“A single offense looms above 200 concerted voices like a buzzard in a flea market. There is no escaping personal responsibility. Perhaps that is what makes choral singing so great: the grandest of common endeavors — achieved with the utmost of individual effort. Think about it. Then do something. R” (Robert Shaw, from robertshaw.website)
I ran across this quotation from Robert Shaw shortly after a conversation with my husband. He was recalling a performance of Mahler 2 he sang in long ago, in which a lone, errant tenor came in early, forte, at the final “zu Gott, wird es dich tragen!” And while that is not the only or even the main thing he remembers about that performance, moments like that do, er, stick in one’s mind.
But what is difficult about Shaw’s quote and my anecdote is the message they send about making a mistake. None of us should approach a performance timidly, in fear of being “that guy” – the one that enters early, or as Garrick Ohlsson did when playing the 3rd movement of Mozart’s K. 330 as an encore: “about 1 minute in, he had a memory lapse, turned to the audience, and said “Mind if I start that again”. And started again!” (forum.pianoworld.com) We are all human, we all make mistakes (those of you who have sung with me for the last 10 years or so have certainly witnessed plenty from me!).
What I want to emphasize in Shaw’s statement is that we are all individually responsible to put in the effort to learn the music we will perform as best we possibly can. When we all put in the time to not only learn our part but to see how that part fits into the whole; when we read the score from beginning to end, learning the structure of the whole work; when we study the text and see how the composer sets it – when we all do these things, then we have a chance to really make music.
We are well on our way to making beautiful, expressive music on April 29. “Think about it. Then do something.”