This year was the twenty-fifth and last Easter cantata directed by my mom. Her multiple sclerosis will not allow her to continue this wonderful tradition, much to the sorrow of many. This year was also my twentieth year singing. I’ve written plenty of cantata thoughts in my journal in the past, but, as this will probably be the last time, I’m going to try to be as complete as possible here.
First off, I include last year as one of the twenty because, despite getting sick just before the performances and having to sit those out, I went to all the freaking rehearsals. So that freaking counts. Secondly, this year really should have been twenty-one, since I started when I was fourteen in accordance with my mom’s policy, but there was one year I missed because my overnight schedule made it prohibitively difficult to get to practices.
I remember when it started. That was back in the days when I lived in a fog that restricted my awareness of and understanding of a lot of things around me, and at the time I didn’t really know what was going on — just that I had to stay an extra hour after church while my parents and some people sang some stuff or something.
Later I remember listening to the cassette recordings of the practices and performances in the car while we drove places. There has never been a decent recording of one of these things, but mom often found it useful to listen to the crappy recordings to get an idea of what to work with the choir on improving in the future.
I don’t remember whether or not I’ve mentioned this before, and a cursory search isn’t finding it, so I’ll tell about it here just to be sure. One time, at the end of a song that (if I remember correctly which song it was) ends with, “…deliver us from death,” in a rather somber tone, a baby/toddler in the room suddenly sent up a mournful-sounding wail just as the last dreary note fell. It was eerily and rather hilariously appropriate timing, but what made it really awesome was that that particular rehearsal made it onto one of the cassettes we listened to a lot in the car. So every single time we got to the end of that song, here’s this wretched cry of despair just perfectly punctuating “death.”
The kid’s mom was hugely embarrassed, but we thought it was pretty great. And the kid herself eventually became old enough to sing in the cantata too, so my mom was then able to tease her about the contribution she’d made years earlier XD
My mom has written a shit-ton of songs, and though I lived in the same house for the writing of many of them, there’s still too much to keep decent track of. So it’s been lovely, over the years, to get to know some of them extremely well as I sang in the choir and to come to recognize which are my favorites.
Of course with as much as she’s written, there are bound to be a few I don’t like, but I enjoy most of them… and some I absolutely adore. Getting the chance to sing them under the direction of as skilled a choir leader as my mom is — and one who can interpret the music so well, having written it herself! — has been an amazing experience.
I don’t know that I can choose a #1 favorite, but I’ve long considered getting a tattoo of some measures of one particular resurrection song in honor (no, not of Jesus; sorry, Jesus) of my mother and her artistic ability. There are some others I really, really love, too, a couple of which were included in this year’s program.
Her best songs tend to be about the crucifixion or resurrection, since those are the most emotional parts of the Christian mythos, with Christmas songs a close third. Sometimes she writes stuff in a minor key that is just too badass for words. She’s such a fantastic composer, and I’ve always not-so-secretly wished she would write some hard rock.
For this cantata, it being the last, my mom decided to do a “greatest hits” sort of thing and asked everyone which cantata songs were their favorites. Then she chose the most popular ones (that could be made to fit together coherently) and strung them into the usual Jesus narrative. The song I mentioned above (the possible tattoo candidate) did not make the cut, but another couple of really good resurrection songs did. It all came together really well, and in particular this year we had a very good balance between choral and solo pieces.
The choir members (probably including me, from anyone else’s point of view) have been as annoying as ever. They mostly have stupid things to say, and I don’t like many of them. This year I stopped being quite so polite about some things; for example, I actively corrected people who erroneously called me by my first name for the fifth year in a row.
I don’t know what it is about this group of adults that they can’t shut the fuck up for two minutes together, but I stopped being polite about that too. If mom said, “Everyone who’s not doing XYZ up here right now, please keep quiet while we get it done,” and then some dipshit immediately came up to me and started talking, I made a shushing gesture and refused to answer. BECAUSE SERIOUSLY HOW HARD IS IT.
It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse. I don’t even like most of these people, and I was tempted to start some verbal exchange (“That dress is really cute; where did you get it?” for example) during many a brief pause… but, being a reasoning adult with some slight ability to control myself, I refrained from doing so! Apparently I am the only one with this super power, though, and it consistently (over many years) annoyed the shit out of me.
Another skill some people seem, or in this case one particular person seems unable to master is not wearing scents to rehearsal. At EVERY SINGLE PRACTICE, both Saturday and Sunday, each weekend, one of the ladies that helped with administrative details got up and requested that people not wear scents because some others are sensitive to them and were having a hard time. And to EVERY SINGLE PRACTICE, both Saturday and Sunday, the same woman came wearing the same gallon of lemongrass-scented something.
It was actually a really nice fragrance. I, thankfully, am not overly sensitive to smells — as a matter of fact, I’m afraid my sense of smell is not very good, in part due to my undersized and permanently clogged nasal sinuses — so the scent itself didn’t bother me… but the fact that she kept wearing it week after week after week did. I thought about dropping politeness on that score too and talking directly to the guilty party specifically about this, but I never quite managed to.
One week, in response to the usual “Don’t wear scented anything” announcement (by then more of a desperate plea), someone that I believe was trying to be tactful and not say straight-out, “Somebody here keeps wearing a really strong lemon-scented perfume,” said, “I don’t know if they clean the chapel right before our practices or what, but it smells like someone spilled a bottle of Lemon Pledge or something.” As she said this, I was looking across the room at Lemon Lady, and saw her mouthing the words, “Lemon Pledge?” in evident confusion.
So I’m pretty sure the problem was that she just didn’t get it — she never understood that the constant announcing applied to (was specifically directed at) her. Maybe she didn’t realize people could smell whatever she was wearing; maybe she thought it a lot subtler than it was. On one performance night, I talked directly to her, and noticed she was still wearing the stuff, though it seemed a little tamer than on previous weekends. I really should have just said something to her earlier. Ah, well. Too late now.
And speaking of what people wore… I mentioned last year or the year before how… disappointing? …aggravating? …ironic? it was that many of the actual LDS people taking part in this event couldn’t manage to follow their own chapel dress code. That had not changed this year; people were constantly in very casual clothing that is typically not considered appropriate chapel attire. I wondered at them, week after week.
Despite that straying from protocol, there was still a decent amount of religious talk taking place on a regular basis. Of course I’m kinda asking for it by coming to a specifically LDS gathering, so I’ve never really minded much, but sometimes (especially when it was anyone waxing not very eloquent about “really believing what we’re singing”) it got very tedious.
What’s funny about that is that I did have a testimony to convey to the congregation through the music, just like everyone else there did… only mine was, “We’ve all been reminded of nobler aspects of human nature by this music, felt love through it, had our lives enriched by it; let us share that with you.” So any time anyone had something to say about professing our beliefs to our listeners, I was right there on board with that.
Mom’s parents actually came this time. They (or at least grandma) used to drive down here every year, until the failing health of both of them (particularly grandpa’s mobility after his stroke) prevented further such journeys. But since this was the last year, they made sure to come. Grandma’s longtime best friend did the driving (of a rental car my parents insisted on providing for them), so it worked out pretty well.
One song included in this program my mom chose because it’s grandma’s favorite; mom wrote it the year my great-grandma died and I believe it helped grandma through that time. It was the most difficult song in the cantata, and even for the final performance we sopranos and altos didn’t manage to get the verse rhythms right (or even the same for both verses -__-). Grandma attended all three performances as well as the dress rehearsal, but since she wouldn’t recognize a faulty rhythm if it smacked her in the face, she was delighted by that song every time.
We did three performances this year instead of two because mom, after two and a half decades of directing the thing (and having never, as I mentioned, gotten a decent recording), wanted a chance to listen for once. So for the Saturday matinee performance, her assistant/backup director took over and she sat in the congregation. He’s not a bad director, and I think he’ll be really good eventually, but, lacking the lengthy experience my mother has, is certainly not as great as she is. Still, I think we did OK that day too.
“OK” is as well as I can expect to do, and, though it’s kinda tragic that we won’t be having any more of these programs, it’s probably better at least for me. My breath control especially has been getting worse and worse as years go by — this time I couldn’t get through more than about half a line most of the time — and my ever-uncertain pitch control has been suffering too.
I love singing, and I love singing in mom’s choir, but I’ve never had any illusions about being particularly good at it. Therefore it’s probably best that I quit while I’m as far ahead as I’ll ever get — or, rather, be forced into retirement by the end of the one choral production I’ve ever been interested in taking part in.
By the way, Zombie Girl is the only friend of mine, over the course of twenty years, that has ever come listen to me sing. She is telve True Friend.
This may all sound like a parade of negativity, but the experience overall, since I was fourteen and started singing in the cantata, has been distinctly positive. My mom is a truly spectacular artist in multiple areas, and it’s been a wonderful experience few people can say they’ve had to work with her so much for so long. No matter how I’ve felt about the other choir members or how my singing abilities are steadily worsening, I’m going to miss doing this more than I can say.
And what will I do with my Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings for the first three months of future years??? The idea of so much free time is staggering!!!