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Lifesavers: Choir Edition

Welcome to the first in what I'm sure will be a semi-frequent series on things that have saved my life.

I've been a band and choir nerd since fifth grade. I was more involved in both in high school than I was with anything else, studies included. I couldn't afford to go to college after high school. I'd watched my mom get a religious studies degree and have no job and a ton of debt, and I kept thinking, "I won't let that be me." Getting a tech job that didn't soothe the soul seemed smarter than going to be a music major. And back in the day I had a very "fixed mindset", assuming I'd never be "good enough" to be a music major anyway.


I'm 35 now. I've been working in various tech roles since high school, with my only musical outlet being singing in the car. Until very recently, I've been too afraid to let other people hear me sing. I still hold myself back, even around my husband, who keeps reminding me: "You know I don't mind it, right?" Despite having had the encouragement of my elementary and middle school chorus teachers, the few people who told me to shut up stuck with me far more.

I attended FaerieCon West in Seattle last year. Faun, a favorite band of mine, was headlining. They also brought along a woman named Sonja Drakulich, who sings for another favorite band of mine called Stellamara. She appeared as a "guest musician" on Faun's latest CDs. Sonja has the voice of an angel, with so much power and emotion. Faun did two sets - one "plugged in" at a faerie ball, and one "acoustic" sit-down show on Sunday night. Both were absolutely amazing. After the acoustic show, I got my discs signed by the band and told Sonja what her music has meant to be me over the years. I told her I was absolutely inspired by the show, and that I was going to go home and take up my voice lessons again after neglecting it for so long. She was genuinely touched, and encouraged me to go for it.


The company I work at has a large campus, with a building dedicated to shops and restaurants. At the time there was a music store included, and I met my voice teacher. She's the first one to encourage me to make my mistakes "loud and proud, so we can fix them". Unfortunately, the music store in the campus commons closed, and she had to find a new home for her lessons. She ended up going to a store in Bellevue.

One day I was standing around this new music store, waiting for my lessons. Next to the practice room was a flyer on the wall, advertising for a local women's choir. I went straight home and emailed the address, indicating my high level of interest. Rehearsals are every Tuesday night at a local high school, and the director personally auditions all new members.


I was so excited, but so nervous. I'm no good at singing by myself in front of other people! I've always needed that screen of people near me to help give me confidence. I was so scared during the audition, he indicated some concern. "Your speaking voice is strong and clear, but your singing voice seems awfully breathy." I blushed, stared at my shoes. "I'm really nervous and anxious."

He perked right up. "Oh! You're nervous! That's okay. Welcome to the choir."

I spent a couple of weeks feeling shy. The other ladies in the choir were thrilled to have me on-board. I volunteered for the part of second alto, which is historically one of the harder parts to fill in a choir. I've sung soprano in the past, but every time a choir director has had their choice of where to place me, I'm always an alto or tenor. I bonded quickly with the other altos, aided by our weekly section rehearsals.


Our annual fall retreat came along. Every year the choir rents out two large houses on the Sound, and spends a weekend socializing and drinking wine and rehearsing. It's a wonderful opportunity to get to know folks. I chatted with one of my fellow altos, who remarked, "The negative voices in my head stop when I'm singing." It was eye-opening for me, and helped to explain why music is one of the only things that has consistently helped my mood.

I tried to force my antisocial self into mingling. One of the ladies is a children's book author and artist in addition to be a powerhouse of a soprano, and she'd draw on people with Sharpies. I took a walk on the beach and started a collection of shells with some of the second sopranos. I love getting to know this diverse collection of women, and stretching out from my previous routine of only socializing with my section.


Some of you may remember a previous post of mine from when I found out I had two other sisters from my dad's side. The younger of the two came to visit me over the week of Thanksgiving, and I took her with me to that Tuesday's rehearsal, as it was one of the last rehearsals before our two big concerts. She sat over by our accompanist and watched and read her book. She loved getting to meet folks, even though I abandoned her at one point to go audition for a solo (which I didn't get, but my intonation and timing were good, so I was pleased with myself - and made sure to get notes from the director on what to improve).

As we were driving home, my sister remarked on how incredible it was to see a group of women come together and be powerful and strong together. It was also our first night of nailing a song we'd had trouble with, an a capella version of "Linus and Lucy". It seemed deceptively easy, and the second alto part had all of three notes - but putting it all together was harder than it looked. I wanted to crow in triumph when we nailed the ending.


Unfortunately I had to miss both of the Christmas concerts, the first due to a death in the family and subsequent last-minute travel, and the second because I got sick during said trip. (I'm so glad December's over.)

Last week was our first rehearsal of the new year. We have new music to struggle through. I'm not so great at these difficult songs right now (for example, Holst's "Rig Veda"), but I know that with some determination and help from my choirmates, we'll nail it just like we did our Christmas songs.


I love my singing sisters.

TLDR; Choir is awesome and you should do it if you want.

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