At rehearsal last week, I asked Greg Brown, the interim choral director, “So what songs are we expected to memorize?” He responded matter-of-factly, “All of them.” I froze. We had just learned the lyrics two weeks ago, and our concert was a week out.
For previous concerts, Mallorie Chernin, our then-choral director, allowed us to carry music onto the stage, but she still held expectations for us to keep our eyes on her conducting. I naively took this for granted and transferred what I was used to with Mallorie to Greg. To make matters worse, this was the seniors’ final concert and we had put together a really diverse repertoire. Not only were the stakes higher, wanting to end the seniors’ run with Chorus with a bang, but the songs that we had to now memorize included folk songs representing various cultures, like that of the Hawaiian, Swedish, Japanese, Hungarian, and Arabic. Even singing with the text, my tongue and mind wrestled with the syllables of the lyrics; memorizing the songs in a week seemed like a hopeless cause. There was just no way we could force these songs into our memory in time.
At the end of the rehearsal, Greg tasked me with setting up extra rehearsals over the weekend, an added responsibility that came with my position as President. Out of respect and admiration for the senior class, a large reason that brought me back from abroad for the spring semester, I was driven to push the group as far as we could go. Together, we set up three rehearsal sessions and made plans to focus on specific songs for each session.
Prior to the first rehearsal, I worried about my own inability to memorize the music to my standards. Before college, I had never sang in a chorus; my only musical background was in classical piano and orchestral violin, so employing techniques of integrating the music into memory through muscle memory felt more familiar. I fretted over being unable to share any personal insight to helping the group memorize the repertoire. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I showed up to the rehearsal room early, and drilled myself into practicing: playing the piano to accompany my singing. An hour passed, and no one showed up for the first rehearsal. People told me that they had practiced on their own, and I had to calm my nerves and trust that everything would work out in the end.
Turnout improved for the second and third rehearsal, and, thankfully, there were others who were more experienced in choral music than I was. They stepped in and helped facilitate the rehearsal, breaking up the music into components, identifying weak links, and leading us into singing at various speeds. Still, by the end of the rehearsals, some felt like we should refocus our efforts into convincing Greg to let us use the music on stage. When the actual rehearsal came around, we were ready to profess our thoughts to Greg. Before we could, Greg set us into warmups and quickly into running through the pieces off-book, without the music.
It was not miraculous. The text fell apart, and we assigned gibberish sounds that were close to the right pitches, but the music wasn’t wholly disastrous and we ended together. Despite our hopes that Greg would empathize with our struggles and forfeit this goal, he insisted. We had one more rehearsal after this one, and we had to be off-book by then. The last rehearsal before the concert came along, and we still hadn’t met 100% of our goal, but we refused to give up. Greg decided to let us use the text for the Hawaiian piece, on the condition that the other pieces were solidly memorized. Outside of rehearsal, I carried my music everywhere I went, and I saw other members of the chorus diligently putting their share of the work.
On the the afternoon of the concert, we were a mix of eagerness and terror, wanting to celebrate our incredible seniors, but also wavering under our confidence. The concert wasn’t perfect, but it surely played out better than what I had imagined the prior week when Greg answered my question. As expected, the Senior Song left us emotional, but we kicked off the night with a post-concert party, where we joyfully belted pop songs, stumbling over some words in different verses, but proudly following through. How perfect we were at performing didn’t matter to us as much as reveling in the atmosphere of compathy, and knowing that made our time together sublime.