Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Start of Christmas

I am certain that everybody has their own poignant memories associated with Handel’s “Messiah.” Perhaps it is the “Hallelujah” chorus from a childhood cartoon, or maybe one of the other well-known Air’s such as “How Beautiful Are the Feet of Them,” often heard on classical music stations. I am sure many of the performers and audience members either formed or reminisced about their own experiences on Friday night.

As a result, I could not suppress thoughts of my very first "Messiah" performance four years ago. I remember my first performance vividly. I had spent a whole afternoon studying in the library for final exams. It was a particularly emotional week since I was coping with the passing of a family member at the time. I showed up at the call time of the performance and when I went to the bathroom to change, I noticed that everybody was wearing concert black. I had brought my Madrigal Singers uniform, which was a black and white gown. There was clearly a breakdown in the chain of communication for me.

“Uh-oh,” I thought to myself.

I knew I couldn’t walk out on the stage with my two-toned uniform. What was I going to do? Did I have enough time to go to a store to buy black clothing? The downtown shopping center was not far. Perhaps my parents hadn’t left home yet and they could bring me black clothes. I phoned them. No answer. I left a voicemail. I was being summoned to get on stage for the warm-up. I quickly change back into my street clothes, to reinforce the illusion that everything was under control, and went to warm-up on stage with the rest of the singers… who were all dressed in their concert black. The conductor expressed verbal displeasure at a tenor for wearing white sneakers with his tux. The tenor quickly assured him that somebody from home was bringing black shoes to remedy the mistake. Meanwhile, I was quivering with fear on my riser.

As soon as the warm-up was done, I ran back to the dressing room to find my cellphone to call once again. My parents had already left home and were at supper. An emotion I don’t often feel began to rise: panic. I spoke to my mother about my uniform crisis. She relayed this information to my father. I heard him state that he just happened to be wearing two long-sleeved cashmere polo shirts that night… one of them happened to be black. My mother wears black as her daily uniform. She said I could wear her pants. I closed my eyes in silent horror. Between my sister and I, my mother’s black pants, to this day, are the creative inspiration for our loving mom criticism. These pants are somehow baggy, yet tapered, at the same time. The pants zip up on the side, the leg tapers downward with a baggy silhouette to the ankles, and there is ample rise to accommodate babies I haven’t birthed. In short, they are mom-pants.

This was no time to be picky. I heartily agreed to this makeshift concert black. My mother arrived at the Winspear and I rushed her backstage to do a clothing swap in the dressing room. The pants zipped up easily enough, but I had to hold the waist to keep them up, and my father’s long-sleeve polo draped over my shoulders. I was swimming in clothing. I handed my mother my low-rise skinny jeans. To this day, I’m still not sure what was worse: the fact that I had to walk out on stage, clutching my waist so that my pants wouldn’t fall off… or the fact that my mother was able to fit into my skinny jeans.

This moment is seared into my “Messiah” memory.

I was glad to see that there appeared to be no uniform crises on stage during the Friday "Messiah" performance. It was quite a sight to actually listen to the “Messiah” live for the first time and not be singing it. Furthermore, it was so lovely to see so many familiar faces in the chorus. It is quite amazing to see a wide array of community singers, joining together, and donating their time to collectively indulge in the sheer joy of singing. For being a recently assembled group of 80, they had a cohesive sound, especially the women sections. I felt that the chorus sound didn’t settle until the “For Unto Us a Child is Born” chorus in Part I and I could tell that diction was something they were working hard to convey throughout the performance. Some of the trilling subtlety that Leonard Ratzlaff described to me in the preview was only audible to me in “His Yoke is Easy.” Unfortunately, as soon as everybody was singing and playing, all the vocal detail work was lost.

Also noteworthy was the lyricism of tenor, Colin Balzer. There was such vibrant energy behind his words such as “laugh,” “scorn,” and “dash.” Female soloists, Noah and Giunta, approached their sections with more operatic flare. Bass-baritone, Bintner, had a lovely moment in “Why Do the Nations so Furiously Rage Together” when the chorus rose with such unison passion behind him that they looked like a mob gang as they broke out into “Let Us Break Their Bonds Asunder.”

It was a refreshing evening out to hear familiar music. While the baroque detail work was lost within the Winspear space, the performance still was successful in achieving its goal: it signaled the start of Christmas for many audience members. 

If you have a Messiah memory to share, feel free to post it in the comments section below!

Conductor: Stephen Stubbs
Musicians: Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
U of A Madrigal Singers (Leonard Ratzlaff, conductor), MAD’s alumni, volunteer Richard Eaton Singers
Yannick-Muriel Noah, soprano
Wallis Guinta, mezzo-soprano
Colin Balzer, tenor
Gordon Bintner, baritone


Amy said...

oh my GOODNESS....this is so funny. And very resourceful. one of MANY things I like about YOU. :)

it was awesome to sing with you today, choirgirl. hope you enjoy every moment of this musical christmas time!

misssable said...

Thanks for reading, Amy. I'm glad you enjoyed one of my most mortifying uniform moments. I'm just glad it all worked out.

I love gigging with you. I'm so glad we had time to sing together yesterday!

Anonymous said...

Ah, dear Choirgirl, regarding wardrobe malfunctions the Almightly Musician smiled upon you with delicious irony the very next day, when YOU heroically stepped in to rescue a fellow PCC caroller by generously lending your own dress gown when she had forgotten hers... regrettably you were the one to suffer odd looks, but inside you must have been laughing :D