Today was A's Children's Choir performance, and watching these children and young adults singing at a high standard with excellent choral technique, all I could think was: this is where I came from; this is how I started. I admit it, I sat through most of the concert crying my eyes out both moved and nostalgic. How could I have known in my choir days that performing would eventually become my LIFE (and for how many of them may this be the beginning of something bigger than they can currently imagine)?
In high school, I was fortunate to work with prominent US choral conductor Linda Allen Anderson, quite possibly one of the most extraordinary musicians and people I have ever encountered. Demanding, dynamic, and passionately committed both to the music and her students, she seemed capable of creating musical excellence out of rawest materials and against all the administrative odds (looking back with adult eyes and knowing what challenges she faced I still wonder how on earth she did it!)
Even though I only had one year with her at the helm (although she remained a much-valued mentor), that year quite literally changed my life. Sure, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by classical music at home, and I appreciated and enjoyed it, but it was nothing like this. This was being an active part of it all in a different way, and was something I hadn't experienced before: not only having to raise my own expectations and demands since Mrs A refused to accept anything other than the highest standards REGARDLESS of circumstances, but also experiencing firsthand the jolt of energy of a disparate group of musicians focused into a unified and complete whole which for sure exceeded the sum of the parts. The Choral Experience, with which I had previously been unfamiliar beyond a jr high school show choir, and singing the occasional round with friends or family, hit me harder than anything one could imagine.
Granted, the standard that year WAS extraordinary: we performed not only some rather challenging pieces by Hugo Distler and Randall Thompson, but the final concert of the year showcased Bach Cantata BWV4, "Christ Lag in Todesbanden" - complete, in German, with orchestra, performed to an extraordinary standard! I had NO IDEA until then that any musical experience could be that all-encompassing, that INTOXICATING.
I was hooked. My prior thoughts of a degree in French went out the window and it seemed inevitable to me that I would pursue music (at that point assuming it would be choral education - I had no operatic aspirations until much later!).
Watching these children today it was impossible not to wonder which of them might have such an experience in their own lives. The musical (and vocal) standard was high and they were a pleasure and a delight to watch and hear. I only wish them the same impetus and joy from their choral experiences that I have carried with me since then.
My focus on choral music may have migrated to an operatic solo career and my vocal technique may have changed in the process, but I'm not sure my response to the music or commitment to making every musical experience with which I'm involved the highest standard it can be - a work ethic and desire to "raise the bar" that was instilled in me during that year - has wavered one jot since those days.
Long may it reign, and thanks Mrs A - you can count me among the many students whose lives you not only enriched but quite literally changed forever just by being who you are and doing what you do so very, very well. It was a greater gift than you can ever know.