Rehearsal: Bach's Mass in B Minor

  • Jun 24, 2016

Voices sound like an angel's chorus. Instruments blend into a harmony as each artist lends their voice to the incredible rising sound.

This is my first season at OBF, first rehearsal I've attended, first choral performance. In my childhood, I was a band kid, my college years and after, a classically trained ballerina. I'm no stranger to the arts but this is new. It also feels a bit like a well-worn hat.

There's that all too familiar tug of togetherness and pride that wells up when artists work together to create something bigger than themselves. The idea that individual, unique, astounding voices (both from singers and instrumentalists - I use voices to mean the emotion carries through the message created) come together, blending seamlessly together to create something greater than any one voice or even a great number of voices rising up at once. Artists balance each other using their abilities to draw out the message as the story is passed from vocalists to instrumentalists, from instrument to instrument, and back. They know this journey that they're taking us listeners on and even though it's as intimately familiar to them as their own breath they create in each repetition an excitement and newness.

Not unlike a painter mixing colors on a canvas to draw the eye, Maestro Matthew Halls draws the musicians across a four-dimensional canvas through time to create a serendipitous journey that exists for each listener entirely without measure.

In one of the last rehearsals before the show, I can hear these threads that Halls is blending. See the lines he's drawing through time. Here's the trumpet and there are the tenors. Rise up sopranos, buoyed up by the violins and violas. The line there. That splash. That's the oboe. It dances through the mind, delighting for a moment before we notice the bassoon, the baritones. And again. Again. Forward and around pressing onward on this journey that manages to tug at the very fabric of emotion deep down inside the listener. 

But this is rehearsal. This is not performance.

There are stops and starts to adjust minute nuances easily discernible to Halls that I can't hear until the correction has been given. I listen to his instruction to let this note draw out so that it reacts to this other section. I'm paraphrasing here. Let's test this theory let's make this section more alive, free, athletic. And suddenly this three measure section, a count of no more than twelve... It was alive but now it's telling me something vibrant and new. There's texture there now that the sopranos have shifted their approach.

And on it goes. We're only twenty minutes in and I feel like I've been witness to a great transformation by masters, because as my own experience would have it, I know I am in the presence of such. Beyond well-rehearsed, intimate with the music, and they internalize the notes from Halls instantly, adjusting their thoughts to bring out a different aspect of their voice. Did you know instruments could bring out the vowels more? They can because I just heard it. The chorus sits silently a moment while Halls focuses in on the orchestra. Half of the whole. I hear notes I hadn't paid attention to, but now I can hear the flute pass off a melody to the trumpets, that had earlier been echoed by the chorus.

It's astounding to sit and listen to this shape. One section at a time it comes together, so quickly that I know I lose nuances, but I can hear the breath and life becoming stronger. And I'm sitting here, wondering how I could ever think that live choral music anything but moving and energizing. I can't wait for opening night.

— Monica Sellers, Marketing Assistant

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