I sang with choir no.1 last Saturday, in our local, very small library. This was our second performance at this prestigious venue. The last time we sang there, we attracted an audience of six, and one of those had been the husband, who I’d press ganged into sitting through 30 minutes of unintelligible African songs (our leader favours easy to sing, rhythmical melodies, featuring words in foreign tongues) and a couple of Scottish folk songs, one of which may also count as being in an unknown tongue:
Mary Mack’s mithers macking Mary Mack marry me
and my mither’s macking me marry Mary Mack
Oh I need toe marry Mary toe get Mary to tack care o’ me
We’ll all be macking merry when I marry Mary Mack.
Furrem be me heen zanna vis ma gorchas
Furrem be me heen zanna vis ma gorchas
Furrem be me heen zanna vis ma gorchas
Furrem be me heen vee ma gorchas zan.
The rest of the audience, last time around, had been four relatives of one choir member and a 94-year-old woman, drafted in from a local old folks’ residence by our choir leader. It had been very noticeable indeed that the few members of the public, browsing the shelves of library books, had left almost immediately, as soon as we opened our mouths. The leaving had been accompanied by pointed looks, suggesting that our jaunty singing had interrupted the peace and quiet of their bookish inner sanctum.
Needless to say, the husband had thoroughly enjoyed the last enforced library concert, so was full of joie de vivre when I again forced him to turn up to the one yesterday, to make up numbers.
The concert started at 11.00 am during a heat wave. We crowded into the small part of the library that the staff had allowed us access to. When I turned up most of the choir were there, the low section (altos and tenors) standing in front of huge windows which make up one wall of the library. The sopranos were fortunately standing against an inner wall, and I ended up standing directly in front of a tall fan, which the staff had set up to cool us down. What a blessing that was. Whilst I basked in cool air, the rest of the choir gradually wilted. I could see the sun beating down on the glass directly behind them; it must be how plants feel in a greenhouse thought I.
The husband turned up shortly after 11, standing near the door, ready to make an escape as soon as the last note had been warbled. There were ten audience members, again made up of friends and family, but this time several library users actually walked over and took the time to listen. The husband was subjected to the same repertoire as last time, with the addition of this inscrutable one:
Epo I tai tai e’
O epo I tai tai e’
Epo I tai tai eppo I tukki tukki
epo I tukki tukki e’
This number was accompanied by hand movements, which many of us cocked up frequently. It’s clear that our leader has taken much inspiration from her time as a primary school teacher. We finished with Adiemus by Karl Jenkins. A beautiful piece for which Karl also wrote the lyrics, which are as indecipherable to the uninitiated as was the rest of our programme:
A-ri-a-di-amus la-te, a-ri-a-di-amus da
A-ri-a na-tus la-te a-du-a
a-ra-va-retue va-te, a-ra-va-retue va-te, a-ra-va-retue va-te la-te-a
a-na-ma-na coo-le ra-we, a-na-ma-na coo-le ra, a-na-ma-na coo-le ra-we a-ka-la……and so on. But who cares? VERY few people were listening and the husband, having now found a chair, took the opportunity to nod off.
When the library ‘do’ was finished the choristers, who’d been standing in a greenhouse for 20 minutes, rushed for the exit. Several ladies, hair plastered to their bright red faces with sweat, ran from the building, gasping for air and clutching their chests in the manner of a choir about to have a collective heart attack, whilst I sauntered cool and collected from the building. We then moved onto our next performance, which was to be a ‘flash mob’ in the local precinct. Suddenly I was not so cool and not so collected.
Our leader is nothing if not ambitious. The plan was that we choir members break off into little groups, or individually, and ‘loiter’ (as instructed via choir email several days earlier) around the shops, before breaking into song, from wherever we were standing. We would then gradually come together as one. The flash mob plan was immediately scuppered on arrival at the precinct however, when we noticed an ambulance parked up, right in the middle of the precinct, the paramedics engaged in the process of carting somebody off. I, and several other choristers, sat down on a bench, under the heat of an unforgiving sun, and discussed the advisability of doing a flash mob, which featured the Bobby McFerrin ditty, Don’t Worry, Be Happy, when someone could feasibly be on the point of death. Our leader was nowhere to be seen, so we were at a loss whether to begin the loitering or stay put.
Suddenly our leader appeared, her subordinates bringing up the rear. ‘We’ll wait until the ambulance goes, but in the meantime get loitering!’
It’s extraordinary how difficult it is to loiter without intent. There was I, pretending to feign interest in what could only be described as a collection of random stuff, outside a charity shop. I then wandered to the next shop and gawped in at the window for a bit. Gradually all the unnatural gawping and loitering engendered a sense of paranoia. What if people began noticing that I was wandering about in a decidedly ‘shifty’ manner. What if the shop owners wondered if I was sizing up their joints, as I repeatedly stopped outside and peered in through the windows. I then moved on to the bakery, a place I’ve never set foot in, in 34 years, figuring that it was probably pretty normal to stare through the window of anywhere displaying food on the premises, and feigned fascination with a couple of doughnuts and a row of ham sandwiches.
‘We’ve got competition,’ a chorister suddenly hissed behind me. For there, up at the farther end of the precinct was a young girl, busking underneath a tree, guitar in hand. What would we do now? I then spotted our leader, and second in command, striding over to the busker. Word arrived, through the loitering choir network, that the busker had agreed to pause until our impromptu performance was over. And then the ambulance drove away.
It was flash mob time.
As I loitered near a card shop, next to the Bakers, I spotted our leader and four choir members standing outside a Bank on the opposite side of the precinct. Our leader was setting up a small speaker. The email had instructed that we wait for the first group to sing the first verse and then casually walk towards them whilst singing. The unforeseen problem was that I could see their mouths moving but couldn’t hear a thing. Thus, when to start moving and join in? Several other choir members were hanging around beside me. ‘Well, I’m off,’ thought I, and started walking across the precinct, singing the ‘Oohh, Oohh, Oohh’ bit of ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’ very loudly, but as though to myself. What a peculiar sensation that was. To be warbling away in a public place, whilst several people walked purposefully past me.
We got through Don’t Worry, Be Happy and then launched into Deep Down in my Soul, a religious song of unknown origin. ‘They’ll think we’re bible bashers and not a flash mob at all,’ I inwardly bewailed, wishing our leader had gone with Paloma Faith’s Make your own kind of Music, which had been the original plan.
And then the whole thing was over, and I escaped back home. About an hour later a video of the library sing song popped up on my Facebook. ‘Is that how I really appear to the outside world?’ I asked myself with increasing dismay, as more videos popped up, including one of the flash mob on our local town’s Facebook page. For there I was, no longer even looking middle-aged, but fat and very, very old. And then one of the shops in the precinct commented on the flash mob video on the town’s Facebook page: ‘what a shame that that choir drowned out the young busker.’ The words ‘that choir’ held peculiar resonance. This is the reason I stay away from the local town’s Facebook page, and didn’t even know of its existence until the friend once shared a link about a year ago. One of our members decided to comment back (by her own admission she lives on Facebook) pointing out that the busker had happily stopped playing for our flash mob and that our performance had lasted only 10 minutes. And so a mini-flame war began. That’s Facebook for you, and every other form of social media – a macrocosm of everything that’s most annoying about Joe public.
Oh, to be able to move to Alaska and join the husband in his impossible dream of living in splendid isolation.