I have been doing so much knitting. And working. And getting precious little finished. And that’s ok. I should be at choir practice this evening, but after eating dinner, my silly old guts got stupid on me and I figured I’d better stay close to home. ‘Nuff said. Right now it’s what’s euphemistically referred to as The Holiday Season here in the US of A – and other “western countries.” For me, that means Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah. Handel used to have two dots over the “a” in his name (that’s what they call an umlaut – pron. “oomlowt” in Germany). He indeed had been German, but upon his arrival at the court of King George III of England, he soon dropped the umlaut and embraced his status as an English composer. Messiah is a classic example of Baroque music, with its word painting (Wortmalerei), sequences, virtuosity, and encouragement of bel canto improvisation. In other words, my heart:).
I usually start playing Messiah as soon as Thanksgiving is over, but for some reason this year I started early this morning – already two weeks later. I know most of it by heart, having sung so many of the choruses and listened to it year after year. I have sung alto, soprano and even on occasion, tenor parts. I just love this piece of music. For the past seven years or so, I’ve played tympani to its Halleluja Chorus. It’s probably my absolute favorite – and yes, I hear the eyes of “real” musicians rolllllling and I. don’t. CARE!
One of my favorite performances is that of the Concert Artists of Baltimore. I bought the CD and will be playing it in the car as I drive to work/drive to and from visits and, well, drive.
New on Naxos: Handel Messiah
George Frideric HANDEL (1685–1759)
(Watkins Shaw Edition)
Of all English oratorios Handel’s Messiah has always been the most overwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical of his oratorios and the most purely sacred in its choice of subject matter. The vivid choral writing – there are more choruses in Messiah than in any other Handel oratorio – coupled with the expressive density of the solo arias, have ensured its status as one of the greatest choral masterpieces in the Western canon.
This particular version/interpretation by Eddie Polochick is genius. It just is. Trust me. Back in the days when I had more teeth bone/voice in my face, I sang with the Baltimore Symphony Chorus, which Ed conducted. It was the single most challenging musical experience of my life. I loved every single minute of it, difficult or no. And… it was 35 years ago. I was 30. My youngest was 30 days old the day I auditioned. When I got pregnant with No. 6, I was too queasy to sing and had to quit. My youngest is 33. It’s been a while:).
Since then, a dear friend of mine from the St. J’s choir (of my previous church) along with some of the stars of the Symphony Chorus, sang with CAB (and you should know, we sang in the Symphony Chorus together in 1984-85 before we even knew each other:)!). She very kindly offered those of us who were interested, discounted tickets. I actually rode into Baltimore with her and was privileged to see their rehearsal before the performance. What joy!
Much of Messiah comes from the Book of Isaiah – one of the Old Testament Prophets. One of the choruses is “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” It is about the birth of Christ (in case you didn’t notice). And it joyfully signals the Christian feast, celebrated among us goyim, as Christmas. Some of the words are, “Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And here I must stop for a brief detour in the story….
About 54 years ago, a family moved into the house that had finally been built next door to us. They couldn’t have been more different from us – children of modernity: agnostics, atheists, and a believer or two of Christianity and Judaism to add to the mix. The eldest child was a Dominican nun, fer Chrissakes! The mother had recently been widowed; she and her husband had nine children, seven of whom were still living at home. The eldest two were the aforementioned nun, and a married daughter who lived, not surprisingly, with her husband. There were two girls, one older and one younger than I by a year. I knew we’d be friends and I was so grateful to have two friends nearby to hang out with. There was this older boy – their brother, John (spoiler alert, he and I are now married 43 years already, with six kids, five grandkids and no one has shot anyone … yet.), but he wasn’t even in my 12-year-old radar at that point (Now, my sister Laura… that was another story, LOL). Anyway, the younger of the two sisters was a girl named Lori. Lori (her first name was actually Julia, but she was called by a diminutive of her middle name, Lorraine, by those who were In.The.Know.)
Lori was a sweet person with an incredible sense of humor. As time went on, it became apparent that she had a real talent for putting words together. Her writing was incredibly good. By the time she was getting ready to graduate high school, she was on her way to Malloy College on Long Island (officially known as Malloy Catholic College for Women, just so’s ya know). She had this really sweet voice, almost identical to that of her oldest sister, “GG” by now no longer a nun, but living as a layperson, released from her vows. We liked GG both with and without them.
Less than two weeks after her high school graduation, we stopped hearing that pretty voice. She was in an auto accident, permanently disabled, unable to really speak above a whisper, unable to walk, unable to even really eat or drink on her own. It wasn’t until two years after we almost lost her that we realized she had a MIND behind those disabilities. Her youngest sister, Kate, then 12, was talking with her, asking her about her spelling homework. Lori blinked at the correct letters! We realized she was THERE! Now, her mother (the lady who was to become my indomitable mother-in-law and someone I always admired) knew this, but had had no proof and was (infuriatingly) poo-pooed by the doctors as being too hopeful. The doctors were, of course, wrong (I cannot tell you how happy I am typing that sentence!)
For years afterward, Lori and I would talk together whenever I went to visit. Being the smartass I am, I’d ask if it was a vowel or a consonant and then go through the corresponding part of the alphabet. It was a frustrating exercise for Lori but my goodness, she composed some of the most beautiful prose I ever read or heard! When we got together for Thanksgiving dinner, it was Lori who composed the prayer we all prayed. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
Lori never remembered the accident and she was honest when she told me there were times she wished she could just die, but that changed over time. She was grateful for her life. And she dearly loved God – and each and every one of us – and we loved her. Her sense of humor was legendary. I will never forget a friend of John’s mom, sitting in Lori’s room during the wedding of her older sister Holli, just crying. Lori laughed as her brother Jim, distracting her from this distressing situation, teased her about (of all things) her urine collection bag. (God bless him:)). She got dirty jokes as well as any of us. And we often promised to load her feeding tube with vodka when the nurses’ backs were turned. I like to think someone did that at least once.:)
When John and I got married in Vermont, six hours away, Lori couldn’t make it. But she caught the bouquet. We made sure her Mom took it home to her. No one else was getting my wedding bouquet! Lori was our only son, Danny’s, godmother. I like to think her prayers for him have saved him from many a scrape.
Over time, Lori would learn to say a few words, breathlessly. One of her most frequent words was “Wonderful.” Or as we New Yawkas would say, “Wondahfull” Whenever a new grandbaby was placed in her arms for a cuddle, when a loved one who had been away for a while returned home, when someone did well, Lori would say “Wonderful.” And you knew it was good.
In November 1997, John’s Mom died. It was only a bit less than six months later, that Lori died, the victim of failures of parenteral nutrition and dehydration. I miss her to this day, this wonderful friend and dear sister-in-law.
Today, I was listening to Messiah and the strains of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” were filling my car as I drove to the home of an infant client’s grandmother for a visit. When the words, “Wonderful, Counselor…..” came to my consciousness, I could hear Lori whisper her barely audible “Wondahfull” and the tears started flowing.
Amen. Truly wonderful, my dear friend in Heaven.
God be with you ’til we meet again+