I was able to sleep Saturday night (yay!) Sunday before the first service, Austin (our organist) asked me to turn pages for him for the prelude and postlude at both services, which meant dashing from the pre-service rehearsal. At the 9 am, we had only four altos. Normally, this is not a problem. But we were singing Mozart at both morning services, too: the Offertory was "Veni Sanctus Spiritus" (K47...note the low number. At twelve, I had already written many poems and stories, but none were as accomplished as this.
In the edition we sang from, nine pages of Mozart, needing four soloists and a full choir, and taken at a good swift Allegro that moved to a breakneck Presto for the last four pages of Alleluias...opening with an octave downward leap. This sounds harder than it is (the risk for the altos, on this and the other place we had an octave downward leap, is both flatting the lower note and losing head voice, resulting in "Al-le-lu-GROWLAH." Mozart sings incredibly well for such intricate music. If you know the notes and markings, and can handle the speed without losing your place (a risk with that many notes on the page, esp. when a migraine may have altered visual acuity), it's a lot of fun and doesn't hurt my throat. However, it's a good thing our four altos were all strong (in the sense of being able to produce volume) because there are fortes in there and we needed to match the other parts (some fuller than we were) without pushing our voices too much--with a lot more singing to come.
The Communion Anthem was "Tantum Ergo", K 142. The other soprano soloist, who has a voice like crystal--ethereal, seems to just come down from heaven when she opens her mouth--sang the solo of this, and the choir part is easy on the throat. We also had the usual hymns, though the anthems lasted long enough the Offertory and Communion hymns were omitted. At the second service, we sang the same music with a larger choir--probably 9 altos at least. We were squashed into the choir seats with a couple of altos having to hide out between the choir pews and the altar rail.
Complicating our lives were baptisms (multiple) at both morning services, making them both run overtime. Also--it was hot. A hot day, and the church's air conditioning merely mitigating it a little. Our choir robes are heavy cotton, long-sleeved, with long cottas worn over them. Those sitting farthest from the congregation had their choir robes hiked up to their knees. I was on the end of the row both times so had to remain decorous. But we sang well, which is what matters.
After the second service, I left for awhile--drove out to grab some lunch and then decompress at a friend's house, lying on their living room floor with my bare feet propped up on the couch (feet were not happy campers by then) and imbibing more sugar and caffeine than usual. This turned out to be a wise choice, because the stupid feet were about to give me what-for in Evensong.
Once garbed again in my choir robe (still slightly damp from the morning), I dealt with reorganizing the music in my folder. Besides more Mozart ('Jubilate," K117, "Magnificat" from Solemn Vespers, K339, "Benedictus sit Deus" K117, "Ave Verum Corpus" K618) and the two we'd sung in the morning, we had the Plainsong chant, sung in unison a capella "Veni Creator Spiritus", William Smith's "The Preces" (prayers and responses) and hymns, which were handed out in sheets so we didn't have to carry a hymnal.
St.David's isn't a large church, and the space between the front pews and the steps up to the choir is limited (esp. as the pulpit sticks out on an 8-sided pedestal.) Into that space, David fit violinists (first and second) a violist , a cellist , two trumpeters, and something more than 40 singers. Instrumentalists right up against the first pew, choir in two rows behind them, with a space for the aisle that we could open or close in what David called the "Revelations" position and the "Offertory" position. For this service, we spent most of the time standing down in front, not up in the choir seats (which wouldn't hold all of us anyway. The sopranos had three reserved rows on their side of the church, and when they were allowed to sit, they edged around behind the orchestra to get there. Some of the basses and tenors could use the steps up or the airle between the choir pews.
And what was it like? Like a foretaste of heaven, for me. First of all it's great music. Second, it's music that's kind to singers. Third, we have a music director/choir director who is a great musician and a great conductor--is able to elicit the best performance out of any group. He respects the music; he demands perfection and we come darn close because he doesn't just demand--he helps us understand WHY it's so important that every single chorister strive for perfection as well...and HOW to achieve it. His markings are clear and vivid; they make the music's structure and beauty even more evident. The shaping of vowels, the placement of final consonants, the shaping of individual notes ("Every note has a shape--there's no such thing as a plain note...caress that note!"), breathing (where, how much, etc.) all of it, every detail in every voice in the choir, contributes...or takes away...from the beauty.
Singing, for me at least, uses mind, body, and heart all at once--and if the music is great enough, uses them all wholly, to the last breath. This music is great enough. It is a privilege to sing it at all, and to sing it at this level, with such a choir, with orchestra and organ and a director who knows what he wants and how to get it...that is a very great privilege indeed.
It was hot (well into the mid-90s by afternoon) and we all sweated. My feet were balloon-like by the end, and hurt like blazes--only noticed them when not singing, when standing there in line listening to a reading. We all came out of it both limp and exalted. When the alto next to me (normally steady as a rock) got lost in one of the "big" pieces, and I was alone at the end of the line next to the sopranos...I had no problem going on alone until she caught up...in fact, I didn't really notice the problem except in David's hairy-eyeball directed at our end of the alto line for a moment. (I'm usually in the middle, next to the sopranos, because I'm not confused by being next to another part...or almost never. In the "Tantum Ergo" in the first service, which we sang from the choir stalls, I had a very very strong baritone behind me and it was a temptation to slide into his part. But not sopranos.)
Choirs have their own particular markers for "we nailed it" and among them are troublesome consonants. David had raked some people over the coals for not singing a separated final 's' where he wanted it (you sing the vowel before the 's' then place the 's' very precisely exactly on a mark. This makes a distinct but not hissy 's'. Final 't' and 'd' need to "crack" all together--an early or late one--fractionally early or late--sticks out. "M" and "n" are easy to swallow and not voice sufficiently, though fixing that is easier than fixing someone who's got a habitually late or early "s" or "t." We nailed the final consonants, including all those "s" endings that came along with the "sanctus" and "spiritus" words. We achieved the long crescendo with a very short decrescendo and then marcato forte beginning of the next word--without breathing in between!--that David wanted. All three times. Sopranos did not squeak or lose control of their vibrato; altos did not growl in chest voice; tenors didn't quaver and basses didn't roar.
Those of us who'd already sung two services benefitted by the experience of the first two (and the rehearsals before them) and in my case that just about made up for the extra tiredness. By the end, my voice was just tiring...and that, too, is the glory of Mozart. One round of certain composers (mostly modern) and my throat feels as if I'd been gargling tacks...it goes dry and sandpapery. Mozart soothes the throat (except for those octave leaps, but they're not constant.)
And all day today it's replayed in my head--not generically, as from a record, but those particular voices. What just went past my mental ear was a cascade of offset "Alleluias" tossed back and forth between soloists and choir. Yummmm...I am very lucky to have these opportunities.