Davies Through a Chorister's Eyes
The Davies Sing-Along is one of the highlights of singing with the San Francisco Girls Chorus. It takes a lot of work and time to put the concert together. We start with small-scale sight-singing with our Chorus School levels, going all the way to large joint rehearsals containing all of the Chorus School students and the concert ensemble—nearly 300 singers! We start learning our music months before the concert.
We practice it diligently and repeatedly until we know the music very well, extremely well, so much so that we get tired of going over the same trouble spots in the music even though we know it will lead to a beautiful sound.
There are so many parts of singing at Davies that I look forward to. We have lots of chorus traditions around singing in this concert, such as each Chorus School level getting the chance to sing a special piece on its own. We also have traditional songs that I look forward all year to singing. “The First Nowell” is one of my favorites because both the music and words of the first verse remind me of angels. This year, I sang in my sixth Davies concert. But this is the eighth Davies concert that I have attended because before I joined the Chorus, my older sister, Ella, was singing in it. (She’s now in the concert ensemble and I am in Level IV of the Chorus School). The first time I went to to the Davies Sing-Along, I remember being in the audience and wanting to be in the Chorus so that I could sing with my sister. I also remember being confused about when to clap during the concert. I always wanted to be the first one to start clapping! Now I know when to clap (you wait until the conductor puts her hands down), but I can’t clap because I am on stage performing!
Even though some things are the same every year, we change other parts of the program. This year there were some things that we had never done before. For instance, at the beginning of the concert, the Level IV choristers were paired up with the littlest choristers in Level I and the Level III choristers were paired up with the Level II choristers to enter through the audience and sing. Being buddies with Level I choristers was fun because we got to bond with them during rehearsals. My Level I buddy told me that she was a little nervous because she had seen how many seats there were in Davies. I told her that it was easier once you get out on the stage because you get lost in the music and then you don’t really notice how many people there are. That made her feel better.
Another thing that was different this year was that we got to meet Mr. Kirke Mechem, the composer of “Seven Joys of Christmas,” one of the pieces the entire Chorus sang together in the concert. We sang the song for him during one rehearsal and he gave us some advice on how to sing it. He told us how fast it should go and where some of the staccatos should be to accent certain notes. He was very excited to share his piece with us. It was really inspiring to meet him. He has arranged and composed so many pieces of music, including operas, holiday carols, and other music for choruses. Someday I would like to compose music of my own. Writing your own music must be kind of thrilling because you get to hear people sing and play what you have created, although I know how difficult it is to take music from your head and put it down on paper. I was very impressed when I found out that Mr. Mechem had arranged all of the songs in “Seven Joys of Christmas” by himself. And he told us that he had created the collection in just seven days, arranging one song per day.
This year we also had the honor of singing with Deborah Voigt. She had one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard! She was also very kind. During rehearsal and as she was getting ready to sing, she kept making sure that she wasn’t blocking the girls behind her from seeing the conductor. I think that sometimes people have the stereotypical view that a famous opera star might not be very nice and might only think of themselves. But she wasn’t like that whatsoever!
After our rehearsal, I got to talk to Ms. Voigt and she likes working with young singers because it reminds her of when she was an understudy. I found out that her very first opera role was the Countess from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Ms. Voigt has sung all over the Earth. She told me that one of her favorite places to sing was Honolulu because “it is interesting to go to places where the culture is so different.”
Another fascinating thing is that just like us choristers, Ms. Voigt sometimes gets nervous before going on stage. But she said that being nervous is a good thing, that it helps make a performance 'live'. When Ms. Voigt walks on stage, she told me that she thinks of the starting dynamic, the first words to the next song, and where she's supposed to be. She also told me that when she steps on stage, she tries to walk with energy in her body and a smile on her face. She hopes that by doing this she will create a connection with the audience. She tries not to worry about making mistakes, because worry keeps her from being in the present. Instead, she concentrates on doing the best she can possibly do right that second. This is the same thing that we are told as choristers! We try to do the same thing that opera stars do!
In the concert, Ms. Voigt’s beautiful dress coordinated with one of the songs, “The Christmas Song.” When she sang the part about reindeer flying, she raised her hands above her head and her dress made it look like she had wings. Seeing her perform made me realize how much expression is needed to convey the meaning of a song. You can use your face, arms, voice, choreography, and even your clothes to show what a song is about.
At the end of the Davies concert, I felt sad that the concert was over. But the best part is that I know I will be able to do it again next year! I can’t wait to see what changes we will make to the next Davies concert. I hope we get to sing “The First Nowell” again. And I hope we get to sing with someone as wonderful as Deborah Voigt too! I also look forward to helping younger choristers not be so nervous at Davies. I will tell them to have fun!
Josephine Nelson, age 12 San Francisco Girls Chorus School, Level IV