Tonight I had a moment of vulnerability with my choir. We had a less-than-stellar first half of a rehearsal. Sopranos' sound was flat and thin. Altos were over singing. Basses were missing. Tenors were a little on the weak side. I was constantly assessing, "Why is this going wrong tonight?" As the night went on, the worse the singing got. I figured it was just a bad night. We all have our off moments.
Then, one of my Altos asked to hear a passage that was troubling for her. She admitted that she was singing it wrong the whole 9 weeks we have been practicing. Trying to keep the rehearsal positive, I vered off on a tangent that, although the choir was not sounding their best, I have always sought progress, not perfection. Since we are getting close to the concert, I have to choose my battles. Am I going to go mad over a wrong note or am I going to accept that, overall, the musical art we are producing is art because it is organic and live? I chose the latter. I chose the latter because live music is human. Live music is art. A recording can be artistic, but I would not quantify it as art. No more than the genius of Michaelangelo is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It is the humanity---blood, sweat, and tears---that creates the "art."
On my way to rehearsal I was listening to NPR (wbez-Chicago, 91.5 FM) and on the Afternoon Show (episode #189) the comedian Jeff Garlin was speaking about his craft. He said, "When you go see good, anything, music, theater, comedy, whatever, it makes you feel more human. That's what I aspire to do when I perform." When my Alto confessed to her "sin," I diverted my thoughts to this statement. I walked over to the piano and showed them a lithograph oh Handel's conducting score. I showed the pages of the music of MESSIAH written in his own hand to the choir. While, I shared, the artifact is tremendous and a treasure to own...my most favorite part was not the way he wrote his music down. It was in the passages he scratched out because he made a mistake or changed his mind. And the breakthrough for me to share at that moment with my choir is that I want them to be proud of the work they do---not because they are working on a masterpiece of music---but because we are working TOGETHER on an experience. The experience that can only be achieved as a collective group which far outperforms the experience of any individual. For me, it is an humbling experience, and an honor, to lead this group. Tears welled in my eyes as I was telling the choir this. The vulnerability, I realize, is that I gave them permission to be human. To make mistakes; to work hard; to sing with joy; to be human.
I was reminded on the drive home about a statement a mentor of mine, Vance George, former conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, once told me. "Music," he said, "is joyful; and it is joyful to sing."