Performance of a Lifetime

May 13, 2009
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My eyes flutter open to sunshine sparkling like diamonds on the walls of my hotel room. I leap out of my bed and head straight for the balcony. Lake Garda and the Alps create a landscape so picturesque it belongs in a calendar. The massive lake dominates the scene with the mountains in the distance. The small town of Garda lies below, a quaint village cradled in the mountains. This is the time of day I need to remind myself I’m in Italy. Then it hits me. Today is the day; the reason we came to Italy. I start to feel my heart rate increase in speed and in volume, as if I’m hearing it on a monitor. My stomach tightens into an intense knot. Today is the International Choir Competition. I’m in the select group of eighteen of the choir’s best singers and we’re here to win.

I run around my room all morning triple checking everything I need for the day: black dress, madrigal dress, headpiece, shoes, and cymbals. I run to the bus to head to Verona and I’m the first one there. I sit in my seat to be positive it doesn’t leave without me. The hour ride to Verona seems endless, even though we’re ahead of schedule. I feel my foot shaking and my deep breathing the whole way there. My nerves are completely taking over. What if I sing the wrong note? What if I trip walking out to the stage? Will I be the one to lose it for everyone?

We finally arrive in Verona and the time has come. The time to put forth everything I’ve ever learned to be in one of the best groups in the world; time to define my high school choir career. I plaster a smile on my face to appear confident on the outside, while I’m falling apart on the inside. I walk into the theater with my head held high, finally mentally prepared to be the best in the world. The Madrigals all get together in a huddle; our own little team. “We have the potential to win. This is our legacy, so let’s leave BHS as winners. Let’s get out there and blow them away!” Mac always knows what to say to inspire us. I’m in the right mind-set and my smile is no longer a façade.

We’re done practicing and we’re as prepared as possible. A little, bald, Frenchman has come to take us to the stage and my nerves erupt inside of me once again. I get in place physically, but I’m not in the right mental place. We’re walking to the stage and I’m putting all of my energy into walking a straight line. I place my hand in my partner’s as rehearsed. I channel all of my nerves and I grab his hand. He squeezes mine back and says, “We got this.”

As I step out onto the stage I’m no longer myself. I am a Madrigal Performer. All of my fears are washed away and a sense of home on stage overpowers me. I stare down the judges, doing my best to make them fall in love with me. We start the first song and everything’s going well. Dynamics are what they should be and we all end together. Then, we go on to the next song, and the next. After each song I’m feeling a sense of, “Wow that went really well!” Then we get to the final piece.
It’s halfway through our last song and I suddenly realize that this is the best we’ve ever sung every piece! “Okay, stay focused. It’s not over yet,” I tell myself. We hit the last chord and the harmony rings throughout the theater. We cut off together and take our much-deserved bow. The audience erupts with applause and screams of delight. My face is consumed by my smile, which is radiating to the back row. I feel my heart leaping out of my chest. This must be what true joy feels like. I exit the stage gracefully, but once behind the curtain I can no longer hold in my excitement. I jump into my partners arms and he swings me around in circles.
I practically skip down the hallway to get outside and meet my other friends and my mom. I am bombarded with hugs and congratulations. I can barely contain myself; I’m hopping up and down like a little kid on Christmas. The Madrigals come together to take pictures: in our singing positions, in front of the fountain, and by the competition poster. “Let’s take a jumping one!” We clump together, a combination of black and burgundy, and ready to jump. “Ready? 1, 2, 3!” The flash ignites while we’re mid-air. This photo truly captures how we were all feeling; like we could take off and fly away.
We’ve taken hundreds of pictures and we finally have time to go explore Verona. The city is so beautiful it feels unreal. Somehow we all end up on a street corner, in our singing positions, with a hat to collect donations. We start to sing and a crowd gathers spontaneously. After every song our street audience is going wild, and is very generous with Euros. As I’m singing on the street corner of Verona I take a mental picture to remember this day forever. No matter what happens in the judging, if we’re first or twentieth, nothing will ever take away the joy I’ve felt today.
I am rudely awakened by the turbulence of the plane. I’m on my way home from the biggest adventure of my life. I look out the window and see pure, white clouds, like soap suds in a bath tub. I look over to Mac and Meghan holding our trophies with them on the plane and I remember the awards ceremony.
The simple version is that the Madrigals took third overall, but we were told that we should have taken first. The Italian judge was offended by our performance. He’s the self-proclaimed Madrigal expert of the world and we weren’t “authentic.” But, that doesn’t matter to me. We went to Italy to perform our hearts out, and that’s what we did. The journey in this case was more important than the destination. Learning about a different culture, meeting new people, and being reminded that there’s a bigger world than Barrington are all more valuable than a trophy.

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