Grant us peace.
When Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the cantata back in 1936, he had no idea the profound impact it would have on the soprano soloist in a small town in Upper Michigan some 75 years later.
|I look like a dork, but I promised my mom a picture of my dress, and things got so busy that this is really the only one I actually took. I have many more unkind things to say about myself and this picture, but we’ll just leave it at “dorky.”
I have known I would be the soloist for this work for a really long time. I started practicing months ago, though I didn’t hit it super hard until January. The thing about the soprano solo parts in this one is that they look easy, but are in reality very difficult. At least, that’s what I found.
There isn’t really much of a melody to latch on to, the key changes are frequent and often done without accompaniment (can I just tell you how terrifying that is for a soprano who doesn’t have perfect pitch?), the rhythm is all easy when you practice alone, but putting it together with the choir and orchestra proved that the rhythm was just pretending to be easy—in reality it was a beast.
All that to say that I had a surprisingly difficult time with the piece, and I basically had a nervous breakdown over it.
Three weeks before the performance, I was busy doing OPERAtion Imagination! (bringing opera into the schools) and had put some of my Dona Nobis Pacem practice on hold while I worked on that. Once it was over, I planned on dedicating my life to Ralph Vaughan Williams, except I got really sick instead.
And that was the beginning of the breakdown. I sucked on zinc, downed tea and Airborne, rested as much as humanly possible, and still things weren’t back to 100% by the time concert week rolled around.
On Friday night, I lost it psychologically. It might have been the difficulty of the piece, the fact that my voice still wasn’t working properly the day before the performance, or that the baritone sitting next to me has had an illustrious career which includes singing at the Met and being best buddies with Placido Domingo. Whatever it was, my confidence was shot, and when I got up to sing a particularly difficult (for me) passage, it just didn’t happen.
People. I couldn’t sing the passage in the dress rehearsal. And I knew that it wasn’t because I couldn’t, it was because I was freaking out. Falling apart inside. Wondering what on earth I was doing there.
I went home and lost it. I cried and cried. My husband worked with me on the parts where I was struggling, and I could do them perfectly at home (well, I could if you don’t count the tears). He also gave me a priesthood blessing, and I worked on feeling at peace.
Which is pretty interesting, considering that my role in the entire cantata was to plead for peace. The only lyrics the soprano sings are a simple plea for peace in Latin.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
(Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.)
On Saturday morning, during the final rehearsal before the performance, I mulled over those lyrics and how they fit into the work as a whole quite a bit. As I sat listening to the choir and the orchestra and the brilliant baritone, I found a new appreciation for the music. It was no longer just about war to me. It was about my own war with myself and my confidence. I was no longer pleading to the Lord for peace on earth and freedom from death, I was pleading for peace within myself.
I needed to have peace in the knowledge that I had done the work and that I would be able to perform to the best of my abilities. I needed to feel peace in the knowledge that my talents are God-given, and that I was there to share them with others. I needed to know that my Savior loved me, and that He would be with me, and that He would grant me the peace I so badly needed.
By the end of the rehearsal, I had found that peace.
Later that night, I was ready to perform, and I stepped onstage with peace in my heart.
Was the performance perfect? No. But I knew I had done what I came to do, and I was thankful to have had such a profound experience—through the very music I was performing—to help me come closer to Christ.
And hopefully, in the process, to help others come closer to Him as well.
(Above picture taken with my friend’s phone, stolen from Facebook by me.)
(Another friend, who is a pro photog and covered the event, sent me this photo.)(Also, one of my favorite things about this particular picture is that my husband is sitting right behind my left shoulder. He prepared the orchestra, but the choir director conducted the performance and my husband played trumpet. I loved his quiet encouragement every time I turned around and sat down. I’ve sung under his baton a million times, but it was nice to perform together in the ensemble this time.)