Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ghosts of Tenors Past

I've been singing in choirs since childhood, when the kids of our church recorded an audio cassette (remember those things?). Our humble family car's player did not hear the last of that tape until we were packed off to boarding school.

A two year hiatus intervened before my next involvement in a choir: high school. There the world of music unveiled its wonders to me amidst the high octane high stakes competitive music festivals.  A few members of the sister school choir we alternately had over or visited for practices occasioned irregular heart palpitations frequently. We would practice until we got fed up of it, only to get up the next day to do it all over again.

Coordinated harmonious singing is a drug, exciting and addictive, the pursuit of it via throat contortions to hit high notes and breath control to sustain long notes is as challenging as rock climbing, and the reward gratifies both the singer and their audience, in which respect singing surpasses rock climbing. To say nothing of the team spirit it both requires and strengthens. Singers form firmer alliances than footballers for this very reason and I should know as I have been both. There is no bonding ritual more permanent than  jointly fetching your last reserves of oxygen from the bottoms of your lungs to sing the exact same notes, or harmonious related notes, over the duration of a song.

I particularly remember singing our Zilizopendwa arrangement for the national music festival final. I was in one of the highest pitched voice groups, the tenor-ones, and we were on "guitar duty". That means we had to sing variations of "tunde-te-te tunde-tiri-tiri" using our vocal chords, repeatedly, to emulate guitars. Well the first day of practice it felt like straight foolishness to be singing non-actual-words, but constant repetition and daily practice knocks selfconsciousness clean out - at least until you've gotta do it in front of girls you've been spending time and pocket money and ink and postage stamps on convincing how cool you are, then the feeling of foolishness sneaks back when you go "tunde-te-te-tiritiri" in front of the whole mass of their congregated pokerfaces. But there's nothing for it, you're on stage, it's too late to weasel out now, might as well rip it up, so you locate your spine.

By the time of the final each of us tenor ones believed by sheer force of repitition that were THE lead guitar, thus we belted the gibberish out with conviction for our accompanying human instruments to garnish with makeshift bass guitars and actual lyrics. Our passion swelled exceedingly, the melody sent the whole packed hall soaring into the stratosphere and we could tell because we were the pilots. Quite soon the song became bigger than us and veered out of orbit, we had to set it free. The big tough bearded guys in bass looked like they nearly wept in ecstasy if it were not for the necessity of finishing the song....

It brought an entire KICC Conference Hall crashing down upon us because of the applause that exploded from the audience and from ourselves at the end of the song. Unforgettable.

We won that category of course.

After high school on it was a downward spiral, for though I sang here and there and in the shower occasionally it was not organized, at least not until I joined the church choir and the youth choir where we put in a respectable musical effort, but nothing I have ever participated in before or since that earthquake-inducing guitar rendition even comes close.

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