понедельник, 10 декабря 2012 г.

Confessions of an Unlikely Chorale Member

By Amy Green

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.
~Les Brown

At my school, Select Chorale is a very big deal. Kids who make it into this class are an ultra-talented mix of musical theatre stars, piano prodigies, and soloists who have been taking voice lessons since grade school.
Then there's me. I'm the one who struggles with reading music, took three years to understand intervals, and enthusiastically performs choreography... in the wrong direction. Not exactly Select Chorale material.

Somehow, I made it into the group. I still swear it was some kind of paperwork error.

That's why I wasn't feeling too confident when our choir teacher, Mr. Avery, announced our first assignment. "By next Friday, you'll be singing one of our pieces in quartets," he said from his position at the piano. "This is an advanced class, so I expect you to work with it on your own time."

Quartets. I did the math. That meant one person on each part. Just me singing against a soprano, tenor, and bass. Chances were good that they would all sound better than me.

I gulped again when I saw what the piece was: "Sicut Cervus." It was Latin. It was a cappella, so the piano wouldn't cover up any mistakes we made. And it was very, very complicated, with notes scattered all over the place, like someone had attacked the music with a machine gun.

The first day we worked on the song in class, I knew that the music was harder than anything I'd ever sung before, and I just wasn't getting it.

"By Friday, you'll be good enough to pass," one of my fellow altos advised me.

"Just fake your way through. That's what we all do."

Something about that struck me as being very wrong. A lot of things in life came easily to me. Here was something that I had a hard time with, and I was supposed to just give up? "I don't think so," I remember muttering to myself as I put my music in my backpack to take home that night.

I did everything that I could to learn that song. I asked a friend to help me play my part and teach me some rhythms. As I did dishes and worked on homework, I listened to a recording of the song play over and over again until I literally heard it in my sleep. Every morning, I would stare at the list of solfeggio syllables attached to my mirror and sing my garbled "do, re, mi's" through toothpaste.

I even tried to play parts of the song on my own. This was harder than it sounds, since the only note I could recognize on the piano was middle C. The keys of our old, out-of-tune piano were soon covered with numbered masking tape so I could plunk out my part, note by note. Not exactly a typical Select Chorale strategy, I guess, but it worked for me. I got a little better at the piece every day, and in-class rehearsals helped too.

Then disaster struck. On Thursday, the day before quartets, Mr. Avery was absent. Our substitute teacher knew even less about music than I did, which was saying something. "I guess you're supposed to work on something called 'Sicut Cervus,'" she said, squinting at the note Mr. Avery had left.

I groaned. This could be interesting.

Everyone gathered around the piano, and one of the sopranos gave all of the parts their starting note. We started to sing... and almost instantly fell into an off-key mess.

The only thing more painful than listening to our singing was listening to everyone argue about whose fault it was. "The guys need to come in stronger on the key change," the piano player insisted. "Mr. Avery's said that a dozen times, and you still mess it up."

"Hey, at least we weren't sharp," a tenor shot back.

"I think we need to go over the first section again," someone else suggested. "Our tempo is totally off, because some people," she gave another girl a pointed stare, "are trying to set their own pace."

It went on like that for several minutes. Too many people talking and not enough listening, especially the big, important seniors. We had been in the choir program the longest, and apparently that meant we had the right to order everyone else around. There were seniors glaring at sophomores, juniors, other seniors, the substitute teacher, posters on the wall — you name it, they were glaring at it.

Before I had a nervous breakdown, I glanced over at my friend Evan. He was serenely surveying the chaos with his hands in his pockets and a slight smile on his face. It was like he was secretly amused by all of us.

I hurried over to him. Clearly, he didn't understand the situation. "We have to sing in quartets tomorrow, and all of us sound awful!" I pointed out. "Plus, everyone is fighting and insulting each other! How can you be so calm?"

My little tirade did nothing to shake Evan. He shrugged. "I just stand where I'm supposed to and sing every song the best I've ever sung it."

Well. That was a new thought. Could it be that it my hustle and bustle to get every detail of the song down perfectly, I had forgotten that music is supposed to be fun?

Sure, it was a bad idea to fake it through the song and give a half-hearted performance. But stressing out about it wasn't going to help either. That was something I needed to be reminded of as performance day approached.

"All of you should have come prepared to sing in quartets," Mr. Avery said the minute the bell rang the next day.

We all nodded... or, at least, most of us did. A few people looked guiltily down at their music, trying to cram before they were called in front of the class. "Then you should be ready to sing the song by yourself." For a split second, everyone was silent, and even the rustling music stopped as we processed that thought.

No, it wouldn't be me against three other choir members. Not this time. It was just me against... me.

Maybe it always had been.

I waited to go until last, not necessarily because I wanted to, but because everyone else volunteered before I could force a word out of my dry mouth. I remember Mr. Avery calling my name, and then everything is a blurry mess of pitches and solfeggio.

I do remember the looks on my classmates' faces as I walked shakily back to my seat. Most of them seemed shocked, like they were thinking, "How did the shy, musically illiterate girl in the back row get up there and sing like that?"

Evan didn't look surprised. He just gave me a thumbs up.

I knew that, somehow, I had made that dreaded homework assignment into real music. When my "best," the vague, mysterious standard that I claimed to strive for, had actually required striving, I had risen to the challenge.

It ended up being easier than I thought. All I had to do was stand where I was supposed to and sing the song the best I had ever sung it.

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