A voice teacher once told me that he wrote the names of his fellow soloists on the inside cover of each score, along with performance dates and venues. That gave him an easy record of his performances and colleagues. I took on the habit and I can say that the inside cover of my Messiah score is now chock full. I've gone from being the youngest member of the solo quartet to the oldest (by far). I can honestly say I never tire of the piece. And it has come to represent the official kick-off to the holiday season.
2020 marked the first year I had not sung Messiah in literally decades. It just felt wrong. So I was more than happy to pick up my dog-eared score once again this year. And particularly happy to collaborate with the Arkansas Choral Society and members of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. When texting with Concertmaster Andrew Irvin about how excited I was to see him again, he responded that it would be wonderful to "revisit an old friend with old friends." And there were no truer words.
My history with this group of musicians dates back many years. After all this time, there is a comfort and familiarity that allows me to bring my best, as I know the colleagues surrounding me are supportive, sympathetic, and thoroughly committed.
But this comfort level didn't always exist. There was one memorable performance about 10 years ago when I was feeling absolutely panicked as I was getting dressed in my hotel room. I had that horrible feeling that I simply couldn't get through the performance (or even get out the door). I called my husband in hopes he could talk me off the ledge, and, thankfully, he did.
Before I tell you his words, you must keep in mind that this is the same man who once consoled me in an unexpected manner when I went to him in tears regarding a concert I was producing. "I'm starting to think even my good friends aren’t going to show up," I whined. He took me in his arms, patted my back, and said, "Oh, honey, of course they won't." So my hopes weren't high when I called him from my hotel room in my fit of pre-Messiah nerves. But I was out of options. Turns out his no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase thinking was just what I needed. All these years later, his words come back to me each time I perform this piece.
"No one is coming to hear you sing. They're coming to experience Handel's beautiful music. And they're coming to hear a story. They want to be uplifted. Your job is to be the conduit between the music and the audience. You love this oratorio. And you're prepared. So get out there, look them in the eyes, and tell them a story."
Those simple words changed my direction for the evening. It was no longer about my voice, my technique, my personal performance. The dress, the hair, the makeup… all secondary. It was about the music, the words, the human connection between people who want to hear something beautiful and those of us who want to share it. I have never enjoyed a performance more than I did that night. The greatest compliment I've ever received came from an audience member who said I helped bring the words to life.
I can't consistently recreate that experience when I perform. But it's easiest with Messiah, where I can always remember there is a story to tell and people who want (and even need) to hear it. Remember, as the alto soloist, I'm the lucky one who gets to sing "Arise, shine, for thy light is come." It doesn't get much better than that.
Editor's note: Arkansas Symphony Concertmaster Andrew Irvin was honored by Musical America as one of the Top 30 Professionals of the Year for his "Bedtime with Bach" series.
You might also like:
* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that — and our efforts to promote excellence in string playing, teaching, performance and community — please click here to sign up for our free, bi-weekly email newsletter. And if you've already signed up, please invite your friends! Thank you.Tweet
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.