Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday in New York

Today was the kind of spectacularly Fall, brisk, clear delicious coat-weather day that reminds me why I love living in this city.

I walked past the new purple-lit brand new Yotel which is in the "MiMA" building, where the street was just repaved. (Everyone hates that name. MiMA is for Mid-Manhattan). The name Clinton failed, too. Forever, it will be Hell's kitchen.

Walked east on 42nd street to the subway. Not a lot of action on an early Sunday morning in Times Square. It's one of my favorite times to be walking around. Took the 1 train down to Christopher and made it to the Starbucks, which is becoming increasingly more crowded. The comfy chairs were already claimed.

I had a great conversation with a member of the choir who told me he grew up Roman Catholic, but was hired to sing for Jewish services, and had actually converted to Judaism. I told him my stories of singing for Jewish congregations, and how I am of the opinion that they are the same religion, but just don't know it.

The choir at Christ Church, about 14 on a typical Sunday consists mainly of young vocal students -- theater and/or opera, along with a few older veterans. We also, because of people's schedules, have a revolving membership. We sometimes have two guys singing alto. But the thing is that everyone reads really well. We're at the point that when we rehearse the hymns, we can sing them almost perfectly the first time through. Second time through and it's like we've been singing forever.

Today, Mark Janas said, "You do know that this is a very unusual circumstance in a church choir. You don't usually have the luxury of people who can read instantaneously. (We all felt very proud). "Even," he said, "as we move people around from part to part, our voice is very consistent. I think it's time we can tackle some anthems."

And it's true. Our blend, especially in that big church echo, with a truly gifted pipe organist from Finland, is about as good as anything I've ever heard. The several pieces we repeat from week to week are increasingly more subtly dynamic.

But the ensemble, as an entity, has been together long enough that, today, Mark Janas, the conductor felt we were ready for some anthems. And he pulled out "Hallelujah" by Virgil Thompson.

This is a difficult piece of music. It also has sections with serious dynamic phrasing, the kind of stuff you can spend months perfecting. He asked how many had sung it before. Luckily, three or four had.

So, he pulled us over around the piano and we started to sing through it. I stood next to Arn, a guy with a beautiful, seriously trained voice, and we started reading this thing. And we were totally getting it!

I felt sometimes like I was hanging on by the tips of my fingers, but hold on, I did. We all became very excited and Mark brought us back to a section toward the end where the "hallelujahs" get faster and faster, and then crash back down again. The notes are challenging enough, but to know HOW to sing something you're still reading? Almost impossible.

And we did it! Exhilarating isn't the word. To be in the presence of transcendent genius, meaning Virgin Thompson's elegant, propulsive music, is to be in the presence of God. To be singing Virgil Thompson with a group of great singers, being led by a protege of Leonard Bernstein is to be in choral singing heaven. It's both inspiring and humbling.

Oh, to have written that piece! It was like seeing the statue of David.

Mark, Jake and I then went to see "Moneyball." I sure like that Brad Pitt retains all his wrinkles. He was so good in this. And such an interesting story, about how received wisdom about anything is just ripe to be disproved and turned over.

I'm in the process, now, of writing a press release for our New York appearances. So, I'll sign off. Jim comes home tomorrow. I should probably wash the dishes.

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