There’s been a change of heart

This morning, I sang for an Easter service for the first time since I left St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in 2008. I’m used to singing at Episcopal and Christian Science churches, where the repertoire tends to be very traditional. And even though I’m not currently subscribing to any particular faith (does our Lady Queen of Brunch count? what about Zumbafarian?), I am a traditionalist in terms of worship music. I love to sing and listen to plainchant, Renaissance motets, Bach Cantatas, Mozart Masses, bombastic late Romantic Anglican anthems, and the like.

So when I was asked to sing at a Unity Church in Elm Grove, and to sing contemporary Christian music, I had second thoughts. And then I was told the fee was $100 and those went out the window.

When I received the music, I groaned. And then I sang it, and I shrieked. As a snobbish liberal elitist and conservatory trained opera singer, singing New Age-y rep like “Was it a morning like this?” and the over-the-top, constantly modulating and mawkish “They could not” set my teeth on edge. And “The Prayer” (sung by Josh Groban and Celine Dion) could not be cheesier and more “popera”-ish.

Two things happened to change my mind.

The first was that I had a rehearsal on Thursday with the keyboard player, bassist and the tenor soloist. The keyboard player was George Busateri, who has been a force in Milwaukee music for decades. The bass player was Duane Stuermer, who has played with Sweetbottom and other well-known bands in the area (and is Genesis guitarist Daryl Stuermer’s brother). The tenor I knew – Stuart Mitchell, with whom I’ve sung several times and who got me the gig in the first place. He’s a great singer and he knows the style so well, despite the fact that he is also an elitist opera singer. 🙂

They were fantastic. The rehearsal was a joy. I had a great time singing bad music. Who’da thunk it?

The second thing happened this morning, in the service itself. I saw how much this music meant to the congregation. It moved them, it touched them, it spoke to them. So I went with it. Even though it’s not my preferred choice of worship expression, I decided to play the role of a contemporary Christian performer and give them what they needed. Their response was so positive that it made me give more. And it wasn’t artificial or contrived. I was truly in the moment, expressing the meaning behind the text. It was a rush. I got a standing ovation after “They could not” (a song described by both Matt Bender and Kelsee York in their lessons as “the worst song I’ve ever heard”). People wept. I’ve never had the experience in a church setting before. At least not to that extent.

I don’t tell this to say, “Look how great I am – I made people cry – I got a standing ovation!” I haven’t changed my mind about contemporary Christian music. I’m not going to go join a praise band (shudder). But it was a huge discovery for me – and one that I think I can take to my future sacred and secular performances. 

When you give, you get. And then you give more. And then you get more. And it’s a joy. And that’s why we do what we do. And I hope I get to do more of it!

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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