Monday, December 17, 2007

Amazing performance

I've attended a lot of performances of Handel's Messiah in my day... All were memorable (in their own way) but yesterday's performance at Trinity Church Wall Street stands out as the best by far. For one thing, the soloists were not over the top, being divas for their own exaltation. Their tones were pure and intensely focused, but it was the text that stood out, not operatic calisthenics. In particular the soprano who sang the final aria was awesome. Her voice soared without the gale force normally associated with those extremely high notes.

Ever since I was a teenager and was taught it was not only polite, but important to "stand up" at the first strains of the Hallelujah Chorus, I've always looked forward to that one moment when the audience rises. There's something to be said for standing up for pure joy... the physical act reinforces the emotion the music already evokes... one supports the other and as the chorus swells in volume and pitch, my heart swells as well. Who cares whether King George actually stood up? Who cares if some programs now discourage the practice? Some people want to stand; they should leave well enough alone.

I'm always a sucker for the Hallelujah Chorus, no matter how awful the choir might be. Yesterday's choir was most excellent, however, and we were there as guests of one of our celebrants. Our seats were amazing. I always wonder what people must think about a bunch of nuns in the expensive rows. Behind us, the "general seating" was packed. But the truth is, we didn't buy the tickets; people give us these things... especially at Christmas. We get grapefruits from Texas, oranges from Florida, candy and cookies, wreaths for our front door and chapel... it's a magical time of receiving for us.

The brilliant conductor had been a student of one of our founding sisters. She had encouraged his musical talent and was intensely proud of his achievements. She told me how, in the fourth grade, he would bring his compositions to her and say, "Sister, I have written you a symphony!" I sat beside her at the concert and she had brought her own dog-eared score. She followed along through the entire performance. Afterwards we went up to greet him, and he gave her a big hug and kiss.

The conductor introduced us to another well-wisher who was standing in line: a priest he had known at Trinity for many years... the same man I had known as an interim priest from my old parish in Jacksonville. Small world, isn't it?

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