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mozart requiem

Singing Mozart makes people feel happy and exhilarated, because his music is wonderful and uplifting and contains sheer power. But all that is just the surface reality. At its core, singing Mozart accomplishes something at once more subtle and more profound. Because he created music that transcends time, and which represents some of the greatest pinnacles of human endeavour, when you sing him, it creates a conduit through which you can glimpse, if only fleetingly, this other universe, his private universe as it were. And for a little while, infinity seems to get just that little bit closer. At the end of the day, singing Mozart is why people sing at all.

Sometimes when I stand up to sing with my choir, especially if the light is streaming in and it’s a Saturday afternoon, and even more especially if it is Mozart, I think to myself that this is the absolute best thing the world has to offer to me. That it isn’t really possible for life to get better than this. And in order to truly avail of this thing, especially if it is Mozart, I have to give it my best too. To sing Mozart even half-way well, you need commitment — not just in the moment, as you sing, but in all the weeks and months of preparation as well. To stay on top of his moods and his tempi, to create anything close to the sound he must have heard in his own mind when he composed, the demand is that you give it your all. And the best part is, he makes you -want- to give it your all.

I know that this is a well-established fact, but I am so consumed by it lately that I have to restate it. (It’s a bit like two people in love. They have to keep expressing themselves repeatedly, though they are saying something well-known to them both. They are incapable of holding it in.) The fact is this: there is absolutely nothing Mozart can’t do. You want something fast and breathless? He got just the right fugue for you. You want something lyrical and soaring? Sure, there’s a soprano solo right here. You want something earth-shaking and dramatic? He’s nailed that too. You want something deeply moving? No sweat. And not only does he do all this, there is something light when he does it. The structure can be complex and technical, but it is always airy, never ponderous. (Especially when he decides to be playful and naughty, no one can touch him.) The notes can be difficult to master, but when played out they always sound perfect and natural.

I had the privilege to sing some Mozart recently. We performed his Requiem, and a few other things. I comment often that I don’t sing for the concerts, my reward is the rehearsals themselves. This is largely true, but this concert brought home to me the need for a concert at the end of all that rehearsing. A concert gives you a focal point, it gives you a deadline by which to master the notes, to get to the best level you can get to, at least at this point in time. And this forces you to spend time alone with the music, maybe with a keyboard, maybe on cyberbass. And the performance is your ultimate encounter with the music, where you try to share with an audience all your work and all your joy.

Performing does have a power all its own. Rehearsing in jeans/shorts, T-shirt, and sandals/sneakers, in a relaxed atmosphere in very enjoyable, and is exactly what is needed as you prepare, but the formal setting of a concert — performers dressed in black, chandeliers lighting up the concert space, a hall packed with several hundred audience members — carries with it a certain tingly tension that can make for a truly memorable occasion.  There is a sense that everyone is in this together — singers, soloists, musicians, conductor, audience. And that every single person is contributing to the experience and therefore indispensable to it. For a couple of hours, Mozart’s greatness gets us to bond quite intimately and to share our energies.

And energetic it was. For a Requiem, the piece is quite lively. There are very few slow sections and even those are quite dramatic. In the end, we took the Requiem fugues at a relatively breakneck pace. The director had, in fact, slowed them down in the last week or so, but I think the occasion had a momentum all its own, and there was some pretty spirited singing out there. I have to say that at times it was stressful singing for me personally — a few bars before each fugue I found myself fervently hoping that I wouldn’t screw anything up — but in the end, it all gave me a buzz that lasted as long as 24 hours. I still missed a few spots here and there, but I also got a few spots I had always missed in rehearsal. But those are minor details, and things I hope to fix whenever it is that I get to sing the piece again. For I do hope that I get to sing it again sometime. Because at the end of the day, singing Mozart is why people sing at all.