Tag Archives: Carson-Newman College

Duets

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Longtime friendship, faith and music…

As an incoming college freshman in the fall of 1982, I was meeting tons of new people and enjoying the process of finding my place in what was essentially a new world.  I realized quickly that some of these new people would be acquaintances with whom I’d share the occasional class, some would become close friends throughout the 4 years of school…and some would remain in my life for the rest of my life.  Then there were the few who came into my life, vanished from it and reappeared years later.

Marc was one of that last category of people.  We met as freshmen at Carson-Newman College (now University) and, as we were both music majors, we had a number of classes together.  I liked this fellow right away. His boyish good looks, beautiful tenor voice, easy smile and sweet spirit drew me to him immediately and we became fast friends.  Spring semester found us both singing in A Cappella Choir and sharing long hours on the bus together as we toured during spring break.

He decided the following year to change schools, and we lost touch after that.  I often joke that he “abandoned” me, (which always gets an eye-roll and a quick retort!) but I realized he was following God’s path for him, just as I followed mine by remaining where I was.  I thought of him so often in the years that followed…but I never followed through on trying to find him.

Flash forward to 2011, the beginning of the season for Knoxville Choral Society.  I was talking with my friend Tina and heard the name “Marc” and asked what Marc and where?  She pointed in his direction, I turned, and he and I both looked in shock at one another, recognizing long-lost faces and voices and yelling, “YOU!”  And pointing at each other like we were school children.  Hugs and laughs and stories followed…and the reconnection was forged.

He started singing at Messiah Lutheran the year before I did, and after I joined him there, we were blessed to sing in the choirs together, and to join our voices on many duets.  Our voices blend in a way that I can only describe as magical…and together, we have been able to create and enjoy some truly memorable moments.  When we sing and things are working right, the joy I feel is almost overwhelming.  He left Messiah and went to Ebenezer United Methodist, where I ended up accepting a call a couple of years later (I fear he will tire of me “following” him from church to church!)  And there, too, we have shared duets and delights, and I hope those continue for a long time to come.

Musicians are people first, and as such, we bring our issues with us every time we sing.  Sometimes those things keep us from achieving our musical and spiritual best. And sometimes, for lack of a  better description, we are blessed to be able to “sing them out”, experiencing catharsis, cleansing and healing.  Those moments, I believe, are little glimpses of Heaven on Earth…and I am so grateful to be able to share them with Marc in a way that only the two of us can fully comprehend.

Today, on Marc’s birthday, I share this thumbnail sketch of him, our friendship,  and our partnership in music and in faith.  And I share some pictures from the last few years, a little sad that there are none of us together from our college days. But I am so grateful for the renewed connection with him, my partner in crime…and in duets.

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Pie Jesu…Blessed Jesus

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Faure’, John Rutter, Mama, Doc and me…

I can hardly believe that it’s been almost 30 years since British composer John Rutter was on campus at Carson-Newman for a choral workshop to introduce his English-language edition of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.  I was a junior, my junior voice recital was that same week, and I had the distinct honor of singing the soprano solo for the performance of the Requiem, under Rutter’s baton.

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I was in such a twitch in the weeks prior to the workshop and my recital, I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of the event at the time.  One of my professors told me later that she couldn’t believe I got through that week still standing.  Looking back, I realize it was by the grace of God and lots of caffeine!

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(Me singing the soprano solo in the Requiem, John Rutter conducting, February, 1985.)

That week was not my first experience with the Faure’ Requiem.  I had performed it in high school with Knoxville’s All-City High School Chorus.  The soloists were adults Dr. Gerald Ballard, the director, had brought in for the concert.  Dr. Ballard had been my Mama’s high school chorus teacher at the old South High School some 25 years earlier, so I knew him at first only through Mama’s recollections of him.  I later borrowed his Requiem score so I could have the Pie Jesu for scholarship auditions.  I misplaced it and then forgot about it until it surfaced some years later. I value it as a prized possession now, and pray that my inadvertent theft can be forgiven.

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The workshop/performance at Carson-Newman was a highlight of my musical life.  Singing a solo with John Rutter conducting was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will always remember.  “Doc” Eric Thorson had just the year before taken the reins of A Cappella Choir at school, and it was his responsibility to prepare us for Rutter’s arrival.  He told us that Rutter, being an Englishman, might be a more reserved conductor than we were used to, and to pay close attention to what could be very subtle cues from him.  As it turned out, John Rutter was a whirling dervish of a conductor, with flailing arms and an outgoing manner.

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(Rehearsal with John Rutter–I am the shortest one on the front row.  Some things never change.)

Flash forward to February, 1998, when once again I had the privilege of singing the soprano solo in the Faure’ Requiem, this time under Doc’s direction with Knoxville Choral Society.  My sweet-and-spicy Mama had died just a couple of months before, and looking back, I don’t remember what I was thinking auditioning for the solo that time except that I might not be in any shape to sing it.  Little did I know the gift God was about to give me.

Almost 13 years exactly from the time I sang it at school, I sang it once more.  The music itself was the same…but my understanding and experience of it were completely different.  Still very much in grief throes from Mama’s death, the text of the whole mass spoke to me afresh, particularly the words of the soprano solo movement, Pie Jesu.

“Pie Jesu, Domine,

dona eis requiem,

dona Domine, dona eis requiem,

sempiternam requiem.”

Blessed Jesus, Lord God,

grant them rest.

Grant them, Lord God, rest,

eternal rest.

At the end of Mama’s illness, she had suffered so much and was so tired. I told her that if she was ready and needed to go on, it was OK.  In my family experience and work with hospice, I’ve learned that it is important to give the patient permission to go; it can give them peace at the end of life.  My spiritual life during the end of Mama’s sickness was a bleak period when prayers didn’t happen so much as just anguished groans of my heart.  Had I been able to actually pray, it would have been for her suffering to end, for peace…for rest.

She died, and her rest finally came.  Standing on that stage at The Tennessee Theatre singing Pie Jesu once again, Faure’s music spoke peace to me as I took another step in my grief journey.  This is the power of Music…the power to heal, comfort, and transform our pain into something of beauty.