I wasn’t nervous until I walked into the building. It hadn’t seemed like that big of a deal, or perhaps I had only been trying to convince myself that this was going to be a low-key, low-pressure, informal gathering of choirs, but as soon as I opened the front door and heard the perfectly polished sounds of one of the other local church choirs, I started to worry.
I almost felt like I was in the first season of Glee, showing up to the show choir competition and hearing all of the other award winning groups for the first time, and then looking back at my ragtag bunch of football players, drama queens, nerds, and misfits with trepidation. This was going to be my introduction into the society of local choir directors; most of the other church choirs were there and performing, and I wanted to come out of the gate strong. Would they accept me as one of them? Would I impress them with my choir? Would I have to change my name and move to Canada? But of course there was no time to worry about that. It was time to warm up.
Most of the choirs had found some sort of rehearsal room in the basement of the cathedral where the carol sing was being held, but I found my choir hanging out in the hall with all of the food. They are good at singing and sniffing out the goodies, and I was very proud of them. Having just run from another concert myself, I was very hungry. But glancing around at the group I had in front of me, I got nervous again. We only had about half of the choir with us, and the only bass that was there was going to be accompanying us on the piano, so actually we had zero basses. I moved one of the altos to the soprano part to balance out the abundance of altos that we had, and we did a few vocal warmups as I continued to have anxious visions of social and professional misfortune.
About ten minutes before the carol sing started, someone came down to tell us the stage was free, if we wanted to sound check. The way this event worked was that each choir would sing an anthem, and everyone would sing two Christmas carols in between each choir’s presentation, and most of the other choirs had already run through their piece onstage. We went up, but by this time the pews were packed full of people, and I didn’t want to sing our number in front of the audience right before we were going to sing it for them again, so we got ourselves situated and sang only a few measures, just for balance. And you know what? We sounded pretty good. Maybe this was not something to be worried about after all.
One thing that you should know about me is that, as an artist, I am very self-critical. When I finish singing concerts and people ask how they went, I generally say that they went well, but there were ten things I wish I could go back and fix. I am very rarely truly satisfied with any performance that I have given, and I apologize to my poor choir for transferring some of this onto them. Because they are a fine choir, and are honestly singing better and better all of the time, and none of this is really about them at all. I set up these problems in my own mind, and then am relieved when everything works out okay, which I suppose is better then thinking everything will be perfect and then being disappointed with an A-. But after hearing them on the stage I finally started to relax. Until I heard the first group up to sing.
Wow! This choir was amazing! I would buy a CD of that choir singing that song in that space! This was terrible news! How could anyone compete with that?! And yet, they were so good, and singing so beautifully, that it was very hard to do anything but enjoy their music. I was transported, out of myself and my worries, and into Christmas. And then we heard more choirs. Some sang technically better than we did, and some probably were not as polished, but everyone was there to join in song to celebrate, and it no longer mattered at all which group sang more in tune or had better diction. I felt part of a community, and when it was our turn to sing I was excited to share our music with the crowd.
We sounded great, in case you were worried. After the concert was over I was flooded with compliments. “Your choir was so small, but you got so much sound out of them!” I heard more than once. “We didn’t know your choir was so good!” I was told. I was asked by some of the other choir directors to meet up and talk about musical things. I was accepted. And I finally and fully realized that this was not a church choir throwdown after all. This was a gathering of peers and friends to share and rejoice. This was not a competition; this was music. I’m so glad we were there to participate, and we sounded awesome too. And also I think I volunteered to host next year. Game on.