I will admit, I love all kinds of music. There is always a tune stuck in my head. It could be the last thing I heard on the radio, or something that is really special. Handel’s “Messiah” is one of those pieces of music I look forward to every year as the holidays approach.
I first sang it many years ago with my high school choir back in Pittsburgh and just loved the sound of all those different parts and voices blended together. I always hoped I might someday have the chance to sing it again outside of singing along to the Christmas CDs.
When we moved to South Jersey 20 years ago and I read about the Stockton Oratorio and the community choir that performed “Messiah,” I had high hopes of joining them. But with kids, work and time constraints I just never had the opportunity to commit to the weekly practices that begin in September.
In 2013, I gave it a try and walked into Alton Auditorium at Stockton, not knowing anyone and wondering just how I would fit into this huge group of people. A few notes in and I knew I had a lot of relearning and practice in front of me. But the music was still beautiful, and it would all fall into place. Now, in my third time around with the Stockton choir, I am really enjoying being a piece in this giant mosaic.
The eclectic, interesting and always unpredictable Beverly Vaughn in front of the group makes it a point to welcome every person who joins the choir or returns for another performance. With a great deal of enthusiasm, she encourages every section to hit their notes at precisely the right moment and it makes every person better and their voice stronger week after week.
You walk in each Monday night ready for anything because you never know what might happen before everyone goes their separate ways at the end of practice. There has been every variety of life celebrations: engagements, birthday wishes, impromptu piano concerts, visiting conductors and even a recent visit from an Italian choirmaster who taught everyone a quick song before leaving. Somehow or other it all blends together to make this very diverse group — that numbers over 100 and ranges in age from 10 to 80-plus — a unit able to make just beautiful music together.
For me, another very positive aspect of singing in the choir preparing for the concert is how much concentration and focus it demands to do well. No cellphones, no distractions, no texting — just follow the music and the director and be able to leave all the distractions for a few hours to concentrate on making beautiful music.
Listening to “Messiah” you can sense the buildup Handel created to take the singers and the audience to everyone’s favorite “Hallelujah” chorus, and it is really exhilarating getting to that point in the music.
The concert is Sunday, and the final two practices this week will magically make any gaps or bumps disappear. And after years of attending my kids’ baseball, soccer, and football games, it’s awfully neat to have my husband and my kids as my best cheerleaders and encouraging me to do well, but more importantly, have a lot of fun doing it.