The only thing better than singing is more singing.
Last night was the Big Concert - big for me anyway. It was the first choir concert I'd performed in since Grade 8 (a Christmas concert for which I can still remember - and sing - two of the songs). Despite a bit of nervousness, everything went off without a hitch. Our choir, called Home Cookin' because it meets in the home of one of the choir members, is made up of about 25 men and women, ages 35 to 82. We are about 6 sopranos, 10 altos, 5 tenors, and 4 basses. Every year, Home Cookin' performs in a joint concert in December at a small rustic church in North Vancouver with seating for about 100. Last night, every seat was taken and there was standing room only. Home Cookin' was joined by our choir director's (Karla) other choir - Harmony Mountain Singers - and the 3-piece bluegrass band she heads, which includes fiddle, guitar, and stand-up bass. I was delighted to see the bass at the dress rehearsal on Thursday, since stand-up bass is one of my favorite instruments.
Home Cookin's part of the program included eight songs: two spirituals, a variety of folk songs and singer-songwriter songs, and a French song via 19th century Paris. I was part of a quintet that performed on Sail Away to the Sea, a song covered by The Once, a group from Newfoundland and adapted for the choir and was fairly satisfied with performance, especially the remembering-the-words part. It was all wonderful. The audience clapped enthusiastically after each song and, on stage, we supported each other and worked as a group. Even though the concert was in December, there were no Christmas songs on the program, unless you count Lady Madonna, performed by the Harmony Mountain Singers. My favorite song on our part of the program was Sylvie, a spiritual made famous by Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly. We sang the song a cappella and used body percussion - a mix of clapping, humming, and light stomping - that had taken us a loong time to master. We were delighted that we pulled it off on stage, and to be honest heaved a sigh of relief that it was over. But we were also PROUD and so was Karla. Enjoy the clip below of the acclaimed a cappella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, performing their version of this lovely song.
For me, it all added up to one word: JOY. I felt joyful. Joyful to share the gift of singing with the audience, joyful to have found a choir to sing with, joyful that I made it to the concert (last year, after many rehearsals, I was 2,000 miles away caring for sick parents), joyful that I had found a lovely midnight blue top to wear, just plain full-out joyful. I smiled all through the concert, most of the time afterwards, and when I got home, even in my sleep, and woke up this morning with a smile on my face. Singing makes me feel that good. And onlike some things that give me joy like, say, hot-fudge sundaes or cheesecake, singing is actually good for you. My therapist and doctor both recommend it for my PTSD and and as a friend of mine recently told me, "Keep singing. Singing soothes a sad heart." (For those who have been following my blog, this comment will make sense.) Neurologist, Oliver Sacks, also believes in the healing power of music and, particularly of choirs. In 2008, he held an unusual talk in Harlem that featured the choir from the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church and the science of neurology. Sacks delves further into the healing power of music in his best-selling book Musicophilia.
I forgot to mention that not only was the concert joy-producing for all involved, it also raised money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation - which is working to fight AIDs in Africa. Singing for Life is another fascinating project taking place in Uganda, where AIDs survivors and others are writing and performing music to help eradicate AIDs and ease the grief of families who have lost members to the disease.
If you're still not convinced about how important music is, and how joyful choirs are, then watch the trailer for the wonderful movie Young@Heart below. If you aren't smiling at the end and wanting to watch the movie - well I have two words for you: Grinch and Scrooge. (Seriously, it's one of my favorite movies.)
Take time for music this holiday season. I know you won't regret it, especially if the holidays are a difficult time for you. (More on that in a future posting.)