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Thursday, September 17, 2009

sing low

I did something very unexpected and impulsive last week.

I joined a choir.

I am just that kind of a wild and crazy girl.

I haven't sung in a choir since high school, or was it junior high?

I don't remember high school singing, but I do remember being in Glee Club in junior high - sadly not in the least bit like the new tv show. I really liked being in the Glee Club, but there was one thing I could never come to terms with.

Mrs. Dawson made me sing alto.

I didn't like singing alto. Altos are the third class citizens of the all-girl choir, let me tell you.

Altos sing the same note over and over and over until suddenly they don't and where that next note is supposed to be was usually beyond me. I couldn't seem to anticipate it.

I absolutely love to sing but hated the struggle to figure out just what notes I was supposed to be singing. I have a pretty good memory for songs I like, for anything with a good hook, but we were usually given a few cursory runs through the alto line and then left to fend for ourselves while the sopranos and 2nd sopranos got to breeze through the melody lines.

The fun parts. The parts that made the songs so memorable. The parts that made you want to sing the songs in the first place.

When I was in the 9th grade, our school staged Oliver, one of my favourite musicals. So many of those songs are wonderfully singable - although some of the lyrics (Consider Yourself, Food Glorious Food, I'd Do Anything) are practically impossible to remember if you are a lazy 14-year-old trying to coast by on the memories of other 14-year-olds who were hoping you were going to memorize it.

On the other hand, if called upon, I could belt out every verse of Who Will Buy, including the introductory bits sung by the chorus. It is a lovely song with sopranos offering "ripe strawberries ripe" and 2nd sopranos plaintively calling for someone to "buy my sweet red roses". I could totally hit those notes too, but instead I was called upon to offer "knives, knives to grind" hitting mournful notes that still grind on my nerves.

I suppose the part is actually for bass voices, but while we had many boys in the production, we were in junior high after all - very few testicles had dropped sufficiently at that point to produce sounds low enough. The altos were probably the only ones man enough to do it.

To make matters worse, we had to come in a half beat behind everyone else, on an obscure note that none of us could recognize if it had jumped up and grabbed us by our non-existant balls. Our Nancy, the female lead, was recruited to bring us in somewhere in the approximate vicinity of the correct time.

If all these sour grapes lead you to believe that the part I really wanted to sing was that of the female lead, then you would be right. I did want that part and I tried out for it, but I was no match for the girl who rightfully got the lead. She had a strong, beautiful, mature voice with a terrific range that I never could have matched. She did us proud.

I think that I am a pretty good singer but my difficulties with singing alto convinced me that I was inappropriately placed. I was convinced that my music teacher had never listened to my voice long enough to know what I should be singing.

So when the opportunity to join this choir came along the other day, with the offer of placing you in a section based on a quick check of your range, I jumped at the chance.

I went to the class and eagerly stepped up for my turn to sing my scales.

So the guy listens to me strain for the highest notes and then comfortably sing the low and he pronounces my sentence: Alto 2.

In horror, I begged and was granted the small mercy of Alto 1, but my dreams of singing the goddamn tune already were finally and irrevocably dashed. My voice has betrayed me.

So now I am trying to make the best of it, dusting off my sight-reading skills (almost non-existant), and listening really hard to the ladies sitting around me who apparently know what the hell they are doing.

The first song we are singing is an excerpt from a larger piece. I don't know what it is called, the only thing identifying it is the handwritten word "Pink". I think this might be the composer, although I'm pretty sure it's not this Pink what with it being in Latin and all.

After a few classes, I was starting to think I'd never get anywhere, my memory of the chorus consisting of this:

Gloria in excelsis deo / something something SOMEthing /
some somethingy thing / thingy voluntatis

Also that there was something in there about a minibus.

But then by the fourth class, I suddenly had that, all two lines of it. I felt proud of myself for about two minutes until we got started on the verses and I quickly got in over my head again. By verse 3, we were singing about Chakotay in something or other. I'm still not sure how the tune goes, losing my place on the sheet music quite easily, so I continue to listen hard and try to fake the tougher bits until I have heard it sung correctly enough by my better trained compadres to follow suit.

I will try not to be discouraged. It helps that today the instructor mentioned that composers were not very imaginative when it came to writing alto parts and that they were hard to sing. So I guess it's not just me, then.

I am enjoying it at least even if I still feel the need to mutter under my breath from time to time.

I will go on singing about Chakotay on a minibus at least until the Christmas concert and then we shall see.

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