My Ex-Appendix

The saga of Erin’s Body Is Falling Apart continues, and on today’s episode, my appendix just completely gave up. After experiencing an immense amount of pain, I finally went to urgent care to get checked out where they told me: Good news! I’m not pregnant and it’s definitely not my appendix. Well, I could have told them I’m not pregnant and gotten a discount, and it definitely was my appendix, as confirmed by the ER doctor 24 hours later, after an excruciating three hours in a wheelchair waiting to be seen, and then doubly confirmed the next day when the appendix met its demise at the hand of a surgeon who looked very much like the son of one my pastors. This fact is notable only because when said pastor came to visit me in my drugged state, the only part of the conversation I can remember is that I told him immediately the surgeon looks like his son. It’s disconcerting to have a memory lapse, particularly when talking to one of your pastors, but my cousin who was with me assures I did not say anything uncouth.

Up until this point, I was adjusting to life teaching remotely my lungs in particular deteriorated to the point that it was dangerous to be in the building anymore. I had long term subs covering for me, and I recorded videos to send to my classroom. For the time being, I can’t even do that, though that first night in the ER my colleagues did persuade me to record a virtual lesson that was assuredly not for my students. So without further ado, here I am reciting Beowulf in Old English, on morphine:

Review: Annelies

I firmly believe that composers are actual magicians. Yes, they learn mathematically through rhythm, intervals, theory, and discipline, and yet they tap into this otherworldly realm. They somehow piece things things together to create a transcendent experience that cannot be measured empirically or even properly put into words. The same is true of conductors, who can bring black and white markings from a page and weave a tapestry of emotion and expression. Composers who conduct are extra special. The moment I shook hands with James Whitbourn in the summer of 2018, I knew he was special. I stood in an Oxford parlor in a room full of strangers, and in an instant I felt safe and accepted, and I perceived that he carried magic with him. Throughout the course, choral singing in the morning and choral composing in the afternoon, I found this to be true, whether in conversations over meals, over the piano, or as he stood in front of our choir. Yet in all those ways I knew him as conductor and teacher, this week, however, I got to experience the magic of him as composer. 

Under the vaulted ceilings National Cathedral, he conducted a performance of his work Annelies, a choral setting of the Diary of Anne Frank. From the haunting, elegiac notes with Klezmer overtones to the ethereal choral pieces, coupled in the program with snippets from her diary, the piece painted a tragically beautiful tribute to a young life lost, and the spirit with which she lived. 

Sometimes music gives us the language of grief, transports us beyond where words can carry us. In this work, James took the words, the spirit, the horror, and the loss and expanded the framework of experience to be able to take in the story. Not only does this work give Anne a more expansive voice from beyond the grave, but the work sends a stark, clear warning against injustice, prejudice, and hate. In music, he has created depth and dimension to the lessons her world already gives us. The victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting just 7 months ago were referenced in the program, and their memory hung in the air and permeated the grief in the music from Anne’s story, a chilling reminder that the fight against hatred still rages.  

I cried with strangers during the performance, and after the concert, I could only hug James, and tell him that the work was exquisite. But James knows all too well, there are times that words alone are inadequate.

To see a full performance of Annelies from another concert, see: