One day last fall I was having coffee with Marathon Girl and mentioned that I was planning to join a choir in the spring. Her response surprised me. “You sing?” she said.
Of course I sing. Everyone knows I sing. Except, apparently, one of my best friends. I guess I stopped talking about it somewhere along the way.
My mom always wanted me to be in the marching band. She saw how close those kids seemed to be and thought it was the best way for me to be part of a group. I was already playing piano, so I added flute to my repertoire. I wasn’t bad, so I was able to start junior high as third chair flute in the top school band.
But, I hated to practice. I refused to do it, which made it relatively easy to beat me in a challenge (when a lower chair challenges you for your chair). By the time I was in ninth grade, I was 22nd chair. I didn’t really care, though. Band was never my thing.
In eighth grade, my friend, Sheila, talked me into joining the girls’ choir with her. Sheila was a second soprano. I was an alto, but I joined the choir to be with my friend and I wanted to sit next to her, so I moved myself to second soprano. The choir director kept trying to move me back, but it just wouldn’t stick. It didn’t really matter because I knew both parts anyway.
Sheila left choir after that year, but I was hooked. In ninth grade, I was in band, choir, volleyball, and cheerleading. I dropped them all for choir when I got to high school. There were two special audition choirs at our school: Montage (show choir) and Madrigals (chamber choir). I made it into Montage my first year and both choirs the remaining years. I played a character with a name in all three musicals and made All-State Choir both years I was eligible. I ate lunch in the choir room every day and hung out with my choir friends after school.
There’s not a memory of high school that’s not colored with song for me.
So, it probably shouldn’t have surprised me that the first year of college was incredibly lonely for me. But it was and it did.
So, as a sophomore, I decided to join a choir. I auditioned for the school’s concert choir and a small jazz choir directed by one of the teaching assistants from my History of Jazz class the previous spring.
I’m a mezzo soprano, which means not too high and not too low. Your basic mid-range singer who can do well as a first alto or second soprano. I prefer alto because I like to harmonize rather than carry the melody. They are different skill sets.
Imagine my surprise when the concert choir offered me a second alto spot and the jazz choir a first soprano spot. I was more comfortable with my upper register at the time, and had no experience with large choirs, so I chose the first soprano spot in the jazz choir. Huge mistake on my part, but hind sight and all.
Had I chosen the concert choir, there would have been other people singing the same part. The jazz choir only had eight people, one for each part.
Had I chosen the concert choir, I would have been singing harmony, which is well within my comfort zone. In the jazz choir, I was often carrying the melody. All by myself. With notes I could barely reach.
Had I chosen the concert choir, I would have made friends. I might have continued in music and had a much more fulfilling and enjoyable college experience. The jazz choir was competitive, bitingly so, which made friendship impossible.
I played a tape (this was waaaay before mP3s) for my high school choir director and a few former choir members. They were less than impressed, which hurt, but I understand why.
I left the jazz choir after that one semester and didn’t glance at a sheet of music for 15 years.
After Sparky and I moved to Washington state, I decided to give it another go. I auditioned for and joined a community choir in our area. The director was demanding, which takes a bit of nerve when you’re working with volunteers who have full-time jobs and lives. He would single people out and embarrass them. He managed to suck all of the joy out of choir for me.
I left that choir after six months, too. I had, apparently stopped talking about it, as well, by the time I met Marathon Girl two years later.
Something, probably a desire to escape from stress, brought choir back to mind last fall. I found a different community choir, one that invites singers of all backgrounds to join, and contacted the director. They were in the middle of rehearsals for their winter concert, but she encouraged me to come to their first rehearsal in January. I am so happy that I did.
The director is funny and warm. The choir members are friendly and quirky, just like me. It’s like I’m 15 and starting off in Montage again. We did a show tunes concert in June and I loved every minute of it. Two of the songs we sang were even different arrangements of ones I sang in high school.
Song A High school Montage:
Song A Redmond Chorale:
Song B High school Montage:
Song B Redmond Chorale:
In case you missed our concert in June, you can catch us at Redmond Derby Days on Saturday, July 9th, at 3pm. In front of City Hall, I think.
Did I mention that I’m so glad to be back in a choir?
That’s awesome, M! Maybe someday I’ll join you…we share a very similar choral history!
That’s awesome! What part do you sing?
Absolutely come join. The next season starts in September, I think – I’ll send you a note about when. No pressure, just the first of many opportunities.
I loved getting the pre Montage and post Montage history. I knew the Sheila you mention but did not appreciate her role in your music. The experiences in two overly competitive or demeaning choirs does break my heart. I am quite thrilled you are back in it. With life experience to add to your voice!
I’m thrilled about it, too. It’s been just lovely. Except for having to wear concert black on what will likely be considered the hottest day of the year. My hands were sweating so much I could barely hold on to my music folder. Worth it, though.
I, too, used to sing in high school, second soprano or alto. And loved singing and being a part of a group making something bigger than ourselves individually. But my voice really truly isn’t very good. So I’ve never sung in a choir again, but I still miss it.
I encourage you to find a community choir that accepts all singers. One with no audition requirement. Or, like mine, auditions only to figure out where to place you. It’s amazing to be walking around with (new) harmonies in my head again.
If you’re struggling with pitch or rhythm or anything, a good director will move you next to someone strong in that area who can help you get it without making it a big thing because it’s about balancing the sound. Even in an auditioned group people will have different strengths. Our high school chamber choir had four altos, three of whom stayed the same for my tenure in the choir. The other two had perfect pitch, but sang relatively softly. I had (have) no where near perfect pitch, but can be quite loud, even in head voice. They helped me stay on pitch and I helped them be heard. Not that any of us couldn’t have done it on our own, we were just better together. That’s one of the things I really love about choir. Like you said, making something bigger than ourselves.
Which is to say that your contribution would be beautiful, whenever and wherever you choose to make it. <3
So true, Michelle, band was my choice for you, so that you would belong to a smaller group. Good that you found your voice and the music that you loved. Montage, Madrigals, and musicals were some of the best times of your high school experience and your Dad and I loved every minute of it. You were fantastic in the choirs. You rock, baby girl. So glad we were able to catch your newest choir’s performance 🙂