This past Monday should have been the first University Chorus rehearsal of the semester.
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.
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.
While it is common for people to choose resolutions for the new year, it’s not something that I usually do.
I don’t find January first to be an especially salient day, coming, as it does, during a very busy and high stress time of the year.
If I do feel the need to make a change in my life, I prefer to just jump in and work on whatever-it-may-be at that moment.
Sometimes that works out, but often it doesn’t. So much of life is beyond personal control that my resolution would have to be extremely important not to let it be displaced by the needs of others.
I can hear the wheels turning with the old mantras of “you need to put yourself first” and “put on your oxygen mask before assisting other passengers” and the like.
But that doesn’t ring true to who I am. I usually think of others first.
That isn’t to say that I am neglectful of myself. In order to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” you can’t be mean or dismissive of yourself.
I can, however, set priorities and I usually choose to help others over doing solo endeavors. That means that things I might like to do get set aside. Sometimes, I get back to them. Sometimes, I don’t.
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…
It’s been a bit hard to keep track of who is in residence at our house.
Starting in mid-September with B out-of-town on business for two weeks, we have fluctuated between being a household of three, four, or five.
I was away at my MASS MoCA residency, about which there are many posts, and returned just in time for B to fly to Missouri to meet up with daughter T, whose job as a crew chief for a study of the effects of fire on prairie plants had concluded.
They drove back in T’s car and we had a week together before daughter E and granddaughter ABC embarked on ABC’s first trip to the UK to visit her daddy (our son-in-law L) and his family and friends, most of whom had not yet met ABC in person.
It’s pretty adorable to have a four-month-old with both US and British passports off on such a big adventure! E and L have been sending lots of pictures and videos to us, which we have been sharing with Nana and Paco. It keeps us all from missing E and ABC too much, although it is also a bit of a trial run for the big move sometime next year when E’s spousal visa is approved and she and ABC relocate to the UK.
I’ll think about that more later…
Meanwhile, we are waiting to be a household of five again, for most of November and into December, when we hope that L will be able to join us for Christmas.
At least, that is the plan, although T is job hunting and could need to leave the area again…
If there is one thing I have learned in recent years, it is that change is inevitable and often not under my control, so I will adjust as needs dictate.
And life is continuing in that vein. Baby ABC is thriving, as Nana becomes more tired and weaker. Nana does have some times that are higher energy than others, though, and it is a huge blessing for all of us to be able to visit often. Of course, ABC steals the show whenever she is there!
Everyone needs a high and spending time with a precious new life is one of the best highs there can be.
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.
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.
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.