It was a dark and stormy night.
Sorry, but it was. Tornado warnings were in effect for most of the metro area, and while no one takes them very seriously until the big horn blows long and loud, they might have accounted for the moderate size of the audience. It was either that, or the fact that every possible family member of every performer had already been shamed into attending the recital.
Twenty-odd performers then, thirty in the audience at the charming and well-worn Catholic church, second oldest in the city. Two more men came in just before the starting gun, but were re-directed to the gymnasium, where the Spanish-language mass (every two hours almost around the clock) attracted much larger crowds in much less danger of being startled.
I say thirty in the audience, but of course that includes the twenty of us who will sing. Our voice teacher is at the piano, her husband beside her turning pages. We all know the teacher, of course; and a few of us know each other, but it's a wide net our teacher casts: we students range in age from twelve to 85, from those with years of training and experience in solo and choral work, to those of us making our singing debut. Some of us wear Sunday best and pearls, two sport cut-offs, and I counted at least three tattoos and a nose ring. Diverse we may be in experience, talent, dress and age; but the tingle of anxiety, not to mention the lash of fear, makes us one band for this evening.
Our teacher has encouraged comfortable dress and a relaxed approach, but before we start, she does remind us of a few matters of protocol: hands at our sides or held loosely in front of us, no beauty-contest smiles, use the music stand if we must, bow when finished. Oh yes, and be sure to stand parallel to the stained glass windows and just under the central chandelier. Nervous as a spooked cat, I fail to hear why this location is important. Only later do I find out.
There are no auditions connected to this recital. It's a "want-to," not a "have-to" deal. If you want to, you get to. Thus objective listeners might rank us, as to skill, on a 1 through 10 scale, and find the majority of us at the low end. But there are no objective listeners here tonight.
So one of the first singers is tone-deaf. Thoroughly. Doesn't really matter, except perhaps to Singer #3, who is her son and thus a little embarrassed. Just a little. He is not tone-deaf, and sings a lovely old folk song sweetly and simply. The boy is possibly twelve, slender as a sapling, not noticeably nervous, plain and unvarnished as a wooden flute. Seated in the third row, we can almost hear him.
Soon after him, a powerful young man in his twenties gets up. His chest is broad, his hair black and crisp; he exudes testosterone like an after-shave lotion. He has served in Iraq and competed several times for black belts in judo and other martial arts, but assures us that "the fear factor" of the present moment far outweighs the previous challenges. He then punches out "The Impossible Dream" with pleasing vigor and conviction.
The crowd favorite, by a country mile, is M, a tiny woman, now frail of body and mind, but with a heart and spirit more incandescent than any of the rest of us can muster at the moment. Her smile shines on us all; her quips and frequent asides during other numbers are merry and full of the spirit of the occasion. When she stands to sing, her sheets of music obscure her face, so close must she hold them, and there are more than a few wavers in her voice, but also many triumphs, good solid notes, great tempo, and no doubt at all about how clearly she grasps the intent of the flirtatious song she performs. Later she does a delightful Mozart duet with another singer plus our teacher, who sings backup in case M loses her place now and then.
My turn. In case you missed the earlier post about my voice lessons, they began last spring. First ever. I want to make this distinction clear: public speaking I have done and overdone. Years worth. And enjoyed it all. But public
singing in a serious vein, never. Ever. And I am coaching myself all the way through this program, prior to my little number, that there is to be no comic intrusion, no easy put down of my own efforts. All sorts of quips and asides and grimaces and gestures occur to me, but I edit them out fiercely in advance.
My song is very short, but it is by Scarlatti and it is in Italian. And I love it.So I position myself parallel to the stained glass windows, directly under the chandelier, and I sing.
And now I discover the physics of being directly under the great dome of the church. The sound of my voice rings out and up and around, full and BIG, so much bigger than in the small library at home where I practised! I make it through with no obvious goofs, and one corner of my soul newly lit up.
The final few pieces of the program reward the patience of friends, family, and other performers with the high end of the rating scale. Three or four truly delightful numbers merit the "Bravo's" and even the whistles they receive.
Outside, an Oklahoma storm is filling the sky from west to east with sheet lightning. The torrents of rain applaud, applaud, applaud;
and we head home, soaking it all in.