I sing in this choir once in a while. It’s a community choir, but they sometimes get called up by the local symphony orchestra to do bigger concerts and things. When that happens, they bring in “the extras” to beef up the numbers. I’m one of the extras. It’s pretty great, because I get to sing in these big exciting projects, but I don’t have to commit to anything long-term. It’s actually been a couple of years since I sang with this group, so when I got an invitation to sing in Felix Mendelsohn’s “Elijah”, I jumped at the chance.
The thing with this choir is that there is a core group of “regulars” in the centre and then there are”the extras”. As an extra, you want to fit in seamlessly with the group. You follow the lead of the regulars, keep your head down, don’t ask questions, and everything will be fine. The “regulars” group is a tough nut to crack. I’ve sung about 5 or 6 times with them, and I still think of myself as the “new guy”.
Tonight was a sectional rehearsal (just men) and this guy bounded in and started going around introducing himself to everyone as “Ron” (not his real name).
Okay, dude. Keep it in your pants. That’s not how it’s done here. You come in, you find your seat, and you keep to yourself. I’ve have years of experience with this choir and I know my place. You can’t just come in here and start “glad handing” everyone. There are rules, protocols to follow. In fact, if I get a slight head nod from any of the guys I consider that a victory. There’s this one nice dude who actually talks to me now, but that only started after the third concert. I guess I was on “probation” until then, to see if I would actually stick. Reader, I stuck.
What was worse was that this “Ron” guy decided to sit next to me. I should mention at this point that he had whitish hair and a weird little moustache and beard. He actually was a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders. All he was missing was the white suit and the string tie. Since it was a smaller rehearsal, we were in a smaller room and it was literally this guy on the end, then me, then the rest of the choir. I usually like to get myself in the middle of the section. I do this for a couple of reasons. I like to be surrounded by people singing the same part as me: when you sing in a choir like this that does demanding music and has talented singers, why not surround yourself with people who know what they are doing? Secondly, I pride myself in standing in the very centre of the choir when it comes to actual performance, so why not stake my spot out now? I like to get right in there, so I am right in front of the conductor. It’s just this weird thing I do.
But tonight “Ron”s forwardness robbed me of my mojo and I found myself on the outskirts of not only the section but of the entire choir. Rehearsal began. Our director wanted to start with the finale and work his way backwards. Fine by me. He’s the director after all. But to my horror, “Ron” starts singing next to me and he’s HORRIBLE. He’s like singing in a monotone and what’s worse, he’s not even singing on the right beats.
Now you can’t hide in this choir. The director is a musical genius and can spot a flat or sharp note from any spot in the room. How much more were we exposed in a sectional rehearsal with only half the choir present? This wouldn’t go on for long before the director knew something was amiss. I had to do something. I couldn’t be mistaken for the guy who can’t sing.
Normally, when I’m learning a new piece of music (like tonight) I’ll do more listening than actually singing in the early rehearsals. Listening and close reading of the music. I’ll sing along, for sure, but I won’t exert myself until I feel like I’ve got a fairly good handle on the material. Well that strategy all changed tonight. I had to sing out loud to differentiate myself from this new guy “Ron” next to me. I thought that if I sang out loud, then the director could tell it wasn’t me screwing up. I mean this guy was sometimes singing where the altos were supposed to sing, for fuck’s sake. It’s pretty goddamn obvious when you’re coming in the wrong spot when THERE ARE NO FUCKING ALTOS IN THE ROOM, right?
I’m telling ya, it was exhausting. But I think I made it through. I can only imagine the director could tell something was wrong, but he thankfully didn’t call anyone out over it. Maybe he chalked it up to an early rehearsal, or maybe his powers of observation were a bit off tonight due to the cold. In any case, rehearsal wrapped and “Ron” got up to go. Jeez, I mean he must know he was screwing up, right? Does he have any sense of self-awareness? This choir doesn’t mess around. You need to audition to get in, and I had a cousin who was in it once but was asked to leave because “her voice didn’t mesh well with the other voices”, so they don’t fuck around.
All I know is that next week if I see “Colonel Ron” coming, I’m burying myself deep in baritones.