Now Is The Time
“Tenors, please don’t scream here.” We giggled a little, as a tenor section in a choir has a tendency to do. The conductor who was rehearsing us for the big performance was trying to be sure the tone coming from the tenors wasn’t too strident or yell-y. It was her task to make sure we knew the entrances and the notes so that when the principal conductor arrived from Japan to conduct the entire piece, we would be ready to go with the basics of the music, allowing the principal conductor to focus on shaping the music and its contours.
We were rehearsing Mahler’s Second Symphony (Resurrection), which is a pretty bombastic piece. Coming in at an hour and a half, when most symphonies come in around fifty minutes, it already has a lot of heft to it. The piece requires a much larger orchestra than most other pieces and it also calls for a choir of about as many singers as you can wrangle in a town. Then the choir sits on the stage, unmoving for four and a half movements of music, only to rise in the last seven minutes or so to (as artfully as possible) blow the roof off the place.
We were nervous about how the first rehearsal would go with the conductor from Japan. His fame preceded him, and his knowledge of the piece was clear when he started. His approach to dynamics and the lines of the music brought out some ideas in the music that we hadn’t noticed before. It was awesome. Then came the time for the choir to rise and join the orchestra. We stood and began to sing in all the ways we’d practiced. He listened and when we got to the climax of the piece, our restrained, practiced musicality shone through, we thought.
He stopped us around then, we guessed, to compliment us on our musicianship. Specifically he addressed the giggle-prone tenors who had an important role in sort of raising the harmonic ante of this poker match of a piece. The conductor’s English wasn’t very nuanced. He looked at us and pointed with his baton to the place we stopped in the score in front of him. Then he pointed the baton at us and spoke. “This is the place…you scream!”
We watched the rehearsal conductor behind him put her face in her hands and shake a little. Was she crying? Nah, I think she was laughing. Because when that part came around again, scream we did. The delight or surprise in the eyes of the conductor matched the nod of approval he also offered us. And a part of me feels still the joy of that moment. I remember it much more fondly than the performance, which was fine. Life is really, after all, a series of rehearsals, right? And there are times when screaming together about what matters makes sense. In fact, there are times when it’s all we can do, and all we should do. For that might be the difference between mere satisfaction and abject joy. After all, how the heck else will be blow the roof of anything that needs it?
And may it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.