I haven’t sung for almost two years. As my father became increasingly ill, I found it harder to access the joy I need for singing. This pained me more than I can say. I’ve been a choral singer since I was a child: I began in my middle school choir, then sang all the way through high school, college, and with many different groups through grad school too. I was trained from a young age in a particular tradition of choral music – the great British cathedral tradition – and from that base I have traveled so far into the realms of music, and have found such riches there.
I’ve sung large classical works with choirs of hundreds, and close harmony with mere quartets. I’ve sung ancient music – music which long predates contemporary notation – and newly-commissioned work fresh from the composer’s hands. The first money I ever earned for myself was made through singing, a crisp tenner after a group of we schoolboys sang in the great hall of one of London’s finest hotels one Christmastime. Some of my happiest memories are from singing: our choir’s sound reverberating beneath the vaulted expanse of St. Peter’s in Rome; my first concert with the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, the same year I came out of the closet; a youth choir trip to New York, where I first fell in love, singing beneath the Statue of Liberty just weeks before the Twin Towers fell.
Choral singing is not something I do. It is part of who I am.
There are few human activities more enveloping than singing with a group. To sing well you must mind your muscles, and learn how to use them – singing is an art as physical as any sport, and the feeling in the body as you sing is incomparable. You must learn music – not just melodies, rhythms, and dynamics, but how music works, how phrases, tempos, rests, and accents tell a story. Singing is unique among music in its use of words, the semantic content of language adding to the already-infinite complexity of music itself – so to sing you must become a lover of language. Singing requires exquisite concentration, all the more when you are singing with a group, for you must not only watch the conductor but merge with the movement of the group beside you. And the feeling when it all comes together: magical. A sense of total integration, mind, body, intellect, feeling, yourself, others. This on top of the sound!
So when I tell you that I missed singing, perhaps now you understand a bit of what I mean. It felt like part of my soul was missing, and sometimes it felt like I would never find it again. I think anyone who has left behind something they have trained to do – even if just for a little while – can empathize with the worry that perhaps you can’t do it any more. That you will return to the well and find it dry. I was afraid I had lost my drive to sing, and along with it the ability. I wasn’t even moved by music like I used to be: it was all just a little bit flat, and grey.
Until last night, when music moved me once again.
I went to a rehearsal last night with the No-Name Chorale, “a project based ensemble dedicated to sharing the joy of inspired choral singing with each other and the community.” They come together for a very short rehearsal period – we have three rehearsals before our concert – and put together a challenging repertoire of choral music in basically no time at all. There are about 15 pieces in this concert we’re singing, and trust me – it’s not all easy stuff. Yet last night we came together – many people who hadn’t even met before, never sung with each other – and made some magical music. It was exquisite! The musicianship was remarkable, the sound was incredible, but the feeling – the feeling of camaraderie, shared purpose, focused attention, and joy!
The song in my soul was reawakened last night. I am so grateful for that – and I want to share it with you. I never do this – I literally never invite people to my concerts – but I want all my friends in St. Louis to come on Sunday to this one. It’s called On The Move, and it’s totally free: just turn up at 3pm, on Sunday 21st July, at the Union United Methodist Church in Belleville, IL.
I promise you won’t be disappointed. At the very least you will see me in an element I feared I may have left for good: moved to song.