Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Learning Mozart

The Choral Society of Greensboro is singing Mozart's Great Mass in C minor for its fall concert. I have been a member of the Choral Society since 1999 and have been challenged by a number of the works we have sung but nothing to date has been as breathtaking difficult as this Mozart work. I bought a recording of the Mass to see what we're up against. The recording by The Academy of of St Martin in the Fields featuring Kiri Te Kanawa as the soprano soloist is incredibly beautiful and unbeliveably complicated: double choruses, run after run, fugues within fugues. Eek.

We've performed Mozart before but this piece is frustrating even the Choral Society's most seasoned members (and we've got a bunch of them). Of course, we all know that by the time the concert rolls around our director, Bill Young, will have drilled it into our heads and it will be great. Take last night for example.

We finally started tackling what I think is the most difficult section of the work, the "Osanna." This section combines all the aforementioned challenges into one minute-and-a-half-long sonic extravaganza. Bill started by spliting us up into the two choruses and sending one chorus down the hall to a separate room. We began learning it by sections; bass first, tenors next, altos and lastly the sopranos who spend a fair amout of their time running up and down in the stratosphere. We were instructed to ignore the words and "dah-dah" the notes. Luckily, the runs of the "Osanna" are somewhat more regular and predictable than in some of the other sections but the timing is another story (think eight stanzas of music each coming it at different times). We worked on this for almost a half-hour and then the other chorus joined us and we tried putting it all together. The sounds we made were nothing like the "Osanna" I've been listening to on my iPod. At least, as Bill pointed out, we wouldn't be quite as scared of the section the next time we saw it.

He's right, of course, because, while I'm nowhere near comfortable yet with the "Gloria", "Credo" or "Kyrie they at least look familiar when we turn to them. Like the good drill-master he is, Bill led us through those sections again last night.

There will come a time in November (hopefully on or before November 5th) when all this will come together and I'll have this work firmly in my head. Then we can look forward to singing Beethoven's 9th Symphony with the Greensboro Symphony again this spring (which will seem like child's play after Mozart.)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Resonate with me

My GP got tired of hearing me whine about my back and my shoulder (and the ineffectual efforts of my chiropractor) and decided that I needed an MRI to determine, once and for all, whether all this pain had some organic cause. I've known this doc for years and consider him to be a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy; not inclined to pad his income with kickbacks from referrals. After my last office visit he told me he was going to set me up with an MRI and an orthopaedic guy he knew and trusted. I was kind of surprised to get a call from his office the very next day - and, even more surprising (damn!) they got me worked into the MRI schedule over at Wesley Long on Friday.

I've never had an MRI scan before. My younger son had one a couple of years ago after a football injury and he described it as "kind of loud" but otherwise no big whoop. Of course, in the interim, I was watching "House" on TV and poor old L. L. Cool J was getting an MRI and he screamed bloody murder through the whole thing (something about metal in the ink of his jailhouse tattoos getting sucked out of his skin). Wait! What about my jailhouse tattoos? Oh, that's right, I don't have any tattoos, jailhouse or otherwise. No piercings either.

The night before the MRI I got a call from Wesley Long asking me some questions about whether I'd had ever got any metal in my eyes or if I was claustrophobic. (No, to both). Did I know where they were? (Yes - or so I thought).

Actually, I didn't know where they are now. I knew where they were when my son was there but they moved into one of those nice new buildings on the campus of Wesley Long. I found them purely by accident.

So, I fill out all the paperwork (again asking me the same questions as the evening before and a whole lot more to boot), watched CNN on their TV in the lobby for a while and before too long the MRI tech came to get me. They gave me these cute little jammie bottoms to put on but said I could leave on my shirt and socks. I was worried about my wedding ring which won't come off without major and painful effort but they said I could leave that on too.

The room containing the MRI machine is pretty big (as is the MRI machine itself). The machine was already making some weird noises as I entered the room. One of the techs had me hop up on a platofrm and lie down. She gave me some earplugs to wear. "It gets kind of loud" she said. "Louder than it is right now?" I asked. ""Oh yes, MUCH louder," she replied. She exited the room assuring me that she would be talking to me throughout the procedure. The techs watch you through a big plate glass window while they monitor their computers and work the machine.

I suddenly felt like a torpedo being loaded into a torpedo tube (didn't they do that to James Bond in one of the movies?). It's a good damn thing I'm not (that) claustrophobic because there ain't much room to move once you're inside of one of those things. I wondered how REALLY BIG people fit into one. Once I got over the panic an anthropomorphized sausage must feel being stuffed into its casing, I noticed a little speaker over my head and heard the tech's voice telling me that the first pass would take about a minute. I steeled myself for the unknown - were they only fooling me? Would I soon be screaming in agony like L.L. did?

I can't really describe the noises this thing made at the beginning of each scan but they seemed to be coming from every directions: top, bottom, sides. I'm guessing that these first noises had something to do with calibration because in just a few minutes the noises started in earnest. It was like a pulsing buzz - kind of like a fire alarm with rhythm. I daydreamed through the first scan and pretty soon it was over. The next scan took about two minutes and this time the pulsing buzz was a different pitch and frequency. Hmmm. I started humming along with it creating melodies, harmonies and chromatic scales. The next scan featured two different notes (thirds, I believe) so I was humming old Genesis themes (before Phil Collins ruined the band) along with them. Every scan had different pitches and frequencies and I managed to amuse myself through the whole process. I wondered whether the techs could hear me or noticed I was tapping my feet to the rhythms. After about thirty minutes it was all over and they slid me out of the tube.

Techs, being techs and firmly under the thumb of doctors wouldn't tell me much about what they saw - "that disc is bulging a little bit and that might be what's causing your pain, OF COURSE, the doctor will be able to tell you more." With that I was dressed and out of there.

If you're not musically inclined (and basically nutty) you might find the MRI to be kind of tedious. In truth, had my session gone on much longer I'd have probably run out of themes to hum and might have started worrying about someone pushing the "launch" button and sending me headlong into oblivion. I also wondered how I would get out of the thing if the techs decided to go home early. Oh well, I'm an MRI pro now. All I have to worry about is if some doctor decides I need surgery. Maybe my chiropractor was doing me some good after all.