My Second Family, A Bubble of Kindness

Clare Hardin started as a Revels Kid in elementary school, and then later in high school.  She has grown into an intern extraordinaire and current volunteer. The following is a guest post about her experience in the Washington Revels community, and why she thinks your kids would love to revels with us.

Dovie Thomason with Clare Hardin in the 2006 Christmas Revels.

Hi, I’m Clare, and I’ve been a “reveler” since I was born. Here’s some of my story.

My mom had already been to a few Washington Revels events because she knew Greg Lewis (Executive Director) and his wife Susan (Company Manager) who both sang with The Choral Arts Society of Washington. I guess that’s how we were introduced — and, my family has been involved since then. My dad was invited to be Music Director for the Christmas Revels in 1999 and 2000. I attended my first May Revels when I was two or three, watching my big sisters perform with the other kids. I’m sure I was waving a tiny ribbon stick to “welcome in the May-O.”

Clare as the May Queen  in the 2014 May Revels at the Washington National Cathedral.

All three Hardin sisters participated in May Revels as soon as we were old enough. My memories are happy ones of the cobbled path in front of the Washington National Cathedral, of dancing in hand-held circles, of cotton candy and repetitive verses of “The Rattlin’ Bog” that were somehow still fun after the 12th time. All three of us were also in the Children’s Chorus for several Christmas Revels productions — I performed in the 2006 and 2007 shows.

Clare with Dovie Thomason in the 2006 Christmas Revels.
From left to right: Umoja Rufaro, Keith Moore, Dovie Thomason, and Clare Hardin in the 2006 Christmas Revels.

My first Christmas Revels was in 2006 — the theme was “Early American.” I remember sitting around a pretend fire near Native American storyteller we knew as Dovie (Apache storyteller Dovie Thomason), in awe and feeling lucky I was chosen to be in that particular scene.

I remember being endlessly excited because I got the solo in “Morning Star,” and then nervous and embarrassed when during the first Lisner rehearsal, Music Director Betsy Fulford noticed that I was singing off-key. We were absolutely NOT allowed to eat in costume, except the clementines and goldfish in the kid’s Green Room. I got to tell my teachers that I was in a “big, important production” so I had to get my homework for “tech week” in advance. Staying up past 11pm was a big deal, and I got to do it every night for a show I loved.

Those productions were fantastic, but the thing about Revels is that the shows themselves aren’t the most important part — it’s the people and the community that matters. That community — my second family — raised me. They taught me values of acceptance, togetherness, cultural awareness, teamwork, respect, and more. To be a Revels Kid is a privilege, and I don’t know who I’d be without it.

Clare in the 2013 Teen Chorus in our Balkan Christmas Revels.
Clare (on right) with Terry Winslow and Aryn Geier in the 2013 Balkan Christmas Revels.

Fresher memories come from my four years as a teen in the Christmas Revels — they have been an integral part of my story. For a teenager dealing with the ups and downs of high school, Washington Revels was a refuge. It was a place where it didn’t matter if I had a bad day, if I didn’t feel like smiling. I would say that there is a sort of radical acceptance within the Washington Revels community, and you never have to ask for support — it was always there waiting for you. Though many people in my life outside the Washington Revels community knew about my Revels world, it still felt like a separate entity. It was my little bubble of kindness — where a 17-year old could laugh and sing alongside a 57-year old like they were best friends, where I learned to sing in 10 different languages, and more. Truly, there is no performing arts experience like it. There is no experience, in general, like it.

If your child or teen gets a chance to be a Revels Kid, they should do it. Take part in an After-School Workshop. Audition as a child or teen for The Christmas Revels (each year during the weekend after Labor Day).  Even if all you can do is come to a performance — do it! No matter who you are, you will be welcome. You will be loved. You will be valued. There is nothing more important than our community.

Singing Our Hearts Out

Cast members in 2007.

A version of this post originally appeared at Last Word on Nothing.

Recently I was rehearsing a glorious 16th-century motet with a small chorus, for the Washington Revels 30th Anniversary CD. Haec dies quam fecit Dominus, the song begins. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us be glad and rejoice in it. It’s an Easter text and a lovely thought. This is a day; let’s enjoy it.

The piece is by William Byrd, an English composer of Shakespeare’s time—yes, he’s wearing a ruff in his portrait—who wrote a lot of sacred music like this. The idea that different people could sing different things at the same time was fairly new in the Renaissance, and composers like Byrd went to town with it. We sang it in the 2007 Christmas Revels, which had an Elizabethan theme.

In Byrd’s six-part Haec Dies, the words and melody are split up and tossed back and forth between the vocal parts. I sing second soprano, the second highest. The first sopranos start the piece, then the altos join, then us. Sometimes we have the most prominent line; sometimes it’s another part. Women and tenors start the second section together: exultemus! Let’s exult! We settle into the alleluias, then sing a short duet with the basses, their low voices anchoring our rising line. Other parts pop out in turn. The lines come together and we converge and land, triumphant, on the final syllable of the final word. A perfectly tuned D-major chord fills the room. It feels as if everyone’s unified voice is flowing through my torso.

Last month, Swedish researchers published a study about heart rate in choirs. Fifteen 18-year-olds sat in a semicircle with heart-rate monitors clipped to their ears. The kids sang together, three different ways, each for five minutes. First they hummed a single tone, each breathing when needed. Then they sang a hymn. Last they sang a simple, slow tune that forced a breath after every 10-second phrase.

The singers’ heart rates went up and down as they breathed and sang. When they were just humming, their heart rates cycled at all different speeds. But when they were all breathing together in strict rhythm, the up-and-down lined up. In the hymn, breaths were less evenly spaced, so the picture was more complex, but the same thing happened; heart rates varied at the frequency of the breaths.

The researchers tie this to a known phenomenon: heart rate and breathing are linked. Your heartbeats vary all the time, depending on a lot of things, like loud sounds, exercise, and whether or not you’re being stalked by a lion. Breathe in and the heart speeds up; breathe out and it slows down.

When we’re singing the lively, complicated Byrd motet, things are surely even more complex than in the study’s sweet, unison hymn. Across the rehearsal room, in each section, hearts speed and slow together. The second sopranos breathe in and hearts beat faster; we breathe out on an alleluia and our hearts slow. We breathe in to end the phrase and our hearts speed up again, then slow while we wait for our next entrance. Last week we recorded the piece with the Washington Revels Brass breathing right along with us.

Singing together is deeply satisfying. Whether it’s Byrd’s polyphony or “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” you’re joining in common purpose with the people around you. Now we know part of why it feels so right: when we sing together, we’re lining up our hearts, too.

Learn about the 2013 Christmas Revels: Echoes of Thrace
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets

Photo: Erin Sutherland

Eating, Singing, and Hydrating After the Show

A group of teens (and former teens) lead us in a favorite song from the American show. Photo: Helen Fields

This year the evening performances of The Christmas Revels are over at about 10:15. After the show I hang around in the lobby to chat with any friends who were at that performance, then go upstairs to get out of costume, wash my face, and leave the theater.

Then I have two choices: Go home or go to Bertucci’s. Last Saturday night my choice was Bertucci’s. It’s an Italian restaurant in the lower level of a shopping mall near Lisner Auditorium. For several years, people from the cast, crew members, specialty performers, and friends have been retiring there after the evening performances to eat and drink. They do a great job of looking after us. They even keep the kitchen open late, bless them. (For the past few years, we’ve sung “Happy Birthday” to one of the waitresses – somebody had better remember that tonight or tomorrow.)

This is Revels, so singing is a big part of the event. We sing Revels standards, like “Let Union Be” and “Country Life.” Favorite songs from the shows find their way into the Bertucci’s repertoire; the American-themed Christmas Revels show from 2006 has a particularly large number of very singable songs. Some years the specialty performers lead us in song and dance. In 2008, the Quebecois dancer Pierre Chartrand called some fantastic dances.

Some nights a lot of people go; after a particularly long day (or before a particularly long day) more of us might make the other choice, to go home and get some rest. There’s a risk of messing up your voice or making yourself too tired for the next day’s performances. I don’t know if I’ll have enough energy for Bertucci’s either night this weekend.

This is Revels. I love performing, but our get-togethers at Bertucci’s really get to the essence of the experience: celebrating with your community in song and dance.

Learn more about the 2011 Christmas Revels: Andalusian Treasures
View the Schedule of Performances and Purchase Tickets