I had the great honor of being invited, as a mere doctoral student, to conduct the combined choirs at Ball State University in a performance of John Rutter’s “Gloria” (the original version for brass, percussion, and organ). The organist for that performance happened to be Dean of the Graduate School of Music at the time: Kirby Koriath. The Emmens Auditorium stage was packed full of singers — somewhere around 300, I’m guessing.

There’s a long beautiful crescendo (feels like about four pages at 54 bpm) in the second movement. The podium was pretty far from the singers and Dr. Koriath, because there was a full orchestra set up between us. Well, being a rather squatty, “vertically challenged” conductor (with short arms), I’ve learned I can’t just lift my hands for a long crescendo. I have to inspire the desired growth, intensity, and necessary vocal “traction” with carefully-paced forearm tension so I don’t wind up with a ridiculously elevated arm and still more crescendo to go! It’s a little smoke and mirrors trick I picked up that usually serves me well in front of large, far away ensembles. Usually…

Dress rehearsal day: as I was very intentionally and systematically increasing the tension in my left arm with my palm facing upward for said crescendo, I felt my middle finger start to rise and flap involuntarily in mid air, seemingly in the direction of our organist — essentially flipping off the Boss Man of the very degree program I was trying to complete! Those muscles were locked hard. I was mortified! Thank goodness Dr. Koriath has a sense of humor.

Kudos to the student singers who managed to hold it together and subdue their chuckles until the end. I’m sure my horrified facial expression was hilarious! The performance was spectacular, bless their hearts. I managed to graduate with a perfect academic record… somehow… as well as some hard-earned knowledge about the tendons connecting my forearm to my fingers.