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  • I don't remember what led to Cory writing:

    "Palestrina: Missa papae marcelli
    Allegri: Miserere"

    in one of my 11th grade notebooks, or on a scrap of paper, or wherever it was written. I remember that I was sitting in the front of the auditorium, and there was a conversation about choir. I might have been complaining about how saccharine some of the pieces on the program that semester were and asked Cory (one year ahead of me, attended an advanced music program on weekends in the city) to recommend something to listen to. However they ended up being written down, I took them home, looked them up, and listened. Then came Tallis, and Monteverdi. Ockeghem. More Palestrina. It was like nothing I had ever heard before in choir, on my grandparents' classical records, or on the Sunday morning radio that my dad always turned on while he cooked.

    When I arrived at Oberlin I auditioned immediately for Collegium Musicum, the forty voice Renaissance choir. I didn't make it. I depended on my perfect pitch to sightread, and when an "A" that was many tones removed from A440 was given, I sputtered and gasped. I had been encouraged since ninth grade to sing in my high soprano voice with considerable vibrato, and Renaissance music demanded a straight tone which I had never brought out.

    It took me four semesters and four auditions before I made it in as an alto, singing straight and singing low, practically in the basement of my range. My voice adapted. Where it scraped against concrete in my first semester, it sunk its toes into the cool, damp earth in my second. I learned to crave that moment I never knew existed, where everyone stopped singing notes and at last began to sing the music.

    The pieces we sing are almost exclusively sacred, and I know some members of the choir sing them with all the devotion with which they were originally written and sung hundreds of years ago. Personally, spirituality and worship, the belief in holy miracles, confession of sins, prayers to a higher power -- these things have never been a part of me. But then we walk in, the forty (give or take, usually take, a few -- there's never enough tenors) of us, carrying nothing but our minds and our folders full of lines and dots, and that is enough to fill a cathedral with color and light. If that isn't a miracle, I don't know what else could qualify.
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