I’ve got just a couple of minutes before I need to grab some supper and be off to Side by Side by Sondheim rehearsal, so I will share a rather small little tidbit about the convention in Nashville. The opening ceremony is really quite an occasion, with a room full of voice teachers and singers who can hardly wait to cut loose on three special songs. . . our national anthem, the Canadian national anthem, and a Schubert song called “An die Musik,” with text that gives thanks to the holy art of music.
I have heard some enormous sounds in my life – the kind that make your internal organs quiver. . . aside from the painful assault of ear-splitting noise which is just plain awful (such as standing by a train or being stuck in a bar with a really loud band . . . or for that matter, having to sit too close to the DJ’s speakers at most wedding receptions.) I’m speaking of sounds that swallow you up but in a more pleasant sort of way. In terms of non-music, I would have to say that there have been a couple of incredible basketball games at Carthage where the sound of the cheering, screaming audience was actually beautiful in and of itself- and I would count alongside that the sound of the audience going nuts in a place like the Metropolitan Opera . . . where the acoustics meant to amplify the performance from the stage also amplifies the sound of the crowd’s approval and adulation.
As for music, I’m not sure there is anything quite as overwhelming as when nearly a thousand voice teachers and singers from around the country cut loose in the NATS opening ceremony. . . all those big voices plus the excitement of the occasion plus the all-too-common tendency of such folk (including me) to not want to be outshone or outsung by the folks around you. So we’re all unleashing all we have while one outnumbered pianist up front tries to accompany us. . . which is something akin to a guy in a paddle boat trying to tow an oil freighter back to port. You can try but it’s probably not worth the effort.
What really took the prize this year, however, was when we got to the last line of the national anthem . . . ‘o’er the land of the freeeeeeeee EEEEEEEE EEEEEEEEE ! ! ! “ You have surely heard how opera singers typically sing this moment, with two notes on free. . . (up a perfect fourth, for those of you who know music.) Well for the first time in my life, I heard sopranos sing TWO additional notes on “free”. . . some going up the fourth, and others taking it up a major sixth. . . and trust me on this, such a sound would have blasted Fort McHenry right off of the map had somehow the British had it at their disposal to unleash as a secret weapon.
Anyway, it was lovely – and it was terrifying – and it made me grateful that I won’t be hearing that sound again for another two years. Frankly, I’m not sure my ears or my heart could take it any more often than that.