What Am I Doing Here? Reflections of a Choir Rookie

What Am I Doing Here? Reflections of a Choir Rookie

Written on 01/10/2020

Department:
Author: John A. Tamming

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The first thing for a rookie choir member to figure out is where to look. The conductor reprimanded us last week for not looking at her. You do not want to be off side this particular conductor. So I resolve this practice to stare at her waving hands. But then I lose my place and end up singing with the sopranos (which I suspect is not entirely appreciated).  

It’s like putting a golf ball—you cannot look at both the hole and the ball at the same time.  Something has to give. I can choose to hit each note precisely and be on my own or I can elect to more or less sing the right notes in a kind of approximate way but at least be singing along with the others. Wilma suggests you can look at both paper and person by holding the score out almost flat, at eye level. I’m thinking of cutting eye holes instead.

As you get more comfortable up there, you start paying attention to the others a bit more. Phil is carrying his section; Fred’s voice is, shall we say, audibly noticed in ours. Some of the sopranos are aiming at the trusses. The altos? I can’t hear them at all; the tenors are starting to doubt their very existence.

It’s been 40 years since Jan Overduin let me audition for London Christian High, his blunt admonition still floating around in my head all these years later (“I will let you in, but on the condition you do not sing too loud”). I thought I’d give it a go this Christmas again, cutting coffee break short.

The notes have not changed a whole lot over the past decades. There are ovals not filled in; those are the notes you hold forever. Then there are the black ones with the little dot; these are the notes you hold for a little longer than the black notes without the dot. I think I got it, but, oh no, our conductor is adding on more stuff. Like the “f” that means loud and the “ff” that means loud squared. So the tenors let it rip, only to be slapped down—“Don’t yell!” It appears we are supposed to be really loud but not super loud.

The Gloria section is a crazy amalgamation of every note known to man in history, compressed within two bars. Just as I hit one note, Tom has moved on to another I did not even see was there.

To the audience, a choir is a lovely, high-minded affair. Beneath the surface, it is in fact a minefield of tension: Tom riffs with someone over who came in too late; a conductor works through some marriage issues with one of the tenors; that same conductor politely tells the pianist that something was done poorly, that such was the fault of one of them and that she is pretty sure it was not her (she is wrong, it was all on her).

It is not a place for those with weak egos or thin skins. Jack is ignoring me in an effort to stay in tune. Once I thought I saw Tom wince. Jessica’s holding her infant, and I swear the kid is laughing at me. At one point, Joanne spins around and does a little impromptu conducting of the tenors herself. Fred suggests to Wendy that she practice with me during the week.

I think I can get through Christmas. Easter may be another thing.

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