“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” Leonard Bernstein
If you are anything like me, your December concert and worship music for this year was planned during the summer or before. Your plans are coming to fruition or close to it. You are calm, knowing things are falling into place, right? Or maybe not.
There is always something to muck up our carefully laid plans around this time of year. A soloist gets sick, a snowstorm causes trouble or instrumentalists with car issues make us squirm. We handle whatever is thrown at us, and if we are smart, are flexible. Sometimes, the challenge to get things “right” turns our simple plans on their heads and somehow, the revised and improvised plan is better than we had ever imagined.
Dante* had grand plans last year. The Sunday before Christmas was to be the cantata to end all cantatas at his church. His Pastor approved a music budget for this Advent event he had only dreamed about. This was due to a significant monetary legacy donated to the church’s music program during the summer. There was enough left over for next year’s music budget to be doubled from years past. What a blessing!
He hired two vocal soloists from the local university, thirty minutes away. He arranged for a small string orchestra comprised of professionals from the city. He rehearsed his volunteer church choir, beginning from the first choir rehearsal in September, until everyone knew the music from memory. The church organist loved the music, accompanying as usual for rehearsals. But he was really looking forward to getting a chance to sing for a change. Dante was excited. Dante was nervous. But Dante was prepared, or so he thought.
There was a dress rehearsal the Friday before that Sunday. Everything was going according to plan. The soprano soloist happened to be the teacher of one of the “daughters of the church,” Ginny*, and was especially thrilled her student would be singing in the choir. The small string orchestra was wonderful to work with and Dante was having a great time conducting. The organist was having a great time singing. And the choir was enjoying singing a great work with an orchestra.
The Saturday before the Sunday, everything began to go south. The baritone soloist called at lunch time to say his wife (the soprano) had lost her voice. He would still sing but there was NO WAY she could, even if her voice improved a little the next day. He suggested having Ginny sing, since she had studied the soprano solo sections with her teacher (the soprano soloist) during the fall. Dante arranged for Ginny to be coached by the baritone that afternoon and trusted all would be well.
Saturday night, it began to snow. It snowed all night and portions of the interstate from the city were closed. Dante began to get phone messages and texts early that morning from players in the string orchestra telling him it was impossible for them to get there that morning. All except two violins, a viola and ‘cello contacted him. He didn’t realize that until he got to church. Since Dante was fairly confident his organist would be able to play, he didn’t think to check who had contacted him and who didn’t.
Dante arrived early at the church to chaos, with the Sexton snowplowing the parking lot and the Pastor worrying about low turnout for worship. The organist arrived soon after, fully resigned to playing instead of singing. Then, a string quartet walked in and no, this is not the punch line from a joke. The two violins, viola and ‘cello were part of the string orchestra Dante had hired and had a gig as a quartet in the area Saturday night. They decided to spend the night instead of going back when the weather got bad. The choir straggled in, mostly on time for their Call, despite the weather. Dante had to do some fancy rearranging before the service began but took a deep breath and dived in.
- The weather outside was frightful.
- Substitute soprano soloist did a beautiful job.
- String quartet instead of a small string orchestra.
- Choir knew the work, backwards and forwards, and sang well.
- Organist got to sing.
- Pews were filled.
- The family who donated the monetary legacy in their mother’s name was moved to tears at how beautiful and special it was. They are thinking about donating more money to the music program.
The verdict: the best musical performance Dante had ever been a part of, snow or no snow. There isn’t one thing he would change. Well, there is one thing he would do differently. Next time, it’s an Easter cantata when there is NO chance of snow!