I stood in the middle of the room, speechless as she marched to the door. “Who’s with me?!” asked Mary, hell bent on mutiny, faced flushed with fear and adrenalin. We had just been learning the first page of Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine and Mary had decided that she’d had enough. I didn’t know what to do – the last time someone had walked out of a rehearsal I was taking they were 16 and from Ipswich. They certainly weren’t a country primary school teacher. I was fucked before I even started.
I shared a car with Jean and Jill, two elderly members of the choir. Jean had a beautifully gentle speaking voice, but Jill was authoritative and yelly. “BILL IS EXCITED TO MEET YOU BUT A LITTLE DISAPPOINTED THAT YOU’RE ALREADY MARRIED” she screamed from the backseat. Then she hollered at Jean who was sitting beside her in the backseat. “BUT HE SAID HE’S LOOKED AT PHOTOS OF HER ON THE INTERNET AND YOU KNOW…” her voice trailed off and out of the corner of my eye I could see her tracing an hourglass through the air with her hands, wiggling her eyebrows and jerking her head towards me. Oh God.
Two weeks earlier I’d answered my phone and spoken to Bill, a charming guy from the area who had seen an ad I’d put in the local newsletter, looking for piano students. The choir he sang in was desperately looking for a conductor, and was looking down the barrel of possibly having to finish up for good if they couldn’t find one. “For a lot of the choir members it’s their one outing in the week”, said Bill. He might as well have offered me an unloved, unkempt puppy dog. How could I say no? Well, quite easily, I suppose, but my guilt would of meant staging my own death and applying to some form of witness protection program. I said I’d come to meet them and work with them for one hour. It wasn’t like anything else was happening in town, and I’d even written papers during my Masters at VCA about the importance of community singing. It was time to put up or shut up. Oh God, oh God.
Mary sat back down in her chair, flushed and frustrated from her failed mutiny attempt. They moaned and groaned their way through two pages of the Faure. And by moan and groan I don’t mean that they were complaining, I mean that they were so terrified of making a mistake that they could barely open their mouths. After witnessing the yelliness of Jill, I could understand why they were so scared. It was over, and Bill asked the choir what they thought of me. While I was standing there. They hated my repertoire choices, they weren’t sure I cared enough, and I could tell some of them felt very threatened. Then Dee piped up from the back – “When can you start? How long can we have you for? When do you think you and your husband will have babies?” She was about 70 and was wearing a Life, Be In It t-shirt.
“I can start whenever you like” I responded. My stomach lurched and I felt sore in the back of my throat. OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD…
A few weeks later I was introduced to a lady at a local concert. When she was told I was the new conductor of the choir she paused before saying how pleased she was that the choir was continuing. She is a GP in the area, and many of the choir members were coming to her with anxiety issues, based around their dread of the imminent closure of the choir. I was stunned. I’ve always believed to my core that singing is an integral part of any community but I’d never really actually seen it in action before. It was just a hunch, a suspicion. And here were old ladies needing medical assistance to help them cope with the closure of a choir.
I’m going to try and diarise each of our rehearsals here in this blog. Those of you that are friends with me on Facebook may recognise some of the people from my status updates. They are a wonderful group of people, and worthy of more than passing status updates. They have become the highlight of my week. They are hard working, adventurous, opinionated, terrifying, and make an excellent afternoon tea. That’s really the reason why I said yes. The afternoon teas.