Last week I (along with a couple hundred of my closest friends) performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as part of “Spotlight Sunday” at the Dallas Arts District. The whole day was quite a success—I gather some 45,000 people showed up to see the new Opera Hall and Theater, and to wander through art museums, the sculpture garden, and the Meyerson Symphony Center (where we perform). Sadly, all those people did not make it to our concert, but the Meyerson was respectably full.
We, the members of the Dallas Symphony Chorus, have sung Beethoven’s 9th roughly a gazillion times. From a singer’s perspective, it’s a bit of a marathon, since we have to sit still and stay awake in front of the crowd through three full movements before leaping to our feet to sing at breakneck speed for the last 15-20 minutes. I’ve done it as both a soprano and an alto, and I am never more grateful to be in alto-world than when doing this piece. Beethoven was deaf when he wrote it and I suspect he was trying to write in dog whistle range.
Back to the point at hand: we’ve done this thing so often we could do it in our sleep—were it not for our conductor, Jaap van Zweden. He wanted us to do things differently, for pete’s sake. He wanted this part legato (smooth) not, as he put it, “like chopping salami.” He wanted another part soft where it had always been blastissimo before. Instead of sailing along on cruise control, he wanted us to take a different route—one that required paying attention at all times.
I’ll admit, there was a wee bit of “But we’ve always done it this way…” in the ranks, but we got on board. It helped that it wasn’t just us who got shaken up; he did the same thing with the orchestra and even (gasp!) the soloists.
The result? According to the review in the Dallas Morning News, the performance was “electrifying.”
One thing the Maestro said during rehearsal particularly caught my attention. Referring to a section of short words separated by rests, he told us to pay attention to “the music between the notes.”
See, music doesn’t stop when the sound stops…silence is an important part of music, as well. It’s easy to live for the notes—they’re the fun parts. Between the notes, it’s tempting to just mark time, waiting for the next chance to sing. But I wonder if we’re missing out on a lot of music by not paying more attention to what’s going on between the notes?
I wonder if we miss out on a lot of life that way, too? It’s so easy to live for the next big thing; getting out of school, the next career move, the next vacation, etc., etc. What about all those ordinary days in between? Isn’t there music in those days? I think there is. We just have to listen for it.