Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

40 Years of “My Way”

[Ed. note: This piece was first published yesterday on the UMass marching band alumni website. You can see it, complete with illustrations and video links, here.  I was thrilled to be asked to write what turned out to be something of an historical research paper.]

 

Every tradition has an origin story.

The problem is, most often those origins are really difficult to pin down.

In the middle of some marching season, some year, the flute section begins to march doubletime at a certain moment in the percussion cadence … or the tubas decide to march separately from the rest of the brass block and call it a “tuba tail” … or the band plays a particular stands tune at a particular time in a couple of football games in a row and suddenly it seems like it happens that way all the time, without fail.

But rarely can anyone identify the moment a tradition becomes a tradition. Even more difficult to pinpoint who had the idea in the first place.

Not in this case, though.

In celebrating “40 Years of ‘My Way’,” the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band marks four decades of a perhaps inevitable tradition that had a very specific start date … encouraged by a very specific person.

On September 16, George Parks, 57, died en route to Michigan with the band – on a long shot ‘pinnacle’ performance he somehow made happen at the 110,000-seat Big House at [the] University of Michigan in Ann Arbor – like he made everything happen for all his years at the helm.

George and the band had stopped in Ohio to give a performance and to sleep, and George saw them through the show, led them in his favorite, ‘My Way’ (whose lyrics include: ‘And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…’). Then he stepped down from the stage and collapsed of a heart attack.”

– author Betty Londergan, in her article “The Music Man of UMass”, published on her blog, “What Gives”, September 21, 2010

A heartbreaking coincidence. …Maybe.

 

Entering the fall of 1978, in his second year as Minuteman Marching Band director, George Parks decided he needed some sort of closing song for his band’s performances. From his own college marching experience, with the band at West Chester State College, he drew a version of Paul Anka’s anthem “My Way”, written for and most famously performed by Frank Sinatra. The arrangement, written by James H. Burden (who regularly arranged music for the West Chester marching band, as well as a little group called the Penn State Blue Band), was originally performed at a moderate tempo, to the accompaniment of a gentle marching percussion backbeat. But when Parks brought it to UMass, he eliminated most of the battery parts and turned the song back into a ballad, and soon presented it to the UMass community, with the help of the band, as something of a hymn.

Since then, at the close of the majority of its performances, the Minuteman Marching Band has gathered in a tightly-packed formation and played “My Way.” The band plays a verse in a quiet brass and woodwind chorale setting; sings a verse; and finishes with a playout that is slightly faster and a whole lot louder … immediately after which the battery percussion fire up their cadence, and the band exits the venue. For it seems, as long as anyone can remember, the same thing has happened, every show. Tradition.

Or very nearly the same thing. The original lengthy, trumpet-screamer ending was given a gentle rewrite by then-graduate assistant Michael Klesch ’90 M.M. The song’s performance tempo has slowed noticeably over the years. The sung portion (in recent years) has begun to include a few extra exclamatory additions. When current director Timothy Todd Anderson recognized tradition and left the the leading of “My Way” to Associate Director Thomas P. Hannum ’84 M.M., the conducting style, the “look” of the song, understandably changed a little. And, compared with renditions from the early 1980s, the length of the trombone section’s final, iconic three-note, octave-leap figure is now drastically slower.

As “My Way” has evolved, the band’s presentation of the song remains an encore that, in just under two and a half minutes, presents audiences with all the elements of a great, entertaining band performance (short, perhaps, of a mace toss).

But it’s become much more than that. And, one suspects, this is not at all accidental.

 

It’s not just a nice melody with pretty chords.

And now, the end is near / And so I face the final curtain / 
My friend, I’ll say it clear / I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain / 
I’ve lived a life that’s full / I’ve traveled each and every highway
 / But more, much more than this / I did it my way

Parks fretted, in front of students at his what turned out to be his final summer Drum Major Academy session in 2010, that the lyrics to “My Way” were maybe a little selfish. (He wasn’t alone. Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina has said that her father “always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.”) But Parks wove an affecting defense for why he preferred not to think of those lyrics as emblematic of self-absorption, so much as representative of self-discovery and self-confidence. Those, after all, were characteristics which he was helping DMA students to work toward: “you can’t do this job without a LITTLE bit of ego. Just don’t let it control you”).

Further, one can make a case that some “My Way” lyrics, ones which the band has never sung, might serve to illuminate Parks’ work and relationships with the UMass band. In the mid-1980s, he created a video montage of UMMB scenes, partly to the accompaniment of the original Sinatra “My Way” recording. The lyrics, likely by no accident, lined up with certain visuals: “Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew / When I bit off more than I could chew”, sang Sinatra, over the sight of the UMMB, in a Washington, DC snow squall, videotaping a short clip for ABC-TV’s 1981 Presidential Inauguration coverage — the “Happy Morning America” moment (ask a mid-1980s alum for details). And “I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried / I’ve had my fill, my share of losing / And now, as tears subside / I find it all so amusing”, was the backing track for scenes of mid-1980s UMMB seniors shedding tears after their last postgame show.

 

Perhaps the largest part of the “My Way” tradition have been the connections that the song helps to foster. The connection between the UMMB and its audiences – home football audiences know that “My Way” is coming, and don’t leave the stadium until they hear it; and audiences that are newer to the UMass band experience quickly discover that … marching bands sometimes sing.

The connection among UMMB members – metaphorically and actually – as they gather even closer to one another and sing together.

The connection between the “baby band” and its alumni – a great many of whom have taken part in that same UMMB tradition – have played and sung that same arrangement; and now stand and sing and sway arm-in-arm, just as they did in their college years. With each other and with the current membership – in a relatively-new decade-old tradition – all together on the field at Homecoming.

And the connection between the UMMB and the high school bands who have the chance to watch a UMass show – when the “My Way” performance tells them that “band is a place for everyone” – and that it can be a refuge, a haven of great support and affection. And that it’s okay to show those feelings, in public.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to just the Pioneer Valley.

[Natasha Stollmack’s] most memorable high school experiences revolve around the Blue Devil marching band. ‘Attending Drum Major Academy at the Univ. of Massachusetts over the summer was a life-changing experience. DMA is a camp geared towards student leaders in band programs, and it was led by UMass’ incredible marching band director George N. Parks.’

Ms. Stollmack and [her] fellow drum majors quickly took a liking to Mr. Parks during the week they worked together at the camp. The group promised to keep in touch with him throughout their competitive season. … With warm memories of the relationship they developed with the legendary college marching band leader still fresh in their minds, the Huntington quartet was jolted during the opening weeks of school.

“’In mid-September, [Huntington director Brian] Stellato called us all down in the morning and shared with us the awful news of his passing,’ Ms. Stollmack said … ‘We were all shocked and devastated. We treated the rest of the season sort of as a tribute to him. I arranged a surprise performance of the song ‘My Way,’ which is the piece that UMass’ marching band shows always end with. The kids played it at the home show and it brought Mr. Stellato and the four of us to tears. It was one of my proudest moments of the season, seeing us all come together like that, most of the kids not even knowing who this man was. But they did it ‘with pride.’ That phrase that we use now is ‘because of Parks’. At the Carrier Dome, we had the most amazing performance in all of my years in the program. The four of us could barely keep our composure up on the podiums! I couldn’t have dreamed of a better group than this one. I love them all so much.’”

from an article posted on the Huntington (NY) Public Schools’ website, March 2011

And the “My Way” formula has found success in at least one other college-band environment.

In 1995, UMMB Hall of Famer Heidi Sarver ’86, ’88 M.M. was named director of the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band. Almost immediately, she began looking for a similar melody to utilize – to foster similar connectional impact to “My Way” – with her new band. Not long into that fall marching season, she came upon John Lennon’s “In My Life.” This author crafted an arrangement that followed the “My Way” play-sing-play structure, and condensed the original lyrics into a single verse. That arrangement is now in its 24th season of use by the Blue Hen Marching Band.

 

Two decades earlier, George Parks had brought “My Way” to UMass, in all likelihood, with a very good idea of what the song and its performances might become. He might not have predicted how important it would turn out to be, the very first time it was “performed” after his passing in 2010.

THURSDAY [September 16, 2010; gymnasium, Cuyahoga Falls HS, Ohio]


“People first sat on their sleeping bags, most with a hand over their mouth and a look of horror in their eyes. … Eventually people made their way towards each other and sobbed as they held each other close. … The band formed a huge circle over 380 people in the gym and started to hum ‘My Way.’ The hums became choking words as the singing got louder:

“’And now, the end is near / And so I face the final curtain
 / My friends, I’ll say it clear / I’ll state my case of which I’m certain
 / I’ve lived a life that’s full / I’ve traveled each and every highway
 / And more, much more than this / I did it my way’

The lyrics of our beloved band song we perform at every game suddenly took on a whole new meaning as the band acknowledged the fact that this was the last song Mr. Parks ever conducted.

“… Many phone calls were made and the decision was made that we would continue on to Michigan. It was Mr. Parks’ dream to perform in Michigan Stadium with the UMMB and the Michigan marching band and that was what we were going to do.”

from “A Performance We Will Never Forget,” by Alyssa Berkowitz ’12, Monday, September 20, 2010

Over the course of forty years, George Parks’ way has become the way of the Minuteman Band.

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October 18, 2018 Posted by | band, GNP, marching band, music, Thom Hannum, UDMB, UMMB, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Am I To Judge?

We have arrived at the time of year wherein we pass judgment upon the drum and bugle corps activity, since they’ve all arrived in Indianapolis to duke it out amongst themselves, all the while being marketed as the state-of-the-art in marching music. Last night they put it “Big Loud and Live” on cinema screens across the US … and if you do that sort of thing, you have to expect to hear opinions. So here I go … because I can.

(Also because this year, I’m kinda invested in a group or two, thanks to having friends and colleagues amongst their ranks. So remember: opinions are like armpits. Everybody’s got them, and sometimes they stink. Forewarned is forearmed.)

 

As the movie-house version of the big drum corps show began, early last night, a thought occurred: the top six or seven corps have gotten flat-out ridiculous in terms of talent pool and performance output, but this hasn’t diluted the product from corps #8 and below. Twelfth-place corps performances from 25 years ago contain definite musical deficiencies. I bet this year’s #15 show would place in the top 6 easily, if it traveled back in time to, say, 1985.

Corps #15 (as ranked going into the evening’s activity): Pacific Crest. First time I’d ever seen them. Solid sound, solid look. This is fifteenth place? A good evening ahead, I thought.

Corps #14: Troopers. Love ’em. Entertaining all the way. They were proof that you all you need is a cowboy tune, the Battle Hymn, and a sunburst, and you have a crowd favorite.

Corps #13: Crossmen. With “Protest”, a deeper thematic concept than the Troopers’, and that’s okay for each group. Lots of fun when the Crossmen horns decide to lay it out there. How ironic is it that one of those moments was “The Sound of Silence”?

Corps #12: Blue Stars. First the Houdini show, now a “voodoo” show. All right; they like the creepy. I wish they’d made a bigger deal out of “I Put a Spell On You”, as long as it was on the set list. And I wonder if they were just a little miffed that they ended up a point-plus behind…

Corps #11: Spirit of Atlanta. Was it tempting fate to run video of the legendary 1980 Atlanta “Sweet Georgia Brown” before the current corps took the field and tried it? I think if you’re going to “reclaim your history”, you need to reclaim more than 15 seconds of it at the end of a show. (Side note: the bass drum heads featured someone peering through a speakeasy door-slot. Problem: every time they showed the bass drum line, it looked like the drummers were hitting that face right between the eyes. Whoops.)

Corps #10: Blue Knights. Good thing they reportedly added lots more of Pat Metheny’s “First Circle” to their closing statement – it was great, and it moved the corps out of the world of odd performance art, just in time. But the BK show this year is exactly, exactly the kind of swirly, mysterious, modern-dance, interpret-it-how-you-like show that causes the 70-something drum corps vets in the audience to mutter about the good old days. Some nights, I’m not sure I blame them.

Corps #9: Boston Crusaders. I went from “what in the world is this?” with the corps running and stumbling out of the tunnel covered in faux explosion debris, looking for all the world (and frankly a little bit too much) like we were right back in the middle of 9/11 again, to “I need to see that show again”. Great nod to “Conquest” in the final three chords. Loved the moment when the corps’ historical-but-glum grey jackets came off and oh! there was all the Crusader red fabric that had gone missing! (Was I the only person in the room who didn’t see that coming? Yeah, probably.)

Corps #8: Madison Scouts. Three years ago I remember thinking, “and this is a young corps. Just wait till they mature a little bit; they’ll be something to deal with.” Well: the future is now. There’s no hesitation in the sound or the movement. The most resonant moment: of course, the General-Effect-point-guaranteeing finish. Yes, I know – all the corps have their corps songs. And yes, I know they all are meaningful to corps members and alumni. But when the Scouts fire up “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and the Scouts alums in the crowd instantly stand and sing, and one of the Scouts’ drum majors pointedly turns around and gets the rest of the audience singing … UMass band people, back me up on this one, if you agree: “YNWA” might qualify as the only such song in all of DCI that has the same effect on the ensemble membership, alumni and the general public as UMass’ “My Way” has.

Corps #7: Cavaliers. I will cheerfully suggest that, considering what they looked like in late June, the Cavs have a lock on Most Improved Corps. Interesting to hear their show designer admit that during his pre-show interview. Now, if only some of the visual elements of the “secret society” theme, both seen on the field and mentioned by that show designer and mentioned by the drum major in the post-show interview, didn’t feel so strongly like (and didn’t seem to glorify), to me, rituals we’ve come to recognize as bullying and hazing.

[ An aside: this may sound somewhere between odd and a opportunity for a criminal background check. But: the Scouts and Cavaliers were the first corps after the intermission. As Corps #6 entered the field, I realized with a lurch that for about half an hour of show, I had really missed – not even really the sight – but the sense of women being on the field playing horns and drums and tossing equipment around, moving just as fast and working just as hard as their male counterparts. Maybe it was a bit of time travel back to the early- or mid-20th century, when women in the activity were far less prevalent. Nice to be back in these modern times. ]

Corps #6: Phantom Regiment. They just keep plugging away every year, tossing out those trumpet section runs … and that super-expressive guard … and that chevron drill set … and those quotes from classical literature that are more than just quotes, they’re actual selections with length … and they rarely miss the target, in my book. Also, PR felt like the first corps since Atlanta that didn’t seem like all angry brow-furrowing music all the time. I want to see this show again, because it struck me as just very sweet.

Corps #5: Bluecoats. Interesting to watch. But, pre-show, the show designer described the show’s theme as being an allegory about people wanting to come to America and fit in – an immigration show? If so, it was a harsh tale. So the color guard represented people who wanted in, while the brass and percussion were mean to them and tried to shut them out, until the end? It was a nasty moment when a little guard girl holding a balloon looked inquiringly at a quad player, and the quad player flung a flam-a-ca-bubble-GAK at her and strutted away – “no, you can’t join our reindeer games”.

Corps #4: Santa Clara Vanguard. Unfair of the announcers to suggest that SCV 2013’s “Les Miserables” had a chance to make people forget SCV 1989’s Phantom of the Opera show. “Phantom” was a chip-on-the-shoulder show for the ages, borne of a dogged need to win with this show, a show that had been beaten in a photo-finish the year before, so damn it we’ll put it back out there and show ’em all. “Les Miz” was well done, with some nice effects musically and visually … and, mercifully, it was a show full of tunes we know. But considering all the corps that were playing angry music in the same discontented way … here, ironically, was one that I thought needed to be playing angry and wasn’t. Even the sad songs seemed like celebrations. (Friends, there’s a reason why the name of the book, play and movie was “The Miserable Ones”.)

Corps #3: Cadets. I like them best when they’re playing challenging American music – Bernstein, Copland, and this year’s Samuel Barber repertoire. Odd to think that the Cadets were the first group in TWENTY YEARS to go after Medea’s Dance Of A Tenuous Grip On Sanity. Such an achievement was Star of Indiana’s 1993 “Medea” production that the Cadets might be the only people I’d want to see try it. So we now have proof that Star was at least 15 years ahead of its time in all phases of the game.

Also odd to think that the Cadets, of all people, might have been the one group that played an “old school” corps show. Creative drill that was still uncluttered … a minimum of extra electronic special effects … and music (especially the bookend treatments of “Adagio for Strings”) that on multiple occasions was allowed to have its moment as a beautiful thing, without being rushed offstage in favor of the latest Stupid Drum Corps Trick. Irony: as much of a reputation as the Cadets’ director has for advocating electronics and all kinds of other tradition-busting rules changes … his corps did a lot last night to anchor the activity in its honorable past.

 

Corps #2: Carolina Crown. I want to be wrong about this: Crown’s 2013 show could end up as the finest second-place show ever. What a vast number of people are saying (and I have the privilege of knowing the guy who wrote the brass score, which might reveal me as biased, and I am, so sue me) is this: Oh, My Lord, That Horn Line. The music they are playing, the way they are playing it – wildly difficult brass music being played together across ridiculous field spreads and with actual musical expression – caused me to think to myself throughout the show: Holy. Screaming. Jehosephat.

An aside: Let’s not confuse brass quality and depth with volume, even if the two can occur together. To paraphrase a recent candidate for public office in New York City: the Drum Corps Is Too Damn Loud. If I played tuba or bass drum, I would hope to be forgiven for thinking maybe I was just out there for show. With a gigantic subwoofer on either side of the pit, every time most of the corps set up for any kind of mid-major impact, somebody in the pit basically rammed the low end of the sound electronically down my throat with the sonic force of an 3.6 earthquake. By the time I got to Corps #4 last night, my head hurt. Not metaphorically – actually.

So I was pleased that when Crown made a brass statement, the statement sounded chiefly like acoustic brass. And Crown made statements all over the field. Any corps that can take the music of Philip Glass, for heaven’s sake, and make you want more of it when they’re done, can make you root for guard kids portraying two lovers sitting on a park bench, even without an overt boy-meets-and-loses-and-wins-again-girl story, can make you care … deserves to be richly rewarded. Crown are a very attractive group.

And yet …

Corps #1: Blue Devils. I am steeling myself for the likelihood that that the Devils may lift the trophy again this year. Doggedly, they’ve pulled even with Crown, and climbed ahead of them in the last few contests – after Crown had exploded out of the gate in June.

The Devils have put together their usual 21st-century presentation. Whether people understand their show or not, whether they like their show or not, they cannot deny that this corps executes at a level that few performing groups can achieve, and makes it look effortless. While I acknowledge this … and they’re probably fine human beings … their “Rewrite of Spring” show, to me, came off as soul-less.

Lookit what we can do. Listen to this. Check this out.” … Yes, impressive from a technical standpoint.

But to what end?

Throughout their show, I kept waiting for that warm fuzzy feeling somewhere between my heart and my throat that I get when a corps goes beyond technical merit and gets to artistic merit – from “oh, that’s cool” to “oh, that means something to me”. No luck. I wondered if I was looking at the the difference between executing and performing.

The Blue Devils didn’t make me care about Stravinsky a toot.

 

So, I guess … a question for the judging community. We’ve invented a point system that reaches down into hundredths of points, to guard against those accursed ties. Someone has to win. Someone has to be judged to be better. And last night, the Blue Devils topped Crown tonight by fifteen one-hundredths of a point. If you like it in digits, that’s 0.15. Out of a hundred points, take one of them, chop it up into ten little bits; grab one of those bits, plus half of another. Set up your electron microscope, and let’s get to work.

What’s the difference between a 97.20 corps and a 97.05 corps? Especially if they’re not playing the same exact score, doing the same exact visual work, marching the same exact drill?

As we do with Olympic figure skating, and diving, and gymnastics, we’re trying to quantify the unquantifiable. We’re asking human judges – who are irrevocably stuck inside their own heads, with their own individual and subjective understandings – to measure the level of execution and the degree of general-effectiveness by using numbers. Can mere numbers reflect a concept as fleeting, as undefinable, as unscientifically measureable as that warm fuzzy feeling of “…yes.” …? Should they be expected to?

I only stuck around for the scores because, again, I have friends and colleagues in a couple of corps and I wanted to see how they did. I admit it: I wanted to see if they won.

And then after I got home, I read the online commentary from lots and lots of friends of mine, who were also rooting for one particular group … and even though the group we were pulling for missed first place by 0.15 points … clearly they’d won a whole lot of people over.

So which would you rather be? The name on the trophy? Or “second-place but first-place in our hearts”?

In this time and place, that’s a hard question.

August 9, 2013 Posted by | arts, drum corps, entertainment, music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hallelujah

There are perks to being a church choir conductor. There are also Things That Have To Happen.

I’m lucky enough to have a monthly meeting associated with my church gig which is actually pretty enjoyable to attend, because the people involved are a lot of fun. But meetings and planning and prep and such can more often be filed under necessary things that are not necessarily a party.

But … boy, when those “perk” moments happen, they can be pretty resonant.

A tradition at my church gig, now maintained over the course of decades, is the Easter Sunday morning singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, from Handel’s Messiah. After an hour-plus service, which usually includes several hymns and between two and four choir anthems, at postlude time the choir takes a deep breath, turns to page 193, gathers its last remaining bits of stamina, and goes after one of the best-known pieces of music on the planet.

It’s a dangerous piece. It’s from the Baroque period, which means it’s full of ornament-y series of notes, and complex interplays of different vocal and instrumental parts, and it’s just BUSY. It’s familiar to everyone, for which reason lots of people probably assume it’s pretty easy (“you’ve heard it before – you must be able to do it”). There are absurd high notes for many people. The keyboard accompaniment, which is a reduction into two hands and two feet of an orchestra score, is a bear. Relatively speaking, the conductor’s job may be the least challenging, although there’s much to keep track of, lots of cues to give – and lots of times where, like all good Baroque music, the strong sound is not on the first beat of the measure but halfway through. (What did they teach me? When in doubt, keep conducting a two-pattern. When in big doubt? Keep conducting a one-pattern till you figure it out.)

On top of that, often our choir rehearsals are so focused on the other anthems of the day that we get to the last moments of the Thursday rehearsal before Easter – already a later-than-usual affair – and have to summon our last little bit of energy that’s left after a long day at work, and try to realize Handel’s vision. Even as our own vision is beginning to swim a bit. (Every year, I mutter, “next year we’re breaking this bad boy out in January.”)

Happily, at my church gig, there is one wrinkle to the production that always gives the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus a little extra excitement, and probably does make it into that much more of a fun thing. Before we start, we invite anyone in the congregation who has sung the work before, or “would rather like to try!”, to come up into the Chancel, find his or her probable place in the soprano, alto, tenor or bass section, and sing with the choir.

We get former choir members who are visiting. We get long-time congregation members who either have sometimes or never sung with the choir. We get people of all ages. Teens and pre-teens often come forward with their parents; some of them sing with their school choruses; some don’t. Some are far too young to have ever come face-to-face with a Baroque choral score; but they look excited to be up front singing with the choir. Usually, at the mid-morning service, for every two choir members up there, there are three “guest singers”.

For the last twelve Easters, it has been my privilege to stand in front of all those singers (and pretty much flag down a passing freight train).

For one thing, clearly, I get to conduct one of the best-known and best pieces of music that Western civilization has yet produced. (Not everyone on earth gets the opportunity to do this once, let alone annually.) Every year, I come away with a clearer picture of a moment or two of music theory, or music composition technique, or orchestration, or some other academic bit of knowledge, contained within this incredible work. And for another thing, my partner in crime, the church organist who is also my brother-in-law, is a rock-solid accompanist who I know will help to keep the hulk moving no matter what. So I never feel like I have to grab the rope and pull the mule across the finish line. Start to finish, coast to coast, alpha to omega, we’ll bring this thing home.

I’ve conducted the Hallelujah Chorus on enough Easter Sundays, since I started in as choir director, that in the last couple of years I’ve scarcely looked at the score, which allows me to keep both eyes on the massed singers, as well as any volunteer instrumentalists who may be joining us. Cues are good, especially when a conductor can deliver them while making eye contact. More effective that way, somehow. We’re all in this together.

But this morning, for some reason, it was especially great to step to the podium – or in our case a place on the Chancel floor from which I could see everyone and they could see me (not always the traditional front and center!) – and flail.

Yes, it was a great big massed choir and there was no danger of not hearing them!

Yes, it’s glorious music that seems an appropriate way of celebrating Easter Sunday, even if it does come from the Christmas half of the Messiah.

Yes, it’s fun to carry out my annual tradition of mouthing “Happy Easter!” toward the singers during the final chord.

But this morning, I think it was the faces that I saw, during the singing of “Hallelujah”.

Sounds corny, but I saw the 11-year-old girl who was obviously thrilled to be even pretending to sing with the big choir … I saw the basses who were smiling because they made it through page 195 (which is one of the less intuitive passages for singers without a lot of formal training) … I saw the sopranos who were smiling as they kept singing that “King of Kings!” passage where they sing Ds, then Es, then F-sharps, then the high Gs, and they knew my smile meant, “here it comes, hang in there!” … and on the last chord, in my mind, I saw the smiles of the conductors who came before me, when I was a high-schooler or a recent college grad or a young adult in that choir. And I suspect that my smile was a lot like theirs.

And I saw the smiles on all of the faces, every one, in the Chancel after it was done.

There are bills to be paid. There are taxes to be done. There are houses to be cleaned, lessons to plan, sleep to be caught up on, meetings to be conducted.

But for that four and a half minutes at the end of an Easter Sunday service, there was only the music and the smiles.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | choir, music, SUMC | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment