We had the first full rehearsal of the Verdi Requiem this afternoon. It was the first time the combined choruses sang with the orchestra and the soloists. I was overwhelmed at the beginning of the rehearsal – it’s very different finding your pitch with a whole orchestra instead of one piano playing the accompaniment, and the volume of the instruments’ sound was deafening. I’m situated behind the tuba, two trombones, a trumpet and the timpani. I could not begin to tell if I was correctly singing the alto line, as I could not hear any of the sounds coming out of my mouth. I could only hope that the notes I sang matched the notes I remembered and heard in my mind.
As we continued, my ears adjusted and could tell the difference between the chorus “noise” and the instrument “noise”, and after a bit longer I started being able to discern the vocal melody and harmony lines as played by the various instruments. But it was an exhausting struggle to hear the music that I’ve been singing for the past three months amidst all the other sounds on the stage.
It takes an orchestra to do the Verdi Requiem justice, to allow its beauty and magnificence to manifest. Hearing this music played live, just six feet in front of me, so eclipsed my experience of listening to the London Symphony performance on CD. Exhilarating is the only way I can describe it – it’s the same body rush, the same sensations, as when I’ve done a high ropes course or rappelling or white-water rafting. Every nerve ending on my skin was alive and responding to the sound, the music, that surrounded me.
The chorus had finished singing the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) and was sitting quietly while the soloists worked on their next section, when I had a moment to take in the entire scene in front of me. The conductor was coaxing sound out of the orchestra, the soloists were braiding their melodies together, the chorus was anticipating our next entrance and I realized that I was living inside a dream.
In my 30’s and 40’s I participated in several supervisory development workshops, designed to discover hidden strengths and leadership abilities. The workshops always included the “fantasy job” question: If your fairy godmother waved her magic wand and you could do any job you wanted, and you were magically given the skills you needed to be completely successful, what would you choose to do?
My answer was always the same: If I could magically have and be able to do any job in the world, I would choose to be a symphony musician. I would belong to that collection of talents and instruments and hearts called an orchestra, that comes together to create the exquisite, ephemeral, and transcendent beauty we call music.
Back in my real life, the workshop trainers made interpretations, usually saying that my choice of fantasy job meant that I valued working with a group towards a common goal. I knew that wasn’t it at all – my fantasy job meant I wanted to be a musician who played with other musicians. But I’d not had lessons, didn’t know how to play an instrument, and saw no way that I would ever even become a musician, let alone make music with others.
But this afternoon I was on stage with a conductor, an orchestra, four soloists, and the full chorus, making music, and creating beauty through the magic and majesty of Verdi’s Requiem. My voice was my instrument, and when joined with seventy other voices, my dream came to life today on this stage, on this soft spring Sunday afternoon.
And a silent and long-forgotten prayer was heard and answered.