About four weeks ago I found out I passed my audition to sing a solo at my much bigger choir’s upcoming summer concert. Due to the health anxiety mentioned in my last post, the fact that I’d passed sort of went in one ear and out the other; but now I’ve had to take note of the fact that on July 9th I’ll be attempting to belt out Never Enough from The Greatest Showman, on a stage in a Methodist church hall a couple of miles away.
It took our leader (C), and his apprentice, six weeks to decide who’d passed, out of the 11 hopefuls who’d auditioned. The fact that 11 choristers were champing at the collective bit, for their chance in the spotlight, had taken our leader by stunned surprise and, obviously, put him in the very precarious position of possibly alienating several members of his choral flock, being that only four solo positions were available.
As I’d heard nothing for weeks on end, since my audition, I’d assumed I’d failed and the chosen ones had been told in private, so as not to upset the musical apple cart. But no. C, instead, chose to announce at a rehearsal that the choir members who had auditioned were to remain in the hall, whilst the rest of the choir were banished to the tea room.
So there I sat, one Monday evening four weeks ago, adopting an unfathomable look on my face (which I inwardly referred to as my ‘Oscar face,’) designed to show no reaction at all to the result, either way. This look took the form of a sort of benign quizzical smile, combined with the slightly strained appearance of somebody suffering from mild constipation. And thus I was prepared for triumph or failure.
C, and his young apprentice (who’s actually the far superior one, in musical terms) ascended the stage and performed a quick head count to check that all auditionees were present. When they got to me (sitting alone in a sea of empty chairs) the apprentice gave me such a dazzling smile, accompanied by two very obvious thumbs up gestures, that I actually felt embarrassed. I mean, talk about giving away the result when you haven’t even started. I sat bolt upright and refused to acknowledge his broad grin, in case there’d be whispers of favouritism or audition rigging, even though I’ve only spoken to this apprentice twice in 3 years.
This scenario became even more absurd when C then turned the whole thing into the Bake Off (as son no.2 messaged: ‘sounds like the Bake Off LOL’.) I could almost hear ominous music in the background. There the 11 contestants sat (I didn’t look at a single one and still couldn’t put a face to the other audtionees), whilst C burbled on about how all of us had been amazing, magnificent and stupendous. How choosing four soloists had been impossible, so they’d had to use various criteria, never before employed in the choosing of soloists.
This is because, during the 3 years (and 6 concerts) that I’ve been in the choir, roughly the same four usual suspects auditioned for solos in every concert, and thus were guaranteed a spot, as nobody else ever bothered. But things began to change after the last Christmas concert, which saw a duet audition for, and snag a spot, singing a very tuneful and very rehearsed version of Silent Night. They looked, and sounded like, they’d done this sort of thing before. This duo then mysteriously vanished without a trace; leading me to the startling conclusion that maybe there are ‘serial soloists’ out there, who go about joining choirs just to perform a solo and then bugger off, never to be seen again.
After roughly 10 minutes of absolutely unnecessary waffle, C announced my name (to which the apprentice gave a small YAY!, which should have flattered me immensely, and left me brimming with confidence, but instead caused me to sink as far down in my chair as possible); two women’s names (singing a duet) and two men’s names. The duo have sung at two concerts before and the men at three. So, I was the only novice; the only soloist never to have sung before. I rushed to the tea room and sat with the women I usually sit with, a sort of glazed look of mild shock on my face. ‘Well?’ they all chorused. ‘I passed,’ I said. ‘Well, we knew you would,’ they replied, and nothing more was said.
Unlike those women, I didn’t know I’d pass the audition, despite one of the committee members, about 3 months ago, being absolutely overjoyed that I’d put myself forward and even going so far as to practically scream in my face: ‘Thank God you’re auditioning!’ Despite the row of women, who I usually sit with, having suggested that I do a solo since I first joined the choir. It still took me 3 years to pluck up the courage, and most of that dithering was due to my stammer, and not to my singing ability.
For, to audition, meant going up to the intimidating C, who I’ve never spoken to (and who didn’t know me from Eve) and actually having to get out the words ‘I’d like to audition please,’ in a coherent fashion and then to say which song I’d be singing and could our pianist play the accompaniment? Strangely, the singing bit was actually the easy bit.
And then there’s the other weird thing. I’ve been a member of this choir for 3 years, but it took a good 2 years to even feel comfortable turning up each week, and I still only know 4 people out of the 80 who turn up, and I don’t even know them all that well. And yet I’m now interacting with C and the apprentice and a good many other people I’ve never spoken to, all because I’m forcing myself on them, in solo terms.
But the choir are on my side. Choosing to do a solo can alienate your fellow choir members. There’s an element of ‘who do they think they are?’ In fact, I had this precise thought during my audition. ‘Who do I think I am?’ I kept inwardly screaming. So my solution has been to ask that the women’s section join in with my solo during the never, never bits (if you’ve ever listened to it on YouTube.) C announced this fact at last Monday’s rehearsal and asked if the choir would mind joining in with my solo. The answer was a resounding YES! Being that simply everyone loves The Greatest Showman, so that’s the alienation sorted.
I’m not a great singer. I’m fully aware of that. I have a very middle of the road voice, with very little character to it; very little that would make you sit up and think well, that’s a distinctive voice. (And that singing teacher from long, long ago told me I was rubbish.) But, within every choir I have ever sung with, including school choirs, my voice has always stood out in some way. If there is a solo part in a song I’m usually asked to sing it. The people I sit with tend to rely on me to pitch the notes. Where I envy people their ability to speak fluently, choir members will say I wish I had your voice. But none of this has any effect on me. I don’t sing all the time. It’s not a passion. I rarely practice the songs for my choirs. The leader (R) of my other smaller choir once announced, during a very small singing session, that she envied my voice; that it was: ‘a gift but you don’t use it.’
Her words didn’t sink in for a long time. But they’re the reason I auditioned for a solo.
I’m very self-critical. R said she’d ‘never met anyone as self-critical as you, don’t be so hard on yourself.’ R is also a teacher and, I assume, trained in mentoring people; in getting the best out of them; in pointing out the positives and not the negatives. My default setting is one of low self-esteem; a lack of confidence of epic proportions; a feeling that I can never acknowledge that yes, I agree, I AM a (fairly) good singer, and I’m (fairly) good at a lot of other things too. Because the stammer overrides everything and, besides, you’re not supposed to blow your own trumpet (a suitable musical idiom.)
But, here’s the thing. A LOT of other people do blow their own trumpets. In fact, their solitary trumpet blowing can amount to a fanfare. Since actually starting to go out of the house again 3 years ago, after a good 10 years of self-imposed isolation, I’ve noticed that many, many people have a good healthy dose of what is clearly misplaced self-confidence. In fact it’s amazing how deluded some of these people can be. But now I think, ok, what’s wrong with that? I’m going to put myself forward too. I’m going to keep adding my insignificant voice to the blogosphere. I’m going to join choirs. I’m going to talk to people, even though I stammer. I’m going to sing Never Enough, even though my voice is entirely wrong for it and YouTube is full of more talented covers.
So, now I get a chance to stand on a stage and effectively shout: THIS IS ME (even though I’ll actually be warbling Never Enough) and it’s taken until my mid-fifties to begin to fully not care what other people think.
Of course, now I’ve passed the audition I’ve got to actually do it. That bit of the process hadn’t fully sunk in and neither had the fact that Never Enough is an extremely difficult song to sing. It’s fine and dandy when you hear it up on the big screen and think, ‘ooh what a lovely song that is. I’d love to sing that song. I can just see myself bawling out that dramatic never enough bit’ – completely forgetting that a) you’re 20 years older than the stunning actress who’s sings it b) you won’t be wearing a stunning frock, but will be in your choir’s regimen black trousers and white top c) you’ve never had a singing lesson in your life.
I haven’t even practiced that much since finding out I’ll be singing it. One reason being I live in a terraced house, so everyone will hear my warblings, but the main reason is because I’m trying to pretend it isn’t happening. However hard I try, I just don’t sound like the film version. I also have several demands which I’m hoping will be met. I intend to ask if my solo can be the first item on the programme, otherwise I’ll be too hot and bothered and losing my voice, if it comes any later, as our programme is a packed one. I also intend to ask if I can stand to the right of the choir, and not at the front, as this is a less prominent position audience-wise. These requests all stem from the severe nerves I’ll be experiencing on the night, but are likely to make me look like a demented amateur Diva.
But there’s one light at the end of the solo tunnel. It’s the World Cup. The chances of anyone turning out to a community choir’s concert during the season of football mania are very slim indeed. And our summer concert always has a low turnout, being that people have better things to do than sit in a sweltering, airless church hall. So the odds are very good that I’ll be giving my all just to the husband and son no.3 (who usually never attend my concerts) and a handful of other choral relatives.
The other light is that I’ve so far escaped all the bugs that have been bugging other people this year. I haven’t had a single cold, stomach bug or the Aussie Flu (touch wood), whilst everyone around me has been keeling over. July 9th may just be the time that Nature gives me a get out clause, in the form of a cough and a few sniffles.