By Jean Withers, Past President
Once upon a time, there was a woman who loved to sing….in her car, cleaning the kitchen after dinner, at home alone---anywhere she couldn't be heard by anybody else. She did this for years and years and years. And then one day, a friend suggested she join the Magnolia Chorale. Which she managed to do without an audition/voice placement with the kindly Music Director, because----eeek!---somebody might hear her singing.
She simply planted herself among the 2nd Sopranos, mostly because she needed to sing the melody as much as possible and couldn't hit those really high notes. Nobody tossed her out, and (thanking goodness for 10 years of band playing clarinet and sax) she was able to read the music. She came to love those Sunday night rehearsals. What a wonderful way to end the weekend, she learned, and begin a better week.
Still, even though ridiculously shy about singing she managed to contribute, by serving on the Board of Directors, and eventually as the Chorale’s President. Ironically, she could speak in public---and did so well for the Chorale at its 25th Anniversary Concerts and other, related events. But ask her to sing alone, in front of even her Chorale colleagues---and she froze. Acted out. Got silly. Just got it over fast.
Even so, she learned. Singing in her “head” voice was not a mistake, but a demonstration of her range. Better breathing produced better sound, and even--ta dah!--complete phrasing of lyrics.
She was ever impressed by her colleagues in the Chorale, those who stepped up and sang solos! By themselves! At rehearsal! And, OMG, at concerts! What courage that must take!
And then, she chose voice lessons from the Chorale’s Assistant Conductor, Evan Norberg, a jazz musician and teacher of considerable skill. Of course, she had to sing for Evan. But he didn't laugh or dismiss her voice. Over weeks, and months, he trained it. And her confidence grew.
With the weekly rehearsals and lessons, she also grew technically as a musician. The combination of rehearsing choral music and singing jazz (for which she discovered she had a bit of talent, actually) taught her some invaluable lessons useful to any singer joining the Chorale after not singing for many years. Here are but a few:
* Probably every singer naturally gravitates first to words. But she learned that it's easier to sing words well if, first, you figure out the rhythm. She learned to pick out the rhythm on a keyboard, piano, or a metronome or pitch pipe (downloaded from the App Store). And then she recorded the hard parts on her Smartphone and hummed the rhythm. Afterward, she attacked the words.
* Again, using her Smartphone, she recorded many pieces as the Chorale rehearsed them all the way through. Then, she played them in her car, on the bus, in the elevator, as she waited in line at Starbucks or ordering lunch.
* She asked for help. She asked to sit beside strong singers. Section Coordinators guided her to experienced, confident friends who were delighted to guide her. Members of the Chorale were astonishingly gracious.
* Early each season, she went to YouTube and searched for pieces she was unfamiliar with. It just took entering the name of the piece, the arranger, and/or “SATB”. Recording it on her Smartphone was simple.
* She began to do what our esteemed Music Director Jean-Marie Kent suggests: Look at your music during the week. She found it was easiest if she sorted out those numbers being rehearsed each Sunday night, marking (in pencil only, of course) the problematic sections, and then going over those pieces during the week.
* In rehearsals, or just practicing by herself, she marked her music when she should breathe in prior to starting to sing each phrase, expanding her belly and chest. And she discovered that you actually pull in more air through your nose than your mouth. And she truly, with courage and compassion from others, began to sing out.
First, after months of rehearsal with Evan and a band, she sang love songs for her husband---and tens of friends---at their 30th Anniversary Party. And then, defying her fears and screwing up her courage, she volunteered to sing a brief solo at a Chorale Christmas Concert.
“Christmas Eve will find me...Where the love light gleams…”
And you know what: It went fine. She sang, out loud---rather loudly it must be said, to be heard in the back row. The Chorale did not laugh. The audience did not gasp. The church did not fall down around our ears. The world did not end. All that happened was that the singing went on. And an old life lesson came roaring back: "Fear stops action---and action CURES fear!"
Jean Withers joined the Chorale in 2010 after not singing publicly since high school. She served on its Board of Directors for five years including two as President. She is shown singing to her husband at their anniversary party in August 2016.
A community of singers who enjoy spending time together making great music.