Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wife Rule #20: She is My Constant Star

I will always remember how difficult it was the first few months after I joined my church's signature choir. It was spring time, and I had just finished going through the special preparatory training choir for two months, learning and performing Hayden's The Creation. Immediately afterwards, I was thrust into the crunch period of trying to come up to speed with those who had been singing in the full choir for years and already knew much of the music.

It seemed like we were simultaneously preparing for our church's upcoming worldwide conference, learning a full program of music to record a patriotic CD for summer release, learning Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Brahms' Requiem, and a separate two-hour concert repertoire for the early summer tour the choir was going to be taking. Much of this music had to be memorized. In addition to all that, there was always the weekly Sunday morning television broadcast. It was both the best and worst of times to be a new member in the choir, with exhilarating musical opportunity and heavy demands.

I remember that during one CD recording session I was struggling to try to follow the conductor and follow the music, which required looking two places at once. I must have ended up favoring the music, because the conductor stopped and started laying into the choir about how vital it was to keep our noses out of our music folders and have our eyes on him at all times--the music we were recording more or less needed to be memorized, which seemed beyond me at that time. I remember the searing shame when, during his lecture, he seemed to single me out with his eyes. I felt he had stopped the entire 500-member ensemble to give me a personal reprimand.

My confidence was badly shaken--it was more than I could take. My eyes burned and I stopped singing altogether. I was determined not to be a hindrance, so I simply mouthed the words for the rest of the recording session that night. When I got home, I unloaded to my wife, who had been alone with her own burdens nearly every day and night that week, due to the recording sessions.

I told her I didn't know whether I could continue in the choir--it was too much, too fast. I told her I had developed serious doubts as to whether I was a capable enough singer to contribute. I went on and on in my defeated diatribe. She didn't interrupt me or tell me how hard her day had been--she simply looked into my eyes with that unconditional compassion and love and encouragement that she seems to have an endless supply of. When I was done, she gently reassured me that she believed in me and that I could do it.

With her encouragement, I decided to stay in the choir and pushed onward. One of the next challenges came while learning the music for Brahms' Requiem. Just days before the first concert, the conductor told us that he wanted us to sing the first movement from memory. We were all scrambling. I only remember bringing sheet music to work to practice during lunch once during my three years in the choir--my hasty attempt to commit the irregular, flowing, melodiless music and German text to memory in time for the concert. It was one of the hardest memorization feats I have ever attempted because of the limited time and the difficulty of the material. I was still cramming during the ride to the concert.

During the performance, through some miracle, the choir pulled off the first movement of Requiem from memory. With the eyes of the choir fixed on him, our conductor was able to take the rich subtlety of Brahms' music and draw out the maximum possible nuance and emotion. It felt so good to be part of something so beautiful and wholesome. All the practice and hard work had paid off.

When I met my wife after the concert, her eyes were glistening. "It was so beautiful," she told me. "From the first notes of the opening through the end of the first movement I just cried. The music was wonderful, but I was so proud of you, and the whole choir. You did it so well!" Her words filled me with warmth and satisfaction and gratitude for her, my best supporter and biggest fan. She is the one who knows my weakness better than any other person alive, but chooses to never stop believing in me and encouraging me. As my best friend, she is as constant as the North Star that shone above us that warm spring night.

I smiled at her, and took her hand in mine. I enjoyed the feeling of her hand and the feeling of our love as we walked away from the concert hall into the darkness, together under the starry sky.


Mom said...

Matt, I feel and have many times felt your pain and panic. Memorizing difficult music was so hard and terrifying for me. I sometimes wondered if I was cut out for the Choir, too, especially during my early years. You are so blessed to have such a wonderful supportive wife, who encourages you to greater heights. I'm glad you didn't quit!

LuckyMatt said...

I'm awfully glad I didn't quit either. After the initial ramp-up period, it was never nearly so hard again. We sure had a great experience singing together!

Paige said...

I wandered over here to your blog from Amy's illustrator mommy blog (my sister). Although I can't totally relate to your memorization woes, I do understand in a small way the demands of being in such a choir. I play with the BOTS, and we are so honored when we get to play with the choir. And I felt that same frustration and wondering if I was good enough when we first started--sometimes I still feel that way! But it's such a blessing to be able to perform such wonderful music, and to get to experience the things we do.

Anyway, I love your tributes to your wife.

LuckyMatt said...

It was certainly hard, but so very rewarding. I am very blessed to have a wife who would support me in it.