Sitting in a balcony seat in the intimate Scottish Rite theater in Oakland, I was texting a friend backstage who had been hired on for Makeup. She was telling me about how the cast and crew was doing a spiral dance back stage before curtain. As I pondered how they could make that work in the small back stage areas of a theater I could feel her energy and anticipation as the lights came up on an absolutely amazing set. A projected celtic knot lit up the back of the stage and from the first note I was hooked. Little did I know how that show would make such an impact on both my musical and personal life only a year later.
The show was the annual California Christmas Revels (www.calrevels.org). The theme that year, 2010, was Irish Emigrants at the turn of the 20th century. The music and ambiance of that specific show hit very close to home for me as a descendant of Irish emigrants myself and my deep seeded love of anything Celtic and the the strong ancestral memory of my Irish heritage. I sat in awed silence as the Chorus created delicious harmonies and took us on a journey to a time and place not of our own.
Right before intermission they performed a song "Lord of the Dance," which is something I now know is a favorite tradition of cast and audience a like. The lyrics and music were moving but what brought me to tears was how after the last verse was sung, the chorus came out into the audience and danced with us. We spiraled down the stairs and into the lobby in serpentine spirals and shared a joyous celebration of the Holiday season with total strangers! There were no boundaries of religions, race, or age. And it didn't matter if you could dance in time or sing on pitch. ALL were welcome and were part of the celebrations.
The music they sang brought tears to my eyes and I knew almost immediately that I belonged ON that stage...on the other side of the lights, not up on the balcony! And when the lights came up after the show ended, my husband and a couple of my best friends turned to me and said "You HAVE to audition for next year!" I was also threatened with butt-kicking if I didn't ;) So I joined the email list. And I watched my inbox diligently for the audition announcement and when that email came, I called the chorus manager immediately to set up an audition time. Apparently my excitement sounded through the phone line because she giggled and said that I was the first one to call so I had my choice of days.
I went into the audition nervous as always but ended up more relaxed than most auditions I've gone to. In retrospect I think it was because the Chorus for Revels is made up of volunteers who do this show for the love of it, not for a paycheck or for a nice reference on their resumes. And the vibe I got immediately was the sense of "community" that surrounds the Revels. I felt welcome there. Not like a competition of Diva attitudes that I normally encounter at an audition. I chose to sing an a capella version of my favorite Irish balad "She moved through the Faire" and apparently made an impact because they invited me to join this year's show! And this year's Revels was going to take place in the court of King Arthur! It wasn't a paying gig but I still wanted to be a part of it. It was a need that I can't quite explain. Yes, it'd give me experience, and give me a good notch on my resume, but it was so much more than that. It's a group of people who come together to share their love of music and to give the gift of music to as many people as they can. To enrich other's lives both audience and cast a like. It's a big family made up of musicians of all calibers.
Fast forward to October. Our first rehearsal was actually a full Saturday "retreat" where we gathered in circle to meet each other, get a rundown of the show and share potluck. By the way, that was the first potluck of MANY more to come. These people LOVE to eat and share their creations with each other let me tell you! And being a serious foodie myself, I felt totally in my element.
October and the first part of November was just once a week music rehearsals. Then mid November it started to get crazy. You see, this show is different form a lot of staged shows I've been in where the Chorus usually has a small "accented" part to the entire show. Here, the chorus IS the show. So rehearsals were long and tiring. But very worth it in the end. The music was challenging but not so much so that I had a hard time. Memorizing was a beast at first for me however, due to the old english and archaic French which is SO different from what I've been taught in both French class and vocal diction classes but I made it through and even managed to get a part in the quintet "Ah Comme C'est Chose Belle" sung a capella to a departing Sir Gawain.
We rehearsed...a LOT. We shared meals, gave back rubs, geeked out about music and books etc, took naps, ate some more and became a huge part of each other's "circle" in a few short weeks. Everyone there opened their arms to me and made me feel so much at home that I now want to Revel all the time! It would take a tome to tell the story of my experiences there and there is a lot you just can't explain to someone unless they are a part of it. One of the Reveler's told me to be prepared for post-revel let down. I kind of shrugged it off and laughed. But oh my god was she right! The day after the last performance, I felt a void. This HUGE thing that had become such a part of my life was suddenly done. I had no idea what to do with myself!
Luckily, I am not going to have to wait til next September to Revel more. I have decided to be a part of the California Revel's Solstice Singers who do gigs all year round. The group is a smaller subgroup of the big Christmas show but definitely not lacking in talent, camaraderie and love. The family that is California Revels, is now part of me and I can't tell you how grateful I am to now be part of that family!