Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Freude Schöner Götterfunken!

This week I celebrated the anniversary of my return to Seattle. One year ago I arrived by train from New York and started my fantastic job at MOHAI. I still miss many things about NYC, but overall being in Seattle has been wonderful and I still feel blessed to be here doing what I'm doing.

In recognition of my happy, celebratory feelings, it was appropriate that on Friday I got to sing Beethoven's 9th symphony at Benaroya Hall. This summer I auditioned for the Seattle Choral Company, but had second thoughts about joining when the audition alone was way more intense than I expected (to give you an idea: I scored a zero on the French portion of the language exam). Instead, I decided to join their "festival chorus," a group of singers they call upon occasionally for larger choral works that require a bigger sound. This year, they needed extras for the choral finale of Beethoven's 9th. I've never sung it, but my German is ausgezeichnet compared to my French, and I already knew the basic tune. You probably do too.

I've listened to the full 9th Symphony before, but that was pretty much how I pictured it. Lots of fun German words, a big cheering crowd, and John Lennon on the harmonica. Well, I was in for a shock. Sure, the chorus gets several refrains of the "Ode to Joy" but there are a lot of other parts too, and for most of it the sopranos are at the top of our range, trying to belt out text and high As at the same time. Flip to about the 8:30 mark in the video below and you'll have an idea of how ridiculous it gets by the end:

The orchestra is sawing away as the choir tries to hastily screech out words like "umschlungen," "Sternenzelt," and "Götterfunken." I heard choir members joke that Beethoven must have hated singers, and after a few grueling rehearsals I was pretty convinced that his genius was best enjoyed as an audience member.

On the night of the concert, our director told us to "leave nothing on the table." The choral part comprises about 15 minutes of singing and it's over. Our rehearsals lasted for 2 hours and thirty minutes each, and so learning the piece felt like a marathon. But in performance it was more like a sprint, and so he was telling us to push toward the end and have nothing left after the last measure. It was stirring advice, and in performance the piece finally felt like the joyful thrill it was intended to be.

So happy anniversary Seattle! You fill me with Freude.

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