Vocal heartstrings

Sunday evening I was at the 5th Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island in Maine to hear my beloved Renaissance Voices perform their spring concert. My best friend sat next to me as we listened to the a cappella voices perform songs by Stephen Foster, William Billings, Faith York, Amy Beach. When Leah noticed I was trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears, she reached over to hold my hand tight.

It’s been exactly a year since I was on Peaks and last made music with these dear people, the twenty or so sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses with whom I shared a decade — births, deaths, marriages and divorces, illnesses, injuries, success and all the messy rest of life — during Sunday evening rehearsals and seasonal performances.

On June 2nd, 2013, I took the ferry from Portland to Peaks with Bernie, Harold, Lisa, Jean, Sarah and Kirk, George and Cevia, and the rest of the choir. We got off on Peaks and walked the fifteen minutes up gentle hills, past yards decked with poppies, lupine, lilacs, and rhododendrons, swung around the last bend toward the rocky coastline, and then clambered up the stairs and across the wooden deck of the tidy, yellow clapboard civil war memorial.

As we had always done, we set up rows of folding chairs, changed into our black concert dress, then went through a quick warm-up and sang through the beginning of each piece. The double doors at the back of the room were open to the sea, and the salt air and surf accompanied our happy, relaxed preparations for the evening. When Harold, our conductor, was satisfied, rather than dismissing us to the wings to await the audience, he carefully pulled forward a chair and invited me to sit.

Then my friends gathered around and presented me with a basket full of presents. In 48 hours I would be moving to New York to continue my career as a voice actor and writer, and they had conspired for weeks to give me a loving, generous, heartfelt send-off. Lovely Cevia, my fellow alto, placed the basket in my lap, from which I pulled and opened each gift, wrapped in a page of sheet music with lyrics that perfectly, wittily complimented what was inside: an LL Bean hiking boot keychain; a NYC $80 metro card; a jug of Maine maple syrup; a Renaissance Voices T-shirt; a collection of dear George’s essays about island life; a card meaningfully signed by each singer.

The sweetest of all the gifts was a manila envelope decorated with the score for With a Little Help From My Friends, stuffed full of everyone’s personal contacts in New York, complete with explanations of how the person was connected to my choir compatriot — their friends, their family members, other musicians they held dear. Each person in the group was offering me an extension of themselves — the people who they trusted would soften my landing and ease my path in New York. Though I was moving away, they were showing me that I would not be moving on without them.

That early summer evening, before the concert audience arrived, as I was surrounded with people I cherished, I wept with gratitude, my heart at once breaking and full of joy. As each person hugged me in turn, the tears continued to flow. I was tearful throughout the concert. And when Harold announced before the encore that one of Renaissance Voices’ dear friends was leaving, but was always welcome to return home, I gave up and allowed myself to cry and sing shakily and wipe the tears from my cheeks and laugh, with Lisa on my left and Jean on my right tearing up, too.

As I sat in the audience Sunday evening, listening to the beautiful music my friends were creating together, many songs that I’d sung with them in years past and still knew note for note, I cried again, with an aching heart still so full of love and appreciation for the individual friendships I had made and for the collective experience we’d shared for so many years. There is nothing like making music with people you love, learning to blend your voice with theirs, to harmonize. I am so thankful to have had the gift of ten years in the company of these sweet friends, and to know that we’re connected still.

Harold’s trilogy of beautiful songs set to Shakespeare’s words was a magical, fitting end to a beautiful evening, with my favorite from Twelfth Night:

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear your true love’s coming,
      That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further pretty sweeting.
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting,
      Every wise man’s son doth know.
What is love, ’tis not hereafter,
Present mirth, hath present laughter:
      What’s to come, is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty:
      Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

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