Albert Schweitzer is reported to have said: “There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: Music and Cats”. I am sure that many of us, forced to live in a bubble largely cut off from meaningful human contact by this wretched pandemic, can agree with him.
Music – and Cats. I feel myself inestimably blessed to be able to enjoy both.
As many of you no doubt know, I have three cats (I was going to say I own three cats, but, as anyone who has ever been privileged to share their lives with these magnificent creatures knows well, the boot is on the other foot – er, paw. They own us.) They have their own blog, where they graciously allow me to act as their editorial assistant, secretary and head typist. Nobody who shares their home with a cat can ever be truly alone, even in their most private moments (as anyone who has ever tried to shut one of them out of the bathroom or shower knows well) – but, on the other hand, I have known cats intensely sensitive to the emotions of their humans, and, on more than one occasion, when “the miseries of life” have brought me to tears, my cats have come and thrust their little faces up against mine as if to say: “It’s all right, Mummy. We are here for you”, or have snuggled up against me and soothed me with the comforting sound of their purrs.
The other candle in the darkness is my choir. True, we can only meet in small groups, and it often happens that one of the voices is missing (we currently have only one tenor), or that I find myself the only first soprano present – but it is still a vast improvement from having to make do with rehearsals online, useful as these may have been at the stage when we were still learning the music.
Recently, however, two projects came to fruition, which gave great satisfaction to all of us. The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir (the roof organisation for five choirs, of which the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir – my own choir – is one) released a “virtual choir” recording to YouTube. This was recorded during the summer, but the editing took quite a long time. And no wonder. I think it was very cleverly done, and I hope you will all agree:
The piece chosen – Dona Nobis Pacem, from Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times), aka the Nelson Mass – means “Give us peace”. I think no prayer could be more suited in these very troubled times.
The Choir was supposed to perform the whole Nelson Mass at our annual gala concert in May of this year. Of course, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown put a stop to that, as it has put a stop to so many cultural activities, throwing thousands of artists and supporting workers such as sound and lighting technicians, stage managers, costumers etc. out of work. The concert has been officially postponed to late spring 2021 – but, of course, there’s no guarantee that it will happen then, either. In the meantime, however, we are not throwing in the towel because music is like a breath of air for us.
For the same reason, the organizers of the annual Pianos in Jerusalem festival decided not to give up either, and to hold the 8th annual festival, devoted this year to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, without a live audience, online. The closing concert included the rarely performed Choral Fantasy, in which my chamber choir participated, together with two others. Not all members of my choir were happy about putting in so much effort for a mere four minutes or so of singing and one, at least, attempted to justify his refusal with the claim that “It isn’t even one of Beethoven’s best pieces. Anyone of us could do better”. His attitude angered many of us, not least Yours Truly. The pandemic has dampened our spirits more than enough as it is. Nobody was forced to take part – and there was no need to attempt to spoil things for those who did!
And for those of us who overcame our fears of venturing out into the public sphere – it paid dividends. To be with other singers, with an orchestra, after so long without live music! To be able to sit in an auditorium (suitably distanced from one another, I hasten to add) and to hear an entire concert and then to sing! The concert was also broadcast live on Israel Radio’s Kol Hamusica (Voice of Music) channel.
Even the rehearsals with the orchestra were uplifting. I have always particularly enjoyed the first orchestra rehearsal, every time we perform a large-scale work. You rehearse all year round with piano accompaniment and then, finally, you meet with the orchestra and the conductor (who is, frequently, not our own conductor) and you finally feel everything start to come together. Even the sound of a great orchestra tuning up sends a frisson of excitement running through every fibre of my being.
Here is the final part of the Choral Fantasy, performed by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, the Capellatte Oratorio Choir, the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the pianist Dorel Golan and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Ziv Cojocaru. If you would like to hear the whole concert, which included also Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, and the Fifth Piano Concerto (the “Emperor”) here is the link.
Please note that the concert starts at 18:08 and is preceded by a couple of interviews, in Hebrew, with two of the festival organizers.
There is such power in music – power to comfort, power to heal. It allows us to escape, if only for a while, “the miseries of life”. Like the love of cats, it allows us to enjoy beauty and grace.
As the lyrics of the Choral Fantasy put it:
Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen,
blüht dann neu und schön empor.
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen,
hallt ihm stets ein Geisterchor.
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen,
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen,
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.
Or in English translation:
Something great, when it’s touched the heart,
Blooms anew in all its beauty.
When one spirit has taken flight,
A choir of spirits resounds in response.
Accept then, oh you gracious souls,
Joyously the gifts of art.
When love and strength are united,
The favour of the Gods rewards Man.
Enjoy the concert. May you all find your own candles in the darkness.