At a recent choir rehearsal, I worked on, among other things, Since By Man Came Death from Messiah. Most of you now have that running in your heads, I know, but as you replay it, how long is the space between the slow part and the fast part? How long between the end of the first fast part and the second slow part? More importantly, what are your musicians (in your head now) doing in those spaces?
It is an odd little piece. Bifurcational disambiguation. Schizophrenic almost. Yet those little (or long) spaces can make a huge difference in how the piece "plays."
I became aware of the importance of these kinds of things from my primary conducting teacher, John Nelson. He always seemed to know just exactly how long to wait between movements, if at all. I found out that he spent months riding a New York commuter train with a stop watch and a score of the St. Matthew Passion...each day honing in on how those between movement pauses built momentum or released tension.
Why do I bring this up? Because too often we don't think about the level of preparation needed in an anthem. We settle for the notes, or the notes and some dynamics...and maybe a spot of intelligible text. After all, it's "just an anthem." But even in a simple 3 minute anthem there are a myriad of details that make a difference. The great ones don't just care about those details, they prep those details. Food for thought...
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