Choir – the root of all evil – is the same in all its incarnations. The warm-ups, the cajoling tactics of directors, the usual suspects in the choir itself (The Clown, Those Who Once Sang High, and Stink-Eye, who also doubles as the one who asks all the passive aggressive questions: “I don’t think all of us are getting that cutoff right.”) are the same no matter where you go, or where the choir is located. This includes Germany.
We know a couple here in K-ru – the husband is one of the pianists on staff at the theatre (and has played everywhere and for everyone); the wife is a retired opera singer who has, also, sung everywhere and for everyone. My wife got to know them while here for rehearsals last summer and we have hung out with them quite a bit since arriving in August. They’re lovely, and both are expats, just like us.
After the big, start-of-the-season open house we were all in the canteen, when, out of nowhere, our opera singer friend says, “Have you thought about auditioning for the opera chorus?”
To be honest, I had thought about it, but quickly dismissed it, as I thought I didn’t have that kind of voice. I sang professionally for 12 years in choral and liturgical settings – not much solo work, and usually within a group of people searching for blend and tuning, both of which were always elusive.
But when our friend mentioned it, the option sounded like a excellent idea. Further, our friend said that my interested in writing opera would benefit by actually singing in them (shocker), being immersed in the entire experience. This resonated – I didn’t understand the mechanics of writing for choirs until I had several years of singing in them under my belt. Even then, I was continuously learning about the ensemble’s possibilities and limitations. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a set of motets for Trinity Boston. This week, I was reviewing these pieces in preparation for their publication. Sweet Merciful Jesus, those were the most ridiculously difficult pieces ever written – I found DOUBLE SHARPS, for God’s sake. Only with more experienced eyes, could I see this. (I apologized to the director and thanked the choir again for their faith and good nature).
Taking matters into her own hands, my wife approached the director of choirs to tell him about my qualifications (first, I’m male; second, I’m a tenor; third, I can read music; did I mention that I was a male tenor who can read?). Serendipity crashed through the door in the form of a member of the Extrachor (that fleshes out the main chorus in really big shows) dropping out suddenly for family reasons. On Tuesday of this week, I get a call at 10:30am asking if I can come in to audition at 6pm. Panic. What the f*ck am I supposed to sing? What can I pull off? FRANCK! PANIS ANGELICUS!! I don’t have the music!! It’s public domain, right? Maybe I can…YES I found it online in every key!! I DON’T HAVE A F*CKING PRINTER….
This went on for a while.
I got the music printed, got to the audition, sang well, I thought – especially for not having sung for a year and a half. Can we talk for a bit? Would you mind stepping outside for a moment so the panel can talk? HERZLICH WILLKOMMEN! to the Extrachor of Der Fliegende Holländer! Rehearsal starts in 10 minutes.
They ran to photocopy music, a puzzled men’s Extrachor sized me up, and the guy standing next to me (after introducing myself Ich heiße Frank Pesci…) says “Like Joe Pesci?”
There are other things, beside choirs, that don’t change, no matter where you are.
Rehearsals in German are an exercise in terror. Lucky for me, all choir rehearsals are exactly the same, and I’m an old hand.