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Pauline Lerner

Good tidings

December 10, 2006 at 8:35 AM

The week before last was orchestra-intense. We had rehearsals Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and our concert, our annual Messiah singalong, was Sunday. I was excited all week. I really enjoy making music with this group of people, and I love the Messiah, with all its verbal and musical drama. I know that after the concert, we have about six weeks before we resume rehearsals, and I go into withdrawal. This knowledge made the excitement even more intense.

It’s always fun to rehearse and then play with the chorus and soloists. This music is really incomplete without them. Initially, our conductor sang many of the soloists’ parts during rehearsals, and he was very, very good. I almost felt that he could replace them, but, of course, I was wrong. We were very fortunate to have such excellent soloists, especially the soprano, who comes to us from the Met. She is inspiring both musically and personally. After years of training and auditioning, she finally made it into the Met in 2000. After 9/11, the Met was hard hit by cutbacks, and she had to take an office job in addition to her singing job. Then she had serious problems with her health and had to leave the Met. Last year, when I first heard her sing “I know that my redeemer liveth,” I could hear the faith in her voice. I asked her about it, and she confirmed that she really did believe it. At rehearsal this year, she moved me to tears with a very short and seemingly simple solo. We exchanged contact information so that we can stay in touch. I was happy to see the tenor soloist at rehearsal, too. Last year he was nearly incapacitated by severe pain from a back injury, and, during the concert intermission, I saw him leaning against the wall, wracked with pain. He slipped away quickly as soon as the concert ended, before I could talk to him. This year, as soon as I saw him, he rushed to talk to him and ask him about his health. He told me about his struggle with his back pain, including a serious exercise regimen, and his ability to function well again. Recovery of body and spirit are miraculous.

I always send out “concert alerts” by email to my students and some of my friends, not expecting much, and knowing that I’ll feel happy if anyone shows up. This year three of my students and their families, as well as one of my friends, came, and I could not have been more happy if I had had real groupies.

The concert went very well. We got a great response from the audience in the form of heavy applause after each number and substantial singing along. The female soloists sat onstage just to my right during the concert, and they sang along with the chorus, so I had an extra, semiprivate performance to enjoy. There were, of course, minor glitches. The principal second violinist noticed someone playing badly out of tune during one of the recitatives and realized, to his chagrin, that he was the one. His D string had slipped loose by about three half tones. He managed to avoid playing his D string until the end of the selection, when he retuned quickly and quietly. At another time, I turned two pages instead of one. I saw the tenor moving to the front of the orchestra for his solo, and I thought, “That’s strange. Last year this was a soprano solo.” Duh. I found the correct page quickly.

We always have a reception following the concert, and it’s my favorite holiday party. All the performers, as well as their friends and family who attend, share in the celebration. This year we almost didn’t have a reception because the reception room was double booked. I thought of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas and wondered whether we would have to spread blankets out on the lawn and eat fried chicken from a fast food place while dressed in our formal concert attire. Fortunately, we got a room in an adjacent building and we had our party. My friend in the audience is in a wheelchair, and I hoped that she would be able to park her car and get into the concert hall without mishap. She did. Getting to the reception was another challenge for her, but our conductor came up with a key to the freight elevator and escorted her personally.

Another year. Another Messiah. Another series of miracles. I wish you all happy holidays and your own personal miracles in the new year.

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