Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Of Needing and Being Needed

Last night I sang with the "City Choir" for our diocesan Mass to celebrate the Year of the Priest. "City Choir" is the default name of my parish choir plus a few other people who turn out to sing for these special diocesan events. For this liturgy we were joined by several Franciscan University students, as it was held at the University's fieldhouse; the only place big enough to fit everyone for an event of this size.

It was a very rich experience. In particular, I'm contemplating the experience of needing and being needed...

We sang quite a bit of course, but one of the two pieces we sang as a choir (there's a better adjective for that, but what?) was Palestrina's Sicut Cervus, which I've mentioned on this blog several times over the last few months. This is by far the most difficult piece we've attempted, and it has been the focus of our efforts for some time. Almost as soon as choir ended for the summer I found a CD with the Sicut on it that I have endlessly renewed from the library since then. (I love libraries!) It would not be an exaggeration to say I've listened to this piece over a thousand times since then. Some days, I would simply plug this song into my CD player, hit repeat, and listen to it waft through the house all day long. (In an effort to bolster my sense of personal normality I must state that I am not the only choir member to have done this!) As a result I've developed a pretty good sense of the timing of the piece and where each voice comes in, etc.

It didn't soak in just how my minor obsession with this piece affected my fellow altos until last night. When we practiced in the past, people would say to me "Ok, Marie, just sing in my ear; I need to hear you" and the like, but I really didn't know how to take this. When we practiced just before the Mass, I realized that people were making serious comments to each other -- women with far more experience and stronger voices than myself -- about how they needed to see my mouth or hear me. I realized that listening to a polyphonic piece a thousand times leaves a mark. Also, when we began to practice, the tenors were ten feet away from the altos, and the whole thing completely fell apart. We absolutely needed to be next to each other as we were used to in order to get it right.

When we sang the piece the altos did in fact split into two camps towards the end, and I knew it. I didn't think to turn my body to try to signal in those behind me that we'd gotten off (now I realize it -- that would have been a good idea!). But fortunately it was a short time and there was a section at the ending where I heard the basses cue the altos and I cut in with it and we ended correctly. So, it was all fine.

I guess usually when I hear someone talking about needing someone, I think the person is speaking out of some weird sense of self-deprecation or something else embarrassing from which is it better to avert one's gaze. In this choral context I really understood that an admission of need is not an admission of weakness or abnormality, but it is an expression of a desire to be one's best. It is really a strong form of self-love in the best sense of the word. This is just yet another example of how participating in a choir is such a humanizing experience for me.

The shoe was on the other foot when we sang a communion hymn in parts that I don't ever recall even looking at in the past. I would have floundered a good long time had not the same women behind me come in strong with the alto line. I was able to hear it, and follow. The closing hymn was to a tune for which I have known the alto part from the womb (it feels like), so with no music for it, I belted it out. And I heard the same voices behind me doing the same. It was so much fun -- like finding someone from your hometown in a crowd.

I'm contemplating this and other moments of the evening that brought me this same message, this same window into my humanity and that of others. God blesses me so and I do not wish to drop a crumb of what He gives me (even though I know I've already dropped bushel baskets). I'm also heeding what I can only call the Lord's call to me this Advent: to come to Him in a more focused way. To soak in His Word, especially in its organic context of the liturgy. To listen not for echos, but for His original voice. To allow that voice to reach down into my soul, where only He can touch. To hear Him say again that He is with me, and so to experience Him.

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