Monday, September 07, 2009

The Day the Music Died or Mean People Suck

Every Sunday I go to choir practice for the Sterling Singers. I joined the choir a little over a year ago in hopes of getting to sing beautiful music and making new friends. Sing beautiful music? Check. Make new friends? Not so much. The choir is so big that rarely do you get the chance to sit by the same person twice, or even see the same person twice. But its no big deal that this isn't my spot for making new friends. I have had a wonderful time in the choir, and have enjoyed singing again.
Until last Sunday.
We are just 5 days away from a big show. We're singing some beautiful patriotic and inspirational music for a 9/11 tribute this week. Many of the songs are familiar and beautiful, and a few of the songs are very unusual and very challenging. Last week's rehearsal was very demanding as we put the finishing touches on two of our most difficult songs. Like many in the choir, I was struggling with a few of the passages in one particular number. We were rehearsing it over and over with the director until we got it right.
Normally I sit in the second sopranos section in the far back left of the room. But I arrived late last week (which is to say I was there only 5 minutes early- the choir is so big that people start arriving half an hour early in order to get the good seats!), and had to sit in a different area, away from my usual neighbors.
Forgive me now while I get a little wounded and rude.
We meet in an LDS Chapel, and sing in the actual chapel each week. The host ward has asked that we not wear jeans in the chapel, and to respect the room as it is still Sunday, and a room of worship. In the 60 rehearsals I have attended, only once have I ever worn pants. I always wear a dress to rehearsal. (For my non-Mormon friends- Mormons wear "Sunday dresses" still. You don't see women wearing pants to our servics.) This puts me in the majority, but I'm no longer surprised to see what some people consider appropriate attire. Sure, they aren't wearing jeans, but really, are scrubs Sunday worship appropriate? Or sweats? Or how about the lady that sat next to me in her capris and t-shirt?
Last week we had both a performance and a rehearsal on Sunday. As you know, I have lost a lot of weight recently. And as a result, NOTHING fits me anymore. At the performance I was wearing a dress that felt like it fit well enough when I left the house, but apparently I was wrong. I was totally humiliated when just after the show a woman (I had never seen nor met before) came up to me and informed me my skirt was falling down and was revealing my underclothing inappropriately. Of course, she would say this to me after the show, where I stood in the front row, and not before the show. There I had been worrying about my top falling off my shoulders, when apparently I should have been worried about my skirt instead! UGH!
So for rehearsal I figured I'd spare myself the humiliation and wore the only thing in my closet that fit- a pair of jeans I bought for $4 at D.I. last week. I figured if I wore it with heels and a nice top I'd still look nicer and more respectful than the scrubs and sweats I've seen at rehearsal.
So there I sat last week in a  new section, looking nice, but wearing jeans, and struggling with the music. That was when the Mean Lady wearing the t-shirt and ugly capris entered my life. I really don't like mean people.
I will guess that she's some sort of music or voice teacher. At the very least she presumes to have perfect pitch and better music skills than I do. And she may very well have better skills than I do. I don't care. I don't like her.
During the difficult passage I am not ashamed to say I sang a few wrong notes. It's not an easy part! Mean Lady turned, and told me which notes I was singing wrong. I was mortified. She doesn't have a quiet, inside voice. She said it with great authority, and with volume loud enough for those around me to hear. "You sang a D, the note is a C. Also, you are getting the entire run wrong, I think you are trying to sing the alto line, but at the soprano pitch. You need to fix it."
I wanted to cry. In a choir of over 250 people, its not like my one wrong note or voice is going to ruin a show. And it wasn't like I was the only one struggling. The director ran us through this part at least 10 times!!
So I tried harder the next time around, and sang much softer so hopefully she wouldn't hear me.
She turned to me and said, "Now you are flat because you have no breath support. You need to stand up straighter." (we were sitting at the time)
I almost walked out of the choir right then and there. I've never been corrected like that before. I'm not saying I wasn't wrong. I KNOW I was wrong. But it was humiliating for another choir member to be correcting me. Especially one I didn't know.
We moved on to the next passage in the song, one with a particularly tricky rhythm, and lots of dotted notes. I despise dotted notes, and I don't know why. Determined to get the notes right, and to not bother this woman any more, I lowered my voice even more, and concentrated fully on the piece. But those darn dotted notes! They get me everytime! Next thing I know, Mean Lady starts tapping the beat out on my knee, with hard jabs to let me know when the downbeat was! And then she looked down at my jeans and informs me we are NOT to wear jeans in the chapel! THE HORROR. (because her stupid 5K t-shirt was more appropriate??)
I shifted so that she wouldn't be able to reach my knee anymore. And then proceeded to only mouth the words, and not sing out loud. Oh, and choked back tears and a lot of rage at this woman.
Don't get me wrong. I know I wasn't getting it right. But this was rehearsal! This is where we come to learn! And I wasn't alone in my struggles!!
And I know a lot of this was just me being very sensitive. I hold no delusions about my musical abilities. My mother is flat out tone deaf. Don't believe me? Sit next to her in church someday and try not to laugh. Its bad! Sadly, I've inherited her ear. But I also inherited my father's family's love of music. And I managed to develop a fairly pretty singing voice. My love of music lead to a lot of technical training, that mostly has overcome my terrible "ear." I have to work twice or three times as hard as everyone else to learn a piece of music. I know that!
The truth is that I should be an Alto. I have a gorgeous Alto range. I can get down to a low F below middle C with beautiful tonality. But because I can also comfortably sing a high B, 2 octaves above middle C, I can also pull off being a Soprano. But there is not question about it, my Alto tones are much prettier than my Soprano. But with my terrible ear? Singing alto is out of the question when we are talking about the difficult pieces and fast pace at which my choir works.
I make a great choir member. I have an incredible talent for blending my voice with others. I can match their pitches, and match their tones quite well. My voice never sticks out in a crowd. I make good solid choir stock. I may have a crappy ear, but years of training has made me great at the technical stuff, like rhythm, dynamics, etc. Its just hitting those darn notes!! So I work hard and learn my notes, and listen to the people around me and match them.
I was once before humiliated in a different choir. I've never forgotten it. And it wasn't by the director either, but instead by the accompanist. She was yet another one of these perfect pitch types, who can tell you not just that you are on the wrong note, but which note you were singing instead. It was back in high school, and one of my groups I was performing with was learning a difficult number. Again, the director was running us through it, teaching us line by line. Maybe that time I was the only one on the wrong note. I don't know. I just remember the pianist stopping, standing up, pointing at me, and informing the world that I was on the wrong note. And then in front of everyone, she plunked out the notes, and made me sing along with it until I got it right. I felt like a fraud, like all of the talented musicians around me suddenly knew I was a phony masquerading in their pool of talent. My feelings were horribly hurt, and to be honest, I still hold a grudge against that woman today.
So back to Mean Lady. She continued with her "helpful" ways throughout all of rehearsal last week. I did my best to slide away from her, point my voice away from her, sing softly, not sing at all, and finally, just plain ignored her. But the damage was done. It has been a long time since someone has hurt my feeling regarding music like that. But it hurt. It hurt a lot. 
This whole past week I've been running that song over and over in my head and checking the music to see if I'm getting it right. But really, with my bad ear, how would I know? (I lack a piano to test myself against.)
Tonight I seriously considered not going to choir. I gave some thought to just not going to the performance as well. After all, I'm obviously still struggling with the music. But I went anyway. I figured one last rehearsal would help me, and if I didn't feel comfortable with the music I could just drop out of the performance.
Oh and I made darn sure to not sit anywhere near the Mean Lady.
But sure enough, I swear to you she walked in, spotted me, and intentionally came over to sit next to me. I'm sure she thought I would need her to tap out the beat on my knee again. I didn't give her the chance. I got up and moved 2 rows behind her and way down on the other end.
I worked hard tonight, listened to the director, and put extra effort into getting some of those tricky parts right. Mean Lady turned around and looked at me several times. I know I wasn't singing so loudly or off-key that she could hear me. In fact, I think I sounded good tonight.


  1. erinannie, that's terrible. I am so angry at that woman right now! What right does she have to ruin someone else's experience like that?

    I hope things go better for you in choir after this. Making music should be fulfilling and enjoyable (even if it's challenging), not a thankless, spirit-shattering chore. Avoiding Mean Lady is probably a good idea—it doesn't sound like she has any concept of boundaries at all. Ugh.

  2. some people have no class.

  3. Time to work on some snappy comebacks for the next time she tries to get near you.

  4. Erin, this makes me so sad. It sounds like you're seeing the Mean Lady for who and what she is, though... a musical experience ruiner. I just got re-called as the ward choir director and hope that anyone who comes will have a good experience, regardless of experience or ability. Keep singing... mean people exist, but aren't worth the time to notice. Love you!

  5. What a 8!tch!
    I dislike her for you.

    Of course I'm the sort of person who would loudly ask the choir director if he/she has appointed assistants within the ranks of the choir - and when she says no, of course not - I'd turn to her (mean lady) and say, "Guess I'll just have to tune you out."

    Otherwise, if mean lady targets you again I might say - "I'm so sorry - I'm trying so hard to overlook YOUR mistakes/flaws that I'm finding it hard to concentrate."

  6. She has got problems! I can't believe people act like that! She is taking her anger out on you! Keep up the hard work! And keep the good attitude! I am sure you are a beautiful singer!

  7. That's terrible! What IS her deal? I'm sure you're fabulous!

    As a section leader of a choir, my suggestion is to talk to a section leader, if you have one. That may feel like "going to Mom", but that's one reason section leaders exist, to make sure everyone is working together. Positively. You can also ask for help from your section leader on the difficult passages. If you don't have a section leader, talk to the choir director. Alternatively, you can always talk to Mean Lady herself, but that may not be productive. Of course, you don't have to take my advice anyway, since it is unsolicited. :)

    I'm sorry you have to deal with such a sad human being.

  8. Man, she sucks!
    I suggest mirroring her behavior if she gets near you again. If she starts tapping your leg, reach over and start tapping hers, but with an entirely different rhythm. Or stand right by her, and purposefully sing off-key. Really let her have it.
    Or kill her with kindness- ask her advice incessantly about every bar, and then if the director calls you on it, act innocent and ask for verification that the Mean Lady is the section leader in front of everyone, since she kept correcting you and all.
    Fight the power, my friend!

  9. Mean people suck.

    You did the right thing by just staying away this time.

  10. "We are NOT to wear jeans in the chapel!"

    Did she really say it just like that? 'Cause then you get the fun of waiting for her very next snarky comment and responding:

    "We are NOT to act like jack@$$es in the chapel!"

    Too much fun.

    Or, if you're feeling more Christian (but just slightly more), you could return the favor of her generous advice with a few tips on how not to alienate other choir members. After all, friendship creates a better blend.

  11. That is so sad! I hate those moments. The mental and physical turmoil it brings on is so exhausting.

    It reminds me of the twist on the playground quote - "Sticks and Stones will break my bones, but words ....will break my heart."

    It sounds like you might be the best performer of this song after all this with all of your determination. Good luck!


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