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December 16, 2004

'Hallelujah, I'm finally singing in tune!'

Lexington Minuteman (MA):

At the annual Masterworks "Messiah Sing," the audience is the chorus. For the next two hours, the assemblage - without benefit of rehearsal or an audition - will put Handel's most beautiful choral works through the equivalent of a musical wringer. The hall is segregated into the four vocal groups: sopranos fill every seat on the sloping right balcony, across the hall from the altos. On the left side of the floor was my former home with the tenors, to the right, basses.

I made myself a nuisance for the first, and not final, time. I tapped the shoulder of a thinish man wearing black, just as tenor Martin Kelly called out, "Comfort ye!" "Basses?" I queried in a whisper. The man in black looked at me with a quizzical expression as I was standing next to a large, white sign perched on a chair with large black words declaring "Bass." But he nodded, and I scooted into the back row.

Like a sheep, I eventually was led astray. Having previous sung Handel's soaring melodies as a tenor, I find myself in the basement of the chorus world, laying down what is fast becoming a very shaky foundation. This shouldn't be so difficult, I wondered, having spent most my time playing bass and alto clarinets in orchestras and bands, accustomed to long sustained notes as the harmony bounces over my head. But the sudden off-the-beat rests along with quarter note syncopation in the chorus "All we like sheep" has left me grounded on some unrhythmic shoals, and I'm sinking fast.

"Damn," I thought, "I now have to actually read these friggin' notes!" I resort to taping time in my all-weather boots: Thud! Thud! Thud! "We have turned," Thud! Thud! Thud! "We have turned." I try the old trick of clueing into the double basses as my musical life raft. But that isn't working as the orchestra is performing from a slightly different score, entering when they should be stopping. Then, in the midst of this whirlpool of sounds, I have the unsettling realization that Kevin and Sam are keying on me as their guide on when to enter and the pitch. I'm certainly not going to tell them I'm hanging on to dear life to Dick's singing. And I know I'm causing Dick all sorts of misery as I'm singing two notes higher then him.

"Don't tell them you're lost" I tell myself as three pairs of eyes look at me, fearing panic would run ramped in the back row. It would be every bass for themselves. Yet my now tapping, Dick's ability to drown me out, and remembering that all those octave jumps are like the opening notes of "Over the Rainbow" ("Some - WHERE") has steadied me so I can stumble to the finish. I can sit and regroup.

After an hour and a half, the time had come most of us had come for. One old-timer in front of us dubbed it, with glee, "Number 44!": The "Hallelujah" chorus. Even those who despise classical music and have lived in a cave, they've heard this chorus. The repeating four notes calling out Hallelujah is heard in shopping malls and on television incisively during the holidays, the local classical music radio station that refuses to transmit vocal exempts will put this on.

And we singers love it! This was the one chorus I had practiced the night before. And damn it. I was ready. And so, it appeared, is everyone else as the hall, joining in to belt it out like Ethel Merman. The sopranos threw away their inhibitions, altos and tenors sing at full in-the-shower bravado. And we in the back row bellowed. More

Posted by acapnews at December 16, 2004 12:32 AM