Warrior Words: Between the ledger lines

After Thanksgiving ends, the atmosphere in Wilton shifts. Trees are draped in gossamer lights, flecks of moonlight reflect off the snow, and somewhere, something smells of peppermint. Winter break no longer seems across the Mediterranean in Ithaca but just a few hauls more upstream.

While holiday fever doesn’t fully capture the town until December, in the high school choir, the first signs begin much earlier. This year, as soon as our October concert with Middlebrook ended, we traded “little ghost things!” (from everyone’s favorite piece in Madrigals, “Hist Whist”) for a Mozart mass, and we were shod in silk, wool, and velvet shoes. The Madrigals perform as early as the first week in December with the Wilton Singers, and the full choir and all groups need to prepare fully before the mid-December Candlelight Concert. Basically, we started singing and getting stuck in our heads holiday songs before Halloween (annoying many of our friends and peers in the process).

Our rehearsals can often involve a lot of meticulous examination over details, a quest for technical perfection. Ms. Degroff runs us through two-measure-long passages over and over in a cycle, sopranos alone, altos alone, tenors alone, basses alone, altos and basses, sopranos and tenors, everyone together, just-kidding-something-didn’t-sound-right-so-let’s-do-it-again. We take the effort to put final consonants in the perfect place, synchronizing the sibilance of sometimes more than 100 voices. We’ll sing a song using neutral syllables, count-singing, and (a valiant attempt) at solfege before even putting a word in. Even the nuances, the crescendos and decrescendos, the inflections and stresses, are carefully orchestrated and rehearsed. It’s a precise process, meant to achieve a flawless result.

It seems like a tremendous hassle, though. Why doesn’t Ms. Degroff just lug the electronic keyboard to these concerts, set the instrument to “Choir,” and plunk out our notes? We wouldn’t even need to set up the risers.

When we walk on stage, though, the atmosphere shifts. Ms. Degroff turns away from the audience and faces us, gives us a smile, and raises her hands. She exchanges silent message with Molly, our accompanist, and the beat starts. Suddenly, the words, notes, and even dynamics are no longer the focus, but ingrained habits that naturally happen as soon as we open our mouths. Instead, we are part of an energy web, from the tips of our conductor’s fingers as she carves sculptures through air and space, to the echoes expression emanating from the piano, to our own wide-open eyes, where we capture each sound around us on our lashes and radiate it back to one another through our individual voices. The audience sees it all, hears it all, and can’t always quite put a finger on what it is. It’s a feeling that no technical precision alone can create, no matter how impeccable. It’s the energy, the subtle movements that complement sound — and the music.

Sure, there is logic and precision in learning our notes, but there’s something else entirely that happens when we sing together that changes notes into music. It happened at the Veterans Day assembly earlier in November, when, facing a completely silent and attentive audience, and after listening to all the speeches and commemoration, we sang “God Bless America” in a different way than we ever had before. As the holiday season draws nearer, I know that that same energy will shift again as we head to our concerts and continue to make music.


Evaline Xie is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.