I’ve just returned from my second night volunteering at the Golden Gate Men’s Chorus Holiday Concert with a full heart. I’ve had a passion for this particular group for many years. Not only do they represent my ideal of a classical men’s chorus with the broadest range imaginable, they also represent the best of San Francisco’s community spirit. This is a group of amazingly talented, dedicated men who donate their voices, time, and money to provide a unique, enriching experience for those of us willing to take the time to listen.
I joined their board in January of this year at an apex in my own personal life. I’d just left a secure corporate job and headed out on my own in search of fulfillment I hadn’t been able to feel in the corporate world. My dear friend Gary, a talented writer I’ve known and worked with for many years who was also going through a personal career transition met me for one of those mid-day lunches you have on your back deck on a sunny day in the middle of the week when you answer to no one but yourself and your mortgage lender. He told me their beloved conductor of many, many years, and the pillar of the chorus was pondering retirement for health reasons. The actual timing was unknown but Gary believed it would be soon.
Being the mothering type my instinct to help kicked in. I’ve performed in choral organizations and orchestras since my single-digit years and having a music degree myself know a little bit about the turmoil a change in artistic director can bring to an organization. “How can I help,” I found myself saying without filters. “There’s an open position on the board and we can use the marketing help,” said Gary. “I’ll nominate you.” “Done,” I said and I went to work on my speech knowing they couldn’t say no to my personal flair.
Uncontested, the only other female associated with the group, and being on particular form the evening I presented my passionate speech at rehearsal, I was unanimously elected. I was soon to find out my primary duties would be to get my friends to donate stuff for the fund-raising auction, bake cookies and savories for the fund raiser and concerts, out-bid myself for Wicked tickets, hand collate post-concert surveys and attend monthly two-hour board meetings where we have lively discussions on stimulating topics such as the relative merits of one set of risers over another. (Fortunately I have friends who know risers so I could make a contribution.)
As a single, working mother, trying to navigate the waters of a changing career, and working through a still recent divorce I found myself wondering what the hell I’d signed up for. I need 50 more men in my life who want to delegate things to me like I need a new pair of 6-inch platform heels for jogging. But today I learned I did need it. I needed it more than anything. Being on the performing side of the arts for more than half my life, I never understood what it really takes to make a performing arts organization truly run. While I was working for an audience, many, many people were behind the scenes working for my fellow musicians and I. I never stopped to think what kind of an effort it would take or even why these folks would do it but now I know.
My jobs this week included usher, will call hostess, and money handler at concessions (my personal favorite as there’s nothing like having 1s, 5s, and 10s being thrown at you with people screaming, “keep the change.” It’s an awesome feeling.) Every moment was pure bliss. The people you’re dealing with are happy to be attending a holiday concert (most are friends or family with someone in the chorus). The audience was a surprising blend of people from all walks of life from the traditional little old lady wearing sensible shoes and a rain coat to the punk rock dude with bleached white hair, tight leather pants and sunglasses that never came off. Everyone was there to experience something that only happens once a year.
But what surprised me the most was my need for the music. The repertoire was based around the mystical traditions of the Virgin Mary, with renditions of Ave Maria by composers from the 15th to the 20th century. There were three completely different versions of “Low How a Rose Ere Blooming.” The Distler rendition brought tears to my eyes. From the most meditative chants to the mind-bending sounds of Debussy, this concert filled my soul in spaces that haven’t been filled in years.
Giving without expecting in return is a wonderful experience. Giving when so much unexpected is returned is the gift of life. This is what I call “Kinanda.”