We were introduced to yet another of Philadelphia's grand old churches, this one at 51st and Spruce, the Church of the Holy Apostles and The Mediator. It's Gothic and slightly musty with age, and the sound is gorgeous. It was also cold. Before rehearsal began, many singers clustered around the floor vents, which were blasting out quite a lot of heat. However, those big stone churches never get really warm. All the heat shoots up into the high ceiling.
I was thinking of snapshots this morning. Singers clustered in the front of the church, some wearing their coats, almost all wearing scarves. One of the composers sitting out in the pews, towards the back; another singing with us, in the second tenors. A quick and lovely run-through of the opening piece, then a little work on the beginning, in which I made an embarassing mistake by missing a rest. It's traditional for me--I look up from the music more in dress rehearsal, so usually discover some new mistake I can make and have to add a mark to my score. The shortest piece next, falling neatly into its shape. Then a little more shaping for it. Then the odd piece, that has bits of Yeats recited among the singing, then its companion piece, which I love for the rich alto part. Then the Kaddish. There's a tenor solo that rips forth, high and declamatory, that might be my favorite part of the concert. It's been just as beautiful, every time. We worked a little longer on this one, as we had the composer handy in the pews. Towards the end of it, he discovered a mistake in the alto part--a written one, not one we'd made. We made notes. Then he took off, and we had our break.
A church supper of some kind was going on and we could smell the delicious food. It was a lot warmer back there, by the restrooms.
For the second half, we huddled up around the high altar. The piece is a St. John Passion, with solo quartet and semi-chorus and full chorus. We ran it through, with all solos, for the first time. It was a little rocky. It's not the music that makes things hard, it's the choppiness, and being ready to come in for a single phrase here and a single phrase there, and have that phrase convey strong emotion. "Not this one, but Barabbas!" etc.. Then we did the whole thing again, working backwards, one segment at a time, concentrating on the transitions. The quarter were a distance ahead of us, on the steps by the lecterns, and facing out. For this run, they faced us, so they could get an idea of what the conductor was doing. Jesus, the bass, went and got his coat, since he didn't have nearly as many lines as the soprano and alto, who traded off most of the narrative text, and the tenor, same one as in the Kaddish, who sang some narration and various priests and Pilate and Peter--he certainly had his work cut out for him. At one point, we were running the endless, endless three denials of Peter, and the tenor burst out, in his usual beautiful clear tone, "I ain't!" We broke up in laughter.
It was an endurance test by the end. The choir settled onto the cold stone steps while the conductor worked with the semi-chorus, then popped up again to run the full section, complete with our one or two phrases. Finally, we were set free. We have tonight to lie around and do nothing, and recover from two late nights in a row.
Performance is Friday.