By Suzanne Mitchell
Singing the words of Anne Frank has reaffirmed the power of the libretto for our Symphonic Choir members. Each rehearsal has been an opportunity to experience a breadth of emotion. Soprano Suzanne Mitchell reflects on her lifelong journey with Anne Frank and preparing Annelies. Correspondence with Symphonic Choir Manager, Ann McNair, plus Suzanne’s personal reflections take us into the experience.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Dear Ann – Have the invitations to sing Annelies been sent out yet?
Yes, Annelies invites have been sent and will continue on a rolling basis.
Oh 🙁 …
I’m Jewish, if that helps… 🙂 …
And I grew up reading The Diary of Anne Frank…
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Dear Suzanne – Your eyes do not deceive! I write on Craig’s behalf to extend an invitation to sing in Annelies.
You are KIDDING ME. Seriously?? YAY!!! Thank you… I am SO grateful.
Seriously. Your gracious acceptance is perfect. 🙂
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Dear Ann – I cried tonight at rehearsal.
I saw – and it is hard not to cry. It shows the power of this music.
I hope I can sing this piece. I really want to… you know that…
You will be there, I know it.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Dear Ann – Well, I went to UT tonight to see the performance of The Diary of Anne Frank. It was very well done, and of course quite harrowing, especially at the end. I am sure that now as I sing Annelies, I will see scenes from the play in my mind’s eye. One interesting bit of synchronicity – when I got into my car after leaving the theater, still in a contemplative/melancholy mood, I turned on KMFA and heard a beautiful choir singing these words:
I will make this world of my devising
Out of a dream in my lonely mind.
I shall find the crystal of peace – above me
Stars I shall find.
In light of what I’d just experienced in the theater, It brought me to tears (or, rather, continued/revived the tears I’d shed during the play). And then, right after that, there was another piece – haunting music for strings – that also made me cry, and for which I had to sit in my driveway to hear the end. After the string music ended, the announcer said that it had been Kevin Puts’ “Lento Assai,” and that the choir before had been none other than Conspirare, performing “There Will be Rest” by Frank Ticheli. It was eerie that the music had fit so seamlessly into the mood created by the play…
You will be there, I know it…
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Dear Ann – I am so sorry – there must be some reason that I have delayed getting my Annelies blog to you. Something is holding me back, but I am not sure what, or why…
You will be there, I know it…
*Hineni*… “here I am”…
In the fall of 1970, I was twelve and a half years old, and in the 8th grade. There was a lot going on in the world. The Vietnam war was well underway (the My Lai massacre had happened earlier in the year); Apollo 13 had nearly exploded in space; “four dead in O-HI-O…”
But to me, at the time, the most important thing was that all my friends were turning thirteen… bar and bat mitzvah age… and my biggest worries centered around that – would I be invited to the Saturday morning services? Would I be invited to the Saturday night parties? Who would give me a ride to those? What gifts would I need to buy, and how much babysitting would I need to do to earn enough money to buy them? And, of course – what on earth would I WEAR??
I focused on school, too, of course. I had to, because I’d known from back in the womb that I was expected to go to college and then graduate school and then become the likes of a doctor or lawyer… So when my English teacher told we would be reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I thought nothing of it, really – it was just another assignment. Apparently some kind of autobiographical thing. And since I loved to read, it would be a piece of cake, I thought.
I’d heard of Anne Frank, of course; every Jewish girl knew her name. But to be honest, I didn’t really know much about her. We’d read about Marie Curie in 6th grade, and Joan of Arc in 7th grade. And I’d been glued to the TV when Peggy Fleming won the gold medal in figure skating at the 1968 Olympics. I remember thinking that Anne Frank fell into the same category as those women: female heroines, or something like that.
One Saturday morning, when I didn’t have a bar mitzvah service to attend, I picked up the Diary and began to read. “Now I’m back to the point that prompted me to keep a diary in the first place: I don’t have a friend,” she’d written in the first few pages of her diary on Sunday, June 20, 1942, eight days after her 13th birthday. OK, I could certainly relate to that – I smiled, in fact, thinking that all thirteen-year-old girls obviously worried about the same kinds of things.
After I read the next few paragraphs, though, I wasn’t smiling any more, as I began to think that Anne and I were actually not alike. At all. Nor was Anne anything like my mother, who had been a nine-year-old girl in New York City when Anne first sat down with her diary at her desk in Holland. She was writing about things that I guess I’d read about in history class, but in a very different way than I remembered it: “After May 1940 the good times were few and far between… our freedom was severely restricted by a series of Anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star… Jews were forbidden to use streetcars… to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey courts or any other athletic fields… to go rowing… to sit in their gardens after 8 p.m….Jews were… Jews weren’t… Jews couldn’t…”
And then, just a few weeks later, on July 8: “It seems like years since Sunday morning. So much has happened it’s as if the whole world had suddenly turned upside down. But as you can see… I’m still alive, and that’s the main thing, Father says.”
Clearly, this was going to be somewhat of a different journey than I had imagined. For the next eight hours, I read on. I held my breath along with Anne and the others as they sat still all day, in the “secret annex” at Otto Frank’s jam factory on Prinsengracht where they hid for two years, so their footsteps would not be heard by the workers below. My heart pounded along with hers when she heard footsteps on the stairs, and then a rattling at the bookcase that concealed the entrance to their hiding place. And I marveled at how, despite worsening circumstances, she was often totally obsessed with the teenage boy sharing their space; she confessed that “from early in the morning to late at night, all I do is think about Peter. I fall asleep with his image before my eyes, dream about him and wake up with him still looking at me.”
I certainly understood, too, how she sometimes felt about her mother: “I’m seething with rage, yet I can’t show it. I’d like to scream, stamp my foot, give Mother a good shaking, cry and I don’t know what else… all day long I hear nothing but what an exasperating child I am.” It often seemed to me, as a young teenager, that the worst thing in my world was that my mother didn’t seem to understand me. But I wasn’t, at the same time, waiting “as calmly as possible for the war to end.” I didn’t have to figure out how to get along with my mother at the same time that Jews were being transported in cattle cars to the big camp at Westerbork, while “Jews and Christians alike are waiting, the whole world is waiting, and many are waiting for death.”
How did she do it? I wondered then, and still wonder now. She was able to find beauty and peace even when, as she acknowledged, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical… I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions.” Somehow she recognized that it would be “impossible for [her] to build [her] life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death,” and so she chose a different path: she looked up, at the sky.
This morning, when I was sitting in front of the window and taking a long, deep look outside at God and nature, I was happy, just plain happy. As long as people feel that kind of happiness within themselves, the joy of nature, health and much more besides, they’ll always be able to recapture that happiness… whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside… at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you are pure within and will find happiness once more.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
I no longer cry when I sing this music; the words and melodies and discordances have gradually fluttered down to a place inside me where there are no more tears. During these terribly troubled times that we are confronting now, perhaps being able to share this music is, for me, what the sky was to Anne – a way to “somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”
For I would like to believe, as Anne did, that “in spite of everything, people are truly good at heart.”