Each morning, I have a routine that I follow pretty religiously. After I wake up, I reach for my journal, write my morning pages and then turn on my computer and check my email. Every day, there are four emails that I can count on to be waiting for me in my inbox in the morning: the headlines from the New York Times and the Washington Post, a daily account summary from my bank with my balance, and my horoscope. Yesterday, not having slept well the night before, I wrote in my morning pages how good it was that I didn't have to sing anything important since I was so tired. I turned on my computer and looked at my horoscope, which read:
"Don't be too controlling right now. The events of the day could proceed at a rapid pace, and you might not be able to exert much influence over them…Even if you want to accomplish a dozen tasks, try to adopt a more flexible attitude about the day."
I sort of thought to myself that it was kind of a boring horoscope and proceeded to get ready for the day. All I had planned was a short rehearsal down at Carnegie Hall with a conductor friend, Scott, for an upcoming St. John Passion that we are doing next month with his choir in Boston, burgers and beer with my voice teacher, and then a play-date with my good friend Jen and her baby, Sophie. Hopping in the shower, I found myself wishing that I could just crawl back into bed and take a nap instead of going to meet Scott, who was in town this week to participate in the Carnegie Hall Choral Workshop and sing in the chorus of Haydn's The Creation with Helmuth Rilling and the Orchestra of St. Luke's yesterday at Carnegie. As I was stepping out the door to go to Carnegie, my manager called.
"Nicholas, sweetie darling – well, first of all, how are you?" She said.
"I'm doing ok, how are you?"
"I'm fine – now more importantly, where are you?"
"I'm in my apartment, why? What's going on?"
"Well, the tenor who is to sing tonight's performance of The Creation is apparently not feeling well and is at the doctor now – I've been asked if you have performed the piece and might be willing to step in, in the event that he needs to cancel?"
My day had suddenly begun to move at a "rapid pace".
On the phone with my manager, I was paralyzed for about a minute, unsure of how to proceed. I wanted to help out – the piece is one of the greatest pieces of music written, and to be able to do it in Carnegie Hall with such a great conductor and colleagues would be a dream come true. The catch was I had only performed the piece in English – and they were doing it in German. Did I think that I could stand on the stage of Carnegie Hall and perform this bear of a piece (for the first time auf Deutsch) with such outstanding colleagues and with no rehearsal? As calmly as I could, I asked my manager to tell the people at Carnegie that I would think about it, but that I needed to look at a score to see if it would be possible.
I headed down to Carnegie and met Scott at the stage door and asked to peek at his score for yesterday's performance – instead of looking at the St. John that we were supposed to be rehearsing, we ended up trying to assess if it would be possible for me to sing The Creation, if I had to. After a lot of encouragement from Scott and going through the score with him, I thought to myself, I could, if it came to it. From there – the day turned into a bit of a blur. Unfortunately, the tenor did end up cancelling because he didn't feel well. I ended up singing the entire piece for Maestro Rilling in his dressing room with Scott at the piano, and he then gave his approval for me to go on. Before I knew it, I was running home to grab a bite to eat, study my score, cram as much German into my mouth as possible, and put on my tuxedo.
Once it was established that I was going to perform yesterday, my focus took over and kept me relatively calm until I walked out onstage, bowed with my colleagues, and sat down. As the orchestra started to play the first, sustained c natural that begins the piece, my mind started to wander just a bit. I thought, exactly how long has it been since I have sung this piece? I quickly did the math and realized that it had been seven years. By the sixth measure of the introduction, the insanity of what I had volunteered to do dawned on me. Looking at the audience, I thought, what am I doing? How am I going to do this? It was then that I realized that it was too late for that train of thought, and that I simply had to buckle down, focus, and give this everything that I had. The chorus sang their first entrance, the orchestra played a very loud C major chord behind me, I stood up, a chill went down my back, and I began to sing as if my life depended on it. Once the first note was out of my mouth, I noticed something else – I was actually having fun.
Under so much pressure, I would have thought the concert would have passed by in a complete blur, but it was quite the opposite. My focus was so intense that each moment of the performance is burned into my memory vividly. It was an incredible experience to make music so spontaneously with such phenomenal musical colleagues in a performance. The most incredible moment for me was standing during my favorite part of the piece – Haydn's musical depiction of the very first sunrise. As the orchestra slowly and majestically let their musical sun rise behind me, I felt my skin tingle as I looked out into the Hall, my eyes watering just a little. As I wove my phrases of recitative in between their orchestral interludes, I marveled that I was singing some of the most beautiful music ever written with some of my musical heroes in one of the most exquisite halls in the world. I was acutely aware that I was experiencing a dream come true.