July 18, 2013
by Linda Falconiero
This article was first published in the July 2013 PXE International eNewsletter.
Linda Falconiero is a PXEer with low vision. She’s also a member of her church choir. After her vision loss, she made several creative adaptations to keep her singing. Then she got the opportunity to sing two new works with a larger group, with an orchestra, in Latin and in NYC’s Lincoln Center. This huge change from her usual experience would present an equally huge challenge. Was she just dreaming or could she pull this off? In “Standing Ovation,” she answers this question and reports on her wonderful experience.
Picture this: You’re on stage at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, one of 243 singers, an orchestra between you and the director. Incredibly, that was yours truly! I never pictured myself on stage, especially not at Lincoln Center, but there I was. Moreover, there was a full house, and I was in the center of the front row just behind the French horn. Yikes!
So how did I get there? The adventure began in late 2012 when my choir director asked if any of us would be interested in singing on Memorial Day, May 27, 2013, at Lincoln Center. I signed up for the opportunity, along with 23 others from the choir of the United Church of Christ in Norwell, Massachusetts.
The need for the volunteers, it turned out, arose when Mark Hayes, the composer and conductor, put out a call for singers to perform the world premiere of his major work, Requiems for the Brave, and the New York City premiere of The Gettysburg Address. In early 2013, we received the first drafts of these two works. They were put in my hands, and immediately I knew that performing these works was extremely important, not only for the composer, but for me as well. What an honor to sing Abraham Lincoln’s majestic words from his Gettysburg Address.
Reality always hits eventually. How in the world was I going to sing these awesome works, having such low vision? I can’t actually see the notes or the words on the page. TheRequiems were in Latin, which made it a double whammy for me. Since my vision loss, I now learn music by listening, but I need the words to be typed in at least 36-point font for me to be able to read them. I went to my friend Judy, who types the lyrics for my church songs in 36-point font, and she said, “Of course, I can do this!” I am so blessed.
Rehearsals began on March 11, 2013. We rehearsed in the sanctuary, in the music room, even outside on May 4th, a glorious sunny day as well as my birthday. We rehearsed in small groups and all together. We were determined to be well prepared for the event of a lifetime.
Once we were in New York City, rehearsals continued but with a change in energy and attitude. When we arrived for the first rehearsal on Saturday at a hotel with ALL 243 singers and the composer in attendance, it was quite a happy four hours filled with new music and many people to meet. The ladies on either side of me were curious about my customized sheet music and lyrics. I explained, and they said if I needed help, just let them know. Awesome! Sunday’s rehearsal was the same happy four hours. Memorial Day afternoon was our dress rehearsal on stage in Avery Fisher Hall with the orchestra in front of us. This was to be the first time any of us had heard the orchestral arrangement. We went once through each piece, which took about 40 minutes. Then we were off the stage to return later for the evening performance. I have to say that even the dress rehearsal was exciting! The result was an absolutely beautiful performance in a beautiful place, and was worth all the hard work.
after successful performance
As thrilled as I was to be able to perform these two pieces, I have to be honest: I never really did get ALL of the Latin words! As my vision dims, I’ve become a really slow reader. So to get all the words off the page and into my brain, and then place them around the correct notes, has become nearly impossible. Since I did know the music, I sang an “AH” through the fast Latin parts and, most importantly, smiled! I rejoined my peers when the piece slowed up a little. It worked for me.
When the last note was sung and played, a silence lingered for a few seconds and then everyone began applauding and standing up! Of course, I couldn’t see that they were standing, so I asked the lady next to me if they were. She simply said, “Oh, Yes!”
So, my standing ovation goes to my music minister at United Church of Christ, my roommates in New York and my dear friend Judy, to all those who drove me, guided me in the city traffic and read menus to me, and to the composer, Mark Hayes, who brought it all together.
There is one very important thing I've learned living with low vision: I have to ask for and accept help. For me, that's more difficult than overcoming the fear of falling or of speaking in public. I've also learned that when someone offers me help, the offer is sincere. It's up to me to be specific as to what I need, such as saying, "I need a ride to my doctor's appointment on Tuesday." Similarly, I would never have made it up and down that dark stairwell at Lincoln Center in a long dress without the assistance of strangers. But I had to be willing to ask for and accept their help.
So, I want to send a BRAVO!! to each of you with low vision and to all of those who support you. BRAVO!!