Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Flashback: Girl in the chorus

I sang in the choir when I was in college.

Mama Cat suggested I audition before I started my freshman year. She thought it would be a good way for me to meet people, since I was very introverted in high school. I sang sporadically in high school, and always enjoyed it, so I figured, "Why the hell not?"

I first auditioned about a week into my freshman year. There was a small group of people in front of the auditorium, waiting to try out. They were closed door auditions; one person went in at a time to sing for the choir director. I was completely confident that I would make it into the choir; I wasn't nervous at all.

I auditioned after a guy I met at the door. He seemed a little awkward and shy, and I listened to his tryout through the door. His voice cracked in a couple of places and he sounded off-key. I thought, "I can do so much better than this!"

Then it was my turn.

A week later I found a very kindly-worded rejection note in my mailbox.

I burst into tears in the mailroom.

Oh, and the guy who auditioned before me? He got in.

And he became my best friend, whom I still mention in the blog today.

But that's another story for another time.

I got over my disappointment and ended up making friends in the choir anyway. One guy was in one of my classes, a couple of girls lived on my floor, and the guy who became my best friend (we'll call him BFF from now on) lived in the same dorm as I did, three floors above me. They helped me get tickets to all of their concerts, as well as into parties on campus. I had so much fun at those parties and concerts, it only strengthened my resolve to get into the choir my sophomore year.

And so, at the beginning of the year, auditions rolled around again.

This time, I was nervous as hell. I dragged my roommate to the audition. She was a transfer student and didn't quite understand what all the fuss was all about.

She would soon find out.

I got in this time.

Rehearsals were twice a week, each Monday and Wednesday, in an auditorium located on the ground floor of one of the dorms. A group of us singers would eat dinner before rehearsal, then we'd all walk over to the auditorium together. We'd chat with our fellow singers for a few minutes before rehearsal, then our director would signal us to come on the stage.

We had a director who demanded nothing but perfection from each one of us. She would make us reach our highest potential, then ask us to do more. She was tough on us, but we all knew that she did it out of love for music, and for us.

We sang a very diverse repertoire every concert. Through the choir, I discovered music that I otherwise would not have known about. We sang Carmina Burana and participated in the chorus of Porgy and Bess. We sang many versions of the Magnificat and the Gloria. We sang music in Latin, French, Swahili and German. As a result of being a member of this choir, I started listening to a lot of classical music and opera in my spare time. My mind was becoming more open.

Oh, and the concerts! How we all loved being up on the stage! We played mostly to full houses; I don't mean to brag, but that's the truth. Our audiences were more than just our friends and families; we had people off campus call the box office repeatedly to find out the day that concert tickets would go on sale. Concerts sold out in hours; if not, days.

The day of the concerts, we'd all have our call two hours before showtime. We'd gather onstage of the performing arts center for rehearsal, warm up, and go through our pieces. We'd get a pep talk and shoulder massages from our fellow members.

And then we'd go to the dressing rooms to get ready.

We had to wear these red satin dresses with puffed sleeves (not Anne of Green Gables puffy, but very subtly puffed). Our dressing room was a mess of bobby pins, hair spray, mousse, make up, curling irons, and other beauty supplies. We'd drink hot tea with honey and lemon, water, or apple juice to get our voices in prime singing condition. There were always plenty of throat drops to go around. We were always excited, yet nervous, to perform. We knew we would put on a good concert, but we still had a little apprehension every time we stepped onstage.

About fifteen minutes before showtime, we'd gather backstage, in the set shop. We'd line up according to voice parts. (I was an alto, and was always stage left. I was also one of the shortest members of the choir, so I was always in the first or second row.) Our chaplain would lead us in a brief prayer to Saint Cecilia (the patron saint of music), and we'd all silently bow our heads and say the "Our Father" right along with him. Then we walked onstage.

We'd be onstage for about ten minutes before the audience was silenced and the curtain rose. I had performed many, many times on the stage of our college performing arts center, and every time that curtain rose, and we saw the audience for the first time, I would get chills down my spine. Once the curtain rose our director would say a few words, then she raised the baton and the show would begin.

In addition to the concerts we performed on campus, we sang at many churches along the eastern seaboard. During my tenure in the choir, we took trips to Montreal, Washington, DC, and Disney World. I loved every minute of it. I loved the music, I loved the bus rides to our off-campus adventures, I loved our trips, and I loved performing. Not to mention, some of my closest friends from choir are still some of my closest friends today. Mama Cat was right. I did meet people--and made some lifelong friendships.

I donned the red dress for the last time in May of 1998, at the Baccalaureat Mass, held in the bright sunshine the day before graduation. I wore dark sunglasses throughout the entire service to conceal the fact that my eyes were red, puffy, and swollen from crying. The fact that I was departing college life, and the choir, for good absolutely wrecked my spirit. It was devistating. I was not the only one, though. We all felt it, even the undergrads. We all felt it.

Turning in my red dress wasn't much of a problem, though. I just put it in the pile, ready for the next deserving soprano or alto to don it the following year. But the thought of not singing onstage again was incredibly depressing.

In 2006, I sang onstage with my college choir once again, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding. It felt good to be back with my closest friends again, singing our signature pieces. It was especially good to reconnect with people I hadn't seen since graduation, to catch up on what had occurred in our lives since we last sang together.

Hardly anything had changed. There were still a lot of beauty supplies and apple juice in the dressing room. We still prayed to Saint Cecilia in the set shop before the show. The chills returned to my spine as the curtain rose.

Yet one thing had changed: The women now wore black dresses onstage.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a concert. I've been eleven years out of college, yet the minute they started singing the alma mater the memories came flooding back, as fresh as they were the day I made them. My friend and I kept referring to the singers onstage as kids. Kids?!? Man, I feel old!

It was a lovely, lovely concert. In addition to our signature pieces, there was a song in Swahili, and a medley of Gerswin tunes. Man, I missed being in the choir. I missed it something awful.

Some alums, however, missed being in the choir so much that they started their own, and asked our choir director to lead it.

My BFF and some other friends are now members.

They're performing tomorrow night.

I've got my tickets ready.

9 comments:

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

What a sweet story Kitten. Don't you love happy memories? And the fact that you made a BFF out of this makes it all more worth the while, no?
Such a wonderful story and how thrilling to go back to your Alma Mater to sing......and I'll just bet you have a lovely voice :)

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Bud Weiser, WTIT said...

That is just a terrific story. On so many levels, as well. Everytime I thought it was over, poof! A new wrinkle. Break a leg, good for you, but most of all enjoy!

Aileigh said...

Love the new header! She did a fantastic job! And I have been wanting a Bookkitten button for my blog for a while now! Yay! Off to snag it! :)

Vickie said...

Puffed sleeves! I love it!

Thanks for taking us through memory lane. Nice to be a part of something you enjoyed.

Yaya said...

My 14 year old cousin tried out for her first high school play this year and was devastated when she didn't get picked. :(


Grabbed your button!

drollgirl said...

what a fantastic experience for you!!! and you write so well about it!

i hope you can join this new choir and sing your heart out. if that is not possible, i hope you can attend many, many, MANY performances.

p.s. you know what professional singers go through each time they perform. the horror! the nerves! the joy! oh, that must be amazing. and it makes me think of barbra streisand (of all people!) and her stage fright.

Jodi said...

What a great story!! That was a good idea your Mom had. I'm glad you had such a great experience.

Swahili...I'm impressed!

Jodi said...

By the way...I almost forgot..I love the new header!

Mel said...

That was really a great story!

Do you ever get to Boston? My cousin Scott is the director of the Back Bay Chorale there. He's also the Conductor of the Oratorio Singers of Charlotte, which give me a chance to watch him conduct.

I alone in my family cannot carry a tune. Everyone else sings lovely.