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What the Hell Are We Doing?!

For the first time in weeks, I got out with Charley the dog this morning. We have a favorite walk in the woods about five minutes from our house. We both needed the exercise, and it’s usually a good way to focus at the start of the day.

I almost never bring my Airpods, but today I decided I’d catch up on a couple podcasts on our walk. A few minutes down the path, a friend messaged me noting that he had come across – how, I haven’t a clue! – a recording of a PMEA All-State Choir that I conducted back before the pandemic. He sent a couple nice comments, to which I responded with, “Hey! You like that? You should check this out! This is my real gig!”

I sent him a few videos from last summer in Wales, like this one…

While fishing around on that YouTube channel, I landed on the Lauridsen Nocturnes that we recorded while there was a typhoon blowing outside.

Walking the forest path surrounded by spring, and experiencing the Lauridsen – this time not as a participant, but as an observer seeking the meditative state that is the very essence of those pieces.

My eyes welled up… for the first time in a very long time.

Making music for a living is a dicey gig!

Most of us ended up here because of an experience like the one I had with the Lauridsen this morning. That moment when all the noise in our lives seems inconsequential as compared to the raw beauty of a Lauridsen progression of 9 and 13 chords that defy the pleasures of resolution. And as it happens, per capita of all the humans in the world, there are very “few of us” that actually speak the language well enough – that is, the language of choral geekdom – to get it!

What is remarkable about preparing a group like this for the World Choir Games is that we have an extraordinarily high percentage of people who get it.

Who want it.

Who yearn for it.

There is much controversy and banter in the profession related to choral competitions and the inherit perils of objectifying the art. I get it. Both sides. I really do. And as an inherently competitive person I know full well that I am susceptible to Gimmethattrophy Disease! You throw your soul into a project like this and you’d like to come home with tangible evidence that your hard work paid off. That the sacrifice was worth it. That you are collectively worthy of the ultimate group hug.

But the real prize, at least for me, was that moment on the trail today.

I was immediately transported back to that day in Hythe when exhaustion was rampant, nerves were raw, but we all felt a collective moment of reflection at the end of Soneto de la Noche.

I want all that I love to keep on living,

And you whom I loved and sang about above all things

To keep flowering into full bloom

As you study your scores and mentally prepare for rehearsal next weekend, I hope you will approach each score not as another hurdle to clear on the road to frenetic memorization, but instead, as a precious opportunity to share something truly profound in a room full of people who speak your language of deep profundity.

I am grateful for many things in my life, fully aware that there are no guarantees that the things that mean the very most to me/you/us won’t vanish in the blink of an eye. The is the very nature of the lived human experience.

But in this moment, as we prepare for what will most certainly be a circus of frenzy and emotions gone wild called the World Choir Games, I hope you will take pause to revel in the immense beauty of what we are doing together. And for that matter, what that means to each of the people you are doing this with.

When Carol asks about how I’m feeling about this project, my initial response is predictable…

“It’s a lot of music! A lot of memorization! And we won’t have the entire choir in the same room at the same time until California, at which point the hours will turn to minutes before we board a flight to take us half way around the world. Geez – I wish we had more time!”

But then I say, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had the privilege of working with a group of singers where the talent and the personal conviction of each and every singer was at this level. I’m pretty sure this is the finest choir I will have worked with during my entire career. And I have no delusions that any subsequent effort to assemble an group of humans like this will have this much potential again.” (Indeed, there are no guarantees in this life.)


Potential to win a prize? Absolutely. But objectify all you wish – the business of judging choir contests is insanely subjective. Measuring my sense of accomplishment based on the composite criteria and scores of a “panel of esteemed judges” is a lost cause in that regard right from the get go.

But the moments that await us in rehearsal? Or that thing that happens sometimes during a concert where a momentary charge makes it way through the ensemble. Or that silent gasp at the release of a phrase that in turn, leaves everyone breathless.

That… is the prize.

I am most grateful for that moment in the woods this morning. I needed a good cry. And if I’m being honest, I had sort of… forgotten… why the hell are we doing this.

I can hardly wait to do this with all of you, knowing that each of our hearts will be a bit fuller when we’re done than when we began. And each of us will have another story to tell to anyone who gets it. A continuum from everything that has brought each of us to this moment so we can pay that forward for the rest of our lives.

I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for that.



6 thoughts on “What the Hell Are We Doing?!”

  1. I know I am not part of this amazing experience, but my heart and love will go with you all on this physical and artistic journey. The piece you wrote this morning? THAT is why I sing with Schola Cantorum – to share in even a little of that joy. Travel safely – all of you. And, as my mother always says, “Sing Pretty”.

    1. Thanks Helen. I know you’ll be there in spirit, and your unflagging passion and support means the world to SO many!

  2. Sometimes people (including family) will ask, “why do you play for choirs?” You all are the reason I keep coming back. A community of like-minded, passionate people who love what I do just as much as I do: to connect with others through music and to FEEL. I could never repay the joy and inspiration each of you give me as fellow humans, and the joy I feel by connecting with each other through music. Thank you,, Paul for giving me such life changing and life affirming opportunities like this one. I love this musical journey and I’m so happy to do it with you all. Let’s do this thing!!

  3. I’m honored every single day I’ve had the chance to work on this music and think of the people I’m creating it with. Thank YOU for putting this together. .25

  4. Jeez Dr. Head! It’s so good to hear that you had this clarifying moment—I’ve honestly had one too this week. I’m getting super excited! Yay 🙂

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