Dear Diary

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

As our time in this wonderful place dwindles slowly away, it dawned on me that this blog has truly been an incredible gift for me. I was extremely honored when I was asked to take on this project, but I never thought it would enrich my experiences here in the way that it has. How amazing it is for me to be able to chronicle our daily lives here, much like our muse, Anne Frank, documented life in the annex. While I certainly do not presume to put myself on Anne’s iconic level, I do feel much more connected to her having written these words to you over the past days. I now understand that writing in and of itself requires bravery. Many nights I’ve sat here at the computer wondering what in the world I could possibly have to say that would matter. Who am I to impose my story on the world? It occurred to me though that much like Anne’s story is not about her but about her community, so too is my story about our choir. I have been so inspired by my fellow singers these past few days and it has been my great privilege to keep our diary, our collective history.

Tonight’s performance of Annelies at St. Stephen’s House marks an incredible moment in that history. Led by James Whitbourn himself and joined by the Aquinas Piano Trio, Thomas Hull (clarinet), and Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), I think our performance transcended even our own expectations. One thing you have to understand about performing this work is that it transforms you. For the 75 or so minutes that you’re in it, your whole being is consumed by it and by the lives it affirms. After the Lincoln Center performance in April, I think many us thought that it would be impossible to recreate that emotionally draining event. Annelies exhausts and challenges in all the best ways possible. It’s difficult to describe the internal conflict of emotions that happens as you perform the piece, but I can absolutely tell you that it changes you. Having the opportunity to sing this piece again tonight has solidified its indelible mark on my soul and on the soul of the choir. We, like the rest of the world, will never be the same for Anne’s having been here.

I apologize if my writing tonight feels a bit mystified or too brief, but I really don’t know how to put into words the magic that just occurred. I only know that I’m left with a feeling of accomplishment and pride, but also one of deep responsibility and humility. Annelies has a way of flooring you every single time and taking your breath away for hours on end. Right now I’m still in the breathless stage.

The more I think about this piece and its legacy I think about the final lines that deal with purity in the face of so much hatred. For myself and, I dare say, for the rest of my Westminster Williamson Voices family as well, Annelies has been a cleansing wave that has changed the way we see and understand the world. It has given us the courage to join together in the name of human dignity and in the name of music. Thank you, Mr. Whitbourn, for giving the world this incredible gift. And thank you, Anne, for reminding us that no matter what, we are “pure within.”

About choralmusicinstitute

Presented by Westminster Choir College of Rider University and Oxford University's St. Stephen's House, the one-week institute provides instruction to all levels of conductors.
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One Response to Dear Diary

  1. musicmb0 says:

    Reblogged this on scottbennettblog and commented:
    The performance last night of Annalies conducted by its composer, James Whitbourn, was extraordinary. This work truly takes one to the depths of the horror of the holocaust. This is the first time I have heard this work in performance. I was deeply moved and basically speechless. The choir was superb…but they always are! Being able to conduct this choir in our daily work has been one of the great thrills of my life. There really is nothing quite like the Westminster Williams Choir. They always give us their best, which is to say the least, extraordinary and totally unique. They also love being here to help us. Their supportive comments are so helpful. They, along with their conductor, James Jordan, are a true gift.

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