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My thank-you note to a happy chorister

There must be 150 choristers in the Mendelssohn Choir, whose splendid performance of Messiah we saw on Saturday night. From the mezzanine they looked like a great swath of massed black-clad figures—until they burst into song, and that’s when I noticed the soprano with the bobbing silver ponytail. She didn’t just sing; she practically danced to Handel’s celestial music. “Hey, that’s Debbie!” I thought.

The last time I’d seen Debbie Fleming, at least six years ago, she was in tights and a baggy T-shirt, or maybe nothing but a towel. Our paths used to cross at my former gym, where we often did our sit-ups on adjacent mats, chatting between sets about this and that. She told me that she sang professionally. She didn’t have to tell me that that even if she never got another gig, she would go on singing just to root herself in the world and celebrate all its brave, transitory beauties.

I remember a conversation we had just after 9/11, when most people were stunned almost to the point of silence. Debbie told me she was singing more than ever, filling every room of her house with the power of her own voice. I found myself wishing that I could sing, too. Even more, I wished I could listen to Debbie. The other night, I finally did.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in 40 years of more-or-less grownup life, it’s that people in my circle deserve to know when they’ve done something to delight me. So I Googled Debbie’s website, where I learned that she sings everything from jazz to country and performed with The Band in their early days (if I’d only known that in our workout-buddy period, I’d have probed for some colourful stories). She was thrilled to receive my thank-you e-mail. “I think I’ve sung Messiah over 150 times in the 35 years I’ve been in the choir, and I never tire of it,” she said.

We don’t hear much about the Debbies of the world—the supporting singers whose expertise, passion and sheer hard work help to make the soloists shine. Still, when most non-musicians think about Messiah, it’s those surging choruses, not the solos, that echo in our heads.

My own favourite is not the crowd-pleaser “Hallelujah” but the mighty and jubilant “Lift Up Your Heads O Ye Gates.” I have never believed in the King of Glory, but there are earthly moments when I feel touched by glory. So you can bet that I’ll be at Messiah, watching for Debbie, this time next year.

Update An anonymous reader writes: “I just read your latest entry today and when you wrote, ‘I have never believed in the King of Glory,’ I smiled and thought, ‘But Rona! He has always believed in you!‘”

Posted by Rona

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