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February 20, 2004: In tune

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Last month the choir director asked who would be available to sing for a Robert Burns dinner, because the local Scottish guild was holding theirs in February. About half of us could do it, and we had all four parts represented, so he tracked down a few songs based on Burns' poems so we could start practicing.

Except that some of the songs were more difficult than others, which is always a challenge when half the choir doesn't actually read music, and we had other songs we always had to practice for our 'real' job, which is singing in church, even though for this gig we would actually get *paid*, and I think some of the people who said they wanted to do it didn't take it very seriously and didn't even bother to listen to the practice CD that the choir director very cleverly put together, even though the rest of us noted over and over how useful it was for learning the songs. And then suddenly it was last night and the Burns dinner is tomorrow night and I'm not sure we could have sounded any worse.

It didn't help that for the most difficult song it was decided only last week that the men wouldn't sing, which meant that while the sopranos got to keep their part, the altos were suddenly moved to the second soprano line and I switched from melody to alto line. It's one of those songs that looks deceptively simple until you start singing it and realize that you are singing in a waltz tempo and there are marvelous little 16th note trills at the end of every phrase and the composer thought it would be oh-so-amusing to not only make everyone sing higher than our normal range, but also toss in a few random octave jumps, and oh did I forget to mention that there's no where at all to breathe? Needless to say I adored the song finally something that was a challenge to sing! After all, I could pick my part out on the piano and I had it down pat by the Sunday after he made the switch, but I was in the strong minority in my comfort with it.

After practice last night, we were all feeling pretty lousy about the impending performance a feeling made even worse by the fact that we are getting paid, which usually implies an expectation of quality that we just didn't have at all last night. So this morning I tossed out the idea of trying to get an impromptu practice together with my boss, who also happens to be in the choir, and suddenly I was on the phone, leaving frantic messages for everyone I could get a hold of, and it was pretty obvious I wasn't the only one who thought an extra practice was a really good idea.

Not everyone could come, but there were enough of us to cover all the parts. It was cold in the sanctuary as we all stood in a lopsided little group, occasionally leaning over to stab at a particularly difficult note on the piano. We sang to each other and focused simply on hearing each other's parts. We critiqued each other and encouraged each other and ran through everything over and over. There was no pressure. There was no feeling of impending doom. There was, instead, relief, and a lot of laughter. So what if in the women's only song we kept giggling because invariably one of us would end up gasping for a breath in the middle of a word. We blended. We sang. We made music actual music, not the muddled noise of last night. It was only one extra hour of practice and in the grand scheme of things, one hour doesn't seem like it would be worth the effort. But when we left the church there was a distinct change in all of us. Sometimes it's amazing how little time it takes to make such a difference.

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