During the "Downtime" About Singing by Barbara Biddison
What do HG people do when they're not in a play, or not reading new plays, or not painting the stage floor? When they have so-called "spare time." One option is to spend a few hours helping to prepare the HG newsletter for mailing, which I just did during the past two days. And now I have read the opening article in that newsletter about the Treble Choir, and I am so moved to be reminded of my own first choir experience beginning when I was about 15. The HG Treble Choir offers the same kind of experience as I found in my McAllen High School A Cappella Choir directed by an extraordinary man, Bev Henson.. I always mention that we met and sang before classes in the morning because so many football players wanted to sing and football practice was after school. You have to love it to be willing to warm up and
start singing at 7:30 in the morning!
So, this Bev Henson put together an a cappella choir, singing without accompaniment, in a mixed up fashion on the risers. He said that if you could hear the other parts you would stay on pitch . I might be singing my 2nd soprano part with an alto to my right, a tenor to my left and a 1st soprano next to a baritone behind me. We memorized--did not hold music in concert. There was nothing temperamental about this man. We all loved singing under his direction (just hands, no baton), and we all worked diligently to learn the music. And, by the way, when we walked into the high school music room, he was always at the piano playing whatever struck his fancy that day.
We had regular school concerts, and we traveled. I especially remember a trip into Mexico where we stayed with families (Mc Allen is on the border) and sang for their local audiences. Again all music was memorized.
When we were on a bus on the road he insisted that we dress well, claiming that the group's behavior was affected by our clothing choices of dresses for girls and dress shirts with slacks for boys. No one complained---it was just "expected" for all. He also expected that we would welcome a challenge, and he produced Menotti's AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS just a few years after its 1951 first performance anywhere,, casting all of it with high school kids. I played Amahl and the girl who lived across the street from me played the mother. (I kept the rough cane/walking stick for this crippled shepherd boy for years after.)
Though I never studied to be a professional musician, and, in fact, do not really "read music," I often learn a part before others because I can tell if notes go up or down, and I can count for rhythm, and I listen carefully and pay close attention. I think I learned long ago the "concepts about music" such as melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics, and performance practice that Thomas mentions in his newsletter choir piece. And, as I think back on my initial exposure to music, I realize that my appreciation for the joy and beauty of choral performance lasts for me at least until now. I began singing with Wellsboro Womens Chorus in 1982, and so far, at 80-something, I'm still singing with WWC today.. For me it has been truly "a lifelong relationship with music." Thank you, Bev Henson. Thank you, Thomas, for reminding me of the gift of music throughout our lives.