Since performing in the chorus line of the village production of The Wizard of Oz at the tender age of seven, I have secretly/not so secretly harbored the desire to pursue a career in show biz…a rockette…Rizzo in
Grease…Dorothy…to be honest I’d have been happy singing in the chorus line forever… ! Now I’m no Rachel Berry (well duh, of course I love Glee) so realistically this dream was never going to be my reality – also the thought of auditioning brings me out in a cold sweat – but I can hold a tune.
It has only been since moving here though that I came to realise what I
enjoyed most about my brief dalliance with ‘the biz’, was singing. I dabbled in choir at primary school, winning an actual competition with our Joseph medley! This continued at secondary school. I even scored a solo singing MJ’s Ben, much to my sisters’ glee…see what I did there. So when a friend mentioned that she had found a choir that didn’t require auditions, and that joy of all joys they were running a summer programme called ‘Broadway to Beatles’, I signed up sharpish, along with said friend and another for good
measure – strength in numbers and all that!
Despite its glorious headline I knew we wouldn’t be recreating scenes from Glee, Pitch Perfect or Sister Act 2 (some of my favourites). I also figured our age would probably tip the average, but to be honest I didn’t care and nor did my partners in crime. Cut to our very first rehearsal and my predictions on demographic seemed spot on, though with the surprising (to me) addition of a sprinkling of under and slightly over 40 year olds…well of course if we loved to sing why wouldn’t others our age(ish), duh! So, we’re each handed a stack of sheet music (eek hadn’t had to read music for about 15 years, turns out it’s not quite like riding a bike!). Irrational fear sets in, what if everyone here is a professional musician, how am I going to sing from sheet music (I mean they do it in Glee but as we’ve already established I ain’t on that level), what if I actually can’t sing…! Then ‘boom’ I’m taken right back to being seven again – violin lessons, Saturday music school, ballet lessons in the drafty village hall – because in to my vision enters a woman. The kind of woman who commands attention just by entering a room. The kind of woman who, with just a ‘look’, can silence a room of 40 plus cackling adults with too much to say, and one who reminded me exactly of my old ballet teacher, the original school ma’am! Tall, slender and immaculate, though minus the orange hair and lipstick! She would be our leader, and though something about her scared the shit out of me (possibly her ability to tell grown women off without a second thought), it weirdly made me feel comfortable, I liked her immediately.
After a very American style round of introductions – where you live and how long you’d sung with their choir (some for over 25 years!) – we got to singing and started to make our way through the summer repertoire. Beatles Medley (no problem), All That Jazz (mini fist pump), You Can’t Stop the Beat (awesome – always wanted to learn all those lyrics) then horror as I realise our formidable leader is talking about solos…! Now had this been a choir in the UK I’m pretty sure at this point, even if you’d thought ‘yup, I can nail this’, heads would have been lowered and eyes averted or at the very least you’d wait to be asked, because you’re British and you can’t possibly claim that you’re good at something, especially not in front of people. But this is ‘merica ya’ll and in ‘merica shit goes down differently. Hands were raised, people stepped forward and said they’d give it a try, wait, what!? It was so refreshing to see such non-arrogant confidence – and they were really, bloody good!
Anyway back to our rigorous rehearsal regime! It became clear pretty quickly that there was a reason our formidable leader needed to be, well, formidable. Because trying to keep 40 plus people (particularly women) focused for two hours of rehearsal is much like herding cats. As soon as we would stop singing conversations would begin, and because the majority of our merry band were over 65 what they thought were subtle, whispered exchanges were in fact rather loud ones. This was all met with hilariously cutting comments and quite frankly ‘looks’ that could turn milk – from our leader. Ever the goodie two shoes, and because I’m able to converse in whispered tones, I managed to avoid her wrath! I also came to realise that she had incredibly high standards and was notoriously hard to please. Now whilst this provided us with many amusing moments listening to feedback and remarks, that bordered on insulting, it also meant that we started to sound really bloody good. Summer progressed, as did the confidence I had in my ability to sing (mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t asked to leave), and before we knew it we were in the throes of performing to our ‘warm-up’ audiences at residential homes in and around Marin (very rock and roll!). It was amazing to see the affect our singing had on these people and hearing all their compliments afterwards.
Inevitably the day of the BIG concert rolled around. I’d expected to feel nervous but for some reason, knowing I was singing with others, meant no sweaty palms for me, no siree, I was actually excited! Excited to sing and excited for our friends to hear what we’d been up to for the past ten Tuesday evenings. Knowing the high standards that were expected of us meant that we were all pretty determined not to let our leader down. The performance seemed to be going quite well, the applause seemed genuine, She even smiled a few times but what happened during our final song – a wonderfully happy, slightly cheese song, entitled Why we Sing – I most certainly wasn’t expecting. Tears formed in her eyes as she was conducting…whether they were because we’d made one too many mistakes, the fact that it was all over or our beautiful singing I’m not sure but she was clearly moved, and the fact that we had made that happen felt pretty incredible.
Since this first session we subsequently signed up for the delightfully named ‘Holiday Singers’ which I was desperately hoping would involve some sort of victorian costume and a lantern on a stick…it did not…it was dead Christmassy though! We then decided in January to join the slightly more hardcore ‘Wings of Song’ the repertoire for which scared me to death. I didn’t know any of the music so would have to learn everything from scratch…oh yes, I forgot to mention that we have to learn ALL the words and music off by heart! We also took part in a choir festival in Berkeley where we joined other groups to form a choir of 180 and workshopped with a Grammy Award winning conductor no less!
Now I’m not a miserable person, I’m generally pretty upbeat and feel fortunate to live the life I lead but it hasn’t escape me that this singing lark seriously affected my mood – it made me feel so happy, uplifted and content. And it turns out that’s not just coincidence, it’s actual scientific fact that singing makes you happy, and it doesn’t end there, the benefits seem to be endless. On that note I’ll leave you with some words of hilarious wisdom that were bestowed upon us by Alice Parker at the choir festival previously mentioned (turns out she’s a bit of a big deal in the world of choral composing!). She explained that she was absolutely certain war would end and the world could live in peace if only, at the first sign of conflict, the countries involved would immediately swap children’s choirs!!