Most recall spring of 2020 as the beginning of a bleak time in a global pandemic; I was reminded of the ten year anniversary of the start of my home in New York City. I moved to the city in May 2010 with a very short-term mindset. Having spent my undergraduate years in university in Canada, my understanding of both the real world and the effect of the recession on the United States was limited, if not completely absent.
I had just completed my Bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance from McGill University, and the dreamer in me foresaw a lavish life in New York City as a musician and arts administrator. A year after graduation, I moved to the East Village in a less-than-stellar situation: no job, sharing a bedroom with a friend, and not even enough money to buy a metro card. I spent the year hunting for anything that would get me through the days. I worked four part-time jobs and spent most nights worrying about the future. I tried my best to make New York City feel like a home, which led me on a search for a place to sing.
I found van.org, an essential site for singers, where all vocal groups in the city list their ensemble description, rehearsal schedules, and auditions. Feeling the need for something familiar, I auditioned for one of the flashy, several hundred person choirs in the city that sing on the big stages and do the famous repertoire. I thought this would help me in my first year, but I quickly realized that it was hard for me to build a community in such a large group. Plus, I was never really drawn to singing the big repertoire; I spent my free time at McGill singing shape note music and early music quartets with friends. I left after the first season and ended my first year in the city at a loss.
Determined to be one of the people who makes it in NYC, I finally landed a full-time arts job in June of 2011. I reopened my search for a choir and auditioned for four ensembles, including Polyhymnia. I got into all of them, but it was the love of early music, the intimate community feeling, and the general acceptance of “geeking out” to early music that drew me to the choir. I accepted immediately.
In the nine seasons since, I have gone through several jobs; moved to 3 boroughs and countless apartments; started and completed an MBA; and obtained my CPA license. All the while I have had a home, a community, with Polyhymnia. I have had to miss rehearsals, even full concert cycles, to keep up with the burdens of living in New York City, but my dedication to the choir has been honored, and having this community is a driving force as to why I am able to celebrate my decade in NYC this year. Over the years, I have brought co-workers, friends, and schoolmates into the choir, and countless friends and family have reveled in the audience during our performances.
When approached to write this blog post, we were asked to reflect on a piece of music we had sung in the choir and to incorporate that reflection into the post. Without hesitating, I volunteered and indicated my desire to write about Byrd’s “O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth.” At the time, I had no idea why I chose this piece. When I started researching, I realized we performed this piece as the opening to our final concert of my first season with Polyhymnia. The piece is a celebratory anthem, and the alto line opens with a fifth and a fourth, outlining an octave, in ultimate jubilation. A wonderful way to open a concert; a work by a beloved early music composer sung by a group of accomplished singers. I realize now that I have always felt connected to this work because this performance was the first time that I felt I belonged in New York City; a place no longer a stop over to the next thing, but my new home.
O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen to rejoice in thy strength:
give her her heart’s desire, and deny not the request of her lips;
but prevent her with thine everlasting blessing,
and give her a long life, even for ever and ever. Amen.