Mary Arline (queen_of_kithia) wrote,
Mary Arline

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Music and memory

First, today my choir sang at church, and there seems to be sort of this trend among the Catholic churches I've attended to not finish the hymns that we sing, and this annoys me to no end. I think the trend is sort of a tacit bowing to the criticism that Masses are too long, and of course they can't cut short the actual liturgies (and apparently it's too much to expect priests--and deacons--to cut short their homilies) so the only thing that could give was the music. But that really annoys me, because it's implying that the music is nothing more than a filler, something to keep the congregation entertained while boring, non-participatory stuff (like processing in and out) is going on, and is not as important as the rest of the Mass. And I disagree entirely. Hymns aren't just filler; they're a form of prayer. Why don't we just cut off the end of the Creed to save time, too? ("We believe in the Holy Spirit, etc. ...Amen.") Moreover, the hymns are based on scripture, and as such, the lyrics argument, for a lack of a better word, and when you cut off the last couple of verses, you cut out the conclusion of the argument and it doesn't make as much sense. Personally, I gain a much better understanding of scripture when it's sung than I do when it's read and sermonized; in the latter case, I understand it with my head only, but in the former case I also understand it with my heart. If I were a priest, I would have a rule that the musicians couldn't cut the hymns short unless the publishers have indicated a suggestion of where to cut (because, to be fair, some of those hymns are really long).

Anyway, while contemplating the miserable weather outside today, I suddenly had a swatch of choral music play in my head, and I was puzzled as to where I remembered the song from. Then I remembered that it was an All-State Chorus song. And it's somewhat remarkable that I can remember All-State Chorus songs because I myself never actually went to All-State Chorus.

The reason I can remember All-State Chorus songs is because the way we auditioned for All-State Chorus was to learn at least some of the songs and sing them (memorized? I don't remember whether we had to memorize them or not, but it would explain why I can remember them now) for some judges. All-State Chorus is unique among state music contests in that every high school in the state (with a choral program, so that may or may not be all of them) sends a certain number of students (minimum four--a delegation, if you will) so that you are only competing against the other students in your school, as opposed to the whole state.

Unfortunately for me, there were quite a few really talented female singers at my high school. I think I might have had a better chance of getting into All-State Chorus if I'd been willing to sing alto, but singing has always been as natural to me as breathing (and nearly as vital), but when I sing alto, it becomes too much work. Besides, while I don't have the high range that I used to, I really feel that my voice fits much more comfortably in the mezzo-soprano range.

So I never made it into All-State Chorus, but I did make it into All-State Band during my senior year, which was arguably a much greater accomplishment because in that instance I was competing against clarinet players all over the state. I do know that I worked my butt off to get it, (particularly the sight-reading). It's interesting, because the actual prize of getting to go to Mitchell and be yelled at for two days by an angry, crazy man and play a concert at the Corn Palace, which isn't anywhere near as cool-looking on the inside as on the outside, didn't really turn out to be much of a prize at all. But I'm still proud to have made the cut; it was an impressive accomplishment, and I'm more impressed with myself looking back on it now than I was at the time, which is probably as it should be. I mentioned recently that I have rarely, if ever, been willing to go above and beyond what was expected of me; then I remembered getting into All-State Band, which even auditioning for was purely voluntary on my part; sure, Mr. Niles and my sister encouraged me to do so, but nobody forced me to audition. Similarly, no one forced me to practice as much as it took, although in that case they did expect me to practice as much as I did, so I guess I wasn't necessarily exceeding expectations, but it was more work than was required of me.

It's interesting, because while singing always came naturally to me, I did have to work really hard at my clarinet-playing. I mean, I guess I had something of a natural aptitude for it, or else people wouldn't have been impressed enough to keep encouraging me to work harder at it. But the thing felt like work in the sense that it was physically exhausting most of the time, but I never entirely realized how difficult it was until now, when I look back at it. There's a short film called Mr. B Natural to which I was exposed through MST3k, which attempts to convince children to join band (and, as a consequence, buy band instruments) by having a really, really, almost criminally exuberant woman, styling herself as "Mr. B Natural", dance around and shrilly proclaim the benefits of being in band, and I can't help but think that, if they actually showed it in schools it probably had the opposite of the intended effect. But the point is, at one point during the film, Mr. B Natural is talking about a kid who plays the French Horn (or the Horn in F, as I've since learned is its proper name) "because he wanted to! He wanted the fun of it...Wait 'til he grows up and finds how hard it is!"

And that's how I feel about playing the clarinet. For whatever reason there weren't a lot of opportunities for me to be involved in theatre in middle school, and for some reason there wasn't choir when I was in sixth grade, but there was band, and that was something that I could do and be a part of the group, but also excel at individually. When I got to high school, pretty much the only opportunity to be involved in theatre was the annual spring musical, in which (predictably) I was always outshone by all those other darn talented female singers at my school, but at least my clarinet-playing allowed me to be involved in "Fiddler on the Roof" during my freshman year. And indeed, I probably would have been a member of that chorus if I hadn't been in the pit band for that; based on what people have since said to me, and hearsay, and analysis of that particular musical score, I think what happened was that Mr. Niles specifically requested that I be allowed to play in that pit band, because that score (being based on traditional Jewish folk music) has significant clarinet parts and those clarinet parts are HARD! I always felt kind of resentful that I didn't get to be a part of that cast, but again, once I realized how difficult that clarinet music was, and that they needed me specifically to play the second clarinet part (and me only a freshman at the time) I realize how big an honor that was. Also, it meant I had to endure less Mrs. W. during the rehearsal process, so that was definitely a plus. Come to think of it, that was probably the most enjoyable theatrical experience I had during my entire high school career (and certainly the one in which I got the most performance time--I was going to say "stage time" but we were actually in front of the stage and behind a screen from the audience).

Then I went to college, and while I was still overshadowed by far more talented singers when it came to musicals (with the exception of "A Little Night Music") they did more productions in a year, so I finally, FINALLY got the chance to do what I always wanted to do, which was perform in plays...and it was everything I ever dreamed it would be and more. I stayed in band for a while too, but eventually I decided that I didn't have the time to commit to it in order to maintain the skill level that I needed to play at to avoid bringing the rest of the ensemble down. I was still doing it for fun, and it really wasn't that fun any more; most of the rest of the ensemble were music majors and planning to do this professionally, and so the music was increasingly difficult, and school work and theatrical pursuits had taken a higher priority, so I left the ensemble.

I haven't touched my clarinet in several years, but it's not because I've lost interest; rather it's because I've been mostly living in apartments and I don't want to run the risk of disturbing my fellow tenants. I did take it out occasionally while I was living in my trailer in Vermillion (I even bought sheet music for Mozart's clarinet concerto, arguably the most beautiful clarinet piece ever written and--according to a BBC poll--Mozart's greatest work, which is saying something, for the sole purpose of playing around with it)...but then the school year started up again, and I had time for little else than eating, sleeping, and working.

My sister said I should be in the Sioux Falls Municipal Band...and thinking about it again, I'm beginning to think that maybe I should look into that. I haven't been involved in many "extra-curricular" activities since I've moved to Sioux Falls; partly because a lot of them involve spending money that I don't have, but that's not always the case, and in the cases where money is not an issue it's a shame and a waste because (a) what's the point of living in a city (even a nominal one) if you're not going to take advantage of the stuff to do, and (b) it could help me make friends for the pure sake of having a social life, and also in the hopes of making useful connections for when I start job searching again in earnest (because it may be who you know as much as--or even more than--what you know). That could be difficult, though, because I don't know when they rehearse and, once again, I have other commitments (work and school) that have to take a higher priority. But it would be nice to play again, particularly in an amateur ensemble (and, if the Sioux Falls Municipal band is anything like the Spearfish City Band, there might actually be a little bit of money in it, which would be a nice bonus).
Tags: church, ideas, memory, mst3k, music, school, theatre, work stress
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