now

YNYC has a concert tomorrow night in Brooklyn - it’s a particularly exciting venture, as both our Mixed and Women’s Ensembles are joining forces to bring some important, new music to life.

The concert is called For Now, and it is one of the more ambitious projects I’ve ever come up with. It also promises to be one of the more timely ventures out there, as it has challenged our members (and myself), and will challenge audience members tomorrow night, to abandon the noise of the world and live in the noise of humanity, even for just an hour and a half.

Below is a revised mash-up of some thoughts I shared with my YNYC family earlier today, as well as my own program notes for the concert. I sense they might be of comfort to some of you out there.

These past few weeks have often found me at the organ bench at St. Paul's late at night, playing through hymns and our rep and the like to escape the stresses of moving. I was reading through a Purcell piece appropriate for funerals from my iPad when news of the mosque shootings in New Zealand flashed across the screen. Sitting in a house of faith, as a person of faith, imagining the magnitude of such a violent violation of that safe space was overwhelming, so I turned the organ off and just sat there. 

I looked down from the loft to the spots we'll be singing from tomorrow night. Regardless of your views on religion, we can all agree that music is a form of faith that's brought all of us together. I started to think about the gift of singing, and how frightening that gift can be, especially for we who are in the earlier phases of our adult lives.

This e.e. cummings text, that the Women's Ensemble gets to sing in birdsong then hit me like a ton of bricks:

humble one(gifted with

illimitable joy)
bird sings love's every truth

beyond all since and why


asking no favor but

(while down come blundering
proud hugenesses of hate

sometimes called world)to sing

—-

One of music’s greater lessons that’s becoming more and more clear to me each day is: sing. Just sing, and let that be enough. Just sing, in spite of the massacres and politics and blundering proud hugenesses of hate. Just sing, and put any rhythmic and intonation and dynamic and, ultimately, yourself aside. 

I think we actively avoid leaning into simplicity because it puts us firmly in the ‘now’. 'Now' is a messy time. It's when all things are created, when life is actually lived, and when all things come to an end. A good majority of our time is spent trying to escape the here and now, which is incredibly ironic when you think about it, right? The greatest gift we've been given, the beautiful and messy and terrifying and tremendous present moment, is the one we waste the most.

I'm a professional musician in my late 20s living and working in New York City, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I waste my ‘now’ all the time in all of my millennial glory. I’ve found myself living in the past during major performances, and thinking about future ventures during important personal events - I imagine you’ve found yourself in similar situations.

Tomorrow night, over 100 gifted musicians (and this humbled conductor) will create ‘now’. Choral music requires us to fully set ourselves in the present, to recognize that simple gift life has given us - to sing. 

Just sing, and let that be enough.

Alex Canovas