By Melissa Eddy, Symphonic Choir Alto
Getting ready for each Conspirare Symphonic Choir concert is an exciting process for the singers. Because the Symphonic Choir performs only once or twice each season, it’s usually a long time between rehearsal cycles. So the first rehearsal is always a happy reunion with old friends and singing buddies, as well as a fun opportunity to meet new ones. A chorus is a community; we miss one another during each hiatus and are joyful and energized to reconnect.
For Great Big Choruses, the same can be said of the music: we’re reconnecting with works that are old friends (or foes) and becoming deeply acquainted with new ones. What’s new and what’s not is different for each singer (except for Don Grantham’s inventive and engaging world premiere, obviously new to all of us). Two pieces on the Great Big Choruses program are especially my old friends: a “Sanctus” by Verdi and another by Duruflé. Both are Requiem movements.
When the Symphonic Choir sang Verdi’s complete Requiem in June 2008 (rehearsal photo upper right) it was not the first time I had performed the dazzlingly dramatic work. But it was Conspirare’s formal debut in the Long Center, which had opened just two months earlier. Being part of that performance was a special thrill for me, because for eleven years I had served on the Long Center board of trustees that built the facility. Standing on the stage in Dell Hall with a couple hundred other musicians, looking out at the sold-out audience in the brand-new venue, and thinking, “We did it!” filled me with happiness. I could barely stop grinning long enough to sing. So to me it’s fitting that in 2015 we open with the most joyous movement of Verdi’s masterwork.
Duruflé’s Requiem is another old friend; I’ve sung it several times, first as a soprano and more recently as an alto. The most memorable performance was also the most poignant and deeply meaningful. In February 2002, when our country was still mourning the losses of 9/11, Craig Hella Johnson programmed a special Symphonic Choir remembrance concert, with Duruflé’s serene music of contemplation and hope as its center. It was a profound and healing experience for the choir, and I believe for the audience too.
Now, about that earlier mention of “foes.” There are certain pieces with which many singers have a love/hate relationship, and choral works by Beethoven often are on the list. I am a huge Beethoven fan, and performing his music is always a peak experience, but only with a lot of hard work. Beethoven is one of those composers known for not being kind to vocalists – especially sopranos and tenors, for whom he regularly wrote brutally high notes, sustained for what seem like endless measures. (Listen for them and marvel at our artists’ stamina.) I’ve sung “Ode to Joy” once before, as a soprano. I am so glad I’m singing it this time as an alto.
Which of the pieces on the Great Big Choruses program are old friends of yours? What others will be exciting new discoveries for you? Come to a performance and find out!
Melissa J. Eddy has sung with Conspirare Symphonic Choir since 2000. She has also been a Conspirare staff member since 2008 in a variety of roles, most recently as Publications Manager.