Musicians’ tools of the trade…
This past weekend was a musical extravaganza for me, very busy and extremely rewarding. Knoxville Choral Society and Chamber Chorale, accompanied by members of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, performed our annual Fall Concert on Saturday evening at the historic Bijou Theatre downtown, and presented an encore performance Sunday afternoon at the Community Church in Tellico Village. I was indeed blessed to take part in these concerts and to have been chosen as a soloist. I no longer take these blessings for granted because I know my days as a soloist are limited. I’m getting older every second, after all, and nothing lasts forever.
Between those performances I also had the communion solo for two church services. So it was a very busy weekend, and I will admit that by the time it was all finished, I was pretty worn out. Still, this kind of activity gives me much more than it takes out of me.
Part of the concert program was the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah”, a familiar and beloved sacred choral and orchestral work, and a demanding one. My “Messiah” score is the one I have used for every performance I have ever done since college. It is 31 years old. I purchased it as a college freshman because my voice teacher wanted me to learn some of the soprano solos in it, and even though we did not perform “Messiah” that year, he knew I’d need the score for the next year (and for the rest of my life!). So he told me to go ahead and buy it. It may be the single most-used piece of music I own to this day.
Even when I have sung portions of the work with church choirs that used a different edition, I have always used my own score. It is old and worn, with some dog-eared page corners and rusty marks from paper clips of years gone by, like little scars on the page. It contains markings from the conductors I’ve worked with and from the voice teachers who have coached me, as well as my own unique system of symbols and notes to remind myself to watch, to straighten my tone, to shape a phrase or to raise my eyebrows so I don’t go flat. It’s a sort of shorthand developed over decades. I have my own language of markings, and every other musician I know has theirs as well. It’s as unique as a fingerprint, and just as personal.
As I have asserted before, I am a collector, of objects and of memories, and I am sentimental about all of them. My “Messiah” score is much more to me than a piece of music. It is Scripture set to music, the story of Jesus in types and shadows, and as substance and promise fulfilled. It is also a sort of scrapbook, a memory album of the many times I have raised my voice to offer the gift God gave me back to Him, alone as a soloist and with a chorus of other musicians. So much more than words and notes on paper, my ‘Messiah” score is a trusted friend, filled with my memories of musical offerings past and dreams of the ones yet to come.