Thursday, April 03, 2008

Spiritual Sweep

Immersed in Bach last weekend in Chicago, I began to notice how much my ego has come to play a role in my music making as of late. Part of it is the nature of singing oratorio pieces as opposed to opera. We show up to rehearse, rehearsals are short and to the point, and then we perform. The focus is on the music, and on the group as a whole and less on people’s voices and how high or fast they can sing (Carmina Burana excepted). The operatic world can be very focused on things like fach (a vocal niche in terms of repertoire), the size of a given role, how well you sing the high note in the aria, etc. Part of this is because opera is a form of theater, while oratorio work is a more musically focused event. I feel blessed to be able to do a healthy mix of both.

On top of this more musical focus, there is the incredible music of Bach. I found the energy of performing this masterwork to be different from other performances. Part of this is the story, of course, but I was also keenly aware of how great the music is. It is pristine, clear, meditative and yet passionate and expressive – so human and so divine. I wanted to perform well not to feel good about myself and my work, but because I felt that Bach’s music demanded it of me. I felt that it was a privilege to sing, and I ended up coming to the stage from a place of humility. It was a great relief, and I felt like it was a form of spiritual spring cleaning in a way. I certainly feel fresher and more ready to work now that I am back at home.


Anonymous said...

Hey buddy,
this is pretty awesome:
"Perhaps most impressive of all were the tenor solos of Nicholas Phan, whose splendid work with Chicago Opera Theater and, now, MOB makes him a rising star to watch."

By John von Rhein | Chicago Tribune critic
April 2, 2008

Anonymous said...

Your thoughts about singing Bach reminds me of a comment from Jeremy Denk, over on Think Denk, that really stayed with me:

"My former teacher, György Sebök, tried to instill in me something I probably have not yet totally learned (though nonetheless I think it is true): that endings in Bach do not say 'I have finished the piece,' do not declare any individual accomplishment, but rather indicate: 'God wrote it, and it is good.'"

Whatever your religious/spiritual beliefs, I think it's true that one of the great pleasures of listening to or performing Bach is the wonderful feeling you get that this isn't about you, it's about something bigger. Singing in the chorus for the B-minor mass was the first time I experienced genuine self-forgetfulness, and it really does feel like a "spiritual spring cleaning."

I would love to hear you sing Bach.