My friend Elizabeth reminded me today just how much I miss singing. She longed for a time when we could lift our voices together. Me too. Who ever thought singing could be dangerous to your health? But breathing has become dangerous, at least around other people who may or may not be infectious with the dread Covid-19. And breathing is essential, of course, to singing. And living. So no singing with others, if you want to stay healthy. Except distanced singing, like lonely Mocking Birds. Not the same, really. Raising your voice with others is one of the most rewarding communal experiences to be had. One purpose, one song, all together; better, stronger voices carrying the rest along, it's like flying, soaring above the mundane, the ordinary. Oh how we could use that now.
My parents always sang in the church choir. I started when I was thirteen, so proud to join and go every Thursday night to choir practice. My dad was a tenor, because tenors were scarce and he could stretch his baritone to suit; and my mother was a soprano. Her voice was clear and pretty, but not strong. I sat in the alto section and was able to follow along with the three or four other women with confidence. One of my happiest memories is of singing with my mother as we did the dishes. It didn't happen often, but when it did we had a wonderful time. She loved the music of Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin...that was one thing we shared. And we sang the dear old familiar church music, too.
In high school I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the prestigious Acapella Choir. Auditions had to be passed. Could you actually carry a tune? Could you read music well enough (which wasn't very well)? From talking to me, the Director said "You're a soprano, right?" "No. An alto," I said. She looked skeptical, but had me sing the alto line of Silent Night, a piece I had sung a thousand times.
I waited to see if I passed. You weren't told right away. Finally I received the hand-written note that welcomed me into the choir. One of my best friends was, too. Andrea and I always sat together during practice, stood together when we performed. We were both tall, so we were in the back row. It was glorious. We toured the city, performing in various venues, including the Ambassador Auditorium on one occasion, as I recall, under the direction of Howard Hanson and with hundreds of other choirs from high schools all over Los Angeles. What a jubilant sound we made!
I chose to be an alto because I knew I couldn't make the switch from my lower register to the higher head tones at B below high C. Someone should have taught me how to do that. I longed to soar with those higher notes, but so fearful of cracking, of screeching. I was asked to sing "The Lord's Prayer" in church for a Sunday evening service. It was way beyond my range, way beyond my comfort zone, but I did it. And I did it loud, because I didn't want to sound weak, or timid. I had been taking singing lessons, and my teacher was confident it would be fine. It wasn't fine. And I did only one solo in public after that, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," a suitable range, but a difficult song for a kid to sing. But I was comfortable with duets, where I could sing alto, and did many of those for church services.
When I had children I had a string of lullabies I sang for them from the time they were born until they didn't need sleep-singing any longer. I was never ready to give it up, and I miss it!
Will there be a time this year when we can gather and sing? Maybe. Just maybe. Until then, maybe we can be like the Mocking Bird and sing alone. Let's do it. Let's sing our tunes on our own until we can bring them together. We could all use the practice, right? What song will you start with? Will you stretch to the high notes?