This semester I’m doing chorale at Haverford, which is awesome. Because the art history department is pretty centered at Bryn Mawr, I don’t often get the chance to get to Haverford for classes. Most of my academic bi-co career has been oriented around music, which has been great. Our first performance was on Saturday in honor of family weekend and of Dan Weiss’s inauguration as the president of Haverford. Sidenote: totally amped to have a fellow art historian as Haverpres.
We were singing the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, which is a piece that I think is best described as epic or intense. It’s based on an effusive, uninhibited poem written by Schiller, one of Germany’s greatest poets. I’ll admit that Beethoven’s 9th has never spoken to me, but I’ve really come to love it by learning it. I’ve been singing in church and school choirs basically since forever, but this is kind of a new experience. The choir itself is much larger than any I’ve ever sung in, and we have more musical accompaniment than I’m used to. I would say the most striking thing about my experience on Saturday was singing behind an orchestra for the first time. It made me feel both bigger and smaller as a singer, and overall I really loved it.
Here are my three favorite things about singing behind an orchestra, in no particular order:
1. Listening to them warm up and tune their instruments. There’s something about the pleasantly discordant sound of an orchestra before a performance that fills me with an excited anticipation, like the feeling of an airplane about to take off, any and all Christmas music, or this fanfare. I remember going to the ballet as a child, which was one of my favorite activities, and feeling so excited and impatient as the orchestra warmed up in the pit. In this specific case, I could hear tiny strains of the piece we were about to sing and play together as they played bits of their parts which added to the feeling of anticipation.
2. Watching the bows dance around while the violins and violas pluck. They look like tall grass in the wind or festive people dancing at a party.
3. Watching the conductor manage an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. A secret about musical performances that involve conductors is that they’re dance as well as musical performances. What was really exciting about this was seeing our conductor’s face– usually if a conductor is facing me they’re conducting a small choir or a church congregation, which means simple songs and no instruments. B9 (can I call Beethoven’s 9th that?) is an emotionally tumultuous piece so our conductor was key in conveying what our mood as musicians should sound like with his face, which was fun. There was also something great about seeing him right as the piece was ending. We’ve all been working hard since school started to get this right, and he just looked really happy and satisfied.
Oh, and obviously I loved getting applause at the end of our performance. I guess that goes without saying.