Through all the notes that sound within the earth’s resplendent dream, one whispered note alone sounds for the secret listener.
— Friedrich Schlegel
I walked into the choir room of the local high school tonight and nearly cried. It was so like the choir room of my own high school, 100 miles and 18 years away. The staffed blackboard is now a staffed white board, but the risers, the competition trophies, the hastily scrawled try-out info, the grand piano — they’re all the same. Girls in matching formal dresses and boys in tuxedos with matching cumberbunds and bow ties smile out from pictures taken at competitions, and in an instant, I’m 15 again at JMU or 16 again at DisneyWorld, taking on the world with my high school choir cohorts.
The tears were also a product of fear and anxiety. Tonight was the first night of the new county community chorus I’d signed up to take part in, and having not sung in an organized group since before I lost my hearing, I felt no small measure of trepidation. What if, after all this time, after all this longing to sing in public again, to be a part of a group, I just couldn’t do it? I didn’t know if I could. I knew I could sing by myself, and even to music, but I had no idea if I could sing as part of a larger group.
It turns out, really, that I can’t. After introductions and the business aspects of a first meeting of any group, the director organized us by part – sopranos on the left, tenors and basses in the middle, and altos on the right. Somehow I ended up in the worst possible spot – in the back row of altos with no one to my right (there were several empty seats between me and where the sopranos began) and no one behind me. I didn’t say anything. I had imagined in my head keeping my hearing impairment a secret until some perfect moment when it would be revealed and everyone would be stunned that I was so fantastic in spite of it. So I tried. I forged ahead.
The director asked us to sing My Country ‘Tis of Thee. How long have you known that song? Your whole life, right? You can sing it in your sleep, probably. So can I. Alone. But in this group of 50 other people, with the sopranos on my right and the men in front and to my right, I had absolutely no clue what key we were in. I turned my head to try to hear my fellow altos, but no pitch I tried seemed to match what they were singing. Three times we did the song, and three times I sang in fits and starts, trying to find my way, and three times I ended the song mouthing the words and fighting back tears. At the break, I texted David, “This is some kind of disaster.”
I went to the director at the break and explained, through tears, my situation. I told her I didn’t want to quit, that it was so important to me to be a part of this, to try to get this piece of my life back. She was very sweet and understanding and moved me to the front row for the last part of rehearsal. Unfortunately, that didn’t help. When we started on the music we will be singing this “semester” to perform in November, I was totally lost. When we did the song by parts, sopranos, then altos, then tenors, then basses, I was ok – mostly – but when we put it all together I was completely floundering. I tried so, so hard, but I just couldn’t pick my part out of all the noise. And that’s all it was, too, noise. And it breaks my heart.
I’m not done trying. I’ll just have to work harder than the others. But I can’t say that I don’t long for the days when all of this just came easy to me. Being in that room transported me back to the scene of so much success for me musically, and finding the present day experience so difficult is just a lot to take in.