Giving silence for silence

Life is good today.  Why?  Because I wrote two poems that I actually like.  (When I started to write “life” I wrote “love,” instead.  Coincidence?  Probably not.)

I also bought a bunch of new music/ started the search for more.  It’s interesting how big of an impact music can have on your life.  I will, by no means, profess to be an expert (in fact, when it comes to genres and even names of artists I am completely hopeless) but it, nonetheless, is a HUGE part of my life.  When I was in high school, singing was what kept me in touch with the world.  I spent countless hours in rehearsal, working hard and laughing with my friends and making ridiculous jokes.  I remember that, during the construction, they moved a history class into the band room across from the choir room, in the music wing.  I loved how thoroughly alienated non-music kids felt in that wing, because it was ours. We sang fearlessly, competed with each other with cutthroat abandon, and loved each other fiercely.  But, most of all, we made incredible music.  For minutes at a time, we were able to suspend reality for each other, together, and remind ourselves that there are reasons to keep living left in this world.

I miss that immensely, but it’s the kind of missing that gives you the chills (in a good way), and makes you count yourself lucky for having experienced it.  I loved solo singing, too, but there was always something about the choral setting that was just magical.  When I was a sophomore in high school, barely a human being yet, we sang Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” at state honors choir.  During one of our rehearsals, the director had us stand in a huge circle around the room, turned all the lights off, and we sang.  Never before and never again have I had such a distinct experience of simultaneously standing in a tiny, intimate room (which it was not, SATB state honors choir was pretty big) and catching a glimpse of the entire universe.  That sounds hyperbolic, I know.  But it’s not.

My favorite memory of “Sleep,” though, was with the Portage Northern High School Songleaders Chorale circa 2007, at festival.  At the end of the song (which you will be able to hear, as I’m posting a link to a choir singing it via youtube), which is extremely quiet, the sopranos hold out one note on the vowel “eee” (of the word “sleep”) while the rest of the choir swells in and out on the word “sleep,” becoming more and more quiet until it fades away.  To hear that note is breathtaking—you almost lose your ability to recognize it as people singing, it becomes a shimmering presence.  The experience of actually singing it is even more staggering.  Literally.  Something about that note, and the vowel we sang it on, made it resonate inside my mouth and inside my head in a way that made the room spin.  For some reason, this feeling was especially distinct at festival, I was almost unable to walk away when we were finished.

Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” (this isn’t a completely perfect rendition, but I can’t find one I like more at the current moment)

Another Whitacre song worth mentioning is “A Boy and a Girl.”  We sang it in octet, which was probably the single greatest memory I have from high school.  We were like a nuclear family within Songleaders Chorale.  We did everything almost exclusively ourselves.  I listen back on it now, and wonder if we were some sort of strange miracle.  I think we were in that stage where we were just starting to have an inkling of what we were doing, but not enough to rob us of our connections to intuition and feeling.  I don’t think people had any idea of how hard we worked to do what we did.  I’m talking hours and hours of eight high school choir kids in rehearsal when no one had actually told them to be there, and countless more hours at home, alone, learning your part.  A lot of the stuff we did was eight-part, therefore, one to a part—it was exhilarating and terrifying to feel that sort of responsibility to one another.  In retrospect, I think what strikes me the most now is that we weren’t doing what we did for any kind of glory or personal gain.  It was never a means to an end for us.  We did it because when we sang together, it helped lead us closer and closer to discovering our selves.

Anyway, back to “A Boy and a Girl.”  Bree (the first soprano to my second) and I had to stand on completely opposite ends of the octect-horseshoe for this song, because Eric Whitacre looooves his dissonance, and he loves him some soprano-on-soprano dissonance most of all.  There was one moment (okay, probably a few moments) where we were literally a half step apart (in this recording it’s at 1:49, “giving their kisses”).  I don’t remember exactly what the notes were, but I want to say it was something like an F and an F#.  This note was the BANE of my existence.  I remember the four of us girls all in a practice room at Northern, Bree playing it over and over on the piano, singing along with me what seemed like a hundred times.  I didn’t actually get it for the first time until I was standing outside the practice room in the hallway, with Bree singing very far away from me.  That’s when we came up with the standing arrangement, which was the only time we ever stood that way.

Eric Whitacre’s “A Boy and a Girl”

I didn’t intend for this to become such a long post, but I’m glad it did.  It’s been a while since I’ve had the courage to claim that part of me, because, in the past, something like this might have made it feel like it was over.  But of course, it’s not.  What we made, what we had…that will never die.

To tie this in to what I said at the beginning, I have found myself in a new phase of music-obsession that is a dangerous one: alternative/indie.  If I’m even identifying that correctly.  I call it dangerous because people who listen to this kind of music are, quite often, extremely judgmental.  If you take nothing else away from this post, maybe it’s that you shouldn’t judge people based on their limited knowledge of bands by means of which you are super cool because you knew about them before anyone else did.

Like I said, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert.  What I do know is that music is written into who I am, and I know myself well enough to hold onto that.

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