Every Tuesday from September to June, she sat at a piano plunking out notes for choir members who couldn’t quite remember that note. “This is what it is suppose to sound like”, she would say. Then she would play a phrase or a few bars. “This is what I am hearing” And she would play something that made no sense. It would be exactly what had been sung.
She never, ever said anything about the individual or group was advising. She always corrected everyone gently. She was always right.
She was, by far, the best musician in the place.
By all accounts, her life had been difficult. She had painful surgeries, she had lost a son under horrific conditions. Her saving grace was her music. If I managed to arrive at rehearsals early, I would hear her playing. I would wait outside and let that music calm my heart as I know it did hers.
The Vocal Arts Ensemble was formed in 1977 by our director and Barbara Hoff. Together they created a volunteer, unaffiliated community choir. It started small and went on to tour many parts of the world and win international awards.
She was our accompanist. But, more than that, she was our shining light, our home base, and our friend.
She was a private woman. She did not share her troubles openly. But she listened to ours. She helped all of us learn that music is our light. It is our way out of our own minds. It is a way to understand the universe.
Last night, April 5, 2022, we came to rehearsal. We were anxious to hear how Barbara was. She had undergone surgery on April 1 and the last word we had was that she was doing just fine.
But she had joined the Angel Choir.
We would no longer here her kind words or her beautiful music. We would not longer receive the gift that was Barbara Hoff.
Vocal Arts is a family. There are singers who were there in the beginning that are still there. As each generation added to the voice, they became part of that family. All faiths, political persuasions, life styles, gender, race, appearance and ability were welcome. You just had to love to sing.
As we sat there last night hearing this news, we began to talk about what Barbara meant to us. How she touched our hearts, our minds and our souls. And we began to sing.
It wasn’t easy to reach the high notes in Biebl’s “Ave Maria” but we did. We hugged each other and held on as the music washed through us and took our tears. We might even have stayed on pitch. But Barbara wasn’t there to check us.
There is a VAE performance that exemplifies Barbara’s dedication and talent. It was 2012, a Christmas concert. The music was written by Kevin Memly. Mr. Memly was a pianist first, a composer second and a choir director third. This piece he wrote with the pianist in mind. The score was complicated and difficult.
As you watch and listen to this recording, notice Barbara. Notice how she plays. Notice how she doesn’t lead the choir but is one with it. Notice her concentration.
We honored her that night. We told our audience how much we loved her.
Last night our voices, ragged with shock and emotion, honored her again. We will continue to honor her for as long as we live. She is part of each and every person who ever sang with Vocal Arts.
The Angels must have needed an accompanist. They just got the best one.