A long-time friend warned me that joining an established choir would certainly bring more drama than music, and I had to ask Andy what he meant by that. His console controller is probably held a lot more than his saxophone these days, which is how things can go. We were each on our own couch, sitting back and playing co-op on the PlayStation 4 when he warned me.
“They’re just really petty,” he reasoned, probably drawing on his own experiences with bands.
Then the question remained, why would that matter?
From what I could tell within the first session, people were divided by generation more than anything else. And it wasn’t hard to find what I was looking for – the ones who ignored everyone else, belting their notes like sopranos who did no wrong. And let me tell you. They did NOT have a spare seat in their row, and they gave zero fucks for me.
My motivation for joining was to be part of something else, fewer solos in the shower and more group singing. But after one of our first shorter concerts my boyfriend’s first remark afterward was,
“Who was that girl singing all of the high notes?”
Not a blended sound, if you stick out like that. Not the ideal situation for me. If a measure needed working on she would raise her pointer finger and declare, “They’re singing the wrong note” as if she hadn’t already established that there was us, and then there was She. This girl in the first row, whom I had been watching, I nicknamed this soprano Nemmy. For arch nemesis. Her second in command turns around only to eerily, quietly take attendance with her cold glance. 3 absences and you’re out, so she’d better see you.
Picking a spot during practice was sheer hell. If I got the wrong woman next to me, I had better luck plugging my ear than using nearby sound for help. I thought you had to audition to be here. Apparently the struggle of trying to establish myself doesn’t always bring out the kindest thoughts.
People would approach me during break for the fellowship aspect of community choir, and I would give my best fake smile but always in some way dismiss their ice breaker. These notes needed to lead somewhere and I refused to settle for coffee and crackers. I had to figure something out. If there was no room in the front row… I would just have to redefine the coolest place to sit.
Immediately I latched on to a new member the second I heard she could sing, mold her before the nature of the thing got its hands on her. She thought my “us vs them” mentality was absolutely hilarious and then I told her I had auditioned for the honors choir sect, a small ensemble that is composed largely of Nemmy & Friends.
“I have to be honest… I kind of hope you don’t get it.” As in, you think I’ll disappear in the front row, never to turn around again? As in, you’re already helping with damage control after I don’t make it? Either way, a real friend sounds like that.
During the honors rehearsal, I treated them exactly how they’ve treated me. I sat, purposely, apart from them on the floor. And when the director gave us the section to sightread, I memorized the sounds and never sang them out loud. Instead I hummed them to myself like a secret, learning something more each time it was played.
I listened to how the other girls were doing. I noted their missed notes, struggles with breathing. I coached myself, stay cool, this is no big deal, these are not particularly big fish.
Then he called out one person for each part and had them sing the section a capella. Everyone was nervous and taking this little choir game awfully seriously. Soft singers sang softly, sweetly, and Nemz got up there and pushed out those high notes with something to remind us.
For whatever reason, I was called last. And I was singing with other parts that had already auditioned with other voices. After I stood up I set my paper on top of the piano so I could see the other three, as if seeing them meant hearing them better… Nemz went with her vibrato. My strategy was to move in toward them and act like I was trying to hear them so I could “understand” and “blend” better.
Within the first 20 seconds I saw the other girls’ hands fly up and it nearly broke my focus so I turned back to the piano. They seemed upset that I had memorized it? – I couldn’t waste a second figuring that out, I just went on like I was smiling. When everyone else had taken a breath, I pushed through the phrase, and I didn’t get louder – I never got loud, because I already had the melody that would be heard. I got softer instead, and for that last string of notes I hadn’t heard anyone get right, I got those notes right.
“You’re really good,” I heard one of them say, almost sadly, but I had a hard time not looking at the floor as I went back to my seat. When I did look back, watching them as I always had, they looked very different. They were uncertain. They had doubt and questions. If the whole thing turned out to be a loss, if he honestly preferred someone else’s sound over mine, I had done exactly what I wanted to do and it felt great.
The results weren’t announced for a week, and I knew they would wait until at least halfway through the rehearsal, so I asked my real friend if we could sit, specifically, away from the elitists but still directly in front of the director for practice.
“Whatever you want. I’m scrappy. You’re practically an amazon. We can take em.”
Well the chairs weren’t exactly as I’d remembered and we were still suddenly sitting right behind the other girls. One of them leaned to their friend, cupped their hand and whispered to another before they both looked back with emotionless expressions.
I smiled. Heyyyy!
And when we sang, he heard us individually. How could he not? We had both also taken advantage of another lesson learned – that in the beginning of the session, no one really bothered practicing. It was like singing alone. Almost like cheating. In case you had to hear me one more time, and clear up any thoughts you were having on the fence…
So Beth had just told me she hoped that I hadn’t made it. She added that the whole thing, the jokes we shared, the separatist stance we had taken, was never necessary and that it wasn’t too late to just enjoy everyone and every moment equally, to which I said, “Be honest with yourself. That would be so, incredibly, boring. Because without this little game, the whole thing is just a little bit laughable, don’t you think?”
She must have agreed, because she laughed.
“If I call your name, congratulations and please stay after rehearsal. The rest of you can stack your chairs and I will see you next week.”
It mattered, okay? It mattered to me. I was hoping, and I never hope. I endure. I adapt. I survive. But suddenly I had dreamed a little dream and dammit I wanted to live that dream.
Nemmy’s name was called. For whatever reason it was at this time that Beth had decided to pick up her chair and begin walking away from me. A few more names, then mine. YASSSSS BETCH.
Eventually I realized, one of the Elites, the one who took attendance every practice, who had to learn everyone’s names while I made up stupid nicknames, she hadn’t been called.
“Alright! See ya next week!” she said, grabbing up her stuff quickly. There are so many ways to perform.
Later nights, more music, and scrutiny upon us. The director calls this ensemble Perfect Blend.
Andy was right. Choirs are petty.
And as I stood beside Nemmy for the first time, I admitted to not minding how that sounded.