Sunday, October 18, 2009


There are many auditory experiences that can be enjoyable, yet such divergence between what individuals want to listen to. Some people love the joyful shrieks of children; their childless neighbors do not. Opinions differ on train horns, cacophonous sports stadiums, and even the haunting hoot of a great horned owl.

I have few friends or family members who share my primary taste in music, so we simply agree to disagree and find something innocuous along the middle path during parties and family gatherings. Something that won’t offend anyone.

Which pretty much ensures that it won’t please anyone either.

When it comes to making music, I exist in a similar gray area. For a goodly number of years I warbled on a clarinet, and to a lesser extent, a tenor saxophone, but with the exception of a solo or two I was rarely heard on my own. Instead, I was simply a member of the instrumental chorus. It was a good place to hide.

My rattling the keys of woodwinds ended many years ago, so the only music you are likely to hear me making at this point in my life is when I press “play” on my iPod or when I sing in the shower. For your sake, I hope you never experience the latter. First of all, it isn’t that good. Secondly . . . why are you in the bathroom when I am bathing?

I sound all right echoing off the tile enclosure and with copious amounts of water streaming over my ears, but in the light of day (make that: in the tone of the day) I don’t have a singing voice worth listening to. I was never comfortable singing in a group at church—yes, Doubting Thomases, at some point in the distant past I had the opportunity to sing hymns at church—or belting out The Star Spangled Banner at a ball game. I’d sooner just mouth the words.

That was my advice to Kristin as she prepared for her first singing gig in over twenty years. “Just mouth the words,” I said, “no one will know.” Turns out that just isn’t good advice for someone who loves to sing.

You see, when she was a younger woman, Kristin minored in music at college and sang in several concerts before I whisked her off her feet and got her barefoot and pregnant. I demanded she keep my house clean and my refrigerator well-stocked, and by the way, make a little money as well. More than a little if possible. Before you knew it, two decades had passed.

During those long years the refrigerator always had a variety of delicious and healthy options for us all—me, the little woman, and the growing kids. So some things worked out just fine.

Other things didn’t. Kristin missed her singing. Real life had gotten in the way. And maybe me as well. Recently, however, she was able to rectify the situation.

Through a colleague at school she heard of a choral group based in the Bay Area that was having tryouts for their new season. In trying to keep the group fresh, the director was requiring all members to try out, even those who had been in the group for years. There were about seventy folks trying to be one of the lucky forty.

Kristin had a shaky first tryout, hooked up with a vocal coach for several lessons, and practiced her heart out. Unlike me, she can sit in a chair or at the piano and sing . . . actually sing a song that makes people say, “Hey, that girl can sing!” Raw talent, buried beneath real life.

In the end, she got the golden ticket! She made the team! Kristin was handed forty-five songs to learn for the upcoming season, a series of four concerts from October to June. Plus a four-day trip in the spring to Arizona where they will compete against other choral groups. And for the ultimate in jaw-droppers: a visit to Barcelona, Spain, for an international competition in late 2011.

This ain’t no glee club we’re talking about, ladies and gentlemen. This is some serious singing business, and Kristin has the chops. Recently the group had a fundraising gala to start off the new season. Kristin was nervous, and that’s when I gave her the best advice I had: “Just mouth the words.”

She politely declined, and then asked why I was wearing Kelsey’s soccer socks to the concert. It turns out that with my wardrobe downsizing in recent years and the infrequent use I have for fancy clothes, I don’t have many fancy clothes. The brown shoes matched the brown slacks, but the belt and the pin-striped shirt would have looked better with black or blue.

The tube socks were nothing less than a grotesquery. While Kristin sang like a beautiful nightingale, I sat with borrowed lengthy knit black socks showing between my brown shoes and slacks. The audience didn’t notice, because it wasn’t a fashion show, it was a musical concert.

But if I had worn the only alternative—my white running socks that wouldn’t have ridden up high enough to cover my hairy legs—there surely would have been a public outcry. Fortunately, the amazing choral performance of Kristin and her fellow warblers distracted everyone from the doofuses in the audience.

Or perhaps I should just say “doofus.”

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