Something Happened



Vocal Arts Ensemble, Santa Croce Basilica, Florence, Italy-2014

Singing is a magical thing for me. It keeps me sane. It lets me release all sorts of emotions and thoughts. I offer it all to the universe so that I don’t have to bury my family and friends with the inner workings of my brain.

One of the things that I love about singing with the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble is that I get to sing AND travel. In the summer of 2015, we toured southern France and northern Italy. Our final destination was Florence, Italy for an international choral competition. That meant that we would be judged, graded and awarded on one performance in each category before a panel of three judges. Our competition came from all over the world and every choir had to audition by recording. Some of them were, shall we say, professional grade!

We rehearsed for this competition by singing in various French villages as part of a local music festival. In all, we did 10 concerts in 10 days. And just for the sake of heatstroke, it all occurred during one of the hottest summers on record in France and Italy (at that time)!

When we finally performed in the Sacred Music category in Florence we were tired, hot, grumpy and a bit put out by the management of the competition. Small items like not having enough seating for all of the choirs, no place for changing into uniforms, no water, things like that.

When our turn came we simply were not up to par. Our kind of par. Then the hall was not built for sound. The acoustics were off and we missed our first key. We had sung that song a million times. We knew it by heart in every sense of that word. We just didn’t sing it the way that we could.

That evening, each choir was to sing one song to the rest of the choirs. This was the sharing part of the competition. We were hot, tired, discouraged and thoroughly disgusted with ourselves. We didn’t feel like sharing. But we had to sing again.

We asked out director what he wanted us to sing and his answer stunned us. “O, Magnum Mysterium” was his answer. The very piece that we had blown in the earlier competition. We knew he just wanted to put us “back on the horse” but we were a bit skeptical.

When our turn came, we walked onto the dais of the Santa Trinita Cathedral. The church had become a hot box. We were dripping, our uniforms clinging to our arms and legs. The church was full of singers, directors, musicians who knew music. I, for one, was too hot and tired to care.

Our director stood in front of us, signaled for the pitch, and we started. He directed, as he always had. We were focused on him. The heat and fatigue seemed to diminished. Then, as he had for every concert through France, he clasped his hands together and nodded.

That was our signal to join hands, close our eyes, and sing from our souls.

We had done this a thousand times. Each time it was beautiful. Each time we loved the way we sang it.

But that night, that night, was different.

In the recording (which I can’t publish) you can tell when our director walks away. We slow down a bit. You can almost hear us listening to each other. We began to breathe together. The dynamics were exact. Our entrances and cutoffs were sharp.

And then, I began to feel that the music wasn’t coming from me. It was coming through me and meeting with the same force and feeling that came from everyone else. We sang with one voice. And it created another presence. A single sound.

It was music. It was love. It was life. It was joy.

When we finished and open our eyes, there were very few dry eyes in our choir or in the audience. I would like to think that it was a good as the version sung my the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

I am not a religious person. I do not belong to any church nor do I want to do so. But that night let me appreciate that there is something more than what I can perceive. As Holly Near so eloquently wrote:

I Am Willing
by Holly Near
I am open and I am willing
To be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change
There is hurting in my family
There is sorrow in my town
There is panic in the
There is wailing the whole world round
May the children see more clearly
May the elders be more wise
May the winds of change caress us
Even though it burns our eyes
Give me a mighty oak to hold my confusion
Give me a desert to hold my fears
Give me a sunset to hold my wonder
Give me an ocean to hold my tears

I am open to the music that soothes my soul.

Categories: Singing, Travel, Uncategorized, Vocal Arts, Vocal Arts EnsembleTags: , , ,


  1. I’m a terrible singer, but I do immerse myself in music of every genre, and definitely music keeps me sane(nearly). I’m just home from a hard and cold days work, and listening to “O Magnum Mysterium” , thank you, and I’m now feeling decidedly calmer……

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great story – your director knew the score

    Liked by 2 people

  3. What a feeling! I used to sing with a choir. We stuffed up quite a lot, but when we got it together the feeling was sublime.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to love singing in a choir. Can’t sing now due to years of cancer treatment, but still sing in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My father lost his voice to cancer treatment as well. I am so glad you still have the music!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I do – just can’t express it. I was sad at first, but have beaten the cancer and have now accepted it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Morten Lauridsen’s music can do that to you! You might also look up his “On This Shining Night”. It heads straight to your soul. Just bypasses the brain filters.


  8. I certainly will listen to in the morning 😆, after midnight here. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a beautiful piece. I can see why there wasn’t a dry eye. Sometimes things happen that we can’t understand.

    Have a fabulous day. ♥


  10. A beautiful post that embraces the spirit of magic in everyday life. 🙂 Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What an amazing experience, one you will never forget. Thanks for sharing.


  12. It’s also so wonderful to listen to a choir perform and sing from their soul. Thank you for sharing this at Senior Salon. I will share on FB and RT

    Liked by 1 person

  13. that was a very moving experience, especially coming from a very low point earlier to rise above self and just allow the music to take over. a beautiful share.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Beautiful, Gael. Your adversity, discouragement, (and your director) brought out the very best in you. Those moments in music when you feel a transendence are precious.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on AreMyFeetOffTheGround and commented:
    Spiritual feelings from Gael, over at

    Liked by 1 person

  16. An experience none of us will ever forget. Amazing! Here’s to more magic in Spain in Oct.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Yes! You brought it all back vividly! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. ‘And then, I began to feel that the music wasn’t coming from me. It was coming through me . . ‘

    What an interesting read! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Crying….with chills. I know this feeling and you have verbalized it perfectly. Wish I could share it with all my music family. Keep posting. Touching my soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Music is truly one of those magical things that can transform us.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I wasn’t done! As a former Vocal Arts member, I remember numerous times when, for whatever reason, a particular song, in a particular setting just changes and people truly ARE transformed! Music is universal and regardless of the ‘language’ in the piece, it’s the ‘music’ that is what is magical. I’m sad for the many out there that will never know what it is like to ‘be a part of a perfectly tuned chord’…. Thanks Gary for so MANY special moments!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. It’s beautiful. I’ve always loved religious music. I don’t think one has to be religious to appreciate the beauty of it.


  23. Thank you for sharing — I have had the saddening experience of a performance that was less than I know I can deliver. It leaves one longing for another chance, for validation.
    The icing on he cake was the poem you included – Holly Near’s “I Am Willing.”
    The total effect of your presentation was to bring me to tears …. Bless You !!!

    Liked by 1 person

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