Monday, June 4, 2012

Day of Thunder, Day of Calm

On Friday, we experienced one of those wild weather days we have around here every once in a while in which the weather forecasters go on the air constantly with radar scans showing intense rainfall and "rotation" within storm cells, meaning a tornado might be imminent. The radio blares that obnoxious sounding tone to announce a forthcoming "special weather statement," which in this case was a tornado warning for a particular area, with instructions to seek cover immediately. No matter how many times I hear such an announcement, it gets my attention but good.

We must have had about twenty or so weather statements Friday afternoon into early Friday night. We missed the worst of the severe weather, although we did get quite a bit of rain. A complicating factor was the Friday evening was the scheduled performance of the last concert of the concert year for the Manassas Chorale, a group I sing with and that Becky directs. The Chorale was singing the Mozart Requiem for the first part of the concert, while the second half featured a forty-voice children's "honor chorus," who joined us on two songs and sang one on their own.

We are somewhat accustomed to having Christmas concerts postponed because of snow, but I don't think we've ever had one threatened by severe ongoing weather. Mercifully, we were able to get the concert in, and I think it went very well.

Mozart's Requiem, the last piece he started and died before its completion (it was likely finished by his student Sussmayer), is hard. It uses the Latin (and Greek) text of the requiem mass and is musically challenging. I had done it a few years ago, but had to learn it all over again. It came back to me in the three months we worked on it, and I gained a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the piece.

Becky had put together an orchestra for the occasion, and they played superbly, as usual. I told one of the strings players that they should just play and we would all listen. By all accounts, the vocals and the instruments were matched in quality. And we had four superb soloists to join us.

The second half, the Chorale did Dan Gawthrop's "Sing Me to Heaven," a lovely and meaningful a capella piece and then was joined by the children's chorus for "What a Wonderful World." I should say that these young students, recommended by their elementary music teachers, had only three rehearsals and did their songs from memory. They were marvelous and charming. They did a crowd-pleaser by themselves, "Who Says I Can't Read Music?" and then were joined by the Chorale for the closer, Greg Gilpin's "Why We Sing." This song is sometimes hard for the singers to get through because of its sentiments and beauty.

Talking with people who came to the concert afterward in the lobby, many of them said they were glad they braved the storm. I was, too. The Mozart was a challenge, and the songs of the second half were gentle and beautiful. It was a nice closing to a day of thunder.

The day of calm came the next day, Saturday, as all the storms passed and we awakened to a glorious sunny, cool day with low humidity. It was as if the air had been scrubbed free of all impurities.

The local writer's group I am a part of, Write by the Rails, was having a table (several tables, actually) at the Manassas Railway Festival, held the first Saturday of June for a number of years to celebrate railroads and the heritage of Manassas as a railroad town from the beginning. Last year over 30,000 people from states as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina came to the Fest, which features all things related to railroads including vendors and excursion trips to Clifton and back on the commuter rail, Virginia Railway Express. The atmosphere was that of a street fair, with streets closed to traffic and people of all ages thronging the venues. An outdoor stage about half a block away from the writers' table featured country rock music well done for that style.

I have not said much in Biscuit City about the Write by the Rails group, but I should say that the writers in the group are some of the most talented, kindest, helpful, supportive people I have ever met. We represent all ages and produce all kinds of writing from non-fiction newspaper pieces to novels to memoirs to fantasy to poetry. On this Saturday, six or seven of us sat at our tables not only greeting the public and trying to get our group's name out there, but also selling books and talking about a variety of subjects among ourselves, both on and off the subject of writing. The types of writing represented today were novel, memoir, science fiction (alternative universe), children's, poetry, newspaper column and blog (ahem).

The members of Write by the Rails meet to trade ideas and share readings and support each other on Facebook (where the group had its genesis) and by attending each other's book talks and book signings. They are  involved in a number of community activities and creative projects, including an anthology of members' writings due out this November. They are people I am proud to know not only as writers but as decent and caring human beings. May our tribe increase!

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