Friday, December 20, 2013

Day 222 - Attending a Wisconsin Chamber Choir Concert

I have never attended a Wisconsin Chamber Choir Concert. Over the past few years attending the holiday concert put on by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has been a topic Rachael and I have following the onset of winter, but we never acted on the experience given the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations that always came with the time of year. Resolved to final experience my first chamber choir performance, I decided I would actively pursue attending the holiday concert during my “I have never...” year. In turn, I waited patiently for winter to arrive this year before investigating the process needed to obtain tickets for the annual performance. Eventually, that effort resulted me tracking down two tickets for the concert, which firmly established my plans for today’s “I have never...” event.

As this evening arrived Rachael and I ate a quick dinner before heading down to the Grace Episcopal Lutheran Church on Madison’s capitol square. Having never visited the church before, Rachael and I braved the persistent cold for a short while to take in the finer detail of one of Madison’s tallest and oldest structures. The illuminating yellow glow of nearby street lights pierced the heavy winter air and cast itself across the face of the brick structure, revealing its ornate features and elegant red wooden doors. Wrapped up in the moment, I paused briefly before the steeple as Rachael continued inside. After a few brief moments I stepped inside and looked over the towering stained glass windows and aged wooden fixtures lining the sanctuary. Although I was aware the concert would be the highlight of the evening, experiencing the church was enough to make me happy we had made the trip. It was absolutely beautiful, and in the weeks before Christmas it felt like a good place to be on a Friday night.

As we passed through the ticket line, Rachael and I promptly located some seats near the back of the already packed pews at the heart of the building.  As Rachael settled in, I wondered the space happily snapping pictures as we waited the start of the performance. After exploring a bit of the building, I worked my way back to my seat just as the choir took their positions at the front of the sanctuary. Finding a comfortable position on the old wooden pew, I looked up to the group as they conglomerated into the familiar stepped u-shape of a traditional choral arrangement, which cued the conductor to enter the space to the left of the pulpit. After a brief welcome and introduction, he then turned to the choir and called them to attention with a lift of his hands. Moments later, the choir swelled into symphony of sound around Machet die Tore weit as the performance began.

Over the next hour and a half Rachael and I listened on as the choir worked through five separate part containing holiday music from around the world. Although the focus was almost exclusively Christian, the depth and diversity of the music branched out much farther than the familiar, traditional Christmas carols that tend to wear thin as the winter progresses toward the holidays. In a magnificent, haunting uniformity the choir flowed through each piece of music with unbroken grace that filled the church with waves of sound. The result was an engaging, wonderful blend of songs that carried with them unique and gripping moments, which were only enhanced with the addition of several members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra during later parts of the performance. As the group moved from one work to the next, I found myself glued to the happenings at the head of the pulpit and looking forward to those songs yet to come. While there were some movements that stood out much more than others, the whole of the performance brought with it the warmth and spirit we all hope to feel around this time of year, which, frankly, was more than I expected to take away from today’s experience.

As the performance drew to a close around a final, lively rendition of Go, Tell It On the Mountain, Rachael and I joined the audience in clapping their hands to the beat as we sat nestled in next to one another. Although the actual melody of the final song left something to be desired, the interaction with the choir and the upbeat movement of the music made the room noticeably more jovial, which was understandably the intent of ending on such a piece. With the conclusion of the final song, the room erupted into a steady round of applause for the choir and the musicians that accompanied them throughout the night. The reaction made it obvious others in the room took as much away from the night’s performance as me, which only reinforced my conclusion my first experience attending a Wisconsin Chamber Choir concert was a good decision on a cold and snowy December day.

The choir and accompaniment

I can’t say my experience at the Wisconsin Chamber Choir Concert tonight was one of the most memorable live performances of my “I have never...” year to date, but tonight’s concert was full of beautiful music and incredibly talented people that embodied the spirit of the season in song. The depth and fullness of the music that echoed through the Grace Episcopal church seemed to lift everyone in the audience, even on a day when winter was doing its best to remind us how difficult it can be. Although I know Rachael was less impressed by the performance than I was, I know she too felt the concert was a good way to break up an otherwise ordinary holiday season. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Wisconsin Chamber Choir concert finds its way into our holiday season in the years to come. I know I certainly wouldn’t mind if it did, anyway.

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