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December 20, 2015

A Holiday Whine

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I yelled at the Chorale. In 23 years of directing the Chorale I never remember yelling at them. I am often irritated by them but I don’t let that show. I’m a singer and I know how to take a deep breath. I often raise my voice over them to get their attention, but that’s not done with irritation. The combination of irritation and a raised voice equals yelling at and I simply do not do that.

Afterwards everyone said it wasn’t that bad but I felt like I had turned into my mother at her most abrasive. I was embarrassed and it took me a while (two days) to get over it. So I had to ask myself, “How on earth did you get to this point?”

It’s been a demanding quarter. It began with more new people than we usually get and many of them were bewildered and disoriented. New people often think they are the only ones who don’t know what’s going on. One of them clearly blamed me for the fact that he was new and that bothered me for weeks.

Then the wife of one of our baritones died. It wasn’t unexpected but it was heart-wrenching for those of us who knew them. She was a lovely person and a sensitive photographer. Over the years she had taken many photos of the Chorale in action.

I had a period of domestic difficulties. I hurt my back while heaving wood around. Rats got into the ceiling one stormy night and sounded like they were setting up a bowling alley in which they proceeded to bowl. A trapper who looked like NRA Man and his assistant, a tall skinny guy who could have been one of the Darryls from the Bob Newhart Show rescued me.

Then Hal, our beloved bass, unexpectedly died. He went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. I was stunned by the news. I went into a crazed period that reminded me of the months around my mother’s death—also in November—eight years ago. I organized the Chorale to sing at the memorial service with an obsession that worried me when I occasionally breathed the air of self-awareness.

I started waking up in the middle of the night, sobbing. This was not just about Hal and my mother. This was about my cat Freudy who also died unexpectedly last May in bed, in the middle of night. I went into that surreal grief place where I feel like I am trying to run underwater. Everyday life became slow and difficult.

I chose this particularly hectic period to finally purchase a cell phone. After it came a friend pointed out I could have gotten a Smart Phone for the same price. It seemed as though my life depended on getting an upgrade immediately and that demanded a second session of customer service calls.

I now have the phone and I am committed to spending half an hour a day or until I start crying –whichever comes first– learning how to use it. Don’t call me yet and for god’s sake, no texts.

A good college friend had a surgical procedure that developed complications. Instead of one week in the hospital, he was there for two. When he finally went home, it was only for two days before he had to be air lifted from Walla Walla back to the hospital in Everett where, as of this writing, he remains. For days I expected to hear that he had died, but he is very much alive and looks cheerful.

The OK Chorale usually has two performances at the end of a quarter, occasionally three if two are on the same day. With expansive optimism I had scheduled six (6!) this year. Hal’s memorial service made for a somber seventh.

Nina (rhymes with Dinah) drove us to the second of the six performances. A good friend had confided that he was being tested for cancer and it didn’t look good. I didn’t think I could hear any more from anyone about anything. As we pulled into the lot of Columbia Lutheran Home Nina told me she had double-booked into something she couldn’t get out of and she’d have to miss the third performance.

And that was the last I saw of my equilibrium.

Our third performance was to be at Fred Lind Manor on Capitol Hill and the only thing keeping me upright was the thought that at the very least I wouldn’t have to drive to Capitol Hill and park and show up all merry and bright. I was so tired of being merry and bright.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. “I’ll manage.”

In the Luther Room (great acoustics, fabulous piano) of Columbia Lutheran Home someone fussed up to me, “You didn’t tell us when to get here. This was the only performance where you didn’t tell us when to get here.”

I looked at him. I looked at the clock. 6:30. I looked at the OK Chorale milling around like a bunch of fifth graders. Excitement leaped from them and from my inquisitor, whirling and spinning and turning into anxiety where it settled in me. Did this matter now?

I sang some high notes to get their attention. Some of them stopped talking.

Then as I recall, events went something like this:

“Let’s get warmed up.”

We ran through some scales and the beginnings of the songs in the order I had them in my notebook. Chatter, rattling of pages, and comparing notebooks broke out between songs.

“There’s some anxiety about the order of songs,” Susan said.

(Oh good god, how many times have I gone over the order of songs, how many e-mails, how many hard copies, how many oral walks through the fucking order of songs?)

“The order of songs is what it has always been.”

“When did you move “Feast of Lights” to be second?” Britt asked

“It’s always been where it is.”

“No it hasn’t.”

(Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!) “Did you read the e-mail?”

“Which one?”

While everyone who was actually listening began re-arranging their music, I rummaged for a hard copy of the order of songs and in restraining myself from crumpling it in a ball and throwing it at her, I happened to notice that “Feast of Lights” was not second. It was fifth. It had been fifth except for the Monkey Lighting the week before when we did a shortened program.

Oh god, it was my mistake. I apologized and tried to laugh at myself. Merily came up and put her hand on my arm.

“Don’t worry, you just call them and we’ll sing them!” she said cheerfully.

I wanted to throw her gracious hand off me. I didn’t want anyone to be nice to me. I wanted to go home.

Jessica swooped in with some urgency, “Are we singing the German first on Silent Night even though it’s last on the audience song sheet?”

That was when I heard a shriek, “STOP TALKING!!” It was my mother’s voice but it was coming out of my mouth.

Everyone stopped talking just the way they did when my mother entered a room at full force. Just what I wanted for Christmas: to turn into my mother.

We carried on and eventually I got over myself. Our seven performances went beautifully. What stands out in my mind now is Merily’s graciousness and everyone’s generosity. I wouldn’t say I feel merry and bright and it will a long time before I want to hear another fa la la. This is the time to breathe in the line from “O Little Town of Bethlehem:

“Silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.”

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