May 19, 2010

Cathedral Graduation

Last night I played with the Timpanogos Brass Quintet for Juan Diego's graduation mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City. I love playing at the Madeleine. The building and the choir school that bears its name are surely among Utah's greatest treasures.

I still remember the first time I saw the place. On Christmas Eve 1998 I was invited to play for the cathedral's midnight mass with the Utah Symphony brass section. I was nervous as all get out to be playing with those guys, though my teacher Nick Norton (who'd got me the gig to begin with) was there keeping me in line and trying to get me to relax!

As far as I can remember, it was also the first time I'd been in a Cathedral, let alone one so colorfully and lavishly decorated. I remember the particular smell of incense, the mystique of the mass and its rituals (exotic and extraordinary for a young Mormon girl), the etherial swell of the children's choir, their vibrato-free resonance a completely new sound for my ears, the feel of the massive organ's pedal notes as they rumbled the floorboards of the choir loft, and the incredible acoustic that allowed each sound to hang suspended in the air for several seconds. I also remember (and deal with this issue even today) trying hard to keep my eyes on my music rather than absent-mindedly allowing them to wander around the beautiful space. I remember playing some antiphonal Gabrielli and probably a bunch of hymn adaptations: fairly classic fare, though for an inexperienced student, it was a challenge for me musically to rise to the level of the others in the group. After such a fortunate initiation, playing for midnight masses has remained on my list of favorite holiday traditions.

Anyway, back to the more recent past, when I got up to the choir loft last night, I caught the end of another mass that just preceded the graduation. The children's choir was singing beautifully and I sat back for a while enjoying their sound and the memories it brought back.

Our performance went alright considering that for the first hour and a half we were only a quartet. Our tuba player (who shall remain nameless for now), had left his music at home!!! I won't complain too much because I suppose we've all been there, or someplace similar, in the past... sigh... stories for another day. Anyway, we made due as best we could playing four part Bach chorals and a couple other hymn tunes instead of the prelude we'd prepared. When it came time for the processionals though we were really hurting. Can you imagine having to perform the Promenade from "Pictures at an Exhibition" over and over minus the bass part?! Without a foundation our sound seemed uncharacteristically thin, and of course that made our jobs much more difficult. Fortunately some of our pieces included organ, and being able to blend with an instrument like the Madeleine's certainly alleviated a bit of the anemia.

The service was long, but fun over all. When we've got everyone participating the TBQ is a great quintet! The second trumpeter Dave Faires had attended some conducting workshops at Northwestern and was telling me stories about how incredible the brass is there...hopefully I'll be able to keep up this Fall!

I drove home in a rainstorm and stayed up late listening to the downpour and talking about composers with Rob...a satisfying end to a good evening.

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