And on the Fourth Day, The Choir rested…
We’ve also had some time to digest all of the gains experienced in three very intense days of rehearsal. Last night’s gathering saw a dress rehearsal of sorts, as we sang through all the turba choruses and Charles Daniels offered most of the recitatives from the St. John. I think it would be hard to distill the collective enthusiasm of our entire organization about this year’s Festival, so I hope it will suffice to say that this will be a weekend to remember for lovers of Bach, and, indeed, lovers of music.
Beyond the music, there are a number of peculiar (in the best possible sense ) traditions in which our audience share over the two weekends of the Festival. I think patrons are pretty evenly split between picnicking on the lawn between halves of the Mass in B Minor and retiring to the cozy basement fellowship hall of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (nearby, on Vine Street, one block down from Packer Memorial Church) for a slice of rhubarb pie along with some bracing Lutheran coffee (strong coffee must be in the Lutheran DNA). Each year several individuals elect to hear the Mass as my grandmother used to, as a teenager: by sitting on the lawn – the music carries beautifully through the open stained glass windows. In addition to the chorales played by a brass choir on the lawn leading up to performances of the Mass, talented students from the Suzuki violin studio of Nancy Perlaak Poot will be offering a delightful prelude on Friday evening, beginning at 7:15, from the brass choir tent. They were heard to great acclaim at this year’s Family Concert.
Then, there’s the ageless question of applause. For most of the Festival’s history, because of the sacred nature of the music, at the performers’ respectful request, the audience refrained from applause. In more recent years, this mutually agreed-upon convention has been relaxed: the audience is asked to refrain from applause as long as the conductor remains on the podium. At this point, some individuals applaud heartily, and some patrons observe the older tradition. As performers, we delight in our audience’s delight, but never feel entitled to it. As such, we’re grateful for whatever appreciation is shared with us, in whatever form is most comfortable for the audience.
Also, somewhat recently, the official portable Bach Choir cushions have been rendered somewhat obsolete – the pews at Packer Memorial Church are now cushioned, but individuals so inclined are encouraged to bring supplemental comfort aids. Pew technology is one of the few things that hasn’t changed much since Bach’s time.
My favorite tradition of all is the sense of homecoming and fellowship that many in our audience share with one another. A critic recently wrote of the Festival that it is one of one of musical America’s best kept secrets. We’ll be welcoming patrons from far and wide, and it’s always a delight to see the warm smiles shared among the broader Bach Choir family, of knowing that they’re sharing in a durable and deeply-treasured tradition over a century old. A fellow guarantor and friend once said that the Festival is “the most genteel way of hearing this music.” I quite agree, and hope that friends new and old will sense that something special that has brought so many home to this glorious music time and time again.