For so many of us in the classical vocal arts, one of the prime directives that we give ourselves early on is to strive to become a soloist, or principal artist, in the industry. It is a long, hard, scary, and extremely lonely road. Once achieved–if achieved, comes a whole host of new problems attached to that status: long-term viability, “flavor of the month” complex, vocal health concerns, sex-appeal sustainability, repertoire shifts, ego/self esteem issues, and sometimes the need for moment-to-moment validation (in extreme cases).
There are periods, however, when we also look back to “simpler times” when we were still in striving mode, and a wistful smile usually crosses our face. For those were the times when we were also struggling to “survive”; that is to say…pay for school, get our studies done on time, work two or three jobs, pay our rent, hope that our usually crappy cars didn’t require an expensive repair, etc, etc, etc; and of course, worrying about the next audition or competition! Along that vein ran the need for many of us to sing in church choirs, usually with the obligatory Thursday night rehearsal, or an extra-early Sunday morning appearance (or both) to earn money, while plying our craft a bit at the same time. At this time of year–Christmastide–we were often presented with a wide range of holiday music that was certain to touch many souls no matter how trite or sophisticated. Olde English Christmas Madrigals, simple Christmas Carols, the Christmas portion of The Messiah, or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, all hold special places in people’s hearts.
At the Old South Church in Boston, where I sang for a few years while studying at Boston University, we were told up-front that in order to accept the job (which paid well as far as church jobs go…and did NOT have a Thursday night rehearsal) we had to be available to sing the late Christmas Eve service–no Ifs, Ands, or Buts; as Fred MacArthur (the music director at that time) didn’t fool around. The result was nothing that ever fell short of pure Christmas magic. A stunningly beautiful church, a dignified service, and the most beautifully programmed choral music I think I have ever consistently sung. When the service ended, everyone walked out with a sense of peace and loving security, including–or perhaps especially–those of us who sang this wonderfully composed/arranged music. We knew that we contributed mightily to the enjoyment of the service as a collective…not as a star soloist, but ultimately, just as a humble musical participant. It felt really good; but as the years pass, many of us no longer participate in church choirs, or gathered vocal ensembles…much of it having to do with our need to move around from city to city to earn a living.
But oh, how I miss singing that Christmas music, and the unassuming contribution I made to those ‘magical’ services as an ensemble member. In a way, there was nothing quite like it!!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,