A solemn mass

I recall, as a young man of 16, playing Bass Violin with the Oregon East Symphony in Pendleton. One of the concerts for the season featured only one work: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass). His last symphonic work, written after the ninth symphony, it takes a full 80 minutes to play and calls for a lot of personnel.

I’ll never forget the long rehearsals, the continuous sawing away and the turning of page after page of music. It must have been 30+ pages long. I remember thinking, even on the day of the performance, more than once, “I have no memory of this page. Have I ever played this before?”. My music education was hit and miss, but that was one of the finer moments: Participating in the generation of a beautiful epic while simultaneously being run through the sight-reading gauntlet. It’s exciting to discover you can properly concentrate on something for that long without a moment’s interruption. I can’t say many other things in life have lent themselves to that.

One late-night rehearsal also comes to mind in particular. It must have been about 10:30 PM. Everyone was exhausted. It was past time to leave. Some of us lived nearly 2 hours away. The conductor sighed and announced, “I think we need to run through the fugue again.” I had never before heard a collective groan (though it was quiet) rise up from a room of adults before.

Like many of my favorite memories, they have virtually nothing to do with my own alleged cleverness, coolness, or other such thing. This one sort of just fell in my lap. Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.