Last Saturday, I found myself in the Burton Cummings Theatre singing my heart out. Beside me stood my best friend Kristin, sipping on a Stella, wearing a hip pair of mom jeans, and deeply dedicated to belting out:
The do’s were the result of Kristin having bought us tickets for Choir! Choir! Choir!, an interactive sing-along led by Toronto-based musicians Daveed Goldman and Nobu Adilman. We’d spent the first half of the show singing songs written by Manitoba-born artists and bands: Randy Bachman, Tal Bachman, The Weakerthans, The Crash Test Dummies, and, of course, The Guess Who.
The goal of the second half of the show was to prepare a harmonized version of the famous Guess Who song “These Eyes,” which would be videotaped and then sent to Burton.
As I stood in the packed crowd, I was reminded of the pure joy that comes from singing in a choir.
My love for the activity started in grade one with beautiful Mlle. Lee, a porcelain-skinned woman with a fine, long nose and golden hair that I imagined she brushed a hundred times every night before bed. Every day, she wore pleated, ankle-length skirts and white silk blouses fitted with the kind of dainty buttons that were enveloped in black cloth.
I remember being firmly in love with her, not just for her willowy beauty but for her deep dedication to the arts. It was with her that I remember singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” and “Edelweiss.” She taught us rounds, she taught us “God Save the Queen,” she drew the most beautiful treble clefs on the chalk board. And she didn’t take lip — not even from dusty Kirk Cowan, the meanest and smallest boy in Robert Browning Elementary.
I spent years standing on the risers watching this swan-like lady waving out the beat, telling us to smile as we performed in choir competitions. Though I had no talent, she never made me feel badly about my shortcoming, only occasionally, subtly, gesturing for me to keep it down on the high notes.
But then one year, I think I was entering grade four by then, we returned to school and Mlle. Lee had turned into Mme. Robinson. Soon thereafter, a baby bump started to form under her pleated skirts. Around this time, Mme. Robinson started training the woman who would replace her. Mme. Petryk was curvy instead of waifish, Quebecois French instead of Manitoba French, and looked like she could play the spoons, the harmonica, or the banjo more comfortably than the prissy piano
As kids, we sensed a rivalry forming and, boy howdy, us girls sipped up those dynamics like hot chocolate. Actually, that’s what Mme. Petryk was like. She was like hot chocolate — the silky kind made with whole milk — while Mlle. Lee/Mme. Robinson was a steaming cup of tea.
Once Mme. Petryk had taken over and Mme. Robinson had left us, we grew to like her and her more casual ways. My elementary school choir career ended on a high with “Eye of the Tiger” at Westwood Collegiate, a performance in which some people even got to sing with microphones.
But once junior high struck — and yes, “struck” is the word as those years were every bit a slap in the face — choir had developed second-tier status. Since music education was a mandatory part of the curriculum, almost everyone had abandoned the choir risers for concert band, where you could honk on a horn, suck on a reed and play songs like “In the Mood,” which we undeniably were, were, were.
Because I was always open to an easy A, I took both choir and band, but by then, I was jaded and definitely too cool for Mr. Hooper and his futile attempts at getting us Reluctants to sing “Over the Rainbow” and “Somewhere Out There.” Poor Mr. Hooper plaid blazers, mock turtlenecks and black slacks, which made him look like he was ready for his evening at the Alley Cats jazz piano bar.
If he’d been firm and unrelenting with us, he’d have had a much nicer life, but, instead, students could sniff out his fear and used it against him to take extra-long bathroom breaks.
I was one of them.
While I did get the A I was after, I dropped out of choir soon after and never came back to it.
Until Saturday night, when I remembered the degree of satisfaction that comes from singing in a group. At intermission, a guy beside us started chatting us up and making us laugh about how nerdy we all were. He then offered to take our picture.
I stare at it now and see two middle-aged women out on the town, happy to be together, a little proud, even smug, that we aren’t just at home watching Netflix, and looking forward to the second half of the show.