Nathanson Dental August/September 2017

Aug / Sept 2017

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One Voice Among Many My Choral Experiences

About 10 years ago, when I was singing with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, I was given the incredible opportunity to perform alongside the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Anybody who has even a passing interest in jazz knows the name. Brubeck was a legendary and remarkably distinct pianist and composer, responsible for some of the most beloved standards in the entire genre. It was truly a privilege to stand beside that intensely talented group and participate in one of the most transformative musical experiences of my life. When our chorus arrived at the venue — the Washington National Cathedral — all we could do was look around, quietly amazed. The ivory-colored, vaulted ceilings, the multicolored, prismatic light pouring through the stained glass windows — it was an austere, impressive piece of architecture. The weight of the place felt like it begged us to whisper, but we knew we’d be belting our reverberating choral lines into the space in a matter of minutes. After we had rehearsed for a bit — intermittently stopped by Brubeck’s representative with an “Okay, at this part, the guys are gonna make something up” — Brubeck and his legendary combo came in. We did a single run-through of the piece. During the improvisational sections, I was struck by a thought: This was the only time this specific arrangement will be played this way. We were witnessing a one-of-a-kind performance, played just for us. I got a chill, as the notes bounced endlessly around the cavernous space,

granted gravitas by the expansive reverberations. Later, when we finally performed it in front of hundreds of audience members, I had a similar thought about the ephemerality of improvised work. I guess with these jazz musicians, that’s just routine. Music has always been my greatest passion outside of my work. I’ve been singing for years, whether it was with the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Barnard- Columbia Chorus, the Handel Choir of Baltimore, or the many chamber choirs, religious groups, and small combos I’ve been a part of. I’ve also been a professional cantor for a synagogue for over 30 years. I may not get a lot of time to write my own music, but when I do manage to snag a few minutes, it’s like playing in the sandbox. I head down to my little basement “recording studio” and fool around with the piano and guitar, composing what I can. Right now, I have something like seven “performable” songs written, and fragments of several more. I have this idea that when I get to 10 or 12, I’ll record an album, and I know it’s just a matter of time until that will happen. Who knows where it will go from there? Music has been a constant companion throughout my life. I’m just grateful for the abundant musical opportunities with which I’ve been provided as the years have gone by. - Dr. Joel Nathanson

“I got a chill, as the notes bounced endlessly around the cavernous space,

granted gravitas by the expansive reverberations.”

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