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  • Writer's pictureLinda Odhner, with photos by Liz Kufs

Excerpted Inspirations #112

[Marise Crittenden has been leading a choir rehearsal of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.] The snow fell thickly and steadily, a cold, finely spun, straight-hung curtain, veiling all the muffled sleeping valley. There was an inconceivable silence about her as she drew her snow-shoes over the velvet-like masses of the snow. But within her were the ringing echoes of the rhythms and cadences of the afternoon’s struggle, imperfectly sung most of them, haltingly, or dully, or feebly, or with a loud misunderstanding of the phrase. At the recollection of these failures, she clenched her hands hard inside her fur gloves with an indomitable resolution to draw something better from her singers the next time. But mingled with them was a moment of splendour. It was when the men had tried over the passage she had explained to them the week before. She had not known then, she did not know now, how clearly or definitely she had reached them with her summary of the situation of the drama: the desperate straits of the Israelites after the three-year drought, the trial by fire and water before the scorning aristocracy, Elijah stark and alone against all the priesthood of Baal, the extremity of despair of the people... and then the coming of the longed-for rain that loosened the terrible tension and released their hearts in the great groaning cry of thanksgiving. She had wondered how clearly or definitely she had reached their understanding, but she knew that she had reached their hearts, when suddenly she had heard all those men’s voices pealing out, pure and strong and solemn and free, as she had dreamed that phrase could be sung. “Thanks be to God! He laveth the thirsty land.” The piercing sweetness of the pleasure this had brought to her came over her again in a wave. She halted on the crest of the hill, and in place of the purples and blues of the late snowy afternoon there hung before her eyes the powerful, roughly clad bodies of those vigorous men, their weather-beaten faces, their granite impassivity, under which her eye had caught the triumph of the moment, warming them as it did her, with the purest of joys this side of heaven, the consciousness of having made music worthily. The whole valley seemed to be filled to its brim with that shout of exultation. It had taken all of her patience, and will-power, and knowledge of her art and of these people to achieve that moment. But it had lifted her high, high above the smallness of life, up to a rich realm of security in joy. -Dorothy Canfield, The Brimming Cup (1919), pp. 315-316

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