I don't want in any way to show a lack of respect for these Nigerian musicians. (The racial mix, by the way, was quite different from that we have in Houston -- the orchestra had 2 token white faces -- no Asians in sight -- and there was 1 white in the chorus.) The pink rubber bands visibly holding together the shoes of a violinist in the front row was a reminder to me of the challenges many of these musicians likely have had to face in getting as much training as they have. This Western orchestral music tradition is not theirs and it had to be difficult to find teachers and instruments in this city of over 14 million people that doesn't even have a single piano store. I do think it's great that they have the chance to perform wonderful music and it was obvious from the faces of the instrumentalists and chorus members and soloists (who sang along with the chorus parts when they didn't have a solo line) that they were relishing it with the same exhilaration that I feel when I perform it.
The real miracle began for me in the 3rd movement when it opens with that quiet woodwind section that is so lovely when performed by the Houston Symphony. This group was really struggling through it, but in the midst of their struggles, I could hear in my mind the beautiful harmonies of the Houston Symphony. When, in the 4th movement, the cellos introduced the theme and the lone string bass player was scrambling to keep up and was a quarter-step under pitch, what I felt I heard was the incredible unison of the low strings of the Houston Symphony. When the chorus joined together for that first 4-part "Freude..." it was easy to be reminded of the many times I've had the opportunity of singing that exciting theme with the Houston Symphony Chorus. When the concert began, I was worried that it would be a miserable experience. When it ended, it was an amazing testament to me of the power of music in using our memory to return us to meaningful places and experiences in our past. Through the many wonderful opportunities I've had of performing that brilliant work with such talented and well-trained musicians as I was able to associate with in Houston, the beauty of it has been imprinted on my soul. I was able to transcend this poor performance and return to the many beautifully rewarding performances in which I have had the privilege of participating.
Tomorrow night's concert is one of indigenous social music with drum and a traditional flute called an algaita, along with a Maliki cultural dance troupe. I'll go and enjoy being totally unable to assess the quality of the performance!