Perfectionist Tendencies

Perfectionism is just arrogance in disguise. Knock it off, Annie.

I screwed up in the concert Friday night.

I know the exact movement and measure where I came in two beats early, loud and clear, doubling the tenors an octave higher, when the sopranos weren’t supposed to come in at all yet. A mistake I had made so repeatedly in rehearsal that I had marked a huge dark circle around the rest – the rest that I nevertheless failed to observe, during the concert. Which will ruin the recording, no doubt.

Fortunately, I have another chance to get it right, tonight.

But that doesn’t make me feel any better.

I feel like I’m in over my head. There are voices in this choir that are as big as the ocean. I have sung in several really, really good choirs in my time, but I’ve never heard anything like this. I’m out of shape, out of practice, out of my league.

I’m wondering why they let me in.

And I keep “watering the weed,” going over and over my stupid mistake, magnifying its importance.

I have long been accused of perfectionist tendencies. I can put a lot of energy into beating myself up over the innumerable mistakes I have made, which continue to multiply, daily. Apparently, getting older doesn’t necessarily equate with getting wiser.

What a waste of energy.

Because perfectionism is really just badly disguised arrogance.

How could I be so arrogant as to think that anyone in the audience even noticed in that very live, echo-y chapel?

And who the hell do I think I am, that I could ever get anything perfect, anyway?

I’ve lived enough life now to realize that making mistakes is part of the deal. My improvisation teachers said that mistakes are discoveries. Go with ’em and see where they take you.

Perfectionism is the opposite of humility, and I’m trying to learn to be a more humble, accepting person – one who listens more than she talks.

(Stop laughing, you guys, I really am trying).

And one who doesn’t take herself so seriously, doesn’t always think she’s the center of everything, or anything, for that matter. Trying to focus on others and not be such a little-miss-know-it-all-smartypants-achiever.

Remember that sketch that Chris Farley used to do, on SNL? The interview show,  where he’d say something or ask a question and then start slapping himself in the head, “Oh, D’oh! How stupid! I’m such an idiot!”

He did that not out of arrogance, thinking that he could have been perfect, but out of humility and insecurity, feeling that he couldn’t possibly be good enough,  even though he was spectacularly, uniquely talented.

And I thought I was hard on myself.

So, I fell off the proverbial horse. Get back on and give it another go, Annie. “I’ll do better next time,” as my courageous, resilient, magnificent, magical daughter says, determined to show me she can muster a positive attitude after a setback.

I’ll do better next time, not for myself, but out of respect for the other members of the chorus.

Some of whom, it turns out, live with significant health and physical challenges, and sing joyfully, professionally and well, despite them.

Where do I get off making mountains out of my mistakes when these people carry on, with their quiet heroism, just being who they are and doing what they do, and doing it well?

So tonight I’ll watch more closely and concentrate more on counting than on the sound of my own voice. Although it is easy to space out a bit, lost in the majesty and consolation of Mendelssohn, I’ll keep my guard up and try to remember that it’s a gift just to have the chance to be a small part of it, and to follow the lead of voices far more magnificent, and musicianship far more honed than mine are at present. Working on it.

Tonight I’ll try to be OK with just being OK.

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Time to go put on the concert black, and stow the ego. I’ll keep you posted.

Until then, I remain,

Your striving, stumbling, struggling, but still singing,

Ridiculouswoman

“There Came a Still, Small Voice”

That buck stopped me in my tracks, and reminded me to be still….and grateful

“…and in that still voice, onward came the Lord…”

-from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”

I just wanted to grab a little fresh air on what, if the weather nerds were to be trusted, was to be the last sunny (or at least partly sunny) day of October.

I headed out on my usual route at the forest preserve savannah, but noticed a little yellow sign tacked to a post. “New Trail,” it said.

Cool, I’ll try a new path – it headed off in a direction I’d always wanted to explore, but couldn’t because of swampy patches and tall grass.

But now a path had been mowed that way, so off I went.

Within five strides I caught my left walking boot on a small stump sticking up right in the middle of this “new trail,” felt myself go horizontal, and WHUMP, fell face first on the damp grass.

Cut the meat of my left hand on the zipper tab of the little wallet-purse I was carrying (lock in the glove box next time, dumbass!), muddied my black jeans and jammed my wrist in a futile attempt to stop a hard face plant. Bruised my right hip which landed hard on the little lipstick compact I had in my coat pocket (even out here, the middle-aged woman rules apply.)

Up slow. Nothing broken, it seems. The cut, while ugly and bleeding, was small and not deep. The black jeans would survive.

Cursing, dropping “F” bombs loudly, out there where cyclists and joggers and other walkers were no doubt trying to grab their few remaining minutes of October glory (oh, nice) I stood up and kept going, bitching about how I had been lured onto a “new trail” that clearly wasn’t ready for use – more stumps and sticks and logs and branches all over the place. I didn’t want to have to walk looking down just to keep myself from falling again.  So I consciously began picking my feet up higher, in a silly-walk-looking kind of march, and pressed on. Came to a little bridge over the swampy part and took a photo of a stand of russet oaks:IMG_20181029_162322442.jpg

And just after I did, walking on a bit, still cursing, I saw him. A buck, with a small but impressive rack of antlers, looking right back at me. Can you find him in the photo at the top of this post? He’s there, just right of center.

“Oh!” I stopped. I stood still. I slowly drew my camera back out from my rear pocket (grateful that I keep in back there, instead of in the front pocket, where the already cracked face of it would no doubt have shattered for good from the impact of the fall.)

I slowly took a few pics, hoping that cropping or zooming might capture him.

As I put my phone away, it occurred to me that in all the times I had seen deer around here, I had never before seen a buck with antlers.

I tried to move closer, slowly and quietly, but the buck took a step toward me, as if to say, “Hey! I’m eating here! Pipe down and shove off!”

Though the deer near here are used to people, I figured it wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibility to get gored by a buck who was irritated that I’d interrupted his grazing.

So I turned around and slowly walked away.

And another, smaller buck with smaller antlers, but antlers just the same, came blasting across from my left, toward the buck I was now calling “Big Daddy.”

Wow.

I had only planned to walk for about half an hour anyway, because I had to get home to prep dinner, greet the companion/caregiver and head off to rehearsal. Cleaned and bandaged the hand, no time to change the jeans.

Before being admitted to the Chicago Master Singers, I had never sung “Elijah.” It has been challenging and wonderful to learn the it. Like all of Mendelssohn is to me, it is a beautiful, moving piece.

In the text, when the Lord at last responds to Elijah’s prayers, after a mighty wind (but the Lord was not in the tempest) after the sea was upheaved, after the fire (but the Lord was not in the fire) – “there came a “still, small voice.”

“And in that small voice, onward came the Lord.”

And above him were seraphim, begun with a soft soprano solo, “holy, holy, holy…”

And the heaven’s were filled with his glory.

I looked up Mendelssohn, to make sure I spelled it correctly, and found that it means, “son of Mendel,” and “Mendel” is probably derived from  “Menachem,” which, if Wikipedia is correct,  means, “one who consoles.”

I found consolation for my minor scrapes and bruises when I saw that buck, and when I sang that chorus at rehearsal, I was reminded that God’s amazing creative glory often comes in moments of stillness, like when that buck and I stood looking at each other, dissipating my little pain and my petty little frustration and my cursing and bringing me back to beauty and peace.

And reminding me of recent, seemingly daily reports of inexplicable tragedies and inconceivable losses of breathtaking magnitude. Feeling simultaneously ashamed (for being so upset about my minor, transitory physical scrapes) and grateful, for how lucky I am, to have another day to walk in the woods.

For those whose grief is fresh, whose pain feels insurmountable, for whom the senselessness of this vale of tears is relentless, may you hear that still, small voice, and be consoled.

I’ll be thinking of  you at this weekend’s performances.

Until then, trying to be still, listening for that small voice, hoping for consolation for all those who grieve,

I remain, your sore, humbled, grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

 

 

Anger Management…

Take two Bach cello suites…and call me in the morning.

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Over in the Snark Tank, I wrote about my determination to continue making a Ridiculouswoman of myself in public (you might have to scroll down a bit for that entry, because I have some new Snark going up over there, in the nature of the further adventures of things about suburban living that can knock me off the path, if I don’t watch out. It’s pretty snarky. Which it is why it is over there, not here.)

Meaning I intended to express joy through music, or dancing or goofing around, whenever I felt like it, even if other people thought it was ridiculous.

Unfortunately, instead, I had a few episodes of making myself ridiculous for the wrong reason – anger.

It is not possible to live with love and laughter if you allow anger to consume your joy.

I won’t go into detail, because the details involve politics (exhausting) but suffice it to say I was very ashamed of myself, for giving in to rage, publicly.

It’s been burbling up off and on since the Fatherless Day slump, particularly when I’m driving (surprise. Have you had to endure suburban driving when you are trying to catch a train, or get your kid to work on time? OK, so you know what I mean.)

But it isn’t good for me or for our daughter.

So I look to the radio (and the CD player) from whence cometh my help.

Specifically in the form of the sublime music. There is no such thing as hearing the Bach Cello Suite No. 1 too many times. I could survive on a desert island if that was the ONLY piece of music I was allowed to have.

But thanks to Mike’s wonderful CD collection, and to WFMT, Chicago’s exceptional classical music station, I have all the Bach cello suites, most of the cantatas, and right when I was about to lose it again the other night, an exceptionally lovely (and they are all lovely) Palestrina motet on the radio.

Aaaaaahhhh.

Life is too short to spend another nanosecond of it expressing anger. I’m here to try to convey lessons I’ve learned from Mike’s passing, and laughs I could generate or share for the time I have left.

Only God knows the number of our days, so make each one a good one, if you possibly can. Nobody ever changed their mind because someone got really pissed off at them. Quite the opposite. Anger tends to make people dig in.

So I’m working on it. I’m getting better and finding and sharing the love, and trying to find the funny again.

Stay tuned. I’m sure to do something ridiculous (in a joyful way, I hope!) sooner or later.

Until then, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, breathing deeply,

Ridiculouswoman

Are We Having Fun Yet? Or, I Don’t “Summer” Well

I want to use the word “summer” as a verb…

I have long aspired to being one of those people who uses the word “summer” as a verb.

As in, “where do you summer?”

“We summer in at our villa in Tuscany.”

or, “Why, in Provence, of course…”

or, for me, the pinnacle of “to summer, “…

“We summer in Maine.”

No Maine for me this summer. Spent the money on redoing Mike’s room as a computer lounge for our daughter. Money well spent, but I find myself missing the sea, the salt air, the lobster and the star-stuffed sky.

Not to mention the bracing cold of the sea (except that the water has been warming these past years – causing one old salt I overheard to complain, “the fish’ll be cooked befowah you catch ’em!”)

Yes, we could go down to the lake, where the water is reliably cold, even this deep into summer, but there have been lots of shore warnings this year – waves and rip currents.

So, ninety degrees again today and tomorrow, no air conditioning, humid. Feeling like a wet rag.

I don’t summer well, here.

Frizz, sweat and listlessness. After three solid days of digging weeds in the heat two weeks ago, and a little rain, finally, my front garden looks OK. But my vegetable garden is a shambles. Spent too much time on those darn chickens, and neglected to water it during a month long dry spell. So no squash, probably no zucchini (you have to be really bad at vegetable gardening to get through an entire summer with NO zucchini!) and a meager crop of beans – “haricot vert,”   but then, I’m not summering in France.

But I do get to go to rehearsal tonight.

I was admitted into an excellent choral group – serious, rigorous, disciplined but fun. Such a relief to be among singers who get it right the first time, sight-sing like demons, and could blow me out of the water, sitting down, with their voices.

And who actually read and sing the dynamics. Balance and musicality and glorious music, flowing right along. Wow.

I like feeling like I’m a little out of my league and that I’ll have to work hard to keep up.

Mike loved my singing and stoked my ego when I Puccinied or Mozarted along with WFMT, our classical music station here in Chicago. Bless you, dear, for that. It’s a rare man who will listen to “Oh Mio Babino Caro” or “Doretta’s Song” or “Musetta’s Waltz” or the “Allelulia” a couple hundred times without begging for mercy. But you never did. You listened.

And though I’m a diva who never misses a chance to show off a solo high note (Ridiculouswoman, remember?) I’m a real softie for choral singing – there’s something about a large group of voices united in song that gets me every time. I mean I get choked up when I hear the crowd singing “My Old Kentucky Home” at the beginning of the derby each year (they’ve edited out the bad old lyrics) and I get a real thrill from any good performance of Beethoven’s 9th or Brahms Requiem. A Welsh men’s choir can stop me in my tracks, and I’m a sucker for a good sea shanty, too (probably influenced by my obsession with the Aubrey Maturin books.)

So tonight I get the thrill of singing with a large, talented, serious group of singers. And bonus, the church where this chorus rehearses is air conditioned! Hallelujah!

Wishing you the opportunity to raise your voice in song, with others similarly inspired, I remain,

your still-working-on-being-humble, devoted, warbling servant,

Ridiculouswoman

My Secret Azalea – or, Inside Out

It can only be seen from inside the house.

The ferns surrounded it, in lush, leafy hug.

And that made me smile.

It was a really good spring for my rhodo and my azaleas – lovely, abundant blooms. I put this one where it is last year so that there would be something evergreen to look at just outside there in the winter, even if it got buried by snow for a time.

I didn’t expect this abundance of ferns to swallow it up in the spring, but I like the effect.

It reminds me to keep something blooming within, even if others can’t see it right away.

Not until I let them in.

The garden is still a work in progress; it looks okay from the outside, but still needs a few more shrubs and perennials to fill in and squeeze out the weeds so I don’t have to spend so much time digging those out. Could use some mulch, too; I’m not much in the mood or the position to spend more money on it right now, so those things will come a little at a time.

The blooms on my secret azalea have gone by since I took the photo, but its leaves are there and will still be there there when the ferns fade. Maybe in a few years, it will even grow taller than the feathery, fluffy chaos around it.

My secret azalea reminded me that kindness implies a kind of trust – or faith, if you want to call it that – that those toward whom it is directed will benefit, be softened, encouraged, cheered, made hopeful, whatever,  but also that kindness directed from the inside out is always worth it, even if it isn’t received that way immediately, or ever, even. Being kind provides a sort of stillness, a type of calm, a sense of perspective, that is healing to me, regardless. Tends my inner garden.

My secret azalea reminded me that what’s going on inside affects what’s outside; that beauty within radiates outward, where it affects the world around it.

Let’s face it, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve figured out that I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve type. It isn’t really possible for me to hide my feelings. I send out a vibe, even when I don’t want to. So I have to work on that, pretty much constantly, trying and failing and trying again to send out a good vibe, to be kind, to be positive, to grow into the person I want to be, every moment, because every moment is precious, a gift.

In the words of my literary hero, Jack Aubrey, “there’s not a moment to lose.”

So no pity-parties, please. Fall of the horse, get right back on, keep going. The sun rises.

And the music plays.

I work at a place where I can listen to music, often at a good strong volume, all day – and sing along to it, and no one seems to mind. Or at least they put up with it. Most of the day the place is fairly empty, requiring manual (or forklift driven) labor. I’ve even got a sort of little fan club, that comes in once a week to do what they need to do, who caught me singing once and now seem to look forward to it each week.

The variety of music available is wide – classic rock, ’80s music, stations based on Journey (HA! sing like Steve Perry! who’s with me?) or the Eagles, or REM or Emmylou or Bruce Springsteen – everything from country to opera. Although it is hard to find a mix that always satisfies, I’ve found some really good stations that have brought back songs to me that I hadn’t thought about in years – good, cathartic, cryin’ songs, songs of hope, songs that put things in perspective. And arias – but don’t worry, I only rock the Puccini when the place is empty. Although come to think of it, Puccini, (O Mio Babbino Caro, to be exact) is what got the fan club going.

Remember that movie, Network News, where Holly Hunter, playing a news producer, would set aside a few minutes each day to just take the phone off the hook (hey, it was made in 1987 and set mostly in 1981 – landlines!) and just bawl her eyes out? Then she’d pull it together and get right back to work.

I’m a big fan of the good cry. And of getting right back to work.

During Mike’s illness, I did most of my crying in the car – car crying – because I didn’t want our child to see it and get upset, and I didn’t want to make Mike feel sad, or worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle things.

Now, I cry a lot less, but when I need to let it out, it often happens when I’m in the warehouse, cleaning or closing up, inspired by one of those great songs I had forgotten about, and it helps – it helps a lot. It helps reconcile the inside with the outside; harmonizing with the songs harmonizes me, in a way. Even if a lot of these songs seems sad, that’s not the point – the point is they give me a sort of cleansing that makes me feel better, calmer, stronger. Sing, cry, dry, work.

In no particular order, songs that came up that helped me “take the phone off the hook,” feel what I feel, let it out, and then pull it together and carry on include:

  • Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart For A While
  • The Eagles’ Peaceful, Easy Feelin’
  • Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces, Cowboy Take Me Away, Not Ready to Back Down 
  • Iris DeMent’s Our Town (she was a discovery for me – hadn’t heard her before)
  • Any version of Stevie Nicks’ Landslide
  • Long, Long Time, sung by Linda Ronstadt
  • Shenandoah’s Ghost in this House,  sung by Alison Krauss (really, anything sung by Alison Krauss – Down in the River to Pray, Long Lost Friend, etc.
  • Softly and Tenderly, sung by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

and the one that kind of sums up what I learned from losing Mike, and why I’m trying to grow in to a better, kinder, more loving person:

When We’re Gone, sung by Emmylou, Dolly and Linda –

…”And when we’re gone, long gone,
the only thing that will have mattered
is the love that we shared
and the way that we cared
when we’re gone, long gone….”

This song helps me remember there’s not a moment to lose, and not to skimp on love – it helps me nourish my inner, secret azalea, gives me hope that what blooms within will radiate out as love, as kindness, and as hope, one precious moment at a time.

May you find the music that gives you hope and peace, as this song does for me.

 

 

Memories in Minutiae – and in Music

…when all six cans had been used…I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart….

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Stuff I haven’t thought about in years comes back to me suddenly, triggered by the most ordinary things – things like a six-pack plastic ring thingee. I haven’t seen one of those for quite a while, because, due to its ability to blow me up into a gigantic beach-ball shaped human, I gave up beer several years ago. I used to buy it exclusively in bottles, anyway. Don’t really ever buy soda or much of anything else in six-packs of cans, held together by those plastic rings and I haven’t, for years.

But there is a type of diet mixer that I discovered recently that I can only get in those held-together-with-plastic-rings six packs.

And when all six cans had been used up, I found myself automatically pulling out a pair of scissors to cut the plastic rings apart.

I froze in the middle of this action, remembering why I was doing it and where I first heard of doing it, cutting those plastic rings open.

I was doing that to protect sea life, particularly dolphins, who I was told had been found starved to death, their noses (beaks? mouths? snouts?) stuck inside those plastic rings.

I was told this on our honeymoon, when Mike and I swam with dolphins. The guide-trainer guy said that these plastic rings find their way into the ocean, having been washed into rivers or just dumped overboard by some careless boater, and dolphins get their noses stuck in them, and he asked us to always cut them open.

So I have been cutting those rings open ever since.

Our honeymoon was a little over 25 years ago, and swimming with dolphins, even as an educational exercise, is now considered inappropriate.  Some argue it is even cruel to these amazing beasts. I’m grateful I got to have a close-up experience with these creatures, and I got to discover how soft their skin feels to the touch, but even then I could have done without the obligatory flipper-flapping and jumping through hoops.

I hadn’t thought about our honeymoon in ages (maybe because there was a video of our dolphin experience that our child watched incessantly for probably more than a year running, so I’d had enough of remembering that) but then zap all of a sudden, there it was, front and center, because of something as ordinary as the six-pack plastic ring thingee.

A few days ago, I went alone to the bookstore to do something Mike and I had done annually at Christmastime – to try to find a hidden gem or two in the bargain bin of CD’s in the music section.

And what I found was a drastically reduced bargain bin, and a supply of CD’s that had largely been supplanted by – vinyl records. Which the hipster Millenial generation has recently re-embraced, playing them on weird vertical turntables, and insisting that the sound is better than on CD’s.

And these vinyl records were priced at TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

Oh, bless you, hipsters, bless you, Millenials – because of your newfound enthusiasm for vinyl, the price of the (still drastically reduced supply) of CD’s in the bargain bin seems to have gone down a bit. And you have inspired me to ‘more appropriately price’ my old vinyl records at my next garage sale – authentic, original 1970’s relics! Rare gems! Get ’em while they’re hot! A bargain at $15 bucks per LP! (up from fifty cents! Ha!)

But my trip to the bookstore took on a mood of melancholy when I saw how slim the pickings were in that CD bargain bin – many that we already own, some that I just will never be able to bring myself to buy (Mariah Carey Christmas, just sayin’) and others that didn’t seem quite worth the risk. Nevertheless, I persisted.

I found one of the Boston Pops Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting.. Fiedler was the conductor of that orchestra when I was a child, and a favorite in our house.  I found another of the same orchestra when John Williams was the conductor.Each less than ten bucks. Score!

I found the soundtrack to The Polar Express really fun and well produced, also less than ten bucks. Bingo.

One pricier new one by Sara McLachlan for my young adult, which was surprisingly OK, especially when Emmylou Harris’ voice showed up unexpectedly.  Ring the bell.

And one from The Piano Guys who have been all over the internet, and oddly, for a group called “the Piano Guys” seem to feature a lot of cello. But cello is my favorite instrument (OK, now I’ll have to write a post about my never-ending search for the perfect recording of the Bach cello concertos) so that one was fine, too.

But there were no really weird or funny ones, the kind that you think, oh man, it may turn out to be awful but for $4.99 I just have to hear this! A few old Frank Sinatras (already have them) and a Rosemary Clooney (maybe next year, if there are any CDs next year) and, inevitably, Elvis.

Streaming may take over entirely when the hipster fad for vinyl fades. And then I guess I’ll listen to new Christmas music projected from my phone to the bluetooth speaker that came as a freebie with the last new phone I bought for Mike – I’ll put it next to the picture of him on the little side table by my Dad’s chair, where I sit deep in the night, “regarding the tree,” with only the outside lights and the tree lights lit, just as Mike and I used to do together at Christmastime.

They say (and I saw, with my Dad’s decline) that memories of music last the longest. When Dad could no longer speak, he could still sing and recognize songs and music. And whatever the medium, CD, vinyl or stream, the memory of Mike lives with me in the music he liked; at this time of year, the music he chose from the much better selection in the much bigger bargain bins of the past. Mike’s choices invariably turned out better than mine.

A week or two ago, as I was “wondering as I wandered” out under the crisp black winter sky, “where are you out there, loves? Hanging around with Orion?” –  just as I thought that, and turned to go back in the house, I saw a meteor: a shooting star that blazed, then faded.

As Mike did. As will we all, eventually.

Our aduilt child has been anxious lately – checking in, “you’re good Mom, right? You’re here in this world, with me? Dad’s in the next world. A day without Dad. But you’re good, right?”

Yest, lamb. I’m good, as long as I can listen and sing, and hear the sound of your Dad’s voice singing along to Vince Gill’s recording of Breath Of Heaven (Mary’s Song) or Pavarotti’s O Holy Night in my memory. I listen deep in the night, while regarding the tree, to the music he chose for us for Christmas.

Getting a Handle on Handel

I would never find the perfect recording… two favorite recordings … come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be..

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There’s no escaping it this time of year (even though it was probably written for Easter), but why would you want to? From do-it-yourself to professional performances, Messiah is pretty much required Christmas music and hearing it, even for the umpteenth time, can still be a delightful or even profoundly spiritual experience.

But what about listening at home? A few years ago I decided I would finally make a definitive selection  of which recording I would own, to enjoy at home, and sing along to (at the top of my lungs, yes, because it’s my house and I can, so there!)

It was kind of an overwhelming assignment – how to choose? There are hundreds of recordings of this masterwork.

Most of them seem to fall into one of two camps: the big, loud, huge nineteenth century versions, with large orchestras and choruses, and often, to my dismay, draggy tempos, or the nimble, smaller, lighter, often original-instrument ensembles, with quicker tempos and a less ponderous, more joyful or mysterious, feel to them.

The three features of any recording that were most important to me in choosing the one I’d listen to most often were tempos, the quality of the singers and the size and nature of the orchestra.

Which ran me straight into the mix-n-match problem.

What if there were stupendous soloists, singers I’d always want to hear, coupled with a conductor whose tempos I didn’t like or an orchestra that sounded too big? Or what if the chorus was spectacular but the soloists unknown or over-the-hill?

I quickly learned that I would never find the perfect recording  – I’d be wailing along with one of them and then all of a sudden the tempo would go south, or the soloist would run off the rails. So compromise was inevitable, and I ended up choosing two favorite recordings that come closest to what my ears need Messiah to be, and here they are:

This falls into the Big Singers and modern orchestra category, but the tempos are great and Sam Ramey – well, he’s Sam Ramey.  When he sings “I will shake…” he’ll have you trembling in your boots. Kathleen Battle is her usual crystal-toned self, nimble and birdlike and often a little too flashy, but that just gives you something to strive for in the sing-along department. Plenty of  “hey let’s see of they can do that one in one breath” moments, and usually they do. I only have this one as a digital recording so I don’t have what used to be called “liner notes,” that now usually come as booklets with the CD, but listening to this one is kind of self-explanatory. It’s just plain great.

Here’s my other favorite:

This falls into the nimble, original instruments category with a wonderful lightness, or solemnity and mystery, where appropriate. I do have this as a CD and the accompanying booklet is terrific – a very enjoyable and unpretentious music history lesson in a jewel case. The best thing about this recording to me is the wonderful surprise of hearing the “Rejoice” done in a dancy 12/8 version.

I’ve listened to a lot of other recordings and performances of Messiah, and I have a few rules:

  1. No “highlights” or “greatest hits.” Handel nearly killed himself in a frenzy of composition writing the entire thing in about three weeks, and although he changed it and reworked it a lot for different solo voices and different performances, I think it was always intended to be heard as a whole. So yes, I am requiring you to listen to the whole thing. You won’t regret it.
  2. If  you are attending a live performance, yes, you have to stand up during “Hallelujah.” I stand up at home anyway, howling along with it, often messing up my part in a fit of overconfidence – “I’ve sung this thing so many times, I know it backwards and forw…oops, missed that run there…better get out the score…where’s that score?…”
  3. Take the “one breath” challenge during “Thus Sayeth the Lord” and “Rejoice” – yes, I’m a soprano but I sing along with the other parts, including the bass, because it’s my house and I can, so there.

Messiah is the kickoff of the holiday music season for me, and once I’ve had a few good sing-throughs, I move on to the carols and the CDs that Mike and I picked up on a lark each year from the bargain bin. We listened to a lot of drek, but also discovered several unexpected gems which I’ll share in my next post and over on my Books and Music page.