Mendelssohn, Melanoma, and Memories...oh my
I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to sing Elijah again this May in Melbourne, FL with Dr. Robert Lamb and the Brevard Community Chorus. For those of you unfamiliar with this work it is a concert piece (Oratorio) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) by depicting events in the life of the prophet Elijah as told in the books 1st and 2nd Kings of the Old Testament. It premiered in 1846. The role of Elijah in this very dramatic work is sung by the baritone.
I was first introduced to Elijah when I was in middle school. It was the first piece of classical music that ROCKED MY FACE OFF! My parents regularly took the family to Music Week at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center in North Carolina. My Momma and Daddy were definitely my best music teachers! (However, please don't ask my Mom about our piano lessons. I was a rather difficult student who regularly hid my music so I wouldn't have to practice). The summer after 8th grade we made a trip to Ridgecrest and my Daddy, Bill Hix sang in the tenor section of chorus for this work at Music Week at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference center. I would attend some rehearsals with him and sit next to him. Incidentally, the score I am currently using (and used in my previous performances of Elijah) was my Dad's copy from this concert.You can see one of his markings the in the picture below.
I remember the baritone (David Robinson, who I believe was on faculty at Southwestern Seminary at the time) knocking my socks off. I was so impressed with the massive resonant sound he created. It was my first introduction to a professional classical/opera singer. Little did I know that I would follow down the same path. This concert profoundly shaped my musical life. The program (from 1990!) is framed and hangs on my wall of my office (pictured below).
A few years later when I got my first CD player Elijah was one of the earliest CDs I purchased. I randomly choose the Thomas Allen recording with Sir Neville Mariner conducting the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. It is still my favorite recording of the work! Thomas Allen is AMAZING and his rich tone and interpretation is so noble.
My first performance of Elijah was during my doctoral studies at FSU. I was teaching adjunct at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, and Dr. Don Odom (RIP) asked me to perform this with the student choir. Don conducted and our students sang as soloists and in the chorus. I was fortunate to coach the role with my teacher at the time Dr. Pope. I still have amazing suggestions and insightful notes from Jerry in my score.
Around this time last year I told my wife Ingela, that I wanted to manifest a performance of Elijah this year. I just put that thought out into the universe. I was very confident and simply stated, "I am going to sing a performance of Elijah in the 2022-23 concert season." Lo and behold, Dr. Robert Lamb reached out to me to inquire if I was available! However, this Spring was a difficult one and I wasn't sure if I would actually be able to sing this massive role. The two and half hour work for chorus, soloists, and orchestra contains four difficult arias, a duet, and I think around 14 recitatives and other solo sections that alternate with chorus. It is a big sing! The reason for my concern was due to some health issues.
In February my wife Ingela noticed that a mole on the top of my ear had changed color. I was fortunate to get a dermatology appointment very quickly. However, the doctor soon notified me that it was melanoma. Due to several factors, they recommended that I have both the melanoma and numerous lymph nodes near my ear removed. The removal of the lymph nodes was for diagnostic purposes. They also did a skin graft to repair my ear. This surgery occurred three weeks before my performance of Beethoven 9th Symphony with Idaho Falls Symphony and one month before my first rehearsal for Elijah. The doctor warned of several concerning scary outcomes, including the possibility of cutting nerves that affected my larynx or facial muscles. In addition I was also worried about possible trauma to the vocal folds due to intubation for anesthesia. As I sat in the hospital the morning of my surgery, I sat with massive anxiety first with the love of my life Ingela, and then alone after they took me away for preparations for the surgery. During this time a single piece of music echoed through my mind on repeat. Wouldn't you know...it was from Mendelssohn's Elijah. A link to this movement - "Cast thy Burdens Upon the Lord" - is below followed by the text.
Cast thy burden upon the Lord, And he shall sustain thee. He never will suffer the righteous to fall. He is at thy right hand. Thy mercy, Lord, is great And far above the heav’ns. Let none be made ashamed That wait upon thee.
A month later, I am in an incredibly grateful space. The incision on my neck has healed leaving me with a very "metal" looking scar. The skin graft on my ear continues to heal, but still looks gross. Most importantly the sentinal lymph node biopsies revealed no signs of cancer and the surgeon removed all of the melanoma from my ear. Some nerves are still healing (I can't feel my ear lobe), but I am healthy and in great voice.
Of course, I am grateful I get to sing this performance of Elijah, but more importantly I am grateful for the love and support of my family, friends, and colleagues as I recovered. It felt really overwhelming to come out of surgery with 112 text messages waiting on my phone. I am so grateful to my soulmate Ingela for her love, support, and they way she nursed me in the week after my surgery. I am grateful for close friends, neighbors, colleagues who assisted us, loved us, and brought food to us in days after my surgery (Jordan, Olga and Jamie, Matt and Amy, Kristina and Hayden, George and Seyed). Very special thanks to UNM Department of Music Associate Chairs Dr. Ana Alonso-Minutti and Dr. Mike Walker for taking on my administrative duties while I was away. Due to their excellent work I felt like I could completely step away for a week to recover.
I guess I should stop here as this blog post is getting long. I will end with a corny joke taken from an aria of Elijah - It is Enough!