My heart was pounding louder and louder by the second. The butterflies in my stomach were growing out of control, like a madman breaking down an iron-barred jail cell.
The evening of the long-anticipated ACDA, the highly-esteemed American Choral Director’s Association, Convention had finally arrived.
The choir ensemble Coriste would be performing eight pieces for an audience of experienced directors and musicians in an acoustical church in Boston, Massachusetts. The ensemble was a prestigious girl’s group in the New Jersey Youth Chorus, and I was a part of the ensemble as an Alto II.
The choir was backstage in a cold, dimly-lit hallway, awaiting the moment we would be taking the spotlight on the polished stage as we formed a cluster of swarming emotions. Some were buzzing with excitement, some were chatting away like the performance was nothing more than another rehearsal, and some, like me, were drowned in anxiety.
A thousand thoughts floated around my head. What if I forget the words to “Kaipaava?” What if I forget my part and start singing the other section’s? What if I sing in a spot of silence? Everyone’s definitely going to be angry at me if that happened. What if…
Then another voice, an angel that came to rescue the damsel in distress, entered my head: “We all know how the songs go. We all know the notes. We all know the pitches. Now is the time to let go of the worry and fear and feel the music. Let it lead you. Research shows that the heartbeats of a group of people that make music together beat as one.”
I felt slightly less disquieted, like the ropes of a heavy weight on my back being gradually let loose.
Our time had finally come. I exhaled deeply and plastered the best smile I could muster in my nervousness on my face as I strode to the stage.
My hands were shaking, frozen cold. My legs felt like jelly, like a newborn baby trying to walk for the first time. It felt like I was plunged into a deep, dark sea of ice water, and there was no possibility that I could make it to the top in time. The silence that I had once bathed in became the very thing that put me on edge as the whole audience scrutinized and burned scorching holes in my back.
For the first few pieces, I was still in a state of self-consciousness, thinking, Am I moving around too much? Am I singing the right notes? What if I sing too loudly, and I disrupt the balance of the choir? What does the audience think? Wait a minute. What is the next piece again?
As “Wedding Qawwali” started, I began to dance along with the rhythm of the percussion. I felt the plastered smile on my face turn into genuine happiness. I felt my heart racing, bouncing off the walls in excitement, replacing the terror that trapped me in the iron-barred cell.
My eyes widened to the realization before me: What have I to fear? My group was chosen to perform tonight. We can have elegance and beauty in our sound, but I can’t do it if all I worry about is making a mistake. It’s just like what Mrs. Joyce said. I need to let go and let the music lead me on. Who cares what the audience thinks as long as just one person feels the music like we performers do? The heavy weight on my back fell off completely. The ropes entangling me in my fear dissolved into thin air, and I finally felt free!
The feeling I had could never be described perfectly in words. It was like a fire lit from my heart, engulfing me and the audience in the warmth of the music. It was like the jolly joy of Christmas and sitting by the cozy fireplace, embraced by loved ones, filled with laughter and holiday spirit. It was like a mug of bittersweet hot chocolate, sweet with the innocence of a child balanced with the bitterness of the reality of growing into adulthood.
By the end of the performance, half of the audience were holding crumpled tissues wet with tears. Then the whole audience burst with applause and slowly stood up and whistled and hooted, touched with the soft, white hands of music, the sound filling their souls.
To think that I was so nervous when I was going on stage. Now I don’t want it to end, I laughed in my head. I wanted more of the joy only acquired through music, more of the energy coursing through my veins, more of the feeling I embodied when I let go of everything barricading me from forming a personal connection with the pieces.
For months after the performance, Mrs. Joyce received countless emails from audience members, sharing how much the concert had touched their lives. They expressed the concert as “mesmerizing,” “heart-stopping,” “stunning,” “performed with such joy,” among others.
Dr. Miller, Director of Choral Activities at Westminster Choir College, was “grateful that there are musicians who help our society open a window into the truth and love that comes only through music. [Our] creative programming and commitment to artistry is heard in each note that [we] sing.”
The choir only became better after the concert. We perfected each piece and made them all more alive than ever before. We sweat tears and blood as we rehearsed every week, but it was all worthwhile when we stood into the spotlight and sang with our hearts, when we saw all the lives we had impacted.
Music is my paint on the canvas of silence, my sport, my passion. As I encounter more magical musical experiences, I can only hope to impact the lives of more people, to make them shed tears of happiness and to show them the comfort music blankets over everyone when heart and soul are poured into song.