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March 30, 2004

Contra Costa Times

I've always sung, and I always thought I was pretty good at it. But now that I'm grown up, I know better. Meeting people who were truly excellent, I was forced to admit that I got the solo in the sixth-grade Christmas pageant not because I was especially good, but because the teacher knew I was a terrible ham and would never freeze in front of a crowd.

Over the years, I drifted away from music. But a couple of years ago at a street fair, I saw a booth for a local community chorus and read the fateful words, "audition required." Rehearsals for Mendelssohn's oratorio, "Elijah," were under way, and although it was politely pointed out that the group really needed male voices, I predictably failed to take the hint and showed up for rehearsal the next night.

I don't read music well; I've always memorized it. So, my heart stopped briefly when I saw the score. "Elijah" is a great slab of an oratorio in which Mendelssohn entertained himself by flinging sharps and flats left and right to create clever, unexpected chords when he might easily have left well enough alone. His contemporary, Handel, was a straightforward guy in this respect, and everybody thought "The Messiah" was brilliant. I had my work cut out for me. Many rehearsals later, suited up and stuffed to the gills with musical notations, I strode onstage. Singing in one of these events is like riding a really big roller coaster -- you experience a lurch of panic with the downbeat as the cars glide out of the station. There's no getting off now.

"Hellllllp Lord! Hellllp Lord!" we sing, gathering speed. The chorus beats its collective breast, laboring up the first of many musical inclines. Elijah is advised to beat it out of town. Hark! He returns! He baits Ahab and the priests of Baal; we're rollin' now! Fire descends from heaven! Ahhhhhhhhh! The chorus is in free fall! The timpanist goes nuts. Priests lose, drought over. And it's only intermission. Jezebel is still on the prowl, exile and despondency loom, additional disasters and a fiery chariot ride into heaven remain. Amen! Amennn!!! Amennnnnnnn!!!! And the roller coaster that is "Elijah" -- mayhem, flaming chariots, floods and blessings -- swoops into the station. The audience bursts into applause, and the chorus files modestly into the wings.

In defense of community choruses everywhere, we're pretty good, but we're no Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We're volunteers, often affiliated with a local community college or some other community group that helps foot the bills. More

Posted by acapnews at March 30, 2004 8:24 AM


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