In 2015 the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble went to Florence, Italy for an international choral competition. We began the tour by singing our way around Southern France. In all, we sang 12 concerts in 14 days. We were well rehearsed by the time we got to the competition and Morten Lauridsen’s “O, Magnum Mysterium” was possibly our best song.
In the competition, something went slightly wrong. Part of the choir heard one starting note and another part heard a different note. The discrepancy only lasted for a moment but the spell of the music was broken. “Oh, Magnum” wasn’t our best piece that day.
We were beyond disappointed. We knew that piece cold, by heart. The starting notes were ingrained in our brains. We didn’t just sing the notes–we felt them. No one could understand how such an error could happen. We were discouraged.
That evening we scheduled to sing one song to all of the competing choirs. We had no idea what we would sing until our director gathered us outside the venue, just minutes before we were to sing. He announced that we would sing “O, Magnum Mysterium”.
We protested. We had “blown” the song in competition. How could he expect us to try it again on the same day?
But the director is our leader and in full charge of what and where and how we sing.
We trudged into Santa Trinita Cathedral. When our turn came we lined up on the stairs of the dais in our usual orderly fashion.
We all caught the first note and began.
Then something began to happen. The acoustics in the church were perfect. We could hear each other without straining. We listened.
A few measures into the piece, our director signaled for us to join hands and close our eyes. We had sung this song a hundred times this way in concert. It helped us to feel the music. Our director walked up the stairs and joined the choir. We had not done it in the competition.
There was no pause, no break in the music. But it gently slowed. Our entrances and cutoffs were smooth. The music flowed from us. We became a mere conduit for the sound and the emotion. All eight to ten parts melded.
We sang with one voice.
I felt the tears on my face as the last note faded. I opened my eyes and saw faces wet with tears in our audience. I saw tears on the faces of my fellow singers. There was a moment of silence before the applause began.
We had touched our audience the way the Morten Lauridsen’s music had touched us.
I offer the following post from Thomas May in honor of the man whose music goes directly to your soul.
Today marks the 75th birthday of Morten Lauridsen, a master of contemporary choral music. Here’s an essay I wrote last year for Chorus America about Lauridsen’s impact: On April 13, 1997, a Los Angeles audience experienced the world premiere of a piece that has since established itself internationally as one of the defining choral compositions […]