Last night, I attended my first music rehearsal in over a year. I rehearsed with a composer and a tenor. We gathered at a community center in North Baltimore, took our masks off, studied the score, and made music.
Musicians communicate through breath, glances, and body language. We catch each other’s subtle movements out of the corners of our eyes, but mostly, we sense, we anticipate, we listen to each other’s breaths.
When was the last time my breath mattered? For a year, we hunkered down in fear of a respiratory virus. We guarded our breath, and we shrunk back at each other’s breath. But last night, instead of shielding my breath, I shared it.
After one attempt through a tricky passage, the tenor said he was overthinking his voice and unable to concentrate on the complicated rhythm. This is a rhythm you’ll just have to feel, we discussed. You won’t ever be able to count it as you sing. But now that we’ve rehearsed it once, it will come quickly.
I think learning a piece of music is like having a stack of loose papers and an empty file cabinet, he said to me. Rehearsing it with others, hearing how it fits together, and getting the physical sensation of it is like being handed a set of folders. Now you can put the papers in the cabinet.
This morning, I met a UUCC newcomer for a walk around Lake Elkhorn. Afterward, I gave her a brief tour of OBIC since she’d never been there. We stopped in Sanctuary C. The room was empty, not a single chair, table, or podium in sight. It felt cavernous and sterile.
We wandered to Sanctuary B, and I tried to describe the Sunday morning hubbub of coffee hour and the UUCC Bookstore. I wondered if she could see what I saw — the laughter and conversation among congregants old and new, a treasure trove of finds on the used books table, kids dashing between tables to steal a pretzel here and a chocolate there, our faithful volunteers brewing giant vats of coffee. I didn’t share these details on our tour.
This afternoon, I watched a few minutes of the Olympic women’s volleyball match between the United States and Turkey. I was mesmerized by their effortless, rhythmic plays. The teams seemed to move and breathe as single organisms, miraculously intuiting where their teammates were diving, setting, spiking, blocking. They moved in graceful waves — up to block, down to dig, up to set — and their well-timed feints were like artistic choreography. How many tedious hours of drills does it take to create a cohesive volleyball team? I wondered.
Next month, we will likely return to worship in person at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center. When we return, we may be a bit out of sync with each other. It’s been a while since we’ve been together in the space we call ours. It might take a little while to learn to hear each other’s breaths, to know where each other is in the music, to anticipate where in the court your teammate is headed. But let’s not overthink it. It’s the sort of rhythm you’ll just have to feel.