Last week, I performed in the event that every classical singer looks forward to (sometimes with dread) every year during Christmas time: Handel’s The Messiah. This year I only had one performance; in years past I’ve had to perform the piece multiple times at multiple venues with various different groups.

In fact, I’ve done so many concerts of The Messiah that I have almost every single printed edition currently available: the Baerenreiter (the preferred edition of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the heaviest), the Watkins-Shaw edition published by Novello (a lighter score only because the pages are super-thin; it actually has all of Handel’s variations in the appendix, including the triplet version of “Rejoice”), and the Schirmer, edited by T. Tertius Noble, which I got in college, because everyone gets that in college (Ray says I make it sound like a disease when I put it that way, but for some reason — probably because it’s the only one printed in the USA — all the college bookstores like to stock the Schirmer, even though it’s the worst edition with the most mistakes and the least number of variations).

This year it was the Baerenreiter for the whole season, and, as I mentioned, it is the heaviest of all my Messiah scores. So heavy, in fact, that I believe I pulled a muscle in my back while holding it up during rehearsals and the one performance of it. I myself find it difficult to believe that something as simple as a heavy score would hurt my back, especially since I’ve done this every year for the past ten years with no ill effects, but I haven’t been doing anything else to strain myself, and my pain seemed limited to the muscle below my left shoulder (the arm I use to hold my music) so I guess it must have been The Messiah that threw my back out.

Ray says the Messiah should have been able to levitate and save me the stress. I told him to take it up with Baerenreiter.

After about a week of anti-inflammatories, massages, and hot showers before bedtime (sounds like a typical Saturday night!) my back was still spasming, so I finally decided to seek professional help. I thought about going to a masseuse and decided I needed something a little more heavy-hitting, so I went to an acupuncturist.

I’ve seen this woman before in the past, although I’m not a regular acupuncture patient. As I laid face-down on the table, she exclaimed that she could see my spasming muscle clearly because it was so inflamed. Not a good thing, I’m imagining. And so the needles went in, and she decided she was going to do some cupping as well, which was a new experience, and felt somewhat like a very large starfish had attached itself to my back.

After all of the needles were in and the cups were in place, she covered me with a mylar blanket to keep me warm and left me in the room with my thoughts for 20 minutes as the qi began to unblock, and for some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep, like I’ve done in the past. Perhaps it was too early in the morning and I had too much on my mind; but even my normal meditative techniques of trying to direct my thoughts towards relaxing my muscles didn’t work very well. All I could think of was how silly I must look, lying face-down on a massage table with a space blanket draped over me.

Ah, well. The 20 minutes were soon over, and my acupuncturist removed all the needles and cups, leaving me with five large red circles on my back. I sat up and stretched and noticed right away that my back felt better. Not perfect, mind you, but much better, and all I could think of was how grateful I was to Chinese medicine.

When I got home and sat at my desk for about four hours, I noticed that the pain was coming back, so I started examining the way I was sitting. Yes, indeed, I’ve been a little torqued, and I have to reach a lot to the left to get to the mouse, so perhaps The Messiah wasn’t the culprit after all!

In the meantime, I’m still trying to avoid any heavy lifting, so don’t ask me to sing Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem anytime soon!

The Messiah Made Me Do It
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