I spent the morning in rehearsals for Handel’s Messiah, which my choir is singing tomorrow. Full choir, orchestra, and four soloists, in the Cathedral, and the creation of, in my opinion, one of the greatest oratorios ever written.
It was just a rehearsal, so of course there was stopping and starting – this part where the dynamics weren’t contrasted enough, and that bit where the tempo dragged, and this bit where it was just a total disaster and we really, really needed to do it again before the performance tomorrow afternoon. Just a group of people sitting and standing around, some of them with instruments (one of them behind a harpsichord), making beautiful music, and then trying really hard to make it even more beautiful.
Despite the rehearsal going on in its centre, though, the Cathedral remains open for people to wander in, and look around, and take photographs of a stunning building, and be awed by its arching ceilings and stained glass. And despite the rehearsal, people did wander in – and I watched the expression on every single face: each visitor to the Cathedral was amazed at the music. They stopped, transfixed, to watch the small orchestra and the thirty-strong choir gathered around it, and they were held in place by the sound that was being created.
Which made me realise: it’s not every day you walk into a building, even one as set apart and as magnificent as the Cathedral, to be surrounded by music. Real, live music – not piped in from a CD player somewhere through invisible speakers, but actual, flesh-and-blood music, brought into being right in front of you. For many people, being within spitting distance of an orchestra is a rare experience, a novelty. Being within touching distance of music – actual music – is a rarity. Being close enough to the creation of music to watch the movement of the violinist’s fingers, to see the turn of the pages, the expressions on the faces of the singers: it’s something to remark on, something far removed from daily life.
And yet for me, it’s not a rarity at all. In this choir, we might sing with an orchestra three or four times a year. This will be the third time I’ve sung Handel’s Messiah, and after the performance tomorrow I will hand in the score I’ve been using with no sense of a final goodbye to this music: I will sing it again, one day. Even my week-by-week singing, the mundane repertoire of the choir, is incredible, and beautiful, and sometimes – despite how hard singing is right now, hard to the point of impossibility at times – I do take for granted the presence of this music in my life, and my capacity to work with others towards creating such beauty.
I shouldn’t ever take it for granted how blessed I am to be a part of the choir. How it’s a privilege, and an honour. The honour of being a part – a very small part, but a part nonetheless – of this music’s story. The honour of allowing it to be a part – an integral part – of mine.
I’m grateful every day for the fact that I can do this: that I can get together with people I love, and who love me, and create music. Can create beauty, and wonder, and praise. But seeing the reaction of real people to the music we create makes me realise afresh just how rare it is – and just how incredibly blessed I am.