One of the reasons we visit Hawaii regularly is to see my mother, who lives here on Oahu.
When we visited about 8 years ago, she was playing violin with the Honolulu Symphony, and we came to one of their concerts. She no longer plays with the Honolulu Symphony, or anywhere else (increasing arthritis in her fingers has unfortunately become a barrier to performance), but she has recently taken up a new form of performing music: choral singing. So last year, she joined the sister choir to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Honolulu, called SATBQ. “It’s a volunteer chorus,” she told me apologetically. “But it’s kind of fun.”
Let me put this out there before I go any further: just because I am a professional singer doesn’t mean I have any kind of bias against those who do it as a hobby. Volunteers do not steal jobs; in fact, they provide more work for people like me to help bolster choirs. I think singing is a wonderful thing, and just because you don’t sound like Placido Domingo or Renee Fleming doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be singing if it makes you happy. There are some groups I work with (Choral Arts Philadelphia in particular) where the volunteers are not just singing in the organization; they are helping to run it! And those volunteer singers who are integrally invested in the success of the group also tend to be a really friendly, welcoming crowd, which makes me look forward to going to work with them.
But I digress. My mom was worried that I would be all judgmental, when really I was just happy she was performing music again. So when she told me that she would be singing in a choral concert during my stay, I was very excited to go.
When we got there, she found out that half of her group had succumbed to some sort of bug, and that there were only 8 women left to sing at the concert! She told me that she was really concerned because there were only two sopranos, including her, and neither of them were very strong singers.
“Maren could sing with you,” piped up K., my mom’s partner.
“I could,” I replied. “But I don’t want to get in the way of your day!”
After some consultation with the conductor and the other ladies in the choir, I was whisked up onto the stage for the warm up/sound check, given a uniform to wear (an extra black blouse from my mom’s bag, a Hawaiian print sarong, and a shell lei), and only got a cursory look at the music before we performed it (luckily, one of the pieces was “Nigra Sum,” which I fell in love with back in my SFGC days). And the performance went really well!
Several other choruses performed in this concert as well: the Gay Men’s Chorus of Honolulu, the Honolulu Chorale, and Sounds of Aloha, who ended the first half with a rendition of “76 Trombones” that featured the dance stylings of an 84-year-old marching band majorette with gams that could rival those of a 22-year-old Las Vegas showgirl.
While watching all the choruses warm up and get ready for the concert, I was struck with a sense of familiarity. These people could just as easily be singing in the choirs in Philly! I suppose there is a stereotypical choir singer, and these people certainly fit the bill. But those stereotypes gave me a sense of belonging as well. I am, after all, a choir nerd myself.
Still, it took some really open hearts and minds to let a stranger come in and lead a section; so to John Lehrack and all the women in SATBQ, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for letting me make music with you.