Leaving last night, all dolled up in our party duds, none of us really knew what to expect for this development party. We usually wind up donating our services to benefit the company (although not on this occasion - we were all delighted to note we would get an honorarium, which is very unusual for these events!) and then spend much of the evening schmoozing and answering questions from opera novices.It was about 50 miles away from where we were staying so we carpooled, but even so, we were all expecting a long evening, and one that was likely to be rather dull for us.
These events are vitally important for the opera companies to extend their profile to new audiences as well as offer some added value to their existing sponsorships and none of us really "mind" doing them - we want people to support the art form as much as the companies want and need them to do so! - but typically they can be a bit of a bore for the singers, with little artistic satisfaction in being trotted out to give "the donors" a chance to see Real Opera Singers up close and personal. Some singers go as far as to call them a "dog and pony show" and, on occasion, it can feel rather like being the trained pet on display. Again, while we all recognise how very important it is to help educate new audiences and break down some of the perceived barriers newcomers to the artform may have, they can be rather wearing events!
So, when we arrived at the beautiful - SERIOUSLY beautiful - home of the hosts for the evening (KLS, I thought of you and mentally clocked many of the construction details!) and waited to be called to sing we were all expecting "business as usual".
Our performances were fine - I'm still fighting Allergy Hell, but everything worked tolerably well - and the others presented charming versions of their own repertoire. After we'd finished singing we assumed that would be it and geared ourselves up to go do our bit for King and Company with the snacks and drinks when we were all called back to the main room.
Our host announced that many of the audience were members of the same Mennonite Church (note to self: must learn more, because in my ignorance I had always thought Mennonites were just this side of the Amish in terms of leading an anti-technology and non-modern life, and this was most assuredly a very modern home and collection of folks!), and would now like to sing for us.
What followed the most extraordinary 4-part a capella rendition of a Mennonite hymn. This was choral singing of a standard I have not heard in YEARS but beyond the sheer musical quality of the singing, the enthusiasm, freedom of expression, and sheer beauty of this moment was beyond description. I admit it - it made me cry. As professionals, we so often forget the JOY in our music as we become bogged down in the business details, our own vocal technique obsessions, the pressures of "the career", and what a friend of mine calls "the shoulds", where we try to please all of the people all of the time and thus lose our own sense of artistry and motivation along the way. Hearing this spontaneous outburst of freely-given song was a wonderful reminder of why we do it; stripped of "the shoulds" and offered on its own terms without expectations or restrictions it was the purest form of musicmaking.
And it just shows how important it is NOT to assume, ever: far from being an imposition, or even a "typical donor schmooz", the entire evening was an inspiration - beautiful surroundings, a warm welcome, and an honest musical reminder of why we do this singing thing. What a gift.