Friday, January 14, 2011

First Rehearsal

Lest one would think that my choral life exists only with the 2 or 3 symphony concerts a year, may I assure you that I sing in a church choir that rehearses on a weekly basis.  Tonight we had it -  The first rehearsal of a work that nobody knows.  This time it is Mendelssohn's Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise) which, you would think, being a good Mennonite choir that sings German works,  would be in our repertoire.  Judging by the choral sound we produced not a one of us has ever sung it before - except for movement 5 which we have sung as a stand alone piece.  This bit of knowledge did nothing to help us along the patch of syncopation and accidentals and we certainly had our share of accidents.
Being the church choir's first rehearsal  it was a night of NP (note pounding) and sounds of off-key and off-rhythm - in short - everything one would expect of a first rehearsal..  Tedious?  Oh, yes.
  First the ladies pound out a few bars, then the men, then together, and then the next section.  This is repeated every ten bars or so with slight variations.  The conductor may say, after the ladies have struggled through their 10 bars, "I need to hear the altos alone"  and as much as we try to convince ourselves it is because he just can't get enough of our sound somehow the look on his face suggests the repetition is for another reason. 
On First Rehearsal night the conductor, after suffering through 30 minutes of bellowing, will say "sotto voce, sotto voce", which is music speak for shut up, shut up.  The choir convinces itself that he wants us to save our voices but really, it is his ears he is worried about.
Tonight we rejoiced because we had more than 1 tenor, it may have been as many as 3.  If you know any tenors please send them our way.  This is the standard and eternal plea of all choirs.  Then, because it is a church choir throughout the rehearsal there is the sound of altos chatting about new grandchildren while the basses are having their notes pounded out.  The ladies must speak quite loudly to talk above the pounding of the piano.  The sopranos are giggling about something or another, as sopranos are wont to do.
The one line I heard most often today was "where are we?"  this can most often be heard coming from the bass section.  We have just finished a 10 bar stretch with women and men separated and the conductor says, "okay let's try it all together."  "Where are we?" comes the question, and then for the 7th time that night will come the discussion whether we are talking about page numbers, bar numbers, bar letters, or the new page numbers which we just wrote in?.
May I say for the record that this does not come from the alto section, somehow, the altos just know where we are at all times.  Where we are is secure in our knowledge that we are necessary to the piece even if no one else thinks so. 
You wonder sometimes why the conductor doesn't  kick over the music stand and walk out but something, (pay cheque perhaps?) keeps him there till the clock releases us.
I have been through many first rehearsals and so am not worried.  I know by Good Friday we will stop having accidents with the accidentals, the mood will be right, and the basses will know where we are.


  1. Okay, so here we have a clearer definition of "alto". Thank you Lori.
    It also makes clearer to me, my own tenuous position in the alto section, since I often whispered guiltily, "Where are we?"

  2. Elenore - I hope to clarify the essence of alto as the Blog goes on. Your position as an alto is indeed tenuous, not only because of your bass like tendency to whisper, "where are we?" but also because of your lovely soprano voice.