Hallelujah it rsquo s over

Musical reunion at mall food court turns out tobe a blast

GUILDERLAND — “Hey Jo? The rehearsal for the Hallelujah is tonight at Saint Rose from 7 to 8...I just wanted to let you know, if you wanted to come.”

That was the message that spread across the Capital Region by phone and e-mail last week, as singers from at least four counties got word of a stealth performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus from the Messiah on Sunday at the Crossgates Mall food court.

My friend called me Thursday and said I had to go.

Really? I thought. Spontaneous classical singing?

If I were scrabbling through a mall on the last weekend before Christmas with my kids in tow and in a stroller, I doubt if I’d want to be waylaid by singers singing a good deed. For that matter, I didn’t want to be dragging anyone through a mall the weekend before Christmas. I finished my shopping, and wrapping, well beforehand for a reason.

My friend was persistent. She was also a good sport, and she’d schlepped her way from Troy to Catskill recently to hear me sing, so I owed her some friend points. I’d missed her last event, and I hadn’t seen her yet for the holidays. I looked at my empty calendar — empty! What a feat! — and threw the kids in the car. 

 Luckily, I’d found my Messiah CD while digging through Christmas music two days before. I hadn’t made it to rehearsal, and I hadn’t sung Messiah for at least six years. My voice wasn’t in bad shape since I’d just finished a show, so I managed a quick warm-up with the CD in the car. The kids didn’t notice over the noise of their hand-held electronic games.

I brought my score, just in case I felt like using it. Scores, according to my friend who was at the rehearsal, were forbidden. The way I saw it, if shoppers were going to crowd a food court, no one was going to see or care about an open book propped up on my table.

I didn’t get to use it, anyway. I was too busy chatting with old friends to dig it out.

Old friends? It was a musical reunion — a musical convention. The food court was mobbed, but few were eating. Singers sat at every table, and crowded around until the food court was standing room only. I met one friend from Upstage Productions in Columbia County.

“Oh, you’re here, too! I should have known you would be. What part are you singing?” Christine was looking for another alto to join her group of four singers.

“I’m so glad to see you here! What part are you singing? We can sing together!” Lu has a beautiful, operatic soprano voice. I love singing with her. I promised to come back if I couldn’t find my friend who’d invited me.

Dorothea Pfleiderer, an organist from Voorheesville, was there, but not performing. “I came to listen,” she said. She said there was a good-sized Voorheesville contingent in the crowd.

I made my way past a security guard to find a keyboard being set up near the music store. A small crew was taping electrical wires down in a way that looked safe and premeditated. I had wondered if the organizers had permission, and if the singers would need to screech over canned music blaring from mall speakers. They did have permission, and we didn’t have to screech.

Finally! There was Sunanda, my friend from the Russell Sage Consortium Choir, waving me over. I hadn’t seen her among all the other people waving to their friends. She was near a singer she’d brought, and friends of the singer whom she didn’t know. A photocopied score lay on the nearest table.

Sunanda knew what was supposed to happen, but I didn’t know until two  days later when I belatedly checked my e-mail; a soprano soloist was supposed to sing the first few measures. A tenor was supposed to answer her. After so many bars, the room was supposed to erupt in song.

What really happened?

The keyboardist lulled the few unsuspecting diners in the crowd into a false sense of normalcy with a couple of Christmas songs. The volume was so low on the keyboard that I doubt if anyone five tables away knew she was playing. I was right behind her, and could barely hear it.

When she started the Hallelujah chorus, I hesitated; I just couldn’t see the score near me well enough, and I couldn’t hear the music. I knew I could jump in with whoever led. No one did, except for a few voices far, far across the court.

I thought we’d missed an entrance en masse, and I started to worry. I didn’t hear a solo, just the mash of brave singers who seemed to be off a bar or two.

Soon, the room was in full song, doing an enthusiastic rendition of the famous chorus, although not entirely at the same time. Our side of the court may have finished first.  

It wasn’t perfect, and I hadn’t wanted to go, but it was a blast! When the chorus ended, the food court erupted in cheers. Friends hugged and congratulated one another, and promised to sing together soon.

Then it was over. Singers dispersed to buy the food they’d walked past earlier and the iPods they’d promised the kids. My family headed to the candy store, the compromise I’d agreed on when I brought the kids to the mall.

We came, and we spent. Did I feel like a cog in the mall’s community-event machinery? You betcha, but that didn’t matter. We sang beautiful music meant to glorify God, and the excitement of the anonymous performance was great fun.

“In the end, it was a good presentation,” my friend said, serious because she knew how it was planned. She said that 22 singers attended the single rehearsal, but that 85 were expected. I think there were more than that. I asked if the goal were to have a large number of singers, or a good show.

“The aim was for a lot of people to come together, and to have a good show,” she said.

“Wow, what else can I say but thanks to everyone that made the performance a special moment for many people at Crossgates Mall, and for me,” said Douglas Bottner, who sings with the Mendelssohn group, in a final e-mail sent out, and forwarded, to all singers. “The reviews are in and they are great.”

It was a great experience, more for the fun of meeting fellow conspiratorial singers than for the singing, itself. My family was happy to see friends, again, and to munch on our Christmas candy.

If spontaneity becomes trendy, though, I’ll have to avoid my e-mail accounts next year.

Hallelujah! It’s over.

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