Healey Willan’s Missa Brevis nos. 2 & 13

Our fearless leader gave us our first order of service of the new season (eeeeeeeee!!), which starts September 14th. So that’s coming up pretty soon. It’s mostly music we’ve done before, but we’re adding a couple of new pieces from Willan’s oeuvre – the Kyrie from his Missa Brevis no.2 and the Agnus Dei from no.13. And I’ve been really enjoying learning some new music, especially music as gorgeous as this.

I cannot wait to start singing with the group again!! It’s going to be a bit different now that we have a new soprano, but it’s going to have a lot of challenges in store – especially since the three weeks after our first service, both our fearless leader and out baritone are going to be off singing at a synagogue for the high holy days. Leaving me to both figure out what we’re going to be singing and conduct the whole service by myself, three weeks in a row.

No, why do you ask? I’m not at all nervous about that. . . (hsssst!! I’m totally freaking out! Don’t tell anybody, Dear Internet!)

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Though I’m also really excited to look at a bit of new three-part music, and to figure out how we’ll do things in three that we normally do in four. I have conducted a service before – this past Maundy Thursday I was the conductor, which was a bit hair-raising (and I also did the week after Easter too – the fearless leader needed a break). I know it’ll go ok, it’s just a little nervous-making.

But to quickly turn to something completely different – I’m doing a mini exercise challenge this week! I’m going to try to go to the gym every day after work. I’m going to spin class tonight, and I’ll swim tomorrow. I haven’t decided exactly what I’m doing the rest of the week, but I’ll probably go swimming twice more and either to another spin class, or a body combat class (which is super-hardcore).

The challenge isn’t starting off in the best way imaginable though. Today my body decided to have the worst PMS. Ever. And I’m hoping that a little nap will help before I go to the gym. I felt so sick that I had to leave work a bit earlier than I’d planned. Luckily it’ll be easy to spread the time I missed over the rest of the week. At the very least, my headache is finally receding.

Though I feel a bit bad for fixating on how terrible I’m feeling – Jack Layton, the leader of the federal NDP has, very suddenly, passed away. He brought idealism back to Canadian politics, and we will not easily replace his leadership. Regardless of your political leanings or ideology, Layton was the only leader in our country who had charisma, optimism, and an ability to cut through the apathy that so dogs our voting population. He will be sorely missed. R.I.P. Jack, I hope you’re in a better place, free of your suffering.

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MUSIC!!

Ok, The Internet, I know this blog has been rather more heavily slanted toward the food end of the blogging spectrum that I originally proposed.And this post won’t fully rectify that discrepancy, but I’d like to actually start talking about the music in my life. Shock!


Last night A couple nights ago (ooops. . . forgot to finish this post yesterday. . .), I went over to a friend’s house for a Settlers of Catan games night (awesome game, by the way – if you at all like board games, check it out!). There was too much food, too much alcohol (if that’s even possible), and some lovely music. Which reminded me that I’ve been super derelict in my duty to make this a blog about music, as well as baking. Though, I should take a moment to tell you that part of that too much food I just mentioned was a cake that I baked, from the archives of the lovely Smitten Kitchen. Which everyone enjoyed (yay!) and there will be a new blog post on the making-of that delightful confection to come in the near future. Keep your eyes peeled for that one!!


But back to music – after the game (where the person who’d never played or seen the game before was the winner. . . we were soft on him. That’s right we let him win to make him like the game more. Next time it’ll be different), we all congregated in the living room and listened to a recording of the piece of music our fearless leader wanted to look at. (This of course is for the quintet I sing with, not the Sunday choir.)

We might have finished singing for the season, but that doesn’t mean we can’t start preparing for the next one. We’ve been having soprano issues for a while now – our first (and the closest to our hearts) ended up not being able to sing on Wednesdays (the day we sing) because of work (and then eventually ended up moving back east to be closer to her family this past December.) Then was the month of trying to figure out not having a soprano (while awesome, four (or more)-part harmony is the best so we ran through a few until we found a great singer with whom we had a really good blend (and, incidentally, helped me to become more confident in my own voice, which also helped the blend). But her work was making it harder and harder to justify taking a whole evening out of her schedule, and at the end of the year she decided that, though she’ll help out when we need her, she can’t come back full-time in the fall. Our fearless leader has gotten in touch with one of the sopranos we’ve had sing with us as a sub before, but she’s not sure yet if she can do it. She has a sister who might be able to, and another sub we’ve had might work out. But it’s all up in the air right now. Sigh 😦

That’s a really long-winded way of saying “We practiced a piece for 4-part lower voices” – specifically, Vicotria’s Duo Seraphim, arranged for TTBB, in case we need to have a few weeks of soprano-free services. Luckily I am an alto with a pretty decent three-octave range, and the first tenor part doesn’t really challenge the lower end at all. And after listening to the piece, we actually ran through it (sight-singing 101) a couple of times. And I felt like I had finally come home. It’s only been a few weekes since singing wrapped up for the season, so I hadn’t realized how much I really missed it.

We weren’t perfect, and I don’t think the large amount of alcohol I consumed was too helpful here either. . . But it was still heavenly. I’ll have to start carving out a chunk of time each week to keep in practice, as well as to learn some new music we’ll be adding to our repertoire in the fall.

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I hope you’ll bear with me for a moment, but I have something I need to get off my chest about the singing I do. As I said in one of my first posts, I have been singing since I was 6 or so. Somehow I ended up in the junior choir at my church – my Dad’s been big into music his whole life and his parents before him, so it’s not too surprising I ended up singing. So I grew up in a choir, and absorbed a love of choral music by osmosis. I might not have had any classical training, but “singing my whole life, pretty much” is nothing to sneeze at in terms of experience.

That being said, we have a choir master/organist (CM/O) who doesn’t trust us. Over the last few years, I have begun to really notice this problem, especially since I also now sing in a very small group where we literally have to trust each other or it’ll just fall to little bitty pieces. We also sing everything a capella, so we occasionally go flat or sharp – but we go flat or sharp together because we’re actually blending with the voices we’re singing with. On Sundays, our CM/O plays the organ (unfortunately very loudly) while we sing (even ahem especially for pieces that are supposed to be a capella), and plays the piano very loudly during rehearsals. We can’t hear each other, how can we blend? If we go flat (which we occasionally do, cause hey! we’re actually human. Surprise surprise), the sections of the choir can’t hear each other, can’t blend with each other, so we end up singing in different keys (on the most spectacular failures). And then CM/O gets frustrated with us and plays the right chord at us really loudly right after we’re finished singing. Might as well just scream “Hey!! You guys sound like shit!” And the more she plays loudly with us, the less confident we are in our blend, and more problems crop up. . . It’s been really hard to go from one group that sings with trust and challenges us to try new (and sometimes scary hard) music, to one where our CM/O will tell us how rests work. . . I know you want consistency, but thanks so much for the patronizing, it really makes me feel great.

Another issue is the kind of voices she prefers: Operatic voices. And this is a choir, apparently. So, having a nice little choral voice in this choir has given me a really big problem of trusting my own voice – for a long time I thought my voice was crap, because of this CM/O. Insecurity issues. But, do you know how hard it is to sing, and sing your best, in a choir where you know your sklls aren’t really appreciated? If I hadn’t started singing on Wednesdays, I’d still be under the impression that I was a useless member of the choir. In addition to giving me an inferiority complex, the kind of singers our CM/O prefers make it really hard to have a choir that blends – operatic singers don’t blend (some just can’t), and in many cases they have voices that are massively huge, which is another barrier to good blending.

And I like our CM/O – she’s quite a good keyboardist and composer. She’s a really interesting person to talk to. I’m just getting to the point where I don’t know if I can actually stay in this choir for much longer. I’ve been saying this for a while now (and the boyfriend will just sigh and shake his head since he’s heard it a bunch of times before), but I might soon be leaving the choir I’ve been singing with for the past 22-or-so years. And that’s really very scary – what if I can’t find a new choir with people I like as much (especially since I have such a hard time warming to people anyway) and who sing as much great music (even if we do fairly often sing the same things over and over again)?

What if I can’t find a choir that would like to have me??

I have the summer to think about these things, and maybe look into finding a voice teacher (if I have a reliable source of income at some point) to help me potentially get into a more professional choir. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’m already sad at the idea that maybe this is the end of something that’s been such a huge part of my life.

Any thoughts, Dear Internet?