Marking time at the Laundromat
Pencils, notes and the life of an OBF chorus member
EUGENE WEEKLY June 18, 2009
By Suzi Steffen
A week or two ago, Amy Adams took her score for Sven-David Sandström’s new Messiah to the laundromat. Not to wash or dry it, of course — she calls the score a beautiful, clean edition that has plenty of room for musicians’ notes — but to sit with it in relative silence and, by reading it intensely, to achieve a mind-meld.
Adams, one of the few Eugene members of the 54-voice Oregon Bach Festival chorus and the manager for the Eugene Symphony Chorus, wants to understand the score as deeply as she can before practices begin. “Several months before the festival starts, they send a contract,” she says — and then it’s time to get started on those thick choral scores. Sometimes, because it’s the Bach Festival and Bach’s great choral works come around several times a decade, she already owns the music — the B Minor Mass, the Weinachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), the St. Matthew Passion. Not so much with newly commissioned works like the Sandström though Adams, unlike most of the other chorus members, got to sing it in an April 27 community preview held at the Wildish Theater in Springfield.
Adams teaches full-time at O’Hara during the school year, 10 music classes a day, and school barely ends before the rest of the OBF chorus and orchestra arrives from around the country. Professional musicians all, the singers take several weeks out of their lives to move lock, stock and barrel to Eugene. “I’m lucky,” Adams says. “Everyone else either packs up and brings their family with them or has to leave their family behind.”
With three kids, Adams knows full well the demands of parenting and working the almost more than full-time job. Five years ago, she gave birth to her youngest daughter a mere 18 days before the festival began. She doesn’t really remember what she sang in 2004.
But she has her notes to remind her. Like any good chorus member, Adams travels with pencils. The Sandström, for instance, is covered in helpful notations (and by its performance on July 9, will have far more). First, Adams notes what year she’s sung each score, so this one bears the date 2009. Then things get crazy. A vocal score can contain many parts, and the Sandström sometimes has six different parts going at once. Each singer has to find her way through that forest of notes.
“If you’re looking at your line, you’re wading through a lot of black ink, and you need some arrows,” Adams says. “I mark up my scores with vertical hashmarks to make the beats leap off the page because after all, you’re supposed to look over the score at your director.”