21 December 2008

Musical magic

We had our first Christmas concert yesterday, up in the hills of the Garrotxa, in a town perched on the edge of a magnificent volcanic basalt cliff. Today we have our second one, this time here in Barcelona, and it will include all the groups of children's choirs associated with our "parent" choir. It will be the kind of thing where little girls tug at their tights and little boys pick their noses while they sing angelic Christmas carols, all the proud parents snap pictures, and everyone oohs and ahs and feels lots of Christmas spirit.

The rehearsal yesterday morning, kids piled everywhere and spilling onto the floor, reminded me intensely of the annual all-school Christmas chapel at the private school I attended from kindergarten through ninth grade. It was the only chapel of the year where all age groups were gathered in the big high school gym, all the choirs sang, and each class recited a portion of the Luke chapter 2 Christmas story, everyone dressed up in their holiday best.

I vividly remember a musical epiphany I experienced at one of these Christmas chapels. As a wee girl, cross-legged on the gymnasium floor (the bigger kids got to sit on the bleachers), I puzzled over what made the high school concert choir sound so beautiful, that thing in all the music they sang making me ache somewhere inside. I wanted to be one of those big kids someday, and I wanted to be able to create those sounds. I knew there was something different in their music, something more then the simple melodies that we sang. And suddenly (in the same way that "suddenly a great company of the heavenly host" appear in the shepherds' sky), I "saw" how two lines of melody were happening at the same time, or three, or four. Even though they were all singing the same words, they were singing different sounds.

I heard harmony, and understood it, and was thunderstruck.

That awe hasn't ever quite left me. Every time I sing in a choir, I still feel wrapped up in the magic of voices in harmony. It's why I like to sit next to the tenors or the sopranos, why I get a kind of concert high, why music moves me. Because so much more than those two or four or eight lines is created when they are brought together.

I hope some little girl who sings melodies today will have the same sudden understanding, will unravel the the sonorous threads that create harmony, as if opening a beribboned box on Christmas day.

No comments: