In an effort to meet more people, improve my German language skills and reconnect with one of my favorite activities, I have joined a choir here in Zürich.
Before the first rehearsal I was extremely nervous. After all, my ability to understand spoken German is not great. And my ability to reply in German is really quite dismal. But it will never improve unless I force myself into situations where I have to use it.
Even so, I was horrified when I realized the entire rehearsal would be in Schweizer Deutsch! I couldn't understand the majority of what was being said. How could this possibly work?
Since the altos were seated on the opposite side of the room from the exit, I couldn't just slip outside and never return. Which is what I wanted to do. I had to wait for the end of the rehearsal before explaining in my broken German that I would not be able to be in the choir after all.
And I am glad I did, because the longer I sat there the more I realized that music is an international language -- and that language is Italian!
No, I don't speak Italian either. But I do speak music.
Allow me to explain...
I have been a singer since I was in elementary school. At 12 years old I started formal training and began to take lessons in classical voice and opera. I continued to study voice in college. After graduation, I participated in community choirs and small ensembles. I even continued with voice lessons until about 5 years ago.
All this means that I can read music quite well. Not only can I read the notes themselves, but all of the various marks that indicate volume, tone, expression and so on as well. And most of the notations are either symbols or written in Italian, regardless of what language you happen to speak.
So during the rehearsal when the director would explain what he wanted us to do, this is what I would hear:
Schweizer Deutsch Schweizer Deutsch crescendo Schweizer Deutsch forte Schweizer Deutsch and so on.
Combined with the hand direction being given, I was able to follow along with no difficulty whatsoever. The only issue I had is when the director would change to another piece and I would have no idea which one it was. But the woman next to me noticed I couldn't speak German and always made certain to point to where we were starting to make certain I didn't get lost.
In most ways, it felt just like every other choir I've ever been in. Except that the choir started exactly on time and not a single person was late. Although at the end the director ran over by about 5 minutes. After all, we were in the middle of a song so we may as well finish it. Several people pointedly looked at their watches and glared a bit. But the director just ignored them and finished on his own schedule.
Oh yeah, and it also feels very strange to sing Broadway Show Tunes in German.