Candle procession. photograph (c) Katherine Brown
‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.’ … ‘which means, “God is with us.”’
The middle school does not have its own auditorium, so concerts are held at the high school. Tonight’s concert is chorus and orchestra. The auditorium is a cacophony of noise; talking, laughing. Students cavort; parents visit. Odd squeaks sound as one instrument is bowed, then another – individuals rehearsing the awkward bits, each of them alone, not yet in concert. Punctuating the chaos comes the tinkle of piano keys as the accompanist runs through the songs, adding a spritely rhythm to the random-patterned, rising-falling noise.
The chorus director gathers her brood onto the risers. There is some awkward stomping and giggling but no crashes. She sketches a movement with her hands, and the chorus begins to sing a scale – soft voices, vulnerable. On the other half of the stage, the orchestra director sets the beginning strings to tune; they scratch and squeak. The advanced orchestra waits, clustered in little groups, some kneeling backwards in their seats, chatting and laughing.
The concert begins with the chorus, continues with beginning strings. Then the advanced orchestra moves onto the stage.
The performers take their seats. They settle sheet music on the stands; they ready instruments. After a pause, a dark-haired girl — the first violinist – stands, tucks her violin under her chin, and draws her bow across its strings. A single note sings solitary. Is then joined by others, as bows are drawn across violins and cellos and a bass. The notes come in slightly different times and keys until the wavering dissonances are resolved and merge. The director enters, bows, lifts his baton, motions the music to begin.
I love that initiating note … the others that join…. The potential of all the music to come is held in that long-drawn not-quite-chorded note. There will be carols and dances and a concerto by Liszt. But first there is this note, offered up, fragile and tenuous and pregnant with possibility. As small and frail and potent as a baby born God-With-Us. A note begun sweet and solitary. A note rehearsed year after year, across seasons and generations, in different keys and rhythms, until all the instruments are added, and the dissonances drawn together, and the music swells in full power and one song.
Presence signed: God-with-us.
*originally written 2010