Brahms Requiem: Away with Sorrow and Sighing – Singing for Joy

From time to time, we invite a guest blogger to share their insights. In this installment, Janet – a member of the Symphonic Choir alto section – shares a perspective from the chorus in the final week of rehearsals for the upcoming Brahms Requiem performance. For more information about the Friday and Saturday, April 21 & 22 performance of the Brahms Requiem with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, click here.

As the Brahms A German Requiem rehearsals began, we were a choir beset by a plague of allergies, chest infections, and flu. I suffered flu with laryngitis and then a severe reaction to second-had smoke that demanded 2 weeks of complete vocal rest. For a dedicated Symphonic Choir member, 6 weeks without regular singing is anathema. Those once strong abdominal muscles that provide vital support become flabby and disused. The core muscles that hold one upright and aligned from head to foot falter, and the vocal cords, lazy from weeks of disuse, protest and creak. Everything requires tuning and retraining – how fortunate it is Spring with abundant flowers and greenery to remind one of renewal!

At this time of year, as one sits in the Choir, one can see the surreptitious downing of black pills, yellow pills, white round pills, white oval pills, and pastilles of all colors. Once, I even saw a courageous singer down a Fisherman’s Friend without flinching! Tips and advice abound; the merits of Ricola herbal lozenges versus Hall’s lozenges are passionately debated. We all remember Eric’s advice: “No menthol”, and then the chatter starts up again. This time, it’s miracle teas – apple cider vinegar and honey; lemon and honey; red rooibos, lemon and honey; ginger and licorice. My favorite came from a choir friend freshly back from Honduras, where she had been treated with a tea of chamomile and freshly grated ginger as a balm for a sore throat.

Enthusiastically catapulting us all back to full-throated voice last week was the great choral director, Maestro Joe Flummerfelt, in a special rehearsal-workshop clinic. In the spare Lilly Hall rehearsal room, he seemed to tower over us, like an open umbrella enveloping the 150 singers. He hypnotized with his 20 fingers (or so it seemed as they crooked, beckoned, demanded, commanded, twitched), his intensity, and his very evident love of the music. Telling us stories of Brahms, he took us, like the 1966 movie “Fantastic Voyage”, into the byways and highways of what is going to be an emotional Brahms Requiem. Learning that Brahms may have written “V. Ihr habt nun Traurig keit” (Now you have sorrow) thinking of his mother who had died before he wrote the Requiem, brings a different color and new intensity into our singing. “Ich will euch trösten, wie Einen seine Mutter tröstet” (As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you) – this is a most beautiful Requiem to comfort the survivors and the bereaved.

“Know what you are singing” Maestro Flummerfelt repeated, flowing easily between German pronunciation, German text and its English translation. “Selig” – Blessed, can you feel it,” he asked, the yearning emotion he wanted us to feel to sing, already in his voice. As we enter this week of final rehearsals, we are so eager to perform this wonderful music to the very best of our abilities.

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