Tag Archives: Knoxville Choral Society

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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Hats

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The ones we wear, and the ones that wear us…

Every year shortly before Christmas, my chorus, The Knoxville Choral Society, collaborates with The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra for The Clayton Holiday Concerts, a Christmas tradition in our area for some 30 years and counting.  Concert week is hectic, with late night rehearsals and, for those of us with day jobs, work as usual and 4 shows over 3 days that weekend.  It’s a grueling, exhilarating and fun time of camaraderie for all of us.

Backstage at the venue a few years ago I took the time to pay closer attention to my surroundings than I had in the past.  Among the many quirky artifacts I noticed were numerous hats hung up on a wall.  I assume many of them are costume pieces from theatrical productions held there over the years, although some may be actual hats from firemen, soldiers, ball players and other professionals who wanted to leave their mark backstage.

Hats were invented to provide warmth, shelter and protection from the elements.  Over time they became fashion statements as well as parts of the unform for various professions.  Designs also vary from place to place and culture to culture, both for professional and decorative headwear.

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In the Stone Age when I was setting up my social media profile, I gave a thumbnail sketch of my life and the roles I play…the hats I wear.

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No one among us is just one thing, after all.  We all wear many different hats, filling roles as life circumstances call us to do.  Switching from one hat to the next sometimes feels frantic, as we shift among our various roles and responsibilities.  We juggle so many activities and demands from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour.  Some of the hats we wear weigh heavily on our heads, our hearts, as we face hard choices, regarding our health or the health of a loved one.  Sometimes a hat may feel too tight, if we are in a job or a relationship that doesn’t fit us.  Sometimes the hat just doesn’t flatter us or bring out the most attractive qualities in us.  Sometimes it even feels as though, rather than us wearing the hat, the hat wears us.  You get the idea.

We hope to craft for ourselves a life that works, with hats that fit, flatter and feel good.  I hope the hats you wear today sit lightly and comfortably upon you, bringing out your best and giving you warmth, protection and shelter from life’s storms.  (And it doesn’t hurt if they’re cute, too!)

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Thoughtful

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Sometimes the sweetest gifts are free…

Readers of this blog know that I collect feathers, and I have for several years.  I don’t remember how I got started with it, but at some point I saw a pretty feather someplace and decided to pick it up and take it with me.  For the longest time I simply stuck them into my Bible or other books I was reading, and many of my books still contain feathers.  I came across one the other day and it both surprised and delighted me.  I hope the people who inherit my books someday will have the same reaction.

Larger feathers, or ones from trips or momentous occasions, I have laminated on pretty paper or photographs with a description of when and where I found them and why they are special.  These make wonderful bookmarks as well.  I have also included them in notes or little presents to people, taping a small feather to a letter or the inside of a book.

Several people have spotted feathers and photographed them for me, sending the pictures via e-mail or on social media.  Those are always nice surprises and they tickle me to pieces.  And a few people have found feathers, picked them up and saved them to give to me when we saw each other next.  A couple of these “feather presents” came earlier in the summer, just a couple of days apart.  My friend Ann Rita is an avid hiker, and on one of her excursions she found a gorgeous dark-brown-and-white striped feather and picked it up to bring to me at church.  It is gorgeous and unique, and sturdy enough to use as a writing instrument like they did in the olden days.  Just a couple of days after that, I met my friend Marc to practice music and he said he had a surprise for me.  He had found an enormous, shiny black feather and saved it to bring me because he knew I collected them.

A couple of years ago my cousin Judy sent me one tucked inside the pages of a magazine featuring Alton Brown, my favorite food personality (and nerd crush!).  Rebecca and Karen, friends I have sung with in Knoxville Choral Society, have also contributed to my collection.  Rebecca brought me a huge, HUGE turkey feather from a trip to North Carolina.  Karen’s property has geese and she gathered a baggie full of soft grey feathers and brought them to me at rehearsal one night.

Most recently, my sweet husband Jeff was outside our house and something caught his eye.  It turned out to be a blue jay feather, with black stripes and a white tip.  It’s unlike anything else in my collection, and he could easily have just left it on the ground where it had landed.  He found it on the 3rd anniversary of my last visit with Aunt Ruby before her stroke.  I hugged him so hard I think it surprised him!  And I may or may not have cried in private a little later on for that precious gift from God letting me know that Aunt Ruby is indeed with Him.

Any time someone sends me a feather picture, or actually picks one up to give to me, I am amazed at their thoughtfulness in doing so.  For that moment, a person remembered me, and chose to let me KNOW that they remembered me.  That in itself is a gift, just as much (or even more sometimes) than something purchased with money.

Thoughtful gifts don’t need to be expensive…and expensive gifts aren’t always Thoughtful.

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Keeping The Luster Alive

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Recollections of a radiant soul…

Yesterday I, and an army of my friends and musical colleagues, learned that our friend and fellow musician, Luster William “Bill” Brewer, had died.  Following the initial impact of this news, there was a flurry of text messages, e-mails and posts on social media.  My own Facebook page exploded with tributes, expressions of sadness, shock and later on, many pictures of our friend from healthier days gone by.

Bill had been diagnosed with throat cancer about a year and a half ago.  As a singer myself, I cannot fathom the horror of such a thing.  Throughout his treatment, he continued to teach at Pellissippi State Community College, where he had found a home as the head of their music department for the last 15 years.  Just last week, after his cancer had returned and he had undergone another treatment, he had gone on a tour of Portugal with his choir, having been medically cleared to travel, but not well when the trip started.  He had to return home before the tour was finished, going into the hospital where he eventually died.

It was typical Bill to have gone on with his students even though he was ill.  He loved making music and he especially loved the people he made music with, students and peers alike.  He was a longtime fixture in Knoxville Choral Society and Chamber Chorale, having served as KCS President and director of Chorale for a number of years.

It was in this capacity that I got to know him.  In 2009, after an 11-year absence, I re-auditioned for Knoxville Choral Society with great fear and trembling.  I had hardly sung at all in those years and I was afraid my voice might be so far gone that there was no hope of recovery.  Enter Bill Brewer, who heard my audition and not only recommended my re-admission to the chorus but chose me as a soloist for the Christmas portion of Handel’s “Messiah” which we performed that fall.

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He was thrilled to conduct “Messiah” with KCS for the first time and wanted his score and baton in the picture I asked for with him.  (The remainder of the program was Bach, which “Doc” Eric Thorson prepared, conducted and chose his soloists for.)

Following my weight loss surgery in June 2012, I experienced a lot more pain during recovery and for a longer time than I had expected, so I missed some early outings with chamber chorale as they performed portions of “Chronicles of Blue and Gray” in advance of its world premiere that November.  I e-mailed Bill explaining my situation and told him that if he needed to replace me in chorale, I would totally understand.  He was gracious and kind, telling me that when I was able to return my spot would be waiting for me.

And what a return it was!  The first rehearsal for the whole chorus arrived, and I got to the church where we practice feeling insecure about my appearance, wondering if the pounds I had lost since surgery would be noticeable.  I looked and felt peaked and pale and…vulnerable.  When I walked into the vestibule there were a dozen or so of my fellow chorus members milling around, paying dues and purchasing music.  And there was Bill, who squealed at my arrival and began a round of applause, making it a triumphal entry for me.  He came over to hug me, and then very tenderly cupped my face in his hands, saying, “Oh, LOOK at you!  Look at your little face!  How do you feel?”

That was always Bill, caring about the other person.  He was a Southern gentleman in the finest tradition, dedicated to Jesus, to his wife Sharon and to the music and musicians he loved so greatly.  He was also a total goofball, with a mischievous sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye and a laugh that could crack glass.

We have all heard the question, “What’s in a name?”.  Bill’s given name was Luster William, Luster after his father.  In Bill’s case, he indeed possessed a luster, a glow and radiance of heart and soul from which everyone who ever met him benefited.  I want to keep the Luster alive, remembering Bill, his laugh, the music we made together and his tender touch cradling my face in his hands.

Suspended Animation

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When stillness happens…

I live in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Dixie, The Buckle of The Bible Belt.  This is The South.  We get the occasional snowfall here, but we are not used to ice.

But here we are, iced in due to a winter storm that dumped sleety frozen pellets on us this past Monday and now is dropping snow on top of the ice.  Record low temperatures are predicted for tomorrow night and much of the city has come to a halt.  Many schools are closed as well as a number of businesses.

I ventured out last evening for a rehearsal with Knoxville Choral Society, as we have concerts scheduled this week with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and if at all possible, the show must go on.  The roads at that time were not any trouble to navigate.  My only issues were getting the ice chiseled off my car and eventually getting the door to my fuel tank un-frozen.  It was good preparation for returning to work today.

Monday I was not scheduled to work, and Sweet Pea was sent home early from his job.  It was wonderful to be tucked in safely at home with husband and dog, snuggled under blankets watching TV.  For those few hours, there was no place anyone had to be.

There is a quiet sweetness in moments like these; it almost feels as though time has slowed and the world is in a state of suspended animation.  I know that it can’t last forever.  The quietness eventually gives way to the return of noise and activity, and I have to emerge from the cocoon of icy stillness.

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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.

Meditating On These Things

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Appreciating excellence…

It is 2:30 am on Christmas Eve 2014 as I write this.  My day began with me asking a friend with whom I had lunch plans for a raincheck, because I got up with a thundering migraine.  My body was finally rebelling against me for the week I had put it through!

Last week Knoxville Choral Society and The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra once again collaborated with several other ensembles for the annual Clayton Holiday Concerts.  They traditionally take place the last weekend before Christmas, and the week leading up to them has us all rehearsing every night except Wednesday, pulling late hours and, for those of us who work day jobs, rising at our normal times to get to work.  The week is grueling and exhausting, culminating in 4 concerts over 3 days…but for me, and for many others, it gives us much more than it takes from us.  For some people, it is the thing that finally puts us into the Christmas spirit.

This year’s concerts were also the final holiday outings with the KSO’s outgoing conductor, Maestro Lucas Richman, so there were poignant memories of concerts past, appeciation expressed for the collaboration between the KSO and KCS and, as is my tradition, pictures and brief conversations with the maestro.  This year was  doubly sweet for me because my cousin Katherine shared the stage with us as a member of the Webb Madrigal Singers.  I was thrilled to share a stage with Katherine and her talented friends, and even more thrilled to have the chance to introduce her to the maestro before he leaves the KSO.  I had my friend Elizabeth snap their picture together with the hope that it’s a weekend that Katherine will always remember.  (The picture below was made at supper between Saturday shows.)

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In conversations on social media and in person, many of us said that we are going to miss the maestro, and he expressed his gratitude for our words.  I had the chance to tell him that I don’t “sling praise around much, but when I see excellence in my life, I do appreciate it.”  And yes, I said it with just those words.  Maestro knows by now that I am a goofball and “what you see is what you get” with me.  Mama passed along her gift for colorful communication to me (for better or for worse, I’m afraid!).

Thre is so much mediocrity in the world, and I am as guilty as anyone of not always striving to attain my full potential in every area of my life.  I like to believe that I give my best effort to everything I do, but I know better.  And even on days when I give my best, that “best” is often not very good.  In music and in life, I need to meditate on those things that are good, noble, praiseworthy…and to give thanks to, and for, the people who remind me what excellence looks like.

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