I didn’t go to college right after high school in the traditional manner. I went later in life on a part-time basis, in and around marriage and kids. One of the electives I took in the fall of 2000 was an Intro to Choral Music class. I’ve always liked to sing, and here I could have fun and get better at it at the same time.
The Choral Music instructor was also director of the Burlington Community Choir, and entry into the class meant becoming a member of the choir. After practicing in class, the students would sing together with the choir. I sang alto. I’d never sung specifically by voice type before, so it was an interesting challenge. The group sang a variety of songs — jazz, spirituals, folk music, etc., and I thought we created some pretty darn good harmonies.
About halfway through the class, we received some stunning news: folk legend Judy Collins would be performing a Christmas concert at our local Flynn Theater, a 1,400 seat auditorium built in 1930, and would the choir be interested in singing backup for her? Are you kidding? Yes, please!
Apparently it wasn’t unusual for her to seek out local choirs to sing with her on stage, and we were more than happy to oblige. A few weeks’ rehearsals later, we were ready. Then we got the bad news. Judy Collins had to cancel her concert at the last minute because she’d come down with strep throat. We were so disappointed.
But then two weeks later, we had good news once again. The concert had been rescheduled for early February. (Whooping and hollering heard throughout the classroom here.) Out were most of the Christmas songs we’d learned, though. We received a new list of songs to rehearse, including one of her new (at the time) songs, Beyond the Sky, a beautiful piece she had written about following your dreams.
After another flurry of rehearsals, we were again ready to go. We ran a dress rehearsal with Ms. Collins’ music director at the theater on the afternoon of February 5th, then spent a nervous couple of hours trying to calm our jitters before the evening performance at 7:00.
As we lined up on the Flynn Theater stage to open the concert, I kept reminding myself to not look at the audience, just look over their heads. Focus on the sheet music and our choir director. I’d never performed on stage like this, and I’d certainly never performed before an audience of this size. Talk about nervous. The curtains swept back, revealing a packed house. Whoa. All those people…
The emcee introduced us, and they gave us a welcoming round of applause. Our choir director raised her arms and led us into our first song. Our voices filled the theater. It was wonderful! Once I started singing, my nervousness evaporated, as did the rest of the choir’s, too, judging by the smiles on all our faces. We sang three songs to open: two spirituals and a song that our choir director had written. Then we took our places in the back, and Judy Collins took the stage.
If you’ve ever heard Judy Collins sing — her pure, liquid, soprano is unforgettable. She sang some songs alone, and we joined her on others: Come Rejoice, Let It Snow, Amazing Grace, Beyond the Sky. The second half of the show belonged to Judy. We came back for the encore. I remember singing Cat’s in the Cradle, but I don’t recall the other songs we did. The show ended amidst thunderous applause. Someone gave Judy a bouquet of flowers, and Judy graciously thanked us and commended us on our performance.
What a night it was. Who would have thought that taking a college class could lead to something so special?
© Lori L. MacLaughlin and Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams, 2014. All rights reserved.
Lori – I’m so glad you decided to post this!! You did a terrific job of describing the sequential build-up and your emotional roller coaster. Judy Collings and Joan Baez are up there in my top 10 female soloist, and I find both of them and their songs very difficult to sing-along, so I listen with envy and admiration to their vocals. That you and your choir had such an opportunity to participate is truly one of those special moments.
Thanks, Sammy. It was a wonderful moment. What amazes me is how well and how effortlessly she still sings, even though she’s in her seventies.
That’s a pretty good story. It must’ve been one heck of a thrill to be able to work with someone you admire. That’s awesome!
It was definitely a thrill, and we were lucky to get the chance.
What a wonderful story, Lori! I remember when I was in the highschool band how intimidating it was being up on stage – I can only imagine how it would be if we had a guest like Judy. What a special moment, though, to make music together like that! Thanks for sharing.
P.S. I’m an alto, too. 🙂
It was pretty nerve-racking in the beginning, but once we got going we had so much fun. It was a fantastic experience.
Wow! I’ve always liked Judy Collins too*, so I’m super-impressed.
*Not least for giving Leonard Cohen, my all time favourite, an early break.
That’s interesting. I don’t know much about Leonard Cohen. I’ll have to look him up.
What a great experience that was for you! It’s one you’ll always remember!
Yes, it was one of those very special moments!