24 April 2009

Unsinging

Pre-concert warmups, the prova de so--"sound test." A chaotic scene, violinists dashing in at the last minute, choir members trying to squeeze onto the risers. We flubbed the run-through of our opening piece. But that was the least of my worries. After coughing all day, I had been nervous about how my voice would hold up. At the moment, it was doing all right, especially in the higher registers. With judicious dosing of cough syrup and lozenges and water, I thought I could do it, I could sing this concert.

They pinned sweet red roses on all the sopranos and altos--this was the day of Sant Jordi, after all. People rushed about applying makeup and ordering their scores. We scrambled to line up in our positions, and then we were marching out, folders clutched in the hand facing the audience.

We nailed the first piece, the Monteverdi we had flubbed before. Our director smiled as the final syllable of the Amen hung in the air and prismed in a million directions through the church archways. I smiled, too, because I felt good. My voice was holding up, feeling limber.

We performed the Bruckner "Libera Me" with feeling and movement, and I almost forgot about my precarious voice. The Schumann, the Duruflé...they all sailed. A quick swig of water and a discreet cough at each applause, and I was doing fine.

But then, near the beginning of a cheerful Murcian ballad, that tickle in my throat. More than tickle. I had to cough, but it would have meant a doubled-over bout of hacking, which really wasn't an option, given my position at the top of the risers, highly visible and without an escape. Also, it wouldn't have made a very pleasant accompaniment to this acapella piece. So I held it in, my whole body tight with the effort to swallow a wrenching cough. Sweat trickled down my back, I became slightly faint. My throat was closed, so singing was not an option. I just stood there and turned pages, fighting away waves of whatever it is that makes one need to cough, telling myself to breathe.

At the end of the piece, I quickly bent down and gasped, nearly choking, swigging water and trying to calm my constricting throat. I made it through the last two songs of the first half, but barely, singing only at half-throttle and with a wretchedly strained, whispery sound. As we exited the hall, I knew I would have to sit out the second half, and the thought nearly made me cry--I had been so looking forward to it.

I felt sorry for myself only until the orchestra's first downbeat. Then I realized that I would be able to hear the choir perform the great Bach Magnificat as I had never heard it. Our familiar voices, our familiar sound, but smoothed round by distance and acoustics, so that my experience was not overlaid by the tenor and the ever-so-slightly sharp alto next to me. Instead, a wholeness. With fresh ears I absorbed it all, both from within and without, hearing the details of well-rehearsed counterpoint and the grand geometric heartbeat that Bach achieves so well. I sang without my voice, I sang immersed in the music, like the slender hand of a geiger counter swinging wildly off the chart.

2 comments:

Astrid said...

I'm glad you had a good concert despite your little problems. It seems to me you got the best deal, listning to the concert and also taking part in giving it.

Hope you'll feel better soon!

sarah said...

i hope you are feeling better now! i play flute in the symphony, and once missed a concert due to a lung problem and was SO sad!

do you remember the apollo earrings giveaway from leah sakellarides on joanna's blog a few weeks ago?! well leah is giving away another beautiful piece this week on my blog, macaroni club! she is so talented, and so sweet to do this! i'd like to invite you to come visit macaroni club, and if you like this piece of leah's, sign up to win it!
xo... sarah