I was midway through the first verse, singing the alto section, which even in a madrigal – with the wonders of polyphony – is always dead boring. No. Really. Soprano’s always get the good lines. Alto’s, if they get words at all – and are not stuck humming some obscure combination of consonants and vowels, get really boring music lines. If you sing the alto line, you have time to think.
Singing came as a surprise to me, when I arrived at boarding school. Perhaps no more of a surprise than the 100km hike that started the year, or the care and feeding of 50 chickens, until they went to slaughter, right before Thanksgiving. (Exactly how chickens died was also a surprise) Singing was not optional, although the choir master probably wished it was, at least when it came to me.
I am told that there’s a period in the development of young children, when they learn to sing, when they learn about the difference between notes, when they learn to differentiate between tones. Coincidentally, at that same time, I was deaf, from peri-tonsillitis. It may not be my fault, but I am told that I sing an almost perfect fourth above or below the note I should be singing.
While I am particularly enthusiastic about singing, I’m not gifted. Sticking me in the alto section was very likely, at least in part, a way of burying my voice. I don’t think it matters all that much that your voice is way off, when you are humming.
So there I was, 17, with a boyfriend in the audience, with my blazer and my kilt, and my profoundly ugly school tie, singing about gardens at a Christmas(?) concert. More specifically, since I had a lot of time to consider, I realized I was signing about someone plucking blushing roses from a sweet maiden’s garden.
And at that moment – that exact moment – when I realized that perhaps, oh, just perhaps, this song was not so much about gardening.
In an overheated church, in my kilt, with my boyfriend, sitting next to my mother, in the second row, smiling at me. The Christmas concert. He’d realized the song wasn’t about gardens either.
I stopped singing. In the middle of a line, I stopped singing. I started thinking about the words. Then I tried to stop thinking about the words. Telling myself to “get hold”. Telling myself to keep singing. But I kept looking at the words, and then I started gasping for air. Readers, I tried so hard not to howl with laughter. My face turned as red as my hair, I waved my music folder in front of me, tugging desperately on the ugly school tie. The choir master, looking at me, first with confusion, then consternation, then condemnation.
Alas, I dropped to my knees, out of sight of the audience, my strangled laughter rising above the soprano’s, who busy carrying the tune.
And then the person next to me, well, she clued in. And before we could get to the second verse, the verse which includes the line “O grant me the pleasure for which I fondly sigh”, it suddenly seemed as if 60 young women clued in to what this song was about. Or, at least what it was not about.
And that my friends, is why I spent the first evening back, sitting in the headmaster’s office, Accused of fermenting a riot and trying to explain how I had managed to ruin the concert. Should you find yourself in this position, I would tell you that the best defense is not necessarily a good offence, and telling your head master it was a stupid and suggestive choice, and that if he would let you sing soprano, you would not have time to consider what the words meant.
O Come all Ye Faithful, anyone?
circa 1860 or so
Yes, I’d like to see the lyrics.