On a whim, I signed up for a community choir audition. My voice trembled for the entire audition. I struggled to reign in my voice, which doesn’t respond the way it did in my younger days. My voice now is weaker, and sometimes even raspy. To make matters worse, I had to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Unless you have a multi-octave range with a penchant for belting, the Star Spangled Banner is very difficult to sing. Our national anthem is, in my humble opinion, one of the most unsingable songs ever written.
Trembling aside — I found myself a few weeks later in the back row of the alto section, awkwardly clutching my huge book that contained the score of Handel’s Messiah. Thankfully, the alto section is robust, populated by confident-looking women who go by reliable names like Cathy, Deborah, and Amanda.
Rehearsals happen in my old college choir room, so each Tuesday night I’m flooded with memories about college friends who have slipped my mind for the past three decades. This is the same building where I met my husband, and the ghost of his shy former self still roams these halls. When I was a freshman, that tall lanky boy tried to catch my eye as I tramped up the stairs for choir practice. Over time, I came to look forward to seeing his shy smile as I passed him by the practice rooms.
Music has always been a big part of my life. Being one in a group of many brings chills down my spine. A choir makes you feel a part of something big and grand, and the harmonies you can create with others is unlike any other feeling. But now, after nearly two years of isolation and social distancing? Singing in a group borders on something divine.
(What was the jingle to that old Coca-Cola commercial? I’d like to teach the world to sing/in perfect harmony …)
Cathy sits beside me. She has performed the Messiah many times, so I lean slightly toward her, relying heavily on her to find my entrances and starting pitches. She takes me under her wing; I don’t know a single soul, so she introduces me around.
All through this pandemic, the concept of breath carried fear and uncertainty. Each exhale could potentially unleash an unwanted virus to a loved one; inhaling could bring that unwanted virus to my own lungs.
But in the choir room, breath is the beginning and end of it all. Before we sing a single note, we loosen our shoulders and stretch our neck muscles, and the practice of stretching makes me feel as though I’m sloughing off the weight of the world I carry with me, leaving it in a heap on the floor. Then we fill our lungs with delicious air, all for the purpose of singing. The more air, the better: the Messiah has long phrases and difficult cadences that make the singing feel like an Olympic event.
Joining a choir is a tiny act of rebellion: it’s my way of reclaiming who I was before. Before the pandemic. Before I raised my children and attached my identity to their milestones, their challenges, and their passions.
I’m rejoining the world. I was afraid the world was lost to me, but here it is. I will drink in the air around me and fill my lungs unapologetically. I will attempt to hit most of the notes that Mr. Handel has written. I will sing my Hallelujahs.
Originally published Dec. 9, 2021 on My Huntley News.