Monday, May 18, 2009

Huzzah Again, from the Happy Alto

As promised, here is the letter that I wrote for Professor Huszti's book.  I hope that one day I can read the letters that my friends wrote, too.  (The book wasn't available yesterday at the Open House).


After 9 years of playing the violin, I decided that I wanted to sing in the choir when I got to college in 1985.  I had no audition piece, but somebody told me to just go in, sing "My Country 'Tis of Thee", and let the director test my range.  There he was, the Man himself, Jo Huszti. Oh, mind you, I had no idea that if I had been a voice major, I should have been terrified of him.  I was frightened enough just being a Freshman.  He was very pleasant to me, though, and told me that I was a soprano.  During our chat, I told him that I wanted to be able to sight-sing.  I knew how to sight read quite well as an instrumentalist, but I didn't really know how to do that with my voice.  He told me that he would place me as an Alto, and that would help me reach my goal.  (I don't know, maybe he just needed more altos.  Whatever).  Soon, I was singing in the Freshman Choir as an Alto, and loving every moment of it.  Being a servant at Madrigal Dinner was quite the experience: seat people, serve food in waves, don't drop the Leg of Fowle!, serve Wassail, sing about wassail, serve food, sing for the Court and their guests, serve that figgy pudding, don't let the flame touch your costume!  I remember hearing Jo talking to the Court one evening, and he was not pleased.  I remember being happy that I was not part of that group being lectured.
Well, of course, my time would come.  Times to be lectured, times to be not only an Alto, but also a Soprano, a Tenor, whatever voice Jo needed at the time. Yeah, sometimes a Bass.  Part of me felt like I had Multiple Voice Disorder, but the other part of me felt proud that he trusted me on those parts.  He gave me the confidence to sing whatever voice part was necessary, and oh, yes, I could sight sing like nobody's business.  Thanks for that, Jo.  I'm now able to walk into church 30 minutes before Mass, learn a song, and sing it solo in that same Mass, and actually be confident about it.  One of my fellow cantors asked me how I could do that.  I told her that it was partly due to the orchestra background, and partly because my director told me to be an Alto one day.
Ah, yes, I loved being an Alto.  On our trip to Debrecen in 1987, I was part of the Happy Alto trio with Shannon Hartigan (now Villanueva) and Kristina Engel.  We had already bonded before that tour, singing "Old McDonald Had A Farm" in pseudo-sign language at our choir retreat, but we bonded even more during our first choir tour.  That tour made me appreciate being an American.  There we were, young adults in Hungary, celebrating our Independence Day by singing patriotic songs on the bus after a competition.  We all wished that we could see fireworks, but Jo still had us feeling like a family because we were all together, our own big family, staying in a Hungarian orphanage and learning more than we ever would have about the beautiful country.  I have such fond memories of Hungary that whenever anyone asks me to list my favorite places in the world, Budapest is in the top 5.
The choir rehearsals helped us bond more than anything.  I had no idea when I joined the choir that I'd be in some kind of improv acting class at the same time.  Whenever I hear the song "Nothing" from "A Chorus Line," I grin widely, thinking of all the different types of movement Jo would have us do in order to feel the music.  Passing the football from one side of the choir to another, acting like whatever animals we were singing about (don't get me started on The Frog Moved Slowly), and choreographing "Come Sweet Death" were experiences that I don't think other choirs have.  Am I right?  Do ALL choirs stand and gently sway, pretending to be Paper Reeds by the brook?  That was my favorite, by the way.
As time passed, and I moved on from Mad Din Servant to Court Member to Princess to Queen(!) to Knight of Christmas, the bonds continued.  I joined California Chamber Singers because I had the need to keep singing fantastic music with great musicians.  My favorite tour as a CCS member was Spain.  We had a lot of fun on that tour, this time sleeping in a monastery.  Yeah, we got yelled at.  Let's just say that my tolerance for wine was really high after I got back from that trip. Oh, and I'm *still* embarrassed that I fell down during the "Frog Went -a- Courtin'" dance in the Basque country.  Ed, really.  You could have WARNED me before flipping me onto my butt!  (No, there was no wine involved in that incident).  I fault Jo for thinking that I could do that dance in cowboy boots, though.
Most of all, I credit Jo for fostering my love of music.  Silly as those improv movements were at the time, they helped me understand what it was to feel music through my whole body.  The interpretations that he shared helped me understand the music logically, too.  The physical and the mental understanding were nothing compared to the emotion I felt.  As many times as I sing the Thompson "Alleluia," I still feel the love for God in my heart, and the praise that I sing in His name.  That song is one of my favorite pieces ever.  Just two words, but with every emotion that can be sung.  And of course, the final word, "Amen," sung by none other than the Altos.  It's no wonder that whenever I hear it or sing it now, I think of us singing that song in Debrecen, holding hands with each other, wearing those cowboy outfits.  We were ONE that day.  It was incredible.
One day, when I was finishing up my Master's degree in Clinical Psychology, I realized that I had to come to a decision about my life.  I needed to either continue on my path as a psychotherapist, or continue singing.  There wasn't a way to have both and also have a steady income, because I was supporting myself with my day job.  I prayed for guidance.  Three phone calls happened that week, all of them asking me to sing in some capacity either in a choir or in a band or whatever.  Jo was one of those callers.  I decided to keep singing, and have never regretted my decision for a moment. 
Thanks, Jo, for that call.  Thank you for making me a Happy Alto.  And thank you, most of all, for your friendship, your kindness, and the love for music that you have passed on to me and many, many others.  Congratulations on your 50th year!  Alleluia, indeed.  Oh, and AMEN.
Duh, Sherry.  The trip to Debrecen was in 1988.  The Altos are the last ones singing "Alleluia," not "Amen."  But it's still holds the same meaning to me. :)  I did get it right on the quiz that day, though, when I said that without Jo's inspiration, I wouldn't really know the meaning of "Alleluia." 

 Love ya, Bela. :)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your choir experience. What an amazing time in your life and what an amazing teacher. Your letter brought tears to my eyes.