An alto's first benefit concert

How do I describe my first big concert with Peace of Heart?

First, the trip with other choristers “down under”, 4 floors down in the elevator, not really knowing where we were going. Then being met by people who knew the way, shepherding us down long corridors to the Green Room, and, eventually, the auditorium. Next, a flurry of activity: taking in some emergency food and water, going over some problem passages and musical questions with others in my section. Then emerging into this grand hall: working out who was going to stand where, how to handle the mikes. A lot of last minute details to take in. Then regrouping and chilling before the concert.

Chorus members were very supportive in congratulating me on the solo phrase in “Downtown”. After the final rehearsal, someone in the Green Room asked:” How does it feel to do your solo?” I answered, “Pick up the mike, remember to turn it on, place it close (like eating an ice cream cone), get the phrase out, remember to turn it off and replace on the piano—all while juggling my music in the other hand.” It all happened so fast, there was no time to think about it, just do it. Later on, when I thought about it, several images came to mind: It was like changing gears from group mode to solo mode and back again; or, to put it more poetically - it was like riding a wave - finding the right moment to jump on and then off; or, like a fish jumping out of the water for a flash and then diving back in to rejoin the group.

Then the concert. At the start of the first number “Wanemo” (“Geronimo!”) I heard the soloists (“Oops! Get Ready. When do we come in?”) was running through my mind. Then, when the group voice and harmony came into play, the sound was absolutely gorgeous. But I can’t be performer and audience at the same time so most of my attention was on staying tuned to the collective sound and the changing tempos and rhythms of each piece.

For me it was such a pleasure to be surrounded and supported by the wall/blanket of sound that this choir produced. A lot of my focus was on navigating my alto part in relationship to the group. Hearing and listening were so important and it was wonderful to have great acoustics of this hall. The Second Altos to my left were stalwart and sure: I found some of my shaky notes and entrances with them as a guide. My eyes were focussed on Rene, especially with some of the difficult rhythmic sections. ( I had given up trying to count a couple of the pieces and just needed to rely on the feel of it, and his cues.)

One of the things that was so engaging and different about the concert was the relationship with the audience. The seats in Engelman Recital Hall were raked at such a steep angle that I could see my friends from head to toe. The audience was totally open to our view as we were to them. I could see their reactions during the talks and sing-a-longs. It’s a wonderful experience to sing before a receptive audience of friends and well wishers. One thing that was so unique with this group is that individual members get to pop out, as did the soloists, to speak to the audience, as did our director, who shared his instruments and comments with them so they could be a part of it all. ( I was reminded of “Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra” that Leonard Bernstein conducted) A friend called thanking us for inviting him to the delightful concert: “I had a great time. I love the way the group was run.” Another person who was in the audience said she noticed the spirit of friendliness in the chorus.

One thing I noticed at rehearsals was how tired a lot of people were after a hard day’s work. Rene really worked us hard and demanded total concentration. (But not in an authoritarian dictatorial way). Afterwards I felt as if I had had a workout. But I always had a sense that the music that had seemed so impossible to me now made more sense. (Maybe I could actually learn it). It took me a while to realize how all the logistics were being handled by members of the group and how much they were doing.

But all of the hard work paid off. It was wonderful to have a finished product that we could be proud of. Another friend left me a message after the concert: “My mother thought it was nicely done, with great refinement. This is high praise from her.” Before the performance it was amazing to see everyone wide awake and alive. The energy was really “up”. I took Rene’s directive - “ do not over sing” - to heart, and it helped me pace myself and be relaxed enough to handle whatever might come up.

The final rehearsal in the hall and concert was an endurance test for some of us. We had never sung through the whole concert or stood for so long. So, in the actual performance, while we were singing “It Takes a Village,” I began to pick up that there was some kind of commotion and scuffle going on to my right. When I turned a little to see what was going on, I saw one of the Altos behind me sinking towards to the ground. I originally missed out on a lot of the details because I couldn’t believe this was happening — an “Alternative Universe” experience. I was still singing. Rene was directing the upbeat syncopated tempo, totally focussed on the song. I don’t know if anyone except us knew what was happening. The group didn’t miss a beat as one of the Altos guided her gracefully to the floor. Happily, she was able to recoup after the song, climb over the rail and exit up the stairs. After intermission she was fine and was able to rejoin the group. Talk about Drama.

I enjoyed the presentations to Rene and to us “new-bies” in the Green Room afterwards. I felt very welcomed by the group. It was a full day, well spent.

-Lenore Manzella,  Peace of Heart Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert