as it should. So I haven’t listened to this recording in a long time. It’s definitely not perfect and a couple of pieces have serious problems. But it was still a joy to listen to. We had a good thing going there for a while. I wish we’d been able to get radio airtime when we were still singing. Maybe we would have taken it somewhere.

I burned a duplicate of the CD for the DJ and fedexed it out yesterday afternoon. I got the word today that he was going to play a track tomorrow. And so this afternoon, I had the pleasure of contacting as many former members of the group as I could find to tell them to listen to the radio (or their computers) tomorrow morning. I’m kind of excited about it. Those singers were the best and I miss them all. I’m looking forward to hearing them one more time over my morning coffee.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Eleanor permalink
    January 13, 2010 10:53 am

    Wow! That’s a great story. I would love to get together with people I sang with in university. You know, you can have those cassettes and DATs converted to a more usable format. Check with your university’s media centre. It might not even cost you anything.

  2. January 13, 2010 11:07 am

    Thank you for the compliments. For “confident”, read “he was always certain, yet seldom right”. That was a good time. I still remember singing “O Serpent, how full of surprises art thou! Thou look’st like a snake, yet sound’st like a cow.”

  3. January 13, 2010 12:53 pm

    I think that’s one of the concerts I have on DAT. Another one, I was surprised to discover, is one of our Christmas concerts, which I’ve never even heard. I’ve definitely got to get these transferred over before the technology disappears completely. Eleanor, I can’t believe I didn’t think that I could use the university for that, but I’m sure you’re right. I’ve done it before for transferring VHS to DVD for a paper I was giving and it was totally free.

  4. Mrs. PQV permalink
    January 13, 2010 1:35 pm

    (bashes husband with pillow)

    How well I remember that concert – it really was amazing.

    How well I also remember meeting all of you for drinks after rehearsals! 🙂

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