Monday night dinner, not rehearsal

This past Monday should have been the first University Chorus rehearsal of the semester.

It wasn’t.

As I have written about previously, a change in the choral program at Binghamton has resulted in the University Chorus being re-cast as an adjunct to the program, with community members being called in only when there is a large work programmed that needs supplemental singers.

It’s sad.

On Monday, instead of being at rehearsal, I and three other long-time members met for dinner to commiserate.  One of us does still have a group with which to sing for the winter/spring, but I and the other two are without a regular choral group for the first time in decades. This was my 36th year with University Chorus and the other two, who met and married as UC members, had sung with the group even longer.

We talked about current events and politics, our families and health challenges, and, of course, music and choral singing.

We can’t do anything about not having Monday night rehearsals together, but we will try to stay in contact over these months until University Chorus (we hope) re-convenes for the fall semester.

And maybe schedule a few more Monday night dinners…
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:
https://lindaghill.com/2018/01/26/jusjojan-daily-prompt-january-26th-2018/

 

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Star Wars history

aka a way to write about my spouse and me going to see Star Wars without there being spoilers in the post…

When we were in our mid-teens, B and I saw the first Star Wars movie at the Mohawk in North Adams, the last remaining downtown theater surviving from the age of weekend double features with newsreels.  We both loved the characters, the story, the larger-than-life look with the special effects, the music, and the humor mixed in with the old-style good-versus-evil dichotomy.

It was puzzling that the opening sequence announced it as Episode Four, but it was understood as a nod to the serials that would use that technique to update viewers who may have missed an episode on the backstory of what they were about to see.

We never imagined that, forty years later, we would be seeing Episode Eight with some of those same actors reprising their roles.

Earlier this week, we saw the latest Star Wars movie at the Regal multiplex in Binghamton, New York, although our showing was delayed for a few minutes due to technical difficulties. All the things we loved about the original are still there, albeit with more advanced sound and effects than in 1977. It was poignant to see Carrie Fisher in her last performance as Leia, especially knowing that Episode Nine had been planned to center on her.

B and I still tend to call each movie “Star Wars” with an episode number if needed for clarity, but, technically, I should refer to this film as The Last Jedi. 

The Last Jedi was not shown at the Mohawk. The building is still there on Main Street with a restored marquee. The building has been stabilized and is under the ownership of the City of North Adams, but plans for a full restoration have yet to be realized.

Maybe sometime in the 2020s…

 

Merry? Christmas

The usual Christmas greeting in the United States is “Merry Christmas!” Merry meaning cheerful, jolly, festive.

I am not any of those.

As I have been writing about in several recent posts, I offloaded many of my usual Christmas preparation tasks to other adults in the house, concentrating on the few that really needed my attention. To be honest, some, like decorating, I just could not bring myself to do; they are too evocative. We have many ornaments that came to us from B’s mom; this is our second Christmas without her. With my mom under the care of hospice and my dad, at 92, not getting around as well as he used to, this is the first Christmas in many years that neither my parents nor my sisters will see our decorated tree.

Much about this Christmas has been bittersweet. My daughters E and T were invited by the music director that they sang and rang handbells with as children and teens to sing with the adult choir at her current church for Advent and Christmas. It was lovely to have them sing at the late evening mass on Christmas Eve, two young women among a group that is composed largely of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents. It is wonderful for them to have a chance to sing together as they did for so many years, but we all know that it is likely the last time they will be living here together, as E and baby ABC will likely join L in London when E’s spousal visa comes through in mid-2018.

Father Clarence began the homily by recounting early memories of celebrating Christmas and how the family gathering changed and diminished over time through death and moves and other obligations. It reminded me that I have a lot of company in the bittersweet department.

It also caused me to reflect on something that has been difficult for me in this part year. People keep advising me to enjoy the time with my daughters and granddaughter and parents, setting aside any thoughts of what we know the future will/might hold.

I can’t.

While I know some people can concentrate on only the present moment, it is not a skill I have mastered. It’s not even a skill that I can convince myself I want to master.

One of the sweet moments today was watching ABC eat the filling from pumpkin pie with whipped cream for the first time. It matters to me that the recipe we use is the same one that my mom made for us for many years until we took over the holiday pie-baking duties. It matters that my mom was sitting on the other end of the couch, watching her great-granddaughter grabbing the spoon of filling and cream and enjoying the new food – after the first few bites when she was adjusting to the new taste and texture. It matters that B’s mom, who was always telling us stories about her friends’ great-grandchildren, passed away before ABC was conceived. It matters that next year, ABC may be in London for Christmas and none of us know which other faces will be missing from our holiday celebration.

While it might be nice to be “merry,” I know that I can’t give up my connections with the past and my realistic projections of the future to create a merry present. Today, I have learned that it is possible to be feel simultaneously bittersweet and content.

Wishing Christmas blessings to those celebrating and the gifts of peace and loving-kindness to all!

last concert for a long time

Earlier this month, the Binghamton University Chorus, with whom I am singing for my 36th year, sang a concert of music related to St. Mark’s in Venice. That means that most of the choral works were written for multiple choruses, so we needed lots of singers to present the music. We were joined by the Women’s Chorus and the Harpur Chorale and Chamber Singers and the University Symphony Orchestra.

I appreciated the opportunity to sing pieces by Gabrieli, Monteverdi, Schütz, and Rossi. I love singing late Renaissance/early Baroque music, but hadn’t had much opportunity since I was in college myself. My voice is well-suited to this repertoire and I learned a lot of new vocal techniques from our new director, Dr. Culverhouse.

Our performing forces only had the opportunity to rehearse together in the last week, which was stressful, but the concert itself went very well. Daughters E and T attended, while spouse B and six-month-old ABC listened from the lobby so as not to take the chance of disturbing other patrons. It was also nice to see our director emeritus and former University Chorus members in attendance. Dr. Culverhouse graciously acknowledged our former director and thanked all of us from the stage, which was very sweet.

But now the difficult part…

As I wrote in a prior post, in the reorganization of the choral program, University Chorus has been revamped. We used to be an independent entity composed of community members along with some students and faculty/staff. We are now a supplemental group of mostly community members who will only meet in semesters when the student ensembles need additional voices to sing major works or pieces that require more singers.

So, in January, instead of beginning several months of Monday night rehearsals leading to a spring concert, I’ll be without a chorus to sing with for the first time in decades. In March, I will be singing Brahms’ Requiem at Smith, when some members of the Alumnae Chorus join with the Glee Club and the Penn State Men’s Glee Club. Ironically, we alumnae will be fulfilling a role similar to what University Chorus has become, although without the opportunity to rehearse until the day before the performance. Fortunately, I know the piece very well, so my individual preparation at home will be easy, but the performance weekend will be intense.

It also turns out that one Monday evening per month, I will be able to attend an educational  poetry event at the Broome County Arts Council. Additional skill building and writing time is always good.

What is even more special is that several other long-time community members of University Chorus plan to get together for some Monday evening dinners. After decades of singing together, we don’t want to wait until next fall to see each other again.

We will try to restrain ourselves from breaking into song at the restaurant…

 

choral change

Over the years, I have written often about singing with the Binghamton University Chorus, such as this post about rehearsing for our Brahms’ Requiem concert last fall. When I wrote about the retirement party of our director and titled it “end of an era”, I did not realize how true that would be.

The choral program had been headed by our director with the assistance of an adjunct and, frequently, candidates for a master’s in choral conducting. Now, just one person will handle the whole program, necessitating some changes.

The University Chorus, with whom I have sung for 35 years, and which existed for some number of year before that, has always been a group made up of students, University faculty and staff, and community members, which met every semester and performed major works with orchestra, as well as concerts of shorter pieces with piano or small instrumental ensemble.

There was a consistent core of community singers who had been with University Chorus for years. We had become friends and had been through many big life events together. We chatted before and after rehearsal and thoroughly enjoyed singing together.

Unfortunately, in the new choral group organization schema, University Chorus will no longer exist as a separate entity. Instead, University Chorus will act as a supplement to the student choruses when they are in need of larger forces to perform with orchestra. For the fall semester, University Chorus will join with the Women’s Chorus, Harpur Chorale and Chamber Singers to perform works associated with 17th century Venice. I am very excited about this repertoire, as I love singing works from that period and haven’t had the opportunity to for a long time. I am also anxious to sing with the new choral director, Dr. William Culverhouse; last spring, University Chorus had been part of the audition process and I was very impressed with his conducting and rehearsal technique.

However, as we all expected, we would need to audition to be included and, because of the demanding repertoire, a certain level of skill, particularly in sight singing, is required. I quickly became nervous. I have always been a anxious auditioner, a state that was not helped by the fact that the last vocal audition I sang was over 25 years ago. I am very much a choral singer, with a smaller voice without a lot of vibrato, which is useful to help blend within a section, but not necessarily that engaging to listen to on its own. I also have a sharp intonation, which is not ideal, but can be useful in a group because most people who have intonation problems tend to go flat. I am also a soprano and acutely aware that many of the other sopranos have had individual voice instruction, which I have not.  In addition, while I was a music major, our program at the time was very academically based, so I never had a course in solfège and sightsinging. And I was envisioning sight reading that was modal or chromatic or highly syncopated.

I chose to schedule my audition early on in the audition period, on eclipse day. I arrived early and tried to read and take deep breaths to calm myself, which didn’t really work. Dr. Culverhouse was very interactive during the audition and tried to give helpful hints as we went along, but I’m sure I still sounded very shaky. Thankfully, the sightsinging was not tricky, which at least gave me some hope of being accepted.

I sent an email to a couple of friends who were going to audition later in the week to tell them not to be scared about the sightreading, and then I waited for Sunday night, when invitations were due to arrive via email. I actually stayed up late waiting, but finally had to go to bed without any news…

In the morning, I discovered that the email had come in about twenty minutes after I had gone to bed and that it was good news! I was invited to join University Chorus for this semester; I found out later that the friends I had contacted were also accepted. On Monday night, which is our usual rehearsal night, we had a forty minutes Q&A with Dr. Culverhouse, which was enlightening. We aren’t sure about our final number of singers yet, as auditions are still ongoing. Our first rehearsal is September 11th with our concert on December 2nd.

I am thrilled to be able to sing this fall and looking forward to having a bit of structure back after what has been a chaotic summer. I am looking forward to the music, to seeing my friends every week, and to singing on a regular basis again.

I am sad, though, that for this academic year, University Chorus will only meet for the fall semester. For the first time since moving here in 1982, I will not have Monday night rehearsals and a chorus with which to sing. While this is sad in and of itself, it is a particularly daunting thought for 2018. My mother is currently under hospice care and it is impossible to project that many months into the future. It is likely, though, that, early in 2018, our daughter E and granddaughter ABC will leave our home to join our son-in-law L in the UK. ABC’s US and UK passports have already come through and E will probably be able to obtain an appropriate visa early next year. In the face of these personal changes/losses, the thought of not having the support, companionship, and music of University Chorus from December 3rd through September 2018 is heart-breaking.

As fate would have it, there is the possibility that I will have a concert in which to sing on the first weekend in March. Members of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus have been asked to join with the current Smith Glee Club and the Penn State Men’s Glee Club for a concert in Northampton, with the possibility of a late February concert in Philadelphia. Details are still being worked out, but I am hopeful that I will be able to participate.

The piece that we will perform will be Brahms’ Requiem.

High/Low

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, which began with 8 AM Mass. I knew that daughter E would be cantoring, but found out on arrival that her spouse L was singing with her and that the handbell choir was ringing for the last time before their summer break. It was heartwarming and joyful to hear E and L sing together in public in the weeks before their first child arrives. Our friend music director Nancy said that she could feel L’s breath supporting E, although I think that even into her ninth month of pregnancy, E’s breath control is better than mine.

Unfortunately, the rest of the day was more subdued. We wound up needing to take Nana to the walk-in medical clinic and then to the emergency room for some tests. She had made some gains and started outpatient physical therapy instead of having in-home therapy, but, in the last week, she has gotten weaker and more fatigued. This morning, we have a follow-up appointment with her primary care physician.

Sometimes, it is two steps forward, one – or more – back.

The end of reunion and the “after-party”

On Sunday morning, I went to breakfast early and was able to say good-bye to some of my classmates who were heading out before the official end of reunion to beat the Sunday afternoon traffic. Everyone was very appreciative of the events and very happy to have had time together. It is amazing how easily we relate to one another, even if we only see each other in person every five years, or even if we had not known each other well during our student days.

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Helen Hills Hills Chapel Smith College Northampton MA

At nine o’clock, several dozen alumnae gathered at Helen Hills Hills chapel for a service of remembrance. I arrived early and had a few moments to talk to the college organist about changes over the years. His role and the life at chapel are very different than in my years at Smith. When I was a student, there were Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chaplains and weekly services at chapel for each tradition, along with a network of faculty and community advisors for other traditions. There were three choirs who periodically provided choral music for services, plus a student led gospel choir which sang for some of the ecumenical Christian services and other student volunteers who most often led music at Catholic Mass. (As a Catholic and an organist, I played often at Mass over my four years at Smith, as well as serving for two years as accompanist for one of the choirs and playing almost every organ piece I learned as a prelude or postlude for the Protestant services.)

Now, there are no chaplains and no regularly scheduled religious services on campus. There are advisors available in different spiritual traditions. The chapel still has space for prayer and meditation, but the main body of the chapel is now a multi-use space for concerts, lectures, classes, and the occasional service, such as the one we were gathering for that morning. The chapel was built in the New England Congregational style, but the pews on the main floor have been removed and the floor was changed to wood. It is jarring to me to walk into chapel. I do understand the need to make the space more versatile, but I think it could have been done in a way that was more in keeping with the architecture had the floor been New England hardwood and the chairs less clunky and modern in design. Even more, I lament the loss of service and leadership opportunities in their faith traditions for current students on campus. It was powerful to have services that were planned and attended almost exclusively by women; this basis has been a rock on which I have relied often in the storms that have followed in subsequent decades.

Sorry. End of rant. Back to our service of remembrance…

The prelude and postlude were Bach and we sang three hymns drawn from various traditions and a fellow ’82er sang a solo. There were readings from the Bible, the Qur’an, and from Rumi. Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Matilda Rose Cantwell prepared and led the service very gently and thoughtfully. The most moving part of the service was when Rev. Cantwell invited alumnae to come forward and give a remembrance of someone close to them. People from many different reunion classes spoke about classmates, professors, and family members. Two of my classmates who were from Northampton spoke movingly about their parents’ relationship with the town and the College. My college roommate, who served as one of the deacons of the Ecumencial Christian Church, spoke about two of her fellow deacons who died, Beth, during our senior year, and Amy, who died just weeks before reunion.

After the service, we visited Beth’s memorial tree beside the chapel.

Then, we continued on to our final official reunion activity, Sunday brunch. Our table did express our disappointment that our favorite sour cream coffee cake was not on the buffet.

We went back to our rooms to pack up and make sure that our headquarters was squared away before we left.

Several of us decided to stay in Northampton another night in order to process and decompress, particularly to support our two housemates who had chaired the reunion for our class. We decided to visit the Art Museum, which had a special exhibit on the villas of Oplontis near Pompeii. We then dispersed for hotel check-in and reconvened at Fitzwilly’s in downtown Northampton for dinner, joined by a housemate from the class of ’81 who lives locally. We then went back to one of the hotel rooms and proceeded to talk and talk and talk, with quite a bit of laughter mixed in!

We spent Monday morning doing what we needed to do, in my case, catching up on a bit of shopping, including buying some Massachusetts maple syrup to bring home for us and for Nana and Paco. We met for a final lunch together at Paul and Elizabeth’s, a restaurant at Thorne’s Market that was new when we were students. More eating, talking, and laughing and then a round of good-byes.

Before I left Northampton, I had one more visit to make. Another business that opened in Northampton when we were students is Steve Herrell’s Ice Cream. I always visit when I am in town. They have redecorated since my last visit, giving more area for seating. I splurged and ordered a sampler so I could have four flavors: black raspberry, malted vanilla, peppermint, and apple cider. Yum! I was happy to have the company of my in-town friend. We lingered for a long while, catching up on our lives and marveling at how Smith friends, even when they don’t see each other often, can immediately re-connect on a deep level.

Eventually, though, I had to head for home, although I could not help but feel that reunions are too short and too far apart.