The Subaru and Lesbian Chic

Nae (Pearson, my conductor) has started me down the path of true soprano rep. In the back of my mind, I am screaming, “I am not ready for this,” while the front seems ok with it. The funniest thing that happened is that he started playing the Mozart Alleluia and he asked me if I’d heard it. I said I’d heard the melody, but I didn’t know the words or anything. He said, “it’s just Alleluia.” I’d only heard the instrumental version in the past, so I didn’t know it had words (had word?). It has melismas in it, which as a recovering trumpet player are the hardest thing for me in terms of progressing musically. You’ve heard them without knowing what they’re called if you’ve ever been to see Handel’s Messiah. With Bach, they go on for PAGES. It’s easier to sing them in a choir, because you can stagger the breathing across the section. In a solo, they have to be spot on with breath control. But that’s not my issue.

With playing brass, you tend to set your throat for every note. Melismas are too fast to be able to do that, and letting go of my old brass-playing ways has been a problem since I starting singing in earnest. Some people never get over it. Cecilia Bartoli certainly hasn’t, and that’s probably why some singers think she has poor vocal technique. I don’t think so. I have pity for the fact that she was a trumpet player long before she became a soprano as well. I don’t think it’s hurt her career any- people seem to love her. But at the same time, I have to lose the brass attitude if I’m going to “convert.” It is as if my entire body has to break open to lose my past, and that goes into every section of my life, not just music. But it is music that will make the other parts flow together. What I have learned is that music is capable of saving my life. It was disconnecting from Diane and Susan and Bridgeport and going to Trinity Cathedral and working on Bach’s Mass in H mol that reminded me there was life and breath and faith outside of what I was going through in church… although it also showed me the depth of my own selfishness when my grandmother died during the dress rehearsal and I wasn’t there for the actual performance. Of course I wanted to be at home, but my selfishness kept me from enjoying the fact that our family would all be gathered together for what seemed like the last time…. right up until I got there. When the plane landed in Texas, all was forgotten. It was just a bummer I had to work out, because I’d attended rehearsals EVERY NIGHT for almost six weeks. The music ran through my head in my grief, and then I realized that the rehearsals had their purpose. The music sustained me at a very low time in my life, and if you do it right, being in an orchestra or choir is an extraordinary high.

For me, being in a choir is the closest I’ll ever get to heaven’s glory. I don’t believe in the traditional versions of ACTUAL heaven and hell, but I do believe in the chord that runs between people, and nowhere in the world is that more evident than a choir or an orchestra. From the first downbeat until the last note ends and the overtones resound in the church, there is a palpable feel of presence in an In This Very Room kind of way.

With my new choir, I am slowly settling in. Ingrid, the woman that sits next to me, is just fabulous AND hilarious in a Diane/Sco/Argo sort of way, which means that if you looked them up in the dictionary, the first word would be irreverent. Nae pulled out the first hymn in choir practice, and I said, “It’s about to get all Episcopal in here!” Ingrid was all like, “let’s get it on, bitches.” I have met my match in terms of making other choir members laugh, but I got her. We’re doing The Lamb, a setting of a William Blake poem by John Tavener. When he said to pull it out, I said, “that one’s baaaaad.” She was all like, really? Is that what we’re doing now?” I said, “I will be doing this every time he pulls it out, every year. If it’s funny once, it’s funny a thousand times.” I’m doing pretty well at this talking to strangers thing, because after a couple of rehearsals, Ingrid doesn’t feel like a stranger anymore. We’re going to do the Lakme Flower Duet in church soon. She says she’s an alto, but she’s lying. She’s totally a mezzo in alto’s clothing.

So, anyway, she was telling me that her daughter told her on the way out the door that her look was “lesbian chic.” She was wearing a t-shirt, a sweater, and those Dr Marten boots that have like, 16 holes or something. I told her it worked on her… because it did. 🙂 She laughed and it was just nice to laugh and joke all the way through rehearsal as if I’d been there for years. She told me that she couldn’t go to our retreat because she was going to Cub Scout camp with her son. She told me to drink a lot of vodka for her when I said jokingly and slyly, “I’ll pray for you…” This kind of camaraderie was what I was looking for at Epiphany, and it just never happened. My experience of Epiphany was completely different than Dana’s, because even though we had GREAT friends there, none of them were in the choir with me. I was on my own, and it was tough shit. I don’t mean to bag on Joseph. He changed my life in terms of the way he took me under his wing and gave me voice lessons that literally raised my self-esteem and gave me a worth I will never forget. I just didn’t find anyone I clicked with and I felt alone because everyone clicked with each other. One of the basses told me that I was so loud he needed to turn down his hearing aid, and the marking was FF. I can flat do FF. But I wasn’t any louder than anyone else, and it just seemed like a mean thing to say, especially since it’s especially hard to stay on pitch with a hearing aid. I had a snappy comeback, and I bit my tongue.

The exception to that rule is I clicked with an alto, but it didn’t help me any because she was as far away from me as she could get in both rehearsal and the service.

Dana joined the handbell choir and had a TON of fun with everyone. It was like coming home for her, a great way to plug in that I just didn’t get. I was a little bit jealous, and because Diane started as my handbell conductor, I just couldn’t bring myself to join. Just. Could. Not. My memories of hiding under the handbell table and all of the emotions that went with it made it where I couldn’t even look at a handbell because it just screams TRIGGER TRIGGER TRIGGER. Coming to CCC Silver Spring was the connection I was missing in my life, because Nae was right. He’s the only mean one, and it’s mean in a very funny way. I really like him, because he really likes me. It’s a mutual admiration society, and because he gives me such complicated rep, to me it’s like he really believes in me. I may not believe I am capable of this, but he does, so I’m going to take him at his word.

And then, at the end of rehearsal, for the first time, someone offered me a ride home. It’s only an 8 minute walk, but it’s still the sign that I’m starting to fit in. If only I could remember the lady’s name…. But we climbed into her little Subaru and talked all the way to my house, as if there’s never been a time when we weren’t friends.



One thought on “The Subaru and Lesbian Chic

  1. I sometimes joke about my choir (part of a Greater Boston arts organization) being “my other church” and the fact I appreciate having no leadership responsibilities in it. In fact, as I’m reading your post, I’m just home from this week’s rehearsal.
    Now you have me wondering about how many of my cohorts have brass-playing backgrounds … especially in the alto section.
    You’ve done a wonderful job relating some of the shared joys and tribulations of being part of such an experience.


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