From Brahms to Brahms: Look How Far I’ve Come

ImageThese last few weeks have been filled with details.  It’s been hard to think much beyond the things I need to accomplish in the next hour.  I have had no clue what day of the week it has been since spring break, and because of insanely busy weekends, I have had the bizarre experience of looking forward to Mondays.  This past Sunday, Pastor Ian reminded us in his sermon to take time to look at the bigger picture.  I needed that reminder, and here’s my response:

As I reflect on my entire Yale experience, I can’t help but notice how it started and ended with Brahms.  In 2009, as my year of Lutheran Volunteer Corps wrapped up, I auditioned for the choral conducting program at Yale.  I had no clue if it was really what I wanted to do, nor did I know how to prepare.  But for some reason, I felt drawn to grad school, so in March 2009, I took a train up to New Haven for audition day.  It was one of the most stressful days of my life.  In addition to 8am dictation and 9:30pm conducting the best choir at Yale (yes, this is back when Schola sang for auditions), I also had a 4pm interview with Maggie and Jeff.  They asked me to do rhythmic, tonal, and atonal sight-singing, play a 4-part Bach chorale in open score (different clefs) at the piano, conduct a movement of Carmina Burana, and do score identification.  I had never really had to do score IDs before and found myself really faking my way through this part of the audition process.  They showed me a piece of music and asked me what it was or what I could tell them about it.  I said, “Well, it’s in German…” “Yesss…” they replied.  “It appears to be a Requiem text…” “Good…so?!?!  What is it??”  “No clue.”  Now, for any musicians out there, you’ll know how embarrassing this moment was.  It was Brahms’ Requiem – THE German Requiem, and one of the most famous pieces of choral repertoire.  But the sad thing is that I didn’t even know I should be embarrassed at the time.  When I called my parents to tell them about the audition, they scolded me: “What?!  You didn’t get the Brahms Requiem?!”  I was wait-listed for the program and never got an offer.  I thought long and hard about this and decided (with great encouragement from Maggie) to reapply a couple years later.  She suggested that, in the meantime, I find a music partner who can help brush me up on things I had learned in college but which were long forgotten.  (This was the start of Tom Paradise moving to DC – another chapter of my life.)  Ironically, between that Yale audition and my next one, I had the opportunity to sing the Brahms Requiem.  What a piece.

So even though I’ve been in this program since the fall of 2011, I have truly been working for it since 2009.  I set my sights on this goal and didn’t let go, and when I found out I was accepted in 2011, I prayed my new teachers had forgotten about the Brahms incident.  Now, in the final semester of my masters degree, I took a class on Brahms.  It only seemed appropriate to come full circle.  It just so happened to be one of the best classes I’ve ever taken, but boy did it work me to the end.  Yesterday was my Brahms final exam – my FINAL final.  Afterwards, I lied in the grass of cross campus and smiled.  I still have so much to learn, but for now, I get to be thankful that I’ve learned so much.  

Graduation is May 20.  This degree has perhaps not been the most important accomplishment of my life, but it has certainly been the biggest one.  Thank you to so many people for supporting me throughout these last two years.  I’m looking forward to reclaiming all of the parts of myself that have been set aside in order to focus on choral conducting alone.  One of those parts is writing!  More blog entries to come.

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2 thoughts on “From Brahms to Brahms: Look How Far I’ve Come

  1. Thanks for this great story. I started writing, “I’m so excited to hear what you’re doing next,” but that’s just selfish nonsense on my part. Sorry. Enjoy these last few weeks, and the days after that.

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