The sheer joy of it all

Few life experiences can equal the pleasure of singing with others. I first discovered its transformative power as a preadolescent alto and have ridden on its magic carpet throughout my life journey. Singing with others is as important to me as breathing.

I can clearly recall my dear sister Peggy groping for the words to describe the thrill of being part of an exquisite 90-voice all-girl choir in her teens. The Peabody Junior Choir, later called the Phoenix Junior Choir was a jewel in Baltimore’s fine music crown for decades.

In my 20s, I attended a life-altering performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D by the Cathedral Choral Society and Orchestra in the acoustically rich National Cathedral. The choir was huge. I counted the names of 8o sopranos listed in the program.  Thrilling beyond words, but that was listening. Singing in such a group is quite another matter.

This is true. Even at my advanced age,  I still am accepted in two choirs at our church. My spirits invariably lift every time I get together with these friends to rehearse and sing.

Several years ago, I managed to survive an audition for the Choral Society of Durham, NC, a high-quality chorus of 150 experienced singers directed by Rodney Wynkoop of the Duke University faculty.

As he approached his 25th anniversary as the group’s conductor, Wynkoop granted me an interview for a feature article I planned to write for area newspapers. As we spoke, he revealed how deeply his choral conducting affected him and noted a special moment that occurs in choral singing. It’s difficult to put into words, but he tried.

For a choral singer, he explained, there comes a special time in a performance when every singer in the chorus simultaneously reaches a moment of intimate communication with the listener. “Something deep inside somehow brings the whole soul of the singer into it, and there’s nothing else they can add to the performance,” Wynkoop said.“Each of us is transformed in those moments when we are at our best.”

Singing together “is about reaching other people, opening doors to imagination and the truths we can’t put into words,”  He said. His eyes teared up as he spoke.  “We open those doors.  Singers understand this as a shared, richly rewarding experience with others, doing something you love — together. It is like a special love.

“This is my greatest joy is as a conductor.  I love so much when people have a moment of insight, when something happens musically that has never happened before.”

Stacy Horn beautifully expresses the way choral singing affects her in her book “Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others.” In her introduction, which she titles “Prelude,” she writes: “Singing invariably and exquisitely triumphs over all my defenses; it has become a place where I still hope and still believe, and so I sometimes just lose it up there. I’ll cry and cry at the sheer joy of it all.”


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