From Russia with Love


This means “good luck”in Russian….I need it!


I have been rehearsing with the Bach Choir since January.  We meet every Monday night at the Westminster Choir Rooms behind Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused with the famous Abbey). This beautiful setting was marred a bit by the lack of heat during January and February as the antiquated heating system underwent a complete overhaul during the coldest months of the year.  I felt as if I was singing outdoors, watching my breath suspend in the frigid air at each rehearsal.  I suppose it made the setting feel more authentic, as the old building would have been without heat in the late 1800s when the Benedictine monks ruled the roost.

The Choir can be a bit intimidating.  Seasoned members sight-read effortlessly, and very little time is spend actually “learning” the music.  I am getting better at reading music, but I find it is a steep learning curve.

I am not getting better at singing in Russian.  Apparently, I am not much of a linguist.  We’ve been rehearsing Rachmaninoff’s  Spring Cantata, Op. 20 and The Bells, both ambitious, arduous compositions. We have had a Russian woman tutor us at the last several rehearsals.  She is right out of central casting: she is as wide as she is tall, has a stern disposition, and speaks in a very deep, guttural voice.  She bellows at us to sing with passion:

Slui shish! Sa ni mcha tsa fryat! Ku la kol chi ki zve nygt!

This phrase, denoted in phonetic sounds, is straight out of my music.  I am tongue-tied most of the time.  It would be one thing if the tempo were slow, as I might be able to slog through it.  But, the Rachmaninoff pieces are very fast-paced, and I often feel hopeless.

As I stepped out of my house this afternoon, en route to the concert in my long black skirt and black blouse, my girls gave me a disapproving once-over.  “What are you wearing?“, Jackie asked, punctuating her query with a very expressive eye-roll.  “Are you going to a funeral?“, Katie piped in.  I explained these were my performance clothes.  Together the girls asked, “Why do you have to look so weird?” It is always good to receive loving support from the home front.

Royal Festival Hall

It was so much fun to arrive as an “Artist” to the Royal Festival Hall and be given a special pass and codes to enter the backstage areas.  Sitting on the stage rather than in the audience provided a new exciting perspective.  We practiced our choral music with the accompanying orchestra and soloists for the very first time at 4:00 pm today — by 7:30 we were performing!  I was in a state of nervous anticipation and exhilarating excitement.

We performed with the Chetham Symphony Orchestra, a remarkable group of gifted teenage musicians.  Most of the children were in 5-6th Form (roughly 15-17 years old) and attend the elite Chetham School which is like the Julliard of England.  I was blown away by their prodigious talent and professionalism that belied their youthful age.  I got a kick out of watching them all act like typical teenagers back stage: texting, flirting, giggling, and gawking.  On stage, they were transformed into musical prodigies.  I was told they are the next generation of soloists on the world stage — amazing!

Though I was a performer tonight, I also felt like an observer.  I was the “new kid” so excited to be a part of it all.  And yet, at the end of the concert when we all returned our rented music filled with tongue-twisting Russian phrases, I thought to myself:

Скатертью дорога!

(Good riddance!) …I hope the next concert is in English!!


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