What Solo?!?

Quick note: this post is really part 2 of a multi-part post about my experience in the Huntsville Master Chorale. If you haven’t read the first post, go do it now. 🙂

So, I left off at just about the point that I was beginning to believe that I could handle this new music by the time the concert came around.

At this point, I feel like I should stop and say how much fun it is to sing for our director, Tom. A very good friend of mine got in the habit of posting funny things that her choir director said during rehearsals. I remember reading those and being downright jealous not only that she had her own “musical outlet” but also that her director found such joy in the process. After my very first practice, I knew it was going to be that way with Tom. He’s funny, he’s incredibly patient with us, and it seems obvious to me that he loves doing it.

Side note: I actually started notating “Tom-isms” in my music for later posting, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to posting until now… after we turned in our music. Maybe I’ll do better over the coming practice cycle.

Anyway, that bit about Tom actually leads into the next part of my story. We were finishing up practice one night, and Tom said that he wanted the various soloists that he had assigned for the Gospel Mass to hang around for a few minutes (as he had asked in an email sent out previously). I was busy shoving my music in my folder and getting ready to walk out, when Tom looked straight at me and said, “Let’s go over yours right quick.”

I swear that right then and there I had one of those “Who’s he looking at behind me?” moments, with the dumb look on my face and everything. I think I even turned around to see who he was talking to. I may have managed to say, “What?” Tom said, “Yeah. Didn’t you get the email I sent out?” My response: “Yeah. I remember seeing an email about solos, but I didn’t occur to me that I actually needed to read it.” Tom (looking at Sharon, our piano accompanist): “Listen to this guy!”

Sure enough, at the bottom of the email I had ignored, Tom had asked if I would look at one of the 7 or 8 measure “mini solos” he had carved out of the Sanctus. He said that he thought the range fit my voice well and that I might enjoy working out how to embellish it. “Dumbfounded” is not a word I often use to describe myself, but there I was. I read it cold once or twice that night, apologized for not paying attention to the email, and told him I would work on it for the next practice.

I poked at it over the next week, and I figured out where it felt like it wanted to go. I can’t really tell you from where I drew the inspiration. Honestly, it felt pretty over-the-top to me, but it also felt right. Tom really didn’t give any of the soloists any constraints or specific style instructions. I think he really wanted to find out what each of us would do to personalize it.

I unleashed my interpretation on the Chorale at the next practice. I had no clue what everyone was going to think of it, and I was still wondering why it was me and not someone else doing it. Don’t get me wrong… I do pretty well, but I’m nowhere close to the best in this group. The initial reaction, I think, was surprise. That could have been either good or bad. I’ll skip the dramatics (and also the specifics) and say that from that point all the way through the concert performance on Sunday, I got more compliments and encouragement than I ever expected. Given that even I don’t know exactly from whence it came, it was interesting to hear folks ask me specifics about my musical background in response to the solo. I think Sharon was probably on the right track when she said she could hear elements of contemporary Christian music.

I think I’m going to end up with 3 posts out of this. I still want to talk a bit about the literature we performed, but that feels like it needs to be another installment. 🙂

4 thoughts on “What Solo?!?

  1. Jeff, that’s fantastic! I’m so proud of you, and slightly envious too–I am NOT solo material. 🙂 I don’t even consider trying out when Bryan asks for soloists. *Hug* I wish I could have heard it.

  2. Yay! A lot of it is being willing to keep plugging at it and consciously working to get better, both of which you seem to be doing in spades. I’m really sorry we couldn’t come hear you.

  3. I don’t even consider trying out when Bryan asks for soloists.

    …and neither did I when Tom solicited for volunteers. 🙂 Actually, that points out yet another thing that truly impressed me about him: even with the short amount of time I had been with the Chorale, he already knew me and my voice well enough to feel confident about offering me the solo. There really wasn’t much “trying out” involved. He made it pretty clear that he was confident that it was a good fit and that I would be able to do something interesting with it. If that confidence hadn’t been so clear, I’m not sure I would have been willing to try. Again… I don’t want to be accused of false modesty here. I’ve got enough talent to do pretty well, but I also realize I’m the new, inexperienced, untrained guy in the middle of a big ol’ pile of highly-honed ability. I wouldn’t have picked me. 🙂

  4. A lot of it is being willing to keep plugging at it and consciously working to get better

    *nod* My next goal is to come up with a better system for practicing on my own. I’m hampered by not being able to play piano. I probably need to pick up a cheap keyboard instrument of some kind anyway to help me out with learning intervals. With the appropriate software, I could also enter portions of the music for playback and practice in tempo. It’s mostly a matter of finding the right tools without spending a pile of money for stuff I won’t use. The free version of Finale (“Notepad”) doesn’t appear to allow for time signature changes, which is a problem for our music.

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