Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm With the Choir

You ever volunteer for something, then about five minutes in go...Crap. That was a mistake.

That was me Friday inside the church next to Ainsley's school. Of course, it being a church, I didn't say this out loud.

Last week we got a note home from Ainsley's music teacher asking for parent volunteers to attend a Friday afternoon rehearsal with the school choir and join them Saturday night for a short carolling appearance at the school Christmas party. Being a former choir girl who really misses singing carols every December, and being a teacher who could actually leave work and get to the afternoon rehearsal with minimal effort, I jumped at the chance to sing with my kid and her chorus friends.

It sounded good, in theory.

The kiddies all filed into the pews close to the piano. I waited for the other parents to arrive. I figured there would be half a dozen of us; there are a lot of very involved stay-at-home moms at Ainsley's school, and I often feel like an outsider because I usually can't do these little extra programs with the kids. But as we started warming up, it dawned on me: it was going to just be me and one other parent, a dad who admitted his only singing experience was "bar karaoke" on weekends and who I later learned could not, exactly, match pitch.


"Oh, great!" Ainsley's choir director said after warming us up. "Welcome, parents!" All two of us. "Can you sing the alto part on 'Angels We Have Heard On High?' I'll pick a few kids to join you, and it will be great to have adult voices guiding them since this is the first time they've heard it."

Not bad, I thought. That was a standard at Christmas time. I can do the alto in my sleep.

And as she pulled me and the dad and the four or five kids aside and had us sing the part by ourselves, it was okay.

"Oh, you're good," the teacher whispered to me. "Go stand behind the kids and make them feel comfortable in the part."

No prob, I thought. I sang in choirs for 10 years. I am good at standing in the back and blending in and singing the alto line and not drawing a lot of attention to myself with those pesky solos.

"Students," she called out in her lovely clear voice, "follow Mrs. Cranky and do the melody on the verses and those 5 of you do the harmony only on the 'Glorias'. She knows what she's doing."

She started us, and I sang the melody with the whole group. Then came the Glorias. I was looking at my music, making sure I knew what I was doing, when I had this weird sensation. Kinda like the end of that recurring nightmare so many people have where they show up to work naked but don't know it until they're already there in their office sipping their coffee.

I looked up...and 30 pairs of little eyes were all on me. All of the kids assigned to the harmony, and all but three or four of the kids doing the melody, had pretty much stopped singing at the Glorias and had just turned around to watch me. I mean, the teacher had instructed them to follow me and all...

I felt myself turn red.

One little boy standing right in front of me elbowed the kid next to me, without taking his eyes off me.

"Don't stare at her!" he chastised his neighbor. And they both just continued to stare.

I got through, with no help from the dad, who was singing something resembling the melody an octave below the kids.

Can I go home now?

The teacher eventually got everyone on track, and got the small harmony group to stop staring long enough to take a stab at doing the part after stranding me and turning it into a solo, and we ended up going through the rest of the songs (including "Away in a Manger" in a key only an 8-year-old soprano could love) uneventfully.

We got through the performance Saturday night just fine. At least as far as I could hear; the "audience" didn't really stop talking to listen to us. That may have been just as well; I think chances are good that none of the "alto" kids in front of me joined me on the harmony, and on "Away in a Manger" my side of the choir picked a different key than the one the choir director gave them at the first note.

"You have a beautiful voice," the choir director said after the program was over. "Thank you for joining us; I think it helped the kids a lot to have someone behind them helping them hear their notes."

I don't think the "beautiful voice" thing is true, though I am flattered. Not even at the height of my vocal "skills", after taking voice for two semester in college with a guy who really knew what he was doing, was my voice much to listen to. I think it has a nails-on-chalkboard quality that best belongs in the back row of a large alto section or to a Rockband song amongst dear friends who would never tell me how bad I suck. A soloist I am not.

But I always was a good choir girl.

Even with little eyes staring at me.

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