Friday, June 20, 2014

Bachfest Leipzig 2014 - Choir Tour Day 8

Sometimes, powerful experiences are only really processed after the fact.  Our performance in the Bachfest Leipzig was one of those.

A reporter for the Ottawa Citizen called our journey here to Leipzig to perform in this festival “a pilgrimage”, and that’s really what it was.  As our conductor put it to us mere hours before the performance, there’s nothing bigger, for this kind of music.  Being here and performing in this festival is it.  I think we all felt that in our own way, and each had our own way of processing it and preparing for it.

For me, I had to spend the entire day alone, centering and grounding myself.  I could not let emotion or excitement or fear get in the way of singing absolutely perfectly.  I took the time to prepare by walking around Leipzig in the morning for a bit, not venturing very far from the Thomaskirche and always making my way back to it to “check in” and sit in the space for a little while before moving on again.  I also went to visit the Nikolaikirche again, one of the other churches where Bach was responsible for the music.  There was someone rehearsing the organ when I went in there and they were quite good, so I sat for a little while in the space and imagined what it might have been like for Bach to play the organ long ago.
Inside detail of Nikolaikirche

I wanted to leave some flowers on his grave, but I couldn’t really find anything appropriate in any of the stores.  I eventually made my way into a park and saw patches of tiny wild daisies, so I decided to pick some and tie them together with grass, making my own tiny little bouquet to bring back.  I sat a little while longer in the space.  It was a meditative kind of morning.  After this final visit I felt grounded and focused enough.  I went back to my hotel room and sat with my music for a while, going over parts here and there, immersing myself in the beautiful music we were about to perform and repeating certain details over and over and over again... imprinting the perfect phrasing in my kinesthetic memory so that in performance, it would come out without thinking.

Our final dress rehearsal, this time with the Leipziger Barock-Consort was two hours long and ended an hour before the performance itself.  We went over every detail; emotions and stress was high, and our conductor may have channelled Bach a little bit in her final talk to us.  I think we got the message though.
I felt centered and calm and ready for it.

It was exciting to climb the spiral staircase up to the choir dressing room and get ready up there.  You could feel the energy in the room, and I especially loved it when the choir, from all corners of the room and in various states of dress or undress, spontaneously started singing one of our pieces, just for the fun of it.  I love these people.


The experience of actually singing there defies words.  Processing up the church was a beautifully solemn moment.  The whole church full of at least 1000 people stood in silence as we slowly walked in two lines up to our place at the front, right in front of Bach’s grave.

As soon as we assembled to sing the first chant, my heart started beating so fast.  I was ready, though, and erased all thoughts from my head, locked my eyes on our conductor, and away we went.

There were so many incredible moments.  So much joy, poetry, text, perfection, and complete oneness with the music.  There was no space in my head for any other thoughts.  So many moments of oneness with my soprano section, so many delicate interplays with other sections... at the end of the Bach piece, for a very brief moment, I felt his presence there, just listening.  When we sang the chorale with the entire church full of voices, there were brief seconds I allowed myself to be lost in that wash of sound and feel what it must have been like back then.  But all these moments where I let myself feel anything other than the music were so brief, and that is why it is taking a long time to process the experience.  When you’re so focused on something like that, when every fibre of your being and every muscle in your body is focused on precisely executing something of that importance and skill and requires the full attention of your entire spirit, you can’t really feel all the emotions until after you’re done.

Our listing in the Bachfest booklet (18.00 h)
Our conductor has done an excellent job of describing more of the performance, much better than I have.  I invite you all to check out our choir’s blog page and read her thoughts here:  Ottawa Bach Choir blog

Also, you can read an objective review of our concert and tour by following this link to the Ottawa Citizen’s article about us: Ottawa's Bach pilgrims perform to highest standards


When we came outside, a large part of the audience was waiting there and they all started clapping for us.  This was quite a surprise and we didn’t quite know how to react!  It felt a little bit like being a rockstar.  It was so lovely to be so appreciated and validated for performing this kind of music... you just don’t get quite this same kind of reception over in North America.

 We got all kinds of lovely compliments too – a native German speaker who was sitting at the very back of the church told us that he could hear every single word of our diction.  Someone else commented that they were very surprised that we came out of the church speaking English, as our pronunciation of it while singing was so excellent.  Someone else who saw our concert admired how our vowel sounds matched so perfectly.  It is exciting to know that all of the things we worked on to the point of exhaustion actually came across and moved people.

And of course, no life-changing choir performance is complete without a rowdy after party, where we celebrated the way only choral singers can.  Musicians immerse themselves in ALL the pleasures in life, not just music, and that includes good food and drink... 

We took over the hotel lobby of the Leipzig Marriot Hotel, as there was no space for us in the actual restaurant (or any other restaurant in Leipzig for that matter), pushing together couches and coffee tables until we’d assembled seating space for the twenty or so of us.  Celebrating after a performance is important for helping to process all the emotions and remind each other of the special moments, and we stayed there eating and drinking well into the night.  A Dutch group that was also in the lobby came over to find out who we were, and after learning we were a choral group that had just performed at the Thomaskirche in the Bachfest, they requested we sing something.  Not missing a moment, our conductor chose one of the difficult fugue passages from the Bach piece we had just done and off we went, singing entirely from memory.  It is always a thrill to sing in bars or other places like that on the fly.  A round of applause from all parts of the hotel lobby followed suite, and of course we continued on with more, singing two more pieces, this time some quick moving spirituals, always a hit over here.

I feel honoured to be a part of this choir and to work with such incredible musicians.  


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