I have a friend that I keep up with through Facebook named Karen, and I found out that her son just graduated at college. Years ago, we were pretty tight, when her son was ten. My favorite memory of him is that his older sister had something to do, and Karen had to bring her home, so I offered to take M___ so he didn’t have to wait around. When we got to his house, I tucked him into bed, read him a story, kissed the top of his head, and turned out the light. It was a turning point in my life, one in which I knew that whether I had kids or not, I’d be good at it, when the tape running through my head said that I wouldn’t. For instance, I also made him a mix CD (that ages me) called “M___’s Mega Mix,” with stuff like The White Stripes, Cake, etc. He gave me a thank-you note written in purple marker, just one of the many things I’ve lost in moves over the years that is precious to me and I wish I’d taken better care of it. I lamented to Karen that the kids were growing up so fast, and she said, “that’s the problem with children….. they grow.”
Seeing M’s grad pictures reminded me of all the funny things that happened between Karen and me, like going to Starbucks. I ordered some foofy drink with chocolate and mint, and she ordered a soy latte with classic syrup, saying, “flavored coffee is for young people.” I still laugh about that one, and because that’s what I’m thinking about, that’s exactly what I’m drinking this morning as I write.
Possibly the best story involving Karen’s kids is her youngest. At the time, she was six, and Karen was making brownies. Karen said, “adults are allowed to have their brownies in the living room, and kids have to stay in the kitchen.” Six-year-old E looked at the plate of brownies, me, and back to the plate of brownies before she said, “ARE YOU A KID OR A GROWN-UP?” Jesus, kid. Your guess is as good as mine.
Karen was such a good friend because even though there was a large age-gap between us, we were going through similar life experiences- hers a little more complicated because she was getting a divorce with children involved, and Kat and I had no assets… still traumatic, but at least no custody issues except for a duvet cover and a life-size Yoda (which she pawned for $20 just for spite… I don’t blame her. I scared the life out of her with that thing). But the point is that even though our ages didn’t match up, our mutual experiences were the same (or mostly).
They say that these are not the best of times,
but they’re the only times we’ve ever known…
And I believe there is a time for meditation
in cathedrals of our own…
Billy Joel- Summer, Highland Falls
It was a time where we both needed to breathe and stay in the same place, mourning the losses we’d just each experienced and leaning on each other for support.
It completely redirected the course of my own life, because I grew up a lot just being near someone who’d already accomplished great things and believed in me to the degree that she could. Portland was depressing and got even more so as the family I thought I knew disintegrated into nothing. At that point, I was truly inconsolable, and it took years to figure out why.
But that wasn’t until seven or 10 years later.
I had to sit in cathedrals of my own, working it out in the best way I knew how. At that time, John Strege, former choirmaster at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, rescued me by helping me direct myself back into faith. I’d lost it somewhat, and the ritual of the Episcopal church and the beauty of Bach turned me back around. When I doubt that God exists, I listen to Bach’s Mass in H mol (The Kick My Mass in B Minor), because there is nothing like Et Resurrexit to prove to me that God works through music. There is nothing better than singing with people you love, feeling that God chord running through you at a heart-racing speed.
I dropped out of my own choir at CCC, because this woman came up to me and said, “you sing so loud that I cannot even hear my own part. Could you tone it down?” In the moment, I was furious, because she wasn’t coming to me from any place of authority. Balance is handled by the conductor, not some pissant alto…. but I’m not bitter. It was then that I remembered what Zach said to me, that sometimes voices are simply too large for choral singing, because being able to pull back enough to create balance physically hurts. My piano is louder than everyone else’s, not because I’m not singing more softly, but because my forte is louder than everyone else’s, too. I would be great in an opera chorus where *everyone* has the same vocal qualities I do, and perhaps I will see about joining a company if it fits into my schedule. But a relatively small church choir is not the place for me.
As for now, I sit in the congregation about halfway back, so that the congregation has a singing leader as well. I have noticed that this is not a singing church, and I’m trying to change that. Someone to help non-music readers in the pews helps immensely, because even if they don’t get it the first time around, they’ll get it the second or third. Plus, since there are no others around me, I am not competing for balance.
It also really helps with my want to work with the youth, because I am not at the church ALL DAMN DAY. And I would much rather spend time with them than the choir, because the first thing I asked Nae, the choir director, was if anyone was mean. He said no, and he was wrong about that. I wasn’t angry at taking correction, necessarily. I was angry that this person was speaking with no authority whatsoever, and if the balance was really that off, the conductor would have said something. I have had enough of choir to last my whole life, unless I can find one that has enough ringers that the balance fits me well enough that I don’t have to physically strain every week to fit in with singers who just cannot produce the volume I can, because I’m not trying to be annoying. It’s just the way I’m built, and I cannot help it any more than I can make my eyes blue.
I have Joseph Painter to thank for that. He took me through an incredible amount of breathing work so that I could find my “opera voice.” At the same time, not breathing correctly from my diaphragm was what allowed me to blend in in the first place. I didn’t have enough air support to be able to carry notes to the back of the sanctuary… and this sanctuary is twice or three times the size of Epiphany and I can still fill it with sound.
I am looking forward to working on solo music again, because the recording I did of the Pie Jesu from The Rutter Requiem was not as perfect as I wished it could have been. I mean, it was absolutely decent, but I was not in top form. When I woke up that morning, I had total and complete laryngitis and had to work myself up to being able to sing at all. Given that level of vocal distress, it is the most perfect recording in the history of recordings. But I want another recording where I literally am at the top of my game, and whether that’s Sandy Patti or Mozart, it doesn’t matter. I just want it to be mine.
Just like the moment I tucked M____ into bed. That memory was just for me.