A Tale of Two Requiems

If anyone reading this lives in New York City, I’m singing in a performance of the Brahms Requiem at Symphony Space on Friday night. Please come hear me sing!

I first learned the Requiem my senior year of college. Indeed, it was exactly 10 years ago that we started rehearsing it. I devoted a lot of time to learning the often chromatic fugues, listening to the recording, etc. When you get to know a piece of music that well, you begin to truly appreciate certain moments. Powerful moments. Moments when the orchestra hushes and the chorus comes in, or in the second movement when the strings crescendo and the chorus sings in unison, full-throated, “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras.” (Behold, all flesh is as grass). We’ve been talking about good ideas lately. How did Brahms get that one?

Anyway, now I am singing the Requiem as a grown-up, appreciating these moments again, as when you see an old friend after an absence. The rehearsal schedule this week has been brutal. Any soprano who has sung the Requiem knows what I am talking about. But as I wrote in 168 Hours, I believe that the best way to ensure that you don’t lose your time to work (past the point of diminishing returns), to chores that fill all available space, or to meaningless hours of TV, is to give your leisure hours purpose. If anything, I need my singing more now that I have a busier life than I did in those college days.

Of course, making it to rehearsals is a bit more complicated than it was back then. Here are a few ways to make a regular volunteer or hobby commitment work:

  • Play fair. Especially if you have kids, remember that both partners are entitled to a personal life. One option is to give both parties one weeknight “off.” She does bridge on Tuesday, he goes bowling with his buddies on Thursday, with the other party making this a special time with the kids. However, if this isn’t workable for you (and it isn’t for me)…
  • Secure reliable coverage. We have a regular Tuesday night babysitter who can stay until my husband gets home, or until I do. Yes, this is a cost, but there are other options, too — if you have family nearby, the kids can go to Grandma’s on, say, Tuesdays, or you can trade off with friends.
  • Slip in time for practice. In college, my choir met three times a week, and many people’s a cappella groups practiced 4-5 times. This is not going to happen when people have full-time jobs. But with 168 hours in a week, there’s plenty of time outside your official “night” for practicing. I read through notes on the subway. I listen to recordings of works we’re singing while working.
  • Focus. Since my kids are often with a sitter while I’m at rehearsal, I have a bad habit of checking my iPhone frequently. What if there’s an emergency? There hasn’t been in 3.5 years, but you never know. Then about two weeks ago, I dropped my phone and it shattered. It is still usable, but checking my email or text messages means I risk slicing my thumbs. This makes me think twice. So now I just check it once at break, and I’ve found that I enjoy being fully present for the music, listening to other parts when it’s not my turn.

How have you made time for a personal pursuit?

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2 Responses to A Tale of Two Requiems


  1. Denise R says:

    I tap dance every Wednesday. Everyone in the family knows that I don’t give it up. I’ve made better TV choices to make the time to practice. I don’t do it as often as I’d like, but also go over routines in my head, or practice certain moves as I’m at the stove, or the bus stop. (on my 10 minutes or less list)
    I also crochet, usually when I was watching TV. Since I’ve limited my TV time, crocheting time has diminished. To solve that, I schedule an hour to crochet after my Wednesday morning workout. It gives me something to look forward to when I’m done. It’s also a good time to plan new projects b/c everyone else is sleeping or at the gym.
    I am also trying to get back into playing the piano, and I do that when I have 15 or so free minutes, just to keep the fingers nimble, and the mind reading a new piece every once in a while.
    I also block in time after 2 other morning workouts to read or I read on the treadmill. Often I have worked out longer than I planned b/c my book was so good.
    For a while, I felt I had to choose one activity over another, but 168 Hours proved to me that I don’t have to choose yet I can still have time with my family.

    • @Denise- glad to hear it! Sounds like you’ve worked out a good situation. Tuesday is mommy’s choir night in our house. There is some grumbling, but largely, people deal. And yes, I don’t really have any shows that I have to watch. There are other things I’d rather do with my time.