I remember the stands and watching the other choirs sing. I knew we were far better than them. Our smug arrogance and delighted knowing that we would win. The sounds of the music swelling over us and our anticipation as it became our time to go back stage.
I remember the exercises. We had one number to perform, but also like skaters doing their classical figures, we had skill tests -- sight reading -- we had 10s in all the categories. No other choir came close to our virtuoso. All these years later, our director, who tested my voice as it changed from a first soprano to second alto, who taught me to enunciate my e’s and a’s alike, calls my mother “Peggy” when he sees her.
So focused was our work that I recall exactly where I stood on the risers, my voice blending flawlessly with the second tallest girl next to me. Those songs still surface from the deep memory. The serious and the funny. Benjamin Brittan, Ogden Nash poems set to music. Behold the Duck. Wishing for a solo but never being assigned. My voice was made for the chorus. A pure tone, without waver. Only well into middle age have I a developed a vibrato – more a quaver than a thrilling.
I remember the moment of performance and little else. No bus rides, no cheering when we won, no bickering, no back stage antics of glee. The singing filled me deep and opened my inner song as the thrum of the bass and the thrill of the soprano were undergirded by my steady, rich alto. I remember the concerts, the risers, the rehearsals. Dragging myself in tired at the end of the day and leaving elated. How music then defined my life, while now the only remnant is the hymns I sing at church.
I’ve thought of telling my children how their mother and I met in a chorus. How we were paid to perform for cheering crowds. The time she sang a solo, the first time I noticed she was beautiful, dressed special for the performance instead of her usual uniform of after-work sweats.
I remember the uniforms: left over prom dresses, maxis we called them. The boys wore suits and ties. I loved my blue dress with the eyelet lace, empire waist and powder blue shawl I still have. Breathing as one all voices joined in unison, no petty differences dividing us. We were safe in that room, when we came together there was no rank, no clique or class. We were one unit. Mr. Bertsch made it so. As did we with the power of our singing. The darkness behind the curtain, on stage with the light on our faces, and the audience invisible to the joy in our hearts.