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Singing German in a Big Stone Church

August 16th, 2012 2 comments

In little over 10 weeks, I will have sung (however amateur) a most magnificent and intensely challenging choral work called Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der Heiligen Schrift – A German Requiem, to the Words of the Holy Scripture.

Johannes Brahms wrote this huge work of seven movements in 1868 and on August 25, 2012, the Summer Chor, directed by Alison Nixon, will present Brahms’ masterpiece in a big stone church in downtown Vancouver.  Even if you don’t believe in God, or you don’t think you like classical music, I really do think that there is something special in this event that almost anyone can enjoy.  Imagine producing an expression of your thoughts and feelings in a manner that resonates with so many, it gets reproduced 144 years after its creation.

SummerChor 2012 Concert Poster

Contrary to the words we sing, it does not feel like we’re singing about or to God in the same way when we sing hymns in English.  Once I actually mark my music with translations, this may change.  But really what I mean to say is this sacred music is in a class of its own.  Despite the language barrier, the music, sung in all four choral parts with piano and organ, offer up a journey of the human spirit through valleys and sunsets.

We started rehearsals in June, and for the first rehearsal I listened; barely singing a note due to an overwhelming sense of incompetence.  There is so much to coordinate: pitch, placement of vowels, making sense of German, rhythm, breathe support, dynamics (is it soft, quick, loud, lyrical etc.?), looking at the conductor and the music.  And then there is the fact that one singing does not really hear how one truly sounds. If you have ever recorded your voice, played it back and heared a voice slightly different from what you hear when you speak, you will know this to be true for singing as well.  It is the only musical instrument of its kind with the complication of human anatomy for producing and perceiving sound.

As we start rehearsals with the Dunbar Heights United Church Choir in September, more reflections to come on the process of learning to sing classical music.  Until then, come listen to Summer Chor at:

St. Andrew-Wesley Church, Burrard & Nelson                   Saturday, August 25, 2012, 7pm

Tickets at the door $15 (or $10 in advance until Aug. 22 from a choir member)