November 05, 2006

Mr. Grinch

Did I ever tell you about the time I tried out for the high school choir?

Everyone knows about high school choirs and bands. It was (and still is) my feeling that the kids in band and choir were much cooler than the athletes, which just goes to show you what a nerd I was (and still am).

My story begins back in middle school where we were required to be in either band or choir. I chose choir because I was already taking private piano lessons and figured that was enough practicing to deal with. Everyone knows that instruments require practicing at home, and a half hour a day on the piano was enough for me. Choir didn’t require at-home practicing. It was enough that those songs stayed in your head day in and day out.

So I’m in Mr. Carson’s choir throughout 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. Mr. Carson was a complete idiot and couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. I remember once being in choir class going over the songs we were going to present at the Christmas concert. He made us all look like idiots because he couldn’t read the words to Oh Holy Night:

Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world, in sin and error pining…

But Mr. Carson, obvious pagan that he was, told the entire choir that the word was “pinning.” “In sin and error pinning.” Of course we had to do it his way to get the good grade. I felt like such an idiot at that concert, up there on stage in front of all the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and various local townspeople, saying not only the wrong word but a word that doesn’t even rhyme. I made sure to tell my parents that I indeed knew the correct words of the song.

So, after three years of dopey Mr. Carson and one year sans choir, I decided in my junior year of high school I wanted to join the high school choir. Not only would it be an easy credit in the liberal arts, I would be able to spend quality time with my secret crushes. Both of them were a year older than I, and I would have done anything to be able to go on the annual choir trip with them.

The thing is, you had to try out for the choir. Choir class wasn’t about learning how to sing like it was in middle school, it was all about making the director look good at the concerts. The director could never actually look good, as he was the obvious inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Grinch. He had a long, hangy face like The Grinch and he was evil like The Grinch. On top of all that, he smelled like a wet ashtray. In order to be in the choir, to go on the trips, to be close and personal with my secret crushes in order to flirt with and otherwise impress them, I had to pass the muster with The Grinch.

My friend Nadie and I decided to sign up for tryouts together. We walked into the choir room one Tuesday afternoon, and there at the piano sat The Grinch. He directed us to stand on opposite sides of the piano facing him, and asked if we knew the first two lines of Swanee River. Of course! Who doesn’t know the words to Swanee River? I could almost feel one of my secret crushes holding my hand in the bus on the choir trip. Swanee River. Sure, I knew the words. What I didn’t realize was that The Grinch chose that particular song for tryouts for its intervals of thirds, and most importantly, the dreaded octive skip between Swa and Nee.

The Grinch played the intro, and Nadie and I started to sing together. We got the words right, but he made us do it again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Again. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” One more time. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee River, far far away.” Something wasn’t right. The Grinch’s face turned Grinchier, and he asked us to do it separately. Nadie was first. The Grinch responded to her performance with, “fine.” Then it was my turn. “Way down upon the Swa – Nee…” I knew right then I was dead. I missed that octive by a half step. I was flat. My “far far away,” quivered in my throat as I saw, in my mind’s eye, the choir trip bus pull out of the parking lot without me. The Grinch heard me flat. Nadie heard me flat. I heard me flat. But The Grinch made me do it one more time. And once again, I was flat.

Because my mother thought it important for me to have extra curricular activities, and because I was just too damn flat to become part of The Grinch’s precious choir, I pretty much had to become a dumb tennis jock. I became very good friends with both of my secret crushes despite not being in choir. But to this day I’ve never been comfortable with singing out loud where anyone can hear me. I’m the flat one.

The Grinch died this past summer. As a tribute to him and all he meant to me and the development of my self-esteem, I recently went to his grave and smiled. Out loud, in front of God and all the dead people, I belted out Swanee River. And I hit that octive clean, and clear as a bell.

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