By Alicia Packer
At the end of a taxing day, a music major finds a reason to rejoice.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This essay won third place in the 2005 BYU Magazine student essay contest.
A Thursday in December 2003 was one of those days when classes, work, homework, and extra things to do and places to go seemed to gang up on me—I was emotionally frazzled, physically drained, and anxious for the day to end. My schedule was jammed from morning to night, and throughout work and classes my sleep-deprived mind mulled over my recent decision to major in music education: Was my love of music worth giving up other academic interests and spending hours upon hours in the Harris Fine Arts Center? Was I really devoted enough to music to sit in class picking apart the pitches of a major-minor 7th chord or endlessly tapping a tuning fork? My environment and time were saturated with music—a saxophone crooning in the stairwell, violins creaking in the practice rooms, daily Women’s Chorus rehearsals—but it was devoid of the fulfillment I had experienced before I became a music major. I spent the day wondering if my immersion in the School of Music had destroyed my enjoyment of music.
The end of the excruciatingly long day was finally in sight. I took the stairs two at a time after my last class and arrived panting in the de Jong Concert Hall for the Celebration of Christmas dress rehearsal. The orchestra was practicing on stage, and the hall was packed with singers. I found my fellow Women’s Chorus altos—we were stuffed into a dark space at the back of one aisle, facing the stage. Backpacks and coats littered the seats, and hundreds of choir members chatted onstage and in the opposite aisle. The whole raucous mess reminded me of my state of mind. I was stressed-out. I was hungry. The demands of the music program were wearing my devotion to music thin.
As I complained about my day to a friend, the orchestra conductor hollered at the choirs to be quiet and get ready to sing. The combined choirs and orchestra would be performing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” The dress rehearsal was our first time combining the singing and the orchestral accompaniment. I had been excited to sing that beloved anthem with full orchestra, but in my cynical mood the prospect that night seemed cliché and contrived. I didn’t know the alto part very well, but we were allowed to hold music. Rustling paper replaced the chatter as singers got out their scores. I searched for mine, but couldn’t find it. I panicked as everyone else in the hall awaited the signal to sing.
A moment of anticipatory stillness, then the conductor gave the cue. As the choirs began to sing over the strings, I started to cry.
A friend turned to me in surprise and whispered, “Alicia, what is wrong?”
I whimpered, “I can’t sing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ I don’t know how.”
She chuckled and urged me to “just sing.” In a quavery voice, I joined the sopranos on the melody: “Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. . . . King of kings, and Lord of lords.” By the last sustained shout of praise, I was singing full voice with my friends. “Hallelujah!”
All the stress and worry of the day melted away in the fervent chorus of glory to God. A day’s worth of hasty half-prayers in restroom stalls could not compare to the reverent adoration that filled me in the de Jong.
God reigned when Handel penned the music that accompanied those lines nearly three centuries ago, and he still did that December day amidst my frustrations, the ridiculous tap tap tapping of the tuning forks, and echoes from the music practice rooms. What a poignant reminder that music is much more than a conglomeration of major-minor 7th chords and endless do-re-mis. Handel showed me how music can glorify God and soothe the soul. Like Handel, I wanted to be an artist and a disciple. I resolved to keep singing.
Alicia Packer is a senior majoring in music education from Gilbert, Ariz.