“And everything could change like that, and all these years go by so fast. But nothing lasts forever…” Halestorm, Here’s to Us

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but never really knew where to begin. It’s been a year since my best friend moved away, and to say that everything has changed in that time is the ultimate understatement. 

It’s a strange feeling when someone leaves your life after 10 years. For 10 years Dave was my best friend. For 10 years my life revolved around my commitment to the choir. Saying goodbye to all of it left me feeling a little lost–like a piece of my identity had disappeared, leaving a huge void. 

But little by little, the void was filled with a new identity. And I feel like life is better in every way. There have been growing pains along the way, but I have no doubt that I’m in a better place now than I was a year ago. 

Dave told me he loved me, even encouraged me to relocate to his new town.  And it was easy to get caught up in his promises. But as 2014 rolled into 2015, it became apparent that his promises were nothing but words, and I chose to start the new year with a clean slate. After four months of trying to recapture the past, I decided it was time to move towards my future. A few months later, I met Hunter. I’m still feeling pretty selfish with these memories, so I won’t divulge too much, but where Dave was all empty promises, Hunter walks the walk. Not to mention the times when he looks at me like no one has ever looked at me before. It’s all pretty incredible. 

Dave actively discouraged me from continuing with the choir. He had nothing but negative things to say about the new director, and a year ago I had no reason not to trust him. It was easy to walk away at first–I was waiting for a repeat lumbar discectomy and was in excruciating pain. I had no desire to drive to rehearsals or Mass. 

After my surgery, I began to attend a different church, and after I decided to move forward with my life one of the first things I did was to get involved with their music ministry. It wasn’t the same, but that’s okay. I’ve met new people, I’ve learned new music, and I was even introduced to a new voice instructor, which has given me the chance to further grow. 

Then in June I was contacted by a woman from the old choir. She asked me if I would visit them for Mass one weekend. When I showed up she dragged me up to the choir loft and I sang both Masses that day with the groups I had left. It wasn’t the same, but it wasn’t better or worse–it was just different. And even after I walked away, I felt welcomed back by both old and new faces. A year ago, I swore I would never go back, but there I was. I’m not going to lie, it’s still hard sometimes not to feel wary after all of the things Dave told me, but the more time I spend with the new group, the less I’m able to reconcile David’s words with my experience. 

So it is that one year later life has taken me to new places, while returning me to a few old places as well. It’s still strange sometimes to revisit pieces of my past life through the lens of the present. But I suppose that’s what growth is about. 

Right before Dave told me he might leave, I told him I was thinking about walking away. I was growing tired of the drama and his inability to get out of his own way. Apparently that was the right choice, even if it did take me some time to get there. 

“I am the fire. I am burning brighter, roaring like a storm, and I am the one I’ve been waiting for. Screaming like a siren, alive and burning brighter. I am the fire…” Halestorm, I am the Fire

The Next Chapter

Around October, 2004, I decided that I needed to find a choir to join.  In my mind, this meant finding a church.  Over the next few months, I attended a number of different churches, hoping to find both a choir and a warm and welcoming community.  There was only one church that I re-visited for a second time, and then a third.  All three times, I saw the church’s Contemporary Group, which sings the earlier Sunday Mass.  The group sounded like what I expected from a small church music group.  There were a couple of people who sang well, but overall, it honestly wasn’t all that great.  But that wasn’t a drawback for me.  I knew that I could carry a tune, but that was all the confidence I had in my voice.  I loved to sing as far back as I could remember, but always considered myself average, at best.  So a not-so-great group meant that I wouldn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough.

I remember when I finally had the courage to approach the director about singing in the choir.  It was December 19, 2004.  I told him i wanted to join the Contemporary Group.  He looked at me with surprise and asked, “The Contemporary Group?  Are you sure?”  Then he asked me if I had a chance to hear the regular Adult Choir.  I had not.  So he asked me about my plans for Christmas and said the Adult Choir was singing Christmas Eve.  He asked me to listen to them, and then make my decision.

A few nights later, I saw the Adult Choir for the first time.  I was amazed, to put it mildly.  Never had I heard such music from a church choir (except the Chapel Choir when I was in college).  Their final prelude song was Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and I found myself wanting to join in from my seat.  This was the type of music I was used to singing.  But at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to sing in a group like that.  I suspect the director thought I changed my mind when I disappeared for the next two Sundays, but I was torn between joining a group that only sounded okay, and one that sounded divine.  I debated where I would feel the most comfortable.  I debated what time I really wanted to go to church, since each group sang at a designated Mass.  Finally, I opted for the less intimidating of the two groups, and officially joined the Contemporary Group in January, 2005.

Eventually, I ended up singing in both groups, but it was a long and twisting road to get there.  The first few times I sang with the Adult Choir, I felt like I wasn’t really needed, and that it didn’t matter if I was there or not.  It didn’t matter that I had started getting solos in the Contemporary Group.  In my mind, I was still that awkward 8th grader who butchered her song during the school talent show.  It was years before I stopped physically shaking whenever I sang by myself.

It was my director who believed in me long before I believed in myself.  From that very first solo in the Contemporary Group (given to me at my second rehearsal, which I was later told was a new record), to standing on the altar to lead the congregation during Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil, to the handful of Sundays when I was the only first soprano in the larger choir, it was my director who had faith in me and gave me so many chances to learn to have that same faith in myself.

Today, almost ten years later, I said goodbye to my director, as he moves on to his next adventure.  I know it’s the best thing for him, but I still feel like a small piece of me died today.  So much of who I am today was shaped by my time in the choir.  So much of my identity is tied up in belonging to those two groups.  At the same time, my director became one of my best friends and partners in crime.  We reached a point where we could look at each other during Mass and have entire conversations without.  I know that the Choir and the Contemporary Group will continue under new direction, but I’m not sure if I can continue with them.  It’s true that the only certainty in life is change, but so much of what the choir means to me is tied up into the faith and the confidence my director gave me.  The idea of continuing in his absence feels empty and hollow.  The music might still be there, but it feels like the heart behind it is gone.

As I prepare to turn the page to the next chapter, I remain undecided about my future and where it will lead me.  I continue to pray that as I was ten years ago, I am led to the place where I belong.

It All Comes Down to This

It was almost two months ago that the choirs started preparing for Christmas. Two months of late nights, seemingly impossibly high notes and seemingly endless retakes. And it’s all over in a mere 20 hour marathon of masses.

I normally dread the major holidays. Not because of the late nights, or the endless rehearsals. I dread major holidays because for the last six or seven years I’ve spent Christmas Eve and Easter Vigil down on the altar as song leader. It’s not a lot- sing the melody on the hymns, sing the gospel acclamation, raise my arms like a giant bird to cue the congregation to sing along. But I have a bit of a confession to make. As much as I love to sing and feel proud when I get a solo, I hate being the center of attention.

Yes, you read that right. The girl who loves a good karaoke night hates to be the center of attention. Go figure. Actually, I’ll share a little secret: my major stage fright was the whole reason I started doing karaoke. When I first became the cantor for the smaller choir, it took me a whole year of getting up every week and sing the psalm and gospel acclamation by myself before I stopped physically shaking every time. I started doing karaoke as a way to reduce my nerves. It definitely helped, but I still would rather stand in the middle of a bar belting out some Evanescence than stand on the altar alone leading the congregation on Christmas Eve. Fortunately I was only down in front for the first part of the mass. Then I could join the rest of the choir upstairs in the choir loft.

Of course this doesn’t mean that this Christmas Eve was easier. It just means the challenges were a little different. The biggest challenge was my solo during the 5:00 mass. Especially since it didn’t start out as my solo. Just a week and a half earlier another first soprano totally rocked this solo at our Christmas concert. It’s one thing to still feel line I’m proving myself. It’s another thing entirely to feel like I’m not only still proving myself, but that I will inevitably be compared to someone else. It’s a whole different nerve-wracking experience. Ah, the issues of being an understudy.

I admit it, I survived. All four masses. I also slept most of the day yesterday as I tried to recover. It almost feels like it was all just a weird dream. Luckily, Easter is on the later side this year, so I have a brief reprieve before I have to do it all again.

Make a Joyful Noise Unto The Lord: Christmas Party Special

This weekend was our choir Christmas party. My parents predicted that the party should be good for a post or two, and they were right.

You know this isn’t some stuffy old party when members of the hostess’s family comment about how out of control things got last year (and pretty much every year before that). As I mentioned in my last choir post, it’s the church choir people you have to look out for. The liquor flowed freely, and the snide comments followed soon after.

I no sooner entered the house when I began to think I stepped into the Twilight Zone. First, I was approached by a woman who has always only had nasty things to say to me. She complimented me on my eye makeup. Twice. WTF?! I told my director about it and he was equally stunned. I’m actually convinced that hell froze over at that moment.

A less than surprising conversation followed a bit later. I somehow ended up talking to a man that I cannot stand (he’s one of the people trying to get into the director’s pants and one of my jobs at choir parties is to make sure that he is never left alone in the same room as my director). So I’m playing nice and said something about how I was having problems with my neck. And “Leonard” starts to ask me what I did about it and then interrupted me when I started to tell him. Then, he asked me what was wrong with my neck and I told him about the multiple bulging discs. Leonard again interrupts and says that I must be wrong because there are only 5 cervical vertebrae. Seriously?? He knows I work in a hospital, but he still argues when I try to correct him. I bit my tongue, rather than calling him a stupid asshole, only because the liquor had not quite flowed enough by then to not have caused a huge scene (however, Leonard will be bequeathed with a labeled and highlighted diagram of the spine at out next rehearsal because I enjoy nothing more than calling out stupid people on their stupidity).

Dinner was finished much earlier than usual this year, so we began the gift exchange at a reasonable hour. The gift giving/entertainment portion of the night always goes the same way. First, we sing a Christmas carol parody written by the director. Then the choir presents the priest with his gift, the director presents the choir members with their gifts, and the choir presents the director with his gift.

This year, we were given the “X-rated” version of the 12 Days of (Choir) Christmas. Highlights included 11 embarrassing erections, 6 spanking sessions and 5 fisting firsts (sopranos). After this, it should come as no surprise that the choir gift to the priest this year was a set of whiskey glasses engraved with the seven deadly sins. I suspect out priest is used to doing the see no evil, hear no evil thing at our parties. After all, last year he heard me tell another woman about my strong desire to punch a woman in the other choir in her head. Of course, to the priest’s credit(?), once I explained who it was that I wanted to punch, he completely understood and agreed that she was crazy. Now that’s how you know someone is crazy–when even the priest can understand your urge to punch that person in the head.

After all the gifts are exchanged, most people leave. Those that remain sing some Christmas carols, followed by a brief, drunken rehearsal of some of our Christmas pieces. Normally I try to stay until the bitter end, but with the impending snow storm, I needed to still do some grocery shopping, so I sadly cannot report on the remainder of the night, although I heard about a few of the highlights. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens next year…

Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord, part 1

As I mentioned in my first post, I belong to two choirs.  As you probably deduced from the title of this post, yes, these are two church choirs–Catholic, to be exact.  Yes, I am a feminist and a Catholic, but that’s a discussion for another post.  The church I attend has two different adult choirs, and I belong to both.

With the rise (over-saturation?) of reality television in recent years, I’ve often contemplated shopping the idea of our choir as the basis for a reality show.  In fact, if anyone knows someone who can make this happen, I can promise you won’t be disappointed in the entertainment factor.

There’s no subtle way of describing this, so I’m just going to put it out there:  between both groups, there is an abundance of crazy people.  In fact, after our Christmas concert last year, I had the following conversation with my parents:

Parents:  That lady (omitting descriptive details), is she the crazy one?

Me: Which one?

Parents:  That lady with…

Me:  No, I mean which crazy person are you talking about?

Parents:  The crazy one that chases after the choir director

Me:  Again, which one??

Parents:  There are more than one?

Me:  Yep, there are quite a few…

Yes, apparently my choir director gives off some sort of pheromone that attracts women to him, especially women who are married and/or old enough to be his mother (cue the mental replay of “Mrs. Robinson”).  And for them, the concept of sexual harassment does not exist.  They are collectively of the mindset that “no” just means to try harder.

In case you think this is too weird to be true, here are just a few examples:

  • The middle-aged woman who attempted to grope the choir director when he was in a state in which he could not legally consent (and trust me, he didn’t even consent then)
  • The married middle-aged woman who sent hundreds of sexually explicit texts and emails to the director, despite his repeated requests that she stop
  • The slightly older than middle-aged woman who was spreading rumors that she and the director were having a hot and heavy affair

I’ve often joked around with my friends and said, “It’s those church choir people that you have to watch out for,” but let’s be honest–this group is so much more dysfunctional than what anyone would expect. But here’s the really strange thing: the music, the sound of these groups is amazing, especially the larger group. I’ve visited parishes three times larger and their music doesn’t come anywhere close. They say there’s often a fine line between genius and insanity, and nowhere do I see more proof of this than the church choirs.