Archive for July, 2012

2012 Glee

2012 Glee

I can thank my mother, Mary Opal, for teaching me to love music. She demonstrated for me the possibility of spirit as a vehicle of expression. I saw her as a living goddess of music, of beauty, of art, of everything filled with light and life.

When I was still a toddler, she began directing a community chorus called the Glad Girls Glee Club.  It was a gaggle of neighborhood urchins who agreed to meet at our house, learn to sing as a harmonious group, and perform at public venues throughout the Ft. Worth, Texas area. The girls experienced the excitement of choral art, doing the hard work of learning, practicing, and disciplining their little-girl selves into a veritable choir.

They learned the fun of authentic formal dress-up, wearing “little ladies” white gloves and pearls to set off their long gowns. The whole endeavor was a celebration of spirit, and Mary’s personality breathed it into life. It was an authentic example of 1940’s post depression glee. At that time, I had passed birthday number two and was full of myself as I headed for number three. Mother installed me as Official Mascot for the group. I was handed from lap to lap, soaking up more than my fair share of the happiness. Every group photo shows me in matching dress and hair-ribbons, situated in one of the many singer’s arms.

That was the start of my career as amateur musician, and it continued without pause until 2005 when the last curtain fell, ending a lifetime of song; A cervical fusion, accessed from the front, stopped the melody. Suddenly when I opened my mouth, all I could do was croak.  For sixty-plus years I had sung for the pure joy of it, confident that God created me for song in praise of creation. At five I had been plunked onto a Sunday school platform and told to “sing it like you feel it”. I did, loving the attention earned by belting out a solo that told the world how happy I was to be a cool kid, all dressed up with bows and pigtails and a voice to match.

I joined every school chorus, every church choir, even New York All-State High School Choir. In high school, I cleaned houses to pay for voice lessons.  I was a high lyric soprano with big plans for playing at coloratura and someday singing the “Queen of the Night’s Aria”, but  as an adult, I had to get real.  The anxiety of a pubescent perfectionistic streak kept me from being solo material, and I settled instead into the steady pull of a workhorse chorister. I reveled in community light opera, civic choruses, university choral groups, and then in Virginia for nine wonderful years, with the Roanoke Choral Society, St. Andrews Cathedral Chancel Choir, and Roanoke Symphony Chorus. Truthfully, one big reason that I left Virginia was because after the surgery I couldn’t bear to live there and not sing with the Symphony. I kept running into choir buddies in Kroger and making up excuses for not showing up at rehearsal.

Two auditions with directors familiar with my previous work were pitiful attempts, netting me only referrals to remedial vocal coaches whom I couldn’t afford. Finally it was Cincinnati’s Dr. Catherine Roma who let me sing in her St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church Choir as a provisional Alto hoping I might progress from sounding like a frog. Her face said that I must be a very strange person to not know when to give up, but bless her, she let me try. Singing Alto made my throat hurt, but it got the vocal apparratus moving again. Soon I progressed to 2nd Soprano where my squawks were gracefully endured by other better singers. Finally the top notes began to come, first as a pianissimo whisper, then full-throated, as I practiced under Bishop Todd O’Neil with the Martin Luther King Chorale at College Hill’s House of Joy. The free and open style of their Black women singers were role models for my attempt to free up my larynx and vocal cords. Soon I was singing 1st Soprano with a vengeance, getting occasional quizzical looks from my sister singers, but insisting on not giving up.

Well, I’m back to singing, not well, but valiantly. Dr. Roma, who is dedicated to excellence in vocal production, will forever be my hero for putting up with my seemingly weird antics in the choir room, as I bounced from seat to seat trying to make peace with my surgically traumatized and aging voice. I had to make the most of my assets, an ability to sight sing and a near-insane willingness to pay attention. While other less motivated singers chattered and lollygagged, my attention never wavered, following Dr. Roma’s every gesture, tuned to her every word and grimace.

I really do have faith that when God closes a door He opens a window. For me that window has been Catherine Roma, her welcoming St. John’s Choir, and Cincinnati’s Martin Luther King Coalition Chorale. This week MLK is competing in the Cincinnati 2012 Choir Games, and I am singing 1st Soprano, not perfectly, but gamely and gleefully. When in your life a door closes, think of me and remember the glorious possibility of windows.

                     __Dorothy Jeanette Martin, July 7, 2012

Note: The MLK Chorale took gold twice in the 2012 Choir Games and was invited to sing as a demonstration choir in the 2014 Games in Latvia!

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