Choir Loft

Belinda hoped tonight would be a rehearsal where she could fade to the back row. Always having been one of the “good” ones in other choirs, she was now surrounded by disconcertingly talented singers. Most of them 20 years her junior. She was now self-conscious about her vibrato, and ruefully remembered how she and fellow youthful soprani had snarkily imitated older singers’ wide, wavering vibratos. Chickens, meet roost.

The audition had gone well (feeling a little rusty, she had chosen an Italian art song that the accompanist could probably have played blind drunk with one hand), and Belinda went into the first rehearsals feeling pretty confident. But the music the conductor selected made her feel uneasy and off-balance. Close, dissonant harmonies; odd meters; foreign vocal techniques that left her feeling old, out of touch. Consequently, she had been making up excuses to avoid practicing. And when she did practice, she made so many mistakes! And why were there so damn many sustained high A’s? A few years ago, she wouldn’t have blinked. Perhaps she should have tried out as an alto, but she had always had trouble reading inner voice parts. Just couldn’t really hear it, you know?

So Belinda came to rehearsal feeling sickly, unprepared. A cold terror seized her gut when the section leader said they were going to do quartets this evening. Her only hope was that there were so many soprani, they would probably have to double up; she could pair up with one of the confident young girls, and follow her lead. Or she could duck out to the ladies when it was coming up to her row.

She was so distracted that she barely noticed the first couple of quartets singing one of the challenging passages in an impossibly difficult piece. Everyone clapped enthusiastically, gave critiques, praised the singers. It is true, they were not perfect, but they gave clear evidence of having practiced the passage. Belinda had barely looked at it, let alone worked out the alternating meter and (let’s face it) downright unpleasant harmonies.

Glancing over a few seats, she locked eyes with a woman of roughly her own age, who had been smiling and listening. She nodded, Belinda thought kindly, and seemed relaxed and unworried, tapping her foot lightly and breathing with the singers.

Suddenly, it occurred to Belinda: she had years, years of experience behind her. She had sung masses and requiems and cantatas of equal or surpassing difficulty. She had ALWAYS loved to sight-read! That’s all she needed to do, really, both listen closely to and shut out the other parts, simultaneously. That was what she had learned to do all these years.

All of sudden, she was up. Deep breath. Go.

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