Tackling a piece like the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil that has been so capably performed and recorded by so many world-class ensembles requires a healthy dose of both humility and insanity.
I never would have imagined programming the piece so early in Skylark's life had it not played such a pivotal role in my own in late 2014.
In this, my first-ever blog post, I'd like to share the story that inspired our Spivey performance...
(Written November 20, 2014)
Carolyn and I have always loved the Robert Shaw recording of the Rachmaninoff Vespers. It was a favorite of her family for drives to Deer Isle, Maine when she was a child, and I've always played it when I wanted to just sit and "be" surrounded by something beautiful.
Yesterday, it took on a whole new meaning for our family.
We had our portable speaker with us in the delivery room at Piedmont Hospital yesterday, and at some point during the day, we clicked over to the Shaw Vespers recording on the Ipod, looking for something calming.
The delivery did not go "as planned." (I'm sure they never do.) After ten hours of stressful rigamarole, there came a time when something drastic needed to be done to help dear baby and dear Carolyn finish the task at hand. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, there were ten people in our room, and the order was "We're going to the OR, stat!" The whirlwind of activity left the room in under a minute. I gave Carolyn a quick kiss goodbye and watched them leave.
Suddenly, I was in the room alone with a nurse-in-training, who helped me gather our belongings to move to a recovery waiting area.
The sense of emptiness in the room was palpable, my sense of disoriented confusion and worry at its highest ever.
On the counter in the corner, the beautiful choir in France continued to sing.
After being told that I would not be able to go with Carolyn, because the procedure was an emergency and needed to happen so quickly that she would require general anesthesia, I gathered the suitcases, the shoes, the snacks, the clothes, and the speaker, and walked some distance I'll never recall to a descriptionless recovery room where I was to wait.
The speaker kept singing on the walk.
When we arrived in the room, my companion asked someone "Do we need to turn this off?"
"No, it's fine, leave it on," was the response.
It was only about 15 minutes, but it was the scariest time of my life. A non-praying man uttered some prayers for his wife and child. And the choir sang on.
Little Harry was born at 7:17 p.m. When a nurse came to see me at 7:19 or so, the sixth movement, the Bogorditse Dyevo, which is a setting of Ave Maria that was sung at our wedding seven years ago, was coming to a close. It's a little over three minutes long. I surmised then that the Ave Maria, a hymn to the miracle of birth (although a virgin one!) was playing at the moment that Harry and mom were rescued from their ordeal.
I pressed pause to talk to the nurses who told me all was well, and who then darted to the operating room to take pictures of little Harry.
After a few frantic sobs, I regained my composure and pressed play again. The seventh movement started. Slava v vyshnikh Bogu..."Glory to God on High, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men...open thou my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.”Ten minutes later, they brought Harry to our room. They ran his first tests, gave him a bath, and pronounced him in perfect health. I watched alone, as Carolyn was still asleep from the surgery.
After his bath, they gave Harry an adorable blanket and a little hat, and handed him to me.
We sat together and waited for Carolyn for thirty minutes, just the two of us.
Well, the two of us and a beautiful choir singing a beautiful piece...a meditation on beauty and the divine...a vigil.
In this case, it wasn't quite all-night. But, it filled the time between when Harry was born and when he met his mother for the first time.
When they wheeled Carolyn in, the music was still playing. It had carried me through the most important hour of my life, and carried Harry through the first hour of his.
Thank you, Mr. Rachmaninoff. Thank you, Mr. Shaw. Thank you, all the lovely people who were a part of that experience. It is changing lives still today.