It was a simple practice session. We were 30 individuals, but for three glorious minutes, we were one.

For months, we had sang the song. We memorized the lyrics and practiced the mechanics (from a whisper-like pianissimo to a steadied and balanced fortissimo). We worked on taking simultaneous breaths. We could not master it. The sopranos or tenors were too loud, the altos soft, or the breaths too frequent.

It was a mammoth of a song, an a cappella Ave Maria by the gifted composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. It required so much of us, yet we loved it. The song was a delight to sing, and while we did so imperfectly, it was altogether captivating.


That day was different. It was competition day. We were to sing this to judges in two hours. While other choirs practiced outside in the parking lot of a school, our choir director had booked a church for the morning. We would practice the song in its natural environment.

The director pressed record on his tape recorder, lifted his hands, and we took a deep breath in unison. His hand dropped, and we began the first notes of the song. “Bogoroditse djevo,” echoed through the chambers.

In that moment, we knew: this was the performance of our lifetime. We shared the same breaths, sang the pianissimo at the same level as the person next to us, and as the crescendo rose, so too did the beating of our hearts. We whisper-sang the final notes and held our breath. The finale echoed through the church as the director put his hands to his sides and let out a peaceful sigh. We wiped the tears from our eyes and stood silent for a time.

Returning to our teenage bodies and minds, our irreverent cheers reverberated through the halls and sanctuary, and the moment was gone.

We never matched that performance, even later at the competition, but we still took home top prize that day. Most of all, we left with the knowledge that we had known perfection for three solid minutes.

Attached video is of the Voces8 vocal group, and it is one of the best versions of this song I’ve ever found. Gives me goosebumps every time!