The second half of our April concert consists of one piece only. Psalm 42 by Felix B. Mendelssohn. It’s brilliant programing. After all the power, glory and majesty of Haydn’s Mass in Bb Major, the second half begins with a single soft melodic line which translates: As the stag screams out for fresh water, so my soul, oh God, screams out to you.
Most unusually, the altos are given this line. What a thrill and what a responsibility. These four short measures set the tone for the entire movement. How can we convey what Mendelssohn wanted to express? How do we make the magic happen? Here’s how:
First there are the “nuts and bolts” of singing. We number the measures, highlight our part, mark the dynamics, etc. Then we spend hours plunking out our parts at home so we’ll be prepared for rehearsal. At rehearsal, we attempt to put everything together, marking all the places we get thrown off by another vocal part. Once all that is “done” we can start to make music. There is even a chance for magic to happen.
What creates the magic? Would it be the altos matching the vowels of those in their section so that Mendelssohn’s opening phrase sounds like one voice? Is it where the sopranos and altos hold a dissonance for two beats before resolving? Is it the gorgeous unison between the altos and basses after the contrapuntal section? Or, most exciting of all, is it in a performance where it feels like there is an electrical current running between you and the audience?
It’s all of those, of course, and so much more. You never know for sure where or even if the magic will happen, but it’s the reason we do what we do. It’s the reason we sing.